Mind that bus!

We have recently been discussing the pros and cons of changing from a straightforward clear cut expression of our religion into the complexities, arguments and uncertainties which accompany any up to date attempts at understanding.

So I look back and try to recall some instances in my Catholic education. I went to my first boarding school, run by the Jesuits, in 1943 – when I was about to have my eighth birthday. So here are some memories.

I had been told that my First Communion was to be a wonderful experience, so I expected ecstasy. But nothing happened – no flashing lights, no sign of my guardian angel, and certainly no sense of spiritual elevation. In fact my most vivid memory was being kissed on the cheek by my class mistress because of my holy innocence. The sense of ‘yuk’ still remains in my mind today – although I have had rather more pleasant experiences of being kissed since then. I don’t know how you explain to a child that something wonderful is going to happen – but that it simply won’t feel wonderful

Another association with Communion is a memory of trying to clean my teeth in the shared washroom without swallowing any water. This was apparently necessary to avoid breaking my fast. It dis not occur to me then that God might not be too concerned about such a details, and the clear threat that, in getting it wrong, I would end up in Hell for all eternity was something that I simply accepted without question. A year or two later we were asked to discuss in the classroom whether, if we had popped a chocolate into the mouth a second or more before midnight, we would be able to swallow it after midnight and still go to Communion the following morning. (The answer, our Jesuit class master explained, was that the process of eating had started before midnight so the fast was not broken.)

You may say that I had distorted or misunderstood the teaching of the good Jesuits. But I can document it from the night prayers we all said together. They came from The Manual of Prayers for Youth (1935 edition). Here is a passage: “Death is often nearer than you imagine; and many, who have promised themselves a long life, have suddenly been cut off in their sins. Are you so ready that, if death should come tonight, you would not be surprised? Do not live in a state in which you dare not die.”
And another:
“You can only die once, and if you die ill the loss is irreparable. If anyone from hell could return to life, how would he prepare himself for death? Let the misery of others be an instruction to you.” Good advice, no doubt, but perhaps a little strong for an eight-year-old when composing himself for sleep.

In fact, that preoccupation with mortal sin and sudden death was a leitmotif of all my education. In the teenage years I would note the daily queues of boys waiting to be absolved from sins of the flesh, just in case they died in the night. I remember my relief when a boy who was drowned in a boating accident was reported as having received communion that morning – and so could be assumed to have been in a ‘state of grace’ – that welcome, if almost accidental, condition. I learned, only recently, that self abuse was regarded as trivial in the early Church, and only a serious sin in those who had taken vows of chastity. That was to change. Indeed, by my time, to invite even an impure thought was matter for mortal sin. As I was to confess many years later, speaking at an Old Boys dinner, I did not so much welcome impure thoughts, as invite them in for the weekend. The loud laughter at my remark showed me that I had not been alone in my experience.

Lest you should think that my experience was not the norm you might like to look at the ‘official’ line. The atmosphere is well captured by this quote from Father Henry Davis SJ; his four volume work on moral theology was a standard. This is taken from the 1958 edition:

The Catholic Church insists therefore, in season and out of season, on the religious education of the child, explicit, dogmatic, determinate moral education in a religious atmosphere, thus giving him something to cling to against the time of vehement temptation. It indoctrinates its children during many years, until resistance to evil becomes an almost second nature. It does not wait until the passions have grown strong then to offer the youth the free choice of religious dogmas or moral antidotes. It says to the child: you must be good in the way I teach you to be good, so that afterwards you may know how to be good.

Much of this would be regarded as grotesque by an adult convert – largely because it was grotesque. I know this because I married a convert who found it mysterious. Having started life in the Church of Scotland her active conscience was still intact, while mine had atrophied. Indeed for many years I put put my moral questions to her, as I recognised that her unprogrammed judgment was better than mine.

Did I get over all this distortion? At a level of rational understanding I most certainly did. But at the emotional level the nagging possibility that Hell might be no further than the next careless crossing of the road still remains. Even my father’s view – that the English could never focus the mind sufficiently to meet the conditions for committing mortal sin – could exorcise it.

I am interested in whether my experiences sound an echo in other ‘born’ Catholics of around my generation. Were they affected in the same way, or were they left unscathed? And how about later generations – perhaps those who were educated after Vatican II? What was it like for converts? Were they taught much the same, and did it have the same effect?

Is it possible that the uncompromising, clearcut, teaching of my youth was valuable in keeping us within the Church, if only through fear? How should we teach the young today?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Mind that bus!

  1. Claret says:

    I am reliably informed that any young person attending our nearest Secondary Catholic school who admits to attending Mass is committing social suicide.
    This is a far cry from the sort of education expressed by Quentin but is a sad indictment of catholic education today.
    I think there is a big rift between that of a Catholic Primary School and the Secondary School. The former does try to instill some Catholic values whereas the latter has all but given up.
    This is hardly surprising when there are so few Catholic teachers, and even fewer of those who are Catholic who attend Mass regularly.
    Hardly surprising when so few parents have any loyalty whatsoever to the Catholic Church but value a Catholic education for their children especially in those early years.
    We have rose coloured spectacles when it come to Catholic education and all those photos in the Catholic press of students who seem to glory in their faith are , sadly, misrepresentative or they are soon lost to a secular world that seems to offer more to young eyes.

    • milliganp says:

      I will not dispute the sad statistics about the current state of Catholic Secondary Schools but would caution even against assuming Mass attendence is an adequate indication of solid faith, it’s just an essential starting point. Many of the teachers I know do not seem to have acquired a deeper understanding of their faith than they would have had when they left school.

  2. Peter D. Wilson says:

    My childhood experience in this respect was rather similar to yours and at about the same time, though without benefit of Jesuits. Of course the teaching was a gross distortion, not only with respect to receiving Communion, that coloured my attitudes for years and has probably left traces still; nevertheless I am grateful for its having helped to keep me out of scrapes that might otherwise have had serious consequences.

  3. ionzone says:

    This is all very interesting Quentin, the idea that you might go to hell on a technicality that really wasn’t your fault or for something totally random is one of the reasons I most often hear for people giving up on believing in God, though trauma and peer pressure usually seem to play a bigger role. What people forget is that this attitude of OCD religion was one of the things Jesus took the greatest umbrage too – the Pharisees practised heavy ritual as a way of making up for being hypocrites. Like a huge number of things I think it was simply a cultural trend, people were trying too hard to live up to the wrong ideals and they just passed that on until something gave and we now find ourselves in the opposite extreme. God gave us instructions, simple ones, were never meant to become paranoid like that. We can see this in the New Testament with Jesus clamping down on the Old Testament OCD.

  4. milliganp says:

    I went to the junior seminary at age 11 in 1962. The attitude to sin was the same but I suspect the rigour was not as severe as the pre-war period. When I talk to fellow Catholics they don’t seem to have the same recollection of what I would now call being a “Schrödinger Catholic” -simultaneously damned and saved and you only know the result at the instant of death. It was terribly debilitating. To be frank, if we treated children today the way we were treated then it would undoubtedly be classed as abuse – and all in the name of Christ.
    I left Mark Cross at the end of the third year.In 1980 we had a class reunion; of 25 or so boys in the year-group only 2 went on to the senior seminary and priesthood – of the others the vast majority were no longer mass-going Cathoics. I worry about people who think we ever had a “golden age” when good Catholics were formed, fear of Hell is surely the lowest form of motivation to do good.

  5. Vincent says:

    I suppose that the Jesuits who taught Quentin were people of their time. So I don’t blame them too much. And I find it easier to say what I think a Catholic education should avoid than to explain how the education should be done.

    I am clear that an education which ends up with a fearful Catholic looking over his shoulder at a ‘monster’ God is simply wrong — indeed blasphemous.

    The object of the exercise must be to help the student to be a loving person in his relationship to God and to his neighbour. It is certainly necessary for him to understand what is right and what is wrong, but he must be educated in forming his conscience but not by deforming it through brainwashing. And he should have understood what lengths God has gone to in order to show his love ‘sent us his only son while we were yet sinners’. And he should have understood how far God is prepared to go in order to forgive us.

  6. John Nolan says:

    I had four years of a Catholic primary school education, from age 7 till 11 (1958-1962). Before this I attended an excellent CofE infant school since the Catholic school was oversubscribed. My younger brother and I were the only Catholic children there and the teachers went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We prayed the Our Father with the doxology (and with our eyes shut, in the best Protestant manner!) but our very devout parents pointed out that these differences were not important. From age 11 I was at an old-established Grammar School (it counted Sir Isaac Newton and Lord Burghley among its Old Boys) which had close links with the Anglican Church. The Head Master (a Classicist and Sinologist) had been interned by the Japanese during the War and had suffered considerably at their hands. He was the epitome of the Christian gentleman. In those days the CofE was fairly self-confident and was not obsessed with following modern social trends – I had a great respect for it, and still do.

    At Catholic primary school we learned a lot about the Reformation with particular reference to the English martyrs. I remember at age 10 (1961) wondering how the population could have so easily acquiesced when their Latin Mass was suddenly replaced with a vernacular Communion service. Within a few short years (alas!) I understood. Interestingly, the view of the Reformation which I was taught then, and which I later thought was too biased, is now, thanks to Eamon Duffy and the revisionist school of Cambridge historians, the received opinion.

    I taught briefly at a Catholic secondary school in the late 1980s. The RE teacher was conscientious and the faith was taught properly (there was a Catholic option for GCSE which was pretty sound). Liturgical practice left a lot to be desired, and ‘sacred’ music was limited to the happy-clappy genre, but the local parish was hardly a shining example in that regard.

    • milliganp says:

      In the spirit of Quentin’s post, as a child I was absolutely certain that to say the “protestant” doxolgy was certainly a mortal sin!
      It was a matter of high debate amongst the boys when, in the spirit of Vatican II, the local Anglican Vicar was invited to the college as to how the recitation of the Lords Prayer would be handled.

      • Quentin says:

        I have told this story before but perhaps it bears repeating. In 1959 I was asked to say Grace at a large business dinner. Dutifully I asked my Jesuit pp. what I should do. “No problem” he said “They are praying with you, not you with them.” Problem solved.

  7. Iona says:

    Having converted in my late 30s (from a non-religious and to some extent anti-religious upbringing) I have been interested to read the above, and to find out what my childhood Catholic friends may have been wrestling with. Or perhaps they weren’t, since they weren’t attending Catholic schools.
    In the early 1980s I had a friend who was teaching in an infant school which had a high proportion of Muslim children, mostly of Asian origin. One of the problems she encountered was that they had apparently been told by their Imam that if they so much as said the word “pig” they would go to hell. So she couldn’t tell them the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf, and “Old MacDonald had a farm” had to be adapted to omit the pig. About as rigid and OCD-ish as fearing that saying the “protestant doxology” would constitute a mortal sin.

  8. Horace says:

    I started in a Jesuit boarding school in 1936, before my 8th birthday, but I had already had my first Confession and Holy Communion, so that I was certainly not “kissed on the cheek” or “told that it would be a wonderful experience”.

    I remember that, although “fasting from midnight” meant what it said, there was no particular emphasis on “going to hell”, still less any emphasis on “death”.
    [I do, by the way, think that “the process of eating had started before midnight so the fast was not broken” is, to say the least, debatable! (?casuistry)]

    In the Catechism we were taught such precepts as :- “What is mortal sin? Mortal sin is a serious offence against God. Where will they go who die in mortal sin? They who die in mortal sin will go to hell for all eternity.” and again “Catholics are under a serious obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation unless prevented by other serious duties or by ill-health.” and so on.

    You quote from Father Henry Davis SJ :-
    “explicit, dogmatic, determinate moral education in a religious atmosphere, . . It says to the child: you must be good in the way I teach you to be good, so that afterwards you may know how to be good.”
    This seems to me a reasonably accurate summary of my Catholic education and I see nothing ‘grotesque’ about it.

    I was however taught to question and to look for the reasoning behind any required behaviour.
    As an illustration – if one is crewing on a sailing yacht and the captain says “Haul in on the mainsheet” or “Hard a starboard” you do it first and wonder why afterwards! Immediate, unquestioning obedience is the first priority, but you should learn the significance of all manoeuvres and apply them yourself as and when appropriate.

    milliganp says :- “fear of Hell is surely the lowest form of motivation to do good.” This is undoubtedly true but nevertheless punishment for bad behaviour is legitimate and reasonable.
    At school the instrument of punishment was the ferula – which looked like the sole of a shoe and was used for slapping the hand. I well remember a debate that was organised by our classmaster when we were about 12 to 14. Opinion in our class was overwhelmingly in favour of ‘corporal punishment’ and against other forms (e.g. writing lines, staying in after classes, losing privileges etc). Why? I think because, as Rudyard Kipling put it “. . . punishment settles all scores. There is no nagging afterward.”.(The Jungle Book)

    • Vincent says:

      Horace, you make a couple of points here which I would like you to explain more fully. In the context of Hell, are you claiming that punishment is “legitimate and reasonable”? I hope not because the threat of torture for all eternity as a condign punishment for minor acts would seems a little over the top. It might leave a child with the impression that the God he is invited to love punishes people in ways that, by comparison, make Genghis Khan a mild-mannered leftwinger.
      I have to say that I was shocked when I read the Henry Davis piece. This is not moral teaching but indoctrination in the fullest sense of the term. Surely the object of a Catholic moral education is to teach the child to understand how love of God and neighbour is expressed or damaged through our actions.
      Dawkins says that Catholic education is child abuse. Where the brainwashing of Henry Davis is concerned he has a good point.

      • John Nolan says:

        Actually, I don’t recall a lot of hell-fire-and-damnation and the sixth commandment was elided over since children in the 1950s were assumed to be innocent of sexual matters. I suspect Vincent leans too much in the opposite direction – after all the Psalmist says: “Sanctum et terribile nomen ejus; initium sapientiae timor Domini”.

      • Vincent says:

        And of course there are also Gospel passages where Jesus speaks of the punishments of Hell. You may call me selective, John. but I prefer to think of God’s greatness in terms of the extent of his creative love than in his capacity for punishment. Just as I think of the moral life in terms trying to improve rather than avoiding sinfulness.

      • Horace says:

        Vincent
        What I said was “punishment for bad behaviour is legitimate and reasonable”. Perhaps I should have said “should be considered” instead of “is”. There is today a tendency to think that any form of punishment is unequivocally wrong – or as milliganp says :- “the lowest form of motivation”.
        What I was trying to illustrate was that when we were children – and very much in the ‘firing line’ – we did NOT think of ‘corporal punishment’ as wrong or unreasonable. I was not an unusually ‘bad boy’ but I came in for my share of such treatment – sometimes “three” or “six” as often as once a week – but nevertheless accepted it as being for the best. We were an unruly lot but there was no question of hatred or vindictiveness.

        In our catechism today we learn :-
        1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, . . . . The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God . . .
        1037 God predestines no one to go to hell, for this, a wilful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.

        The teaching described by Quentin and Peter Nyikos is undeniably OTT!
        We were a good deal more pragmatic and simply understood that if we deliberately offended God we deserved punishment, and the worse the offence then the more severe the punishment.
        We DID think about these things, even at the age of 9 or ten, and here is a little story to illustrate the ‘flip-side’ :-
        My self and two friends refused to join the Sodality of Mary, not because we did not love the Mother of God but because a “good breakfast” once a month was offered as an incentive. We felt that it would be improper for us to join a religious association for a purely material reason!

  9. Peter Nyikos says:

    My Catholic school experiences were quite similar to yours, Quentin. I was taught by Franciscan sisters in the first seven grades and Sisters of Mercy during secondary school. The themes of mortal sin and hell played the same role: we children were instinctively pragmatic and went to the bottom line; all else in our Catholic education faded into insignificance compared to the Last Things.

    How I escaped this mindset is a many-faceted and very long story. Perhaps the biggest long-term help was reading C.S. Lewis’s _The Great Divorce_ which takes completely seriously something to which Catholics of the old stripe paid lots of lip service but made a sham of: people who go to hell put themselves there [or, as the book has it, keep themselves there]. When we die, we get a picture, as complete as necessary, of what heaven and hell are like and freely choose one or the other, knowing exactly what we are getting into.

    My experiences in politically charged newsgroups and blogs have convinced me that some will choose hell. They are so fond of deceit and hypocrisy, and so proud of their great skill at getting away with it and influencing others with it, that they will not want to give these vices up, and will put up with the discomforts of hell if only they can continue to become more and more adept at them. Those discomforts, according to Lewis’s book and my own current opinion, are not nearly as full of unbearable pain as one might think from the “fire and brimstone” images to which we children were so exposed.

    One could hardly call God “good” in all sincerity if that image were literally true. The old apologetics used the glib formula, “If we offend the infinite God, that deserves an infinite punishment”–as though venial sins also merited eternal damnation.

    This glib formula was well answered in the book of Job, with Job’s words: “Suppose I have done wrong, what have I done to YOU, you tireless watcher of mankind?” This issue is taken up by Elihu, but his answer is of no help to anyone who used that glib formula: Elihu says that his wrongdoing hurts his fellow men. But that is a finite wrong, deserving only a finite punishment.

    By the way, the real heart of the book of Job, the long middle, was a great comfort to me in the years where I was most rebellious (21 to roughly 36). In it, Job rails against God far more powerfully than any modern-day atheist like Dawkins can–and yet God does not punish him for it, but rather rewards him and chastises his “comforters.” These had praised God unequivocally, just like all the sisters and priests who taught us, all through the book; but they are charged by God with not having told the truth about Him.

    • Quentin says:

      Good to see C S Lewis come into the discussion. I try to re-read Mere Christianity every two or three years to get some more backbone to my faith. I recall that Teresa of Avila used to rail against God — although I don’t think she had to put up with as much as Job.

      • tim says:

        I devour everything that Lewis wrote. One favourite essay is “Fernseed and elephants” on biblical criticism – available on the web (google it!). He can be a bit severe, which is not to everyone’s taste – someone says of him (as was said of Dr Johnson) “If his argument misfires, he will knock you down with the butt!”

  10. Claret says:

    I note that Quentin and quite a few responders on here are from those who have received an education from the Jesuits and other religious orders. I assume that as these were at Boarding school that they were paid for. None of the recipients seems to question the morality of taking fees from those who can afford it to provide a Catholic education denied to those Catholic children who cannot afford it ( the vast majority..)
    It really boils down to the fact that anyone can have a privileged education if they can afford to pay for it and therefore the Church should have nothing to do with this inequity.
    Sadly money talks and the Church is only too ready to sell its soul.
    Private Catholic education? A leg up on the economic ladder? Privilege over need? Advantage for life’s slippery slope? Then step this way, the Church will provide . All that is needed is the means to pay for it. Catholicity is not obligatory. Money is.

    • pnyikos says:

      Here in the USA, there are very few Catholic boarding schools. I never went to one. In elementary school we paid a grand total of three dollars a quarter in tuition. We rented almost all our books, and our parents bought cotton, straws, etc. for various cheap projects in arts and crafts. This continued in high school, where tuition was higher but still affordable for almost all Catholic families.

      These schools were largely supported by the parish, and the religious sisters had vows of poverty, and their order had parish support also, and this kept costs down.

      Prices have gone up since then, but the parishes still foot most of the bill here, and so your claims are castles in the air, Claret.

  11. John Nolan says:

    I suppose I was lucky in that my education was state-funded and even attendance at a prestigious university was cheap by today’s standards. I would, however, take issue with Claret’s argument. If I have a) knowledge and b) the skill to communicate it, I am as entitled to remuneration as is any labourer, skilled or otherwise. Depriving a labourer of his wages is one of the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance, along with wilful murder, sodomy, and oppression of the poor.

  12. Iona says:

    Horace: “Catholics are under a serious obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation unless prevented by other serious duties or by ill-health.” Isn’t this still the case? (Our pp certainly thinks it is, – it has come into his homilies on several occasions).

    Peter Nyikos – an intriguing thought, that some people may choose hell over heaven with their eyes open, because they do not want to give up the vices of cheating and exploiting to which they have devoted their lives. Perhaps they are already there, even in this life. As with Milton’s Satan, “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it”.

    Quentin – I don’t know about railing against God, but St. Teresa of Avila certainly spoke to him on very familiar terms. Apparently, one day when everything was going wrong, she exclaimed “If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, no wonder you have so few of them”.

    • pnyikos says:

      Besides cheating and exploiting, there is sexual gratification, and Quentin did more than just touch on that aspect of sin — all but about one percent of adults have, for long periods of their lives, deeply felt the lure of sex outside the marriage covenant.

      I am not one of the one percent, although I lived as one for about six months at the age of 20. Back then, having temporarily lost my libido, and still under the influence of the kind of education of which Quentin writes, I thought I had a free ticket to heaven: apart from minor fibs to avoid being embarrassed or criticized, I was under no other temptation to commit the sins of which I knew.

      And now, although my outlook has radically changed, I wonder whether there is an afterlife like that in C.S. Lewis’s novel, and if so, whether all sexual pleasure is missing from heaven. If so, it seems that multitudes would choose hell because they cannot give up the sexual pleasures to which they are addicted. I might hesitate myself, but I have experienced the deep joys of intimate and lasting friendship and admiration for others that have no sexual component whatsoever, and so I would choose heaven if these could be had in abundance there. But I wonder how many people have had these advantages, which only came to me when I was 23 and 26, respectively.

    • Horace says:

      Iona
      I quoted “Catholics are under a serious obligation . . . ” as an illustration of “explicit, dogmatic, determinate moral education . . ” as outlined by Father Henry Davis SJ.

      Of course this is as valid today as it was 65 years ago – but I am surprised at your statement “Our pp certainly thinks it is, – it has come into his homilies on several occasions”. I have never heard the word “obligation” or “sin” mentioned in a homily in the last 20 years!
      The same applies, a fortiori, to “fornication” and “masturbation” (i.e. ‘sexual gratification’ as mentioned above by pnyikos. I remember no education at school on these subjects and they are not mentioned at all in the ‘Penny Catechism’ although they are extensively covered in the CCC (2337 – 2359).

    • tim says:

      Iona, it’s an excellent quotation, but if you will excuse a pedant’s correction, it was Marlowe’s Mephistopheles (Dr Faustus).

  13. Nektarios says:

    Quentin & Fellow Bloggers,

    I came across some data from years ago, in fact when men first went into space.
    We often talk and discuss and give our opinions on Science, Moraity and God.
    I trust the following link will help us clarify each aspect for us.

    http://www.mljtrust.org/collections/book-of-romans/7/

    • Nektarios says:

      Sorry about the error – should read Morality, but I guess you figured that out.
      Clicking on the above link presents you ith a page of different topics.
      Science, Morality and God is the last one click to download and play.

  14. Claret says:

    I am baffled by John Nolan’s comments . If he is saying that a qualified teacher then is entitled to earn their living in education then I have no argument with him. What I do argue against are religious orders who seek to make a profit from providing a Catholic education that is denied to the vast majority of Catholic young people and is designed to provide advantages in life that have only to be paid for.
    Catholic education is valued but should never be a matter of only open to those who can pay for it. To repeat: Catholicity is not obligatory. Money is.
    Indeed I wonder why religious orders have to be involved in teaching at all unless it is for the underprivileged to benefit, but what we have a kind of role reversal.

    • tim says:

      Claret, I’m baffled by your comments. You think the religious orders are in education to make a profit? I don’t…

  15. Singalong says:

    I have always had difficulties with the situation you describe. Religious orders involved in teaching were usually founded to educate poor children, but most of them have allowed social and financial circumstances to completely reverse that role.

    On the other hand, what are parents to do, if the education they can give their children is much better, and they can by various means afford it. Should they be pragmatic, accept that they cannot change the system, certainly not quickly enough for the few short years they have, or idealistic, which may be truly at the cost of their children`s potential and even their faith?

    We made our choice but we do not know if it was the right one.

    • Quentin says:

      The problem with an ideal which aims to ensure that no group should have advantages unless everyone can have them is that it doesn’t work in practice. The only political organisation which embraced the idea fully was Marxism – with the principle : “From each according to his means, to each according to his needs.” The outcomes were not altogether desirable.

      I understand that an important ambition for Jesuit education is that well-educated Catholics should be influential in society. So they do have a number of private schools but, as it happens, around 1200 boys from every social background pass my house every day to attend the local Jesuit school (as in the next road their sisters attend the Ursulines). I have three grandchildren who were educated there and they are at least as well educated as I was. Indeed they are all at top universities, or about to go there. And not a penny payable in school fees.

    • Quentin says:

      The difference here, Singalong, is between the admirable effort to level up contrasted with creating artificial ‘equality’ by levelling down. (You won’t get real equality because the major factor is the standard of parenting.)

      Where do, say, the Jesuits get the money to run their boarding schools? From the parents fees, where else? So if you want more schools like that for poorer pupils, get out your cheque book! The J’s have no money — and any they raise goes primarily to their missions. Nor will you find many actual J’s at their schools.

      By the way, Wimbledon is geographically quite small. The catchment area for Wimbledon College includes the surrounding areas many of which are, shall we say, somewhat different.

      • Singalong says:

        Quentin, I do agree that the standard of parenting is the most important factor, but it can be very low in private schools, and very high in comprehensives, and all shades in between, especially as regards religious education. Perhaps we should think more about it being more parish and home based.

        And yes, I am only too aware that the LCD often prevails.

        I hope to find time for more about my experiences of content, attitudes and effects.

      • Quentin says:

        Of course, you’re right. But I think it is important to face up to the fact that – in general – different classes of family produce different results. Here is an extract from a recent study:

        “By age three, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in the professional families was about 1,100 words. For children from working class families, the observed cumulative vocabulary was about 750 words and for children from welfare families it was just above 500 words. Children in professional families heard a higher ratio of encouragements to discouragements than their working class and welfare counterparts.”

        The problem of poorly parented children reproducing the same effect in their own families is one of the most serious in our society. I know of one young man with a good science degree who has just abandoned the teaching profession because he cannot face any more classes of children who don’t know how to learn and don’t want to know. As it happens, nearly the same thing happened to his mother 20 years ago, but fortunately at the last moment she found a placement in a grammar school. She is still teaching, and is head of department.

      • Singalong says:

        Replying to Quentin, 3:38 pm, no other reply button.

        Again, yes, but what should we, the Church, be doing about it?

        Does Christ want us to stay in our highly motivated environments, with our children happily using their 1,100 word vocabularies, and leave the deprived to flounder, and compound their disadvantages, in religious, social, and all other areas of education? Obviously, the Jesuits in Wimbledon are casting their nets wide, but there are many places where this does not happen.

        Of course It is easy for me to speak academically about these difficulties, as I cannot think that I personally, shall ever be called upon now, to do any more than this.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, Catholic schools can’t win, can they? They suffer continual attacks from anti-Catholics who claim they are being subsidised by public taxation. And they are criticised because it is claimed that their high results are a function of their exclusiveness. And now you criticise them, or the Catholic community , because apparently we educate our children so badly. I’m just confused! What would you like them to do?

  16. Singalong says:

    Quentin, Wimbledon is obviously the place to live, but sadly, that is not the answer for most people. In some places the disparity is enormous, with the situation in Catholic comprehensives being as Claret has described, and the private school, run by religious, catering for mainly non-Catholic pupils. I don`t think it is Marxist to find this disturbing.

    My own school education took place in several schools for various reasons. They were all run by religious, and socially/financially they ranged from one where I was asked, ” `As your`ouse got a bath?” to one where some of the pupils had country houses, and were still involved in coming out balls, and the tail end of presentations at Court.

    The religious education was mixed also, more later, I hope.

  17. ionzone says:

    “Dawkins says that Catholic education is child abuse. Where the brainwashing of Henry Davis is concerned he has a good point.”

    What he said was that it was worse than paedophilia, which presumably means he would prefer children to live with abusive rapists than a loving Christian family. By implication he is also saying that bringing up a child Christian is something that should be punished, something he has confirmed a few times. Frankly, Dawkins is the worst kind of bigot – the kind who can get away with it by hiding behind a veneer of respectability and making sure his targets are ones who the public and media is happy to see picked on.

    The thing is that he is not right, it is not the faith that is to blame, it’s the parents. Bad parents have always relied on cheap horror stories to keep children in line, and the easy road of blaming the religion is laughably wrong. If a racist hears about a bad black parent the first automatic thought in their heads is to blame the blackness, not the parent. A parent who scares their child with stories of hell is a very bad parent indeed, mine never did it. Mine told me that hell is for evil people like Hitler, and that was a great comfort to me.

    You know, you never hear Dawkins fretting about parents who tell their children that there is nothing after death, as some do. I can think of at least one person who spent their childhood in terror that them or their mother was going to get killed and be gone forever. Or that they would die and spend eternity drifting through nothingness, or be snapped out like a light.

    I think that the only people who find atheism comforting are the ones like Dawkins who seem to live in terror that their might actually be a God and spend every waking hour trying to stamp out the idea with screaming, insults, and rhetoric in the hope that they can scare God off. This is a man who likes to boast that if there is a God he is going to give him a ticking off.

    • ionzone says:

      “I wonder whether there is an afterlife like that in C.S. Lewis’s novel, and if so, whether all sexual pleasure is missing from heaven.”

      The Narnian afterlife isn’t really supposed to be taken literally, it’s a storybook afterlife meant to allude to a deeper truth. I couldn’t say if there is sex in it or not because we see only the smallest part of it, but it is suffice to say that Lewis was trying to keep things simple and make heaven simply the place where all friends are reunited. What people forget is that Lewis also depicted Hell in the book, and I don’t mean the pit under the earth because the creatures there were explicitly not devils. The hell of CS Lewis’s Narnia books is all in the head – the people who sit in the doorway and do nothing but complain. They can’t see Aslan or heaven because they don’t *want* to see them. Maybe they will one day but there is simply no use in trying to push them. As an ex-atheist I think Lewis was really speaking from the heart in that metaphor.

      Mere Christianity is an astonishingly good book, no less because you can instantly recognise Lewis’s style just by reading it. I would recommend it to everyone simply because he has an understanding of Christianity, and the world, that is astonishingly deep.

      • Peter Nyikos says:

        I was not referring to the Narnia chronicles, nor to Mere Christianity. The Great Divorce is what I was referring to; it gives a much more complicated picture of heaven than the Narnia chronicles do. It was definitely not a book for children.

        There is a strange secene in which a man has a lizard on his neck and a saint asks permission to kill it. The man resists even though he recognizes a need to kill it, but he wants it to stay a little longer and delay the killing, but finally he gives in, and the lizard’s corpse changes and becomes a magnificent horse on which the man triumphantly rides away.

        Most of the people in my discussion group on the novel (which went on for many weeks of Thursday evenings) agreed that the lizard symbolized lust, while the horse represented a sublimation of lust into higher forms of love.

        In The Four Loves, Lewis writes in depth about these topics. It has been a while since I read the book, and perhaps I’ll learn more about his opinion on whether there will be sexual pleasure in heaven. Of course, no human being has knowledge of such things, but one cannot help wondering.

  18. Geordie says:

    I had a similar Catholic education to you Quentin at a Catholic primary and then grammar school. As a small child I was petrified of going to hell; in fact this fear lasted into my adult years. It has probably caused me some psychological problems but on the whole it has kept me from becoming involved in events which would certainly have been detrimental to my general well-being here on earth. It has also kept me loyal to my family and friends when it would have been more to my own advantage to kick over the traces.
    As for the spiritual progess in my life, it has kept me in contact with the Church and my Maker. If I had gone my own way I would have no relationship with God and no oportunity of real spiritual growth.

    • Quentin says:

      In some ways, Geordie, I feel that your description gets near to the heart of the dilemma. Yes, the old, fierce but clearcut, way may well have kept us within the Church but are we saying that the more nuanced inspirational approach would not have done so? Of course we can’t wind back and re-run — so we will never know!

  19. Claret says:

    Most parents who have the economic means to pay for it will try and get the best education they can afford for their children not though just for the sake of it but because it gives them a ‘leg up’ on life’s slippery slope. An advantage over others and the privileges that this will endow for adult life.
    This is unavoidable but why on earth should the church be involved in providing it.?.

    • Peter Nyikos says:

      The Church cares for the welfare of people, not just in the hereafter but also in the here and now. That is why there are so many Catholic (and Christian) charities. Of course, they are inadequate to provide for everyone, but should we complain because they benefit some people while being unable to benefit others?

    • tim says:

      Claret, you are too confident that such education is sought solely for bad motives. A good Catholic education is not everywhere to be had easily. Parents’ motives may often be mixed, but perhaps they should get some credit for the sacrifices that they (or most of them) have to make.

  20. Geordie says:

    Quentin,
    I was just stating it as it was. I didn’t teach my own children about hell and damnation the way we were taught. As a result they have a much more relaxed attitude about church attendance and, although they have faith in God, they don’t have much respect for the Catholic Church.
    Years after they left home, I found out that Catholic schools taught little or nothing about the real substance of the Mass and the sacraments. It was too late to remedy the fault. I was told by a priest that it wasn’t up to schools to teach the faith; it was the job of parents. What are Catholic schools for? Often parents don’t have the ability to teach faith in its entirety. But the laity get the blame anyway.

  21. Singalong says:

    Quentin, I think more religious education should be done through the parishes. In areas where pupils at the Catholic comprehensive commit social suicide if they admit to going to Mass, I think any Catholic, and especially parents, would be critical. The situation is certainly confusing.

  22. Iona says:

    As regards sex in heaven (or not), when the Saducees asked Jesus which (of the seven brothers) would the woman be married to when they had all died, Jesus’s reply was that in heaven people are not married but live like the angels.

    Horace – you expressed surprise (a lot of posts further up the page) that my pp has been known to state in his homilies that missing Mass on Sunday for no good reason is a serious sin. Yes indeed, he has done so, on more than one occasion.
    I have never heard masturbation mentioned in a homily, and only once heard contraception mentioned, -and that wasn’t my pp but was in a church in Guernsey.

    • tim says:

      In the last 50 years, the only mass at which I can recollect the teaching of the Church on any sexual matter being touched on was one in the Extraordinary Form a year or so back. Sensible tact or a failure of nerve?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      I don’t think it would be appropriate for a priest to speak about masturbation or contraception at Mass where young children are present.
      Maybe chastity and purity would be appropriate’ and the sanctity of life in the case of abortafaciants.
      Surely priests are taught in the seminaries how to communicate these issues, maybe that is what you meant.
      This must be a difficult subject for priests in the present time or hopefully past child abuse.

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