In their irreverent book on popular Irish society “Stuff Irish People Love” Colin Murphy and Donal O’Dea include some idiosyncrasies of Irish “faith”. They refer to the church of the good old days as being “so packed they resembled the mosh pit at a rock concert” but go on to say, “yet there is evidence that many of us weren’t quite as devout as we seemed.” And now? “In recent years Ireland has become not so much a Catholic country, as a non-practising Catholic country, an agnostic country, an atheistic country or a don’t-know-and-don’t-care country.”
I don’t quite agree. It’s more a don’t-know-but-I’m-being-anaesthetised-by-a-miasma-of –eastern-religion-country.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a day with students at Carlow Institute of Technology, discussing spiritual issues that interested them. The very first guy I talked with told me that God is “not any one thing, but an energy. If there is a supreme being it is in all things and does not have a personality. It is incomprehensible.”
In further conversation I pointed out that his position was very Hindu, which amazed him (he thought he had come up with it himself). Of course he also thought that “our children should be taught to be good and treat everyone well”, although he could not think of where such a moral compass would come from.
Two different students thought that Jesus was “a carpenter from Jerusalem” (so some basic geography also seems to be missing!). Another person genuinely considered Jesus to be “one of the best prophets ever to come into this world”.
Then I met a Law student who was brought up by an “atheist father and an agnostic mother and never went to church”. But by his teenage years he was a voracious reader, devoured Dante and Thomas Aquinas “migrated to belief in God”. You never know! I guess that’s the point. Never assume what people believe – ask. Most people are delighted to be asked.
Yesterday Miriam O Callaghan interviewed Seamus Martin, retired international editor of the Irish Times about his life. Seamus was accompanied in the interview by his brother. It transpired that Seamus doesn’t “have a faith” although his brother does. And his brother just happens to be the Archbishop of Dublin.
Miriam couldn’t help asking if they ever discussed this disparity. “It doesn’t arise”, they both said. Doesn’t arise! How Irish can you get?