Saturday, January 26, 2008

may they be one

Last springtime, I walked into the Anglican parish church in the draughty old fen. It was the first time since my early teens that I'd attended a liturgy that wasn't Roman Catholic (the term non-Catholic annoys me, its exclusion is so inclusive).

The last time had been for a nephew's Baptism at the local Church of Scotland. I'd never seen an altar without candles before, or experienced a Service made up forthe most part of preaching - to which the congregation listened raptly! In a typical RC church, if the priest dare preach a homily (sermon) that lasts more than 7-8 minutes then people start shuffling, bulletins are conspicuously read, and cases of acute bronchitis spring up all over the place.

Anyway, as I walked through the old wooden doors, all at once several things didn't happen: there was no lightning-storm, the floor didn't swallow me up, angels failed to weep, and nobody ran about in a panic because a left-footer had entered their midst. I found - just as I find in my RC church in Cantabrigia - a gentle, well-paced liturgy with an intelligent sermon and pauses just long enough to let the gravity and joy of what the celebration is about sink in.

The disagreement between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches on the validity or otherwise of Anglican orders was brought to a head in 1896 when Pope Leo XIII published Apostolicae Curae "derecognising" Anglican orders; the penultimate paragraph states that the contents of the encyclical "are and shall be always valid and in force and shall be inviolably observed". The reply from Canterbury, prepared under Archbishop Edward Benson and published by his successor, Archbishop Frederick Temple, all but ends no less thunderously: "that error, which is inveterate in the Roman communion, of substituting the visible head for the invisible Christ, will rob his [Pope Leo's] good works of any fruit of peace."

Arguably, there may have been a perception in Rome that the fallout of the ritualist controversy that troubled Victorian Anglicanism may have caused more to follow in the steps of John Henry Newman, and that Apostolicae Curae might be both the stick and the carrot that would aid individuals to "cross the Tiber". So we then had the curiously-shaped triangle whereby the Roman Catholic Church recognised the orders of most of the Eastern churches (despite the split of 1054 not being due to political and other relations but to a fundamental difference regarding the nature of the Holy Trinity Itself), the Eastern churches recognised the orders of the Anglican Communion, but the Roman Catholic church did not recognisethe orders of the Anglican Communion. Convert the terms into x, y and z, and the resulting equation would give an algebraist apoplexy.

Things have not stayed so, thank God. In the RC church we had the Second Vatican Council, which today is unfortunately infamous for changes in the church which many see as not for the best, but blame for which cannot be fairly laid at its door...but that's another story. Para 13 of 1964's Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism) states that "among those [Communions separated from the Holy See] in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place". Shortly after the Council was closed, Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited Pope Paul VI and they composed a joint declaration, summarised by one particular passage:

This encounter of 23 March 1966 marks a new stage in the development of fraternal relations, based upon Christian charity, and of sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and re-establish unity.

The favour was returned when Pope John Paul II knelt in prayer with Archbishop Runcie in Canterbury Cathedral.

A continuing dialogue between the Anglican Communion and and the Roman Catholic church has been maintained bu ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) I and II and IARCCUM.

Unfortunately, this dialogue has slowed almost to a stall because of Rome's opposition to the ordination of women. Since many of those Catholics who still hold Apostolicae Curae as infallible are also against the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion this opposition is unusual, as by their lights Anglican orders are invalid anyway. But an interesting footnote occurred in 1994 when the Anglican Bishop Graham Leonard converted to Catholicism and was "conditionally ordained" following a statement by Cardinal Hume voicing "prudent doubt concerning the invalidity of priestly ordination received by an individual Anglican minister".

Like many Anglican priests, Fr Graham was converting in protest at the ordination of women. As the point where the case against female bishops becomes unanswerable, perhaps Rome sees the Tiber as swimmable once more. So we have the situation where male clerics who are opposed to female ordinations become Roman Catholics, sometimes on that single issue alone, which sets back the cause for the ordination of women and married cradle Catholics, but strengthens the supporters of the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion and weakens them in the RC church.

Personally, I hope to see a day in the Roman Catholic Church when gender or marital status will not be a barrier to ordination. I do not say this lightly, because the Pope says otherwise: and if you're a Roman Catholic, then it's a basic tenet of how you practice your faith that you try to be obedient to the Pope.

On the other hand, supporters of the Priestly Society of [Pope] St Pius X (SSPX), who hear Mass according to the Tridentine Rite, have an interesting take on obedience. They say obedience (an evangelical counsel) to Papal authority must be at the service of faith (a theological virtue).

Someday, maybe Rome will listen to the many of us who yearn for equality of all sorts in the Church. It has always been a listening and responding organization - for example, the Council of Trent, first convened in 1545, addressed the challenges raised by the Reformation; Pope Leo XIII (of Apostolicae Curae fame) wrote Rerum Novarum in 1891 to propose a middle way between communism and unbridled capitalism - and, of course, the Apostles found a middle way between the differing evangelical needs of Jewish and Gentile converts to the incipient Christian church in the Council of Jerusalem of Acts 15.

Late last year, I went to an Advent Fair in the draughty old fen in the village centre. Both the Rector, who voluntarily lives as a single person, and her Curate, who attended with her young family, were present. I am sure that the gift each of them gives to the community, which is not fixed to their priesthood as a necessary condition of it, is all the more valuable for having been freely chosen.

Perhaps the last word, for now, belongs to the final paragraph of the Benson/Temple reply to Leo XIII:

God grant that, even from this controversy, may grow fuller knowledge of the truth, greater patience, and a broader desire for peace, in the Church of Christ the Savior of the world.

an exile returns

Today being Burns' Night, I thought it would be a good time to tell this tale.

Recently, I received an invitation at very short notice to attend a friend's birthday party in my home town of Glasgow so, attached as I am to the draughty old fen, I took the train north.

After the party, I stayed with another friend. Fr Jim had enjoyed the do, but had been working all day beforehand in his parish, in an area burdened with multiple deprivations. He'd intended to write a sermon for a Requiem the next morning but was too tired, and after some perfunctory conversation went to bed.

Fr Jim put some notes together upon rising early, and delivered a powerful, heartfelt sermon in celebration of a lady who had died young after a life that some parishioners felt was contrary to Gospel values as they saw them. She was mourned by eight family and friends before the Council took her body on its last journey to the crematorium.

While Jim was away, I talked with some of his parishioners in the presbytery - it was good to be reminded of classic Glaswegian working-class humour, whereby people express their affection by lobbing sometimes volcanic volleys of abuse at each other.

Upon Jim's return, we talked for a long time and one could detect hints of the sadness, loneliness and fatigue that clerics sometimes seem susceptible to, no matter their denomination. It was good to see that some infamous barriers were being broken down: the local Church of Scotland minister includes children from Jim's parish in groups that he takes from Cameroon, and Jim says he admires this man's ability to to risk trusting people to act for the best.

Saying my goodbyes, I took a long walk through the "toon". I ended up in the area where I was born and spent many years in, a place much like Jim's parish. Superficially, it was much changed. I had played a small part in this, having been for some time a member of the management committee of the local Housing Asociation.

As what is now called a "Registered Social Landlord", it was our duty to give priority to people with the highest housing need. But we saw the skewing effect that filling vacant lets with individuals and families who desperately needed housing was having on the area, afflicted as many were with the problems that are often concomitant with having difficulty maintaining tenancies. Our response was to break our own rules by empowering our Director, at her own discretion, to allow more stable families with members in employment to jump the queue so that residents facing seemingly insurmountable challenges could look to role-models within their own community.

We managed to finalise a deal to demolish rundown tenements in an infamous street and put up "aspirational" houses that people would want to stay in when they got jobs instead of leaving the area to be replaced by other tenants with problems they, and the community, would have difficulties in overcoming. In the end, however, the people who had made the area infamous when they were decanted from their tenements made it infamous again when they moved into their nice new homes.

It was, in the end, arrogant of us to presume that we could build up a community with little more than bricks, mortar and double glazing. Troubled societies need to be built up person by person, family by family. Many need help to surmount their challenges by, for example, pressurising corner-shop off-licences to restrict their hours and stocks of superstrength cider and lager; helping stop reluctant collusion with criminals by including Crimestoppers details in newsletters; and making sure that the Police know that hostility is not the only emotion directed towards them when they enter the area. And, although it is necessary to accept a realistic share of responsibility for one's situation, it should be noted that much of the societal problems in areas like mine's and Fr Jim's became entrenched at a time when influential economists seemed to opine that unemployment would be a valid strategic tool to control interest rates; but it should also be noted that these economists never actually said that a certain rate of unemployment was acceptable. Additionally, I do not believe it insignificant that at this time people were dropping out of churches' congregations in order to pursue means of satisfaction that were more immediate and more visible - and more dangerous in every sense.

I popped briefly into my old church, and saw that it had reduced it's size so that the top third could house a hall where functions relevant to the present community's needs could be met. The old shop had been converted to a parent-and-child area, and the noticeboard contained fliers with details of councillors and the local MP and MSP.

After leaving the church. I cought sight of the former getting into his car across the road. A Labour politician whom I have met several times over past decades, I thought of going over "for auld lang syne". Then, I reflected that the reason I'd left the Labour Party after the 2005 general election was that the feelings of abandonment, humiliation and heartbreak had finally grown too unbearable to stay. This MP is, I believe, a good man who cares deeply about his constituents and their joys, sorrows and aspirations. He seems an anachronism in New Labour, which seems more intent on spitting on the land to cool the world down than on trying to provide conditions whereby people in deteriorated situations will feel empowered to pull themselves up and their localities with them. On the other hand the Conservative Party, which I joined after a long period of hard choices, is the home of trying to succeed as individuals - of course - while remembering that much of our peace of mind depends on how things are going in the sink estate down the road or the struggling local comprehensive. Sadly, I left him to load his car and walked away.

As I prepared to return to the draughty old fen, I was left impressed not by the ostensible regeneration of swathes of the Glasgow that I belong to, but by the little victories that are sometimes difficult to see. Attacking adversity with humour; Fr Jim's fruit-bearing friendship with the Church of Scotland minister; a woman's life celebrated by eight people where there might have been only seven, and my old church reorganising itself to fit the demands of life outside Mass.

It occurred to me that we tend to accrue carapaces in response to seeing our hopes and dreams slip through our fingers, sometimes at times when life has conditioned us to watch them recede and not chase after them. Just as Elijah found on Mount Horeb that God was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire but in the still, small voice, it seems that hope, like God, springs not only eternal, but in the most surprising ways.

Making my way to Central Station, an icy rain started to fall, and even as these exile's tears ran down my cheeks I laughed. As I prepared to leave Caledonia, it was the final confirmation that I was in Glasgow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

furred and feathered friends

I like cats. I hate it when somebody is cruel to them. So I was upset to hear about a neglected cat from my friend around Christmastime.

My friend's neighbours don't give a flying fig for themselves and care even less for their cat. Neither my friend Celsia not I had space for another cat, so we got on the phone, to find that the cat rescue houses and animal rescue centres were full to bursting, and the RSPCA had so many cruelty and neglect cases on its plate that investigation soon was not an option.

So Celsia and her son managed to grab the cat and take it to the vet at their own expense, in the hope that somehow they could get some treatment to ease its suffering, and perhaps even a kind soul to take it in. The vet took the poor thing's basic obs - heartbeat 200-plus - and saw that it had a thyroid condition which had advanced beyond treatment, and put it out of its misery.

What is it about the Brittanicae, that we care so much about animals? Well, for a start, feral children aren't nearly as cuddly - certainly. But we perhaps deserve our reputation for being more solicitous about animals than our own kind.

Take Jamie Oliver for example, the media-savvy chef who figureheaded a governmental offensive to strongarm children into eating more healthily that had parents protesting by passing good old fish'n'chips through school railings. He is currently helping his friend Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall use a purpose-built battery-farm to try to turn the British public against battery chickens.

I don't like the battery method of farming. But I know Minora and Minima need protein to grow; thankfully I'm not a single parent, but I can understand the single Mum who refused to bow to the celebrity fashion for weeping when a camera appears and stated that she couldn't afford to feed her family if she had to buy free-range chicken. Likewise, Maxima couldn't be a stay-at-home Mum if we had to pay for products like those promoted by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The joker in the pack is the prices that supermarkets will pay farmers for chickens, which is so low that the producers are losing money on the stock they sell to the sellers, ie they are subsidising their customers to buy their wares. There is absolutely no basis for the supposition that this egregious practice will finish if chickens are reared in barns or runs as opposed to battery-farms, all that would happen would be that we'd import more chickens from Europe. And if we are tempted to think the welfare of livestock in Great Britain is bad...

The British livestock industry welfare watchdog, Assured Food Standards, investigated Fearnley-Whittingstall's farm: it failed the inspection. He also failed the component of the inspection that judged whether animals were killed humanely. David Clarke, AFS Chief Executive, stated "no self-respecting chicken farmer" would run the unit. Far be it from me to suggest that he deliberately made conditions worse to drive his point home...

We're not monsters. Animal welfare matters, of course it does, so it's natural that the RSPCA should want to make the most of the Oliver-Whittingstall momentum. But you can't expect people who don't respect themselves to respect our feathered friends. Or, indeed, our furry ones, as Celsia's tale evinces. Instead of disingenuously bribing single mothers, some of whom will not be of voting age for some time and many of whom will already be too poorly fed for their babies to be born in the best of health, it is time for the government to step back and allow people to taste the dignity that comes from work and is not fixed to the size of the wagepacket. The dignity that builds respect that builds up those we love. The dignity that breeds concern for the land around us and all the creatures that inhabit it.

Magus, the family cat, wants out. I'd better let him go, even though it's windy outside - this is, after all, a draughty old fen - and I'd probably be happier if he were in here with me. I like cats.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

when people become prey

I'm on new tablets. They make me feel sleepy. I don't like feeling sleepy, because I get low and grouchy, but Maxima, Minora and Minima have come to learn that when they see me like this they are seeing the unintended effects of a pharmaceutical intervention, not the man they love. They give me space and time - I'm very lucky.

I find it unsettling that there's a "voluntary" euthanasia group called Dignitas whose members are so uncomfortable with depression that they would like to give people who are depressed, for whatever reason, a helping hand off this mortal coil.

"Good riddance to the killjoys," some would say. And while it is allegedly a free society imbued with liberal values descended from the Enlightenment, traditionally only the received wisdom within this liberal society has been given an airing, in the hope that not thinking about the alternatives will make the alternatives go away. As Henry Kissenger says in Diplomacy, they confuse intent and result.

My Mum, God rest her, always told me to start at the beginning, so I will. I know of no more radical a starting point, when discussing people, than conception. This is not to make any religious or political points, just to observe, as Aristotle did, that the best place to start is with first principles. Clever man, Aristotle, he agreed with my Mum.

The received wisdom is that any birth that is not planned marks out the baby as an unwanted child, therefore abortion results in society being rid of unwanted children. The intent, however, is revealed by this eugenics website - that unwanted children (unwanted by whom? the parents or society?) are the result of "dysgenic" reproduction and are marked by low "intelligence and educational level"; indeed, there exists an "unhealthy negative relationship between intelligence and fertility" (think about that, but not for too long).

To give an example of the difference between received wisdom and the thinking behind it, John Smeaton of SPUC states that one senior member of the pro-abortion organisation The Brook Advisory Service, also known as Brook, seems happy to promote contraception even though he admits (against what the received wisdom states to be the rationale of contraception) that it causes abortions to rise. He has a doctorate in embryology and has also been associated with the Population Services Family Planning Programme (which was later given permission to use the name Marie Stopes by the Eugenics Society) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, as well as having been a company director of two abortion clinics. His name is Professor David Malcolm Potts, and he was made a Fellow of the British Eugenics Society (now known as the Galton Institute) in 1963.

I once attended a debate on abortion in Edinburgh in 1991 at which a fairly neutral speaker announced, to boos from liberal students, that the cause of killing people after birth for reasons that were therapautic to society but not to them, had been given a "head of steam" by the abortion movement. But fast-forward to 2006, and there were no cat-calls when the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (with which Prof Potts studied for a Diploma) made public a proposal for the "active euthanasia" of babies on the grounds that "a very disabled child can mean a disabled family". Professor John Harris, a member of the government's Human Genetics Commission, evidently feels no need to continue splitting intent from result: "We can terminate for serious foetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn. What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it okay to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?"

Professor Harris seems to have forgotten a paper he wrote the year before, in which he stated, "the same ethic that requires us to save lives must logically require us to extend lives if we can." However, given that he is writing about enhancement - technically, transhumanism - it is possible that he is coming at the "disabled baby" argument from at least one of two perspectives:

a)This baby differs from the average person in one aspect or more, and I have difficulty in calling it human.

b)This child will grow up to function more slowly, painfully etc than other people, it will require more money to remain healthy than the average person, and therefore is not consistent with our aims for society to consider it human.

Prof Harris cites UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee which famously referred to the human genome as the "common heritage of humanity" and uses this as a basis to advocate in respect of genetic enhancement that "in the absence of reliable predictive knowledge as to how dangerous leaving things alone may prove, we have no rational basis for a precautionary approach that prioritises the status quo." This bears less relation to the IBC's optomistic caveat that "the applications of genetic research regulated in order to guard against any eugenic practice that runs counter to human dignity and human rights," and more to the statement at the top of the Galton Institute's Aims and Activities page, made by Sir Francis Galton in 1908: "Man is gifted with pity and other kindly feelings: he has also the power of preventing many kinds of suffering. I conceive it well within his province to replace Natural Selection by other processes that are more merciful and not less effective."

I wonder what sort of kindly feelings, pity and merciful processes Leslie Burke, who has cerebellar ataxia, felt were being bestowed upon him when the British Medical Association took him to court because it objected to his wish to stop doctors from withdrawing food and fluids essential to keep him alive once he loses the ability to talk. He lost.

All is not doom and gloom, however: although the BMA has stated that doctors are "obliged to act on advance directives", some doctors have stated that they are prepared to risk prison than give in to laws that would constitute "backdoor euthanasia" and leave them looking in a thesaurus to find alternative terms to describe one person who is the vehicle of destruction of another person to their children.

But I am worried about the transhumanist notion of "enhancement". Once enhancement becomes the norm, will it then follow that the non-enhanced are abnormal or sub-normal? Then, following the logic of statement (b) above, which is the policymaker's articulation of statement (a), those who are not enhanced, or have not been chosen to become enhanced, are handicapped, disabled, something less: not human. But the enhanced, I'm sure, will not be content to minister to their peers. Will Superman be content to unblock the drains after a prodigious hyperturkey dinner-party? Will Wonder Woman clean up the vomit after Jimmy Neutron's 16th birthday party? When the avant-garde becomes normal, the normal will become a class of dalit writ large. It doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to envisage a future that resembles the scenario behind Gattaca, or worse.

Prof John Harris possibly says more about his attitudes than he intends when he labels critics of enhancements "superstitious, fallacious or, more usually, both", and, having got that off his chest, goes on to explain the ethics of the übermann: "enhancements per se are not ethically problematic: they are unequivocally good, clearly ethical". He does not say who will be the owner of this ethical 20/20 vision, or which code of ethics he is referring to.

What is clear is that the obsession with euthanising people of any age with a real or perceived disability is a reflection of a fear of frailty on the part of much of the scientific establishment and the politicians who are enchanted by their smoke and mirrors. The desire to perfect the human form with technology reflects at best a protracted angor animi such as is only usually felt when one feels one is dying, and at worst a semi-psychotic wish to automatise oneself and escape the fear, stress, pain and dignity of living.

What this boils down to is that if, like me, you are disabled; or if you have disabled people in your family, no matter the degree of disability or separation, the modern eugenicists are looking at you and, no doubt, thinking of the motto of the early 20th century which dare not be spoken now in so many words, but which stands behind so many of the abuses of modern human beings:


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

do the shopping, stuff the skunk

Having been born with the disability of XY chromosomes, I find shopping traumatic. It's an activity I dread. So it may be no surprise that, although purveyors of things that Maxima decrees we need are generally not of much interest to me, I find it easier to shop in establishments whose layouts and staff let people with better things to do get in there, get the job done and head back home.

Talking of which, not a million miles from the draughty old fen, there has been a hullabulloo about the proposed building of a small Tesco's store in Mill road in Cantabrigia.

The main thrust of the case against Tesco's is that it would threaten the livelihood of the other traders in Mill Road. This is a very diverse area, it is true. But surely ipso facto this is an argument against any shop opening up in the space left by the old Wilco shop, in that it will threaten the livelihood of at least one other shop in the road. It's called competition.

We are told by the people who run the "No Mill Road Tesco" campaign that it is not its remit to make anybody feel threatened, but makes a lot of the fact that it once managed to marshal 600 people to join a march down the road. Even though 110,400 Cantabrigians elected not to march, the presence of 600 angry people outside the window of a small outlet - and the proposed convenience store will be an "Express", a small shop among small shops - would leave me feeling threatened.

Tesco's is a successful enterprise, and I think this is what the ringleaders of this confused campaign are really protesting about: capitalism. That being so, they should extend their protest to include every shop in Mill Road, because they're all there to make money. Sonia Cooter, the co-ordinator of the No Mill Road Tesco campaign, states that people who want to shop at Tesco's are "misguided", and that "independent stores on Mill Road are cheaper." Those would be the charity shops, Sonia. And even they exist to raise money for their respective causes, thank God, showing that capitalism has a heart. One might also wonder why Miss Cooter protests against one shop opening in Mill Road, when the neighbourhood of Romsey, which she represented for last year's Mill Road Winter Fair has been decimated.

Another moan is that the presence of a small Tesco's will endanger pedestrians and cyclists. Much of the danger in Mill Road is caused by precisely these two groups. There are also cars and motorbikes that drive on the wrong side of the road at high speed to try to overtake the traffic creeping into or from town, depending on the time of day.

Still, if the protesters find themselves confused by the facts, they can indulge in the last refuge of the liberal by crossing the road to buy paraphernalia for using cannabis (at best) in a discount store. In case their ideologically sound hand-wringing leaves them tired and emotional, the relevant items are marked with pictures of cannabis leaves or Mephitis mephitis. I don't see Tesco's putting that particular shop out of business, and even less the head-shop up the road.

In fact, unless Tesco's Express starts providing rosaries, wigs, acupuncture, betting facilities, hard-core pornography or second-hand firearms, I think even the shops in the immediate vicinity are safe.

I plan to use Mill Road Tesco's. If I should change my mind, I'm going to dare defy the received wisdom of the comrades that everybody within two miles will march into the store like automata, and choose to shop somewhere else. In the draughty old fen, we call that thinking for ourselves.

Related posts:

normal service will not shortly be resumed
Tesco: a different view always helps

Monday, January 14, 2008

will he explain?

Towards the end of December, Anne Widdecombe wrote a very balanced piece analysing former PM Tony Blair's decision to convert to Roman Catholicism, and raised the issue - fairly, I felt - that given his consistent pro-choice voting record on, for example, abortion and embryo experimentation, it is incumbent upon Blair to at least explain this in the public arena.

Blair's reception into the Catholic church has kept many columnists in beer-money, but not all have got Miss Widdecombe's point. Writing in the 12 January issue of The Spectator, Charles Moore throws a not-very-veiled accusation of hypocrisy at Miss Widdecombe when he asks "Doesn't it occur to her that she, as a Catholic, should be killing the fatted calf in Blair's honour?"

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has written to Mr Blair and it is perhaps ironic that given the timing of his conversion the letter was published just before the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It quotes from Evangelium Vitae (on the value and inviolability of human life) Paragraph 73, which states that to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law [in favour of abortion or euthanasia], or to vote for it" is never justified.

Although this is a document from a Pope, it addresses an issue that applies to all of humankind. Surely the keystone right of all human rights, however you define the term, is the right to life, because without a living subject the other rights might as well have been written by Spike Milligan on speed. (In legal terms, a foetus becomes a person upon its first breath, it is true: but no matter what you think of this definition, it has to be admitted that "legalese" is a specialised technical language for use in court and between lawyers, and its terms do not always correspond with the dictionary definitions of words. In this language a limited company is a person, but nobody gets charged for murder if one goes bust.) Pope John Paul II recognised the universal import of the primacy of the right to life by addressing Evangelium Vitae to "all people of good will". He cites St Paul, who said that "the requirements of the law are written on [our] hearts, [our] consciences also bearing witness".

However, if you are a Roman Catholic, then it is not controversial to state that you should try to obey the Pope. Catholics believe, moreover, that the Pope, united with the Bishops of the world in the teaching authority of the Church, can make an infallible statement which Catholics have to abide by when the Pope is speaking in the realm of faith and morals. Spotting infallible statements has become a growing industry within and outwith the RC Church, as they aren't always signposted. But in the case of Evangelium Vitae John Paul II does everything but supply a neon sign announcing that an infallible statement is contained inside. He starts by stating that the Second Vatican Council "addressed the matter forcefully, in a brief but incisive passage" which is from Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). The passage isn't long; having been published in 1965 it could have been written yesterday, and is worth looking at:

"whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men [sic] are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator." (para 27)

John Paul II continues in Evangelium Vitae:

"Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral."

I've come all this way to show that Blair, having taken this decision to join the Catholic Church that he appears to have been planning for some time, owes an explanation to Catholics as to why he has voted the way he has on life issues while he was limbering up to swim the Tiber, and another one to Anglicans as to why their Church was good enough while he was Prime Minister, then seemed lacking somehow once he had stepped down. Nobody's asking for a public show of repentance, that's between him and God, something along the lines of "I did x because y" would at least show an awareness on his part that more was expected from him - not least from all of those Christians outwith the RC Church who have a deep respect for life.

Perhaps it was once the case, as Ann Widdecombe says, that Blair felt he could "do what he liked, whenever he liked, and how dare anyone else get in the way". Perhaps those days only ever existed in the minds of sychophants seeking promotion and he was taken in.

But now he needs to have the courage of his convictions to say that he believes that some things are objectively right, and others objectively wrong. The only alternative to this is to make major moral decisions on the basis of how you feel when you get out of bed. That's no way to "build up treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys" (Luke 12:33). The road to Hell is lined with wobbly-lipped soundbites; let Mr Blair stand up in good conscience and for good conscience.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

hearts but no minds

In Frederick Forsyth's latest article for the Daily Express, he is of course correct to compare the situation as regards Muslim terrorism in Great Britain to the one that pertained to Irish terrorism. Much has been made of the lack of a "hearts and minds" campaign in Northern Ireland, but that certainly took place in Britain. When politicians, throughout the conflict but especially in the 1980's, condemned the terrorists and extremists but made sure that ordinary, decent Irish people were welcome in the country, they created a space where peace-loving Irish people felt safe to condemn terrorism. This eventually brought the terrorists and their apologists towards the centre as they desperately pursued a popular mandate.

The similar process that FF proposes in relation to Muslims should be happening, but it isn't. In sacrificing the truth that some things are objectively right while others are objectively wrong on the altar of relativism in the temple of evangelical atheism, the present political masters of our country tolerate all sorts of human-rights abuses on the basis that to ban them would be a restriction of the human rights of the perpetrators. To get to this point requires not only application, stamina and a total disregard for one's voters, it takes a hell of a lot of therapy.

Government appeasement of extremists is only alienating white British people from ethnic minorities and undoing half a century of (mostly) good race relations work. Tragically, awfully, decent white people are being pushed into the waiting arms of the BNP, who are winning their own hearts and minds campaign with concepts such as that it is racist to presume that people of ethnic minorities will behave like white liberals if we treat them like white liberals.

Mr Brown, if you are unwilling to call a general election, then at least please banish the careerists from the Cabinet and bring in your seasoned backbenchers, who know the difference between mushy peas and avocado purée (unlike Peter Mandelson), and between the duty to keep peace on the streets and racism.

Friday, January 11, 2008

silly season for addled idiots

So here we go again, some eejit with nothing better to do thinks it's time to legalise all drugs, because Welsh chief constable Richard Brunstrom has called for legalisation and regulation of all drugs, describing the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as 'not fit for purpose' and 'immoral', urging its repeal."

There is a very good case to be made for decriminalising heroin under some conditions and prescribing it to people who are already addicted. It would vastly reduce the misery suffered by the victims of burglary and dealing, and moreover would make great inroads into reducing street-prostitution, as well as taking the most vulnerable (predominantly) women and girls out of situations where they might fall prey to the sort of scum who profit from their abuse at the hands of scum who use street prostitutes.

But what about stimulants?

This is the point at which pedants jump up and protest that caffeine's a stimulant. So it is, but caffeine never dissolved a nasal septum, bled calcium from bones, nails and teeth, induced impulsive crime and aggression or was to blame for unintended or even non-consensual sex. Cocaine does the first, amphetamines the second, both of them (and also methamphetamine) the third, and all three plus ecstasy the last - although a skinful can do the last two for less layout. Ecstasy, moreover, carries the perverse risk of death by drinking too much water due to its well-known effect of dehydration. Nobody in their right mind drinks a lethal amount of water, but if you have a roomful of people who have dropped E's then you will find nobody in their right mind.

Steroids turn the level playing field that sport should be played upon into a quagmire, lead to aggression and baldness (ever wondered why slapheads are moody buggers?), but on the upside, M&S will give any man brave enough to enter the lingerie section a free bra-fitting. And they shrink testicles to the dimensions of peanuts. Talking of which, as they are illicit and therefore not regulated, the carrier-oil can be peanut oil. Ouch.

And then there's the last refuge of the warm fuzzy liberal, cannabis. You know, the stuff that Bill Clinton put in the reefer that he tried to play the flute with. Trendy politicians push each other out of the way to offload that they did inhale once upon a time, and do not take it into account that cannabis has been selectively bred in the last two decades to maximise the amount of THC, the main one of the 60 or so psychoactive ingredients. Kids are ending up in psychiatric wards because they never had a chance in the face of huge amounts of psychosis-causing chemicals and of the collusion of their elders.

If the 1971 Act is not fit for purpose, it is precisely because it has been chipped away at by the cool, if unintended, products of middle-class upbringings stirring up sub-working-class sentiments to satisfy their need for publicity and controversy. Nothing wrong with being middle-class, of course (some of my best friends have fondue sets!), but when somebody with the means to spread their articulate attention-seeking propaganda among the fuddled masses pulls strings, we get the sort of Greek tragedies that have been inflicted upon the world by Marx, Lenin, Franco, Mosely, and not to forget St Clayre-Rayner, patron of professional victims.

In the draughty old fen, our hard-working sergeant is at pains to point out that recent drugs seizures don't mean we have an entrenched drug problem. Which is a good thing, as the tender mercies of John Barleycorn Esq upon some of our young folk keep the police busy. Mr Brunstrom should listen to his police officers and PCSO's on the ground before he gives the green light for the nation to get high.