The children’s author Philip Pullman says, in his latest pronouncement, that he hopes “the wretched Catholic Church will vanish entirely”; and I can’t help wondering if his attitude is an unconscious regeneration of the anti-Catholicism rife in Britain within my grandparents’ lifetime.
This was the anti-Catholicism which had so many Anglican and Nonconformist preachers blaming the Irish for the great Famine of the 1840s – it was, said many of them, God’s punishment on the Irish for so stubbornly clinging to Popery when they should have turned into respectable members of the Protestant faith.
So unpleasant were these verbal attacks that Queen Victoria herself had to issue a statement to be circulated in Anglican churches ordering bishops to desist from such unkindness against Roman Catholics, which she deplored.
Even into the 1890s Catholic religious processions – such as Corpus Christi celebrations – were sometimes prohibited in London as they were regarded as “provocative”. In 1901, Prime Minister Salisbury forced King Edward VII to denounce the Catholic Church from the throne, excoriating particularly the cult of the Blessed Virgin. As I have had cause to mention before, this particularly distressed the King, who was good friends with the monks at Tepl, who ministered at the Marian shrine of Marienbad.
Meanwhile, the mass of ordinary, decent Catholics were going about their lives and, judging from my own family, were trying to live as decently as they could and pass moral and spiritual values down to their own children. Their participation in their faith gave them an irreplaceable sense of the beauty of the mystical and the hope of eternal life, as well as education and community.
When I think of the Catholic Church now, it is not the odious institution that Philip Pullman describes that comes to mind, but the contents of my mother’s well-worn prayerbook, and the values it meant to her. Often she would say, towards the end of her life: “So much trouble in the world comes from people not observing the Ten Commandments.” Philip Pullman – at least in his most recent book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – is a parasitical writer: that is to say, his theme is parasitic on the story of Christianity. A parasite uses a host body, and then repels it.
Catholics know full well that the faith needs constant reforming and renewing. Sin and wickedness are endemic in human nature, and will always need to be remedied. But history will answer Philip Pullman: the Church will endure, as his children’s children will come to acknowledge.
Isuspect that one of the reasons why Nick Clegg is so popular in the opinion polls is that he is simply very good-looking.
There have been many studies done showing that handsome individuals are at a greater natural advantage in life than plain ones. Mr Clegg is a very pretty boy indeed, with a well-made face and sympathetic blue eyes, and his television personality is also pleasing. As the Americans say, what’s not to like? (Without going into the gritty details of actual policies, of course!) And his background makes him culturally interesting: half Dutch, a quarter Russian, married to a clever Spaniard.
But even for those gifted with fine looks, the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:11) has the wisest words: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance play their part in all.” Iam sorry for the people who are suffering hardship because of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, particularly poor people in Africa who are losing their livelihood, and patients awaiting urgent drugs or bone marrow transplants.
But there are good things emerging too. People are helping each other a lot more, according to travellers who have struggled back to Blighty. And Dover, which I had come to regard as a dingy, ugly seaside port dominated by soulless juggernauts, is suddenly becoming more human, with human beings actually walking along the sea front, making their way from port to railway station. Dover is the hub of England again, and the White Cliffs have become the emblem of homecoming.
There’s often a silver lining even to catastrophes.
Professor Richard Lynn, of the University of Ulster, is one those last redoubts of triumphalist male chauvinism: he persists in insisting that men, in general, have a higher IQ than women, and that is why male achievement will always be higher than female achievement.
But IQ tests are a narrow way of measuring intelligence; so it seems to me that this is all a lot more complex than IQ criteria alone can yield.
But you have to hand it to him for a kind of moral courage in standing obstinately against fashionable thinking.