Scattering the Proud – Introduction

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Looking back from 2024 for this online edition I see clearly that the world of of the late 1990s was indeed a different country. 9/11 hadn’t yet happened and supersonic Concord was still flying. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was still Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – and strangely puzzled by the Cross (Chapter VIII). By the Jubilee year of 2000 the Catholic Church was apologising for many of the mistakes of the past – but how far could that go? A gathering secular crisis was in need of an inter-Christian church with a far more coherent and confident message of ‘salvation’.

Here in this book I was arguing that the principle of religious liberty, affirmed by the Catholic Church at Vatican II in 1965, could be found – and needed now to be officially sourced – in the Gospel. I argued that St Augustine of Hippo made an historic mistake in the early fifth century in using the same Gospel to justify religious coercion – mistakenly compounded by St Thomas Aquinas some centuries later. How much traction could that argument get in a new century?

First published in 1999, the text that follows has been edited for greater clarity but has not been revised to record any shifts in perspective due to later events. Please overlook any obvious naiveties.

I hold firmly still to the central argument of the book. The naming of our central human problem as ‘Status Anxiety‘ had to wait for Alain de Botton’s book of that name in 2004, but the conclusion of Chapter One of ‘Scattering‘ – that in all eras we mistakenly tend to postpone self-approval until those supposedly ‘better than us’ have approved of us – still aptly describes that same problem.

That the Trinity are bent on rescuing us from this malady – the persistent source of all self-harm – was as clear to me in the late 1990s as it is in 2024. We cannot make ‘Good News’ of any medieval theory of the Cross that imputes any hint of distance or debt-reclamation to the Father, rather than a determination to liberate us – by non-violence – from all fear of judgement by ‘the world’.