Two young working class intellectuals were sitting behind me in the bus from UCD today. I don't know if they were college students. They agreed that we descended from animals (that's why we still have residual tales), that religion had been invented to keep everything from falling apart and it had worked for a while but it wouldn't work anymore, that it was better not to argue with religious people because that "fuelled their flames" and that, in the end, their argument always came down to "faith", anyway, which was the opposite of reason.
They criticised the British government for appointing a pharmaceutics expert who they then dismissed when they discovered he was in favour of cannabis legalisation. They lamented our society's addiction to the X-Factor and Facebook and loudly proclaimed their preference for books. One of them was reading Jean-Paul Sartre at the moment and getting into existentialism. They quoted the lyrics of "Working Class Hero" by John Lennon.
They were very explicit in considering themselves intellectual rebels and anti-conformists, and in considering the general population to be sedated sheep.
I had to say something. But-- dear reader-- have you noticed that, when people give accounts of their debates and arguments and exchanges, they inevitably turn out to have made devastating epigrams that leave their opponents speechless?
I don't want to fall into that trap. Doubtless I was a coward for waiting until I rose to get up off the bus. I didn't want a long, unpleasant exchange. Doubtless I mumbled and seemed like an embittered nutter. Maybe the few other people at the back of the bus thought I was worse than the two would-be radicals.
But what I said was: "I've listened to you for twenty minutes now, and I know you think you're free thinkers. But you've just parrotted every intellectual fashion of the last thirty or forty years. There's nothing anti-establishment about that. So keep thinking." I'm pretty sure that's close to what I said, because I had been rehearsing it in my head for fifteen minutes or so.
The two working class heroes stared at me resentfully and muttered something like "Yeah, whatever"-- which is probably what I would do if a stranger berated me in public.
I went downstairs, hoped to goodness we weren't getting off at the same stop because I didn't want a protracted verbal exchange, and eventually disembarked.
I had left work an hour early to make it to the pro-life rally in Molesworth Street. I was surprised and pleased to see how many people were there-- somebody from the platform guessed it was seven to ten thousand. Many were old. Some were young. There were a lot of families. There were also a lot of religious banners. I wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.
This is only the second rally I've ever attended-- the first, some years ago, was one to protest the building of a motorway close by the Hill of Tara. I feel awkward at rallies and marches and demonstrations. I'm not really one for holding placards or chanting or whooping. But I stood and listened and applauded for twenty minutes or so, before heading off. I just wanted to be there.
I thought I was going to Advent Eucharistic adoration in Ballymun's Holy Spirit Church, but when I reached it the lights were off. I must have got the wrong night.
So I went home and switched on the computer. The pro-life rally featured pretty low down RTE's news stories. A much higher place was given to the story of a woman who is seeking ther right to die by assisted suicide. "Terminally Ill Woman Wants to Die With Dignity", was the headline. She is in the final stages of MS and is taking a case to the High Court.
"When you have to be showered, toileted and fed you start to feel like a nobody," she said.
Anyone has to feel a great deal of sympathy with someone in a case like this. But it seems to me that the implication of her statement is that anybody who has to be showered, toileted and fed is right to feel like a nobody-- that life is only worth living if you can fend for yourself and live an independent life. And how further do you take this principle? Will somebody who is not economically producitive be judged unworthy of life? Will the lonely and depressed, and everybody who is going through a bleak period in their lives, win societal approval for deciding to end it all?
One evening in Ireland, at the start of Advent in 2012.
"For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places." Ephesians 6:12