Sunday, 6 April 2008

Tony, poetry and my thoughts.

Before going any further, I will own up to being a Guardian reader. For those not on British soil, this is a shocking pinko newspaper with a highly anti-religious agenda. It reeks of "tolerance", provided you are as liberal as they are (i.e. it is very intolerant). We keep trying to change paper but the Telegraph is too smug, the Independent is boring and anything else would be putting money into the hands of the Murdoch empire.

Occasionally there is a good article. I've been meaning to make a link to this article by Sean O'Brien Read Poetry; It's quite hard for some time.

I have now been stirred into making some comments regarding this article in response to reading Tony Blair's "Cardinal's Lecture" about faith in the modern world. As with most things he utters, there are lots of sound bites, some plausible, some irritating and all in such simple English you nearly and dangerously find yourself getting swept along in the rhetoric. In response to this speech elsewhere Benfan suggests "Anti-Christ", Fr Ray Blake moderates with "anti-Christ". I just wish to bring the following paragraph to your attention:

For religion to be a positive force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism –faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance - an interesting part of our history but not of our future. Too many people see religious faith as represented in stark dogmatism and empty ritualism. Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life. It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target. It mocks certain of the practices and traditions of organised religion which they define as ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ is to be found in the cassocks and the gowns and the rituals.

The full text can be found here.

Well, firstly lets look at "stark dogmatism". Stark is beautiful, Tony. I'll quote from the Catechism's own definition of doctrine/dogma. The revealed teachings of Christ which are proclaimed by the fullest extent of the Church's Magisterium. The faithful are obliged to believe the truth or dogmas contained in divine Revelation and defined by the Magisterium.

What about "rescuing" faith from irrelevance? I just don't get it. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Christ is our only relevance, everything else is irrelevant. Faith is relevant it cannot be made relevant to ordinary life. Faith is not about ordinary life, it is about the extraordinary, the miraculous, the mysterious, the inexplainable, the humbling and the eternal. Mr Blair, if ordinary life no-longer sits comfortably with expressions of religious faith, it is the ordinary life that needs tackling root and branch not faith. Should expressions of faith ever be compromised to please the secular humanist?

This leads me on to the Guardian article I started this rant with. The article is about reading poetry and how the school curriculum is geared towards making sure only literature with relevance to the modern world and the lives of the young people reading it is "on the list". Here is a quote:

The word "relevance" looms - that contemporary fetish, so often brandished to mitigate ignorance and justify a failure of curiosity. I would argue ....many young people ... suffer a loss of liberty when the past is in effect closed down and the present becomes the measure of all things. Such young people have, in effect, no history, and this being so, their own significance is diminished. The problem is not whether Shakespeare or the Bible or TS Eliot is "relevant" to them, but whether they can see themselves as part of a continuum, a community extending across history.

Did you like that? Here's another:

The difficulty that readers face owes much to the fundamentally prosaic and utilitarian view of language which dominates our period: speed, impact and "the facts" are pre-eminent. In fact, the deafening roar of the contemporary is as elaborately rhetorical in its way as any other language-use, but just as readers sometimes mistake literary realism for reality, and find non-realist work intolerable in consequence, so they are encouraged to confuse the banal with the actual. As Marx observed: "All that is solid melts into air" - in this case into noise, the Babel of mass disempowerment.

"Read poetry: it's quite hard," the poet Don Paterson crisply suggested. To do so requires us to claim that imaginative space, and to live with Keats's "uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts", rather than rush to conclude and summarise. Part of what Eliot called "the shock of poetry" lies in the fact that what it offers is often both instinctively recognisable and at the same time resistant to interpretation - a three-dimensional experience for the imagination, not a mere scanning of captions. And just as poetry's subject is life in all its manifestations, so it exacts from the reader an equal attention to the human gift of language - meaning, tone, overtone, music, pattern, memorability, the power to move and delight.

If such richly complicated but freely available pleasures have come to seem forbidding, then we are indeed in trouble.

Now, Mr Blair, apply these Guardian friendly ideas about poetry to the Catholic Faith and you may just find yourself hoisted by your own petard.


Irene said...

If you understood the quote from Mr. Blair, you are either smarter or more psychic than I.

AutumnRose said...

Most excellent post!

Trust TB to apply the worst principles of emergent Church to Catholicism. Typical! And I am still bemused as to why he was even offered a platform, being a new baby Catholic who is still obviously on milk and hasn't progressed to solids yet! The first year after conversion should be spent in study of the catechism, and then when you open your mouth at least, hopefully, what you say is in line with it! In TB's case, I would bet on that one...

AR xx

Anonymous said...

You know, I have composed in my head many drafts of letters to Mr Blair.

Imagine if lots of Catholics wrote friendly or just matter of fact letters to him. You could turn this post into a letter - it would be pithy and concrete. Someone else could make the "but you're hardly received, is it really fitting to be preaching?" point, someone else the "er, what about those embryos?" point.

The thing is, he really does seem to be on some planet where words don't mean what they do in most people's every day life.