*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.
This 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
With the rise of ‘Jihad Tourism’ in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, we are told in the UK that the majority of the resources of MI5 is now spent on tracking British Jihadists. Whilst it is alarming to see masked young men with British accents calling for others to join them, I haven’t seen many intelligent reflections on what is attracting them. What are the underlying causes? Sadly sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims is out of our hands. However close behind is a hatred of ‘the West’. Some of the disillusionment is justified, most of it isn’t. Perhaps our culture excludes more that it includes – with a jaded consumerism, a morally bankrupt celebrity culture and a pornography addled internet with an increasingly toxic and angry social media. Secularists seem to be in denial of all of this and the public debate about faith becomes shriller, with religion being marginalised and often portrayed as being problematic.
As well as some mosques there seem to be three places were radicalisation often occurs, prisons, the internet and universities. A brief look at the history of university education in this country may be in order at this point. Up until the middle ages the universities in these isles were places of theological formation – often run by monastic orders. Of the seven ancient universities (founded before 1600), three of them were founded by papal bulls (Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen) the rest by royal charters (Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin). After Henry VIII’s schism, Catholics were banned from attending many of these universities, and they became exclusive to Anglican students. In the 19th Century, the new generation of ‘redbrick’ universities, based in the growing industrial cities saw it as their civic duty to accept any students without reference to religious belief, and so were proudly secular.
The universities in Manchester fall into this category and because of this secular background they have an uneasy relationship with religion and its presence on campus. It is time for them to rethink this. It maybe that things are changing as they realise how chaplaincy services provide valuable student support and can be at a basic level be a useful addition to student welfare provision. Generally in universities with huge populations of students, (In Manchester 40,000+) – this support for students welfare is inadequate. More importantly universities need to realise that their most effective weapon against radicalisation is well-funded and supported chaplaincy provision. Most young people who are serious about faith will adopt a more conservative/traditional religious identity in order to distinguish themselves in a secular and sometimes hostile culture. A good chaplain can bring experience and wisdom to smooth of some of the harder edges…. universities don’s seem to realise that, students unions often put chaplains in backwaters in freshers week, or their offices in out-of-the-way, hard to find places. Chaplains often complain of institutional apathy, or obstruction and tokenism from the institutions. This needs to change.
Apologies to those who have been sending messages asking me what’s happened to the Blog. Now that the University Semester has ended I think I have the time and energy to pull it out of the deep freeze….. This year happens to be a special anniversary for the Jesuits, it is 200 years since the universal restoration of the Society. Somehow I found myself agreeing to design a website and a blog to commemorate this – at the request of the General Curia in Rome. By Feb I realised that I didn’t have the time / energy to keep the two blogs running so I focused on the Restoration Blog.
Pombal expelling the Jesuit from Portugal
Cutting a long story short, in the 18th Century, the Jesuits found themselves inside a perfect storm – as the world moved out of the medieval world, with the authority of church and king being challenged, Tradition and faith were often portrayed as being opposed to reason, individual enquiry and the scientific method, The old order was being challenged – some monarchs tried to respond by creating a political system ‘enlightened absolutism’ or ‘enlightened despots’ which seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. In religious terms, many thinkers, sick of the wars between Catholics and Protestantism that had torn Europe apart, There was a backlash against the political influence of organised religion, and new ideas were suddenly debated including deism and atheism.
In this climate, the Jesuits were under serious pressure, Their influence was seen as to great, their thriving missions were too successful and often a thorn in the side of Colonialists, and an emerging trading class who were making a lot of money. So starting with Portugal they were expelled from a succession of European Countries and their colonies. This political expulsion was followed by a canonical suppression, as Pope Clement XIV universally suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773. The Empress of Russia refused to promulgate the papal bull – so the Society of Jesus was left in limbo until their universal restoration in 1814, hence the anniversary this year. If you want to read more, the blog is at www.sj2014.net