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December 1999

Taken from the author's Foundation for Freedom (Catholic Social Guild, 1951). Fifty years on, is the home-schooling movement the final refuge of the family before the new totalitarians?

THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE
Father Paul Crane, S. J.

"…and so, going into the dwelling, they found
the child there, with his mother Mary…"
MATTHEW 2:11


SOME years ago before the war I was travelling back to London from the country on a Sunday evening in the summer. I was in one of those slow trains, which stopped at every station to pick up those who had travelled into the country from London by cheap day return to pass a day, perhaps, with friends or relatives or, more probably, to spend their Sunday picnicking. I was alone in my carriage - which will not surprise those of you who realise how shy the English are of the Roman collar - until, at one of these country stations, the door of my carriage opened and three people got in - a young workingman, the girl who was his wife, and, in her arms, a baby. They were very young. They were flushed with happiness. Rarely in my life have I seen such deep, radiant joy as I saw on the faces of that family. You know how infectious real happiness is; how it fills you when you see it deep in another; how, at such moments, everything seems to sing. That is how it was with them. They did not say very much, but just kept looking at each other and smiling at each other and then looking at the baby and smiling at each other again. I do remember a word or two of the father - spoken once when he sat looking with pride at the baby after he had made at it one of those rather ineffective "passes", which fathers make at their children, uncertainly and with great devotion, when they are young and in their mother's arms. "My son John," he said smiling, "my son John" and, as he said those words there was a brightness about the three of them and I was taken back to the manger at Bethlehem where the Shepherds found a Baby lying on straw with His Mother beside Him, looking down with her husband on the Son that was theirs. "The Holy Family," I said to myself, "would have been very like these three." That thought, added to the quiet attraction of their goodness, gave to the family before me a dignity at once quiet and compelling. At that moment I, saw deep - you know those moments when conviction is burnt in on you; when intuition replaces argument to blind you, almost, with the brightness of a particular truth. It was like that with me as I watched the working lad and his young wife sitting on the seat of a rather dirty railway carriage with their baby between them. "Here," I said to myself, "is something sacred. This is the mainspring of everything. If you destroy it or make life more difficult for it, society will go to pieces. This is something that can never be supplanted without catastrophe. On its fate depends the future of civilization."

A Dying People
That was no sentimental musing. There is, at least, one undeniable and obvious sense in which the family is basic, the first line of defence of those values on whose preservation our society depends for survival. If the family dies out; if children are not born because not wanted, then society will most obviously shrivel and die. That, surely, is plain. Let parents everywhere carry selfishness to the point where they refuse to have children and then society begins to die out. For it cannot survive unless children are born, and a refusal to have children, therefore, means that a people pronounces sentence of death on itself. That is what this country is doing. We are a dying people, refusing to have children and murdering so many whilst they are yet unborn; dressing up the murder - as is the habit of the English - in a nice sounding phrase to conceal the brutality of the killing; and then, with a high-abortion rate, pointing a sententious finger at Ireland because its infant mortality rate is higher than ours. At least in that country they do not kill the unborn child. But, to return to my theme - we are a dying people and the dying is caused mainly by birth control, which is motivated in most cases by selfishness. To conceal that unpleasant fact from themselves the English call the whole process "family planning". It does not conceal the reality, which is that our nation is rotting away. One estimate has it that by 1971, if present trends continue, there will be 9,500,000 old people in this country to be supported by 29,000,000 men and women of working age. Given the materialism responsible for this state of affairs, is it far-fetched to suggest that, when such a point is reached, propaganda in favour of euthanasia will be stronger than ever amongst the able-bodied? Why should it not be so? To a materialist mentality it will come easily as the only alternative to economic collapse and, provided its operation is painless and tidy, it will square ethically with a mentality that associates immorality with open violence and inhumanity with an existence that is physically uncomfortable.

The decline is upon us: its course is acknowledged by all as due to the practice of birth control, most of which is effected by contraceptives. Catholics, I am afraid, are not free from its taint. As long ago as 1934 the Catholic family in England was barely of a size sufficient to replace itself. The position is still the same today and seems due in many cases to what an English Catholic bishop has called a compromise with conscience. With him Dr. H. P. Newsholme, a distinguished Catholic doctor, at one time chief medical officer of health for the city of Birmingham, appears to be in complete agreement. Writing on this point a year ago he said:-

"There has, in fact, been exposed to our troubled gaze, an ulcer in the body Catholic, an ulcer poisonous to Catholic life in many directions. What is needed is the cautery, whether of human discipline, or of the divine discipline of the Holy Spirit, cleansing, renewing health of outlook, and giving insight and strength of purpose whereby these Catholic couples can recognize and follow the way of married life which God intends for them."

There is room, therefore, for heart-searching amongst Catholics; for the realization that few things are worse than that act which frustrates nature to deny life, so shutting from the glory of the vision of God the child that can never be born. Those who perpetrate it are the hollow ones, bearing about them the mark of that selfishness, which is their guiding principle. So they become shrivelled even in youth, without the bloom in their lives that fullness brings. Frustration they have chosen and with it restlessness; condemning their own lives to the weariness that selfishness brings and their country to the slow decay that brought France to her knees in 1940 with hardly a blow being struck against her. There is no vision amongst those who practise birth-control, and where vision is lacking the people perish: adventure and enterprise go from their lives and with it eventually the will to survive. Listless and weary they wait for death.

Family Values: Life-giving Love
The process which destroys the family follows the abdication of those very values, which it is the family's task to teach to its members. A nation loses its soul when its people cease to desire that fullness, which the right exercise of freedom brings in its train. Such a decline points to a failure on the part of the family to teach those values, which must be freely adhered to if men would achieve fine living. Thus we see that the teaching role of the family is all-important. It is meant not merely to breed men, but to set them on the path to the good life, which is the fruit of freedom rightly used. For freedom is not an end in itself. It is the means to an ultimate end, which, for each of us, is the fulfilment of ourselves in the service of God.

Home (to put the whole thing in terms that we understand best) is the place where the good things are taught: they can be taught adequately, we know, in no other. And we need the good things - to know them and love them and fully adhere to them - because in doing all three our service of God consists. In a word, we are meant to lead good lives - such that they show by the splendour of their living something of the splendour that is God - and we do that to the extent that we model our own on the life of Christ Our Lord. If you examine His life in the Gospels you will see that love was its core. He never sought Himself. He never rested whilst others could be helped. He never got irritated and annoyed. You will never find that He thought of Himself. He was always giving Himself to other people. We are meant to do the same, to turn to others and love them as He did and for His sake, which does not mean coldly and with aloofness, but warmly and without thought for ourselves. A person who loves like that stands out amongst his fellows. He is always at peace and his happiness goes very deep, precisely because it is the last thing he thinks about. He has something which the selfish really yearn for, but which they cannot get because they try and find it always in themselves. There is strength about such a one and depth. A nation peopled with men, who try at least to love like that is acquainted with peace and happiness: it will defend its freedom, which it sees correctly as the key to that fullness, which is the source of both. It will hold the family in high regard, -striving always to encourage its standards: lacking altogether the arrogant insolence that tries to supplant it. It will see that the Christian family is its strength, breeding the love which gives a people life; without which it will certainly die.

The family is unique in its power to instil love. In its circle you have that beautiful unselfish giving, which draws husband and wife closer and closer together as the years go by; which shows itself in the sacrifices they are always making for each other and for the children, who are the fine fruit of their loving. In such love you have greatness, a kind of living unknown to those who have never known what it is to share joy and sorrow with another loved beyond words, trusted utterly, for whom no gift is too precious. Between Christian parents that love is found and by them imparted to their children. In such a family you find strength and great happiness. A nation composed of such families is a nation at peace, unselfish and without the hate cast by self-seeking. Just think for a moment of the difference that would be made to the life of this country if, in it, one found less selfishness and more of that steady generosity towards others, which is so fine an expression of the love that is found in the Christian home. Take, for a moment, the case of industry itself

To me it is extraordinary that when men step over their thresholds to go to work in the morning, they drop the Christian attitude taught and preserved in many homes and adopt one that is unworthy of a Christian to say the very least. Behind them at home they leave love and trust and self-reliance. At work they exchange these for active dislike - sometimes, even, hatred - suspicion and a slavish willingness to follow the crowd. At home there is no machinery for the settlement of disputes because disputes there are the exception and not the rule. Why is conciliation machinery found in industry? Because in it disputes are accepted as normal, as the rule and not the exception. And why is this? Because in industry, men regard themselves, not as co-operating together to serve each other, but, as belonging to one "side" or other. There are no "sides" in the Christian family. Instead there is a unity that is the fruit of love. There is no unity in industry because in it there is no love and no unselfishness. Thus those who oppose each other on what one is forced to call the industrial battlefield seek to prove by strength there that might is right. In doing so they display a mentality closer to that of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin than to that of Christ Our Lord.

In the international field that mentality has led to two wars in my generation. As likely as not it will lead to another. In the industrial field its legacy is perpetual friction and dispute. So

class-war is tearing us to pieces at a time when unity (the fruit of loving co-operation) is more important, if possible, than ever before: and this dismal process of industrial strife will go on until men have the courage, to take the standards that govern the family into the field of industrial life - until, quite frankly, both sides cease using their strength in a futile attempt to prove who is right and have the honesty and courage to ask themselves what is right and to act accordingly. That is what the family does. That is what capital and labour must do if they would bring peace to industry and, with peace, the freedom that brings fulfilment. That way lies strength, dignity, true greatness - all flowing from the unity, itself the fruit of love, that must be sown, to be lasting, in the quiet of the Christian home. Once again we see that the family is basic, the cradle of liberty because it teaches those values, which must be adhered to if a people is to find fulfilment in the unity of love and, finding it, be resolute in defence of the freedom from which it flows.

The Christian Home: Totalitarian Target
What I have just said is simple and yet, like so many simple points, it is constantly overlooked by the bustling eager reformers of today. So few of them base their so-called programmes on the deep truth that the family is the basis of society. Far from regarding it as fundamental, they tend to regard it as one of many institutions, which they investigate and write about as social curiosities and nothing more. They go further. Their inclination, in the words of a distinguished Catholic commentator on the Population Report is "to treat parents and the family group as a pawn in population-planning, whilst in appearance treating them as an object of solicitude in family planning". According to its terms of reference, the Commission responsible for that Report (which will long stand as a classic example of the secularist approach to public life) determined at 6 per cent the increase in population to be attained by the people of England and Wales. To attain this end and to keep it at a steady level after attainment, "married couples", in the words of Dr. H. P. Newsholme, "are to be exploited - the word is scarcely too strong - as a convenience for the nation, in fulfilment of a paper concept of what should be the nation's proper size, on an assessment based on purely secular and material considerations". You see the attitude - a population level is decided on as something to be planned for, the implication being that parental desire and duty are secondary to State policy; that the family is meant to serve the State; that it is something to be manipulated by State planners to suit their own design. In this case the design is a level of population to be secured through the cultivation of average-sized families (not big families because it is held that children of large families don't respond satisfactorily to intelligence tests!) and the way chosen to secure this end is a combination of economic and social assistance (to induce the voluntarily childless to have children) and contraceptive practice (to induce those who love children and want plenty of them to have less). The easy arrogance behind all this is devastating. Yet this is not a summary of Soviet population policy. I am not giving you a reading from Huxley's Brave New World. This is a presentation to the British public of an objective considered as desirable (and of the means chosen to achieve that objective) by a Royal Commission on Population. At the head of that Commission stood the present Professor of Economics at Oxford University. Studying the appalling secularism of the Report for which he and his colleagues are responsible, one cannot but reflect on the remoteness of its conclusions from the motto of the University to which his services are given. You remember it? The words are most beautiful: "Dominus Illuminatio Mea".

In the secularism of the Report on Population you have one instance of an insidious trend in this country that is directed against the family and all it means. Another, in my own personal opinion, is provided by the increasing tendency to legislate for all our needs and requirements from the cradle to the grave. Leaving aside the grave and the thought (so dear to the heart of the planner) of the dull symmetry of the State coffins in which, presumably, we are all to be buried - leaving aside this end of the business, let us turn to the cradle side of the experiment and ask ourselves how State nurseries are to be reconciled with the intimacy of parental care; State intrusion with the rightful privacy of the home; State assumption of responsibility with that which natural law and the whole tradition of the West place on mother and father and children. I cannot see how reconciliation is possible: nor, presumably, can the Irish bishops; and I am given great confidence by this stand of a whole hierarchy against State intrusion. [Ed. Tragically, as elsewhere, the reverse is true in Ireland today. See Feb. 1999 CO].

To me it seems that the social arrangements of today are tending to rob the family of self-reliance, responsibility and independence and strip it of the very qualities it is meant to foster - qualities, which make for fullness of living, without which a nation grows old and weary and sterile, lacking altogether the will to survive. Yet this is the arrangement we have imposed on ourselves and its advocates claim that, by doing so, we have strengthened ourselves as a people and assumed, in fact, the moral leadership of the world! I find it hard to understand such reasoning, to see that by whittling away spiritual values, you make it easier to withstand the mad on rush of militant atheism; that by taking the heart out of the home, you increase our strength to withstand that totalitarian menace, which, in its hatred of the West and all it stands for, has been quick to see the essential part played by the family in the preservation of both. The first blows of the totalitarian State have always been directed at the Christian family and its way of life. With the Catholic Church they bracket, as the most determined enemy of all they stand for, the Christian home. Always they try to break it; to tear children from their parents so that they may smash the influence of the home and put in its place their foul doctrines of hate, materialism and racial pride. That was done under Hitler in Germany and the attempt is being made to do it now in the new slave States of Eastern Europe. Listen to a pronouncement from one of them: it is typical of the outlook of those who rule them all:-

"The family is no longer a closed cell, inaccessible from the outside. Formerly the State intervened between parent and children only if there was a direct clash with the criminal law - for example, if parents maltreated their children. The State today is too vitally interested in its future citizens to let things go at this. The State will intervene if it is felt that a child is not receiving an upbringing likely to make it a useful member of the community. The State can then take the child away from the parents, and place it in an institution, or in the care of an appointed guardian."

That came over the Warsaw wireless not so long ago. In it you have an example of the satanic spirit pervading the horrible tyranny now fastened on the peoples of Eastern Europe. Every time we neglect our own children, we give an opening, not only to those, who would thrust it on every home in the world, but to those in the West also, who, in the witless materialism of a misplaced humanitarian ideal, would deprive the family of its Christian spirit - of most of what we mean when we talk about home - and open the door wide to the barbarian invader.

Our Task
Our basic task is clear. It is that we should strengthen our homes; living those values learnt at home, which we all know so well - responsibility, reliance, deep trust, integrity; taking on ourselves the responsibilities of family life; sharing with our dearest the sacrifices, the sorrows and the joys given by God to those who are free. Doing that we will find fullness and, with fullness, strength; achieving the fruit of freedom we will be resolute in its defence.

 

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