Wednesday, July 20, 2011

So, I'm not the only one who's noticed

“Devout people are, as a class, the least kind of all classes. This is a scandalous thing to say; but the scandal of the fact is so much greater than the scandal of acknowledging it, that I will brave this for the sake of a greater good. Religious people are an unkindly lot."

Fr. William Frederick Faber, founder of the London Oratory



Multum Incola said...

For some reason, someone linked to this on our blog, on a post about Count Dracula and non-directive counselling. Not sure why! Prayers Ms White x

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this reminder. I read this quote somewhere else recently and it was pretty apt!

I wonder why this is the case, given that the celebrated passage from St Paul (I Cor 13) starts off as: "Love is always patient and kind..."

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

Devout people are also the worst drivers. Invariably those with some identifiable "Christian" symbol on their bumper are the ones who, inter alia, tailgate, fail to signal, drive too slowly, hog the passing lane, etc.

Matthew Hoffman said...

I would argue that this kind of statement is not only untrue, but needlessly damaging to the cause of true religion. Of course, a Pharisaical pseudo-Christian will tend to be unkind. However, authentic piety, authentic devotion, by its very nature, includes all the gifts of the Spirit, the first of which is the Spirit itself, or Divine Charity. It includes patience and kindness as well.

My experiences in my previous life as an atheist certainly confirm this. In particular I found that the Catholics I knew, who tended to be "traditionalist" in their mindset, were generally the opposite. They were generous and patient with me, despite my very annoying shortcomings. They didn't strike me as self-righteous. As a child going to Catholic school I had seen the opposite tendency in the Vatican II crowd that ran the place, but the traditional Catholics I met later in life truly seemed to be good and kindly people.

As a final anecdote: I once met a girl who had grown up in a nominally protestant family but with little religious background. She had suffered terrible things and had depended on people to help her during her adolescence and youth. She told me she converted to Catholicism after noticing that virtually everyone who helped her along the way was Catholic. I have spoken to others who had similar experiences.

In short: if it's real devotion, and true piety, it is patient, kind, and loving. If it is not, it is the superficial and false piety of the pharisee.

I am praying for your recovery Hilary! God bless you!

Seraphic said...


df said...

Faber: ever the romantic yet not without pithy realism.

Anonymous said...

I find that categorising people is not really helpful, and to be honest I have to disagree with Fr Faber's sentiments in this instance. I am not sure what he means by 'devout' (does going to Mass each week and trying to utter some prayers each day make one devout?) but the people I have met at my parish are some of the kindest and most generous I have ever come across. I would trust many of them with my life, and I don't even know them that well.

I think that each person is born with a basic temperament, which is either enhanced or distorted through life experience. You can place religion in the mix and get a decent person who's religious or an unpleasant person who's religious. The struggle is then for everyone - whether they're outwardly kind or not - to allow God to burn the dross away.

Ultimately, we're all works in progress.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps I will re-evaluate again, Matthew. Perhaps it does depend on what our standard is for "devout." Most of the committed and orthodox Catholics I know are fairly kind, but in recent times I've encountered a very religious man who does a lot of good (and *is* good, I believe), but he can be *very* unkind!

I mean, he seems to think that if he keeps yelling at other Catholic men for being "dumb" etc he'll get them to become better men instead of, say, appealing to the good within them that really is there. That strikes me as "sub-optimal"!

Anonymous said...

Devout people are also the worst drivers. Invariably those with some identifiable "Christian" symbol on their bumper are the ones who, inter alia, tailgate, fail to signal, drive too slowly, hog the passing lane, etc.

Is that really true, or does one just notice it more in such cases? I will here add that I do think we ought to be perfect drivers if we are advertising the Faith.

Word verification Psalm:
"emake me down to lie/in pastures green"

HJMW said...

The question of real vs. false devotion is extremely pertinent, and is a big part of Fr. Faber's very pointed writing on the spiritual life. Of course real devotion produces real sanctity, but it is only too easy to fall into the trap of presuming one's self devoted, and therefore superior to the general run of humanity, or even the general run of Christians. It is a salutary warning, and one that is repeated many times by C. S. Lewis and nearly all other writers on the Christian life.

It is for this reason that I have banned excessive God-talk in the commbox, and the reason it tends to irritate me so much. I have found that in many, if not most cases when a person engages in gratuitous God-talk, particularly in a public forum, the person is much more likely to be talking about himself. Or herself, since it seems mostly to be a female vice.

In fact, this was proven to me quite aptly recently when a person who had left a particularly flowery God-talk commbox post became abusive and extremely nasty when I deleted his comment and said why. From the excessively POD language and tone, I had guessed that this was someone who was greatly enamoured of his own holiness and was very interested in demonstrating it so the world could admire it. The incontinent note I received as punishment for daring to call him on his bullshit proved my suspicion to have been justified.

Don't keep your light under a bushel, by any means, but do let's try to keep our phylacteries as narrow and our tassels as short as possible, yes?

Agellius said...

Among my mother's 9 siblings, I have two aunts who have always been known for being highly religious. And neither is particularly kind. But they are both what I call "nutty religious": They go overboard with regard to apparitions, prophecies, that kind of thing. Neither is a Trad.

Then again my grandma, my mother, and a couple of my other aunts are religious, but also extremely kind.

I don't claim to be an expert on Fr. Faber's place and time. But I believe that religion was very much tied up with the idea of social respectability: If you were irreligious, you were not socially respectable; and perhaps if you were not socially respectable, you might have been presumed irreligious. So I suspect you had a lot of social snobbery tied up with religion, particularly in the Established Church. Very different from the situation in modern times, I think.

Nevertheless I have no doubt that then, as now, a lot of genuinely devout people performed many works of great kindness. One example that springs to mind is people, most of whom I understand were religious, who worked to abolish slavery and aid escaped slaves.

So I might agree that, as a class, overtly religious people might have been an unkindly lot in Fr. Faber's particular time and place. I'm skeptical whether, as a general principle, being religious makes you more likely to be unkind. But admittedly, I'm speaking from my own limited experience of religious people.

Forward Boldly said...

Just visit Mark Shea's blog on any given day (particularly on the days he chooses to discuss Fr. Corapi or Michael Voris) and Fr. Faber's point becomes very clear...

amy said...

Remember Miss Hilary, you and Fr. Faber are not the first to have noticed this. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, those who did not show kindness to the injured man were... devout. In my experience, acts of kindness take the kind of time that the devout may not have to spare from their devotions. Daily mass, the rosary, holy hour in adoration, prayer group, liturgy of the hours, spiritual direction, stations of the cross... all are good devotions, but time consuming.