Writer and Author

Tag: Religion

A Swiftpost Answer to Procrastination?

expedit2

The grotto to Ste Expedit in the church of St Pierre’s in Bordeaux. Each on of the marble plaques is a prayer answered.

Since the hack, I’ve been been going through this site from the very beginning. I had to reconstruct everything because I ended up taking a fairly nuclear approach with getting rid of the pesky hacker and not everything had been backed up. It’s been fascinating going back over my old posts. So much has happened in the past 7 years.

Then I upgraded to Windows 10 so I’ve been putting my laptop back together as well. Well not literally, obviously, but it always takes a while to get everything back the way I like it after a clean install. Just as I was looking over old posts I ended up looking over old photos and found the one at the start of this article. I started writing this blog on a holiday in Bordeaux, just after I’d delivered the manuscript for Devil. I’d spent a semester there in college and got engaged to the husband while I was there. That return trip was 10 years later. Even though it was supposed to be a romantic occasion I had a book coming out so every day I sat down at the laptop and tried to work out this blogging thing.

Abbi-Bordux1

Me, probably writing the first post on Ste Expedit. Looking very young.

One day, wandering around the city we came across the church of Ste Pierre. I forget why we went in, it was either raining or too hot or possibly we liked the architecture, it doesn’t really matter. Inside the church, the only thing I remember about it now, was a grotto to Ste Expedit.

Ah Ste Expedit. I’d never heard of his before that day but he’s remained one of my favourite saints (although it’s not really a long list). He’s the saint of getting help in a hurry, of hackers, of procrastination (or rather deliverance from). Seriously, what’s not to like when you spend your time trying to earn a living through writing and the Internet? He’s big in New Orleans apparently. According to legend St Expedite was a young Roman legionary who was thinking about converting to Christianity. As happens all too often in these circumstances a crow came to him to try to convince him not to. “Leave it till tomorrow” said the crow – yes it was a talking crow. But young Ste Expedite was having none of it. “Today” he insisted and, bearing in mind this is the saint you turn to if you want to kill procrastination, he did do it today. This is the reason why the very pretty young legionary you see in statues has a speech bubble that says “Hodie” or today and there’s a crow hanging around somewhere who’s saying “cras” or tomorrow. I approve of puns when you’re talking saints and Ste Expedite is all about puns. Starting with the crow who’s “cras” could be tomorrow or “cras, cras” or “caw, caw”.

But the puns don’t stop there. Ste Expedit got his super power of being there in an emergency from a pun. He sounded like that’s what he could do. So he did it. The plaques behind the statue in St Pierre’s church show decades of desperate prayers. “Thank you for saving my little girl” reads one. “Thank you, 1914-1918” reads another. Each one is a moment where time stood still for someone. Where they sent up a desperate prayer for themselves, for someone they loved, and were thankful when they felt it answered. I’m not religious but there was something so poignant about those little plaques. Ste Expedit isn’t one for Lotto wins or massive gestures. He’s there in a frightened moment, when you need him. Hardly surprising that he’s also the patron saint of students at exam time.

You can find websites dedicated to St Expedite, and voodoo potions (the New Orleans connection I’m presuming) but what I like about him is beyond any of that stuff. Because you see Ste Expedit probably didn’t exist. The Armenian centurion who talked to crows doesn’t have a name. Expeditus, is apparently Latin for a soldier marching with no pack so poor old Expedit was a nameless individual identified by his job. A body in a field perhaps, identified only by his breast plate. He’s not one of those saints with a complicated back story, just a conversion and a crow.

But that’s not all. Perhaps he wasn’t even a Roman soldier. Another story makes him the Saint of Swiftpost. A travelling priest was buying up relics and posted them back to the nuns back home in France. He wanted his purchases to get home before he did so he made sure the box was marked “Quickly”…”Expedite”. The nuns, being of a sheltered disposition and obviously not familiar with the finer points of the postal system assumed that the word was a name and that name belonged to the bones. So Ste Expedit was born.

I love the layers of the story of Expedit. From the relative detail of the original legend – the talking crow, the centurion – the story unravels and dissolves in layers. For his believers it doesn’t matter if Ste Expedit spoke to a crow, it doesn’t matter that he might have been an unknown soldier, it doesn’t matter that he might have been more than that, just random bones. For them, Expedit will save you in a tight spot. Those prayers are heartfelt, those plaques would have cost money. In the end does it matter if he existed, the logic seems to go, it works. There’s something in there that’s probably quite profound. It appeals to the writer in me.

I’ve thought about that little church many times over the years. Perhaps I need Ste Expedit myself. I was supposed to be researching a paper rather than writing here. Procrastination – I’m extremely good at it.

On Fishes and Bicycles and Other Hard Concepts

When I was very small I was taught that it was important to know right from wrong. I was told that I was a lucky girl who got to live in a civilised country, in a comfortable house, who got to go to a good school and who didn’t know anything about war or famine other than what the pictures on the little cardboard money boxes I brought home from school showed. I was taught that because I was a lucky girl in all these ways I understood there were those who weren’t as fortunate and who didn’t have what I had. It was important I stood up for what was right, what was fair.

It was a fairly standard liberal middle class indoctrination. But it stuck. Even now the one thing that reduces me to red-faced, fist-clenched, speechless rage is unfairness. I’m not talking sulky, pouty, “but I want it” unfairness here, by the way. Oh no. This is the kind of jaw-dropping, gob-smacking, bone-crunching unfairness that’s like a slap in the face with the sharp edge of a damp smelly towel. It doesn’t compute. It can’t, it’s wrong, spelled out in capital letters that are probably red and flashing.

When I was about five and the world was a far simpler, softer place that fundamental instability was locked in a milk carton. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t open the side of the carton myself to get at the last drops and instead had to wait with my arm raised, the puddle of milk in the corner of the carton getting warmer and sharper by the second. I couldn’t understand why I got into trouble when I opened it myself and showed my friends how to open theirs. It didn’t compute. It just wasn’t right.

When I was a little older I learnt there were bigger things that weren’t fair too. I remember well the burning cheeks and stinging eyes at being denied Scalectrix or Meccano because I was a girl. I’ve felt them often. Once that stuff starts happening it doesn’t stop. You can’t get lost in a knot of rage every time it happens though. You grow up. You learn to stand your ground.

But this isn’t a trip down memory lane. I’m trying to make a point.  I wouldn’t consider myself madly political but I do believe that I have no right to judge my fellow human beings, that empathy and compassion are evolutionary traits and that everyone deserves dignity and freedom. Every so often, when I’m blunt about the things that matter to me, when I tweet about racism or blog about abortion or atheism, someone will tell me I’m brave for speaking out. What I’m trying to explain is that bravery has absolutely nothing to do with it. I was raised with a particular moral framework, a “sense of fair play”. Why wouldn’t you stand up for that?

Of course, I’m well aware that there will be some reading this who don’t think what I’m saying is reasonable or obvious in the slightest. They will have got as far as the title of this piece and dismissed me as a mouthy feminist, a dissolute member of the liberal meeja, a purveyor of happy clappy bullshit. It’s because of this dismissal of values that I consider fundamental and absolutely bleeding obvious that I have, in the past hesitated about tackling a range of subjects head on – and that’s at the heart of the problem.

In tackling these subjects I’m aware that perhaps I may be painting myself in a less than favourable light. It’s been suggested to me more than once that by being honest about my liberal opinions I could offend people, even jeopardise my career prospects. In my head there’s still a treacherous little voice warning me I could come across as “strident” and no boy will ever want me (well, perhaps not quite). Yup, it’s still there. I live in a Western European country, I’m middle-class, educated. As a woman I’ve benefitted from the ground gained by former generations, by the hard won right to a third level, even second level education, to vote, to have autonomy.  Looking back over my family tree I can watch as they joined the middle classes and benefitted from greater opportunities and wider choices. Over the past century or so the world has changed beyond recognition because people saw that progress lay in these fundamental rights. The right to work for a fair wage, in decent conditions. The right to an education. The right to own property.

These changes have given us the world we live in today. They’ve benefitted the right as much as the left (although the former land owning men who once held all the power must be feeling a wee bit hard done by). Many of the social and religious conservatives seeking to shape the world we live in today wouldn’t have a voice if it wasn’t for these waves of progress. So why does it so often feel that we haven’t moved forward at all?

Last night during the late night sitting over the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill Fine Gael TD Tom Barry pulled his colleague Áine Collins TD onto his lap. He’s since apologised but it’s a stark reminder of why that treacherous little voice is still telling me to be quiet. Mr Barry has since apologised and the whole thing is being brushed away and that again is the problem. I know that if a male friend did the same in the pub I’d take exception. I also know that if I did so at least some of the company would tell me not to over react. I know this because over the years this kind of stuff has happened many, many times. I know it’s wrong but in the past I’ve laughed it off myself to play the game.

As I’ve grown older I’ve seen it so many times. I’m out of patience. I fail to see why speaking up should make me mouthy, or militant, or strident. I could be fairly sure that Mr Tom Barry TD would not have grabbed one of his male colleagues and wrestled with him on the benches of the Dáil Chamber. That kind of horse play just wouldn’t have been proper in such solemn circumstances. The fact that he and his colleagues think this is a minor, if insulting, lapse in judgement says it all. It’s not right, it’s not fair and it shouldn’t be an issue to say so.

This isn’t a call to arms, or an incitement to anything. I’m really not that dogmatic. But it’s always important to stick up for what’s right. That will never change.

Every Sperm is Sacred (with apologies to Monty Python)

Pro Life marchers

I’ve written a lot on this blog about issues that affect women but there’s one subject I’ve always steered clear of. Abortion is a contentious subject the world over but here it’s a subject that tears the country apart. It’s the wedge driven between two Irelands, a poison seeped into the heart of the Irish family. Any public debate that strays near that hallowed ground will get infected with a contagion that threatens to swamp any liberalising call – it’s a wonder any progress has been made at all.

As any regular reader of this blog knows my upbringing was not an Irish catholic one. I was born in London and raised C of E. I was wired by that schematic and even though I’ve lived in Ireland since my teens that schematic never really changes. I have never been particularly religious, although at one point I did end up teaching Sunday School (actually not half as long or interesting a story as you’d perhaps think) and these days I tend to describe myself as an atheist just to forestall any confusion. I’m not of the dogmatic atheistic persuasion though. If you want to believe in something knock yourself out, just let me believe or disbelieve what I choose. I won’t try to rattle your cage if you don’t try to rattle mine. My approach to abortion would be along the same lines. It’s all a matter of choice. Those who want, or more usually need to have one should be supported through a difficult period of their lives. Those who don’t agree with it should be free not to have one. I really wouldn’t have thought it was all that difficult. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to approach this any other way.

That’s why I don’t write about abortion. It feels as if it’s not my argument. I’m pro choice. I’ll fight for the right for women faced with that difficult decision to have all the options open to them. It is barbaric to expect them to travel outside the country. It always was. It always will be. The fact that it has taken this long to get to the point where the Irish Government is on the brink of legislating to clarify the mire of case law that’s built up since the so-called 8th Amendment is insane. But that’s Ireland. That’s the hornet’s nest I don’t particularly want to kick.

The Government are due to vote on the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill on Wednesday. For the past weeks and months the pro life movement have been ramping up the hysteria. Once again it’s getting deafening, the roaring of old Catholic Ireland in it’s pain.

It was absolutely deafening, as I watched the “Rally for Life” make it’s triumphal way down O’Connell Street in the blazing sun last Saturday afternoon. Watching faces grimacing in smug malice as they shook Youth Defence-provided posters at the pro-choice protesters lining their route, it was clear that here were two utterly incompatible Irelands, suspended over a chasm. Marching down the road, jeering at the counter protest, occasionally throwing salt and holy water to cast out the demons inhabiting their fellow country men and women, these people saw an Ireland tinted with the sugary washes of an old postcard. This is the Ireland that wanted Monty Python banned. This is the Ireland that keeps seeing the Virgin Mary in inanimate objects. This Ireland is the poster child for ultra-conservative Catholicism. The question will always be, does that Ireland actually exist?

We all know that there was a time when that Ireland was real enough. This country has been dealing with the legacy of that Ireland for many years, learning the sombre lesson that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely again, and again and again.  Certainly the people on that march on Saturday believe that Ireland still exists – but it’s not the country I know and love. That Ireland is the one that has flourished despite the poison leeching into it from it’s toxic twin. I’m not saying that Catholicism per se is bad, but when dogmatism creeps into any religion, when it becomes a single-minded fervour that stamps out compassion and empathy and rationality, well, that’s never good.

The subject of abortion in Ireland is sadly a very powerful magnet that very dogmatism and several thousand people proudly paraded their lack of compassion on Saturday. They called female protestors “sluts” and  “murderers”, they made their own children cry for political ends, they laughed at the passion of the opposing view (all widely reported on Twitter and Facebook and all seen personally by me as I watched). This was the grinning face of Old Ireland standing defiant on the battle field.  They’re looking for a fight. They will not back down. But the Ireland they think is all around them is gone. It’s frozen on old postcards, it’s discussed from the psychiatrist’s couch.

Sadly I don’t think there’s any easy solution to any of this. The poison will keep eating away. But hopefully compassion and empathy and rationality will rule the day and the country will move forward, even if it must drag the panting body of Old Ireland along with it. Some things will never be easy. But we must do them anyway.

Whats in a Hashtag?

When my family first moved to Ireland when I was a teenager I was asked by a neighbour “Do you have prayers in your religion?” That was the first time I ever felt I was on the other side of a fence. Even though I had grown up hearing about sectarian attacks in the North and knew the difference between Cavaliers and Roundheads in the English Civil War it had never occurred to me that the church I had gone to as a child belonged on any side of any fence.  It was a place of bells and smells, somewhere that occasionally held jumble sales and children’s parties, somewhere where my less exciting friends hung out.

By the time we moved to Ireland I had gone off the idea of becoming a nun (a week long fad after watching A Nun’s Story and Black Narcissus in quick succession) and pretty much lost interest in religion as a whole. It’s an interest I never particularly regained.  But as I got used to living in the west of Ireland it was a subject I couldn’t quite leave behind.  It was there when my school was selected. It was there on the doorstep when I moved north to college in Belfast.  It was in the countless  jokes I shared with friends over the years – measuring differentness be it remembered kids’ shows (me Bagpuss & Saturday Swapshop, them Bosco & Wanderly Wagon), pub snacks (me salt & vinegar crisps or dry roasted peanuts, them Tayto or King).  Even though none of us went to any kind of church from one end of the year to the next we all knew which tribe we belonged to for that game at least.

The thing about the religion question was that it always did and always will underline differences.  It builds a them and an us and running under “them” and “us” is usually a current of entitlement. Heirs to the kingdom and all that.  But surely now the kingdom is up to it’s armpits in mortgage arrears and we are all apparently up a proverbial creek without propulsion “them” and “us” should be put aside.

This morning on the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTE’s 2FM there was a light hearted discussion about how to spot an Irish protestant.  As frequently happens these days with light hearted radio discussions it came with a Twitter hashtag.  Everyone had lashings of fun pointing out those differences (including at least one physiological one concerning optical distance).  There was no harm done, no offence taken and no malice meant…well mostly.  Tubridy addressed the negative comments beginning to clutter up the Twitter stream as belonging to a po-faced minority and advised them to turn off and listen to something else.

There it was again, the Them and Us.  They can’t take a joke.

The problem is that perhaps encouraging a large group of people to itemise how they differ from another large group isn’t very funny.  It’s not really something that encourages empathy and understanding.  Pointing and laughing at another peer group wouldn’t be funny if that group was made up of gay men, or black families, or Jews or Muslims.  Everyone knows this.  There would never be a slot on how to spot an Irish Jew or How Good’s Your Gaydar?  We’re all the children of the PC 80s in one way or another.  We are so careful not to offend.

And what was there to offend about the Irish Protestant slot? It was all meant as a bit of a joke.  Why am I even writing about it –I’m not even in the group being (gently) slagged?  The problem is that it encourages Them and Us thinking.  Ireland’s come a long way in terms of tolerance as last weekends Dublin Pride proved.  We no longer send unmarried mothers into slave labour in the Magdalene Laundries or turn round to stare at an African on the street.

But racism and sexism and sectarianism haven’t gone away, you know, and they won’t while Them and Us is the default joke position.  It might mean being a little po-faced once in a while but surely tolerance and empathy are worth the hassle?  There’ll always be forms of tribalism in society, but couldn’t we just leave it on the pitch?  We should be looking for similarities not differences and not pointing and laughing at the other side.

The Right to Believe in Nothing

According to yesterday’s Irish Times some census enumerators are advising people to fill in their religion as the one they were raised in rather than the beliefs they currently hold.  On the Antiroom blog today author and journalist Anna Carey called for those with no formal religious beliefs to make their voices heard – it’s a call echoed by Atheist Ireland who, back in January, launched their Be Honest About Religion campaign asking for all those not practising a religion to tick the No Religion box on the census to give an accurate suggestion of how secular Irish society has become.

This is an issue I feel strongly about.  It would never occur to me to answer anything other than No Religion.  That’s been the case for as long as I can remember, apart from a brief flirtation with God when I was about ten.  I grew up in a very secular environment – it was my choice to start going to church and my decision to get baptised then confirmed.  I remember being shown a lovely silver goblet given to me for my christening when I was a baby, that had sat in it’s green leather box slowly tarnishing as the day never arrived.  It seemed as if this elegant, shiny thing was never really mine because I’d never signed on the dotted line.  I can’t say for certain whether this had any influence on my decision to start attending church but  it never was engraved even when I finally did get baptised – about twenty minutes before I was confirmed at the age of 11. 

For a few years I really got into it.  I loved the ritual, the flowers and the way the light shone down through the stained glass windows in our modern church.  I also liked the way it made me feel, virtuous and special.  But it was always play acting for me.  I loved the music of the hymns, the rhythm of the words of the prayers we recited each week, the cadence of the sung parts of the eucharist, but at no stage did I really have a concept of some superior being.  When I heard the words Our Father I vaguely associated it with My Father, dead when I was a baby but always, so I was told, looking down on me.

So the issue of religion has never been a big one for me.  I’ve tried, over the years, to believe in a variety of things but deep down I know that for me it would always be play acting.  In England it was never a big deal.  I didn’t know what religion most of my friends were and it never came up.  But when we moved to Ireland all that changed.  Religion runs through this country like veins of silica through rock and is just as impenetrable.  I know that for my Irish friends the decision to say they have no religion usually means turning their backs on a deeply held faith that would have been followed unquestioningly before the doubts began.

Since I’ve moved here I’ve come to see how important belief can be but also how vital it is to respect the views of others.  This is something that, on even on an official level, is not always done here. 

A few years ago, in a different life, I was working as a consultant’s PA in a Dublin hospital.  One day I was helping a patient with his hospital admission.  The man had just been told he had terminal cancer and would probably not be leaving the hospital alive.  I had got to know him over the months he had been coming to the hospital for tests.  He was a lovely man, always quick with a joke and would always stop by my desk for a chat when he was leaving.  This day he was quiet as we worked through the form and I filled in the necessary details.  Towards the end of the form was a question on religion.  Without missing a beat he answered None.  This wasn’t an option so I left the section blank and moved on.

Leaving him sitting beside my desk I walked down the corridor to the admissions office, wanting to make the process as simple and painless as possible.  The woman sitting at the admissions desk glanced at the form I handed her before handing it back.  “You didn’t fill in the religion”.  “He doesn’t have one” I answered, not thinking twice about it.  “Take it back and get him to put something down – it has to be filled in before we can admit him.”

So I went back down the corridor clutching the form feeling slightly sick.  I had to tell this terribly sick man that his beliefs, obviously strongly felt, weren’t good enough for the hospital administrators.  I sat down beside him and explained it as lightly as I could but knew immediately I should have stayed and argued the toss at the admissions desk.  The poor man was angry and upset.  He was crying as he began to justify his decision to me, something he should never have felt he  had to do.

I stopped him and said that I would sort it and eventually I did.  It took a stand up row before they would admit him without a religion but eventually I was able to go back and tell him he could go up to the ward.  The whole incident left me shaking with anger.  That this lovely man should have been questioned like that, that I had to be the one to question him.  For weeks after I argued that the option should be added to the admissions form, but I was only a temp and the hospital administration staff were on a work to rule over a benchmarking dispute.  The issue wasn’t high on the agenda.  Eventually I persuaded the IT guy to add an extra box to the form and started reading all the options to everyone coming to admission.  Nobody else ticked the No Religion box but I would hope that next time they did it was accepted as an option.

I left the hospital not long after, a little bit more militant on a number of issues.  But it was that day that has stuck with me ever since and the anger still rises when I think of it.  I know that religion is part of the fabric of the State here but that has to change.  Things might have improved since I was working in the hospital but as long as there is the assumption that everyone is the same, everyone has the same background, the same values if you scratch the civilised veneer with a sharp enough point, then that complacency will make some people feel like aliens in their own home.  When that complacency strikes when people are at their most vulnerable then it becomes a cruelty.

I know there is pressure to conform.  When I took the stand last week down in Dungarvan I felt embarrassed when I asked to affirm, even though any other oath would be a lie.  I went to church for long enough as a child to feel awkward when everyone gets up for communion and I stay seated at the family milestones we gather to celebrate, all of them taking place in a Church.

The No Religion box on the current census form didn’t need to be asked for.  But if those who don’t believe don’t tick it then it’s too easy to assume it’s not a problem.  That not believing is just an aberration, a blip in the religious hegemony.  It’s the times when we’re at our most vulnerable that feeling like  an individual can be most important. But in those same times you shouldn’t be made to feel like an outsider.

Holy Orders…

Every year on Good Friday Ireland closes down.  It’s illegal to sell alcohol here today so houses up and down the land are full of people getting completely rat arsed at home with oceans of booze bought the day before.  One or two uncharitable souls might venture into town to laugh at all the tourists wandering dejectedly around Temple Bar because no one bothered to tell them about the law.

Off licences around the country enjoy their one Friday night off of the year and rebellious parties rock through the night, continuing the theme of getting rat arsed with previously bought alcohol.  This year the truly dedicated (along with hotel residents, people in airport departure lounges and one or two other refuges of the desperate and alcoholic) can actually get wined and dined totally legally, not quite in international waters but a definitely aquatic bending of the rules.

The standard line you hear trotted out today when people complain about the levels of drunkenness sparked by enforced prohibition is that it’s only one day a year.  Sure we’re not that desperate for a drink are we?  But it’s not really a question of the whole nation going cold turkey if they don’t have intravenous alcohol it’s simply a case of the Irish inclination to do the opposite of what they’ve been told to do (look at the Lisbon Treaty!)

But behind all the hilarity and festivity is an inescapable problem with the Good Friday licensing laws and similar rules that govern Christmas Day.  They are there solely because Good Friday is a holy day in one religion.  For two days a year the laws of Ireland seek to force everyone in the country, regardless of their belief or lack of it, to toe the line laid down by the Catholic church.  It’s not a question of whether people can stand being without alcohol for 24 hours, it’s a question of why they’re being told to abstain.

In my previous post I wrote about the ads taken out by the Humanist Association of Ireland which are currently running on DART commuter trains around the capital.  The ads point out that in order to take high office in this country you have to take an oath to the Christian god.  Not exactly a separation between Church and State!  The Good Friday licensing laws are part and parcel of the same thing.  A religious law imposed on a population.

Now I know that Ireland is still a predominantly Catholic country.  According to the 2006 census there are still more than 3.5 million people living in Ireland who would describe themselves as Catholic.  However, the same census also shows that there are more than 700,000 people who do not share that faith.  Granted, included in that 700,000 would also be all the other denominations of Christianity who would also celebrate the resurrection but who might have different customs when it comes to observing Good Friday.

The licensing laws don’t take any of this into account.  They assume a population that needs policing to follow the rules of their faith, not allowing for personal discipline or responsibility.  They are no different from rules under Muslim Sharia law that dictate what a woman must wear and restrict her movements. These rules assume that religion needs to be policed and takes it away from a matter of personal conscience.

It might seem like a little thing.  An archaic rule that harks back to a simpler time and might actually have positive health benefits.  We’re not talking about going to your local butcher here or buying organic.  This is a situation where the rules of one religion dictate the law of the land.  I have no problem with individuals following whatever faith they choose.  I do have a problem when they impose that belief onto me.

A Still Small Voice of Reason?

A few months ago the British Humanist Association launched bus advertising in London.  The ads which said “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” caused quite a bit of controversy and sparked several retaliatory campaigns from religious groups.

At the time the Irish Humanist Association told the Irish Times that they would not be following suit because they thought the ads were too inflammatory.  In a predominantly Catholic country like Ireland you can see their point but I for one was rather disappointed.  After all, we see plenty of ads appearing from the Christian side of things, be it the “What think ye of Christ” ads that  pop up on buses at this time of year to the various campaigns by pro-life groups, most notably the Mother and Child campaign a few years ago.

The Mother and Child Campaign, and of course Youth Defence, are vociferous in their fight to protect Catholic morals.  I spent some months several years ago working for the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution when they were looking for submissions from members of the public on possible changes to the section of the Irish constitution that deals with the family.  We weren’t even dealing with the contentious Article 40.3.3 which is the one dealing with abortion (a somewhat volatile subject here).

What was under discussion though was a woman’s place in the home, the definition of a family and the rights of unmarried parents, adoptive parents and gay couples.  Not to mention the ratification of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the child.

There were thousands of submissions.  The bulk of them were printed red and white forms distributed by the Mother and Child Campaign in churches around the country.  We had people raging against the possibility of taking God out of the Constitution (not up for discussion at that time) and dozens railing against yet another attempt to “bring in abortion by the back door”.  People would phone up and hurl abuse.  There were even veiled threats at those working in the Committee if they tried to change the status quo.

Having experienced this much vitriol at an attempt to simply modernise the Constitution to take account of the changing make up of the Irish family, I was disappointed but not altogether surprised at the HAI’s response to such a confrontational bus campaign.  Religion is a highly inflammatory subject here.  Even careful reasoned arguments can get a violent backlash from a particularly vocal minority.

I remember the placard waving crowd that appeared outside the Four Courts every day during the High Court case around “Miss D” a teenager in state care who had been told her baby was suffering from an incurable condition and would not live long after birth.  It made going into work an uncomfortable experience and must have been highly traumatic for the pregnant teen who had to run the gamut every day while she tried to simply avail of the right to travel out of Ireland for an abortion available to every woman in the State.

So I was surprised to learn that the HAI have reconsidered and posted ads on the DART commuter trains that form one of the main transport systems in Dublin.

The information campaign from the Humanist Association of Ireland during Easter week 2009

The information campaign from the Humanist Association of Ireland during Easter week 2009

And here’s a close-up of the text of the ads.

Humanist Dart campaign close up

Humanist Dart campaign close up

 

They might not be quite as eye catching as the London ads but they do make a very good point.  There has been a campaign for the separation of Church and State here for years but it’s had only limited success.  While you can affirm without use of a religious text if you swear in for jury duty, that option isn’t available if you take high office here.  God is still firmly part of the constitution and will be for a considerable time to come.

However, it makes a refreshing change to see Humanist ads up where usually there would be “What think ye of Christ” ads promising a video presentation showing proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The “What Think Ye”s were up but they’ve been taken down again so the Humanists are out on their own.

I thought a lot about posting on this subject.  I had wanted to write about the initial London bus campaign but thought twice about it.  Even touching on the subject of religion can open the flood gates and the vitriol can be extreme.  There are some sections of society here that don’t like any viewpoint but there own seeing the light of day.  Even though there are almost 190,000 people according to the most recent census, who say they have “no religion” making this the second largest group after Catholicism it’s still a largely ignored group.

Hopefully the DART ads will get people thinking and start a debate.  I don’t hold out much hope though.  Reasoned debate is often drowned out by the shrieks of those trying to drown it out.

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