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Brideshead, church and the father factor


I recently read my first Evelyn Waugh novel, Brideshead Revisited. It was hugely enjoyable and the prose was gorgeous. I was most interested in the figure of Lord Marchmain, the father of the Flytes, whose inexplicable hatred of their mother, and his adulterous ways, are a catalyst for the family’s tragic lives.

Sebastian and Julia Flyte – the two main characters along with Charles Ryder – encounter terrible hardships, as well as being severely lapsed in their Catholic faith. This is despite being born into the acme of privilege and having a mother renowned for her piety.

It reminded me of a study in Switzerland that highlighted the importance of the father’s role when it comes to rearing children with a strong faith in God. If both parents are regular churchgoers then 33 per cent of their children will be regular churchgoers, and 41 per cent will be irregular.

If the father is non-practising and the mother regular, 2 per cent will be regular and 37 per cent will attend irregularly. Remarkably, if the father is regular and the mother irregular then 38 per cent of their children will be regular and if the father is regular and the mother non-regular this rises to 44 per cent.

Even if the father is irregular this yields 25 per cent of regular attendees amongst their children, and 23 per cent as irregulars. This is twelve times more than if the roles are reversed.

Brideshead Revisited presents a beautiful interrogation of a universal truth: that if a father has a lax faith his children’s faith will suffer. The upside to this is that if a father has a strong faith, irrespective of his wife’s, he stands a very good chance of having children who believe in God.

Masculinity is something that is taught, and bestowed, and it cannot be learnt in a vacuum. This is why young boys who either don’t have a father figure, or have a very poor one, suffer immeasurably and are more likely to be attracted to hyper-distortions of masculinity as seen in gangs.

Thus if Christianity is to appeal to young boys then churches must be full of men, showing that church isn’t something just for women. There is nothing worse for a young lad than being called a ‘mummy’s boy’ but if church is full of mothers that is exactly how he will feel.

The Swiss findings also show one of the most politically incorrect statements one can muster: that the man ought to lead the family. For the Christian man it is his God-given duty to lead his family, and the most important thing he can do is ensure his children are brought up in the faith.

Clearly, if he abandons this sacred duty, even if the mother tries to fill that void, it simply will not have the same effect. We used to know that mothers and fathers had very different roles of equal importance, but this was trashed in the thoughtless iconoclasm of the 20th century.

When it comes to re-Christianising the West two things are apparent. Firstly, churches need to be less feminised and women need to step aside and allow more men to fill crucial leadership roles in parishes. Women clergy is a big fat No.

Secondly, men need to step up. Instead of spending Sunday morning hungover or watching mindless television in your underpants, get yourself down to church. You won’t regret it.

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Fionn Shiner
Fionn Shiner
Fionn Shiner is a London-based writer who has written for the Spectator, the Daily Mirror, Private Eye and more. His day job is Press and Parliamentary Officer for Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

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