The most frightening bones in England?
Another Times columnist has had her feathers ruffled by St Thérèse of Lisieux. Why is it that these journalists find the relics of a canonized Saint so very frightening? What they cannot understand, they wish to ban. What they cannot control, they wish to destroy. What they regard as incredible, they wish to deny to the credulous, even those imprisoned believers who yearn just to touch something, someone who has been touched by the Supernatural and the Divine. Someone sanctified by God. This time, Minette Marin of the Times has launched a crusade against the tour of the relics of St Thérèse of Liseiux. The classic irony is that both she and Matthew Parris are so incensed that she is getting publicity...Yet, because they are writing so angrily about her, they are giving her even more publicity, which, frankly, I think is marvellous!
It wasn’t so long ago that Europe was almost awash with gallons of the milk of the Virgin Mary, treasured by the faithful (Anyone remember the Great Catholic European Milk-a-thon of 1965? No? Me neither). And fellow citizens ought usually to be polite enough to keep their critical thoughts to themselves, in the name of courtesy and mutual tolerance.So, Minette. What next? Ban Rosaries? Ban Confession? Ban the Eucharist? Ban the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Ban crucifixes? Ban prayer? Ban Catholicism? All of these things are a threat to your world view. All of these things are present in parish Churches in the UK and in prison chapels among the Faithful imprisoned. Today, it seems, people love talking about diversity...until they feel threatened, feel uncomfortable or challenged by one of the religions.
However, there is a difference in this case. The Catholic Church is actively encouraging people to hope for miracles of healing (The Church is not saying, "Roll up, roll up, get your miracle cures here". The Church is encouraging the Faithful to piety and devotion to a Saint who always had in her prayers those outcasts rejected by society.) These reliquary jamborees can only inflame irrational expectations in people who are suffering and suggestible. Surely it cannot be right to do so. Any face cream promising much lesser miracles — merely the disappearance of wrinkles — would soon fall foul of trading standards officers and have to be withdrawn, to protect the innocent public from being deluded by the false claims of charlatans. Why, then, have the media been so uncritical about this mass deception? (Why should the media be highly critical of a Catholic tradition that goes back to the Early Church? I mean, we expect it, but why?)
The intolerant, triumphalist atheists have never appealed to me (Could've fooled me!). I cannot see why it is so important to them to denounce other people’s religious beliefs so aggressively (So, why then denounce the Faithful's veneration of these relics?). I don’t know why people who pride themselves on their rationality can be so irrationally sure that they are right; absolute certainty is not a rational position (Good point, Melanie!). Besides, Catholics and Christians generally are very often a force for good; most of what’s best in our society is built upon Christian foundations. (Bravo! O boy, this girl is good! Fair, respectful and even-handed!)
All the same, there comes a time when even a peaceable agnostic feels roused to indignation (Uh-oh...She's about to have a funny turn!). For me it was last week, at the news that the Home Office has seen fit to let the bones of the Little Flower into Wormwood Scrubs prison. This almost defies belief (Correction: It defies your unbelief). For, in allowing this, with all the due process and deliberation of bureaucracy, the government is conferring respectability on such relics (Not so, Minette. The Government is allowing the relics of a Saint to visit a prison. This is not illegal immigration nor a matter for HM Customs and Excise. St Therese is not a member of Al-Quaeda. They are merely allowing Catholic prisoners and those of good will to venerate a Saint's relics. In other words, respecting the right to freedom of religious expression. I mean, what are you going to do next? Call for the banning of Mass? I mean, to you Mass is dangerous because Catholics think we receive the Body and Blood of Christ?) And in so doing, it opens wide the gates of reason to let into any public place any and every fetish or juju that any religious group claims is part of its spiritual life. The laws on equality and religious respect will require it.
What the starry progress of the relics of the Little Flower has done for me is to remind me that we have in this country rather too much religious tolerance (Calling for the banning of relics of obscure french nuns who became canonized Saints seems very intolerant to me). The truth is that many religions — perhaps most — have certain doctrines and beliefs that are not merely irrational but sometimes dangerous and unacceptable. (Catholicism. The most dangerous and unacceptable religion in the World! All those St Therese devotees going around doing good, praying for troubled souls and being kind. They must be stopped!)
At this very moment there are religions, with countless adherents in this country, that teach that people can truly be possessed by demons, which must be exorcised, perhaps violently; that witches exist and must be punished or killed; that God has created women inferior and subject to men; that women are unclean and must be excluded from certain places and roles for that reason (Which religion is this? Oh, she must mean Christianity and in particular, Catholicism. She's right of course. I went to Mass last week and after coffee we had three witch burnings, five exorcisms and forced at least three women into labour camps to do washing up and laundry for the men. Thank God for true religion...). These beliefs — held until recently by most of Christian Europe — are actually against the law (This is rubbish. Beliefs, even wicked beliefs with little or nothing to do with Christianity are not against the law. Even Satanists are given a degree of protection against discrimination) in this country and contrary to the universal declaration of human rights. Yet the duty of religious tolerance persuades us to overlook this fact (and we, too, have to tolerate you, your vile anti-Catholic prejudices and your heresy). It persuades us to ignore the truth that religions are not really equal, in the sense that they are not equally benign or harmless. (Read: "Both these bones and the idea that some people believe they are the bones of a Saint who is now in Heaven frighten me terribly. Therefore, I want the State to ban them. Boo-hoo".)
Some religions do promote unacceptable things, while others peddle false hopes here on earth. I would not dream of suggesting that the government return to the ancient tradition of suppressing religious freedom (except that's what I've just said in my last paragraph). But I think we should insist that the Home Office does not lend any extra official respectability to religious hocus-pocus of any kind (Read: "The Home Office should not have allowed these relics to visit Wormwood Scrubs because I don't believe in Catholicism and therefore nobody else should"). Superstition, like St Thérèse, has a curious immortality on earth.
Why is it, Minette that just because you do not believe in God, Saints, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the Virgin Mary, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Sin or Redemption that you want to make everyone else in your image and likeness? Anyone would have thought that you were some kind of evangelical anti-Catholic activist with a set of beliefs all of your own that you think should be espoused by everyone else. Let's call it Marrinism. Well, you can practise your Marrinism. We're more interested in Marianism ourselves but hey, you practise your religion if you want. Please, be gracious, and allow us, peacefully, to practise ours.