Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the season of preparation for Easter on Sunday, 20 April 2014.
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou
hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them who are
penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our
wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ thy son our
Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(The Ash Wednesday Collect from the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)
Monday, 3 March 2014
An early version of door to door evangelization: hang on to your test tubes!
The Renaissance Mathematicus's take on the New Atheist nonsense about religion's -and specifically Catholicism's- destroying science in the mediaeval period reminded me of something I'd been toying with blogging about for a while.
The various atheist conventicles in Scotland (and elsewhere) spend much of their time whingeing about (ie publicizing) cases where some hapless atheist infant has come into contact with some loopy Christian who's told the little darling that she's going to hell or that T-Rex had big teeth so it could eat gourds in the Garden of Eden. Now, I'd probably be as unhappy as any member of Secular Scotland if my children were being taught that God created the world in six twenty four hour time periods in 4004 BC, but I often wondered what I would actually do if it happened. I suspected that -unless this was the regular message of biology lessons, in which case I'd probably be up in arms- I'd let it go as just another piece of the white noise that children have got to learnt to navigate as part of growing up. Anyway, it hasn't happened yet because most Christians aren't idiots and follow the evidence where it leads. (And it doesn't lead to T-Rex chowing down on water melons.)
But I'd forgotten a far more common piece of irrational, evidence blind nonsense: the extended version of the Black Legend which has the Catholic Church as the destroyer of Western civilization. Child N came back from (high) school recently saying that one of the teachers had claimed:
Under Christianity in the middle ages, you were only allowed one book, the Bible, and you could only read this with a priest. The Christians burned all the other books and it was only the Muslims who tried to save these books.
Now, the teacher wasn't talking about their subject and wasn't (I'm fairly sure) a Muslim. Apparently when on their own subject, they're a good teacher.
When Child N had peeled me off the ceiling, we had a pretty good conversation about the transmission of learning in Byzantium and the West. (Fairly chuffed that my previous rants about the Church had payed off to the extent that they'd smelled a rat and had wanted to talk to me about it.) I then spent a rather self indulgent evening wondering which volume of mediaeval uncarbonized literature on my shelves would best prove my case if I flung it at the teacher concerned. (I ruled out the Summa on the grounds that a) although it might not strictly fit the story, the teacher might the survival of theological work sufficiently within the spirit of the narrative for a moral victory; and b) it's (or rather they are) heavy enough to kill. I dismissed the collected works of Chaucer (also potentially lethal) and the Battle of Maldon (far too light: would probably flutter off harmlessly). On balance, I think my German hard back of the Nibelungenlied has about the right balance of non-lethal heft, whilst making the moral point that not all mediaeval literature is religious.)
I didn't march up the school and complain: I do think, on balance, I'd rather have an education system where teachers feel fairly comfortable about chatting to their students. Put more shortly, I think teachers have the right to say idiotic things so long as they are normally competent. But, of course, the problem here isn't really that one teacher but rather a climate of historical ignorance that makes such a view plausible. A lot of New Atheists don't give a damn about the humanities including history, and they certainly don't give a damn about weighing up the truth about the Catholic Church (which basically means not giving a damn about Western history). People are (rightly) concerned when they hear that this or that school is teaching that evolution is simply false and the earth is only 6000 years old. But the everyday consequences of such views may be fairly limited. The consequences of a complete misunderstanding of comparative recent history -and of the modern institutions which resulted from it- may be much more serious and, certainly, appear to be much more widespread.
Friday, 28 February 2014
Channel 4's Mini Pops: we had to wait ten years for permission from radical feminists to vomit
I have read and listened with frustration to the extraordinary ahistorical non-debate about the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) and Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in the 1970s. Let me be clear from the outset that I have never supported PIE, being one among many radical feminists who were beginning to recognise child sexual abuse in the 1970s. But we knew so little then about its scale, and were debating sexologists and others who argued it was not necessarily harmful; this was not just a discourse of abusers, it was articulated in the Kinsey Reports and by a range of respected academics.
[From The Guardian. Professor Liz Kelly is co-chair of the UK-based End Violence Against Women Coalition and is director of the Child & Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University.]
Kelly argues -in essence- that we shouldn't blame Harman because a) we didn't know about paedophilia until well into the eighties and b) it was feminists like Harman wot stopped it.
An immediate thought here is whether this 'didn't know, guv' works for priest abusers as well as the bishops who let them carry on? Can we just ignore all abuse in the Catholic Church until the late eighties because radical feminists hadn't finished their debate with sociologists until then?
But putting this aside, this is not the history as others have recorded it. Veronique Mottier (not exactly a right wing Catholic loon as her CV shows) says this (in Sexuality, p107):
Gay rights' organizations' alliances with paedophile activism around the age of consent issue, or more generally on the grounds of solidarity with other sexual minorities, have melted away since the early 1980s. In large part this was the result of campaigns from the Christian Right such as the US conservative activist Anita Bryant's self-proclaimed 'crusade' against 'the threat of homosexual recruitment of our children', entitled Save Our Children, which portrayed all gays -and gay men in particular -as potential child molesters and triggered the start of organized opposition to gay rights organizations in the US from the late 1970s. While the Dutch gay rights organization COC had declared in the early 1970s that gay liberation would never be complete without the sexual liberation of children and paedophiles, by the mid-1990s the great majority of gay rights organizations had distanced themselves explicitly from paedophile advocacy...
The NCCL/PIE issue is highlighting two things. First, there is a 1984-like attempt to re-write recent history or at least to forget it. Gay rights/paedophile rights/sexual rights were all bound up in a libertarian free for all, where the sole narrative was liberation from the Judaeo-Christian taboos on sex. Sex was good. Sex had been repressed. The solution was to get rid of the repression. Consent wasn't a particularly important aspect of that sexual revolution: freedom from guilt was. And if young women (or boys) needed a little shove in order to get with the revolution, then there were plenty of people (usually men) who were willing to do that.
Second, at a deeper level, we have here a slice -a stratum- of the archaeology of the construction of normal sex. What it is to be sexual -heterosexual, homosexual, normal etc etc- has changed under our very eyes. We pretend that the lines between the normal heterosexual who is only attracted to mature women and the pervert who is attracted to girls are given by nature as brute fact (rather than nature as moral goal): if we can just unrepress ourselves, the normal will be fine. (And we conveniently forget Pliny who married a fourteen year old when he was nearly forty or Victorian obsessions with children.) And we pretend that the normal, the good male homosexual is only interested in mature men and forget that, only a few years ago, the sexual initiation of children was being publicly advocated by gay rights' groups.
Mottier again (p105):
In France, various public petitions of the late 1970s called on Parliament to abolish age of consent laws; in particular, a 1977 petition calling for the decriminalization of all consenting relations between adults and minors was signed by prominent public intellectuals including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and France's most prominent child psychoanalyst Francoise Dolto. Paedophile advocacy groups thus operated in a context in which cultural ideas about children's sexuality were being redefined more generally...
That narrative of release from repression has been replaced by one of consent. (See my previous post.) Frankly, this is as flimsy as the earlier attempt at changing traditional sexual mores: consent is as essentially inadequate a basis for a morality as release, and it's one that (unlike the earlier one of release) doesn't make clear why we should indulge in sex. (Hence, perhaps, the tendency of the modern young not to.)
One of the few people clearly to come out of this well is Roger Scruton:
It is clearly part of virtue to know when something is outrageous and to react immediately and with incredulity at its advocacy. Finding it immediately and incontestably disgusting is the appropriate reaction to the desire to have sex with children: conservatives get that and progressives don't. If -as the libertarians proclaim- that disgust is simply the result of repressing the temptations that other societies encourage, I would like to say so much the better for us and so much the worse for other societies. But, of course, I can't. I had to wait for Liz Kelly, radical feminists and distinguished academics to let me know their views on that. Only right wing nutters like Scruton and Anita Bryant went with their guts and got it right first time.