Crazy Days in a Wet Cold Winter

"The language and thought police are hardly some Orwellian invention; America has been unusually susceptible to plagues of Comstockery and self-righteous tomfoolery."
--George Bernard Shaw

Finally, in his pastoral letter Testem Benevolentiae (January 22, 1899; “Witness to Our Benevolence”) addressed to Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, Leo condemned other forms of Americanism...These included the following doctrines or tendencies : 1)undue insistence on interior initiative in the spiritual life, as leading to disobedience
2)attacks on religious vows, and disparagement of the value of religious orders in the modern world 3)minimizing Catholic doctrine4)minimizing the importance of spiritual direction
--Gerald P. Fogarty, The Vatican and the American hierarchy from 1870 to 1965 (1985)

The United States and the United Kingdom have both been marked--I won't say convulsed, because that would bring things beyond the bounds of irony into a sort of intellectual anarchy in which any fainting fit goes--by religious issues. In the UK, an atheist, Clive Bone, has won a verdict in the High Court against the Council on which he formerly sat, at Bideford. Mr Bone objected to prayers being said before a council meeting as a matter of routine, on the agenda. He lost two votes on the subject. He then lost his seat.
Bone, a retired public services consultant and confirmed atheist, was "shocked and horrified" when he discovered that prayers were said at the beginning of meetings at the redbrick town hall in Devon.
"It was out-dated, antiquated and a turn-off," he said.
Bone told his fellow councillors that he believed the saying of prayers was bad for local democracy. "It sends out a signal that local government is for particular types of people and not for everyone. I know younger people – people in their 30s and 40s – just say: 'No way' when they hear there are prayers."
That, I suppose is to be expected in England and always has been. A part of me wants to blame the mixture of Satanism and Marxism pumped out in schools, but if truth be told, most of the right sort of English people would run a mile if anyone mentioned religion, not wanting a repeat of Cromwell and all that. There is a reason why the best of this country is to be found over a quiet pint or a cup of tea. There are also reasons why the adherents of a faith like atheism should not be allowed to push innocuous traditions aside, mainly centred around the way it encourages them to try it on against hospital chaplains and decency in schools.

Anyway, Former Councillor Bone huffed his displeasure, with the aid of the National Secular Society, to the courts, wherein the Council (now backed by the Christian Institute) argued with him over the precise meaning of the powers conveyed by the Local Government Act 1972 s.211 in front of the honourable Mr Justice Ouseley. A judgement in favour of Mr Bone, on very narrow grounds, was then issued, and could have been immediately appealed but for the Secretary of State then telling every single council in the UK to ignore the judgment by means of delegated legislation. All that has now been achieved is that the new Localism Bill will include such sweeping rights that any religious exercise will be permissible in council meetings, beyond a mere moment of silence. I look forward to the faces of atheists when readings from the Quran and the Bhagvad-Gita are used to open meetings in sundry London boroughs and Northern Metropolises.

Altogether more exciting and convoluted things were happening at the same time across the Atlantic. To understand the continental American Catholic Church, you have to understand several things about its evolution. The first point is that, cardinals or no cardinals, its bishops operate as a college whose main job is to defend their ultramontane understanding of their own local diocesan powers whilst maintaining to Rome that they actually represent the weird mixture of protestantism and ethnic catholic republicanism which constitutes most of their membership. In the 1890s, Rome, because of a French republican dispute, got very funny about America, having identified its churches on maps (I've seen the letters) and threatened to excommunicate everyone if they really believed as they appeared to that they could make it up as they went along. The Bishops reassured Rome that everything was fine and things then settled, until the excess of secrecy and episcopal hierarchy was revealed to be deeply unhealthy and apt to be undermined by broken individuals who can only really be described as sexual scum. This then opened the Church to a republicanised laity who, as before, are now from Joan Walsh, Nancy Pelosi and Rick Santorum downwards, making things up about abortion, contraception, capitalism, the death penalty and war.

This set of affairs was intruded into by the administration. They wish to provide healthcare via employers to all Americans. The administration counts contraception and abortifacients as healthcare. The former may be; skin disease treatment and the regulation of the menstrual cycle are both possible via the use of 'the pill', and there is no church rule against their prescription per se. Abortion pills obviously cannot be, and since 1879 nothing resembling them--such as lavender potions, advertised in the past as 'women's health drinks not to be used when pregnant'--can be.

Yet the administration and the Bishops have picked a fight over this one. It does Obama some good, since the brain-dead of the liberals are not, generally, euthanised as they wished Terry Schiavo to be, but motivated by a sort of St Vitus' dance of anticatholicism and abortion. The president has possession of a superb political team and has been steadily ticking boxes to unite his coalition, now that the right have been made to seem, mostly by their own actions, sectarian and foolish, and dragging a condom on a string through the church more or less meets his requirements. This sort of an issue also strikes at Mitt Romney's credibility and has the capacity to unite the more sensible sort of Baptist, like Mike Huckabee, behind Rick Santorum--a gift of God in the general election to the likes of Mr Obama--in the Republican primaries. It also neutralises the impact of any request from the pulpit nearer election day not to vote for Mr Obama. So, well, trebles all round; even when the inevitable climb down and compromise happens, Obama will have achieved his objectives.

Two liberal tales, two outcomes. Meanwhile, the possibility of war and economic collapse draws closer. I'm trying to be upbeat at the minute, but I wonder at societies in which good will, common sense and perspective are lost and people are pulling further and further apart. As Jurgen Habermas and the Pope both noted in their debates, where people don't talk, or worse, where they jeer, civil society is impossible.

Is this the consequence of debt- and loan- fuelled decadence, or a lack of critical education, or just the recurrence of the sort of things which have happened everywhere, before? Not for the first time when I look at Atlantic societies, I feel like I am standing at the edge of the fall of the Roman Empire.


Anonymous said…
Hi Dr Meenagh,

I think you rather have our number on this one. American Catholicism has indeed been in a sorry state for quite awhile; reading your explanation why this is the case rings quite true to me, actually. At the same time, though, I don't exactly envy the USCCB their jobs in attempting to hold up this broken system (much the same way I don't envy the Church of England and the Anglican Communion the job of having to deal with the 'traditionalists' and us ECUSA types both).

Excellent post; I look forward to reading more from you!

All the best,
Martin Meenagh said…
Dear Matt

Many thanks for your comment--I always appreciate them. As an Anglican, you have my sympathies.

Please call me Martin, by the way.

Yours ever,


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