Wednesday 30 April 2014

Goodbye Protect the Pope and thank you

As the whole Catholic blogosphere knows by now, the blog Protect the Pope has been effectively closed by Deacon Nick's Bishop and I've therefore removed the above image from the sidebar.

Two things to say. First, we owe Deacon Nick a great deal of thanks. Anyone who blogs will recognize the huge  work he has put into the site over the last few years and he deserves to know quite how much that work has been recognized and appreciated.

Secondly, as I've said before, shutting down blogs is in general pointless. I have nothing to say about Bishop Campbell's actions here: a Bishop and his clergy have a pastoral relationship into which outsiders should be wary of treading. In general, however, the Church needs to realize that, in a digital world, trying to micromanage evangelism from the centre will inevitably crush enthusiasm and individual talent: the easiest form of speech over which to exercise control is silence. It is particularly ironic that, while Catholic media are full of established authority figures uttering heresy, a source which has clearly tried to be orthodox and faithful is being shut down.

The only comforts here are that Deacon Nick's quite remarkable energy will now be freed up for other tasks, and that the Catholic blogosphere will go on being its existing varied self.

Thank you, Nick and Martina. May God bless you both.

Monday 28 April 2014

Sky Fairy Dust

Chesterton in Orthodoxy talks about the child's delight in tinsel and glitter and how this natural delight carries over to Catholicism and, in particular, to its liturgy and art. (Well, I think he does. But I've had a quick look and can't find the passage I remembered. Perhaps this is one of the many things people ought to have written.)

Frankly, most of the weekend was rather a drag: too many things done which I'd rather not have done; too many things done badly. And I've compounded the gloomy feeling which has remained on Monday morning by having a quick look at twitter and staring into that particular abyss which the World's view of serious Catholicism and its defenders. But despite all that, part of me -a rather unreasonably large part of me- feels as cheerful as possible after Sunday's canonizations.

I'm not going to try to rationalize it. It's just a sheer human delight in seeing lots of people in a good mood celebrating good things. There's something magical in seeing around a million people gathered to celebrate a uniquely Catholic occasion.

At this level, all the New Atheist sneers about 'sky fairies' have a point. Being a Catholic at times is like living in a fairy tale. Except, it's a fairy tale where a billion people live and worship in a two thousand year old institution, which in the twenty first century can attract one million people to a square framed by the glories of Renaissance architecture. (And has dancing Polish nuns. I didn't see any, but I'm sure it would have had dancing Polish nuns.) It's the paradox of a real fairy tale.

So, Nay Sayers of every kidney,  away with you for at least one day! It's a feeling of joy for which I claim absolutely no evidential value. But it's the inheritance of every Catholic in this season of Easter and I'm going to enjoy it.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Why can't a woman be more like a man?

 Either Truth slaying the dragon of Feminism or merely a suitable image for St George's Day which has nothing to do with the rest of the post...

When I were a lad, I read rather a lot of second wave feminism. I'm not sure this was always a positive thing for my psycho-sexual development. It's quite hard (for example) for a male adolescent to know what to do with such as the following except shriek loudly, hide in a darkened room and await death: 

There is no way out of the practice of sexuality except out...we know of no exception to male supremacist sex...We name orgasm as the epistemological mark of the sexual, and we therefore criticise it too, as oppressive to women.

(From the collective, Women Against Sex, quote in Mottier's Sexuality, p69.)

One thing that did stick in my mind with perhaps more positive results was de Beauvoir's characterization of women as 'The Other' to men's 'The One': in essence, the claim that women only have meaning by reference to the central case of humanity, men.

This observation struck me twice recently. First, there is the current worry in the debate on Scottish Independence about why women are less inclined to support it than men, evidenced (for example) in last night's BBC documentary. There are better and worse versions of this 'worry'. The worse ones tend to look for some dysfunction in women's psychology. (If I understood Margo MacDonald's contribution to the documentary, it's a result of Scottish women's having the narrow cultural horizons of Maw Broon.) The better ones tend to suggest particular strengths such as a scepticism about political promises. But both share a common framing of the problem in terms of its being about women: I look forward to a BBC documentary about why men are disproportionately in favour of Independence, with contributors speculating about whether it is because they are all feckless, irrational drunks or whether it is because they are more in touch with their emotions than women. There is an assumption here, more or less explicit, that the normal case is that of men, and that women's differences from this norm need an explanation.

The second occasion for thought was that of a Guardian Comment is Free article on adolescent girls' being damaged by bad romantic relationships. This is apparently because, for girls,

[r]omantic relationships are particularly important components of girls' identities and are, therefore, strongly related to how they feel about themselves – good or bad.

Boys, Soller said, don't exhibit the same negative emotions because they don't identify themselves according to their relationships. They identify themselves by their interests – including sports and extracurricular activities. So when their romantic relationships aren't what they envisioned, it doesn't feel like as much like a personal failing.

The lesson of the study? Quit teaching girls to define themselves by their romantic relationships.

Note that the problem is assumed to be that girls don't have the indifference of boys to romantic relationships and the solution is that they should become like boys.

What we have in both the case of women and Independence and women and relationships is a refusal of modern culture to accept that men and women are different and equal. If they are equal, the thought goes, they must be the same. (And then, forgetting de Beauvoir, the unconscious drive is to define that sameness in terms of men, with any divergence from it being regarded as an exception to be explained and even 'cured'.) An approach which accepted male/female differences and was comfortable with admitting them would start, not by assuming that women were getting it wrong in some way, but asking what it is that they might be spotting which men don't.

One of the reasons why there is a suspicion of such an approach is that it is often linked to fairly crass articulations of those differences. For example, whatever might be said at a deeper theological level of von Balthasar's summarizing of female/male differences as that between the passive and the active, it is hard to resist the thought that, at an everyday level, it would leave any male who took it seriously woefully unprepared to deal with real women. But there is no need for such crassness. For example, to take Jill Filopovic's Guardian article again:

There's nothing wrong with valuing the relationships in your life, romantic and not. For most of us, our relationships are at least one key to our happiness. But happiness is different from identity, and girls grow up not seeing relationships as potential value-adds to an already-rich life, but as the defining factor of that life. Of course they're devastated every time one goes sideways.

Now, I think this is simply rubbish. My relationship to my wife (and the resultant relationships to my children) is the defining factor of my life. When I met her, she was far more aware of the centrality of marriage to a life than I was: she had, as a woman, noticed something about life that I hadn't. That doesn't mean to say that she, or the hapless adolescents of Filopovic's article, didn't have a lot of nonsense in their heads about relationships as well. For example, I have no doubt that any sensible parent would be telling her adolescent daughters that getting romantically involved so young is a stupid idea and, at that age, they should be concentrating on their education. Moreover, no account of marriage as fundamental to an adult human identity can be separated from the even more fundamental truth of identity that you will sometimes find yourself crucified: that you may find your heart broken by abandonment, death, childlessness etc etc. Or the other fundamental truth that such brokenness can be redeemed by a focus on our supernatural end of the Beatific Vision of God (and which may, eg, involve a call to celibacy). But to note that adolescent girls have an inadequate understanding of relationships is not to dismiss their sensibility in favour of a male one which ignores relationships altogether. Instead of inviting women to become men, we should be inviting them to become wiser women. And instead of assuming that the particular sensibility of men is the norm, we should invite men to become wiser, not least in taking seriously the thought that women will notice things that men don't.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

ALMIGHTY God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

(Collect for Easter Sunday from The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)

Friday 18 April 2014

Good Friday

ALMIGHTY God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

(Good Friday Collect, from The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham.)

Monday 14 April 2014

On culture wars

There have been a number of excellent articles recently in the general area of culture wars. To attempt a rough and ready taxonomy, there have been some about whether we should be fighting about culture at all (Bottum vs Forster here), how we should fight those wars (eg Shaw here) and whether we should we talking about wars at all (eg Mudblood Catholic here).

I find this area interesting because it's probably the essential reason for the existence of this blog. When I wrote my first post almost two and a half years ago, I really wanted to start a culture war in Scotland. By that I don't mean that I wanted to stir up public discussion of controversial issues around Catholicism -that was happening anyway- but I wanted to try to help develop a (particularly, but not exclusively) Catholic sense of group cultural identity (us) in response to the increasingly oppressive attacks from secularists and life style progressives. It's rather like The Seven Samurai: if you're going to be attacked by an organized band of robbers, you too need to organize an armed resistance.

I still basically hold to this view. Catholicism in particular -but one might say that whole, conservative, natural law understanding of human flourishing- is under conscious attack. For example, the issue of same sex 'marriage' whilst presented as a simple tweak to existing legislation, in fact embodies a completely different understanding of marriage, the household, child raising, the relationship between the sexes, the relationship between the state and nature, the relationship between private and public etc etc. The French in organizations such as La Manif Pour Tous have gone furthest in recognizing the principles behind the change and in organizing formal political resistance to it which is continuing after the introduction of that change.

So here's my take on why the metaphor of a culture war is a necessary one, while acknowledging it is also one that has its limits:

1) Should we be fighting about culture? Straightforward answer to this is yes. It does of course rather depend on whether you define culture narrowly (eg: the Great Tradition of Great Books  written by Great White Dead Men) or more broadly (eg):

For Geertz, culture is “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life” 

There may be disagreement about how important any particular narrow form of culture is. There can be no doubt that 'our knowledge about and attitudes toward life' are of fundamental importance. Catholicism isn't just about believing in Jesus: it is about the process of transformation (sanctification) that leads us to our natural and supernatural ends. Culture matters.

2) How should we fight? There are a lot of things going on in Shaw's postings, but one fundamental conclusion is:

My point in these posts is that conservatives have made a terrible strategic blunder in seeking to limit the attacks on themselves by liberals by accepting the basic liberal picture, and then trying to ameliorate the problems liberalism causes by special pleading. This was never going to work; in the medium and long term it never has worked. It is high time conservatives freed themselves from this strategy and tried something which addresses the arguments at the basis of the liberal project, which are often terribly weak.

Now at the theological level, progressivisms are all inadequate because they have an inadequate understanding of human beings and their beatitudo (flourishing). They reject revelation as a source of knowledge and they reject the Beatific Vision as the supernatural end of human existence. In short, you're not going to get it right in this area unless you accept the divine teaching authority of the Catholic Church. It is important that the Church (and individual Catholics) never forget this and don't stop (from false ecumenism or whatever) proclaiming the truth that, in this sense, there is no salvation extra ecclesiam.

BUT: It is one thing to note that without this full picture, any case will be imperfect, and quite another thing to reject putting any other case. The metaphor of 'war' suggests tactics as well as strategy, makeshift, messy combat as well as the grand vision of the end pursued. Alliances -both in real and the culture wars- can be forged between Catholics and people who don't quite agree, whether these be with Protestants, Muslims or even those liberals who realize there is something inconsistent in proclaiming free speech and yet attacking anyone who exercises it.

In short, the metaphor of war is useful here because it reminds us that, in the political field, struggles are not waged solely at the level of theology and philosophy, but in far messier, opportunistic ways.

3) Should we fight? Gabriel Blanchard's post probably struck home the hardest:

I refuse to fight in the culture war because I refuse war. Christ Jesus Himself did not come as a conquering king, but as one who suffered for His people. Those whom Christ loves, I love, and that which Christ does, I do, with whatever errors and delays. That does not eliminate violence from the world; but our Lord's own response to violence was to receive it willingly in His Person, and return nothing, nothing, except love, flowing generously out of His veins. His is the only side I want to take, and He came exclusively out of a deep and tender love for the damned. How then am I to refuse love to anyone?

This hits home on two levels. First, it reminds us that there is something wrong in a Christian rejoicing in a war. Secondly, humanity is getting forgotten in the heat. Whatever side you are on in this war, there really ought to be something sickening in the damage that's being done to people's lives. As Blanchard puts it (speaking as a gay man):

We of all people ought to know better than to try to get someone fired, or celebrate it when they are, on the grounds that their moral stands don't line up with ours.

I don't criticize or blame him for his refusal to get involved in the conflict: pacifism can be a needful witness to the ultimate truth of peace. But pacifism cannot (in Catholic teaching) be the final story: in principle, there is a need to fight even if, on occasions and for individuals, that need is put aside. What is needed here is a sense of chivalry: a recognition that those whom we fight are also made in God's image. To come at this from a different way, in more 'liberal' language, a genuine and bitter disagreement ought to take some account of those spheres which have been carved out of the public, agonistic space: those areas of private life where we can retire from the fray; those areas of professional work where our views are irrelevant so long as we can do our job well.

In short, the metaphor of war remains useful here, both because it reminds us of the regrettable nature of the struggle, but also because of the existence of jus in bello, the waging of war justly or with chivalry.

Monday 7 April 2014

Gerry Hassan, revolutionary justice and The Nightmare.

                                                           19 September....

Gerry Hassan (aka Scotland's Leading Public Intellectual) has been writing again about the future of an independent Scotland and its Constitution. Instead of a Constitution written by 'Civic Scotland'

that amorphous part of polite respectable society, first identified hanging around middle class, well-heeled parts of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early 1980s, at least in the eyes of government

he urges a Constitution written by the 'third Scotland':

Why don’t we take the aspirations and myths of popular sovereignty and Constitutional Conventions, and fill them with the energies of the DIY cultures and ethos of the self-organising ‘third Scotland’ and the new generation of activists, campaigners and do-ers who are emerging? Such a shift would be a watershed moment in the democratising of modern Scotland, and a signal that we have learnt from our own past and myths about how to do things in a very different, bolder and more open way.

I read a lot of Nietzsche as a teenager and a lot of Foucault since then. And as a result, when my nice Catholic mask slips and the nasty, more cynical Adam appears, I have a tendency to ask of any political position: Who has the power and how is it being used?

Scotland on Sunday (p5) reported yesterday that

The SNP is also looking for members of the public to participate through social media in the creation of a written constitution for an independent Scotland.

I sometimes wonder when anyone writes stuff like this, whether they have ever participated in social media or the sort of 'DIY culture and ethos' that is being recommended. Current viewers of Inspector de Luca will have encountered the drawbacks of the analogous 'revolutionary justice', frequently urged on the honest (if slightly libidinous) Inspector: whether from Mussolini or anti-Fascist partisans, revolutionary justice outside the norms of law and professional police expertise and duty tends to execute the wrong person. Law Courts and Parliaments have evolved as an attempt to mediate between competing demands of expressing popular wills and yet abiding by the demands of truth and justice and wisdom. Do they work well? Not always, and there is a constant need for wary improvement. But the alternative of throwing away evolved institutions is a laisser aller where power is simply transferred to a new set of manipulators: the bold demagogue rather than the mild bureaucrat.

Assuming Scotland does become independent, we will be living in a Scotland that will not be radically different from the one we live in now. At best, it will probably evolve into a modestly prosperous, typical middle sized European democracy. At worst, it will probably evolve into a modestly  penurious, typical middle sized European democracy. I have some sympathy with Hassan's jeremiads against 

...the undynamic nature of large sections of what is called ‘civic Scotland’ and the legacy of elite power and patronage.

But the reality is that it's not going to disappear on 19 September 2014 if there's a 'Yes' vote. Existing clashes of interest will remain. International pressures will remain. Ignorance about the actual effects of social and economic policies will remain. The law will be run by existing lawyers; the NHS by existing doctors and administrators; the schools by existing teachers and their unions. That and the implementation of piecemeal social engineering is the best case scenario. The worst case would be if, exploiting a tide of popular dissatisfaction and creative politics, power passes to the 'new generation of activists, campaigners and do-ers' who will attempt (and fail) to make up for ignorance and inexperience by the 'energies of the DIY cultures'.