Christianity, Secularism, and Ireland: A Response

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I came across Father Brian McKevitt’s opinion piece in the Irish Times, titled Rite & Reason: Our world is dominated by an aimless secularist view of life.

In the article, McKevitt declares secularism – claiming it “Ireland’s unofficial State religion” – as the ideology to blame for changes in today’s supposedly lost society. In our search and desire for “radical” freedom (though one cannot be sure how freedom can be radicalised) we have redefined our moral values to be “guided by reason alone, with no reference to religious beliefs or a supreme being”. By the way McKevitt writes this, he makes it out to be a negative development in Irish (and Western) life, although it sounds perfectly plausible to this writer. 

Still, when it comes to making such claims in a newspaper as grand as the Irish Times, one expects examples of specific areas where secularism has disintegrated Irish life. McKevitt, aware of our expectations, is prepared to suggest quite a few, in the hopes that his claims would be viably supported:

“Human nature itself is seen as a restriction of freedom, with State-sponsored gender ideology absurdly belittling our sexuality, and we are rapidly abandoning the idea that we are responsible for others, especially children and the sick.

Worship of God is neglected or despised, […] human life is devalued, marriage is undermined, mothers are set against their unborn children, fatherhood is treated with contempt, consumption measures our success in life, happiness is momentary.”

Surprise surprise, I think to myself, reading the above piece. Once again, a Catholic priest is concerned over issues of sexuality, women’s reproductive rights, and gender.

Part of what McKevitt writes is actually a welcome criticism of modern society. Our happiness should not be measured by temporary highs, brought on by how or what we consume. Indeed, how we interact with, build, support, and contribute to the various communities of which we are members of, that should be a key measure of our role in society.

The rest of McKevitt’s words, however, are cause for concern. For a member of the Irish Catholic Church to refer to developments in Irish legislation and policy as “State-sponsored gender ideology absurdly belittling our sexuality” is laughably ironic, were it not so offensive. For far too many years, the ‘Christian’ attitude towards homosexuality or transgender identity was to disown at best, or kill at worst (this isn’t absurd, when one considers how churches in countries like Uganda and Nigeria are vitriolic in their attitude against LGBT people).

Irish Christians (or rather, Irish people who would regard themselves as Christian) are no strangers to homophobia or transphobia, legitimising the maltreatment of LGBT people on “moral laws” – as McKevitt insinuates – taught by the Catholic Church. The killing of Declan Flynn in Fairview Park, arguably the anti-gay killing that sparked Ireland’s campaign for LGBT rights, was most likely carried out by people who regarded themselves Catholic. Any good Catholic, like Father McKevitt, would naturally condemn such a horrific act of violence, yet the perpetrators were likely to have learned their homophobia from somewhere. In Ireland of that time, the Catholic Church still ruled supreme.

Thankfully, Irish Catholics (in Ireland, at least) have realised that their faith can adapt alongside the social attitudes of the modern era, the proof of which was seen when a majority of the Irish voted for same-sex marriage in 2015. Many of these ‘Yes’ voters would have counted themselves as Catholic in the most recent census, despite the official stance of the Catholic Church advocating a ‘No’ vote in the referendum. The result proved that Irish faith, as it had once been in the Middle Ages, did not need to bow to the Vatican. Faith does not need to block reason. If anything, it should support it.

For Father McKevitt to claim that traditions in Ireland are being mocked is unnecessary, and dangerously open to backfire. If Catholicism demands to remain the foundation of a healthy Irish society, it needs to admit openly that it has failed its own people on several occasions. The Magdalene laundries. The child abuse. The belittling of women, and the blind eye to violence against them. The damnation of homosexuality. The list goes on and on, and yet somehow, a secularist society is what threatens the fabric of our society. Sure…

Father McKevitt may do well to remember that wonderful Christian saying; let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. If the Catholic (or any other) Church is to survive in an increasingly progressive country such as Ireland today, then it needs to recognise where it has gone wrong in the past, take stock, and move forward with its people. Secularism is not Catholicism’s enemy, stubbornness is.

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