Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Putting on the Newman, putting on the style

And if the voice of men in general is to weigh at all in a matter of this kind, it does but corroborate these instinctive feelings. A convert is undeniably in favor with no party; he is looked at with distrust, contempt, and aversion by all. His former friends think him a good riddance, and his new friends are cold and strange; and as to the impartial public, their very first impulse is to impute the change to some eccentricity of character, or fickleness of mind, or tender attachment, or private interest. Their utmost praise is the reluctant confession that "doubtless he is very sincere." Churchmen and Dissenters, men of Rome and men of the Kirk, are equally subject to this remark. Not on extraordinary occasions only, but as a matter of course, whenever the news of a conversion to Romanism, or to Irvingism, or to the Plymouth Sect, or to Unitarianism, is brought to us, we say, one and all of us: "No wonder, such a one has lived so long abroad"; or, "he is of such a very imaginative turn"; or, "he is so excitable and odd"; or, "what could he do? all his family turned"; or, "it was a reaction in consequence of an injudicious education"; or, "trade makes men cold," or "a little learning makes them shallow in their religion." If, then, the common voice of mankind goes for any thing, must we not consider it to be the rule that men change their religion, not on reason, but for some extra-rational feeling or motive? else, the world would not so speak.
(from Private Judgement by John Henry Newman.

If anyone can speak with authority on this issue it is surely Newman. There was the Anglican chagrin at losing a star and the Catholic unease at gaining a personality they hardly knew what to do with. ‘Let’s send him off to the barbarian Irish, that’ll soften his cough’.

In India conversion is viewed very much askance by the Hindus the idea being that conversion can only have been through some inducement or other, communal identity being so important. Leaving your caste seems as impossible as getting a new set of fingerprints. I wonder if some sort of thing like this was exercising Deepak Sarma when he wrote
Huff and Puff
Putting on the Newman, putting on the style, everyone does it to some extent. If you join a Benedictine monastery for the cool black robes, that will soon get old.

Lo! when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?

Lo out loud, really!


elisa freschi said...

Very insightful quote (and, sadly, very true, it seems to me), thank you. Could you also refer to Newman's depiction of his conversion seen "from within"?

ombhurbhuva said...

The story of Newman’s conversion is to be found as you probably are aware in Apologia pro Vita Sua . There’s an excellent copy to be found on the Gutenberg Project. In the chapter entitled General Answer to Mr. Kingsley he writes:

“From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no changes to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment. I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any difference of thought or of temper from what I had before. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.

Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles, which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them upon my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of religion; I am as sensitive as any one; but I have never been able to see a connection between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines, or to their compatibility with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and borne in upon our minds with most power.” (end quote)

Contrast this humble lack of certainty with some present day muscular Catholics who seem to regard proofs of the existence of God as Euclid Mark 1.

ktismatics said...

"No wonder, such a one has lived so long abroad"; or, "he is of such a very imaginative turn"; or, "he is so excitable and odd"

It might be worth converting if it meant being regaled with such high praise, especially behind my back.

ombhurbhuva said...

You must remember that ‘abroad is bloody’ and that the trembling of the upper lip betokens windiness even unto unmanliness.