Who am I?

There is another fine posting by my brother in the priesthood, Fr Jonathan Munn – Fatally self-defined. At first sight, it may seem to coincide with my own discussions of Asperger Syndrome and the way some use it as an identity label. As I wrote in my posting some days ago, I go further than diversity, because each human person is absolutely unique in spiritual, mental and physical terms. I am sceptical about the concept of normality, because majorities do not always express truth.

“Coming out” with Aspergers can be positive and negative. Profound ignorance leads to fundamental misunderstandings, such as confusing Aspergers with “psychopathy” in the latter word’s accepted meaning of describing a personality disorder that attributes total lack of empathy or care for others to a manipulative and dangerous person. When this happens, one might find oneself losing friends very quickly! On the other hand, if it is something that has been found by a mental health professional, it can help people understand and make allowances for what looks on the surface like selfishness, tactlessness and eccentricity. We have to be careful with labels. They can help to give us some understanding of our lives as we have experienced them, but a philosophical approach is far more meaningful than psychiatric appelations which can leave a considerable amount of ambiguity.

Fr Jonathan begins his article with some aspects of a condition known as dysphoria, the opposite of euphoria. Examples include a young woman believing that she should have been a cat, therefore “species dysphoria” (assuming it is not a joke) and the more frequent occurrence of a person who believes that he or she should be the opposite sex. The latter is known as gender dysphoria, commonly known as transsexualism. Quite frankly, if someone wants to live out something like this, why not? Simply, it should not be possible to have surgery for any reason other than medical, to cure or alleviate an anomaly. Plenty of men are drag queens and nobody in our time worries about it. They either do it for purposes of entertainment or to enjoy themselves. Why not? Just as long as they don’t do it in church! 🙂

The Aristotelian syllogisms are amusing, but the problem is that what someone thinks he is changes nothing of his ontological reality. That said, I am less certain about realist metaphysics in the light of some German idealistic ideas I find interesting, which also concur with some modern scientific theories about consciousness. That is another subject…

Ah! – the poor old Church of England… A diocesan bishop believing that the ordination of women is invalid, and has such female clerics in his diocese. Such a predicament could be compared with that of Major-General Harrison in the words of Samuel Pepys: I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. There is something to be said for the British stiff upper lip!

Fr Jonathan’s point seems to be more about our identity as Christians belonging to an institutional Church or more-or-less the tradition of that institutional Church in an independent body. Thus he gives the distinction between the adjective and the noun. We are Anglican Catholics, because we follow a Catholic tradition in an Anglican culture without being in communion with either Rome or Canterbury. Some might find that idea absurd, but we don’t, any more than Roman Catholic traditionalists or Russian Orthodox old believers. Some have good reasons not to belong to the institutional churches of Rome or Canterbury (other than our own Bishop’s See also based in Best Lane, Canterbury). I think Fr Jonathan and I can be perfectly shameless because we are canonically members of the clergy of the Anglican Catholic Church, which is an institutional Church in its own right.

I smiled about the bogus “cardinal” Fr Jonathan alluded to. I know who it is, and also will not mention names to be sure of staying the right side of the law. I have often had conversations with my Bishop about various episcopal wannabes in England and their false egos. Peter Anson had his ideas about those colourful characters with multiple lines of succession and something to prove. Though he was quite smug about it, Anson was not far wrong, and mentioned the exception of the German intellectual Friedrich Heiler. We are obviously better off and enjoy more credibility if we have actually achieved something in life, done some studies, and earned the confidence of an authority in a Church whom we can trust. I have had experience of this habitually hollow and illusory world. The “mainstream” is shot, but we still need to be ecclesially-minded if we are going to be priests in the Catholic tradition. The dividing line is never as clear as we might wish it to be.

We need to be true to ourselves and discover our real selves. This is the virtue of humility, neither snobbery nor inverted snobbery, just clear realism and lucidity. Self-knowledge is the privilege of those who have suffered, and in the words of Oscar Wilde, Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling, and Domine non sum dignus should be on the lips and in the hearts of those who receive it. Surely, such is the very purpose of Lent.

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4 Responses to Who am I?

  1. Warwickensis says:

    Thank you Father, for reflecting on what I have written.

    Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have got my point across as well as I should. Perhaps I need to review my writing.

    My point is this: legalising self-definition will lead to significant, even dangerous social problems.
    My syllogisms were designed to demonstrate the seriousness of this point.

    I am told that violence in women’s prisons is increasing. This is not because female criminals are getting more violent, but because the transgender issue is causing violence towards people suffering from sex dysphoria, and by people with sex dysphoria. Apparently a transgender “female” raped 2000 women inmates because she had not had the operation to remove her male genitals which were fully functional. Likewise, a transgender “man” was raped brutally by inmates in a male prison. These people with dysphoria need help, not pandering to their condition, but some way of coping with reality. Likewise, support groups set up for vulnerable women (including rape victims) have been sued because a transgender “woman” has been barred. Safe spaces are being invaded. Men and women occasionally need – NEED – that distance from the opposite sex.

    The number of students I have taught who have some learning difficulty must run into three figures, ranging from dyslexia, one with discalculia (THAT was a challenge for any teacher of mathematics), and, as you will appreciate, several with Aspergers. The exam system used to pander to their needs, giving extra time, rest breaks, et c. But none of these relaxations actually help the sufferers *function* in the world. You won’t get 25% extra time to meet a deadline, or cross a road.

    Where I believe the Church can help potentially, is to help these people cope – to accept them in their condition, and to show them that they are valued for who they think they are, and to show them who they actually are – precious children of God as He made them. Oh how we fail!

    This is why I cannot stand the subterfuge of this bogus cardinal as he is indulging in his own fantasies with his own playmates and playing around with the Grace of God as it were a cheap toy.

    Reality and truth are what the Church possesses, but we still need to learn how to use them according to the will of God.

    • Sorry, Fr Jonathan, that it took me time to find your messages. They were in my spam box. I have published the second one and removed the first as per your request by e-mail. Thank you for your thoughtful reflections.

      I also agree with your reflections on Aspergers. Life and society make no concessions however much we would wish. Human nature at its worst is “total depravity” and complete lack of care. We have to be clever and learn to live in society – do and say the right things. I haven’t done too badly, but I am dogged by my poor judgement of characters, vulnerability to being manipulated and social awkwardness when there is no evident interest in common to discuss. I have learned a lot of things, though difficulties remain in reading the most subtle cues.

  2. As an Aspie Roman Papist, I am happy to tell you that there is one Aspie Priest: His Name is Fr. Greg Schall S.C.J

    • Thank you for this information. I have taken the liberty of adding a link. He shows the advantage of being diagnosed: he could do something about it and find ways to understand people better and engage with them. It is very similar to my own experience, though it took longer for me because I wasn’t diagnosed. I had to learn that there were rules in society and I had to learn by observation. Thus I got through seminary where much depends on a clean cassock, polished shoes and doing the right thing – and above all turning your tongue round in your mouth ten times before uttering a word. Thus to my psychiatrist, I didn’t “look” the least bit aspie (the stereotype image of one) – that only came out with my explanations and the tests he conducted, and which will be done in greater depth when my turn comes up at the autism centre of the university hospital in Rouen.

      Fr Schall seems a very interesting character, and he was lucky to get through the system. Being in a religious order, they were perhaps more accommodating with him than most dioceses. I encourage readers to discover his story.

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