Friday, October 16, 2015

The Fundamental Difference of Attitude, in the Moral Field, Between the Old and the New Religion

Sanctity, not participational aptitude, is the only elitism known to Christianity.

You also ask me about “caring communities.” I must frankly admit that I know nothing about them. I took it for granted that they were the folk who insisted on house Masses. Are they a separate entity? How little a bishop knows of what goes on in his diocese! Last November I was invited to attend a jamboree of “caring communities” in London. It was all about South Africa and apartheid. I presumed that was because the Soweto riots were still news. At the end I was asked to say a few words. I said that I had expect to attend a conference of Religious Communities caring for the aged and handicapped, not a conference of experts on South Africa. I wondered if there was a “caring community” in Soweto discussing the mugging, thugging and drugging in London. I also suggested that they might care for the souls of the couple of million non-Christian coloured immigrants in our midst, etc. This was apparently quite the wrong thing to say and the situation was only saved by the chairman assuring the carers that I had an inverted sense of humour.

Anyway, from that one experience I gained the impression that they were not caring for anybody but about something, which is a very different proposition, no matter how laudable. To “care for” means to do something or to love somebody; to “care about” implies no more than talk seasoned with moral indignation. The former always has as its object a reality, later always an abstract idea—usually Justice or Peace.

Curiously enough, I think that we are here in the presence of the fundamental difference of attitude, in the moral field, between the Old and the New religion. By replacing “caring for” with “caring about,” one has substituted moral indignation for charity. This in turn implies the substitution of politics for morality. Penal or political law takes the place of moral law. Crime against the community replaces sin against God. I have no intention of lecturing you on so vast a subject. I merely want to point out the difference in the personal attitude which the change implies.

In the Old religion, we spent our time beating our own breasts, mea maxima culpa. We were terribly conscious of our own basic imperfection, of Original Sin in fact. And how deeply felt was our need for a Redeemer! It was neither God’s creation nor His Church which needed reforming, it was I. I had no pretension to “do good” because to do good is a prerogative of God. Sufficient for me to avoid evil, of which I am perfectly capable but, by His grace, can overcome. I even lack the ambition to convert the world: God would see to that, although I could help in some mysterious way by first converting myself. Etc. . . . Such was my attitude on the day of my ordination. Was yours, Nial McCarthy, much different?

What is the attitude now? The first requisite of moral indignation is to accuse your neighbor: tua culpa—it is all your fault, your most grievous fault. Original Sin has vanished: it is I who am the Immaculate Conception and Jesus is not my Redeemer but my friend. Everything needs reforming because there is no natural Law in nature; I introduce the Law by the way I use it. My conscience makes the Law, which is as constantly evolving as is nature itself. In the same way, everything in the Church needs reforming, sacraments, structures, the lot, because in my experience the only constant factor is I. It is even I who am the Real Presence since it is I who invoke His name. To avoid evil is nonsense; on the contrary, I “do good” by the mere process of fulfilling my personality. The conversion of the world is a simple, technical process: the reign of Justice and Peace. Etc. . . .

Have I overdrawn the attitude? Look carefully. I think not. All I have done is to give it precision.

—Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, p. 127–128.