Tuesday, 18 August 2015

"Your views."

I come from a dysfunctional family. In fact, I think that families that really love each other are a dangerous myth invented by movies and television. To give you some perspective: my mother doesn't talk to her mother, and hadn't spoken to her father for about ten years before he died (and didn't go to his funeral). She doesn't speak to two out of her three living brothers, and the one she is on speaking terms with none of us really like. I cannot be in the same room as my sister, who is, if not my nemesis, certainly the bane of my life and the worst human being I have ever met (an attitude for which my mother ironically scolds me some of the time). My father hasn't spoken to his sister for about fifteen years, and has a cold relationship with his mother who always treated my aunt and cousins with favouritism and who, during the course of my short life, has moved further and further away from us; first to Cornwall, then to France, and now Australia. I wouldn't care if I never saw her again and I don't think my father would either. I barely know my distant relatives; I don't really care for any of my cousins. You can feel the love, can't you.

I seldom, if ever, tell my mother anything of importance. For years growing up I was lulled by her claims to be an unselfish, caring person who was mistreated by her own family, and that her constant comparing my brother and me to other children, her constant put-downs, &c were just my misunderstandings. One parents' evening I shall remember to my dying day. Mrs Wheeler said to my mother: "This boy has produced the best piece of English literature coursework I have ever seen for GCSE." When we got home mother said that Mrs Wheeler obviously hadn't taught English for very long. This was the same parents' evening at which my mother failed to confront my history teacher about her constant bullying, and said afterwards: "well, what was I supposed to say?"

We don't see eye to eye on almost anything and, since she has a very short temper, any disagreement can and usually does disintegrate into verbal abuse (on her part). Last night was just one of many such occasions. I had let it slip that I wanted to become Greek Orthodox. She seemed to think that this was only because I had actually been to Greece recently, but her first reaction was: "what, and you think they'd accept you with open arms?" This degenerated into an argument about Roman Catholicism, and my own religious odyssey, in which she kept bringing up things from years ago, such as my one and only experience of World Youth Day, and my trip (largely against my will) to Hyde Park to see Benedict XVI, which concluded with my leaving early with my uncle, on account of boredom and scandal, to have a nice supper at Brasserie Blanc. My argument "is there anything in scripture that warrants all that?" fell upon deaf ears. But: "you don't like Roman Catholics, do you?" was the next lie that she spoke, to which I said: "that is not true; I only dislike a certain kind of Roman Catholic." "You mean 'traditionalists?'" "Yes." "Well, weren't you supposed to be one? A few years ago, you were in Blackfen every week before they got rid of you. And now you're talking about becoming Greek Orthodox? You wouldn't fit into any church with your views! You'd be better off joining some Muslim cult!"

She becomes more volatile after drinking and when she threatened to hit me I went to bed. You just can't reason with some people. Think about it! She is 54, I am 27. She is talking about a period of ten years as though I were coæval with her. For somebody my age, ten years is a comparatively long time and brings many changes. I am certainly not the same person I was when I was 17, although with respect to my beliefs I would say that the fundamental principles have remained the same, that is the same desire for Truth. I became a traditionalist at a very young age for the simple reason that I was reared in the Roman communion, and thought its teachings were true, and I saw around me a sharp disparity between what I had read about what liturgy used to be like, and what it was like now (or then); what prelates used to dress like, and what they dress like now; how people used to dress going to church, and how they dress now, and so on. It didn't enter my imagination then that Rome's teachings were false; that came incrementally over a period of years and earnest study. As to the charge "weren't you supposed to be one [a traditionalist]," I would say that I always was, and still am, after a fashion. But the vast majority of other self-styled traditionalists are faithless, disingenuous and rather nasty people who never shared my beliefs and were never interested in my liturgical ideal. Theirs was a delusional commitment to the conditions that make Tradition impossible (the Papacy), and to a very narrow liturgical era (the late 1950's); mine was a commitment to a genuine, holistic Tradition founded upon the Gospel and the Church's wide patrimony. To put it bluntly, I was the only true traditionalist in this world, and modern Traddieland had been shaped largely by the pestilential Lefebvrists and taken over by neo-cons; a realisation that came too late.

I should add that my becoming a traditionalist is really no different to a cradle Anglican joining a continuing church, or a prayer book society. The principles are the same.

"With your views." That's harsh. I don't know what she meant by that. Perhaps readers might conjecture for me? What would be so objectionable about my views that would make a Greek priest loath to receive me into the Church?

Photo: I don't know who took it, but it's me in the old barn. I found it in Google Images.


  1. Families are funny things. I am very fond of mine, but I would not want to live with them. Your mother probably means well and is trying her best. She is probably not responsible for her inadequacies as a person or a parent. Few of us are. But it is hard when you live with these people.

    English Orthodoxy is a complex beast. You may be interested in Archpriest Andrew Phillips' views here http://www.events.orthodoxengland.org.uk/the-situation-of-english-orthodoxy-and-a-vision-for-the-future-of-russian-orthodoxy-in-europe/ He is a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate, and has his own axe to grind, of course, but I think his assessment of the history is fair. There was a greatness about Met Anthony, but he has left a difficult legacy.

    1. My mother isn't all bad. She once failed to turn up to a job interview just to take me to school when I was sick and didn't feel up to walking. I just wish she made more of an effort to understand me sometimes and to be less critical of every aspect of my life.

    2. Being critical is probably here way of showing she cares. It is learnt behaviour, like all behaviour, and is probably how her parents treated here. As the Larkin poem has it...

    3. Well, my late grandfather (her father) was a cold and remorseless man. In my entire life he said one thing to me, which was "get off that fence."

    4. My word, that article by Andrew Phillips was an eye-opener. All churches contain some deeply unpleasant people, but is some, more than in others, you would be at their mercy. One thing can be said for the Moscow Patriarchate: they are well equipped to withstand militant totalitarian Islam.

  2. You sound as if you need more detachment at your age, even if you have to live in a grotty bed-sit or a room in some kind of community. I think Bickersteth House is still going in South Kensington. It’s an Anglican foundation and a very pleasant neighbourhood. When I lived there from 1981-82, the rent was reasonable – but we were expected to attend a weekly service in the chapel, a weekly meeting and take part in chores like cooking, washing up and cleaning. There must be other possibilities too. You would be able to take a break from family life to get better perspective.

    Your mother clearly doesn’t understand certain background issues to understand your concerns. To her, they are simply a challenge to authority. She would probably find it easier if you were to give up religion and be a materialist (preferably a successful one) than a believer who doesn’t fit in anywhere. You need to assume your own issues and be discreet about whom you share them with. If you lived away from home, you could simply do what you want – become Orthodox, whatever…

    Your problem (and it is a part of Asperger’s) is one of seeing a big picture and going from the Universal to the Particular as in Plato’s metaphysics. This is important. Were you to assimilate this foundation, you would arrive at a clearer understanding and be less outwardly offensive to other people whose “foundation” is different from yours.

    One man has had a tremendous amount of influence, the late Dr Ray Winch of Oxford. He was an intellectual with many quirks and idiosyncrasies. However, he was always polite and courteous with others, seeking to teach and reason, not to put down. If we have a lesson to teach, then a spoonful of honey goes much further than a barrelful of vinegar. Try to put yourself into that perspective.

  3. I think families used to love eachother, when our society was not yet as unhealthy as now.

    My family is rather dysfunctional was well. I do care for them, and I hope they care for me, but that does not mean it always easy to live with them. My religious views are met with disinterest at best, and mockery at worst. My distancing from the parish church was mistaken as a sign that I was "finally getting back to my senses and abandon all the christian mumbojumbo". I too have considered Orthodoxy, but I don't think I shall let that slip anytime soon. The relationship with my grandmother, a stubborn but religious woman, is rather good, though.

    As for my education, my parents were the opposite. Good commentary meant higher expectations, expectations they often could never achieve themselves, and that I often could not achieve because of bad teachers. School was disastrous, with many disinterested teachers, vile fellow pupils and bad influences. So disastrous that if I ever have children, I think I can never in good conscience send them to ordinary schools, or perhaps any school at all.

  4. Happy families are a myth loving families aren't. A loving family will still have fights, temporary rifts, and a host of other imperfections. What makes it a loving family is that they don't let the storms dash everything to pieces. The individual members are willing to put aside their wants for the sake of everyone else.

    The 1950's American "happy family" was always a myth. Loving families are becoming increasingly rare.

  5. Have you read Leithart's Blessed Are The Hungry?