Friday, 25 February 2011

On Friendship and Politics

Dear friends,

Over the last few days, watching events in the Middle East, I've been wondering if this blog is turning into a bit of unholy smoke that distracts us from the events we should really be reflecting on and praying about. Toby observed yesterday in a separate message that "A problem with blogs is that it can make you focus on difference, when nobody would be reading a Catholic blog if they didn't have so much more in common". I really like to believe that's true.

One of the points that most divides us is between the so-called liberals who want to make the Church look a bit like the Coalition Government at its most bland and boring (only with more women in the top jobs), and the so-called conservatives who would seem to want Gadaffi for pope. But I do think that we Catholics increasingly share a sense that, whatever our politics or ecclesial convictions, there are issues of non-violence and human solidarity that unite us. If we can't gather together undivided around Humanae Vitae, can we do so around Pacem in Terris and Caritas in Veritate?

I ask these questions because of the krisis through which we are living. The Greek word krisis is far less negative than our English word 'crisis', for it implies a time of radical and unexpected change which is about opportunities and new beginnings as well as about lost hopes and endings. In that sense, the biblical concept of kairos, which suggests an opening in chronological time to a new configuration of time which is pregnant with urgency and promise, may also be related to krisis.

As the people of the Middle East rise up in the name of freedom, risking their lives for some human possibility that they have briefly glimpsed in the promises of democracy, I wonder why we are so complacent. The loss of British democracy has been compared to the gradual heating of a lobster. Plunge it into boiling water and it screams. Heat it gently and it will fall asleep and die more quietly. (I've never tried this, so don't know if it's true). As Samantha Cameron promotes London fashion week, her husband is off in the Middle East peddling arms. This government is introducing policies that were not in either manifesto, which are clearly aimed at the dismantling of public services and the welfare state, handing over control to the neo-liberal ideologues who got us into this mess in the first place. Both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas agreed with Cicero that 'pestilential statutes ... no more deserve to be called laws than the rules a band of robbers might pass in their assembly'. Augustine referred to the unjust state as 'a band of robbers', and Aquinas argued that 'a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.' When will we realize that we are now governed by a band of robbers?

The West's friends in the Middle East are being toppled one by one as true democracy struggles to emerge, exposing the fact that far from being the friends of worldwide democracy, we are its most subtle and dangerous enemies. And where is our globe-trotting Middle East peacekeeper, Tony Blair, in all this? Perhaps we should be thankful for one small mercy - that he is nowhere to be seen or heard. (Perhaps nobody was willing to pay enough for his opinion).

I have a genuine question: what should Christians do in a time like this? How can our prayers translate into an active presence for freedom and truth in our shattered country and our troubled world? How can we use this krisis and recognise that it is also kairos time?

In the meantime, here is part of today's reading from the Book of Sirach. I recommend it to Colonel Gadaffi,
former President Hosni Mubarak, and Sheikh Nasser of Kuwait, and I dedicate it to Tony Blair and David Cameron:

When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him.
For one sort is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.
Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.
Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self,
and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low, he turns against you
and avoids meeting you.
Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.


  1. Listening to that reading at Mass this morning. Several thoughts struck me, though not down!!
    One was that wisdom thousands of years ago is as true today as it was then. Another was we rarely learn fom wisdom, repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
    Of course todays Gospel is a little more controversial!!
    Ah Tony Blair, such a disappointment, on so many fronts.

  2. This morning was looking at The Contagion of Jesus and I saw that on p.99 was" Lunch with Tina Beattie" and got your blog on the net.I was glad.I love Sebastian's stuff!
    I also read the reading from Ecc. at Mass which I just got to on time after a night watching" riverdance", the flatley one with 4000 other folk. Lovely, but late,so wiped out this morning. But I spent some time wondering what sort of a friend I am to others and that wasn't much of a boost to the ego, I don't mind telling you.
    But as to what that has to do with the corrupt and dictatorial M.E. and African despots is not at once clear to me. But it does seem to me that the decline into despotic and lying authority is all about money. Money equals power and that's what they are all after. Doesn't money isolate people and make them fearful? And there is very little one can do about that except to realise that one must ruthlessly examine one's own attitude to money ALL the time.
    Of course, the authority of the Church is not immune to this and so we have seen over the last few years. I think it would be good if we tried the Ecc. reading very seriously and demanded absolute openness in the use of Church money, Govt. money and our own money.And, of course, let us love one another. Phew!
    Thank you for the blog, I just bort 2 of your books. I hope it was a wise expenditure. More power to your elbow!
    Best wishes from Africa
    Des O'Regan

  3. Postmodernists challenged the twenty-first century to "brace itself for a life without truths, standards and ideals" (Z. Bauman. Postmodernity and its Discontents 1997: ix)
    In 1910, C.G.Jung wrote to Sigmund Freud:
    "Only the wise are ethical from sheer intellectual presumption, the rest of us need the eternal truth of myth" (M. Stein. Jung on Evil, 1995: 25)
    The intensity of feeling, the "unholy smoke that distracts us" is perhaps one symptom of the quest for a unifying religious experience.

    Has the current situation in the Middle East been partly the result of modern technology- tiny videos, digital cameras, mobile phones, 24 hour News?
    "How can our prayers translate into an active presence for freedom and truth...?"
    Let us continue to actively use the media and modern technology. Support those with access and the knowledge and charisma to express this longing for friendship and unity.
    The yearning for progress is a form of spirituality, regardless of doctrinal differences.

  4. I've sent a question to the last blog. It moved on before I had a chance. Too busy buttering scones and polishing pews!

  5. Toby. Some of us have come here through InterFaith groups. We like reading a catholic blog in the broad sense of the word. We read and try to understand the sibling rivalry amongst Roman Catholics, Protestants etc. We look for overarching theology that unites, not divides. We have RC Traddies and Liberals in our group as well as other faiths and our accord is remarkable. We manage to get along.

  6. BBC 4 SUNDAY programme today (27/2) debates issues raised in this post plus reference to Archbishop Basil Hume on intervention/just war. The Archbishop directed the question to Aquinas.

    If readers are wondering about Tina's question "What should Christians do...". Emailing the SUNDAY programme with views is one practical move. Replay of today's edtion available soon on iPlayer.

  7. Anyone interested in Lawrence England's reply see:


    Ethics in a Changing World
    Helena Kennedy QC
    3 March 2011 6-9pm
    School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
    Register at :
    Tel: 020 7898 4013

  9. @Anonymous
    Lawrence England's blog falls rather far short of the standard of theological discussion I hope this website might nurture. Nevertheless, here's the link for those who enjoy his undoubtedly entertaining postings.

    Caritas in Veritate has a significant weakness in my opinion, insofar as it affirms Humanae Vitae and conflates the distinction between the Church's social teaching and moral teaching, which ultimately must be a move in the right direction if the life of faith is to be integrated. However, while Catholic social teaching uses inductive reasoning and allows itself to learn from and adapt to historical circumstances (the Church does not appeal for a return to Thomas Aquinas's medieval politics), its moral teaching is deductive and appeals to timeless and abstract norms. Thus human sexuality is removed from all historical contingency and cultural and psychological contextualisation, and serious questions to do with women's reproductive well-being are obscured in veils of romanticism and moral idealism. So Caritas in Veritate suffers from a significant weakness insofar as it offers a highly idealised vision of the family and reproduction, while making no mention of maternal mortality, domestic violence or the significant ways in which poverty afflicts the well-being of women. To write an encyclical on economics and human flourishing without even mentioning these most obvious ways in which poverty and exploitation impact upon women's lives suggests a significant lacuna.

    A serious and informed theological approach requires that we debate these questions, rather than flinging insults and anecdotes at one another across the blogosphere. We should be able to have that kind of dialogue without bullying one another into total conformity with teachings which have always grounded themselves in natural law and the use of reason, and which therefore invite informed and intelligent scrutiny.

    Best wishes,

  10. @des O'Regan
    Hello Des,

    Many thanks for this. Yes, that reading also raises uncomfortable questions about personal friendships - and it made me hugely thankful for those rare and enduring friendships which survive the onslaughts of life. I linked it to the politics of the Middle East in the context of my observations about the ways in which the West uses corrupt leaders - i.e. befriends them - to promote its own interests, often in ways which militate against democracy. And then those same 'friends' are very quickly dropped when the political scene shifts.

    Best wishes,

  11. Tina. Please take up this opportunity to gather around Caritas in Veritate:

  12. I think prayer is the very best that we can do (even though it's a test of faith to think that it will work) and to support charities working in these areas, particularly Aid to the Church in Need and CAFOD.

    When we try and meddle we almost inevitably get it wrong. Those "neo-cons" who back armed intervention are damned if they do and damned if they don't; whilst nobody for a moment seems to question the right of the West to meddle economically in the countries. Democracy won't work without a respect for minorities otherwise in some of these countries it will just equal we vote 4-1 to give the 1 no rights.

    Re some of the comments in the article about the present Coalition I don't think "robbing" is exclusive to it. As somebody who works in a law firm, I can say that the Labour years were wonderful for law firms with ill-conceived legislation increasing compliance costs (of no value to the purchaser) such that profits increased during every dip in the economy for other sectors, and providing an ever increasing bar to entry into the market for small businesses. I would also argue that the sign of a successful Welfare State in a country with a good economy, healthcare and plentiful food, would be fewer people needing it, not an ever-increasing number of people treating it as an entitlement. There is a dignity in working to provide for oneself, or gratitude in the case of mendicants, that an entitlement mentality does not provide. Whilst I do not agree with many areas of Government policy IDS's welfare reforms are a product of serious reflection and study and informed by Catholic Social Teaching and will ultimately I feel be very beneficial.

    I don't place much faith in a global economy based on capitalism but not informed by Christian values. Caritas in Veritate merits some serious reflection, and I've become increasingly interested in distributism.


  13. Tina

    "Lawrence England's blog falls rather far short of the standard of theological discussion I hope this website might nurture."

    This is a sure sign Lawrence made some excellent points and you are in a temper about it. The rest of your reply shows strong influences from the Modernist heresies of Alfred Loisy, George Tyrell et al and is not Catholic in the slightest. Anyone interested in following it up read the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis by Pius X on the link below. He gives chapter and verse on it's deadly consequences and why it's fatally flawed:

    Anyone interested in finding out about the the history of the Modernist heresy read this book by Phillip Trower (an Anglican convert). It's excellent:

    Perhaps Tina in your next blog post you could read Pascendi and tell us all where it's wrong.


  14. How much do we spend on war?
    Please read this-
    "The health service spends £29 million on hospital chaplains who provide "no clinical benefit" according to a report by the National Secular Society (NSS)
    The hospital chaplain benefited me after an op with complications , maybe botched.
    He gave me hope and a purpose.
    Years ago Tony Benn and Bruce Kent said that manufacturing and selling arms will inevitably lead to using them.

  15. I'm typing this in an Internet cafe run by churches. The proceeds pay for a youth worker shared by the different Christian denominations. The volumteers today are 2 RCs, 1 United Reformed and a Methodist minister. The little boy, just come to the PC next to me after school,is upset because the "lady " in the nearby library told him to colour his picture next time he brought one in. He says his home has no crayons. This is the reality.

    Catholic Blogosphere-WHY ARSE ON ABOUT ENCYCLICALS AND CATECHISMS AND LITURGY. Tina,thank you for this chance to comment on the real world. Not only do some of us have no computer, some have no books and even no crayons.

  16. Saint David, teacher and ascetic:
    'Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil'.
    Last month we were supplying arms and advice to Libya, now there is talk of intervention.

    On studying correct liturgy etc. isn't there something in scripture about "blind guides" and "straining at gnats"?
    Is BJC a composite pseudonym perhaps? The quality of writing fluctuates.
    Do the letters stand for "Blogging for Jesus Christ"? If so, it's not the Jesus Christ I know.

    "What can Christians do?" says Tina.
    My suggestion-
    1. Read "A Judgement in Stone"- short fictional story by Ruth Rendell on the decline of an illiterate person leading to deep unhappiness and criminality.
    2. Moved by real insight into the destructive effects of poor education offer to sit with local adult literacy classes.
    BJC, instead of asking people to read fancy books, why not use your time teaching someone in your locality to read?
    Sometimes you show a gift of fluent writing. Read Susan Hill's "A Kind Man" for what can happen when a gift is misused.
    Incidentally, have you read Tina's books? I'm thinking St. David, Teacher, might be prompting you to try them.


    Good question. Well for one thing it will enable you to spot false teachers and false teachings (like some of what Tina writes); and secondly it will make you a more effective evangelist. We cannot pass on what we do not know and if we are always stuck for answers when people ask difficult questions we are not going to be effective witnesses of the gospel.


    Temper, temper. As regards reading material I think the first thing we have to ask ourselves as Catholics is, is this in accordance with the teachings of the Church?. If it isn't I wouldn't touch it. Tina makes no secret of her heterodox views so therefore it would follow I wouldn't read her stuff.

    Incidentally, for anyone interested in the Catholic feminist movement the best book on the subject is Ungodly Rage by Donna Steichen. See below for the link. Its quite an eye opener. Its wreaked havoc with the church in America and has ambitions over here.


  18. Hurrah!
    I'm going to live long enough to see change in the Church, especially regarding the role of women. You see "Higher education helps you live longer". The greatest health benefits are amongst those with Master's degrees and doctorates and are stronger for women.
    BMC Public Health Report

  19. Parts of the Church in America seem to be in turmoil indeed. Stirred up by nuns that
    1 Want to be Priests, yet despise men.
    2 Are pro abortion so would seem to despise the young too.
    3 Spend more time writing about politics in the NCR than praying. In fact I wonder if they ever do.
    But we can thank God that they are a dying breed. Rapidly being replaced by younger, vibrant communities of Traditional Sisters. A trend replicated in the male of the species by
    orders of Monks.
    "She who marries the spirit of the age is soon a widow". The same, of course applies to men.

  20. For Anon. 1 March. 19.10pm2 March 2011 at 08:38

    "Stirred up by nuns..." ?

    'Sister Maria Jesus Galan had 600 Facebook friends. She liked to communicate with them, to spread good news.
    However, her Facebook habit has lost her something very dear--her habit.
    Galan, you see, spent 35 years inside the Santo Domingo el Real convent in Toledo, Spain. It's an introspective place that doesn't encourage its nuns to have too much contact with the outside world.
    The convent allowed a computer into its midst 10 years ago.
    Sister Maria saw the future that this computer offered. She digitized the Dominican convent's archives. The computer also offered more mundane assistance.
    "It enabled us do things such as banking online and saved us having to make trips into the city".
    The local government even gave her a prize for her digital initiatives. Oh, but with the prize came the fame. She began to collect more friends on her Facebook page. It seems, though, that this made her enemies within her own walls.
    Her fellow nuns reportedly claimed that Sister Maria's Facebook activity "made life impossible." She was therefore asked to leave and now lives with her mother.
    The Dominican order has refused to comment on Sister Maria's departure. However, her Facebook page is overflowing with sympathy. Some posters tell her that now that she has her freedom, she can travel to places like Australia. Some declare themselves sad that she was the victim of such an injustice.
    Jose Maria Blanco Jimenez, for example, wrote: "Even though I am an agnostic, I respect your beliefs, and if you have dedicated 35 years of your life to this order, it is very bad that they treated you this way."
    Another poster, Gerry Livingstone, offered: "They don't deserve you and you don't need them!"
    It seems rather sad that, in an era in which the Vatican has a YouTube channel and the iPhone a rosary app, there are still people within the Church who might not feel comfortable with the comforts technology can bring'.

    It's possible, of course, that she had become obsessive which is always a danger. An injustice? Or a warning on the addictive properties of social networking?

    On this post's topic, Prof. Mona Siddiqui's comment on Radio 4. Well worth asking for a transcript.

  21. Thank you to Laurence for this which I went to via Tina's link (liberals are now banned from commenting directly I believe). I have taken the liberty to copy his caring article (shortened and edited for sarcastic bit).

    "--- Tina said, Caritas in Veritate is something we can all agree on. Well, the bits about social justice anyway. Diocesan Justice and Peace Co-ordinator! This is your big moment! Round up the team.
    The Archbishop is giving a seminar at the London School of Economics 'Forum in Religion' public lecture on Wednesday 2 March 2011. What a marvelous opportunity."

    See you there (if its not too late)
    Cheers Laurence.

  22. Re: Women's World Day of Prayer.
    Social Justice and Women (50% of the human population).

    When the venue is a church whose incumbent does not accept the ordination of women should it be boycotted to make a statement? (In my case girlcotted).
    From Aldo Maria Valli's Italian language book "La Verita Del Papa" (Valli is the Vatican "expert" for Italian TV network RAI, speaking last week)
    The language seems archaic. Perhaps it is a poor translation:

    “With great simplicity our Pope indicates that truth exists and that if it isn’t sought it’s not possible to be fully men, that man has this longing and that if this desire is denied part of him is amputated.”

    You don't have to be a Freudian female to feel offended by this.

  23. Audio recording and text of last night's talk at the LSE by Archbishop Nichols now available online. Anyone ready to comment?

  24. @Info.
    Archbishop Nichols gave an excellent talk at LSE. It was a fine example of how Catholics can engage in an intelligent and credible way with a secular academic audience without compromising their own beliefs but without antagonising and alienating their audiences either.It was also an example of how British secular academia is becoming more hospitable and open to theological and religious perspectives. We should welcome such hospitality and should rise to the intellectual challenge of being willing to discuss our faith in an informed, reasoned and courteous debate. Archbishop Nichols showed us how this can be done, and his handling of questions afterwards was also very skillful. I'd recommend listening to the audio recording.


  25. Tina. The recording does not include the questions, at least the audio I found. It would be good to know what sort of issues came up. I'll keep looking.


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.