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The Church versus The State


It seems that my post, prompted by another article in today's press, looks to be augmented by a piece from the powerful mind of Ronan Mullen, suitably covered by Gavin.
It seems that the Ferns report has done more than just outline abuses in the Catholic Church since its publication. The reaction from Liz O Donnell seemed to throw Bertie into all sorts of convulsions, such is the effect of answering questions on him.

He was in the Irish Times today, speaking at an inter-faith ceremony last night talking about religion and not a religion.To paraphrase; 'the states role is to promote the virtue of religious observance not one particular religion'. That seems to be a very odd conception of the state to my mind. Though I agree that shopping centres, "the new synagogues and churches" arent heavy on religion, Bertie's general thrust is still stuck around scholastic times.

The role of the Church in the development of the Irish state is hardly something to be proud of. At a time when government was beginning to experiment with radicalism at the end of the 50s (Noel Browne e.g.) the church held an effective veto over policy (the mother and child scheme e.g.). Reading recently through a biography of Haughey, I counted at least two social crises where the Bishop brought about reconciliation with striking unions. At a time when the rest of the world was busy "dropping out" of the system and asking questions, the Irish political process was sclerotic in some areas thanks to some interventions by the Church.

In our education system there is a major role to be played by Faith schools, while we consider it so natural, the U.K is undergoing paroxysms at the prospect of lots of schools run by church organisations decentralised from the state's control. The idea that the state's job is to promote faith, not in a specific doctrine just some concept of faith, is an anachronism. Recourse to faith represents a massive failure on the part of our society to think imaginatively regarding its humanity and the expression of such.

I understand that for many, being Catholic is part of Irish identity. That as a situation is not necessarily a good one. Bertie's job is not to help me find a dogma that suits my needs, such inside-the-box thinking is what the Enlightenment project sought to question. The role of the state, as it exists for social ends, is to foster and promote humanity through education and questioning. Religion is not akin to spirituality and again not analogous to reason. I argue that the states role is to promote the latter as opposed to the former.

Give a man a meal and he eats once, teach him to fish and he eats forever. Similarly with life, religion only quells the question, to answer it truly requires that we have the tools at our disposal to arbitrate over our own selves. Reason is the power and will to question, a responsibility to promote religion stands at the anti-thesis to the power of the "WHY?".

One of the best discourses I've read on the need of a state to take on a religion is to ensure that the people are suitably maintained and kept from causing disturbances. The only way to ensure that was by everyone adopting the state-based church which is a contradiction in terms if one thinks of it. Rousseau was talking of maintaining harmony in the Social Contract yet the argument seems to have had a deep impact on our dear leader.

Religion can and often is used in a manner akin to psy-ops. Guilt and the self-policing role of religion make things easier for everybody. Not right, just easy. I think Liz was correct, when I posted on the topic, I abstractly pointed to its implications for education. If we follow our logic here, and hers, then it should indeed open up our education system to different approaches and focuses.

As this debate rumbles on, we must maintain sight of the fact that as a people we have declined in religiosity, the church has lost some of its moral legitimacy and authority in the way we conduct our lives, this turns it into a groundless ethical consultant, when it cannot manipulate our behaviour. We have ceased to be puppets of parish voting. This has a profound impact for the type of leadership we need. If Bertie thinks we need religion let him stand up and argue for its return to its old role. We do not treat it as sacrosanct anymore on the ground yet often it doesn't read that way.

This is not some exhortation to abandon the church along with precepts of right, wrong, ethics, morality, even spirituality. Simply to say that is to cast out the baby with the bathwater. We are a complex society who learn nothing in school of our republican fathers and their thought. Not just Pearce and those before him but Voltaire, Paine, de Montaigne, J.S. Mill to a degree. The men who forged republicanism in the blood of revolution and the pen. These ideas are as relevant now as ever. If we are to be told to live with religion we should be able to evaluate it on its merits, with the tools of reason, spirituality and thought at our disposal. Not just cause Bertie told us.


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  1. Anonymous ainelivia | 10:59 a.m. |  

    "If we are to be told to live with religion we should be able to evaluate it on it's merits, with the tools of reason, spirituality and thought at our disposal".

    Absolutely, however the whole thing about religion, Catholic that is in particular, in Ireland over the past 75 years let's say, is that religion did not encourage thought and sometimes little reason, and to my recollection even less spirituality. What was encouraged was blind faith.

    "..that for many, being Catholic is part of Irish identity". True and in a way sad, for I know Irish people who are Quaker, Jewish, Hindu, Protestant and agnostic. But still very Irish.

    Good piece, I enjoyed reading this.

  2. Blogger Cian | 3:14 p.m. |  

    What was encouraged was blind faith.
    and why not if they could get away with it some might reply? The responsiblity to make decisions is ours, yet we require education in the tools to evaluate. none of which are proffered to us.
    True and in a way sad
    I second that. only its sad in many ways.
    Good piece, I enjoyed reading this.

    Thank you very much, the kind word goes a long way!!

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