In the World But Not Of It

“And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

I am following a discussion about what happens – in terms of individual choice and public policy – when one set of principles ( or rules, as we should call them) collides with another set (laws,  in this case).  It is a hard thing to legislate for hearts and minds, even though our Government is having a very good go at it.

I started wondering what this means for us, and what a practicable course of action might be. I have been familiar with separatism of many kinds for some years – both actual and philosophical. Should Western Catholics in the modern world be like some new age communities, Amish and other faith communities – physically and psychically separate?  Or should we act as some other faith groups do – that is, do we live in geographically-close communities in which places of worship, informal and formal means of collectivism, self-help and self-regulation thrive? This was, for example , the way in which thousands of Irish, Italian and other immigrants lived – in areas regulated  by nationality, culture and religion.  

But.  We don’t live in the wide open spaces. In the UK, we live on a small, crowded,  diverse, regulated island. In the UK, we have been a penalised faith, a faith whose resurgence was driven by immigration, a faith kept going by tight-knit communities which are now largely dispersed. The faith has  been challenged and whittled away by relativism and modernism.  Ridicule, if I remember correctly, was an extremely effective weapon in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. And the abuse and cover-up scandal became a running sore at the heart of the Church.

Even what was the natural party of working-class Catholics, the Labour Party, is so far removed from that former base that there is no conscience vote for Labour Party MPs on the same-sex marriage legislation.  So. What is the proper and faithful way ahead in a society in which the laws of the land – after one hundred and fifty years or so of a kind of mutual accommodation  – increasingly challenge the abilities of faithful Catholics to practise their faith? What do you do when the basic articles of faith are challenged by a secular government and a secular, diverse (if increasingly conflictual)  society. As an aside, I dislike utopianism  – mainly because it tends to lead to dystopia… 

Often, political, economic, communitarian and even military (and/or revolutionary) action is about survival – for the individual or the groupOur faith is founded on the teachings of Someone who taught us that survival was not the most important thing. Which might put us at something of a disadvantage.

Here is someone ( the author of Romans) who got himself into trouble quite often over this sort of thing:

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