Saturday, 9 September 2017

Praise where it's due...

I have been following the reaction to Jacob Rees-Mogg's television interview, in which he declared for the teaching of the Church on two of the hot-button issues of the day, with some interest.

Initially, some of us were hugely enthusiastic: here was a Catholic politician who did not duck the issues, and had the courage to say things that he knew were likely to be used against him, in a context in which he was never going to get a fair hearing. That was so refreshing after years of hearing 'I'm a Catholic, but...' from assorted politicians,  and the tactical silence, ambiguity, or downright apostasy from many Catholic prelates and priests.

But then came the criticisms: his arguments were weak, in some cases mistaken, and ceded too much ground, and so on.

I think both responses are appropriate, in the right balance. First and foremost, I think, we should applaud his big-heartedness: his sheer courage in saying what could well end his political career, and what he knew would open him up to the kind of shameless pillorying, mocking and misrepresentation that he has already begun to experience, and which I predict will not abate as long as he is in the public eye. That takes guts, and guts are admirable. His heart is in the right place, it seems, and it is our hearts - what we love - that finally determine who we are and how we will be judged. If he loves Christ and Christ's teaching, then he is on the road to salvation.

However, that does not mean that we should not look at the substance of what he said, and perhaps lament his muddle-headedness (though read on - I have more to say in mitigation, as it were, of this charge).  Joseph Shaw makes a number of valid points in his pieces on the subject, here and here.

However, and this is a big however, unless one has been in the hot seat in a television studio, on live tv and with hostile interviewers, one may not fully understand the situation in which he found himself.

I have been involved with the media training of many academics, over many years. Even on their own topics, in which they are experts, and in a training session that is not actually live, they often talk rubbish or explain their own research inadequately and at times incorrectly, when they are first quizzed by an interviewer who is only moderately challenging.

If the interviewer then leads them off-piste, as it were, onto a broader topic about higher education - something they know a great deal about, but for which they are not so prepared - they frequently talk even greater quantities of rubbish. And these are intelligent experts, used to teaching demanding undergraduates.

Simply put, there is something about the different context and the pressures of a live interview, that make it hard to marshal one's thoughts and express them coherently and accurately in live-time.  In fact, they are trained not to answer questions that are not directly related to their own research. But that is not an option that was open to Rees-Mogg: a politician who does that looks evasive, and on these subjects, the conclusion will be drawn that he holds the views deemed unpalatable but is too scared to say so (as in the Tim Farron affair).

So I think, firstly that Rees-Mogg was courageous in his stance; secondly that some of what he said was wrong; but thirdly that while we should of course seek to promote a better understanding, we should not blame him for that. I notice that on Facebook, a number of intelligent Catholics are trying to find better answers to the questions he faced, and struggling to do so - and that without being subject to all the pressures he was under.

Say a prayer for him, and for all who have the courage to stand up for the Faith in the public sphere: it takes courage and is likely to be thankless in this world; so pray they have the perseverance to ensure that it is rewarded in the next.

1 comment:

Part-time Pilgrim said...

I think you are both too generous and not generous enough in this assessment.

In my view you overstate the affect of pressure. JRM is not an academic: he's a politician and therefore should (and probably does) have a level of skill in dealing the difficult situation he was in. He has repeated his arguments with the same errors and weaknesses in a follow-up interview in the Daily Mail. I don't think he was wrong because of pressure.

What you don't give him enough credit* for is the manner in which he stated and defended his views which was at all times courteous, reasonable, gentle and sincere. That will have created a good impression in his listeners, especially those who don't agree with him. This has more impact and is more persuasive than being technically correct.