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Fit For Mission. The Cause Of Our Present Discontent

The Lost Generation.


In 1955 an American anthropologist wrote: "The English are certainly among the most peaceful, gentle, courteous and orderly populations that the civilised world has ever seen. The contol of aggression has gone to such remarkable lengths that you ever hardly see a fight in a bar and football crowds are as orderly as church meetings". Before you die with laughter, let me quote George Orwell: "The gentleness of English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where bus-conductors are good tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers". What a contrast to a headline in a newspaper recently reporting the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee: "No-go town centres: drunken yobs leave £3.4bn trail of damages on nights of terror".

How did this transition did place? There were three 'isms floating in the academic world of the '60s. Marx foresaw the crushing of bourgeois values. Marriage and the traditional relationships between men and women were social constructs doomed to breakdown. Feminism fed on Marxism. "Nature produced the fundamental inequality - half the human race must bear and rear the children of all of them - which was later consolidated, institutionalised in the interests of men" (The Dialectic of Sex, S.Firestone). Again deriving from Marxism Juliet Mitchell in Women: The Longest Revolution, 1966, identified the family as a key institution of Capitalism, through which women reproduce and maintain the workforce, while they are fooled into believing that these are their natural tasks in which they find fulfilment. Existentialism, if you like, continues where Marxism leaves off in the demand that people should lead authentic lives, rejecting the false conventions of society. 'Be yourself' is the message, 'Be your genuine self', not the kind of person society tells you to be. 'Be yourself' is easily translated into 'Do what you please' and so introduces the permissive society. Theory was put into practice under the slogan 'Make love not war'. "I believe that the sixties were a mini-renaissance in which the right of individual expression was encouraged, applauded and nurtured by a generation whose naive belief was that all we needed was love".

Into this pond popped the pill - to which Pope Paul VI gave a negative response. For many authors and commentators of this time the Church was a repressive force from which one needed to be liberated. In her book Serpent on a Rock Alice Thomas Ellis interviews a young Catholic journalist. "I was born into a Catholic family.... I continued to go to Mass throughout my teenage years and at University went to the Catholic Society. However I felt almost ashamed of being a Catholic because of the current feeling at that time". "What was that?" "Mainly the sex thing. If you were a virgin it wasn't something to be proud of. Being 'a good Catholic girl' didn't fit in well with my social activities and I wanted to be viewed as an interesting individual... I continued to go to Mass but saw religion as a bad thing and someone who was a Catholic as narrow-minded". Many others fell for the Existentialist view that life has only the meaning that you give to it and rejected the Church's claim to absolute truth. The Church, they reckoned, is a prim Victorian grandmother, clinging to her long skirts, afraid to follow fashion, so banning divorce, contraception and, in general, making life for a modern person impossible.It wasn't just in matters of sex that freedom was favoured. There was an American psychologist who, with others, offered what he called 'non-directive psychotherapy' with normal people. He was later aghast at what he had done. During the period 1966-69 he introduced himself to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in California. "They hd some sixty schools when we started; at the end they had one. There were some 615 nuns when we began. Within a year after our first interviews 300 of them were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows. They did not want to be under anyone's authority, except the authority of their own imperial selves". This was the time when men, too, were leaving the priesthood,mostly to marry. It was not the Vatican Council which had unsettled them; it was the prevailing philosophy of self-fulfilment.

This was a period in Britain of great social change. Grammar schools were closed in favour of the Secondary Modern system. Latin and Greek were dropped from the curriculum. The R.E. syllabus became the subject of intense debate. The bishops wanted seminaries to be linked to universities. In the reorganisation which followed, our successful Junior Seminary at Underley Hall, Kirkby Lonsdale, was sacrificed to a broad plan for the North. In the end the idea of germinating the ambition and enthusiasm of young people in a boarding school was abandoned and the university chaplaincies became the recruiting ground for vocations. A stony soil. The chaplain to the University of Surrey wrote to The Catholic Herald: "It is a well known fact that when they arrive at university the overwhelming majority of Catholic students never take up the practice of the faith. Within the first week or two they will have been presented with condoms and instructed how to use them and told where to obtain free replacements.They will probably receive sexual propositions, they will almost certainly encounter an offer of soft drugs... They will almost certainly get in some serious drinking and partying... By comparison Catholic life seems very dull; it can't compete. Students may well come to Mass once or twice out of habit, but it doesn't take long for most to find excuses to do something else much more fun." His analysis is that many of them came to him without having had the faith explained to them in its fulness and with enthusiasm. He is designating what we may call The Lost Generation -parents of the children now in our schools - if, indeed, they have been enrolled in a Catholic school.

So what have we to offer? A vision of what it means to be human. It because we are made in the image of God that we find ourselves male and female. Something in our being related as male and female pulls back the veil on what God is like. Our being distinctly male and female is a revelation of God's own being and inner life. Each gender alone is incompletely human. We are made for the communion of male and female. It is in our communion with one another that we are images of God. This implies a mutual reverence, respect and restraint. A healthy relationship between men and women is essentisl to the tone of human society. We have a vision of the ideal. It is a vision we must share. One might have the impression that the rot has gone too far for people to accept a concept of sex as an image of God. This is to underestimate the latent idealism of many who have never been offered a glimpse of the ideal. As I am writing this I am aware of today's (26.7.07) front page headline: UK TEENS WORST BEHAVED IN EUROPE. DRINK, DRUGS AND UNDER-AGE SEX SOARING AS FAMILY LIFE BREAKS DOWN. Two Popes have said that the subject of the new evangelisation must be the family.

See also the article 'The Meaning of Sex'