Saturday 31 December 2011

Happy New Year!

Our Lady of Haddingtonpray for us!

John Haldane –the leading Scottish Catholic philosopher- was recently reappointed Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture. His reaction embodies all that I struggle to say much less clearly on this blog:

Reacting to his reappointment, Professor Haldane said;
"One of Pope Benedict's priorities is the re-evangelisation of Western civilisation and bringing Europe back into Christendom. The way to re-evangelise Western civilisation is through cultural dialogue; that is through re-interpreting the arts and philosophy through a Christian perspective. There is a larger issue than declining numbers in churches and that is about convincing at a cultural and intellectual level. As a Catholic intellectual, I am very happy to be associated with this."

The many issues on which Catholics find themselves at odds with ‘modernity’ are in large part cultural ones: previous generations accepted Christian culture but failed to live up to it; our generation no longer even accepts large parts of the Christian world view.

In the end, all the debates about same sex ‘marriage’, euthanasia, the role of religion in the public square and so on boil down to profound cultural challenges to the Catholic world view. The answer to those challenges of course involves the sort of vigorous public and political defence that the Scottish bishops have put up against the proposed same sex ‘marriage’ legislation. But beyond that, it must involve a daily struggle to demonstrate the truth, beauty and goodness of Christianity and, in particular, Catholicism as a culture.

A happy New Year to all my readers!

A reader asks: on civil partnerships

A comment from Frederick on the previous post merits a more extensive treatment than I can give it in a combox. Frederick asks:

If you have no truthful way of sexual expression except with one of your own sex then continence is only possible if you accept some higher authority. The Church can therefore demand what the state can't. It is not reasonable for the state to make demands of people which can only be made in the light of revelation. The state must therefore seek rules which can be applied to those for whom revelation is not part f their experience. If those rules encourage fidelity and reduce promiscuity they must be better than rules which do not. In that sense they can be given some limited support

My reply:

Let’s adopt a distinction common in religious studies between an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’ perspective. For a Catholic, the insider perspective isn’t just one perspective amongst many, but the correct perspective on the world. Since we’re both Catholics, let’s stick with that perspective. (So everything I write below assumes that I’m addressing someone who accepts the broad Catholic view of the world: I’d write differently if I were addressing a non-Catholic.)

1)      In order to achieve sanctification –ie the final vocation of the human being- we all need God’s grace (CCC 2021-2). In this, those with homosexual inclinations are no different from any other people. If people reject the idea of grace, they will, of course, fail to co-operate with it and therefore will (at least to some extent) remain in a state of disorder. That isn’t a peculiarity of homosexual disorder, but all human disorders, sexual and otherwise –ie the normal human condition. On that basis, should the state make no demands of anyone, simply because, on their own initiative, none of us can achieve anything?
2)      a) Revelation is a source of knowledge (about eg human nature) but not the only source of knowledge. Of course, if someone rejects revelation, she is going to be in a worse position regarding her understanding than someone who accepts revelation –but that doesn’t, in itself, absolve her of responsibility for those failures of knowledge or immunize her from the effects of those errors.

      b) Another source of knowledge about human nature is the natural law ‘written and engraved in the soul of each and every man’ (Leo XIII quoted in CCC 1954). Another way of putting this is that philosophical reasoning about human flourishing can discern much (and we can argue how much) of what it is to live well without revelation. You seem to assume that knowledge of the wrongness of homosexual activity is dependent on revelation; but (as I have indicated in previous postings) a number of philosophers –ancient and modern- have argued for its wrongness on grounds apart from revelation. (For example see previous postings on John Finnis and John Haldane. For a non-Catholic perspective off this blog, see Roger Scruton.)

3)      I simply reject your claim: ‘If those rules encourage fidelity and reduce promiscuity they must be better than rules which do not.’ My reasons for doing so are given previously in my post. Specifically:

Two answers. Firstly, let me concede the point. Someone who is in a faithful life long homosexual partnership possibly is a better person than someone who is promiscuous. But better still is the person who is celibate. And none of that shows that society would be right to promote civil partnerships: it is quite possible that the social harm in such a promotion –in the undermining of the difference between homosexual and heterosexual activity for example and the encouragement of homosexuality amongst the bisexual- would outweigh its benefits. (Just as it might well be the case that the balance of social harms in promoting condoms might outweigh the benefits to be achieved by (say) the prevention of AIDs in the case of individual sex workers.) So while it might be right for individual homosexuals to reduce their sinfulness by entering into a partnership, it would not be right for society or the Church to promote publicly such arrangements. (One could quite well imagine a priest privately counselling a Mafioso only to hurt and not to kill his victims, but not wishing to make such advice public for fear of encouraging others to hurt and not leave alone.)

Secondly, I’m not sure that it is clear that a homosexual who is in a lifetime faithful partnership is a better person than someone who, eg, indulges in bouts of promiscuity followed by periods of regret.  For a heterosexual couple, the point of sexual restraint is that it is one of the attributes of marriage that make it suitable for childrearing. Now, putting aside theological considerations, that restraint comes at a cost. Some possibilities are lost by such restraint: these might include the ability to move across the world for new job, or the simple loss of exploring a variety of people as sexual partners. For a heterosexual, they are the cost of the pearl of childrearing: these are the sacrifices to be made to achieve a stable environment for childrearing. But such a consideration doesn’t apply to homosexual couples. So I’m not at all sure that, in itself, fidelity in homosexual relationships makes them better than promiscuity. (Fidelity in a Mafioso may well make him a worse person.) I accept that, in individual cases, it may well be better for an individual to abstain from homosexual promiscuity just as, in an individual case, it may be better for someone to abstain from alcohol. But neither case suggests that, in general, promiscuity or drinking is a bad thing.

In short, I don't accept your claim that, even if civil partnerships encouraged fidelity, they would on that ground be advisable a) because they might still cause harm to the social, common good; and b) it isn't clear that fidelity in such a case is even a benefit to the persons concerned.

Friday 30 December 2011

Civil partnerships (again)

                       Another amicable exchange of views on how best to share the gospel

I had intended to leave off blogging for the Christmas octave/New Year, but an exchange on the question of civil partnerships has sucked me back in!

Caroline Farrow and The Thirsty Gargoyle  -two of my favourite Catholic bloggers- have been defending Archbishop Nichols' statements on civil partnerships on which I have blogged previously. Whilst I tend to agree with much of what they say about the tone of the attacks on Catholic Voices and the Archbishop in the Catholic blogosphere, I don't agree with them on the substance of those attacks, namely, that there is a lack of needful clarity about the Archbishop's views on civil partnerships.

The Gargoyle provides a thoughtful defence of the Archbishop's statements based on the argument that, as interpreted by law, civil partnership legislation does not undermine marriage. He concludes in his article for Catholic Voices:

The bishops were opposed to the scheme as first proposed, and drew on the 2003 CDF document in making a case largely based on the need to defend and promote the traditional understanding of marriage. As codified, however, the 2004 law – while imperfect – does not undermine the unique position of marriage in British law as it does not presuppose that a civil partnership is a homosexual relationship. Treating sexuality and sexual behaviour as private phenomena, it denies homosexual unions a parliamentary imprimatur and does not enshrine them as institutions within the legal structure of the United Kingdom.

Now, I'm not at all sure that I accept his argument, even as it stands: it seems to me, even within its own very narrow terms of legal interpretation, to be a moot point whether it is true to claim that the civil partnership legislation does not presuppose a homosexual relationship. Certainly, this is the view of the barrister, Jacqueline Humphreys as reported by John Smeaton.  Moreover, the Gargoyle's argument rather slides over the change of view implicit in the move from clear opposition to civil partnerships expressed in the English bishops' original response to the consultation to Archbishop Nichols' current statements, noting simply that the response was to the proposed legislation whilst the Archbishop's statements were in response to the enacted legislation. This raises the question: what changes of substance were included in the actual legislation which allowed such a change of view on the part of the bishops?

But it is the narrowness of the Gargoyle's perspective that is my chief objection here. We have, surrounding the legislation, a clear statement of opposition by the English bishops to the draft proposal. We have an entire culture of civil partnerships which blurs the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships (see John Smeaton's blog entry for photos illustrating this). We have confusion among Catholics with same sex attraction as to the Church's position. If -and it's a big if- the Gargoyle's analysis is correct, then it would be helpful, at the least, for clarity to be introduced along the lines of: 'Well, we don't think the legislation itself is necessarily a bad thing, but we certainly don't wish to endorse the use of it to blur the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships, nor do we wish to endorse sexual relationships between same sex partners.'

Behind all this stand, I think, two bigger background issues. First, there is the question of Church politics, particularly a sense among some Catholics that there is almost a war within the Church between the faithful, orthodox Catholics, and a group of sixties', liberal hangovers, with a particular hold on power through an episcopal Magic Circle. To be honest, I have little interest in this sort of debate: as I've said before, having been an Anglican, any local disagreements within the Catholic Church look positively minor, and, to the extent that they are not, I'm really not interested in slagging off fellow Catholics who are trying to be faithful according to the consciences.

Second, however, there is a genuine, theological and moral issue. A great many Catholics seem to have lost confidence in the reasonableness of the Church's traditional moral teaching. There is a feeling among many that there is very little to be said in favour of, eg, teachings on contraception, homosexual activity and pre-marital sex other than 'Rome says so'. And to the extent that this teaching is based simply on authority rather than reason, there is the expectation that it will, eventually, be updated. (Rather like the expectation that an aged uncle's casual racism at the annual Christmas dinner table will solve itself when he eventually drops dead.) Although these Catholics may be happy to defend marriage, they are rather less happy at condemning homosexual activity because, really, they don't believe it can be defended except on the grounds of tradition and authority (which, to the modern mind, are worse than no defence at all).

I am absolutely certain that the Church's teachings on sexual issues can and should be defended on natural law, ie, philosophical grounds. Moreover, I am absolutely certain that a more vigorous articulation and defence of her teachings in this area is an essential element in the culture war that exists between secularized modernity and traditional understandings of human flourishing. To the extent that the question of civil partnerships raises issues surrounding human sexuality -and it clearly does- the position of the Church has generally to be articulated clearly and robustly, even if, on particular occasions (eg particular interviews) the whole story can't be told.

I've already articulated my own view of the Archbishop's statements. I think they are unclear rather than clearly wrong. But to the extent that they are to be clarified by the sort of defence offered by the Gargoyle -ie not (as I would suggest) that the Church (purely on the grounds of practical politics) is not focusing on civil partnerships just now, but rather (as the Gargoyle suggests) it is not focusing on them because, in principle, it is not opposed to them- I think they are wrong or, perhaps more accurately, introducing still further confusion into an area which now needs clarity.

And in doing this, I am perhaps in the enviable position as compared to my English readers of being able to do so both as a defender of Catholic truth and of episcopal authority. As reported recently in the Catholic Herald:

Scotland’s most senior Church leader has reiterated his opposition to the introduction of civil partnerships, which were legalized across Britain in 2004. Cardinal Keith O’Brien said this week that the introduction of civil partnerships  was ‘not in the best interests of our society.’

Saturday 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

(Collect for Christmas Day from Book of Divine Worship)

A Happy Christmas to all my readers!

Tuesday 20 December 2011

It’s all far more complicated than you think

Good article in the (Anglican) Church Times.

The Church must welcome and support people pastorally, whatever their current sexual interests or experience. But we need to be careful before moving to reorder the Church’s historic teaching on sex and marriage to reflect the alleged “assured” results of modern science.
In their review, the bishops must reflect carefully on the uncertainties of much research in this area. In a fast-changing world, the Church risks losing a great deal if the ex­pectations of discipleship are recon­figured to keep pace with diverse socially contingent sexual interests and evolving constructed sexual identities which we are only begin­ning to understand.

One of the oddest things about the whole same sex ‘marriage’ debate is the assumption that there are two clear identities -heterosexual and homosexual- and it is as unfair to discriminate between them as it would be to discriminate between (say) two racial groups.

I’m not sure many gay activists (who are often extremely well read in queer theory which acknowledges the fluidity of identity) really believe this. But it’s a convenient way of enrolling sentimental but ‘useful idiots’ in their campaigns.

The pre-modern analysis of the Church –which centres on biological sexual identity and behaviour- has much more to be said for it than the quasi-essentializing narrative of sexual orientation as identity which dominates current popular debate. More simply, we are better seeing ourselves as men and women who, in a variety of ways, all have to exert self-discipline in controlling concupiscence, rather than two distinct groups of the gay and the straight.

Friday 16 December 2011

Scottish independence and religion

         Will a modish pursuit of modernity turn the religious off politics and independence?

One of the key moments in the stooshie over same sex ‘marriage’ was Gordon Wilson’s (a former leader of the Scottish National Party) apparent threat that the drive to reinvent marriage would jeopardize the SNP’s chance of winning the referendum for independence. While he was clear that he would still support independence, he suggested that a focus on this issue would alienate voters.

The Scottish blogosphere and media generally are not sympathetic to religion, and his claim was widely derided. Two types of response dominated. First, there was the ‘where are they going to go?’ strand. Noting that all the mainstream parties in Scotland support same sex ‘marriage’ as well as the UK government, a general line of comment was that the religious had nowhere else to turn in order to express our hateful, bigoted opinions. We’d just have to knuckle down and accept the reinvention of marriage.

A second line of response was the ‘drive towards modernism’: that religion in the form espoused by Wilson and the Catholic Church was old Scotland, something to be abandoned in the drive towards a bright new future. Examples of this were found in Gerry Hassan’s Scotsman article advocating ‘a modern Scotland of love and equality’ and the blogger Lallands PeatWorrier attacking the ugliness of ‘Sunday Post Scotland’.

As I’ve made clear before, I have no intention of taking sides on Scottish Independence in this blog. But I do want to comment on this drive to modernity and its dangers for the Independence project (and then leave it up to my readers whether these dangers are to be regretted or welcomed!). Turn back the clock (only) to 2008. In the version of his essay, ‘A Disuniting Kingdom?’ published in the collection Seeking Meaning and Making Sense, John Haldane argues that the more collective political and moral culture of Scotland is in tension with that of (particularly) southern England:

New Labour practice was never in keeping with the character of Scotland. It is often said that Thatcher was uniquely unpopular north of the border; but the Conservatives faded faster under Ted Heath, while Thatcher stimulated the traditional Scots taste for prudence and independence among younger more radical conservatives. Certainly the late Donald Dewar, the cerebral cabinet minister charged with delivering Scottish devolution was well liked at home; but for all the talk of restoring community the Blairite embrace of recreational individualism and lifestyle liberalism appealed to very few…
The Scots radicals had little time for life-style liberalism. Often coming from Presbyterian, Roman Catholic or Episcopal backgrounds they viewed sexual promiscuity and abortion not as choices to be defended but as problems to be addressed. The late Cardinal Winning of Glasgow was very much in this tradition and Cardinal O’Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh is increasingly identifying himself with it. It is no accident that resistance to liberalization over same-sex relationships, including civil partnership and gay adoption has been more public and more marked north of the border and been lead by figures from working class backgrounds.

All politics, as Plato recognized, is to some extent mythopoeic: politicians persuade the populace to obedience by way of stories. The politics of nations and nationalism are even more mythopoeic: they rely on invented traditions to create an imagined community. To note this is to conclude nothing on the advisability of Scottish separatism: both the UK and Scotland are imagined and do or will rely on imaginative invention to sustain themselves.

But within Scottish nationalism there have been (at least) two strands of imagining. The first is that suggested by Haldane: Scotland as socially conservative, with a native intellectual tradition capable of slicing through the metropolitan pretensions of a UK elite. The second is that of Hassan and Lallands Peat Worrier: Scotland as building modernity on the grave of a religion ridden past, having overcome the narrowness and stupidity of the colonized. Putting aside which of these imaginings is superior, I think it is the growth of the former that has in part been responsible for the rise of the SNP’s popularity among Catholics. Cardinal O’Brien’s sympathy towards nationalism expressed in 2006 seems to have been based in part on the same thoughts expressed by Haldane: that separation from the UK would allow separation from the fashionable lifestyle politics of New Labour and (now) Cameron’s Conservatism. [Update: A Scotsman article here  by Haldane in 2008 again suggests the social conservatism of the SNP as an attraction to Catholics disenchanted with Labour.] 

If this analysis is right, then the danger the SNP faces from disquiet among the religious about same sex ‘marriage’ is a sense that the political Scotland on offer is going to be just another metropolitan lifestyle chatter, with a new elite in Edinburgh and Glasgow rather than London. And the more the blogs and newsprint commentators bang on about modern Scotland and killing off religion and the past, the more the sense will grow that independence just isn’t our fight.

Speaking personally, after trawling through the Scottish media and blogs during the consultation period, I ended up feeling a foreigner in my own land. You’re bigots, you’re morons, you’re part of an antiquated mindset. You’re on the way out, and we’re on the way in. There is a relentless hostility to and incomprehension of religion in general and particularly of Catholicism. This isn’t just the cybernats but all the political parties: I can’t think of a single widely read Scottish political blog or commentator (with the partial exception of Harry Reid ) who has made any sort of sympathetic noise towards the opposition to same sex ‘marriage’. Now the dust will settle eventually, and the purely reactive emotional response to this deluge of antipathy will have to pass and be replaced by a sober political assessment of which party to vote for and which side to support in a referendum. But at the moment, all that remains are the feelings, but feelings which respond to a kernel of political truth: that the complete domination of the media by a poorly thought through case for same sex ‘marriage’ shows the poverty of intellect and lack of variety in Scottish political commentary and the worry that it will be people like that who will dominate my children’s future.

It is this sort of alienation from Scottish political life that the SNP needs to be worried about. Nationalism is essentially a case based on politics: that a constitutional change will produce benefits for the common good. It is precisely the power and potential of Scottish politics that the same sex ‘marriage’ consultation so far has put into question. Gordon Wilson is right about the dangers of alienation for the Nationalist project. Whether that is a good or a bad thing I leave for others to judge.

(In a similar vein, another post consultation article from a well known politician/commentator just not getting the point (‘Quite why a religious person would object to the arrangements for civil, secular marriage is unfathomable’(my emphasis)) and the inevitable responses.)

Wednesday 14 December 2011

And yet they still keep coming…

                                      Zombies and liberals just don’t take no for an answer

Quite apart from the current agitation over same sex ‘marriage’, after the rejection of her assisted suicide bill in 2010, Margo MacDonald is apparently still waiting in the wings to have another go whilst Lord Falconer’s Commission on Killing will be reporting its conclusions in January.  

The war of attrition that modern liberals appear to be waging on traditional values raises the question as to how well the modern legislative process copes with profound questions of ethics and politics. The recently ended Scottish government consultative process on gay ‘marriage’ boiled down to a few yes/no questions with limited encouragement for an extended response. By breaking down a complicated issue involving our deepest notions of intimacy, sexual identity and the rearing of children into little more than a pop quiz, the role of philosophical reflection in these areas is replaced by a survey of desire: ‘What do you want?’ rather than any exploration of whether these wants are well founded.

 I’m tempted to suggest that, for any future public demonstration on these issues, social conservatives should adopt the following, snappily worded chant:

What do we want? Nuanced and careful reflection on human nature…

When do we want it? An open ended process over the course of several generations…

Quite apart from the detailed methodology of the consultation process so far, the finite and structured nature of any Parliamentary reflection should a Bill on same sex ‘marriage’ go ahead is also not the type of process to enable profound reflection. Patrick Harvie, the gay Green MSP, asks: ‘If there’s a robust argument that same-sex relationships are in some way wrong, an argument that deserves to be imposed on all of society rather than allowing people to reach their own moral view about their own personal life, let’s hear it.’ Quite apart from his conflation of the question regarding the reinvention of the institution of marriage with that regarding homosexual activity, what sort of argument does he expect? Could I, for example, wave at the fifteen volumes of von Balthasar’s Trilogy, and suggest that a good starting place would be there? When the Parliamentary committee begins to scrutinize the Bill (should it come) how much time will they spend with Plato and Aristotle, or even Judith Butler and Foucault?

The hubris of legislation in this sort of area seems to strike very few people. Instead, a few obsessives, armed with nothing more than blind self confidence and a desire to be busy will set about unwrapping a culture which, over the centuries, has evolved complex responses to complex issues. But if we’re advocating changes in legislation, here’s a suggestion from the ancient Locrians which could do with being introduced at Holyrood and Westminster:

After the code was firmly established, the Locrians introduced a regulation that, if a citizen interpreted a law differently from the cosmopolis (the chief magistrate), each had to appear before the council of One Thousand with a rope round his neck, and the one against whom the council decided was immediately strangled. Any one who proposed a new law or the alteration of one already existing was subjected to the same test, which continued in force till the 4th century and even later.

Monday 12 December 2011

Clarity on civil partnerships

The Church should be clear that it only accepts civil partnerships as a political reality, not as a matter of principle

I really don't want to turn this blog into a constant, rumbling criticism of Bishops. I'm too grateful to them for a generally clear preaching of orthodox Christianity when compared to my previous experience of their Anglican counterparts that anything they get wrong seems so minor in comparison. I also think that we're graced in Scotland with Bishops who've very clearly and counterculturally spoken out on issues such as same sex 'marriage'.

But the Catholic blogosphere discussion of Archbishop Nichols' discussion of same sex 'marriage' comes at a time when the issue has been very much uppermost in my mind as a result of the (recently closed) Scottish government consultation and a response to a comment I made on the blog Loadicea about the advisability of civil partnerships. (As well as my continuing discussion with Frederick on my previous posting.)

So, in for a penny, in for a pound...!

Catholic Commentary argues that Archbishop Nichols has now made his position clear here. I'm not so sure. Here's the relevant portion:

I think what’s terribly important at this present stage of the debate is to keep the focus on marriage, and is to say, as I have said twice now already, this is the nature of marriage, it is written into our nature, it’s not the possession of the Church nor of the State to change, and it is absolutely important that that is the focus of what we do and what we say.

I think what I have done is recognise the existence of legal arrangements for same-sex partners who wish to avail themselves of protection to do with rights and property, inheritance and access to each other. You should, I think, pay attention to the fact that when that legislation was put in place, to which we objected, there was a very very clear undertaking given by the government that this should not be confused with marriage.

The actual scope of the same-sex union regulation is not the same as marriage because when it comes to the same-sex partnerships there is absolutely no reference to the sexual relationship or sexual activity which is obviously essential to marriage, so there is a profound difference in law in this country at present.

Now what we have to do -- and we have to keep clear that the argument now is about the nature of marriage, and that’s why that will always be the focus of my comments at this stage -- we have to be able to see and say and persuade people that marriage is the crucial foundation of the family and that is what we do not want changed.

The Prime Minister, if you remember, at the Tory party conference said that because he was in favour of commitment and because he was in favour of equality therefore he proposed to change the definition of marriage. My response has been: we too are in favour of commitment, and commitment actually is very essential to the stability of society. If a workman gives a word -- if somebody promises to do something, if parents are committed to their children and keep to that commitment, all of those things add great stability. We too are opposed to any unjust discrimination, but we have to keep saying commitment plus equality does not equal marriage, and the Prime Minister’s argument is flawed because the absolute essential of marriage, is as I say, that it’s a relationship between a man and woman ordered for the procreation of children to their education and to their upbringing, and that’s the point we have to keep making.

Now, I think what's wrong with this is not that it's evidently giving out wrong teaching, but that it still simply isn't clear which of the following two positions Archbishop Nichols is supporting:

a) Practical acceptance of civil partnerships: 'We know that, at the present time, there isn't a snowball's chance in Hell of reversing the law on civil partnerships. We'd like to. But we know, as a matter of practical politics, we can't. However, given the existence of civil partnerships, there's even less reason to introduce same sex 'marriage', as, even from a non-Catholic view, any serious injustice to homosexuals has been remedied by civil partnerships.'

b) Principled acceptance of civil partnerships: 'We think civil partnerships are a sensible way of dealing with homosexuality in a modern society. Although they are very different from marriages -and that's why we're opposing the suggested changes to legislation- they are a good way of ensuring that homosexuals don't suffer injustice.'

Now his remarks, as they stand, are capable of being interpreted either way. And that, in itself, is a problem as Father Blake makes clear. Personally, I think that position a) is the correct one for the Church to take. I appreciate that others may disagree on this and think that the Church should at the same time as campaigning against same sex 'marriage', campaign against civil partnerships. I think they are wrong, but this is simply a prudential disagreement about political tactics, not a disagreement of principle. If this is what Archbishop Nichols is saying, then his remarks should be seen as in effect, asking those voices criticizing him to shut up and stop muddying the argument which should be focusing exclusively on same sex 'marriage'.

The problem is, by not being clear about the difference between political tactics and principle, the waters are already muddied. In general, I think the Church's best political tactic is a) clarity about its whole position; but b) also focus in that it should direct reasoned argument on specific points in hand rather than on the whole Catholic position.

In the case of same sex 'marriage' that means saying something like this:

'Look, you know what the Catholic Church teaches. We don't approve of homosexual activity. But that's an argument for a different day. Putting that argument aside, same sex 'marriage' is still wrong, for these reasons...'

I know that some will regard this as conceding the ground to the opposition arguing that we instead need to stake out a clear Catholic position, and fight for that. Well, I'm happy for those who want to do that to do so: there is no one answer to how you convince people and a variety of approaches should be tried. But if you don't focus on specific issues, the possibility of making a reasoned case in anything like an available media slot is minimal, and moreover, trying to shift all an audience's prejudice in one go is, I take it, the simplest way to ensure that it ignores you.

The point about natural law teaching is that it should be able to make its points in a variety of ways. To the extent that we are debating with a secularized audience, we may need to focus on natural goods, rather than the supernatural end of human beings. We may need to focus on some particular aspects of natural goods rather than others. (I think, for example, it is far more likely that a secularized audience has a grasp of the role of stability and complementarity of the sexes in childrearing than it does of their importance in general life.) That is not letting the other side choose the ground of debate: it is a) simply adopting a good philosophical principle that you break big problems down into little, manageable ones; and b) reminding ourselves and others that Catholicism isn't about blindly obeying the dark commands of some arbitrary Divine Commander, but about having a consistent and deep view about what human flourishing consists in and how it is best realized in society. Human nature is our ground: it is precisely the lack of any deep thought on how human beings best flourish that is the weakest part of modern, popular, secularized opinion.

Saturday 10 December 2011

A reader asks...

Midnight has come...

And thus the first stage of the campaign against same sex ‘marriage’ ends and a new phase begins. For Lazarus, like Eminem, there is now the opportunity for cleaning out my closet –and, in particular, for replying to a reader’s comment which I promised to deal with at greater length.

The following should be read against two background points:

a) What follows is an honest attempt to provide arguments in natural law to support the Magisterial teaching of the Church. It is not my intention to cast doubt on any of that teaching. To the extent that I have deviated from Church teaching, my errors are unintentional.
b) Homosexual activity is sinful. But anyone who suffers from same sex attraction is struggling with concupiscence just like all human beings. We all need God’s mercy and we all have his love.

Frederick Oakley asked:

Straight people don't have to advocate the type of sexual activity that is chosen, naturally and without pressure, by the vast majority of mankind. They select what Lazarus calls 'a particularly satisfying type of grope'. But what about that small number for whom such a grope is not only unsatisfying but, in all truthfulness, is impossible. Apart from that difference, these are people who may also honour fidelity against promiscuity. We cannot suggest that marriage as understood by the Church is open to them. However we can welcome a secular recognition of a permanent relationship. It doesn't help to belittle their genuine difference.

The first thing I’d say here is that I don’t think what is good about heterosexual activity is that it is a particularly satisfying type of grope: that was my characterization of Suzanne Moore’s view here. Indeed, it is because sexual activity carries meaning beyond the simple rubbing of surfaces that Moore envisages, that much modern thought about sex is simply wrong.

So what is good about heterosexuality? In specifically religious terms, I’d point to the theological idea, present (eg) in von Balthasar, that the complementarity of male and female in some way is a reproduction of the internal life of the Trinity: sex matters theologically. In the broader terms of natural law, I’d point to the way that the psychologies of men and women are different: a man who does not open himself to female influence in the way only a sexual relationship can achieve is missing something, and mutatis mutandis a woman. Moreover, without male/female relationships, childrearing will not occur (except in the technologically overloaded interventions of artificial methods or of a mother deliberately abandoning her children as a surrogate mother). Although these positions can only be sketched here, they provide the resources for developing a view that heterosexual activity is superior to homosexual activity.

This gives society a reason to promote heterosexual relationships –and moreover, heterosexual relationships of a certain lifelong and sexually exclusive kind which fits them for childrearing. It does not have the same reason to promote homosexual relationships (quite apart from any consideration of their sinfulness). Moreover, it has a reason to distinguish carefully lifelong exclusive relationships oriented towards childrearing –ie marriage- from all other human relationships.

So that it the outline of the reasoning which supports a) distinguishing marriage from other relationships and b) privileging that relationship. But this leaves open the question that Frederick asks:

But what about that small number for whom such a grope is not only unsatisfying but, in all truthfulness, is impossible. Apart from that difference, these are people who may also honour fidelity against promiscuity. We cannot suggest that marriage as understood by the Church is open to them. However we can welcome a secular recognition of a permanent relationship. It doesn't help to belittle their genuine difference.

Note first that society does have a reason for discouraging those groups (ie in the modern taxonomy, bisexuals) who might be tempted not to form heterosexual couples; as well as those heterosexuals (ie the promiscuous) who might be tempted not to form life long exclusive bonds. Accordingly, the effects of any institutions created for the benefit of (exclusive) homosexuals would have to be considered on these groups. (I should note here that I am not entirely sure that the concepts of homosexual and heterosexual as identities are something that the Church should simply endorse. This is not a line of argument I’ll run this time.)

Putting that issue aside, what of those who find heterosexual intercourse impossible? As matters stand, society gives two answers: 1) They can have sex and construct their lives in whatever way they choose, but can’t get married. 2) They can enter into civil partnerships. Now, quite apart from anything else, such a situation seems better (on the reasons previously adduced) to further blurring the distinction between marriage and other relationships. So given the nature of the present debate about same sex marriage, the clear conclusion is that same sex marriage should be opposed.

But the deeper point in Frederick’s question is, I take it, this: Why shouldn’t the Church welcome a) civil partnerships; and b) more generally, faithful homosexual activity? It might be added that, even if the Church believes that such activity is sinful, wouldn’t it be better to reduce the sinfulness in this way?

In terms of sinfulness, homosexual activity –in Catholic understandings- is simply wrong. Even if it is done in a faithful, exclusive partnership, it remains wrong. This is so deeply embedded in Catholic moral theology that I don’t see how it could be changed. But it might be argued that, just as stealing could never be right, there is a moral difference between someone who steals without hurting or frightening anyone, and someone who steals by hurting and frightening. Analogously, it might be thought, there is a moral difference between two homosexuals who live out their lives as a faithful couple, and homosexuals who act promiscuously. Both are wrong. But one is less wrong than the other.

Two answers. Firstly, let me concede the point. Someone who is in a faithful life long homosexual partnership possibly is a better person than someone who is promiscuous. But better still is the person who is celibate. And none of that shows that society would be right to promote civil partnerships: it is quite possible that the social harm in such a promotion –in the undermining of the difference between homosexual and heterosexual activity for example and the encouragement of homosexuality amongst the bisexual- would outweigh its benefits. (Just as it might well be the case that the balance of social harms in promoting condoms might outweigh the benefits to be achieved by (say) the prevention of AIDs in the case of individual sex workers.) So while it might be right for individual homosexuals to reduce their sinfulness by entering into a partnership, it would not be right for society or the Church to promote publicly such arrangements. (One could quite well imagine a priest privately counselling a Mafioso only to hurt and not to kill his victims, but not wishing to make such advice public for fear of encouraging others to hurt and not leave alone.)

Secondly, I’m not sure that it is clear that a homosexual who is in a lifetime faithful partnership is a better person than someone who, eg, indulges in bouts of promiscuity followed by periods of regret.  For a heterosexual couple, the point of sexual restraint is that it is one of the attributes of marriage that make it suitable for childrearing. Now, putting aside theological considerations, that restraint comes at a cost. Some possibilities are lost by such restraint: these might include the ability to move across the world for new job, or the simple loss of exploring a variety of people as sexual partners. For a heterosexual, they are the cost of the pearl of childrearing: these are the sacrifices to be made to achieve a stable environment for childrearing. But such a consideration doesn’t apply to homosexual couples. So I’m not at all sure that, in itself, fidelity in homosexual relationships makes them better than promiscuity. (Fidelity in a Mafioso may well make him a worse person.) I accept that, in individual cases, it may well be better for an individual to abstain from homosexual promiscuity just as, in an individual case, it may be better for someone to abstain from alcohol. But neither case suggests that, in general, promiscuity or drinking is a bad thing.

Let me be quite clear. For a Catholic, there is a need to accept the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium. Homosexual activity is sinful. Moreover, there are authoritative pronouncements on the acceptability of civil partnerships and same sex marriage. All I have written, for a Catholic, has to be read against that background.

See in particular here at the US Bishops' website

But quite apart from the authority of the Church, the sort of natural law considerations sketched above do, I think, provide a justification, at least in outline, for the exercise of that authority which is (or at least should be) rationally persuasive.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

John Finnis and same sex marriage

John Finnis (bio here and here) is one of the most prominent philosophers of law in the English speaking world. I include below his views on same sex marriage (full paper here). Remember the next time you are called a moronic Catholic bigot or similar for supporting traditional marriage that Finnis agrees with you.

The Scottish government consultation on same sex marriage closes this Friday. An abbreviated online response form can be found here. Please do complete this or send a brief email to the Scottish government making the following simple points:

I am opposed to same sex marriage on the following grounds:
a) It replaces the traditional understanding of marriage without any demonstration of a benefit to society and without any assessment of the long term risks to society.
b) In particular, it risks undermining the chief function of marriage which is that of providing a stable environment for childrearing without any demonstration of a benefit to society.
c) The existence of civil partnerships avoids any possible existing injustice to homosexuals. There is accordingly no demonstrated need to run the risks detailed in a) and b).

[Update 9/12: the above is simply my own best attempt at a short argument in favour of opposing same sex marriage. Whilst I believe it is in keeping with the natural law approach, it possesses no authority other than that and you should feel free to adapt or change it any way.]

Please do this whether you live in Scotland or not. The Equal Marriage Campaign website says nothing about the consultation being restricted to Scottish residents. The terms of the consultation say nothing about this either. It is, moreover, against commonsense: why should the Scottish government ignore the worldwide reputation of Scotland or expert commentary that may be available elsewhere? By all means add why you are concerned in the consultation (perhaps Scottish roots or a long standing fondness for the country) but please do not allow non-Scottish gay activists to put out the claim that Scotland needs same sex 'marriage' to show itself the best wee modren country in the world unchallenged.


For marriage is rational and natural primarily because it is the institution which
physically, biologically, emotionally, and in every other practical way is peculiarly apt
to promote suitably the reproduction of the couple by the generation, nurture, and
education of ultimately mature offspring. And here we touch on another point of
importance in understanding and evaluating the version of ‘gay’ ideology defended by
Koppelman and Macedo. These writers claim that sex acts between persons of the
same sex can be truly marital, and that to perform such acts two such persons can
indeed marry each other. They want us to evaluate homosexual sex acts by focussing
upon this sort of activity of this sort of couple. Koppelman adopts Sidney Callahan’s
claim that when engaged in ‘with a faithful partner’, such same-sex sex acts
‘produce...intense intimacy, bodily confirmation, mutual sanctification, and fulfilling
happiness’. It seems rather careless of Koppelman to accept that ‘mutual
sanctification’ is ‘produced’ by sex acts in a universe he proclaims to be ‘disenchanted’.
But more interesting is his failure to explain why this and the other effects allegedly
‘produced’ by sex acts depend upon the faithfulness of one’s partner, or partners,
and, I assume, upon one’s own faithfulness.

The ‘gay’ ideology, even in the sanitised Koppelman/Macedo version, has no
serious account whatever of why it makes sense to regard faithfulness—reservation of
one’s sex acts exclusively for one’s spouse—as an intelligible, intelligent, and reasonable
requirement. Only a small proportion of homosexual men who live as ‘gays’ seriously
attempt anything even resembling marriage as a permanent commitment. Only a tiny
proportion seriously attempt marital fidelity, the commitment to exclusiveness; the
proportion who find that the attempt makes sense, in view of the other aspects of their
‘gay identity’, is even tinier. Thus, even at the level of behaviour—i.e. even leaving
aside its inherent sterility—gay ‘marriage’, precisely because it excludes or makes no
sense of a commitment utterly central to marriage, is a sham.

And this is no mere happenstance. The reason why marriage involves the
commitment to permanence and exclusiveness in the spouses’ sexual union is that, as an
institution or form of life, it is fundamentally shaped by its dynamism towards,
appropriateness for, and fulfilment in, the generation, nurture, and education of children
who each can only have two parents and who are fittingly the primary responsibility
(and object of devotion) of those two parents. Apart from this orientation towards
children, the institution of marriage, characterised by marital fides (faithfulness), would
make little or no sense. Given this orientation, the marital form of life does make good
sense, and the marital sexual acts which actualise, express, and enable the spouses to
experience that form of life make good sense, too.

Moreover, a man and a woman who can engage in precisely the marital acts with
precisely the same behaviour and intentions, but who have reason to believe that in their
case those very same acts will never result in children, can still opt for this form of life as
one that makes good sense. Given the bodily, emotional, intellectual, and volitional
complementarities with which that combination of factors we call human evolution has
equipped us as men and women, such a commitment can be reasonable as a participation
in the good of marriage in which these infertile spouses, if well-intentioned, would wish
to have participated more fully than they can. By their model of fidelity within a
relationship involving acts of the reproductive kind, these infertile marriages are,
moreover, strongly supportive of marriage as a valuable social institution.
But same-sex partners cannot engage in acts of the reproductive kind, i.e. in
marital sexual intercourse. The permanent, exclusive commitment of marriage, which
presupposes bodily union as the biological actuation of the multi-level (bodily,
emotional, intellectual, and volitional) marital relationship, makes no sense for them. Of
course, two, three, four, five or any number of persons of the same sex can band
together to raise a child or children. That may, in some circumstances, be a
praiseworthy commitment. It has nothing to do with marriage. Koppelman and
Macedo remain discreetly silent on the question why the same-sex ‘marriage’ they offer
to defend is to be between two persons rather than three, four, five, or more, all engaging
in sex acts ‘faithfully’ with each other. They are equally silent on the question why this
group sex-partnership should remain constant in membership, rather than revolving like
other partnerships.

The plain fact is that those who propound ‘gay’ ideology have no principled
moral case to offer against (prudent and moderate) promiscuity, indeed the getting of
orgasmic sexual pleasure in whatever friendly touch or welcoming orifice (human or
otherwise) one may opportunely find it. In debate with opponents of their ideology,
these proponents are fond of postulating an idealised (two-person, lifelong...) category
of relationship—‘gay marriage’—and of challenging their opponents to say how such a
relationship differs from marriage at least where husband and wife know themselves to
be infertile. As I have argued, the principal difference is very simple and fundamental:
the artificially delimited (two-person, lifelong...) category named ‘gay marriage’ or
‘same-sex marriage’ corresponds to no intrinsic reason or set of reasons at all. It has few
presentable counterparts in the real world outside the artifice of debate. Marriage, on
the other hand, is the category of relationships, activities, satisfactions, and
responsibilities which can be intelligently and reasonably chosen by a man and a woman,
and adopted as their integral commitment, because the components of the category
respond and correspond coherently to a complex of interlocking, complementary good
reasons: the good of marriage. True and valid sexual morality is nothing more, and
nothing less, than an unfolding of what is involved in understanding, promoting, and
respecting that basic human good, and of the conditions for instantiating it in a real, nonillusory way—in the marital act.

Monday 5 December 2011

Advent hymns?

The post on Advent hymns in Catholicism Pure and Simple  made me think of one thing that really bugs me about being a Catholic.

When I was an Episcopalian, I could rely on 'Lo! He comes with Clouds Descending' being sung quite early on in Advent. But despite it being tantalizingly in the Laudare book used in my parish, we never get it.

Shame!! I particularly like the second verse:

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

(Yes, a revenge fantasy on everyone who's ever disagreed with or annoyed me!)

Anyway, a slightly ragged -but I think with a roughness more appropriate to Wesley than the Cathedral Choirs you can find elsewhere on Youtube- version:

And your favourites?

Friday 2 December 2011

For pudding is the pan…

         Have you sent in your submission on same sex 'marriage' to the Scottish government yet? See previous post and  here

As I’m just putting the finishing touches to my submission to the Scottish government consultation on same sex ‘marriage’ (due in before 9 December) feverish thoughts of straight pride marches or other street protests cross my mind as the next step in the campaign. Straight pride marches? Might get Tesco sponsorship?The men could all dress up in straightforwardly manly apparel such as tweed suits whilst, to celebrate their complementarity, our lemans could be at our side, chastely but pleasingly dressed, followed by our scholae of homeschooled children.

In between the staple of Gregorian Chant (CanticumCanticorum?) we could sing rousing choruses of Purcell’s ‘Man is for the Woman Made’. (Straight priders of slightly Jansenist leanings might well prefer to translate the lyrics into the decent obscurity of Latin…)

All together now!

Man is for the woman made
And woman for the man.

As the spur is to the jade,
As the scabbard for the blade,
As for digging is the spade,
As for liquor is the can,
So man is for the woman made,
And woman for the man.

As the widow, be she maid,
As the wanton, be she staid,
Be she well or ill arrayed,
Queen, slut or harridan, So man . . .

As the sceptre to be sway'd,
As for night's the serenade,
As for pudding is the pan,
As to cool us is the fan, So man . . .

A serious point behind all this is how deeply the relationship and complementarity of man and woman is built into high Western culture. To view that encounter between man and woman as simply part of a smorgasbord of ‘whichever bits of our bodies we chose to stick in other people's bodies’ (in the words of Suzanne Moore) is not just to abandon a particularly satisfying type of groping but to find oneself exiled from a sensibility which has provided most of the greatest art of the West.

There are arguments for doing that. (I’d regard them as bad arguments and the abandonment of that sensibility as indeed ‘cultural vandalism’.) But whatever else needs to be said, it is not a negligible choice, but a highly serious one. It is certainly a choice that requires a greater cultural attention than the sort of fluffy romanticism  devoted to it at the moment.

Intimacy and types of intimacy matter. What one chooses to love is both a symptom of and a basis for a sensitivity which structures much of how we live and see the world.


Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Authorised Version

One of the finest and most consistently intelligent Catholic blogs The Thirsty Gargoyle comments unfavourably on Michael Gove’s apparent intention to send every school in England a copy of the King James Bible. Noting that Richard Dawkins is a fan of the KJV, The Thirsty Gargoyle continues:

It seems the Education Secretary is on the same page as Professor Dawkins on this matter. He may be an Anglican rather than an Atheist, but it can hardly be on confessional grounds that he proposes that Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and secular schools should have specifically Anglican versions of the Bible on their shelves. To him the King James Bible is a cultural resource around which all English people should be able to unite.

The problem, of course, is that despite what Mister Gove may think and what Professor Dawkins may claim, that’s not what the Bible’s for, and it should bother Christians to see any version of it being promoted as such. The King James Bible may well have supplied rhythms and metaphors for three centuries of English writers, but it was not created with such an end in mind, and it is profoundly disrespectful to the Bible to dragoon it into the service of a nostalgic nationalism or to reduce it to a mere piece of literature, no matter how beautiful…

If we care about the Bible, we should care about how it's taught. This is a bad idea.

There a few issues here that could do with being separated out. Firstly, there is the question of the effectiveness of sending one book to every school in England. Over the years, my own children have been subject to various dishings out of free books at school. I have a vague memory of at least one of them getting a book when a new born on the ground that it would encourage him to read. I’m not at all sure that such tokenistic schemes ever work, and, on that level, I’m not at all sure that sending a book to every school will lead to more than another random volume gathering dust somewhere in a school cupboard.

But putting aside the effectiveness of the suggestion, is it a good idea to promote study of the KJV within schools? If, say, schools were really encouraged to think carefully about how to bring the book into the school curriculum, would this be a good or bad thing? The Gargoyle is surely right in pointing out that some ways of teaching the Bible would be clearly wrong from a Catholic point of view. If, eg, a course was designed by the National Secular Society which studied the Bible simply to expose its internal contradictions and its childish world view, no Catholic would think this a good thing. But Gove’s suggestion doesn’t seem to be quite that:

It's a thing of beauty, and it's also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance. Guardian

Now again, one could imagine using the KJV as a basis for a sort of extreme Christian British Nationalism, and, again, that would be something that no Catholic should accept. But Gove’s words don’t support this interpretation: instead he simply seems to be suggesting emphasizing a) its central place in English history; b) its literary beauty; c) its defining role in a shared (English? British?) culture. Of these, a) seem pretty unobjectionable: the Bible and in particular the KJV has been historically important. c) is clearly the most problematic, but to note that it is problematic is not to deny its truth. It has been a key element in promotion of a British, Protestant culture. To note that, and to think about that is not to endorse that. Gove presumably is going to be rather more favourably inclined to the idea of a Protestant, British culture than either I or the Gargoyle is going to be. So if the KJV is going to be used as a prop for the promotion of a rather dumb version of Protestant Unionism, it wouldn’t be a good thing. But that goes beyond anything that has been actually suggested. Gove will pen a couple of lines for an introduction. The Bibles will be sent out. Nothing appears to have been said about what schools should do with them and, whilst I would concur with the point that they shouldn’t use them to promote British, Protestant Nationalism, there are many other things that schools could do with them which are both serious and worthwhile.

So we are left with b): its literary beauty. Here, the Gargoyle seems to be worried about its being reduced to a mere piece of literature. Again, one can imagine ways in which this could be done badly: a course based on showing that it was just a well written piece of fiction, would be objectionable. However, what seems more likely is that any course of study would involve studying it (to use the religious studies jargon) as an outsider rather than as an insider who believed in its status as holy writ.

Undoubtedly, this can be corrupting of religious belief. Perhaps one of the key ways in which modernity eviscerates religious belief is by studying it. When I went round the Museum of Scotland with my children, I fumed (inwardly and out loud) about the sort of notice affixed to items of Christian worship which always managed to be expressed in the past tense: ‘Catholics used this in the Mass. They believed that…’etc. Little by little, we become that outsider, staring in at the bizarre and colourful antics of a long dead tribe. Charmed, perhaps, but only by the memory of a thing long gone. But such an attitude is so deeply involved in so much of the Western education system, both in schools and universities, that the addition of the KJV to the pile of primitive art to be scrutinized at an emotional and intellectual distance raises few new problems. On any assessment simply of historical or literary value, the KJV deserves a place in the curriculum, particular for any child destined to study the humanities beyond school. If the outsider attitude is the problem, then that is not solved by excluding the KJV, any more than it would be solved by excluding study of any British history.

Turning to the literary merit of the KJV, again, there are a number of issues to be separated out. There is much to be said for simply understanding and knowing the Bible: an acquaintance with its stories is at the very least useful in the appreciation of much Western art. To an extent, the archaic nature of the KJV both supports and undermines such an endeavour. It supports it by encouraging attention to its aesthetic rather than theological qualities. It undermines it by making comprehension more difficult. On the other hand, there is the aesthetic quality of the KJV edition itself. Parts of it are, straightforwardly, beautifully written. Parts of it have taken on a resonance by familiarity and being built into the foundations of the English language. As a document of modern English in a key formative stage, it is valuable simply as an exercise in historical linguistics.

The main suspicions about Gove’s use of the KJV rather than some more modern translation centre on the two issues of aestheticism and traditionalism in religion. Certainly, there are dangers in both. It is quite possible to become intent on cultural values at the expense of service to God. This is a danger that can be observed in modern Anglo-Catholicism (where a focus on form is sometimes achieved at the expense of any substantive tradition in ethics or theology) and in traditional Catholic circles where beautiful liturgy is sometimes purchased at the cost of embracing the attitude once referred to in Anglican circles as ‘spiky’. But to note that there are dangers in the aesthetic and the traditional is not to claim that they are essentially harmful. Any religion such as Catholicism which claims that God is manifest in the forms of the created world needs to think seriously about aesthetics. Any religion which is founded upon a deposit of faith given to the Apostles and to be handed on intact needs to think seriously about tradition. Abusus non tollit usum.

The establishment of the Ordinariate gives an opportunity for some of the fruits of the Protestant Reformation to be brought back into the mainstream of Catholic Christianity. The Protestant Reformations in the British Isles didn’t do much for the visual culture, and, arguably, not much for the musical culture either. But they did produce work of startling literary merit in the KJV and Cranmer’s Prayer Book with Coverdale’s Psalms. (And as a Scot, I would add to that the Metrical Psalms of the Kirk.) Bringing the literary merits of the KJV to a wider population would be no bad thing. I doubt that it will in fact happen through Gove’s modest proposal. But as someone who found God, in part, through the literary merit of writers such as Hopkins, I regard aesthetic value as a key way of seeing God, particularly in works such as the KJV where the beauty of the form is so closely intertwined with the content of the divine that it is hard to discern where one stops and the other begins.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Sunt lacrimae rerum...

I've always had a slight tendency to well up with tears on utterly inappropriate occasions. I have particular difficulty with samurai films and the film 'Zulu'. Indeed, when the latter was reshown recently on TV, I rediscovered with my youngest child a problem I'd had with the older ones: trying to explain the complexities of British Imperial policy in Africa whilst trying to disguise the fact that I was choking with emotion at the events at Rorke's Drift.

These are usually mere sniffles. But on two occasions within the last few years, I actually found myself sobbing quite violently and without much warning. Linen on the Hedgerow reminded me of one: the photographs of the martyrdom of Blessed Miguel Pro (whose feast is today). The collection that did it can be found here. In particular, the following photo:

I suppose some of the reasons are obvious: the poignancy of the exact moment of death; the helplessness of a young man in the prime of his life etc. Nothing unusual in many ways, but it still profoundly affects me.

The other occasion? Reading this for the first time:

Manning married Mrs. Sargent's granddaughter, Caroline, 7 November, 1833,in a ceremony performed by the bride's brother-in-law, Samuel Wilberforce,later Bishop of Oxford and Winchester. Manning's marriage did not last long: his young and beautiful wife came of a consumptive family, and died childless (24 July, 1837).

When Manning died so many years later 
[in 1892], for decades a celibate Roman Catholic clergyman, a locket containing his wife's picture was found on a chain around his neck.

Atheists reading this will doubtless find it confirmed that I'm nuts. I will go on thinking that anyone who doesn't find such things profoundly moving is simply not feeling the right emotions, at the right time and in the right way  as required by Aristotle and modern virtue ethics.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Make your views known NOW on same sex marriage

The Scottish government consultation on same sex marriage closes on 9 December. Please make your individual response NOW. A simplified form is available here. The full consultation form is available here.

1) Despite the Church having sent many thousands of cards from individual Catholics protesting the introduction of same sex marriage, it has been decided that they will only count as one submission. This makes it imperative that as many Catholics as possible make their views known individually.[29/11: See update below.]

2) The simplified form (from the Christian Institute) states that only Scottish residents can take part. I can see no basis for this claim in any of the material I have read. Whilst I am open to correction on this, given the prominent interventions by many US pro-gay activists in the comboxes of the Scottish press, I see no reason why anyone who cares about this issue shouldn't submit a response. (Scotland's reputation worldwide is clearly relevant to this process.) If you use the simplified form, it will take only a few minutes of your time.[See update below.]

3) Full details of all this here from the Defend Marriage in Scotland website.

[Update 29 Nov: Postcard responses apparently will be counted. Non-Scottish residents are able to submit responses. See Defend Marriage site for details here and here.]

Friday 18 November 2011

Killing Care Bears and destroying rainbows

                              Nasty people hurt Care Bears and want to stop gay marriage

In the absence of many good arguments for same sex ‘marriage’, one tactic that’s becoming widespread is, for want of a better term, what I shall call the ‘clubbing Care Bears’ argument. In this argument, the opponent of same sex ‘marriage’ is portrayed as the sort of vile person who wants to destroy other people’s happiness and, if given the opportunity, would club Care Bears.

A good example of this was in Scotland on Sunday (13 November 2011) in a column written by Fiona Leith (not online). Having rabbited on to no good purpose for half the article, she hits her stride with:

Who sits on a church pew or stands at a lochside, as vows are spoken and song sung, questioning whether that pair up there will conform to society’s norms? A wedding day is about acceptance –theirs of each other, and ours of them.

Who indeed? What vile, heartless rogue would do such a thing? Well, step forward Bashir Maan, ‘the enlightened Maan’, according to Fiona Leith’s terminology.

Bashir Maan has been a prominent figure in both the Muslim community and Scottish life in general since the 1960s. He, unfortunately in Fiona Leith’s worldview, also happens to be a devout Muslim who takes his religion seriously on sexual ethics. For making the objection that marriage between partners of the same sex couldn’t perform the purpose of procreation, he is ridiculed by Leith:

How desperate, dour and damning an expression of faith and love is that? What in that recognises the humanity, soul, care and compassion that marriage can bring?...What is the certainty that can be sought from marriage other than love? And even that certainty doesn’t always last. Procreation is biology. Existence. We learn about it next to Bunsen burners and periodic tables. They didn’t teach love and marriage in the classroom last time I checked. For good reason.

It’s hard to make much sense of this, other than a sort of prolonged sob at how lovely the bride looks in her dress (or perhaps the groom in his). Certainly, if Bashir Maan made a habit of turning up at weddings and glowering at unsuitable matches, she might have a point. But the suggestion here appears to be that, just because such behaviour is unsuitable at a wedding, we can’t think seriously about marriage at all.

                     When not destroying couples’ happiness, religious believers also kill seal pups

That argument’s particularly tricky since Leith and other bien pensants are urging a protracted process of legislative change. I say, how dare she? How dare anyone ruin the happiest day of a couple’s life by squabbling over laws, and bills and parliamentary procedure? Between sobs, I manage to continue: what sort of dour, joy destroying creature could talk of law on such a day?

Because this is all nonsense. The hardest thing for anyone upholding traditional teaching on marriage is to know that, in doing this, we are talking about people’s deeply felt and most intimate lives. I would rather leave discussion of people’s love lives to that intimate space where advice can be given: friends, priests, counsellors etc. But the matter has been raised by the pro-same sex ‘marriage’ side: they have dragged their relationships into the public sphere and have demanded the right to that most public and institutionalized form of relationship, marriage.

Tell divorce lawyers and family court judges that they have no business intruding the law into love. Tell psychologists and economists researching into the positive effects of childrearing within marriage that they have no business thinking about something where the only proper response is a nice, big smile. Tell politicians, worried about family breakdown and the effect on the next generation not to dare thinking about such issues. It’s only about love, only about acceptance, only about having a larf.

The one thing you mustn’t do is to think. Just accept. Because as soon as you start thinking, you’ll find yourself wondering why a proposal such as same sex ‘marriage’ with so little going for it in terms of contribution to the common good has got so far.