THE CENTRE CANNOT HOLD
The Irish abortion referendum result was predictable, but nonetheless I was surprised that Ireland showed such a strong cultural shift away from the Catholic Church’s long-standing and unflinching teaching. So where should a Christian stand in this matter ? Yes, there are complex moral issues involved, such as:
· Is it right that we only give a new human being legal rights from the moment of birth ?
· Does a woman have an absolute right over the life of the foetus she carries ?
· Is she answerable for conceiving when she knew she did not want a child ?
· Does the father have any rights in the matter?
· And what about duties in respect of parents and the community ?
The matter is complex to say the least, and few seem to be aware of the taproot that has fed, and still feeds the divergence between the Catholic Church’s teaching and the popular vote.
This tap root is humanity’s failures to live up to the implications of the truth in monotheism. Previously like all their neighbours the Israelites believed in a multiplicity of gods who were rivals, bad tempered, violent and ambitious; they had to be pacified with ritual offerings. But the Book of Genesis shows us a very different God: Lord of all because he has made all, loving all that he has made: “God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen1, 31). In recognition of the vital importance of fidelity to this one God, believing Jews still pray daily the Shema from Deuteronomy 6, 4- :Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
They had a huge struggle living up to it: every time they reverted to their former paganism, still present among their neighbours, they fell into immorality of every kind: lust, envy, greed, murder, power abuse. The Old Testament is the story of their successive falls and the merciful, forgiving One God calling them back onto the straight and narrow. It is as though they lost the lodestone of their life whenever they departed from the One God, the Lord: they lost their shared values. It reminds me of W. B. Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming, about the mess Europe was in after World War I:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the falconer;
things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the ceremony of innocence is drowned,
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.
I believe this is what happened to the people of Israel, (evident throughout the Old Testament), and I believe it is happening to us today: without God, indeed "the falcon cannot hear the falconer and things fall apart; the centre cannot hold". We have no shared values any more: humankind has put itself at the centre of things, trying in effect to usurp the position only the one Creator God can hold. It’s a repetition of what Adam and Eve got wrong in the Garden of Eden – as later did Cain, and the people escaping from slavery in Egypt, and so on. Today we desperately need to find our way back to this God. Yet this 'today' seems trapped in a spider’s web of blind insistence on a facile and bogus notion of freedom. But that is matter for another blog !