Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Success vs meaning

A correspondent sends me a couple of interesting and contrasting links which lead to the following stories.

First, Archbishop Vincent Nichols has addressed the burning issue of whether Christians are under pressure in the UK. Surprisingly, he comes to the conclusion that they are not. Or at least, he says they are not persecuted:

“I personally don’t feel in the least bit persecuted. I don’t think Christians should use that word.”

This is a surprisingly unecumenical gesture from the Archbishop. After all, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has claimed that there is a crusade against Christians in this country. Bizarrely, and with a degree of self contradiction, AVN also observes that

what might have started out as an acknowledgement of a variety of religious and philosophical positions has produced a seeming determination to tear the legal and therefore cultural life of the country away from its Christian roots.

Now that is odd. The legal and cultural life of the country is being vandalised but we mustn't feel it's personal in any way. That, at least, appears to be the message.

It's a position which brings me back to one of my favourites tropes: that life is a pilgrimage and not a fine art. Why is it Archbishop Nichols does not want to use the word 'persecution'? Because he cares about the success of the Church in the public square. He is afraid that we might appear to be whingers. He doesn't want to appear alarmist. Are you feeling edgy because the exercise of your profession might bring you potentially into conflict with your conscience? Get over yourself, darling, the Archbishop appears to imply. Nobody is after you. They're just after dismantling every relic of Christian sensibility.

Georges Bernanos once lampooned the fear of reactionary clergy that they would be martyred by offering to start up a Martyr Life Insurance Company; he reckoned he would make a fortune! The Archbishop almost seems to have gone to the other extreme; don't call yourself a martyr, even if the barbarians are trampling the remnants of Christian meaning in the law. It's nothing personal. Of course, I'm not for a minute sugesting that the UK is witnessing a brazen persecution of Christians akin to ancient Rome; it's just that the legislature currently seems incapable of going for five minutes without passing yet another law which makes life more difficult for Christians. The Catholic adoption agencies in this country disappeared almost without a whimper. What were they, your Grace, fair sport? An accident? Or were they victims - more still, were their child clients the victims - of a legislature resolved to imprint the dirty footprint of its ideology on the neck of Catholic freedom?

Fine-art faith is about being a success as a Christian, and about looking credible. If apologetics is always necessary in a hostile climate, fine-art Catholicism is about the total victory of apologetics over every other branch of theology. It's the victory of plausibilty over unnecessary fidelity. The problem is that you spend so much time trying to be plausible that you lose your identity, like blu-tack stretched between two distant points.

Being on pilgrimage, in contrast, is just about keeping your feet on the path - the path away from which you cannot remain your true self and, more importantly, you cannot remain true to God. The passage from pilgrimage to fine art was, Christopher Dawson says, one of the initial signs of secularisation. The question you have to ask is: does being an instrument of God mean bending over backwards to give a chance for people to understand who we are, or does it mean being true to our calling while we let God's grace do the rest?


Archbishop Nichols might not feel persecuted in his Westminster appartment but the lady whose story appears in the second link sent by my correspondent probably does. Celestina Mba was dismissed from her job because she refused to work on a Sunday. Conscientiously, she objected to violating the Sabbath, even though she would take on other shifts at other times in the week that were unpopular with co-workers. It did not matter apparently that a Muslim last year won the right to leave work to attend mosque on a Friday. The employment tribunal who reviewed her case ruled against Mba. 'Your conscience or your job,' they said in so many words. I assume Mba has replied, 'My conscience.'

As a matter of fact, I'm not sure that a sound Christian position would support Mba entirely. She worked in a children's home and surely they need looking after seven days a week - not just six, as Mba's logic appears to imply. Still, the tribunal's ruling stands as the victory of law over everything else.

Now, the victory of law over everything else is a form of violence. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the father of anarchism, thought that all societal organisation could be boiled down to a system of contracts between individuals who come into contact. Ironically, however, when everything is enforced by contract, we find ourselves living under intolerable burdens. The seriousness of the situation is shown in the way that British legislation is increasingly adopting the model according to which the State acts not as an arbiter between the various constituencies under its aegis but as an all-powerful enforcer which aims at conformity. It's the victory of Hobbes over Locke. Ironically, it's the victory of the emotional fascists over the democrats of sensibility. Nowadays, half of Britain is scratching its head and wondering what on earth has happened here to turn it into a paradise for emotional fascists.


Is it not true finally that in some way the preoccupation with success is analogous to a preoccupation with law? Do both anxieties not reveal a desire to control, a desire to be voluntaristic, a desire to turn life into a fine art? If Archbishop Nichols does not see hostility to Christianity as a form of persecution, maybe he should ask himself whether his deepest instincts - the sort of instincts that drive him to tell peope with genuine concerns to hold their tongues - are far too much in tune with the prevailing atmosphere. I assume he would have been outraged, and rightly so, if legislation had forced the closure of every black newspaper in the UK on the grounds of race equality. So, where is his outrage - for nothing less is appropriate - against those who aimed to force the secularisation of every Catholic adoption in the country? In that Warlockian-Humean, Lord-help-us desire of the marginal Catholic to fit in with modern Britain, there never seems to be much questioning of what it is we are trying to fit in with.

We know Archbishop Nichols can do a pretty good attack-dog routine. He should do it more often. This toothless fear of appearing alarmist, however, looks more like Corporal Jones than Captain Mainwaring.

We should pray for him.

Monday, 27 February 2012

And another good news story!

Toddle over to the Good Counsel Network blog to read about the baby who was born in the living room of their Home for Mothers!

(I really must stop passing this good news on!).

Friday, 24 February 2012

Calthorpe Clinic comes tumbling down

I realise that this blog is hardly a news service. It is after all hardly a blog! And it especially cannot pose as a news service on the basis of my hazy recollection of events.

Still, I'm rather chastened by the story about the abortion doctor - no, let me correct that - the brazen child murderer whose views on the acceptability of infanticide have been spread across the pages of the Daily Telegraph this week. For it seems to me that the Calthorpe Clinic, where this modern-day monster has plied his murdering trade, is the same clinic around which the parishioners of the Birmingham Oratory last year processed seven times, saying prayers and making reparation for the terrible deeds committed within.

(Thanks to Lead Kindly Light)

The walls might not yet have come tumbling down physically, and the media sting is clearly an instance of the collaboration of human agency in God's providence.

But still!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

All units: where is Anagnostis?

Anagnostis, where are you?????

If you read this, or if anyone who is in contact with Anagnostis reads this, please get in contact / ask him to contact me as a matter of urgency via my profile email address.

Thank you!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Mac's meme: books!

Ben Trovato has tagged me for Mac's Meme. Here's the spec:

"You post the rules and a link back to the person who tagged you. You also tell them that they've been tagged on their own blog, rather than just hoping they'll discover it for themselves. Then you decide what three books are essential reading for anyone with a Kindle. Reasons would be good, but not essential. Then you tag five people."

Okay, what three books? How about these:

Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

and last but by no means least

Flannery O'Connor, The Complete Stories

I'm tagging two people (sorry, Mac!):

Fr Stephen Wang



Anagnostis: where are you?

Anagnostis, where are you?????

If you read this, or if anyone who is in contact with Anagnostis reads this, please get in contact / ask him to contact me as a matter of urgency via my profile email address.

Thank you!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

On a whim and a prayer: long live tradocracy!

Bideford in Devon is the sort of place that you can ignore for most of your life. Then, let its name once pass before your eyes just once and you start to notice it everywhere. Strange really, especially since its name is a sort of homely English one and hardly on a par with the nearby and much more dramatic Westward-Ho! (and, yes, believe it or not, the exclamation mark IS a part of the name).

In some strange way it is this very Englishness of the place that strikes me in the recent controversy over whether the town council can be allowed to say prayers before their meetings. A High Court ruling has stated that it is not legal for prayers officially to be part of the council's proceedings. This is because the Local Authorities Act 1972 - I'm never without my copy and neither should you be - gives local councils no power to summon councillors for prayer. The ruling does not, however, ban informal prayers - a boon for all those who threw up their hands at the ruling, muttering, 'Dear God!' Reaction to the ruling has been mixed, from joyous jubilation among that declining band they call the Nation Secular Society to high-minded condemnation from Anglican bishops and archbishops. Few others appear to care very much.

There are two things about the case which strike me as noteworthy. First, there is the desire to chase out of public life all open expressions of religion. Let us not doubt for a minute that this is the agenda of the NSS who have funded much of the court case. Not only is it un-English; by that very fact it is what I'm going to call 'anti-Bidefordian'. Historically, our public life is not an abstraction, like that of the French. Our ceremonial comes from tradition, rather than the Ministry of Ceremonial. Historically, we rule on laws with the use of precedent. I think they still don silly hats in Parliament for certain ceremonies and use medieval French. And why not indeed? Silly hats ought to be worn on all solemn occasions, as the clergy have long since understood.

The point about such things is that they offer no tangible, rational pretext which can be easily understood by the mind of the technocract, the bureaucrat, or any other kind of crat. They just are. And their just being is one of the guarantees that something humane rather than something ideology ridden is in control of the nation. I could blame - indeed, I do blame! - this growing tendency on our closeness to Europe, since its own legal and civic traditions are so differently constructed from our own. But as Chesterton says, a madman has not lost his reason; he has lost everything except his reason. Personally, I believe 'Englishness' somehow is in contact with that enormous truth which is not the celebration of irrationality but the condemnation of self-certified pure reason that somehow manages to disappear up its own back alley as it breathes out the fumes of a rationalised vision of life.


Now, the second thing that strikes me as un-English and anti-Bidefordian in this case is the reaction of those who deplore the court's ruling. The case has been lost and so a certain amount of whinging is quite justified. But, by this very fact alone - the legal issue - should this ruling really be seen as another sign of the dechristianisation of the nation? I see here one of the effects of rivalry gone bad. How easy it is - and how few of us realise it - to be drawn onto one's enemy's territory in any dispute! In the reaction of those disappointed by the ruling, there is the hint of the assumption that the law should operate for Christianity like the secularists want it to operate for secularism. Bad mistake! And a very modern one, if I may say so.

Multiplicatio legorum corruptio republicae: the multiplication of laws [shows forth] the corruption of the republic. If no classical author wrote it, then they should have! One of the surest signs of our currently parlous condition is the turning of the legislature into some kind of Victorian mill. The raggedy MPs work their fingers to the bone passing laws that serve those far wealthier than most of them - like the bankers. In administration there are only means, no ends, as Sir Humphrey Appleby once said. But that's the thing: Appleby was a bureaucrat!

So what is the English thing to do for Bideford's councillors? Surely, to have the prayers informally! Abandon the bureaucrat's safety net of legal provision and walk the line that requires that happy cooperation that distinguishes civilisation from barbarism - whether it be in grass skirts or in legal robes. After all, I'm sure that's what they would do in Westward-Ho!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A tale of two blogs

For me, this week was marked by very interesting posts on two very different blogs. The first was The Monitor of Catholic Voices. On Monday John Smeaton of SPUC analysed The Monitor's account of a recent story from University College London. There, students have passed a motion which in the future will supposedly force any gathering of pro-lifers to invite also a pro-choice speaker. In the first version of the blog, The Monitor said the following:

"But in reality, Catholics on campus have nothing to fear. The motion contains no definition of "pro-choice"; if it means simply someone who accepts that abortion should be legal, most Catholics -- including the bishops of England and Wales, who advocate incremental restrictions, but not yet a total ban -- would fit that description.

Smeaton went through this and other claims in the blog post like a dose of salts. And lo and behold, The Monitor post was edited to become the following:

But in reality, Catholics on campus have nothing to fear. The motion's definition of pro-choice ideology is so narrow and extreme, and its actions so brow-beating and authoritarian, that it will show informed pro-lifers who accept that abortion cannot be prohibited immediately -- including the bishops of England and Wales, who advocate incremental restrictions, but realise that a total ban is currently impossible to achieve -- to be the true advocates of moderate, rational and humane principle.

Okay, so they corrected at least one of their most complacencent interpretations of events, though Smeaton's subsequent post took them to task for others. What struck me, however, was the gloss which they wished to place on the revision of the blog. There was no mention of Smeaton's analysis which likely forced their hand in the first place. No, their gloss was contained in two tweets which appear on The Monitor homepage after the tweet announcing the blog post:

The Monitor Tweet role

'The unintended consequences of a pro-abortion clampdown on campus'. CV blogpost
1 week 12 hours ago

Some mistaken language in the latest CV Monitor Post about the @UCLU Pro-Abortion motion has now been corrected:
4 days 53 min ago

We think the Blogger in question wrote that section in a hurry, and mis-typed. Thanks to those who pointed out the mistake!
4 days 52 min ago

Oddly enough, the first 'correction' comes close to the truth: there was some mistaken language. Well, yes, though there was also quite some fuzzy thinking too. It's the last tweet that's really worth its weight in gold: We think the Blogger in question wrote that section in a hurry, and mis-typed. Not misunderstood or misinterpreted or mistook one thing for another: the blogger in question mis-typed.

I'm reminded of another spin artist, Hillary Clinton, who claimed that she had 'mis-spoken' after hitherto stating that she had once landed in Sarajevo under sniper fire was refuted by TV evidence.

Words mean what I say they mean, as someone (a cat, I think) once said ...[Correction: no, it was in fact Humpty Dumpty, as Ben Trovato tells me!]


Contrast this little exercise in deceit with the most welcome return of my Mancunian mucker Ttony of The Muniment Room. In three deft posts, backed by a selection of fascinating reading, Ttony has explored some of the murky paths taken by the English Catholic establishment of Archbishop Worlock and Cardinal Hume during the early 1980s. Most notably, he has cast a light on the story of the National Pastoral Congress, the way its agenda was fitted up, and the ridiculously high hopes that its instigators had for the watery concoction that passed for its final proposals.

Most brilliantly though, in my view, Ttony has put his finger on one of the reasons that the bendy kind of Catholicism that still endures in England and Wales was not successfully challenged like it was elsewhere in the 1980s. Quite simply, the bendy party were clever enough not to pick a fight with Rome directly. Ttony's analysis has the resounding ring of accuracy about it. And when he seeks to answer the qustion of how we got here - of how Archbishop Nichols can confidently affirm on the BBC that, yes, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales has taken a different line from Rome on civil partnerships - it seems to me he has sought out one very convincing answer. I commend the reading of his posts to you all.


So, there you have it: Catholic Voices spinning for all they are worth about mis-typing, and Ttony helping to uncover the trail which led the English Catholic Church almost off the cliff. The dissonance need hardly speak louder.

One very interesting week.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A last word on Anne Read

Anagnostis comments on my post below in which I referred to the death of Anne Read, RIP. I hope he doesn't mind if I repost his comments more prominently.

God grant eternal rest to Anne and consolation to all her family and friends.

Anne Read, of Suffolk, North Wales, London, Sussex and Reading latterly was, together with her late husband David, an old and very dear friend and godmother to one of my daughters. Her professional career (as dancer, then singer, then educator) was remarkable - but less so than her heroic spiritual struggle which culminated on the Vigil of Candlemas last week(on the anniversary of her husbands death eight years earlier, and of my first wife Julie's, nine years before that - a strange and wonderful synaxis).

Anne converted prior to her marriage but, like Alice Thomas Ellis, she "had only been Catholic five minutes before it all turned upside-down". She and David spent the remainder of their lives totally dedicated to the restoration of everything that had been swept away with such crass brutality and disregard, leaving the "lay contemplative" without a place to lay his head. In the seventies, they toured the States with Archbishop Lefebvre, founding and training scholas; in the eighties and nineties, in retirement in rural Sussex, they provided unstinting assistance - spiritual, practical and financial - to the burgeoning but beleagured Traditional movement wherever they found it; they were never partisan or ungenerous in relation to any group or individual. Only God knows how many priests, seminarians and disorientated laity they helped and encouraged, how many vocations they fostered, how many acts of kindness great and small enabled some friend or casual aquaintance to hang on when everything seemed most hopeless. The love and kindness she lavished on me and my family, through all of our ups and downs, are among the greatest blessings of my life.

Anne's training as a dancer and operatic performer built upon her native elegance - there was, externally, always something of the aura of the diva about her, to the extent that those who didn't know her well sometimes imagined her haughty and a little unapproachable. Nothing could have been further from the truth. She was the most warm and loving of friends, but also always tremendous fun. I remember her calling me on an anniversary of David's death to tell me of having woken sad and lonely, only to discover a letter on the doormat that turned out to contain a royalty cheque in respect of a recording of David's, some years earlier - "Batman Begins". I can hear her uproarious laughter as I type, and I can see her, glass in hand, recounting some outrageous theatrical anecdote or other.
Nunc dimitis servum tuum Domine. May her memory be eternal.

(If any other bloggers are attending the funeral, I'd be delighted to meet you. I'll be the one signing himself right-to-left, to Anne's considerable dismay, though she always defended me nevertheless, sometimes quite fiercely. She knew the details of my own journey better than anyone. I shall miss her more than I can say).

Monday, 6 February 2012

Whistling in the dark

So, how have you two been? Sorry to have been away so long but let's not pretend you missed me! A belated happy Christmas and a happy new year likewise. Happy birthday too, if you've celebrated one since I last saw you!

Richard, a long-time US reader, comments on my last post of 5 December that two months is quite enough rest for one blogger. Alright, buddy, alright! That's the American work ethic in operation for you ;-)

Looking out on the winter scene that greets me in the garden, my mind goes back to struggling through the snow to Mass yesterday in my wellies when practically everyone I passed greeted me like some long-lost friend. If this is what the bad weather does for community relations, then I say bring it on more often. It reminds me of the old Milton Jones joke:

"I ordered a book off the internet. It was called How to have absolutely nothing to do with your neighbours . Unfortunately, I was out when it was delivered ..."

Why do people communicate when the weather is bad but ignore each other when the sun is shining? You'd think it would be almost the other way around!

There is in that observation some dim and distant echo of one of the reasons I haven't blogged in the last couple of months. What's the point, I've been thinking. It's all hot air anyway. But then, I suppose when you live in evil times, you experience the cultural equivalent of the heavy snow fall. You have to speak to your neighbour. Times are too bad not to. It won't melt the snow and it won't de-ice the roads, but it might lift a spirit or two. That's no bad thing. It's like whistling in the dark.

Actually, as evil as the times are - pardon my Puddleglumness - happy story after happy story has rolled into my in-box in the last few weeks. One reader of this blog has given up his job and is heading to the south of France to begin El Camino at Arles before applying to enter a religious order. Another reader of this blog, and an old pal, has been accepted for his diocese where, God willing and with the bishop's full backing, he will be ordained for the Extraordinary Form. Another niece or nephew will be heading my way in early summer. My own happy news is that I have almost cracked the technique for making a tomato tarte tatin.

As everyone knows deep down, these are the things that matter. One must find one's consolations where one can. Victoria Mildew, another long-time reader, has had some more positive news about her very serious cancer. Do remember her, nevertheless, in your prayers.

Not all the news has been so happy of course. Anne Read of Reading - a lady who could put the salvo in the Salve Regina after Mass - has gone home to her reward. She was happy to be going, I understand. Please pray for her and for those she has left behind.

That's it for now. It's so much whistling in the dark, but needs must when the devil drives.