Sanctimony and suicide (20.3.12)
There is a truly appalling article written by Francis Phillips in this week's Catholic Herald. It concerns the case of Tony Nicklinson. He has locked-in syndrome, a permanent condition in which the mind is fully functional but the body is completely paralysed, except for eye movements. Nicklinson has been given leave to pursue a case which, if successful, might establish a case law precedent for euthanasia in such extreme cases.
Now, the moral arguments against euthanasia are serious and powerful ones. Phillips explains a couple of them in her article: they could be summarised thus: although some people's lives are truly terrible, countervailing moral considerations mean we must preserve the prohibition on euthanasia absolutely. This is a reasonable view.
What is not reasonable -- indeed what is downright hubristic, arrogant and offensive -- is Phillips' self-serving suggestion that she has any idea what Tony Nicklinson is going through. He describes his life as "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable". I occasionally feel like being euthanised if I have a long day at work -- so how on earth could such lucky able-bodied people as me and Francis Phillips understand this man's experience? And yet Phillips says that all Mr Nicklinson really needs is more Christians around him:
The only response to cases like Mr Nicklinson's, where sufferers and their families are in the grip of despair and see death as the only solution, is the Christian one: to show them, as L'Arche communities try to do and as my brother James explained, that "these seeming disasters should be seen as a wake-up call, summoning a community of friendship around the weakest person, in the realisation that we are not merely individuals but are interdependent on one another. This means that if one of us is touched by disaster, we are all touched. No man is an island. This is what mutual solidarity means, for weakness will come to us all in the end. And the amazing thing is that this can become a place of joy, a place that brings new life and new hope." I would love Mr Nicklinson and his family to know this message: there is an alternative to despair.
Of course it would be a great thing if Tony Nicklinson were able to find a life without despair. But I think a better place for him to start in pursuit of such an end would be to avoid the sanctimony of this particular columnist.
Pastoral hypocrisy (11.3.12)
Today a "pastoral" letter was read to Catholic congregations in England and Wales. You'd think, given that this is a response to proposals about gay marriage, that the archbishops could have brought themselves to use the word "gay", or to acknowledge gay relationships in some way, while maintaining their view that marriage should not include them. But sadly, what Catholic congregations got this morning was:
In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.
So the Archbishops find time to praise the contribution of those whose heterosexual marriages have failed. Wouldn't this have been a moment also to acknowledge that gay people daily "make the best out of difficult and complex situations"? And to reiterate that, whatever the church's doctrine on sexuality, gay people should also "always be welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities"? And that thousands of gay people in this country already make "their contribution to the Church and society"? Indeed, many of them are officers of the church.
The archbishops have at least illustrated my point of the other day: the church's pastoral care of gay people is non-existent, even to the point of hypocrisy. (thx, melior)
Gay marriage (8.3.12)
The arguments for and against gay marriage will be made ad nauseam in the coming years, until such inevitable moment as the law is changed in favour of marriage equality. For this reason I have no intention of rebutting the transparently weak and logically incoherent views of chaps like Keith O'Brien. It makes me think, though, in the midst of the churches' politicking: what perspectives are currently being excluded from the debate?
Writing from the perspective of a gay Christian, the obvious answer is the pastoral perspective. A good friend of mine gave her response to O'Brien's comments the other day, in response to which I made the point that O'Brien's words violate Vatican guidance on the pastoral care of gay people -- guidance drawn up, no less, by the Pope in his former incarnation as Cardinal Ratzinger. That O'Brien's standards for the treatment of gay people fall beneath even those of this conservative Pope is telling.
The fact is that pastoral care for gay people in the church has hitherto been virtually non-existent. Some find themselves in churches that are openly hostile to their sexuality. Others find themselves in churches that are secretly hostile to their sexuality. The lucky few, or perhaps just the selective few, find themselves in churches which actually go out of their way to listen to gay people's experiences. I have never been lucky enough, or selective enough, to experience that.
Something that may not routinely occur to many "ordinary" churchgoers is that gay churchgoers have a unique experience of church, in that they are self-consciously, and conscientiously, attending places of worship which are formally and doctrinally committed to the immorality of the most important thing in their lives -- namely, the relationship with their partner. No straight person, with the exception of Catholic divorcees, really has a comparable experience to this. As a result, churchgoing itself is a kind of protest for many gay Christians -- a protest not against God, but against the church's attempts to diminish their love.
The truth is that the further society moves towards recognising what gay people already know -- the truth, love and value of our relationships -- the more remote the church becomes from our lives. The church, a man-made institution, continues in its refusal to sanctify a love that gay Christians know in their hearts to be already sacred and God-given. I couldn't be more relaxed about the churches' hostility to my life. When gay marriage happens, this country will have taken a step closer towards the Kingdom of God, and the churches will once again find themselves on the wrong side of history.