Of your charity

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ANC

One of the things those of us with any disposable income try to do, is to give it to good causes. About once a year I review who receives what I give. There are some obvious stalwarts: my old College, which is not one of Oxford’s richest, and gave me so much, that I want to give something back to each new generation; and then a series of charities. Some of these are secular charities, but the majority are religious ones. It was, therefore, sobering, to put it mildly, to see the news about Oxfam. As my friend Neo has written elsewhere there is a very considerable iceberg underneath this tip.

That aid agency staff commit abuses seems further proof of the axiom that bad people will find a way of working with vulnerable people. We see it in every Church. This leads those with an agenda to criticise my own Church, or someone else’s church; for believers in original sin, that seems a culpably blind attitude. Some of the things described in Neo’s piece are heart-breaking. For the Director of Oxfam to say ‘it isn’t as though we murdered babies’, shows, alas, that he still fails to grasp the scale of the outrage. His detailed excuses as to why they behaved as they did once they knew the details of the scandal, shows a concern with preserving the institution at all costs. As an expert on disaster management, he should have consulted an expert in media relations on when not to bring a mechanical digger to a hole-making party.

Charities have become big business, but unlike other businesses which pay their CEOs a fortune, this business does not make anything or sell anything, it raises funds and then tries to spend them in the best way possible. It is a business that relies on reputation. The Charity sector is not coming well out of this, or indeed, other investigations, such as phone fund-raising. There is something deeply disturbing about the pattern of behaviour being revealed. I stopped one long-term donation because a phone fund-raiser aggressively tried to make me increase the amount I had given. He seemed oblivious to my argument that I gave to a number of charities and had worked out what I could afford to give to each; the result was he managed to lose his charity a regular amount, plus a legacy. Of course, he did not work with the charity, he was a professional fund-raiser paid by results. I hope he was not on a bonus.

In all this sorry story, it is good to recall some charities do work no one else would. The Aid to the Church in Need charity is one. The work it has done with the victims of ISIS/Daesh is exemplary. In places no one else goes, ANC goes. It is helping thousands of Christian who feel abandoned by the UN charities working in Jordan. £3.6 billion has just been given to Iraqi Christians to help rebuild houses in the Nineveh Plain. This is something no one else would do. NGOs tend to take a relentlessly politically correct line, which in places like Jordan means that Christians are at the bottom of the list. A quarter of Iraq’s Christian have now returned to their homes. This is real charity. It is not about trying to help make the refugee camps more permanent, but about making them unnecessary. So far, £28billion has been given to Christians in Iraq.

But ANC is in the Sudan, Russia, Syria, and raising the alarm wherever Christians are persecuted. At Lent we are encouraged to give of our charity. I have made my decision, and hope that, despite the scandal engulfing the ‘charity sector’, charities like ANC will continue to be supported.

Relatively speaking

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New pope greets crowds in Vatican City

Catholicism poses a fundamental challenge to the contemporary belief that everything is relative (except, of course, the truth that there is no such thing as truth). Truth is the person of Christ, and what flows from that belief. It is precisely for this reason that there is concern when any occupant of the See of St Peter seems not to be giving a clear statement of Catholic belief; if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound … and all that. As an academic I am always happy to stir up thinking by questioning the assumptions my students have about their subject, but what is appropriate in one arena is not in another. I happen to believe that the University where I work is a force for good in the world, and even if I had doubts about some of the things it does (I don’t), I would not raise the issue in public. It remains a mystery to me why Pope Francis cannot follow that simple rule.

One lesson he, and the rest of us, can learn from the postmodernists is that it is not the authorial voice which is authoritative; it is what is heard, as much as what was meant by the author, which counts. If people keep getting a certain impression about what the Pope is saying, that does not mean they are right, but it does mean that those who advise him might point out that greater clarity would be useful.

Of course, there will always be those whose perspective is such that they will misread what is said. One of the things which has concerned me from the start of this Papacy is that from the moment Francis stepped out onto the balcony, there were those who were criticising him. They might want to tell us that everything that has happened since justifies their doubts, even as those who oppose them would tell us that such a reaction os simple self-confirmation bias. From there we descend into the world of ‘fake news’. As with President Trump, those who have no time for him will read everything he does and says as confirmation that they are right. Those on the Right who take the view that such a reaction simply proves the Left will never give Trump a break, might, if they are critical of Pope Francis, like to ponder the irony that in the eyes of the Pope’s supporters, they are doing what liberals do to Trump. As so it goes on.

In all of this, what of the faithful? As with much of our political discourse, it may be a sobering reminder that most people do not follow what obsesses parts of the blogosphere.

The Pope is infallible only in certain matters and on certain issues. If the impression has gained ground over the last thirty years that almost everything the Pope says is to be taken as Gospel, then that certainly would not be the fault of those who spent so much time criticising St Pope John Paul II. The irony of those people now shifting their position to the one they used to criticise is not lost on some of us; nor is the irony of their opponents changing places with them.

Contrary to what is sometimes implied, the Catholic Church has always had a lively intellectual life. How could it be otherwise in a living Church? In a world with 24/7 media this allows more of us access to that process, but we should remember that just as we would object to anyone impugning our good faith in taking up a position, so others will object if we do the same. Tone influences what is heard. From His Holiness down, all who engage in such discussions would do well to remember that.

An absence of lives

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We, as a society, are, rightly, concerned with ‘rights.’ There are those who might argue we are too obsessed with them, perhaps at the expense of emphasising that they ought to come with duties. ‘Human rights’ are something we would all wish to be seen to be supporting, even those, such as myself, who would argue that the phrase can be misleading.

How so? If it is taken to mean that the mere fact of being human confers certain inalienable rights upon us, then that would, historically, be incorrect. Mankind has not generally acted, or legislated, as though the simple fact of being human gave one certain rights. In so far as legal systems are outgrowths of what a society wishes to valorise, they have tended to protect property, class, caste and privileges, rather than supposed inherent rights. But, in the modern era, at least in the West, this has changed. All sorts of ‘rights’ are now legally protected. Life, it would seem, is recognised as being of intrinsic value. The idea of arguing, as men and women did in the past in the West, that human beings could own each other as commodities, is, rightly, seen as abhorrent. So much so that it has taken too much time for us to recognise the phenomenon of modern slavery.

It is, for many of us, a sign of civilisation at work that special attention has been paid to women, who, at all times and in all places, have tended to find themselves at a disadvantage to men in various ways. Whilst one might ague about some of the ways in which these rights have been gained, and even asserted, it is all small beer concerned with the gains. Any society which uses the talents of only half its members properly, suffers for it.

All of which makes it so odd that the greatest discrimination against the female sex has the ardent support of so many women. If I were to say that 50,000 women a year were prevented from having a better life by legislation, I daresay there would be an outcry; and I daresay I’d be part of it. So far, solidarity holds. But if I go on to say, as I am doing, that 50,000 female lives a year are lost in India, then there would, rightly, be a huge outpouring of wrath; until I mentioned that that is the figure of female lives ended by abortion in that country. At that point the solidarity ends.

There are generally two sorts of reaction. The first is to deny that the foetus is a life at all; it is not ‘a woman’, it is a potential woman. How like Aristotle’s argument for slavery, which held that slaves, although like humans, were not fully human, they lacked certain characteristics enjoyed by those he thought fully human. Throughout human history, acts of cruelty towards groups of people have often been justified by arguments which effectively dehumanised them. Perhaps somewhere, the residual respect for human life demands that before it is exterminated on any scale, one has first to argue that what is being destroyed is not human in the way you and I are. And, of course, the arguments in favour of abortion are all, as President Reagan noticed, advanced by those who are alive.

The second reaction is to assert the rights of the mother. The mother it is asserted, has a right to decide what to do with her own body. For the sake of this argument, the mother’s body has four hands, hour feet, two heads and two hearts. Again, we avoid any recognition that there is a separate human being involved in the argument. In the name of the rights of the woman, there are, a 2014 report argued, 200 million fewer women in the world than there would have been without abortion.

Under UK law, gender selective abortion is illegal; yet it happens. The idea that all feminists passed by on the other side here is not the case; some leading feminists did, indeed, protest at ‘gendercide‘. It ought to trouble all of us that so many female lives are lost; indeed, that so many lives are prevented from coming into being.

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is wrong:

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law (CCC2271)

All human life is sacred. We are all made in God’s image. The destruction of one of God’s children is a sin which cries to Heaven. The destruction of tens of millions is the same sin on a larger scale. That it is condoned by large numbers of people in our society gives pause for thought about what we have become as a society. What is it we place value upon? Human rights, or the right of ourselves to do what we like within a liberal and permissive interpretation of the law?

Here, as elsewhere, the Church refuses to take an instrumentalist view of our job as stewards of God’s earth. None of which is to claim any quick or easy answers, but it to pose the question about the real commitment of our society to ‘human rights.’

Into Lent

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We are told that immediately after his baptism, Jesus was driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. We do not often ponder how odd this phrasing is. Here, at the start of the mission, we see the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness; and as anyone who has been there will tell you, beyond the Jordan it really is a wilderness; by day the sun scorches and the scorpions threaten, and by night the cold freezes the body, and the howls of wild animals the blood. It was there that Jesus was tested.

The wilderness is a rite of passage, a test, throughout the Old Testament; it is there that those chosen by God are tested: Abraham is commanded to go into the wild places to sacrifice Isaac; the children of Israel are led through the wilderness by Moses for forty years; it is in the wilderness of Sinai that God gives Moses the tablets of the Law after he has fasted and prayed for 40 days; Elijah is is also led into the wilderness and sustained there by God for 40 days. Jesus follows this pattern.

By contrast Adam, was placed in the Garden of Eden. His life was set beside still waters, and all that he wanted, even a companion, was provided by the will of a beneficent God. But that was not enough for Adam and Eve. Having all they could wanted, they found, as we, their descendants do, a new want. They wanted to be as wise as God. They could bear nothing less than equality with God. Satan appealed to pride and self-will in setting before them the idea that God wanted to keep them in subjection and that if they would but reach out their hands, they could soon be like God, equal with Him. Adam and Eve succumbed to this, despite the felicity of their surroundings. Now we see the second Adam, Christ, undergo the second temptation of man in a wilderness symbolic of that in which mankind had lived since the fall. Paul tells us: ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.’ Here we shall see the Tempter defeated, where once he was victorious.

Satan’s methods are the ones which worked for him of old; they work on us now. He tempts us to take a course of action which, in itself, seems harmless enough – in the case of Jesus, that he should feed himself by turning stones into bread. But that would have been to place our will before that of God. Hence  Jesus replies that we live not just by bread, but by the word of God. We, of course, knowing that Jesus is that Word, see a deeper meaning than the Devil could; if we allow ourselves to be guided by the things of this world, we too shall fail to see that the ‘Light which lighteth the world’ has come into it.

That Jesus was tempted reminds us of His true humanity. He triumphs not by the assertion of his own will, real though that is. He does so by renouncing his will and doing that of His Father in Heaven. Luke tells us that he was filled with the Spirit, and he relies upon the strength that gives Him; unlike Adam, he does not think that the exercise of his will is the way to respond to the promptings of the Devil. Paul tells us that Jesus came to overthrow the Evil One who holds us captive:

 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil

Jesus rejects the Devil’s offers of glory and power and embraces, instead, the will of the Father – and the path that will lead Him to the agony of Gethsemene and the sufferings of Golgotha. He who was without sin, He who resisted the Tempter, was ‘made sin’ for us so that through his sacrifice we might be made righteous. It is through Jesus that we are saved. His obedience does that which our own efforts never could do – they make us right with God. As all fell in Adam, so, if we embrace Him, will all rise in Jesus.

So, as we go through this Lenten season, may we so conform our will to His, that we may take His obedience to the will of the Father as our example. May we, through the Spirit, be delivered from temptation. As He rises, may we rise with Him, and in Him, and through Him.

Stewardship

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One of the many unfortunate results of the Church getting caught up in the culture wars is the politicisation of our stewardship of the earth. Because ‘Green causes’ have become identified with the political left, those who self-identify as not being on that side in the the culture wars, tend to trash the ‘Green agenda.’ Now it may well be that most mainstream scientists are wrong on these issues, and a minority of dissidents are correct, it would not be the first time that has happened. But is an important point being missed in the retreat to pre-prepared trenches?

What does it say about out attitude as Christians if we regard ourselves as owners of the earth? The Bible is clear that our relationship to God’s creation is that of steward; Jesus is equally clear about how God regards stewards who see their position as that of owners. What does that mean in practice?

We might take it as a matter of regret if a species becomes extinct, but is there not a wider, Christian perspective? God’s overflowing creativity has populated a world to delight us, and unless we think He has no purpose in creating, we might want to take on board the idea that each aspect of creation tells us something about God and His Creation; every time we lose an aspect of that, we lose something God has given us.

What does it say about us as a community of Christians that we take an instrumentalist view of the environment? Probably much the same thing as it says when we take the same view of education. It says, in effect, that we have adopted a materialist view of life. We see no objective beyond getting rich and being comfortable. Is that, in any way, what Jesus is telling us about what God created us for?  He came that we should have life, and have it more abundantly. That is not a proclamation of the prosperity Gospel. It is not a call to forget stewardship.

But have we the wisdom to think deeply about this? Or are we simply going to retreat to the Culture War trenches? In Laudato Si, the Pope asks us to think about the purpose of life, and what it means to say we are made in the image of God? An exploitative relationship with the environment, like one with labour, is one which runs counter to the Christian belief that we are stewards of this earth, and that every life has a unique value.

In education we are moving, and may even have moved, close to a position in which the idea that knowledge is worth having for its own sake is regarded as anathema; we are told that university degrees need to be ‘useful,’ where ‘use’ is tied to monetary gain. In the UK, a degree which leads to a poorly-paid but socially useful job, is rated as less useful than one which delivers a good salary. So, women who choose to stay at home and raise children are regarded with less favour than those who take the decision to remain childless and devote themselves to their job. Women are encouraged to follow men and define their value in relation to their job. And we complain that family matters less. How can it not in a society which puts a value solely on what is economically useful?

Benedict XVI wrote about our need to recapture a sense of reason. He challenged it to rise to the ‘Socratic task of inquiring into the good life.’ Human beings, separated from God are, he reminded us, ‘reduced to a single dimension’. ‘Were God to lose his centrality man would lose his rightful place, he would no longer fit into creation, into relations with others. ‘ That, Pope Francis suggests in Laudato Si, is precisely what modern society in the West has reduced us to. We need, he suggests, quoting St Augustine, to rediscover a reverence for the beauty of God’s creation:

St Augustine, who spent much of his life seeking the Truth and was grasped by the Truth, wrote a very beautiful and famous passage in which he said: “Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky… question all these realities. All respond: ‘See, we are beautiful’. Their beauty is a profession [confessio]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One [Pulcher] who is not subject to change?” (Sermo 241, 2: pl 38, 1134).

Pope Benedict called  for us to recover

and enable people today to recover — our capacity for contemplating creation, its beauty and its structure. The world is not a shapeless mass of magma, but the better we know it and the better we discover its marvellous mechanisms the more clearly we can see a plan, we see that there is a creative intelligence. 

Neither are our fellow men simply means of production and consumption. We need to recapture what it means to be made in God’s image.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

with his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence” (n. 33).

Unless our culture can recapture these aspects of life, then we remain condemned to an essentially reductionist and profoundly unChristian way of life.

Retreat to the trenches of the culture war if you must, but such an approach to Laudato Si misses the continuity with Pope Benedict – and St Augustine.

Religious illiteracy

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Of all the defects of modern government, one of the least commented upon is the religious illiteracy of our leaders. It is more than a generation since I was asked, by a student at one of the UK’s top thirty universities whether “Anglicanism was the same as Catholicism?” – and the situation has not improved. Why does it matter? Because, at least here in the UK, decisions which effect Church schools are being taken by people whose minds are so filled with contemporary preoccupations that they have no background against which to operate when taking decisions.

A Government which claims to be Conservative is determined to make all schools teach children from age 4 and up, “age-appropriate” content, that includes information about same-sex marriage and transgenderism.  And, in case anyone should suppose that I am being biased in attributing the Government’s motives to a desire to be ‘up to date’ and ‘on trend,’ let me quote the former Minister, Justine Greening:

it is important that the church, in a way, keeps up and is part of a modern country. We have allowed same-sex marriage, that’s a massive step forward for the better. And for me, I think people do want to see our major faiths keep up with modern attitudes.

Let us pause there and deconstruct what is an Orwellian sentence.

‘Our major faiths’ will, whether they want it or not, be kept ‘up to date’ with ‘modern attitudes’ by the Government because she thinks people want it. Which ‘people’ are these?

One presumes they are not the more than fifty percent of the population who, in the recent British Elections Survey, thought that ‘gender equality’ had ‘gone far enough’. As The New Statesman commented:

It is also worth reconsidering, in the light of this data, the anger and resentment expressed in focus groups and on doorsteps about such prevalent socially conservative views being painted as bigoted, extreme or niche, when they are in fact held by majorities of British adults.

Mrs Greening was speaking for the ‘people’ she knows, the holders of liberal social attitudes which many, perhaps most, of the population do not hold. She has learnt nothing from Trump, or the Brexit fiasco, about the gap between Metropolitan social liberalism and a still prevalent social conservatism. That, of course, does not stop her, and others, claiming to be talking in the name of ‘the people’.

Dame Louise Casey, another senior government adviser, has singled out Catholics in particular. It is “not OK for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage,” she testified in the House of Commons. “I have a problem with the expression of religious conservatism because I think often it can be anti-equalities.” Well, many, perhaps most ordinary people, have a problem with her social liberalism because they think it anti-democratic, and see it as running counter to common-sense; it is unclear why an unelected adviser’s views should take precedence, especially when they are, themselves, redolent of an ancient anti-Catholic bigotry.

Dame Louise, naturally, offers no evidence that Catholic schools are homophobic. If homophobia exists in them, it is not from Catholic but societal sources. The teaching of the Church on care of and respect for homosexuals is clear. As for being ‘anti-gay marriage,’ perhaps Dame Louise is ignorant of the Catholic, and traditional, definition of ‘marriage’?

This socially liberal agenda, an artefact of a minority of the electorate, is to be foisted upon the rest of us for precisely what reason? It is certainly not because people voted for it. The current, admittedly useless, Government, committed itself in its manifesto to lifting the cap on Church schools not being able to have more than 50% of their pupils from a faith background; it has not fulfilled that pledge.

Ministers and their apparatchiks have no understanding of the religious basis on which our schools proceed, or indeed, of religion at all. Catholic, Anglican, Jewish and Muslim Schools are all being presented with an agenda here to which they cannot, in good conscience, sign up. It is an agenda which is not supported by most people, but it will be imposed upon us for our own good. The ties that bind government and people continue to loosen.

That is sad enough. What is sadder is that it being done by people who have no idea of the harm they are wreaking, and no conception of the value systems which have underpinned the civilization they are so busy undermining. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

As Lent approaches

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Lent is a chance to reassess where we are; a time of penance.

If press of business at work was the primary reason to refrain from blogging, there was a secondary one. It seemed impossible to blog and remain spiritually calm. The invasion of modern culture wars into the realm of religion was inevitable, but becomes wearing to one who finds it difficult to define himself in those terms.

At the heart of my own faith is the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist. That is the Christ who I encounter in the Holy Scriptures, who tells us that we will eat of His body and drink of His blood, and that He is the Way, the Truth and the Light. Were that not the case then there would be a disconnect between reason and experience, and my own Christianity rests on those two pillars- reason and experience. But these two are mediated through the Church and its traditions. I do not understand these things solely by the light of my own reason, although I constantly test them against it; I am part of a living tradition. I am but one of a great cloud of witnesses.

The spoken Word matters to me a great deal. Without Scripture I would be lost. But to interpret it by the sole light of my own reason would also be to risk becoming lost. Christ became man so that I, like other sinners, might receive life, and life eternal. My experience tells me that the Christ of Scripture is the one I encounter at the Eucharist; the Church reinforces that and provides me with a sacramental understanding of what, and who, I have received; it is a memorial of His saving Passion; but it is Him too not simply a memorial. I know this through what I feel; but I find reinforcement and validation for what I feel in the tradition and teaching of the Church.

Modern critical theorists of Scripture made the attempt to make it conform to their own limited, non-sacramental understanding of the world; ruling out miracles on the a priori ground that they could not exist. That was to insert one’s own understanding in place of that of the Church, which has always had the humility to accept what the Scripture it received described; it does not attempt to know better than the eye-witnesses. One’s unaided understanding might lead one astray. Had the Lord Jesus wished us to get our teaching about Him from a book alone, then undoubtedly He could have written that book. Instead He inspired His followers to write and collect what was written, providing, through the Church He founded, an infallible interpreter in cases of doubt.

In all of that, there is for me, only one culture war – that of the World against that of the Church. Of the mystery of the existence of many churches, I have no opinion. I have met better men and women than myself in many other Churches, and I leave any verdict on their ultimate fate where it belongs, with the Only Just Judge. I observe, with no further comment, that there are Anglicans and Orthodox with whom I have more in common than some Catholics I know. We share the characteristic of trying to balance faith, reason and tradition, and of not trying to give priority to whatsoever might be novel, whilst, at the same time, not turning our face against the fact that Spirit is at work in the Church

As I prepare for Lent, I am drawn back to this place and to the fellowship it provides.

Pope Francis

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Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter square at the Vatican, Wednesday.23 October  2013

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter square at the Vatican, Wednesday.23 October 2013

Of all the topics to approach on my return, that of the present Pope ought, probably, to be the last one. At the moment his reaction to allegations of child abuse in the case of Bishop Barros have raised real concerns about his grasp of such a crucial issue; it is, his critics and supporters (agreeing for once) quite unlike him. But then what would it mean to ‘be like him’?

His critics focus on his reaction to the issue of re-married people within the Catholic Church, rightly pointing to the ambiguity of his stance. If anything is clear in this mess, it is that Francis himself wants to extend mercy to couples he thinks needs it, finds the traditional teaching of the Church an impediment, and is looking to see whether allowing local bishops to make a decision is a way to achieve that objective. In view of the fact that Catholic teaching was formulated to deal with Catholic marriages, and in view of the the fact that many converts contracted marriages in other denominations (whose orders the Church does not recognise) or civilly, there is a case for considering how to deal with a pastoral situation exacerbated by our Society’s inadequate understanding of what a sacramental marriage is; whether Amoris Laetitia is the optimal way of conducting that discussion seems doubtful. But the blunt response that teaching designed to deal with Catholic sacramental marriages has to apply to all marriages, seems worth questioning.

But now the Pope finds himself embroiled in a sex abuse scandal concerning the Chilean Church. Christopher Altieri, a respected Vatican commentator, sums it up admirably in the Catholic Herald:

At this point, there are four possibilities: Collins  [Marie Collins, a former member of the Pontifical Commission on abuse and Cruz [who alleges he was a victim of Fr Karadima’s abuse, and who wrote an 8 page letter to the Pope which she gave to Cardinal )O’Malley] are both lying about the letter; Cardinal O’Malley gravely misrepresented the diligence with which he discharged his promise to deliver it directly to Pope Francis (though Collins has expressed full confidence in him on several occasions); Pope Francis received the letter and did not read it; Pope Francis received it and read it, only to forget about it.

We hear much from the Pope about the rigidity of clericalism, but in all of this there is something of that. It is the echo of the way in which Churchmen of the Pope’s generation deal with these cases as they first came to light, that is within the Church and without regard to external standards of safeguarding. At the very least the Pope needs to clear this up swiftly. But, as with the famous dubia, His Holiness has been swifter to condemn his critics than to answer them. At some point, smelling of the sheep involves deal with them in a transparent way. One can only hope.

Why hope? There is an almost open sense of something like schadenfreude among some of the long-time critics of the Pope at the latest trials, but that is to ignore that, as ever, there are two sides to the story. To say that the Pope has attracted praise from non-Catholics is a double-edged sword to those Catholics who feel betrayed by what they see as his departures from the straight way; but if the Church speaks only to itself in language it alone understands, it betrays its Great Commission. One might feel the Holy Father goes too far in the other direction, but Mission matters. It would be a great shame if yet another Pontificate were to be mired by the enduring legacy of child abuse.

Satan knows his enemy, and he will always target the One True Church. Since the late 50s, at least, we had had what amounts to a Catholic Culture war between modernisers and those who feared that the baby was being thrown out with the bath-water. The fruits of modernisation are meagre, and whilst the German Church maybe extremely rich in cash, thanks to the Church tax, it is, like most other European Churches, poor in vocations and people in the pews.

The Catholic Church is far from alone in fighting this culture war. In my own former Church, the Anglican Church, with a patrimony which has much to contribute to the Catholic Church, a route has been taken which Catholic modernisers can only envy; but they might like to ask themselves whether the current situation there is one they would wish to imitate?

The Catholic Church is identified with the successor of St Peter, and it is a matter of regret that any Pope should become the object of partisan manoeuvrings; but it was, history suggests ever thus, just not so widely known in an era before mass media.

As Lent approaches, each of us can only do what we are taught to do, which is to pray for the Holy Father, our Archbishops, Bishops and Priests, and the Religious. They are the front line of the war against Satan, and they need the support prayer provides.

 

A return to arms

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newman_john_everett_millaisThere has been much else to occupy my time this last eighteen months, and, as explained in my last posting here, the press of business in my new vocation has been such that it would have been unfair to my university to have offered it less than 100% of my time. But evenings and week-ends still exist, and as we approach Lent, I want to use some of that time to return to the themes of this blog.

At its best it has offered a voice not heard elsewhere. It has been too reactionary for the liberals, and not reactionary enough for the reactionaries. I don’t take that as a sign that the positions taken here are, therefore, in some way ‘right’, but simply that they are a voice worth the speaking.

There is much to be gloomy about. I do not suffer from what has been called ‘Trump derangement syndrome”, which is common in the circles in which I usually move. I am a fan neither of the man, nor his style, nor, in so far as he has them and I understand them (both great caveats) of his policies; but nor do I see him as a species of anti-Christ for those who need one. If he is anything, he is a symptom of a political system where the insiders had long given the impression that they regarded the mass of the population as ‘deplorable’; Mrs Clinton simply said what had, until then, been unsaid. I take rather a similar view on Brexit. Give the electorate the impression you regard them as uneducated idiots and then give them the chance to vote in a way that allows them to give you a kicking, and then express surprise. It could only happen in a democracy where the ties that bind are already loosening.

That is my main worry. Whatever it is fashionable to believe, the basic values on which Western Civilization were founded we Christian ones; explicitly so. We believe in the value of each individual not because of some abstract theory of “rights” – that came later – but because each individual is a child of God; it is that sense, and that sense alone in which we are “equal”. It is that sense alone which matters. It matters because it means we never can, nor should, instrumentalise the human person. Whether it is turning people into cogs in a machine in work-setting, or killing the unborn or the elderly for being “useless”, Christianity rightly rejects such an approach to the human person. The princes of this world, under any system of government or economic system, have a tendency to do this, and one of the great gifts of Christianity is to have rebuked them for it. It is unclear who will do this in the absence of a Christian presence.

There is a deep irony in a leading Catholic Churchman appearing to tell us that China is an exemplar of Catholic Social teaching. One of my colleagues has said all that needs to be said on this egregious nonsense here.  To use his words:

Catholic social teaching demands freedom of conscience, freedom of association and the protection of life from conception until natural death. These are not optional extras and nor are they part of the moral teaching of the Church outside its social teaching. These aspects of the Church’s social teaching are fundamental because they have an impact on education, healthcare and the whole structure of political and civil society as well as on economic and social relationships.

That is true of Christian social teaching; there is nothing in that with which Archbishop William Temple and Anglicans of his hue would have disagreed.

We live in a world where on all sides these freedoms are being questioned in the name of identity politics. The idea, once risible, that one should be able to call for another to be silenced because they offended you, is now commonplace. For some of us, this was where we feared that laws prohibiting certain types of speech might lead. There is no satisfaction in having been proven right.

In a Society where people have been schooled to think that truth is relative, it is only natural that individual feeling should have become elevated into the standard by which to judge others. There is not truth, except that all truth is relative, says modern man and (naturally) woman. But for the Christian that cannot be true. There is a Truth, and it is a person, not a concept. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Light, and we cannot (though we often do) relativise that.

We are all sinners. We are all children of God. We are all fallen. In Him all can rise. The old Adam (and if you must, Eve) is rampant in us all. We all of  us do not what we will, but what we often do not will. For this there is but one remedy: Christ Jesus. He reaches out to each of us where we are. each of us comes to Him as we have the Grace so to do.

As the clouds lower over us, amidst th’encircling gloom, as the Blessed John Henry put it, we have but on Kindly Light. Let us pray that He illuminates our hearts, mind and spirit, in the Lent that approaches.

The war on charismatics

It has been a while since I have written here, but lately I have come across a new frustration; the charismatic movement. The charismatic movement has a few years behind them, however it is only in the last 30 years that they have started growing at tremendous rates. Churches like Hillsong are drawing in thousands of people in including young, impressionable teenagers and young adults only to tell them about how they do not need to continually repent, and that all you need to do to get to heaven is try cry and get emotional in one of Joel Osteen’s “sermons”. (It’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point, I pray.)

My frustrations with the charismatic church start here:

1: The lies being told within “sermons”. Thou does not need to continually repent as God can “no longer see” your sins once you become saved? Why then does Jesus instruct the disciples to repent in the Lord’s prayer? Why does Simon Peter weep and repent for denying Jesus? Should I keep lying, and stealing, and murdering, and committing adultery because it’s ok to God because I am apparently ‘saved’??? The logic is fallible and these days, people will believe anything they get told.

2: Church, is not “church”. Church, run by the charismatics, is not when you sit in silence and reflection while you are listening to God speaking to you, or singing to God in praise. Instead, idiots like Joseph Prince are telling you about how much of a softball Jesus is while you scream and applaud and shout ‘Amen’, and sing songs about how much you are on top of the world. I think ‘party’ or ‘Sunday morning social club’ would suit it better.

3: Numbers and money: This sums up not all, but many charismatic churches. I remember watching a show and the story was about Kenneth Copland asking his congregation for money so that he can buy his own private jet. Now, his reasoning for this, was so that ‘he didn’t have to use public planes which might delay him from sharing the gospel around the world’. How ridiculous! And how will this be possible? Numbers. Simple. Whilst people were paying this liar money for his private jet, he was sitting in his chair going “haha! we got ’em! That whole God thing worked like a dream!” you’ll be surprised how many charismatic pastors have their own private jets…

4: How they stereotype conservatives. To them, we are bigoted, too out-of-date in our thinking, and spend most of our time being negative in our theology and telling people constantly that they will go to Hell after they die. After talking to someone I know, he has confirmed this to me and he is a charismatic. He stated, “I think I know your problem. You focus too much on the negative”. Of course he thinks this! He wouldn’t last 3 services at my church! Know why? Because at my church you aren’t going to get told what you want to hear! You will be told the TRUTH. (A large difference, guaranteed.)

5: You will often find that while there is emotion flying around in the church hall and people are in tears, you will often find that right after the service, it stops right after the service ends. And I mean it actually stops. It’s as if God wiped away every tear from everyone’s eyes at once. Upon other observation, charismatics tend to go back to their sinful, ungodly ways during the week. Swearing, for example, permitted during the week. See the logic?

My intent is not to serve hate, but rather to raise awareness for what is going on in the contemporary church. You may be wondering by now, what evidence I have for this? I can only speak from personal experience. When I moved from one state to another, My family struggled for nearly four years in finding a theologically stable church largely due to damage from the charismatic movement. We heard lines like “I love it when Alan gives me these topics to preach on, because then I get to talk about sex again” in so called, ‘sermons’, whilst the congregation laughed. People cannot be given rubbish talk like this!

Recently, the head pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Queensland, Australia, was challenged by one of his own elders due to his theology (which I really do not blame him for) and the head pastor ended up losing, as more elders finally rose up against him, and chose to resign from the Presbytery. The following Sunday morning, this pastor told his congregation that ‘The Presbytery forced him to resign’, and thus, 120 people walked out of the building immediately.

This madness cannot continue.