Losing my religion

Two things:

First – just finished Malachi O”Doherty’s Empty Pulpits – a look at the decline of traditional religion in Ireland. Largely from a Catholic point of view, looking at the huge change in Catholic Ireland’s relationship with it’s mother church.

There are indeed many empty pulpits, there aren’t that many seminarians coming through St Patrick’s Maynooth as Zoomtard will tell you. As an aside – I used to play in a football league in Queen’s as a student (one of the many ways to avoid actually studying) and we had a good relationship with the Catholic chaplaincy’s team to whom we would sing “you’ve only got one priest” to the tune of “there’s only one (insert famous footballer’s name here).”

He rightly points many of the deficiencies in the church and our relationship to it – both in the past glory days and in the present times. Worth reading – if not necessarily always agreeing with. I understand Catholicism poorly so it was good for me.

Second –  just watched William Crawley’s Losing our religion on the iPlayer – charting both his own and Northern Ireland’s changing/declining relationship with religion. (Though you must forgive his James Bond pose on the front page of the iPlayer link)

I remember William from a few church events I played music at where he always played the role of the devil’s advocate and the provoker of deep thoughts and questions about so many basic aspects of faith. I must say I always really appreciated it as a chruch kid who took a while to own his faith.

He now describes himself more as a questioner and on a journey than a believer and has no affiliation with the institutional church. This is no doubt a growing segment in the country but the intellectualism that goes with it will not seem relevant to the majority of Northern Irish punters. Belief in God is still very popular (whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing depends on how you look at it) – though the definition of God is far less precise and people’s engagement with the traditions of religion have declined.

And while critical of our religious institutions (and there is no shortage of that these days – most often with good reason) he remains positive about the idea of faith – and even some of it’s more modern representations.

Northern Ireland’s relationship with religion is no doubt changing. I hope mainly for the better. We have not always been honest with our faith – too many of us choosing nominalism over engagement with a life-changing faith and tradition. Us Protestants have too often busied ourselves with defining what we are not (ie not Catholic), our belief as much a statement of identity as of faith.

Northern Ireland needs the church – in the Holy Catholic Church sense of the term. Though perhaps the decline of its institutions is no bad thing. The decline of the institutions unwilling to take ownership of former and current sin; unwilling to be redeemed and transformed as they would call their members to be –  for these institutions to be left behind is surely no bad thing.

Faith and Christianity will likely be here for the duration. If we lose out on religion as depicted in this book and this documentary then perhaps that is no bad thing.

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3 Responses to “Losing my religion”


  1. 1 Steven McQuitty October 15, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I thought William Crawley’s programme was excellent. He managed to be both sympathetic and critical but did not fudge the issues. Most significantly he really gave of himself and at one point he seemed close to tears when standing in the pulpit of an old church he preached in when training for ministry in PCI.

    One passage in particular struck me when William was talking about no longer having the words or the certainty to say them. I suppose I am kind of in that boat at the moment.

    A timely and sage production which did not attempt to provide false comfort to a population sick to death of pat answers. Oddly enough it was the non-denominational Christians in Vineyard Coleraine who seemed to have understood the gospel message of the wild and inclusive love of God. I say “oddly” because in my own deeply prejudicial mind it was just this “sort” of Christian whom I would have expected to major on the classics of Northern Irish cultural Christianity…

    Andy I am dosed with the man flu at the moment can we postpone our pint till next week?

  2. 2 Clairebo October 15, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I met Malachi last year at a philosophy conference. He struck me as angry. I liked him a lot. I have his business card in my wallet as I was thinking of inviting him to lead Forum at MCC one night. We might still do it!

  3. 3 Sparky October 18, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Andy, of all the the intellectual things I could try and think to say about this, I’m afraid it falls to me to deal with the issues affecting the common man. That chant was not sung to the tune of winterland [There’s only one….] It was another tune. Can’t think of terms to describe it. Phone ne and I’ll sing it for you!


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