I have a confession to make. Among the great shifting and disputatious tribes of Scottish public life, the sinners and the redeemed, there are relatively few people for whom I feel absolute, crushing contempt. In brash newspaper columns and in stressed television appearances -- we only see a glancing, partial depiction of the whole soul. But one of the few characters I've come to despise in the public life of this country is Mr John Deighan. I don't know the man personally. He may be a loving father, and a loyal friend. A faithful husband and a benevolent ally. He may engage of countless acts of kindliness and charity. He may be gentle and thoughtful. He may have a heart full of love.
But since Mr Deighan has swum into my consciousness, he has been this country's most consistently nasty and consistently nit-witted spokesman of wounded Christian feeling. Mr Deighan was formerly Parliamentary Officer for the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, in which role, you might have encountered him prosecuting the case against gay marriage. He is now chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children ("SPUC"), Scotland’s pro-life organisation". Today, CommonSpace report Mr Deighan's latest nittwittery which, even by his high standards, outstrips all recent efforts by some measure. It is all there. Prosecuting women who secure abortions. Crackpot pseudo-science. Magic condoms. LGBT teen suicides used as "a rhetorical device to gain sympathy."
Now, as long-standing readers will recall, I was a supporter of equal marriage. I don't share his view on abortion. I'm godless. I don't share Mr Deighan's understanding of the cosmos and the moral plan etched by some higher power in its essential fabric. But being an academic sort, I am perfectly prepared to sit down and listen to arguments with which I fundamentally disagree. If you're prepared to use your imagination, and enter into a Christian theological world view, you can sketch out logical arguments, arguments which make complex and interesting claims about what human flourishing really means. You don't have to take it personally, even where you profoundly disagree.
But what do we get? Who is the natural law's spokesman on earth? Who brings hard won human reason and tradition to a doubting world? Who is to act as the moral tutor to a wayward people, deaf to the Lord's word? John Deighan. Fucking John Deighan. John Deighan: a man incapable of formulating a coherent sentence, never mind sketching a nuanced point. A man who manages, somehow, to be both vulgarly tabloid, and crushingly pretentious. A man whose public remarks suggest a mind of such bluntness, of such nastiness, of such mendacity -- well, Saint Anselm would blush. The heavenly doctor, Thomas Aquinas, garbled by this poisonous, illiberal, thick-as-a-stump jobgobber? You weep.
I have intense, immense respect for the intellectual traditions of the the Christian and Catholic tradition. There is a crude, and often self-satisfied atheistical vision of the intellectual history of Europe, which seems the dawning enlightenment as the first flourishing of skeptical, searching, intellectual life after the collapse of the great Grecian republics and a long uninterrupted darkness of ignorance and superstition. This is nonsense. I reject it utterly.
Within their cosmological frameworks, great Christian thinkers were above all great thinkers. They scrutinised their beliefs with emotional and intellectual energy and doubt. The doctrines of natural law are rich and considered, complex and nuanced. In terms of my intellectual development, one of the most important books I ever read was Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. MacIntyre is a wonderful bag of contradictions. A Marxist Thomist Aristotelian thinker, born in Glasgow, but who made most of his career in the United States, in Notre Dame.
He embodies the key point. Catholicism is a pensive, rich, self-aware and intelligent tradition. It is a tradition which I, to a great extent, find myself in disagreement with. But that this semi-literate toad is its spokesman is an insult to its history. This is a - perhaps uncharacteristically - harsh appraisal. Perhaps he is - somehow - a grand man in private despite it all. But from his public echo? Ignorant, inarticulate, mendacious, unpleasant, John Deighan is a man sans class, sans gorm, sans everything. Read the piece. Reach your own conclusions.