Category: Books


AMDG

the-bumpy-transition-from-childhood-to-adolescence-20130110065041-jpg-q75dx720y432u1r1ggcWorking with so many  young people for so long has led me to reflect more on the nature of adolescence, the good, the bad and the ugly!  It seems that the main task of  adolescence  is gaining independence.  Its a journey from a dependent childhood to adulthood, for some it is a long journey, maybe even lasting 20 years or longer. In the UK many factors recently have prolonged the process, expanding higher education, prolonged debt and financial reliance on parents,  marriage happening later (if at all), a globalising job market which is more unstable and temporary.  Adolescences involves a painful trade off – from the comfort of enjoying the benefits of childhood to the uncertainty of emerging into adulthood.  It takes courage and resilience to leave the nest, and a success-addled culture is leaving less space for failure.

Its increasingly obvious that the main task at university, at least at undergraduate level, is socialisation.  Belonging, establishing the more responsible settled patterns of adulthood, this is whats going on at many universities – with 18- 22 year olds.  Lectures, essays and exams, although important really take a back seat to the challenge of leaving the nest.  It is when they start to specialise at masters and postgraduate level that the knowledge acquisition and contribution come to the forefront.  I have observed that the big universities are very poorly equipped to take the pastoral duties of accompanying young people in their quest to become adults seriously.  Often this is reflected in their student satisfaction ratings.  Here in Manchester it is notable haw many of the Chinese students seem so miserable.  The Confucian model of learning is more holistic, with a stress on virtues and the development of character, something that hard pressed lecturers don’s have any time for.

1353088148turkle-alone_together_pbAdolescence in many ways an exciting time, with an emerging creativity often linked to rebelliousness, hope, idealism and a youthful beauty.  But there is a dark side of adolescence which American Bill Plotkin calls ‘pathoadolescence‘.  This is defined by  being hostilely competitive,  violent, superficial,  materialistic,  greedy,  tribal and ultimately self-destructive.  Interesting he argues that it spawns a variety of cultural pathologies, resulting in contemporary societies that are class-stratified, violent, racist, sexist, ageist.  Certainly when one looks back at the political discourse of this last year this analysis seems to ring a few bells.  It also maybe that the speed of our technological change fuels these trends, Sherry Turkles book  Alone Together –  is certainly worth reading.  Her basic thesis is that our digital age of relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void,but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.  Could this lead to a new phenomenon ‘Regressive Adolescence?’ .

Wolf Hall & Hagiophobia*

AMDG

tumblr_m9yucbzytr1r6bdhjo1_12801 *Hagiophobia,  I have just discovered is the fear of saints or Holy things…. ok so we are all familiar with Vampires cowering from crucifixes, or troubled by holy water, but I am thinking about a more subtle and perhaps more serious form of cultural hagiophobia.

Christopher Hitchens’ almost visceral hatred of Mother Teresa would be an example of this, his book the Missionary Position, is a classic case of a hatchet job.  But at least Hitchens described himself as a polemicist and was quite open about this.  However Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall and its sequels contain a more subtle but equally relentless character assassination of St Thomas More.  Her distorted and cruel caricature of one of the great figures of the Tudor times,  is a great calumny.

Mantel, raised a Roman Catholic and educated at convent school, has turned her back on the church of her youth with an unusual and unbalanced venom. In an interview in the Telegraph she said “ I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”  With the stroke of a pen she condemns 1.2 billion people.  At the time I remember reading many comments expressing relief that we have been saved from the ‘respectability’ that Mantel obviously craves.  And she has achieved that respectability in glorious fashion with back to back Booker Prizes and now wall-to-wall gushing praise for the BBC adaptation of her books.

utopia-thomas-more-paperback-cover-artThis leaves me very uneasy, as one of the biggest problems that a post-Christian culture faces is a cultural amnesia. A lack of historical grasp can be dangerous, repeating mistiakes and underpinning prejudices.  This portrayal of More as a zealous monster, and Cromwell the destroyer of the monasteries, as a hero, flies in the face of history.   This is important as so many of viewing the series will see this as history, my atheist sister after reading the books declared with a certain provocative pleasure – what an unpleasant character More was.  The vast majority of historians describe More as one of the intellectual greats of Europe, a renaissance man, the author of Utopia, great friend of Erasmus who worked for the reform of the church from the inside.  As the newspapers are full of gushing praise about Wolf Hall – they focus on the lavish production values, the great acting, its what the BBC does best, historical dramas – and I can see the producers eyes filling up with dollar signs as they anticipate the DVD box sales, and BBC Worldwide licks it lips anticipating the sales to foreign broadcasters.  The problem is the History Sucks – and we will be exporting it around the world and most people will be watching it as fact.

The series has just been reviewed on Thinking Faith 

AMDG

Pope-Francis-South-KoreaAs Pope Francis beatifies 124 martyrs from Korea today, with huge crowds turning out in Seoul to meet the Pope, it may be opportune to look at unique origins of the church in Korea.  Catholicism has grown rapidly in South Korea from 1% of the population ten years ago to over 10% now.  South Korea is a fascinating country that has seen rapid development and economic growth.  It is  the only country in the history of the world that has gone from being a foreign aid recipient to being a major foreign aid donor in only one generation.  It also has huge ‘soft power’ now, not only as the home of Samsung. and being a technology leader in many fields – but also in the popularity of their films, soap operas and music – Remember Gangnam Style? K-Pop has overtaken Japan’s J Pop as the music on the iphones in the Pacific Rim and further afield.  I remember when I was in the Philippines I would often ask the young people which country they  would most like to visit, and the answer universally wasn’t US, or the UK but South Korea.

The origins of the Catholic Church in Korea are fascinating.  Christianity has struggled to make inroads into Asia – and the exceptions – Philippines, East Timor which received Spanish and Portuguese missionaries,  the Korean Catholic Church grew for the first hundred years without any priests or visits from missionaries. Christianity was brought to Korea by a Korean diplomat who had encountered the books of Matteo Ricci in the court in Beijing.  Ricci is an incredible character, an Italian Jesuit, who missionary work was so successful that he gained access to the Forbidden City – the first westerner to do so.  His appreciation of Chinese culture and the peoples admiration of him as a learned scholar gave Ricci great inroads.  He was the first to translate Kong Fuzi’s teachings into Latin – thus coining the name Confucius – Ricci became a bridge between the east and the west.

ricciThe book that probably marks his greatest legacy was ‘The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven’ which argues that Confucianism and Christianity are not opposed and in fact are remarkably similar in key ways.  It was a way of explaining Christian doctrine into Confucian thought and proved to be very successful.  Ricci used this treatise in his missionary effort to convert Chinese intellectuals, men who were educated in Confucianism and the Chinese classics.   It was this book that brought Christianity to Korea in 1603, where it was to grow, without access to the sacraments, without any active priestly ministry.