Friday, September 08, 2017

What Rees-Mogg could have said

Every Catholic politician from Parish Councillor up needs to have a rehearsed answer to the 'bloody questions' of today, just as the Jesuits and seminary priests of penal times had a rehearsed answer to the 'bloody question' of penal times (viz.: if the Spaniards invaded to topple Queen Elizabeth, who would you support?).

Today's 'bloody questions' are these:

Is gay sex a sin?

Would you force a woman pregant from incestuous rape to continue with the pregnancy?

The thing about such questions is that they are framed in a slanted way, but if you refuse to answer, it will look not only weasally but also a tacit admission that you hold the most unpopular views possible. In answering them, you have to try to reframe it, but you have to do this in a few words, before you get interrupted. You have about ten seconds, and each ten-second statement must make sense on its own.

I don't claim to be an expert on media engagement - though I have been in the hotseat a handful of times. The point of this post is not to criticise anyone who has no time to think under pressure, but to make some suggestions about how we can think about these things when we do have the chance: in advance.

So, Mr Shaw, is gay sex a sin?

Answer: Sexuality finds its fulfilment within marriage. The fruits of sexuality include the relationship of the couple and children, and these both work best within marriage. Yes I'm talking about heterosexual marriage.

I'd probably be interupted at this point. If they haven't changed the question completely, carry on.

For this reason sex outside the marriage is problematic. 


Morality is not a set of arbitrary rules designed to make our lives difficult. It is about what is ultimately satisfying and fulfilling. I believe that sex outside marriage is bad for people.

What do you say to homosexuals who find fulfillment a loving, stable, long-term relationship?

Other homosexuals think that for their integrity and peace they need to live celibate lives. Others again have multiple partners. It is obvious which ones I agree with.

Now like Jacob Rees-Mogg I have refused to use the form of words which the hostile interviewer wants to put in my mouth: 'gay sex is a sin'. It's not because I (or Rees-Mogg) don't want to affirm this proposition, it is because using those words affirms the interviewer's frame. Once you have said those words, no one has any reason to listen to you any more: you are obviously a bigot.

So, Mr Shaw, you would force a woman pregnant from incesuous rape to have the baby?

The rapist puts this woman into a terrible dilemma: to continue with the pregnancy, or to kill her own child. But killing the child cannot be the way to come to terms with this. It adds another trauma to the trauma of rape.

Don't you think the woman should be allowed to choose what to do?

Women in this situation have all sorts of people offering them advice and help. In practice they are encouraged to have an abortion. Everyone assumes that's what should happen; friends and family often find it easier. But it is the wrong answer. It isn't so easy for the woman, or for the child.

A follow up question (which can be applied to either topic), which Jacob Rees-Mogg found particularly difficult, was about changing the law. The bogey-man the interviewer wishes to conjure up is that of the politician who wishes to impose a lot of legislation on the country which is unacceptable to viewers: this, obviously, makes him unacceptable as a political leader or candidate. Since Catholic politicians do think (or should think) that, for example, unborn children should be protected by law, this is a tricky question. But it is an inevitable question, so what do you say?

So, Mr Shaw, you would change the law to prevent abortions/ gay marriage / whatever?

It is only going to work for Parliament to look again at this issue if there is a change of public feeling. The original legislation was forced on people without proper consultation or thought about the consequences. Now we can see the consequences a bit more we can have a debate, we are having a debate, about it, and you know my position in that debate. But this is clearly going to take time.

These aren't the only possible approaches to these questions, and I expect there are better ones; I offer these simply as a stimulus to further thought and discussion. I agree totally with Rees-Mogg that one can't go on TV and simply blurt out the Catechism: that's not going to get us anywhere. We must be as suble as serpents. But another way of being caught out is to say something which is not quite true, or is misleading.

What did the priests of penal times say to their 'bloody question'? Well, they were forbidden to study or discuss the topic of just rebellion at seminary, and they claimed ignorance and practical indifference to the subject. They insisted, truly, that they had not come to England to preach rebellion, and that they did not do so.

Would it in fact have been just to support an invasion of England by Spain to free England from the terrible persecution of Bloody Bess? Very probably, on any sensible account of the grounds for just rebellion. But they couldn't say that.

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  1. Your answers aren't very BBC Breakfast time audience friendly. I live above an Anglican church in Continental Europe, so - as the token Catholic Brexiteer - I constantly get this sort of thing thrown at me by the youth association on boozy evenings. Here Goes:

    Is Homosexual sex a sin?

    "Look mate - if you're a Catholic, most heterosexual sex is a sin. Yes homosexual sex is a sin but it's not for me to go policing other people's bedrooms. Catholicism is quite distinct from the state. We're not Muslims you know."

    What about raped women and abortions?

    "Seriously sticky wicket. I wouldn't be so utopian as to condemn the individual who procures that procedure under those circumstances. Not even in my own heart. But if you allow abortion for rape, incest, or psychological reasons you simply create a market for crying rape, incest, and psychological stress don't you? So, yes I'd outlaw it under all circumstances (not that I'd be able to, by the way), and, you know, this isn't North Korea - people have passports and can travel abroad. We can get our own house in order here, and that's what I'd want to do. If people travel abroad to break the law - well - there's a law against committing suicide too, and we don't usually lock people up for trying."

    - so you're advocating lawlessness? -

    "Show me a situation which you consider abortion-worthy and I'll show you a situation in which our society would already turn a blind eye to a law that has been broken. I'm advocating a complete shutdown of any facility that can perform an abortion on our own turf."

    Gay Marriage (this is where J R M went seriously awry in my opinion)

    "Personally I have no truck with people who support Gay marriage - I just think it was cruel of the state to rubber stamp their misunderstanding. If the state decree that the colour red shall henceforth be the same as the colour green, I'd hardly get wound up about it - but, as the Catholic Church says, and as the Orthodox and Muslims say - marriage is something that occurs between a man and a woman. I don't think I'd presume to tell Muslims they are wrong here, would you?"


    "no, would you?" etc.

    1. That is a stupid answer as no "Catholic sex" is a sin because it can only take place in a marriage between a man and a woman.

    2. I wish I could say you were right. I'm afraid I've heard of one, if not two, instances of Catholics going astray on this.

    3. Are you sure you want to give away the idea that state support for virtue is out of the question?

    4. As a publican and sinner Im very bad a t being as innocent as a dove , let alone as guileful as a serpeant , but getting a bit of lampoil aboard, Holy Spirit for the use of, (cf wise and foolish maidens ) isn't a bad idea.
      Re "rape exceptionalist"I have God send been the means to sow a seed, but at least they shut up for a bit,"they "being not journalists ,rather fellow teachers and similar pointing out that in Roe vs wade USA , which can always be explained briefly , the woman in the case was instructed BY HER Lawyers to LIE and claim rape.One can give more details .... because there are heartbreaking cases and you do have to be plain an abortion is still the murder of an innocent AND will damage the poor mother themoreso.8 years ago the shamefully treated Mrs Palin was seldom given the opportunity by gotcha journalists to ask if after a rape we should go round to the rapists family and kill all his children?

  2. A problem I've found with the abortion question is that it really hinges on whether the person you're speaking to accepts that an unborn child is a child, or claims instead that a "foetus" is "just a bunch of cells" etc.

    If you can force the person to see it as a question of whether or not to kill a child then you've virtually won, but I for one find it hard to argue that a foetus is a child without bringing in the existence of the soul and so on, by which point I've painted myself into a religious corner.

    Any thoughts on the best way of approaching that scenario?

    1. I say that the unborn child is a separate human being, distinct from its mother, and that there is no point between conception and birth at which any significant change occurs.

      No question of soul, nor of personhood, need apply. The only premise is uncontentious biology.

    2. Yes indeed. The question comes down to whether the protection everyone things should apply to adults, and nearly everyone thinks should apply to small children, should apply to the unborn. It's for them to explain how they make the distinction.

  3. Re: Riddley's question above, and as one of the alternative ways that Dr. Shaw mentioned earlier, I wonder if one way to deal with the question regarding abortion would be to ask questions in response. That way you can get the interviewer to reframe the question without seeming weaselly. So:

    Q: 'Would you force an incestuously raped women to have a baby?'
    A: 'What would alternative would you propose?'
    Q: 'A termination/abortion'.
    A: 'What do you mean by "terminate"/"abort"'
    Q: 'I think you know very well what I mean.'
    A: 'I'm not even sure you know what you mean. What is it that will be terminated?'
    Q: 'A foetus.'
    A: 'Can you define for me what a foetus is? I find most people can't do this, and they shouldn't use words they can't define.'
    Q: (supposing they don't say 'unborn baby', which would be a loss for them) 'It's a human organism at a very early stage of development.'
    A: 'Wait, so you think the right thing to do would be to terminate, and by 'terminate' I take it you mean 'kill', a human organism at an early stage of development? Surely killing a human organism is what we call murder?'
    Q: 'No, the foetus doesn't have a right to life - it's just a clump of cells.'
    A: 'Surely you think all humans are just clumps of cells? Unless you want to say adults have a soul, but I think we should leave your religious views out the abortion debate.'
    Q: 'Yes, but a foetus is at an early stage.'
    A: 'Why does that make a difference? Newborns are at an early stage. Foetuses after 24 weeks are at any early stage, but it's illegal to abort them.'

    Anyway, you get the idea. Of course they would probably have to end the interview long before this. They might try the: 'I'm asking the questions' or 'Why are you trying to avoid the question?' response. I imagine a reply here might be: 'I can't answer a question that isn't clear, and I'm trying to get clear on what you're asking, as you seem confused', or the old 'Have you stopped beating your wife?' and if they try to avoid answering 'yes' or 'no' replying with 'Why are you trying to avoid giving me a straight answer?'

    1. Yes me too. Although if he'd been on his toes he might have said, in accordance with the older usage, that what is 'terminated' is the pregnancy.

  4. 1. Adultery is always a sin.Whether by natural law or Decalog,homosexuality is a sin/disorder.
    2.A baby is completely innocent of his or her personal sins. You don't kill someone because of his parents mistakes! Abortion is murder in ALL cases.
    3. There are only Catholics, not liberal or conservative Catholics.You do not get to pick and choose what suits you.Piers Morgan may consider himself Catholic but Jesus would say"Get away from me Satan,I never knew you.",which perhaps all of us here may find to be true.You believe all the teachings or not.If not, you're a heretic. Like it or lump it the Church is not a democracy.
    Mogg like all faithful Catholics does not want to go to hell. There are severe consequences to disbelief. The Four First Things,the Last Four Things.

    1. What I would have done is ask more questions from Morgan...we need more offense in our discussions rather than hanging on the ropes as if what we believe is some dirty little little secret. To hell with that. If you truly believe what Jesus said, people we care about are going to hell. For real! It's not a game. Otherwise,why bother.Then Jesus is apparently a liar so why bother.Theres no opting out in these stupid word games. Stop playing footsie with the devil. Say what you mean and mean what you say

    2. Anonymous12:47 am

      I like your comment, Rural Catholic, and I agree about more attack.

    3. 'Abortion is murder in ALL cases.' In point of fact, abortion is murder in NO cases, and never has been. Murder is a common law offence but is generally held to mean the unlawful killing of a person who is in being and under the Queen's peace, with malice aforethought. 'In being' means born alive.

      Abortion is a criminal offence if not covered by the 1967 Act, and there is the separate offence of child destruction which applies to the unborn. This would also criminalize so-called partial birth abortion.

      The moral precepts are clear enough, and inaccurate and emotive language doesn't help.

  5. I am NOT going to tolerate your spamming, Lionel.

  6. Good post. But the interviewer in your imagined interrogation is surprisingly polite! Why doesn’t he persist: “Yes, Mr Shaw, I understand perfectly well that you think that a fruitful marriage between a man and a woman is the very best thing, but, to repeat my question, do you think that gay sex is a sin?” And when you tried to avoid answering directly he’d have said, “well then, it’s clear from your silence that you are against gay relationships, and really, that’s just your opinion against anyone else’s, isn’t it? You can’t tell other people how to live their lives.” He will believe that your argument rests on your own authority; your assertion that it’s all about natural law wouldn’t cut any ice. Diversity is the new natural.

    Jacob Rees-Mogg dodged the bullet by saying that in these matters he follows the teachings of the Catholic Church, and when pressed with “ah, but the Church says gay sex is a sin!” responded with the Parable of the Woman Taken in Adultery: “the Church commands me not to cast the first stone”. Clever - if not perhaps entirely honest. Be that as it may, this strategy earned him a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. It’s a kind of inverted Catch-22. The Church tells him what to believe and the Church also tells him not to be judgemental. Ta-dahhh! His political career is saved. Let’s hope he becomes the country’s first Catholic First Minister since… Reginald Pole. Or is it Tony Blair? Only kidding.

  7. I think N and Rural Catholic are on the right track with answering these questions with questions. My prepping for this goes along the lines of:
    Q. Would you restrict the right of a woman to have an abortion if she has been raped?
    A. Is life sacred, however you wish to define sacred, as a gift from God or a natural right/'Human Right'? and... When does life start? The only logical and 'scientific' answer I can give is that philosophically life is sacred and scientifically it starts at conception.

    Regarding the other 'bloody question' it is a little more problematic as we have the problem of a change in definition of words and differing philosophy. Sex is the two types of humans, male and female and is not the conjugal act. Gender is ether an exact synonym for the word sex as previously defined or it is part of the construct of written and oral language and has nothing to do with life. Sexuality is therefore the demonstration of the reality of what sex is; the relationship between a man and a woman in the correctly ordered circumstances not categorical as is often portrayed in the ever extending alphabet of 'LGBT'.
    To answer the question:
    Q. Is 'gay sex' wrong?
    A. Please can you define ‘gay’ and ‘sex’ for me? I think I will philosophically disagree with your definition. I do not subscribe to gender theory but a more classical definition of the relational and procreative nature of the conjugal act.

    Getting the philosophical and scientific words in can help to put your interlocutor off guard. One can then move the questioning away from those 'bloody questions' and towards more basic definitions which might be more fruitful such as what is a man and a woman, why are we here, what is sexual intercourse for, when does life start etc.
    I'm sure there is work to be done to improve our preparedness of these situations. To answer any accusations of ‘Homophobia’ I would say that I can’t hate something I don’t think exists, but then they could say QED. I have been trying to come up with an analogy and the closest I could think of is that of a pure atheist. An atheist doesn’t think he hates God or any idea of gods because he doesn’t think He/they exist. I know there are some holes in this analogy, work in progress. Any ideas? We can so easily fall into a modern thinking about the sexes, sexual intercourse and sexuality. We should fight both internally and externally any notion that we are ‘heterosexual’ or any other '___sexual', this really is not our language and we shouldn’t use it unless in a quote. I therefore have a problem with the use of ‘heterosexual marriage’ I am not prepared to give ground in the definition of a word; it is a form of linguistic adultery.

    1. Some modern terms you challenge are being used as euphemisms for things the cheerleaders of the sexual revolution are uncomfortable about. If you challenge them on their use of terms like "sex" (for the act of) you may have to make clear what is really going on here. The first person who is forced to admit; "this isn't sex: it is masturbation in somebody else's body parts" has made themselves anathema in the public sphere. To some extent we all join in the pretence just to stay in the argument.

    2. I agree with what you are saying, by asking for definitions it’s more about wrestling control of the conversation to your advantage rather than getting into a rabbit warren of definitions. It’s not per say the words that matter or even the definitions that are paramount but whether we can communicate with someone the differing philosophical assumptions we are working under. I suppose one way of at least carving out a space to talk about these issues is to try to get an acknowledgement that our opposition is not from some bigoted, self-interested point of view but a genuine philosophical difference. If we can discuss the underlying philosophical assumptions, I think this is the key to demolishing this false edifice of Gender Theory. This is not easy, from first hand experience with arguing with people they assume abortion is the bigger problem for you existing in this society rather than the Gender stuff. They are correct in that abortion takes life but so does Gender Theory lead people way from God. But… Being against abortion at worst makes you look a bit mean to people who are, I acknowledge, in a very difficult position but standing up against Gender Theory is so much more difficult because if it goes wrong it is a criminal offence and has landed people in jail or losing their jobs. This is why attacking the underlying assumptions of Gender Theory is the safest route and probably the most effective route.

      Remember what is principally underling most people’s unconscious views on this; “what would I do or want if I found myself in this position or how would I want it to feel if someone close to me ‘came out’”. They want to assuage any feelings of guilt or disgust and make life go on pursuing the only logical goal of a secular life, that of happiness.

      When arguing with people who won't or are unable to conceive of a philosophical construct outside of their own, we have a big challenge on our hands. I can conceive of a world that is purely physical and therefore see how an atheist looks at a philosophical problem. I can see how the underlying beliefs of a Muslim might cause him to carries out violent attacks. I can see how utilitarian thinking drives most people's decision making in our society today. The problem I have is that unless I can convince someone that I am thinking differently they will dismiss me and shriek ‘Bigot!’ and the conversation ends.

  8. What Mr. Rees-Mogg did get across is that, as a Catholic, he holds a certain set of beliefs—and that, as Fr. Z is wont to say, is not nothing. That Mr. Rees-Mogg's beliefs comport with service to God cannot be gainsaid in this islamomanic age without calling religious freedom into question. And that, unlike islam, Catholic beliefs comport with right reason trumps the islamomaniacs (to say nothing of the many other parties hostile to the reasonable service of God).

    Most important in the current instance, I think, is the calm presence of Mr. Rees-Mogg's witness in response to the interviewers' provocative salvo, rather than whatever technical shortcomings that witness might have displayed. The conversation that this interview has engendered will, one hopes, continue for some time, and Dr. Shaw's well-stated talking points will not lie fallow in future installments.

  9. In complete agreement. We need forums for experimenting with styles of answers, in the vein of Dr Shaw's, and in the calm manner of Mr Rees-Mogg. With such ammunition to hand, we need to test it under fire. I have been under fire from crowds of screaming banshees on occasion; there are certain tacks that cut through the noise, though not on every occasion. Our Lord eventually chose silence.

    Is there a school for practical engagement in apologetics and debating the media?

  10. Those answers are just as confused and obfuscating as Rees-Mogg's. 'But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil' (Matthew 5.37). We know what Our Lord would have said and pretty much any Catholic prior to V2.

  11. What you seem to forget, Dr Shaw, is that (unlike your blog) Mr Rees Mogg had only the questions put to him to answer - & that in a very short space of time. I wonder how you would have coped in such a situation? Quite badly I suspect.
    Many I also add that the title of your blog is "LMS Chairman" &, although (in very small print) you admit that what you say is your personal opinion, I wonder how many people seeing the blog title assume (often wrongly) that your ramblings represent the stance of the LMS. If the LMS were to claim that this were the case then I would immediately cancel my LMS membership.
    My suggestion for a new blog title might be "Dr Joe's Ramblings"

    1. '
      You missed this paragraph, David.

      'I don't claim to be an expert on media engagement - though I have been in the hotseat a handful of times. The point of this post is not to criticise anyone who has no time to think under pressure, but to make some suggestions about how we can think about these things when we do have the chance: in advance.'