Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I've got something to tell you

Home Front
Catholic Herald
23 September 2005

“Mum, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you.” Words that strike dread in the heart of parents. What comes next? “I’m gay”? “I’m pregnant”? “I’m appearing on the X-Factor”?
Whatever it is, we can handle it. Today’s liberal, tolerant parents pride themselves on being able to be understanding about any shocking revelations from their offspring. Today’s parents are trained to be open-minded, to keep loving their children, to respect their decisions to choose a different life-style from that of their family. Aren’t they?
Not quite. There is one revelation which your bog-standard liberal parent simply cannot swallow: “I believe in God”.
A young person who reveals to his atheist parents that he or she has become a believer in deity and, worse still, has signed up to a mainstream religion, may be shouted at, argued with, eventually sent to Coventry. Pleasant, charming, educated parents and siblings suddenly turn into the dad in Billy Elliot.
A new play by Mike Leigh at the National Theatre centres on the same situation, within a secular Jewish family. Several years ago, the novelist Hanif Kureishi foretold similar divisions soon to explode in Muslim families, in a story called “My Son the Fanatic”. In general, the religious child of non-religious parents is treated with a lack of sympathy which would be considered completely unacceptable, and psychologically damaging, for anyone else whose path diverged from the family norm.
So it must have been for a Benedictine monk called Tom, whose sister Lucy insouciantly revealed to Guardian readers what he had gone through to become a monk. I’m not quite sure if Lucy intended to come across as an inverted bigot: her thoughts are so focussed on the trauma suffered by her parents and herself in facing up to Tom’s bizarre insistence on religion, that the little matter of how this felt for Tom does not rate her attention.
The discovery that, aged16, he attended a church youth group “threw” the parents; Lucy, three years older, instantly “challenged Tom to justify his belief”, a rather pointless attack, since she admits she “didn’t understand it, didn’t want to, and felt it was all, well, incredibly disloyal”. Tom’s eventual decision to be a monk “shocked”, “embarrassed” and “bewildered” the parents, who actually “wept” while his sister “all but cut him off”.
Had some mischievous computer virus surreptitiously spell-checked Lucy’s article and replaced the word “monk” with “gay prostitute” or “drug addict“, I doubt the Guardian would have printed it. The language would have been intolerable in its intolerance. To stop talking to a sibling because he’s become a bit different? Bigoted! But to stop talking because he’s become a Catholic monk? Dear me (they said at the Guardian), how perfectly dreadful. We can quite understand how the family felt…
Reading between the lines of Ms Ward’s account, the unwillingness of his family even to try to understand him must have been immensely painful for Tom, though this does not seem to occur to his sister. At the age of 16, to have your convictions dismissed by your family; to have your life choice pitied by your sister; to be regarded as an “embarrassment”; hardly the road to self-esteem, is it?

Last Tuesday saw the final episode of an extraordinary TV series that deserved more attention than it got: BBC 2’s “No Sex Please, We’re Teenagers”. What we had thought might be a new low for reality TV turned out to be the uplifting story of twelve teenagers who really did discover self-esteem, by giving up casual sex and embracing abstinence.
“You are doing something that could change the whole of Britain,” said their inspirational and reassuringly good-looking teachers, Dan and Rachel. And indeed they were. I suspect the reason why the series has not attracted more interest is that Dan and Rachel’s “Romance Academy” actually worked: rather than becoming luridly sexually frustrated for the benefit of cameras, the kids learned to become calm, happy, self-believing young people. Very disappointing for the tabloids.
But how to spread the word? Firstly, the BBC should put the series on DVD instantly for showing in secondary schools. Secondly we need more Romance Academies, and Catholic schools are the place to start.

1 comment:

bjenkins said...

God is awesome. I am glad to have a personal relationship with Him.