Friday, October 13, 2006

What's the problem?

Catholic Herald 13 October 2006

When the Church of England decided last week to set aside a quarter of all its school places for non-Christians, I notice some curious reactions among parents, most audibly a sigh of relief. The tenor of the press coverage and playground gossip was: thank heavens! We don’t all have to pretend we are church-goers any more!

The great British public is not known for its logical powers. In this case, the reasoning goes something like this:

1. a lot of people can’t get their children into church schools.
2. Therefore church schools are hard to get into.
3. Therefore it must be made easier to get into them.
4. Therefore the obstacles set in the way of unsuccessful families must be removed.

The obstacle in the way is, of course, church attendance and involvement in a parish – in other words, evidence that you belong to the group for whom the school was originally founded. Supplying this evidence is “difficult” for many people because, of course, they don’t really belong there at all.

Now, the Church of England is an established church.. The Catholic Church is not. I won’t go so far as to stretch this analogy, but if Catholic schools had to take the same measure, it would be a little like setting aside a quarter of the stalls at Royal Ascot for donkeys, because donkeys seem to have such a hard time meeting traditional entry requirements.

I am fascinated, as regular readers know, by the uneasy interface between church schools and parents in this country. I am fascinated by the envy and suspicion with which church schools are regarded; they are looked on as having some kind of mysterious magic power which is being wilfully withheld from everyone else.

I am fascinated by the persistent, superstitious belief that if only secular parents were allowed to plonk their children down into the middle of a church school, then their children would mysteriously soak up these magic powers, and get better exam results. I am fascinated by the assumption that the secular family has a right to rely on their Christian neighbours to provide the school’s “ethos” from which the secular family can benefit, without in any way contributing to its upkeep.

I am equally fascinated by the assumption – mostly perpetrated by the media - that the practising of Christianity can only be a tiresome burden for any family, therefore is an “obstacle” to winning a school place.

This weekend, for National Parenting Week, I am talking to parents in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton about what it is that we mean when we say we are Catholic parents. The parents I will meet will not regard their faith as an obstacle; but if they are anything like me, they might sometimes feel discouraged that their determination to bring their children up in this faith is so little understood.

Most people, Professor Richard Dawkins included, have no idea what goes on inside a church. Those Sunday mornings in bed, it appears, are sacrosanct in their own way.

Last week we said goodbye to a young, newly-ordained priest who has been working in our parish for a couple of years. I hope he won’t mind me saying that during his time with us, he made friends with pretty well everyone and worked very hard, so we expected a full church for his farewell Mass – but I am not sure we expected it to be standing room only.

At the end of Mass I am not sure we expected to find ourselves on our feet giving him a standing ovation lasting several minutes. I am not sure we expected to find our hearts so uplifted as he unwrapped his gifts (an icon, and an iPod – what a euphonious combination). And I am not sure we expected to find the church hall so amply filled with good wine, home-cooked food and laughter afterwards.

Strange, that a farewell can be so joyous; yet it was, because although we were saying “goodbye” we were also affirming ourselves as a community. It was one of those moments when I wished I could parachute in Richard Dawkins, or Jeremy Paxman, or any of those snooty atheists, and say, “Look at what we are about! Joy, love and companionship! What’s your problem?”


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Danger, danger

The Catholic Herald, 6 October 2006

Are babies dangerous?

Professor Donald Peebles, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at University College, London, thinks so.

Now perhaps Professor Peebles lives an exceptionally sheltered life. But you would have thought that an experienced scientist who has risen to a level of some importance in the august halls of University College, London, had probably knocked around a bit.

Indeed, he must spend at least some time walking round central London of an evening, perhaps after late night sessions in the lab. So you would expect the Prof. to have a rather different view of which categories of human beings pose a genuine threat to life and limb than that which he expresses in statements to the Press this week.

But no, Professor Peebles thinks babies are dangerous, and in particular pictures of babies. Pictures of babies are terribly, terribly dangerous, says Professor Peebles!
Why? Has Professor Peebles had his wallet stolen by a rampaging foetus?

Well, you remember those “4D” films of babies moving around in the womb? The “walking baby” pictures that presented the humanity of the child in the womb more clearly than ever before?

Well, Professor Peebles and his many powerful pro-abortion colleagues have let it be know that those scans have a “dangerous impact”.

Now when I first saw this headline I nodded in mistaken agreement. Over recent years there have been increasing concerns about the safety of repeated ultrasound scans. Some ultra-cautious mums are already declining scans – not because there is a proven danger to the baby, but because there has never been any proof that there is NO danger to the baby. Some mums really are very, very cautious indeed and who are we to object?

“The docs have a point,” I thought. “Those amazing 4D scans could have hidden health risks that won’t turn up for years and years. Past experience with any kind of prenatal testing tells us that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

A shame really, as there are many American parents enjoying hours of harmless entertainment showing their baby’s first home video performance to their long-suffering friends and relations.

“No, stupid” said Mr J. “You’ve missed the point as usual.” I looked at the story again. “Oh,” I said.

The doctors are not the tiniest bit worried about these powerful electronic scans being dangerous to babies. The “danger” is that parents, friends, teenagers, children, grandparents, uncles and aunts – in short, the human race – will, when confronted with a movie of an unborn child below 24 weeks of gestation, be so struck by the sheer humanity of the baby that they will rise up and revolt against the prevailing pro-abortion culture in the UK today.

The “danger”, in other words, of these 4D scans is this: that they might start people thinking. People might start asking – just who are these little creatures, 186,400 of whom our hospitals sluice away every year?

Professor Peebles seems to think that if we see a photo of a baby sucking its thumb in the womb, we poor peasants might “think it is happy” and therefore foolishly think the baby is a human being.

“It’s that feeling which I think is extraordinarily dangerous,” he says. A scientist from Imperial College backed him up: “Personification of the foetus at that age is dangerous,” she echoed.

Dangerous to whom?

How dangerous is it for a baby in the womb for his mother to be aware of his responses to her mood? Every mother knows that when she is contented, the baby is contented. Every mother knows that a loud noise will make her baby jump. Observant mums notice that a sudden adrenalin boost for her means a jumpy baby ten minutes later. Is it dangerous, too, for mothers to know these things? Is it dangerous for babies, that mothers know these things?

No, but it is extremely dangerous to Professor Peebles. Because, you see, if we were all aware of how human an unborn child is, his abortionist friends would lose a lot of business.

In fact, if everybody really understood the ghastly human significance what the Prof’s friends in the clinics and “pregnancy advice centres” do for a living, they would quickly find themselves out of a job.

Yes, those 4D scans are dangerous indeed. What else does Professor Peebles want to stop us from knowing?