Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Herouxville: the book

"Quebec has always turned to its rural forces for its nourishment, now it turns towards this force for its affirmation."

__ M. Pierre-Yves Pothier.

Such is the greeting awaiting visitors to the public notice page at the official website for the Quebec municipality of Hérouxville. The controversial community that took a stand against the stoning of women earlier this year is poised to enter the news once again, this time through the release of a new book: "The Hérouxville Syndrome, or reasonable accomodations". ["Le Syndrome Hérouxville, ou accomodations raisonnables"]
(Or maybe it is not poised to make much noise at all; the book was released this past August, and is currently available for sale. I had no idea that the book had even been written, having seen no mention of it in the media sources that I frequent. Maybe I need to be paying closer attention..?)
The author is Bernard Thompson, webmaster of Hérouxville's official site. His book is described as "an essay relating the history of the Hérouxville Affair so that the population of Quebec may better understand what happened within our municipality and to thereby rebalance their pendulums accordingly."

A letter written in sympathy to Hérouxville's concerns is included at the bottom of this page, following the news of the book itself. The letter is framed around the motto on Quebec license plates, "Je me souviens", "I remember".... As a catholic, I found this an extremely painful letter to read, but truth is truth whether we like it or not and truth must be sought for progress to be made.
If we are to understand What people believe, we must first understand Why they have come to believe it. It is towards those ends that I have translated a substantial portion of that letter, written by "Grandmother Johanne Chayer". [clarifications and corrections are, as ever, welcome in the comments section; this was a very powerful letter, and I hope its pressing tone survives my humble attempts at translation...]

I would have liked to meet these muslim women at Herouxville to share their culture and their recipes, but mostly to profit from the occasion and explain our motto Je me souviens to them.

I remember that, in my youth, we could not enter the church without a veil or a hat on our heads. In those days, I remember also that it was a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday. During that same decade, I remember how my mother was chased from the Church because after having brought forth four children, she did not want to have any more. I remember that for this reason, the forgiveness of her sins was refused her by the Church unless she gave her body to her husband, with or without pleasure, to risk reaching a dozen.

I remember that she refused to leave the Church like many other women of her generation. I remember that my mother then seperated from my father and that we became a target of disparaging looks and comments in our parish. Nevertheless, I remember that after the separation, we saw the white collar on the night table. Did the priest want to test the means of contraception of the day?

In that same decade I remember that, by turns, my mother and my step-mother saw an urgent operation delayed while waiting for their respective husbands, from whom they had been separated in fact and not legally, to affix their signatures authorizing the surgical operations.

Becoming an adult, I remember that thanks to the pressures of the previous generation, I had access to the first means of contraception that allowed me to restrain the number of my own progeny. I remember also that it was no longer a sin to eat meat on Fridays. I don’t know what became of those who had gone to hell. I hope that they have been repatriated.

Becoming an adult, I remember having worked in environments tradionally reserved for men. I remember frustrations from not having been treated to the same standard as the men in the workplace and especially in life in general.

I remember that after having had a son, I did not want any further children out of fear that these would not be girls, out of solidarity and because the work remaining to be done on attaining equality was so enormous. I remember the efforts that many women had to go to to make themselves heard and to obtain high level administrative posts. I remember the militancy of many women that worked hard as politicians, in the heart of chambers of commerce, in unions, in the Council for the Status for Women, etc, in order to obtain equality in our country.

I remember that it took more than fifty years of collective effort to free ourselves from the grip that the Church and religion had over our lives. I remember that it took more than sixty years (1940 to 2006) to obtain equal pay and that this [struggle] is still not over. My sixty years have taught me that nothing in life is forever and that we must maintain or redouble our efforts in order not to lose the fruit of all our labors. I am not racist, yet, when I see women of other ethnicities, held by their controlling religion, wanting to impose itself in our society, I am afraid. I am afraid because these men and these women do not know by what path we have traveled. More so, these young quebecoises who embrace this religion which veils its women do not remember. It is therefore by ignorance that one explains their choice.

I am now a grandmother of four marvelous little girls and I am afraid. I am afraid when I see a veiled woman working in a CPE or in a school or even when a child is left to wear a Kirpan. We had gotten rid of our all our religious symbols and now here they come back into the very place where the education of our newest generation is crucial and at the time in which one must inculcate the fundamental principles of social life to our children. The tolerance towards these religious symbols such as the veil, the Kirpan, the turban in the CPE, in our schools and in our institutions in general is a lack of respect for the preceding generations that worked so hard to escape the grip that religion had over our lives. You do not remember! But I, I remember and in this regard, I have no tolerance and I do not want any accomodation out of respect for my mother, my aunt and for my little girls.

I remember that the charter of rights and freedoms permits each to practice the religion of their choice, but for pity’s sake have this religion stay at home. The wearing of the veil in the muslim religion is for us the most important demonstration of the submission of the woman and this is what frightens us and shocks us because we remember. We remember that this symbol existed fifty years ago and we do not want to go backwards.

Whether one prays to Jesus, mohammed or Buddha doesn’t matter to me, but we have fought, quebecois and quebecoises, for our society to be secular. We quebecoises have fought to obtain the right of equality of speech between men and women as well as for equality for opportunities in the workplace. Remember that if you have immigrated to Canada and especially to Quebec, it is to take part of an open society that offers you, on a silver platter, all the gains that previous generations have won, particularly in the areas of rights for women. I want to believe that it is through the ignorance of our traditions and our customs and not by lack of respect that muslim women want to show to the light of day the imposition of this symbol of their faith that is the veil.

Maybe our society has gone too far with its liberties. But, the pendulum must stop in the middle and not regress back to the beginning. We must remember. The integration into a society must start with the respect of its traditions and its customs through the respect shown towards its male and female citizens who have participated in its practice.

Maybe our history books do not remember or maybe they simply have not been updated yet. It is therefore the responsibility of the government to apply our motto “Je me souviens” [“I remember”] to our History and to integrate this History with the efforts of our previous generations to reach the society of today and especially to assure all that the coming generations can remember. It is also the responsibility of
reception agencies for immigrants to make them know this Quebec motto “Je me souviens” so that these newcomers do not think that we are racist simply because we remember and we do not want to impose upon our progeny the need to take up the same struggles that we went through fifty years ago.
[Bold retained from original text]


truepeers said...

This letter makes it sound as if it were the Catholic church that were responsible for the oppression of women, historically, which is a dubious claim since no women anywhere had easy access to contraception and equal employment rights with men, until recently. And today, these are pretty much only "enjoyed" in countries with a Judeo-Christian, or, perhaps, Communist, past. I put the enjoyed in scare quotes because if you happen to be a woman who wants to have twelve kids and stay at home it is pretty near impossible today because the economy adapts to the norm and makes it tough for those families that would be different to survive. Freedom for the women with few or no children has meant restraint on freedom for those who would live otherwise. The truth of the matter, in other words, is that no society can be neutral and open to all possibilities. We make choices and have to defend them against those of others, in the name of some greater freedom.

Herouxville should be able to defend this basic truth without having to tear down its own historical institutions. The Catholic church was once part of a French Canadian society with an under-developed economy, with little Welfare State, a society which survived by putting the family above its individual members, or making individualism a question of the defense of the family. Now that Quebec has accented individual rights under the wing of the Welfare State, the Church has had to defend its values in new ways, not very successfully yet.

In any case, as an outsider, it seems to me that the Church does not, nor ever has, taught (whatever the interpretations of the officious local priests and the neighborhood gossips) that a women has to have a large number of children. It has taught that sex should not be divorced from reproductive commitments, so that sex, along with marriage, is merely turned into a passing pleasure and not something sacred. The fact that in a certain kind of largely rural society this will be simply interpreted to mean that a woman *must* have many kids is as much a reflection on rural society as on the Church that belonged to such a society. Catholicism strikes me as a serious discipline that many who are born into will inevitably rebel against, at least for a time. But it seems to me silly to imply it is the moral equivalent of the Islamic discipline. Women in Quebec, at no point in its history, were ever treated in ways akin to women in, say, Pakistan or Yemen, today or historically. It's a very different kettle of fish

Now the interesting point in all this that is being missed is that when Muslim women leave rural society and become urbanized and exposed to the modern economy, they become more, not less, likely to want to wear the veil. Dag and I have been discussing this quote: "Contrary to what outsiders generally suppose, the typical Muslim woman in a Muslim city doesn't wear the veil because her grandmother did so, but because here grandmother did not: her grandmother in her village was far too busy in the fields, and she frequented the shrine without a veil, and left the veil to her betters. The granddaughter is celebrating the fact that she has joined her grandmother's betters, rather than her loyalty to her grandmother." Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion, 16 (London: 1992)

This is why (ab)using "Je me souviens" - which began life as a way of affirming a traditional Catholic society in face of the British or anglophone conquest of Quebec - in order to denounce the church and to accuse the immigrant veil wearer of forgetting is likely to miss the intended mark. The Muslim women remembers the humiliations of rural society too, just in a different way. Humiliation is not ultimately related to some objective truth about the number of children one must bear, or one's wage, but rather is ultimately a question of one's alienation from what one holds sacred. And it is much easier to hold sacred what the "modern "liberated" woman of Quebec today holds sacred if you were once Catholic than if your grandmother was a Muslim in the fields of the Middle East.

Ypp said...

It is interesting to look into the mind of an old feminist. By the end of her useless life she is starting to realize that what she thought was a victory was in fact a failure. She undermined her own nation but all her effort only played in the hands of aliens. Miserable creature, frightened by the life forever.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the excerpt. I’ll admit that I was expecting something of a lesser quality. It ended up being a moving defence of secular society. What struck me was the effective harnessing of the conservative impulse to defend over half a century of secular reform. It was nationalistic without being particularly xenophobic; attune to the threat of cultural erosion without slipping into excessive fear-mongering. I tend to think this is a strand of cultural conservatism (broadly defined) that could end up having significant appeal. Certainly more likely to garner sympathy than a rear-guard defense of the Church and its past abuses.

dag said...

Any institution run on an authoritarian hierarchical basis with universalist pretensions is no friend of individuals; and the Catholic Church, regardless of what it might offer in opposition to the here-and-now of Gnostic opposition and nihilistic frenzies of anti-clericalism, is not a perfect ideal to which anyone should rush to restore to former glories. The Catholic Church is historically repressive and anti-individual. That’s not a concept we should care to reclaim. It’s not an either/or situation we face.

To look back in a state of nostalgia to the Glorious 13th Century is a non-starter for most people, even those living in monastic splendors in the Sinai. Thanks to the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church has found itself, at the point of the bayonet, forced to accommodate the individual as a thing-in-itself, worthy of receiving decent behaviour and being accorded respect as a legitimate being of innate worth. It would be simply wrong to suggest the Catholic Church is benevolent and worthy of respect on the basis of its history. Naked physical force has forced the Catholic Church to behave itself in the world of men. Nor is the Enlightenment the end of history. It’s not an either/or situation we face.

Religion is a bad science, and science is no good as religion. To demand of either that they be both is to lose off the spot. To gloss over the flaws of religion and history of this or that particular religion or time thereof is to do none a favor. I too remember, as do many who lived through years of religious persecution, religious, political, or social. Such is a time now of religious persecution. No answer, not from the nostalgic view of the imaginary past nor from the deluded ravings of post-modernist ideologies today, will address the realities we must face squarely and rightly, with needed force, if need be. No blanket approvals of religion; not a blanket to cover the corpse of pseudo-Modernity in its post-phase. Those who remember the 50s certainly do, and no mistake. This was not a pleasant time, in all, and not one to return to. Nor to remain stuck in the dysfunctional 60s. It’s not an either/or situation we face.

We go forward. To what? Only to what we make of our own efforts in our own time. This is no time to pine for the fjords. The past was no better than today, only different in its own unpleasant ways. What forward? Not the past mistakes, call it tradition or call it correction. Not utopian nowheres of murder and forced conformities at the point of bayonets. And not nothing but nothing other than waiting for some clear blue-skied day of epiphany among the masses. No return to the feudalism of the titled past and the privilege of priests, secular or temporal; and no return to the pristine visions of Marxist lunatics, the current drive to neo-feudalist pharms of man-animals driven by povertarians and careerist minders in faded denim.

No tolerance for the intolerable. No sharia. No peace for oil. No nonsense. And no appeasement for the sake of satisfying cowardice. There’s a life to live and a world to gain for freedom of each and every man living and to come. Filibuster for universal Modernity. It is all or nothing.

truepeers said...

Dag, you are of course right that there is no going back to the past, but I have to quibble with the idea that we now face an "all or nothing" proposition regarding "modernity", whatever that is. I would also quibble with your characterization of the historical church as oppressive. By our standards, yes, but these standards were not possible in the past. Was the Catholic church more oppressive, more antithetical to the rise of the free individual than many of the alternatives in the past? At times yes - especially with the rise of forces that wanted to nationalize Christianity, and defeat the Latin elites in the name of turning local vernaculars into the language of the faith - but it was by no means oppressive as a general rule. The church helped maintain the revelation - Christ's - which has been the pre-eminent radicalizing, secularizing, and modernizing force in human history. The Enlightenment , it seems to me, was little more than a codification of the Protestant revolution within Christianity.

All attempts to build a modernity freed of tradition have been failures, lost in Utopian unreality and thus purposelessness, falling back on the most primitive forms of sacrifice, as witnessed by the countless millions killed by the revolutionary totalitarian movements of the last century. On the other hand, no tradition can be sustained if it is not renewed through an expansion of its own freedom. It really is a question of how to meld tradition and modernity successfully.

It's easy to say we cannot go back to a time when hierarchical priesthoods are forced on everyone (and I tend to agree); but the fact remains we still live in such a time - what are the ranks of the professionals who run our society but kinds of hierarchical priesthood? You can call them secular if it makes you feel better, but they are in fact religious in their ways. To admit this is not to deny that we need to find further ways to expand the freedom in our systems and make our professionals more respectful of the people and markets they should serve. But no politics can ever free itself from some shared notion of what is sacred and good.

For the free individual, a hierarchical priesthood providing voluntary access to a sacrament whose purpose - the Christian overcoming of sacrifice, of traditional society with its marriage of the religious and political in public and bloody rituals - is inherently radical, secularizing, and modernizing (so radical that for most of its history, until very recently, the Christian Church, as part of a larger social order bound with many classical restraints, could not fully realize the inherent radicalism of Christ's revelation) may well retain a necessary function.

There are some things the free marketplace cannot provide: most notably, protection from the free marketplace; or, to put it more positively, access to certain values that cannot be produced through market mechanisms. The church in a free society provides the individual protection against the power of the modern marketplace to destroy individuals through the all-consuming desires that the market must permit if it is to be free and to grow. The free market is both our hope for freedom for our desires, and the force that destroys individuals who have no recourse to values, disciplines, and institutions that resist the marketplace and the desires it promotes.

The free market succeeds in tandem with forces that resist its success. When religion enters the marketplace, to resist the marketplace as one of many players in civil society, both sides win. The church is today one of many necessary resisting/facilitating forces. We cannot rationalize away this paradoxical situation. We either mix tradition and modernity or we attempt some rationalizing total system that is bound to fail. Having said this, we cannot impose our personal mix of tradition and modernity on everyone. The universal truths must be individually incorporated, each in his own way. We must even acknowledge Muslims who make a genuine compromise with modernity and embrace the separation of church and state, among other modernizing things. When they do, it won't seem rational - it will contradict Islamic Orthodoxy - but that's not to say it won't work in its own irrational way.

The Catholic church has always been a paradox. How can you have a hierarchical priesthood in a religion whose essential message is a criticism of our desire for sacrificial rituals, our desire for public victims to nail on a cross? Well, if communion with Christ is well served through a Eucharistic ritual that is the antithesis of all ritual, maybe there is a role for priests who perform it. If we find values in the mass that we cannot find through individual study of the Bible or by joining groups that don't demand individual obedience to the mystery of something we don't personally control, then that may be the only way to access values we need as free individuals, however paradoxical in logic this all may be.
The fact that the paradox is also beyond the appreciation of many priests - who in human weakness have fallen back on Gnosticism and social power games - might allow us to argue that Christianity is not pragmatic; still it is true on some higher level.

Finally, may I remind that after the conquest of Quebec by the British, no adult was ever forced to be a Catholic, beyond the inevitable pressures that faced an individual soul, born into a Catholic family and living in a predominantly Catholic country where falling out of line could entail all kinds of ostracism. But how can any largely agrarian society exist without some kinds of ostracism of those who reject the established system for reproducing families? No one has a right to assume others will share in the risk of attempting some new kind of life.

And if it had not been for the church providing a unifying force for the people, the French Canadians, as a culture, would probably have ended up a lost and confused detritus on the edges of Anglo-protestant civilization, or assimilated like the French of Idaho. The Quebecois needed the church in tandem with the Quebec state to survive, until they didn't need the church to survive and abandoned it of their own free will. We could quibble about the timing but not the basic point. The 1960s were not a possibility in the 1860s.

The Quebecois, or individuals among them, may in time realize that they need again the Church to survive in some coherent fashion if the 60s lifestyle goes bust, as it seems now; but it won't be exactly the same church as old. It can't be, because society has changed radically (radically because of the free market that Christianity itself made possible). The free individual will sign on to the church as a way of mixing modernity and tradition in a way that works for him. Others will see what works and copy it, to a degree, but no solution can any longer be imposed on everyone. Yet that's no excuse to deny the value of the Church or the Mass and those who perform it.

dag said...

I wouldn't have made anything like the brief outline of an argument I made above if not for our discussions over the past year and a half, I being deeply influenced by the things I hear and the understandings I come to after first pondering for months at a time such, to me, radical propositions as 'Peers lets out at a flash. Cannonical, to pun.

Our discussions lead to clarity of purpose, I think, and lead us to a better programme for our future movement. How, for example, do we consider our state in light of the Catholic Church's innate nature as an institution that is inimical to human individuality? The Catholic Church is, even for a lapsed Protestant, even for a Hindu or a Buddhist, an essential part of our Modernist world, a part we cannot dismiss as anachronistic or out-moded. We must accept that the Church is a central pillar of civilization, one that is good for many and that cannot have too much power while not being restricted in our political realms from pursuit of power. To correct the imbalances of either situation, that of the feudal past and that of the Gnostic present, we have to develop a clear understanding of our theoretical position to apply to the living world of day-by-day. And so too with the nature of women and child-bearing. And so on.

We are, thus, in need of a clear general concept summarizing our position in regard to the whole of the patrix of our movement. What is the stamp we will pound into the culture? We must provide ourselves and the people engaged in our questioning of Modernity vis the forces of reaction left and Islamic, with a clear plan for acion toward restoration of a guided path to function and culture as a whole. How do we deal with a Catholic Church we have some sympathy for while being at odds with its authoritarianism? What explicit message do we present to the world regarding the role of women in the face of the nature of children when we know all too clearly that children, while the point and purpose of life are a diminishment of individuality, an attraction few "individualists" would choose on the face of it?

What questions, and what answers do we provide? Consumerism as culture is mindless and soulless despair that does provide a constant balm to the defeated and desperate, slowly sinking into further despair. Where is our programme? Who can come to us for answers plain and decisive? How to put across the concept that responsibility is freedom? How to put across the concept that boundaries are definitive?

We must address the points of those who remember the repression of individuality and also those who remember the fact that individuals as atomic are dust. Barren and free people are worthless to themselves, and to our communion of souls they are a failure irredeemable. What clear proposition do we provide for some rectification of our general failure? No, not a collective guilt but a societal failure to move toward greater freedom and still greater physical life free from a nagging desire to commit suicide over its amazing success.

The lady above remembers how things were, and they were not to be returned to in those terms; but the fact of family and community (in its normative sense) is missing in her account, understandably so. She remembers the harm of the Church, the burn without the heat and the light. We must provide a clear analysis of our approach to Modernity and its universal furtherance. Not baby-factories, not barren hedonists languishing in despair in geriatric wards. What? Where do we stand on issues of universal import for all to see and argue?

There are those who believe in nothing as their ideology of nihilism, a rag-bag of Left fascist cliches; and there are those who do not believe in anything more than organicism, a non-position little different in effect if less effective in the struggle for power. Not formulaic programmes written in stone but a clear general statement of responses to the paradigmatic issues of life in our time in our Western cultural condition.

Life is not complicated. Its gone on from the beginning with little help from ideologues. But there is conflict, and conflicting norms involve collision and reaction and progress. 'A General Statement of Principles in Six Points' from our side should cover sufficiently anything we need to convey. When a lady from Quebec makes a statement of fact from her life and experience we should-- we must-- have a programme ready to incorporate her concerns in a general sense. Without boundaries of sense, the freedom to think is worthless.

We face a concerted power in pursuit of further power, an army of miscreants bent on enslavement of the world, not to exaggerate. It is, in the West, a velvet fascism of television and social programs. Where do we stand and what is our right response to this outrage? What six positions can all freedom-loving people counter with? Certainly we have six general principles covering all the needed bases of Human experience. We must act as a militant force in the face of our enemies, those who beat us on the streets of Belgium, those who bully us in our institutions in Canada, those who bomb us in our cities and on subways. Six points of general resistance and clarity should be enough to motivate a resurgence of democratic individuals. Without it our resevoir of right Human experience is mere fog in the night.

truepeers said...

Six points? Here's a very rough first attempt. Tell me if you think it's on the right track. As I've said before, I don't think dogmatic manifestos are appropriate to who we are and what we need to do. On the other hand, a covenant or compact has to be founded on some basic commitments, though it is also in some sense open ended. It creates some kind of political market that can and will take us to places we can't yet imagine. By forging covenants, making promises to each other that will be called upon in ways we can't yet imagine, we will slowly discover what the new boundaries of the political world are, something we cannot well delineate in advance with "scientific" precision.

So, what are our basic commitments in any covenant we make? 1)to guarantee each other's freedom to act in the world, to be creative, to take real political steps into the unknown, to take risks in face of all the control freaks/victim baiters who rule today's opinion climate; 2) we defend each other's freedom not to become self-destructive and socially destructive (we don't defend a right to do whatever you want with your own life, like smoking drugs 24/7); but rather 3) to find ways to engage each other in an exchange that strengthens individuals as competent members of families and of a larger society. We invite you to create a new reality that respects social strength (does not confuse competence with Nazi-like victimizing of the Other) by initiating an exchange with us that rejects the passive, group-think, scapegoating, victimary politics of our times. 4)Where we will go together we do not really know until we get there; and when we get there, we'll be sure to start responding to new problems that we have created together, a response that will take us somewhere else. 5) So we renounce all desires for "final solutions", Utopianism, Gnosticism, etc.: in short all desires for some end of history. We declare our commitment to an open-ended freedom and history and reject all people who think they have the complete and final revelation of the will of God/Allah/the victims of society. We affirm that God and history have further, indeed endless, revelations in store for us to discover. 6) We reject the idea that economics and politics can be simply reduced to an anonymous exchange in individual desires. We must continue to share in common a relationship to a unifying national scene. We must create together new scenes whose peopling and positioning, contingent on events no one will control, will serve as the basis for our negotiations and exchange about the limits and possibilities of our politics. This is not something that can be done for us by bureaucracies or lawyers, national or international. Ordinary, competent, people must make representatives and/or representations of themselves and their specific experiences, signs that can enter into a free and uncertain political exchange that no one controls. We must have the courage to speak up, act, and face down the forces of political correctness that would make us feel guilty, accuse us of discrimination, for pointing to real problems and taking a stand against them.

I think these six points, after editing, will really be more like four. In any case, I invite anyone to pick up the ball and run with it...

truepeers said...

7)Boycott the UN and the EU, and maybe Sweden, and Belgium, and the Chinese Communist party, the caliphascist Umma, as such, and Libby Davies and her povertarian establishment, and so on and so forth

dag said...

I'll print a copy and do what I can and bring it to the library Thursday evening so we can all go over it line by line and discuss the issue in person. We have to be for some simple things, concrete stances no more outrageous than the Apostles' Creed or the Pledge of Allegiance. Any dedicated movement needs some simple foundation, some boundary of identity. I'll bring our page and more, perhaps. We needn't come away with stone tablets.

Charles Henry said...

"The Catholic Church is historically repressive and anti-individual."

The Church itself teaches that all human life is sacred; surely that's a rather pro-individual stance..?

"It would be simply wrong to suggest the Catholic Church is benevolent and worthy of respect on the basis of its history."

I challenge that conclusion, because there's more to the history of the Church than the spanish inquisition, and the spanish enslavement of indians in the New World as described by the left; there's also the scope of its charity, the maintaining of literacy and science (especially astronomy and agriculture) through the dark ages we were imperiled with due to the ongoing muslim and barbarian attacks on the west, the preservation and development of representative art in face of muslim (and, for a while, byzantine) iconoclastic/abstract art, the development of the university (okay maybe that one counts more as a negative than a positive these days, but at the time...), the development of the hospital.. I could go on.

"No blanket approvals of religion.."
..but no blanket disapprovals either, fair is fair. Like any human institution, it offers a mixed legacy; however there's a rush to cloak the great goodness inspired by the Church in the shadow of the bad choices made by its followers, as often as hypocrits within the church may pretend there were no regretful acts to atone for. The church changes as people change; sometimes we need to change, while other times we need to stay the same. It's part of the challenge of life to grow to understand when which is which, and we all often get the balance wrong. Being part of a rather large club of fellows devoted to getting things right, improves one's chances of learning from enough experience to approach a higher score of success. Not perfection, but progress.

The priest in this woman's letter bothers me tremendously, for the bad example he sets and the opportunity his behavior provides to find excuses to ignore the good that the teachings of the church may bring to a burdened life. How representative is he? The letter writer's mother seemed to understand that it was the stupid priest, and not the book that he read from, or the organization that employed him, that was in error. The daughter (now grandmother) didn't seem to be as wise as her mother, in seeing the bigger picture.

There exist many examples of members of the church who helped make the human experience a little less full of despair and a little more illuminated by hope, through faith. Enough to make me go back, once I started discovering them.

dag said...

Regardless of the undoubted good of the Church, which I'm obviously not denying, we cannot pretend it was a good thing on all occasions, and we cannot rightly desire a return to the dominance of the Church in daily affairs.

I have no axe to grind here or elsewhere regarding the history of the Catholic Church, but i can't accept that the Church contributed anything constructive in the fields of agriculture or literacy, recalling as I do the state of Church lands and the fate of Tyndale, to be brief. There's no gain in becoming apologists for Medievalism or for being self-flagellating Dawkinites. Again I repeat, it is not either or.

I forget the term I'd use, it being the sins of the man not being the sins of the institution itself. Yes, some priests were and likely still are rotten; and none of it has to do with the Church. No argument here. But our Enlightenment ocurred for a good reason, corrupted though it is by Left dhimmi fascism today, and not to be thrown out because of it any more than one would through out Catholicism because of the Borgias. It's not useful to us to fall into the Perfect Fallacy of our Leftist compatriots.

More tomorrow.

truepeers said...

but i can't accept that the Church contributed anything constructive in the fields of agriculture or literacy, recalling as I do the state of Church lands and the fate of Tyndale

Tyndale was a product of Oxford University, then a Catholic institution. Of course, he rebelled against the Catholic and Latin establishment. Still, it is simply true that without the Church and its educational institutions, no Tyndale and the book that has had more influence in expanding literacy in the anglophone world than any other. The protestant should remember that he remains dependent on that which he resents for his identity and all that it can or cannot achieve. Creativity is a two-way street.

Agriculture? Never a central concern for the Church, I think, but what immediately comes to mind are all the new crops that were imported to Europe, and elsewhere, from the Americas. Much of that would have happened more slowly if not for the missionary zeal of the Church at the forefront of the conquest of the Americas. And from the perspective of the American farmer, the coming of the CHurch made a difference: he was less likely to be captured and rendered a human sacrifice. And the Christian priest might tell him about all kinds of new agricultural possibilities.

dag said...

Those hoping for a delightful few hours reading the history of the Catholic Church might turn with reward to Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization. He shows how, again and again, the Irish Catholic Church saved literacy from the Vikings and the savages of Europe, how they invented new and useful and preserved the good of the past. It's not either or. The Catholic Church has done great things many times, but not the obscurantism of the Middle Ages, not the burning of heretic, regardless of the political realities of the time. Protestants in the New World were in more danger of being murdered for their faith by Catholics than they were from indigenos. Nor were the Jews safe from any Christians at all, it seems. So we must sort out fairly the good from the bad, not dismissing this or that as anachronistic. Evil is evil regardless of the ignorance of the practicioners of the time. We have to be fair to our criticism for our own sakes.

Protestants owe a debt unpayable to the Catholics, and the Catholics to the Jews, the Jews to the Zoroastrians, and so on; but we all owe a debt to our own judgment. We can't look for excuses to cover up our blemishes. If we fail, we do so and must accept it as such. We owe to those who failed as often as we owe to those who succeeded. We can't claim a solid and pure base of anything we are. We deal with our own time in our own ways for our own goals in the hope that we do better than those before us, and if we do so well and rightly, then we make progress. All to often the Enlightenment was all or nothing, either or, and the result, though to my mind overwhelmingly positive, was not perfect, and it deteriorates daily, requiring us to restore the good of it and to crush the evils. As the lady in question about writes, we have to relearn everything, nothing being certain just because we live. And we have to learn from the past to apply to the present for the sake of the future. Honesty is the only good policy, regardless of how embarrassing it might be to see that this or that horror story makes us ashamed of our predecessors.

Thomas Moore was no saint, having blood on him up to the elbows, but one needn't dwell on the failures of the man for its own sake. Tyndale wasn't perfect either. Nor was John Wesley. We need not fall into the Perfect Fallacy the Left loves so much, a vile relativism and passivism that covers up a deep and disgusting hatred of Man and his works in life. Life is tough, and so it is and so what? It's when men like Tyndale and Wesley and others take the field and gather free people around them in a communion of individuals that one can be free within the confines of responsibility to oneself for the good of others. No intercession from the appointed and the privileged and the entitled. Every man is an end entire of himself, and the Church is irrelevant to it. Man is the end in himself. He finds what he can and does what he does, and there is the rest of the world to make sure it works within his abilities if he cares to make it so. For that he must have his freedom to be right or wrong alone. Thanks to Tyndale and Wesley and countless others, many fail daily. It is in the failure we find the Good.

To refer in closing to my favorite Catholic masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange, "What's it going to be then, eh?" Will we be because we will, or will we be because we are programmed until their is no alternative?

The Church is not perfect, and we cannot ask for any such nonsense in the world of Man. To look the other way is to give up our Humanness for nothing good at all, for mere safety in conformity. All to Hell who do nothing from false security.

The story's not over, and the story is one of constant searching for the absolute, the undiscoverable, the search itself being the telos of man. Those who prevent it from happening in the life of man, those who kill the dissenters in the push for submission to the herd, they are the menace of Mankind. Not just Mulisms, but our own, and not just the fascist Left but our own. Honesty even to the point of utter failure and damnation is our best hope. and that path lies in personal freedom to do wrong.