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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 14, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

    Into the Abyss

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Looking at the boyish face of that noble young Garda killed in Co Donegal brings home how far into the abyss this country has gone. It also reinforces my point about the decline and semi-disgrace of the Church not being good news as it leaves this society without a moral compass. I am not a religious person but I recognise the value of people whose role is to set out standards of behaviour. Unfortunately, with regard to the child abuse scandal, those standards were flouted by some of the standard-bearers themselves. Resign the lot of you and let us start again like the Twelve Apostles did way back when.

    • Pomme de Tayto says:

      Aidan: Is this really all about the Catholic Church’s position (no pun intended) on (presumably) male homo/sexual practices?. I don’t find all of the statements you rely on to bolster your antipathy to the Catholic Church ‘despicable’ some of them have a distinctly adolescent ring to them…is it really a good reason to despise the RCC because it teaches that ‘masturbation is wrong’…What is it with men and their mickies…? Quite honestly I couldn’t care if you shag sheep but why do we all have to know about your angst?

    • Deaglán says:

      You have no compunction about repeating yourself, Aidan, but I do. However, here goes, one more time: the Church has its blind spots and the Bible is not to be taken as literal truth but the Ten Commandments are generally a sound ethical foundation for a society and a body which preaches (and practises) those is essentially a force for good – at least until an alternative force for good materialises. The alternative at the moment is anarchy.

    • Pomme de Tayto says:

      Whilst I can be sure that Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were not Communists having completed their opus magna and departed or almost departed this mortal coil before the Russian Revolution… I cannot be so sure about Santa…giving all those presents to children who had been ‘good’ (presumably having refrained from committing the sin of Onan) throughout the year…there’s also rumour that he also may have been Russian…Lachrymi Christi

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      There are alternatives other than anarchy such as our constitution and our laws,

      Although even with those documents it’s not a straightforward either/or as our constitution explicitly derives its authority from God, and our laws derive from our constitution.

      What we need in Irish society is to be more sceptical about everything including religion and politics too. But scepticism should not be confused with cyncism where you reject religion or politics or tarnish everyone with the same brush. Rather it is healthy that we, as individuals and collectively, question any given wisdom and those that hand that given wisdom down, including our media.

      The problem with the Catholic Church in Ireland over the years was that it wasn’t treated with the scepticism it deserved and now what is left is a population that is in large part very cynical about it as an institution.

    • Pomme de Pratai says:

      Amen! to that…Joanna you are a ‘rock of sense’ but I suppose Theocrats would have a problem with the Faith/scepticism issue…As an aside it behoves me to adopt the Hiberno-Irish variant of my name lest I am persecuted for unauthorised use and ‘passing off’ under trade laws…

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Pomme de Pratai,

      With your aside you have cheered me up no end at just the right time.

      Happy Christmas and New Year to you and Deaglán and all that comment on this blog.

    • Pomme de Pratai says:

      Thank you Joanna, I’m touched (!) Not only are you wise, you also have that essential ingredient of survival, humour. However, having said that, you can never be too careful where the ‘Peelers’ are concerned! I return your good wishes and send the same to Deaglan and the all other ‘bloggers’…

    • Aidan says:

      Pomme,

      In context, I was asked by Deaglán to explain why I find the church to be despicable. I didn’t set out to talk about my angst, but instead of making a good argument for his position, Deaglán is trying to make personal points about me.

      What is notable by its absence is Deaglán‘s reply to any of my questions. Instead he writes some nonsense about anarchy being the only alternative to Christianity (which is a point he couldn’t hope to back up). Really, this is very, very poor stuff, and not a very good debate.

    • Deaglán says:

      You are very difficult to have a dialogue with because you want to control the terms of debate and your tone is also very patronising. Your idea of a “good” debate is clearly one where you issue pronouncements and the rest of us say, “How true those words are!”
      My point, which I haven’t seen you answering, is that, if the Church isn’t going to preach (and of course practise) good behaviour, then who is? Traffic Wardens?
      Anyway, Happy, er, Holiday (since you probably have ideological objections to Christmas).

    • Aidan says:

      Deaglán,

      Good debate would be one where you answer the points made. I’m not looking for agreement, I’m looking for signs of some thought on the subject.

      You claim that the loss of the influence of the Church is a bad thing for society. I ask you whether if people thought more like the Pope we would have a better society and you dodged the question. I asked you what a priest could preach that he couldn’t preach if he wasn’t a priest. You didn’t answer the question. I pointed out that out of the advances in society as regards people’s attitudes to homosexuality, for instance, have been made in spite of the church: is this a good thing?

      Your response thus far seems to be “the church has blind spots” in regards to morality. They aren’t “blind spots”; they have holes large enough to drive a truck through. You say we need the Ten Commandments to be moral, but I doubt if you went into the street you could find many people who could name them all. And if someone can name them all does it make them a more moral person? I bet the Reverend Fred Phelps knows his bible backwards, for instance.

      You seem to think that we have some sort of huge problem now that the church has lost influence, but you haven’t really defined this problem at all. If the Godless section of society were the ones committing the most crimes etc. you might have a point about Godlessness being a problem, but they aren’t, and you don’t. Your argument seems to be without substance.

      When the Church preached and people listened we weren’t a terrifically moral society. As we can see from the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy report we were in many ways a sick society. Are we better off now? I think so. Do we still have problems? Yes. Will looking to the Church again help? I don’t know how any intelligent person could possibly think so.

      Why are you looking for more preachers? We don’t need preaching, we need serious thought and debate. Just look at the recent controversy in Listowel and consider where the preacher stood and where the majority of people in this country stood.

    • Aidan says:

      P.S.

      “…you probably have ideological objections to Christmas).”

      December 22, 2009
      9:32 am

      “Happy Christmas all the same”

    • Deaglán says:

      Aidan, I don’t know what age you are, but I can recall a time when a murder was a rare occurrence in Ireland and there was general shock and dismay in the community for months afterwards.

      Now, murder is practically an everyday occurrence. In part, this is a result of the decline in religious belief. There are other factors which we can go into another time.

      The fact that the child abuse issue has come into the open does not mean there is less of it going on. From what I understand, it is widespread. Other crimes of a sexual nature have also increased, as far I am aware.

      People’s attitudes to homosexual rights have become more liberal. That’s an important issue but it is only one corner of a very large tapestry and I don’t think Islam has a very liberal attitude on this either – to put it mildly. In my own small way, I was one of the first journalists to highlight the gay rights issue in this country back in the late 70s and 80s.

      As for Listowel, the Bishop played a very different role to the priest but you don’t choose to mention that.

      Weird to find myself defending the Church, even in a qualified way, but all you are offering is a soulless secularism that undermines the moral basis of society as encapsulated in, for example, the Ten Commandments. (If you asked people on the street to name the Taoiseach, I suspect a goodly proportion couldn’t do it, so your Vox Pop proves nothing.)

    • Aidan says:

      Deaglán,

      Again there is no substance to what you say. You point out that the murder rate has gone up in Ireland and you say in part that this caused by a decline in religious belief, but you don’t flesh out that point at all. How does the decline in belief (albeit, in part) lead to murder? Are the people who carry out these crimes the less religious part of the community? And, if you theory were correct, the least religious countries would have the highest crime/murder rates, and that just isn’t true.

      Your point on child abuse is based on a hunch. You can’t know whether child abuse is going unreported in this country or to what extent it is. What we can and do know is that the “preachers” who you want to turn back to as some sort of moral compass have a shameful record on the subject that can’t be swept away neatly by calling it a “moral blindspot”.

      People’s attitudes to homosexuality are important, and I think it should be conceded that on that point the further we are from the Pope’s thinking the better for society. His preaching on this subject should not be called a “moral blindspot” either. If one of your colleagues told you that he or she felt that homosexuals were evil or sinful you wouldn’t think that that was a small thing about that colleague that could be ignored. You certainly wouldn’t look to a homophobe or racist for moral guidance.

      As for Listowel, the timeline should be taken into account. The priest had defended the guy at the trial. It was a full two weeks before the sentencing and there was no attempt by the bishop to make any statement of support. The statement of support came AFTER the public outcry. To hold the bishop up as some sort of moral light on the issue one would have expected to see him leading, and not following. After all, we are talking about looking for moral leaders here.

      I am not offering soulless secularism. There is far more morality in the Declaration of Human Rights than the Ten Commandments. In fact, we can dispose of the first three commandments because they have nothing to do with morality. Again, if the Ten Commandments as a moral proclamation couldn’t be bettered you might have a point, but of course they can and have been bettered.

      Anyway, I’m over and out for Christmas.

    • Deaglán says:

      Aidan, In between last-minute shopping forays etc. can I say that the connection between the rise in the murder-rate and the decline in religious belief is quite simply that fewer people believe in the Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
      I have not conducted a sociological study of the child abuse situation which of its nature is very hard to assess in statistical terms but people who are at the coalface of our social problems tell me it is widespread, if not rampant.
      There are many reasons for a rise in immoral behaviour, whether it is murder or child abuse or whatever. I think it is fair to say that one of the reasons is the moral deregulation that has taken place with the decline in influence of our religious leaders – a decline for which they are themselves partly to blame.
      Again I repeat: who are the new moral guardians? Traffic Wardens? Moral deregulation seems to be what you are advocating.

      Don’t answer this till you’ve had your Plum Pudding.

    • Pomme de Pratai says:

      Hello boys…still at it I see!…For what it’s worth my seanfhear fada blames the Beatles…and The Pill…

    • Pomme de Pratai says:

      For some reason I am reminded of the film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They?’….!

    • Red Biddy says:

      The concept of ‘Religion as the opiate of the masses’ (no pun intended) and therefore a method of social control diminishes as science erodes religious ‘belief’ and society becomes more secularised. The role of the ‘Church’ therefore changes mutatis mutandis as society changes. This has been accelerated inexorably in Ireland by the conduct of those who have abused their ministerial role. Ironically therefore Aidanwould seem to have more in common with the Marxist/Communist model of the role of the Church/religion in advanced society. He’s probably correct in saying that we don’t need ‘priests’ whose moral authority is now so tarnished that it has disappeared almost to vanishing point, to act as ‘moral guardians’. However that is not the same thing as saying that the principles of Christianity e.g. The Ten Commandments (yep! I struggled to remember them all!) and the now discredited religious Orders are not worth keeping as a moral blueprint. However on a personal level I still find something Spiritual particularly at this time of year, in the ritual of the Catholic Church. But I attend from choice not moral obligation…And NO! I haven’t been at the cooking sherry…yet!

    • Red Biddy says:

      Don’t mean to hog the blog, but since you raised the subject of matters despicable Aidan…what I find despicable about the Catholic Church is its obscene wealth…and the way that wealth is accumulated from amongst the poorest in the world. I was shocked to see how the local parish priest took without compunction the meagre pension of his parishioners, including my grandmother, no doubt to grace his own table or wine cellar, but it’s probably best not to make one’s point with anecdotes. However, suffice to say, I’ve yet to see a hungry-looking priest.

    • Aidan says:

      Deaglán,

      My point is that we don’t need moral guardians, we need argument and discourse.

      The job of the moral guardians you think we we need is to say “thou shalt not kill…because God says so”. Is that the best argument we have against murder?

      And the other problem, of course, is that you want to take the fifth commandment in splendid isolation, as if the rest of things that the same moral guardians say God wants don’t exist, or are merely “moral blindspots”. Nothing good can be built on such shifting sands.

      As I said to you before, the Ten Commandments really aren’t anywhere close to the finest treatise on human rights and solidarity. There is no room for “all people are born equal in dignity and rights” but ample room for “have no other Gods before me”.

      Perhaps also you could answer the question as to what moral statement could a believer make that a non-believer could not make? If you seriously argue that belief in God is necessary for morality then you should be able to come up numerous answers.

    • Deaglán says:

      Aidan, I think of the many, many people who have, over the years, given up everything to become priests, nuns or brothers. They have devoted their lives to teaching, helping the sick, building and/or running hospitals and/or schools in the developing world or running hostels for down and outs nearer home. That’s the church that I think is worth preserving. These people have led by example and precept and I believe that, by and large, we are all the better for it. I freely acknowledge there have been abusers and abuses and that, instead of being tracked down and dealt with in the appropriate manner, these abusers were too often tolerated and allowed to bring their perversions to a different arena. That does not obliterate the good work done by untold thousands of selfless men and women. I think we still need them because I don’t see an equivalent corps or layer in ‘civilian’ life. Logic ain’t everything: humanity needs a spiritual dimension. You and I may have difficulty accepting some, or in your case any, of the doctrines but those who do accept them should be respected. Incidentally, I see where there has been another shocking killing, this time in Wicklow. The Garden of Ireland. Father of three shot in the head, apparently.
      Anyway, welcome back. Your old pal Tommy Tiernan was on TV last night. I only caught the end of the programme. Was there something I should be shocked about? No mention of the Holocaust, Travellers or people with disabilities, I take it? I am sure his co-presenter, the canny Hector, would not want that kind of “bothah”.

    • Aidan says:

      You didn’t answer the question. Charity is of course possible without religion. Here is a list of secular charities:

      http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Charities#Secular_Charities_and_Aid_groups

      I have no problem with numinous or spiritual in human life, but that doesn’t require us to abandon our logic.

      If you are still taking about “abusers not being tracked down” you haven’t really fully grasped the problem with the church. It was worldwide church policy dictated by the Vatican to cover-up child abuse by priests. The words “systemic” and “endemic” appear in the Ryan and Murphy reports. It wasn’t a case of “bad apples”, the whole thing was rotten to the core. As regards people being better off, I wonder how much charitable work by how many people would make up for the cover up of abused women and children. Do you know?

      In the end I think that there is more nostalgia than serious argument on your part here. There’s a good programme called “Seven Ages” about the history of Ireland, and I remember Michael D. Higgins saying that the Ireland of the fifties was a truly miserable, small-minded place and how anyone could want that back was beyond him (or words to that effect).

      ***

      Tiernan alluded to the Holocaust joke with a joke about offending people globally not just Irish people. The rest of the program was a poorly-edited, self-indulgent (they had their ex-classmates as guests!) mess with few laughs. I won’t be watching again.

    • Deaglán says:

      It’s not a nostalgic misrepresentation to say that the murder-rate has gone up dramatically in recent years and decades and that this has coincided with the decline in religious belief.
      You may be right about that the Vatican is behind the cover-up of child abuse. My point was that the abusers were and are a small minority whose awful deeds do not cancel out the good work done in education, health and social affairs by untold thousands of priests, nuns and brothers. I went to CBS Synge Street and never heard of a single instance of sexual abuse (plenty of “biffs” from the leather of course!) You were probably educated by a religious order yourself?
      Secular charities do exist and they do very good work but there aren’t the same numbers of charity workers as there are, or at least were, socially-committed religious. Your question as to how much charitable work makes up for child abuse is somewhat insulting and a departure from what I thought was a serious dialogue. As for Michael D. on the Fifties: he is absolutely right. Emigration and unemployment were rampant. But that had political, not moral causes. There was higher respect for human life then, which is a completely separate issue. When did human life become cheap in this country and why doesn’t it seem to bother you?

      ***
      Are you telling me Tommy T is going to be on every week? Between that and Podge and Rodge . . .

    • Red Biddy says:

      Is this a private party or can anyone join in? Unpalatable tho’ it may seem I think Aidan’s argument has force. The Charitable work done by the clergy has been done as well if not better by Humanitarian organisations who have no patronising or ulterior motives, and are not swapping wampum for bibles or ‘souls’. Of course in a just/equal society there would should be no need for Charity in any event. By definition there can never be true equality in a Capitalist Society especially when that inequality is bolstered by the Church c.f. The Beatitudes. I get the impression you are someone who looks for a sees the good in people Deaglán, and expect when the idea of sexual abuse by the Clergy was first mooted you would also have found that too, incomprehensible and rejected it accordingly. On a personal level, being a convent girl, priests and nuns, have always weirded me out…something to do with the prevalence of halitosis and body odour or maybe I’ve just got a sensitive nose…Now I’m just going to look up ‘numinous’…hope you enjoyed your plum duff…

    • Deaglán says:

      RedBid: Great word that, “numinous”. I suspect Aidan may have picked it up from a learned reverend professor in a previous life.
      Anyway, you are heartily welcome to join this discussion. Aidan is a bright fellow but, despite his ultraliberal views on comedy, not exactly a barrel of laughs.
      Incidentally, you don’t need to mix with priests and nuns to encounter halitosis.

    • aidan says:

      Deaglán,

      Abusers were in the minority, but the cover-up, which was the real problem, was perpetrated by the organisation. You and I may not have seen abuse, but it happened. The charitable aspect of the church did not make up for repressive force of the same organisation. Charity is best, in my opinion, when it is done without ulterior motive, and as I have shown, contrary to what you think, charity is alive and well in the secular world.

      The church cared (and in my opinion still cares) more about the institution than the human lives of the people who are part of that church. You only have to watch that BBC documentary “Sex Crimes and the Vatican” to see that in countries where the Vatican can get away with cover-up it still does. We do not need these people as moral guardians.

      Finally, if you think there is a correlation between lack of religious belief and the murder rate perhaps you could match a chart of a religious belief in various countries with the murder rate in those countries. The exercise is not going to support your argument:

      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article571206.ece

      “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.”

    • Deaglán says:

      I hold no particular brief for the Vatican and would like to see a democratised church. As for your point about religious belief and the murder-rate, all I know is, I was there. The murder-rate was very, very low and religious belief was at its height. Now religious belief is rock-bottom and murder is way up. D

    • Red Biddy says:

      Aidan: Have you done yet? You’re not a statistician by any chance are you…? You have made your point articulately, eloquently and… often…
      Repetition does not make it any stronger… What now is your objective…endorsement or capitulation…? Deaglán has already conceded that you are ‘bright’ if not the wittiest company…unless you are prepared to reveal a different side to your personality…

    • Aidan says:

      Okay, I think if we’re down to “all you know” and “you were there” as responses to an actual study of the correlation between religious belief and crime rates we should really call it a day on this discussion.

      I understand that your experience of religion is pleasant, but I think we need more to go on than your experience if we are to accept an argument that religion is good for society.

    • Deaglán says:

      My experience of religion has not been particularly “pleasant”. The Brothers hammered us, as did lay teachers on the staff. Frankly, when I go to Mass nowadays I find it … boring. The peace-sign handshake is embarrassingly twee. The sermons are rarely of much interest. If it’s a Folk Mass, I start to look for the exit.

      Your patronising bluster aside, my experience of a society where the murder-rate was low and religiious belief was strong is worth at least as much as your link to a piece in The Times.

      I haven’t yet read Fintan O’Toole’s “Ship of Fools” but I gather his main point is that the decline in religious morality was not replaced by a new civic morality. That would be a key point of my own as well.

    • Aidan says:

      You’re right, Red Biddy, when someone thinks their personal experience is as good as any study, and are prepared to cite books they haven’t read to support their ever more dubious point, I think it’s unseemly to keep beating on them, so I won’t.

    • Deaglán says:

      Arrogance is no substitute for argument, oul’ son :-)

    • Aidan says:

      You’re right, but I’m not the one who thinks their personal experience is a match for a study of the situation.

      Perhaps if you had any independent evidence which backed up the point you are trying to make it would be worth discussing this further.

    • Deaglán says:

      My personal experience was real. I grew up at a time when murders were a rarity. Now they are virtually a daily occurrence in this State. These are independently verifiable facts. Why do you not believe something unless someone in an ivory tower writes it up for a British newspaper?

      What did Mother Church do to you anyway? And who are you going to blame for the world’s ills, now that she is in decline?

    • Red Biddy says:

      Aidan : My comment was not a criticism of Deaglan but a (rhetorical) question answered by yours @78 & 80 above. Your extremely unpleasant comment… ‘it would be unseemly to keep beating up on them’…describes perfectly your combative discursive style. Reading between the lines I’m sure you know well that nothing was ever beaten into anyone… At first I thought this was some kind of macabre dance or at worst verbal ‘shadow boxing’ but it’s now apparent that for you the winning not the taking part is everything. Oral history is valuable testimony and part of our tradition as is humour. Deaglán: I don’t know what the religious equivalent of a ‘lipstick feminist’ is, but both would probably describe my relationship with the Politics and the Church. Like a good parent the Church is there when I need it…If you get a chance to attend the sung Latin Mass DO, it truly is ‘sensational’ in the literal sense, a delightful assault on the senses, apart from the creepy ‘touchy feely’ bit…Keeep Dancin’….

    • Deaglán says:

      Well said, Red Biddy. I haven’t felt bullied like this since my days at school with the Brothers :-)

    • Red Biddy says:

      You’re welcome, don’t mention it, as they say in
      Ballygodhelpus! If I knew how to do a smiley face I would…but I’m a bit technologically challenged! I hope that will be the end of what became a very unpleasant blog but you’re to be commended on your forbearance…Here’s to a better New Year…smiley face here!

    • Deaglán says:

      For a smiley face you mix the following ingredients, a colon :, a dash -, and a parenthesis ).

      All together and you get :-)

    • Red Biddy says:

      Thank you…my smiley face seems to be having a lie down… probably too much Christmas pud…! Talking of ‘Brothers’ (kinda) I don’t know if you ever saw Eamonn Morrissey perform Flann O’Brian’s monologue ‘The Brother’…I saw it at the Tricycle Theatre in Co. Kilburn, NW6 some years ago…it was brilliant, it’s also in Anthony Cronin’s homage to Myles in ‘The Life of Riley’… recommended re/reading for blog fatigue…Anyway here’s to the back of 2009 and wish you and yours whatever the Irish is for Happy New Year…’may auld acquaintance’ and all that…Slainte :-) :-) :-)


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