I occasionally look at the blog of Fr Ray Blake, who is a Roman Catholic priest in Brighton. He bewails the increasing secularism in England through his entry of yesterday, Like the Monks of Egypt. I have very simple questions to ask.
Essentially, what is it that Christians do that annoys the powers-that-be? I think it is two-sided. I have personally been “out of it” for too long, unused as I am to urban life, to say much of value, but I can offer a guess. On one side, I can only guess that there are hot-headed Evangelicals constantly “witnessing” and bothering people, and a very small minority of right-wing Catholics who think everything is due to the Church – all one-way. On another side, a nurse who holds the hand of a dying person and says a discreet prayer can lose her job. For the sake of the zealots, all Christians can be put into one basket and assumed to be “enemies of the people” – (Now where have I heard that one?).
It seems to be simple. If you are brash and bother people, the system will fight back. What place is left? Fr Blake suggests a return to the monastic life or something like the catacombs. Frankly, I think it would do us all a lot of good! The atheist and secular backlash must be reacting to something. On one hand, it may be inventing its own enemy like the Nazis when they burned the Reichstag and blamed the Communists! On the other hand, there has to be something to react against – bigotry and intolerance. Society then becomes increasingly polarised when everything is related to homosexuality and people wanting to “change sex” becoming something normal.
I had a long talk with my wife about the demonstration of last Sunday in Paris against the Socialists’ project of introducing same-sex marriage. Of course, we are talking about civil marriage, what happens before Monsieur le Maire before the couple goes to church for a sacramental wedding if they are believers and want a church wedding. The real issue here is not so much the couple of men or women, but that heterosexual married couples and single people can adopt children and the children have the right of paternity from their mother and father, or single parent. There is a problem when a child of two same-sex parents (the child being adopted or the result of artificial insemination in countries that allow it like Belgium) suffer from the separation of the couple or the death of the legal parent. The person who is not the legal parent cannot adopt the child and has no rights. Civil marriage of two persons of the same sex would resolve this legal difficulty so that all children would have the same rights as those of heterosexual married couples.
Of course, we could go back to imprisoning homosexuals like in the nineteenth century – but the genie is out of the bottle. Hitler stuck pink triangles to them and sent them to concentration camps and most were murdered. Nowadays, we have no choice other than to accept the trajectory of history, knowing there will be other changes and reactions in the future if the provocation is too great. For those who are Christians, the priest is called to minister to them pastorally like anyone else. Then it is a question of persons and conscience.
We are of course talking about civil law and people who for the most part are not Christians or believers. Intégriste Catholics go from the standpoint of the “social kingdom of Christ”, the rights of the Church over all humanity and the moral duty of all to convert to the true Church. Vatican II introduced ecumenism, the inter-religious dialogue, religious freedom. The 1983 code of canon law states that the Church claims jurisdiction only over baptised and practising Catholics. No claim is made over others. The Inquisition dies hard!
We Christians may disapprove of homosexuality on moral grounds and wish that society were more influenced by Christian tenets, but that is no longer the case. There is also abortion that involves the taking of human life. Abortion is wrong, but doctors and their clients will still do it. As a lesser of two evils, it seems better to allow abortions in proper surgical conditions than forcing the women concerned to resort to the use of knitting needles and coat hangers! And that after having shown the woman what abortion really involves, the bloody and gory killing of a human being. The Church can teach its own faithful about sin and wrong, but not those outside and beyond. The secularists now have strength and have the advantage over religious organisations and believers. Do we still go on rattling the sabre and provoking trouble?
It certainly doesn’t seem wrong to believe that secularism is showing an ugly side of intolerance and hatred of belief and Christianity in particular. English society is side-lining Christianity, and here in France, Christianity is closing down. French secularism has always been vigilant about les dérives sectaires, sectarian tendencies with a number of characteristics that present real dangers to the weak and vulnerable. To be fair, there are some very unpleasant organisations coming over from America, very aggressive, totalitarian and very interested in large amounts of money! There are always two sides to everything.
In recent history, France had anti-cléricalisme from about 1880 up to World War I. There were similar movements in Italy, and corresponding in time with the infallibilist movement of the 1860′s and Vatican I, amidst a number of skirmishes in Europe. Germany had the Kuturkampf, and the Church had to suffer. The clash was essentially an Enlightenment world view against the visceral anti-liberal combat of Pius IX.
How far can the Church go without ceasing to be the Church? In those days, it was a question of separation of Church and State and the believer’s attitude to science. Now, the extremes are pushed ever further apart.
Some unmarried young people might feel inclined to enter a monastery, and others are drawn to “alternative” lifestyles by buying abandoned villages in Spain and elsewhere and living the “good life”. Most of us have to stay where we are, dictated to by our jobs and need for money and the material necessities. We depend on the politicians and the businessmen, and they are holding the aces.
I have no simple answer to everything or even anything. However, I think we can make certain distinctions that will make it less difficult for Christians to live in a secular or even a hostile society. Perhaps in America, you can still knock on doors and “witness”. If I had some kind of “witness” at the door, even if he wasn’t from some weird cult, I would not accept Christianity coming from there. No one I know here in France would either, especially if the religion on offer is something irrational and inhuman.
We have to think as individual persons, think outside the box, and be sober about everything. People will do what they want, and we might feel offended. People have always done their own thing, including wrongdoing, and they haven’t always been punished by the law. We live in an unjust world. We are also “doing our own thing” by being Christians and doing what Christians do. Our rights find their limit at the beginning of other people’s rights, whether they identify with another religion or none.
We will probably be called to worship in houses and small churches, rediscover prayer and the value of spiritual experience. We will certainly need to rediscover the underground church like in China today, in the Soviet Union yesterday or the Roman catacombs centuries ago. The French réfractaires also survived when they didn’t get killed by the revolutionaries, and many of those people really gave their lives for the faith and not for politics and bigoted opinions. We can resist and fight like some people did against the Nazis in France during the war, but not be surprised when we suffer the consequences.
Above all, Christians are no longer the owners or policemen of the world. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, as he responded to Pilate that awful Friday morning. History is no longer in our favour, and it probably never has been. So, it is not a surprise that if we put our head on the block, we are likely to get it chopped off. We cannot provoke without expecting a reaction. So, it seems to be ad fontes!