Cameron ‘does God’, but…


Charles Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph about the attacks on David Cameron which followed his Church Times article describing Britain as a Christian country, noted some inconsistencies in the Prime Minister’s thinking. Specifically, he pointed out how Cameron has sold out on one of the country’s most valuable Christian institutions, marriage.

Of all the human institutions developed in the light of Christianity, marriage has been the most abiding. It is because of Christianity that marriage became a lifelong and increasingly equal bond between one man and one woman, chiefly in order to bring up children lovingly. Without Christian teaching, it was not much more than a property deal about women (with sex thrown in), made between men.

Because he wanted to be seen to modernise his party, Mr Cameron decided to introduce single-sex marriage. In rushing forward to do so, he made no attempt to reflect on the Christian heritage which he now extols. He never seems to have thought about why the relationship between a man and a woman might not, in fact, be the same as that between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

Although an exemplary parent himself, he did not consider how refounding marriage on a quite different basis could endanger the rights of children. The people who framed his new law started – too late – to consider what marriage law actually involves and found that the law of consummation, central to the definition of marriage, could not apply to any same-sex act. Quite unintentionally, marriage has been redefined, with sex taken out of it. The good Christian Mr Cameron has trivialised and de-Christianised our greatest social bond without meaning to. Not surprisingly, he chose not to speak about marriage at all in his Church Times article last week: he would not have known what to say.

Moore’s Telegraph article is here.

The children of wrath?

What is it about the anti-God brigade that makes them so hate-filled and, well, just downright unpleasant. They truly seem to be the children of wrath. The genuine children of light – as opposed to the faux variety – do at times let themselves down and indulge in rants which border on or cross the line of human decency. But by and large they are restrained by that essential ingredient of their cultural heritage – the charity of Christ.

Take a random comment thread from any faith story on the internet and what are you likely to find? You find yourself wading into a quagmire of irrational contempt, animosity and downright hatred towards anyone professing faith. You don’t even have to go anywhere near the more extreme end of this spectrum, the Dawkins Quarter, to get this. Scroll through any of these stories and you will find yourself not a little depressed by the experience. If you don’t encounter mockery then it will be sterile cynicism or worse.  But you will hardly ever encounter an attempt at a real engagement of minds. It is seriously sad.

Over the past few years the secularist/religion debate was frequently pitched in terms of one motion: The Catholic Church is (is not) a force for good in the world. Sometimes it was broader and put in terms of “Religion is (is not) a force for good in the world”, a Christopher Hitchens-style generalisation. Hitchens’ book, God is not Great, underlined the problem of debating the question in those terms. Its subtitle, “How religion poisons everything”, said it all. Hitchens’ “religion”,  by his definition, is really no religion. The opponent of any and every faith has the faithful at his mercy on this platform. Hitchens’ generalisation of faith allows him to bundle together, for the purposes of confusion, every kind of lunacy which men have for millennia described as religion.

The only meaningful debate on this topic will be one where religion is defended and professed on the basis of the specific doctrines it teaches and the way of life it proposes for its followers – regardless even of how faithfully its followers succeed in living up to those teachings and that way of life.

In many of those debates over the past few years the defenders of the mainstream Christian Churches – and for the most part it was the Catholic Church which was put in the dock – were on the losing side. This was primarily because they failed to demand that the teaching of their church, and not the motley collection of red herrings thrown at them, be made the focus of debate. If that were done, and if the cumulative effect of the effort of millions of Christians across the world to live according to the authentic Christian principles of their church, taking account of the development of its teaching down through the ages – and its influence on our civilization as it did so – then there would be no contest.

Leave aside the red herrings of issues generated by the inherent weakness, folly and sinfulness of mankind and you will find in the teaching of the Catholic Church, enshrined in its moral and social doctrines, a guide second to none for mankind’s flourishing. Examine all of these as closely as you like and you will not fail to find in them an understanding of our human condition which if acted on universally would be the greatest imaginable force for good in the world, bar none. Just do it, and see.

The argument against religion on the basis of the ignorance, weakness or malice of those who profess to follow Christ’s teaching while in fact following some aberrant concoction of their own, is no argument against the truth and value of this teaching. We might use an analogy. Great art is not diminished in its value to mankind, nor in its power to move our race, when confronted by the ignorant, even when they collect it and hoard it as a marketable commodity.  The sense of loss felt after the recent burning of some priceless works of art by some crazed woman underlines our appreciation of the value and power to do good of the world’s great literature, music and art.

Ignorance is ever a threat to beauty. Ignorance, culpable or otherwise, has also always been a threat to goodness an truth. That the truth of the Christian religion has historically and contemporaneously been held hostage by the misguided, the ignorant, and even evil people (like vicious slavers in the New World), is inadmissible as evidence against it.

A gem of moral wisdom encountered recently in a book of moral questions and answers compiled in the last century – with resonances very pertinent for our own times – might illustrate how much of the misery we inflict on each other globally might be alleviated if we were more attentive to the teaching of Christ’s Church.

The question, from a person with an eye on Irish history, was asked:

 Suppose a person is in possession of land by ancestral right –  land confiscated in the time of Cromwell, and given to one of his ancestors. Legally, he owns the land. Is it the teaching of the Cathoiic Church that he morally owns it or does the land rightly belong to the descendants of the original owner?

 The answer, from a renowned moral theologian of his day[i], was this:

 The confiscation was unjust, and the newcomer held the land on a title that no moral law could sanction. But time heals many wounds. Some of his successors were better than himself; they became bona fide holders of the proceeds of his robbery. The best moral instructors of mankind – and among them the Catholic Church takes the prominent place – have come to the conclusion that to safeguard public order and the rights of the community as a whole, the claims of these successors must be maintained, even in conscience, when a long period of peaceful possession has elapsed.

 The principle is termed “prescription,” and is universally acknowledged. The period varies in the different countries, but the time since CromweIl is long enough to satisfy the most exacting reading. The present holder may keep what he has without being troubled in conscience.

 If a person questions that conclusion, he must meet certain difficulties. The real owner in the days of Cromwell held the land from an ancestor who disturbed the previous owners in the days of a previous invasion. So through the days of the Milesians, the Firbolgs, and the countless other regimes of which history knows nothing. If we reject the principle of “prescription” we must face the suggestion that no human being on the globe at the present moment owns a single particle of anything he holds.

 Another question was asked. This was probably some time early in the last century. It’s clarity is uncompromising.

 Should the right of conquest be always recognized?

 The “right of conquest” , he answered, has been asserted by bellicose invaders and by their “scientific” supporters. It is no better than the right of the highway robber to seize all he can on a night-raid.

 Can we see anything but wisdom and a force for good in a world view which enshrines principles of common sense and justice like these? This is just a glimpse of the patrimony of the authentic Christian Church, passed from generation to generation in the manner eluciadated in the first encyclical letter from the current incumbent of the See of Peter, “Lumen Fidei.”

 The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. But how does this come about in a way that nothing is lost, but rather everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood? It is through the apostolic Tradition preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact with the foundational memory. What was handed down by the apostles — as the Second Vatican Council states — “comprises everything that serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.

 The often flawed striving and rough hewing of mankind to implement this patrimony should not be the measure of the value or goodness of the Foundation itself. What is frightening in the contemporary debate – and it is often hard to recognise it as a debate – is the flight from reasonableness in failing to recognize this distinction, a flight accompanied by what appears to be a visceral hatred of the very idea that underlying our existence there might just be that benign “divinity that shapes our end” and that this Divinity subsists in the Catholic Church.


[i] Dr. Michael J. O’Donnell, Professor of Moral Theology in st. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland, in the early decades of the twentieth century.

A letter in today’s Irish Independent

A letter in today’s Irish Independent tells us that “there is insufficient moral consensus in Ireland to ground consideration of the country’s future.”

“The clash of antagonistic wills,” Philip O’Neill writes, “evident in the abortion debate and in current discussion of what to do in Syria or with our economy, often parades as rational debate, leaving us with little more than intensified divisions.” So far so good. Certainly, a lot of parading, a good deal of intensity and deep, deep division. Parading is clearly a sham but intensity and division are no bad things in themselves. Fear and loathing of both, which O’Neill seems to harbor, may well be harmful if they lead you to some of his conclusions.

“The continuing drift away from the church”, he writes, “is perhaps the most telling change. However, this is not indicative of a new paganism but a justifiable expression of dissatisfaction with a form of religion that had become radically focused on itself. Even the priests express unease at the church’s sometimes neurotic fear of the slightest shift from fidelity to its programme.”

I think we are dealing with more than the “slightest” shifts in contemporary Irish Catholicism here. If the utterances emerging from some of the followers and sympathesiers of the Ascociation of Catholic Priests are anything to go by, a good few Protestants are more in tune with orthodox Catholicism than with this kind of “fidelity”.

Who ever said morality was about consensus? Well, sadly, a lot of people did – and that is where the radical divide lies. The Catholic Church’s teaching will never be developed or defined by consensus. It is a given – by God – or it is nothing. Otherwise we will just be indulging in another bit of democratic groping for the truth. Mankind in human society deepens in its understanding of the revealed truth down through the ages. That is very different from a process of consensus.

There is no doubt but that a search is involved if we are to know the Truth. But is is not to be found in consensus. It will be found in the way and in the spirit which Pope Francis’ encyclical, Lumen Fidei, suggests when he quotes Saint Irenaeus of Lyons who tells how Abraham, before hearing God’s voice, had already sought him “in the ardent desire of his heart” and “went throughout the whole world, asking himself where God was to be found”, until “God had pity on him who, all alone, had sought him in silence”.

With friends like this….thoughts on P.C. own goals

Over the past few years Christmas has become a bit of a battlefield between those who value the customs and traditions we associate with the season and the P.C. brigades. While some of the age-old traditions might seem to be on the losing side, all is not as it might seem. With their blatant excesses the “politically correct” may be their own worst enemies in the long run. The latest that caught the eye was in the school in Britain where little children were singing – hopefully Advent carols – about Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem. They were stopped and told to change the lyrics for fear that someone might be offended.  In the original words they sang, “little donkey, carry Mary safely on her way.” This was far too explicitly Christian, they were told – Mary was the offending word, – and were ordered to change the lyrics to “carry Lucy safely on her way.” With friends like this the multi-culturalists don’t need enemies. They are so devoid of logic and common sense that they inevitably bring down so much ridicule on their heads that sensible people – who are really in the majority when they put their minds to it – see through their folly and begin to think again for themselves. They even begin to find their way back home. This is probably part of what happened over the past few Christmases. A survey just reported on has found that in spite of all the multicultural ballyhoo about Christmas being “offensive” to non-Christians, in spite of all the rampant materialism which invades this most spiritual of seasons, in spite of all the consumption and self-indulgence, Church attendance at Christmas services in Britain has gone up 15 percent since the beginning of this millennium. There are, presumably, multiple factors contributing to this – among them the influx of Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe – but surely the folly about Lucy, added to the follies we read about when schools feel they have to avoid putting on Nativity plays because they might offend non-Christians, must be making people think. Do some of not them say to themselves, “how dare they try to take our valued traditions away from us?” Is it any wonder that parents might decide to bring their children to something which will speak to them of the event which is at the heart of our very civilization? Perhaps there is also in this something of a reaction to the onslaught of Richard Dawkins – and his cohorts –  over the past few years, branding us all as deluded – if not dangerous – dreamers. The great advantage of being challenged is that it makes people think and thinking then may urge them to act. OK, this is just Christmas attendance at a communal celebration of faith. The attendance at services throughout the rest of the year is still in decline. But this is a celebration of when it all started and perhaps it may help a lot of people to start all over again.  Bring it on!


 Not too far removed from all that was the spectacular own-goal by the pseudo liberals in La Sapienza University in Rome who made themselves the laughing stock of Europe by insulting the Pope after Christmas. Last time it was Muslims who were up in arms when Pope Benedict quoted a medieval Emperor’s not too flattering question about Islam’s contribution to religion. This year it was the “intellectuals” of  La Sapienza who staged a protest sit-in when the Pope was invited to address the university. His crime? He had quoted – 18 years ago –  an Austrian philosopher who had the temerity to suggest that Galileo’s treatment at his trial was “reasonable and fair” by the standards of the time. The Pope’s office responded with dignity and issued a statement saying that “Following incidents known to all” it seemed best to cancel the event to which the Rector had invited him. “However,” it went on, “the Holy Father will send the university authorities a copy of the address he intended to give.” And what an address! It must have heaped coals on the heads of the silly protestors. He spoke of truth, goodness and the proper relationship between the Church of God and the university in which men sought above all to search for these things in freedom. 

“What does the Pope have to do with, or have to say to the university”, he asked? “Surely he must not attempt to impose the faith on others in an authoritarian way since it can only be bestowed in freedom. Beyond his office as Shepherd of the Church, and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of this pastoral office, there is his duty to keep the sensitivity to truth alive; to continually invite reason to seek out the true, the good, God, and on this path, to urge it to glimpse the helpful lights that shine forth in the history of the Christian faith, and in this way to perceive Jesus Christ as the Light that illuminates history and helps us to find the way to the future.”


This, and the 200,000 people from all over Italy, intellectuals, politicians, ordinary people, who turned up in St. Peter’s Square on January 20, to categorically disassociate themselves from the clique who had insulted the Pope and shamed the University, was a perfect response to a shameful folly.