Do as you would be done by.

‘Do as you would be done by” is a virtuous principle which is practically universal. We are likely to phrase it in the terms of loving our neighbour as ourselves. And we are all fortunate that, despite our pessimism as we reflect on all the evil in the world, altruism appears to be a powerful attribute of the human race. St Augustine’s view of our proneness to evil seems to be matched by a proneness to good. Babies as young as eight months recognise fair or unfair behaviour, and reward or punish it. Since we do not credit them with a true moral sense based on reason, we recognise that it must in some sense be inbred.

The experts – evolutionists, sociologists and psychologists – seem to be intent on demonstrating that altruism is not a virtue. Rather, it is a fundamental instinct, bred by evolution, and motivated by the direct and indirect benefits we receive. It is ultimately selfish. It is significant that studies show that our initial positive response to an opportunity for altruism tends to be reduced if we then sit back and think about it. It would seem that when thought replaces instinct we more carefully weigh the pros and cons and temper charity with prudence.

We are familiar with the common concept of reciprocation: if I behave well to my fellows they will behave well towards me. That sounds to me like prudence rather than charity. I am well aware that if I am known to be selfish, and ever ready to gain advantage over my neighbours, then I am unlikely to get any quarter from them when they deal with me. The politicians and the marketers pay tribute to this principle by skilfully camouflaging their own motivations with the pretence that they are wholly inspired by the good they wish to do me. 

While we can see the selfish benefits of reciprocation on a small scale, it does not explain why we are often altruistic in conditions where we cannot expect an equivalent return. The example, literally closer to home, is our altruism towards family. We might think of the sacrifices parents make for their children, or our readiness to lend a helping hand to siblings or cousins. For instance, my 14 grandchildren constitute a strong support group for each other; it will be a lifetime gift. The theory here is that we are bred to assist survival of our personal gene pool. This, we are told, works proportionately. Thus the evolutionist J B S Haldane neatly explained kin selection: “I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.” Since my brothers share half my genes, it requires two of them to equal my gene pool.

Yet we are aware that our altruism stretches further than our kin. We extend our benevolence to society as a whole, albeit at a level which tends to be diluted by distance. This is the basis of the theory of group benefit. The argument here is that a group whose members have a genetic profile which inclines them to cooperation will have a higher chance of survival, and thus of reproducing itself, than a group who lacks this. This tendency would have been essential in early human development when we lived in small, and often isolated, groups. We can observe the same mechanism in species such as bees or ants, where the workers’ altruism is normally rewarded not by breeding but by extinction.

It is plausible to assume that, when these small human societies merged into much larger groups, this altruistic rule of thumb, present in our genes, extended itself to the broader family of our community. And here we must take into account a related human tendency: the power of group conformity. For groups to survive, a considerable degree of conformity and shared group culture is necessary. It is this group culture which, to a large extent, defines what values constitute altruism for its members.

We can see the effects of this within our own lifetimes. To take some obvious examples, our western culture has seen changes in our attitudes towards different races or the care we have for unfortunates in our society. We have replaced the Spartan culture of exposing our young to the elements in order to weed out the weaklings with our culture of abortion to weed out the inconvenient. The recently published British Social Attitudes survey shows major changes in our sexual mores since 1983. Since this is a legacy of universal contraception, the clock is unlikely to turn back.

My description of the ultimately genetic basis for our altruism leads us into two important considerations. The first is that we should be duly grateful that the human race has developed in this way. We only need to imagine what our society, however deficient it may be, would be like without an inbuilt pull towards altruism. Altruism is a natural gift of God.

The second is to remember that explaining the biological genesis of altruism is not to explain it away. It is reductionist to think that we are no more than genetically controlled phenomena. We have our deep capacity to recognise the good, and the free will through which we choose to exercise this recognition. If it is true to say that I have a genetic tendency to benefit my neighbour, it is also true to say that I have, through grace, a spiritual motivation to love my neighbour, from my choice to embrace and extend my altruism. Altruism is a supernatural gift of God.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, evolution, Moral judgment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Do as you would be done by.

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Besides the postulated genetic tendency to altruistic behaviour and a spiritual motivation to love neighbours, there’s also the desire for self-approbation – a motive I find particularly cogent if not dominant.

  2. RAHNER says:

    “Altruism is a supernatural gift of God.”
    All Human beings have been created with a range of capacities that they posses and use to a greater or lesser degree. For example, there is a capacity to acquire empirical knowledge about the world and a capacity for sympathy for other people.

    I doubt if many people would want to claim that our capacity for empirical knowledge is a “supernatural gift”. Your claim that altruistic behaviour is a “natural gift” of God seems perfectly adequate and I can’t see much point in going on to claim that a capacity for altruistic behaviour is a supernatural gift – whatever that might mean. Making this claim seems a bit like relying on a God of the Gaps anthropology – and the theology of grace/supernature has moved on a bit since the 1950″s.

    • Quentin says:

      The comment you make is an important one. The aspect of altruism seen only as the outcome of evolved instincts is by definition natural. But the positive choice of altruism as an expression of love for neighbour requires grace. Thus we note its supernatural character. You will recall that Pope Francis specifically applied this to atheists, in order to emphasise the point.

      • RAHNER says:

        “But the positive choice of altruism as an expression of love for neighbour requires grace.”
        I just wonder what evidence there could be for this claim….

      • Quentin says:

        I don’t know what you would accept as evidence here. We can hardly expect the appearance of tongues of fire to indicate the presence of grace. But Matthew 25 is clear. Those, we are told, who did good to their neighbour did not necessarily recognise Christ as present in that neighbour, but, notwithstanding that, they did that good to Christ. And that gained them entry to heaven. Good actions which merit heaven always require grace for their fulfilment. Any act, anywhere, by anyone, of unselfish love exhibits the presence of God, and lasts therefore for all eternity.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Yes I would like to see the evidence for that too..
        Perhaps the Holy Father was thinking of atheists attitude to Gods Love which we as Christians should love our neighbour by looking after their souls more than any of their earthly needs first.However then we could question the Good Samaritan,but he could have the grace to look after his own soul by showing love to our neighbours needs as well
        God did give us two examples of love ‘Love the Lord your God and your neighbour as your self-could also been interpreted as earthly needs as well.where Grace is necessary to convert ones soul.
        I hope that makes sense….

      • RAHNER says:

        Quentin, I am not sure we do disagree over very much. I accept that God is the fulfilment of human nature but do not think that every altruistic act requires a causal input of grace in order for the act to occur. I suggest that all creation has been given a potentiality (which may or may not be realized) to transcend itself and move towards God. This potentiality achieves its greatest fulfilment in the human nature of Christ and also finds some limited expression in altruistic acts performed by any human being. These acts may have a faith based motivation (ie they are graced) but this is not essential in all cases.

      • Quentin says:

        I agree — the differences are small. But they could be important — so I would make a couple of points:

        First, it can confuse if we call grace causal. The paradoxical, but orthodox, description is that a ‘good’ action is done wholly through the power of God, and wholly through the power of us. I can’t explain how that can be, but I find it helps me to remember that God’s actions are not likr ours, only greater. They are ordered quite differently — at the fundamental level of a Creator who holds every atom in existence through the power of his will.

        Second, I accept of course that acts can be altruistic yet have no moral content. What gives them moral content is the, often unarticulated, recognition of the worth of another person to whom we respond in love. I don’t know why you would want to exclude God’s presence in this. I am jolly happy to see him there.

        This is the only way that we can understand how the woman of ill fame, who anointed the feet of Jesus, could have loved much and so be forgiven.

  3. Iona says:

    Quentin – in what way do babies as young as 8 months recognise fair / unfair behaviour, and how can they be seen to reward or punish it?

  4. agnophilo says:

    Is serial-killing a gift from god? It is not a capacity I was born with.

    • ionzone says:

      Christianity basically says that humans have free will. I.e. God teaches altruism, but humans don’t have to listen.

      Saying that it is an evolved behaviour OR a gift from God is a bit misleading. Humans have the *capacity* for good, but they also have the capacity for evil. If we didn’t have both we would never have any kind of ability to choose. CS Lewis covers basically all of this in Mere Christianity and has some very interesting things to say.

      • agnophilo says:

        I dont’ have a capacity to be a serial killer (ie a sadist and sociopath escalating in the violence they get off on), nor do they have the capacity to be a kind, warm, loving, selfless person. I can no more get off on hurting innocent people than I can give myself an orgasm by slamming my junk in a car door. It’s simply not in my nature.

        The idea that everyone is the same and we just choose to be good or evil is much more simple than the complexities of nature and nurture.

      • ionzone says:

        That is actually incorrect, we all have it in ourselves to be murderers – read The Lucifer Effect if you don’t believe me. I never said were all the same, and that is not CS Lewis’s argument either. Lewis argues that what truly matters is how we respond to our environment. For example, even if someone is brought up to torture and kill, or feels the urge to do so, they still have a choice. They can redeem themselves by fighting against the drive to kill. I have in the past felt horrible compulsion to do things I know to be wrong, and prevented myself from doing them through willpower. Sometimes it is incredibly hard. The thing with killers is that they want to kill, but they know it is wrong to kill. If they didn’t they wouldn’t bother to try and cover it up.

        There is always a choice. The capacity to deliberately kill indicates a capacity to understand what death is.

      • Quentin says:

        There is a description of the Lucifer effect on the Blog. Put Lucifer into the search box. I would maintain that anyone who has not read this book is unlikely to be fully informed about the dark potential of human nature.

      • agnophilo says:

        I didn’t say the potential to murder someone, I said the potential to be a serial killer, which is something else entirely. Anyone can be pushed to do a terrible thing, but it is not in my nature to delight in murder and want to do it again and again and again. That is very different from a moment of insanity brought about by intense strain or stress.

  5. Vincent says:

    It occurs to me that, if one of the natural reasons for altruism is the care we have for those who belong to our group, then there is a persistent danger. Our loyalty to our own group is likely to make us defensive (or aggressive) to other groups. That would make evolutionary sense.So there is a bad side as well as a good side to altruism. Is this why Christ emphasised that the love he had in mind applied to our enemies as well as our friends. Religion is of course well known as a force for prejudice and conflict?

    • St.Joseph says:

      My son who is now 49 is one of the kindest caring persons on the planet.
      However when he was a baby he used to pinch and kick and bang his head on a tiled floor we had. At 3 yrs I took him to playgroup with my daughter 14 month older.than him.When I went to pick him up the carer said he could not go the next day as he was pushing the girls off the slide.He would sit in the middle of the road with his reins on and I had to drag him to the other side.Yet my daughter was as good as gold even though he locked her in the airing cupboard, climb out the bathroom window and ran along the verandah.,then once climbed onto the garage flat roof etc atc atc.
      I used to say to him he would be in borstal by the time he was 11 When he was 6 he came home for lunch and I was calling him down from the bathroom, I went upstairs and he had his fathers screwdriver and took the side of the bath off to see how the pipes worked-probably learning about pipes at school.
      He never got into trouble as far as I know,and everyone praises him and say what a lovely kind person he is.
      That had to be taught I am sure he was not the only one.
      He told me one time when one of his daughters was behaving badly that he was pleased I was firm with him as he knew what it was like.He was always very bright at school and was able to read well at 4. Maybe that was the problem, frustration-as he was no problem when he went to school at. 4 half,
      I often wonder what makes them different
      Looking at that video and I think at that age he would chosen the baddie or threw the teddy across the room!…. .

  6. Quentin says:

    Agnophilo wished to draw Vincent’s attention to this video. I have changed the link to a tinyurl to avoid it appearing as a video on the Blog.

    • Quentin says:

      I have now watched this video. It was 13 minutes well spent. It actually shows the glove puppet experiments (Iona Sep 26, 7:11pm above). This demonstrates very young babies approving of altruistic behaviour. It also shows their preference for the puppet with whom they identify; showing the darker side of altruism – confirming Vincent’s warning. It finishes by showing how these instincts modify with age.

  7. St.Joseph says:

    I wonder what effect these games have on our young people who are twiddling on their I pads. will be the reason for so much violence.
    Some can have the common sense not to let it effect them..
    We can not say that is the cause of the babies on the video as they haven’t seen that. It must be in their nature to begin with.
    Vincent. you say ‘Religion is of course well known as a force for prejudice and conflict’.
    That’s because there is a lack of understanding for the message Jesus came to preach.and blame it on religion.,because that is their belief ‘doing it for God’!.

    • Vincent says:

      There is certainly a lack of understanding for the message of Jesus, and that is partly because we display him so poorly in our own lives. But that isn’t quite the point I was trying to make. Quentin was writing about how we quite naturally favour the groups to which we belong, and, in general, share the values of that group. But there is plenty of evidence that through history there has been rivalry and competition between different religions. Currently for instance Christians are being bullied in many countries in the name of religion. But then Christians have spent many centuries bullying other religions.

      Let me take a sad example. Throughout the whole history of the Catholic Church, until quite recently, we have bullied the Jews. The initial reason was because we saw them as demanding the crucifixion of Christ. From the Fathers of the Church like Chrysostom, through many of the Church Councils we have done the Jews down. The degree of prejudice has been high and shameful. We were not responsible directly for the Holocaust but we certainly helped it to become possible by fostering anti Jewish feelings in Europe over the centuries.

      Now of course this is all at variance with the teaching of Jesus. But it does show how human nature tends to use religion as an excuse for hating those they care to see as enemies. This is natural altruism showing its nastiest face.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent I know you are making a sweeping statement about the Jews and I understand what you say.
        However that is not my experience I lived in London as a teenager and one time travelled by bus at 15 to where. I worked .It was in the East end and a Jewish community. all the small tailors who we were friendly with.also a boy worked in the same office=Steve was his name a Jewish boy. There was never a problem that I could see. I used to catch the bus with him and we became good friends,also a African girl we all went ice skating together, so that is why I find it difficult to understand., how anyone can be biased..
        There is more to it than anti Jewish feelings, Those people who do that are ignorant. ill mannered. and that is what I would say to them if someone behaved like that in my company.

  8. Ignatius says:

    AAAAArrghhhh!!!! This whole thread is about to descend into abstract nonsense…lets not!

    If we look around we will find innumerable stories about pro and anti Semitism, about catholic condemnation of jews and Catholics all over Europe and in England fighting their cause and sheltering them from the holocaust-putting their own lives at risk in the process. It simply makes no sense to make sweeping generalisations on the topic other than to admit to the terrifying power of ethnicity. I spent a weekend once in the company of the Redemptorist priest who had responsibility for Rwanda during the genocide there. He told me that the single most profoundly chilling lesson he had learned was that tribalism and ethnicity, when push came to shove, often ruled over any form of utilitarianism or altruism for a period of time and that taught religion was no defense against them. We are really talking of the mechanisms of fascism and totalitarianism at work and able to crush any sense of the individual worth. This mechanism is capable of overwhelming all but the strongest- regardless of their belief structure. Remember that Jesus never expected Peter to be perfect but tasked him regardless of that shameful betrayal.

    I remember very vividly X’ian, Central China, home to the terracotta soldiers( and those terrible loess laden winter gusts that could sandpaper the face with their cold blast). A big city in which there was a dedicated mausoleum to the fallen hero’s of socialism. These were by and large soldiers and peoples hero’s who had: jumped on grenades to save their comrades, starved themselves in the great famine so that their families could live etc etc-a huge mausoleum of photographed faces-not a believer among them, officially at least. The human being is capable of the wide range of behaviour, so much so that we simply cannot predict accurately the way we may behave in any situation of demand. It is quite possible and indeed likely that one the one hand a belief structure will bring out individual altruism and on the other call down the baying religious pack to the kill.

    • St.Joseph says:

      As long as we keep talking about religious hatred and culture hatred it will always be there Do we really need to be reminded…
      We know what is going on in the world . look at the News its forever showing suffering.
      Satan is definitely working away with his ill’s.and he always will. Most of it is political. as Ulster. is, All in the name of religion..If love prevailed it would not matter which religion one was.

  9. ionzone says:

    Agnophilo – I’m not sure that you grasp the full extent of what I am saying. It’s possible to convince a kindly old mother to murder all of her children’s friends with a machete and then be convinced it was the right thing to do because of their tribal group. As Ignatius says, tribalism can overrule basically anything. You can do something terrible and not even realise it is a terrible act. This is why CS Lewis says that we may well be surprised at who God lets into Heaven, and who he refuses entry to. It all comes down to intentions, actions, and situations, not the effects those things have. Which brings me to what Vincent said; “Religion is of course well known as a force for prejudice and conflict?”

    In fact, if you say religion, but mean Judaism, Islam, but particularly Christianity – no, not exactly. Lets take the front of this week’s Catholic Herald for example, a massacre in a Christian church by ‘Islamic fundamentalists’. Cut and dried religious warfare? Not exactly, read a little deeper and you find out that the reason they attacked the church was in retaliation for US drone strikes.

    But why, then, a Christian church? They attacked Christians firstly because they are a minority, and therefore a ‘threat’ to their group, and secondly because the USA is Christian. If we look into most of these cases we find that there is almost always a political, not religious, motive for these attacks. This tallies with actual historical observation. Since the general accusation that religion causes violence has NEVER been proven, but the link between group divides has, and since the word ‘religion’ encompasses so many different things, it makes no sense to blame religion for conflict. Since religions like Christianity have historically been strong moderating influences, and since these religions form the foundations of society, removing all religion would cause the biggest, most bloody, and longest war that the world has ever seen.

    What really causes war is a big combination of things, but a few of the accepted reasons are geography, differing tribal groups who lack self assurance and so become nationalistic, necessity, greed, idiocy, political grandstanding, and insanity. In no particular order, but with geography and tribal groups being the chief ones. Since geography creates tribal groups, the whole thing comes down to that. As far as I have been able to see, the total number of wars with an overtly religious reason behind them come to about six percent. If you pick a war at random from a list I would bet big money it has a non-religious reason.

    • ionzone says:

      So, in other words, this is the defining reason why the argument that religion causes war tends to come down to either simply stating that it does and then giving one or two examples (that may or may not really be religious), or alternatively, mumbling something pathetic about how ‘religion causes cultural divisions that would not otherwise exist’ and is ‘often available when other labels are not’. I hope I don’t have to explain why that is an utterly stupid thing to say – caste systems and the existence of ‘untouchables’ *alone* disprove this argument, and that’s before you even get into the previously mentioned geography. Europe’s history is full of kings giving different brothers plots of land and then those brothers trying to conquer each other.

    • Vincent says:

      It is not religion in itself which tends to cause strife but a misuse of religion. The phrase corruptio optimi pessima (the corruption of the best things brings about the worst results) says it perfectly. It is to the shame of people who subscribe to religion that they so often use it as an instrument of hate rather than of love. But if we want to avoid this corruption it is as well to remember that our natural tendencies may trick us into making this mistake.

  10. Singalong says:

    Quentin, 29th 4.40, this accords with Christ`s teaching of course, but in a way, it can sometimes seem little different from the “heroic” acts of dogs, who defend their owners, especially children, and risk their own safety and lives. Presumably, this is instinctive behaviour, as it might sometimes be in humans.

    • Quentin says:

      You raise an interesting point. It would very interesting to discuss animals on some occasion. A complementary point to yours is that we often feel that our love for our pets in unselfish.

      • Iona says:

        Domestic dogs, being descended from animals that live in packs, probably treat their owners and owners’ families as their “pack”, from whom they expect, and to whom they give, mutual support. (You don’t get too many stories about cats behaving heroically in defence of their owners. – Yes, I know; you do get the occasional one or two)

  11. John Nolan says:

    Ionzone, thank you for that those perceptive comments. Warfare is endemic to the human condition (you might say it is a result of the Fall) and unfortunately it is the most complex and challenging activity which mankind can collectively engage in. Paradoxically it brings out the best and the worst in people.

    • Iona says:

      Is it endemic? There are – or at least have been – some societies that have never engaged in it. I once read an account of early contacts between Europeans (or maybe Americans) and Inuit groups, with mutual exchange of information about their respective lifestyles, and when the Europeans described war, the Inuit thought they were joking.
      This could be because the Inuit had “no enemy but winter and rough weather” (and maybe polar bears), and mutual support was the only way to survive.

  12. Ignatius says:

    John Nolan:
    “…thank you for that those perceptive comments….”
    Aha, at long last I get to pick you up on a mistake……!!

  13. John Candido says:

    Altruism is an important aspect of human nature and human society. Without it, we would be in an awful mess. I truly believe that all good, unprejudiced, fair-minded individuals, marriages, families and communities, are based on this amorphous, but clearly understood entity.

    We all acknowledge altruism when someone sacrifices themselves for others. Examples are not hard to obtain. Think of parents doing all in their power to assist their children to be loving, mature and responsible adults. We all acknowledge military courage, or the courage of those who fight fires, assist those through rescue, and who police the community without fear or favour. We acknowledge their selfless bravery at times by awarding medals or citations for their altruism and service to the community.

    There is a lot of unacknowledged and hidden altruism in lots of individuals. These examples are certainly not publically acknowledged because sometimes they are not given equivalence with altruism. Two examples come to mind. One is the courage of a whistle-blower and the other is someone with a significant problem who is doing all that he/she can to get on top of it.

    Both of these examples clearly involve some self-sacrifice or altruism. In the case of a genuine whistle-blower; in order to improve an aspect of society that they see as unjust and needing reform, or in the case of someone with a significant personal problem, heroic effort to come to grips with a gambling, alcohol, or drug addiction for example.

    In the subtle set of motivations, irony and paradox that is so much a part of human nature; altruism can be enmeshed with some measure of unacknowledged selfishness, by all sorts of individuals with their own unique set of circumstances and values. Despite this miasma of conflicts, one thing needs to be stated about real altruism and its opposite. Truly selfish acts are not altruistic, and conversely, truly altruistic acts are not selfish.

    Love is the basis of genuine altruism and love is the foundation of a good life. Love and sacrifice are the basis of all major religions and indeed, all proper forms of secular humanism based on social justice. Every one of us understands that all genuine love is inherently difficult at times. Regardless of whether or not individuals are religious; humans would have very little to live for without a powerful and innate sense of altruism guiding their lives.

  14. Iona says:

    Indeed, they would probably not live at all. A new-born human infant is so helpless and dependent, and continues dependent to some extent for so many years (far longer than any animal) that without prolonged love and commitment – usually on the part of his/her parents – s/he would quite likely not survive into adulthood.

  15. Ignatius says:

    “Regardless of whether or not individuals are religious; humans would have very little to live for without a powerful and innate sense of altruism guiding their lives…”

    Is altruism the same as utilitarianism then ?

  16. John Candido says:

    The reason that genuine altruism and utilitarianism are not equivalent is partly due to my beliefs on the issue. Someone can reasonably state that altruism and utilitarianism are broadly synonymous because all courageous acts have a definite purpose. What makes these two terms distinguishable from each other in my opinion are two reasons. Firstly, genuine altruism usually has an extreme cost the individual must bear. Secondly and most importantly, genuine altruism is always directed towards moral ends. It is the relationship between genuine altruism and what constitutes our moral set of values that helps to distinguish it from utilitarianism.

    • Quentin says:

      This raises another question. An instance of altruism is the care, and readiness for sacrifice, which a mother shows to her child. We would be right in supposing that this is the outcome of a very strong instinct – which can plausibly be put down to evolutionary need. But does the strength of this instinct negate any merit? Or is it possible that the mother’s conscious intention to accept and respond to this instinct can transform it so that it becomes a moral and meritorious one?

      • Singalong says:

        I think this relates to the brave deeds of animals acting through instinct. Is it possible to analyse and dissect human behaviour in areas such as parenting? Perhaps we have to leave the allocation of merit and morality to God Who knows what is really in our hearts much more clearly than we do. There is also the influence of the habits we form which was discussed in a previous post.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, of course you’re right. We don’t know. But our discussion is posited on the notional distinction between ‘natural’ altruism (which is either instinctive or self serving) and the altruism we positively choose or confirm as an act of love. Ideally, since we are created in the image and likeness of God the two should come to the same thing.

        Your point about habit is relevant. Aquinas describes the virtues as habits. We have a duty to develop our virtuous habits so that as ‘good’ people we tend to act virtuously, as an expression of our engraced disposition.

  17. St.Joseph says:

    I wonder what a boxer feels when he is knocking his opponent about in the ring, Could that be considered to be Sport?

  18. Vincent says:

    I don’t want to get hung up on the abortion question, but it does seem to provide a possible example of the sort of emphasis Pope Francis is looking for. If I were to dare to put words into his mouth, I suspect he would say something like this:

    “Abortion is in itself a grave wrong, and there will be occasions when we have to state this without compromise. But for the most part we should put our emphasis, not by shouting out its wickedness at every opportunity, but by putting our energy, directly or indirectly, into ways in which we can provide for the women who may be tempted by their circumstances to seek an abortion. That way we show our values through our loving actions.”

    He is far from kow-towing to the liberals — the challenge he presents is far more demanding, and inspiring, than waving banners.

  19. Vincent says:

    Well, congratulations, St Joseph. You also got a major article in the Guardian in which this campaign was accused of intimidating women by circling around them outside clinics and photographing them. This was represented as direct interference with these women’s legal rights to choice. Now I am well aware of the way that the Guardian writes its stories — but what a wonderful excuse the campaign extended to them! It also gave them the chance to refer readers to a recent court case about an anti abortion campaigner who illegally downloaded 10,000 personal records from the BPA’s computer system. Nothing to do with your campaign, of course, but the mud sticks.

    Neither you nor I know what damage this has done to our cause. Nor do we know how many extra abortions will come about as a result. But don’t we feel good about it?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Vincent I did not read the article so I am not too sure what you are .saying.
      What is the mud that sticks?
      All I know is that on Thursday we will get a new post to discuss.So many who read the blog will go on to a different subject-however abortion will not go away-there will be thousands of innocent defenceless babies aborted either from the surgeons knife or contraceptive pills or other sources in the UK alone..
      There is already help at hand for mothers if they want to keep their babies-that is not the answer, It lies in the hands of Parliament.The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary today There has miracles through the Rosary prayers, perhaps this will be another,

      We can live in Hope. Our Lady of the Rosary.Pray for us.

      • Vincent says:

        St Joseph, the reason why there is no question of Parliament changing its mind is because public sentiment is against it doing so. If you seek to change public sentiment, you should not aggravate it by actions which can be presented as interference with legal choice. I see, for example, the announcement today, by the Director of Public Prosecutions, that using ‘wrong gender’ as a reason cannot be shown to be unlawful as a justification under the Abortion Act..

        Providing and publicising the genuine support we can give to mothers is at least in the right direction, and may indeed enable some women to avoid abortion.

        Much of the blame for the constancy of public sentiment must lie with enthusiastic amateurs who appear neither to know nor care what effects their actions have. The issue is too serious for that.

  20. St.Joseph says:


    It seemed to work very well for the ‘Gay Pride Marches’
    It seems to be the case of Christians ‘ought to be seen but not heard’
    Christians are tax payers and are entitled to free speech
    Jesus was not quiet-he even died for His voice to be heard ,I won’t be quiet!! Nor accused to be a enthusiastic amateur!! I take that remark as being offensive.on behalf of all pro-life activity! .

    • St.Joseph says:

      P.S And what gives you the opinion that abortion is of young girls who can not cope.
      You are not seeing things clearly enough to make suggestions like that,
      Have you ever thought about where these aborted babies end up, probably research centres
      It is lovely to be able to walk around with ‘rose coloured spectacles’ and live in a nice cosy non guilt society. Just remember the Parable of the ‘Talents’ Gospel the other Sunday.
      We will all have to answer for what we did with them! As Christians we are responsible.for our neighbours well being -unborn children are a part of it too.

    • Vincent says:

      The issue, St Joseph, is not how loud we should shout, but how we can get listened to.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Vincent.Who’s shouting.They do enough of that in Parliament.
        The suffragette’s just tied themselves to the railings. for their rights
        You are trying to teach an old dog new tricks.
        Putting your own emphasis on something you probably have never tried.or been there.
        It is a charitable pro-life organisation if you understand what that means!!
        Just thank God that you had a blessed mother that did not find you an inconvenience.
        Speak to people in Rachel’s Vineyard also people who are adopted.
        Your remarks are also unsympathetic to their feelings let alone the Lords.
        I have housed enough girls in my time to understand how they feel.
        Try it sometime ,if you are so keen as to work ‘quietly’
        You present a image which is very damaging to the pro-life cause. and not very heroic!
        And the remarks you make are not very helpful only a put down to millions of devoted people who do this for no thanks like’ yours’.
        I would also say that to Pope Francis.Only I know he means well and people like you are the ones who misinterpret him for their own opinions-it is an escape for them of their responsibilities.. .

      • Singalong says:

        Vincent, “How we can get listened to” I think that puts it in a nutshell, and applies to very many situations in life, such as talking to adult children about their faith. Our Lord spoke in parables, and told us to be as cunning as serpents, didn`t He?

        St. Joseph, I am sure you have saved the lives of many babies, and their parents, through all the work you have done for them over many years. I and my husband have supported SPUC also, and fertility awareness initiatives, and joined Life to do more on the practical side, after our last child was born when I was in my mid 40`s, in gratitude for this great blessing, so I have obviously thought a great deal about it all.

        I do think it is worth discussing the impact that various forms of action have on the general public now, as it might be time to change some tactics so as to achieve a better result. This does not mean criticism of what was helpful previously, more a reappraisal in the light of changing circumstances.

        Prayer of course is the one positive action always available to us all, which will never need any kind of reappraisal.

      • Vincent says:

        It occurs to me, somewhat late in the day, that you are under the impression that I am in some way in favour of abortion, or at least prepared to ‘go easy’ on it. But you are quite wrong, I have opposed abortion actively for many, many years.

        My concern is that, for all the Catholic opposition over the years, the position has grown steadily worse. I do of course applaud you for the personal work you have done in housing unfortunate women etc. That is exactly the sort of thing which I would encourage.

        i do not however encourage methods which aggravate public sentiment, and offer advantage to those who oppose us.

      • St.Joseph says:

        The position has not got worse, just look at the amount of babies have been saved and the number who are pro-life now to what is was.
        Obviously the Law has not changed only a little for the better by reducing the age limit which is not always kept.
        Society needs to change and we must keep up with it!!
        We would not have so many people as we have in the March for Life in Washington-they put shame on Britain. with Congress making public speeches Bishops giving pubilc witness. You are really blind to it all, if you have a better answer tell me.

  21. St.Joseph says:

    I am also a member of SPUC and started a Branch with many others in the seventies
    We have been up against all oppositions-that is why my husband and I decided to help young girls whose parents wanted them to have an abortion-we had 5 spare rooms in a Guest House so we obviously could not mix the two-So we did it.Because we have to be active with works as well as prayer.
    We had opposition also from a local priest , one young girl we did not have room for so my eldest brother gave her a spare room. She was not a catholic and my brother told her to go to the priest for some spiritual advice ( my brother was married to a non catholic as I was)but sadly he had lapsed.
    Telling her story to the priest at the Presbytery door the advice he gave her was ,If I were you I would have an abortion’ she was very upset and when she told my brother he was very annoyed and told me-you guess what happened then!! Since then he lost confidence in the Church and only goes occasionally.
    Sadly in the early days we did find opposition from some clergy who felt it not appropriate to speak about the need to save the unborn as it might upset those who had.
    I have listened to all the questions all the answers-I was Chairman of our Church Parish Council and wanted a stall at our Fete not showing explicit picture and was voted down and not even allowed to give out little feet badges and Pro life papers.
    So I gave up my position as Chairperson as my conscience did not allow it.
    That was mostly my concern with the Holy Fathers statement.

    • Vincent, you are right when you say that: “For all the Catholic opposition over the years, the position has grown steadily worse.”
      I organize a ‘Silent Witness’ each year in my City and it used to be slightly disrupted by drunkards, but now the woman with a buggy or car full of children seem to be the most hostile.
      We feel it is even more important to be a witness to the ‘appalling’ abortion law – ( did you know that under the United Nations Declaration Act that the unborn child is protected?) – just to support the people who do not agree with abortion but do not have the strength or wherewithal to express it. At schools where I was allowed in to give pro-life talks, young students would see me later who were to scared to vocalize pro-life sentiments. Bullying is rife upon a virtuous soul!
      Well, last Witness, a young man approached me to say he had driven past with his young family, saw us and it had ‘made his day’. He said in all the twentyfive years in Bath it was the most worthy thing he had encountered and wanted to join and support us. He was in the military.
      We should never let compromises take away our resolves. Our Bishops did NOT speak against the 1967 law and ours even tried to stop my father from holding a pro-life meeting ( where he had invited a speaker named Jack Scarisbrick who was giving his first Life ‘talk’) Remember, each person involved with causing, encouraging or not speaking out against abortion is culpable according to the Catholic Church’s teachings as it brings us into the area of the Nine ways of partaking in the Four Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance.
      The 9 Ways We Participate in Others’ Sins
      By counsel
      By command
      By consent
      By provocation
      By praise or flattery
      By concealment
      By partaking
      By silence
      By defense of the ill done.
      One can find it on

      • St.Joseph says:

        Gail Mills
        When our Branch of SPUC for the 20 anniversary of the Abortion Act-we had a 48 hr Vigil and fast in my town and not one person complained,only took leaflets.
        I expect if we did it now we would be heckled by the pro abortion lobby.
        In the town also the Pentecostal Church are very active in their pro Life work. In years gone by-must be 30 years ago-they organised a coach to Hyde Park to see Mother Teresa unfortunately she had broken her leg or something and could not be there but sent a lovely address which I still have. We dropped hundreds of White Flowers at No 10 Downing Street, but were heckled with bottles and tin cans on the way to Hyde Park-it did result in lowering the time limit. Coaches came from all over the country-4 Catholics on our coach!!

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