Two sides of Mercy

Christianity claims to be merciful. And indeed, for believers who have no problem with the awkward concepts “original sin”, “immaculate conception”, “resurrection”, etc., who are happily married, give birth to healthy children, and who don’t have to steal to feed their young, the mercy of Christianity may well be a blessing. Caring for their loved ones, generating waves of well-being around them, being loved and cared for in return, some of them may well be happier than most.

But for those believers who have AIDS or bear more children than they can feed (due to the ban on  contraception) or who are homosexual, or who take abortion or, for that matter, don’t take abortion although they desperately need to, purgatory will not wait till the afterlife.

Lunging at the Catholic Church is not my agenda. No sir! It’s just that in my initially Protestant country, Christianity has all but disappeared. Before it gave way to rationalism, much of the country was straight-backed, mirthless, harsh and petty. People were poorer in my childhood than now and often unforgiving, unhappy and far from blessed. Pleasures of the senses were Satan’s temptations, and I have childhood memories of a joyless community with a starkly plain church –  even the music was plain. Fear was everywhere; fear of the dark, the trees, the neighbours, your parents, the headmaster…

No wonder, then, that my compatriots preferred rationalism. Protestantism was unlovely.

My agenda is neither the Catholic nor the Protestant faith. I am reading Anthony Burgess, and I have read my Graham Green. They have both written about failed Catholics, outcasts from the church, who never ceased to grieve over their lost faith. Though I have never been Catholic or Protestant, I grieve with them.

In my post-protestant, secular surroundings, rationality is Law. True, we do see church weddings, mostly – I dare say – thanks to female vanity. True, some children still get baptised, mostly as a matter of hedging bets – as the parents explain: “there is no harm in being on the safe side”. And yes, people still celebrate Christmas. Apart from that, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that the majority of my compatriots are preoccupied with other than temporal concerns.

Concepts such as “faith” carry little weight. These are secular times. We are proud of being analytic, educated. We make so-called informed and rational decisions. We try to apply good sense even in our choices of partners – no sentimental baulking at considerations of the candidate’s income and medical status, after all, taking a partner is much like buying life insurance. Passion is defined as “just sex”, idealism is sniggered at, and “eternal love” is wistfully relegated to  Hollywood.

Now religion, on the other hand, does things differently. Burgess describes a young Catholic male coming home for Christmas to an adoring younger sister with shining eyes and a graceful mother with a soft contralto voice, to smells of a house full of imminent Christmas goodies, eager expectations of traditions including communion in the local village mass, followed by the falling apart of everything when it is revealed that he is homosexual. The church condemns and abhors what he is and what he does, since he refuses to promise to refrain from being what he is and doing what he cannot help doing.

The failure, to my mind, is not the young man, the failed Catholic. The failure is the Church. Its flocks need  – above all  – kindness, need to learn to be kind, need at least to try not to be unkind, need to believe that there is goodness beyond the absolutely ludicrous horrors mankind seems to insist on perpetrating.

While rationality is a fine thing, we have abused it to strip our lives of all that is transcendental. I think we need a rethink: How to reconcile rationality with the irrational, which will never go away, no matter how we deny its existence? How to marry the two and beget transcendental, rational offspring? I really think the Church – Catholic and Protestant – has missed its mark by a mile, failing to understand even a fraction of the modern mind, in the West or in the East or South, certainly in the North.