How do older people think about life? Perhaps I ought to know since I am in my late eighties. Before this stage, I accepted that one day I would die. But the possibility was remote. Now — although I seem to be in good physical order — I accept that death may come at anytime. As a Catholic throughout, I accepted the beliefs and the commandments but now I find myself more critical in my views.
The Ten Commandments we are told are related to the nature of human beings, just as the Almighty created us. We can see without difficulty the damage brought about by our failure to accept them among human beings — their welfare and development through breeding.
I was taught that human nature was created by God, and so the commandments are from him. To which I remind myself that the process was indirect since it operated through evolution. That is, if human beings, as a group, follow the commandments they will have successful lives and the capacity to breed children to provide the next generation.
But over the last 2000 years the situation has changed. Our modern capacities to have, and to bring up, our children are much more effective. Since the relation of a married couple is broadly necessary for their maturing children, regular sexual contact it important. This looks like a need to control the rate of conception — through the use of artificial contraception. But we should remember here that the average desirable children per fertile female is 2.1. In modern countries this tends in practice not to be reached.
Homosexuality is also a potential factor. The main problem here is the the spread of disease through a potentially wide range of partners. Should we encourage ‘marriage’ rather than miscellany? Perhaps this would reduce the likelihood of extended disease.
Naturally, I do not know the regular readers of this blog, although I suspect they are rarely young. If you are a Catholic, have you, like me, developed your understanding of the Christian Church I think we would all value your views.
This morning I put the following comment on the “Marriage Realities” post. I didn’t that Quentin was going talk about the ten commandments today. I have therefore decided to re-post my comment.
There’s much talk these days about mental health problems, especially in young people. I am sure mental health problems have a close correlation with marriage breakdowns. Children suffer terribly when their parents separate.
There is also a total disregard for the ten commandments. I wonder how many people know the ten commandments these days. If there was a greater effort to follow the ten commandments, there would be fewer marriage failures. They are a good recipe for personal contentment and stable mental health.
Insert “know” in the appropriate place above.
Just out of interest Goerdie, why do you think there is a “total disregard” for the 10 commandments?
Probably because the young are not taught the ten commandments. Young people are taught by adults who don’t think they are important. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone in authority in church mention them.
With the recent scandals in the Church,I sometimes wonder if our Church leaders believe in God. Many people don’t seem to believe in damnation. Why did Our Lord go through the agony of the passion, if it wasn’t a serious condition that we find ourselves in?
We seem to be going through a hell on Earth at the moment so I believe hell exists somewhere. Like Quentin, my views on the Christian Church have changed over the years but I don’t think my understanding is clearer. I tend to go back to the basics found in the Bible.
Mmm! Food for thought here. My own beliefs (I’m not a Catholic, remember) are that: The Commandments, etc., are intended to protect individuals/human society from the effects of our present (post-lapsarian) human nature (so I would not agree with Quentin (“human nature was created by God”) IF here is meant human nature AS IT NOW IS). And, the proscription of promiscuity/homosexual practice is for this reason, to protect us (from disease, etc.). And also: I do not think it is up to people (even if they are archbishops, popes, etc.) to just decide we are changing things (“We know so much more today!” Huh!). It’s not for me (or you) to say: “XYZ is ok, today, we changed it!” – it is thought likely that my own lot (C of E) will decide homosexual practice is ok, now, and give it their blessing (WHAT! Who gives a blessing? God does, not priests, they just pronounce it. If God decides he is going to change things, and give his blessing (eg. to same-sex practices) he must tell us … until then … ). Have my ideas (eg. on these matters) changed as I’ve got older (I’m 71)? I don’t think so; perhaps I understand the ideas (they are not MY ideas) better … (I started thinking about death, my own, around 1966). There! Quite enough …
John Thomas, I am a Catholic and I agree that the Commandments are intended to protect and guide us. If we wilfully disregard the Commandments, the Bible tell us that we have sinned and God will judge us accordingly. However we human beings cannot judge the state of other human beings. We can recognise that they have done wrong but we cannot say how this effects their relationship with Almighty God. It is none of our business.
We once had a parish priest who embezzled the parish funds over a number of years but was eventually brought to book. An Anglican friend asked me if this meant he would go to hell. My answer to this question was that I hadn’t got a clue. It was between him and God. I knew he had done wrong but I made no judgement on his spiritual condition.
In this way my ideas have changed. In the past I would have said, in line with my religious education, he was in a state of mortal sin. Now I wouldn’t dare to make such a judgement. Only God knows all the mitigating circumstances.
Its probably worth considering a couple of things from the catechism here. First is the nature of reconciliation. God is merciful and forgiving, wishing no one to ‘perish’ (i,e lose their eternal life in heaven) So God provides for reconciliation from mortal sin by confession. Secondly (CCC1793) the rule of conscience provides for what is termed invincible ignorance which occurs when a person, acting according to their best understanding simply makes the wrong choice. In this case blame cannot be imputed to that person. Obviously this situation does not arise if a person commits mortal sin while knowing that their action is sinful.
While a few people are gifted with wisdom in their youth, life experience and understanding usually accumulate through time.
People leave the greenness of youth to embrace the confidence of life experience.
Even if theoretical physics limits time and space, youthfulness rails against limitations.
The optimism and limitlessness of youth are tempered by finiteness and age.
No person can argue against the finiteness of finances, food, water, or living; age tolerates limits, even mortality.
While tradition is the bedrock of the Roman Catholic Church, tradition, like people or life, develops and evolves.
Knowing what we know about any discipline informs the community about the objectivity of knowledge and how knowledge retains its objectivity despite progress in any field.
Therefore, a more profound bedrock underpinning tradition is gradualism through evolution.
Thank you Quentin, another very thought provoking piece of work!
Whatever about the Church, like you, my understanding has certainly and is still developing.
And again like you, it is in the mind of Christ that I am aware of that progress of my understanding, even if I cannot be conscious of it’s unfolding.
That experience of evaluating the lifelong and lived truth which has accompanied you well into senior years is marked by an almost childlike curiosity and delight that does not surprise me when you think of the people we are, Jesus types.
Those who say of themselves, and not just in old age, that it is not I but Christ who lives in me say something typical of their own thinking, with His mind.
Of course there is no diminishment of personal autonomy or independence of thought here– the very opposite is true
your critical and expanding openness of mind is, in the way you open “The Older the Better”, for me, is a clear identifier of Christ’s mind working in you. But the thoughts remain Quentin’s.
I doubt if anyone has ever suggested such a thing to you in your work, and wonder how well you might even receive such a thought!
– when we actually confront that absolute magnificence of our faith it can even feel a bit spooky– but despite that, it is something very appropriate in our old age.
I am not suggesting that the mind of Christ in us is only there in senior years. Definitely not. We can hardly be conscious of it’s working in us at all, with one exception.
But it is more likely when we find ourselves in later years beginning to explore views and ideas that would not have been so apparent or even admitted earlier that we get a quick and slight glimpse of it.
That one exception of which I speak is the “Our Father”, as we call it.
It is impossible to engage with the wording of this prayer (which had to be extracted from Jesus), without having his mind in ours.
No mention of any of the great mysteries of our faith here, no “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, it is Jesus’ own mind and ours, directly addressing God in us – not just as one with us, but “in” us and us in him. Wow!
What a gift! Do you find yourself saying it more or even more consciously these final days?
And given that as the basis of what we share here, it makes your invitation to focus our minds on how they have developed around understanding the Jesus church, very exciting indeed.
Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/ ) :
// How do older people think about life? … If you are a Catholic, have you, like me, developed your understanding of the Christian Church I think we would all value your views. //
I am a Catholic, though for many years non-practicing. I am seventy-nine years old.
Change is a constant in everything, including language. What I understand by the words “church” and “Christian” and the phrase “Christian Church” continually evolves and expands and, metaphorically, changes shape and color and brilliance and texture and sound. It is never the same thing from moment to moment, year to year. As I change, it changes with me. The same is true of everyone. Life is fluid, a constantly flowing river, but, unlike a river of water, which flows only from one point to another, life is a river that flows in all dimensions simultaneously. We, at least those of us in the Western world, generally hold to the conceit that reality is an understandable thing that can be contained by words, pinned down under a glass case like a dead insect and taken out and examined at leisure. But in fact, this insect is not dead. If there are eight billion human minds on our planet, there are at this moment eight billion different understandings of “the Christian Church”, and in a tiny fraction of a second they will have changed completely, in eight billion ways.
I’m not sure where I want to go with this, so I’ll stop here, at least for now.
When you ask “Have you like me developed your understanding of the Christian Church” my mind goes to your comment ”But over the past 2000 years things have changed”.
We are as far away from Jesus, in our timeline of history, and Jesus was from Abraham in His time. Abraham, our father in faith.
In one way, my understanding of Christ’s church has expanded to include and value this greater expanse of our formation as God’s children. We will always be children of Abraham even as Christians.
In His time, the rejection by the leadership in his own people, Israel, was a great contradiction and a great sadness for Jesus. That’s something I have come to own.
As Church we have endured the great Constantinian imprint on our identity with its Roman culture of regulation; the mark of division from the four great schism’s have also contributed to my understanding of ourselves as broken; and the great sweep of critical thinking known as the (European) Enlightenment at times, forced a different view of Church on us, from which I learn and gain understanding.
There was a time when our Church was entirely Jewish and rich in all that God had taught us throughout the evolution of that particular culture.
To this day it amazes me how the great faith of Abraham survives in the world. Until recent history, this survival was without any territory or centralised capital of its own that functioned as such.
Yet, the Jewish people remained through all of history a living (and persecuted) community worldwide. Their identity is synonymous with the essence of God, and that is community.
In Judaism the great truths of the faith are domesticated in the annual round of home based and family bound rituals. The leadership, grounded in community, very close and readily available.
The Councils of Jerusalem, Nicaea and Trent all made us very much what we are as Jesus’ body, the Church, but all in a divisive and not inclusive way.
If only we could find ways of bringing everyone with us, teaching us, leading us, and making us proud as servants to each other as we learn together the truth who is Jesus.
This “hunger” is now there in my understanding.
So, in one way, my understanding, at times brings me to join the weary carpenter who sits overlooking Jerusalem, longing as He gazes with great sadness and regret ,
How would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not.
galerimo writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66237 ) :
// We are as far away from Jesus, in our timeline of history, and Jesus was from Abraham in His time. Abraham, our father in faith. //
Good to remember. If a generation of humans is 25 years, that’s 160 generations since Abraham and 80 generations since Jesus. That’s a lot of change in the vocabulary and grammar and surrounding culture of each language. And languages and cultures intermingle. And translations are always imperfect. The meaning of Christianity has changed enormously in eighty generations.
” The meaning of Christianity has changed enormously in eighty generations.”
In what sense?
There is much profound thought and expression in this post but at the risk of sounding simplistic are we answering the questions posed by Quentin about change we have witnessed in the Church especially among the more senior in age that post on here?
I too am a ‘cradle catholic’ of 75 years duration.
I well recall (I think!) my formative years in the Catholic Primary school and by the example of my parents in adhering to the Faith.
It was a strict religion in those years for children. No real notion of the love of God but plenty of fear of eternal damnation with mortal sins high on the agenda.
Nevertheless we were proud of our Catholic faith and ‘looked down’ on protestants ! We prided ourselves that in fight with the old enemy we Catholic boys were always outnumbered but this was compensated for by having the best and more fearless fighters! We believed we were fighting for Christ so had God on our side!
At secondary school ( Non denominational ) we were separated at the Morning assembly and had fish and chips on a Friday lunch , to the envy of those ‘proddies!) this too gave us a special belief in our faith.
Into adulthood and, as Quentin alludes to, we began perhaps to think more for ourselves and doubts began to creep in. Many of my contemparies strayed away from the faith ( and mainly kept away.
Some of my age group , as I did myself, hung in there and chose what we anted to be loyal to and ignore the rest.
How can it be a mortal sin, and be condemned to everlasting hell, for not going to Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of obligation and yet go to confession and be forgiven for hideous crimes?
Why do so many clergy look upon the Church structures as a breeding ground for abuse and consequent protection from and retrospective censure ( until more recently at least.) So many on a kind of power trip of self entitlement.
The Church has shown itself to be fallible.
Your trajectory has been somewhat like mine, Hock, but maybe the timing of events has been very different.
Your two questions at the end are excellent. First, I have ceased to believe literally in the eternal unremitted suffering of the damned. I simply cannot believe in a God who is powerful enough to end it and who will not end it. There is no defensible basis for it.
I think C. S. Lewis got it pretty close in his The Great Divorce, which depicts hell as a dismal place not unlike earth, but people are given a chance to leave it if only they will rid themselves of their favorite vices. Their worm dieth not, because there will always be those who won’t free themselves. But some individuals do free themselves by courageous acts of the will. At that moment, their hell retroactively becomes their purgatory.
As to your second question, I believe the answer lies in a third crisis that may never be made public. Unlike with the first two, the 2002 crisis of the abuse itself, and the much more recent crisis of the coverups, the secular media will not provide the impetus for the third crisis. It was their exposés of the first two that got the Church to very belatedly take the abominations seriously.
The third crisis is the active encouragement of homosexuality in so many seminaries in the 20th century. The secular media has a vested interest in suppressing the information that over 80% of the abuse consisted of acts of a homosexual nature.
In some seminaries the encouragement was so egregious that admissions officers were ordered to admit ONLY homosexuals. One of the objective sins of the disgraced Archbishop (and ex-Cardinal) Theodore McCarrick is that he took advantage of young seminarians by engaging in “consensual” sex with them.
“The Church has shown itself to be fallible.”
Of course the Church is fallible, being human how can it be otherwise?
ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66276 ) :
// ” The meaning of Christianity has changed enormously in eighty generations.”
In what sense? //
In the sense that both languages and cultures have changed enormously. Look at what’s happened to Christianity in the Western world in just the most recent generations. Eighty generations ago people thought and spoke very differently from the ways in which they think and speak now. Eighty generations means eighty completely new ways of understanding concepts as basic as “love” and “sacrifice” and “eternity” and “sin” and so on. And of course this change has been happening simultaneously in hundreds or thousands of different cultures. We should read far more history of individual people than we do. I’d guess we read very, very little. We live with a great many illusions, one of which surely is that people in the past were simply cruder and more ignorant versions of ourselves.
Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/ ) :
// If you are a Catholic, have you, like me, developed your understanding of the Christian Church I think we would all value your views. //
Today I have a much more jaundiced view of the institutional Church than I did when I entered it more than sixty years ago. I’ve seen the beauty and the reverence for scholarship and high art that attracted me then trashed in only a few years by its “leaders”. Thus, instead of trusting them, I practically despise them. Human beings are inherently destructive creatures, so what has happened should not have surprised me, but I have learned much more from witnessing a major devastation than from reading about past instances of it.
” I am a Catholic, though for many years non-practicing. I am seventy-nine years old.”
Is it not likely that, in distancing yourself from the church as you have, the growth of your jaundice is an inevitable result?
I agree with you, David Smith, about the institutional Church. Ignatius says “of course the Church is fallible, being human….”. I agree with that as well.
However what annoys me about institutional Churchmen is that they give the impression that they are infallible, without actually saying it. When I was young, every parish priest had a touch of the infallibilities. Very few people contradicted the priest. Those who did were cold-shouldered.
Now, very few people take the slightest notice of what priests say. I feel sorry for good priests who really have good things to say.
ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66302 ) :
// Is it not likely that, in distancing yourself from the church as you have, the growth of your jaundice is an inevitable result? //
Yes, probably. Point taken. But if, miraculously, the beauty and the reverence for art and scholarship and history and the deep humility that that implies and the solid moral center should be returned to us, I’d be inclined to re-engage with the Church. But what I see now is an institution deliberately made shabby and shallow by the people who were entrusted with its care.
” But what I see now is an institution deliberately made shabby and shallow by the people who were entrusted with its care”
Yes, precisely, David, yours is the view from the outside. Those aspects which you treasure lie on the inside. I have a degree in Fine art and so am, like yourself, quite keen on beauty; I find the church to be beautiful. The shades of grey are there of course, their root is universally found to be within the human heart . But we should seek first the Kingdom of God and not just the pretty things that abound.
The first engagement with the Church should be the worship of Almighty God. We worship God firstly through the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Mass. Everything follows from this.
Our Lord told us to do as they say not as they do. Even in His own day the human side of the Church was failing but Our Lord still carried out His obligations as a Jew. He didn’t need to because He is God but He did it as an example to us. We will understand all of this in the next world but in the mean time we should try to do our duty; try to follow the commandments; and try to love one another (easier said than done).
With regard to beauty etc, it is not the function of the Church to provide us with art, scholarship and history. When the Church carries out its obligations, such things follow as incidental results. Read into that what you like.
ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66306 ) :
// I have a degree in Fine art and so am, like yourself, quite keen on beauty; I find the church to be beautiful. //
I have a degree in nothing, ignatius. Perhaps it will help you to understand my point of view if you consider me as you might one of the unlettered peasants of the Middle Ages whose only man-made connection with God on earth was the beauty of the cathedral.
And what an astonishing beauty that must have been. Once, when I was a feckless youth, roaming the country and making a living as an itinerant fruit picker, I came upon Ely Cathedral, standing alone and mighty at across roads in Norfolk. It was utterly spellbinding, as if lighning from heaven had struck. When a bloke finally decides to scratch an itch by going to Art college part time, over a six year period, while scraping away at his daily toil, it doesn’t put him on any exalted plane David, just that, like the unlettered peasant, he had nurtured within a passionate love for beauty, form and colour.
David’s comment on the beauty and reverence for scholarship and high art, once seen by him, as an “attraction” to the Church, he goes on to say, has been trashed.
For me it is a very insightful comment: and sad, as part of a reflection on how an understanding of Christianity has developed. But I think it is true.
The loss of any moral credibility by the Church, it’s abandonment by great numbers and many of them young people can, at best be described as ugly.
The shameful state in which we find ourselves by comparison with many secular institutions when it comes to the basics of humanity in terms of equality and participation in governance, is truly ugly too.
The criminality and exploitation exposed in recent years along with the complicity in coverups by so called leaders, is a real disfigurement.
This body of Christ that we claim to be, in face of our fellow human beings, has become one with the shit kicked out of it.
A worm and no man, something we have to cover our faces so that we don’t have to look at. Because it is so horrid, so ugly.
That’s what Jesus gets for the outrage He expresses to the Religious leaders when he finds how they have turned His Father’s house into a den of thieves.
The place which should have been a place of prayer, not just for the Jews but by Jesus’s own time, for the Gentiles as well.
The temple was destroyed, and there is no reason to believe the Church, by which I mean, the way in which we have shaped His body, given to us, will not meet a similar fate. We have made it ugly.
Two thousand years of institutionalised anti-semitism, a thousand years of brutal colonialism in the name of mission, a total fragmentation of His followers into more than 9000 separate denominations.
Where in God’s name, is the beauty in that?
Galerimo: “The temple was destroyed, and there is no reason to believe the Church, by which I mean, the way in which we have shaped His body, given to us, will not meet a similar fate. We have made it ugly”
I work in two local parishes. There is much of beauty to beheld for those who have eyes to see. The steady quiet sharing of love, encouragement , solidarity and support for one another and for families The high level of giving both to Cafod and to local charities’ the care groups for the vulnerable that meet for a cup of tea and a chat. The world seems to have grown a little ugly of late, but the church has not.
“Where in God’s name, is the beauty in that?”
How about this:
Some consider the Catholic Church as a spiritual institution founded for a spiritual purpose – and only that. And I recall Josef Stalin’s quip to French Prime Minister Pierre Laval in 1935: “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” (as quoted in Winston Churchill, The Second World War, 1948), which was purposeful sarcasm to point out how on earth a spiritual institution could do anything to help thwart the escalating military threat of Nazism.
But the Catholic Church is more than a spiritual institution. Apparently using “the strategy of non-coercive power” (Deus Vult: The Geopolitics of the Catholic Church, 2010), the Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them located in underdeveloped and developing countries.
US.National inquirer.net 2018
Perhaps a little beauty there, Galerimo? …surely at least one tiny drop of it?
ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66321 ) :
// Perhaps a little beauty there, Galerimo? //
Metaphorical beauty, ignatius. The only kind that the modern mind can understand.
No, real beauty, the beauty of love made real and the joyous creative by which the money we give is turned into the tough substance of boots on the ground compassion and care. I’ve seen it and been part of it. This is the beauty that counts, David this is the beauty that is real and it is the beauty of the cross of Christ. There is a painting that hangs in my clinic that everyone tells me is beautiful; I painted it for my degree show. But its just a painting and as such of less value than even ten minutes of the years I have spent in chaplaincy work. I don’t paint now because my time, apart from my day job, is taken up by preaching, teaching and encouraging folk in my parishes; Engaging hearts with the love of God is of infinitely more value than any piece of art I could ever produce. Its not the modern mind that matters really, its the human heart.
It’s interesting, when talking to people who are from non-Christian religious traditions, to become more aware of the scale of Christian influence on European thought and culture, even of the secular kind. There is a transcendent vision of immortality and ultimate unity under Christ’s rule that seems to haunt it, and the church represented and was the vehicle for that across so many generations. Sometimes we inevitably take it for granted, but I think it is something so immense and powerful that it is worth being called sublime.
FZM writes: “Sometimes we inevitably take it for granted, but I think it is something so immense and powerful that it is worth being called sublime.” Yes. I was converted in my 30’s from out of a life that was fundamentally dissolute. The long experience of faith even after 40 years has not diminished the immense gratitude joy and wonder that runs still across my life for simply just being able to contemplate the Kingdom of God, to be part of it and to pray. Now as ordained in the Catholic church I find that many persons just take for granted the sheer wonder of their personal formation, thinking as they do that the great privelege of Christian existence is just a part of normal life…when in fact it is miraculous.
ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66326 ) :
// No, real beauty, the beauty of love made real and the joyous creative by which the money we give is turned into the tough substance of boots on the ground compassion and care. //
Fine, ignatius. But you and I are using “beauty” in two different senses. Here’s Chambers:
The quality that gives pleasure to the sight, or aesthetic pleasure generally
A particular grace or excellence
A beautiful person (often ironic), esp a woman
Beautiful women as a group (obsolete)
A very fine specimen of its kind (informal)
The good feature (of) (informal)
(in pl) beautiful passages or extracts
Another name for bottomness (see under bottom)
Yes, David, but surely it should be obvious that the beauty of a cathedral is only a shadow or type or icon of the beauty of God, that’s what the thing is there for, not just to be admired in its own right..you can go to an Art gallery for that. The fire of glory in the stained glass window represents the glory of God in the Holy spirit..I like cathedrals too. The church is not just there to satisfy the eye but to lead into true beauty.
ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/06/16/the-older-the-better/#comment-66332 ) :
// the beauty of a cathedral is only a shadow or type or icon of the beauty of God //
Ignatius, we don’t have a difference of opinion here, merely two people using the same word differently and speaking up for different value systems. Interestingly, both value systems seem to privilege material objects, hospitals in your case and cathedrals in mine. I wonder whether we may not in this be demonstrating that we are both typical creatures of our materialistic times.