Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Letter in the Irish Times yesterday

I had a letter in the Irish Times yesterday, responding to a Fintan O'Toole article:

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, May 1st) is entirely right when he criticises the Catholic Church in Ireland for its former slowness to react to clerical child abuse, and entirely wrong when he criticises it for disciplining priests who question defined Catholic doctrine – this too, let it be noted, hardly done with lightning speed, considering how long many of these figures have been undermining orthodox teaching.
He calls the Catholic Church “stupid” and says “it is doing a far better job of destroying itself than its worst enemies could dream of.” But the truth is that the Catholic Church existed long before any of the fashionable causes O’Toole espouses, and will continue to exist and flourish long after those causes are a footnote in history.
Perhaps the church’s critics might open their minds enough to accept that such an ancient institution has learned to look beyond the catch-cries of the moment in favour of enduring truths? – Yours, etc,
Sillogue Gardens,
Ballymun, Dublin 11.

I find myself wondering, though, if a letter like this does any good. Sure, it gives me the satisfaction of having made a point (a rather clichéd and obvious one), but will it have any other effect? Will it draw anybody towards Christ and his Church? Or does it simply seem smug and triumphalist?

I wonder a lot about the validity of religious arguments, on the part of ordinary folks like me. The gladitorial face-offs with New Atheists and rabid secularists-- what do they achieve? They are highly unlikely to convert the Dawkinsite, who has invested so much emotion and self-image into their infidelity. (To be fair, they could say the same thing about "dyed-in-the-wool faith heads"-- and they do.) Perhaps an onlooker who is uncommitted will be impressed, will find himself thinking, "Hey, these religious wackos can actually stand their ground in a clash of ideas. Maybe they're not just glassy-eyed cultists after all."

Or maybe the defence of the Faith is best left to those who really know what they are talking about, theologians and ecclesiastical historians and other specialists. The words of Yeats come to mind: "I think it better that in times like these a poet keep his mouth shut..." Perhaps a layman like me should keep his mouth shut rather than jump studs-first into what he thinks is his part in the New Evangelisation, but is really just self-indulgence. God grant me the discernment to know!


  1. Twice in the last month I've had a really nice surprise with a fellow Papist. I was reading a Catholic magazine on the Luas and I could sense the girl next to me was halfway reading it too. When it came to my stop I left it behind, as I usually do (lazy evangelising?) and she called to give it back to me. I waved her off and winked at her. There was that moment of recognition, "so you're one too..!" She was only about 20, of a Filipino family and looked very cool and grungy. She gave me a big smile and when I looked at her as the Luas drove on she was poring over that magazine.

    Then the other day going home from work with a Lithuanian colleague we had to pass 3 churches. Church 1 and I blessed myself and she looked like she was fiddling with her buttons. Church 2 and she did a mini-sign of the cross. Church 3 and we were magical synchronised blessers. She looked fairly chuffed with herself, relaxed more and chatted away in a way she never had before. We had revealed something important about ourselves to one other in that small gesture.

    You see, it's not always about the faithless, a lot of the time it's about us. Little moments of recognition matter to believers, that aha! moment when I spot another fool for Christ buoys me up. Perhaps some man reading your letter felt a little less solitary as a Catholic bloke that day. So keep scribbling your letters, you never know who needs a lift!

  2. That's true. When I've gone to visit my American girlfriend in Richmond, Virginia-- which is a Baptist town but has a vibrant Catholic community-- it's always felt so strange and wonderful to to say grace before meals (something I'd never done before) and to talk about God and for it to just seem normal and natural. It's a bit like suddenly being able to breathe easily or stand up straight.

    Last night I was at a dinner party that was just the opposite. Some fellow sitting next to me who was coming out with every anti-Catholic and anti-religious argument you've ever heard and several more, too. We had a strident debate for about fifteen or twenty minutes. I guess that is an opportunity to witness, too, if a less pleasant one...

  3. I wonder who educated your argumentative friend, where he was born and to whom he would turn if he ever found himself in dire need of food for his hungry children. It defies belief how easily we forget how much the Church built this country. The usual response is "propaganda and brainwashing!" The Thirsty Gargoyle wrote recently that if the state of religious knowledge is indicative of the level of brainwashing in this country then the Church is hardly doing a mighty job.

    Interestingly, I find the poor of Dublin and most younger country people more respectful of God and reflection on Him. If they're middle-aged or middle-class there's going to be a row. The Southern states in America are deadly; all for God, country and guns. I loved that unapologetic spunk!

  4. I'm all for the first two but not the third-- I know that makes me an anomaly amongst conservatives, though. I have been all around the houses on this subject with pro-gun folks and I acknowledge they have lots of good arguments. All I can say is that knowing I had a gun in my pocket or on a rack wouldn't make me feel at all safer against a post-midnight intruder or some nutcase waiting to take pops from an upstairs window somewhere. The baddies will always have the jump on the law-abiding. And it's more than that, too-- I find the whole fascination with, and fixation on, guns unhealthy and worrying. A gun exists to wound and kill. What is there to cheer for in that?

    Poor people seem to be more pious, for instance in blessing themselves when they pass a church, and yet attendance in working class parishes are very low. That always strikes me as odd.