The hermitage: faith point zero

Below that far ridge under the rainbow is El Parral.

In the past few days in El Parral I have experienced a new challenge, quite out of the blue, entirely unexpected. I am rising to that challenge and it is intellectually exciting and invigorating.  Spiritually, it is very frightening.  We all like to stay in our comfort zone.

What am I talking about?

I am going back to basics.  This was not planned, but it just happened.  I am responding to what has been thrown at me in these past years and the position I found myself in due to two main influences: my local Catholic Church and my experiences of “Christian” discussion on the Internet.  This goes back a long way, but let me begin with what has happened in the last few days and take it from there.

On a so-called “ecumenical” blog to which I have contributed over the years (e.g. my articles on Saint Clare’s Letters to Saint Agnes of Prague), but very rarely visited in recent times – as there was usually nothing of any interest to read – an article appeared from a semi-retired Anglican clergyman in the West Country praising the writings of a Catholic modernist theologian whose writings have been clearly condemned by the Catholic Church.  This was Teilhard de Chardin who once interested me in the 1980s when I first found my Christian faith but whom I quickly dismissed as I saw the correspondence with gnostic views I had toyed with before becoming a Christian.

I contributed two comments to the discussion and then found myself very quickly subject to an ad hominem attack: “As for Gareth Thomas, the less said about him the better.” And it went downhill from there, finally involving that clergyman outrageously posting a link to a press article about the incident in 2010 when I was battling against the police computer in the UK which had confused my details with someone else when I was going through routine clearance for teaching.

The clear innuendo in posting that link was that there was something “dodgy” about me.  And so I was thrown back into that time in 2010, and I went through 24 hours of re-living those awful months when I fought the police computer to re-establish my identity.  It was the time when other teaching colleagues in Canterbury no longer spoke to me and I exhausted all my savings, ending up living in a homeless persons’ hostel in Canterbury.

And being plunged back into all those thoughts – thanks to some Anglican clergyman posting that link – was a result of simply pointing out that the doctrinal position of Teilhard de Chardin was not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.  I responded by asking the publishers of that website to take the link down. I also explored the legal redress available against the clergyman concerned for the deliberate innuendo, knowing that the press article referred to a time before I had won my case.  In the end I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really care very much about the potential damage to my good name.  Only half a dozen people regularly read the “ecumenical” blog in question, and it has no influence beyond the café Christianity of this little self-congratulatory backwater.

However, at the end of all this, a big question suddenly emerged for me, and there was no way to avoid it.  Why was I trying to defend orthodox Catholic faith and getting into all this conflict?  My local Catholic church does not feed me with any spiritual nourishment.  When I asked about getting the Bishop of Orihuela & Alicante to approve a hermit rule for me, my local priest said he knew nothing about the canon law for such a rule (!) and couldn’t quite see the point of that way of life anyway (!!) The local church is just a social club which I have attempted to treat seriously as a place of worship for nearly seven years, and I have been on the brink of neglecting my duty to assist at Mass for at least three years.

So it was a timely moment for a bunch of Internet café Christians to tip the spiritual balance in my life, which they have successfully done.  I am grateful.  It was painful at first, as I went through a very dark twenty-four hours thinking my faith was under attack – demonic attack even (!) – and then settled down into thinking it through more cautiously.  Yes, they’ve done it.  They have actually demolished the last remaining vestiges of loyalty to a whole bunch of ideas I have stood by but never really understood.  I am grateful indeed.  Why was I so keen to defend what I did not know?

Congratulations, Malcolm, Jess, John, and the rest of you…  and thank you.

I am truly at faith point zero.

That is not a bad place to be.  I shall not be going to Mass tomorrow morning.  I cannot see the point in that.  The feast of the Annunciation today?  (Once one of my favourite moments of the year.)  What’s the point of that?  I don’t understand what you mean by the Incarnation.  Yes, it all collapsed.  All of it.

Oh yes, I have said goodbye to that benighted blog, of course I have, but now where do I go from here?  It is not a bad situation to be in.  I shall not be going to church tomorrow.  Result!  I can’t stand the place anyway.  I shall not be contributing to Internet discussions of Christian faith.  Result!  I dread the moment when the respondents to any point you make start coming back with ad hominems and missing every point you have made.

Above all, I am free from the ludicrous position of arguing for traditional Catholic faith and doctrine while the Pope and the cardinals in Rome in the present administration dismantle it by the minute.  They seem to have as poor an understanding of the faith as me, and honestly I really haven’t a clue what it means when I say “Jesus is my saviour.”  I do not know what that means.

But the great discovery is that I can start from here to discover what that means, if it means anything.  I am a retired Catholic.  I shall use my time as a retired Catholic to read and discover if there is anything that I can regard as certain in this faith.

There is now a precedent for becoming a retired Catholic.  We have a retired pope: Pope Emeritus Benedict.  If he can step down as pope, why should we not choose to step down as the faithful?  So please do not, anyone, talk about apostasy.  I am retiring from faith.  Retiring to consider it further.

When I looked for a hermitage I thought it would be a place to simply recite the Divine Office.  I am grateful to those who have forced me to consider a more basic question and re-start the project.  What does “salvation” actually mean?


It once seemed much simpler than this. Maybe it is good to notice that things are not so simple.

To be continued.


NOTE: Commenting has been turned off for the present time on this blog.

Update 26/3/17: please note that commenting has been turned off (in red!) means I do not want discussion on this topic. I don’t like deleting comments as it seems a bit rude, but I did make it clear comment is not required. Sorry.  The above blog diary entry is one in which I simply record my present position: it is not intended to be the start of any dialogue.  A main point of the blog post is that discussion on the Internet has actually been very unhelpful recently and I am staying away from Internet discussion and closing that down for the present on my blog too.  Thanks for respecting that.

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