In so many respects Ireland is an anomaly with consideration to the question of the secular media’s attitude towards religion; especially the unofficial Roman Catholic expression of religion. The Irish media’s approach to faith and all things religious would make Ireland more like Iran or States in the Bible belt of the United States of America; mad as a bag of hammers. Every evening, at precisely six o’clock the state broadcaster RTÉ rings out the bells of the Angelus over the television and the radio to remind the nation, in the ironic words of a close friend, how much better holy people are than the rest of us. No matter how the Catholic Church in Ireland might attempt to explain this ringing in our ears as a chance to reflect upon our daily lives in the light of God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, in the Irish experience, the comment on the sanctimonious and self-righteous attitude of the religious stands. In light of all that has happened in Ireland over the past fifty years (at least), the Irish media continues to be frighteningly lenient on the Church. Nowhere has this been seen more than during the recent International Eucharistic Congress (Dublin, June 10th – 17th 2012); where a triumphalist Romanism was paraded through the streets and churches of Dublin. Pilgrims travelled from all around the world to be with ‘the people of Ireland’ during this celebration and the Pope’s representative went for a day to Saint Patrick’s purgatory to make atonement for clerical abuse, while the majority of Irish Catholics stayed at home to watch the football. All the while the Irish media chirped with the official line of the Irish Catholic Church.
A Dublin priest, himself a survivor of clerical sexual abuse, shared on his Facebook account that after having bought a ticket to the Congress decided not to go because of the less than token gesture made to the sins of the Church. Instead of going to the Congress to celebrate his faith with his parishioners and friends, he opted to visit on one day as an observer and had this to tell the Letters Section of the Irish Times newspaper:
There was a total absence of the compassionate Heart of Christ towards survivors. The dreadful experience of being there was underpinned, for me, by a chance encounter with one Irish bishop, to whom I attempted to express my sense of alienation and distress: he shrugged his shoulders and walked off in a huff.
Once again the hat of the Irish newspaper, radio and television media was doffed to the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. It is truly sickening and gives one the distinct impression that we are still living in the totalitarian theocracy of 1950s Ireland. All of this reminds me of the nest of contradictions that I am; I am religious, I pray the rosary, I receive the Sacraments and I truly believe in the message of the Gospel, but I am not one of them. I despise, with every fibre of my being, the use of religious themes and messages broadcast to the nation at the expense of the taxpayer. It offends me! It does not offend me because I am not a Roman Catholic; as an Anglo-Catholic, it offends me in the same way that it offends all rational Roman Catholics. Not once during the Eucharist Congress did the secular media use the events as a vehicle to be critical of the corruption in the power structures and the cover-ups of the Catholic Church. All that it did achieve was to remind me why I elected to leave the Catholic Church, and why I am conscientiously not a Roman Catholic, and this saddens me. It saddens me because I know many good Catholics, and I know that it must break their hearts. Know the truth and the truth will set you free. When the Church does everything in its power to deflect and ignore the truth, then it is the task of the media to hold up to that institution the demands of the truth.
Yet this is but one side of the coin. Ireland, as we have said, is an anomaly. All too easily the media can take an uncritical and hostile approach to religion, and so in many ways throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes ‘the world’ lacks, or at least becomes desensitised to, its moral compass, and it is here that religion plays the crucial rôle of society’s conscience. We could get into the stormy question of abortion, but, for me, one of the most powerful expressions of that moral voice of religion came at the election of Karol Józef Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II. In an age overshadowed by the real threat and danger of thermo-nuclear war, when people the world over were beset by the boding fear of impending doom, he said with all the passion of a man who had suffered under Nazism and Communism in Poland, “Do not be afraid.” With these words he reminded all people, no matter their faith position, that we are not a people of fear. He reminded Christians, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, that ours is a faith of hope; a transcendent hope which conquers even death. We are a people of Life! And yet his entire papacy was besieged by the world media on his, and his Church’s, moral and theological teaching on marriage, euthanasia and abortion.
Abortion is not an easy subject, and one on which I will not be forced to show my hand, but it is clear that the issue is one which has been adopted by secularism’s arsenal against religious teaching. Both sides of the debate have powerful arguments, but the needs of the mother and child have often been side-lined in the use of the argument as a weapon against religious and moral modes of thinking. In treating the issues surrounding abortion rather disingenuously as a mere matter of health, the secular media outside of a minority of states has confused and frequently removed the moral questions of the procedure. In so doing they have gone on to demonise religious detraction as ridiculous, anti-woman and unscientific; as some sort of backward superstitious hokum designed to keep women in their place and humanity in the dark ages. More often than not it has been the desire of this form of argument which has fuelled an atheistic philosophy, bent on removing the religious from the public discussion. It is expedient for such an agenda to inhabit a world without God, and so the media of this secularism uses everything at its disposal to discredit religion and religious opinion. It is no more a woman’s right to have an abortion than it is anyone’s right to be an astronaut. The appropriation of the language of rights in this discussion is inappropriate; certainly without due reflection on the deeper implication of a rights-based discussion.
So there are two extremes in the media’s attitude to religion; that which uncritically accepts the authority of religion and that which uncritically rejects religion. Neither of these approaches are good for a number of reasons. Religion is not always good, and this is a truth that we are all going to come to terms with, but its rejection on the grounds that it is not always good is an argument to the inherent goodness of the secular agenda. Framed thusly, it is clear that religious expression is as valid as secular expressions. The fact that both religion and secularism have, at various times, been terrible and have had awful consequences for human beings demonstrates that there must be a balance in which there is a continual relationship between them. The great importance of secularism is that it has come to act as a correcting agent of bad religion, but this does nothing to reduce the importance of religious thought as an equal force against the dangers of absolutist forms of secularism.
This then assists me in coming to a greater understanding of my contradictions. I am religious, but I am not so without reflection, and I am not so without the faculties of my reason. When we say that we are religious it does not mean that we are blinkered from the lived realities of people who do not share the same opinion, nor does it mean that we are religious even to the denial of science. Religious fundamentalism and other forms of ideological rigidity are as harmful to religion as absolutist forms of secularism. It must be the task of the media to understand the delicate balance that is required between the two forms in order to better understand the conditions of the human community. Any failure to do this exposes our future to the threat of a sterile and conscienceless dystopia where anything is possible. In this analysis one must be careful to make the distinction between secularism and atheism; secularism is not anything approaching a unified theory of reality in the way that modern atheism is. Secularism, as a mode of modern living within a democracy, is the creation of a world where traditional barriers are removed in order that the greatest freedom for the greatest number of people might be achieved. In this regard, without any reflexive checks, it is little better than mob-rule.
© 2012 homophilosophicus