Jacob Rees-Mogg and Absolute Morality

There has been a bit of commotion over in Britain the last couple of weeks, caused by a Member of Parliament that I’ll bet most Americans have never heard of, and that’s a shame. His name is Jacob Rees-Mogg. His father was William Rees-Mogg who was a former editor of the £ Times newspaper and created a life peer in 1988. Jacob was educated at Eton and in History at Trinity College, Oxford. (Can you say “posh”? I knew that you could.) He created his own financial services company and is the Member for North East Somerset (since 2010). Quentin Letts dubbed him the “Honourable Member for the early twentieth century”. It’s rather humorous, and yet, his accent and manner of dress, and yes his manner of acting play into it. As does that he is proud of being both Catholic and English, something we see far too seldom these days. And that’s why the commotion. The other day he was on Good Morning Britain and some of what he said shocked the hosts rather profoundly.

It’s rather fun to watch Piers Morgan taken apart, apart from the fact that Rees-Mogg is entirely correct for the Catholic Church as well as any orthodox Christian. It is simply what we have always believed everywhere, at all times. Here is exactly how far our churches have descended since the beginning of the twentieth century. And that leads us to something else. Steven Bullivant writing in the Catholic Herald, tells us something about how secular Britain, even its Catholics, are becoming.

How many Catholics actually share Jacob Rees-Mogg’s beliefs?

He is already in a minority simply by attending Mass regularly

Today’s Times carries an interesting – though for many Herald readers deeply dispiriting – article: “Most UK Catholics back right to abortion”. (It’s behind a paywall, but a quick and free registration can get you access.)

I won’t repeat the full thing here – and besides, you can read the full report from the 2016 Brithish Social Attitudes survey, on which the article is based here. But the essential statistics are these: In 2012, 39 per cent of British Catholics thought that abortions should be legal on the simple grounds that “the woman does not wish to have a child”. Now, fully 61 per cent of British Catholics think so.

This is, it must be said, a huge leap in just four years. By comparison, in the 27 years prior to 2012, the proportion of similarly pro-choice Catholics increased by only six percentage points (from 33 per cent in 1985). Personally, I’d suggest regarding the specific figures in play here – i.e., 61 per cent of British Catholics; a rise of 22 percentage points – as being illustrative, rather than pin-pointedly precise. (This is due to all the usual caveats regarding sample size, margins of error, etc.) Nevertheless, the general tenor of the statistics, and indeed of the direction of travel, are likely to be trusted.

These figures come at a time when Catholic attitudes to critical moral and social issues are already very much in the news. This is thanks to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s straight-talking statement of the Church’s, and therefore his own, opposition to both abortion and same-sex marriage. It is not surprising, then, that these new BSA data are being used to cast Rees-Mogg’s views as being out of touch even among Catholics themselves.

I addressed the general question of “How odd is Rees-Mogg?” in terms of British social attitudes as a whole on the Spectator’s website over the weekend. How representative, though, is he among his fellow Catholics?

First of all, he is already in a minority of Catholics simply by virtue of being a regular Mass attender: fewer than one in three of cradle Catholics (a good chunk of whom now identify as ‘no religion’, of course), and only about two in five of all those who currently identify as Catholics, say that they attend Mass even as often as once a month (see here).

Accordingly, it would be interesting to see what difference there is between practising Catholics and non- or irregularly-practising Catholics on attitudes towards abortion and other subjects. I suspect that among them Mr Rees-Mogg’s views would find much greater (though not at all unanimous) agreement.

Even so, these new statistics are a sobering indicator (as we didn’t have enough of them already) of just how far British Catholics have secularized. So too, for that matter, is the furore surrounding Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Part of what I find disheartening in this is that even as we, in the US, appear to be winning the battle on abortion, and we have public opinion on our side on same sex marriage as well. It was simply established by a federal court acting extra-constitutionally, if not quite unconstitutionally. But the United Kingdom appears to be still sliding down that slippery slope. But we know that we have seen some very dark places in this battle here as well. And one of the things that is winning for us, is the steadfastness of many Catholics in this battle, who have shown some of us Protestants what we must do to achieve the proper result.

And so, real conservatives in Britain have found someone who speaks eloquently for them, and for us as well. There is a boomlet for him to become the leader of the Conservative Party. It is, at best, very premature and unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Because a lot of what is happening in Britain these days are very much like those things that have caused us to say here, “That is why you got Trump”. And nothing in my lifetime was more unlikely than that.

He also reminds me of this, from Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream- -and not make dreams your master;
If you can think- -and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on! ‘

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings- -nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And- -which is more- -you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rees-Mogg certainly is, and a most admirable one, as well
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: