Monday, 26 January 2015

Vera and Edith

As Zero and I walked down Victoria Street after seeing the film Testament of Youth recently, I observed that I thought Vera Brittain had a somewhat similar personality to that of Edith Stein. They both enjoyed a certain severity of character combined with a capacity to feel very deeply. And as I made this observation, I realised that the similarity extended to them both being very determined young women, in particular with regard to their academic desires. Oh, and do see the film - it is very beautifully made and striking in its portrayal of characters and events.

I later remembered that Edith had also volunteered as a nurse during the First World War, though her experience in that regard was significantly different than that of Vera. Their motivations for volunteering, though, were quite similar - a certain restrained patriotism and a sense that they could not do otherwise when people they knew were serving in their respective armed forces. Edith, like Vera, also lost friends to the war, perhaps most notably Adolf Reinach.

Edith and Vera were contemporaries in another sense, too. They both embarked upon university studies when there were still barriers to women in academia. Edith was blocked from habilitation at Gottingen because she was a woman, prompting a strong letter on her part to the minister of education at the time. That resulted in a letter to German universities pointing out that being a woman was not a barrier to habilitation, too late to help Edith. Somewhat analogously, Vera began her studies at Oxford at a time when women could study at the university, but not actually take the degrees they earned there.

At the time when their lives were most alike, Edith shared a lack of religious belief (against the background of her Jewish family) with Vera.

By the time I had recognised these parallels between Vera and Edith, certainly as far as their younger lives were concerned, I remembered something else.

Just as Vera had written a memoir - Testament of Youth - Edith had also written a memoir - Life in a Jewish Family - though its account is cut short in 1916, a result of Edith's arrest by the Germans in August 1942. Though the motivation for writing was very different for the two, nevertheless the timescale covered and a certain similarity of experience makes them kindred texts.

So, not having read Vera Brittain's book before seeing the film, I am now engaged in a parallel reading of Testament of Youth and Life in a Jewish Family.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The right to blaspheme - a new right for France?

Isabelle de Gaulmyn has an interesting observation following the recent attacks in France: Le droit au blasphème, nouveau droit français?

Her post points out that one cannot accuse a person who does not hold to a particular religious belief of blasphemy against that religion - blasphemy is a concept that can only apply to those who hold the religion that has been so offended. In pluralist societies the notion of blasphemy does not make any sense in positive law or in a discussion of public rights. Ms Gaulmyn ends her post as follows:
Drôle de glissement qui sous prétexte de ne pas reconnaitre un traitement de faveur aux religions, leur inflige un régime particulier, et qui protégerait l’injure au prétexte qu’elle concerne le religieux. Le droit de critiquer et de débattre existe en France pour toute institution, et donc aussi pour les religions. Et c’est heureux ! Mais celui d’insulter n‘est pas plus recevable pour les religions que pour la politique ou la culture, par exemple. Ce n’est d’ailleurs pas seulement une question de droit. Mais simplement de vivre ensemble…
[It is a funny notion which, under the pretext of not recognising a special treatment for religions, imposes on them a specific regime, which will protect insult on the grounds that it is about religion. The right of challenge and of debate exists in France for all institutions, and therefore also for religions. And it is as well! But the right to insult is no more acceptable for religions than it is for politics or culture, for example. It is not only a question of right. But simply of being able to live together ....]
It is worth reading some of the comments on the post too. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Will they never be satisfied?

Even when Pope Francis preaches Humanae Vitae ...... see here to gain an understanding of the context, or here for in-depth analysis, and the original text here (scroll quite a long way down); here (again, scroll down to find the paragraph referring to Paul VI)...... and don't forget the meeting with the association of large families in December (here) ......... they can't be satisfied.

H/T Jackie Parkes for the image

Monday, 19 January 2015

Paris, Francis, Dave, NIck and Eric - a retrospective for Charlie

With the passage of time since the events in Paris, and the on-going discussion in the news media and among political leaders, it has become possible to ask more searching questions about the extent to which the right to freedom of expression extends.

I think, for example, that to see the overwhelming response of the French people (and others) in the huge march through Paris and in other gatherings throughout the country, as being in support of freedom of expression understood as the freedom to give offence may be an oversimplification. There was a moving account in the BBC Radio 4 coverage of the march of a Muslim family who had brought along buckets and buckets of white roses (one suspects they ran a florists shop!) to give out to those they met at the march; and of the Jewish marcher who, receiving a flower, then embraced the family as "selfies" were taken. What were their motivations? Anxiety about the freedom of Charlie Hebdo to give offence or an anxiety for friendship with their neighbour? I suspect that an intuition in favour of reconciliation played a part for many; and an intuition in favour of a freedom in the face of, not so much terrorism, as a style of totalitarianism that Islamist terrorism represents.

The statement issued by SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, articulated a motivation in favour of freedom as it condemned the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and placed that attack against a wider background:
As communicators we reaffirm our commitment to work for a culture of peace which respects the life and dignity of everyone. We also reiterate our support for the fundamental principle of freedom of expression and for all those journalists around the world who face the threat of death or injury in carrying out their profession.
We call on all people of good will to join together to help build a world where those of all cultures and faiths may live and work together in peace.
Pope Francis was perhaps in a unique position among world leaders to be able to  draw attention to the limits that should apply to freedom of expression. His "punch" was very widely reported. In summary, though the law might not proscribe actions that are gratuitously and cynically offensive, and that as a matter of prudence in the protection of the right of freedom of expression, nevertheless those who publish materials or speak have a responsibility to conduct themselves with a respect towards the beliefs of others. Blog-by-the-Sea captures much of this: Free Speech and Respect for Diverse Religious Beliefs (and follow her first link to a Yahoo News livestream of how news organisations have reacted after the Paris attacks).

I don't think Nick Clegg and David Cameron have really understood the issue involved. I heard the former on Radio 4 speak in terms of a "right to give offence"; and more recently the latter has spoken on American TV of a "right to cause offence about someone's religion" in a free society, and that in such a society we have to accept that "newspapers, magazines can publish materials that are offensive to some, so long as it is within the law". Their far too ready assimilation of the right to freedom of expression to a right to give offense is unhelpful to say the least. Equally unhelpful is the unstated presumption that it is the law of the land that defines the boundaries of the rights accruing to the human person.

[See also Catholic Voices reply to some of the UK news media coverage of David Cameron's remarks, and of Pope Francis' original words as mediated by that coverage: David Cameron's missed opportunity to agree with Pope Francis.]

Eric Pickles letter to Muslim leaders has received criticism. It strikes me as being somewhat patronising - and arrogant at the same time. "British values are Muslim values".... err, no, if British values include the right to give religious offense as propounded by the leaders of our coalition government. The letter clearly shows a lack of appreciation of how a religious faith will view its relationship to wider society and to the instruments of state.

What I think Nick, Dave and Eric need to give far more thought to is exactly how the relationship between religion and a free society is to be articulated, be that at the level of the individual religious believer who might be "radicalised" (their term, not mine) or at the level of religious communities as a whole. And so far, I don't think they have even recognised the question.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Pope Francis in Sri Lanka and the Philippines

I have not been able to follow Pope Francis journey to Sri Lanka and the Philippines as closely as I would have liked.

Catholic News Agency have good coverage at their page dedicated to the visit: Pope in Sri Lanka and the Philippines 2015 , Pope in Sri Lanka - Latest News and Pope in Philippines - Latest News . The Vatican website has a page dedicated to the visit, though the links to the English language texts from this page are not complete at the time of my posting: Apostolic Journey to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

As I often suggest, I think it is valuable to read the original sources, and to read them whole not in part. One can often find that the headline picked out by one or other media outlet fails to do justice to the whole and, indeed, sometimes misrepresents the very point that it picks out.

There is a full transcript of the questions and answers with journalists on the flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines here, for example. The items that have caught my attention from this interview:

The answer to the question about the forthcoming encyclical on man's relationship with the created world: I was struck by the range of consultation behind the encyclical, by the reference to the writings of Patriarch Bartholomew and Romano Guardini and by the issues of deforestation and lack of crop rotation cited as examples that Pope Francis has considered. There does not seem to me to be anything here indicating the kind of adherence to climate change as an ideology that has been decried by much of the speculative media coverage of the forthcoming encyclical.

Pope Francis' response to being given an image of St Therese of Lisieux: this is at the end of the interview, and reported more fully by Abbey Roads here with a link to CNA News/EWTN.

Pope Francis' reply to a question about a commission for truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, following the civil strife there: It is fascinating to read Pope Francis' account of his meeting with the President of Sri Lanka, of how the President spoke of creating "harmony in the people" and of his affirmation that "we must touch peoples hearts" to achieve peace. It reminded me of Pope Francis influence for peace in the Middle East in meeting with the President of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Territories.

Catholic News Agency are carrying a report of Pope Francis' address during a meeting with families in Manila (though with a mistranslation which uses the word "professors" where the original text is "confessors") under the title Paul VI was right to warn against contraception, Pope Francis says. This report highlights Pope Francis' praise for Pope Paul VI's teaching in Humanae Vitae. An unremarked aspect of the controversial-for-some relatios of last October's Synod was the clear presumption in favour of the teaching of Humanae Vitae, with no suggestion being made that that teaching should be overturned. The full text of Pope Francis' address is at the Vatican website, and reading that text, the following passage also struck me. Pope Francis was speaking in the context of the way in which St Joseph was twice guided in his dreams by angels:
I am very fond of dreams in families. For nine months every mother and father dream about their baby. Am I right? [Yes!] They dream about what kind of child he or she will be... You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies. So I ask you each evening, when you make your examination of conscience, to also ask yourselves this question: Today did I dream about my children’s future? Today did I dream about the love of my husband, my wife? Did I dream about my parents and grandparents who have gone before me? Dreaming is very important. Especially dreaming in families. Do not lose this ability to dream!
How many difficulties in married life are resolved when we leave room for dreaming, when we stop a moment to think of our spouse, and we dream about the goodness present in the good things all around us. So it is very important to reclaim love by what we do each day. Do not ever stop being newlyweds!

Isn't Pope Francis just wonderful!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A brief thought on Charlie

Some Catholic comment has argued that, from a Catholic point of view, "on n'est pas Charlie": see here, for an example.

In quite a thoughtful way, and responding to much the same evidence base as those who have argued that they are not Charlie,  Humblepiety answered the question Je suis Charlie? in the affirmative.

This post at First Things also gives some insight into how the French themselves have reacted to the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo: My Life with Charlie Hebdo. It is also interesting to read the message to the Catholics of Paris published today by Archbishop Vingt-Trois, published here at La Croix.

At one level, the discussion can be held at the level of the legislation in force in a country. Charlie Hebdo 's cartoons are, by all accounts, quite offensive to those who practice the Catholic faith in France as much as some of them have been to Muslims. But a country where the language of religious offense has been enshrined in positive law is Pakistan .... where the blasphemy law does in effect lead to very significant religious persecution of both Muslims and those who live out other religious beliefs.

In the more secular countries of the developed world, the language is that of discrimination and protected characteristics, with actions that disadvantage someone who manifests a protected characteristic being the subject of civil or criminal sanction. There is also a category of legal provision with regard to harassment and the giving of offence. The risk with this situation is that reasonable manifestation of an opinion differing from the prevailing social consensus can be construed as harassment or offence thereby particularly restricting freedom of religious expression in (relatively speaking) secularised societies.

My own thoughts on the question have focussed on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration reads:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The presumption of much of the discussion about Charlie Hebdo has been that the material it publishes falls under this provision of freedom of expression, understood as conveying a right to say and publish pretty much anything that one wishes - regardless. I am not sure that the specification of the right contained in the last clause of Article 19 does in fact convey such a right.

Article 12 of the Declaration reads, with italics added to indicate the element of the Article relevant to the present discussion:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
In the light of Article 18's assertion of the right to freedom of belief and practice for both individuals and communities, I would suggest that attacks upon the honour and reputation of a religious community would equate to attacks upon the honour and reputation of the individuals who are members of that community and so fall under the provision of Article 12. [This is reinforced by recalling that the immediate historical context of the UN Declaration was the events of the Second World War and the Nazi persecution of Jews and other minority communities.] Understood in this way, Article 12 provides a boundary within which the freedom of expression asserted in Article 19 should be exercised. Catholic commentators are, in effect, suggesting that the material published by Charlie Hebdo goes beyond this boundary in attacking the honour and reputation of members of religious communities.

The significance of considering the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that the rights enshrined there arise from the nature of the human person; they are, in the words of the preamble to the Declaration, "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family". The positive law of a country does not convey those rights; rather, it should protect them. In addition, the language of the Declaration is not that of a particular religious community that, when projected into positive law, undermines the freedom of others; and neither is it the language of a secularised liberalism that risks undermining genuine freedom of expression of information and ideas.

Certainly those who were killed in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo were subject to a breach of Article 3 of the UN Declaration, which asserts the right of everyone to life, liberty and security of the person. Those who carried out the attack committed a quite heinous crime against the human persons of their victims.

But, though a certain allowance has to be made for the particular genre of journalism that comes under the heading of "satirical journalism" and that, of its nature, gives rise to some degree of offense when you are yourself its particular target (cf the reaction of Eve-Alice Roustang linked above), one can debate whether or not Charlie Hebdo is an authentic representative of the freedom of expression as articulated in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Oui, on est Charlie (cf Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme Article 3), mais - peut-etre oui, peut-etre non - en meme temps, peut etre on n'est pas Charlie (cf Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme Article 12).

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life (3): consecration as a specification of baptismal grace

Let me start this post with a couple of anecdotes. From time to time I attend Mass at St Patrick's Soho Square. On one such occasion, having been asked to do one of the readings, I noticed that those asked to do the second reading and bidding prayers were, like me, using Magnificat to aid their participation in the liturgy. From time to time, I am sure that I share the experience of others in meeting a Catholic who has a more than typical awareness of (not the same as perfection in, I hasten to add!) what is involved in living a Christian life. Enquiry not infrequently reveals that they have gained that awareness from participation in the life of one or other of the new ecclesial movements. On the one hand this suggests a certain inadequacy in parish life that is in itself unable to form such stronger Christian living; but on the other hand, rather than necessarily indicating an inadequacy, it indicates that a certain "more" is needed for a vivid living of a Christian life.

The primary consecration of the faithful, and that which is most represented by parish life in its celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, is that of the sacraments of initiation. As Lumen Gentium n.10 (cf also  Apostolicam Actuositatem n.3 in particular reference to baptism and confirmation as the basis of the office of the lay person in the Church) teaches:
Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people "a kingdom and priests to God the Father". The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.
We can suggest that this baptismal/confirmational consecration represents a seed that needs to grow throughout a subsequent living of the Christian life, and that it therefore requires a "more" in order to achieve its fruition. That "more" can be expressed, and is lived, in many different ways in the life of the Church; but what each of those ways has in common is that they are in some way a more specific manifesting or expressing of the consecration first received in baptism and confirmation. In the anecdote above, that particular specification of baptismal/confirmational consecration comes about through experience of the charism of an ecclesial movement. When Pope Francis, and his predecessors, speak of the need for a "personal, living relationship with Christ" they too are speaking of a greater specification of the original consecration of baptism and confirmation which do, indeed, themselves involve a relationship with Christ. Marian consecration is to be understood in this way, too, as is the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" of the Charismatic Renewal.

The consecration, as consecration, represented by the profession of the evangelical counsels is one manner, with a particular excellence, of this specific living of the consecration first received in baptism and confirmation. Speaking of religious life, Lumen Gentium n.44, says:
Indeed through Baptism a person dies to sin and is consecrated to God. However, in order that he may be capable of deriving more abundant fruit from this baptismal grace, he intends, by the profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church, to free himself from those obstacles, which might draw him away from the fervor of charity and the perfection of divine worship. By his profession of the evangelical counsels, then, he is more intimately consecrated to divine service.