Back to the future… or the end of the road?

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Can it really be this bad?
A British Conservative government minister, Justine Greening, says that gender is virtually meaningless by proposing to let adults come in off the street and change it at will. “Pronoun Committees” on campus warn, “If you fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.” Does anyone hear an echo, “Committee of Public Safety”? From there it was but a short step to the guillotine. Mozzilla’s CEO was removed from the company he founded because he privately supported traditional marriage – and that was also disrespectful, hurtful and oppressive. It certainly was for him – but that didn’t matter. A Google engineer is the latest casualty of the thought police because he expressed an opinion of doubtful orthodoxy.

This is just a very small sample from a long catalogue of seemingly mad events which are taking place around us. But they are not mad. They are the result of a cold, calculated dogma that has pervaded our culture. We are, in truth, not a million miles, not even a few hundred miles from the nightmare of Stalinist Russia, where to write an opera (Prokofiev), compose a symphony (Shostakovich) or pen a novel (Pasternak) which was out of synch with the ideology of the State would reduce your career to ashes and even endanger your very life.

Is there anyone out there prepared to defend mankind from this self-destructive ideology? Yes there is, perhaps too timidly yet, but the principles are sound and if this onslaught of injustice persists then surely the perennial voice of reason will be heard loud and clear.

For seventy-plus years Marxism was a political force in the Soviet Union, backed up by a lethal totalitarian state. In that time the one enemy which it constantly singled out for annihilation was the Christian religion. Wherever Christians were found the grotesque regime’s apparatus  first sought to corrupt them. Failing that it sought to crush them. After soviet Russia led the way a handful of Eastern European followed under its tutelage – or its tanks. China and some Asian countries then joined the monstrous regiment and in the fifties and sixties of the last century the ideology made a largely unsuccessful attempt to subvert Latin America.

Eventually, bearing within itself the seeds of its own destruction, the states which embraced it began to crumble and fall. But to the very end Christianity remained its perpetual enemy and number one target for persecution and extermination. Even in the last decade of its hegemony it sought to assassinate – and almost succeeded – the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

Why was this so? Why should the followers of a peace-loving prophet from 2000 years ago be such a threat to what at first sight might be described as just one more attempt to solve the problems mankind faces in organising this world to meet the daily needs of its inhabitants?

It was so because the vision of humanity held by the followers of Jesus Christ, based on the belief and understanding that this God-man in fact created the world and all that is in it, is radically at odds with that of Karl Marx, his antecedents and his disciples. The essential contradictions inherent in the Marxist vision of man, its utterly flawed anthropology, eventually killed it – but not before it left tens of millions dead in its wake. These contradictions, these flaws, were called out and opposed by authentic Christianity from the moment they first made their appearance. For that reason Christians became the constant and number one enemy and Marxists had to corrupt them or wipe them off the face of the earth. Despite pretences to the contrary, peaceful co-existence for a thorough and clear-sighted Marxist was never going to be an option with this enemy in full bloom.

We may feel relieved that this form of Marxism, while not extinct, is now largely moribund. That would be naive. Marxism itself is still with us in an even more insidious form, currently seeking to corrupt but increasingly looking like reverting to its crushing mode once again. Because it is no longer a unified ideology it is even more dangerous and pervasive. Its new suit of clothes was acquired from what we call the Frankfurt School. Here, already divining the self-destructive excesses of Soviet Communism in the 1930s, adherents of the basic core of Marx’s materialistic determinism articulated a “new improved model” which we now call neo-Marxism. This new manifestation of Marxism, often not even calling itself Marxism, again sees itself confronted with the same enemy – the Christians.

The core materialism which was at the heart of Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto is also at the heart of this new Marxism. This is the central error of the ideology which Christians must of necessity oppose. It must set its face against it because it is an error which denies the central truths of man’s nature and essence. From this central error springs a series of maladies which are now afflicting Western society and which in time will also spread to every other cultural environment on the planet: from it springs gross consumerism; rampant individualism of the “me, me, me” variety – proclaiming absolute freedom which is no freedom at all. From it also flows the scourge of gender ideology and all that it spawns; finally, the ideology which proclaims the right to destroy human life before birth and force its termination before its natural end.

But making a stand against the materialistic ideology of our time is to rule you out as a candidate for public service. We remember the rejection by the European parliament of Rocco Buttiglione. They haven’t gone away, you know. Governor Sam Brownback has been nominated by the President of America to join his administration as an ambassador for religious freedom. The so-called Human Rights Campaign, beloved of Barak Obama and the Clintons, which says Christian ministers should be forced to not only publicly approve of homosexuality but endorse it officially with God’s blessing, is outraged.  They are outraged because Gov. Brownback has defended the rights of Christian and other religious student groups to have membership standards consistent with the group’s religious affiliation. For them, to require members of Christian groups to believe Christ’s teaching amounts to promoting “hateful discrimination”. Most hateful of all of course is the fact that, as governor, Brownback supported Reality Birth Certificates that note biological sex. They consider biological reality and genetic science to be a “deadly” prejudice and an attack on one’s true “identity,” which for them is oh-so-solidly and rationally based on feelings and one’s current whim. Cue Justine Greening.

The warning signs are there that a new hegemony of this ideology is already with us. We can now see a new era of materialistic ideology slowly – or maybe not so slowly – gaining ground in the political square, in the halls of learning and in the schools where it is being inculcated in our children.

Last week, Campus Reform reported a lecturer at the University of Michigan advocating the “retraining of preschool children to make them less heteronormative.” Defining “heteronormativity” as a culture in which “heterosexuality is always assumed, expected, ordinary, and privileged,” she argues that the issue is especially important because preschools contribute to the “reproduction of inequalities pertaining to gender and sexuality,” such as gender roles and “gendered feelings”.

Furthermore, this new materialism is now being voluntarily adopted lock stock and barrel by political establishments in state after state around the world. They euphemistically call it “evolution in their thinking”; they call it getting in step with history; what they fail to do is call it what it really is: indoctrination in an ideology which is errant nonsense.

An example of the consequences: working within the laws which our indoctrinated legislators have put in place for our common good, we were told last week that a man has given birth to a baby. We negate the judgement of our sense and the principles of biological science when we call a woman a man. This is the “progress” of progressivism. In a similar case in Sweden, a woman manages to grow a beard and calls herself a man. She then gets pregnant by a man who thinks he is a woman and between them they have two children. These children in their turn are deliberately not being told what they are, boy or girl. They will decide for themselves. The truth is they won’t. They will be what they are and that is it.

The probability is that by writing this I am breaking a law. What law it is or in what country I might be prosecuted I do not know for sure. But I suspect that that some law brands me as a “hate-criminal” and  I am sure that the time is not far distant when the law will catch up with people who point out the folly and injustice of these ideas. Since breaking laws incurs punishments they will be punished.

Do I exaggerate? No. The esteemed University of West Virginia has warned its staff and students that referring to someone by the “wrong” gender pronoun is a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. In a totally different jurisdiction, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor in the University of Toronto, refused to adhere to the university’s policies on pronouns, requiring him to refer to students  as “ve”,”ver” or “vis”. He was threatened with legal action.

From the time of Adam man has known sin. Human history gives an account  of how we cope with the consequences of our malice and our weaknesses. It is often a sad story, it is can be salutary, it is sometimes heroic. But this is a different sin. Until modern times mankind’s understanding of our wrong turnings have been, in a sense, within the parameters of our own nature. The Judaeo-Christian response to those wrong turnings was corrective and didactic. We often resisted correction and were slow learners – but seldom if ever did we reject them on the basis of their being unnatural, alien, or foreign to what was deemed to be the very nature of the species. That, with Marxism, has all changed. The Judaeo-Christian vision of man and the Marxist vision of man are now radically and fatally at variance. Mankind is now engaged in a fight to the death. If Marxism is victorious in that conflict then mankind is doomed to self-destruct. We are very near the Gates of Hell – but Christians do have a promise about that.

A call to Ireland to take a stand against genocide

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The Irish Government will be called on this evening to formally recognise as genocide the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of ISIS. John Pontifex, Head of Press and Information at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) UK, a leading campaigner on behalf of the rights of persecuted Christians, will make the call at a talk he is giving on the topic tonight in Dublin.

He has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Syria, visiting Christians and others in Homs, Damascus and rural districts plagued by violence, persecution and extreme poverty. In his work with ACN, he has visited Iraq as well as other parts of the Middle East, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.

“On trips to Syria and Iraq” he said today, “I have seen with my own eyes the churches that have been repeatedly desecrated by Islamic State, I have met the people driven from their homes and I have also spoken to those who have been kidnapped, their lives threatened. The evidence makes plain the intent of the persecutors to flush out individual sections of society; that is why the Irish government should join with others in recognising the actions in question as genocide according to the definition given under the UN Convention on Genocide. Nor is this genocide only against Christians; it recognises Yazidis and Shiite Muslims as victims too.”

The US House of Representatives recently voted by 373 votes to nil to recognise as genocide what is happening to religious minorities at the hands of ISIS. The European Parliament voted in favour of a similar resolution late last year.

The talk in Dublin takes place tonight at 8pm and is entitled ‘Genocide: how Christians are being killed and driven out of the Middle East for their faith’. It is being jointly hosted by Aid to the Church in Need Ireland and The Iona Institute. It is will chaired by historian and political activist, Dr Martin Mansergh. It takes places in the Alexander hotel, Dublin 2. Admission is free.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

A few hours ago Professor Robert George of Princeton posted this on his Facebook page.

The Descent into Gomorrah. First, please, somebody tell me that the interview in New York Magazine entitled “What It’s Like to Date a Horse” is a fake or some sort of spoof. Second, I will not post it here, because it is too disturbing. I urge friends not to read it unless you have a very, very, very strong stomach. I mention it, reluctantly, only to show that anyone who thought we had already reached the bottom of the slippery slope is mistaken. The descent into Gomorrah continues. I believe it can be reversed, but not simply stopped. “This far and no farther,” is not an option. “He who says A, says B.” Once a set of premises is adopted or endorsed, logic carries one to certain conclusions. One may have a subjective wish (rooted in an aversion, or preference, or lack of interest, or whatever) to where the logic of a position takes one, but a wish (or an aversion, or a preference) is not a principle.

Without a doubt, “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”. This comes into view on the day after we hear on Irish television news that “vandals” climbed to the top of Ireland’s highest mountain with a petrol powered con saw and cut down the five metre steel cross which has be there for nearly 50 years. The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Sergeant Dermot O’Connell of Killarney Garda station is appealing for witnesses, in particular “the last person who saw the cross standing” to come forward.

“We are treating this as criminal damage,” Sgt O’Connell said.

We know that this is much deeper than that. This is one more assault by the secular jihad, those to whose hedonism the Cross is the last remaining challenge. This is the secularist beast, slouching towards Bethlehem, already born.

Believe it or not, there is one good thing about Sin City

Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City 2 has been a commercial and a critical flop. That, probably, is no bad thing. It brings Frank Miller’s noir-ish, ultra-violent graphic novels to the big screen for a second time. The first Sin City was a huge box-office hit; now, nine years on, we must  roll up our sleeves, snap on our suspender belts, and return to that titillating place of permanent midnight, where men are men and women are mostly prostitutes, said Kevin Maher in The (London) Times. For another critic, what kills it is its repetitive and unengaging plot. For a film that tries very hard to shock with its “cartoonish sex and violence”, Sin City 2 is remarkably “dull”, and endurance test, he said.

But at least it has one good thing going for it, even if it is only its lurid billboard advertising we see. It is a reminder to us of what we like to forget. Sin is behovely, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well – but only so long as we don’t forget that sin exists.

The world is divided by sin – not between sinners and non-sinners. We are all, each in our own way, sinners. The great divide now is between those who know that sin exists and those who deny its existence. Sin is behovely because the sense of sin is an essential part of our living the good life. It is nothing less than our sense of reality, part of our sense of the existence of God.

It is the modern age’s defining characteristic that it has lost the sense of sin – and it has lost this because it has lost its sense of reality, its sense of God. In little more than one generation – my generation – the rot began in earnest. It was there before, indeed the history of thought shows that it was always there, but in embryonic form. It has had a long gestation but with its birth we have been presented with a true monster.

I know parents of my generation, good people who firmly believe in God and who practice their religion devoutly and publicly. Their children, now adults, are also good people and a credit to their parents, their country. They have all the refinements – kindness, generosity, a sense of responsibility –  engendered in them by the civilization we have the privilege of being part of. But there is a difference between them and their parents. They do not believe.

Does it matter? Will they be any less good, kind, generous and responsible than their parents for all that? Possibly not. Indeed, by all accounts they may be more so. Their parents were good parents and gave them the milk on which they were nurtured, milk filled with the vitamins of their own faith and vision of man’s origin and destiny. But the one thing which many in this generation did not take from that nourishing milk was faith and a belief in God, their creator. The milk with which they nourished their own children in some way failed to be transmitted – on a scale not seen between any two generations in recorded history. If this is an exaggeration please cite chapter and verse to disprove it. Nor is it an exaggeration to predict some dire consequences of this failure.

No society that we know of in history has had the kind of flourishing which the societies marked by Christian civilization have had. It is in these societies and in this civilization that our ideas of the qualities of justice, equality, kindness, mercy and a sense of the unique value of a human life have evolved. They have evolved out of a living source, even when the reality of that source itself has been doubted. That source is the Judaeo-Christian religion.

The big question however, is how long can this flourshing last beyond the outright rejection of the source from which it springs. The result of the cultural chasm which has now opened up in the West is the unravelling of the entire fabric of societities founded on those values. What we call the “triumph of the West” is under threat. It is under threat  because its source and the ultimate vision which sustained it seems to have died in the minds hearts of those who have inherited it.

Has any civilization in history outlasted the force which gave it life? In the majority of cases those forces were undoubtedly physical and brutal. Walter Benjamin observed that there is “no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” He is right in most cases but to lay this charge against Christian civilization is to ignore what is at the heart of this culture. Where brutality and barbarism accompanied the spread of Christian civilization it did so in contravention of its very essence. Invariably the barbarisms which afflicted Christian societies were eventually tamed by the beauty and power the Christian message, leaving us with the jewels we have in expressions of faith –  in art, music and literature –  and flowing out from those, the treasures of human expression in all those forms as well.

Will all this now survive the loss of faith, the loss of vision which was at their heart? The signs are not propitious. Art has become banal at best – think of those sickening banners we see hanging in churches – and at worst, nihilistic. Music, for the most part, has become incomprehensible and is a weak caricature of what it was. Literature, for the most part, speaks of little more than destruction, pessimism and death without redemption – when it is not wallowing in lust which it tries to pass off as love.

If these artefacts are the manifestations of contemporary civilization, what does it augur for the future human agents who will live, breathe and look for nourishment in that civilization?  What happens when those who look out from within a culture see nothing beyond the vision presented in these artefacts? Do we really think that the human spirit can flourish in this desert? Will each generation which follows the last not slide further and further into the abyss, as the residue of goodness which they have inherited becomes fainter and fainter?

If the vision of reality contained in these words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, written nearly 2000 years ago, shortly after the dawn of Christianity, is now not just ignored but vehemently denied and its adherents persecuted for believing it, the consequences cannot but be other than apocalyptic.

 It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor anyone else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these beings, in order to the accomplishing of what he had himself determined with himself beforehand should be done, as if he did not possess his own hands!

 For with him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit by whom and in whom, freely, he made all things, to whom also he speaks, saying, Let us make man after our image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), he taking from himself the substance of the creatures, and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world.

Deny this vision, reject this truth, live life according to that denial and surely things will fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Without this vision all we are left with is the misery of Sin City – and without even knowing that we should call it what it is.

James Foley, may he rest in peace – as he surely does

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The Islamic State jihadists have executed freelance journalist James Foley and posted a video of his beheading. In doing so they have brought us back 1800 years to remind us of what it sometimes costs to be a Christian and of what any Christian might at any time be called on to do – to sacrifice his life for his faith.

Is Foley a martyr in the truest sense? Surely he is, and is now with God in Heaven. It may take time to verify but you and I can be absolutely sure that the jihadists of the Islamic State gave James Foley the option of saving his life by accepting their utterly false and evil vision of both man and God – just as the Romans tempted the Christian martyrs of their day.

He died brutally at their hands, not because he was an American but because the was a Christian first, who would not abandon his faith

Foley, just 40, became their prisoner two years ago while covering the conflict in Syria. Prior to that he had covered the conflict in Libya and also found himself captive there. In that captivity he revealed to us the depths of his faith in an account which he wrote for a magazine published by his old university, Marquette, in Wisconsin.

James Foley, may he rest in peace, is an example to all Christians and an example to all who would be Christian. He shows us that bearing the Cross of Christ is part of the deal – and that this, even in the age which we consider modern and enlightened, 1800 years after the early Christians were marched into the arenas, may call for the ultimate sacrifice.

Foley wrote this account of a moment in his earlier captivity in Libya, revealing to us the virtues of a true Christian, as well as the meaning and the of faith and prayer.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. …

One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. … Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

“Jimmy, where are you?”

“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” …

“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.

“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

The ‘Catholic moment’ debate

There is a very interesting follow-up by Ross Douthat on his own NYT blog to his “Catholic Moment” column in the paper at the weekend. In it he concludes:

Again, I’m not denying that the Catholic faith will always be rowing against the currents of a late-modern mass democracy like ours. But boats can beat successfully against a current (and make room for more passengers on board), or they can just be carried backward toward the sea. A “Catholic moment” exists, in this sense, when the barque of Peter seems to be making some headway — and to the extent that such a moment has vanished in our own era, as much blame has to belong to the rowers who ignored obvious rocks, smashed their oars or kicked holes in the bottom as to the river of modernity itself.

It’s all here.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Heretical thought…will ever be foreign, strange,….to the pious but uncontroversial mind; for what have good Christians to do, in the ordinary course of things, with the subtle hallucinations of the intellect?

So Newman tells us in The Grammar of Assent. He was adressing a particular problem relating the assent of ordinary Christians to articles of faith defended by the Church against the products of what we might call ‘controversial minds’. It was hard not to think of his words when reading the products of the mind of the former Irish President, Mary McAleese, widely disseminated throughout a range of media last week.

She clearly would have very little time for John Henry Newman’s kind of fidelity to the teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Why, Newman asks, should the refutations of heresy  – and Mrs McAleese’s utterings are full of that old-fashioned phenomenon – be our objects of faith? if no mind, theological or not, can believe what it cannot understand, in what sense can the Canons of Councils and other ecclesiastical determinations be included in those credenda (things to be believed) which the Church presents to every Catholic as if apprehensible, and to which every Catholic gives his firm interior assent? He was defending the genuineness of the faith of people who assented whole-heartedly to the doctrines of Christianity even though they did not or could not fully understand them in a rational way.

 There is clearly a great deal in the teaching of the Catholic Church and in its refutation of contrary teaching – on priestly celibacy, on the possibility of ordaining women, on the nature and meaning of other sacraments as well, on sexual morality – which Mary McAleese cannot understand and because she cannot understand it she proposes her own alternative teaching.

 Mrs. McAleese and many of her kind – for example her fellow-travellers in that not-so-merry band, the Association of Catholic Priests – has great difficulty giving assent to any principle of the Catholic faith and morals which is out of sync with modern liberal wisdom, particularly if it contravenes the rather mindless principles of equality which that wisdom currently embraces.

She and they have no time for a Church which has a duty, as Newman expresses it, to act as “the pillar and ground of the Truth,”  a Church manifestly obliged from time to time, and to the end of time, to denounce opinions incompatible with that truth, whenever able and subtle minds in her communion venture to publish such opinions.

 Newman suggested considering a scenario in which certain Bishops and priests began to teach that Islamism or Buddhism was a direct and immediate revelation from God. She would be bound to use the authority which God has given her to declare that such a proposition will not stand with Christianity, and that those who hold it are none of hers; and she would be bound to impose such a declaration on that very knot of persons who had committed themselves to the novel proposition, in order that, if they would not recant, they might be separated from her communion, as they were separate from her faith.

Now it is very unlikely that these sort of measures are going to be taken against Mrs. McAleese  – particularly in view of the hue and cry which has followed the mild requirements being made of certain priests who are teaching within the fold of the Church views quite at variance with accepted doctrine. But surely the implications of Newman’s writing should not be lost on her and others holding similar views. There is unlikely to be a de jure separation sought but is there not already a clear de facto separation in place? If it is not clear should it not be made so – as bishops in the US have requested from those politicians who have set their face against the moral teaching of the Catholic Church on a number of issues?

Civil servants are expected to publicly support and implement the policies of their governments – and if they do no they are asked to leave their office. Why is the same standard not accepted for and by the “servants of the servants of God”? Mrs. McAleese holds no office in the Catholic Church – although there is a suspicion that she might like to – but she does profess to be in communion with it. In this profession there is a huge contradiction.

In the case of the masses of the faithful Catholic population faced with the choice of following the innovators of doctrine or following the Church as understood by Newman he was clear that in such a case, her masses of population would at once take part with her, and without effort take any test, which secured the exclusion of the innovators; and she on the other hand would feel that what is a rule for some Catholics must be a rule for all. Who is to draw the line between who are to acknowledge that rule, and who are not? It is plain, there cannot be two rules of faith in the same communion, or rather, as the case really would be, an endless variety of rules, coming into force according to the multiplication of heretical theories, and to the degrees of knowledge and varieties of sentiment in individual Catholics.

 A-la-carte or pick-and-choose Catholics now seem to resent being called such but in doing so they are just trying to have their cake and eat it. As Newman explained:

The “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is an article of the Creed, and an article, which, inclusive of her infallibility, all men, high and low, can easily master and accept with a real and operative assent. It stands in the place of all abstruse propositions in a Catholic’s mind, for to believe in her word is virtually to believe in them all. Even what he cannot understand, at least he can believe to be true; and he believes it to be true because he believes in the Church.

In the end of the day that is what it comes down to and is it not about time that we began to shout it from the roof- tops so that it will be clear to everyone in this Year of Faith. Is it not time for those who wish to be authentic Catholics to make it very clear with Whom they stand and Whose standard they follow?

Were the barbarians any worse than this?

Many, many years ago the Mamas and the Papas sang, in one of the great songs of the ‘Sixties, “California Dreamin”. It didn’t mean much but it was a great song. These lines from it came back to me last week in the context of a rather unpleasant experience,

“…on such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church

I passed along the way

Well, I got down on my knees

And I pretend to pray”

Well, no, it was a beautiful summer day and I was actually trying to pray but I wasn’t given much of a chance.

It was, sadly, a Catholic church in Dublin. There were about ten or a dozen people in the church and they had been preparing for either a funeral or a wedding in the day or two that followed. It was probably a wedding because had it been a funeral there might have been a little more decorum.

But decorum there wasn’t. It was like the harvest fair day in Glenties in there. All of them were gathered in a group at the back of the church without the slightest sign that they had any idea of the Presence in the place or the purpose of the place.  I looked at them – I hoped, disapprovingly – but I got no acknowledgement nor was there the slightest sign that they were aware that their raucus conversation was 100 miles out of place.  Like Mama Cass, I knelt down and pretended – it was all I could do – to pray. I thought that they might take a hint. Not a hope. I looked around again. Still no response.

Had I been braver – I felt there were too many for one person to take on – I would have taken the Lord’s cords and driven them out. But I wasn’t. I just resorted to a pointedly disgusted march to the door. I wish I had their email addresses. If I had I would send them this splendid little video from Leah, telling us how we should behave in a church on SheisCatholic.

Life, death or deadlock?

What has gone wrong? There can be no doubt but that something has gone very badly wrong when the very basis of mankind’s self-understanding has come to a pass where the vision of life and good living itself has been perverted beyond recognition. How did we get to the point where the termination of life, both by oneself and by another is considered a moral option? How did we reach a point where in the chaos and confusion emanating from the meltdown of our financial system, everyone talks about regulation and regulation agencies but no one talks about a moral sense of right or wrong or of the springs from which such a sense emanates. How did we come to lose our sense of the meaning of human love to the extent that it is now the pretext for the wholesale abuse of human sexuality?

Some years ago – not too many – in the aftermath of the emergence of Islamic rage against the West, the historian Bernard Lewis asked the same question about the collapse of Islamic civilization. He did so in a book which was simply titled, What Went Wrong?

I attended Mass one morning recently in a Dublin parish church. The parish priest concelebrated while a priest whom I had not seen before was the main celebrant and he preached a short homily. That homily gave me at least part of an answer to the question, what has gone wrong for us?

Bernard Lewis, 85 years of age, is professor emeritus at Princeton University and for many is thedoyen of Middle East studies in the West. How, his question asks, did the preeminence that the Islamic world once enjoyed and the civilization it had created collapse?

Lewis’s argument is that the success of Muhammad in establishing not merely the Muslim religion, but also an empire dominated by that faith, served to create a society that is totalitarian by its very nature, bound by rules and strictures that make it too static to adapt and compete with a West where Christianity, in contrast, does not demand control over the political and economic spheres.  The very foundations of these respective faiths for him hold the key to the histories of both civilizations – to date.

Could it be that the true crisis of the West today is that it may now be about to abandon the very reason for its triumph – its Judaeo-Christian heart, in favour of an amalgam of so-called “politically correct” principles founded on…nothing.

 Lewis argues as follows: The absence of a native secularism in Islam, and the widespread Muslim rejection of an imported secularism inspired by Christian example, may be attributed to certain profound differences of belief and experience in the two cultures.  The first, and in many ways the most profound difference, from which all others follow, can be seen in the contrasting  foundation myths–and I use this expression without intending any disrespect–of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. 

The children of Israel fled from bondage, and wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land.  Their leader Moses had only a glimpse, and was not himself permitted to enter.  Jesus was humiliated and crucified, and his followers suffered persecution and martyrdom for centuries, before they were finally able to win over  the ruler, and to adapt the state, its language, and its institutions to their purpose. 

Muhammad achieved victory and triumph in his own lifetime.  He conquered his promised land, and created his own state, of which he himself was supreme sovereign. As such, he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, levied taxes, raised armies, made war, and made peace.  In a word, he     ruled, and the story of his decisions and actions as ruler is sanctified in Muslim scripture and amplified in Muslim tradition.

On the contrary, Lewis goes on to explain, Judaism and Christianity had the concept of the secular state forced upon them by circumstance from their very beginnings. Where Christian theologians like St. Augustine developed complex theories to explain and justify the secular state, Muslim thinkers never even had to face the dilemma. 

Judaism and Christianity, in that view developed spiritually and lived spiritually in alien worlds before they came to terms with those worlds. They knew what true freedom was. They knew the place of law and regulation but also knew what their foundation was. On the other hand, lacking any sense of the secular and the eternal play between the City of God and the City of the World within which lives our sense and enjoyment of human freedom on a day-to-day basis, the Islamic world became crippled and dangerously resentful of its triumphant rival.

But if that rival now abandons the principles of the faith – and in particular if the ministers of that faith begin to abandon the authentic teachings which, in its Scriptures and traditions, have sustained it for millennia –  and which have given it its very essence, then the future is very uncertain indeed.

And this is where my epiphany in a Dublin parish church comes in again. After that Mass I went to talk of my concerns to the homilist – but the bird had flown. What had he said that was so worrying? It was more what he did not say that was the problem.

His homily referred to a film in the context of the gospel of the day (Matthew 9. 1-8). The film recounted the story of a young man who announced to his family and friends that he was gay. His mother was distraught and left the event at which this announcement took place, apparently rejecting her son in the process. The preacher made no further comment on this other than simply to pose the question to himself and his congregation: “How do I react when people tell me things I don’t particularly want to hear”.

It was no earth-shattering heterodoxy. But that phenomenon of late 20th century heterodoxy of which it is a symptom might ultimately put in the shadows the breach in Christendom effected by the 95 theses nailed on the door of a church in Wittenberg in 1517. The moral implication was clear to all. There was no moral issue whatsoever about the choice and actions of the gay son. The moral deviance was on the mother’s side, in failing to deal adequately with nothing more serious than something that she did not want to hear – like a choice of political party she might have disapproved of, a choice of a wife deemed unsuitable, or ever a rejection of her very good dinner. There was no recognition that what the mother might have been dealing with was the realisation that her son had made a choice which she knew to be immoral according to the norms of natural law, the teaching of the authentic Judaeo-Christian faiths and the law of God.

If our secular world continues on its rudderless way, guided only by groundless and flawed politically correct principles, and if the ministers of the Judaeo-Christian religions abandon their duty to hold up before their faithful followers the authentic shared principles of those religions, then the freedom we have enjoyed coming from the very heart of those religions will perish and we will end up with totalitarian systems fighting it out among themselves – to the death or deadlock.

“The most abused Faith on earth”

One of Irish television leading public square venues, The Frontline, recently took up the question of whether or not Irish faith communities were under attack from an aggressive secularism. It was, to say the least, a somewhat inconclusive debate. It might have been much better had it been asked to confront Michael Coren, whose latest book, Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity has just been published.  

Coren, English born Canadian journalist and broadcaster, of Jewish antecedents, convert to Catholicism (twice), has just been interviewed by Charles Lewis in the National Post and spells out his view very clearly. In the West generally, he believes, Christians are now

“marginalized, they’re mocked, they’re told their views don’t belong, they’re told to keep their views out of the public square and keep their religion at home. And where it can be quite sinister is at universities where Christian students are told that their ideas are stupid. I’ve even seen it with my children who are in university. Somehow Christianity is not a valid area of thought any longer. You can bring your socialism, your feminism, your homosexuality, your anti-Zionism into the class but if you bring your Christianity that’s not to be taken seriously.”

No Christian carrying a banner for their Faith in the cultural mainstream of the West today would have any difficulty producing evidence to uphold every one of these assertions.  Any Catholic in Ireland today, seriously faithful to the teaching authority of that Church knows full well that they are on the frontline of a battle with a very militant force opposing them on all and more of the issues listed by Coren.

Coren calls Christianity the most abused faith on Earth. “I believe the evidence is overwhelming,” he writes.

 “I believe… that Christianity is the main, central, most common, and most thoroughly and purposefully marginalized, obscured, and publicly and privately mis-represented belief system in the final decades of the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first century.” He rails that the same intellectual class that so quickly condemns anything Christian will do cartwheels to explain away Islamic terrorism.

Lewis put it to Coren in his interview that there is a lot about Christianity that can seem unreal: the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Jesus. Is it any surprise that people sometimes have trouble taking it seriously? To this Coren replies that these are really side-shows in the mocking game and that what they are really mocked for are the moral consequences of their beliefs: that life begins at conception and ends at natural death, that abortion is wrong, that promiscuity is wrong. “We live in a culture where no one wants to hear the word ‘no’” he says.

He lays bare the culture of intolerance facing orthodox Christianity:

“Intelligent people will give other ideologies and other religions a great deal of room to try to understand. When it comes to Christianity they seem to assume that any sense of fairness or sympathy should be thrown out the window. They will say things that are blatantly stupid.

“The idea that because a tiny number of Catholic priests acted in an appalling manner should jaundice everything said by the Roman Catholic Church is also so illogical. You might as well say that no comment by a Canadian should ever be taken seriously because there are some serial killers in Canada.”

On the issue of orthodox Christians’ position on homosexual acts he says they are being told our view on homosexuality is somehow wrong and called homophobic. “They’re going to be called homophobic whatever they do. I think the Catholic Church has spent too much time worrying about the reaction it might get rather than reacting itself.

“If someone calls me a homophobe because I believe marriage is between one man and one woman, then I would rejoice in that. But frankly, with gay friends, I try to avoid the subject. They know I am opposed to gay marriage and they also know I’m fond of them as people and would defend them against personal attack. But let me be clear, anyone who hates gay people is a moral criminal.”

 In the book Coren defends, but also contextualizes, the fact that the abortion question has such a high profile for Christians in the culture wars. In the first place it is because they feel intensely that they’re part of an institution given by God. This institution upholds the sacredness of all human life. Because of that “they feel it more when the most vulnerable are destroyed. And they feel it more intensely than other people. I guess we are obsessed because it is such a tragedy. And if we dare to mention it, the world tells us to be quiet.”

In his book Coren takes on Dan Brown’s ludicrous but astonishingly popular The Da Vinci Code. Why, his interviewer asks, given that by now Brown’s pot-boiler has become somewhat passé?

“Well,” he says, “it has influenced millions of people. They’ve been led by the book to read other books that oppose Christianity. Brown quotes real people and he makes a lot of it seem like non-fiction. I thought it was worth taking on again.” Above all he wanted to make sure that what is in The Da Vinci Code is shown again to be false.

So, the next time Radio Telefis Eireann, the BBC or any other broadcaster, takes up the issue of whether or not militant secularism is a reality, perhaps they should get an airline ticket for Michael Coren and bring him on to give us his formidable point of view.