The Secular Supposition of Original Innocence

The Fall-not-original-innocence
By Gustave Dore

Before launching in today, I express my gratitude to everyone who, in the aftermath of the recent Irish tragedy, has been reading and appreciating these blogs from Kim, my wife, and myself.

Pressed for time today, I am not writing much that is new today – but only offering a pre-written extract from one of my two upcoming books.

Here I reflect, however, on factors that certainly seem relevant to understanding the tragedy in Ireland.

Now, this is an extract ripped from a larger context. In that larger context, I address the anger that people justifiably feel towards the terrible scandals and cover-ups that have happened – as I also do here at this site. And we plan to say more of these crimes by Catholics …

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But here – in this particular extract – I am more concerned with other sources of the anger I see:

‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones’. So speaks Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Such has long been the case with the global works of Catholic charity. But whilst the media rightly reports the filth of a twisted Catholic priest, it has little interest for a missionary, who clothes the naked and feeds the hungry.

Of course, this is to speak only of the corporal works of mercy – the Church’s astonishing physical care for the poor and afflicted. But what of Supernatural care?! Think of the Sacraments alone – forgetting for a moment all the other prayers, devotions, healing relics and sacramentals etc. How much more impossible it is to calculate the untold solace, inspiration and moral uplift provided by these Sacraments!

Yet how frequently do those who judge themselves competent to judge Catholicism lack the least notion of what a Sacrament even is! How frequently they remain entirely ignorant as to the essential nature of the Church.

No matter to them: They are ready to judge things for which they possess not the least depth of knowledge. They are easily satisfied with images constructed from layer upon layer of media superficiality. These layers in their turn are usually based on secular ideologies constructed from Enlightenment philosophy – often half-digested and barely conscious at that.

As Christians we must see this anger, even hatred, and try to understand. How many misconceptions surround the Church! Many are arrived at innocently. Some are generated with malice aforethought.

Yet, taken by themselves, these are insufficient to explain the anger towards the Church.

Certainly, atrocities committed in the name of the Church should never be forgotten. May we emulate St. John Paul II in pleading for forgiveness.

However, looking deeper, it appears much of the anger towards the Church lies in the collective denial of the Fall. Such denial appears inevitable in a society gripped by Enlightenment currents.

For the image of man in secular society is not based on Original Sin. Indeed, it seems to rest on an assumption, whether conscious or not, of something akin to ‘Original Innocence’.

How many of us imbibe a notion of an unspoilt, natural goodness – sans serious flaw – which putatively exists prior to parental or societal conditioning. ‘We would be okay, if only society didn’t screw us up.’ How many modern folk think like this!

Now, if you have an inherited belief-system involving ‘Original Innocence’ – even an unconscious belief–system – it becomes easy to blame the Church.

For if you no longer allow for the Fall, which disfigures human nature from the outset, it is easy to conclude Christianity itself constitutes the problem!

You may well fault Christianity or any other ‘type of cultural conditioning’ to account for the darkness of the human heart. Indeed, you may readily imagine that an original, pure innocent human nature is corrupted by religion. And so you single out the Church for blame …

I recall meeting with someone I shall call Bruce. Bruce was terribly abused in the home during childhood, violently and sexually. Moreover, this abuse was not invisible to certain friends and neighbours of the family. Bruce cried out in agony: ‘These people were Christians! Why did they do nothing?!’

How can those of us who have never known such abuse, even begin to comprehend Bruce’s betrayal? For ‘these people’ may have been (hypocritical) Christians. But that is not all. They were fallen, as we all are fallen.

Yet Bruce’s cry is not: ‘These were creatures of the Fall!’ Bruce does not blame the Fall; Bruce blames Christianity.

Thus, if the emphasis is placed on Christianity – rather than the Fall – one may be unforgivably angry towards Christians forever. But things look different, when the the Fall is recognised as it affects everyone: Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, New Agers or members of the British Empire, the American Empire and so on – past, present, future.

When I have spoken to people like Bruce of this, I do not want to exonerate Christianity from its crimes.

Rather, I think their agony would diminished with a deepened acceptance of the Fall. For a certain peace descends, when the reality of the Fall is acknowledged. We may better understand all those who have ever hurt us and all the great religions and nations whose members have perpetuated evil.

But there are souls who writhe in anger, unable to accept the reality of the Fall. They appear possessed by a belief, not necessarily conscious, that human beings ‘aren’t supposed to be like that.’

At any rate, one hears people amazed by human stupidity or cruelty. But what is this amazement? Why the surprise? It would seem they protest a reality, which has never been communicated to them.

Do we not see an angry sense of betrayal inside such people? Sometimes it almost seems like a child in a tantrum, stamping its foot and crying out: ‘Nobody told me! Nobody ever told me the human race was fallen!’?

Yes, everywhere one looks in this ‘enlightened’ age, one meets this denial of the Fall. There is protest going on all the time, in all of us maybe. Perhaps the psychotherapists are right: There is lingering anger that our parents were far from perfect.

But from the Christian perspective, this is simply because our parents, too, were fallen: dark and broken in their hearts.

But it was not simply our parents, but their parents and theirs and theirs.

The human race commits horror after horror.

And it is all-too-conveniently forgotten that vast collective human enterprises everywhere have rivers of blood on their hands. The Roman Empire, the British Empire, the French Empire, the American Empire. Vast collectives such as these harbour great cruelty – inevitably. At least, that is what you will conclude, if you do not deny the Fall.

Yet how often one hears that religion lies at the root of all the great wars. And how frequently it is forgotten religion had nothing to do with innumerable atrocities.

How conveniently we forget that Europeans came to America and Australia in search of wealth and territory and killed the aboriginals, who stood inconveniently in their way.

How easily it slips from recall that, in the last century alone, neither world war had anything to do with religion. And neither were the ambitions of Stalin or Mao religious – who exterminated tens of millions.

The Twentieth Century was the most genocidal of all centuries – and yet at the same time, it was the least religious of all centuries …

Hatred of the Church is inextricably bound up with denial of the Fall. Sober understanding is lacking in regards to a Catholic community of billions of souls, spanning millennia.

For a sober understanding acknowledges that, given these circumstances, atrocities, however terrible, would seem inevitable. They are terribly inevitable, given the reality of the human condition, given the span of time involved, given the sheer numbers of Catholics who have lived and died, across nearly twenty centuries …

Yes, many hate the Catholic Church. But how many hate the French Republic – for example – even if its ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were promoted through genocide? Certainly, many a Frenchman today detests the Church, whilst he celebrates Bastille Day …

End of extract from my upcoming large book: Cor Jesu Sacratissimum.

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