Lent has begun with the Ashes and the Mass of the Feria yesterday. I seem to have battled through a bout of “writer’s block”. Truth to be told, there are few comments on this blog these days, since my subject matter over the past few weeks is somewhat off-key to most, but numbers of people looking at the blog are about the same. I reflect “out loud” and don’t have to worry about people getting tired of my writings, because they can go elsewhere without my knowing about it or being offended. That is unimportant. There is little to discuss presently in the Church world, at least things to which I feel like contributing. This blog is the garden of my little world, and I write about the things that concern me.

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I have been reading things on the internet about neurodiversity, and what this term really means. On the surface of things, it seems to describe a utopian ideal of a world in which people learn to tolerate others and accept differences. We emerge from centuries of a paradigm which insists on absolute conformity of all to a single ideology or “orthodoxy”, such as was imposed by the various totalitarian dystopias in the twentieth century, both real (Hitler and Stalin) and imaginary (Orwell and Huxley). Issues of tolerance have been discussed by philosophers like Voltaire, especially since the eighteenth century Enlightenment. The oppressive entities ranged from the Church to psychopathic dictators.

Every human idea has been taken to extremes and perverted, and became a new form of intolerance. We find this with the gay agenda and feminism, where attempts have been made to impose a “new orthodoxy” with its own Inquisition, KGB and Gestapo! The common denominator seems to be human conservatism (nothing should ever change) and self interest. Only Christ seemed to bring something new intended to liberate the human spirit from the animal struggle for power and the instinct to improve and purify our species.

When I sought to understand my own differences in relation to other people with whom I am called to interact in the normal course of life, I came across the scientific category of high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. That would link me with an extremely nebulous typology with certain fairly clearly-defined poles of experience and behaviour. Psychiatrists, like other people of science, seek laws and coherence in the formulation of a typology. What do all the cases have in common? Thus emerged a notion of spectrum to explain why the typology itself contained a vast diversity. With a critical approach, we see that neurotypicality is not monolithic either, because there is a spectrum within those who are not autistic between “accepted” or conventional standards of “normality” and various other atypical conditions.

This brings us to seek a “dividing line” between “normal” and “abnormal”. Science does this through diagnosing pathologies like diabetes, paranoid schizophrenia, cancer, Down’s syndrome and so many other debilitating problems of the body, brain and spirit. Many of these ailments and handicaps come in degrees between those who can cope reasonably well in an independent and dignified life and those who have to be in a hospital or an institution, totally dependent on care-givers. Tolerance and intolerance too come in degrees on a continuum – everything between “Hangman” Heidrich’s Final Solution to the outlawing of any observation of difference.

What we all have in common is self-interest. It is a fundamental animal instinct within us. We all want the right to live, reproduce, eat and to self-esteem. In the natural world, only the strongest and most powerful have these rights. The opposition to this constant of eugenics and genocide would come from visionary and altruistic elements in humanity. Christ is the shining example of standing up for the weak and those in need of forgiveness. Sometimes, the Church has sided with this ideal, sometimes with the rich and powerful.

In contrasting these two fundamental human instincts, competition or compassion for the weak, we can situate calls for diversity between the weak and the strong. Some of the weak are less weak than others, and some of the strong are less strong. Perhaps such a notion might help to get rid of the “us and them” paradigm, by which the oppressed become the oppressors.

We are all broken vessels, however a medical doctor will describe us according to the characteristics he observes. Throughout Lent, we will read stories of blind people, cripples and the possessed seeking help from Christ. On account of the person’s faith, Christ performs a miracle and the person is totally cured, but yet the experience of having been disabled will certainly form that person’s outlook, hopefully one of deep gratitude and joy. Going to extremes, the psychiatrist’s manual will give a typology for every human condition until everyone needs the psychiatrist – and someone is making a lot of money from old rope! Do we need the alphabet soup of ailments to put large numbers of human beings into the category of disabled or sick, and therefore having right to help or being deprived of the consideration given to “normal” people? The problem is ultimately political and finding a stick big enough to beat the dog.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. In modern terms, we are up against the lust for domination of those who act out of self-interest and disregard for the weak. For this reason, the weak seek means to defend their lives and rights, sometimes going to extremes.

The movement for diversity takes many forms: male and female, different races and ethnic cultures, degrees of ailment and health, wealth and poverty, homosexual and heterosexual, “unconventional” sexual tastes and gender dysphoria, the list goes on. It can become political and confrontational, or it can incite us all to remember our own weaknesses and develop compassion and empathy for others who don’t have it as good as ourselves. We should not forget that we all have talents and weaknesses, things we are good at and like doing and things we are not good at. We usually get to know when we are at school and our teachers observe our performance in every aspect of human life. 

I would be inclined to support the neurodiversity idea, being personally affected, though mildly in comparison to some I have met. I would like to see the concept cover all who are both “typical” and “atypical”. What does the majority of humanity have in common, where no two persons are exactly alike? I cast doubt on the notion of “normality”, and propose the idea of a human world made up of individuals who have different talents and handicaps. We are all called to help those who cannot cope for themselves and accept help from those who are stronger than ourselves – if they have the empathy to do so. There is always “worse” than me, or “better” than me.

For questions of mental problems or genetic conditions affecting the brain and central nervous system, it becomes difficult to set that line between a non-verbal autistic child, an idiot or a paranoid schizophrenic who might harm himself or others without control measures, and those whose intellectual faculties are unimpaired, but have emotional difficulties. The science of psychiatry has often been confused with complete quackery from the days of torturing “lunatics” in places like Bedlam, using questionable methods like electric shocks and lobotomies, sloppy diagnostic work and simple human prejudice. We seek understanding with psychiatric diagnostics, but the result is often increased confusion. This is why I prefer a more philosophical approach even though psychology is a subject that fascinates me.

The question most concerning me, autism / Aspergers, is a marker that encourages me and others to seek what we are good at and not attempt to succeed in things we are not good at beyond a certain point (for example being at a Christmas party and giving a decent performance). There is manifestly no cure for most mental and neurological conditions, but we can learn to adapt to society and live our own personal life to the full.

These matters are too complex to be solved by activism and over-simplification. This is a problem I find with the LGBT agenda. Notice that everything is lumped in together. Few homosexuals (active or not) would be inclined to want to become the opposite sex or something that looks like it. In our society, we are generally faced with the alternative of calling such tendencies normative on pain of being labelled as intolerant and “Fascist” or “Nazi”. For us or against us, rather than seeking a different way of looking at it. I do believe that people should be allowed to live in the way they want as long as they respect others and don’t seek to impose their choice of lifestyle. I find transsexualism repugnant, especially the idea of mutilating surgery on a healthy body, but those people only have this way to become happy (though some regret it when they come round from the anaesthetic and go and commit suicide!). They could be repressed by the law, but what good would that do? Naturally, I am talking about the civil order and not Christian morality or natural law. In Christian terms, a homosexual is just as acceptable as anyone else if he doesn’t seek to impose himself on others or have carnal relations with same-sex partners. Mental and neurological issues generally don’t involve morality, and thus are situated elsewhere.

How do we deal with a weaker person (elderly, sick, disabled, etc.)? We are often patronising and take pride in hauling someone in a wheelchair up a flight of steps. How kind I was! Did I not simply do my duty as a human being? We need to let people cope for themselves in what they can do. That is very important. We all need our independence and autonomy as persons. We have not to be shamed or patronised for something that isn’t our fault – and care-giving is often difficult with unreasonable or cantankerous people.

Something like autism isn’t always bright. It does make life difficult for parents of children, schoolteachers, peers, etc. I do know that had my parents been able to detect this anomaly when I was a child, rather than my being a difficult or rebellious character, my life would have been different. Better? What other kind of life would I have had? Speculation is futile. I agree that we all need to be critical of ourselves and more accepting of differences between persons and groups of persons (when respect is mutual).

In some of the literature about neurodiversity, I have come across the idea that an autistic child is “part of normality”. What is normality? Does normality exist? Is not the whole of humanity on a spectrum or several spectra depending on the matters under consideration like health, wealth, intelligence, talents, etc? Perhaps all that can be said is that the greatest number of people have more in common with each other than those with “extreme” characteristics and who need more help. That notion leaves “normality” as something that is vague, negotiable and fluid. That is a far cry from claiming “normality” and being included in it. There is the often ideologised word of inclusive or inclusiveness. Do away with “normality” as an absolute, and we are all in the same boat, and able to relate to much of Christ’s teaching about the first and the last, the sick and the healthy.

Many of our various ailments do make life difficult. If we can’t be cured, we might need help or a way to overcome the difficulty. A person with poor eyesight wears glasses and someone who cannot walk uses a wheelchair. Medicine is marvellous in the way it uses technology to make life easier for so many people! Someone with Aspergers is little more than an eccentric, but who can cope in life, making some sense of other people and pursuing one’s special interest and vocation. A deeply low-functioning autistic child will find it a little more difficult. Sometimes, special training and education help. Sometimes, they don’t.

The notion of neurodiversity is geared towards the high-functioning people like myself with my ability to work, get on with other people (even if a little tactlessly at times) and get on with life as someone who is quirky. It is tempting to see this as a “normal” state and do down “other people”, but how do I see patients in a mental hospital? I feel for them and it is distressing to see people in such a state, but they are also human beings. They need help, so they are not “normal” (through I will not promote a criterion of “needing to be helped” to draw a line). There is a limit to self-serving or using a scientific diagnosis as an identity marker.

Were there a cure for autism sometime in the future, who would not want to apply it to a disabled child so that he can leave the institution and live an independent and dignified life? Who would not want to improve one’s ability to live with other people whilst keeping the talents he has? Life is much easier when there are no social difficulties, or if their severity is reduced to an extent.

There is a whole issue to our coming to terms with ourselves, accepting that we have “something” and need to find a way to live life in an acceptable way for ourselves and others as they are. There is a certain sub-culture aspect as with the gay world, with expressions as “coming out” and claiming special consideration and respect outside questions of our merit and good done to others. We have to get on with all people – especially when the category of “normal” is removed. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The “pride” aspect is very unhealthy, because it fosters that “us and them” attitude, as with “gay pride” and militant feminism, both of which cause blow-back and a return to old prejudices and real oppression.

Diversity movements often airbrush real suffering and pretend it doesn’t exist. When treatment by professionals is possible and necessary, it needs to be available. Such treatment includes training and education given by parents to bring autistic children out of their shells as an alternative to institutionalising them. I am sure that procedures and methods will improve with research and development. What is not possible now might be possible in the future.

I would like to aim for a via media between the diversity movement and the search for cures and solutions for those who suffer the most. Otherwise, we trivialise the disabled and deeply affected. Aspergers affects people in different ways. For me, it has made me socially awkward and given me difficulties in my married life, and that is a cause of suffering, even if I am happy to have both intellectual and manual talents. I accept what God made me, but would welcome any means to improve my social interactions. I’m not too bad, saying so myself, and I have done better than many. At the same time, I need to have consideration and empathy for those whose suffering is a mystery to us all.

My fundamental conclusion is that “normality” is either an extremely narrow category, so much so that the word contradicts its meaning, or that it doesn’t exist. We share the same humanity, from the most disabled to the most talented, but no two persons are the same. Persons are radically “other” and are definitely more particular than universal. This “otherness” is a terrifying mystery in our human experience and our philosophical and theological understanding of communion (or fellowship).

We are all abnormal for each other, especially when Number One is the only “normal” person in the world!

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Another Experience of Life

Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. Those that are enlightened before the others are condemned to pursue that light in spite of the others.

Christopher Columbus

I have just been re-reading my posting Aristocracy of the Spirit written in May 2014 when I had only vaguely heard of Asperger Syndrome. I was writing from a purely philosophical point of view, and I was quite amazed to find my same reflections from that point in time. The term aristocracy is taken here in an analogical meaning in a neo-Gnostic mindset concerning the three levels of humanity: spiritual, intellectual and materialist. I was already on about Romanticism, which I see as a reaction to dry intellectualism and soulless conventionalism.

I discussed “conventional” religion in that it seems to have run its course and no longer appeals to the materialistic masses. Other highly extroverted forms of Christianity have developed from Evangelical Protestantism, but remain fresh for only a limited time. A minority of humanity aspires to something higher, truer and more spiritual. I have enjoyed reading Berdyaev’s books since when I was up at Fribourg and throughout my seminary days. This Russian philosopher who fled his country to live in France was very emphatic on the freedom of the spirit, the very antithesis of those who oppose the principle of religious freedom now enshrined in the constitutions of most democratic countries and the teaching of Vatican II. Berdyaev expresses something quite prevalent among intellectual Russian Orthodox writers in the early twentieth century: a moderate and orthodox form of Gnosticism and Sophiology, the study of Holy Wisdom.

I find in Berdyaev the very experience I have been through when comparing my life as my family and I know it with a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome (which I distinguish from high-functioning autism on account of my early childhood development being sufficiently normal so as not to cause special concern to my parents at the time). Jung spoke of individuation, coming to terms with oneself in order that one may then be capable of entering into relationships with God and other human persons. I have a suspicion that Aspergers disappeared from the American psychiatric manuals because people had a platform from which to react against the socialism of our times – the tendency to subject the human person to the state or other collective entity. It became an identity label and validated a “selfish” life as perceived by the less empathetic! The same thing has happened in the Church when conscious individual persons are labelled as selfish or refusing to enter into Communion, etc. I quote from my 2014 article:

We lament when the Church imitates the kind of socialism that seeks to crush the spirit in the name of conformity and political correctness, and to quench every last form of spiritual aristocracy.

Here I define socialism, not as an economic doctrine (providing security for the working classes, the poor, the sick and the elderly) but the subjugation of the individual to the collective? Communism is “international” socialism and Nazism is “national” socialism. That is essentially why they were the same thing, and Stalin was at least as bad as Hitler if not worse!

I first began to investigate the possibility of Aspergers in January 2015, just over a year ago. I had heard about this thing in relation with a couple of men with whom I have corresponded, and I began to ask myself the question. I seemed to have a more mature worldview and a notion of the Universal many “aspies” miss, and I seemed not to be so black-and-white and literalist in my interpretation of texts and spoken words. In me, it is much more subtle and my main difficulty is in terms of relationships and social skills. Many of my childhood difficulties have been managed and concealed by experience of life and education.

Man is a social animal, so we learn in scholastic philosophy, but genius has always come from individual persons like composers, artists, writers, inventors and scientists. Even the corporate world is beginning to recognise that the best ideas come from individual persons before bringing them to the collective. Conversely, the dimmest stupidity comes from the collective, like for example a crowd at a football match, a political rally or a rock concert. My condition has brought me to a better understanding of many themes on which I have written like Berdyaev’s “aristocracy of the spirit”.

I should make the point that Aspergers and high-functioning autism don’t make anyone better or superior to anyone else. As in the Parable of the Talents, the talents in question have to be taken to the bank and invested so that the earned interest can be given back to its owner. Aspergers can only be a predisposition for someone who comes to terms with it and follows his heart in the choice of his vocation or purpose of life. We can contribute our talents to God and humanity, or we can spend our lives mooching in our self-pity. As I have mentions (or quoted) elsewhere, holiness and knowledge only come through suffering and being oneself.

Man is a social animal, though in differing degrees on a spectrum. Nothing is black or white, but a shade of something between the two extremes. Those we often call neurotypicals are the majority of humanity whose social behaviour is typical and normative, but some are more part of the collective and others are “introverted” in some way. No two persons are alike, even through empirical observation finds characteristics in common. This posting gives some of my own critical observations of neurotypicals. Neurotypicals have sometimes been typified as “autistic in regard to themselves”: the interior comes from the exterior.

Aspergers people are often considered as emotionally blind (which is not true in the absolute) but many “normal” people are blinded by emotion, recklessness, pop culture, fashion and “groupthink”. The contrast between the aspie’s rationalism and the neurotypical’s emotionalism is echoed in the relationship between mind and heart, reason and faith, rationalism and Romanticism we read about in historic philosophical works. Expressing things in psychological terms may simply be an adjunct to philosophy. To me; Romanticism is not so much an effusion of emotion but rather of the imagination to act as a balancing counterweight to reason.

This being said, aspies, or at least I, are not emotionally flat-lined machines. An important milestone in present-day discussions is the question of the Theory of Mind, debunking the ideas that aspies have no empathy for other people or understanding non-verbal language. I have not had so much the idea of failing to understand other people as the feeling of being overwhelmed by someone’s emotional intensity. An aspie puts up a barrier of silence to protect himself, and the anxiety level is felt almost like a threat to one’s very life, complete with an adrenaline rush. We fear what we do not understand. We are truly awash in the theories of different researchers, and the question will only really be answered by researchers who are themselves aspies and know what it feels like!

Aspies do have emotions. We are not machines. Aspie humour might be a bit raw and tactless sometimes, but not very different from Yorkshire humour. However, we do so often miss the signs people make when they have had enough of me rabbiting on about a favourite subject. My treasure is another’s trash!

Perhaps we can turn the tables a little and find neurotypicals (or some of them) lacking a “theory of mind”, engaged in fashion, being like or above everyone else, babbling away with small talk and blocking up the alleys at the supermarket. To me, theology and liturgy along with music are vital parts of my life. Most people just don’t care. What do they care about? An aspie is very much the “Spiritual” of the Gnostic theory distinguishing between spiritual knowers, technical intellectuals and the materialistic masses. There is a profound alienation as in Gnostic thought. We will find the same theme in the Existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. I have been fascinated by Gnosticism for years but could never quite relate to it. Perhaps modern scientific thought about autism and Aspergers is an “update” of Gnosticism in a certain way, without the mythology of God and the beings responsible for creation and sin, but the one who knows. We have the impression of drifting around in a mass of “other people” whom I cannot understand.

I try to work “other people” out, but I can’t make head nor tail of them, or my judgements are false and deceptive. I am incapable of dealing with manipulators and sophistry! Perhaps we all have our little worlds, our secret gardens, of which we are more or less aware. Some of my readers ask me why I take so much trouble to be rational about everything. It is the way I am. Reason is the means of communication between persons. It is expressed in language, music and art. It is universal and can be understood by all those who are not mentally handicapped. I see the imagination as an extension of reason that englobes beauty and sensuality together with language and logic. It is the imagination that gives an almost magical quality to our creativity.

Naturally, neurotypicals are also rational and abstract, perhaps the kind of rationalism against which Romanticism reacted in the wake of the hecatomb in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They think in terms of relationships. Everything is relative to something else, from whence the word relativism. Aspies view conversation as a means of communicating rational information and submitting it to debate and discussion. Neurotypicals talk with each other to establish relationships. When I went to America for the first time, someone asked me “How yer doin’?” and I thought the person was incredibly friendly and was being amazingly familiar to a stranger. In Kent, I have been called My love or Darling by ladies serving a cup of tea in a café. Since then, I have learned what these usages mean – simply a formula to express a social greeting, not that they have fallen in love with me! In German-speaking Switzerland and southern Germany, people will often greet each other by Grüss Gott without believing in God. These are conventional manners we all have to learn, but aspies will simply keep a healthy distance.

Interestingly, we might be inclined to talk with a person on a given subject without regarding the social and emotional aspects. The difficulties come when it is all about establishing relationships other than friendship, for example pecking orders of status and who is “in” and who is “out”. We need to distinguish morality and ethics from simple conventions and good manners.

Aspies are particularly sensitive to the aspect of thinking independently as opposed to the “groupthink” of the “political animal” of Aristotle. Society at large thinks of human beings in terms of relationships and society, building conventions and unwritten rules. The interest here is not morals or ethics but what is fitting and acceptable according to one’s social status. It is no less true today than in the aristocratic courts of the eighteenth century with the powdered wigs and exaggerated expressions of courtesy! The establishment of status and prestige is less based on merit than control and domination. The end justifies the means.

We eccentrics are more likely to believe is a society of equals based on morality and reason, that persons have political rights and not only groups – from the family to the state. The tendency in society, except for the first few years after a major war, is Fascism: the subjection of the person to the state. There are no individual minds, only relationships. That might seem a sound idea in theology when considering the Trinity and the idea that the relationship constitutes the person. But, the greatest stupidities are collective, not individual. The powerful stack their emotions onto the vulnerable.

We have to educate ourselves in the meanings of facial and other non-verbal expressions, to try to be sensitive to the emotions of others. The alternative would be to condemn ourselves to a life of solitude, a kind of “suicide”. What we have to do is to limit what we assimilate in terms of emotions expressing morality. We cannot expect other people to understand our minds and emotions.

The aspie’s priority is rational understanding and exploration of knowledge. The neurotypical’s priority is the relationship and everything is in function of that. I would imagine that most aspies and neurotypicals are on something of a spectrum or continuum between the two extremes. I think I certainly am. Perhaps the autistic spectrum runs into neurotypicality in a continuum and labelling becomes much more difficult or even impossible. Psychiatry is a very limited and imperfect science when it is scientific at all, science being defined as certain knowledge a posteriori obtained from repeated demonstration or experimentation and control. I am rapidly transposing these “modern” notions into philosophical ones as having greater universal value. The scientific explanation seems to give some notion of the person’s being rather than simply his beliefs or way of thinking. Validity would seem to come from this idea.

I have often read that the “aspie” world is like another one of those campaigns for equalities, diversity, gay pride, feminism and other issues. It seems to be possible as I read in certain blogs and heard in a conference in Lille. We can’t expect the materialistic world to adapt to our needs, any more than make homosexual relationships as normal as heterosexual marriage. It just won’t happen. The more minorities claim rights, the more the people they are trying to “educate” will blow back.

We might be able to get people to understand us and not think we are completely off our rocker, and they might be brought not to think of us as sick or diseased, or in some way subhuman, but the majority will continue to think in the same old way. The Nazis were successful (at least until their defeat) because they exploited the beliefs of most people of that time: that some people were subhuman and could be sent away somewhere (or killed) without a second thought. This is a fact of life even if some lessons have been more or less learned since 1945. It is for us to establish some kind of interface with society by having good manners and treating others as we would have treat us. That is a fundamental natural law expressed in the Scriptures and all principles of jurisprudence.

The notion of spiritual aristocracy can be misleading and seem arrogant. At the same time, Mozart’s music is of a higher plane than modern “pop music”. Beauty is objective and requires elevation of mind. There is no comparison except the presence of some harmony, melody and rhythm. The intellectual and spiritual lives are higher than the things we have to do to earn money to live on. Most of my translating work is little more than a factory production line, the difference being that I work at home with little noise and distraction. We are called to humility, to a discreet presence in the world with an attitude of respect for all human beings (and all creation) and universal natural laws, the invisible leaven of which Christ spoke. We are above all called to achieve and be a living proof of our virtue and insight and not to seek to prevail over other people.

This will be my Lenten theme this year…

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Priests on the Spectrum?

Fr Ray Blake has written an article about the question of compatibility between high-functioning autism (or Aspergers) and the religious and priestly vocations.

I find the article sensitively written, though I doubt there are that many priests on the spectrum, given the psychological screening in dioceses and religious orders over the past fifty years. He writes in the perspective of criticism by the present Pope of religious and priests who seem too “rigid” or “scrupulous”.

Personally, I survived the seminary at Gricigliano because it was yet a new foundation in 1990, struggling with practical aspects and finding its identity. I was especially left alone for much of the day to work on my academic projects and had little else to do other than chapel duties and refectory, and of course refectory duties and manual work on Saturdays. I had the good sense to obey my superiors and play the game – so I slipped under the radar, at least to the diaconate.

Could an “aspie” priest be a good parish priest? I think it depends on the parish, whether it is urban or rural, run in the old way or as part of a present-day “pastoral sector”. The modern model of the parish priest demands extraordinary social skills and charismatic leadership, which an “aspie” by definition just doesn’t have. On the other hand, there used to be country parishes in countries like France where much less was demanded as long as the priest was generally available for pastoral duties which require less in the way of emotional energy and relationships. Socialising with country people tends to be more predictable and simple, which I can relate from my own experience.

With more imagination, the Church’s ministry can be more diverse, and a greater tolerance made for imperfections in terms of physical and mental handicaps, at least above a certain minimum judged on a case-by-case basis. A country priest has to be independent and have practical aptitudes, but doesn’t have to be a corporate manager – as long as he gets on with people reasonably well and leads a good clean life.

Ironically, the “rigid” characteristic mentioned by Fr Blake just doesn’t fit the kind of people I met in Lille last Saturday. This kind of characteristic found frequently in traditionalist circles would simply be the effect of ideology and indoctrination, perhaps in some cases of personality disorders and neuroses – not autism and Aspergers. This would be an interesting subject of scientific study by those with the right expertise in medicine and psychology. Personally, I felt very out of place with such people, whereas I felt a great deal of empathy with those I met last weekend who had a diagnosis for Aspergers or high-functioning autism. This is a vital distinction. Perhaps Fr Blake should spend time with people known to be “aspies” so that he can sense the difference.

Indeed, we are all broken vessels and fools for Christ as we read in last Sunday’s Epistle about “suffering fools gladly”. It is time for the Church to be human, and then fewer predatory and bad men would get through with shining colours!

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Early Modern English

Archbishop Haverland has been on Facebook, exhorting us priests to get it right with memorized texts like the doxology after a collect:

All traditional clergy should commit to memory the basic rule for expanding a collect ending to full Trinitarian form: If the prayer is addressed to the Father, it concludes ‘who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.’ If it is addressed to the Second Person of the Trinity, the ending is ‘who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.’ Father is ‘-eth’, Son is ‘-est’. The two are NOT interchangeable. We don’t say, ‘You is using bad English’ or ‘He are not getting that right.’ Confusing ‘-est’ and ‘-eth’ is the same basic mistake.

There are also rules for when the Holy Ghost or Jesus Christ are mentioned in the collect: “Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ…” “… in the unity of the same Holy Ghost…”

I left a comment:

Here is an introduction to Early Modern English which includes the Renaissance period, giving a table for the declension of personal pronouns – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Modern_English

There will be some standard text books on English grammar of that period, and suggestions would be welcome in comments. I have a copy of Fowler’s The King’s English, which sets the standard for modern English, in much greater depth than the books we had at school, but only indirectly deals with archaic English.

Someone on the thread did make the point that we do well to have knowledge in Latin and German to understand the principles of declension of nouns and pronouns and the conjugation of verbs. The rules of English grammar have changed over the centuries, and we Anglicans (some in the Canterbury Communion and in the Continuum) use a style of English that stretched over from the mid sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth. I often make the comparison between our use of an archaic style of our language with the use of Church Slavonic by Russians, Ukrainians, etc. and the use of Latin by Italians. It gives a distinct otherness to liturgical language whilst remaining comprehensible to the average churchgoer.

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Glitter Ashes

I thought I had heard them all! This is going “viral” on Facebook.

A number of people responded to the provocation to express indignation or wonder whether it is a joke. Even some gay people object to this aberration and feel insulted.

It certainly calls us to remember what Ash Wednesday is really all about. It is fundamentally about the inevitability of our death, our mortality, the great leveller that makes no distinction between rich and poor, etc.

In the Facebook thread, I was quite cynical in saying – I can’t imagine why they bother.

Someone responded: I suspect most of those to whom this silliness would appeal likewise have little concept of sacraments and sacramentals – more of the faith is what I think and what I like category.

I continued in the same light vein: Then I suppose it is “hip” or “cool”. There’s now’t so queer as folk!

Next response in a more serious tone: It misses the whole point, doesn’t it? Glitter is associated with celebration – which Lent certainly is not – and ashes with penance. Penance presupposes guilt which is very out of fashion.

I then finished with my own more serious reflection: This is why I said that it was difficult to understand why they bothered. The Ashes are a sacramental, but above all are symbolic of receiving sackcloth and ashes like when public sinners were told to leave the church and were only reconciled on Maundy Thursday, a sign of humiliation and our mortality – our commitment to repent of our sins and prepare ourselves to renew the vows of our Baptism, to rise with Christ in his Paschal Mystery. Death has to precede resurrection! Glittering ashes are simply a mockery.

This is what we should remember on Ash Wednesday. There’s no point to it unless we have some kind of resolve to adopt a Lenten discipline. It doesn’t have to be self-torture or giving up something pleasurable. It can be a decision to read a spiritual book or spend more time reading the Bible. It can be a pilgrimage or perhaps something like the painful journey of self-knowledge I have confronted over the past few months. In this reflection on mortality, I am particularly sensitive to the Parable of the Talents. What have I achieved? Too little, I know.

That’s what the Ashes are for. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

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Aspie Days in Lille

I went to the second day of Aspie Days in Lille (near the Belgian border). It was quite fascinating and I might venture to say, illuminating. It was the first time I had met people diagnosed with Aspergers and other degrees of autism leaving the intellectual faculties and use of language intact. Some had a “nerdish” look about them, but not all. They are generally very anxious souls until they can be reassured that they are among sympathising and empathising people. I would have liked to go to the first day too, but I had a translation order to deliver yesterday afternoon and I only knew about Aspie Days last Thursday.

It was all held at the Grand Palais in Lille, and assembled several hundred people concentrating on the theme of Aspergers Syndrome and other degrees of autism without intellectual deficiency. Apart from Aspergers autists, there were many parents of children with autism, researchers, psychologists and psychiatrists and a few associations. There were also companies specialised in head-hunting “aspies” for extremely specialised and technical jobs in the computer industry in particular. This approach works well in America, and French companies are catching on to the prospect of having people who work with extreme precision and are completely honest, on condition of providing the right working conditions (no stress, competition, bullying, etc.).

I attended three lectures, two of which seemed to presuppose university-level knowledge of psychology – which was challenging. The second lecture was by the psychologist Julie Dachez who has a blog (in French). She made the point that many neurotypicals (most people) were “autistic” in regard to themselves, reminding me of a saying of C.G. Jung that society is mentally ill rather than his patients! She spoke about “coping strategies”, namely resolving the problem, manage one’s emotions, find support with family and friends and “cognitive restructuring” – turning the whole thing around and seeing one’s condition as a gift and not only a handicap. For more about this subject, I refer readers to Dr Tony Attwood, one of the greatest present-day authorities on Aspergers.

The whole conference was extremely well organised, and I was very happy to be there and meet some beautiful souls “in this world but not of this world” as St John put it.

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There is a little reflection I will share with my readers. It was the first time I had knowingly met autistic and Aspergers people and attempt to get an impression of them, trying to feel the difference between them and most people in the world. One thing in common is the Angst, the sense of anxiety which is heard in the voice and seen in their faces. Some seemed to have the “look” of autism, something in the face and eyes, but most looked just like ordinary folk. You don’t just go up to them and say “Hi, I’m Anthony” and engage small talk – that’s what they hate most. We’re all already coping with high levels of noise from hundreds of human voices and people all around. You need to look for common interests – looking at similar books on a stall of the exhibition or simply he and I having long hair. A tiny spark establishes the contact.

As the day finished, I met a young man of about thirty years with his mother. Always the same edginess. We discussed things like diagnosis and special interests, and then we were about the split up to go back to our cars. There was a look in his eyes, limpid and sad at the same time, he has already bonded with me in some way. I then suggested that we should exchange e-mail addresses and “befriend” each other on Facebook. A reflection came up during those final moments whilst his mother was getting her car keys out of her handbag. The “otherness” of the mainstream world, the fact that we are “other” but all the same have to “play the game” in the world. It made me think of St John quoting Christ, as I mentioned above – They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. In its context, the verse refers to Christ’s disciples and the Church, otherness from the world of power, money and sexual lust. Last Saturday brought me into contact with people who are not “of this world” because of neurological abnormalities. The idea is mind-blowing!

One can find many articles describing aspies as predisposed to spirituality, but it is not always true. For many, institutional religion is just a part of that world they eschew, whose sophistry is as apparent as a sore thumb! I am sceptical about narratives of “indigo children”, but a common core is an understanding that life is something other than competition, power, money, lust and status. Many neurotypicals also have the same understanding through their spiritual paradigm (Christian, Buddhist, pagan, etc.), but high-functioning autistic persons and aspies seem to be pre-disposed to this clarity of vision. God made us differently. To whom much is given, much will be demanded…

I asked the young man and his mother if they were believers, because this is not something one can presume in France. I was not in clerical dress, since it would have been most inappropriate at this occasion. I was dressed casually with a hoodie and wore my hair loose. There came a point when I told them that I was an Anglican priest. Immediately, they asked me for my blessing. At that moment I felt something that I had not felt for a long time – the sense of having ministered to souls as a priest, to transmit virtus to others. Such a small and discreet gesture meant so much to them and to myself. It was most unexpected.

I went there as a part of my pilgrimage and quest for self-knowledge, since it is by knowing oneself that one can know God and enter into a relationship with the Divine. I went to observe and learn, attended three lectures, and spent time in the common area. I learned a lot about what is being done for autistic and aspie children (except that the two terms refer to the person’s history). Aspergers follows a more normal development and the child experiences difficulties towards 6 to 7 years. Autistic children, even in those whose intellectual faculties are not impaired, often take a while to learn their language and start talking. After 7 years or so, the symptoms are exactly identical, but not the history. This is why it was a big mistake on the part of the American psychiatric establishment to do away with the category of Asperger’s Syndrome in 2013. This distinction has ample scientific support and is maintained by medical establishments in Europe specialising in diagnosing autism and Aspergers and caring for those affected, whether children or adults.

All in all, an illuminating day.

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A Certain Sense of Style

As Clint Eastwood would say, “You guys sure have a certain sense of style”.

Here’s an amazing video from Palmar de Troya. Photography in their church used to be strictly forbidden. I am surprised that the ceremonies seem to be fairly well ordered and the bishops involved seem to take it all seriously. The organ seems to be a pipe organ, reasonably well played. It’s all quite a surprise.

Perhaps with Pope Peter III, it might grow into a sane independent Catholic Church if they can get rid of the totalitarian control aspect and the worst of the devotional quirks. All in the tradition of Spanish flamboyancy and far from our Anglican sobriety. I still don’t advise anyone to join them! Have fun with the video!

However, I do recommend the site of Magnus Lundberg (mostly in English) and his research into the Palmar de Troya phenomenon and other pretenders to the Papacy. This is where I found the link to the video on Facebook.


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Update about the finances of this cult The Palmarian Catholic Church: a lie that lasted 40 yearsFormer ‘Pope,’ Gregorio XVIII exposes the shady financial dealings and greed of this Spanish sect with global followers. It will be quite a field day for the fiscal authorities in Spain, quite apart from the fact that lives have been ruined and former believers are now atheists. I wonder what will happen to that church once they have been taken to the cleaners…

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