21Jan

When faith becomes politics

In recent years I have fallen in love with podcasts. These are short radio programmes which are not broadcast live but rather downloaded by users to be listened to at leisure. Users may also subscribe to favoured programmes, via an app on their phone or computer, to ensure they do not miss latest episodes.

Of course podcasts are only as good as the content. Some are total rubbish and soon discarded, others genuinely fascinating. ‘Stuff you should know’ is a favourite of mine as each episode is on something totally different but explored at depth by two infectiously enthusiastic characters. It is a delight for lovers of trivia. Another guilty pleasure is true crime but I also use them to catch up on current affairs, sport, politics and, of course, religion.

The latest episode of the Holy Smoke podcast, a religious affairs podcast hosted by the journalist Damian Thompson, is well worth a listen. If you don’t use podcasts then you can visit this website to listen online.

In this latest programme Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen who recently left Anglicanism to become Catholic, is interviewed. What he has to say about the malaise of the Church of England in the present day is important for it affects certain trends in the Catholic church too. I especially applauded his point that churches fail us all when they cease being spiritual supernatural entities and descend to the realm of human politics.

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1 thought on “When faith becomes politics

  1. Thank you, Father Ed, for recommending the Gavin Ashenden podcast. I have just listened to it.

    I certainly agree with Gavin Ashenden when he talks of how the Church can be both seduced and damaged by what he calls the “lure of power”. Indeed there is no better example of this as far as the Catholic Church is concerned than the political role it played in the Republic of Ireland during and after independence. Irish politics was so volatile when the constitution was being drawn up in the 1930s that De Valera felt the need to keep the church on board, so he gave some senior clerics , notably John Charles McQuaid, undue and quite undemocratic influence over the content and wording of the new constitution. And this led to the Catholic Church having, in effect, almost total control, ‘carte blanche’, over education and social care in Ireland – a power which the Church went on to abuse for several decades. They neglected many young children in their care, they sold others to rich American Catholics, they subjected children, including my own father, to cruel physical abuse, and they effectively imprisoned vulnerable women – in the so-called “Magdalene Laundries” that some have compared unfavourably with concentration camps. So Gavin Ashenden is quite right. First the Catholic Church in Ireland was ‘seduced’ by power and then it was ‘damaged’(almost fatally one might say judging by the collapse in Mass attendance) when Irish people came to realise just how corrupted the Church had become as a result of its power.

    I was also struck by the fact that Gavin Ashenden says in the podcast that the church should “stop being didactic…stop… telling people off all the time for their sexuality or for their incoherent behaviour. It’s not our job to do that.” Surely it is surprising that a recent convert does not seem to understand what is meant by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

    But overall I found the podcast rather frustrating as it did not seem to rise much above what I call ‘labelism’, the tendency to criticise people by chucking derogatory labels at them rather than engaging in rational argument. Gavin Ashenden complains that the Church (I think he is talking more about the Church of England here) makes “partisan left-wing interventions in political debates” and demonstrates “apparently almost total surrender to the secular zeitgeist”, but he gives no real examples to back these assertions other than some statement about whether boys and girls should wear different school uniforms, and a suggestion that the Church has not thought about motherhood and fatherhood. And, interestingly, he does not make any criticism of “partisan RIGHT-wing interventions in political debates” – which certainly happened with the Catholic Church in Franco’s Spain. So one is forced to ask which is more partisan, The Churches (Catholic and Church of England) or the Damian Thompson/Gavin Ashenden/Spectator consensus.

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