Saturday, 30 August 2014

Red Card: Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie gets a Red Card
On Wednesday, The Guardian published an article by Tina Beattie, Professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University entitled "Pope Francis has done little to improve women’s lives" in which she claims "Women do not seem to have a place in the pope’s vision of a Catholic church that cares for the world’s poor people". [1] Professor Beattie's article appears to be a vehicle to demonstrate her perfectly liberal rejection of Catholic teaching on abortion and contraception, justified as a solution to the appalling maternal mortality rate in the world's poorest countries - laying the blame at Francis' feet appears to be ploy for headlines rather than a serious accusation. 

Professor Beattie lambastes the lack of discussion of maternal mortality in official papal encyclicals but one suspects she is being disingenuous in this accusation as a Professor of Catholic Studies should know that papal encyclicals do not directly address specific issues in such a manner. There are no papal encyclicals on AIDS, drug abuse or alcoholism but one cannot conclude that the Church has no position on theses issues nor does anything to try and alleviate them. Sure, she may not address these issues in the manner a liberal minded Professor would like but she has a stance on them nonetheless. Likewise, the church addresses maternal mortality through the prism of it's social and moral teaching and it's encyclicals on motherhood, marriage and the family and economics. Professor Beattie suggests that "the international community must focus on poverty alleviation and the education and empowerment of women and girls, not only because justice demands it but because it has been shown to be the most effective way of tackling the population crisis". As the Catholic Church plays a vital role in the education and care of women in most poor countries throughout the world and has consistently worked towards the alleviation of poverty and an end to exploitative economics, it is disappointing that Professor Beattie did not choose to constructively engage with those aspects of it's mission.

I don't know enough about Professor Beattie to know if she is a Catholic - one does not need to be one to be a Professor of Catholic Studies but one would assume it might help [2]. Aside from the subject of maternal mortality, the major issue her article raises for Catholics who wish to remain loyal to the authentic teaching of the Church is how to deal with such prominent cases of Catholic dissent. Professor Beattie's case is particularly pressing because of her status, her position and her platform. @themunimentroom has suggested that given the censure of, "it's up to everybody reading this to give it the widest possible dissemination.  Let's make sure our Hierarchy knows what Professor Beattie thinks!". [3] Such dissemination won't do any harm (and maybe this post will contribute to that end in a small way) but given Joseph Shaw's analysis of how like minded bishops within our hierarchy appear to handle dissent, it seems unlikely to do any good. [4]

Though I had reservations about the way in which Deacon Nick pitched his articles and don't think he did himself many favours in the way in which observed his "period of prayer and reflection", I recognise that was fulfilling a very useful purpose in making challenges to the authentic teaching of the Church known to those who would wish to defend it. [5] Whilst not exactly a conspiracy, I do believe that parties in addition to Bishop Campbell brought about it's censure. Such a recognition of role of Protect the Pope however is a rather damning indictment of our own hierarchy, theologians and educators. Surely it is their vocation to "be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us]" [6] and to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God"? [7] True, some bishops have spoken out on themes such as the redefinition of marriage but it is rare that an individual is taken to task for propagating dissent in an official capacity.

And so, it is left to ordinary Catholics to challenge dissenting Catholics like Professor Beattie. We may not be able to do so directly but if we encounter the effects of their influence in the people we meet, we may just be able to "give account for the hope that is in us". As Blessed John Henry Newman says we should be a  laity "not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity; I am not denying you are such already: but I mean to be severe, and, as some would say, exorbitant in my demands, I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism" [8]

[2] Google suggests she is a "British theologian, writer, broadcaster and practicing Catholic"
[6] Peter 3:15
[7] 2 Corinthians 10:15

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Catholicism and Depression

Jesus at Gethsemane
On Tuesday, the world woke up to the news that depression had claimed the life of another well loved celebrity. Robin Williams will forever be remembered as a unique and madcap talent, famous for critically acclaimed films like The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, Insomnia, Good Will Hunting, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Awakenings but also for crowd pleasers such as Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin and Mork and Mindy. Whilst his genius clearly lay in comedy, his acting credits included a range of characters from the psychotic villain of One Hour Photo to the fragile but sympathetic psychologist of Good Will Hunting. It might seem ironic that someone who brought fun and laughter to millions should take their own life but Robin Williams had been battling with depression and drug and alcohol abuse for some time. Perhaps like many, laughter and comedy was a means of keeping the darkness at bay. [1]

Though death, particularly in tragic circumstances, can sometimes lead to somewhat effuse, superfluous hyperbole in eulogy, it appears that Williams was a generous and kindhearted man who was loved by his friends and family. [2] The Beatles suggested that "All you need is love" but that simply is not true. You also need Faith and Hope. People who do decide to take their own lives may no longer have faith in other people or believe that no-one has faith in them. They also do not hope for something better or beyond their suffering.

Sometimes, it is hard to accept depression in a Christian framework. If one is a practising Christian, fully convinced of God's love for them and the complete triumph of Christ on the Cross, what is there to fear? Is depression just a sign of a lack of Faith? Some Christian traditions appear to take this approach seemingly ignorant of Christ's own mental anguish (he was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled" and wept at the death of Lazarus [3]) and the whole tradition of lamentation evident in the Old Testament. "While research shows that some believers can be more resistant to depression... it is also true that some approaches to religion can be associated with higher rates of depression and emotional problems. When evaluating the power of belief to protect against emotional problems, the research seems to show that the question isn't "do you believe?" but rather what do you believe, how, and why?" [4]

The Catholic Church has not always had a complete understanding of suicide because previous generations had little understanding of the psychological causes and impact of depression - it was therefore always analysed in purely spiritual terms. Depression does not leave a person completely devoid of freewill, inexorably fixing them on the path to suicide nor can one overcome it by force of character, joyful obstinacy or a rigorous prayer regimen. As Simcha Fisher suggests, "Many people who are severely depressed are suffering from some combination of spiritual and physical ailments... they are dealing with some things that are out of their control and some things that are within their control... they need sacrificial love and patience from friends and family, and also some kind of hard work and self-knowledge in order to make it through the dark times."  [5] In short, depression is best treated through application of Faith and Reason:

My son, when you are sick do not be negligent,
but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
 Give up your faults and direct your hands aright,
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of fine flour,
and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.
And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;
let him not leave you, for there is need of him.
There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians,
for they too will pray to the Lord
that he should grant them success in diagnosis
and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
He who sins before his Maker,
may he fall into the care of a physician. [6]

Suicide is contrary to the Fifth Commandment and contrary to justice, hope, and charity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God." [7] It was often believed to be the one sin for which one could not be forgiven because suicide was committed against Hope and the Holy Spirit - the giver of life [8]. For this reason, those who had committed suicide were often denied a Christian burial.

In the Catholic understanding, particular condemnation is reserved for those who encourage suicide as a viable social norm because all life, regardless of how humanity perceives it's value, is precious to God. This view also takes into account the salvific potential of suffering when united to Christ's passion, death and resurrection. "If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law." [9]

Today, the Church understands that as a person needs to be in full control of their faculties to bear the full responsibility of a sin, the gravity of suicide can be mitigated by its circumstances as "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." [10] It also actively encourages the faithful to pray for those who have died in such tragic circumstances: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives." [11] For those who are curious, the Patron Saints for those suffering with depression and anxiety are St Jude and St Dymphna whilst a specifically Catholic outlook on depression can be found in The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty and Msgr. John Cihak. [12]

Robin Williams' death is a tragedy devoid of blame or endorsement. It has brought out the voyeuristic worst in our celebrity obsessed culture and media [13] and the downright loathsome abuse of those in grief for a man they loved as friend, husband and father [14]. Christ has taken all suffering offered to Him through his passion, death and resurrection and transformed it - maybe in the manner of his death Robin Williams can convince some who need help to find it, just as they may have found solace in the manner of his life on screen. 

May choirs of angels come to greet him and speed him to paradise. May the Lord enfold him in His mercy. May he find eternal life.

The Resurrection

[3] John 11: 33 -35
see also
[6] Sirach 38:9-15
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2281
[8] Mt 12: 31
[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2282
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid, §2283