Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 6. May 28, 1958
An Odour of Sanctity
An Odour of Sanctity
Sir,—With reference to discussions on Roman Catholicism, I feel it is significant that the three largest Catholic Powers, Italy, France and Brazil, have respectively the first, second and fifth largest Communist Parties outside the Soviet Union. When we consider the other large anti-clerical parties in Italy and France, it is apparent that millions of nominal Catholics view the Roman Catholic Church with suspicion and even hostility despite centuries of indoctrination. The failure of the Worker-Priest movement in France showed the difficulty of beating down these feelings. It showed also that even hand-picked priests, once out of their artificially sheltered monastic surroundings, are more likely to be influenced by the workers than vice versa. Catholic Spain and Portugal, two dictatorships with the lowest living standards and highest illiteracy rates in Western Europe, may well be pondered. True, in many South American Republics the Catholic Church is in the process of jumping on to popular bandwagons, but it has no consistent record of resistance to appression to be proud of. When we remember Mexico and Peron such belated actions seem obviously opportunistic. The reported opposition of French Bishops to the Algerian War shows the decline of their influence, for the Catholic Parties in the French National Assembly are among the most vigorous supporters of the continued enslavement of Algeria. Only the Communists, together with some Radicals and Socialists, and all too few of the Catholic Left, have declared themselves against continuation of the war.
Or is the opposition of the French Bishops as real as the opposition of the Italian, Croatian and Slovak clerics to Fascism before and during the last war?
There remains one anomalous Catholic state—Ireland—but then people that believe in fairies, in this Twentieth Century, can be bamboozled into anything.
Christianity is Irrational
Sir,—The naivete of your correspondent John North alarms me considerably. Unless he means not what he writes, Mr. North must lead a blissfully ignorant existence. He implies that reason itself is invalid. And as he rejects reason, one may justifiably take the liberty of presuming that his outlook on our natural world retains none of the elements of rationality. Nothing that is, of the Shorter Oxford definition: "The quality of possessing reason; the power of being able to exercise reason. The fact ... of being . . . agreeable to reason." Perhaps Mr. North would care to justify his assertion that rationalism has nothing to offer by explaining why reason should be invalid in a world that moves by law and order. He is obviously not content with the orthodox Christian attitude towards rationalism — that Christianity, because it claims to be of a supernatural order, cannot be validly appraised through the formulae derived from the natural. No, Mr. North goes further to state: "Rationalism sounds very learned and academic but what has it really to offer. Ultimately nothing."
The first main step in Mr. North's immutable dialectic is an attempted proof of his belief that reason does not apply to an ordered world. He emphatically jabs his messy thumb at a conception of his own. This example is what Mr. North would term: "A concrete refutation of reason in our world.
"Are you the says) "sure that you are the same person as you were yesterday? Of course you are. Can you prove it deductively? No, you can't, but that doesn't lessen your certainty in any way. Apparently we can and do accept as true some things which cannot be proved deductively."
It mystifies me as to how Mr. North can conclude that he is the same person as he was yesterday, without reason. Let's assume that he can.
"But, Mr. North, you aren't the same person as you were yesterday."
"Of course I am."
"How are you sure?"
To which he must answer that he is "not sure" or that he "Feels it". To give the valid reply that it stands to reason simply would not do.
In short, I fail to see how one can make an assertion about the natural world without reason. To pretend that any statement is valid because "I feel it", is quite ridiculous. I would gently demure at the statement (quote) "Perhaps you are not such an extreme rationalist and sceptic after all. Even if a fact cannot be proved deductively as true you are prepared to accept it as true if there is sufficient evidence in its favour". If Mr. North really applies this maxim to the questions of existence He must harbour numerous contradictions within himself.
What of two conflicting statements, both of which appear to have equally strong and favourable arguments? Surely to be consistent Mr. North must assume both to be true. What of two arguments, one of which has more evidence than the other, but both appear equally plausible? Is the former a priori to be accepted? In point then, Mr. North has painfully confused the distinction between validity and probability. One is forced to assume that he has accepted Christianity merely because it seems probable. "Probability, implies his maxim, is truth".
Mr. North has then by his own admission accepted Christianity because "there is sufficient weight of evidence in its favour." Just what counts as sufficient weight of evidence eludes me. If Mr. North considers that Christianity contains this sufficient weight then he issues a severe indictment of his historical faculties. To me it seems strangely farcical that God after placing man in a naturally ordered world, and after endowing man with a rational capacity to acquaint himself with it, should expect man to abandon this ability and unhesitatingly accept his existence, i.e., the existence of a supernatural being. But what of those individuals who find it impossible to escape the chains of reason? They, smirks the Christian, are to be assigned to eternal damnation.
The final steps in Mr. North's argument is the most excruciating of all. This one doesn't even move by the laws of probability. Mr. North begs the rationalist to cogitate on this:
One should accept the truth of Christianity because Dr. Schweitzer (D.Th., Ph.D., D.Mus., D.Med.) thoroughly believes in it.
Surely there is something in Christianity because Dr. Schweitzer has gone to Africa. From this evidence Mr. North concludes that Christianity is for you. "Perhaps," Mr. North comments very safely, "there is something in Christianity after all." And after this, "What does Christianity have to offer"?
Ultimately, Mr. North, nothing. But immediately it grants a life of complacent security and a creed of false values inherent within which is a moral code that stifles and degrades true humanitarianism. The Christian contributes towards human welfare mainly because it will pay him to do so. But the true humanist does it not for any ulterior gain but because he realises that man's salvation can only come through himself. In point of fact Christianity subtracts more from the sum of human welfare than it ever adds. In its focus of attention upon the higher world it indirectly acquiesces to the furtherance of hell on earth.
I was once an evangelical Christian but I have been converted to an existence that lays upon me now a greater burden of responsibility. Perhaps the cry of Schiller will eventually be realised: "Brothers, above the heavens there must be a loving father." Perhaps. But He has chosen not to reveal himself. And until he does so I shall pursue the affirmation of Russell: That the greatest satisfaction in life is to realise oneself and to face the apparent truth of human destiny.
Dearest Sir,—Rumour has it that you are at present discussing with our New Zealand Hierarchy plans to form a Vic. branch of the Society for the Propagation of the Faithful. Will you please confirm this?
Sir,—The concluding statement in John Hendrikse's article (on prostitution) intrigues me. Am I to understand that he took on so serious an article without having done any field work? I suggest that in future "Salient" should make sure that its exposes are written by people with Full Knowledge of the facts of the case.
Sir,—I notice that Mr. Bollinger, in an article on bodgies, advances the peculiar thesis that a Catholic education is a first-class ticket to a pair of stovepipe pants. In support of this he submits as conclusive evidence on a post-war phenomenon, figures almost half a century old. He then quotes more recent figures: these are twelve years old and refer not to New Zealand but to Australia (in fact not even Australia, but an isolated state). In his blatant hysteria Mr. Bollinger calls forth "proof" which is out-of-date, irrelevant, and selected with an eye towards plain deception.
Figures relating to the subject with which Mr. Bollinger deals are, of course, scarce. This should have made him use them with care. For example, some recent information on the question of Catholics and crime is provided by Father Cyril Engler, at present chaplain of the Iowa State Men's Reformatory, Anamosa, U.S.A. He states that one quarter of the inmates call themselves Catholics. But only two per cent, of these have practised their faith before their imprisonment; only twelve per cent, of these professed Catholics were educated in Catholic primary schools; four out of five who did go to Catholic schools were expelled or left to attend State schools; and only one in five had had any instruction in his faith at all.
This is not conclusive evidence for the New Zealand scene, but until Mr. Bollinger submits similarly refined statistics for this country he should withhold judgment.
I had only one flicker of hope during Mr. Bollinger's outburst. This was when he mentioned in his favour "ample evidence" that the 1954 Commission had "overlooked" in the Hutt Valley enquiries. But he failed to quote it. If evidence only four years old and bearing specifically on the problem is as good as Mr. Bollinger implies, why neglect it in favour of misleading evidence 44 years old? Or is this unquoted evidence even weaker than that which Mr. Bollinger is prepared to produce?
Moreover, Mr. Bollinger's conception of religion, especially Catholicism, leads him to even greater clangers. He tells us that religion depends upon the "strong right arm", which leads to "anti-social outbursts in the teens". This kind of argument reveals Mr. Bollinger's utter ignorance and lack of understanding on religious matters. For his conception of religion is plainly reminiscent of the worst excesses of Calvin. It seems that he tries to impute a Calvinistic character even to Catholicism. Yet the idea of the strong right arm is not the basis of Catholic teaching, even though the Church has always shown a firm approach in moral matters. The emphasis has always been on infinite love, God's readiness to forgive sins (perhaps even Mr. Bollinger's).
I am surprised, considering Mr. Bollinger's enormous advantages in this matter, that he so completely misunderstands the Catholic doctrine. Perhaps in a year's time, when this particular clanger no longer echoes in V.U.W. corridors, he will be found asserting that Catholics are prone to crime because the idea of infinite love promotes sloppiness.
—A. J. MacLeod.
"A good season for courtship is when the widow returns from the funeral."
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