Thursday 30 April 2009

'Churches Together'? The Church Apart

Yesterday I went to a 'Churches Together' forum meeting, to discuss Issues in Human Embryology. There were three main speakers: a Catholic (from the excellent Linacre Centre), and two non-conformists.

The difference was stark. The non-conformist who had chaired a working group on the issues for the Methodists, URC and Baptists, was extraordinarily incoherent, morally and intellectually. A sample of her line of argument (though I flatter, calling it an argument...): 'We accord human status to the human embryo, but just as we treat children differently from adults. so it is appropriate to treat embryos differently from foetuses and from born children. So it is OK to experiment on them and kill them.' The other chap was not much better, equivocating and 'on the other handing' a lot.

The Catholic, Stephen Barrie, was by contrast intellectually and morally coherent, as well as compassionate and appropriately humourous. He laid out the ethical principles underlying the Catholic teaching on these issues, and explained them clearly and patiently. The contrast was extraordinary - and made me proud to be Catholic.

What the audience made of it was hard to read, as there was no open discussion, only written questions submitted and screened (mine weren't put to the panel...).

But for me, the difference was between well-intentioned people with no real coherence, and an individual teaching as one who had authority: the authority of the One True Church.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Why You Love the Tablet: Poll Results

Finally, the long-awaited results of my market research exercise on behalf of the Tablet.

90 people voted (that's probably more than my readership, so well done to those of you who followed the old precept: vote early and vote often!)

1 person voted (I hope tongue firmly in cheek) for the attack of Fr Tim. At least on Tabletista voted, possibly several times, unless she got her friends to vote too, as the implausible suggestion that it covers the whole range of Catholic opinion received a handful of votes.

But the winner was 'I prefer my dissent to have a pseudo-intellectual air'; this is bad news for the Tablet, as it doesn't suggest any change: just keep on doing what you do best. Unfortunately, while that's the winning idea, it hasn't served you too well...

I was wondering if anyone might suggest my questions were biased or prejudicial: and indeed in the comments some other suggestions were made (see below) but they suggest I was on the right lines:

'I find it's particularly good as a lining for a cat litter tray.'

'My cats prefer to cxxp on the New Statesman or the Guardian, but they are not dissimilar to the Tablet.'

'I love the fact that I can judge the orthodoxy of a priest by asking about the tablet. If he loves the tablet, his theology will be more liberal than I can stomach. If he has reservations or dislikes it, then I can safely listen to his homilies....'

Another poll will be along in a while, when I can think of something equally intellectually challenging.

After all, I wouldn't want to fall into the ways of journalism (see previous post!)

The Distorting Mirror

I've just been on a media training course: great fun, culminating in a day in a TV studio being interviewed several times and watching the results.

One of the things that struck me was how dreadful a profession journalism is. The journalists and broadcasters running the course were drumming home two things: one is that if it isn't 'a good story', it isn't news; the other is that it must be told simply as people will not attend to anything for very long.

By 'a good story', essentially they mean it has to be conflict-ridden; and by 'simply' they mean in short words, short sentences, and a short time overall.

All of which I knew already, but hearing it in such stark terms - and working with people whose professional skill is to package information in that way and discard information which doesn't fit that model - made me reflect again on what a distorting mirror our media are.

This distortion, in favour of over-dramatising and over-simplifying, is then amplified by the media culture; it struck me anew that a particular type of person is drawn to work in the media (or possibly that working in the media results in one becoming a particular type of person); and that is typified by the BBC culture,w here they all associate so much with themselves and their types that they genuinely do not see the bias that they bring to everything: they are genuinely outraged when any one suggests that they have any bias: yet to the outside observer with a different set of prejudices, their bias is obvious, persistent and consistent.

As a father, one of the things i have worked hard at is protecting my kids from being damaged by the prevalent culture: hence counter-cultural father. A key part of my strategy has been to minimise their reliance on the mainstream media as sources of information and comment. We have no TV, we don't have a paper every day, we listen to the radio news infrequently; we do talk about news and current affairs (a bit) at home and discuss it from our perspective. We watch films rather than TV (among other reasons, films demand a longer attention span: TV's crazy pace is one of its stuctural problems!), and choose them with some care, watch them together and talk about the implications of the stories, including the moral implications and the attitudes underlying the characters and their decision.

Above all we encourage the kids to think about things themselves, to challenge received ideas and opinions, and to do so from within a framework of beliefs, opinions and attitudes which we set, rather than those who think the key attributes of reality are conflict and simplicity (and a BBC worldview)...

Sunday 19 April 2009

Our New Charismatic Friends

A while ago, and somewhat against my prejudices, we went to a Charismatic day run by a group called something like 'For Christ's Sake.'

I have always had some reservations about the Charismatic Renewal. I like their ardour, but find their approach to liturgy hard to take; further some Charismatic Catholics seem more loyal to the Charismatic Renewal than to the Church.

In many ways, the day reflected my prejudices: lots of enthusiasm and positive thinking, and a Mass I found very difficult: I incline more to Latin, Gregorian Chant, and reverence than to hand waving, bass'n'drums and very active participation in that Charismatic interpretation of those words. And as for their taste in music...

However, we liked the couple running it, and yesterday they came round for the day, with their three boys.

We enjoyed the day enormously. Their boys, younger than ours, knew how to play (not something we always find in visiting children); they settled in well with our four, enjoyed playing in the garden and going for a walk, ate their food in a civilised fashion and so on. Immediately we were inclined to recognise their parents as doing a lot right.

Meanwhile we were chatting with their parents and were hugely impressed: people of real faith, orthodox and committed to evangelisation. Delightful people without that 'holy' veneer that can be so off-putting, but a more profound and reflective faith. The father works as a jobbing builder, but not a great deal at present: there is so much to do for their community. So really, they live by charity, relying on Providence to run their missionary work and support their family. They strike me as more counter-cultural than us, which I particularly like.

Which leaves us with a real dilemma: we are keen to support them and the work they are doing, but I can't see us going to any more of their Masses; nor do I yet feel we know them well enough to explain why without risking hurting them and being misunderstood....

Thursday 16 April 2009

Lightning Trip to Scotland (part two)

Then we drove into town and quickly realised parking was going to be impossible, so drove back out and parked by the beach.

A leisurely play in the park, a walk on the beach, and an exploration of the Cathedral were all conducted in high humour (Bernie's camera in overdrive) despite the raging gale blowing in from Siberia (normal for the East Coast, in my experience). However by now we were beginning to get cold: not least Bernie in a pair of borrowed shorts of Ant's, as she'd melted a creme egg in the pocket of her only trousers...

So we decided to go into town and buy a couple of things and warm up in the shops, then went to the Castle, only to find dogs were not allowed. So walked all the way back to the car to leave Goldie there for a while (open windows, shade, freezing breeze: don't worry!), and returned to town for a cafe lunch and a trip around the castle.

The castle is fantastic! Of particular interest is the mine and counter-mine: in 1546 the Earl of Arran was laying seige to the castle and decided the best way to attack it was to dig under the walls, thus causing them to collapse. The defenders saw what was happening, and sank their own holes to intercept the enemy's attempts to undermine them: and managed to do so. You can now go down the counter-mine and see where it joined the attacking mine.

We then returned to the car, and played on the beach with Goldie till Anna and Ant finished their Open Day. They had had a great day too, so we returned home tired but happy - stopping for fantastic fish and chips en route.

Lightning Trip to Scotland (part one)

Ant had an invitation to St Andrew's University for an Open Day,as she has the offer of a place there. She was keen to have another look round, and Anna and I had never been to St Andrew's so we were both keen too. Only one of us could accompany her, so we decided the other (and I of course was 'the other') would look round the town independently: with the rest fo the kids of course.

So we drove up on Tuesday, starting bright and early (after a hectic rush of packing etc as we'd been out walking allday Monday and hadn't got around to it on getting home).

We stopped at Linlithgow Palace on the way, and were fascinated by this large and complex site and its history.

Then arrived at a campsite above the beach at St Andrews and pitched our tent. That is a whole family activity and must make a good spectator sport, but luckily nobody was watching. A wonderful pasta supper followed by a walk on the beach, preceded an early bed. But not much sleep. It was bitterly cold, people in the next tent had both a crying baby and a TV or radio without which they didn't seem able to live, and so the long night passed. Dominique and Charlie woke fully at 5.30 - and so did the rest of us.

However, we had a lovely day in St Andrews. Ant and Anna hurried off across the beach into town for their Open Day, while we struck camp.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Chartres Pilgrimage

I made a passing reference to 'going to Chartres' in a recent post. I was referring, of course, to the annual Pentecost pilgrimage from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres: a three day walk covering some 75 miles, in the company of thousands of (mainly) young Catholics passionate about their Faith, with Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Traditional, Latin) throughout.

Ant and Bernie have done it numerous times, Charlie once, and me twice; this year it will be me, Charlie and Dominique.

As anyone who does it will attest: at the time it is gruelling and you wonder why on earth... and from the moment it ends you can't wait to get back!

Regina Caeli: Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Easter Gardens

Ant made me this Easter Garden. The glass is significant: we've been off alcohol for Lent... The smaller kids had made more traditional gardens, with real flowers etc.

A Great Day Out

Yesterday being a Bank Holiday, and everywhere heaving with tourists, we took off for a remote walk.

We drove to a valley some 12 miles away, climbed into the hills for a couple of hours, past mountain lakes and streams, till we got onto a summit at noon for the Regina Caeli. Then had a long and leisurely ridge walk, eventually, after a picnic lunch, dropping down onto the hills above our village, saying the rosary, and so home after about six and a half hours..

We did pass a few people on the way, but it was mainly memorable for the singing of the skylarks, the fabulous views, and the sight of a herd of wild deer.
And the conversation: one of the great things about walking is the chance to chat with everyone at some stage in the day about everything and nothing, And the kids form and re-form different groupings to talk and play with each other. So at any moment one or two fo them might be walking or talking with me or Anna or both, and two or three will be playing with each other, or discussing the meaning of life or singing their favourite songs. Today Bernie had her new camera with her, so was taking millions of pictures, too.

Somewhere en route, I decided that I would take Charlie and Dominique to Chartres: just because Ant and Bernie can't go this year (exams) is no reason to deprive the little ones....

Monday 13 April 2009

Easter Day and Tudor Faith...

The day started with our traditional Easter Egg hunt in the garden. I placed the tiny foil-wrapped (and a few slightly bigger unwrapped) eggs before the kids were up, and had to stop Goldie, our retriever, from collecting them all back in. She thought that mean of me...

The kids, however, were enthusiastic, and charged around collecting them from the various niches nooks and crannies where I'd hidden them.

They were less enthused when they found at the breakfast table that the egg by each of their places was also rather small. This was Anna's joke: she'd found some small but humourous and relevant eggs (and had larger ones in reserve). It was only when the larger ones were duly produced that Ant (18!) admitted how disappointed she'd been at the sight of the small eggs. After a chocolate-free Lent, that seemed pretty harsh! And she was cross with herself for feeling that way, and desperately trying to put a brave face on it...

After Sung Mass (EF, chant, wonderful) we went to a local National Trust house: Rufford Old Hall with Grandma for a picnic and to look round the Hall and gardens.

Built in 1530, the house includes a magnificent Tudor Hall, with hammerbeam ceiling and much else of interest. The kids love the armour, of course, but also things like the engraving of the five wounds of Christ high in the ancient oak woodwork: the emblem of the Pilgrimage of Grace, organised to resist Henry Vlll's rejection of the Old Faith.

Sang the Regina Caeli at evening family prayers: after weeks of the Ave Regina Caelorum, that's a real sign that Easter has arrived.

Saturday 11 April 2009

The Great Condom Con Part Six: Victory!

The good news is that the victory has already been won. Easter is the anniversary of that victory. There are still skirmishes, and these are literally of vital importance, but there is no doubt which is the winning side.

This is borne out in experience. Pope Paul VI in his role as universal pastor, published the counter-cultural and truly prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae. How much more accurate his prophecies have turned out to be than those of the Condom lobby and the associated abortion advocates.

Young people can be chaste, despite the pressures under which they are placed. More and more are seeing chastity as a positive virtue, and recognising the lies of the condom propagandists.

In Uganda, the message of abstinence and fidelity has been heard and heeded, and the relentless march of HIV in sub-saharan Africa has been drastically slowed there, compared to their condom-promoting neighbours.

Hope indeed: but there are still many battles to fight, and we need to be fit to fight them: spiritually and mentally, armed with truth and charity.

Regina Caeli:
Ora pro nobis Deum.

Friday 10 April 2009

The Great Condom Con Part Five: the Need for Blood and Death....

Some two thousand years ago, on this day, God’s blood was shed as the price of redeeming humanity from death.

On Palm Sunday two children viciously attacked two others, leaving them, stripped and dangerously wounded, for dead (fortunately they have not died).

This Holy Week, thousands of unborn children have been killed.

Satan always needs blood: he hates life, he hates love, and he particularly hates life-giving love.

For some 1900 years after Christ’s sacrificial death, there was unanimity amongst Christians on the evils of contraception.
The Church of England, in unbelievable and cataclysmic folly, broke that unity at the Lambeth Conference in 1930.

For let us consider the heart of the contraceptive act. At the moment when a couple are giving themselves to each other in the sacramental way designed by the Creator to share in His creative act, they say Not Thy will but my will be done. And at that moment of self giving, they are saying ‘I give myself to you (but not fully.)’

Such desecration and lying has consequences. It damages us. Most particularly it damages our capacity to love. It also damages our capacity to sacrifice our immediate desire for more noble aspirations.

The link with the dreadful attack on Palm Sunday may not be immediately clear, but I believe there is likely to be one. That dreadful attack had chilling echoes of the murder of james Bulger by two ten year old boys some 16 years ago.

His killers were the children of women who had been unable to hold their own lives together. Alcoholic, addicted to drugs, their relationships failing, they were unable to raise their children in love and security and James Bulger paid the price. These mothers were victims of the condom culture; that culture which says I want what I want, regardless of the consequences for myself and others. Such a culture is incapable of instilling character in an individual.

When such tragedies happen, the cry often goes up: ‘blame the parents.’ For of course they have a heavy responsibility. But perhaps the cry ought to be: ‘blame the grand parents.’ For the parents often turn out to be victims too. And the truth is we should blame ourselves: all who collude with this culture of death.

And Satan laughs.

Thursday 9 April 2009

The Great Condom Con Part Four: The Culture of Condomania

Of course to push condoms in this kind of non-judgemental way (see previous post) requires a special sort of person. It also has a corrupting effect on those who do it. I’m not merely talking about fpa and Brook (about whom more later), but teachers and health professionals.

Consider, for example, the NHS’s ‘educative' website (nb not for the fainthearted - or the pure hearted come to that), which apart from promoting the philosophy of ‘sex as fun’ (One thing's for sure, the risk of picking up or passing on a STI is no reason not to have sex,) is also full of inaccurate information: ‘You don't need to sleep around to get an STI - anyone who has sex without a condom is at risk.’ That of course is simply not true: chaste couples are at no risk of STIs, but clearly the notion of a chaste couple is simply inconceivable to our helath educators.

The NHS even encourage kids to write and distribute porn films: 'Create your own story for a 70s porn film, starring whoever you like, and then send it to your mates to spread the word about condoms.' All paid for with tax-payers' money intended for health care.

And then there are Brook and fpa: these are people who, set up as charities, make their living primarily from promoting sexual licence, then seeking to limit the consequences of it, particularly by the large scale provision of abortions. See their www sites for details of how depraved they are. And these are the people continually deferred to and held up as the arbiters of wisdom by policy-makers!

It is surely no coincidence that when Brook arrives in an area, the levels of STIs and abortions are more likely to increase than decrease; just as South Tyneside, targetted as an area of intense sex education saw a rise in abortions and STIs.

Another side effect is that we no longer trust medics and nurses. We expect our professionals to have high ethical standards. If my accountant colludes with my attempts to evade paying taxes, I have less respect for him, not more; if my lawyer gets me off the hook when he and I know I was actually guilty, I have less respect for him, not more. And if my doctor takes a non-judgemental approach to something which I know to be wrong, guess what... And doctors wonder why, as a profession they are less respected than ever before.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

The Great Condom Con Part Three: Open systems theory and unintended consequences

I have had occasion before to write about open systems theory. But it is less well understood than it needs to be. The basic premise is that in an open system (any natural or social system, for example) actions lead to (often unforeseen) reactions, which may modify, negate, or accelerate the impact of the original action.

One fascinating example of this is the wearing of bike helmets. It seems that drivers respond differently to cyclists with or without helmets, giving those without helmets a wider berth. Thus, paradoxically, wearing a helmet may not actually make you safer: you may be more likely to be knocked off (though it is also likely that you will come to less harm if you are wearing a helmet when knocked off).

The promotion of condoms and ‘safer sex’ (note the change from the original ‘safe sex’...) follows the same pattern. In order to reach those they want to reach, the health and education people insist that we are non-judgemental. And as the policy doesn’t have the impact they hoped for, they insist we get more and more explicit, and push it at younger and younger kids.

The result is to take out any positive pressures (eg social disapproval, stigma etc) that may incline children (because that’s what many of them are) to restrain their urges; and vastly to increase curiosity and acceptability around sexual experimentation and promiscuity.

There are other unintended consequences, too: we trust the health professionals less, and a whole industry grows up around ‘sexual health services’ which may not be in society’s best interests: and that’s the subject of my next post in this series (cue The Archers theme tune...)

The Holidays are Upon Us

And so far we have had a lot of fun: trying to kick a football over the river, and then having to lob stones and sticks at it to get it to the other side... and then trying again. (Goldie was no help: she swam out out it, pushed it aimlessly with her nose, and then swam back. "fetch," we all yelled, but she knew better...); Dom going on a pony trek with a friend, and then inviting the friend over for the day, plauying consequences, sardines, and going swimming; working on the long-intended treehouse; making Easter cards; practicing the plainchant for Easter Sunday; bouncing on the trampoline and digging the garden.

It will all slow down a bit now, as we enter the solemn end of Holy Week.

Monday 6 April 2009

The Great Condom Con Part Two

The failure rate of condoms is hard to assess accurately, for all sorts of reasons. However, everybody admits that they do, on occasion, fail: and this often has tragic consequences.

Anyone who has worked in pregnancy counselling will know quite how often an unplaned pregnancy is the result of condom failure. And as a woman can only become pregnant on a relatively small number of days in her cycle, but can be infected with HIV on any day, then condoms are clearly a risky strategy.

Some failure is down to mechanical failure (splitting etc) but it seems that most is due to user error. And guess what, kids are not the most proficient users.

So encouraging the kids to be ‘responsible’ by using condoms is, to say the least, a very questionable policy.

‘But, but,’ the condomaniacs will howl, ‘we must, because some are going to have sex anyway, and condoms certainly reduce the risks, even if they don’t completely negate them.’

That’s a bit like saying ‘some teenagers are going to get drunk and drive at high speeds, so in order to reduce the risks, we must take a non-judgemental approach and issue them all with crash helmets....’

Of course, a drunk teenager, driving recklessly but wearing a crash helmet is safer than one not wearing a crash helmet, but for some reason even the health and safety brigade haven’t gone down that path (yet...)

Because actually we know about the law off unintended consequences: and it is to that I will turn in my next post in this exciting series.

Sunday 5 April 2009

The Great Condom Con

I was visiting my nephew, Xerxes, the other day. Over dinner, he and his girlfriend, Yolande, revealed a tragedy early in their relationship. While still at college, they had suffered a condom failure, so, obviously, had to have an abortion 'as we weren't ready for children.' So little Z, paid the price of his or her life.

And the tragedy is that X & Y thought they were being responsible. They have been taught long and hard that:
a) sex is a necessary part of any affectionate relationship between a boy and a girl
b) it is pretty necessary for teenagers regardless of affection
c) using a condom is safe and reliable: and therefore responsible...

...and less openly, but in the mix:
d) abortion is of course available as a backup should (per impossibile, of course) a condom fail.

Over the next few posts I will elucidate why this is such dangerous teaching and why individual condom failure is so high, and further why promoting condom use is a recipe for tragedy and disaster.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Risk and risk aversion: The Countryside Ban

The BBC reports that children are not being allowed to play out of doors enough, due to parental fears of risks.

Of course, not allowing your kids to grow up confident and independent is far riskier.

And of course, it is the media,including the BBC, which fuels parents' fears way beyond reasonable levels.

When I was a kid in a big city, I was allowed to play out in the local parks and streets - and my kids are certainly allowed to wander the countryside pretty much at will. And the evidence is that the risk has remained pretty constant - and low -over that period, but the perceived risk has grown disproportionately.