Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Is the Irish Media Really Biased Against Catholics?

I notice that today there are three letters in The Irish Times responding to a (truly awful) opinion piece earlier this week-- a piece that was written by a science writer named David Robert Grimes, under the headline "Evil, Militant Anti-Christian Secularism is simply a Myth".

The article was the usual thing, except even worse than usual-- it starts in the calm and reasoned tone that anti-religious writers like to assume, but soon descends (again as usual) to the standard schoolyard name-calling-- sky fairies, comparison of the Christian God to Zeus and Odin, and so forth. There is little to no actual argument in the article. Grimes complains of an assertion by John Waters that, if we accept the atheist worldview, we are simply the "accidental offspring of the pointless oozing of primordial slime”. He complains of hearing this argument "ad nauseum", confidently asserts that it is "utterly devoid of merit", and answers it-- or rather, completely fails to answer it-- in these swaggering lines:

In any case, I find it strange that some would see existence as pointless if it is not preordained and controlled by a curiously anthropomorphic higher power. Surely our existence on this wonderful planet, rife with staggering beauty and steeped in discovery is incredible – regardless of how we got here. Why denigrate all life just because it mightn’t have begun as described in a Stone Age tome ?

Oh, Doctor Grimes. You are simply missing the point. How can there be a meaning to life or the universe if that universe is not the creation of a divine Intelligence? Only intelligence creates meaning. Our own human intelligence can pretend to ascribe meaning to the universe, but in that case, that meaning and purpose is not intrinsic to the universe. It is simply a sort of make-believe. Existence is pointless in an atheistic universe.

My point in this post, however, is that the Irish Times letters page today carries three excellent responses to Dr. Grimes's piece, all of them criticizing his thesis from a religious point of view, and one of them (by an Alan French of Dun Laoghaire) really achieving the calm reason which Dr. Grimes merely affects :

[Grimes] says “frank discussion is clouded by often misinformed religious objections”. This sounds like, “If you don’t agree with me, your judgment is clouded.” By this logic, only the secularist view is unclouded. This sounds a bit like old-fashioned religious dogmatism! Secularism is a specific belief, which is subject to debate. It is not worthy of any special privilege in public life. People oppose it with good reason.

The Irish Times often carries letters which defend Catholic orthodoxy, as well as articles by David Quinn, John Waters, Fr. Vincent Twomey, and other conservative Catholics. RTÉ, too, gives airtime to these voices. I think Catholics should acknowledge this. I think we should acknowledge it especially when a newspaper publishes calm and intelligent letters from orthodox Catholics and Christians, since it would be easy for them simply to cherry-pick the most embarrassing or feeble responses, in order to simultaneously provide "balance" and show religious faith in a bad light.

I myself would not disagree that the Irish media is anti-Catholic-- the hostility of most presenters and journalists towards religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular is obvious. Still, that is their prerogative. The fact that news stories regarding Catholicism are coloured by that hostility (for instance, every report of a Papal speech focusing on questions such as child abuse and contraception, even if the Pope says nothing about them), is much more problematic.

The Irish media is anti-Catholic and unfair to Catholicism. But as long as there remains a right of reply, I think we should acknowledge a basic level of fairness. Otherwise we seem like relentless whingers.

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