Friday, 16 October 2015

What of the English Backward Bigots, Then?

A while back, I shared about the trials and problems involved in being a faithful Catholic in France, according to my own experience. The discussion that ensued was pretty great, so I figured I'd do a comparative study with the English experience.

Paradoxically, I have more experience of being a faithful Catholic in England, than I do in France, but nonetheless, the usual caveats apply, I am obviously talking about my own experience here, so feel free to disagree in the comments (in fact, I am rather looking forward to it!)

So, one of the key differences first. Although Catholicism boasts (I think!) the largest number of religious followers in the country, it is not the cultural majority, the way it is in France. The default religion which everybody think they know and which gets the most ridicule, is more likely to be the Church of England, not the Catholic Church. I vividly remember one head of the Geography department in my old school, viciously mocking one of the other Geography teacher for being religious, reducing her to tears.

Although the same dismissal will apply to Catholics, whose beliefs, as everyone knows, are just antiquated remnants imposed by old men on weak-willed people, we are afforded a modicum of protection through political correctness. Not much, but it is there.

There is still an element of the English psyche which considers Catholicism a religion of the minority, and definitely the religion of migrants.

On that least point, they are not wrong, and very often being Catholic seems to come part and parcel of being part of a foreign culture, be it Irish, Italian or Polish. 

As a result the "pageantry" (if you will excuse the term) is a lot more open in England, and most Masses still retain the bells, incense and dress which have long since disappeared in France, because migrants cling to their cultural heritage.

That does not mean that finding Catholics who are following the teachings of the Church is any easier (but you can!).

There will be more people enrolling their children into first communion classes, and the dresses of the little girls will be more elaborate than the French equivalents, but the spiritual backing behind the whole process is exactly the same.

Like this. (via)

Just like in France, most parents make their children go through the sacraments for two reasons alone: getting into a good catholic school, and following family tradition. That's it.

A friend of mine who is an Religious Education teacher, told me about a young Polish boy, who had never realised that being Catholic meant he was, actually, a Christian. The experience was so cultural in his mind, that the most basic religious doctrine had completely escaped him.

And that is true for most of the Catholics I know.

Most of the Catholics I meet, who present themselves as such, don't go to Mass on Sunday, and most of those who do, have made up their own pick&choose mash-up of the doctrines that fit into their lives. There is a very clear distinction, between cultural Catholics, and (for want of a better term) faithful Catholics.

Another issue is that Catholic schools tend to be very good private schools, considerably cheaper than other private schools. So parents will come to Mass for a few weeks, enroll their child and then move on.

We saw this a lot when Simon and I were going through RCIA, and see parents come and go, showing up grumpily, refuse to discuss much and affirm that they are right and the Church is wrong, then move on to the tea and biscuits before asking the priest to just let them through already, so their child can go to the school of their choice.

It was quite depressing, really.

Trying to actually follow the teachings of the Church is, here too, and for the most part, a very lonely experience.  

Now, I should add, because I am making it all sound very doom and gloom, that we are not some kinds of heroes for keeping up with our beliefs. We are lucky enough to have found a few like-minded people (in our parish and university chaplaincy) who are amazing, inspiring people who keep us going and aspiring. 

But I do worry about whether or not we can reach out, when it seems almost necessary for our own survival that we stick together, if anything, so we can talk freely! Many people, who are holier than I, are willing to defend their Faith every time it is challenged, but I am afraid to say I often let it slide. Because, in my experience, people are not willing to listen, only waiting to ridicule.

And I most definitely, do not have a good answer as to what Simon is supposed to do as a future doctor.


  1. I'm so sorry that Simon (and you!) are experiencing this difficulty. Over here we frequently see Liberals mocking the idea that there are threats against religious liberty in the public square, and I cannot understand how they can be so deliberately blind.

    As a suggestion, perhaps "catechized" would be a better adjective here than "faithful"? But maybe not, since knowing the doctrines and following them are two different things. But I do think that so few people who believe they have all sorts of objections to Catholic doctrines actually have spent any effort to even know what the doctrines truly are.

    1. Please pardon grammaticaly errors. I haven't had my tea yet this morning!

    2. Thank you! It is a very tricky one!
      I agree, I wasn't altogether pleased with "faithful" but couldn't really find a good alternative!

      And I am with you there, I have just finally discarded my cold coffee after re-heating it three times since this morning!