Before video tape recorders came along it was the masterpiece that was very hard to see. But was it a masterpiece or just a dumbing down of great music on the back of Disney animation?
In a short online piece today courtesy of the New York Times we are reminded that Walt Disney’s Fantasia is 75 years old this month.
The movie, the Times tells us was Walt Disney’s most artistically ambitious feature. It was “dreamed up to bring highbrow masterpieces to everyone.” It didn’t succeed, at first. It cost the equivalent of $39 million and it was only after repeated releases over decades that it finally recouped its costs.
Like all approaches to classical music which concentrate on the “good bits” of the masterpieces of the repertoire, it is ultimately disappointing – little better than what Old Spice did for Carmina Burana or what Hamlet cigars did for Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. On wonders how many people hearing any of these actually ever found their way to the originals in all their glory?
Fantasia features unrelated segments set to music performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” accompanying an 1897 composition by Paul Dukas, features Mickey Mouse as a wannabe magician.
Animation for “The Rite of Spring,” composed by Igor Stravinsky, tells the story of evolution.
And “Dance of the Hours,” from the opera “La Gioconda,” becomes a comic ballet performed by animals.
When the film finally arrived in video tape format it was an immediate bestseller among school teachers who saw it as a way of awakening an interest in great music in their pupils. There is not much evidence that it helped in any way to stem the tide of inane pop which was already swamping musical taste across the globe. Reaching the higher reaches of any great mountain requires effort and stamina. The same applies to the great works of literature, drama and music. Funny pictures and soft options are not enough. Pretending that they are is in fact selling out on the things of real value in our culture, those things which will really enrich our lives and cultivate our sensibilities at the deepest level.
What “an open, honest and under-oath detailed description of what goes on during state-of-the-art legal abortion” revealed in the Kermit Gosnell trial in Pensylvania, but which no Irish news outlet has ever printed or broadcast, is openly spelled out in the pages of the pro-abortion Irish Times today.
That story, in the Irish context, may be even more significant than the abortion story itself. Has the editor of the Irish Times cracked the stranglehold which his pro-abortion staff have held the paper in for more than a decade? Might we now get other media to follow suit and give the Irish people the honest discussion on this issue which they have been denied to date?
The article comes from two journalists, a husband and wife film-making team based in Los Angeles. They are Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney and write of their experiences watching the trial of Gosnell. This was a trial ignored by Irish media – and a good deal of international media as well – because it did not flow with the politically correct current which sweeps our media along its biased way.
In their article they tell us that it was not primarily the crimes of Gosnell which shocked anyone who spent time at the trial. It was the evidence from legitimate abortion providers describing to the court what their daily practices involved.
It was the industrial scale of the abortion industry that shocked the jury and spectators who gasped (the only time during a horrific trial) when Dr Charles Benjamin matter of factly stated he had performed over 40,000 abortions. They write:
We were always fairly disinterested in abortion. And by “disinterested” we mean we never thought much about it but, when we did, believed it was an unfortunate but probably necessary part of modern life.
And as such we would have agreed with those who have called in The Irish Times and elsewhere for more honesty and openness about abortion in the belief it would lead to a more liberal abortion regime in Ireland.
However, our recent experience would suggest that campaigners might want to rethink this strategy if they want Irish people to support a campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. .
We are making a movie and writing a book about Dr Kermit Gosnell – described by ABC News as “America’s biggest serial killer”. Gosnell was a Pennsylvania abortion doctor who performed illegal abortions past the state’s 24-week limit. His abortion “technique” was to have the babies born alive and then to stab them to death with scissors.
His case led many people, investigators, lawyers and jury members to hear for the first time the reality of abortion, illegal and legal, and how it affected them might surprise those calling for more honesty surrounding the procedure.
A pro-choice prosecutor told us how she and her female co-worker were amazed that the legal limit in Pennsylvania was 24 weeks: “That’s six months” she remembers blurting out as they read the statue for the first time. Then they discovered that PA wasn’t an outlier.
In several US states you can have, and people do have, abortions up to the day of delivery.
But the evidence that shocked the most was the evidence that was supposed to reassure the most.
To highlight Gosnell’s illegality, prosecutors decided the jury should hear from “good abortionists”.
In other words just what those campaigning to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution are demanding – an open, honest and under-oath detailed description of what goes on during state-of-the-art legal abortion.
It was the industrial scale of the abortion industry that shocked the jury first. They gasped (the only time during a horrific trial) when Dr Charles Benjamin matter of factly stated he had performed over 40,000 abortions.
An arm or a leg
Dr Karen Feisullin was also called to describe what a legal abortion looked like. The jury and many in the courtroom shifted uncomfortably as they heard about “tools going up into the uterus and basically pulling parts out . . . an arm or a leg or some portion of that”.
And those were the easy, early abortions. For later procedures, Dr Feisullin explained the foetus was so well-formed that it couldn’t be ripped apart in the uterus. It was normally removed – through the birth canal – completely intact. But, as Feisullin explained, a baby born at 23 weeks has a 40-50 per cent chance of surviving. To avoid a live baby coming out during an abortion, the doctor demonstrated how, before the abortion, a poison – potassium chloride – was injected through the woman’s stomach directly into the baby’s heart. This would stop the heartbeat, allowing the foetus to be pulled out intact.
Dr Feisullin was asked what would happen if she missed the heart and the baby was born alive.
She explained that the live baby would be covered with a blanket and given “comfort care”.
You could see the genuine puzzlement of people in the court about what “comfort care” was until Dr Feisullin cleared up any confusion.
“You . . . really just keep it warm, you know. It will eventually pass,” she said.
Steve Volk, a Philadelphia-based journalist for an alternative newspaper who described himself as comfortably pro-choice before the trail, said that, as Dr Feisullin spoke, his fellow reporters all checked if they had heard correctly.
Dehydration and neglect
Was it really standard medical practice to let a baby die of dehydration and neglect if an error was made during an abortion? It was and they were shocked.
Local journalist JD Mullane, who interviewed many of the key players, confirmed our research that the trial changed many minds and shook assumptions.
“Almost everyone . . . who spent significant time at the Gosnell trial was less pro-choice at the end. This change was probably because they were for the first time hearing about the reality of abortion from experts under oath . . .
“They had to tell the truth and they had to tell it in detail,” he said.
Out of the shadows
Those seeking to remove the constitution ban on abortion believe the best way to do it is to bring it out of the shadows in the hope that when people hear the details, they will support the liberalisation of abortion in Ireland.
Two years ago, we might have agreed with them.
But our experience of the Gosnell case is that anyone who has learned more about the reality of abortion – the pullings apart of the foetus, the injecting of poison into the heart, the “comfort care” – has come away with only negative feelings about the procedure.
The Week (Europe) reports a bad week for “official figures”, after the body responsible for university funding in England had to admit to an embarrassing blunder: this summer, the HEFCE claimed that 82% of students from state schools achieved a first or upper second class degree, compared to only 73% of those from independent schools. But it has now been forced to admit that it got the figures the wrong way around.
Be wary of commemoration. Be careful about what you celebrate. Not only may they be perniciously divisive but they may also grossly distort the truth which should first and foremost be the guide to authentic freedom and the ground on which we build our lives and our communities. When we commemorate what we call the Irish Revolution we should know that it was not really a revolution – certainly not at the time. It was a rebellion against the authority of the state and a rejection of its legitimacy. Those who rebelled were undeniably revolutionary in their intent – although their revolutionary agendas were not uniform.
While Ireland’s 1916 rebellion ultimately achieved regime change, for most of the century nothing else of a very radical nature happened. Ireland remained much the same culturally. The flowering of Irish literature, drama and the burning commitment to a Gaelic Ireland which had flourished in the two decades prior to the rebellion were in fact never matched again in the century which followed. In fact the new regime ultimately alienated many from the ideal of a Gaelic Ireland by seeking a compulsory imposition of Ireland’s native language on the people. Ireland is much less Gaelic at the beginning of the 21st century than she was at the beginning of the 20th. That is tragic. She is quintessentially Irish, no less now than she was then, although that Irishness is now heavily influenced and characterised by Anglo-American culture. Meanwhile, her Gaelic soul is on life-support.
Politically, Ireland continued to be ruled and administered through the time honoured institutions it had inherited from the old regime. That was no bad thing. They are the institutions, the machinery of state, that are envy of most of the world. In terms of political life, for many decades Ireland stagnated in the strait-jacket of the enmities generated in its post-rebellion Civil War. Only now, in the 21st century, does there seem to be any hope of escape from that. Escape to what? That remains a moot question.
For most of the 20th century the new Irish State sought to assert her sovereignty in the world and for a number of the early decades sought somewhat ineptly to do so economically. That came to an end with another Act of Union, union with the evolving entity which is now the European Union. Clearly there were differences between the terms and conditions which applied under this Act and the Act of 1801. Just as the terms and conditions of that first Act had evolved into a more benign character by 1900, so also the terms and conditions of our union with Europe are of a new order as well. By 1916 Home Rule for Ireland had been put on the statute books.
The modern British state has evolved by Burkean principles for more than two centuries. Its mode of change was and remains evolutionary and constitutional. This was not good enough for the Irish. The Irish insurgents took the law into their own hands in a way which would be an anathema to that greatest of Irishmen, Edmund Burke. The foolish violence which ensued, after the inept leader of the militants tried to call off the planned insurrection, begot more and equally terrible counter-violence, including the foolish execution of the Insurrection’s leaders. Ireland has had to live with the consequences of that ever since.
One way or the other – and probably it had nothing to do with the act of rebellion in 19 16 – Ireland is now a society much closer to the mores and ideals of Rosamund Jacob, P.S. O’Hegarty and the Sheehy-Skeffingtons of that time. If it was a revolution, it really was a long revolution. What cannot be denied is that in what is now about to be celebrated there is much of the tragic – not least the loss of almost 6000 lives between its inception and its celebration 100 years later.
But human history will never be devoid of tragedy. How could it be otherwise if what Christian theology and divine revelation tell us is true? We are a fallen nature and on the level of nature much of what we touch does not turn to gold. This may be denied by the Jacobs and the O’Hegartys of the New Ireland – of whom there are now many more among us. That does not make it any less true.
Commemorate? Yes, perhaps. There was nobility and heroism in the lives of many of those who sought to carve a different identity for their country than the one they found it had in their time. Celebrate their actions and all their consequences? That path seems more problematic. Commemoration allows for a level of questioning of the wisdom of those we commemorate? Celebration seems not to do so.
How we should learn learn to stop complaining and love the New York Times! How could we not, for it has given us a Chesterton for our times. Who would have believed it? It did not begin this week – but it certainly reached a new level of power this week. The latest shining of this new and welcome light began last Monday with the First Things Erasmus lecture in New York City. Then today we have a penetrating column, a veritable gauntlet for the cause of orthodoxy in the Roman Catholic Church thrown at the feet of its heterodox academic theologians, in one of the free world’s greatest liberal newspapers.
We are talking about New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. His star as an interpreter, explainer and sometimes warrior in the culture battles of our time has been rising for a number of years. Since his move to the Times a handful of years ago it has reached super-nova dimensions.
Don’t buy the jibe that he is the Times’ token conservative. The Times is a genuinely liberal paper and as such will inevitably give voice to – and at its top level may also sincerely subscribe to – a view of human nature which is wide of an accurate reading of the real nature of the human condition. But its first ideal is to try to give voice to intelligent human beings who are seeking the truth. This it will generally do regardless of what the paper’s own view of the truth at any time might be. The Times may even be as confused as Pilate was about the very possibility of Truth. Its starting point is, however, unarguably a good ideal, one which is at the very heart of our civilization. Because of a commitment to this ideal we can hear the voice of Ross Douthat.
This week Douthat gave us a razor-sharp analysis – for me at any rate – of where the “Catholic moment” is today. This was the 28th Annual Erasmus Lecture. It presents a challenge to be sensible, honest and continuously courageous in thinking about where we have been, where we are and where we are going with out Christian civilization yesterday, today and tomorrow.
You can watch and listen to this lecture here courtesy of First Things (firstthings.com). Now in its 28th year, the Erasmus Lecture has been bringing world-renowned speakers to New York—including Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Gilbert Meilaender, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks—to address an audience of over five hundred people each year.
Ross Douthat, who like Chesterton – but without the semantic and rhetorical fun and games – is nothing if not provocative, is the author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012), Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (Hyperion, 2005), and the co-author, with Reihan Salam, of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (Doubleday, 2008).
Last week he was challenged by a group of academic theologians who must surely now regret their silly passing remark casting doubt on his “authority” to speak about religion at all since he had no qualification in theology. In fact they did not challenge him. They complained behind his back – like true liberals – to the New York Times for giving him a platform at all on “their” subject. Today he answers their silliness – silliness which all honest people will laugh at but which nevertheless they should also take seriously, as he does. He begins:
Iread with interest your widely-publicized letter to my editors this week, in which you objected to my recent coverage of Roman Catholic controversies, complained that I was making unfounded accusations of heresy (both “subtly” and “openly”!), and deplored this newspaper’s willingness to let someone lacking theological credentials opine on debates within our church. I was appropriately impressed with the dozens of academic names who signed the letter on the Daily Theology site, and the distinguished institutions (Georgetown, Boston College, Villanova) represented on the list.
I have great respect for your vocation. Let me try to explain mine.
A columnist has two tasks: To explain and to provoke. The first requires giving readers a sense of the stakes in a given controversy, and why it might deserve a moment of their fragmenting attention span. The second requires taking a clear position on that controversy, the better to induce the feelings (solidarity, stimulation, blinding rage) that persuade people to read, return, and re-subscribe.
Both his lecture, his column today and on many other occasions, make compelling reading.
He concludes today’s column, making reference to their elitist and Gnostic jibe, where they imply that all these things are above his pay grade and that he does not understand them because he is not a theologian: “…indeed I am not. But neither is Catholicism supposed to be an esoteric religion, its teachings accessible only to academic adepts.”
What is their real position on doctrine and the teaching of the Church, he asks? He suspects that it is that almost anything Catholic can change when the times require it, and “developing” doctrine just means keeping up with capital-H History, no matter how much of the New Testament is left behind. He concludes:
As I noted earlier, the columnist’s task is to be provocative. So I must tell you, openly and not subtly, that this view sounds like heresy by any reasonable definition of the term.
Now it may be that today’s heretics are prophets, the church will indeed be revolutionized, and my objections will be ground under with the rest of conservative Catholicism. But if that happens, it will take hard grinding, not just soft words and academic rank-pulling. It will require a bitter civil war.
And so, my dear professors: Welcome to the battlefield.
Ernie O’Malley’s later life and the records he has left us tell their own story, subjective but very revealing in a way which the sanitised glorification of the New Republic never is. Those who deny that the IRA of recent years bears any resemblance to that of the early 20th century should familiarise themselves with it. O’Malley, in the ten years before his death, reacted to the state-sponsored Bureau of Military History. This was the state agency entrusted with the task of setting down the official record of all that happened between 1916 and the truce of 1921. O’Malley set out to compile what for him would be a true account.
In pursuit of this he criss-crossed Ireland in his old Ford, searched out his old companions in arms and interviewed over 500 of them. The transcriptions of these remain – although the magnum opus which he had planned never saw the light of day. Foster writes: “The memories recorded therein suggest a less sanitized and more embittered memory of revolutionary violence than those of the Bureau of Military History. Violence, expropriation, intimidation, random killings and enduring resentment can be inferred through many of the recollections he recorded.” One of his interviewees regretfully observed, “Sandy Nagle should never have been shot; he was a harmless ould devil.” Sandy, whoever he was, typified the victims of the callous violence of the war. There would be many more Sandys in Northern – and indeed Southern – Ireland when the war was reignited at the end of the century.
One of the literary figures of the early years of the century, George Russell (AE), thought and hoped that the violence of the epoch was just a phase, a “passing illness” contracted from all that had gone on in Europe during the Great War. He was not to know that within 50 years it would sweep over Ireland again in the final decades of the century, leaving a death toll even higher than that of the 1916 Rebellion and its immediate aftermath.
O’Malley and many of his companions might have been the embodiment of Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, a revolutionary caught in the blinding light of what looked like a new dawn for humanity but ending up in the pit of disillusion and terror. In his last years O’Malley was still looking for that illusive light – “How does one reconstruct a spiritual state of mind?” he asked himself despairingly. He ended up describing his life as a “broken” one, rejecting the world many of his former comrades had constructed for themselves in the New Ireland.
For some it was an unfinished business
Another dimension of the Irish story which Foster’s book reveals, but which will surely be played down by official Ireland for all sorts of reasons in the forthcoming celebrations, is the strong undercurrent of rebellion against the Catholic ethos of Ireland. This Catholic consciousness, in the aftermath of the persecutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had grown in the nineteenth century and had developed very powerful institutional roots. Indeed, if the commemoration were really honest it would be celebrating the fact that it is just now, finally, after one hundred years, that the dream of some of those revolutionary visionaries has finally come true – the vanquishing of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the rooting out of its influence among its people.
Rosamund Jacob, another whose post rebellion life was one of disillusion and disappointment, set out vehemently at the start to undo the Catholic influence in Ireland. Foster observes of her: “In classic back-to-the-people mode, Jacob records her attempts to learn Irish, to seek out like-minded people, and to make the contacts which would bring her…into revolutionary nationalist circles in Dublin… In this world, she searched for similarly secularist thinkers, though she was often disappointed: her robust if rather reductionist belief that ‘the Catholic Church is one of the greatest influences for evil in the world’, and that it was incomprehensible how any sane person of any intelligence could be a Catholic’, did not always meet with approval among her new nationalist companions.”
Jacob, also obsessively interested in matters sexual, would feel much more at home in the Ireland of today where student debating societies regularly rubbish the Catholic Church and Catholic beliefs in terms similar to those she expressed, where secularism is enthroned in Government departments – particularly in Health, Justice and Education – and where, among other things dear to her heart, radical gender ideology, among other secularist dogmas, reigns supreme across ninety percent of Irish media.
Undoubtedly in 1916 the view that Irish Catholicism was part of the national malaise was a minority one – but not insignificant. It would have been shared, among others, by the Sheehy-Skeffingtons, P.S. O’Hegarty and Muriel McSweeney, later to be the widow of the pious Terence McSweeney but not particularly pious herself. She later became a communist. All of these were later to take the view that the undeniably stronger Catholic element in this generation ended up hijacking the revolution and returning Ireland to what was, in their view, a different form of subservience. George Russell was among the disillusioned, moaning in the 1930s about “Catholic thought-control,… smug Catholic self-satisfaction with its own sanctity”.
Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign has issued a statement saying that the fact that a number of abortions have already taken place using the ‘suicide’ ground brings to light the entrenched problems with the legislation introduced by the present government in 2013. Three recorded terminations took place on the suicide grounds in the period January-July 2014. No figures have been released for the number of abortions since then. In recent days, outgoing Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, criticised the new abortion legislation, primarily on the grounds that it set no time limits for when abortions can take place. He said however that he overestimated the number of abortions that would occur on the suicide ground and that the “floodgates” had not opened as predicted.
Commenting on the impact of the new law, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson, Dr Ruth Cullen said: “Within months of the new law being activated three pregnancies were terminated on the ‘suicide’ ground resulting in the intentional ending of unborn human life. The loss of even one life is a tragedy but the fact that we now have a law that facilitates the taking of human life, with the full knowledge that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings, is shameful in the extreme.
“No one on the pro-life side forecast that the floodgates to wide-ranging abortion would happen overnight. Our criticism of the new law was that over time it would normalise abortions taking place on the ‘suicide’ ground given that the decision to carry out an abortion does not have to be based on any medical evidence showing that the intervention was necessary to save the life of the mother. Sadly, it has already been shown that abortions are taking place using this bogus ground despite all the reassurances given by the Taoiseach that it wouldn’t happen.”
There is something of the tragic about Ireland and her story. But then, there is something of the tragic in all of human history. Last year Roy Foster published Vivid Faces, his study of the generation and the cultural milieu in which the Irish Insurrection of 1916 and its aftermath fermented. It is a masterful study. It is a book which, if it were read with the detachment from the current received mythology of Ireland with which it is written, will stand as one of the most valuable reflections on that Rebellion which its centenary next year will be likely to leave us.
How honest, how intelligent, will this exercise in the enhancement of the memory of a people be next year – which is what this kind of commemoration is all about? Will it lay before us the “terrible” element of the “beauty” born in those years or will it just give us the feel-good version and go on feeding the legend. This is the legend which has to this day sustained the blood-lust of Sinn Fein and its military incarnation, the Irish Republican Army – and its multiple Hydra heads.
The roots of tragedy often lie in the failure of a man to recognise his inner truth – his real self, warts and all. The value of good history to a people is the revelation of the truths of the past, the motives, the mistakes, the right turnings and the wrong turnings, the good and the bad, their roots and all the things which make that people what they are today. It is not there to condemn or to praise. It is there simply to try to tell the truth.
The curse of bad history – which is no history at all – is that it blinds the people whose story it purports to tell. It is not even good mythology – for mythology is good only when it is true to the core truths which underlie reality. It is a corrupting and pernicious mythology when it does not.
It is unlikely that Ireland in 2016 will be commemorating with any sense of tragedy the events which were the catalyst which brought it independent statehood. Should anyone suggest that the horrors of the years between 1969 and the end of the last century had any roots in the armed struggle which followed the 1916 Rebellion, there will be a shaking of heads and muttering of “no, no, no”. This will be the first self-deception. There will be many more.
There are many passages in Foster’s book which reflect the reality of the epoch and its lingering legacy of hatred of Britain. Ireland now boasts that it has relations with its nearest neighbour that have never been seen before in its history, at least not since the time some fourteen hundred years ago when Irish missionaries crossed the seas and brought Christianity to Scotland and the North of England. It is true that the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011 was a watershed in relations between the two islands. We can but be grateful for it. But it is also true that there still resides in the hearts and minds of many of the Irish a level of animosity towards the people of Britain – and of England in particular – that is as deep and unchristian as it is silly and distasteful.
One such passage in Vivid Faces – the title comes from W.B. Yeats celebrated poem, Easter 1916 -tells the story of Ernie O’Malley, a survivor of the Anglo-Irish War which followed the 1916 Rebellion. Having fought in the war and in the subsequent civil war, he lived on until 1957 but never joined the new Irish Establishment in independent Ireland. He cuts a sad figure in the story. O’Malley left instructions for his burial. He was to be buried upright, facing eastwards across the Irish Sea, facing his enemies, the British. But, Foster tells us, he added a coda: “In fact they are no longer my enemies. Each man finds his enemy within himself.” And so he died.
Foster’s achievement in this book is to give us pictures of the dramatis personae of the Irish cultural revival as flesh and blood human beings like ourselves and those around us today. That revival, which began in the last years of the 19th century, fed into a new Irish and Gaelic consciousness. It was one strand of this which exploded in the face of the Government in 1916. It seemed, to a radicalized minority in the Gaelic movement, that the only way forward to their vision of Ireland was through the barrel of a gun. Irish republican mythology has turned that minority into heroes and Ireland finds it very difficult to surrender the comfort of that mythology. The truth is that they were men and women like many of those who are leaders in our country today – no better, no worse. That, however, is not good enough for the myth. The mixture of good and bad common to all humanity is thought to be unworthy of these men and women. We are not allowed to see them as they saw themselves, as for, example, we see in Dr. Patrick McCartan’s assessment of Sean MacDiarmada, one of the executed leaders of the rebellion. He “was bright and energetic but mentally superficial; he had not an idea in his head when (Bulmer) Hobson took him up and directed his ‘education’….he was cunning rather than clever, would do a crooked thing if it served his purpose.” McCartan himself was a survivor. He lived until 1963. He went on to become one of the co-founders, with Sean McBride, son of Maude Gonne and John McBride, another of the executed leaders – of Clann na Poblachta in the 1940s. This new political party was yet another failed attempt to reincarnate the vision of the revolutionary generation.
The executed leaders.
The paradox inherent in Yeats’ “terrible beauty” is terrible in many ways and not the least of them is the distortion of the humanity of the men and women of 1916. With our need to make sacred martyrs of them we simply distorted into a parody of beauty. To seek the truth about them, and to tell it as is was is to be thought of now as sullying their memory. But if we cannot admire them as they really were what is the point of admiring them at all?
Amnesty International has started a campaign to legalise abortion in Ireland. They’ve launched it with an ad voiced by Liam Neeson, famous for playing Hannibal in The A-Team (well, we’ve all got bills to pay), writes Tim Stanley in the Daily Telegraph.
We are in a very sad place when an organisation which was founded for the protection of people denied freedom and persecuted because of their beliefs is now campaigning for the destruction of millions of unborn human beings awaiting release into this world.
Stanley continues, referring to the Amnesty/Neeson video:
Its visuals tell you everything you need to know about the true motivations behind this secular crusade. Creepy music plays as the camera pans overs a deserted church. “A ghost haunts Ireland,” says Liam. “A cruel ghost of the last century… It blindly brings suffering, even death, to the women whose lives it touches.”
This doesn’t look like a campaign against Ireland’s abortion laws. It looks like a campaign to exorcise the Catholic Church from Ireland. Which is highly ironic because the liberals behind it are exactly the kind of people who always insist that religion should be kept out of politics. On this occasion, however, they’re very happy to play the faith card.
In their ad they don’t quote statistics or talk about health or show a single image of a woman. No, they focus straightforwardly on the ghastly, nasty Catholic Church. Boo. Hiss.
Their overriding concern appears social rather than medical. They probably want to drive the last remnant of religious influence from Irish public life. They likely believe that things started well with the legalisation of gay marriage and that now they can move smoothly on to the legalisation of abortion.
Never mind that the two are far from synonymous. On the contrary, one can be pro-gay marriage, or gay, and very concerned about introducing abortion on demand. One can be atheist and pro-life, as the writer Christopher Hitchens sort of was. But never mind all of those nuances, because Amnesty has leapt upon a simple formula: Ireland – abortion = a non-Catholic country. And I sense that’s what fuels this angry crusade.
Amnesty looks like it is exploiting the tragedies of people like the Linehans (see Stanley’s full article) for the sake of a political campaign against the Catholic Church
There are two tragedies here. First, that they are ruining a genuine, serious, science-rooted debate that could be had about the ethics of abortion. They look like they are exploiting the tragedies of people like the Linehans for the sake of a political campaign against a Church that is already dying in influence.
Second, they are destroying the reputation of Amnesty International itself. Amnesty was established by deeply religious people with the goal of preserving the lives of the oppressed and unrepresented. If anything, Amnesty ought to be pro-life.
Until now most of us have associated the face of Neeson with mayhem and murder – but of the fictional kind. From now on it will be hard to look at his face or hear his voice without associating it with the mayhem and murder we associate with the name of Kermit Gosnel.
As for Amnesty International – or is it now Abortion International – not another cent, dime or penny into its coffers.
With the passage of time – just a matter of a little over four months in this case – the sense of bewilderment and disappointment of what looked like a radical change in the Irish people’s understanding and commitment to the values enshrined in marriage and the family has mellowed.
To help us understand that things might not be as bleak as they seemed on the afternoon of 23 May last, the words of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, to the Synod of Bishops in Rome yesterday set what looked like a revolution in a more balanced and kinder context.
Dr. Martin made his remarks about the Irish situation in the context of the social culture of marriage, the culture in which he said our young people grow up and the culture which influences their understanding of almost every dimension of marriage and family life. He made the crucial point that society often uses the same words as the Church does, however with a radically different meaning. He continued:
Many ask what happened at the recent referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland. Has an authentic Christian culture of marriage disappeared in Ireland? It is not as simple as that. Ireland after the referendum is still marked by a very strong family culture. The numbers who get married – and who get married in Church – are high and divorce statistics are among the lowest in Europe. Families are strong and generous. That has not changed substantially.
The referendum was debated within a social culture where people struggle to understand abstract moral principles. What they do understand is the predicament of individuals whom they wish to see happy and included. It is a very individualistic culture, but not necessarily an uncaring one. Indeed those in favour of same-sex marriage based their campaign on what was traditionally our language: equality, compassion, respect and tolerance.
Our young people make their decisions on marriage and the family within the context of a flawed and antagonistic social culture. It is however not enough to condemn that culture. We have somehow to evangelise that culture. The Synod is called to revitalise the Church’s pastoral concern for marriage and the family and to help believers to see family life as an itinerary of faith. But simply repeating doctrinal formulations alone will not bring the Gospel and the Good News of the Family into an antagonistic society. We have to find a language which helps our young people to appreciate the newness and the challenge of the Gospel.
Where do we find that language? Certainly it cannot be a language which reduces the fullness of the Church’s teaching. We have to find a language which is a bridge to the day-to-day reality of marriage – a human reality, a reality not just of ideals, but of struggle and failure, of tears and joys. Even in within a flawed social culture of the family there are those who seek something more and we have to touch their hearts.
Allow me to give an example. We talk about indissolubility. Most families would not feel that they live indissolubility; they live fidelity and closeness and care in ways we underestimate. As a student, I worked in a centre for prisoners which held a space for women who had to travel long distances before going to visit their spouses in prison. These women were not models of respectable society. They would hardly have been able to pronounce indissolubility. But these women never missed a weekly visit. They understood fidelity, even to a husband who might have betrayed them. And their visit humanised even for a few moment the life of a man whose hope was low.
What the Irish referendum showed was a breakdown between two languages. It showed also that when the demanding teaching of Jesus is presented in a way which appears to lack mercy, then we open the doors to a false language of cheap mercy.
A threshold has been crossed in Ireland. There is no doubt about that. Whether, however, it is a threshold to a future of social decline and disintegration depends on the acceptance of a challenge, the challenge implicit in Dr. Martin’s remarks. The Church, and those of good will throughout this island and across western society as a whole, must seek to touch the hearts and minds of all those who are seeking something more than is currently available to sustain their spirit in our flawed social culture.