Please God, send more atheists

Mar 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Ireland

The patron saint’s day was being celebrated with great exuberance in the city centre last night.   Despite the winter temperatures, there were women out in dresses appropriate to Mediterranean climes; their male companions were in boisterous form.

Until recent years, there would have been ritual clerical condemnation of the excesses, in some quarters there would have been harsh words about such celebration taking place at all.  Times being what they are, young people taking too much to drink is a minor misdemeanour when compared with the institutional crimes of the church.

There has been a lack of an independent critique of Irish society; it is not that the voices have not been there, they have, but in a clerically controlled society, those whose views did not accord with church teaching were accorded no more respect than last night’s celebrants would have been.

New voices are needed; the church needs to be pushed out to the margins, where members belong because of faith and commitment, and not because of the power and influence exercised by the church.  So far, much of the critique of Irish religion has had no more substance than Chaim, the character in the Jewish story of Moishe the Atheist:

“In the little Eastern European village of Chelm lived a young man, who considered himself an atheist. Chaim, the Chelmite had heard that the very famous “Moishe the Atheist” lived in the neighbouring village. Eager to find a like-minded soul to learn from, Chaim packed a bit of food in his kerchief, hung it on a stick, and made his way through the woods to find Moishe the Atheist and to study with him.

After a few days journey, and directions from a few helpful strangers, the young man found Moishe’s little cottage. He knocked on the door and received permission to enter. There was an old, bespectacled man hunched over the table, half-hidden behind a pile of books.

“Yes,” said the older man.

“I am looking for Moishe the Atheist,” said Chaim.

“I am Moishe,” said Moishe.

“Sir, I am an atheist too, and I would like to be your apprentice,” said the younger man.

Moishe slowly removed his glasses and peered at the stranger. “You are an atheist?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” replied Chaim.

“Have you read the Torah?” Moishe asked.

“No, sir,” said Chaim.

“Have you studied the Talmud?”

“No, sir,” said Chaim.

“Are you familiar with all our prayers and philosophies?” asked Moishe.

“No, sir!” said Chaim adamantly. “I am an atheist.”

“Ach,” said Moishe, waving the young man away dismissively. “You are not an atheist. You are only an ignoramus”

Moishes are needed in public positions and in high office in Ireland; people who understand how we came to be where we are; and people who understand the church, its teaching, and the process by which it took over Irish society.

The church will resist fiercely because it is fond of its power and prestige.  But people interested in following Jesus of Nazareth should not fear, less religion in the state, which leads only to nominal half-hearted observance, will lead to more Christianity in the church, as faith becomes a matter of personal choice and commitment.

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  1. Great post – agree with every word – especially the point re the margins. That is where we belong and not just as daytrippers.

  2. Time to join the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross in his constitutional campaign?

  3. Interesting post. I wonder though if some of those critics previously ignored are beginning to come into their own. A tribute to their staying power perhaps. New voices always welcome as well of course.

  4. BW,

    At least dissident voices no longer feel they must leave, as was the case for decades. In the days of McQuaid, even Sean O’Casey could not get plays staged.

  5. Ian my thoughts exactly. You know my position on religion so no news there but I abhor those who preach atheism having had no experience of the church, the bible, etc. Come from a position of knowledge before you condemn. I believe that for all things. Not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Buddhists are peace loving and not all Christians are faithful or true to the teachings of Christ.

  6. Maybe the evolution of the alternative messenger has withered down the influence of the church on public opinion. First we had radio, then television and now the world wide web. The problem has been that the mainstream media has only expressed mainstream views – when has RTE ever said that St Patrick’s Day has turned into a National embarrassment as we adorn ourselves in green plastic hats, forgetting who we are celebrating. It is the new media, blog sites, discussion forums etc are not afraid to say it as it should be said without offending “commercial” partners which have now become the new message outlet.

    Will they control public opinion as the Church once did?

  7. Dogs,

    The alternative to repressed clericalism has been a swing to an immature libertinism. I agree with you about the issues of control, to speak about the propensity towards excess during the Tiger years was to challenge the interests of those whose profits were swollen by money created by the bubble.

    Controlling public opinion now seems chiefly to consist in rubbishing the opinions of one’s opponents. As long as the church remains in the field of public life, calls for a more responsible society and behaviour that would be acceptable in secular Europe can be dismissed as “the stuff the church says and we all know what they are like”.

  8. Edgy is a place – and also a way of life

  9. Piskies seem to have been on the edge for centuries and appear to have flourished there..

  10. Great Post !

  11. […] read a charming story on Ian Poulton’s website recently, about Moishe the Atheist, and I think it sums up pefectly for me the difference between […]

  12. I’m grateful to you for the story of Moishe, even if it’s based on a fundamental intellectual fallacy. It nevertheless illustrates many important aspects of our lives.

  13. Touche, Bock, one doesn’t need to read Brothers Grimm to dismiss the premise of Fairy Tales.

    I do think, though, that the most effective way to get the faithful to change is to take on the hierarchy on its own ground and to point out that it is not even consistent with its own foundation document.

  14. True for Cardinal Sean Brady, for sure – inconsistency . Lukewarm apologies to clerical abuse victims no longer provide enough backpedaling to reestablish confidence. But about pushing the church to the margins where members belong . . . maybe some of us like the margins because we know the glow of those in power isn’t the true Light.

  15. Hi Gram,

    I was sat trying to work on a sermon on Isaiah 43:16-21 for Sunday, the lines about not dwelling on the past because God is doing something new.

    The church on the margins will be new, it will not be the church as it was in the centre, the glow of power will be gone, and maybe some people will have gone with it.

  16. Hi Ian,
    Good point and a good reminder. I didn’t mean to sound negative. Cardinal Brady’s apology as well as the Pope’s made the news here yesterday and I had just come from a site where I was reading Colm O’Gorman’s statement.
    Something new will be refreshing. I’m probably the jackal. You’re probably the owl.

  17. Interesting thing about the jackal and the owl in the passage is that they need no mediatory body; their relationship with God is direct and comes not from what the people of God have said or done, but what God himself has done.

    Where would the church be if it went around declaring that no mediation on its part was necessary for people’s spiritual lives?

  18. They’d have to give up their tax-exempt status, for one thing.

  19. Can you imagine the receipts from a property tax on churches?!

  20. “In that great gettin’ up morning . . . . ” I can! But they’d have to commit some honesty, first – to disclose all their hidden assets.

  21. Gram,

    If people like Sean Fortune see that Resurrection morning, then God is not a God of justice.

  22. What an ironic last name, eh? There was a time when I considered buying the corporate CEOs gift certificates to the Vista Dorada Hotel in Mazatlan for Christmas, and bribing hotel management to put them up in the same room Widera jumped from, but a bottle of Sean Fortune’s Powers Gold Label whiskey and some pills would have been cheaper.

  23. Gram,

    A friend who was a journalist encountered Fortune as a devious manipulator in a completely unrelated matter before allegations of abuse broke. An organisation that presumed to speak authoritatively on human nature seemed strangely blind to slime within its ranks.

  24. Can’t wait to read Benny’s Pastoral Pedophile Letter. News out today that it’s complete.

    Check the link scroll to the second video. Markey is waiting extradition to Ireland. Guess where ELSE they hid him?????

  25. Would Granite Falls be like Lake Wobegon? Hard to imagine such stuff in the land of Fr Emil 🙁

  26. GF’s population was 2,908 as of 2008. It’s on the prairie. Nearly the same population of my Smalltownville. Wanna know how many perps they hid there?

  27. On the prairie? My US geography is not great; does this mean it’s more remote than Wobegon is intended to be?

    The bishop of the diocese has to be satisfied priest are in good standing – someone must have told lies or there was deliberate collusion.

  28. Um . . . I’ll take door number two – deliberate frequent collusion. Do you know what subsecreta files are? We should have a talk about . . . . Emil. Check my blog. Sheesh! I posted a little poem from someone I know.

  29. I’m sorry – I’m on a roll today. The bishop doesn’t HAVE to be satisfied the priests are in good standing. He only has to be involved in the hiding, the secret transfers, and paying the attorneys to call the victims hideous names. The guy in charge locally was transferred here when our CEO retired. The new guy held the post on the Prairie . . . ya! THE PRAIRIE and he hid one of his pedophiles at a catholic grade school here. The perp then got arrested for hiring a prostitute in the red light district. Wanna know how I know? A cop told me. Wanna know why the cop told me? Cuz the cop was a victim, too. Not a victim of the same guy, but a victim of a perp well-known in these parts. Wanna know why he told me??? CUz I did something about it!

  30. And yes . . more remote that Wobegon.

  31. The situation here endured for so long because of the subjugation of the Irish state by the Hierarchy. Even when Gardai tried to take action, they came up against obstruction from superiors.

  32. Ian, don’t you think that’s been the case all over the world though? I do. Subjugation, obstruction, etc. Some who spoke out were transferred to military chaplaincy training. Victims who spoke out were coerced into silence. Newspapers were controlled by the corporation. I worry about the people, too, but we have to teach them to be there for each other. If we teach them that someone else will take care of them, we encourage the proliferation of the dependency that fosterd the abuse in the first place.

  33. Apart from the dodgy logic in the Moishe tale, are you intimating that you may be a Moishe? This undercurrent of quiet dissatisfaction seems to be growing within the ranks. Taken together with the Roman problem, may we be witnessing some major change in the institutional churches? Major change at a glacial pace, but change.
    I speak as an atheist who has never studied Native American Religion, so my opinion may be suspect.

  34. KV,

    If one had to choose between the dogmatics of Joseph Ratzinger and the gentleness of Moishe, would there be much competition?

  35. Ian, the full text of the Pope’s letter has been released – just an hour ago. I have it up on my blog in case you’re interested.

  36. Not much acknowledgment of the fact that it was a systemic problem arising from the nature of the organisation itself: secrecy and dominance are hardly conducive to the building of a healthy church.

  37. always the rhetorical question….:)

  38. The Anglican way, KV, – people must decide for themselves; no bulls, encyclicals or dogmatic pronouncements.

  39. Ian, Spot on assessment of the papal corporate memo!!

  40. Not that any of it makes any difference. Until democratic states realize diplomatic recognition of the Vatican is an anachronism in the 21st Century, nothing is going to change. I once met a nun who prayed each day the Pope would become a Christian; I thought she was joking but came to realize she was deadly serious.

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