Friday, March 10, 2017

The Strength of the Faith

Today, I found myself leafing through two books I have read before. One is An Irish Eye by Anthony Cronin, an Irish poet and intellectual who died only weeks ago. It's a collection of newspaper articles written in the seventies and eighties. The second book is Apocalypse by D.H. Lawrence, the last book he wrote before he died. It's Lawrence's reflection on the Christianity of his upbringing, and more or less an anti-Christian tirade.

Both books are quite withering on the subject of Christianity. Both authors confess an admiration for Jesus, but claim that his doctrine has been twisted and perverted by his followers. For Cronin (a Marxist, or something close to it), Jesus was a social revolutionary, and if Christians actually followed his doctrine society as we know it would fall apart. For Lawrence, who had a much more aristocratic outlook, Jesus was a free spirit, but his followers are those filled with the desire to pull everyone down to the same level as themselves out of envy and resentment-- pretty much the Nietzschean critique of Judaism and Christianity.

My point is not just that Lawrence and Cronin make almost diametrically opposite arguments-- for one, Christianity is "bolshevist", for the other, it's not bolshevist enough. We're used to that. Chesterton never tired of pointing out that Christianity was constantly condemned for completely contradictory reasons, and we've all had the same experience.

What I wanted to write about is the deep sense of reassurance I feel when Catholicism (or popular Catholicism) is attacked for being suburban, unimaginative, conventional, bourgeois, mediocre, etc. etc. That seems to me exactly what a true religion would be. It would not be a religion for a clique or a fringe or an elite. It would be a religion for people of every temperament, personality, class, condition and intellect. It would be Abba or the Beatles, not the Smiths or Miles Davis. It would be Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, not...well, not Friedrich Nietzsche and D.H. Lawrence.

When people say: "I admire Christianity, but not what usually passes for Christianity", I don't sympathise with that person. Ordinary Christianity is exactly the thing I admire-- ordinary Catholicism, especially. And I say this even while I know I would probably disagree with most people in the pews of any given Sunday Mass in Ireland, when it comes to matters like homosexuality and women's ordination. I still feel more affinity with them than I do with people who profess (or simply admire) a more esoteric or idiosyncratic form of Christianity.

Another thing that I find reassuring about the Faith is that, for so many people, it holds up in every mood and circumstance, and not just when we are feeling devout. Even when I am at my least pious, my faith is real and solid to me. It's like the sky above me, the language I use, or my own body-- even when I'm not thinking about it, it's the framework of my whole existence, and the rest of the world makes sense to me through that framework.

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