Thursday 15 June 2017

The Farron Conundrum: Is it Really the End of Christians in Political Life?

The most painful thing about watching Tim Farron crash and burn during the election campaign - when asked by the naturally anti-Christian media about his views on the sinfulness of same-sex marriage and abortion - was watching a politician do what we have come to expect politicians to do. It is always painful to watch politicians live up to our low expectations of them and leave us believing they lack integrity and credibility. Of course, it was most disheartening to see a public Christian deny Christ before Angels and men, but there is also an acute political angle to the Farron collapse which concerns the trustworthiness of those in public life and the confidence that we can place in them.

As to the question of whether a 'committed Christian' could lead a national political party, I expect that Mr Farron is correct up to a point, but there is a degree of uncertainty that clouds such a statement. The reason for this is that we are still waiting for a 'committed Christian' to arrive and accept the nomination of leadership of a political party. Since Farron wasn't the 'committed Christian' he would like to be during the election and admits he wasn't, we cannot know for sure whether a 'committed Christian' could lead a national party or even 'rise through the ranks' of a political party to lead it because we do not see it happen in this country.

It is ironic that a party which during the election was led by a man who feared losing votes for standing up for his beliefs finds itself far away from political influence, but a party led by figures who virulently oppose both abortion and same-sex marriage from Northern Ireland, the DUP, find themselves well-placed for a power-sharing deal with the Conservatives.

Without doubt, any political leader who claims the name of Christian will come in for some unwelcome interrogation from the media, more from the media than the general public and more so now than ever, for their private beliefs and the moral code that they live by and believe in. However, the politically correct agenda, if it was all-dominant in the United Kingdom among voters should really by now have seen off figures who do not 'play the game'.

One exception is Nigel Farage, who retains a measure of respectability and popularity in the United Kingdom not always for his beliefs (many of which offend the politically correct dogmas of our time) but for his tenacity in sticking to those beliefs no matter what the opinion polls say. He has been saying the same things about the EU bureaucracy for years now. The same can be said for 'Red Jez', Jeremy Corbyn. I have heard priests from the pulpit say such things as, 'You may not agree with what he says but there is no doubting his passion and conviction'. Indeed, this country remains a place where no Labour candidate has managed to achieve political office on a 'Socialist' platform for a long, long time, but that doesn't stop dangerous commies coming close to office simply by impressing people with the passion with which they communicate their views, if not always because of the views themselves.

So it remains to be seen whether a politician can lead a political party and uphold the teachings of the Christian faith at the same time. My instinct tells me that Farron is correct, since Christianity is particularly misunderstood and discriminated against, but he should not be allowed to rewrite his biography or imply that where he failed, others will naturally always fail. Hope tells me to think otherwise.

You don't agree with me. Do I look like I care?

Somewhere, at some time, perhaps a Catholic with an attractive personality and the courage of his convictions will step forward who will advance convincing arguments in defence of his religion in the public square within a mainstream political party, retaining both the integrity of his conscience as well as fulfil his role of public service to a nation in political leadership.

Hillaire Belloc, while not a leader of a party, did precisely this at a time in British history when suspicion of Catholics was still very great. As noted in 'Liberal History', Belloc was keenly aware of the spiritual pitfalls of public political life. Knowing the irritation his religion caused to the establishment and media of his own day, as well as the prejudice of ordinary citizens, he told a packed public meeting in South Salford:

'Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This is a rosary: as far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that he has spared me the indignity of being your representative.’

Against the odds, Belloc won that constiuency, if not the leadership of a party, and received thunderous applause from the hall. The odds are always against Christians in every age and have been against Catholics in the United Kingdom for centuries. Let us not pretend that Christianity will easily be accepted in our society in any age. It rarely is. Some people, however, have a rare capacity to attract people without repelling people simply because of their beliefs. Passionate and committed politicians who care for justice and truth, who obviously are more interested in justice and truth than in advancing their political career are, whatever their private beliefs, as revered as and often more revered than they are reviled.

The calibre of today's political leaders is not high. It is frustratingly low. There is a clear vacancy there for just such a Christian. Perhaps he or she won't be universally liked but politicians are not there to be liked and whoever is popular today is despised tomorrow anyway. Politicians are there to serve the nation of Great Britain and further the common good. It is about time people had the opportunity to elect someone who serves God first, puts his conscience first, puts the good of the people of Great Britain first and worries about people's opinions of him much, much later.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Courage Under Fire: We Need More of These Kinds of Interviews

The Pope has on numerous occasions called for dialogue with our culture. What does it sound like?

I thought that Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith of our Diocese and of the Catholic Herald did very well indeed, under great pressure, in answering with conviction and charity a rather hostile interviewer for a radio station in Northern Ireland. I was impressed because while the interview was ostensibly about the DUP, their opposition to planks of the great social engineering projects of the liberal movement and about the DUP's new role in propping up Teresa May's Government, it became quickly an interrogation of a Catholic priest committed to defending the Church's teachings in the public square.

This is the kind of public grilling that the vast majority of bishops and clergy would very much like to avoid. For confronting with patience and understanding a culture set against Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, Fr Lucie-Smith ought to be commended. The question is, would he be commended by most prelates nowadays or would most bishops be disappointed in his responses, since the priest even spoke of 'moral absolutes'?

Quite what Pope Francis would make of the interview - the forthright but charitable explanation of the truths of the Catholic teachings, or what the majority of the Bishops of England and Wales would make of it, I would rather not think about, but it has to be said that the interview highlights quite well the simple truth that if the Catholic Church is to dialogue with the world successfully - or rather, meaningfully - then Her ministers, evangelists and apologists must do so from a position of confidence in the teaching and Person of Her Lord.

It seems to me that much of the 'dialogue' the Church encourages nowadays comes from a position of doubt in the Church's teachings. It has been said that overwhelmingly the message one receives from this pontificate is that doubt is the new faith, except perhaps in the realm of obedience to the Successor of St Peter, which is one article of faith once ignored by a great many (see Summorum Pontificum) but now given great prominence by a class of dissidents who find themselves in positions of unrestrained influence and power (see Amoris Laetitia).

It should be apparant from the interview that when the Church speaks confidently concerning sin, our need for repentance, of our need for God, of the love of God, of God's love for us, of our dependence on God, when the Church articulates the Gospel in the firm belief that it is absolutely true, its enemies may not find themselves unable to resist it, or argue against it, but certainly experiences great difficulty in articulating that resistance. While the interviewer made several attempts to cast Fr Lucie-Smith as being 'against equality', utilising a rhetorical device of splendid propaganda value to smear the reputations of those who refuse to burn incense to the false idols of our age, the priest's armour remained undented in my opinion. The main reason for this is because the priest clearly believes what the Church teaches and is able to express this in ways that are reasonable and understandable.

The interviewer seemed at times to revel in the credentials of Fr Lucie-Smith. I lost count of the number of times he reminded his audience that he had a moral theologian and consulting editor of the Catholic Herald on his radio show, but it goes to show that we have reached one of those intellectual and spiritual low points in history when it is believed that a moral theologian is needed to point out to the general public - or even to the Catholic Church itself and its leadership - that marriage by necessity requires a man and a woman for the procreation of children and that the killing of nascent human life in the womb is reprehensible and morally wrong. Any rational human being, even while ensconsed in a tumultuous time in history, with so many messages to receive about what is good and what is evil, should be able to discern this and, failing that, the Catholic Church should have the confidence to proclaim it.

I am quite certain that individual Catholics would pick at a few points made by Fr Lucie-Smith and rake over their theological weight, but I think that we have to ask the question why it is that even a Catholic caller to the phone-in afterwards, while unable to articulate his anger at the positions laid out by the priest, noted that 'we have never heard anyone in Northern Ireland say anything like this'. That itself points to a crisis of faith in the Church and among the clergy and episcopate in that part, but not only that part, of the United Kingdom. All that the first caller could criticise was Fr Lucie-Smith's 'attitude', the interviewer himself pointing out to the caller that it is logical that a Catholic priest should defend the Catholic teachings of the Catholic Church.

The 'attitude' that is hated - and the Pope probably knows this well since it is apparent he is not too keen on it himself - is that attitude of supreme trust, faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. Ever since the first rumblings of the Synod began in earnest, it is this attitude of trust, faith and obedience to Jesus Christ and confidence in Him and His teachings which has received scorn, insult, mockery and even contempt from the Pope and with even less charity from his entourage. In so many ways, from within, the Catholic Church is under seige, more so from within from without. The world, in its hopelessness and distance from Christ, wishes very much for that world to be guilt-free and for every immoral impulse, even those that go against nature, to be hailed as natural and honest and pure as sunrise and birdsong. Many senior and not so senior figures in the Church wish this to be the case as well.

The world has always hated and persecuted those who even with charity and patience oppose the great sins of the age and refuse to speak the world's deceptive language. May the Lord raise up more in His Church who will through the kindness and clarity of their words, with faith point to Jesus Christ, enabling men to hear the good news, the news which we believe with great confidence and trust, because Jesus Christ is truly trustworthy, more trustworthy indeed, than any prince in the world or even in the Church.

May those who stand up for Jesus Christ and His Church with confidence in Her Lord receive reward and the blessings of our Risen Saviour and the support and blessing of the Bishops and their brother clergy.

Friday 9 June 2017

Why Political Parties Need Catholicism

I am sure I am not the only Catholic, not the only British citizen, who looks at the moral wasteland of the British political scene wondering just how it is that with so much experience under our collective belt, of left, of right, we British are incapable of producing a political party with balanced, compassionate and reasonable policies that uphold natural law and natural justice. I think I am right in saying that at the time of writing, in truth, Christianity has been expunged from the major political parties and it has to be said that it is showing with disastrous results.

You don't have to be a Catholic (but it helps) to have felt bewildered and depressed, 'dismayed', by the electoral choices on display during this election but going by the evidence of my social media feed, like me, many Catholics walked into this election feeling that there was nobody to vote for yet again. Yes, Catholics now operate in a society so paganised that when the "Christian" leader of the Liberal Democrats is questioned about the non-negotiables of same-sex marriage and abortion, he collapses and concedes victory to the secular culture that lauds both. Just how are people to trust someone whose principles can be altered according to the fashions of the age so easily?

For as long as I can remember, the Conservative Party has been marred by its determination to neglect some pretty basic prerequisites for a civilised society. Without wishing to sound utopian, can it really be that difficult to produce a Conservative manifesto that doesn't make it appear that its leadership believe that the most poor and vulnerable members of society can go jump off a bridge? It wasn't difficult for Jeremy Corbyn to claim the moral high ground in an election in which the moral low ground was deliberately occupied by the Conservative Party, unable to shake off the label 'nasty party' because, quite frankly, it is. Even the family values once cherished and protected by the Tories, infested, as it is, by sexual libertines, are now nowhere to be seen. No wonder their political base is disappearing. What is left for Conservatives to vote for? David Cameron, we recall, jettisoned the vestiges of Christianity in the Conservative Party when he introduced same-sex marriage into the United Kingdom. Unable to present itself as a party of traditional morality, all the Conservative Party has left is its indomitable and well-earned reputation for screwing over poor people and protecting rich people's assets.

While in principle the proposals of the rabidly left-wing candidate were fiscally absurd, the Conservative Party's mantra that a government would have to borrow and get into debt in order to achieve these aims overlooks that a well-financed health system and a well-financed education system for a country's citizens are not inherently bad things, but social goods. It is easy to make a Marxist look noble, if you are determined to be seen as uncaring and lacking in human compassion. All the 'unelectable' Jeremy Corbyn, who in a sane world would be teaching Marxist political philosophy in a former polytechnic, had to do was smile his friendly uncle smile, promise the Earth and look like the man of principles that he is, even if those principles are the principles of the man who sells the Socialist Worker outside the train station, a man who thinks the answer to every human problem is the State and for whom the institutions of marriage and the family, the two primary social goods that are the building block of every society, mean nothing.

Some may say that a post-Christian society deserves all it gets, even if what it gets is chaos, yet chaos is the hallmark of the pagan world, a world in which nascent human life can be exterminated legally and no political party will raise even a finger to protest it and a world in which unnatural sexual relationships are celebrated and crowned with the title of 'marriage' and no political party will raise even a whimper of defiance while the Cross is trampled upon by its foes. One British political party needs to embrace that Cross and hold it aloft for all of the United Kingdom to see, even if that political party is roundly defeated, publicly scorned and ridiculed with derision and contempt. At the time of writing, that party is not the Conservative Party, it is not the Labour Party, it is not the Liberal Democrat and it is not UKIP or the liturgically appropriate Green Party either. It may never achieve political success, but at least that party would give Catholics and many others, even if we and they comprise a minority, someone to vote for with conscience clean, knowing that we had voted for a political party that cares about the elderly, the poor, the sick, infirm and homeless, the unborn, marriage and the family. Why should it be so difficult, or impossible, to find that party?

The Pope Who Won't Be Buried

It has been a long time since I have put finger to keyboard to write about our holy Catholic Faith, something I regret, but which I put larg...