Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday Thought: Interview with Malcolm, on the occasion of his 75th birthday

From the old archives, July 2004. I keep finding things that never made it over here.

Mr. Buckley: Recently from these quarters I spoke with Malcolm Muggeridge on the subject of the search for religion, his encounter with it, and the desolation of abomination that came from it. What we did not get into, and propose to do in this hour, is the question of denominationalism. Is he a member of a particular communion, and if not, why not? What is the role of the institutionalized church? ... These questions...we explore in the study of Malcolm Muggeridge...who...says he has visited America for the last time, and if this is indeed the case, we can be grateful, as we seldom have been before, for the benefits of television.

I'll begin, then, by asking what I suppose is the most obvious question, particularly inasmuch as I am one myself: Why are you not a Catholic?

Mr. Muggeridge: It's not altogether easy to answer that actually, Bill. I've, believe it or not, longed to be a Catholic...I've longed for it as though it were the most marvelous thing, but I've never been able to feel in honesty that I could present myself for instruction, and it's extremely difficult to know why. The truth is, I think, that I take a very pessimistic view of the Catholic Church, despite the very brilliant Pope you've now got. It seems to me that it's dropping to pieces; and of course it had a severe blow after the Vatican Councils. Therefore, I would be joining something of which I was enormously critical, and this isn't really an honorable thing to do.

Mr. Buckley: That's never bothered you before.

Mr. Muggeridge: I've never contemplated anything so serious as joining a church. I mean, even if you were to turn to mundane things - joining a club - if you were to join it quite confident that you were going to challenge all its rules and have rows with all its members, it would be a rather foolish step to take.

Mr. Buckley: You once called yourself an imperfect Christian. Is this a sign of pride?

Mr. Muggeridge: I don't think so, because I would have no troubles if I felt that I could go as a sinner into the Church. I'm sure many people have. It's a feeling that I would go there in some degree under false pretenses. I don't know. There was an incident which, trivial in itself, played quite a part in my decision not to become a Catholic. The time when I was nearest to going and asking to be instructed - and I'd planned that I would go to Father D'Arcy because I had a great love for him - it was when I was rector at Edinburgh University, and I ran into a row there which you might have heard of when I was asked, as rector, by the students -

Mr. Buckley: To supply contraceptives.

Mr. Muggeridge: That's right - to recommend that they should be given, unquestioningly, free supplies of contraceptives by the University medical unit, and I refused to do this and there was a hullabaloo. And I thought to myself, you see, "Well, there are a thousand Catholics in the University, and they'll be on my side anyway. I've got a thousand men on my side." What happened was that the first big blast against me was a letter in The Scotsman by the Roman Catholic chaplain at the University, saying what a monstrous thing this was that I had done.

Mr. Buckley: Excuse me, but why was it monstrous?

Mr. Muggeridge: It was monstrous, according to him, because it accused the students of wanting to be promiscuous; but in a letter I wrote in answer to it, I said I wondered what the Reverend Father thought they wanted the contraceptives for? Was it to save up for their wedding day? He offered no answer to that. But then I thought that somebody would give him a very big reprimand. But no such thing happened. Then I thought he'd almost certainly become a bishop. But that didn't happen either. What happened is the perfect payoff of the whole episode: He's now rector of Edinburgh University. (laughter)

Mr. Buckley: Is that right?...And did they get their contraceptives?

Mr. Muggeridge: Oh yes, oh yes. But there was nobody who reprimanded him. One Jesuit monk wrote to me and said that he thought it was monstrous and that he'd written to this Father and suggested that he should apologize to me, but nothing came of that. Anyway, it was a small episode, but it gave me the feeling that - One of the things I admired the Church for so much was Humanae Vitae. I think it's absolutely right that when a society doesn't want children, when it is prepared to accept eroticism unrelated in any way to its purpose, then it's on the downward path. So I admired it so much, and then I realized that since I was involved in this row, their adherence to it was very, very ceremonial rather than actual. They didn't really believe in it themselves...and they haven't practiced it.

Mr. Buckley: Well, I'm, to put it lightly, stupefied that you would make a decision whether or not to extend your loyalty to an institution based on the behavior of some its communicants. I can't imagine any time in history when anybody would have become a Catholic if he had been so easily put off.

Mr. Muggeridge: That's true. That obviously wasn't a major thing, Bill, but what it did was it kind of crystallized certain feelings I had that these things that I so enormously admired...are the very things that it's turning its back on - that I would be involved in endless controversies connected with them.

Mr. Buckley: Well, you would be the millionth Catholic who was.

Mr. Muggeridge: (laughing) Yes, I suppose so. But can't you see that the - Perhaps it's an excuse I've invented myself. It's quite possible.

Mr. Buckley: You have no problem then, I take it, with the Apostles' Creed?

Mr. Muggeridge: None at all.

Mr. Buckley: Or with apostolicity?

Mr. Muggeridge: Not at all. I assent to it. Or the infallibility of the Pope; that doesn't worry me at all. I can see the purpose of all those things, and I see the context of people that I so admire - like St. Augustine and St. Francis - who were ready to accept all that...On the contrary, it's the feeling that the Church itself is moving away from these basic beliefs that is distressing. Or maybe it's just some kind of instinct.

Mr. Buckley: But there can't have been a more resonant reaffirmation of them than by the present Pope. I'm not here to try to convert you. I'm just exploring.

Mr. Muggeridge: No, no, no. I know. This is absolutely true, and of course, it has given great joy to many people because of that, but it still remains the case that I can't join it; and I'll have to meet my Maker not having joined it. Probably I'll get a frightful pacing in purgatory for it, but I can't help it. No.

© 1981, by the National Committee of Catholic Laymen - a transcript from Firing Line


dylan said...

I wondered what the Reverend Father thought they wanted the contraceptives for? Was it to save up for their wedding day?


Great line!

alaiyo said...

I was very glad not to be eating or drinking anything when I read that one . . . :)

wl said...

Yeah, kind of goes to the heart of the matter, doesn't it?

Lydia McGrew said...

"Promiscuous" is a politically incorrect word, even for people who are _beyond all doubt_ being promiscuous. Descriptive terms are not allowed if they could be taken to contain any hint of disapproval.

A couple weeks ago I saw a news story about the Lansing police cracking down on public sex by homosexuals in the parks. Their actions in enforcing the law were criticized by the homosexual activists, in quotes to the press, on the grounds that "this is the only opportunity some people have to make meaningful contact with other men."

God forbid we should call anyone "promiscuous," though.

wl said...

"the only opportunity some people have to make meaningful contact with other men."

The only opportunity? I guess they never heard of a motel.

TS said...

As most of your readers likely already know, Muggeridge did eventually convert to Catholicism.

wl said...

Hey, look who's back from vacation. Some of us take vacations, others of us stay on the job so that world doesn't grind to a halt.

Yes, I presume they know. If they didn't, they do now.

TS said...

Somebody's gotta save this economy by spending money on things like vacation travel and I felt so called. I give and I give.

William Luse said...

You know more about economics than I do, so I commend you for following your call.