No turning back

Aug 29th, 2010 | By | Category: Ireland

Looking homewards from English shores, Ireland still seems a very different place, still outside of European liberal secularism, still not fully engaged with an Enlightenment worldview, still unprepared to contemplate a separation of church and state, still unprepared to accept a desacralisation of society.

The churches will fight tooth and nail to hold the ground they have, not because Jesus asks them to do so, but because they value their power and influence, because bishops expect to be people of standing and not merely members of a religious group.  There are some who believe it is possible to turn back the clock of history, to recover the theocratic Ireland of times past, to silence the critics and to put people back into line – read the conservative Catholic papers and they are searching for a recovery of lost ground.

The only way the past may be recovered is by a denial of the freedom of the present; the sort of vision being pursued by the Tea Party in the United States.  Catholic Ireland can only be restored by an explicit attack on individual liberty.  Attempts at revitalisation of what philosopher Karl Popper would have regarded as ‘tribal magic’ can only mean oppressive regimes.  Writing during the Second World War, he says in ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’,

“The lesson which we should learn from Plato is the exact opposite of what he tries to teach us. It is a lesson which must not be forgotten. Excellent as Plato’s sociological diagnosis was, his own development proves that the therapy he recommended is worse than the evil he tried to combat. Arresting political change is not the remedy; it cannot bring happiness. We can never return to the alleged innocence and beauty of the closed society. Our dream of heaven cannot be realized on earth. Once we begin to rely upon our reason, and to use our powers of criticism, once we feel that call of personal responsibilities, and with it the responsibility of helping to advance knowledge, we cannot return to a state of implicit submission to tribal magic. For those who have eaten of the tree of knowledge, paradise is lost. The more we try to return to the heroic age of tribalism, the more surely do we arrive at the Inquisition, at the Secret Police, and at a romanticized gangsterism. Beginning with the suppression of reason and truth, we must end with the most brutal and violent destruction of all that is human. There is no return to a harmonious state of nature. If we turn back, then we must go the whole way – we must return to the beasts”

Are we going back?  No? Well, let’s say so and make it absolutely clear to those who would take us back into the age of magic that their spells are ineffective.

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  1. I often find myself contemplating the differences between this Island and the other, larger Island off the East Coast. Despite its many faults, the smaller Island (which has been my home for the last sixteen years) is greatly preferable bar two things which I miss: Cricket and ‘proper’ beer. (Not sure if Plato could shed any light on that though).

  2. I fear I have lost a taste for the real ale I drank in my younger days!

    The Ryan and Murphy Reports have destroyed any hope the Church might have had of recovering its ‘magical’ powers. The greed of the financiers and the chaos it has caused has left people disillusioned with secular alternatives.

  3. Daniel Owen’s “proper” beer is something I never thought I would sign up to – but now, I who was raised on Guinness, am also a fan.
    Like the Karl Popper passage. Very apt.
    So what you’re saying Ian, is that it’s all in a state of chassis. Though surely the churches’ chances of turning back the clock are severely reduced these days.

  4. Without the return to some authoritarian regime, the re-establishment of ‘Catholic’ Ireland as it was is impossible.

  5. I’m glad frankly. I hate the influence of church on state and the idiots in the Tea Party terrify me. It might not be catholicism that resorts to magic but I tell you, I’m very concerned about the growth and influence of pentacostals here and the fact that they recruit the young. Their financial and political influence far outweigh their numbers frankly. Quite scary.

  6. The Tea Party are Obama’s best friend! They will ensure sane America votes Democrat.

    The Pentecostals don’t have an institutional structure comparable to the Roman Catholic Church so their influence will always be diffuse.

  7. Be careful before predicting the death of Catholicism, or flat out denying its capacity for revival. Nobody can predict the future. Russia is currently undergoing a massive religious revival and Vladimir Putin goes around piously sporting a crucifix his devout mother gave to him. That would have been utterly inconceivable to anyone in the 1950s. You don’t know what the future has in store.

    I agree however that Irish Catholicism is in need of massive reform, although in a radically different direction to that prescribed by popular ‘wisdom’.

  8. I was not aware of having predicted the demise of Catholicism; it will survive as a community of the faithful choosing the way of Jesus. What will never return is the unhealthy Christendom Catholicism that dominated Ireland after independence, where the church assumed a degree power entirely out of keeping with the way of the Cross and provided an opportunity for hideous men and women to perpetrate heinous crimes against children.

  9. Ian, your historical analysis is simplistic. Read Diarmaid Ferriter’s Judging Dev – the church-state relationship was a lot more complex than often protrayed, and a product of a multiplicity of historic, social, and economic factors. The industrial schools were established by the British government back in the 1868, they did not appear ex nihilio after independence. MJF McCarthy noted in ‘Priests and People in Ireland’ the abuses that characterised the institutions and (British) police and government collusion back in 1903.

    The Catholic Church didn’t assume power. Anthony Cronin was correct when he said that the Irish Church was influential because that was what the people then wanted. If Catholicism had power in Ireland it was based on popular and democratic consensus. That’s not to rationalize it, but we have to put these things in context.

  10. Church exercise of power, however that power arises, is contrary to the Gospel.

  11. It depends. Exercise of temporal power may be – but the Church did not rule Ireland. The population expected their legislation to reflect Catholic ideals. Politicians frequently ignored the Church (the Commission on Vocational Organisation, Sunday licensing laws, etc).

  12. The Gospels give no sanction to the exercise of power, whether temporal or ecclesiastical. The Gospel call is to servanthood.

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