Return of the Homophiles

In a recent article for the Catholic Herald of London, Eve Tushnet argues that the Church has a stark choice. Either she must accept out-and-proud gay men and women as they are or, failing that, she must risk losing them to apostasy or suicide.

Ms. Tushnet asserts that any efforts to help men to deal with unwanted sexual thoughts, attractions, and behaviors are doomed not only to failure but to causing harm. She says, “The alternative to conversion therapy is not a better psychiatric theory or a more traditional prayer regime. The alternative is offering gay people a Catholic future that does not depend on becoming straight.”

In this way, Ms. Tushnet says the Church must support “gay Catholics who come out.” She then invokes the friendship of David and Jonathan as models for gay Catholics. (Gays have a habit of claiming historical figures for their cause.) Underscoring the tendency of gays to misunderstand the institution, Tushnet says such a friendship for gays can be “as beautiful and committed as marriage.”

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Those Victorian-style prayer cards can be intensely reassuring

Those Victorian-style prayer cards can be intensely reassuring

There are half a dozen in front of me as I write – prayer cards, the kind of holy picture that people would once slip into their prayer books. Now that churchgoers tend not to use them, it’s hard to see their modern function, except in the form of remembrance cards for the dead, which bereaved families might give to well wishers. But the point of the cards is they have pictures of Our Lord, Our Lady or the saints, of a very particular kind: pretty, gentle on the eye and redolent of a kind of piety that has almost vanished from the world. They are Victorian in character and mostly in derivation; without exception, sentimental.

As a child I used to collect them – and there were plenty. Our Lady of Fatima or of Lourdes was popular, but so too were St Francis or St Joseph or the Christ child. The six cards before me are from the pretty prayer book my mother had as a child, published in 1928, and some of them are inscribed to her. The picture on the cover of the prayer book is similar in character: it is Christ the Good Shepherd, with a pink robe over his tunic, bearing a lamb, as he opens the door to the sheep shelter for his flock.

I thought it beautiful as a child. And I still do, even though I can see as an adult that it’s dreadful art … sentimental, prettified, with Christ’s expression meek to a fault. Yet for a child it was enormously pleasing: I liked the mild expression on the holy face, I liked the pink robes, I liked the obedient sheep and the sweet little lamb and the sunny countryside at the back. Sentimental pictures are design­ed precisely to evoke sentiment; the sent­iment being intense empathy and softness of heart. You felt without knowing that you should identify with the lamb.

Bad art in this sense of being pretty without rigour and shamelessly emotionally exploitative serves a useful spiritual purpose. It draws the eye of simple and unsophisticated people and children, and inculcates a particular kind of piety. It is impossible to feel fear before these images; they are intensely reassuring. Among my mother’s cards is one of St Francis holding up Christ on the Cross as the Saviour bends down from the cross to him. Christ here is graceful, not torn; his movement towards Francis is an embrace. There are none of the terrors of the Passion here but it has, nonetheless, a powerful emotional charge.

Then there is another image, of the Christ Child, again in pink bearing a lamb and holding out a branch to his recumbent sheep. That too draws the eye of a child. “Jesus, divine child, come reign in my soul” is the prayer and the bright colours and the sweetness of the expression drew me for a long time. Another picture of the Christ child shows him standing solemn, against a pleasing green backdrop with green palms, holding an open book with Alpha and Omega on opposite pages. The face is of a doll, expressionless but sweet and grave. In Latin underneath it says,” Learn from me … for I am meek and humble of heart.”  A further different Christ child with lambs – this was plainly a running motif for children’s religious pictures – shows him seated, with a luminous IHS above, a cross illumined at his back and  doves at his side and feet and a lily to one side. It is tranquil, expressive of trust on the sheep’s side, and of holiness on the part of the child.

These pictures do their job extraordinarily well. They are intended to help make the recipient feel love, not fear, for Christ, and those images – their smallness adds powerfully to their appeal – are an admirable aid to affective spirituality, with the viewer intended to feel that the images are hers or his. The one of St Joseph carrying the Christ child, with lilies galore, would be intolerable to a grown up with any claim to artistic sensibility, but that is not the person they are intended for; they are to inculcate gentle veneration in those who are not too clever to be pleased by sweetness. The nearest equivalent in respectable art is perhaps Murillo, or Greuze if he were to do devotional art.

These cards are, like plaster statues, redolent of a vanished piety. But they are moving precisely because they are for the childlike. And for such as these is the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Those Victorian-style prayer cards can be intensely reassuring

A horrific incident shows why many Indian Christians live in fear

A father and son, P Jayaraj, 58, and Emmanuel Benicks, 31, committed two offences in the eyes of the officers who arrested them. They were late closing their shop during the coronavirus curfew, and they were Christians. These crimes led to their horrific death in custody and what some are calling India’s George Floyd moment.

Protesters took to the streets to demand justice after both men died in the same government hospital a day apart following their arrests on June 19. Harrowing reports claim they died from appalling internal injuries sustained through sexual assaults committed by police officers using batons.

Emmanuel died on June 22 and his father died the next day. They belonged to the Protestant Church of South India. Ten police officers have been arrested and the case is being investigated by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.

The men were from the Nadar Christian community in Sathankulam, Tamil Nadu. According to church groups, officers within the town have been implicated in other persecution crimes. In February, the same police station arrested a Christian pastor and eight others following a complaint from a Hindu-nationalist group that they disturbed social peace with Christian worship and preaching. They were beaten and the pastor and two other Christians were hospitalised for serious injuries.

Human rights groups say that anti-Christian sentiment in India is stoked by a Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer group called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP, the ruling party led by prime minister Narendra Modi, is its political wing. Founded nearly 100 years ago, RSS has profound­ly shaped Indian society and politics – and Modi himself.

The Rev Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) which monitors anti-Christian hate crimes, says that since Modi came to power in 2014, Christian persecution has rocketed. Even in lockdown EFI has received regular reports, which include murder, rape and beatings. Before 2014 between 80 and 100 events were registered each year. In 2018 there were over 350 reports and last year there were over 360.

“This year we have already had over 140 undocumented cases. If the lockdown had not happened there would be even more. India is boiling right now as far as minorities are concerned,” said Lal.

Just last month the EFI received reports that a woman had been murdered in a remote village. “Off the record people close to her say she was killed because she was Christian, but they would never admit it on the record for fear of reprisals,” says Lal.

EFI receives regular reports of church services being disrupted and priests and pastors being beaten. Nine Indian states have passed anti-conversion laws forbidding baptism without government permission or conversion to Christianity without written permission given 30 days in advance. Some states enforce these laws with sentences stricter than those for rape.

“These are used as a convenient excuse to target Christians,” explained Lal.

The latest state set to implement anti-conversion laws is the country’s most populous, Uttar Pradesh, led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, notorious for his inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims and Christians especially.

For Christians throughout India, life has become increasingly difficult, particularly for those with names that denote their religious heritage. Many change their names and hide their beliefs in public. “People are worried,” said Lal. “You have to be subdued in public. Many people I know take care not to reveal they are Christian.”

He is calling for the international community to put more pressure on the Indian Government.

“The Indian constitution provides for religious freedoms. The problem is they are rarely ever implemented, and the spirit of the constitution is rarely ever present in the people. Over the years there have been voices internationally who have tried to raise the issue. They seem to be missing now because business interests with India are valued more than the right of religious freedom.”

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