Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Barack Obama and Catholic counter-revolution


Part 1 – broad backgound

by Anthony Hofler
Writing of his baptism in the Trinity United Church of Christ, Barack Obama said that “kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.” To a committed Christian considering support for a political candidate, such statements would be encouraging signs. They would be useful criteria also by which to judge an elected candidate’s conduct.
     The original purpose underlying this article was to highlight lessons from the life of Barack Obama for Catholics (especially in the energetic U.S. and the languid U.K.) who are interested in acquiring power for good purposes. Engagement in that work brought, however, a realisation that Catholic-significant aspects of President Obama’s life should be combined with a comparison, from a recognisably-Catholic standpoint, of the situations in the U.S. and in Britain. Lessons can be clearer and more memorable when learned in their appropriate contexts. So before focusing predominantly on President Obama, it will be useful to take a broader view.

     For a long time, black Americans were down-trodden by law and culture; today, so are recognisably-Catholic principles. That should matter to us. Catholicism and its adherents are recognisable as such to the extent that they differ from other creeds and people. If we sink those differences we sink our religious identity, and the faith goes down with us. Pope John Paul the Great, never one to sink, said that Europe “gives the impression of ‘silent apostasy’ on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist”[1]. The same applies here. In 2002 Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor (not famous for discontentment) said that “in England and Wales today Christianity as a background to people’s lives and moral decisions is now almost vanquished” and noted the (long-obvious) “secular outlook in our society which ignores the Gospel: it does not know it and it does not want to”[2]. The situation is worse now, especially in the law.
    Typical Catholics seem uninterested in this. Parishes lack any significant counter-revolutionary activity. Now-retired Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster found languor and reticence, even hopelessness in the Church. He wondered what had caused it, and lamented ‘back-pedalling’ on fundamental principles[3].

     Despite Scriptural and high ecclesiastical exhortation to conform society to God’s laws, attempts to energise defence of controversial Catholic teachings are either deftly turned aside or met with a “granite exterior” or a “puzzled stare”[4]. Clerics will, of course, dispute that, but their ‘look-on-the-bright-side’ policy is characterised by vagueness and incapable of ending the endemic torpor.
     At one time things were bleak also for black Americans, but an important difference between their position and that of British Catholics is that here the challenges are directed at Catholic principles, whereas there they were directed at practicalities in blacks’ daily lives. Black Americans could not have shrugged and answered lamely, ‘But it doesn’t affect us,’ because it did. If, however, typical Catholics in England today were asked to fight this or that un-Catholic law or practice, many would shrug and answer lamely, ‘It doesn’t affect us.’ Practicalities outweigh principles.

     Indicative of a wish to make religion recognisably (although – a very important proviso –uncontroversially) ‘relevant’ and thereby stem the loss of ‘credibility’ in an ever-more secular society, statements by the hierarchy give material matters at least equal weight with subjects which seem comparatively peripheral to people’s ‘normal lives’. Similarly, politicians often neglect ‘moral’ subjects and promote attention to those which ‘people care about’/ which ‘matter to people’. Promotion of ‘marriage’ status for same-sex relationships was an exception to that. Catholic bishops did speak up against same-sex ‘marriage’ (although not very cogently), but not long beforehand Archbishop Vincent Nichols (as he then was) said during a televised discussion of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain that the hierarchy’s priority-subjects are poverty and education[5]. Those subjects are indeed addressed directly by Church teachings, but they are not distinctively-Catholic subjects. The comparative neglect and ‘soft-pedalling’ on other matters, especially the greatest modern triumphs of secular permissiveness, reflects the fact that very few Catholics in Britain show any concrete interest in what does not affect them materially, directly, and recognisably. That is a formidable obstacle to the reversal of secularism.
     As well as apathy within the Church, Catholic counter-revolutionaries have to consider how best to defeat adversaries outside it. During the secularists’ rise to power, they had to consider how to defeat us, in so far as the law enshrined our principles, just as American ‘civil rights’ campaigners had to consider how to defeat deeply-entrenched resistance. Probably the greatest practical asset was the existence of a large body of supporters who cared enough to respond. Opinion produced practical effect because of “those who marched and those who sang, those who sat in and those who stood firm, those who organized and those who mobilized,” as President Obama described them. There is no equivalent body of Catholics in Britain or Europe; that is the greatest difference between achieving civil rights for black Americans and re-asserting down-trodden Catholic principles.

     Former “Catholic Herald” editor Peter Stanford has written that the Church “instinctively keeps a low profile and shrugs off criticisms rather than confronts them,” but that this is “now being mercilessly exploited” by “the new breed of abrasive secularists.” He wrote that the “innate reluctance to be drawn into public confrontation,” and “to hammer home…contentious Catholic teachings,” is a “legacy of the history of the faith here and its accommodation to the prevailing norms of the wider society.” He described this as “being realistic,” and as “pragmatism”[6] .
     It amounts to an admission of subservience, perhaps with an underlying (and hitherto-unfulfilled) hope that we can turn our adversaries’ criteria against them (e.g. ‘equality’) just as they have been adept in using ours against us (e.g. ‘conscience’). According to American Catholic Judge Albert C. Walsh, St. Thomas More wrote, in “Utopia” (p.47f): “…that which you cannot turn to good, so order it that it be not very bad”[7]. The temptation to ‘make the best’ of an unsatisfactory situation is understandable. Everyone can see the attraction of ‘why hold out for perfection when you can’t get it?’ Courage v. compromise. It is true that “when valour preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with”[8], but a rather similar result arises when pragmatism preys on principle.
     The black civil rights campaigners in America managed eventually to persuade the Supreme Court that the language of the law was on their side, and to persuade the Congress that further laws were needed. It was the psychological weight of sustained large protest which wore down resistance. Black Americans believed in the justice of their principles, and (aroused by strong leadership) had enough tenacity and perseverance to win. Those factors are lacking among Catholics, not only where Catholics are a minority but also even in the few places where they are, at least nominally, a majority (ascertainment of the true numbers is impossible, because (i) a claim to be a Catholic is not a reliable indicator of beliefs (“A man may claim he loves his wife. His wife will want to see the evidence. … Saying we’re Catholic does not mean we are, except in the thinnest sense”[9], and (ii) self-declaration is not conclusive[10].

     A lamentable example occurred in October 2016, when the Parliament of (according to the Reuters news-agency) “staunchly Catholic” Poland rejected by 352 to 58 a Bill which, reported Reuters, proposed “a near-total ban on abortion.” Reuters described the result as “an embarrassing setback” for the Polish Government and for “the powerful” Catholic Church. For two reasons, that seems an untenable conclusion. Firstly, the Government withdrew its earlier support for the ban; so apparently it wanted the result which occurred. Secondly, Reuters seemed to contradict themselves by alleging that the Church’s influence has been “steadily eroded” (by democracy and “market reforms”). Obviously it is not powerful enough to procure a much-improved compliance of the law with this fundamental aspect of Catholic moral doctrine[11]. The impossibility of achieving that even in Poland emphasises that it is a mere dream elsewhere. A 100,000-strong public protest against the Bill was ‘credited’ with swaying the vote (and thereby negating 450,000 signatures on a petition supporting it). Lesson: results depend on whether the powerful are receptive to a campaign, not necessarily on the number of campaigners. Few power-holders are receptive to distinctively-Catholic moral principles. ‘Empower allies of Catholicism’ is the solution, but there is no practical effort to do so.

     Such failure to give practical effect to Catholic principle is a grave dereliction of duty.

Part 2 coming soon...

[1] Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia in Europa,” June 2003, at paragraph 9.
[2] “Birmingham Catholic News,” April 2002, at p.2.
[3] “Fit for Mission? – Church,” Catholic Truth Society, 2008, p10-13, & 93.
[4] “Sunday Plus,” Redemptorist Publications, 10th July 2011.
[5] BBC 2, 19th September 2010; reported in “The Catholic Herald,” 1st October 2010, p.3.
[6] Article entitled “Pope Benedict’s visit: beleaguered Catholic Church struggles against secular tide,” in “The Observer,” 29th August 2010.
[7] “Thomas More – The Greatest Englishman,” distributed as a supplement with Hamish Fraser’s “Approaches” magazine, no. 61, May 1978.
[8] Enobarbus, in “Antony and Cleopatra,” Act III, Sc. XI).
[9] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., “Render Unto Caesar”; Doubleday, 2008, p.37.
[10] See “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 837, last sentence.
[11] cf. “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2273.

Sunday, 22 January 2017


Part 2
by Anthony Hofler
The new element in David Cameron’s Bratislava speech (19th June 2015) was in the section following immediately after his examples of ‘extreme’ opinions which must be fought. “The question is,” he said, “how do people arrive at this worldview?” He said that “There are, of course, many reasons,” and he mentioned three in particular. Their religious significance is worth highlighting.
     One was the “too often hear[d]” and “dangerous” opinion that responsibility for “radicalisation” lies with “someone else,” such as “agencies or authorities.” That, he said, ignores the fact that “radicalisation starts with the individual,” and risks the overlooking of many ways by which “we must try to stop it at the source.” No doubt unwittingly, he thereby echoed comments by Pope John Paul the Great about sin and sinful situations (“Reconcilatio et Paenitentia,” 1984 , para. 16). One way (although the speech did not refer to it) by which the Government is targeting “the source” is the prominently-publicised strategy for using the education system to identify and counteract signs of unacceptable beliefs. The Church in England and Wales does not seem to have a reputation for doing the same (that is a subject in its own right, and too large for consideration here).
     Another factor cited by Mr. Cameron was “national identity and making sure young people in our country feel truly part of it.” The implication (apparently accurate) is that some people, especially young ones, see an incompatibility between national identity and religious identity. Probably very few Catholics feel like that (whether they should do is another distinct subject too large for consideration here).
     The third factor which Mr. Cameron blamed for contributing to the relevant ‘extremism’ is very important in other contexts, also. He said that there are people who, although not going as far as advocating violence, hold the types of ‘extreme’ views which he had mentioned and who give credence to them by quietly condoning them and portraying them as being part of an identity (“telling fellow Muslims, ‘you are part of this’ ”). He said that for impressionable people who live in such an atmosphere “it’s less of a leap” to join violent, murderous groups than it would be for someone who has not been exposed to those subtle influences. Putting that in different words but not altering its substance, it means that showing an equivocal or sympathetic attitude to wrong ideas can give them a credibility and legitimacy which events show to be dangerous.
     When expressed in abstract words such as those, it would receive assent from just about everybody, and just about everybody would agree also that in the context which Mr. Cameron had in mind events prove that it is true. Agreement often begins to disintegrate, however, when general principles are applied to specific situations. Nowhere is that recognisable more clearly than in religion and ethics. For example, Monsignor Keith Newton, the leader of the Ordinariate for former Anglican ministers who have joined the Catholic Church, once said that to hold the Anglican Communion together is a very difficult job because taking a firm line in anything causes people to disagree. (Probably that was why a former Archbishop of Canterbury was alleged to have “nailed his colours firmly to the fence.”)
     David Cameron would ‘row back’ from his comment about condonation strengthening the power of dangerously-extreme beliefs if he were faced with its application to now-deeply-rooted-and-strongly-defended changes in British society since the Second World War. The 1983 Darwin Lecture by the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Lane) contained remarks similar to that comment in Mr. Cameron’s 2015 Bratislava speech, but he applied them in a different way: He noted also the role of words in influencing thought and events. “We use,” he said, “innocuous words or words with happy and pleasant connotations to describe things which are the opposite of innocuous… By the ‘permissive’ society, we mean the immoral society. Look what has happened to the word ‘gay’. It had beautiful connotations of carefree happiness. It has now been so devalued that it is unusable without causing sniggers. … That is dreadful. It corrupts the language and gives tacit approval to the situation which is being so misdescribed. … But I digress. Easy divorce; the Pill; legalised abortion; easy access to pornography; all these things are now everyday, unremarkable phenomena of our society. They were unthinkable thirty years ago. They’ve all made their contribution to our present condition.”
     Mr. Cameron’s probable reaction to that would begin with something like ‘Ah, well. Those are very different from murders of innocent people. Although some of us may think that in some ways perhaps some of them go too far, we must accept that they are features of a modern, tolerant society…’ Mr. Cameron’s successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May, would probably condemn Lord Lane’s views as symptoms of why (according to her speech to the 2002 Conservative Party Conference) some people had regarded the Conservatives as “the nasty Party.” Although saying that that opinion of the Party was unfair, in effect she surrendered to it by calling for “No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger-wagging. We need to reach out to all areas of our society.” The friends of licentiousness accepted joyfully that gift, planted it firmly in political posterity, and still quote it.
     Lord Lane’s ‘unthinkable-thirty-years-ago’ point was expressed similarly by Father Timothy Finigan, in his contribution to “Proclaiming the Gospel of Life” (Catholic Truth Society, 2009, p.56): “Had an orthodox moral theologian suggested in 1968 that the consequences [of adopting artificial contraception] would include civil partnerships for homosexual people, demonstration of the use of condoms for children, secret abortions for girls under 16, In Vitro Fertilisation and the discarding of ‘spare’ embryos, they would have been dismissed as alarmist and unrealistic.”
     Do you remember “In the Year 2525,” a song by Zager and Evans which was a hit in the Summer of 1969? Issued at the time when walking on the Moon changed from fantasy to fact, it made predictions of other things. One was that in 6565 it would be possible to choose children “from the bottom of a long glass tube.” The first ‘test-tube baby’ was born in 1978. A related prediction was that husbands and wives would not be needed. The basis of that prediction was a two-fold norm of life in the 1960s – most children were conceived naturally from bodily union of men and women who were married to each other. Not only has the conception element become anachronistic, but the status of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ is removed from legal recognition as a result of ‘marriage’ between same-gender couples being introduced.
     From the dawn of time marriage has been a heterosexual concept, arising from the anatomically-complementary sexual organs of the parties, bearing fruit in children conceived and nurtured and delivered by the purpose-made construction and natural processes of female bodies, and reared within the security resulting from the marriage of the parents and (to that end) the parental duties imposed by law. Same-sex ‘marriage’ is a perversely-logical outcome of a long-established mind-set which rejects openness to conception as a condition of sexual propriety, and which imposes a contrary relativist insistence on autonomous ‘choice’. Same-sex ‘marriage’ is, therefore, another dimension of a strategy to transform an allegedly-archaic institution.      Civil partnerships were the main ‘trail-blazers’ for this, not only in Britain but internationally. Using civil partnerships as a ‘spring-board,’ it was “less of a leap” to legalise ‘marriage’ between same-gender individuals. For example, a strategist in America argued that all of the very important legal incidents of marriage would best be secured by properly-crafted legislation establishing civil unions. He said that, with the legal incidents the same for married people and for the parties to civil unions, the two relationships would differ (only) in regard to the level of public approval inherent in the word ‘marriage.’ He added that in most cases the best way of obtaining that public approval (for ‘marriage’ status being granted to same-sex couples) would be first to secure the legal incidents under the title of civil unions, after which people would look at civil unions, see no significant distinction from marriages, start calling them marriages, and gradually forget why they objected to doing so before.
     Events in Britain have vindicated that assessment. Anyone na├»ve or self-deluded enough to have believed that civil partnerships were not trail-blazers for same-sex ‘marriage’ should feel very foolish now. Their embarrassment should be the greater for the fact that the Government explicitly used such partnerships as a ‘launch-pad’. The Ministerial Foreword bearing Theresa May’s name and contained in the Government’s 2012 consultation-document said that “Same-sex couples now receive access to equivalent legal rights, bar the ability to be able to be married and to say that they are married. We do not believe this is acceptable. The introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 was a significant and important step forward for same-sex couples… We recognise that the personal commitment made by same-sex couples when they enter into a civil partnership is no different to the commitment made by opposite-sex couples when they enter into a marriage” (yet the same consultation-document declared, in paragraph 1.10, that whereas marriage entails the saying of prescribed words “civil partnerships are formed simply by signing the register – no words are required to be spoken” – a silent ‘commitment’!); “We do not think that the ban on same-sex couples getting married should continue.” Bowing to the ubiquitous supreme secular criterion, the Ministerial Foreword declared that “this is about providing choice for our modern society.” When leaving office, Mr. Cameron included it in his list of achievements, and on taking over from him Theresa May invoked it in describing him as “a great modern Prime Minister.” This aspect of Government policy can be expected to continue with consistently-widening, and minimally-hindered, practical effects.
     The campaign to prevent ‘marriage’ status for same-gender relationships laid great stress on the connection between marriage and procreation. That stress suggested astonishing obliviousness of the obvious fact that most people regard children as entirely optional, whether within marriage or outside of it. That general view, which is catered-for by a large part of the National Health Service and sustains a vast international industry, undermined substantive objection to biologically-childless unions being given legal ‘marriage’ status. Although many people regarded the proposal as objectionable, many of the objectors would have been unable to say anything other than that it was ‘unnatural’ in a cultural sense. Subconsciously they would have been ‘disarmed’ by the pervasive presence and influence of the foundation-stone of same-gender sexual relationships. It is a factor which campaigners against same-sex ‘marriage’ ignored. The fact that they ignored it testifies to its unassailable social position, because its strength is such that if opponents of same-sex ‘marriage’ had attacked it as the root of the problem they would have lost support. It is, of course, contraception.
     Contraception closes the sexual act to the gift of life. Its solely-sensual basis is the root of all sexual perversions, and (to the extent that such unions include sexual acts) of same-sex ‘marriages’. The initially-limited provision of contraceptive devices and services by the State, and the granting of legal immunity from prosecution for homosexual acts in private between two consenting adults aged at least 21, meant that it was “less of a leap” to extend such services and to lower the age of consent. The basic principle having been accepted, relaxation of restrictive attitudes and practices followed naturally. So mere toleration has developed into ‘marriage’ status for same-sex couples, demands that children be taught that homosexual relationships are just one among a range of legitimate and freely-chosen lifestyles, and intolerant outcries against comments to the contrary.
     Likewise, contraception is the root of abortion. Helping people to prevent conception meant that it was “less of a leap” to enabling them to destroy the unintentionally-conceived. That is not a mere theory. For example, in his autobiographical “Faithful for Life” (1997), Father Paul Marx, the founder of Human Life International, quoted abortion-supporters who admitted candidly that abortion is the ‘back-up’ for contraception. Of one such quotation, he wrote that he wished he could frame it and “put it on the wall of every Catholic priest’s desk, and urge him to read it twice weekly.” In many cases it probably would make no practical difference. Father Marx wrote that although “the evidence is mountainous that contraception leads to abortion,…bishops and priests just do not seem to see the connection, if one may judge by the fact that they rarely (if ever) preach against it.” Perhaps ‘want’ is often more accurate than “seem”.
     At the other end of people’s life-span, the same process is evident. The campaign for legal and open euthanasia, which had made no significant progress in many years, is now conducted under cover of a campaign for legal and open ‘assisted suicide’ (or ‘dying,’ as seems to be the preferred word). Just as civil partnerships were the trail-blazers for same-sex ‘marriage,’ assisted suicide is serving the same purpose for euthanasia, although its overwhelming rejection by vote of the House of Commons on 11th September 2015 has postponed legal change. Assistance with suicide is euthanasia by another name. Once people are allowed to kill other people who request it (subject to ‘careful safeguards,’ of course, such as a requirement that two doctors give the ‘go-ahead,’ which has helped to ensure that officially-recorded legal abortions in Britain have been limited to several millions since 1968), it will be “less of a leap” to relax the rules when ‘difficulties’ emerge and require a solution. A precedent for this occurred in the early 1940s, although its salutary influence may be waning as the history becomes distant. In his detailed account of the history of the SS (Abacus, 2012, at p.169-170), Adrian Weale wrote that rigorous pursuit of efforts to arrange the emigration of Jews from Nazi Germany shows that, at least before the start of the Second World War, extermination of the Jews was not seriously considered as an option by the men who were dealing with the ‘Jewish question’ directly. “In fact,” he continued, “many [members of the SS] were sharply critical of the crude anti-Semitism of their counterparts in the [Nazi Party]. They recognised that the logical conclusion of National Socialist hate propaganda was to kill the Jews, but they simply did not believe that this was feasible, for numerous political and legal reasons. Tragically, though, they had no moral objections to it, which meant that most of them shifted effortlessly from forced emigration to mass murder and extermination as soon as the ‘final solution’ was devised.” It was “less of a leap.”
     Once a basic principle has been surrendered, it is often “less of a leap” to go further. Concessions are susceptible to exploitation. In an essay entitled “The Christian Apologist” (“Light on C. S. Lewis,” Geoffrey Bles, 1965, p.23), Austin Farrer wrote of “what one might call the Munich school, who will always sell the pass in the belief that their position can be more happily defended from foothills to the rear.” Apparently this was an allusion to the Munich Agreement on 30th September 1938. Adolf Hitler wanted to occupy the (ethnically-German) Sudetenland inside Czechoslovakia’s Western border. The Czechs had rejected his demand that by 1st October they should evacuate the area. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and the French Prime Minister, Edouard Daladier, met Hitler at Munich to seek a solution. Faced with Hitler’s intransigence and Germany’s military superiority, they agreed to Czech evacuation beginning on 1st October and ending on 10th October. On return to England, Chamberlain held up to the brisk wind the relevant paper which Hitler had signed. He (Chamberlain) described the outcome as “peace with honour” and “peace for our time,” and recommended to his happy listeners that they should go home and sleep quietly. This detailed (though brief) digression into history is necessary in order to highlight the following key point: In a speech a few days before signing the Munich agreement, Hitler had said that the Sudetenland was his last territorial claim in Europe, but a few months later Germany subjugated the whole of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain and Daladier had conceded the basic principle of German incursion, and Hitler exploited the concession. A similar example of what turned out to be ‘reassurance leading to calamitous concession’ occurred when the legislative liberalisation of English law on abortion was proposed. During an interview in BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on 20th December 2007, Lord Steel said that the proposal had been based on “a Christian view of society.” On 22nd July 1966 he told Parliament that “it is not the intention of the Promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for abortion on request. Abortion on request is, however, what resulted in practice.
The basic principle at stake (murder of innocent lives) had been surrendered, most people had no moral objection – no objection in principle – to abortion, and so they had no inclination to interfere. Whereas Hitler’s subsequent additional territorial claim in Europe (Poland) led to war and the end of his murderous Reich, nothing has disturbed the daily mass murder authorised by the Abortion Act 1967.      In religion as in politics, concessions contain the same capacity for exploitation, often by capitalising on events and using cunningly-disarming arguments. Time has justified Barbara Wootton’s observation that ethical doctrines for which divine authority is claimed were being steadily withdrawn from the particular to the general, and that each such retreat, surrendering a previously-final position, threatened the fundamental security of religious morals and provoked the unbeliever to ask, ‘Why stop here?’; and certainly they have not stopped.
     Those examples show that David Cameron was right in believing that even quiet condonation of wayward thinking can lead to wayward behaviour.
     Such condonation often takes the form of an attitude which is useful to people who do not wish to be seen to disagree with a currently-promoted idea: ‘there is something to be said for it.’ According to Archbishop Nichols (as he then was), the Catholic bishops of England and Wales did not oppose ‘civil partnerships,’ because they recognised that there “might be a case” for them.
Bishop O’Donoghue of Lancaster declared his disappointment that the Bishops’ Conference could not agree a collegial response to the Government’s legislation on same-sex adoption, so evidently some of them thought that there might be a case for that, too. Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote somewhere that there is something to be said for every error, but that whatever may be said for it the most important thing to say about it is that it is erroneous. Probably David Cameron would agree with that, and with his Foreign Secretary (Philip Hammond)’s comment (to
the Royal United Services Institute on 10th March 2015) that “the responsibility for acts of terror rests with those who commit them. But a huge burden of responsibility also lies with those who act as apologists for them.” That is as true of sin in general as it is of the type focused-on by Mr. Hammond, and by Mr. Cameron. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” teaches that “[s]in is a personal act,” and that “we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we co-operate in them by…approving them…” Other ways by which that responsibility is incurred are (according to the “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” which the Catholic bishops of England and Wales approved in 1971) “by defending the ill done” or “by silence.”
     A final important point made (twice) during Mr. Cameron’s Bratislava speech was that it is necessary to tackle the root, and not only the symptoms, of a problem. That certainly is true. So much effort, in many contexts, is directed at symptoms. There are two reasons for that.
     Symptoms tend to be ‘immediate’ and therefore have greater ‘impact,’ and often present at least some scope for practical counter-action, whereas causes tend to be comparatively ‘remote,’ are less-clearly recognised, and are less within most people’s ability to bring about change.      The other reason (which is very relevant to matters on which religion has ‘something to say’) is that, whereas people might agree that a ‘symptom’ is undesirable, they are often very far from agreement in identifying its cause(s) and/or how it should be remedied, and so attention remains focused on symptoms. The brother of Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that an all-powerful force could not be overcome by resistance to its symptoms. Hearing that his wife, Emmi, had been speaking openly about Nazi murders of Jews, he urged her to understand that Nazism was like a snake, in the sense that it would bite someone who trod on its tail (seemingly a metaphor for exposing its evil works). He told her that the only way to neutralise the Nazi ‘snake’ was to hit its head; and that because no individual citizen could do that the only way would be to convince the military who had the necessary means. Of course, convincing enough of the military to act required explanation of relevant symptoms which showed that the cause had to be removed, but we do not have information about whether Herr Bonhoeffer had ideas for dealing safely with that hazardous task.      The situation in 2016 Britain is, fortunately, much better than that in 1940s Germany, and the seemingly-few Christians who are unhappy with tramplings on their moral principles do not hanker for forcible removal of the people responsible. The ‘symptoms or causes?’ quandary and the advice of Emmi Bonhoeffer’s husband combine, however, to bring to light a fact which is lamentably absent from religious analysis of society’s ills. Successful action requires power.

     That is a subject for another time.