Instead again, it’s locked park Sunday Belfast
The line from Seamus Heaney’s Tate’s Avenue conjures memories of Protestant hegemony.
Be-hatted Free Presbyterian ladies gathering for the latest burst of demagoguery; men in shirts a collar size too small, carrying black leather bound Bibles from their shiny cars, polished the previous day. A photograph of swings chained up in a children’s park, a visual reminder that Sunday was not for enjoyment, that the King James Version held sway in this land, no matter whether you believed or not.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the watchword for parenting. Who knows how many violent actions sprang from the inculcation of violence as the answer to problems? Raising children in ‘the fear of the Lord’ seemed often a loveless and graceless affair. God was the violent and arbitrary father, coming home and swinging his belt; God was prone to violent and irrational outbursts. Whatever came along, it was God’s will; it must be accepted without question.
The Protestant faith was strident and triumphal; there could be no place for diversity; there could be no questioning of authority. Scripture was invoked in support of beating children, in support of oppressing women; in granting no tolerance to anyone who did not conform. Scripture was conclusive in the inferior place of Catholics, for were they not led by the Antichrist himself?
‘Locked park Sunday Belfast’ epitomises the hypocrisy of a society that made so much of its outward observances; as if the Kingdom of God did not include decent housing and jobs for the poor on both sides of the city; as if it did not include respect for each person made in God’s image; as if Jesus himself spoke in Seventeenth Century English and held in contempt progress in the arts and in the sciences.
Like cardinals who believe that one can recover the past by restoring the Latin Mass and putting people back in their place; there are fundamentalist Protestants who believe they can recover their golden age: a vision of a man and his wife with their two submissive children filing into their pew each Sunday; of women who stay at home and bake bread and home made cakes each weekday; of a world without lesbian or gay people, a world without immigrants with exotic religions, a world that is uniform and ordered, a world they can control.
It is hard to reconcile the itinerant First Century preacher from Nazareth with the locked park version of the Gospel, but, as someone once explained, the ‘the Gospels were written for the people in Jesus’ time, they weren’t for us now’. It was hard to argue against such logic; it allowed for the a la carte selection of whatever Bible verses suited
There is a certain delight in watching the waning influence of the churches in Ireland; perhaps it opens the possibility of less religious people and more Christians.
A colleague in the North wrote of pouring himself a gin and tonic on Friday evening and looking forward to the weekend. Standing aside from parish ministry, no shadows cross his path until Monday morning. I wonder, what are his memories of locked park Sunday Belfast?