Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Why I Am a Humanist

I've been very busy recently, or at least very occupied. So, to keep the blog ticking over, here is an article that I had published in the Catholic Voice newspaper in 2014.

A Much-Vexed Word

What did Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Jean Paul Sartre all have in common? Your first answer might be, “They were all atheists”, and that would certainly be true. But another thing they have in common is that they are all listed on the website of the Humanist Association of Ireland as famous humanists.

Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan

It would seem, according to this organisation, that a humanist is necessarily an atheist. Indeed, their description of humanism makes this clear: “Humanism is a view of life that combines reason with compassion. It is based on a concern for humanity in general, and for human individuals in particular. It is for people who base their interpretation of existence on the evidence of the natural world and its evolution, and not on belief in the supernatural (theistic god, miracles, afterlife, revealed morality etc.).”

So, can you be a humanist but not an atheist? And can a Christian be a humanist?

Jacques Maritain, the famous twentieth century Catholic philosopher, would certainly have answered “Yes!” to both questions. His book Integral Humanism greatly influenced the Christian Democratic movement in Europe. He also helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Other Christians who are often considered to be humanists include St. John Paul II (who subscribed to a philosophy called personalism, which is a form of humanism), Dante, Chaucer, G.K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, T.S. Eliot, and Pope Paul VI, whose closing address to the Second Vatican Council included these words: “We call upon those who term themselves modern humanists, and who have renounced the transcendent value of the highest realities, to give the council credit at least for one quality and to recognise our own new type of humanism: we, too, in fact, we more than any others, honour mankind.”

Does the question even matter? I think it does. As somebody who considers himself both a Catholic and a humanist, I believe that Christians should resist the efforts of secular humanists to take ownership of this term. I believe that nobody has a better entitlement to it than followers of Jesus Christ, since Christ (as we believe) chose to become human, told us that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and assured us that every hair on our heads has been counted.

What is Humanism?

Historically speaking, humanism has nothing at all to do with atheism. The universally recognised ‘Father of Humanism’ is Petrarch, the Italian poet who died in 1374. Petrarch was a devout Catholic whose interest in ancient Greece and Rome helped to bring about the Renaissance. Later on, Desiderius Erasmus and St. Thomas More both earned the title ‘humanist’, on account of their immersion in the classical past and their emphasis upon human reason. Both, of course, remained loyal Catholics—Erasmus refusing to join Luther’s rebellion against the Pope, and St. Thomas More sacrificing his life to defend the independence of the Church from the State.

So we see straight away that a philosophy which was given to the world by Christianity has now been twisted into something anti-Christian and anti-religious.

What, then, is humanism?

The Oxford English Dictionary online offers three different definitions, and they are interestingly diverse. Here they are: “A rationalistic outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters; “a Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought”; and “(Among some contemporary writers) a system of thought criticized as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.”

But definitions in dictionaries and encyclopedias, though they are important, don’t tell us everything about how a word is used. What is interesting about the word ‘humanism’ is that it is used to mean such a variety of things, and to give a name to a particular spirit which is difficult to define but easy to recognise. Leaving out its use as a synonym for atheism, here are a few of the ways the term ‘humanism’ is used.

It is often used to mean something like ‘cosmopolitanism’. Humanists believe in the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of man, and that our affinity with the human race as a whole is more important than national or ethnic ties. (This doesn’t mean that national or ethnic ties aren’t important.)

Humanism is often used to describe a particular critique of technology. The American cultural critic Neil Postman, who warned against our culture’s dependence upon television, information and science, is usually described as a humanist. As Wikipedia says: “Postman was a humanist, who believed that “new technology can never substitute for human values”. (There is a whole school of thinkers today who believe such caution should be thrown to the wind, agreeing with Friedrich Nietzsche that “man is something to be transcended”, and who gleefully term themselves ‘transhumanists’.)

In the field of psychology, ‘humanistic psychology’ is a departure from the rather bullish and anti-sentimental approach taken by Sigmund Freud and behaviourists such as B.F. Skinner (who wrote a book entitled Beyond Freedom and Dignity.) Humanistic psychologists tend to emphasise human freedom, creativity and the urge for wholeness, rather than seeing human beings as creatures at the mercy of their irrational impulses or social conditioning. They also tend to respect mankind’s spiritual aspirations.

In the field of literature, ‘liberal humanism’ is a school of criticism associated with F.R. Leavis and Matthew Arnold. They believed that literature speaks to something permanent and unchanging in human nature, and that the literary element in a book or poem is the most important thing about it. Anyone who has suffered through an English literature course in a modern university, with its obsession with feminist, post-modernist, post-colonial and
‘Deconstructionist’ theories—all of which are more interested in politics, and in the sex and colour and social class of the writer, than in the actual literary value of the work—will appreciate this school of thought.

Finally, humanism is generally considered to be an optimistic outlook. Humanists have faith in the ability of humans to rationally overcome social problems, faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity, and faith in the ability of the human mind to comprehend reality.

If this is a fair description of the range of attitudes that belong under the term ‘humanism’, then I believe that humanism goes better—much, much better—with a Christian view of the world than it does with the philosophy of the atheist and the scientific materialist.

Why is that? I will defend my claim, but first I want to indulge in a personal digression.

To Boldly Go…

Why do I even care about humanism? I hope the reader will not guffaw if I admit that the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation has a lot to do with it. (Bear with me, please!)

Star Trek: The Next Generation is, as its name implies, the second series of the Star Trek franchise, set some years after the adventures of Captain Kirk, Doctor Spock and Scotty. Like the first series, it follows the crew of the Starship Enterprise as they explore the galaxy, and come into contact with a bewildering variety of life forms and civilisations.

Star Trek was the brainchild of a producer called Gene Roddenberry, who was an unabashed enemy of religion. (He died in 1991, halfway through The Next Generation’s seven-year run.) He specified that Star Trek should be set in a future where humanity had left religion behind. Nevertheless, I am not the first person to see strong Christian undertones in the show.

Star Trek is notable for its high moral tone. There are no anti-heroes amongst its cast. The crew of the Starship Enterprise are portrayed as being very principled and idealistic. The conflicts they encounter are more often solved by reason, and by coming to a better understanding with their antagonists, than by violence. Off duty, they perform Shakespeare plays, attend poetry recitals, and pursue other worthy cultural pursuits.

Although human civilisation in Star Trek has reached a point where all material needs have been met (you can get any meal you want by just ordering it from a ‘replicator’) the show repeatedly makes the point that man does not live by technology alone. One character—the super-intelligent android Data—yearns to become more like his human colleagues, and is intrigued by human concepts such as love, humour, and imagination. 

And, in one of my favourite scenes, the ship’s captain Jean-Luc Picard—who is something of a Renaissance man—has this advice for a young member of the crew: “Anyone can be trained in the mechanics of piloting a starship. It takes more. Open your mind to the past. Art, history, philosophy. And all this may mean something”. When the crew encounter alien civilisations that are less scientifically advanced than themselves, the moral of the episode is often that these societies have a wisdom and a dignity of their own, which is to be respected.

I actually believe that Star Trek played a part in forming my own Christian worldview. (I was a teenager when The Next Generation was being first broadcast.) The universe it portrayed was not hostile and alienating, but rather filled with wonders and with intelligent life. Good triumphs over evil, love over conflict, time and again. The human spirit and the human mind are seen to be at home in the cosmos. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, despite Roddenberry’s intentions, there is a loving Providence behind the Star Trek universe—and that this Providence takes a special interest in human beings.

In short, Star Trek played no small part in making me a humanist, a Christian, and a Christian humanist.

Why Christians are Humanists

And now, to return to the question I left dangling above—why do I believe that Christians have more of a right than atheists to call themselves humanists?

I believe this because, from an atheist or materialist point of view, there is really nothing special about human beings. We are simply the by-product of immutable, impersonal natural forces—just like a wave or a flame. There is no reason to believe that the human mind should enjoy a privileged insight into reality. (Indeed, historians of science have pointed out that modern science arose in a Christian context, as a result of the Christian faith that God’s universe was comprehensible.)

Humanists who are atheists, or scientific materialists, have no reason—other than pure sentimentality—to think that human nature is basically good. If we are entirely the products of evolution, of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’, why would it be? Christians, on the other hand—for all our belief in sin, and the Fall—have faith that we were created in the image and likeness of God, and that “everything created by God is good” (1 Timothy 4:4).

Christians—and especially Catholics—actually proclaim the dignity of man in a way that secular culture has never succeeded in doing. Christianity, as a universalist religion, has always rejected racist ideologies that portray some people as sub-human. Its missionaries have respected, and indeed nurtured, the native cultures they encountered. As well as this, Catholicism defends human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, on the basis of the dignity of the person. (Secular humanism can’t even give us a useful definition of a human being!)

Catholic social teaching defends the dignity of the human person (and the dignity of the family) against untrammelled market forces on one hand, and the unrestricted power of the State on the other. Catholicism embraces a humanistic holism, promoting— to quote the magnificent words of Pope Paul VI—“the good of every man, and of the whole man”. Finally, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Church’s Magisterium, has often warned of the dangers of technology in a manner similar to that of Neil Postman.

Meanwhile, the materialistic philosophies of modernity have brought us ever closer to the bleak prediction of philosopher Michel Foucault, who—in 1966—foresaw the possibility that “man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”

So who, I ask, are the true humanists?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Year of Time and Space

Yesterday, I decided that this year-- the year from St. George's Day 2021 to St. George's Day 2022-- would be the Year of Time and Space for me.

I have a difficult and complicated relationship with time and space. I'm never quite sure where I am or what day it is. I have to think about it. I'm always impressed that most people can say "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" without even having to think about it.

Added to this, my sense of direction is abysmal-- truly absymal. When I try to convey to people just how bad my sense of direction really is, they invariably think I'm exaggerating. I can get lost almost anywhere.

I have a very limited understanding of spatial relationships. For instance, the library where I work has four floors. I find it extremely challenging to work out how the layout of one floor relates to the layout of the other floors, to know what's above my head or beneath my feet at any particular spot.

That's not all. I've lived in Dublin all my life, but my grasp of Dublin geography is worse than that of most people who have lived here for a year or two. Several times in my life I've been asked: "Are you really a Dubliner?".

And it's not just Dublin geography. I struggle with all geography. I can remember, in primary school, how the teacher used to pull down a large laminated map of Ireland and get us to memorize counties and rivers from it. This seemed utterly impossible to me and I couldn't understand how the other children could do it.

My sense of temporal relations (so to speak) is almost as poor as my sense of spatial relations. Recently, I realized that I could remember nothing at all from 2003. I know I was working in UCD, and I know I was living in Ballymun. I know I was going to the cinema a lot. But that's about all I can remember. I can't remember any specific occurrences.

I wish I'd kept diaries all my life. I kept a continuous diary from June 2015 to some time in 2020. Then I gave up on it, but more recently I've been keeping a simpler chronicle, in a small desk diary. (My previous diary became so elaborate, so comprehensive, it was becoming a burden to keep it up.)

Despite grappling so clumsily with them, I'm completely fascinated by the concepts of time and space. This fascination has grown on me over the years.

I've always loved stories about travellers going to places which have a distinctive character of their own; the Odyssey (filtered through pop culture like Ulysses 31), Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and so on.

Similarly, I've always been fascinated by special times. I've written ad nauseum, on this blog, about the impression one Halloween night made on me when I was a little boy.

A lot of my conservatism has been a craving for special times and special places, a hunger for festival and tradition, for local and national character.

I think that's very legitimate, but I also think I miss out a lot on the more subtle differences in time and space. I've sadly been oblivious to many of them, through a lack of observational skills, and a tendency to absent-mindedness.

On a more abstract level, the very existence of time and space-- of different times and spaces-- has a kind of thrill for me.

I used to be a big soccer fan. Every soccer fan knows that Anfield, the home of LIverpool Football Club, has a famous sign in the players' tunnel which proclaims: "This is Anfield". The thought of that sign has always given me a thrill.

I get a similar thrill from the line that I've put in bold from Sir Thomas Wyatt's poem "Mine Own John Poins":

Nor I am not where Christ is given in prey
For money, poison, and treason at Rome—
A common practice used night and day:
But here I am in Kent and Christendom
Among the Muses where I read and rhyme;
Where if thou list, my Poinz, for to come,
Thou shalt be judge how I do spend my time.

Time and place seem exotic to me. I am enthralled by the thought: "This place is different from every other place in the world." Even the most non-descript place is different from every other place in the world, purely by virtue of being a different place. I am here now, rather than all the other places I might be. It would take me some time to get somewhere else. This place has its own history, even if nobody knows it. Countless other feet have trodden this ground before me.

So, to come back to how I began this post, I have decided that this year is going to be the year of time and space. Instead of being fascinated by time and space in an abstract way, I'm actually going to try to get some grasp of them.

Specifically, I'm going to try to get a grasp of geography and history.

First off, I'm determined to be more aware of both. I'm the kind of person who disappears into my own thoughts when I'm on a journey, instead of noticing the places I'm passing through. Similarly, I tend to filter out place-names when I'm watching a news report or a television programme. In future, I'm going to try to notice them-- to relish them.

I'm also going to try to study maps and timelines. As I've mentioned before, I've been memorizing poetry for a long time. I have over a hundred poems memorized, including some long poems such as "The Raven" and "Elegy in a Country Chuchyard". In order to keep them fresh in my mind, I recite them to myself constantly. I've realized this is the only way to retain them.

I've decided that I'm not going to acquire any more poems for now. I'm going to keep the ones I've memorized fresh in my memory, but now I'm going to concentrate on memorizing dates and studying maps. Half of the historical dates will pertain to Irish history, the other half will pertain to general history. Like my memorized poems, the memorized dates will be something I regularly refresh in my mind, on a daily or near-daily basis.

(I've also been wondering how I can "timestamp" memories, so I can relate each one to a particular period of my life. I've noticed that music is a good way of doing this. So I'm thinking of playing a particular song regularly each week, one that I wouldn't be listening to otherwise. I'm thinking of drawing them from chart history; for instance, the song for this week would be the song that topped the music charts this week in 1971. So hearing that song will recall that week to me, I hope.)

Hopefully, on St. George's Day 2022, I won't be so hopelessly adrift in time and space. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Watching the Late Late Show

Yesterday, I was watching some old episodes and clips of the Late Late Show on YouTube. I mean, of course, from the time that Gay Byrne presented it. It was quite the nostalgia kick.

I'm at the age for nostalgia, undoubtedly. Admittedly, I've always been a nostalgist, but the call of the past seems especially compelling in one's forties. All of my siblings seem to be going through this right now (we are all aged between forty and sixty-- my younger brother just turned forty last week). They're all immersed in genealogical research, though I tend to be more drawn to oral traditions and collective memories.

Mortality has been much on my mind this week. I discovered that a friend of mine died last month. I call him a friend, but we hadn't been in touch for a few years. He was an elderly gentleman, somewhat cranky and argumentative, but I appreciated his flair for self-dramatization and the stories he would tell about his past. I knew he was lonely at the end but I hadn't seen him in a few years, so I feel guilty about that. I finally sent him an email a few weeks ago, not realizing it was already too late. Only when he didn't reply did I scan for obituaries.

Watching the Late Late Show certainly reinforced this sense of omnipresent mortality, of the world of my youth slipping over the horizon. One of the clips I watched was Gay Byrne interviewing Jack Charlton, the manager of the Irish international soccer team from 1985 to 1996. Both have died recently, Gay Byrne in 2019 and Jack Charlton in 2020. And, of course, my father also died in 2019. He was a huge admirer of Jack Charlton (though not of Gay Byrne).

I think about nostalgia a lot. Whenever anyone waxes lyrical about the days of their youth, or about some vanished era, the cynics are wont to say: "That's just nostalgia". But why use the word just there? Nostalgia is fascinating in itself. I can easily imagine a world without it, a world in which our vision of the past would be as clear-eyed and passionless as security camera footage. The strangest thing about nostalgia is its existence.

I like the fact that the human mind is not a passive receptacle of memory, that it does something with it. I've spent a lot of time wondering why we get nostalgic. There could be all sorts of reasons, of course; the most obvious being that the past really is better than the present, often enough.

But would that even be enough for nostalgia? After all, it's not simply a comparison of better to worse, which would hardly be much in itself. It's a particular atmosphere, a particular mood. Music is often be described as "nostalgic", even when there is no lyrics. For instance, Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on Greensleeves" sounds nostalgic, even though there are no words.


One reason I think we feel nostalgia is because we suddenly see the past, or a particular period, as complete in itself, as possessing a certain wholeness. Anarchy is replaced by a pattern. Cacophony becomes music. It's somewhat akin, I imagine, to the reaction astronouts report when they look back at the earth and suddenly see it as one shining blue pebble in the darkness of space.

I know the nineteen-eighties was not really a good time in Ireland. All anyone ever seemed to talk about was emigration, unemployment, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, drugs, and so forth.

But, in a strange way, I feel "at home" in that period of Irish history more than any other. It was a time when just having a job was seen as a good thing, an achievement. Everybody was poor (or so it seems to me, looking back) so there was more solidarity, and less careerism and consumerism.

Catholicism, too, remained omnipresent in Irish society, even though the iceberg of the sex scandals was floating towards us. In the Jack Charlton interview, he describes the Irish team meeting the Pope during the World Cup finals in Italy in 1990. That story has often been told, but more interesting was his statement that he regularly arranged Mass for the team on away games. I wonder if that still happens?


One of the episodes I watched was a tribute to Paul McGrath, the legendary defender who was the foundation of Charlton's Irish team. It was a This Is Your Life type of episode, with various friends of the great man giving their memories of him. Among these was one man, someone who had worked as a security guard with McGrath in his younger days, who was now a Catholic priest. He was a reasonably young fellow, too. (He describes McGrath as "coloured" at one point, a poignant reminder of the pre-political correctness days. Nobody bats an eyelid.)

The Catholicism of eighties Ireland, as I've said elsewhere, was mellow and self-confident in a way that no longer seems possible. Certainly, this mellowness and self-confidence could just as well be called inertia and complacency. And it was, to some extent. But not entirely. It was simply accepted (for the most part) that religion was a feature of Irish life, and a good thing-- that the Catholic Church was a pillar of teh nation.

The Late Late Show was (and still is) broadcast on Friday night, when school was as far away as it would ever be, outside the holidays. I remember falling asleep, week after week, with "Uncle Gaybo's" velvety tones washing over me. Actually, I didn't like Uncle Gaybo much at the time, perhaps because my father didn't like him much. But my mother adored him, as did middle-aged and elderly women all over Ireland. He had the boyish good looks and gentle, smooth manner that seemed to appeal to older Irish women at that time.

More than anything else, in retrospect, The Late Late Show seemed like a kind of fireplace of the Irish nation, where it gathered once a week. It made the nation seem like one big extended family. This has always been my favourite conception of nationality. "The nation is the family writ large", as Patrick Pearse said.

I've often wondered what it must feel like to come from a "great nation"-- great in the sense of big. I've only ever known the cosiness of a small nation. I wouldn't trade it for greatness.

I could write much more about The Late Late Show, but perhaps that's enough for now.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Interview with Ciarán Ó Coigligh

Today, I'm going to do something rather different; an interview (via email) with Dr Ciarán Ó Coigligh, someone whose life's work and convictions makes him highly suitable to feature on this blog.

Ciarán is a published poet and novelist, and a retired academic with NUI Galway, UCD, and St. Patrick's Drumcondra DCU. He taught Irish language and literature at all these institutions. Just this year he gained a Master of Philosophy in theology.

Ciarán is exceptional in at least two regards; first, he was an outspoken Catholic conservative in the ultra-liberal world of academe; secondly, he is a Catholic, Irish-speaking member of the Democratic Unionist Party, a party which has historically represented the Protestant, Unionist population in Northern Ireland, and which was founded by Dr Ian Paisley.

I first became aware of Ciarán when I was recovering from surgery and I read a book he co-edited, An Fhealsúnacht agus an tSíceolaíocht (Philosophy and Psychology). It was so interesting it distracted me from my pain and discomfort. It's only one of many books he has authored and edited; I've just done a search in my own library's catalogue and his name returns twenty-seven different volumes!

I've had the pleasure of meeting Ciarán once, all-too-briefly, when we attended Mass and had lunch together in UCD, back in 2016. But I've often interacted with him on social media, where we have discovered many, many areas of agreement and mutual sympathy. I was delighted and privileged when he agreed to this interview. Here it is!

Q: You've had a very interesting journey politically in that you are now a supporter of the Democratic Unionist Party, who would have been seen as a Protestant or even anti-Catholic party in the past. However, many observant Catholics in the North now vote for them, since they have a much better stance on the life issues and on religious freedom than the nationalist parties. I would vote for them myself if I lived in the North. You say you come from a republican background, do you now consider yourself a Unionist or is your support for them based purely on those social issues?

The fact that I was the only 'outspokenly Catholic conservative pro-life' academic in Saint Patrick's College / Dublin City University, tells you all you need to know about the success of internal subversion, in what was formerly a Catholic college, and is now no longer in existence, having been incorporated into DCU as a secular institute of education. The transformation of Saint Patrick's, Mater Dei, and Church of Ireland College of Education into a secular institute (subsequently joined by All Hallows College) by recently retired Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Anglican Archbishop Michael Jackson constitutes in my opinion the most shocking assault on Christianity on the Island of Ireland since the closing of the monasteries.

Yes, I have a substantial list of publications, including books, peer-reviewed articles, articles in more popular publications, and in recent years, publication on social media. I have for decades been invited to comment on matters of controversy from a conservative perspective on TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta, and Gaelic-medium programmes on RTÉ, Not long after I publicly acknowledged my membership of the Democratic Unionist Party, and challenged Sinn Féin IRA on a number of matters such invitations ceased. Fachtna Ó Drisceoil [a broadcaster on Radio Na Gaeltachta, Irish language radio] who has de-platformed me told me once that I was a very controversial figure and that many people refused to engage with me on air. I responded that this told him more about them than it did about me. Ó Drisceoil wanted the DUP to nominate me as their spokesman on Gaelic matters. The Party does not operate in that way. I have been de-platformed. I have always been happy to collaborate with others in the field of Gaelic scholarship and have always been happy to speak to local, national or international audiences whenever invited.

I was for many years a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Ger Casey, Joe O Carroll, and Fr Brendan Purcell were members, as was the late Justice Rory O Hanlon. The Irish branch folded a good many years ago. Some pro-life academics in NUI were members of Opus Dei, but did not enter the public arena to any great extent.

I always liked Mrs Margaret Thatcher. I found her physically and intellectually attractive and an unapologetic defender of British values. I also admired Revd Dr Ian Paisley for his steadfastness in promoting and defending that in which he believed in terms of religion and politics. The Hunger Strikes of 1981 delayed my transition from radical republicanism to radical Christian conservatism by many years. Yes, I am now an Irish Unionist. I feel no allegiance whatsoever to the depraved Republic of Ireland. I would prefer to have a British passport. At least the people of Britain had same-sex 'marriage' and murder through abortion forced on them by the political elite. They did not vote for these barbarities as did the electorate of the Republic of Ireland.

I first contacted Jim Wells MLA DUP when he was forced to resign as Minister for Health because of a vicious lying attack on him by a woman involved in a homo-sexual relationship. She was subsequently found guilty by a court of lying in what she had claimed about Jim. I subsequently offered to canvass for Jim, in a Stormont election, during the course of which, I encouraged him to canvass a militantly Republican housing estate in Analong, South Down, disparagingly known as 'the Congo'. This is now the stuff of folklore amongst the DUP membership and I claim responsibility for his 3% increase in electoral support! The DUP has a commitment to the poor.

I believe the depraved Republic of Ireland would be better off in the Commonwealth, which is a vibrant growing economy rather than in the EU, which has shrunk hugely since Irish accession back in 1973. Re-joining the United Kingdom would be my preferred option.

Q. My own grandfather and father were strongly rooted in the Irish republican tradition, as were my extended family going back several generations, and I feel a certain sense of guilt as I grow more and more alienated from it. It seems to me that the secularism and extreme liberalism we see in Sinn Féin and indeed in Irish society is based in Irish republicanism, especially the legacy of the United Irishmen and their embrace of the ideals of the French Revolution. Do you feel any similar sense of guilt or disconnection from your background?

A. No, I feel no sense of guilt at my now complete alienation from militant republicanism, but I do regret that it took me so long to express my alienation publicly. Over twenty years ago, I was invited to deliver the oration at the funeral of my uncle who was, until his death, a local IRA leader and Sinn Féin representative in several local and national elections. I have a copy of my address somewhere which I shall be happy to share, whenever I find it. During the course of my address, I sang his deserved praises as a local community activist. However, I prefaced those remarks by referring to the fact that 'even those of us who do not share his political views' can appreciate the good he did. My very deliberate use of the words 'of us' was my first ever public distancing of myself from militant republicanism and it was a milestone in my personal journey.

Q: You are an Irish language speaker and you have had many books of poetry and prose published in that language. What do you think the future holds for the Irish language? Both the hopes for its revival as a language of daily life, and the frequent announcement of its imminent death, seem to have been proven wrong again and again. Its survival, as a second language at least, seems assured, but it's extremely unusual to hear anyone speak Irish on a bus or a street (in Dublin, at least) and that seems unlikely to change. Or am I wrong? Do you consider yourself a revivalist? Do you think efforts to revive the language, by government and others, have helped or hindered it?

A: Irish Gaelic is the language of our home. My wife Máirín and I reared our children as speakers of the language. Now adults, they continue to speak it to us and to each other but do not have any circle of friends with whom they speak it. I think the future of the language is bleak. God willing, I may be proven wrong. My wish is that Gaelic be spoken widely throughout the island of Ireland. I have just finished writing a bilingual course entitled Learn Gaelic/ Foghlaim Gaeilge, which I claim will bring an individual with no knowledge of the language to an advanced ability to understand, speak, read, and write it. I wrote the course in Connacht Gaelic and English, and currently I am overseeing its translation into Munster and Ulster Gaelic. So yes, I am a revivalist. 

I see great merit in people (of all nationalities) acquiring facility in Gaelic. Efforts by governments and other agencies have been partially successful on occasion and wholly unsuccessful on other occasions. The great flaw was over-, indeed sole reliance on public schooling and a failure to maintain and increase the Gaelic-speaking population. Gaelic speakers need to marry each other and raise large families and ensure that their offspring marry Gaelic speakers. We have singularly failed in regard to the latter. We are perpetually inventing the wheel. Grotesquely, the Gaeltacht is contracepting and aborting itself out of existence as is the rest of the depraved state. There are thousands of Gaelic-speaking couples in Ireland and even more in the US and GB who have not given their children the gift of the language.

Q: Irish language speakers in Ireland, at least those who are vocal in the media and on social media, seem disproportionately progressive and left-wing, even given the dominance of the liberal left in Ireland. Why do you think this is? It is more apparent than real?

A. Gaelic speakers who are vocal in the mainstream media and on social media have idolised the language. They are functional atheists and promote Gaelic as a replacement for the Christian faith which they have rejected, by and large. More generally, Gaelic speakers, like speakers of any other language, like to be liked, to follow fashion, not to be excluded or marginalised. Therefore, they parrot the latest fetishes of the culture and confuse imitation, translation in this case, with originality of thought.

Q: You are a published and prolific poet. Which poets do you like to read? Do you write poetry at the prompting of inspiration or is it more deliberate? Do you revise much?

A. I have published twelve volumes of my own poetry, with two more to be published in 2021, God willing, 
one of which is a bilingual requiem for the 339 members of the Orange Order
murdered in the Republican Terror.. I read nothing of contemporary writing in Gaelic. There is no one writing from a Christian perspective apart from myself. At almost sixty-nine, I am too old to waste time reading anti-Christian diatribes. I read the Bible daily, I am working again on my knowledge of Old English in the hope of publishing something on its Christian poetry; and on my Latin in order to write something on Patrick, the apostle of Ireland. I revise a lot. Most of the poetry I now write is to celebrate significant milestones in the lives of others: birth, baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage, and death.

Q: Do you get much response from readers of your poetry? It seems to me that it's very hard to get an audience for poetry these days.

A. No. I get very little response. Some of my published volumes have never been reviewed to my knowledge. I feel I am an embarrassment to many, a thorn in the side of others, and maybe a prick in the conscience of a few.

Q: In twenty-first century Ireland, religious faith is often seen as requiring defence or explanation. Do people challenge your religious beliefs and, if so, how do you answer them?

A. My children challenge my faith continuously. I respond by quoting what Jesus said and what the Old and New Testament, the word of God, tells us about the life of faith. My associates in the DUP are, without exception, people of profound faith, who encourage and embolden me in the public expression of my faith.

Q: You were very bravely outspoken as a practicing Catholic in academe. What advice would you give Christians and conservatives working in heavily liberalised professions, like academic life?

A: Raynod Topley, the Head of the Department of Religious Studies, in Saint Patrick's College, a great Christian and a close friend, who has gone to God, once, after a bruising encounter in the University, said to me that I would plough a lonely furrow. You, Maolsheachlann, will do the same. It is the daily burden you pick up in following Christ. You are being watched all the time by those who love you and wish you well and by those who strenuously disagree with your theology and philosophy. However, the good news is that you are forever influencing them all. What you do, what you do not do, how you carry yourself in company and when alone-- all these things influence others in ways you will never know. For example, you came to my attention by virtue of your promotion of the work of G. K. Chesterton.

Stand your ground. Do not allow yourself to be cowed or ignored. If your beliefs are being belittled defend them in a courteous manner and pray for those who treat you unfairly. Many people actually share your political and religious views but few are brave enough to raise their voices in a public forum. You are an encouragement to them. Try to see the image of Christ in all and acknowledge the least good that anyone in your circle does.

Q; Is there any issue you've changed your mind on in the last five years?

A: In the last five years I have come to understand that truth and holiness reside in many Christian denominations. However, this has caused me to reconsider my commitment of long-standing to ecumenical and infer-faith dialogue. I am no longer happy with ecumenical services where fundamental differences of theology and politics are ignored and where blandness is the order of the day. I now believe that I may have a vocation, if that is not too vaunted an expression, to work with Evangelical Christians who challenge me on Purgatory, Mariolatry, the (extra) Sacraments, the Mass, Papal Infallibility, and a number of other aspects of Roman Catholic belief and practice.

I have been greatly disillusioned by the efforts to normalise homosexual relationships and 'families' in the preparations and discussions prior to the Conference on the Family held in Rome some years ago. I was even more disillusioned by the silence of the official Catholic Church here in Ireland on the referendums on redefining marriage and repealing the 8th Amendment and disgusted that the Catholic hierarchy stated that it would not oppose the removal of reference to blasphemy from the Constitution. The invitation to James Martin SJ to address the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018 was a body blow as was the invitation to homo-sexual activists to bring the Offerings to the Altar at the Papal Mass and the inclusion of entertainers who have supported those obnoxious referendums. These matters caused me to curtail my involvement in parochial affairs to a minimum. I maintain that minimum involvement in deference to Fr Martin the parish coordinator who is a very holy man and a great theologian. The latest scandal is that the Vatican and the Irish hierarchy encouraged people to avail of vaccines which derive from the stem lines of infants murdered by abortion. They should have called on Catholic scientists worldwide, including those working in the Vatican laboratory, and others of good will to produce ethically derived vaccines.

When I share fellowship in a Roman Catholic Church I am acutely aware that some present have voted for abominations. When I share fellowship in a Free Presbyterian Church I am certain that those present share my view on the culture of life and indeed it will often be the case that the presiding minister will preach courageously and at length on the topic. I am anxious to accentuate all that is Christian and biblical and to relegate to a secondary position all that is uniquely institutional or denominational in terms of belief and practice so help me God.

Christ is my rock and guide.

Many thanks, again, to Ciarán for these fascinating and honest answers. Christ be our guide, indeed!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A New Catholic Magazine, and Other Matters

A new online Catholic magazine was launched on the first day of this month. It's called Leaven, and this is how it describes itself:

Leaven is a bimonthly digital magazine mainly for and by young Catholics in Ireland, providing readers with thought-provoking material from a range of voices, talking about everything, and holding to what is true. Bringing a spiritual lens to the world, we aim to showcase a coherently and distinctly Irish Catholic vision that is kind and thoughtful, honest and faithful, balanced, relevant, and fresh. We are firmly committed to getting beyond stereotypes and stale talking points, highlighting that smart, young, curious, compassionate people – and especially women! – are integral to our Church, and helping their voices be heard. Leaven is for anyone who wants to grow a genuine living faith in their own life and become a leaven for Ireland and the world.

Each issue will explore a mix of topics from science to literature, pop culture to social justice, history to philosophy and beyond. The first issue will be launching on Holy Thursday, 1 April, under the editorship of Greg Daly, formerly of The Irish Catholic, Aleteia, and Catholic Voices.

I have an article in the first issue, in which I write about my fears and sadness regarding the decline of oral culture (stories, songs, riddles, and so forth). It has the title Parlour Games in the Jury Room, which I only mention because I take a strange relish in the title itself. In all honesty, there's nothing in the article that regular readers of this blog won't have encountered many times already, so I wouldn't recommend you pay to read it. But you might want to subscribe to Leaven anyway. It's a worthwhile venture, insofar as it aims to present Catholic writing on a wide variety of topics, in the spirit of C.S. Lewis's observation: "What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent."

I greatly applaud Greg Daly on this venture. And I also envy him. Lately, I've felt the strong urge to do something of this kind myself-- to launch a magazine or a blog or a group which will play some part, however small, in the cultural life of our time. 

Partly this is because I would like to emulate my father, who edited (and mostly wrote) the community magazine The Ballymun News for about thirty years. (Here is a link about the magazine from the socialist blog The Cedar House Revolution-- the author's guesses about the magazine are off the mark, but my brother Turlough Kelly puts him right in the comment section.)

The more I think of it, the more impressed I am by my father's determination and drive in publishing a magazine. I'm impressed that he wrote so much of it, of course, but I'm even more impressed that he managed to navigate the practicalities of printing, typesetting, attracting advertising, and all that kind of thing. (When I was growing up, there was a book on our bookshelves called Into Print, a "how-to" book for putting out your own publication, which I loved for its photographs and their deliciously seventies atmosphere-- long hair, wide shirt-collars, grainy photography, that kind of thing.)

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I've felt drawn more and more to poetry, to try to perform some service to poetry and its presence in everyday life. I don't know how to do that. I have thought about starting a poetry discussion group in work. I've even thought of forming something called The Poetry Liberation Front and handing out poems to shoppers outside supermarkets. (I've been increasingly preoccupied with supermarkets, too, which seem to me like the Ground Zero of modern soullessness and utilitarianism. Just ignoring them doesn't seem to be an adequate reponse to their existence.)

But I've also been contemplating starting a school of poets, or some kind of poetry journal. I love reading about the different schools of poetry that run through literary history-- the Graveyard Poets, the Pylon Poets, the Fireside Poets, the Movement, and so on. True, most poets (like most artists of any kind) have an individualist temperament which makes them kick against any classification, but I still like the idea of poetry schools.

When I was a teenager, and into my early twenties, I wanted to be A Poet above all else. Years of disillusionment proved to me how thankless a task this was. Nobody publishes poetry anymore. Nobody reads it. And certainly nobody pays for it. These obstacles are compounded if you write traditionalist verse-- verse that rhymes, scans, and makes some kind of sense even on a first reading. Free verse rules the roost now.

I took to writing prose in my late twenties, and quickly realized that prose gets a much readier audience. And, once people get used to reading your prose, some of them will even read some of your poems. But I'd pretty much abandoned the idea of poetry as anything but a sideline, and even convinced myself that I'd outgrown such adolescent ambitions. After all, most writers start out writing poetry.

However, the stubborn and idealistic and contrarian side of my nature is making itself heard more and more. After all, it's not OK that poetry is relegated to a literary ghetto today-- occasionally to be heard at ceremonial occasions, or used as a form of therapy. (Not that I'm against either of those uses.) And it seems a cop-out just to accept prose writing as the line of least resistance. Poetry needs to be made a part of ordinary life again-- if there is no audience right now, then creating an audience is the necessary first step. To fail at that enterprise would be a noble failure. Once again, I aspire to be A Poet, and not just a prose writer who occasionally writes poems.

I write this on Easter Saturday. I've lamented, in a previous post, the lack of "thickness" that Easter suffers from. Why are there no popular Easter songs, no films set at Easter other than Christian films? At least there was no shortage of worshippers doing the Stations of the Cross and attending confession in my local church yesterday. This might be a project for all of us-- to make Easter great again, or perhaps (in purely cultural terms) for the first time!

In the meantime, I wish you a happy and holy Eastertide.