Lest anyone think that the church is benign, that it is not much more than a cultural artefact from a former age, watch the reaction when the church is challenged, or when it feels its interests are being threatened. Offend the sensibilities of those for whom the institution is everything, and one quickly finds the avuncular smile disappears and that something quite different emerges.
In his novel, The Angel Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón identifies the sort of church leadership one can encounter as easily in Ireland as in the novel’s setting of Catalunya. David Martin, the central character is engaged in trying to understand the roots of religion. His conclusions could be presented as a very uncomfortable analysis of the traditional church;
‘ . . . beliefs arise from an event or character that may or may not be authentic and rapidly involve into social movements that are conditioned and shaped by the political, economic and societal circumstances of the group that accepts them. Are you still awake?”
“A large part of the mythology that develops around each of these doctrines, from its liturgy to its rules and taboos, comes from the bureaucracy generated as they develop and not from the supposed supernatural act that originated them. Most of the simple, well-intentioned anecdotes are a mixture of common sense and folklore, and all the belligerent force they eventually develop comes from a subsequent interpretation of those principles, or even their distortion, at the hands of bureaucrats. The administrative and hierarchic aspects seem to be crucial in the evolution of belief systems. The truth is first revealed to all men, but very quickly individuals appear claiming sole authority and a duty to interpret, administer and, if need be, alter this truth in the name of the common good. To this end they establish a powerful and repressive organisation. This phenomenon which biology shows us is common to any social group, soon transforms the doctrine into a means of achieving control and political power. Divisions, wars and break ups become inevitable. Sooner or later, the word becomes flesh and the flesh bleeds’.
David Martin’s analysis is a damning description of the traditional church, Jesus of Nazareth is invisible. The original faith that has been interpreted, administered and even altered to suit the powerful interests of a small elite. In Ireland, the church has been used repeatedly as a means for individuals claiming authority to achieve control and power.
In a true republic, little of what is encountered in public discourse would appear; that the state would fund religion in education, that the state would allow religious influence in the health service, that the laws of the state would be shaped by religious leaders, would seem bizarre in a country that had fully embraced republican principles. Church bureaucrats love power, they will not readily surrender the control they believe to the theirs by divine right; As Ruiz Zafón writes, the church is a “powerful and repressive organisation.”