Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whistling past the Graveyards

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840)
The cemetery
Oil on canvas
143 x 110 cm
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister, Dresden

Vassily Kandinsky 1866 - 1944
The Cemetery in the North, Munich 1902-03 (München, Nördl. Friedhof 1902-1903)
Oil on canvas
32 x 23.5 cm
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'Art moderne, Paris

Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985
The Cemetery/ Le cimetière
Oil on canvas
69.3 cm x 100 cm
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'Art moderne, Paris

The blog of John Smeaton, SPUC Director, has some horrifying statistics about Abortion in Western Europe.

The statistics quoted about the number of abortions only include Western Europe and not what was "Eastern Europe" (behind what used to be the old "Iron Curtain"): the old "East Germany", Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia etc.

He writes:

"In the UK alone since 1967, there have been over seven million people killed by recorded abortions - at least one million more people than the estimated total of Jews killed by the Nazis.

Here are some approximate* abortion statistics from the other large western European countries:

Germany (since 1996 alone i.e. not including pre-reunification East or West Germany): c.1.9 million

France (since 1976 alone): c.6.5 million (France was the first country in the worldwide to legalise the use in abortions of RU-486 - the Zyklon-B for unborn children.)

Spain (since 1986 alone): c.1.4 million

Italy (since 1980 alone): c.4.5 million

The total for the UK plus these countries as above equals 21 million"

Truly we live in a "Culture of Death"

The Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (25th March 1995) by Blessed Pope John Paul II was a prophetic document

Society is no longer horrified by such abortion statistics or by the advancing consensus in society towards euthanasia.

Pope John Paul II`s Encyclical offered a prescient analysis and prescription. The Encyclical should be read in its entirety. Here is only one of its many significant passages:

"22. Consequently, when the sense of God is lost, the sense of man is also threatened and poisoned, as the Second Vatican Council concisely states:

"Without the Creator the creature would disappear ... But when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible".

Man is no longer able to see himself as "mysteriously different" from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a very high stage of perfection.

Enclosed in the narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being "a thing", and no longer grasps the "transcendent" character of his "existence as man".

He no longer considers life as a splendid gift of God, something "sacred" entrusted to his responsibility and thus also to his loving care and "veneration".

Life itself becomes a mere "thing", which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation.

Thus, in relation to life at birth or at death, man is no longer capable of posing the question of the truest meaning of his own existence, nor can he assimilate with genuine freedom these crucial moments of his own history.

He is concerned only with "doing", and, using all kinds of technology, he busies himself with programming, controlling and dominating birth and death. Birth and death, instead of being primary experiences demanding to be "lived", become things to be merely "possessed" or "rejected".

Moreover, once all reference to God has been removed, it is not surprising that the meaning of everything else becomes profoundly distorted.

Nature itself, from being "mater" (mother), is now reduced to being "matter", and is subjected to every kind of manipulation.

This is the direction in which a certain technical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day culture, appears to be leading when it rejects the very idea that there is a truth of creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which must be respected.

Something similar happens when concern about the consequences of such a "freedom without law" leads some people to the opposite position of a "law without freedom", as for example in ideologies which consider it unlawful to interfere in any way with nature, practically "divinizing" it.

Again, this is a misunderstanding of nature's dependence on the plan of the Creator.

Thus it is clear that the loss of contact with God's wise design is the deepest root of modern man's confusion, both when this loss leads to a freedom without rules and when it leaves man in "fear" of his freedom.

By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being."

Death is all around but society ignores it. It is something which Man does not wish to acknowledge or contemplate.

Abortion is carried out in modern anonymous clean buildings conveniently located but away from public eyes. Now we have the morning after pill and abortion will become even more hidden. It will no longer be talked about as something extraordinary. It is a commonplace.

Likewise the care of the dying. The elderly are shunted to large blank nursing homes. The dying in hospitals are simply drugged and deprived of food and water. If they are lucky they go into a hospice.

Hospices are under funded. These institutions however are expensive. How many times has one heard of elderly patients with a terminal disease being written off by the hospitals as having not long to live. They land by chance in a hospice. There they receive proper care. Sometimes they are brought round and their condition improves. They have to leave the Hospice no longer in imminent danger of death. They land back in either in a hospital or a nursing home. Their condition starts to decline.

The reporting of murders and killings in society is perfunctory unless there is a particularly salacious "angle" or there is more than one victim. It used to be that even if there was only one victim as a result of a domestic dispute, the coverage was extensive. Society used to express its horror at the loss of life by the trial of the offender and its reporting. This is no longer the case.

Modern funerals are not like funerals of old: events where all the deceased`s family would gather with their neighbours, friends and acquaintances. Now no longer. People cannot attend due to work and other commitments. They are quiet unobtrusive events which do not disturb the every day life of modern life.

The desire of Man to put death to one side is a natural feeling and motivation. It is not a pleasant subject. Especially the death of oneself. This ignoring or denial of a fundamental reality is of course a form of delusional behaviour. Now modern society positively encourages this for a myriad of reasons.

Contrast this with past times. But those times are dismissively referred to by the moderns as "Victorian" or worse "medieval"

As Pope John Paul II said:

"Life itself becomes a mere "thing", which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation.

Thus, in relation to life at birth or at death, man is no longer capable of posing the question of the truest meaning of his own existence, nor can he assimilate with genuine freedom these crucial moments of his own history. ...

By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being."

It was this reality and man`s deluded behaviour which the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) portrayed and satirised in his novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886)

The Wikipedia summary is remarkably good. It is referred to for its terms.

"The novella tells the story of the life and death, at the age of 45, of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia—a miserable husband, proud father, and upwardly-mobile member of Russia's professional class, ...Living what seems to be a good life, his dreadful relationship with his wife notwithstanding, Ivan Ilyich Golovin bangs his side while putting up curtains in a new apartment intended to reflect his family's superior status in society.

Within weeks, he has developed a strange taste in his mouth and a pain that will not go away. Numerous expensive doctors—friends of friends of friends—are visited in their surgeries or called to the judge's bedside, but beyond muttering about blind gut and floating kidneys, they can neither explain nor treat his condition, and it soon becomes clear that Ivan Ilyich is dying.

The second half of the novella records his terror as he battles with the idea of his own death...

In the final days of his life, Ivan makes a clear split between an artificial life, such as his own, which masks the true meaning of life and makes one fear death, and an authentic life... Authentic life is marked by compassion and sympathy; the artificial life by self-interest"

There are similarities with the novel by the French novelist François Mauriac (1885 - 1970), Le Nœud de vipères (1932) [The Nest of Vipers, or The Tangle of Vipers]. Again it involves the death of a lawyer, this time it is Monsieur Louis who is approaching death.

Mauriac said of his work:

"The man here depicted was the enemy of his own flesh and blood. His heart was eaten up by hatred and by avarice. Yet, I would have you, in spite of his baseness, feel pity and be moved by his predicament. All through his dreary life, squalid passions stood between him and that radiance that was so close that an occasional ray could still break through to touch and burn him: not only his own passions, but, primarily, those of the lukewarm Christians who spied upon his actions, and whom he himself tormented".

The treatment of the coming to face of Man with his own mortality has probably never bettered after Journal d'un curé de campagne (1936)[Diary of a Country Priest] by Georges Bernanos (20 February 1888 – 5 July 1948)

As Archbishop Chaput of Denver said of Bernanos:

"Bernanos once wrote that the optimism of the modern world, including its "politics of hope," is like whistling past a graveyard.

It's a cheap substitute for real hope and "a sly form of selfishness, a method of isolating [ourselves] from the unhappiness of others" by thinking progressive thoughts.

Real hope "must be won. [We] can only attain hope through truth, at the cost of great effort and long patience. … Hope is a virtue, virtus, strength; an heroic determination of the soul. [And] the highest form of hope is despair overcome."

Anyone who hasn't noticed the despair in the world should probably go back to sleep. The word "hope" on a campaign poster may give us a little thrill of righteousness, but the world will still be a wreck when the drug wears off."

The medievals and the Victorians were more wedded to the truth and were braver than we are.