It was fairly predictable that Katie Taylor would make a passing reference to GOD when she won that Gold Medal. Thanking GOD is a fairly spontaneous reaction to any piece of good news. We all do it……indeed there is that old Luis Bunuel quote “Thank God I’m an Athiest” which is oft heard in Ireland.
In Ireland we do RELIGION but we don’t really do GOD. And as the old cliché in Norn Iron has it…….we have too much religion and not enough Christianity.
Most Irish people believe in GOD. Indeed as recently as last year (2011) 86% of the people in the Republic of Ireland described themselves as “Catholic”. This is quite high and possibly reflects the migration of Polish (and other groups) off-setting a real and perceived fall in Irish Catholic numbers. And Church figures show about 50% of Catholics attend church monthly….a staggering drop in two decades. About 5% of the population in the Republic of Ireland is “Protestant”, mostly Church of Ireland. Of course Protestantism in the Republic……and indeed Ireland as a whole….has been seen as “not Irish” enough.
In Norn Iron, Religion is as much an ethnic label as a real confessional experience. The population “mix” is about 42% Catholic and 53% Protestant (Church of Ireland and Presbyterian mostly) and reflects tribal origin rather than familiarity with Theology.
Religion………..and therefore GOD……is a bit embarrassing. We don’t mention HIM in polite company as we fear being labelled sectarian or getting into long discourse about the problems in the Catholic Church. And Religion is just about the only subject which can be ridiculed with impunity. Whatever you say ………..say nothing cos mentioning GOD aint worth the hassle.
Yet the Irish Olympic Team is diverse……sixty-six members (thirteen from Norn Iron who are Catholic and Protestant). The perception would be that almost all the people from the Republic would be (passively or nominally) Catholic with maybe one or two Protestants. Probably active athiests too. Nice to note that there is a Latvian and a Polish “new Irish” in the team and as usual we have one guy from South Africa, another from England and a woman from United States reflecting the wider Irish diaspora.
So yesterday, Katie could get away with thanking God…and for his Grace. And a thank you to those who had prayed for her “you cant do without prayers” she said. To those who care about GOD that was a nice thing to do. Honourable. Decent. To those who are “secular”, it was ok. Had Katie gone on to thank the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima and Knock……those who care about GOD would have got a little embarrassed and “liberals” would have started to ridicule. Because in Ireland in 2012….it is ok to be a quiet Christian. GOD is still acceptable but only in small doses.
Then a peculiar thing happened. An hour after her Gold Medal, the RTE News featured interviews with her old School Principal in Bray, County Wicklow. ….and the Minister of her Church. Her School was a Community School (ie no overt religious dimension) and her Church turned out to be (I think) Pentecostalist. I admit to a certain conflict here. My “liberal” and “republican” senses tell me that religion is irrelevant in terms of “being Irish”. The National Flag after all depicts a white section representing peace between the Green (Catholic) and Orange (Protestant) traditions on this island. Of course the National Flag has not been seen that way.
In fairness the Republic’s Protestant community……….those that stayed after Independence and Partition in 1922 have thrown their lot more fully into the ethos of the Republic than the Norths Catholic Community have embraced Britishness. The Conflict 1969-1998 and all earlier Troubles in Norn Iron has been about the inability to absorb the sizeable Catholic “minority” (never less than 34%) into a region of the “United Kingdom”. Arguably a combination of unionists marginalising nationalists and nationalists isolating themselves have made total absorption impossible.
No “northern” Catholic representing Britain could have run around an Olympic stadium waving a British Flag. And probably no “northern” Protestant could wave the Irish Flag with the enthusiasm that Katie Taylor did yesterday.
Frankly it was nice to hear GOD mentioned enthusiastically yesterday. But I am not sure that a practising Catholic could have done it. Or indeed a member of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist communions could have done it. There are a group of reformed churches however…….Pentecostalists (Katie’s faith), Society of Friends (Quaker), Jehovahs Witnesses and (if my friend Rachel will forgive me saying) Baptists who are seen in a better light than our traditional Irish faiths……..I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps because they are numerically small but I think the biggest reason is that these are often faiths into which people are not born and stay with passively………..but rather embrace as a matter of conviction, often as an adult. Disproportionately they are simply decent people.
And that’s the thing……the narrative whether from novelists Edna O’Brien, Frank McCourt, Roddy Doyle…..or from court transcripts or Inquiry Reports…..or investigative journalism…..or from Dara O’Briain or Ed Byrne on Mock The Week……….or internet message boards has been that Religion is a very bad thing. But the narrative should include that a lot of very decent people in all Christian religions…….and indeed all of the worlds religions who live a form of codified morality or theology are some of the best people I know.