Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Good Letter in the Irish Times Today

Sir, – To dress up what has happened to this generation of Irish people as the mere “hedonism” and “maturity” of “a tearaway teenager”, as Una Mullally has done (Opinion, December 16th), is a grevious understatement. The state of mind behind the self-indulgent, celebrity culture that has us dependent on foreigners to keep the holes-in-the-wall open over the past number of years has much deeper roots in our society than that.

The basic motivating force behind the bankrupting of this country was the self-obsession, self-absorption, self-indulgence and self-aggrandisement of the most powerful and most influential in our society.

The message blasting out of our TV screens and our social media day in day out was one that said the way to get ahead was self-exaltation, destruction of the self-esteem of everyone else in sight and exultation in the difficulties of “whingers” and “losers”.

To add insult to injury the mantra being put out now is that “We are all to blame”. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton, Dublin 13.

I'm tired of hearing about the collective madness of the Celtic Tiger years. I didn't buy any overseas properties. I didn't take out any loans. Like many if not most Irish people, I didn't join in the celebrations of our newfound wealth. I remember, at this time, sitting in a pub with a friend and complaining about all the things we were losing, including the appreciation of little things. "That's a bit of a cliché, isn't it?", he replied. (That's my friend. He tends to make a withering remark about anything you say. Kind of drives me crazy sometimes.) But he was right. It was a cliché. Lots and lots and lots of people did fret about how the fairy gold was corrupting the soul of Ireland.

But I'm even more interested in his words about "destruction of the self-esteem of everyone else in sight" and "exultation in the difficulties of 'whingers' and 'losers'".

There are two words which, for me, describe two awful toxins in the bloodstream of modern society. One of the words is "cool", and the other word is "loser".

The notion of "cool" must be one of the most destructive-- perhaps the most destructive-- in contemporary society. In one fell swoop it attacks innocence, spontaneity, reverence, heartiness, respect for tradition, meekness, humility, contentment and so much more. Although it is a famously vague and elusive idea, it tends to be antagonistic towards anything that is old, anything that is not flashy or spectacular or slick, anything that requires us to be unselfconscious and unembarrassed and child-like, and anything that requires deference towards authority, custom, or the preferences of others. Sometimes it tries to incorporate things that are not slick or cynical-- as in the current fashion for "ugly Christmas sweaters". But this is usually in an ironic, smirking manner. Of course, it is often hugely enthusiastic about things which are most unapologetically traditional, like Gregorian chant or Aran sweaters. But it despises more familiar and workaday traditions, like the rosary or the Angelus bells or the Irish language.

But I find the term "loser" even more objectionable. I hate it even when it's being used by people with whom I am in sympathy-- the Catholic free-sheet Alive! often describes atheists as losers, which I find obnoxious and stupid.

People often wonder what difference Christianity makes when atheists and agnostics are usually good people (insofar as any of us are "good people"-- a doubtful proposition in itself). What difference does being a Christian make, when Christians often don't seem any better than anyone else?

It's a vast subject, and one I could write thousands of words upon. But one important and subtle difference is suggested by that word, "loser".

A non-religious person can safely despise anybody they want to. They can speak of them and think of them like so much human garbage. And they do. I think you only have to watch modern television comedy to realize this. Shows like The Young Ones, Bottom, The In Betweeners, Alan Partridge, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Beavis and Butt-Head, and many others all contain characters which the audience are encouraged to regard with unmitigated ridicule and contempt. I think this sort of cruel humour becomes much more prevalent as society loses its Christian character.

One film that I saw recently in the cinema stands out in my mind, in this regard. It was The Other Guys, starring Mark Walhberg and Will Ferrell. It was actually a well-written and amusing film, but one recurring joke that left a sour taste in my mouth featured a group of homeless men who were shown as enthusiastically having orgies (with each other) in a car belonging to one of the principal characters. Because if you're a homeless old man, well, what chance have you of physical intimacy except with another homeless old man? And why wouldn't you go for that? And what could be more funny to everyone else?

No matter how far Christians fall short of their stated beliefs, they are still committed to the idea that every human being is a child of God, an immortal soul who is infinitely loved by Him, and should be infinitely loved by them, too. We are also committed to the idea that nobody is ever beyond forgiveness and redemption-- not even rapists or child molesters or war criminals, or any of the other transgressors on whom it is socially acceptable to wish the most lurid punishments.

God knows Christians fall short of these ideals-- I struggle with anger myself, and I often find myself feeling the most harrowing rage towards people who cause me embarrassment. But the point is, I have to consciously try to push this way. I can't let myself go, I can't luxuriate in it. And I think that makes all the difference.


  1. Well said, M.
    A thought for you: have you ever thought of the permanent diaconate? I know, being a newly-wed and all, that now isn't the time ... but it is never too early to plant the seed!

  2. Thanks, Father!

    The permanent diaconate, never thought about that. Something to reflect on for the future. I was a minister of the Word at my parish a while ago, which I really liked. Although I only took the ambo a handful of times as things worked out.