Wednesday 31 July 2013

Ne nos inducas in tentationem...

There has been a lot of noise, of late, about the Holy Father.

In fact, there has been a lot of noise about him since the day he assumed the papacy, but it has intensified further just recently.

I have been particularly struck by the posts on the Rorate Caeli site - a site with whose aims I have a lot of sympathy.  But they have seemed to move into a position vis-a-vis the Pope of suspicion and mistrust, from day one.

But it is not just Rorate. Many friends, whose views and judgement I respect, have found some aspects of his words, actions and omissions troubling.

That is true of me, too. Of course, he has done and said things I would like him not to have done or said; and likewise he has failed to do and say things which I would have liked him to have done and said.  As a fan of his predecessor, I was always, in that sense, going to be disappointed with him.

On the other hand, of course, he has done and said much that I applaud.

But what is most important (for me), is to pay attention to my response, rather to sit in judgement on him.

I risk doing myself grave spiritual harm if I cultivate an attitude of assuming the worst of anyone, let alone the Holy Father. 

Whilst a position that assumes the Pope can do no wrong is clearly deluded, it is still more healthy, as a starting point, to assume that he is a good and holy man. 

We may, on occasion, find that we disagree with particular prudential decisions (though we should have the humility to be open to the possibility that our judgement might be wrong, or based on only seeing a partial picture of the situation).  However, to create a negative narrative by imagining motivations (which by their nature are invisible to us) and then to string actions (and imagined motivations) together to conform to that narrative is severely problematic: and that, I fear, is what Rorate and some others risk doing.  

What follows is very predictable, due to our old friend confirmation bias: we read everything through a hermeneutic of suspicion and mistrust, and see the Pope as misguided and problematic.

Here I contrast the responses of the commentariat with those of, say, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.  Their response seems to me to be a model of obedience and docility, and I am sure will win Our Lady's smile.

I am sure that many of them believe that the traditional rite of Mass is very important to their work; and I am sure that they will, in humility and docility, seek the requisite permissions.  And it seems to me that such an approach is not only more appropriate, but at least equally likely to be effective (though that is not the fundamental reason for following it).

The bottom line, I suppose, is to consider what the Devil wants me to do, and at least avoid that; even when I am not quite clear what God may be asking of me in a situation.

And I am quite sure that one of the things the Devil would like is for Catholics to disrespect and attack the Holy Father.

Fiat voluntas tua, 
et ne nos inducas in tentationem, 
sed libera nos a malo.

Monday 29 July 2013

The self absorbed troll

Having looked with disgust and disbelief at some of the tweets aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez, and also read some of the commentary, I wonder if there is one aspect of this that has not been considered.

Much attention has been given to the questions of why any man should think it acceptable to tweet such offensive threats to a woman, and what that tells us about them and their views on women.

Emma Barnett has even managed to speak to a couple of trolls on her radio programme. Whilst their comments are interesting, in a sad kind of way, I think interviews such as this do not really advance our understanding. People justifying their actions are not necessarily telling the truth about their motivations; and indeed, they may not even be aware of them.

I find it hard to imagine the mentality that leads anyone to write such things, but I do think I have one insight to offer. It is this. 

In many cases, I do not think that the intended audience for such trolls is the individual they target. She is just an excuse. What they are doing, it seems to me, is showing off. They want their mates, and the twitter world in general, to see them as big, bad, brave lads. 

The target of their abuse will feel it extremely personally, but I suspect that dimension is opaque to the trolls.  They may be so self-absorbed that they simply do not consider the impact of their behaviour.

Let me be quite clear: I am not in any sense condoning the evil of their actions, nor diminishing the reality of the suffering of their target. But I do think striving to understand what is going on may help us to work out the best response.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Law, love and freedom

The other day, and not for the first time, I saw someone contrasting 'rule-bound Catholicism' with 'having a personal relationship with Jesus.'  The first, clearly, was bad, and the second good.

It is so self-evidently reasonable - and I think profoundly mistaken.

Let us consider the 'personal relationship with Jesus' first.  If 'free' from the rules (ie teaching) of the Church, what does that, in fact mean?  The risk is that it means a relationship with a Jesus whom we construct to match our own desires.  For the 'rules' we reject are, typically, the ones which we don't like. So by editing them out, we can have a tailor-made Jesus whom it is easy to love, because he is our own reflection.

This is not just a theoretical position, either. A Christian friend of mine, on learning that the child she was carrying had a high probability of being born with a disability, prayed a lot and (free of any of those restrictive Catholic rules) decided that God wanted her to abort the child...  I do not doubt her sincerity, but I do doubt her God.

'But Jesus,' my interlocutor points out, 'condemned the rule-bound scribes and pharisees of his own day!'

Indeed he did: but what he condemned them for was hypocrisy: for not adhering to the spirit of the rules they were so keen to expound. For the rules themselves, He had a profound respect.

And the reason is that rules are a route to love and to freedom.

Let us consider some of the different types of rule to which we rule-bound Catholics should adhere.

Some rules regulate our behaviour: the rule against pornography, for example, frees me from my baser instincts and allows me the freedom properly to love my wife; it also promotes her dignity and protects the integrity of our marriage, and thus enhances the stability of our children.

Other rules protect us from abuse: the rules governing the liturgy assure us that Mass is valid, for example, and should rein in any excessive tendency of the priest (or liturgy committee) to impose their personal tastes on the Faithful to their detriment.

Other rules help us keep on the straight and narrow: the rule that obliges us to attend Mass regularly, and go to Confession when we have sinned.

And so it goes on: of course we shouldn't need all these rules - but given the reality of the Fall and concupiscence, we clearly do.  And their purpose and effect is not, in fact, to restrict us, but to free us from anything that might get in the way of our loving our God and loving our neighbour.

Eventually, if we learn from the rules sufficiently, we may outgrow them, and reach that state where our conscience is perfectly conformed to God's will: then indeed we can love God and do what we will.

But finally, there is another very profound reason to obey the rules of the Church. As Christians we are called to follow Christ. Christ was characterised by obedience to His Father.  Without rules, how can we obey? And note that it was Satan's refusal to obey, his Non serviam (I will not serve) that caused his downfall.

It is through following the rules of the Church, then, that we find our true freedom, and in that freedom truly encounter Christ on His terms, so that we can have a true personal relationship with Him, free from the illusions of our own projections and desires.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Of your charity...

Of your charity, please pray for the repose of the soul of Michael Docherty, the father of Fr Michael Docherty, whose requiem Mass is today.

Requiescat in pace.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Slippery Slopes...

It is curious how slippery slopes only work one way.

That is to say, when I approve of a proposition, the slippery slope argument used against it seems tendentious, fear-mongering and not a real refutation.

However, when I disapprove, the slippery slope risks are apparent, real and imminent.

So if I am what is (inaccurately in my view) frequently labelled as a social liberal, I will decry as scare tactics any consideration of slippery slope arguments when discussing the legislation designed to promote societal approval of homosexual relationships; yet when the government seeks to make internet porn censorship available as a default, then I see state control of the internet, mass censorship of the freedom of expression and the collapse of all civil liberties just around the corner

But I am not, of course. I occupy a different place.  I see the mendaciously-labelled 'equal marriage' legislation as proof positive of a slippery slope that we have been sliding down for a long time, and I have no doubt that we will slide considerably further down it, with grievous consequences for individuals and society.

I wish I could believe that the proposals to attempt to stem the flow of pornography into households were the start of a slippery slope, reversing the trend of decades, but I fear that will not be the case.

But the broader phenomenon is interesting: how governed our perceptions and interpretations are by our underlying philosophy.  It reminds me, once again, of one of my favourite quotations from C S Lewis (from Miracles):

What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Same Sex "Marriage"

Today is a very thought provoking day. The Same Sex Marriage Bill has been given Royal Assent and is now the Same Sex Marriage Act.

I worry about this for many reasons.

One is, as I have blogged previously, that this is one step further along a path to the destruction of marriage and family life, which we should not be taking.

A second is that it represents a worrying precedent politically.  This was not handled well in terms of democratic process; the political purpose seems to have been an attempt to de-toxify the Tory brand; the quality of the debate was lamentable and frequently dishonest; the outcome leaves many important issues unaddressed. That is poor government by any standard.

A third is the intrinsic dishonesty of the whole process. Purportedly about equality, the Act delivers nothing of the sort: homosexual 'marriage' is (necessarily) treated differently in law from marriage.

But I have other, longer term worries. I see two equal and opposite dangers which society now faces.

On the one hand, many people clearly believe the propaganda (and thus, inadvertently perhaps, swallow the accompanying philosophy) about 'equal marriage.'  That will increase the likelihood of more people getting sucked into the gay lifestyle.  It will erode a correct understanding of marriage, and therefore anybody's chances of being able to contract one.  It will further weaken family life and result in a higher number of damaged children and dysfunctional relationships. It will encourage some to push further for 'liberal' reforms to the laws that are designed to protect the vulnerable: reduction in the age of consent, de-stigmatisation of other types of irregular relationship, including polyamorous and incestuous, and so on.  It will also encourage those who wish to impose approval to take further steps against those who hold to a traditional understanding of marriage.  We will very shortly see Churches being prosecuted for not allowing people to hire Church Halls for 'Gay Weddings' and so on, in an attempt to suppress all opposition.

On the other hand, I think there is another danger, and one which perhaps people like me need to pay most heed to. That is that at some stage, in the face of all this, normal people will revolt, suddenly, viscerally and potentially violently against the fundamental lies and depravity, and homosexuals will again be viciously persecuted.  That is why I think anyone who overstates the case against the gay political agenda is profoundly misguided.