Catholicism made us what we are

Share
Related Topics
Why do people get so upset about Catholics? "I hate Catholics," is quite commonly heard in otherwise civilised circles. And, whenever a Catholic story is in the headlines, everybody dives in to trash the Papists or to tell them how to run their church. Now, for example, everybody feels free to demand that priestly celibacy should be abandoned.

This is a profoundly irrational state of affairs - for why should non- Catholics care? Nobody has to be a Catholic so those who are must be freely acquiescing in the rules of the church. Of course, there will be slippage in this acquiescence - notably on contraception - but, again, this is of no logical concern, other than as a matter of interest, to non-Catholics. The old attempt to blame anti-contraception Catholics for the global population crisis, and therefore accuse them of damaging the interests of non-Catholics, has long been laid to rest by the exposure of the statistical absurdity of the idea.

This all becomes even more irrational if we try to imagine substituting Judaism or Islam in all these commentaries and stories about Catholicism. Impossible. Nobody would dare dictate religious practice to Jews or Muslims. And yet, routinely, liberal atheists, to whom the whole thing must be no more than a lacy, incense-laden freak show, tell Catholics what to do. It is not even as if Roman Catholicism was our national church. In fact, most people, if asked, regard it as a faintly exotic Mediterranean import like polenta or tapas.

And, finally to raise the irrationality of the Catholic-bashers to the level of incurable dementia, the Roman Catholic Church is obviously the most staggeringly impressive institution ever created by man or, if you prefer, God. It has been responsible for the greatest works of the human imagination and, as transcendent think-tank, it has been responsible for the longest continuous procession of philosophical genius the world has ever known. Contemporary intellectual pygmies should think carefully before they start making even bigger fools of themselves by sniping at this extraordinary scholarly edifice. Criticise Catholicism by all means, but, trust me, you will have to work at it.

So why does Catholicism occupy so much space? My theory about this is inspired by a remark made by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Asked if he was abandoning Catholicism to become a Protestant, he replies: "I said that I had lost the faith, but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?"

Now that it has abandoned its ill-advised claims about the physical universe, Catholicism makes only one fundamental claim: that, 2,000 years ago, God became man and died for our sins. All else, from the teaching on contraception to the hierarchy and the bureaucracy, follows. Other rational organisations from the same starting point are possible. But none other has been so carefully constructed by such monumental intellects.

Contemporary liberalism, in contrast, is a pretty thin affair. It makes a fairly feeble claim about the relativity of values - a claim which, in human terms, is a good deal more extravagant than the divinity of Christ - and, from that, derives a set of attitudes, none of which can logically be imposed or even advocated. This does not make anybody's heart beat faster. But contemporary liberalism does have one, not very respectable ace up its sleeve - it is, in the present climate, easy to believe and Catholicism is not. So most people, in this country at least, are, in essence, flaccid liberals.

What is, I think, evident from this ideological contrast is that, to the modern imagination, Catholicism is the clearest, biggest enemy of all. In general, Catholicism does not, like the Church of England, go in for wet, liberal compromises or gimmicks to put bums on seats. It does not, in short, shrink from the obvious truth that, if the Son of God did die for our sins, then we have no choice but to be dominated and determined by that fact.

It is this clear rationality that focuses attention on the Catholics for it makes Catholicism the absolute opposite of contemporary liberalism. Inevitably, therefore, when Catholics err - like Archbishop Roderick Wright - or appear to hesitate - as when Cardinal Hume's remarks about celibacy were wholly misunderstood by most of the press - then the critics and amateur canon lawyers dive in, convinced that the edifice of certainty is cracking.

The truth is that Catholicism is not a problem for the contemporary liberal, it is THE problem. It was the primary force in the development of Western civilisation, including liberalism, and yet, now, it is in direct conflict with most aspects of that civilisation. So, in attacking its teachings and practices, we attack something in ourselves and, as any psychiatrist will tell you, self-hatred is the most violent and destructive hatred of all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum