Catholic (adjective):

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 06 September 2019.

DictionaryThis week I read a sympathetic Australian writer who, in attempting to find another way to say “Protestant”, came up with “non-Catholic Christian”. He wasn’t trying to be funny, or rude. Nor is he uneducated: he is a leading journalist who I think was wanting to be polite while writing from a Roman Catholic perspective.  

It evidences the wholesale confusion about the word ‘catholic’ that is nearly unchallenged across the world. The term is generally thought of as a noun, akin to words like ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Buddhist’. A cursory look at the formation of the word, however, tells a different story. It’s an adjective, like frantic, cherubic, optic, and pathetic. And many more words with an -ic suffix.

Now, words do drift in their meaning over the years. It’s a natural process. But it’s also a problem when we retain forms of words for long periods. They can become fossilised - and this has happened with ‘catholic’, which is about two millennia old, and has been hanging around in our creeds all that time.

So what are we affirming when we believe in ‘the holy catholic church’? Catholic is a compound word, comprising kata and holos - ‘according to’ and ‘all, whole’. It’s meant to carry the sense of ‘that which is commonly accepted by everyone’. The creed, then, is talking about how different churches in different cities recognise the existence and legitimacy of all the other churches in other places.

That would make a ‘non-Catholic Christian’ into a schismatic heretic - hardly a compliment! We can’t change the confusion that people have with the term - but we can at least know what it is we say we believe!

A Pro Rogue

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 31 August 2019.

JohnsonBoris Johnson, the newly-installed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has a bit of a reputation for having a reputation - that is, that his roguish knockabout charm is a carefully constructed and maintained public persona. Whether or not that’s true, he’s certainly added a new dimension to how people can speak of him as a rogue in times to come with his recent decision to prorogue the parliament.

Some of his opponents claim that this is a fundamentally undemocratic move; in response, Johnson can argue that he is simply clearing a path for Brexit, as the country voted for, and therefore he is fulfilling the expressed will of the people. Tricky, huh?

Meanwhile, across on the continent, Italian politics has been upended. One ruling coalition torpedoed itself in order to create another one, with the apparent goal being simply the avoidance of an unscheduled election. The representatives wish to fulfil their democratic duty, rather than risk someone else being elected for the task.

You’d think Western society could have worked out how democracy is supposed to operate by now, wouldn’t you? Yet here at home, our politicians will often claim that they are simply following what polls tell them is the will of the people, rather than fulfilling their elected duty to govern wisely.

You know what the problem is, don’t you? Democracy doesn’t work, in the long run. Genesis 3 makes it clear that human beings will only enjoy the good life when we are ruled by God, rather than trying to rule ourselves. In the end, our hope is in the kingdom of God, not the politics of humanity.

If Wishes Were Horses...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 24 August 2019.

Wishing Well...then without a doubt, our daughter Lucy would be quite happy, and our backyard would be a dustbowl. So perhaps it’s a good thing that they’re not, and we don’t have to resolve the philosophical question of what would happen if one wished not to have a horse.

But, strangely, human beings are very much dedicated to the idea that wishing for things should work. Shakespeare’s Hamlet carps about “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, and he’s hit on it there. “Fortune” offends us because it appears so arbitrary, and we would far rather that events could be better controlled. Then we would not have to fear misfortune striking those whom we love. The good would be the only ones to never fear dying young.

Ask people what they believe about life, the universe, and everything, and you’ll hear over and over “Well, I like to think...” I like to think my team will win the Superbowl, but wishing it so hasn’t helped them so far. The question isn’t what we like, but what is. That our answers consistently make this error demonstrates how persistent we are in wishing our wishes worked.

Why that persistence, in the face of such overwhelming evidence? Because we are still munching on the fruit forbidden in Eden, determined to at some level dictate how our world should work. And because we still fear that God will strike us down, rather than welcome us with open arms. We are prodigals who prefer to imagine that the pigsty will one day turn into a palace rather than the Father be seen to forgive.

The wishing well leaves us in a deep hole, but Jesus offers springs of living water. If only people knew who was offering it to them...

The Gift of Hindsight

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 17 August 2019.

Woodstock PosterThis weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock music festival, the definitive event of the Sixties from a cultural perspective. Four hundred thousand people turned up to a dairy farm in upstate New York for a three-day concert.

Missing, however, were a few significant acts: the Beatles, Bob Dylan (who actually lived in the town), Simon and Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, the Byrds, Chicago, the Moody Blues, the Doors, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and the Rolling Stones. When it became clear that Woodstock would be unsurpassed in its musical significance, there were more than a few regrets from these performers that they had missed a golden opportunity.

Sadly, we aren’t always afforded the ability to recognise a significant moment as it’s happening, and only hindsight allows us to rue what we have missed. Of course, it would only double our foolishness to pretend that our oversight was, in fact, the right choice. It would be silly to maintain that Joan Baez, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jimi Hendrix had no ongoing role in popular music...

The crowds in Jerusalem two millennia ago largely missed the significance of that crucifixion at Passover. It was a common mistake to make. But once it became clear that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t just another casualty of the Roman regime, they changed their minds, in their thousands.

The only name that mattered was in Jerusalem for the festival, and his performance was not to be missed.

Tragic Numbers

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 10 August 2019.

Legislative CouncilIt was a sad week in the NSW parliament. Others have commented that it is a demonstration of exceedingly poor taste and insensitivity that many of our MPs cheered and clapped when the legislation to decriminalise abortion passed the lower house. The resolution of ethical questions is not a football match, to be won or lost. Bills might pass with a simple majority, but the goal of ethics is for a whole society to come to a common mind over what is right.

  • 20,000 or more - the estimated number of abortions each year in NSW already performed legally.
  • 304 - following the passage of a similar bill in Victoria, the number of babies born alive between 2009 and 2016 that were intended to be aborted, and therefore left to die on the operating table.
  • 1 - the number of medical doctors in the NSW lower house. Dr McGirr voted against the bill.
  • 41 - the number of MPs who voted against an amendment to require that a woman be given the right of informed consent to an abortion.

That last one is telling. The usual way these debates are framed is pro-life vs pro-choice, and yet here, the ‘pro-choice’ side actually voted against giving a woman her choice.  

There remain deep problems with the bill, even beyond its legitimation of murder. Please keep praying as it goes now to the upper house for consideration that our MPs will take the time to look for the dangers.

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