A people not fit for public purpose?

In the Irish referendum campaign the Yes side – in favour of same sex marriage – kept saying all it was about was a handful of words in the country’s constitution. The No side focused on what they feared would be the unintended consequences of what they saw as a radical redefinition of not only marriage but also of the family. The Yes side in turn accused them of scaremongering. It was ugly. No political debate in Ireland in living memory was so ugly and acrimonious.

But that is now history – or is it? If the No side was right, it is only beginning. Conor Brady, former editor of the Irish Times, the paper which was cheerleader  extraordinaire  for the Yes campaign from  start – several years ago – to finish, ominously reflected today in his Sunday Times column on what he saw over the past few months and the past week.
“A revolution”, he said, “without generosity, broadmindedness and a respect for the sweep of history will simply lay the foundations of a new tyranny”.

A friend has just told me of a conversation she had with someone who was speaking to a priest from the old Czechoslovakia and now working in Ireland. The priest says that the atmosphere and culture in Ireland at the moment is almost an exact replica of that in his country just before the Communist take-over. The main similarity he sees is the almost 100% indoctrination of the youth to the ideology. His view? Ireland must now prepare itself for a time of persecution.

The Canadian story about the same issue is worth looking at. What has followed that country’s legislation is a nightmare of bitterness and discrimination and the insertion into the public square of a cancerous growth of the marginalization of conscientious Christians – and people of other faiths as well. The new hostility to religion is not about driving people of faith into the arena to be eaten by wild beasts, but it is about confining them to the margins of society as people not fit for public purpose.

Professor Robert George of Princeton this morning flagged an article in Crisis magazine which it would behove us all to read. It is an account by Lea Z. Singh, a Canadian lawyer, writer and a stay-at-home mom to three young children, of the “unintended consequences” which have occurred in her country in the aftermath of their radical law-making.

Canada legalized same-sex “marriage” in 2005, she wrote, the fourth country in the world to do so. During the rushed public debate that preceded legalization, the Christian and traditional understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman had strong support. Polls showed a deep split among Canadians, and the majority (52 percent) were actually against legalization at the time that it occurred.

Opponents of same-sex “marriage” were given all kinds of assurances. The preamble to the Civil Marriage Act states that “everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion,” “nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs,” and “it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage.”

The Irish electorate was not even given this assurance.

But how quickly things change, she continues. Since the watershed moment of legalization, Canadian social norms have shifted rapidly, and what was once considered fringe or debatable has become the new normal.

Today, different opinions on “gender identity” and same-sex “marriage” are no longer tolerated. Our society is sweeping away respect for religious faiths that do not accept and celebrate same-sex “marriage,” and the Civil Marriage Act’s assurances seem merely farcical. It is not premature to speak of open discrimination against Christians in Canada.

The Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms declares that Canadians have a fundamental “freedom of conscience and religion” and “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.” But constitutional guarantees are at the mercy of lawyers, and Canadian lawyers have emerged as among the most fiercely intolerant of anyone, including their own colleagues, who fails to support same-sex “marriage.” Read her full account here.

The spread of ideas is a fascinating subject – how they start, how they take root, how they spread, and the consequences which follow; sometimes good, sometimes indifferent and sometimes dire.

John Henry Newman offered a description of the process in his masterly Essay on the Development of Doctrine. What he says offers us a remarkable picture of what has been unfolding before our very eyes in Western culture over the past 50 years or so.

When an idea, he says, is of a nature to arrest and possess the mind, it may be said to have life, that is, to live in the mind which is its recipient. But, when some great enunciation, whether true or false, about human nature, or present good, or government, or duty, or religion, is carried forward into the public throng of men and draws attention, then… it becomes an active principle within them, leading them to an ever-new contemplation of itself, to an application of it in various directions, and a propagation of it on every side.

He cites as example such ideas as the doctrine of the divine right of kings, or of the rights of man, … or utilitarianism, or free trade, …or the philosophy of Zeno or Epicurus, doctrines which are of a nature to attract and influence.

Let one such idea get possession of the popular mind, or the mind of any portion of the community, and it is not difficult to understand what will be the result. At first men will not fully realize what it is that moves them, and will express and explain themselves inadequately. There will be a general agitation of thought, and an action of mind upon mind. There will be a time of confusion, when conceptions and misconceptions are in conflict, and it is uncertain whether anything is to come of the idea at all, or which view of it is to get the start of the others.

It will, he wrote, introduce itself into the framework and details of social life, changing public opinion, and strengthening or undermining the foundations of established order. Thus in time it will have grown into an ethical code, or into a system of government, or into a theology, or into a ritual, according to its capabilities.

Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in the aftermath of the Irish referendum, described the event as “a reality check”. It was. The day before the referendum a great number of Irish people had made assumptions about the condition of their culture, about the ideas which carried weight within it. Two days later those assumptions were shattered. A radical idea – for many a terrible idea – about the nature of mankind, about gender, the nature of family and marriage had been working under cover for twenty, maybe thirty years. On the 23rd of May, 2015, Ireland awoke to find it in full flower.

But we must not forget that Newman’s words were written in the context of the ever-renewing process of refinement and development of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Those words hold fast to the promise that the truth of its teaching is strangely and marvellously rejuvenated from age to age. We should expect nothing less today.

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