A conscience in turmoil – reflections!

November 3, 2013 at 4:05 am (Commentary)

After years of being more or less a believing Catholic in my late seventies one is inclined to look at the whole persuasion and wonder.

By in large the religion has always been a burden to me even from my pre-teen years, being saddled with scruples and questions of sinfulness mainly concerning matters of sex. Of course, everything to do with sex for a boy or young man was according to the teaching of the Church a sin. Maybe a wet dream was guiltless?

A thought was never allowed on sexual matters or a hand to wander to forbidden bodily regions. If one did sin in this regard, reconciliation with God, and the Church only came through the sacrament of confession – a process that was always harrowing and humiliating.

The dictates of what was allowed and not allowed in all matters relating to sin particularly in sexual matters came down to the faithful from a clergy sworn to celibacy. Popes, Fathers and Church Councils were those blessed, and only those blessed, with certain and infallible knowledge, in what was right and what was wrong.

Everything the Church taught was instituted by Christ himself, and must be believed as divinely inspired.

From my limited knowledge of the Gospels, I must confess I don’t recall any mention of Christ going around hearing confessions.

We are taught that there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony. Of course New Testament references can be found endorsing each one of these even the Penance/Confession/Reconciliation one – John 20: 23 – “Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”

My gripe is not so much that Biblical references can’t be found for much of what is taught, but the accumulation of so many layers of man-made so called infallible instructions, and directives imposed on the faithful that directly oppose the wisdom of modernity, science and sociology. A prime example of this is the Catholic Church’s attitude to artificial birth control. Also to questions about the ordination of women to the priesthood – one could go on!

My personal tragedy is that I’m a legalistic Catholic in the Anglo Irish Australian form. The primacy of conscience has unfortunately, in my case, been secondary to the teaching of the official church. However, with the advent of Pope Francis there is reason for hope. See a recent piece by William D. Lindsey:


Pope Francis’ apparent endorsement of what in Lindsey’s words: “Aquinas, Newman and Vatican II said about conscience” gives a legalist like me expectancy for a changing church.

What is my state just now? My faith’s strength is very low, but I still feel the obligation to attend weekly Mass, so you can see the rules of the Church are still part of my being. I’m not taking Communion.

On looking back on my past life, I’d have to say that a belief in Catholicism added nothing to my sex life. I somehow resent this now that I have a more rational attitude to affairs of the body, as now unlike the past, I have no opportunities to express myself in this regard.

This leads me to ask the question when seeking forgiveness for sins: Do I have a firm purpose of amendment? But then again in the words of the good book: “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

The Latin races seem to have a healthy relationship with Catholicism by not taking it too seriously.

Before the breakdown of the Communist Party Catholicism and Communism had a lot in common. Phillip Adams spoke of the Twin Religions: Communism and Roman Catholicism. This is probably why ex-Catholics made such good Communists.

I have before me a newspaper cutting from 1934 of a scathing attack on birth control by a Catholic priest: Poison for Bodies and souls – admittedly it is from many years ago, but what a load of drivel it is!     Click on:  Birth Control 1934

Back to my state, I can do no better than to quote the Bard:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate, ….


  1. Antony Ruhan said,

    David and William raise many problems, some explicitly, some implicitly. Some of these problems are comprehensive ones; some are limited in scope. Some are of primary importance; others are secondary. To deal with even one of the latter, e.g. human sexuality, takes us far afield into science and its certain or probable assumptions.

    Some biologists estimate that the world’s population may exceed nine billion by 2050 and that the amount of arable land – and hence the food supply – will not be sufficient. Hence, humans must limit population growth.

    Another part of this problem concerns the human sexual cycle, which has a physical period of about a month, depending on the woman. Since fertility is statistical. e.g. one birth in every 37.9 copulations, to give an imaginary figure, nature prevents fertility (in this contrived example) in 62.1% of unions. So, use of birth control for about two thirds of the time is unnecessary, since nature controls birth without human intervention. The catholic church’s opposition to birth control is unscientific.

    One of the deeper problems is what ‘church’ and ‘church teaching’ mean. It takes us into the ambiguities of time and space. The founder of the christian faith, Jesus Christ, lived more than two thousand years ago and belonged to an eastern culture, affectively and intellectually different from our western one. Jesus spoke Aramaic . So interpretation of his teaching, first into Greek, then into Latin and other European languages and , finally into others of the probably ten thousand existing languages creates deep problems of his original meaning. For example, did the Hebrew word ’emeth’ mean ‘aletheia’ (speculative truth) or ‘pistis’ (trust) in Greek and ‘veritas’ (speculative truth) or ‘fides’ (trust) in Latin? These suggestions just skim over the surface of the problem of Jesus’ meaning.

    Jesus lived in a patriarchal culture, like most eastern cultures today, and used the prevailing idiom. Otherwise he would not have made himself understood. That is one of the basic problems of being incarnate. So, when we pray ‘Our Father’ in English to God, we can’t assume that the masculine noun gives the nearest meaning of what Jesus knew of God. One Aramaic scholar translates ‘Our Father’ as “O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos’. The male-female relation, the affectivity of daily life and its application to mysticism are loaded with ambiguities (which should enrich our lives, not constrict them).

    The problems which David and William have raised in their blogs can’t be adequately dealt with in a blog, so I shall leave their questions still in the air. Where do we get the idea that faith is simple?

  2. deberigny said,

    Antony, many thanks! You have given me a lot to think about. David

  3. David Wall said,

    Faith has to be simple Antony – would a creator who loves his / her creation make it complex and still be a loving being at the same time? That’s not possible or even logical. Jesus spoke very plainly because our hearts can grasp simple truth based on love – truth a child can grasp as well as a man like yourself. The Church is complex, esoteric, confused and full of contradiction especially in regards to sex, so it’s no wonder the Church is lost in that regard both philosophically and in practical terms. I don’t believe either that the mysticism slant of Jesuits is helpful for clearing the fog, does the opposite in my opinion.

  4. David Wall said,

    For clarity what I mean when “mysticism” equals moral relativism.

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