Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Making space for conversation



Anyone interested in the United States Catholic world will have noticed the sharp differences of opinion among Catholics and Catholic publications about many areas of church and national life. Some commentators claim that it amounts to a schism. In Australia there is similar polarisation, but no talk of schism — Australians don’t do disaster movies. In both nations the exchanges within churches echo trends in national life that heighten disagreements, lessen respect, and tend to confine conversation circles to people of similar views. People become annoyed if those opposing their views gatecrash their forums. This trend creates problems for Church sponsored publications.

Main image: Steeple of church (Akira Hojo/Unsplash)

Participants in Catholic conversations often accuse their opponents of politicising faith. Sometimes the charge is true. It is easy to seek support for political allegiance by appealing to faith. One blatant example was of Donald Trump conspicuously holding a Bible when photographed outside a Washington church. Such practices, of course, are not confined to one side of politics.

In contemporary public conversation, however, something more than politicisation is involved. It has three characteristics. First, it is partisan. It represents a particular kind of politics in which opinions are stated and positions framed in opposition to one’s enemies. Participants are less concerned to commend their own beliefs than to discredit those of their opponents. They appeal to listeners to barrack for their opinions, not to reflect on them. In such a world to be undecided is a sign of weakness.

Second, much contemporary public conversation is programmatic. Participants come to it with a package of convictions that are seen to belong together. As a result when observers see one position taken they can be reasonably certain of a range of other views that will be held. If speakers are enthusiastic about Pope Francis, for example, we conclude that they are also likely to see climate change as a religious issue and to be unfazed about the legalisation of same sex marriage. The corollary of this expectation that if someone is unpredictable, as for example, by strongly endorsing both the Black Lives Matter and the Right to Life movements, listeners will be puzzled or even feel a sense of betrayal.

Third, as a consequence of its partisan and programmatic character, public conversation is characteristically simplified. It focuses on only a few of the multitude of complex relationships that are involved in any human affair. Freedom of speech is defined narrowly as the right of individual speakers to speak, omitting the relationships created by speech with other persons and the groups and society from which they are part. Issues are reduced to simple sets of relationships that determine them, with the complexity of human relationships lost sight of. In any serious conversation within society these subtle and diverse relationships bear respectful conversation. When conversation is narrowed, the space for understanding is also narrowed.

This narrowing has made it difficult for any publication sponsored by a faith-based organisation to sustain conversation that encourages public reflection on all salient relationships involved in public issues. On the one hand it must move outside the specific language and conceptuality of the tribe to engage its participants in a public language. On the other hand it must work from the moral centre that lies at the heart of its faith tradition.

In the Catholic tradition, that centre is the claim that each human being has an inalienable dignity that forbids anyone to be treated as a means to other goals, whether of profit, security or unity. Furthermore no human being is an isolated individual, but each must be seen in relationship to other people and to the larger world. As a consequence, every human action, whether by individuals, by social groups or by governments has a social license.


'It is about exploring the myriad of relationships that are interlocked in any of the ethical decisions that we face as human beings. This means that no subject can be taken off the table.'


The difficulty facing Catholic sponsored magazines in the public conversation arises from the fact that some conclusions Catholics have drawn from the dignity of each human being are widely seen as incompatible with one another. The inalienable dignity of each human being underlies not only the received Catholic accounts of inequality, respect for the environment, warfare, slavery and racial discrimination. It also underlies the accounts of gender relationships, abortion and euthanasia. In public conversation these are seen to belong to different and opposed packages.

The challenge that this polarisation poses lies in the pressure that its exerts on magazines to yield to a programmatic, oversimplified and partisan understanding of conversation. Under the pressure of readers who, in the name of the magazine’s moral centre, expect the magazines to endorse their raft of positions and to condemn that of their opponents, they will be tempted to exclude arguments favouring one side in contested issues, or to leave the issues untouched on the grounds that the conflicting opinions are too firmly locked in.

That is understandable in a magazine directed to a church audience. But it would be regrettable in a magazine that hopes to encourage broad and civil public conversation. Its task is to commend the human values enshrined in its moral centre while challenging narrow human judgments. It is about exploring the myriad of relationships that are interlocked in any of the ethical decisions that we face as human beings. This means that no subject can be taken off the table. It also means recognising that people who come to contradictory conclusions can help one another to come to a deeper understanding of the rich complexity of the world. The acknowledgment of the dignity of each human being demands no less.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Steeple of church (Akira Hojo/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Julian Assange, Wikileaks, A Secret Australia, freedom of speech



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thanks Andrew I for one am always happy to read articles that present different theological or biblical viewpoints that promote human dignity and freedom from abuse ignorance or exploitation. I am happy to read viewpoints that challenge dogma and doctrine developed in times past including matters of sexuality and marriage. Ongoing revelation of God is our Christian duty and not just the province of hierarchical leadership.

Ray Cleary | 04 February 2021  

To be a Christian does not mean that one has a monopoly on the belief of a moral centre. A person can have no faith in a deity and yet have all the characteristics of a moral life. We will all meet moral ambiguities in our journey through life. And church publications can expand our understanding of these complex ambiguities in a respectful and non-combative way. Any church which does not have room for conversation about issues of this nature can rightly said to be partisan. Maybe Australians don't do disaster movies, Andy, but we can certainly be open enough to question the status quo. If we are given the right encouragement!

Pam | 04 February 2021  

Eureka Street, like the House of Commons, is a forum. Even though no forum, in practice, is totally inclusive of all values, disallowing discussion is governed more by culturally shared senses of distaste of the participants of the forum. If the House of Commons can accommodate discussion as to whether the Monarchy or the Lords should be abolished (both of which in law it could do without referendum), ES, in the same spirit of discussion, can accommodate discussion as to whether the Magisterium should be changed to accommodate same sex marriage, transgenderism or some restrained regime of abortion or euthanasia, or whether there is such a thing as Magisterium. Arguing that the discussion should be blocked on the grounds of treason or blasphemy in the context of God-granted free will will simply adjourn the debate to another debate about whether or not the topic is treasonous or blasphemous. Controversy is not over whether a value can be advocated but whether, in doing so, a proponent negates his or her own argument by contradicting the ordered correlation of another value of him or her to the value discussed. Controverting each other’s logical consistency is traditional work for discussion fora.

roy chen yee | 04 February 2021  

Ray Cleary. you have highlighted God's ongoing revelation of his creation to we struggling mortals and the fact that formal doctrine and dogma has been shackled , sometimes for centuries, by the created theology of formal religious practice. The recognition of revelation as God inspired, is, as you suggest, one of the responsibilities that rests with us as God's hopefully attentive and trusting children rather than with the opinions of some with vested interests - such as some hierarchical, career clergymen, and theoretical philosophers. Catholic teaching often finds itself at odds with science and the discovery of previously hidden truths of God's creation. Why?? God alone knows - but I suspect there is a very good reason why our creator chooses to reveal himself in dribs and drabs over many centuries. No doubt he understands that we are generally prone to misunderstanding and creatures of habit - unfortunately not always well-founded habit!!

john frawley | 04 February 2021  

I am an admirer of Andrew Hamilton's contributions. However on this occasion I have found myself floundering to connect his observations to the asserted problem facing faith-based publications. In a nutshell this article is very much "beating about the bush". If Andrew could have pinpointed some instances that demonstrate that problem and its impact, his proposition would be more easily understood. I don't think I would be Robinson Crusoe in being unfamiliar with the word "programmatic". Following research I understand its use is appropriate. Perhaps Andrew could have spelled out for us its meaning.

Peter Hutchinson | 04 February 2021  

When the guiding journalistic principle was, “Find out what’s going on, and print it”, a conservative journalist Auberon Waugh trusted a fellow Marxist journalist, Paul Foot, saying, “We all sought his approval.” Now, truth and objectivity are out. Stanford University professor of journalism, Ted Glasser, says journalists should abandon objectivity in favour of social justice—a nebulous concept that can mean whatever you want it to mean. Former New York Times foreign editor, Chris Hedges, sees publishers now bowing to these trends driven by schools of journalism: “The press…has largely given up on journalism. It has retreated into echo chambers that only speak to true believers. This catering exclusively to one demographic, which sets it against another demographic, is commercially profitable. But it also guarantees the balkanization of the United States.” But surely the Catholic Church teaches with clarity? Ralph Martin’s book, “A Church in Crisis”, highlights a major problem: “One of the most remarkable features of Francis’s papacy is the consistent refusal to clarify public statements and actions of his that cause confusion and controversy in the Church...Pope Francis seems to stir up division and confusion which he refuses to address.” No wonder the citizenry/parishioners are confused!

Ross Howard | 04 February 2021  

In 1948 there was a BBC radio debate on the Existence of God between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston SJ. This debate is still used in the UK in A Level Theology to show how a respectful debate with no ad hominem attacks should be conducted Were we to follow this example!

Edward Fido | 04 February 2021  

1 of 2: “Proverbs 29:18: “Without vision, the people perish”. We need to ‘be’ before we can ‘give’ the “The Moral Centre” Vision/Message. So, the vision today is to put an end to the war within our divided hearts/church…. Attach bayonets! courage and glory are the cry, do or die/ First over the Parapet/ John leads the ferocious attack/ While opposing Hans reciprocates the advance to the death dance/ In crater of mud both stood / Eye meets eye one must die/ But who would hold true to the Christian creed they knew? / ‘To be’ the sign the Cross, / To ‘give’ without counting the cost /Abandon bayonet, bowed head, bending knee, faith/love the other did see/ Worldly values gone from the other humility now holding the same song…. Gentleness is our Lord’s Creed, worldly glory He did not need. But of course, this was not the reality of all Christians who went into battle or in other difficult real-life situations today, so ‘to be’ necessitates self-knowledge in relation to the First Commandment before we can truly ‘give’ Christian Charity to our neighbour We find self-knowledge as we reflect in faith on the living Word/Will of God within the Gospels while The Holy Spirit prompts/enlightens our understand of our own brokenness which leads to humility (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases him-self). So, we need to be readied in our own hearts if we are to walk with the Holy Spirit in humility as a humble heart is His known dwelling place while encouraging others to do the same. Our Lord Himself in this present time has given His Church ‘a vision of hope’ to embrace humility via the True Divine Mercy Image that is one of Broken Man which from my uneducated understanding has the potential to draw the Church into a new dawn, as in the manifestation of a truly humble church/people before God and ‘all whom we meet’, in the world…Continue

Kevin Walters | 04 February 2021  

2 of 2: As when the Truth is embraced honestly, it will induce humility within the heart. A Truthful heart will never cover its tracks (Past) or hide from its shortcomings, and in doing so, confers authenticity, as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own self/ego, in serving God (Truth) first, before any other. If we walk His ‘Way’ we will eventually accept ourselves and then each other in wholeheartedness, while we are led along the path/Way of spiritual enlightenment, the ongoing transformation of the human heart, a moist heart, a gentle tearful one, one of compassion, where eventual it is not possible to judge another individual harshly, for to do so would be to judge/condemn one’s self. Rather in our humility, we would want for all our brothers and sisters no matter what their state of being, that which we have been given ourselves, His known gift of Divine Mercy, which can only be known/accepted in a humble/Vulnerable heart, before Him because is that not what Christianity (Love of God) is all about. kevin your brother In Christ. Please consider continuing this theme given in my posts via the link. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/01/17/united-states-of-america-in-2021/#comment-238298

Kevin Walters | 04 February 2021  

Thought provoking as usual Andrew. Over the half century or so that I have been reading Catholic publications in paper form at first, now in electronic form, I have noticed a trend away from dogmatic pronouncements, usually with the explicit approval of the local Bishop, sometimes politically partisan -Mannix was before my time,Gilroy was well known for his conservative views , Pell, I will refrain from comment. These days I find Catholic media voices to be very muted, generally staying out of contentious issues altogether .That is a shame as there are many social , environmental and cultural issues affecting Catholics that are in need of an expression in the absence of a voice in the popular mainstream media. The exception is Eureka Street which I have read now for over two decades, I think? . I have not seen any other Catholic media challenge its readership as well as E.S. does, but maybe I have not seen them on line while browsing the "Net".

Gavin O'Brien | 04 February 2021  

The essence of the sin of dissent is not disobedience to authority. Disobedience is merely a chosen outcome of dissent, a separate sin not to bend the will. The essence of the sin of dissent, by creatures gifted by God with mind, is the predilection of mind since the Fall to make perverse sense. The rationality of God precedes and is external to the mind, which is only gifted so homo sapiens, unlike, say, carassius auratus, can train it to apperceive the complex of that rationality and, also, the satanic rationalisations which try to look like it under the guise of love.

roy chen yee | 05 February 2021  

As Pam stated "Christians don't have a monopoly on the belief of a moral centre'. Talking with my grandchildren(17 to 27yrs) allows me to value them as decent humans. Their world view tempered by the ambiguities they face in today's world encourages thought that is sometimes outside "my' square. We respect each other and above all listen . Likewise I am grateful for articles that objectively aid understanding, explore different facets of an issue, suggest courses of action, and highlight the right to hold different views due to well thought out reasons. For E.S to unearth truth, eliminating vested interests aids the moral growth of its readers .

Celia | 05 February 2021  

Fr Andrew we are lucky to be able to express our opinions and if no subject can be taken off the table then comparative social systems should be examined. I turn to China. According to the PRC Constitution, the "Four Cardinal Principles" supersede citizenship rights. Those whom authorities perceive to be in compliance with these principles are permitted to enjoy and exercise all the rights that come with citizenship, provided they do not violate PRC laws in any other manner. Wikipedia. 1. The principle of upholding the socialist path 2. The principle of upholding the people's democratic dictatorship 3. The principle of upholding the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) 4. The principle of upholding Mao Zedong Thought and Marxism–Leninism (Tell that to a Falon Gong or Uighar). These principles are inviolate. Transgress them and into the crowbar motel you go. Meanwhile the disparity in wealth between the rich and poor in China has become a yawning gulf. More than 90% of China's richest people are Party members. China's national anthem may exhort the downtrodden, "arise, those who refuse to be slaves," but these days, those who want to get rich join the Party, and the Party wants the rich to join it. That way, wealth stays concentrated in the hands of its members, who have little incentive to change the system. The richest 75 members of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, have an average net worth of $1.2bn. China boasts 476 billionaires. Mao breaking bread with the peasants in a poor village is a memory shrouded in the mists of time.

Francis Armstrong | 05 February 2021  

Amen Edward. If only...

Ginger Meggs | 06 February 2021  

Eureka Street is a publication of the Society of Jesus. As such it aims to be an observer of and participant in the square of public conversation. Andrew Hamiliton as a Consulting Editor, in my view, is a sharp-eyed observer of and a generous particpant in the public discourse. So when he sees such discourse as being partisqn, programmatic and pared of all nuance. Andrew called it simplified but I wanted a third P for alliteration and memorability. Partisanship is understandable for us who have been brought up in democracy where people organise themselves into Parties. These Parties have Programmes. Now while these Programmes may be lenghty and complicated each Party has an indvidual or a team resonsible to paring this Programme down to talking points. While the Catholic Church has metaphors to bolster the ideal of Unity - Christ's Mystical Body, Holy Mother Church, the People of God, for example - truth is it is divided structurally between Clergy & Laity: Conservatives who yearn for a pre-Vat2 church nad Progressives who want more implementation of Vat2 reforms. People look for simple solutions. There aren't any. We have to accept the world is a messy place. Let's talk about it.

Uncle Pat | 06 February 2021  

To have an intelligent conversation on religion you need to know what you're talking about and to be able to express it concisely without waffle.

Edward Fido | 07 February 2021  

Purgatory exists because the good die imperfect, Heaven, logically, cannot contain imperfection, so some type of cleansing is needed. Human observation tells us that for the sinner to express sorrow without understanding completely through the emotions what s/he should be sorry for never feels like perfect contrition to the victim. It’s actually quite a reasonable idea which the black and first nations reparations concept exploits. ‘Voice to parliament’ is an ideal human (which means liable to neurosis) purgatorial experiment to keep picking at the sore so that the guilty are led ever more to feel their guilt more finely, a continual revelation that never ends, unlike re-education in the real Purgatory. Neurosis aside, human purgatory, exemplified by reparations, black lives and #MetToo movements, correctly states that the purpose of moral philosophy is not to find ways of exculpating because the world is ‘messy’ or ‘ambiguous’ but to discover the location of indictment despite the obscuring effects of those characteristics. Liberal Christianity (and even traditional Christians) behave like lawyers, directing moral philosophy ab initio to find ways of declaring how we can, somewhat like fish, be submerged in and oxygenated by a moral environment we cannot escape, without being implicated.

roy chen yee | 08 February 2021  

The Catholic Church is going through a time of real ferment as it moves further into the 21st Century facing a myriad challenges which were undreamt of when I was growing up in the 1960s. American Catholics are far more vocal and polarised then we are. It's the nature of their country. Some of them are basically calling the Pope the Anti-Christ. There is much of the Malachy Martin conspiracy theory nonsense to this. Others want the Pope to be far more radical than he could possibly be. To me it's a wee bit like during the Renaissance. There were Christian humanists then, like Erasmus and John Colet, who were accused of all sorts of things. They were not guilty of any of them. It is a pity their wisdom and moderation did not obtain. The Western World may well have been spared the evils of the Wars of Religion. We need men and women like them now. They do exist. Their voices are not as strident as the extremists on either side and we need to listen to them.

Edward Fido | 09 February 2021  

Edward Fido: ‘….myriad challenges….vocal and polarised…. wisdom and moderation ….extremists….’ ‘What’ only exists so ‘why’ can be asked. If these extracts from what you say are the ‘whats’, the question is why ‘myriad challenges’ exist. Ross Howard has it right. People should justify what they want, as you’ve said elsewhere, ‘concisely and without waffle.’ Life is simple. The theological rules, which are there to show us how God is consistent and without shadow of change, are well-known. If somebody wants to change them, they should say clearly how they can be without intellectual inconsistency and denial of God’s consistency. ‘[M]yriad challenges’, like ‘messy’, ‘ambiguous’ and ‘contradiction’, are excuses for the present-day outcomes of deviancies committed a long time ago, invisibly and unnoticed, by people who did not remember, or chose not, to adhere to the rules. An inch in deviation, if uncorrected, will take an ocean liner miles off its path. What some are arguing for is for the Barque of Peter to hallow a misbegotten course because it is too far or hard to return to the proper route. Benedict Coleridge’s article addresses the same point in a secular context, the ideology that really exists behind pragmatism and ‘moderation.’

roy chen yee | 10 February 2021  

The hostility, usually violent, exhibited by cancel-culture activists and by a secular media that often ignores reasoned Christian argument - especially on issues such as marriage, abortion and euthanasia - makes "conversation" increasingly difficult, and the necessity of forums where informed discussion and debate are valued a matter of some urgency - not only for reasons of presenting the Christian faith but also for the health of a democratic society.

John RD | 10 February 2021  

I read your last post with the usual difficulty, Roy, as your admixture of various examples seems to wander all over the place and I find your syntax tortured. By being unnecessarily tortuous you make it a trial. Chesterton said what he said about Catholicism and the Orthodoxy within it with a masterful conciseness. You would do well to study and try to emulate him. As a matter of fact, you do not seem to have got my simple point about Erasmus and Colet living in an Age very much like ours. They were both perfectly Orthodox and were trying to harness the New Learning to the service of the Church. Had their reasonable and humane example succeeded I doubt we would have had the horrors, such as the Wars of Religion, which followed the Reformation. The current Pope, Francis, to me is very much in the Erasmus/Colet tradition. He is trying to bring people together. I find the intellectually and verbally tortuous stand you take on behalf of a specious 'orthodoxy' off putting and counterproductive.

Edward Fido | 11 February 2021  

Edward Fido: ‘I find the intellectually and verbally tortuous stand you take on behalf of a specious 'orthodoxy' off putting and counterproductive.’ If you understood my post –how else would you know the ‘orthodoxy’ is ‘specious’ – you should have pointed out where I was wrong, otherwise you’re only complaining about style. Does ES exist to correct style or substance? A recurring feature of your posts is name-dropping, which is not the same thing as citing authority. When you name-drop, you insinuate without proof that an authority is supporting your stance (which, incidentally, doesn’t appear to be much more than let’s be nice to each other, a long way from the Great Commission). When you cite (and this thread in a serious journal is, at least, semi-academic), you show you know your stuff by paraphrasing what the authority said to demonstrate you have its support. (Or the teacher deducts marks for plagiarism.) If Chesterton is so concise, it shouldn’t be hard to paraphrase him as an example of how I (and others) should write. In God we trust, Edward, everyone else (including you) pays cash. Of course, if you didn’t understand my post, your 176 words ended in an illogic.

roy chen yee | 11 February 2021  

I have read your last bizarre, intellectually contorted and vastly verbally over-prolix pseudo-answer to me, Roy and I am, as usual, dumbfounded by what purports to be an adequate response. It seems blatantly obvious you know nothing of the Renaissance or some of its major characters, such as Erasmus, who facilitated the revival of the knowledge of Greek, which led to a new and vital revival in Biblical Studies. I tend to believe any intelligent commentator on Western Christianity would know something of this. Likewise, I suggest you know next to nothing of G K Chesterton, the celebrated English Catholic convert, novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and Christian apologist of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century. Most well read Catholics of my generation would be familiar with some of his novels, such as 'The Man who was Thursday', the Father Brown stories and possibly some of his polemic works like 'Orthodoxy'. It is normal, in intelligent society, when discussing something, to expect the other person to know something of what you both are discussing, otherwise there's no point. I am beginning to believe that there is no point discussing these matters with you, as, unlike Eliza Doolittle, you don't 'get it'.

Edward Fido | 12 February 2021  

Now, it’s a 203 word non-answer to the quite reasonable question as to how you can say my ‘orthodoxy’ is specious if you couldn’t understand my post. Conversations begin with a baseline and social phenomena such as Black Lives, Invasion Day, etc. etc. shows that shared understanding of the meaning of historical events should not be assumed. The difference between our posts is granularity and ownership of argument. Granularity, very simply, is making sure that for each opinion proffered, a trail of reasoning is provided. Name-dropping is sleight of hand, not reasoning. As Chesterton, Erasmus and Colet are not Doctors of the Church, there is no prima facie expectation that they must be believed. Ownership of argument is more or less showing in your own words why you think they are correct. An opinion offered by itself doesn’t confirm its correctness, a good example being an unsubstantiated opinion of yours in ‘Commending Faith’ which can be argued to be wrong. The purpose of Father Hamilton’s article is precisely to address our ‘situation’ here: ’People become annoyed if those opposing their views gatecrash their forums.’ Curling into a ball and hissing at the gatecrasher, paradoxically, shows why it was needed.

roy chen yee | 13 February 2021  

Roy, your ripostes are beginning to have something of the flavour of Nigel Molesworth (Look him up on Wikipedia). I think I have to treat you as what is known in Law as a vexatious litigant and leave well enough alone.

Edward Fido | 16 February 2021  

Roy (5/2) " . . . satanic rationalisations which try to look like it (i.e. reason) under the guise of love". I think St Ignatius Loyola who famously composed rules for the discernment of spirits would be looking with approval on that formulation, Roy. The fog of dissembling cries out for dispersion by the penetration of Christ the Logos' light.

John RD | 20 February 2021  

Thanks John RD. I suppose we could propose that Conscience bound is Reason or Liberty, and that Conscience unmoored is Irrationality or Licence. Liberty, unlike Licence, acknowledges that the right to your opinion does not include a right to your facts. Because humans cannot create the spiritual world, the ‘heavenlies’, to which the material world is moored, the constituent facts of the spiritual world, and many of those of the material world, are logically prior to a ‘conscience’.

roy chen yee | 22 February 2021  

Well put, Roy. I imagine those who supported the fiendish "Termination of Pregnancy Bill" passed last week in South Australia's lower house - an achievement claimed as an "historic day for women" - followed their conscience. No consolation that, though, for the unborn, God help them.

John RD | 22 February 2021  

Ach, Mein Gott! Where would we be without our very own Ignatian-invoking Tweedledum and Tweedledee, wh?

Michael Furtado | 22 February 2021  

....whose greatest claim to fame is a capacity to split hairs finer and more infinitesimally constructed than even the smartest of atomic scientists! Though lost for words, I can at least applaud.

Michael Furtado | 22 February 2021  

'Fiendish', indeed; but because of the failure over many years by Catholic anti-abortionists to proclaim our position within a moral context that celebrates all life and vigorously critiques all threat to it. Tragically, the one-issue myopia of pro-lifers in many parts of the developed world, like the US, to expose and condemn the willful neglect of health-care policy for the most vulnerable, results in over half a million deaths within a mere year from Covid-19. Add to that the historic exploitation of women through gender inequity, and people of colour over the last two centuries through enslavement and indentured labour as a consequence of the imperial enterprise and resulting in the reduction of living conditions in the developing world to beggary and mass starvation, and we face a vastly different context in which to assess our reactions of shock and horror to the equally profound wickedness of abortion. When right-wing conservative flag-bearers protest in outrage and frustration about their sad inability to overturn the almost inevitable tide of pro-abortionist public opinion they need to ponder on the world of yesteryear when Mario Cuomo and a younger Joe Biden were profoundly anti-abortion but found their anti-poverty platforms pilloried by social-policy reactionaries.

Michael Furtado | 23 February 2021  

There's a bigger battle going on than one about a rattle, Michael. Trivialising it won't make it go away. I do have to laugh at your attempts to introduce The New Values System. There are people such as you at Harvard Divinity School et sim where traditional Christianity is off the menu. You only have to look at the Catalog. Have you been reading The Screwtape Letters recently?

Edward Fido | 23 February 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘split hairs’ This is an exigency of war. The Devil is effective because, as a guerrilla, the lure is in the open but the consequences of taking it are shaded in the details. So as not to be seen coming, God has to place his refutations in smaller hiding places, the details within the details, or the interstices between the filaments of a hair. Actually, that’s sort of how the Pfizer BioNTECH vaccine works. If the virus is considered a sin against the body, the refutation, introduced into the blood stream through a needle, is not a weakened ‘practice’ virus to train the body to recognise the real thing when it arrives, but a fragment of the virus’ logic. So, in religious terms, when you hear the pre-sin fragment, ‘Conscience is sovereign’, or words to that effect, you know what’s coming next.

roy chen yee | 24 February 2021  

I may not take Roy's stridently apocalyptic tone but I think I am beginning to see we are both singing from the same song sheet. Years ago, whilst at school and university, I was fascinated by the sparkling verbal facility of many of the dons at the School of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. They were preaching Modernism, or Liberal Christianity as it is now called. It leads nowhere.

Edward Fido | 25 February 2021  

Michael Furtado: You claim to oppose abortion - yet none of your contextual rationalisations is of any avail in protecting the unborn or resisting the expanding industry that destroys them under the guise of rights and responsible population control, especially in the world's poorest countries.

John RD | 25 February 2021  

Thank you, Roy Babe, for your eloquent reply. In your deposition, though, you allow more space to the God Who Hides rather than the God Who, in spite of it all, Loves. My God doesn't have to sneak in like a virus-aping vaccine. That, I suppose, is what confounds the devil in us all: that S/He loves, in spite of our brilliance and our truculence.

Michael Furtado | 25 February 2021  

I'm implacably opposed to abortion on demand. John RD misreads the complexity of the dilemma facing US Catholics on this terrible question. The 'anti-statist', anti-welfare policy culture of the US inherently opposes government interference in the economy. Trump's Republican Party debarred the government from stepping in to rectify calamitous effects of the Coronavirus on its people. While the Catholic Church is properly committed to the separation of Church and state, the Vatican is a sovereign state, which enables it to enunciate much that binds Catholics to respond whenever matters of policy, such as abortion, conflict with Church teaching. Catholic Social Teaching teaches that the state must act to assist the poor when unable to fend for themselves. Some right-wing Catholics are deeply opposed to this teaching. US Catholics have always been divided between those supporting Church teaching on social welfare policy and others who don't. The deliberate failure of the Trump Administration to follow medical advice to enforce a lockdown resulted in Covid-19's calamitous wipe-out of the lives of 500,000 poor US people. Thus, because the doctrine of individual liberty is enunciated in the US to extremes, a woman's right to choose has overtaken a more humane attitude against abortion.

Michael Furtado | 25 February 2021  

There’s a false implication in your post that Love must not say ‘No’. Rather than bang somebody on the head with a direct ‘No’, the knowledge of which they haven’t earned and therefore do not value, the God of Love invented the method attributed to Socrates to bury, like chocolate eggs, ‘no’ and ‘why no?’ in the heather and gorse of our minds. Ambling through the heather is pleasant, the gorse less so, but if some effort is taken, the reward is a forensics to reveal all the hidden larvae in the Devil’s bouquet, which he has been especially careful to wrap in the most distractingly warm colours of Love that he can find.

roy chen yee | 26 February 2021  

Then we must learn from the devil, Roy. For Love is paramount!

Michael Furtado | 26 February 2021  

In his contextual catalogue of reasons for today's growing acceptance of abortion and his determination to hold the alleged "one-issue myopia" of "right-wing conservative flag bearers" largely responsible for it, Michael Furtado ignores the part played by the view of motherhood as an oppressive patriarchal construct propagated by radical feminist ideology, at least since the days of Margaret Sanger, and the concomitant distortion from the same source of the idea of equality which - irony of ironies - increasingly manifests itself as women imitating men in dress, behaviours and sporting pursuits. Far from progressive and liberating, is not this phenomenon a regression to the Hemingway-Fitzgerald days of male-mimicking Brett Ashleys and Jordan Bakers? By contrast, is there anything more life-affirming, beautiful and naturally dignified than the reality of a young daughter imitating her mother as she cares for a new-born arrival in the family? Neglect of distinctively maternal sensibility and the paternal support which good fathers provide - and their irreplaceable value to the basic unit of civilised society - comes at a devastating cost.

John RD | 27 February 2021  

John RD tries valiantly to expose my supposedly covert reasons for why abortion on demand has become the scourge we both agree it to be. My appeal, addressing his 'Emperor's Clothes' strategy, advances instead a joint policy platform to contain and reverse it. Thus, John sadly reveals the basis of his own beliefs which enables me to 'return the favour'. While some, extreme, anti-masculinist feminist ideologies ARE INDEED responsible for the foetus-killing-field that abortion clinics have tragically become, most Christians, as well as many Catholics, and especially women, have long come to terms with the need to link family size with other aspects of human ecology. Pope Francis himself addressed this question when introduced to a woman whose Catholic identity was defined to him solely in terms of the vast number of children she had given birth to. Of course, that Paul VI was responsible for this egregious mistake is doubtless responsible for the biologistic straightjacket that John seeks to impose upon all women and men. One has to wonder what he thinks of the beauty of the counter-tenor voice of Philippe Jaroussky or does he excuse Farinelli's castrato as justified because the Pope of the time sanctioned his castration?

Michael Furtado | 27 February 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘Then we must learn from the devil, Roy. For Love is paramount!’ The Devil offered Christ power over all the kingdoms of the world, the power through the civil authority to love the hungry by feeding them, or the homeless by housing them, or women by freeing them from fear of sexual violence, or the homosexual by freeing him from stigmatisation and oppression. Christ could have taken that opportunity to use the mechanisms of government to pursue these and other aims aligned with love in the material sense for the entire world. We could have had world social justice since around 30 AD/CE. What did he learn from the Devil concerning the paramountcy of Love?

roy chen yee | 27 February 2021  

Michael Furtado: What you call a "biologistic straightjacket" has no need of my imposing it, even were I, or even a Pope, able to do so - what is more commonly called "nature" has its own ways of reminding us of the respect due it when we humans attempt subversion or re-invention of it.

John RD | 01 March 2021  

Some crucial challenges here, Roy! While there is no scriptural evidence that the Devil was offering Jesus a solution to all the social injustices of His day (which makes your exegesis eminently contestable) I humbly imagine that, as tempted as He was and we interminably are, Jesus showed us a way towards seeing these 'solutions' not merely as blandishments to Him but also to us, and chose instead to sacrifice His Life for us. There appears to be an entire Theology of Salvation that you have missed here, including the Gift of The Resurrection. 'Greater love has no one than this, that one should lay down his life for others' (John 15:13).

Michael Furtado | 01 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘While there is no scriptural evidence that the Devil was offering Jesus a solution to all the social injustices of His day (which makes your exegesis eminently contestable) I humbly imagine….’ There’s no need to humbly imagine anything. The plain text shows that the only precondition to gaining power over the kingdoms was to ‘worship’ Satan. ‘Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’ A world of perfectly behaved atheists is how to defeat God. A messy world of abortions and Uyghurs harvested for livers doesn’t make for an aesthetically equivalent alternative model. If there’s a lake of fire looming in the future, wouldn’t even a trainee salesperson have tried to make it as easy as possible for Jesus to compromise God by taking up the offer? And if at first you don’t succeed in filling up the magnificent kingdoms of the world with nice people who don’t believe in anything, try, try again with filling up the churches…?

roy chen yee | 03 March 2021  

Perchance you avoid the more important question about Farinelli, JohnRD, (and which explains why I use the word 'straightjacket') or do you prefer to sidetrack, interminably repeat yourself and obfuscate? I would dearly love to know from you what makes it acceptable for the Church to sanction Farinelli's castration while simultaneously insisting that Natural Law is always sacrosanct!

Michael Furtado | 03 March 2021  

The 'woke' discounting of human biology and deeming of it as oppressive of self-expression and freedom are strongly suggestive of a latter-day gnosticism that would re-define human beings as non-corporeal entities. What next?

John RD | 04 March 2021  

“That is understandable in a magazine directed to a church audience. But it would be regrettable in a magazine that hopes to encourage broad and civil public conversation. Its task is to commend the human values enshrined in its moral centre while challenging narrow human judgments.” And this moral centre is ….? If the moral centre is a value-neutral cordialness that simply wants to make a ‘safe’ place for people to ‘converse’, how different is ES from Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? Morality abhors a vacuum. Either the centre holds explicit values of virtue or it holds default values of vice.

roy chen yee | 04 March 2021  

Further to the "biologistic straightjacket" notion popularised by proponents of gender identity politics who would eliminate "nature" from the national conversation, I suggest that the creation accounts of Genesis provide a foundational theological anthropology in a narrative that contains both light and shadow. These accounts reveal a binary differentiation of male and female in the human species, a relational complementarity, and a procreative purpose in their sexual union. Recognition of their Creator, gender-distinctive mutuality and unity, as well as a teleological procreativity define their relationship and place within God's loving plan, and form the basis for the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage. Human sexuality is God-given, and, as with all God's gifts, requires respect and responsible stewardship on the part of its recipients. The Fall, as portrayed in the same "book of the origins", reveals a deceived, wilful and consequential departure on the part of humanity's progenitors, involving a refusal of creaturely acceptance towards God's sovereign wisdom in creation. Humans, like the serpentine "Father of Lies", exercising their freedom in rebellion, prefer the illusion of a creation fashioned according to their own image and likeness to that of God. Nature is abandoned for self-constructed artifice. And, according to the Christian story, but for the restorative grace of God made available in Christ - the "new Adam" who "always does what he sees his Father doing" - the pitiful and ensnaring story goes on.

John RD | 05 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘While there is no scriptural evidence that the Devil was offering Jesus a solution to all the social injustices of His day (which makes your exegesis eminently contestable) I humbly imagine….’ There’s no need to humbly imagine anything. The plain text shows that the only precondition to gaining power over the kingdoms was to ‘worship’ Satan. After that, Christ could do whatever he wanted. ‘Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’ A world of perfectly behaved atheists is how to defeat God. A messy world of abortions and Uyghurs harvested for livers doesn’t make for an aesthetically equivalent alternative model. As any secondary school English teacher would say, the test of a story is the verisimilitude of its plot and characters. Modernist exegesis is to see the Scripture stories not as events which happened but fables to illustrate a theme, making it easier to dismiss them when other agendas take precedence.

roy chen yee | 05 March 2021  

Oxford's Professor Nicholas Davidson, one of whose areas of expertise is papal history, is more cautious than Michael Furtado about alleged papal sanctioning of castration. In the context cultural mutilation, he has said: "If the Pope was going to be consistent, and if there was evidence that Church officials operated in an improper way, then an apology should be made." There is a difference, subtle but real, between tolerating a practice that violates nature and actually pronouncing in the name of the Church that it is permissible. Musical aesthetics of an earlier musical era aside, often church-choir castrati whose parents performed the act came from impoverished circumstances, pursuing family income by means of it; and although it may certainly be argued that failure to reject the practice earlier than the Church did officially under Leo XIII's pontificate in 1878, there is no evidence, to my knowledge, of a Pope holding it, per se, to be morally acceptable; nor, indeed, formal teaching to that effect.

John RD | 05 March 2021  

Regrettably, Roy, many secondary teachers of English today demonstrate little, if any, awareness of the realist principle you maintain - and which I share - diverted as they are predominantly by relations of power in texts and technicalities of narrative structure and construction of character, which usually makes for very narrow, boring and mainly ideological interpretation, courtesy of critical theory a la Derrida & co. It's a proven formula for turning able students off the study of English literature.

John RD | 05 March 2021  

'The Fall reveals a deceived, wilful (sic) and consequential departure on the part of humanity's progenitors, involving a refusal of creaturely acceptance towards God's sovereign wisdom in creation.' Tragically, John RD's 'Fall' doesn't square with that of a loving God but perpetuates an allegory appealing to the primitive and self-torturing mindset that no Christian God would employ to coerce Their people into quivering submission born of fear. John's loathsome serpent, poised to pounce and ensnare, has reptilian descendants, themselves tracing their mere biological lineage to Eve's serpent, who showed her out of the prehistoric Gothic nightmare of fettered roles and responsibilities that John would seek to forever shackle Eve and all women with, by making Eden a 'horror nightmare'! Eve wasn't thrown out; she simply left when she saw through it all by subscribing to the alternative Genesis account (Matthew Fox, 1991; 2000). In 1984 Cardinal Ratzinger — later Pope Benedict XVI, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — asked the Dominican Order to investigate Matthew Fox’s alternative interpretation. When three Dominican theologians examined Matthew Fox's works and did not find his books heretical, Ratzinger ordered a second review, which was never undertaken. Go figure!

Michael Furtado | 07 March 2021  

John RD blames parents and their economic poverty for the practice of castration that saw the choir of the Sistine Chapel (the Pope's own private place of worship) 'manned' (no doubt a Freudian slip, since girls were and still are excluded from membership) by nine choristers with treble voices. Because of the impossibly High C in Allegri's Miserere, when the psalm was sung at St Peter's during Holy Week, all nine choristers, some of them well past puberty and, in Farinelli's case, well into his 50s when he was still singing, commonly sang the the solo parts together to fill that largest of Christian churches to perfection. Since Urban VIII there have been 22 popes, all of whom engaged castrati choirs. Allowing for the fact that castrati are remarkably long-lived (though what a sacrifice to make in return for longevity) the approximate sacrificial sum amounts to 198 men shorn off their masculinity in return for Peter's Pence and for the Greater Glory of God. As Paris was indeed worth a Mass to Henri of Navarre, one cannot discount what agonies of distraction must have perturbed so many Supreme Pontiffs beyond marveling at Mozart! And think of poor Farinelli's dissatisfied wife!

Michael Furtado | 07 March 2021  

Michael Furtado's bien pensant airbrushing of Lucifer -- how ironic, that name - and talking down of the Fall and its effects (which Newman and many others regard as no less than calamitous), underestimates the power of human freedom and consequence for its misuse, while simultaneously diminishing recognition of the human need for repentance and reconciliation with God and others, and the Christian appreciation of the merits of Christ's life, death and resurrection. It is an unjustifiably idealised and sanguine view that encourages a Christianity more blindly unrealistic and ineffective in confronting evil than even Candide's blinkered optimism.

John RD | 08 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: Analogical flippancy about the serious matter you raise against the Church does not disguise a lack of evidence to substantiate the implication that Popes who "sanctioned" castration actually procured it and/or taught that this violation of nature was consistent with the Gospel and moral reason.

John RD | 08 March 2021  

Regarding the theology of Matthew Fox, expelled from the Dominican Order on account of his misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, I recommend the excellent critique by the Anglican theologian Richard Bauckham, formerly Professor of New Testament Studies at St Mary's College, University of St Andrews, that appeared in "Anvil" Vol 13, No.2, 1996. The article is titled "The New Age Theology of Matthew Fox" and is available online.

John RD | 09 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘In 1984 Cardinal Ratzinger — later Pope Benedict XVI, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — asked the Dominican Order to investigate Matthew Fox’s alternative interpretation. When three Dominican theologians examined Matthew Fox's works and did not find his books heretical, Ratzinger ordered a second review, which was never undertaken.’ https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/1441325.pdf Evans, unpublished thesis, p34: ‘The original Dominican enquiry in 1985 exonerated him because, it found his work too shallow to be dangerous (Pacwa, 1992a: 14). Nevertheless, in 1986, Ratzinger demanded that Fox should stop teaching and, in 1987, the Vatican instigated its own investigation. Eventually, in 1988 they judged that the theology expressed in Original Blessing was unbalanced (1988b: 4–5).’

roy chen yee | 09 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘In 1984 Cardinal Ratzinger — later Pope Benedict XVI, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — asked the Dominican Order to investigate Matthew Fox’s alternative interpretation. When three Dominican theologians examined Matthew Fox's works and did not find his books heretical, Ratzinger ordered a second review, which was never undertaken.’ https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/1441325.pdf Evans, unpublished thesis, p34: ‘The original Dominican enquiry in 1985 exonerated him because, it found his work too shallow to be dangerous (Pacwa, 1992a: 14). Nevertheless, in 1986, Ratzinger demanded that Fox should stop teaching and, in 1987, the Vatican instigated its own investigation. Eventually, in 1988 they judged that the theology expressed in Original Blessing was unbalanced (1988b: 4–5).’ https://www.amazon.de/-/e n/Joan-Davies-Evans/dp/3659197475 Dr Joan D Evans a retired nursing sister, studied Theology at the University of Chester an accredited College of the University of Liverpool. Married with two children and two grandchildren Joan serves as a Local Lay minister at St Martins Parish Church, Shropshire in the Diocese of Lichfield.

roy chen yee | 09 March 2021  

I unequivocally regard Voltaire's Candide (and Bernstein's stunning musical expression of it) as Enlightenmentarian contributions to contemporary theological understandings of Atonement, especially the tilt towards the more 'horizontal' expressions of love and forgiveness that Christians are adjured to embrace since Vatican II. In this context my belief is that Atonement is about the human person taking action to correct previous wrongdoing on their part, as the Church urges us, either through direct action to undo the consequences of that act, equivalent action to do good for others, or some other expression of feelings of remorse. I appreciate that such a contemporary horizontal tilt will not mollify those, like JohnRD and Roy Chen Yee, whose religious gaze is permanently fixed on the verticality of the Fall narrative, which is itself not addressed in The Creed and therefore not essential to the belief of contemporary Christians. As to the views of the two Anglican theologians whose conservative theologies have been circulated by John and Roy as anathematic to those of Matthew Fox (and which is indeed the case) it does us well to remember that, when Fox was cast out, the American Episcopalians - Anglicans All! - welcomed him into their midst.

Michael Furtado | 11 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘verticality of the Fall’ The Crucifixion is reparation for Original Sin. So, vertically speaking, if no belief in the Fall, then no need to believe in the existence of Original Sin, no need to have a Crucifixion, and no need to have those quaint ceremonies where they dress boy babies in girlie clothing and have oil thumbed and water dripped on them. And, in your case, no need to have leaping heart and tingling spine at the intonation of ‘O Happy Fault’ which refers to someone in whom it is unnecessary to believe as he, like Lucifer, is not mentioned in the Creed.

roy chen yee | 12 March 2021  

I'd hope that Eureka Street readers following this thread would not be deterred from familiarising themselves with the article by Prof Richard Bauckham to which I've referred by Michael Furtado's use of the word "conservative" in his dismissive response - the convenient adjective he employs here is no substitute for addressing the substance of Bauckham's impressive theological reasoning, particularly as he exposes Matthew Fox's egregious and popularly disseminated misrepresentation of traditional sources such as Augustine, and Fox's misleading polarisation of the terms "Creation" and "Fall" to advance his one-sided view of Genesis and its implications for morality and ecology. I think it should be noted, too, that the Christian understanding of Atonement is both 'horizontal' and 'vertical' as it involves not only human action but also the grace of God - another term, like "Fall", that does not appear in the Creed, but without which I daresay there would be no Creed or Christian tradition as we know it.

John RD | 12 March 2021  

I submit that I have nothing new to say to John RD except that repetition is no substitute for evidence or other introductory use of logic to confirm the righteousness of his claims. As to Roy Chen Yee's uncharacteristically damp but mildly entertaining squib, Jesus Christ, he will find, IS prominently mentioned in the Creed.

Michael Furtado | 15 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: What you regard as "repetition" is occasioned by your failure to demonstrate engagement with relevant and thoroughly reasoned theology such as that produced in Professor Bauckham's article on Matthew Fox's interpretation of the Genesis' Creation and Fall account (also found seriously wanting, I might add, by respected theologians of several leading Christian denominations) to which you respond with the mere off-handed stereotype: "conservative". And there's a further consideration: repetition - for instance, as in anamnesis - is a cornerstone of tradition and an indispensable reference point for its doctrinal and practical authenticity in the discernment of novelty.

John RD | 17 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘Jesus Christ, he will find, IS prominently mentioned in the Creed.’ So? The fault he was fixing and which you’re getting lyrically excited about is Adam’s. Adam is the person Adam, not a literary symbol for humankind, because the Crucifixion provides reparation for Original Sin. You provide reparation for subsequent sins, if not here then in a furnace in the next world called Purgatory, unless you wish to keep disregarding God’s continuing offer of forgiveness, in which case each ‘moment’ of disregard produces another ‘moment’ of reparation in an unending series of moments. If ‘Adam’ were only a literary representation, there would be no Original Sin as such, Mary (and Jesus) would not be said to have been born without sin (because foetuses can’t sin), and baptism would only be an induction of membership.

roy chen yee | 17 March 2021  

Not to reduce this to the proceedings of an Oxbridge Poetry Appreciation Society, but when +Hollis invited me to sing The Exultet/Exsultet at the Newman Chaplaincy in 1973/74 we discussed its importance as a lyrical prayer to bless the Paschal candle and celebrate its symbolism, not its literal truth, which speaks of re-think. A gifted liturgist and grandson of a scholarly Bishop of Madras, he reminded that the text of The Exultet formed part of the Roman rite from the Middle Ages, but its remote ancestry goes back to the ancient Gallican liturgy (C8th), from where it passed into the Gelasian sacramentaries, then into the Gregorian sacramentaries, finally entering the Roman liturgy, like many other Gallican chants and rites. In central and southern Italy, where The Exultet text was different from the Gallican version, the 'Benedictio cerei' was inscribed on long rolls which the deacon placed on the ambo from which the Gospel was normally read at Mass. On these rolls the miniatures appear upside down, relative to the text, illustrating the themes celebrated and not beyond mistranslation. +Hollis, with Eamon Duffy, Emeritus Professor of Christian History at Cambridge, is a major critic of the text of the English missal.

Michael Furtado | 24 March 2021  

Substance and style, Michael, are intrinsically related in The Exultet, but the latter is, I'd suggest, ancillary to the former. Liturgical worship is more than an aesthetic experience, sublime as the aesthetic element might be (as Oscar Wilde came to recognise in his art).

John RD | 29 March 2021  

Thank you, John. I have no argument with that.

Michael Furtado | 06 April 2021  

Similar Articles

Commending faith

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 11 February 2021

The exchanges within churches echo trends in national life that heighten disagreements, lessen respect, and tend to confine conversation circles to people of similar views. People become annoyed if those opposing their views gatecrash their forums. This trend creates problems for Church sponsored publications.