Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Note on the Inertia of Institutions in the light of the Papal Visit to Great Britain

I am no sociologist, but can make justifiable claims to being an erstwhile theologian of the STL variety, a budding philosopher, a writer and a teacher who has left theology long behind him in favour of a philosophy and a psychology of religion which firmly roots everything cultural, that is religion, spirituality and all the more or less shared values cherished by various societies within the ambit of the human search for meaning.  I have long stopped believing in a revealed religion.  I am a meaning-making creature who shapes my own meaning in relationship with other meaning-making creatures in my society.  Fair enough, some of my fellow creatures make their meaning by engaging in relgious practices and in holding religious beliefs.  I respect them for this - quite simply, that is their way of making sense of what life is for them.  Psychotherapy, psychology, meditation and philosophy are what make my life meaningful, and I would define my stance towards life as being that of an agnostic Buddhist who embraces all within this latter tradition, bar its belief in reincarnation and various gods.  These latter beliefs I see as being highly metaphorical, but no less true on that account.

So much for this declaration of my stance towards life.  As I reflect on my engagement with the various institutions with which I have been engaged in the course of the last fifty two years of my life I list the follwing as being some of the more important: my family, my social class, the system of education, the church and the health system.  One of the things that has struck me about all of them is their seeming resistance to chance, and oftentimes their reluctance to move one whit, if not their sheer inertia holding them in the one place.  It would seem that now - in the wake of the colossal universal collapse in financial and fiscal affairs - the present moment, is the right time to reflect on this reluctance to budge an inch or to change at all.

I have been involved in education since 1980 as a secondary teacher and have often remarked on my own inability to bring about change within a system which at times can be nothing short of dehumanizing for certain unfortunate individuals.  I think of those students who drop out of school early to invariably end up either on the streets, taking drugs or in prison.  Thankfully, their numberrs are not huge, but these poor lost souls do make up a sizable enough minority.  I readily admit the rights to education of those whom they prevent from learning when they did or do come to school.  However, I bemoan the paucity of supports that these poor souls have.  As one of their fellow students said to me recently: "Tom and John (not their real names) have it rough."  Have I ever spoken out about the injustices in the education system?  Have I ever taken the side of the weak and vulnerable?  Or do I just go about my business and have an easy a life as possible?  There has been a considerable amount of decisions which I did not personally agree with, but with which I went along because the majority of my colleagues thought them right.  I did not want to rock the boat or appear to be a crank or whatever.

The same thing applies within the greater monolithic structures of organized religions of whatever denomination.  I was a practising Catholic until I was 40 years of age, but have not practised it for the last 12 years.  I was also a member of a religious order between the ages of 25 and 28 and learned much about humanity and much about spirituality - and certainly a lot about myself - when a member.  I also completed a post-graduate degree in theology during that time.  So, I believe I can certainly comment on the institution that is the Roman Catholic Church.  The instutional church is certainly one that is set in its ways and presents to the world a monolith which is frozen in medievalism.  It has never embraced modernism, never mind post-modernism.  Even the spirit, never mind the letter, of Vatican II, which sought to dialogue with the modern world and whose documents are very fresh even when read today, was never really implemented.  Women in the Roman Catholic Church are second class citizens and that cannot be gainsaid at all.  Likewise its tenets on certain areas of sexuality - say, homosexuality for one - are highly suspect and do not really take modern psychology into account at all.  Its take on celibacy is also suspect.  Why can't priests marry?  There is absolutely no sound theological reason that can explain the forbidding of marriage to ordained clerics.  Then, its handling of the clerical abuse and rape of children by renegade and paedophilic priests - albeit small in numbers, though roughly the same percentage as in lay society - has been atrocious to say the least.  The refusal of the institutional church to "come out with both hands up" and proclaim that there was always a policy of transferring these renegades from parish to parish from the very beginning.  This blatant cover-up added to the proliferation of these dreadful crimes by allowing these criminals free range.  In a sense the Pope should admit this policy.  Of course, the only result of such an admission is immediate resignation of all who conspired in these cover ups icluding the Pope himself, of course.  Now, the institution and its preservation are placed ahead of the sufferings and rights of the ordinary innocent child or indeed ahead of the rights of any Catholic, be he or she religious or lay. 

Bishop James Moriarty is an outstanding man of the cloth - whom it was my great pleasure to meet on many occasions  - resigned his position as Bishop of Kildare and Loughlin almost immediately and he declared that he regretted that he did not stand up against the prevailing culture of silence that reigned in the church during his tenure as an assistant bishop in Dublin.  However, the good Bishop I believe was far too hard on himself - as the others involved did not even deem themselves in anyway culpable - insofar as it is very hard indeed to stand out against a prevailing culture and be that one lone voice calling in the wilderness.  It takes great courage to do so because then one becomes the traitor, the outcast.  There have been films made about whistle-blowers and how hard it is for them to take a stand.  When they do so they are stripped of all the trappings of office etc.  Of course, this means that society must make it relatively easy for whistle-blowers to release the stinking truth.

Of course, one can also see the inertia in other institutions of the State - Politics, Banking and indeed Health.  The last one of these institutions has also covered up much "stinking truth" as well as the all the other institutions, the Church included.  For example The Lourdes Hospital Inquiry - An Inquiry into peripartum hysterectomy at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda - showed the level of collusion among the higher echelons of the medical profession, while a mere lowly midwife was either dismissed, demoted or severely rebuked for attempting to bring the medical malpractice to public light, if my memory serves me well.  It is beyond the scope of these thoughts to say anything about the malpractices of either politicians or bankers, a subject which has been covered ad nauseam in the public media of late.  It is we the ordinary citizens of this country who are footing the disastrously astronomical debts accumulated by what can only be called the reckless gambling of these trwo feckless and corrupt professions or institutions.  Once again, here I am arguing that there is a rotten and stinking inertia within institutions to change, to move on, to have any in-built checks and balances.  There must be in-built checks alright, but there also needs to be checks from without, from outside these institutions.  Also there must be some kind of "whistle-blowing" clauses written into the very fabric of our institutions if they are not to become festering and stinking monolithic structures.

Within all these structures there are the power-brokers who seek to hold on to power above all.  Just look around you at your place of work.  Who are the power brokers?  Who are the ones who defend the institution at all costs?  Who are the ones who are "feathering their own nests" as the cliché rightly puts it? Are there prophets or mavericks anywhere who might blow the whistle on corrupt practices?  It is so easy to point the finger at this or that politician, at this or that bishop, at this or that banker, at this or that surgeon, at this or that speculator.  Maybe we would do the same?  Are you really sure that you have the courage to be a whistle-blower?  Are you not prey to rapacious desires and ingrained greed as are/were all these above mentioned professionals in their various institutions?  What in the end is the price we pay for inertia, dear reader?  Is it our very soul?

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