Sunday, March 31, 2013

Is the Pope...

It is a difficult time to be Catholic, we have lived through a time when the leadership of the church has lost its moral compass. For a body that has acts as moral guide to its members this could be a fatal flaw.

And indeed people are leaving the Catholic church in Ireland—once its great bastions—in droves. I suspect though that more people are leaving the church because  a secular  scientific view of the world is becoming the norm. So why endure? Could there by any reason for clinging to a view of the world that includes religion? I think there are.

Now I am far from being a good catholic, and I certainly could not claim to speak for the Church, for example i don't think they would agree with 'lost its moral compass'.


Like gold, Christian teachings  have  central tenets that cannot be tarnished by the hands they pass through.  

A couple of things spring  to mind from what I have to learned from a catholic upbringing. 

First is community; 

 While we all tend to gravitate towards people with similar views and experiences as our own, we are part of a community with young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick. We can, and should, help each other when we can, for the day will likely come when we are the ones who need help.

That's not a call to give to charity by the way. A community based around church gives us a weekly reminder that we are connected to other people whose circumstances are different to our own. This has helped the survival and development of the interconnected society through which we all prosper. We would not have our super-powers without it.

Supporting individuals into old age helped developed the second evolutionary channel because they were able to remember, and tell stories to younger generations, so helpful ideas were able to survive for longer.

We are so used to measuring the world in our day to day experiences that we can forget to look at the evolutionary timescale that we are part of.  For example the Irish Catholic faith I was brought up in has helped my family survive through viking raids, the plague and genocidal famine.

The strength of the Catholic Church in Ireland in the first half of the twentieth century was in part because the church taught farmers not to sub-divide their land, and this allowed at least partial recovery from  the mid-nineteenth century famine that halved the population.

Second is mindfulness;

Mindfulness seems such a modern 'alternative' idea that it is easy to forget that most  religions teach the need for a few  daily  mindful moments, and setting time aside once a week for joining the community in reflection.

Part of the Catholic weekly mass calls on us to make a sign of peace, today the shaking of hands, with our neighbours.  What better way of remembering that an un-natural peace in our communities is essential for the interconnected society that we all rely on for our well being.

We do not learn 'survival of the fittest' where the strongest ape can take all the food they want, though that is as true for us as it is for every other ape. We learn 'though shalt not steal'. We have created a negative word, and set of values which we as communities enforce, for normal animal behaviour.

If you do not think this teaching is essential to getting us where we are today try living without it.

Part of what I was taught was respect for others faiths. In fact I was told that, having studied the bible, respectful reading of the Koran could help deepen our understanding. So I do not claim these values as exclusive to one faith.

Well is the Pope..

My question is whether the new Pope is named after St.Francis of Assisi. Now I know I can search the web for the answer—as I could for the detail of the story I am about to tell. But I prefer to give it from memory.

Once St.Francis of Assisi was sweeping the floor. Someone came and asked him what he would do if he learned that judgement day was at hand, the world was about to end. St.Francis answered that he would carry on sweeping the floor.

What an ideal to aspire to: to be so sure of your place in the great scheme of things that you know you can face eternity knowing you have left nothing undone, and that what you are doing at this moment, no matter how seemingly trivial,  is the right thing to do.

My hope is that ideal is still alive in another two thousand years.

In praise of celibacy

 You won't have to look far for all of the good arguements against celibacy for Priests in the Catholic church, but I think it worth noting one in favour.

In the song about the Irish famine 'Fields of Athenry' there are the lines 'For you stole Trevelyn's corn, So the young might see the morn'. What parent would not do the same? In extreme situations we as individuals will adopt any survival strategies that will protect our offspring. That is how natural selection works.

Yet we depend on un-natural behaviour to sustain a second evolutionary channel which has given us collectively an enormous advantage compared to other animals. Just taking the food that was there at the time of the famine is the natural response. But long term it was the wrong response, there were too many soldiers with guns for one thing. Having men and women without their own starving children to feed gave just enough thinking space to come up with a solution that enabled the community to survive and preserved the values essential to its long term well being.

The community was, I'm sure, much more willing to listen when the men and women teaching this message have no children of their own competing for the same food.

It may be un-natural but men and women who give up having a family themselves, to preserve and pass on the ideas that help our societies thrive, deserve a little understanding.

One last thing

 Again my own memory of christian teachings, rather than looking to the source, tells me that forgiveness is a central part of the christian message.

We all get things wrong, make mistakes, sin. Yet we are not solely defined by what we have done wrong. We can realise our mistakes, say we are sorry, try to make amends, try to do better next time.

That is worth knowing about ourselves, and maybe remembering about the church.

No comments:

Post a Comment