I don’t know if this makes me sad because of its arrogant vanity, its crass stupidity – in suggesting that the world’s greatest treasures of art, music and literature have been inspired by a “trashy religion”, – or the realisation that being a gifted writer is no guarantee of wisdom, or even common sense.
Rod Dreher, in theamericanconservative.com drew our attention some time ago to some of Hilary Mantel’s reasons for her rejection of the church of her baptism. His reading of her words of wisdom is that she considers Catholicism suitable only for trashy people, not respectable people like her and her friends.
The multiple prize-winning British novelist says of herself, “I’m one of nature’s Protestants. I should never have been brought up as a Catholic. I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”
“Nowadays”? I suppose she doesn’t really mean that. As someone who has some familiarity with history she must surely be aware that there have always been people within the Catholic Church who have given scandal – and that with all our problems we now enjoy something of a golden age in comparison with certain epochs in the past. So, we can take it that her repulsion relates to any and every age.
We will take it on faith that her novels were worthy of their accolades. I have not read Wolf Hall on the basis that an apologia for Thomas Cromwell, the vicious persecutor of Thomas More, was on the other side of a line which I felt no inclination to cross. Catholics will undoubtedly pray for him – and leave him in God’s merciful hands. Mantel probably thinks that is a pretty trashy thing to do.
Hilary has lots or admirers of her work and doubtless the admiration of all the “respectable” company she keeps is enhanced by her rubbishing of Catholicism. I wonder does she consider the respectability of the BBC compromised in the same way for the blind eyes in that corporation which were turned on the rampant abuse of children there over a few decades?
Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet, remarked in an article on Mantel’s confessions of infidelity,
I think she’s unwittingly come up with the best line possible for a new marketing campaign: “The Catholic church – not an institution for respectable people.” It reminds me of a priest a few years ago who told me that a young woman came to him who’d got pregnant and been thrown out by her parents. He told her story to one of his parishioners, saying he didn’t think the girl could cope on her own in a flat but wasn’t sure what to do to help. Simple, said the parishioner, she comes to live with me. And it makes me think of another priest I know who was trying to help some asylum seekers living in lousy accommodation, and in the end decided they might as well move in with him. Or the young kids living on the street, often with drug problems, who have been helped by charities such as The Passage and the Cardinal Hume Centre. None of these people are exactly respectable – with complicated, chaotic lives – but Catholics and their institutions have tried to do their bit and have welcomed them in.
Dreher, not a Roman Catholic, is with Pepinster on most of this. He says:
I certainly hope to be thought of as a member of a church that inspires sneers and hatred by cultured despisers like Hilary Mantel and The Respectable People. Given the way of the world these days, if you are a Christian and aren’t in some way hated by The Respectable People, you are doing something wrong. I suppose it has always and everywhere been the case, but I think that in Europe and in America in the very near future, orthodox Christians of all kinds will soon have to make a stark, clear decision about whether or not to be Respectable, with all the privilege and ease of life that entails, or be truly Christian.
The Irish writer, diplomat and politician, Conor Cruise O’Brien, a man of agnostic disposition, once made a very ugly remark about Pope John Paul II. In deference to Cruise O’Brien’s memory I will not repeat it because before he died the man was generous and noble enough to say that he regretted what he said. Mantel, in her recent diatribes against those who are her brothers and sisters in the faith – they still are, whether she likes it or not -has now built up quite a store of things to regret. We might hope for the wisdom of humility for her – but then, she is no Conor Cruise O’Brien.