Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Satanic Influence

The Church of England may be an absurdity, a fractious mess rapidly disappearing up its own arsehole, "led" by a man whose resemblance to the recently discovered Radavan Karadjic most commentators were too polite to comment on, but when you look at the alternatives it's hard not to wish them at least a degree of success. If only because its disappearance would leave the field entirely clear to real believers. One such is Cardinal Ivan Dias, who wears the red hat as the Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelisation. His job, in other words, is to spread the word. In corporate terms he is the head of Marketing and Consumer Relations.

Yesterday he addressed the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican prelates which is confusingly taking place in Canterbury. Apt symbol, perhaps, for a church that has not merely lost its way but would appear to be under the direction of a particularly malicious SatNav. I learned of his remarkable oration via Ruth Gledhill, who chose to dwell on Dias's remarkably rude comparison of the Anglican church to a trembling and senile invalid:


Much is spoken today of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By analogy, their symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities. For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s. And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.


The barb must have stung all the more for being so accurate.

But I'd like to concentrate on the genuinely insane outburst that constituted the core of Dias's address. Asking what was the purpose of evangelism - or, as Catholics prefer to call it, evangelisation - he answered that it was to fight against the power of the Devil, which was particularly well represented in the modern world:

The spiritual combat, described in the Books of Genesis and Revelation, has continued unabated all down the ages...This combat rages fiercely even today, aided and abetted by well-known secret sects, Satanic groups and New Age movements, to mention but a few, and reveals many ugly heads of the hideous anti-God monster:


You have to wonder what this guy is on. Clearly all the struggles with the Satanists, secret societies and New Agers have got to him. Anyway, what are the visible manifestations of this hydra-like "hideous anti-God monster"? Dias knows:

among them are notoriously secularism, which seeks to build a Godless society; spiritual indifference, which is insensitive to transcendental values; and relativism, which is contrary to the permanent tenets of the Gospel. All of these seek to efface any reference to God or to things supernatural, and to supplant it with mundane values and behaviour patterns which purposely ignore the transcendental and the divine.

Far from satisfying the deep yearnings of the human heart, they foster a culture of death, be it physical or moral, spiritual or psychological. Examples of this culture are abortions (or the slaughter of innocent unborn children), divorces (which kill sacred marriage bonds blessed by God), materialism and moral aberrations (which suffocate the joy of living and lead often to profound psychic depression), economic, social and political injustices (which crush human rights), violence, suicides, murders, and the like, all of which abound today and militate against the mind of Christ.


He doesn't go into detail about the "moral aberrations"; perhaps he has in mind the long, tragic history of sexually abusive priests in his church, but somehow I doubt it. He goes on to complain that "many answers being proposed in our post-modern world have become disconnected from authoritative sources of moral reasoning". By "authoritative sources", he might mean the Bible, a more-or-less random assortment of ancient texts thrown together a couple of thousand years ago and bizarrely declared to be divinely inspired. Or perhaps he means his own infallible pontiff, currently the red-shoed wonder. Whatever.

Europe, he says, is "increasingly becoming distanced from its Christian traditions and roots", leading to "a context of moral confusion". This is a common whine of church leaders, often supported by Eeyorish commentators of the Peter Hitchens variety. It's arguable that the loss of widespread acceptance of religious dogma has left some people confused and spiritually adrift. But the idea that secularism entails immorality or nihilism is, frankly, rubbish. Secularism is about creating a neutral public space. Whether society is godless (like Britain) or religious (like the USA) should not be a matter of state diktat.

The cardinal is of course entitled to lament the end of the power and wealth his church enjoyed in the days when its rules were enforced by the officers of the state. But it is questionable whether those centuries were any happier, richer, or more moral. There were, in the days of mass religious observance, still wars, still greed and exploitation, still murders, still prostitution - and, yes, still abortion, except that women in desperate circumstances were forced into the arms of back-street abortionists and well-meaning Vera Drakes who occasionally ended up butchering them with knitting needles. The last two countries in Europe where Catholicism held sway were Franco's Spain and the Ireland of the Magdalen laundries. And possibly Poland, where the Church for a time offered a point of resistance to Communism. Somebody had to. It's noticeable, however, that as Poland loses sight of that dark past and embraces prosperity and freedom the Church is losing congregations faster than you can say Kyrie Eleison.

The decline in European religiosity hasn't produced the end of civilisation as we know it. But it has led to a crisis of confidence in church leaders. They respond to it in various ways. The Anglican answer is to tie themselves up in philosophical knots or fall apart in mutual recrimination as they desperately try to be "relevant" to a modern world that is not so much antagonistic as uninterested. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, is truer to its traditions and is thus both more respected and more reviled. The price its leaders have paid, if Cardinal Dias's strange outburst is any guide, is to go stark, raving bonkers.

Though Ratzo v. the Hideous Anti-God Monster would probably make a good all-action cartoon film.

11 comments:

WeepingCross said...

Hang on. You're obviously correct about the varying reactions on the part of the churches to institutional marginalisation, but wait a minute. Apart from shuffling my feet uncomfortably and being rather reticent regarding the inference of the moral superiority of Christianity and Christians, I don't dissent significantly from anything in what you've reported the good Popish tyranniser as saying. However, I don't think I qualify as 'stark, raving bonkers' in any of the ways society usually accepts. I don't have hallucinations or obsessional dysfunctions, do have a wide variety of interests rather than monomania, and function socially fairly well. I don't think I am mad as such; I merely interpret the evidence of history and experience in a way which conflicts with what is currently the opinion of the majority. Surely 'bonkers' isn't merely shorthand for 'somebody who disagrees with me'? That doesn't seem to me a thought worthy of a heresiarch. You expect that from loose-keyboarded writers of comments.

valdemar said...

Denying historical fact and just plain lying is not ezactly a new trick, is it? And as for totally bonkers ideas, well, Malleus Maleficarum, anyone?

Incidentally, some friends of a friend are German Catholics, living in England. They are getting married in church this weekend. Their young twins will be attending the ceremony. I detect a whiff of ideological compromise there.

WeepingCross said...

Well, again, 'bonkers' seems no more than a VERY rough and ready shorthand, even for that public-spirited document the Malleus. Do you just mean 'wrong'?

WeepingCross said...

What I'm trying to get it at is that accepting the idea of evil operating in the spiritual realm, and having some degree of personality, is just ordinary Christianity. It certainly seems to be accepted by the people in the ordinary, middle-to-high Anglican church I'm attached to, who include no more than the normal proportion of wierdos, and live normal, uneventful, unexceptional lives with jobs and children and nice houses in suburban Surrey. To describe such people as 'insane' seems to empty the word of any useful meaning. It's only a minor point of the Heresiarch's post, but it's worth objecting to. It's not a heretical opinion, it's an incorrect one, because none of us exhibit any commonly-accepted signs of madness, and I don't expect the Cardinal does either, however operatically he may decide to express things.

(That's a bit better.)

valdemar said...

What we seem to be talking about is fantasy. Some people go online and 'become' mighty warriors, slaying orcs, looting treasure etc. Some people go to church and believe in Jesus and Satan. In everyday terms, neither fantasy has much impact. That shy girl in accounts may 'be' an elf archer or an Anglo-Catholic, but you can't be sure unless you engage her in conversation. Or sneak up behind her and bellow 'The Dark One is Upon Us!'

Religion is just another comforting escape from reality (and shouldn't be given special privileges). Perhaps, as online antics increase, folk will point to their cyber-chivalry at the job interview, or indeed the hustings.

The Heresiarch said...

Well, it's good to see I've provoked some sort of debate; I'm sorry I missed it. No offence, Weeping Cross: I'm sure you're completely sane. But do you really believe like Dias that secularism (and its inevitable consequence, "moral aberration") are the result of a conspiracy of Satanists, New Agers and "well-known secret sects" (an oxymoron if ever there was one)? Because that strikes me as paranoid fantasy as baroque of anything you might find in the ravings on the most obscure internet-based Apocalypse-spotter. Dias himself might not be stark raving bonkers. But his ideas are.

As for these ideas just being "ordinary Christianity": well, they weren't mad ideas in previous centuries, when less was understood about the way the world worked and it was natural to see the Devil at work, for example through the activity of witches. But ideas that are sane in one century can become mad - or at any rate delusional - in the next; not simply because they dissent from majority opinion, but because holding them entails ignoring facts which are well-established. Creationism, for example. Believing that secularism is produced by the secret machinations of Freemasons and Satanists is, I submit, another. I also wonder whether any of your parishoners really do believe in Satanic conspiracies the way Dias seems to.

lost causes said...

Valdemar - well done, I've also noticed that World of Warcraft is an atheistic revival of Paganism! At least roleplayers know they're playing when they put their robes on.

As for the mad speech, if you break it down it goes against pretty much everything the 20th century achieved.

"secularism, which seeks to build a Godless society"

Only the state itself is godless; it's up to the individuals to choose whether they are or not.

"spiritual indifference, which is insensitive to transcendental values"

Most people today with any understanding of science don't actually believe in the spirit. Today when we talk about the human spirit, we really mean the unique features of our species that allow us to co-operate and achieve our goals, and the language we have to frame these achievements. Humans are social animals - the most social of all animals - we have an in-built potential for morality that needs neither a god nor the belief in one.

"and relativism, which is contrary to the permanent tenets of the Gospel."

The very idea that a text could be permanent and unchangeable is against science and progress altogether. Something should only be regarded as true for as long as it cannot be proved false, and we know the Bible to be false in much of it's content - regarding the origin of the world for example.

Our secular society is itself battling with relativism though, through multiculturalism, which must delicately balance the conflicting beliefs of religions, ideologies and sciences.

"All of these seek to efface any reference to God or to things supernatural, and to supplant it with mundane values and behaviour patterns which purposely ignore the transcendental and the divine."

It seem like he's using the word mundane here to make it sound boring! Your life is so mundane without god! BORRR-RINGGGG! And of course we try overcome superstitions. Superstitions kill, for example the treating of AIDS with onion extract (see South Africa)

"Far from satisfying the deep yearnings of the human heart, they foster a culture of death, be it physical or moral, spiritual or psychological."

Christians are the ones with the death cult! Their symbol is a guy being tortured to death! I personally almost never think about death except at hospitals and funerals.

"Examples of this culture are abortions (or the slaughter of innocent unborn children)"

Or the right for a woman to choose what happens to her body, as we think of it.

"divorces (which kill sacred marriage bonds blessed by God),"

Or which allow people who don't love each other to try and find happiness elsewhere. In tribal societies with little western contact, the average "natural" length of a romantic / child rearing relationship is about 11 years.

"materialism and moral aberrations (which suffocate the joy of living and lead often to profound psychic depression)"

Materialism is natural to humans, as it is to all animals. If we don't eat and find shelter, we die. Ok, capitalism distorts these needs grotesquely, you might argue, but we're not angels made of ether, we are material. As for moral aberations, by which I pressume he means hedonism, a bit of light bondage etc, he should try it sometime before deciding if it makes you psychically depressed (it really doesn't!)

"economic, social and political injustices (which crush human rights)"

Human rights are a secular concept; the bible teaches that it's ok to slaughter heathens.

"violence, suicides, murders, and the like, all of which abound today and militate against the mind of Christ."

As you point out H, these have been around for ever, and are at much lower levels in our secular society than the theocracies of the dark ages.

valdemar said...

Thanks, lost causes. I don't do online gaming, incidentally, but find it fascinating. Check out the YouTube series The Guild - hilarious stuff about the collision between fantasy and reality, with both retiring hurt.

Perhaps another major problem with debate on this topic is the ignorance of history that most people seem to suffer from. Or rather their inability to apply knowledge. They know that life expectancies used to be much shorter and people - especially children - dropped like flies from infectious diseases. They can go online and read the Newgate Calendar. Yet they can't seem to make the leap to imagining the kind of old-time society those solid facts imply - a dirty, cruel, and, yes, unenlightened world where only a privileged minority enjoyed anything like 'life' as we know it.

So people like Cardinal Dias are free to lie (if only by omission) about our culture's past and are not called on their dishonesty. Or at least, they are not called loudly or rudely enough. Because there's a point where respect for someone's views really has to stop.

The Heresiarch said...

Valdemar & Lost Causes: excellent contributions both. Of course, religion didn't "cause" the disease and misery that was the lot of humankind (still is in many places). But it was only when society collectively stopped putting its trust in supernatural solutions and began to work out objectively how the world worked that real progress began to be made. And most ordinary Christians, most of the time, live in the world that secularism and science has created and are grateful for it. Dias appears not only to hate and fear the modern world, he does so for reasons that owe more to 16th century demonology than any rational analysis. The proper response, actually, is to laugh. They laughed at Icke on the Wogan show. But then he's not a cardinal.

WeepingCross said...

Agreed, to a point. But people who are 'insane' ought not to be allowed to hold responsible jobs, look after children, or in be placed in any way that may affect the sane adversely, ought they?

The Heresiarch said...

There are different degrees of insanity. Dias's version doesn't affect the day-to-day conduct of his life, because it relates mainly to his perception of the sort of world we live in. But I contend that it is nevertheless a form of madness, albeit not a psychosis. Call it "intellectual madness": a delusional belief system. As to whether he ought to "be placed in any position that may affect the sane adversely": well, arguably in his position he is capable of affecting the sane adversely. They might look at his scarlet robes and high position and start taking his mad ideas seriously. But tell me, what do you think of his belief that secularism is the product of Satanists, New Agers and secret societies? Is that really normal Christianity, as you began by suggesting?