My Faith: readers discuss their religion - or lack of it
A week ago, ‘The Irish Times’ invited members of the public to write about their experience of religion in Ireland today. Here is a selection of the replies
Marie Briody, Catholic
I am a practising Catholic and I thank The Irish Times for giving an ordinary Catholic the chance to share about her faith. For me, God is a loving God who has been taking care of me all my life and who continues to watch over me and protect me.
I came to appreciate my church and my faith in a much deeper way after a visit to Medjugorje. My faith gives me what I need to live each day as best I can. I am weak, I have a lot to learn and I am sinner, but I believe I am loved through the sacraments of my church. When I fail to be a good person, I can go to Confession and receive forgiveness and the strength to go on.
My faith does not take away suffering. It provides me with a means to bear it and find meaning in it.
It’s difficult for me to be a Catholic in Ireland at the moment because of the negativity in the media and society in general. I am disappointed by those within the church who have failed to be good leaders but I am consoled by the knowledge of the many good priests and religious I have met.
My faith has taught me that in my brokenness, God still loves me, and I have found within the Catholic Church a place where I am loved and accepted as I am.
Gene Dalton, Catholic
As a scientist by training, I will always be searching for answers to life’s hard questions. But in the lived experience and teachings of the church, I have found a wisdom that continues to challenge me, while always pointing to the great dignity of the human person. On my journey of faith, the core message of Catholicism that I have discovered is that I am loved by God and that my life has a purpose. This has sustained and guided me through many ups and downs in life.
My faith has motivated me to get involved in the church – recently as a member of “Catholic Comment”; a group of lay people who are available to engage with the media.
Louise Hildebrand, Christian
When I was younger I was religious – I desired to be close to God. I learned that the way to do this was to pray repetitive prayers, attend Mass regularly and to try very hard to do things to merit a good judgment from God. This kept me busy until the late 1980s when I left school and began to appreciate that no matter how hard I tried, I could never be good enough. With this realisation, I began to lose confidence in my religious efforts. My need to know and be close to God remained, as well as the desire to be somehow better. I would still regularly find a quiet church in which to pray, but it was always a one-way conversation. I never knew if it was changing me.
While working in India, I encountered Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. I found it overwhelming – each one so different to the other. I studied the Baha’i Faith: a gentle, disciplined approach to life and God that appears inclusive of all religions. I delved deeper, but found all these teachings again reinforced my limitations.
Piles of books later, I fell back into my habit of going to church on Sundays. I was invited to an introduction to Christianity course (Alpha), which I reluctantly attended. In that small mixed group of old and young, for the first time in my life, I began to understand Christianity and learn about Jesus Christ. I also started to sense God’s presence and have two-way “conversations” with an intimate and loving God who knew me and cared for me.
Alan Flanagan, No religion
Religion, for me, has always been a place to belong. A place where those who agree to behave and believe in the same way can find each other.
It was unfortunate, then, that on realising that I was gay at around eight years old I got the second part of that equation. If there is belonging, then there must be exclusion.
Because I was told that God disliked me, I began to question his existence. And it didn’t take long for me to question his existence right out of existence. I no longer believed, and still don’t.
There are many problems with Catholicism. It believes that gay people are sinners without ever defining why. It opposes contraception at the cost of ever-rising HIV and Aids rates in rigorously Catholic countries. It denies the reality of IVF for women who can’t conceive.
There is goodness in religion. But this goodness exists outside the world of religion in amazing quantities. Forgiveness, charity, love, morality – the Christian or Catholic ethos does not have a patent on these things. And I have found more acceptance and love outside the church than was ever available to me within it. Catholicism never believed in me. So I don’t believe in it.
Mary Flynn Yates, Catholic
My relationship with God is what matters. The church is incidental to that relationship (although I am a practising Catholic). I fail to understand how Irish people confuse God and church. I attribute my continuing faith to an educated, loving, broad-minded woman – my mother; a good and honest father; to sharing with and learning from my Church of Ireland husband; to Fr Joe and Brother Boniface; to love of the Irish Celtic church’s tradition of nature appreciation, whilst also appreciating its built heritage, and to my interest in monasticism. If I were not a Catholic I would be a Pantheist!
Lewis Clohessy, No religion
I have had no relationship with religion since October 1962 when I came to the realisation that the core narrative of Roman Catholicism was “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Accordingly, I despise all legal and political constructs which incorporate religious elements, such as prayers in the Dáil, oath-taking in courts and, above all, the Irish Constitution with its sectarian preamble basing the whole document on the ludicrous concept of the “Holy Trinity”.
Moya O’Sullivan, Secular humanist
I have, in the past two or three years, since about the age of 14, found the question of how religion, in this case, the Catholic Church in Ireland, can have such influence and devout followers perplexing. I cannot comprehend, with science now answering much of what the religionist people of the Middle Ages did not understand, how religion, and “faith” thought to be virtuous survives, when it is, to me, incompatible with our wonderful ability to reason, which separates us from animals.
I define myself as an intellectual and philosopher, with unshakeable faith in human reason, and find religion incongruous with the miracle that is the human mind. How an intelligent species can be vehement in their belief that water is “touched by God”, that Jesus was born to the “Virgin” Mary with no biological father involved, a physiological impossibility, that Jesus was fully human yet fully divine, and God, while remaining his son, and that “he” hears your prayers while simultaneously hearing those of another seven billion, is beyond my understanding.
The correlation between education and atheism doesn’t surprise me. As Aristotle says, the mark of an educated mind is the ability to assimilate an idea without absorbing it, and I know, even from my little life experience at 16, that knowledge which nurtures the human ability to reason is much more conducive to fulfilment, contentment and joy than religious “truth”.
Gerry Noonan, Catholic
In 1975, on leaving school I entered the Vincentian community as a student for the priesthood. My experiences as a seminarian were generally positive and though I left in 1979, in the middle of my “third arts” year, I kept contact with the community and remained committed to the church, taking religious education as one of my subjects for the H Dip and teaching it in secondary school until taking early retirement in February.
In light of the sex scandals and the mishandling of them, I found myself questioning more. I still take part in my local parish and sing each Sunday and at the main liturgies of the church year.
I see no reason at all for not having women priests or married priests and I fully support marriage for all, regardless of sexual orientation.
As a teacher, I often felt very frustrated at the total lack of knowledge that many students and parents showed regarding faith issues and I tried to get students to think.
I think the institution of the Roman Catholic Church has lost touch and that the Vatican would really love to return to a time when none of the church members questioned, read or thought for themselves. This will not happen. I will continue to be a part of my church, in my own way.