Why the need to curb joyful expression?


Celebration and fear of joy give rise to conflict

ABOUT 100 years ago, a priest called to a house near Caragh in Co Kildare where a dance was being held and ordered that the dancing be stopped.

House dances, which took place in private homes when people didn’t have cars or venues to drive to, were viewed with suspicion by some priests. They could provide what the Catholic Church called “an occasion of sin”, and thus should not be tolerated.

On this occasion, though, the householder, or one of the guests, told the priest to “F . . . off.”

I don’t know what happened next, but this was such a shocking occurrence that my father, who can only have been a child when it happened, still talked about it when he was approaching 70.

The advent of the car and of commercial dance halls put an end to the house dances, but not to the church’s monitoring of the dance scene.

Right into the 1960s, dance halls in some dioceses were closed throughout Lent on the instructions of the local Catholic bishop. Gradually, that, too, died away through the influence of television, industrialisation and the decline of church control.

Something about joy, fun and celebration scares people who want to exert control. I was reminded of this by a report on France 24 of new rules introduced by Islamists in northern Mali.

Weddings in that country can last for several days, or even a week, according to the report. They are joyous occasions, and no doubt bring delight into lives which include a fair deal of hardship.

However, joyous celebrations are not on the agenda of the Islamists. They ban secular music, television, tobacco, alcohol and football. I am not saying that all of these are necessary for celebration, but such prohibitions give some idea of life under these Islamists.

By the way, when I say Islamists I don’t mean Muslims in general – I mean the dour, fundamental extremists from whom their fellow Muslims have a great deal more to fear than we have in the West.

As a result of the Islamist edicts, the most people can do at wedding celebrations is clap hands and sing, and even that can draw the attention of the authorities.

These authorities have to be taken seriously. Unmarried couples found walking together in the street are whipped and one couple at least has been stoned to death, according to the France 24 report.

Why this human need, on the part of some, to ban the human need for the expression of joy?

Maybe there is something about joy that breaks the restraints set by those who would control everything around them.

And yet something in joy will not be denied. At a party once, I observed a woman dancing whose aunt had been murdered by an IRA bomb.

Another woman there had been riddled with bullets in a UVF ambush.

Another had fled from war in Nicaragua.

It is coincidence that they happened to be in the same room at the same time, and that all were dancing.

Think of it: bullets, bombs, death and war – but what they wanted to do was dance, despite the dark forces that had warped and shaped their lives.

I had come across all of this before reading of that awful event in Afghanistan in which people were murdered by the Taliban for attending a party at which both men and women happened to be present. To be honest, it is such a nightmarish event that it is hard to write about.

But see how even that expression of joy led to such a dark slaughter by those who see joy as their enemy?

It would be monstrous to equate the priest I mentioned at the start of this article with Taliban members who carried out this crime.

But perhaps both stories illustrate aspects of the conflict between those who fear joy and those who celebrate it.

I know which side I’m on.

PADRAIG O'MORAIN (pomorain@ireland.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is free by email

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