Let us stand and give thanks with Malala
From Brother Ivo:
Some years ago during a trip to the United States, Brother Ivo encountered an intriguing cultural difference between that country and our own.
Whilst watching a television chat show, the celebrity interviewer and his guest slipped away from discussing the latest tour or book deal and began sharing details of their respective prayer lives. It was relaxed, sincere and engaging.
Such easy acceptance of faith and prayer in the public space, with the expectation that the audience would find it a sympathetic digression, would have been unthinkable in this country. Although such acceptance is now increasingly contested by secularist campaigners in the USA, stories still surface with regularity of people confident enough to stand up for their faith. Often they are school or university students which, again, would be rare in this country.
The recollection arose when Brother Ivo's Twitter feed brought him a complaint that Malala Yousafzai, the brave recovering Muslim schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for promoting the education of girls, was more effusive in her thanking of God for her survival than publicly expressing gratitude towards her medical team.
It would be unlikely that this sincere and articulate young woman would neglect to thank her medical carers, and she probably also prays for them too, but her commitment to thank God publicly is plainly felt to be unusual in this country.
She doubtless understands that the skill experience and application of the medical profession is but a part of how anyone survives horrific injury. Many variable factors determine one's survival of trauma, and a wider sense of gratitude is by no means irrational or dismissive of any individual's professional contribution.
Malala sets an example for many of us who hide our religious lights under bushels.
The Scout Association has just announced that it will be removing God from its historic promise upon admission. It seems regrettable that our indigenous culture and its institutions have ceased to sustain space for the majority faith, and that so often it is the Muslim population which holds its priorities - and Brother Ivo applauds them for it.
Christians are to be found in every institution retreating from the acknowledgment of faith within various spheres of public activity. So why might it be that we are especially reticent to express our faith commitment publicly?
We Britons have traditionally presented ourselves as a reserved people; disinclined to share our internal lives, yet the declining confidence in the expression of faith has happened alongside an increased inclination and encouragement to emote. Very often someone will not be asked what they think about an event but what they feel.
From award ceremonies to reality television shows, effusive Facebook expressions of love and friendship, Britons have opened their private lives in a manner that would have been unthinkable to past generations. It appears to be only within the religious field that we have lost our nerve. People seem to be more inhibited about discussing their faith than the number of their sexual partners, which they will cheerfully do on radio phone-ins. It is all very odd.
When tragedy strikes in the public domain, our Prime Minister is likely to speak of "our thoughts" being with victims rather than "our thoughts and prayers", as formulated in earlier terms. One doubts Malala would be so circumspect.
The salt of our faith appears to have lost its flavour: we hesitate to stand up for Jesus, and so embolden the advance of secularism. Secularism is never appeased.
There may be various explanations. All cultures have a herd component, and as ours has become more secularised and vulgar, the pressure for conformity to the ways of a degenerating world has increased. Just as youngsters may feel under peer pressure to conform to early drinking, smoking, or engaging in sexual behaviour, so too does it become all the more difficult to stay true to counter-cultural ideals like Christianity.
A significant contribution has been the growth of humour as a cultural enforcer of the secular popular mainstream. The US radical Saul Alinski taught that isolation and ridicule are significant weapons in the culture wars waged on behalf of the progressive atheistic agenda. Having captured much of the state broadcasting establishment, the norm for comedy entertainment will cheerfully take on Christianity whilst avoiding any references to Islam, which has some minority followers who might respond with lethal force.
For all their rebellious bravado, the young tend to be very conformist, and therefore inclined to leave unchallenged the underlying anti-Christian rhetoric of Stephen Fry and Russell Brand. It is not easy for them.
Yet a strong undercurrent of belief still exists in this country. Away from the institutionalised media captured by the Left, Brother Ivo's Twitter feed is full of prayer requests and thanks for prayer received. We are better at sharing our faith within this seemingly more private portal into our deeper thoughts.
When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus taught that one should not be ostentatious in one's public prayer as this can easily become more about self-aggrandisement. In a society where virtually everyone did pray, that advice plainly stands the test of time. But what of now?
If we are to re-establish the practice of regular, confident prayer, don't we have to take a lesson from the likes of Malala who unselfconsciously and openly offers prayerful thanks where it is due for blessing received?
Oddly enough, there is still a folk memory of faith, often amongst those who would struggle to recognise its true provenance. "Thank God" slips easily off the tongue of those who barely recognise its meaning, and those who express gratitude for avoiding disaster often fail to complete the thought by reflecting upon Him to whom that gratitude is directed.
In sadder times, we find roadside shrines spontaneously erected without any depth of appreciation of what this might mean. When sponsored runners tell us they are competing for or in memory of some departed loved one, they are implicitly recognising the ongoing value of that lost person and underpinning that value is frequently the unspoken hope of sharing in the resurrection. As Chesterton suggested, we have not stopped believing but we have become unclear in that belief.
Brother Ivo is bold enough to suggest that, in these modern times, we may need to approach public prayer and thanksgiving in a different way to that suggested by Our Lord. Reticence may have been the prudent response then, but today we seem to be in need of those willing to be publicly faithful and prayerful. By our confidence others may be emboldened. An example needs to be set, and if it takes a young Muslim girl to shake us out of our lethargy and passivity then good for her and shame on us.
Paul taught us not to be ashamed of Christ crucified. And if those of us who know and hold to that truth are lukewarm in our proclamation, what use are we to the weaker brothers and sisters who sense what we know but have been cowed into denial by the monstrous construct that is political correctness?
Tony Blair may not have "done God" whilst in office, but that can be put to good use. He can always stand in Malala's shadow as a bad example.
Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of Lawyers