Thursday, 23 August 2012

A triumph of conscience

I have been experiencing a dilemma recently.

I value the human conscience. We must follow our conscience; it is a very noble and virtuous thing to do. Indeed, I can think of two occasions when I have counseled others to act according to their consciences, even though the result of both actions had significantly negative consequences for me. In fact, I’m still living in the shadow of those consequences today.

The interior senses, which is a Thomistic-Aristotelean concept that many people would probably reject, require the assimilation of accurate and comprehensive sensory data from our bodily senses to function properly. The intellectual senses cannot be properly formed in a person if the in-put data has been manipulated in some way; it causes the will and the intellect to function improperly. 

That sounds very mechanical, but if we apply it to situations, we see that it is the case. If a person has been subject to various emotional or socio-economic hardships, or has been emotionally or physically abused in some way by another person, that is, love has been denied him in some way, he may seek to cause harm to himself or others, or even kill himself or others. Similarly, what a well-balanced person can recognise as fantastical (such as computer game violence), a person who is saturated in the fantasy may not be able to tell the difference between that fantasy and reality, because their bodily senses have been so saturated and numbed by it. This give their interior senses the potential to help form acts of the will in a distorted manner, and the end result may be an act of violent mass murder, in emulation of the fantasy that their intellect has reasoned to be reality.

Not only does this highlight the crucial importance of television and computer-game censorship and parental responsibility (as children, after all, are still developing their interior senses), but it also serves to preface my dilemma somewhat.

I have two crises of conscience at the minute, one of which is significantly more important than the other, from my perspective, at least. 

The first, and less important, relates to politics. 

I’ve always been politically motivated. Even as a little boy, I remember following political stories on the news, and learning the names of the contemporary government ministers, and prime ministers of yore. I later studied politics and political science to graduate level, and was active in the Conservative Party for many years. My great passion was constitutional theory.

I also believe, that it is morally incumbent upon electors in our society to vote at every opportunity, though I prefer to have fewer elections than many, and no referenda at all if one can help it. I don’t believe in the infallibility of democracy.

I feel, however, that when the time comes to vote in the next election, I will not cast my vote. 

I abhor socialism. I abhor the Labour Party, not only what it has done since 1997 (though that forms a big chunk of my aggression), but also for what it stands for. I do not share Labour Party ideals, if they even have any. I’m not rich, and I’m not part of the upper-classes. I didn’t go to a good school, and I haven’t got a successful, well-paid, high-flying job. Theoretically, I should support socialism. But I don’t, because I don’t believe that just because I’m less well-off and of less noble birth than some in our society, doesn’t mean that I should elevate myself to something I’m not, nor bring down others to try to be something they are not. Social class is the fabric of our society, even in socialist societies. Soviet Russia had its classes (mainly the rulers - the rich -and the ruled - the poor), as does Communist China and Venezuela. We cannot escape it, in whatever guise it comes, and I think the English model of class is reasonably benevolent, and is also quite fluidic (which enabled it to survive the era of revolution in the 19th century, unlike the continental systems). The English class members have always had the potential to move between their traditional class, either up or down, depending on their circumstances. To some extent, with the wholesale socialist attempt to erase the class system from our society last century, it has, paradoxically, made it harder to move between the classes, up or down.

I joined the Conservative Party during the Blair-years, because it wasn’t socialist, and it wasn’t liberal (in the modern, rather than the classical, sense), either. I even voted for David Cameron to be party leader. 

But soon, I realised that I had made a big mistake. Ken Clarke would have made a much better job of it! If only we would have known then what we do now. The clinch point for me was Cameron’s comment: ‘I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.’ An oxymoron if ever there was one. 

Cameron has continued the Thatcherite-Blairite style of government (I yearn for the day when prime ministers would be more like Gladstone again), and is effectively an elected dictator, easily, it seems, imposing his values on everybody else. That isn’t conservatism. I am a conservative, and do not want to vote for what Cameron is trying do (i.e. unwittingly wreck the nation). 

In our constitution, of course, we don’t theoretically vote for our prime minister. We vote for our members of parliament, who bind themselves together into ideological groups called political parties, for voting, as well as electoral, benefits. 

That’s the theory, anyway. Since the end of the second world war, however, this has gradually shifted to what is, in effect, a presidential election. The electors in the prime minister’s and opposition leader’s constituencies actually cast the vote for or against the next prime minister, and everybody else votes for, or against, their proxy straw-men in the shires.

If my MP is a good conservative, who has traditional values, is intelligent (not a common reality these days; I expect my MP to be well-educated and well-spoken: a man of letters) and believes in virtue and hard-work, and takes an interest in his whole constituency, then I’d want to vote for him. He’d probably be a Conservative Party candidate. I live in a rural area. Rural voters vote Conservative; we’d be stupid not to, as all the other parties are urban parties, fighting over urban issues. The Conservative Party candidates are the only party candidates that properly understand rural issues, as a rule (though the party itself occasionally forgets its supporter base; the leadership is urban, after all).

But if I vote for that good candidate, then I am also voting for Cameron, and his liberal leadership and out-of-step values which are opposed to my values, sometimes quite fundamentally opposed to them. 

I have decided that is something I cannot do.

In practice, of course, one vote makes absolutely no difference. I don’t live in a swing-seat (as I said, I’m rural), and so my vote, in practice, doesn’t count.

But still, my vote cast for Cameron’s Conservative Party is a moral assent to the actions of the Conservative Party. I cannot make that moral assent, given the actions of the party in their years in government since 2010. If I vote Conservative, then, effectively, I’d give my support for gay marriage, for example. Because all the other parties which stand in my constituency have the same policy, and also other policies with which I disagree, I cannot vote for them, either. Therefore, in good conscience, I cannot vote for any party at the next election. There is no choice for me; I am denied a free vote.

Now that’s democracy in action. We should be proud of our wonderful, free liberal democracy, and impose it on other nations, by force if necessary.

Second is the more important issue, to me anyway, which is more difficult to define.

There are many things that I disagree with in the life of the Church today, though I do not believe that there was a ‘golden age’ of the Church to which we should now return. Many would argue that point, however, though they disagree when that golden age was: 1850, or 250? Pre-Constantine, or post-Thomas?

I have great trouble, along with some others, with the modern rite of the Latin liturgy, not the abuses that often occur within it (though I don’t doubt that such experiences have eroded my faith in the rites), but the rite itself. I have never been able to come to terms with the forward facing offering of the Mass, which I know is not required by the rite, but it is both permitted and, to an extent, expected, even though the missal presumes the opposite. I cannot bear eucharistic anaphoras written by committees, the lack of offertory prayers - whose replacement was, that’s right, written by committees - the expungement of the last Gospel, the loss of the printed offertory antiphon in the missal, the loss of adequate preparatory prayers at the start of Mass, the option to drop the confiteor, and, when it is used, its common recitation by both priest and people, the loss of the absolution in the penitential rite, the truncation of the thee-fold kyrie, the ruination of the communion prayers after the anaphora, to name just a few. 

New forms of lay participation which are presidential (or outward oriented) in character on the sanctuary is a perennial gripe for many people. When the rites were being reformed, the reformers (a committee) were biased towards (rightly) imposing the council’s will to encourage more lay participation - what, exactly, the definition of full and active participation meant was debatable - and trawled through the annals of liturgical history to drag back elements from the past into the present day, turning back time. (Sound familiar?) Because these elements existed and grew-up in the past, they are somewhat out of context in our present day. So, effectively, even though these elements once existed in the liturgy, their altered form and circumstances make them entirely new elements. I think, for example, of the second eucharistic prayer. This is often claimed to be the oldest eucharistic prayer, older than the Roman Canon, because it was written by St Hippolytus. Not only did St Hippolytus not compose the Apostolic Constitutions where an old anaphora was found, the eucharistic prayer which was composed (by a committee), becoming eucharistic prayer two bears hardly any relation to the historical version. And besides, that old anaphora would have been one of many, and in those times, anaphoras were still largely pronounced ad libitum.

Moreover, this example also suggests the reformers’ distain for perdurance in the liturgy. Who cares these days that the Roman Canon is the oldest surviving, and most essentially Roman, of the anaphoras, and has survived in our liturgy for one and a half thousand years. Does that mean nothing? I fear the reformers rejected Victoriana and the post-enlightenment polemic, and threw the baby out with the bath-water in the confusion.

A half-understanding of history is worse than no understanding. 

What is worse, is that criticism of the liturgical rites is largely forbidden, not by law, but by convention. We often hear criticisms of ‘how the church used to be’, but if we look at what those criticisms are - clericalism, secrecy, hypocritical pontificating - we see that those things have not changed at all. We are left with the misery, and the pleasures and reliefs have been expunged. 

Some even say that the fact that the intricate symbolism and profound meaning of the liturgical rites needed to be explained to people indicated that they needed changing. Change can be a good thing. But look at what we have instead. What are the symbols of our rite saying? Take an intelligent non-Christian friend to Mass, and it is fascinating to discover what he sees through his eyes.

Fearing that I am ranting, my dilemma is that most members of Christ’s mystical body are being consciously denied the entire plenitude of what the Church has to offer them for their salvation. We are still, in places, combatting hostile opponents to the new English translation of the new liturgy, whereas really we should be combatting the profound culture of ignorance and concealment of grace which exists in the hierarchy. We thought we got rid of clericalism after the Council, but it is more pervasive now than ever.

Unlike my previous dilemma, whereby I could simply stop voting in elections, I don’t know what to do with this dilemma. I have a few opportunities to teach others, I suppose, but I cannot vote with my feet. I’m obliged to go to Mass, and the new rite, after all is valid. Just.

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