...that Irish people have become less religious, John Waters questions whether it's possible to define "religion" for the purpose of an opinion poll, he once again quotes the Pope's speech comparing the modern European mind to a rationalistic "bunker" (at this stage Mr. Waters is developing a bunker mentality himself) and the usual zombie army of twitching Church-bashers and militant atheists rush to the comments section to make their howlingly obvious and banal points.
And a good time was had by all.
Personally, I find it irritating when religious people duck and dive around terms like "religion" and "God". Yes, they are incredibly loaded and philosophically dense terms. But so is "time" and that doesn't stop me looking to see what time the next bus arrives. I am sure that two Nobel-winning economists could argue over the precise definition of the term "money" for hours, but both of them have a pretty similar working definition when it comes to getting paid.
I'm really not attacking John Waters. I'm a big fan. I just wish he would stop talking about that bunker.
Can we talk about God in Ireland? I often think about the different audiences there are for God talk out there. As far as I can see there are four groups, and four attitudes to take:
1) The Dawkins-adoring atheists who seriously believe that all their anti-religious arguments either haven't occurred to believers already, or that all believers are hiding behind a barricade of self-deception. Is there any point in talking with these? Perhaps only that, if believers don't engage them, those on the sidelines will think we have no answers. The actual engagement itself is completely stalemated within a handful of moves.
2) The convinced believers. It is always pleasant to converse with those who agree with you, and believers encourage and support each other. But if we are only talking to each other, we can't evangelize the culture.
3) The religiously apathetic; those who don't believe but also don't think about religion very much. Does it seem strange that people can be indifferent to the biggest questions in life? Is the thirst for the sacred within these people simply repressed? Perhaps. I think this group reacts badly to being hammered over the head with religion, but you never know how a stray phrase or snatch of a song or the sight of someone saying a quiet prayer could take them by surprise.
4) The genuinely uncommitted, but interested; the seekers; the true agnostics. I think these are the "floating voters" of the spiritual realm, and they should be the intended audience of our discussions; even when we are talking to each other, or arguing with atheists. The chances are that they have thought deeply about this subject and it could be some very specific argument, consideration or even image or phrase that will make all the difference. They will not be impressed by bluster or rhetoric. But they will be impresesed by graciousness, quiet confidence and composure.
It's the first group that makes all the noise. But it's in the last group that all the real action is happening.