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GUEST COMMENTARY: Hoist with One’s Own Petard

Posted by kinchendavid on July 24, 2006

By Perry Mann

Hinton, WV  – The title is a metaphor from Shakespeare and it means ruined by one’s own devices. Such appears to be the destiny of the Catholic Church in Ireland.  Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th Century and the Catholic Church has had a religious relationship with the people of that tragic country since.

That is, until 1979 when Pope John Paul II visited Ireland and  a third of the population turned out and 200,000 young people attended a special Mass. Since then the church’s relationship with the populace has deteriorated precipitously. “In 1970, 90 percent of the Irish identified themselves as Catholic and almost the same number went to Mass once a week; now the figure for Mass attendance is closer to 25 percent.” (The quote is from an article that appeared in the July 15, 2006 edition of the Saturday Charleston Gazette-Mail and the other information in this article are taken therefrom.)

What happened? First, cynicism set in when it was discovered that two of the Irish church’s most charismatic leaders, Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway and the Rev. Michael Cleary, Dublin’s singing priest, both of whom had entertained the faithful during the visit of the Pope—had violated their vow of celibacy. Casey was father of a son by an American woman and had attempted to cover up with church funds. Cleary had fathered two children and had an abusive relationship with his housekeeper. Secondly, the worldwide revelation that priests had for years assaulted altar-boys and had in general involved themselves in non-celibate activities.

But the coup de grace, the final blow, to the church was that Ireland became rich.  Today, Ireland is the European Union’s second wealthiest nation per capita, second only to Luxembourg. The opium of the masses is no longer the church. It is riches and the independence that riches bring. The masses no longer grow potatoes to see them through the winter. Now they have money in the bank to see them through the winter. Thus they do not look to the church as they once did, when the potatoes were gone. And with the church’s loss of respect of the faithful and with the faithful’s need of it undermined by wealth, the church has lost its authority and its rule over the masses and its influence in the making of Ireland’s laws in accordance with Rome.    

“Through most of the 20th century, Ireland was poor, backward and deeply Catholic. Irish Catholicism tended to be a particularly harsh and unforgiving variety. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood,” wrote Frank McCourt, whose memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” resonated among many Irish Catholics on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The worse the poverty and hardships of a tribe, the harsher and more unforgiving is its religion. One needs only to read Leviticus to learn how harsh was Jehovah’s commandments and the penalties for violation of them: Death by stoning for adultery; death for disobeying a parent; death for working on the Sabbath; and death for worshipping any other God than Jehovah.

Europe, where once men and women were burned at the stake for heresy— that is, for having a faith different from that proclaimed by the Pope or for having no religion at all—is a nearly  secular continent now. Education has enlightened and liberalized the people and wealth has given them a sense of freedom from dogma. The cathedrals that faith built are tourists’ attractions now and are relatively empty of believers on worship days.

In this nation, the fundamentalists are concerned. They are concerned because they have supported capitalism and it has produced great wealth. They know in their hearts that great wealth undermines religion.  How does a youth who has a trust of a billion dollars react when he is told to obey his parents because it is one of the Ten Commandments? He is more likely to obey the trustee and tell his parents to go jump in the lake. The Commandments, with the exception of murder, theft and false witness, are meaningless to a man with a billion dollars. And he has infinitely less reason to break those three than does a man in poverty. Wealth is the solvent of family cohesion.

The Ten Commandments evolved from tribal experiences over centuries. The tribal leaders and thinkers in view of their experiences and the history of their tribe and other tribes decided what a member of the tribe should not do in order to assure the stability, safety, welfare and future of the tribe. To give the Commandments authority, the elders attributed the origin of them to Jehovah and their revelation to God’s creation in his image, namely, man, through Moses. Today, some of them are obsolete. Who keeps the Sabbath holy today in the manner prescribed in that Commandment?  What Christian worships only the God of Moses? And who does not covet or imitate the Joneses? Madison Avenue is in the business of breeding covetousness.

The fundamentalists are slowly but surely hoisting themselves with their own petard. Many of them are wealthy and wealth not only subverts belief and conduces one to indulgences but is an obstacle to entering the Kingdom. They insist on believing the inerrancy of the Bible, an incredible presumption in view of a plethora of miracles, contradictions and myths therein. They believe the Creation story literally in spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary.   And they maintain without any evidence whatever that there is a heaven and a hell in an after life.

 Sooner or later the majority of people or their children will come to know the truth; that is, that the Bible is not inerrant, that the story of Creation is a fable, and that humans are a species in a chain and a spread of species originating from a common source that awoke four billion years ago. Nature has writ in the genes the way for humankind.  


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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a  lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a regular columnist for the Nicholas Chronicle in Summersville and Huntington News Network. Born in Charleston, WV, in 1921, he lives in Hinton and on a farm in Forest Hill, Summers County.     




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