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.