Sunday, 23 November 2014

What are the right mechanisms for censorship?

Oddly, in one respect (and in one respect only) I find myself more in agreement with Tim Squirrell and Niamh McIntyre than with Brendan O'Neill.

That is, I do believe that there is a place for censorship in a civilised society. We limit freedom of speech when it threatens the public good (such as shouting 'fire' in a crowded cinema) and when it incites to criminality (such as calling on people to riot) and rightly so. Until recently, recognising the dangerous potency of material inciting blood-lust and sexual lust, we placed limits on 'entertainment' that incited these, too.

Joseph Shaw makes the point that 'I would not accept an invitation to debate whether Jews should be massacred, for example, even to argue that they should not be, because this is not a topic which should be open for discussion, and having a formal debate about it legitimises, to some extent, the side in favour.' And again, I think he is probably right here. But a debate, and in particular a debate in a University, is the last thing that should be censored: precisely because it is a debate, and it is a University (as Joseph Shaw also points out, here.) Such censorship should only be exercised in extremis.

Free speech is one of those things, like democracy itself, which is a secondary good; making it into an ultimate good is heresy - or even idolatry, setting it up as a False God. 

Everyone, in practice, except the extraordinarily unreflective or the ideologically extreme, agrees with some censorship.

The question is, what are the right mechanisms for censorship, and ultimately, who gets to decide.

In a parliamentary democracy, the idea is that an elected parliament is the least worst solution to that problem. It is not ideal - and our current parliamentarians who seem dedicated to pushing the voting public into the arms of rabble-rousing populists by their unprincipled approach exemplify why - but it is certainly better than students whose intellectual development seems to be limited to slogans that can be printed on a Student Union T-shirt - and the Christ Church censors who caved in to their threats.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Scone College

'Have you at any time been detained in a mental home or similar institution? If so, give particulars.'
'I was at Scone College, Oxford, for two years,' said Paul.

Evelyn WaughDecline and Fall

And that is almost all I have to say about the idiocies emanating from Oxford's Student Union Women's Campaign and their friends.

The only other comment I have to offer is about language.

Language matters. And the language used in this instance has been very revealing of what passes for thought in some quarters. Consider the ugly circumlocution 'people with uteruses.' Consider  'cis-gendered.'

What these terms are for is to break down the normal understanding of human sexes. By normal, I mean the understanding that has been prevalent for centuries, and is still near universal today, except in small communities of a particular type of enlightened liberal, and is grounded both in a humane anthropology and biological reality.

So while it may seem like a courtesy to those who feel affronted by the fact that they are abnormal to use such terms, (and I include both 'heterosexual' and 'gay' in this list), I think it colludes with a set of assumptions about human nature that are, to say the least, unproven; and are in my view inimical to civilised society, which is founded on the normal family.

It is, in fact, the idea of normality that is under attack - and we cede that at great cost.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How to combat such barbarism?

I have been pondering how to respond to the barbaric idiocy emanating from Oxford, from those who successfully campaigned to stop a debate. But nothing I could write could demonstrate the paucity of their thinking as clearly as their own utterances, which have been fairly widely covered. 

So how does one combat such barbarism? I think poetry might be the best answer. So here I re-publish various pro-life poems I have come across over the years. 

the mother 

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,   
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,   
The singers and workers that never handled the air.   
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,   
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.   
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?   
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you

Gwendolyn Brooks



The law's been passed and I am lying low 
Hoping to hide from those who think they are 
Kindly, compassionate. My step is slow. 
I hurry. Will the executioner 
Be watching how I go? 

Others about me clearly feel the same. 
The deafest one pretends that she can hear. 
The blindest hides her white stick while the lame 
Attempt to stride. Life has become so dear. 
Last time the doctor came, 

All who could speak said they felt very well. 
Did we imagine he was watching with 
A new deep scrutiny? We could not tell. 
Each minute now we think the stranger Death 
Will take us from each cell 

For that is what our little rooms now seem 
To be. We are prepared to bear much pain, 
Terror attacks us wakeful, every dream 
Is now a nightmare. Doctor's due again.
We hold on to the gleam 

Of sight, a word to hear. We act, we act, 
And doing so we wear our weak selves out. 
We said, "We want to die" once when we lacked 
The chance of it. We wait in fear and doubt. 
O life, you are so packed 

With possibility. Old age seems good. 
The ache, the anguish - we could bear them we 
Declare. The ones who pray plead with their God 
To turn the murdering ministers away, 
But they come softly shod.

Elizabeth Jennings


By the Babe Unborn

                If trees were tall and grasses short,
                  As in some crazy tale,
                If here and there a sea were blue
                  Beyond the breaking pale,
                If a fixed fire hung in the air
                  To warm me one day through,
                If deep green hair grew on great hills,
                  I know what I should do.
                In dark I lie; dreaming that there
                  Are great eyes cold or kind,
                And twisted streets and silent doors,
                  And living men behind.
                Let storm clouds come: better an hour,
                  And leave to weep and fight,
                Than all the ages I have ruled
                  The empires of the night.
                I think that if they gave me leave
                  Within the world to stand,
                I would be good through all the day
                  I spent in fairyland.
                They should not hear a word from me
                  Of selfishness or scorn,
                If only I could find the door,
                  If only I were born.

G.K. Chesterton


Unto Us...

Somewhere at some time
They committed themselves to me
And so, I was!
Small, but I WAS!
Tiny, in shape
Lusting to live
I hung in my pulsing cave.

Soon they knew of me
My mother --my father.
I had no say in my being
I lived on trust
And love
Tho' I couldn't think
Each part of me was saying
A silent 'Wait for me
I will bring you love!'

I was taken
Blind, naked, defenseless
By the hand of one
Whose good name
Was graven on a brass plate
in Wimpole Street,
and dropped on the sterile floor
of a foot operated plastic waste
There was no Queens Counsel
To take my brief.

The cot I might have warmed
Stood in Harrod's shop window.
When my passing was told
My father smiled.
No grief filled my empty space.
My death was celebrated
With tickets to see Danny la Rue
Who was pretending to be a woman
Like my mother was. 

Spike Milligan

A baby's view of abortion

I came as tomorrow
Swaddled in innocence
To your warm womb
Without your choice
Or mine
Destined to up date
With time
Our human tree
But before love
Grew into flesh and words
What is unfinished creation-
A precipitation of blood
Became my transcendence. 

yoonoos peerbocus


I hope any publishers whose copyright I am infringing will be mollified by the fact that I am bringing these poets to the attention of a wider audience - and that all of these poems are already available freely on the internet.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Oh, that was it...

I have just remembered one of the things I had meant to include in my previous post. (One of the many characteristics I share with ++Nichols is forgetfulness....).

But I read this passage in Sheed's wonderful To Know Christ Jesus, and it seemed very à propos:

They were a strange lot, these eleven; and they would be succeeded by men stranger than themselves. He who had foreseen Peter's denials and the flight of the men he had chosen, also foresaw popes like Benedict IX and John XII, foresaw whole hierarchies moving into heresy or cowering before rulers; he foresaw you and me. Yet this was his choice - the gifts of truth and life should come through these men and their successors; in union with them, we are in union with him all days until the end of the world.

If you have not read Sheed, you should! (If you have, you should re-read him...)

More hopeful reflections

I blogged a bit about some reasons for hope yesterday, but got distracted by domestics while writing (domestic issues, not domestic servants, since you ask). So the thoughts were not as well formulated, or as comprehensive, as I had planned.

So today, whilst occupied with other duties, I remembered several other points I had intended to make, and indeed some of the pithy and engaging ways in which I was going to put them across.

However, now I finally have the time to sit and write, all those words, they seem to slip away. 

Still, I will do what I can to articulate them - and as with yesterday's post, this is as much a memo to self as anything else.

But I really do think that there are more reasons for being hopeful than I mentioned yesterday.

One is simply that the battle lines are much clearer now. There are more bishops unmistakably on the side of orthodoxy, and others more clearly taking up mistaken positions. That in itself is an improvement, I think, on the more confused state of affairs over the last decades.

There is also the fact that the confused generation of those who lived through the turmoil of the changes of the 60s and 70s are no longer the only, or even the dominant, voice in the Church.

There is the rise of the strongly orthodox leadership from the less privileged parts of the globe, forged in the fire of real faith and real persecution, who see the dilettante posturing of some liberal bishops in North Western Europe and the US for what it is.

There is the growing number of young people committed to orthodoxy, unscarred by old battles, who look at tradition without jaundice and see much that is good there.

There are even in the decadent NW Europe, and US, several courageous bishops who really believe, and who are leading their flock, despite the opposition of some of their peers.

There are countless good and holy priests and religious, quietly getting on with their vocations.

And there is a growing body of laity, increasingly connecting with each other, supporting and encouraging each other, whether formally through some of the new movements or informally through friendships and even the samizdat of social media; families who are finding that they are not, in fact, alone in striving to raise their kids as Catholic in a rather more comprehensive way than is normative in the average parish.

And, as Mother Teresa remarked, we are not required to win - only to remain faithful...

And the gates of Hell shall not prevail.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

So what hope is there?

In my most recent post, I said that my next would be on hope.

In the absolute sense, of course, Hope is foundational to Catholicism.  But I was being more specific than that, and thinking of the current crisis in the Church in this country.

Of course, our hope is always grounded in the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, His Redemptive Work, and His promises to us. We know that the victory has been won, and that whilst the skirmishes continue, there is no doubt about the outcome. Our job is to make sure that we are on the right side, and to bring as many with us as we possibly can.

Nonetheless, when we find ourselves in a crisis where a number of the hierarchy have forfeited our trust, and many priests and even bishops seem to be in de facto schism with the Church, it is easy to be disheartened.

So it helps me to take stock of our reasons for hope, even in such times.

As well as the fundamental ones already mentioned, I think there are many more we can consider. For example, it is easy to imagine that the problems we face are unprecedented; but in fact the reverse is the case. A brief consideration of the Arian heresy, universally, or the Reformation, locally, will serve to remind us that bishops can go off the rails.

(Someone had a go at me recently for failing to trust the bishops 'appointed by the Holy Father.' I thought that odd. In the light of both history, and indeed the recent +Conry scandal, it is clear that bishops can and do go off the rails; moreover, to imagine that the Holy Father appoints bishops other than based on the information he receives from those who know the candidates, seems odd to me. It is not St John Paul I think was remiss in the appointment of +Conry...)

But to return to my theme, in both the crises I mentioned, it was the lay faithful who kept the Faith.

Moreover, what we face now is not, in fact, as grave a crisis as either of those. We have several bishops in England and Wales who are  trustworthy, and who do work tirelessly to pass on the Faith as they have received it.

Also, it is not outside the wisdom of Providence that we are born in this place and in this time. Rather than lose heart, we should give thanks for everything, always.

Moreover, it is not my responsibility, as a lay man, to govern the Church in this country. My priorities start with my personal salvation, my responsibilities of state as a husband and father, and my professional, parish and social relationships. Beyond that, of course, I do have responsibilities in the wider Church: but the fact that I do not see how to get the Church in E&W back on track should not weigh too heavily upon me.

If I discharge my immediate responsibilities with Faith, Hope and Charity, then I am in fact doing the larger part of my duty. If I want to do more, all well and good, but I should not lose sight of those first priorities: and they are things that I can have a direct impact on.

So whilst I will continue to decry the sorry state of the CBCEW, and to ponder what can usefully be done, I will try not to allow that to distract me from what I should really be doing: in the sure and certain hope that salvation is won for me, and freely offered, if I just accept the graces being poured out on me.

Now, I had a talent buried around here somewhere; perhaps I'd better try to dig it up and put it to work.

Friday, 14 November 2014

So what do I make of ++Nichols?

A number of my friends has (sic: tpot - ed.) been contacting me recently to ask what I make of Cardinal Nichols, in the light of my recent posts (see here). Do I think he is apostate? Do I think he is just a coward?

The answer, clearly, is 'Who am I to judge?' That is a correct answer, in this case. I have no access to the inner workings of his mind; and it is not, in any case, my job to judge his intentions or his moral qualities. Another honest answer is that I do not know.

However, what I do know, and what I believe we are entitled, and possibly obliged, to reach a judgement on, is whether I think his speech, actions and omissions provide leadership which we should follow. I do not think that they do.

I have no notion whether he is a good man; I believe he is not a good Bishop. That is, I do not think that he is discharging the responsibilities of his office well. I do not know why that may be the case, and that is not my business. 

What I have concluded is, in any case, a grave judgement to reach, and I do not reach it lightly. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task, 'to preach the Gospel of God to all men', in keeping with the Lord's command. They are 'heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers' of the apostolic faith 'endowed with the authority of Christ.' §888 There is lots more, besides.

It is, of course, a high and difficult vocation, and I am sure that those who are elevated to the episcopacy are subject to diabolic attacks far beyond those visited upon ordinary laity; so bishops need and deserve our prayers and support.

Nonetheless, it seems abundantly clear to me that ++Nichols simply does not meet the description of his role found in the Catechism. His famous: 'Who knows what's down the road?' does not preach the Gospel, but obfuscates it; and it seems to me to be typical of many of his utterances, both in public and in private correspondence. He is gravely implicated in the +Conry scandal and others, and seems happy to pass those off simply with platitudes about praying for everybody. He seems to operate as a politician, rather than a spiritual leader.

What, then, should we do?

In the first instance, we should continue to pray for him, and for all our bishops.

But I think the time for embarrassed silence about episcopal failings (if ever that was appropriate) is past. It was that which allowed the +Conry scandal to go on for so long, damaging so many people. It is the same virtue-turned-to-vice (ie loyalty and discretion turned to collusion) that allowed the clerical abuse scandal; and it continues to eat away at the Church with every blind eye turned to priests and bishops behaving scandalously. 

We, too, have a duty to preach the Gospel, and if anyone teaches a Gospel different to the one we have received from the Apostles, we cannot collude by our silence; even if motivated by loyalty or a fear of scandal.

So I don't need to know why ++Nichols is so keen on the militant LGBT agenda of the Queering the Church lobby; or why he thinks it acceptable for CAFOD to operate against Catholic teaching; or why he thinks 'Oh dear, let's pray,' is a sufficient response to the +Conry scandal; or why ...  (but you can read my previous posts for the full litany). 

His motivations are not the issue: what is at issue is that people risk being misled into thinking that homosexual relationships are compatible with the Faith; that Humanae Vitae is optional teaching; and so on. Here, the laity has a responsibility to stand up and say that the Cardinal is wrong, if that is the effect of his silence and ambiguities. For a bishop has no authority separate from the Roman Pontiff (CCC 883), and the Holy Father is, of course, as he has assured us, a loyal son of the Church, and therefore, of course, loyal to its teachings as expressed in the Catechism and elsewhere.

I should say that I have asked my own bishop if I had got this all wrong, or if there were any reasons of prudence or charity that meant I should hold my peace about all this: he did not answer those questions directly, but referred me to the Cardinal in his role as Chair of the Conference. So I asked the Cardinal the same questions: he too did not answer them (or indeed any of my questions) directly. 

So I am thrown back on my own judgement. I feel as though I asked my spiritual fathers for bread and was tossed a stone.

This seems a bleak place to have arrived at: but there is always hope - and that will be the subject of my next post.