By ROSEMARY SHEED
GAVIN LYALL has been doing some articles in the "Sunday Times" which are hairraising. to say the least, about the slums in Britain. There arc, he says, at a conservative estimate. one million slums in the country now, while other houses are degenerating into slums all the time.
The accounts he gives of some of the places he has visited —
where six families are sharing one lavatory (often out of repair), a family with four children living in one room twelve foot by eight (technically. only just "overcrowded-) arc as bad as anything one reads about D.P. camps, and seem as far from any solution.
While people are living like that, it is meaningless to talk of there being no real poverty in the Welfare State. If you are unable to live decently, to raise your family in dignity, then you are poor in fact, however large your pay packet, however generous your sickness benefit. And, as one of our correspondents pointed out a few weeks ago. it is also meaningless to talk to them about the evils of contraception. Nothing could be a greater affront to human dignity than for society to permit men to live thus.
If animals were kept in such conditions, the R.S.P.C.A. would be able to remove them by force of law.
As Catholics we make great claims about how strongly we uphold the integrity and sacredness of the family. And so we do. In theory But to talk of the splendour of Christian marriage to people who lack the basic necessities of civilised life must seem little more than cruel mockery.
THE CHOSEN PEOPLE
RECENTLY, Arnold Toynbee wrote an article in the "Observer" saying how he hates to hear any group talk of being the chosen people, of having the only right religion. This feeling is shared by a great many people today, and it is worth looking at it closely.
In the past, everyone thought his own religion right; true religious (as opposed to semi-political) persecution was simply an expression of this fact.
Nowadays we all agree that persecution is wrong. But whereas Catholics still hold their beliefs to he right. but now recognise that persecuting other people is a wrong and unjust way of indicating it. most other people think that it simply does not matter what you believe as long as it helps you, and as tong as you do right. And this. I think. is one of the most fundamental distinctions between ourselves and the rest of the world today. To us it seems no more arrogant to say that the Pope is infallible than it is to say that the grass is green.
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WE do not believe doctrines because we find them helpful or beautiful, but because we think they are true. But there are two very important points to note.
The first is that we must realise that we do appear arrogant in the world of to-day; if we seem so to as well-informed a man as Professor Toynbee, how much more so must we seem to those who know nothing about the Church.
The second, and more important point, is that we must be quite clear that what we state as fact is actually the essential teaching of the Church, and not something inessential — like the law about cremation, or the celebacy of the clergy — and that we do not try to prove that everything in the garden is, and always has been, lovely.
When Fr. Vincent McNabb was asked how he would defend the Spanish Inquisition on a C.E.G. platform, his reply was, "I should not dream of defending it".
As long as we remember that there are some things we should not, and others we need not, defend in the history and practice of the Church, then we can set about the business of trying to explain our "arrogance" to the outside world.
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IN the May issue of "Encounter", -• there is a quite fascinating article about the Encylopaedia Business, with special reference to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. To judge from this. anyone who is thinking of spending large sums to broaden his child's mind (the great advertising line), by investing in one of them, had better pause and consider.
The author, who is preparing a full-length book on the subject (lest he he accused of being cursory) points out instances of articles which contradict each other. and even contradict themselves; instances of articles which have remained unchanged since 1910 and even 1875 — despite the claim that the work is continually being revised; and instances where the encyclopaedia's audience seems to have been forgotten in an effort to impress the writer's .colleagues. with mathematical and scientific formulae that only advanced specialists could possibly understand (and certainly not the child Whose mind the advertisements so long to broaden')
You have been warned.