Friday, January 07, 2011

Pope Benedict:`the George Orwell of our time`

My eye was caught by an article with this title on the second page of the Catholic Herald today. Theodore Dalrymple, a non-Catholic, has an article in the Salisbury Review entitled `The Pope strikes back`. You can read the whole thing here. It is well worth reading. Here is the passage about George Orwell:

A great deal of the hostility to the Pope’s visit was likewise caused by his having been right, at least in some things, such as the insufficiency of consumerist materialism as a basis for a satisfactory existence. There are few human types less attractive, surely, than failed materialists, which is what the British, or at least so many of them, now are. They consume without discrimination what they have not earned: which is why many of them are so grotesquely fat as well as so deeply indebted. Indeed, there is scarcely any kind of debt or deficit to which we as a nation have not resorted in order to continue (at least for a time) on our vulgar and degraded way. A nation that behaves thus is quite without honour or self-respect, collective or individual. All this Benedict XVI has seen with a perfectly clear eye; and if what George Orwell once wrote, that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men, we might even call the Pope the George Orwell of our time.
And another part of the article:
`In pointing out some of the fallacies, oversimplifications, dangers and empirically unfortunate results of contemporary rationalist utopianism, the Pope is potentially provocative of the kind of spiritual crisis that John Stuart Mill recounts in his Autobiography. When he was twenty, Mill, who had hitherto been trained as a kind of calculating machine for the felicific calculus, asked himself a question, with (for him) devastating results:
Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be erected this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness answered ‘No!’At this my heart sank within me; the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been founded in the continued pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

In other words, Benedict XVI presents not a challenge to this or that piece of social policy, but to a whole Weltanschauung. And hell hath no fury like a questionable Weltanschauung questioned.

Here it is necessary for me to declare an interest, or rather lack of one. Just as one cannot write of the question of tobacco-control without declaring that one owns no shares in a tobacco company, so I must declare that I am not a Catholic, that I am not religious, that I am not therefore an apologist for the curia or anyone else. I am, in fact, not a systematic thinker at all, lacking the capacity or patience for it. And I disagree with the Pope on many things, but I do not therefore hate him.`


Winston Smith said...

Pope Benedict: the George Orwell of our time?

What a fantastic example of what Orwell called 'doublethink'.

Orwells's work and thought was marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense, revolutionary opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language and a belief in democratic socialism.

Pope Benedict on the other hand says 'It is important to recognise dissent for what it is and not to mistake it for a contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate'.

In other words 'thoughtcrime'.

Maybe those who draw the analogy between Orwell and Pope Benedict think that in "1984" Orwell was depicting a perfect society.

Fr Michael Brown said...

`Winston` I don`t think the idea is as ridiculous as you think. Pope Benedict`s work is also characterised by intelligence (although I concede there is not a great deal of wit employed). He has written about social justice and is opposd to totalitarianism which seems to be on the rise again. His language as clear enough to draw applause in Westminster Hall. He believes in democracy. What he presents is a vision of human society which is about more than material gain but is focused on protecting human dignity.

As for dissent any organisation has boundaries beyond which a person cannot be said to be a member of that organisation. The Catholic Church is no different and that remark was regarding membership of the Church.

The new totalitarians have no place for religion in their society. To be religious will be to be guilty of `thoughtcrime`. (At least in 1984 religion was allowed I seem to remember so the new situation will be worse.)

Have you read the article?

Winston Smith said...

Fr B

Who are these 'new totalitarians'?

The only totalitarian state in western Europe is -er- The Vatican.

The only other totalitarian states since World War II have been Franco's Spain and Salazar's Portugal, both actively supported by the Catholic Church.

If Pope Benedict is worried about the destruction of religion or religious freedom, why does he not subscribe the Vatican to the European Convention on Human Rights?

Fr Michael Brown said...

How can you say the only totalitarian states since World War II were Spain and Portugal? Did you not notice what was going on in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Estonia,Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union? I don`t think the Church supported what went on there.
The new totalitarians are those who seek to emulate Big Brother in their ability to survey people`s lives and deny their liberties: e.g. the attempt to extend the detention of terror suspects to 42 days without charge. They seek to remove religion from public life. We have seen the closure of the Catholic adoption agencies and there are those who would like to abolish Church schools. This is what the Pope has warned about: the dictatorship of relativism.

The Church doesn`t sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights because it promotes as human rights things the Church cannot accept such as abortion (cf:

Winston Smith said...

Fr B

1. It was the Catholic bishops who decided to close their adoption agencies.

2. The Europeam Convention on Human Rights does not mention abortion.

3. The 'dictatorship of relativism' is a silly slogan that Orwell would have abhorred as the product of those who had no proper arguments to deploy against those with whom they they disagree.

Fr Michael Brown said...

The Catholic bishops only closed the adoption agencies because if they had left them open they would have been operating illegally so that was hardly a free choice.

Thanks for the information about the European Convention on Human Rights. I`ll have a look at it but I`m sure there must be good reasons for the Church not to have signed up. The link to the Irish situation shows the direction Europe is going and why it cannot be whole-heartedly embraced by the Church.

I don`t think `the dictatorship of relativism` is a silly phrase.

Fr Michael Brown said...

For further reading on the Church and Human Rights there is a useful summary by the bishops of England and Wales:

robertatforsythe said...

I think this post is worth consideration and have been happy to flag it on my Facebook account. This nation faces a judgement whether of God or of nature is up for debate, but a judgement it most certainly is. And the foundations of that judgement are very simple, very ancient and very biblical. Unrestrained greed.