Wherever faith resides



While watching the coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral, I was reminded of an episode of the Netflix series The Crown which has stayed with me. In Moondust (Season 3, Episode 7) a fictive Philip, played by Tobias Menzies, watches the 1969 moon landing and it provokes in him a consideration of what his life has been. He becomes despondent and lost in an episode focused on his ‘midlife crisis’, something maybe more imagined than real. After much deliberating, he turns to the Dean of Windsor, Rev Robin Woods — in real-life a dear friend — for solace.

Prince Philip painting. A scene from the television documentary 'Royal Family'. (Getty Images)

With Dean Woods, Philip explains his experience of desolation, of dryness and frustration, does not flow from a single event, or a single moment of crisis. Rather it’s the ‘drip, drip, drip of doubt, disaffection, disease, discomfort’, prompted in part by his mother’s death, and by ‘an almost jealous fascination with the achievement of these young astronauts’ so recently landed on the moon. The fictitious Prince finds himself with ‘an inability to find calm, or satisfaction, or fulfillment’. 

Something is ‘amiss’. Philip identifies that something missing as faith. ‘I am here to admit to you that I have lost it and without it, what is there?’ he says to the group of clergy. The moon landing itself stops being the basis for the loss, but rather a motif that characterises how empty even apparently extraordinary moments can be without faith.

Philip says, ‘the loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing but haunting desolation, ghostly silence, gloom. That is what faithlessness is. As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.’

His perception changes, seeing the solution not residing in the apparently heroic human act but instead ‘wherever it is that faith resides’.

Philip says all this before a group of Anglican clergy engaged in courses for renewal whom he has ridiculed for their seemingly inert introspection. Towards the end he says, painfully and poignantly, ‘I now find myself full of respect, of admiration and not a small part of desperation. As I come to say, help. Help me.’


"One thing to notice is that this claim of faith isn’t an extra hobby; it’s a deeper, grounding reality in which life is understood. That is surely something striking given the usual dull coverage of royal personality politics."


This is a dramatic moment of metanoia, of a change of heart, that the viewer cannot be sure the real Philip ever had. Yet it is imaginable. The charismatic former Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu expressed on the BBC’s coverage preceding the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, sentiments that made Philip’s reorientation plausible.

Archbishop Sentamu described the Duke as one who ‘had a very deep faith’, a faith that grew ‘deeper and deeper’. He was also one to question. The Archbishop wrote on the day of the funeral: ‘Bishops who were invited to stay and preach at Sandringham faced a barrage of serious theological questions over lunch, and there was nowhere to hide. He listened appreciatively but never uncritically.’

The Archbishop suggested that when the Queen greeted her next birthday, her first without her husband in 73 years, she would turn to Jesus Christ and so to God. It struck me as a bold claim. Yet in her Christmas message this year, the Queen herself said: ‘The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light, as has the sense of purpose we can find in coming together to worship.’

So, we have an elderly couple, one of whom has recently died, of Christian faith. So, what? Well, one thing to notice is that this claim of faith isn’t an extra hobby; it’s a deeper, grounding reality in which life is understood. That is surely something striking given the usual dull coverage of royal personality politics. Even as it is an ‘inner light’, illuminating all else, it isn’t without critical reason. Philip’s ‘appreciative but never uncritical’ approach to faith might be said to characterise the approach of a growing number of young people, too.

Recent research suggests that younger people are more open to belief in the non-material than older Australians. 49 per cent of those aged 18-26 believe in the soul, 48 per cent in life after death and 37 per cent in God. It would be wishful thinking from this Jesuit trainee-priest to imagine that this equates to a renewal of Christian faith and practice. But it would be oddly uninquisitive not to be intrigued by what is happening with this cohort. Another report suggests a 33 per cent increase in engagement in spirituality and prayer amongst that same age-group during the COVID lockdowns. This might just imply a yearning for the depth that Prince Philip is portrayed as seeking in The Crown.

It’s strange, committed republican that I am, drawing a link between the apparently curmudgeonly erstwhile Prince and the bright, idealistic young of today. Yet the parallel is encouraging to the extent it suggests younger people are engaging in questions of deeper meaning, of deeper value. It won’t necessarily solve immediate social challenges of poverty, entrenched disadvantage and injustice. But it might make deeper solutions possible.




Julian ButlerJulian Butler SJ is a Jesuit undertaking formation for Catholic priesthood. He previously practiced law, and also has degrees in commerce and philosophy. Julian is a contributor at Jesuit Communications, a chaplain at Xavier College, and a board member at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Prince Philip painting. A scene from the television documentary 'Royal Family'. (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Julian Butler, Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth, The Crown, Archbishop Sentamu, faith, royals



submit a comment

Existing comments

A thoughtful and sensitive discourse on the inner life of a royal prince and the inner life of young people. From Hilary Mantel's controversial essay about royalty, "Royal Bodies" , these words resonate: "Along with the reverence and awe accorded to royal persons goes the conviction that the body of the monarch is public property. We are ready at any moment to rip away the veil of respect, and treat royal persons in an inhuman way, making them not more than us but less than us, not really human at all." Those words could speak to a faith outlook as well. Perhaps the older generation does not have enough belief in the potential of young people to be adaptable and resilient about their own (young peoples) faith.
Pam | 29 April 2021

You can't find faith. Faith finds you.
AO | 29 April 2021

The institution of the monarchy serves as a constitutional link to God. If the Monarch didn’t have a deep Christian faith, the Monarch shouldn’t be the Monarch. Consorts and children of inferior grades of faith and practice disserve the institution. More to the point is what should apprentice and journey’men’ royals do with their faith given that, for various reasons, they are not allowed to compete much with commoners in work and play. In addition to the usual niche that is used to make a royal useful, something in the armed forces, should be the diaconate of, as it turns out very conveniently, the established church, where, in the name of God, cooking and serving in soup kitchens or cleaning bottoms in disability or aged care homes, or being a paramedic or firefighter, or some similar thing, for a set period of time serves as the formal prelude to the later vocation of meet-and-greet.
roy chen yee | 29 April 2021

Hello Julian. About thirty years ago I lived in St Kilda and had become a sort-of street friend with Neil. He too lived in St Kilda in a sleazy, filthy, exploitative rooming-house for de-institutionalized former psychiatric patients. Neil was a drop-in at the Sacred Heart Mission in Grey St. I do not know if there service is still there. From the age of about twelve Neil (who looked about forty) had passed through the gauntlet of institutions dedicated to the care of people with mental health issues. From what he told me, if the animals at Melbourne Zoo had been treated like the people in care there would have been an outrage. Neil once said that he did not believe in God because his life had been too miserable. Eventually I moved away from St Kilda and lost contact with him. I have often thought of Neil’s comment but have never been able to find an answer. Now, I have stopped trying. Any answer which I could conjure will only be showing arrogance to Neil’s life experience.
Fosco | 29 April 2021

The remarkable thing about Tobias Menzies, Julian, is his painfully stultified and elocuted caricature of a man we cannot truly ever know because Anglican ecclesiology constructs him as Consort-in-Chief, while relegating him to second place in a Ruritanian novel (as we ourselves often do with our post-infallibility papacy), 'husbanding' a kind of Anglican pontiff, albeit with more checks and balances than we care to shackle our man at the Vatican with. Interestingly, a standard response - from a Glaswegian Jesuit college about the difference between 'Them' and 'Us' - was 'We have the Pope and they have the Queen'. As with all God-Talk, our faith-cyphers collapse pretty quickly when we're forced into membership identification. Phillip's misfortune - though once he may have loved her - was to be married to a scaled down post-Revolutionary version of the Sun King. My sense is that he was expressing his dissatisfaction with the shackles of 'make-believe' that encase the British monarchy, while yearning for a life of no-nonsense simplicity and everyday humanity. For Jesuits - and Catholics alike - there are lessons in this that augur interestingly for all of us, not the least of which is to strive after a humanising papacy.
Michael Furtado | 30 April 2021

Fosco: ‘Any answer which I could conjure will only be showing arrogance to Neil’s life experience.’ If your emotions are genuine, they should be respected, but the truth is that nihilism is a bit yesterday. The answer is as simple as the answer to the story of Lazarus’ life experience. Nobody went a small distance to bring salve to Lazarus to disinfect his wounds and perhaps nobody went a smaller distance to bring a dog to Neil to salve his psychic wounds.
roy chen yee | 30 April 2021

I think Prince Philip, who to me was a naval officer at heart, would have had a fairly practical approach to God. A realistic one. There's not much idle, speculative religion of the Cambridge or GTS sort in the Royal Navy, especially in wartime. I think Richard Holloway, the former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh, who talks very practically of life and death, would have been on Philip's wavelength. Philip saw life and death in wartime. The naval hymn is 'Eternal Father strong to save'. You should hear them sing it. It means something. Philip was pretty stiff upper lip. I wonder what he really thought of those who preached to the Royal Family. Archbishop Sentamu displayed real courage in his life. So did Jesus. Courage and utter loyalty to His Father. Many older people have been put off religion for a number of reasons. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked of ' religionless Christianity' by which he meant something other than humanism. He was appalled by the collaborating Church of his time. He was deeply Christian and died a martyr. I think Philip would have admired and respected both Sentamu and Bonhoeffer.
Edward Fido | 01 May 2021

Fosco: Can any one of us make an absolute reference point of our own "life experience" and assume that comment on it is arrogant and off-limits?
John RD | 01 May 2021

The verbal and exegetical assault, employing images of lascerating cruelty and derision against Fosco's simple and heart-rending account of his experience of the life of a latter-day Melburnian Lazarus provides, yet again, reason for the editors of this august journal (as well as the rest of us) to look critically at those who stalk these columns, ready to pounce on others, like Fosco, who point to the continuing challenge of the Gospels. Lazarus was disdained by Dives who, given to the 'cheap grace' that Bonhoeffer cites in drawing attention to Christ's point about radical grace, ends up in the very Hell that we are threatened with in every excoriating post entered here by these two high priests of the Jewish temple. I am grateful to Edward's citation of Bonhoeffer for bringing this to my attention.
Michael Furtado | 01 May 2021

Hello Edward. Bonhoeffer's paradoxical formulation makes sense in the context of Nazi Germany and the idea of the Erastian state, and has contemporary relevance wherever the Church permits its message and identity to be defined by the State. There is , too, a further consideration of opposition to religion and its truth-claims today: an epistemological stance that truth is unknowable; a self-contradictory assertion - but, hey, never mind, so long as one's passionate about something, and can claim a self-bestowed righteousness and 'humility'.
John RD | 01 May 2021

Julian: Thank you for this reflection. Youth's capacity for God - which you articulate so well here - has been a sustaining factor in my nearly four decades of teaching. A Jesuit university chaplain of my acquaintance, when I was a beginner, defined a Catholic education's primary responsibility as "cultivating the baptismal character of the unique person." A definition that still has traction.
John RD | 01 May 2021

Michael Furtado: ‘Phillip's misfortune’ Phillip’s misfortune is the same misfortune as that of Mary of Denmark and Meghan Markel: to (sweep aside/dump/’struggle’ with ‘conscience’ before renouncing) the faith of the baptism (when the soul had no choice to exercise) for a faith that might have been due to an irreplaceable ‘Love’ but conveniently comes paired with secular good hyperfortune. Edward Fido: ‘I wonder what he really thought of those who preached to the Royal Family.’ If the inner honesty of ‘conscience’ was working, he might, knowing himself, have been amused if they caged around a topic like renunciation of faith. A homily before a diverse crowd on a ceremonial occasion is probably an art of politics and someone in the Orthodox (or Roman Catholic, for that matter) community could cheekily have asked in the newspapers afterwards if moving from Orthodoxy (the word must mean something, no?) to something, by definition, not-Orthodox, is a bit like moving from Position A to Position B for thirty pieces of silver. Anyway, God is merciful and when people put him on the spot, he tries to do something so they can die with good marks.
roy chen yee | 02 May 2021

Hello John RD: yes, I absolutely share your concern. What generalizations can we make from the very unique life-experience of Prince Phillip, let alone an interpretive dramatization of the Prince’s life?
Fosco | 02 May 2021

Michael Furtado: “Dives who, given to the 'cheap grace'….“ Another example of Furtado, PhD’s inexplicable (unless intentional) inability to report the facts (in this case, easily adduced from the story) as they are. Dives was in Hell because he practised no grace in this life. In Hell, he requested an apparition to confront his brothers. That could be considered trying to dine on cheap grace. However, no grace was practised while he was alive. Is it too much to ask Michael the academic to practise the most fundamental level of perception, viz., reporting things as they happen?
roy chen yee | 03 May 2021

I thank Julian from providing links to several of the sources he cites. It's too easy for all of us - believers and non-believers - to accept evidence that fits our pre-conceived views and reject that which does not. The ABC article < https://amp.abc.net.au/article/100046122 > that Julian cites is interesting reading. The 'soul' that 69.7% of respondents believed did or may exist is not necessarily the Christian version of the 'soul' but for many could be more like Plato's version. This interpretation is supported by the finding that belief in a 'soul' was more likely than a belief in God or in the resurrection as a historical fact. Juilan concludes that 'younger people are engaging in questions of deeper meaning, of deeper value.' Perhaps young people have always done that as part of their search for meaning (who am I and where am I going?) but if it is indeed greater now than in the past is it perhaps a consequence of the decline of organised religion freeing them up to think for themselves?
Ginger Meggs | 03 May 2021

Julian despite your claim to be a committed Republican, I sense an underlying admiration of the Duke and the Monarchy he represents as Consort. Do I share this admiration? Perhaps not, as there was too much blood spilled by Cromwell and Henry against the Scots and Irish for me to embrace the Reformation. And for the parallel with the youth of today, they do endure the same struggle to find faith during these periods of isolation, much like Prince Phillip would have done during the War. Despite his jousts with the Archbishops and Preachers over lunch and his personal challenge to rekindle his faith, I admired his naval record, the ships he served on and his ability to mix with the boys. Years ago I was talking to that great All Black prop Keith Murdoch (who worked on our job of pegging out 10km of road to the Burdekin Falls when I was in first year law at JCU), and he had had dinner at Buckingham Palace 3 times on tour and got on the drink one night with Prince Phillip in Auckland. He said he was a great guy with a dry wit and a passion for life. Alas Keith has now also gone to his rest. I also watched the funeral and when the Archbishop gave the homily, I couldn't help but grin at the uncanny resemblance to the scene in Johnny English where he mistakes the Archbishop for an impostor. Thankfully in our father's house there are many mansions and no doubt the Duke will be granted access to one of them.
Francis Armstrong | 04 May 2021

Hello John RD, Prince Philip, like many of us, was an enigmatic figure. He was English by choice and by some was always seen as an outsider. Gordonstoun, Philip's school, was more mainstream Christian, rather than High Church Anglican, like the Woodard Schools, such as Lancing are and that had a marked effect on him. There were rumours Philip had returned to the Eastern Orthodoxy of his youth. I am not sure of that. He was, as I said, a Royal Naval officer through and through. His funeral showed that. He was intelligent rather than an intellectual. That is sometimes an advantage, because intellectuals can get lost in their speculation. He is now before God and reliant on His Mercy, as we all shall be. That is probably the lesson we can learn from most people's lives. There was only one unflawed hero in human history. We can learn the most from that life. Whether Philip really 'believed' or was still searching when he died is not our concern. We need to look to ourselves. Memento mori. 'Ask not for whom the bell tolls...".
Edward Fido | 04 May 2021

Crikey! This bloke seems to be well on the way to canonisation. It was indeed a great miracle that he married Princess Elizabeth and lived happily ever after in great wealth without having to lift a finger or contribute a day's productive work other than promotional appearances that served his security rather than the wellbeing of the hoi polloi who paid all the bills!!! However, the saving grace is that there is already one great saint in his household - Elizabeth Regina II.
john frawley | 05 May 2021

Roy Chen Yee, re. your correction of my reference to Lazarus & Dives in which you white-out Lazarus: yet another example of your bamboozling Bob Jones/Westboro Baptist Church inexplicable (though perhaps intentional) inability to interpret the facts (in this case, easily adduced from the story) as they are. Dives was in Hell because he treated Lazarus 'like excreta'. His press-button unwind of the Lamborghini window to chuck a few miserable cents at Lazarus is widely considered trying to dine on cheap grace. Indeed, only cheap grace was practised while he was alive. Is it too much to ask Roy, ES's resident dissident exegete, to practice the most fundamental level of perception rather than to distort it, viz., reporting things as they were intended to be understood?
Michael Furtado | 06 May 2021

Ginger: On the other hand, it's quite possible, isn't it, that the framework of teachings and practises provided by organised religion (which still exists all over the world) provides greater stimulus for the young as they search for meaning than the truncated vision of life supplied by materialist ideologies?
John RD | 07 May 2021

Michael Furtado: ‘His press-button unwind of the Lamborghini window to chuck a few miserable cents at Lazarus is widely considered trying to dine on cheap grace. Indeed, only cheap grace was practised while he was alive. Is it too much to…practice the most fundamental level of perception rather than to distort it, viz., reporting things as they were intended to be understood?’ The intended understanding that not even cheap grace was practised by Dives is in your church’s official bible, the Vulgate: ‘cupiens saturari de micis quae cadebant de mensa divitis, et nemo illi dabat: sed et canes veniebant, et lingebant ulcera ejus’ or ‘And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, and no one did give him: moreover the dogs came and put their tongues on his wounds.’ Other versions of the Bible do not specify that no one gave Lazarus food but they all say that he was at the gate longing for crumbs from the table which, presumably, was not at the gate, any more than your dining table is at your mailbox.
roy chen yee | 07 May 2021

I think you could count Prince Philip's war service as work, John Frawley. Ditto his unpaid charitable work for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award foundation. The Royal Family do appear to live a privileged life and some do take advantage of it. I don't think he and the Queen are freeloaders. BTW I believe Her Majesty would deny all rumours of sainthood.
Edward Fido | 07 May 2021

Well, Johnny Fraws; Faithful Ted is, after all, and a bit like moi, an Englishman when all's said and done and entitled to not being saddled with the 'black and white', 'love me or hate me' excess of the Gaels. And Phillip was at least ornamental: I pledged my troth to him when I swooned in his presence at the age of five. If you were Lee-Roy you might be aggrieved after Phil's uncouth reference to the slitty-eyed while notching up one too many on the rice-wine. Alas, El Roy will have none of that, preferring instead to castigate Phillocks for abandoning his 'orthodoxy'. Would that Orthodoxy and orthodoxy were one and the same thing, despite Roy's valiant attempt at punnery as well as defending his own harried corner of theology. Alas, the close and inter-communicating relationship between the Anglicans and the Orthodox, predicated largely on the basis of the common Roman enemy that lies between them, has registered not one iota on the 'Royal' (mis)understanding, while he resolutely prefers to lose himself in his encyclopedic knowledge and commitment to the Filioque hair-split and other fancies that we Catholics still abide by. Does God care? I very much doubt it.
Michael Furtado | 07 May 2021

The scriptwriters interpret a character based on their understanding of the character’s words and deeds and the story points they (the scriptwriters) want to make. The actors, first Matt Smith and then Oliver Tobias, interpret the scriptwriter’s words based on how the director wants the part played. It’s a bit pointless basing our understanding of the faith of the real Prince Philip on the portrayal in “The Crown”. Yet most of us didn’t know the man personally, so media portrayals and the memories of people who did know him are all we have to go by. I saw the episode where Philip was so full of admiration for what he saw as the human spirit in the moon landing that he had a private meeting with the three astronauts, only to be disappointed that they were not much more than technicians (very well qualified) just doing their job, without the deeper understanding that Philip was seeking. Don’t know how close that was to the truth. That he questioned his faith seems to be well known based on some of the comments here. Could have been a mid-life crisis linked to frustrations in his life. I don’t know. In other parts of his life he seemed to be practical and pragmatic, so it would stand to reason. If the fictional Philip does give us anything, it may just be a parable about questioning faith that some of us can relate to.
Brett | 07 May 2021

MF. I accept that Phil's role was largely, if not entirely , ornamental - a bit like the statue atop Nelson's column.
john frawley | 08 May 2021

Michael Furtado: ‘Does God care? I very much doubt it.’ What ‘I’ think is neither here nor there because authority is in the seat of Moses even if Pharisees sit in it. What matters is how ‘I’ report what the seat of Moses declares.
roy chen yee | 08 May 2021

Re: Michael Furtado's comment 7 May, made me smile. I am reminded of Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and this verse in particular: "Everyone can see we're together/As we walk on by/(And) and we fly just like birds of a feather/I won't tell no lie." It's a sure sign of esteem to bestow a nickname (or two, or three).
Pam | 08 May 2021

Among the many faith-encounter scenes in the Gospels, there are two I find especially instructive on the nature and dynamics of faith: the annunciation of the angel to the virgin Mary and the meeting of Thomas with the risen Jesus. In either instance, the fact that Mary and Thomas question the respective revelations they are offered indicates that faith, while it transcends them, respects its recipients' reasonable expectations of reality: in the case of Mary, the laws of nature governing conception; and in the case of Thomas, the empirical finality of death. The questions of Mary and Thomas are respected by both message-givers: the angel and Jesus - answers are given which, once received, produce decisive intellectual assent or conviction to the intervention and promise of the supernatural; and a free consent, or fundamental option of responsive self-orientation to what is revealed. In both cases, the revelations given exceed the natural expectations of their recipients; their acceptance produces an existential obedience: a life-orientation that forms the ground for further experience and questions as they arise in the course of discipleship. The listening involved on the part of Mary and Thomas expresses itself in committed assent and action, open to the further influence of the God who speaks and forms through their witness a community of faith.
John RD | 09 May 2021

Brett: ‘that he had a private meeting with the three astronauts, only to be disappointed that they were.…without the deeper understanding that Philip was seeking….it may just be a parable about questioning faith which some of us can relate to.’ A privilege of status is, instead of reading your way through a thicket of obscurity to reach knowledge, to avoid the marathon by insisting that an expert brief you. (US presidents and Australian prime ministers and premiers do this all the time.) Faith, after all, is supposed to come from hearing, where you can simultaneously hear the expert as well as weigh the quality of his interpretation by reading him. Given that a Consort who can pick up the phone to arrange a meeting with astronauts of a foreign power is also likely to be able to pick up a phone to speak to any expert on faith or Faith within the UK or elsewhere, Philip’s Faith, over at least a half-century of access to any expertise, was as substantiated as he wanted it to be, no excuses permitting. In this respect, wealth and status have disadvantages from which most of the 'some of us' are spared.
roy chen yee | 09 May 2021

Given Julian Butler's curious choice of essay for a Jesuit journal, he must inevitably expect the torch of excoriation to engulf the execrable role played by Philpotts in Australia's internal affairs (https://johnmenadue.com/prince-philip-and-gough-whitlam-the-story-the-crown-forgot/?mc_cid=44115801b5&mc_eid=c94eaf696d). And before Roy blasts Brett for getting Tobias Menzies' name wrong let's agree with Brett that the producers let the Brits down badly by failing to reveal the corrupting aspects of their Brobdingnagian monarchy which, not content with robbing its members of their humanity, dull the senses of all democrats about the role that equality plays in ordaining just governance. Here I indulge myself by offering a critique worthy of any reader of an august Jesuit journal. In all the banter ES commands one constant is the allusion constantly made by JohnRD and Roy to both their set standard of orthodoxy and their use of the qualification profile of their opponents to objurgate. In doing this there is fast emerging a vulnerable gap in the conceptual analysis of those who focus on the shortfall between fact and perception and the major contemporary intellectual focus in philosophy on the study of phenomenology and its measurable phenomenographical outcomes: a research field that categorically dispenses with questions of universal truth-based objectivity.
Michael Furtado | 09 May 2021

I’ve no doubt, John RD, that organised religions stimulate some young people to think deeply, but the fact that most Christian children have Christian parents, most Muslim children have Muslim parents, and so on, suggests that such stimulation is ‘truncated’ and that they do very little thinking outside the square. I’m not convinced that every non-organised-religious vision of life is necessarily ‘materialist’ or that ‘materialism’ is intrinsically absent from organised religion; there is, it seems to me, too much evidence to the contrary.
Ginger Meggs | 09 May 2021

Michael Furtado: ‘their use of the qualification profile of their opponents to objurgate. In doing this there is fast emerging a vulnerable gap in the conceptual analysis of those who focus on the shortfall between fact and perception and the major contemporary intellectual focus in philosophy on the study of phenomenology and its measurable phenomenographical outcomes: a research field that categorically dispenses with questions of universal truth-based objectivity.’ The objurgation to Michael’s phenomenography, which he has adopted into his qualification profile, which categorically dispenses with questions of universal truth-based objectivity is that to Michael and his interpretation of phenomenography, human pain is human pain all over the world because human nervous systems work practically identically, be it in Calcutta or on the grounds of Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, but burning widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres carries no implications of universal truth-based objectivity. In other words, God, if you elect to believe in this entity in whom there is no shadow of change, is indifferent to suttee.
roy chen yee | 10 May 2021

Indeed, Ginger, the Abrahamic religions you mention have material components, evident, for example, in their faith rituals, art and architecture - but this doesn't warrant their generic categorising in common understanding as materialist ideologies in the way that, say, the world-view of scientism does.
John RD | 10 May 2021

Michael Furtado: I'd have thought any scientific pursuit worthy of the name aims at objectivity. Since ultimate realities and truth-claims of revealed Christian religion are metaphysical, e.g. the Trinity, there is an inherent shortfall in any academic discipline that would confine them to the realm of the subjective only. Whence phenomenology's authority to dispense with, as you claim it does, the relevance and accessibility of the objective, real and true? Kant? Corporate profit? (which would be highly ironic, as in that world bottom lines are very objective). Is your comment (9/4) an implied reference to biology's (an empirical science) alleged irrelevance by some to the current human sexuality and identity issue? And why do you deem Fr Julian's choice of essay "curious for a Jesuit journal"? It does dare to be more than "phenomenographical", but that's hardly unusual for Jesuit publications with which I'm familiar - and, for that matter, for the Jesuit understanding of education.
John RD | 10 May 2021

You've skirted the issue John RD and taken us further away from Julian's article. If religions really stimulated - or even tolerated - young people to 'think outside the square', we wouldn't have the situation where Christians beget Christians, Hindus beget Hindus, Buddhists beget Buddhists, etc. May I venture to suggest that if you had been born into a devout Presbyterian, Muslim, or Hindu environment and trained in their schools you would have been just as devout a Presbyterian, Muslim or Hindu and you are now a Catholic ?
Ginger Meggs | 11 May 2021

Hello Ginger: I like the “calmness” in the way you express your thoughts. “not convinced that every non-organised-religious vision of life is necessarily ‘materialist’………………” neither am I!
Fosco | 11 May 2021

Hello John RD: But, it is “all about the 60’s”! In the aftermath, the Great Caravan moved to a new place. That’s where today’s young people have been born. There, they are digging their own spiritual well. I do not know what they will find. But, if St Paul is right they may find “the Christ within”: even if they call that experience by some other name. They may well journey their own “forty days in the desert” like Jesus did: even if they call that experience by some other name. How do I know this? Because that’s what Jesus, and Mary Magdalene and St Paul and all the others did.
Fosco | 11 May 2021

Kind of JohnRD to depart from the lambasting he's dishing out to Ross Jones. My criticism of Julian's piece relates to its dubious salience in contrast to Ross' essay. Phillip was hardly an 'Everyperson', so any ensuing discussion and treatment of his life and dubious impact would, with respect, necessarily confine itself to the tea and scones discourse of a surface=skimming Mills & Boone-stacked drawing room of the kind that, from evidence, John is rather more comfortable with conversing with than I am in a Jesuit journal. And judging from the responses of my colleagues here, they appear to be in agreement. As to the matter of objectivity, subjectivity, evidence and empiricism and the vast conceptual distances between them, John would advantage himself no end by reading wider into this epistemological field rather than confine himself to the writings of Jordan Peterson and Harold Bloom in relation to which his frequent references to truth and falsehood would be revealed as no more than the challengeable magisteria of a pre-Vatican II mind-set with which he would seek to shackle Christ's Church. Alas, John's posts are classic examples of a Lost Cause mythology into which he valiantly attempts to breathe new life.
Michael Furtado | 11 May 2021

Michael Furtado: ‘As to the matter of objectivity, subjectivity, evidence and empiricism and the vast conceptual distances between them….’ The Great Commission is a command couched in very subjective terms. It can only be a valid order if it is objectively true. If, as a baptised Christian, you assert that the Command is false, you excommunicate yourself from your faith. If you assert it to be true, you insist that the reservoir of objectivity, viz., the thoughts and feelings of, at least, everyone who is currently living, should be subsumed to a perception that is only native to a few. In theology, there is no vast conceptual distance between the subjective and the objective. What is thought to be a vast conceptual distance is an error of understanding. It is the apparently subjective that is objectively true. The truth of the mustard seed is the tree within.
roy chen yee | 12 May 2021

Thanks Fosco.
Ginger Meggs | 12 May 2021

Being born into a religious tradition is not necessarily determinative of one's faith choices, Ginger, as experience shows. Bhuddists convert to Christianity, and vice-versa, and so it goes for other religions, and people of non-religious backgrounds. Social conditioning plays a part, no doubt, but it is not necessarily decisive or binding in one's religious alignment. The deterministic straightjacketing you propose is a mere hypothesising belied by facts.
John RD | 12 May 2021

You haven't quite called the late Prince Philip a male handbag to Her Majesty, John Frawley, but you've come pretty close. ROFL. If he hadn't married HM I think he would have had quite a reasonable career in the Royal Navy. His war record is quite respectable, and, unlike so many of the British upper class, he never flirted with Nazism. I know it is very hard for anyone of Irish descent to feel there is anything good about Britain and the Establishment there. Believe me, it is not at all difficult for those of English descent. I shall not launch into 'Land of Hope and Glory'. ROFL again. To be serious, I would recommend to all of you the excellent article by Philip Eade 'Prince Philip - an ordinary christian' in the latest issue of the UK 'Catholic Herald'. It is sane and balanced. It appears Roy has grasped the Richard Holloway issue like a roused pit bull terrier. Ah well. Chacun a son gout. It reminds me a bit of the Early Modern witch burnings. Sacre bleu! C'est incroyable. Roy, you're a classic.
Edward Fido | 12 May 2021

Fosco: Despite a world of rapid changes, young people's capacity for truth, as I think you recognise, is a constant. So is the truth uniquely revealed in the person of Christ, our access to the ultimate reality of God accessible through the faith community he gave us and through which he calls us. The '60s were a catalyst for change in the modern era, but not a destination. Further, faith is not as individualistic as you appear to think: it begins in relationship and manifests in community.
John RD | 12 May 2021

Michael Furtado: To the frantic list of descriptors you've invented for me in these pages over several years: "fundamentalist", "Hobbesian", "divisive", "lambasting", "Jansenist", "pre-Vatican II", etc., you add today, by implication, "superficial". What next, and why bother? As far as feeling at home in this Jesuit publication goes, I really think you should put your feet up, as I know of no other so tolerant of ad hominem argument in disputation on serious issues.
John RD | 12 May 2021

I line up with Ginger and Fosco. The openness of younger people to belief in the non-material is not a recent phenomenon but a more eternal condition of growing up and questioning life, faith, values and calling out the standards and double standards of those who went before. “The Times, They Are A’Changin’”. As a baby boomer, I recall questioning things back in the late sixties and into the seventies and pushing against the rules of the older generations, my parents and grandparents. It wasn’t defiance for its own sake. They were questions of meaning and understanding, mixed with impatience that things were not changing quickly enough. It wasn’t a loss of spirituality or lack of faith in something more than us, but a walk down different paths, or at least looking at the different paths. Of course, as we grow older we wonder why the next generations don’t see the world our way. Or perhaps they do see it just as we did back then.
Brett | 12 May 2021

Roy, 9 May: “Philip’s Faith, over at least a half-century of access to any expertise, was as substantiated as he wanted it to be.” You may be right, but it’s a pretty big call on your part and one that can’t be substantiated. Age doesn’t stop questions. Faith, like learning, grows in many ways– hearing, observing, experiencing life, and questioning all of it against our own awareness. It is one of the more intimate decisions of our lives, as I’m sure you would know. Like you, I have no intimacy with the real Philip’s faith, something I thought I made clear. We don’t know if his faith “was as substantiated as he wanted it to be”, or if he still had unresolved questions or doubts and really, it is none of our business. I was responding to fictional Phil, with whom I have a passing recognition based on the character in the writers’ minds, inadequate though that is. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the real bloke and it would be just as valid (and possibly more fun) to draw parables from other characters played by the two actors – Doctor Who and Black Jack Randall.
Brett | 12 May 2021

Brett: ‘big call on your part and one that can’t be substantiated.’ Theoretically, yes. But when you have the probable means to call anyone you want about a matter important to you, the burden is on you as to why you considered or did not consider a particular matter to be important. If the Queen had been taken ill with some rare illness and he had heard of a specialist in, say, Ecuador who had had experience of treating it, do you not think he would have found a way to speak to the expert? You are responsible for what you think is important. And when you have the means to explore whatever you think is important, the burden is so much the greater.
roy chen yee | 13 May 2021

Of course being born into a religious tradition is not necessarily determinative (italics) of one's faith choices, John RD, but being raised in (more italics) one is certainly a strong influencer. How many students from your Catholic school converted to Hinduism as a result of being 'stimulated to search for meaning'? How many students in Muslim maddrasses convert to Buddhism as a result of the stimulation they receive? But you're skirting the issue again. I put it to you that organised religion does not encourage young people to think outside the square, in fact it does quite the opposite, for obvious reasons. The whole purpose of faith schools, for example, is to turn out adherents to that faith. They may also encourage some thinking, but only so long as it remains 'inside the square'.
Ginger Meggs | 13 May 2021

Good morning Edward Fido. I accept your defence of the recently departed Prince and your astute observation from some of my ramblings here in ES that I have inherited some of the irrationalities of the Irish Catholic diaspora. Let me proffer, however, that I am, indeed, very fond of England and its people, particularly my wife of 57 years, a lady of the realm, and two of our children born there and British/Aust dual citizens. My wife is a dedicated royal attested to by the commemorative royal memorabilia she continues to accumulate. My views on the Greek prince are, however, mild compared to hers. I think she must have brain washed me! And Prince Harry is now also well and truly off her adoration list!
john frawley | 13 May 2021

Hello Brett: a true kindred spirit. I think we showed more faith than we realised.
Fosco | 13 May 2021

In his post (9/5), Michael Furtado declares "phenomenology" as the relevant alternative to, if not the measure of, truth-claims in the study of epistemology. Phenomenology itself is a complex phenomenon: though not readily conducive to brief philosophical definition, it has identifiably Kantian provenance insofar as its focus displays Kant's distinctive and emphatic 'turn to the subject', (i.e., the mind and its cognitive processes), preoccupied as it is with phenomena as they appear to consciousness, rather than the Aristotelian concern to establish and affirm cognition's and language's ability to engage and express objective reality - the basis of contemporary correspondence truth-theory in epistemology. Phenomenology's founder as an intellectual field, Edmund Husserl, belongs to the Kantian tradition of transcendental idealism, as distinct from the natural or realist tradition of thinkers who affirm the independence of the known from the knower, and the power of thought to bridge the gap between the two and affirm the real. This latter school in the Catholic tradition includes Aquinas, Gilson, Maritain, Pieper and Haldane; the former includes , in varying degrees, Scheler, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Marcel and Derrida. Aspects of Husserl's thinking, appear in the writings of Rahner and Wojtyla. Any respectable history of philosophy will provide a useful introduction to these thinkers, past and contemporary - though my own preference for those of them discussed before his death in 1994 is that of Frederick Copleston SJ.
John RD | 14 May 2021

Good Morning, John Frawley. Look, I can quite understand people of Irish Catholic descent not being enamored with the British after 400 years of mistreatment under the Ascendancy. The Irish survived by sheer guts: that legendary and undeniable Irish bravery. In the British Army 'The Micks' - as the Irish Guards are known - are regarded with great respect. Most of them are from the Republic and joined in the great tradition inspired by the Wild Geese, who fought so bravely for France. During the Ascendancy even a figure such as Jonathan Swift, who was not exactly pro-Catholic, thought their treatment was appalling. On a personal note, an ancestor, the Reverend John Fido, an Englishman, was briefly the organist at one of the Church of Ireland's cathedrals, St Patrick's in Dublin. He was, like many musicians, a somewhat cantankerous character who terrified the Dean. He left and returned home. I don't think he really liked the ways of the Ascendancy. Your wife sounds a good match for you. It is good having differing opinions. Let us not discuss Mrs Fido here! Look, I think a lot of Brits dislike Philip because he was not a Brit by birth. Some even called him 'Stavros' in derision. Some really believe the old adage 'God is an Englishman!' For heavens sake! I think Harry was deeply traumatized by his mother's tragic death. He really wanted to stay in the Army. I hope the marriage works. I wish him well.
Edward Fido | 14 May 2021

Ginger: Where's the evidence of your thinking 'outside the square' of an apparently committed agnostic stance delivered routinely in Parthian shots towards faith-based affirmations in these pages?
John RD | 14 May 2021

Ginger, you may interest you to learn that in Catholic schools - not only Jesuit ones - where comparative religion is taught as an examinable subject, it is not rare for some students to pursue other religions and non-religions. Buddhism is particularly popular on account of its non- belief in a personal Creator God and the implications of this for human dignity as understood by the Catholic Church. This phenomenon makes it all the more important for these schools to ensure their students have a thorough grounding appropriate to their development and stage of schooling in the central tenets and practices of the Catholic faith - of its nature, an ongoing process, as I imagine you would recognise.
John RD | 14 May 2021

While generous of JohnRD to offer our readers a synoptic view of the twin philosophies that inform our disagreements, I would like to add that naturalism is far more elderly than phenomenology and even its hold over English positivism has waned considerably in recent years. Although a 'social' ethicist, I keenly reject the abject determinism and its potential dismissal of free-will that Catholics cannot avoid in dealing with our moral dilemmas unless innately-preordained. While naturalism places logic and reason at the forefront of all thinking and reflection, phenomenology is more philosophically and cosmologically far-reaching, compensating somewhat for the 'straightjacket/force-fit' that naturalism imposes, and which stymies our discussion of complex phenomena that reason on its own cannot explain other than through reference to revelation. For many this is a big ask, since the boundaries within which naturalism is contained are constantly expanding and, consequently, the laws that apply to it under contested review. While this makes for an interesting debate, phenomenology is not as antipathetic to an understanding and proclamation of the moral claims of Catholics as John sometimes claims. Eminent philosopher though he was at Heythrop, I found Copplestone's pastoral theology, expressed while PP at St Aloysius-on-St Giles, more illuminating.
Michael Furtado | 14 May 2021

The school of naturalism or critical realism as it is more commonly known, as the "elder' of phenomenology in the Western philosophical tradition, makes its current contender look like the new kid on the block yet to prove himself in more experienced and tested company. Even Kant - the main authority usually advanced in attacks on the realist tradition - is relatively new in the context of philosophy's history, and is far from insusceptible of searching criticism such as that made of his thinking by a former disciple, Romano Guardini, and others. Further, although elements of the subjective are evident in the writings of Catholic Doctors of the Church and mystics such as Augustine, Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as founders of religious orders such as Ignatius Loyola, it is common knowledge that all of them grounded their experience, thinking and practice of the faith in the official teachings and sacramental life of the Church, the reference point for development of doctrine in the Catholic tradition. Subjectivity in itself is not qualification for Doctoral status: the criteria of outstanding holiness, depth of doctrinal insight, and a corpus of writings recognised by the Church as authentic and representative of the Catholic tradition in teaching and practice must be met.
John RD | 16 May 2021

Happy days, Edward F! I suppose that what I am saying, perhaps unfairly, is that the accolades are disingenuous or unearned in the main.
john frawley | 16 May 2021

Hello Ginger: Absolutely! We have to think outside the square because that’s where the people have moved. Recently, I was speaking with a person deeply engaged with catholic education. The demographics of the primary school with which he was involved has rapidly changed. Newer migrant groups with Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim religious heritage have moved into the area. The primary school would not be sustainable drawing only from the diminishing number of catholic families. Was the school to maintain a catholic purity or have a broader religious curriculum embracing the different faith traditions? My answer was simple, dogmatic, hard-line and post-Vatican II: the school exists to serve its community. That community was now multi religious: that’s Australia. Does society need a purest form Catholicism which is ignored by most catholics, or tolerance and respect for all faiths? A secular school was other option. But he rejected that one.
Fosco | 16 May 2021


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up