Sunday, May 31, 2015


A gospel that doesn't take into account the rights of human beings, a Christianity that doesn't make a positive contribution to the history of the world, is not the authentic doctrine of Christ, but rather simply an instrument of power. We regret that at some moments our church has also fallen into this sin; but we want to change this attitude and, according to this spirituality that is authentically of the gospel, we don't want to be a plaything of the worldly powers, rather we want to be the church that carries the authentic, courageous gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when it might become necessary to die like he did, on a cross.

Oscar Romero
"November 27, 1977" in Through the Year with Oscar Romero

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dressing up as Christ

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash- up. Well, go and do it.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is this what feminism wanted?

I do not think enough attention has been paid to the incredible swiftness and ease of this conquest.  Would genuine revolutionaries really have wanted Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl, advancing their honoured banners of the field of conflict.   Whether they did or not, that is what they got, ending up with the noble pleas of Mary Wollstonecraft reduced to the grunts and squeals of "Girl Power" and the raucous equality-in-grossness of the hard-drinking and lewd "ladette".

It's hard to see who has benefited from it apart from major employers, abortion clinics, alcohol manufacturers and the state.  It is the state which in the crudest sense gets the extra taxes, and in a deeper victory sees its old adversary, the married family, weakened to the point where it now barely exists.  The decline in marriage has been one of the swiftest and least noted social changes in British history, as has the disappearance of the full-time mother and the appearance of a gigantic network of day-orphanages for the children left motherless for five days of each week as a result. . . . It is also clear that private life, that essential shelter for free thought and free speech, has been much reduced by it. . . .

What is truly liberating (or socialist, or even radical) about swapping home life, with its independence and personal freedom, for wage slavery and the tax slavery that invariable comes with it?

What is Left-wing about the vast, greedy industry of baby farms, in which the young are minded by legions of paid strangers with no long-term interest in their charges.  Wage-slave women are a cruelly exploited new class as an old-fashioned nineteenth-century radical would instantly see. But the modern left is a vociferous supporter of the exploiters.  It is left to the tougher religions, and to despised social conservatives, to oppose it.

. . . a campaign to liberate women from domestic oppression has changed into a wholly different and effectively opposite campaign to enslave women in offices and call centres.  There they are actually oppressed by managers who can sack them, and who have no interest in them if they become pregnant or grow old or ill.  This is instead of being nominally oppressed by husbands who are supposed to keep them for life, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

A campaign originally aimed at allowing the greater personal fulfilment of women, and their liberation from drudgery, has replaced one form of drudgery with another, much harder to escape and more ruthless.  And a campaign which had been supposed to allow women to be more free is now a campaign which requires the dismantling of private life, where free thought is nurtured and independent, thinking individuals are brought up. . . .

In this new world, women do not marry for life (for this is unendurable imprisonment).  They do not raise their own children (for this is a form of enslavement which destroys their potential).  They denounce any calls for them to obey their husbands out of love (for this is feudal oppression), but readily obey workplace masters for money.  In return they are rewarded with that money and that sort of pleasures that can be  bought with money.  But they live in growing fear of age, as demonstrated by the disturbing fashions for Botox treatment and plastic surgery.  For, unlike lifelong marriage, employment depends on youth.  And so does the availability of sexual fulfilment, supposedly made so much simpler by the new morality. . . .

On a more  mundane level, women may desire marriage.  And so do many men.  But the laws which now govern wedlock ensure that many men will avoid a contract which can be easily broken by one party against the wishes of the other, which can strip them of much of their wealth and deprive them of their children.  Also, the former importance of marriage has been dissolved by general sexual availability without commitment. . . .

The children of this confusion, often drugged to make them behave, are brought up by strangers or by the state.  They frequently have distant relations with their parents and learn little or nothing from them except mistrust.  In British society in the last few decades, a number of things have simply stopped.  Girls no longer learn to sew and bake.  Boys no longer play rough games and in many cases play no sport either.  Children do not sing.  Most of the young know no history or lore of the past.  Local accepts, except for a few very powerful ones, have faded and died.  Nursery rhymes and proverbs are unknown, street games such as hopscotch and conkers have nearly vanished, ancient slang expressions have been forgotten in favour of the English of the soap opera. . . . These are symptoms of a much deeper loss.  The destruction of private family life has dried up a thousand-year-old river of myth and language, custom and morals, poetry and story.  The riverbed has, as such ravaged places do, filled up with the rubbish and refuse chucked into young minds by TV programmes and computer games. 

Peter Hitchens, The Broken Compass: How Left and Right Lost Their Meaning (London: Continuum, 2009), p. 110ff.]

Incompletely human

Even if humans were statistically just as likely to sin as they are to love their children, it cannot, for Thomas, be right in the same sense of the word “natural” to say that human beings naturally sin as that they naturally love their children. To find oneself puzzled by the words of the Letter to the Hebrews because the exception of his sinlessness seems a very drastic limitation upon Christ's solidarity with us; to find oneself wondering whether Christ could really have known what it is like to be us if he does not experience sin, as it were, from the inside; to imagine that one of the solidarities in which human beings share is solidarity in sin because we all do it and so understand one another in our sinning; to conclude, therefore, that it is a restriction on Christ's solidarity with us that he is absolutely sinless, for a Christ who could not sin would seem not to share our human nature in its concrete actuality—all this is, for Thomas, getting things upside down. 

...Unlike Christ, it is we who are incompletely human. Docetism is the heresy that Jesus is not truly a human being, but only apparently so, because he is too good to be true. Thomas's position is that it is we who, on account of our sinfulness, are not good enough to be true. We do not know for ourselves and from ourselves what it is like to be truly human. From ourselves and from others at best we get partial glimpses of what a true human being looks like. But we have no full picture of what it is to be truly human except from the human nature of Christ. The point about the exception made in the Letter to the Hebrews is that “solidarity in sin” is in fact an oxymoron.

...the casual theological identification of fallen human nature with human nature as such ignores what is manifestly intended by the author of Hebrews, for whom Christ alone can perfectly communicate with us because he is perfectly, indefectibly, human; it is precisely because he is free of sin that the intimacy of Christ's solidarity with our sinful selves is unhindered, and in him the view of what we truly are is uncluttered by the obstructing impedimenta of sin; and so it is precisely because we are dehumanized by our sinfulness that our solidarities with Christ and with one another are so tragically awry, and in consequence, our relationships, personal and political, beset by fantasy and illusion. For Thomas, Christ is more intimately human than we are, not less; closer to our true selfhood than we are; in closer solidarity with us because he is without sin, not distanced from us on account of his innocence, as we are distanced from ourselves by sin, from one another, and from God.

From Denys Turner's Thomas Aquinas, a Portrait. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Prayer and desire

...we can say that for Thomas a person succeeds in living the happy life when she gets to do, regularly and routinely, what she “really wants.”

But here the force of the word “really” is not, as before, that in which it contrasts with the false perceptions of desire that characterize the self-deceived . There is a very profound sense in which even the most perfectly honest person may not know what she wants: not, that is, the case where, of two things both of which she wants, she does not know which to choose, like whether to marry John or James. More problematic is the case where there is something that we want but we do not know what it is, except that it is somehow importantly connected with our happiness. Such is the case when we are morally befogged, because our deepest desires are hidden from us by veil upon obscuring veil, of upbringing, of socialization, of personal insecurities and fears, of relationships abusive and abused, of desire habitually unfulfilled and frustrated; and in this sense of “want” in which we want something but for all these reasons do not know what it is, we do not know our own “wills.” For what we will is happiness; and what we really will , whether or not we know it, is whatever it is that will make us happy, but we may not —and all too often do not— know what it is. It is for this reason that the moral life consists in the first place in those practices that enable the discovery of what it is that we really want, the happy life, and the power of insight that leads to that discovery is what Thomas calls prudentia, skill in seeing the moral point of human situations, what true desires are to be met within them. It is then, and only secondarily that the moral life consists in virtuous forms of living, the practices of desire that prudentia has interpretatively uncovered within the maelstrom of desires as actually experienced.

And it is here within his conception of moral practice as desire-discovery— or as he calls it, “practical wisdom”— that for Thomas a principal means of tracing the way back to what we really want, is prayer, oratio. And our only available starting point for that practice of self-discovery is our wants and desires as we actually experience them. Therefore, Thomas says, we ought to pray for what we think we want regardless. For prayer is “in a certain manner a hermeneutic of the human will,” so that by way of placing our desires as we experience them before God we are asking also that those desires be “unfolded,”“explicated,” thereby to release their real significance, the real want that is wrapped up in, “implicated” in all their opacity in their form as experienced. Therefore, says Thomas, we ought to pray, as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane, “in response to our animal desire” (secundum sensualitatem). For when we pray as Jesus did then, out of animal need and desire— for Jesus was scared of death, as naturally any animal is— we are placing that animal need and desire within the interpretative power of the divine will itself , wherein alone we will discover our own real will. Therefore, Thomas concludes, we ought always to pray for what we think we want; for Jesus prayed as he did in Gethsemane so as to teach us just that lesson, namely that it is “permitted for human beings naturally to desire even what [they know] is not God's will” and, as if in reinforcement of what for many is a startling thought, he cites the authority of Augustine to the same effect, commenting on the same prayer of Jesus: “It is as if [Jesus] were saying: ‘See yourself in me: for you [too] can wish something for yourself even though God wishes something else.’” Only thus, in the prayer of honest desire, is there any chance of our discovering what are our true desires, our real will.

Denys Turner in Thomas Aquinas: a portrait, (p. 181). Yale University Press.