A huge problem for authentic Catholic witness is overcoming the prejudice born of ignorance. Take, for example, a tweet of the Humanist Society this morning which claims “Faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion and foster the segregation of children along ethnic and religious lines..” A sentence so profoundly ignorant as to be laughable. Do they not realise that most Catholic schools are hugely diverse communities in which children of many races come together?
Take Tunbridge Wells- a town in which most schools are uniformly middle class and white. Yet St. Augustine’s Catholic Primary, in contrast, contains children from over 26 difference races at last count. It is a hugely diverse place where we happen to welcome children of all faiths and none. The humanist society seem in denial about the fact that Muslim parents, for example, prefer children to receive any religious education over a secular one even if it necessitates a faith other than their own. The Humanist tweet just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
This problem of overcoming ignorant prejudice also rears its head in media representations of the faith. Are you watching a murder mystery? Be certain the Christian portrayed will be stupid, weak and compromised if protestant or else creepy, cruel and perverted if Catholic. This despite the fact that the vast majority of clergy and Christians are neither ignorant nor creepy.
And what sort of block headed stupidity encourages that frequent portrayal of Christians as anti-science when it comes to creation? Does the media deliberately misrepresent Christian thinking? In which case it is dishonest. Or does it genuinely not appreciate that only fringe lunatics consider Genesis a scientific document not a theological work imbued with truth. In which case they are ignorant and stupid. An informed view would consider the input of the best Christian scientists asking what to make of the fact that Fr. Georges Lemaitre, Catholic priest, arrived at the Big Bang theory precisely because he believed in a definite moment of creation?
And this problem of countering prejudice born of ignorance is not limited to life outside the church. Part of the problem, since Vatican II, having been a woeful formation and catechesis that led many to buy into a notion of ‘rupture with the past’. This group gradually detached themselves from authentic Catholic praxis and culture, delighting instead in folky liturgies and non-challenging teaching. The result- decades later- is a body who now hate to be at odds with the world. They reject historic Catholic teaching in favour of, say, the sexual revolution. They are formed by the secular culture they inhabit not the biblical faith they profess. And friction arises because they are now so detached from those who held to the historic faith as to seemingly belong to an entirely different religion.
The mission of the Church in the next generation becomes clear. We must find a way to overcome widespread ignorance and prejudice to authentic Catholic teaching from within the church and without. A task I felt was enabled by Pope Benedict’s desire for ‘reform of the reform’ but which seems frustrated under the present hierarchy. Indeed we seem to be going backwards not forwards at present where sentiment and PR opportunity rule at a cost to clear teaching and understanding.