Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cattle Point

There is something about the seashore that entrances me. The rhythmic lapping of the waves, the salty tang of the air, the sheer weight and power of the ocean, the knowledge that in the depths a world entirely alien to me teems with life, it's all so beautiful and strange. I was disappointed that today was cloudy, but even so Cattle Point, a rather wild place, was still beautiful. Beauty is everywhere, but it's easier for me to see in some places than others. It's my belief that when we perceive beauty we are perceiving God directly. It's not the things themselves that are God, but the beauty itself. That's why I think it's important to cultivate our sense of beauty. The things we see register through our senses, but it is our souls that recognizes beauty.
I am what's called a cradle Catholic, having been raised in a strongly Catholic home. Like most young people I went through a phase of skepticism before coming to the realization that the Church has mankinds deepest, most profound and thorough body of thought on morality, ethics, and the relationship we mortals have with eternity. If I had paid more attention to it I might have avoided some of the serious damage I have caused in my life. So when I hear of the likes of the New York Times, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins lecturing the Pope on morality, I am understandably disturbed. Hitchens and Dawkins want to arrest him, and I suppose their next step would be to put the rest of us Catholics in reeducation camps. The provocation du jour changes from time to time, but the technique of exaggeration, outright lies and misinformation, and above all the mindless, visceral anti catholic bigotry remains the same.
Do Catholics, even priests and nuns who take vows to serve Christ's flock, sometimes violate the moral teachings of the Church and commit grievous sins? Of course. It's just as the Church teaches- we are all fallible, we are all inclined to commit grievous offences. I am just as disturbed as anyone by prominent people who call themselves Catholic- Nancy Pelosi would be a good example- and then turn around and do their utmost to promote laws that allow the killing of babies. It is despicable for a person entrusted with the priesthood to deliberately corrupt a child, but the 50 million abortion deaths in the US since Roe vs Wade is monstrous. And keep in mind that the Church is reviled by the New York Times both for having a culture of permissiveness regarding child abuse (which it doesn't) and for opposing 'a woman's right to choose.' (a euphemism for killing unborn children) In fact the Church has been opposed to abortion since the days of the apostles when Christians routinely rescued unwanted children from dunghills where they were left for dogs and vultures to eat. It is part and parcel of the fundamental reverence for life taught by all the Church teachers and thinkers to condemn such practices. One of the most enduring Christian images is of Mary and the infant Jesus, a favourite subject of all the great artists in our tradition. The family, the child, no matter how humble is precious to the Church.
If Hitchens and Dawkins called for the arrest of the executive of Planned Parenthood and Nancy Pelosi as enablers for the holocaust of our children it would be understandable.
But still, I would say that the remarkable ignorance of the general public, and even most Catholics, regarding the teachings and insights of the Church is largely the Church's fault. With all the possibilities of the media that have come into existence in the last century it has failed to realize that the pulpit no longer has the power to influence it once had. Movies, radio, TV, and now the internet present huge opportunities which the Church has been slow to utilize. But one could go all the way back to the 16th century when the printing press came into use. From then on the Church lost its monopoly on the dissemination of Christian doctrine because more and more people could read the bible, often newly translated into the vernacular, for themselves and make up their own minds. A new class of interpreters came forward, like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and many more who led movements in different directions. For opportunists like Henry VIII they provided all the excuse he needed to seize the Church's considerable wealth.
The inability of the Church to communicate its message continues today to the point where it has become almost incomprehensible to the modern mind. What does the public, even the Catholic public, understand about the meaning of concepts like sin, grace, free will, penance, salvation? Why does the Church insist that Jesus was literally the son of God? Is Hitchens even remotely familiar with these ideas? He shows very little sign of it, and how can he disagree with something when he doesn't know what he's disagreeing about?
As for Dawkins, his claim to fame rests in his books on the primacy of the genetic code to explain the creation of life. No room for God in his thinking. And there is nothing in the logic of the genetic code to make concepts like morality meaningful. His selfish gene is only concerned with its continuance, nothing else. And if that's the case, how can Dawkins condemn any actions by anyone since they are all predetermined by DNA- by his own theology, the DNA is always right. The fact that he has yet to follow his own logic this far doesn't say much for his intelligence.
It seems to me that the New York Times, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins should try out a time honoured Catholic technique called an examination of conscience. That's where a person goes off by himself and thinks through his beliefs and actions in the light of the ten commandments, among other Christian orthodoxies. Of those commandments, the one about bearing false witness would seem to be especially appropriate.

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