Friday, August 20, 2010

The Inevitability of Change

I have long been a disciple of the importance of history, and have quoted an old teacher and librarian from my secondary school days, one Dr James J Carey, a wonderful English scholar and classicist, as remarking to us when we were his library assistants at school  in the mid 1970s that history was, in fact, the most important subject on the curriculum.  I believed him then and I believe him now.  Every subject under the sun has its history of development.  It's so important (i) to know where we have come from as human beings (ii) as a nation and as a culture.  Then, it is important to try to learn from the mistakes of the past, or at least try to, so that we do not repeat them.  As far as I know it was the Spanish philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) who said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, though it has been attributed to many other scholars too.  The sad thing is that from lived experience and from whatever reading I have done we poor foolish humans never really do in a lot of cases.  What father or what teacher has never said of youngsters - "Oh, here we go again, X or Y is repeating the mistake I made when I was their age etc."  It seems that humanity is more often than not destined to repeat its mistakes, at least some of them.

Sometimes change means a certain destruction:  October 2009
However, I am not a cynic, or even a pessimist.  We have, indeed, come a long way and, thank goodness for the inevitability of change.  When I was a teenager I loved Bob Dylan's angst-ridden songs about coming of age, growing up, or even waking up with such numbers as "The Times They are a-changing" and "Blowing in the Wind." and thankfully, thee times still are a-changing.  We have changed immensely in Ireland in the last thirty years.  Thirty years is a watershed number for me as this year 2010 has marked thirty years for me in the teaching profession as a secondary teacher in an inner city Dublin school.

That time for me has marked huge changes.  The most obvious one is in the governance of our schools.  There now are no Christian Brothers on the ground teaching in any of their schools in Ireland and their average age is in the mid-seventies, so in the next ten to twenty years or so they'll have all died off.  They have now handed over the management of their schools to a lay trust called ERST.  They have also handed over millions in Euros and in property to the government as part of the redress scheme for child-abuse which happened during their time in control - as well indeed they ought by any moral or ethical standards.  The Institutional Church in Ireland is firmly in retreat,  and this is no bad thing, as all institutions become bastions of self-preservation which end up choking the life out of the little people who make them up while allowing the bad eggs within them to wreak havok either on poor innocent children or on gullible Joe public as was the case with the Banks.  Indeed, this is where change is happening, and it is so good that it is happening.  Look at it this way - the Institutional Church has fallen.  The Banking Profession is thoroughly discredited.  The Political one is equally discredited with scandal after scandal of corruption hitting the headlines.  Then, the medical profession has had its own scandals - also covered up -  not on the level of the ordinary GPs, hospital doctors or nurses but at consultancy level where maverick doctors were allowed to go unchecked to wreak huge damage on innocent patients, e.g., Lourdes Hospital Drogheda.  I'm sure there are many skeletons in the cupbords of other professions, too.  It is no harm that there has been a practically universal fall from grace on the part of these powerful institutions which sought only their own self-preservation, the covering up of scandals and the duping of the common citiizen.

Hence, it is with some little joy and a lot of hope for the future that I read reports such as the following in today's Irish Times.  Firstly there is a good report from the Merriman Summer School where Fr Kevin Hegarty spoke about the Church's sexual theology being  in 'deep crisis.'  I know Kevin as a very intelligent and sensitive pastor and equally intelligent and sensitive writer.  He published some articles for me over ten years ago in a brilliant magazine from thge fringes which he then edited called Céide.  Kevin was always a maverick, and before that he used to be editor of the official Church monthly called Intercom, but he was sacked from that by Cardinal Connell, the Archbishop of Dublin for being far too outspoken.  A conservative editor was put in immediately.  Kevin, being his liberal, provocative and prophetic self, was saying things the institutional Church did not want to hear so they sacked him and banished him to a small parish in the west of Ireland.  I know some few other priests to whom this has happened too.  The Roman Catholic Church is a centralized and centralizing institution which does not like dissenters from mainline dogma.  A taste of what he said can be had by reading the following excerpt:

Fr Hegarty, who was ordained in 1981 and has ministered in the parish of Kilmore-Erris on the Mullet Peninsula, Co Mayo, for the past 15 years, said he had spent three years as editor of Intercom “before the priests found me out”. It was his greatest experience of disillusionment with the institutional church. For someone shaped by the influences of democracy, free speech and academic dialogue, the church had been a cold house in the past 30 years, he said.“Since the 1980s the church has been in the grip of a restorationist mentality. The ‘glad, confident morning’ that followed the Vatican Council has long faded into the distance. Reform has stalled, and some liberal theologians have been silenced.... In appointments, passive docility to papal teaching in all its aspects is valued way above creative fidelity to the work of ministry in today’s complex world." See this link here: Hegarty
He went on in his talk to call for both married and female priests, a total review of the theology of sexuality and a new openness to the modern world which was called for back in 1960 during Vatican II.  Anyone who has studied theology as I have or who has been a thinking member of the Catholic Church will know that this openness was simply never implemented.  Happily, this has only a little interest for me now as I ceased being a practising Catholic when I was forty years of age.  I had been a student religious in my young days and even possess a first class honours STL which, if one were still a believer, one could possibly lecture with a third level.  Anyway, I have long lost my interest in theology and fill that empty space with reading widely in philosophy now.  However, the academic training was wonderful and challenging, and I must write about it in future posts sometime.

On the very same page in today's Times, the Religious Affairs Correspondent, Patsy McGarry has an interesting article on one octogenarian lady's call - a Mrs Jennifer Sleeman - for Mass to be boycotted on Sunday September 26th in protest at the Vatican's treatment of women.  This lady is a grandmother and one of her sons is a monk in one of our monasteries - the Benedictine Abbey, Glenstal, Co. Limerick.   See this link here McGarry   There is also an interesting article in The Limerick Leader which interviews her son Fr Simon Sleeman, OSB who calls it his mother's gig, but not his, and that he does, of course, support her.  See this link Sleeman

Tracks in the Mud: February 2009
Anyway, my theme for this rather longish post is the inevitability of change.  The great pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus never tired of saying that all was flux and that "one cannot step into the same river twice," that new water was always flowing.  Things, as it were, are always new.  Things and indeed the times "they are a-changing."  I remember reading Professor Alvin Toffler, the famous sociologist, saying way back in the late 1970s  that not alone were things changing, but that change was accelerating at alarming levels.  However, the big thing is to make sure that we change with the times; that we learn all about adjusting to changed circumstances; that we begin to question old certainties; that we seek out new ways of doing things; that we cherish whatever is good in the past while dispensing with whatever was bad; that above all we work on our own self-development.  I mention this last aspect here because it is very hard to come to grips with change in society at large if we cannot cope with development - that is, chnage - in our very selves. 

Perhaps, all the scandals which history has forced upon us in Ireland is no bad thing at all.  The dusting off of old files, the opening of long secret documents to public view is renewing to say the least.  When everything is out in the open at least we can deal with those issues revealed.  When they are brushed under the carpet as the old cliche has it, it's then that things fester and smell or rather stink to high heaven, to use another well-worn cliché.

Now, who said history was unimportant?  Let us learn from our mistakes.  Let's not hide away the ugly things in dark corners.  Doing so will only lead to trouble, to the pollution of vulnerable minds and souls and to the enslavement of generations to poor mental health.

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