Gender mayhem and the new Babel

30154-babel-800w-tn

The announcement last weekend that the British Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants to change the law so that people are free to specify their gender on their birth certificate regardless of medical opinion, provoked dismay and outrage among conservative people. Not all liberal people were happy with it either – but for the libertarian gender-benders it was like the dawn of a new age.

Tim Stanley, in the Daily Telegraph, took a critical if sober view of it. He didn’t think it would really fly. I wouldn’t be so sure, given the extent to which the very foundations on which common sense and the politics of the common good have been so badly warped. Stanley acknowledged:

Life is messy and the individual should navigate it with free will. But it’s precisely out of deference to the complexity of the human experience that we cling on to certain principles – principles that reflect not just our ideals but the realities of our nature. Biology is one of those realities, and it helps define us as men and women. Because biology is so vital, if you try to rewrite the principles to please one tiny minority, you impact upon the lives of absolutely everybody.

He adds, The Tories are meddling in affairs that are well beyond their intellectual grasp or the country’s willingness or capacity to accept change. Greening is asking the British public not only to accept a radical notion that most will find exotic but to rewrite the daily narrative of their own lives – and behave as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. It is, I suspect, too big an ask.

In The Times (London), Clare Foges struck a warning note suggesting that it would be unwise to be complacent. Storing up trouble for our children now and in future generations was what was on her mind.

Many of the adults among us may dismiss this with an inward roll of the eyes, too polite or too wearied by political correctness to demur. But children are increasingly presented with these complex and confusing ideas as unarguable fact. They are being led to believe, on social media and in schools, that gender is simply a lifestyle choice.
On Facebook, users can choose from a buffet of 71 gender options: polygender to two-spirit person. Last year the children’s commissioner sent a form to schoolchildren asking them to pick one of 25 genders that they identified with (withdrawn once the press started to take an interest). Girlguiding has said that boys as young as five who identify as girls can join the Rainbows or Brownies. Scores of schools have abolished “boys” and “girls” from their dress code. One of the country’s leading private schools, St Paul’s Girls’, now considers requests from students to be known either as gender-neutral or as boys. Pupils aged 11 to 15 “can have discussions at any time to explore their gender identity”. No doubt where St Paul’s leads many other schools will follow.

How did this happen, we might ask ourselves? What wrong turning led us to this Chaos? Losing our grip on the Cosmic reality that is God, denying the divine, must surely be somewhere near the heart of it.

Romano Guardini, puzzling over the paradox of an omnipotent God allowing himself to be ignored by his creatures, asks us rhetorically if man can actually turn his back on God? How come it is possible  – if God is really the all-powerful One standing at the beginning and end of time, in history and in eternity, in us and above us in heart and heaven, – that he can be denied, blasphemed, even—incomprehensible mystery—overlooked and forgotten?

Frightening as the prospect is, he confirms:

It is possible—this and more. For it is also possible for God, the one Reality, to exist, and for man, his own creature to declare: God is dead! Man can behave as if God did not exist. He can act, judge, proceed as if nothing existed but himself, man, and the animal, and the tree and the earth. It is possible for man (who has a vital soul through which he exists as man, through which he is joyful or sorrowful) to insist that he is soulless. All this is possible because seeing and understanding, serious contemplation and acceptance of reality are vital processes, hence dependent on man’s will and profoundest disposition. Thus also his capacity for negation is illimitable.

And the consequences are what we have now got. Our capacity for negation is in overdrive.

Roger Scruton put his finger on it in his new book, On Human Nature, when he says:

Take away religion, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art, and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this “living down,” which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind——and with it our kindness.

And it is precisely the milk of human kindness which Foges tells us we should be relying on in our efforts to deal with our differences and our diversity. She wants our guiding instinct in these matters to be kindness and warns that in seeking to support the tiny minority of children who feel trapped in the wrong body we run the risk of creating a world of confusion and anxiety for the rest.

But ultimately where does kindness come from? Even in a civilization which acknowledges the existence of God there is a struggle to maintain it against our inherent tendency to selfishness. But in any world we know of – contemporary or historical –  where the existence of God is denied our record is horrific. Individuals who have lost their faith in God can be sustained in their humanity by the mores ingrained in them by a believing society, but when that society itself rejects God, and surrenders itself to the values of self-centred and utterly narcissistic individualism, then we all re-enter the tower of Babel. That is what is now threatening us.

Guardini contemplates this reality when he writes, in his reflection on the last chapters of the Revelation of St. John, that:

Unconverted man lives in the visible world judging all that is or may be by tradition’s experience and by the rules of logic. But when he encounters Christ, he must either accept him and his revolutionary approach to truth or lose him. If he attempts to judge also the Lord by the standards of common experience, he will soon notice that he is dealing with something outside experience. He will have to discard the norms of the past, and take Christ as his new point of departure. When he no longer attempts to subject Christ to immediate reason and experience, he will recognize him as the supreme measure of all possible reality.

A big part of modern man’s ‘problem’ with God is surely rooted in his refusal to accept God as God and not as something in his own image. Doing this is no risk to his innate pride and self-centredness. But God is not made in our image. We are made in his image, and made by him. Ignoring that spells big trouble. Guardini continues:

The intellect jealous for its own sovereignty rejects such recognition, which would put an end to its world-anchored self-glorification, and surrender it into the hands of the God of Revelation. This is the ‘risk’ any would-be Christian must take. If he takes it, a profound revolution begins…. And to the degree that the searching individual experiences such spiritual revolution, he gains an amplitude, a superiority, a synthesizing power of reason that no natural insight can match.

Those of us now facing this new Babel, this incomprehensible confusion in our society and in the hearts and minds of so many, have a difficult choice to make. We are being faced with a world-view which has attempted to compromise with the substance of our nature and identity because it has abandoned one of the defining truths about our existence – we are the creatures of the Living God. If there is to be any hope of rescue from this state, Guardini, back in the 1930s, told us what must be done:

The term ‘Christian culture’ must be purged of all that is questionable in it. The gulf between Revelation and the world must reopen. Perhaps a new period of persecution and outlawry must come to shake Christians back to a living consciousness of the values for which they stand.

Mankind, once again, has a great adventure before it.

 

Confessions of Faith and Reason

IMG_0444.JPG

Confessions of faith – or confessions of reasons for having faith – seem to be more and more common in recent times. A few weeks ago we had Daily Telegraph columnist and blogger, Tim Stanley, telling us “If you have to choose between being liberal and being Christian, choose Christian”, and going on to explain why.

More recently we had Ross Douthat, columnist with the New York Times, in the wake of hostile Catholic and pseudo Catholic reaction to his expressed concerns about the Synod of Bishops, feeling the need to explain to us “Why I am a Catholic”.

This is good. Catholics need clarity. These upfront declarations are giving us some of this clarity.

Stanley’s reflections were on the back of the revelations about ex-bishop Conry’s pitiable affair and subsequent fall, coupled with the then-approaching aforementioned synod on the family.

He observed the prevalent temptation to focus on the human, sometimes frail aspects of the Church and drew on the wisdom of a priest-blogger whom he admires greatly, Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, who urges us to do the opposite.

Fr. Lucie-Smith’s sentiments on the issue, Stanley observes, apply to all Christians (and Jews, and Muslims etc): while the secular world obsesses about political division within the Church, what really matters is the “theological reality” of its mission.

In this mission, the priest says, One needs to distinguish… between a group of people who are united sociologically (for want of a better word) and a group of people who are united in Christ, which is a theological reality. Unity in Christ is something we are always on the way to achieving, if we were not constantly impeded by our sins. Thus we should be in a constant state of repentance for our sins, in that they frustrate the unity that Christ prayed for and which He bequeathed us on Calvary.

Stanley adds: The Catholic Church will always have its troubles. The solution is prayer and putting one’s faith in the Holy Spirit.

The Reformation is, of course, he continued, a reminder of the fragility of the Church. The resilience of Catholicism in Britain today shows its ability to withstand anything – and grow from strength to strength. Its greatest threat is a general decline in belief (aided by the mistakes of clerics) and the emergence of a new anti-religious consensus that discourages commitment to the divine. But perhaps it’s best not to think of this as a crisis but as a challenge to believers. 

This was written in the same week that Louise Mensch made her confession of a conflicted faith in a moving piece in The Spectator about her own struggle to reconcile her private and spiritual life – and her deference to Catholic Church teachings on the sacraments of marriage and the Eucharist.

Stanley remarks on how difficult this is to do, and to talk openly about, in this liberal world in which we now cohabit with people embracing all sorts of heterodoxy. But do it we must – and if we are to be true to our beliefs about what really matters, we really only have one choice. He quotes Fr Lucie-Smith again:

If you have to choose between being liberal and being Catholic, choose Catholic… This is the true fault line: those who believe in the Body of Christ and our vocation to belong to it through baptism, and those who believe the Church needs to catch up with the world, and other such dreary clichés. St Paul had to put up with a lot of them, because he writes: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). 

Stanley concludes: Pray to have the strength not to conform but to be who you truly are. Which is a sinner saved by Grace.

Ross Douthat, for his part put his confession in this nutshell:

I am a Catholic for various contingent reasons (this is as true of converts as of anyone else), but on a conscious level it’s because I am a mostly-faithful Christian who is mostly convinced that Roman Catholicism is the expression of Christianity that has kept faith most fully with the early church and the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself.

That’s a pretty useful nutshell, although it doesn’t make any reference to the vital role of grace in that “because”.

He elaborated a little on the basis of a point made in a talk by Cardinal George Pell, – recently of Sydney and now of the Roman curia, — that the search for authority in Christianity began not with pre-emptive submission to an established hierarchy, but with early Christians who “wanted to know whether the teachings of their bishops and priests were in conformity with what Christ taught”.

This, Douthat said, is crucial to my own understanding of the reasons to be Catholic: I believe in papal authority, the value of the papal office, because I think that office has played a demonstrable role in maintaining the faith’s continuity, coherence and fidelity across two thousand years of human history. It’s that role and that record, complicated and checkered as it is, that makes the doctrine of papal infallibility plausible to me.

There is a wealth of ignorance about the Faith of the Catholic Church out there. The more conversations like this that we have the better chance there is that we will escape from this pit and will become Catholics who will be who they “truly are”. A source of that liberating truth is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a source with the stamp of approval of that Magisterium in which the early Christians, and later Christians like Douthat, Stanley, Mensch et al, found and continue to find reassurance that what we believe is “what Christ taught”. Why would you choose anything else?