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Colour Blind Catholicism

Racism. It’s evil. No place for it. Anywhere. Ever.

That includes football grounds, of course, where the crudeness of its expression makes it easy to identify – ‘that man there, making monkey noises and gestures, him, yep – racist. Nail him.’

But what about when it’s more subtle? More indirect? Clothed in the language of concern or compassion?

Ever noticed the frequency with which certain news outlets will show pictures of poor black or asian people when discussing population control? Or how often impassioned calls for ‘family planning’ for developing countries focuses almost exclusively on stopping poor black people from having children? The rage against the teachings of the Church on contraception will usually wind its way back to stopping Africans, though sometimes Asians, from breeding.

As for abortion – well, the links are long established.

Of course in such polite company the racism charge is a little harder to stick and so we might instinctively draw back from it. Especially when such arguments are offered with a smile rather than a sneer. Nonetheless, it does sometimes feel as if there is something sinister in the liberal water.

Remember John Sentamu? Thoroughly impressive man who wanted to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Didn’t manage it. Well, he’s not really ‘one of us’, is he? Too much of an ‘African chief thing’ going on, no? As for the growth of those African-dominated pentecostal and evangelical churches – it’s just not how we do things over here, is it? McFarlane, Johns, Ladele – need I say more?

Or in my own Church, pious calls for the Church to enter a dialogue with modern culture, because it is out of date, because it is out of touch with ‘ordinary people’. The faith is in need of a deep rethinking, and it does not speak in (all) our names.

All of which strangely ignores the fact (well, not all ignore it, just refuse to engage with it instead) that, in certain parts of the world, most notably Africa and Asia, the Church is doing remarkably well. Fidelity and joy mark out a people touched by the Good News, that very same Good News which, for our cultured despisers, is out of touch and out of date. Backward, even. Medieval, certainly. Barbarous? Well, who could say.

But come on, we wouldn’t expect any less from them, would we? Of course they believe such backward doctrines, y’know, those doctirnes out of touch with ‘ordinary people’. But the (increasingly non- or anti- Christian) European ‘heartlands’ demand change and for that reason alone change must be right. Not like them Africans, believing what the Church teaches. Nuh-uh. Or any of them, really, they’re all the same. God forbid one of them lot might become Pope. But if they did… heads might just explode.

If this is not overt racism, and I’m willing to be convinced it’s not, then it certainly smacks of detached cultural imperialism. Either way, it stinks. May the Catholic church, in all its splendid catholicity, never become beholden to those who preach it.
Whatever race the next Pope turns out to be, the crowd of faces looking up at him, representing every race on earth, will sing and cry with joy: ‘Habemus Papam.’

Let’s hope those cultured despisers might muster the energy to do the same.

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Guardianista Gove

Confession time: I am, in certain respects, a fan of Michael Gove. I like his emphasis on academic rigour. I admire his enthusiasm for developing the intellect of children. I find his contempt of various progressive pedagogies refreshing and important. I’ll still criticise the analysis-free devotion of the #cultofGove, but for all I find Gove’s marketisation of education wrongheaded and corrosive of standards, nonetheless there are grounds on which he should be lauded as seeking to do right by our children.

One way in which this has found expression recently is through the National Curriculum review. Now I am aware that the specific programmes of the review lack a certain coherence, though I also think that the role of the review is less to map out a detailed scheme of work and more to try and capture what it is that we think history is for and in what spirit we ought to teach it.
And that emphasis, that spirit, is one of narrative history. Which is why, I suspect, those I have come across that protest most loudly against it also proclaim themselves unsure even of the benefits of chronology, let alone story.
As I have written previously, I’m a fan of the Our Island Story approach to history. In both civic and pedagogical terms I think it superior, as well as more consistent with the original meaning and role of history as a tool for understanding the events that shape us. Or as I said here: ‘the current fashion for emphasising the forensic analysis of sources over narrative comprehension weakens the civic-oriented impulse, [and] turns history into a skill to be learned rather than a story to be told.’ Emotionally sterile McNuggets of history dumped on the school desk for analytical autopsy do not an interested student make.
Having said this, there are boundaries. And one of them was transgressed when Gove, speaking to Parliament, described the new History curriculum as presenting a

‘clear narrative of British progress with a proper emphasis on heroes and heroines from our past.’

This is quite simply an unwarranted extension from narrative history, the insertion of a wholly contestible moral perspective which deifies contemporary liberal presumption (this kind of thing becoming increasingly common in Tory circles – see Tim Montgomerie with his trite ‘right side of history’ clichés). Put simply, many reject the whiggish interpretation of history as the long march of inevitable progress. Not all, for example, would see the penal laws as the triumph of progress. Nor would all view social reforms 1967 as raising our store as a civilized society. Hell, some of us might even take umbrage with the whole idea of a ‘Glorious Revolution’, let alone the Test Acts which pockmarked our country’s reputation and claim to any moral high ground, and plenty else besides.

In other words, there are bits of history that, for many, patently were not episodes of progress. Nor have they delivered progress, nor were they a stepping stone on the way to something greater. There were episodes of history that constituted regress, episodes which still occur, episodes we should study and understand so as never to repeat, rather than to deify as part of the march of progress. Chesterton, we should remember, wrote the Crimes of England precisely because of his patriotism, not in spite of it. Cobbett thought much the same.
For the political commentators convinced Gove is storming the Guardianista fortress, be sure that Gove, in this sense, is a fully signed up member of the metroliberal club. For him, the narrative of progress is precisely what leads him toward a ‘backwoodsmen‘ analysis of opposition to the forces of progress. And indeed, like his metroliberal comrades, he buys firmly into All Must Have Prizes philosophy, whilst taking a decidedly Guardianista approach to personal responsibility.
In other words, for all his good ideas, Gove is not who his cult devotees think he is. And History is not what he thinks it is. Since in his hands it would appear to be every bit that tool of liberal triumphalism that the #cultofGove foolishly believe he is engaged in rejecting.

Vir sapiens et fortis est…

Knowledge. It’s important. Genuinely.

Not simply to feed the exams factory, but because it empowers. It enables those in possession of it to better interact and engage with the world around them. It develops resilience to ignorance which brings with it resilience to manipulation. It facilitates the identification, pursuit and experience of those things which satisfy the soul – the pursuit of the Good Life, as some might prefer to call it .

The question then becomes: why would we deny that to children? And more specifically, why would we be most stubborn in our denial toward those children who have already been denied it the most? If knowledge is capital, then why ignore poverty or assume that in this poverty can be found the means for making us richer?

In (one of) my subject(s), History, this is a live issue. If we expect a child to be able to analyse and evaluate the decisive factors in Elizabeth’s decision to execute her cousin (once removed), then they need to understand precisely how Mary’s claim to Elizabeth’s throne was construed. In short, to facilitate understanding (rather than learning those factors by rote) they need to know the historical equivalent of their times table – the family history, the spent family lines, the logic of divorce and marriage and succession, and so forth.

Not all children arrive at the level of sophistication required to enable them to synthesise such a morass of complex information and outline, to a high standard, precisely why Elizabeth chose to act as she did. Or at least not all arrive there at the same time. Yet in building their base, they give themselves the platform upon which to get there. In other words, the knowledge is not wasted, either in the pursuit and facilitation of understanding, nor in the broader development of intellect and the individual.

But it also goes deeper than that. In my relatively short experience in the classroom, one truth that has presented itself to me over and over is that kids like to know stuff. By and large they like to feel clever, indeed wise. It gives them a spring in their step. They like to correct answers, educate family members and hold, so far as their levels of maturity allow, intelligent discussions to which they can contribute as one whose contribution is respected.

Expressed differently, knowledge empowers; enlivens; ennobles.

And it does this, and can do this, irrespective of social class or family circumstance.

et vir doctus robustus et validus