Church and State

At a time when the common consensus appears to (thankfully) be that society must move on from the sectarian divisions that have ruptured Ireland for centuries, it seems that there are still those who are determined to remain wedded to, if not mired in, the antiquated mind-sets that still aggressively promote a particular theology.

Take RTE, the Irish state broadcaster, for example. There we have a publicly funded broadcaster that still sets aside time each day, at the expense of all licence holders, to promote the Angelus, a Catholic ritual. What message does this approach send out to any upon this island who are not Catholic? I am not merely referring the Protestant population, in particular those who reside in the Occupied Six Counties (OSC) of the north, and who will have their fears of ‘Popish’ domination strengthened and justified, but also those who are not Christian. Ireland has an increasing number of those who are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, Mormon, Pagan and Atheist, to name but a few. But can it be said that due respect is given to any who do not conform to a Christian perspective. To merely pay lip-service to the idea of a separation of Church and State is patronizing at best, sinister at worst.

I am also reminded of the position of the leading newspaper in the OSC, the Irish News, which reaches into the minds of the nationalist population and is somewhat indicative of the influence of the privately owned print media. I ask what message this publication sends out each Thursday when there are two full pages of Christian, (or pseudo-Christian) propaganda? Surely an established paper such as The Irish News has the courage and wisdom to shake off the religious shackles of an unfortunate past and embrace our future in a mature and progressive manner. If not, then they may stand accused of a self-defeating policy of unnecessary theological adherence. This continues at a time when newspapers can ill-afford to alienate readers, least of all those who may hold a much needed radical approach to comprehensively improving our society.

When one observes the role that (pseudo-) Christian ideology, and in particular the Catholic Church, plays in the everyday lives of the people of Ireland, questions can reasonably be asked as to how deeply theist organizations such as Opus Dei, and perhaps more especially the Knights of Saint Colombanus (where the hell do they get these names?) have their claws buried in Irish society.

Historians – at least those who do not have their own heads shoved up their own holes – will surely agree that the hierarchical Catholic Church was no friend to the people of Ireland, any more than it was a friend to the people of the world. Whilst there were, and are, good people in the Church front-lines, it will be seen that those with the fanciest robes, and palatial villas, and rings and trinkets, and sordid secrets have never had the best interests of the ordinary man and woman at heart.

In his novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky penned a chapter in which Jesus appeared in the city of Seville during the time of the Inquisition, only to be arrested by the Church authorities and questioned by a ninety years old Grand Inquisitor. Upon discovering that the stranger was indeed the Messiah, returned to walk among his people, the (prospective) Saviour was thus informed that the people may want Jesus, but they need the Church. The Nazarene was banished from the city. The tale serves as a stark reminder that the Catholic Church has become that which would be unrecognizable to the humble carpenter from the land of Palestine. Yet I digress as, regardless of the creed, one size does not fit all, and nor should such be forced upon those who are unwilling.

The internet-age has meant that new horizons are continually being opened up for the people of Erin’s Green Isle. We are now more familiar with other schools of religious thought. There are also many in Ireland who are returning to our pagan roots, to a time when the people lived in greater harmony with their environment. Increasing numbers are now espousing atheism, in a rejection of all religions and the conflict that they have wrought.

Both Catholic and non-Catholic Churches are at fault for the bloodshed that has occurred on our island. It was the English Pope Adrian IV, also known as Nicholas Breakspear, who gave papal permission for Henry 2 to invade Ireland in order that the Church there could be brought solidly under the control of Rome. Previously, the Irish were an independent lot who questioned the federal decrees that came from overseas. This was at a time when Ireland was renowned for the piety and learning of its religious brethren. Rome didn’t care, and sought only to control.

Colonialism walked comfortably hand-in-hand with Corporate Catholicism in Ireland, as it did across Latin America and eventually the globe. The people of those lands all suffered as a result, whilst the coffers of Rome filled to overflowing. Yes, great works of art were commissioned, but were paid for with money earned by the blood, sweat and tears of the people. Cathedrals grew and wrapped themselves in ostentation even as the congregation starved and coughed to death. Could we argue that the Jewish joiner would be pretty pissed off if he was to return and see what was being done in his name?

At each stage of Ireland’s Christian past, since Henry’s invasion, the ordinary people of Ireland have borne the weight of Church demands on weakened shoulders. The Catholic hierarchy has always aligned itself with the wealthy here.

In Penal Times in Ireland, when Catholicism was banned, it was the peasantry who hid the priests. The Bishops had fled, leaving only a handful of stalwart clergy to maintain the faith of the people. Those who were found to have assisted the priests were executed, their property (what little they had) was stolen and their families left destitute.

During the ‘Tan War’, 1919-1921, the Catholic Church condemned the Irish rebels, and sided with the British Occupation. They even threatened excommunication upon the insurgents in Cork. In the Civil War that followed, the Church again took the side of the rich against Republican forces, and there they have remained.

In Ernie O’Malley’s wonderful book, The Singing Flame, which recounts his experiences as a Republican volunteer, he recounts an incident in Kerry during the Civil War conflict when Free State forces blew up Republican soldiers by positioning them over a landmine. Pieces of the victims were scattered everywhere, including into the trees. O’Malley remembered, ‘…and the thundering pulpits were strangely silent about what the crows ate in Kerry’.

The point that I seek to make is that, a close alliance between any theology (Lizzy Windsor is no paradigm of virtue, any more than her ancestors were) and the state, is never going to be for the betterment of society in the long-term. Ireland has long-suffered because of a fixation upon monotheism and such accompanying doctrines.

Yet today we live in a nation where minds are being opened, which should of course mean that state structures are designed similarly. Ok, I hear you say, the DUP (Unionist political party) are hardly open-minded, but they demonstrate perfectly how strict religious adherence can run alongside social intolerance. If I was a religious man, I would say that Nelson McCausland is going to hell, with Gregory Campbell (and Sammy Wilson for taking all his clothes of and being photographed… boke). When there, they will be in good company, with many of their nemeses from the Catholic Church already in attendance. Such is the irony upon those of either side here who claim to be good-living and pious, yet will be adjudged to have been hypocrites… together.

Religion is a lifestyle choice. It’s influence should remain within the place of worship and/or the home. If the rest need remain secular to ensure equality and mutual respect throughout society, then so be it.