...let him wear his turban

I actually struggled with this one a bit: at first glance, it appears to pit two of my most deeply held principles – pluralism and secularism – against each other. On the one hand I most certainly agree that Ireland should make reasonable accommodation to the cultural traditions of newcomers, and allowing male Sikhs (how many are there here? A thousand or so?) to wear their turban strikes me as eminently reasonable. There is no suggestion that it will interfere with their job performance in any way, or cause anyone else any harm or offence.

On the other hand, I am strongly sympathetic to the argument (as expressed in a couple letters in today's Times, subs required) that religion should be kept out of public life entirely. The state should not be involved in promulgating faith in general, or any faith in particular – and police officers, when on duty, are agents of the state. If a Catholic Garda wanted to wear a big fuck-off crucifix I wouldn’t be complaining if he or she was told to take it off.

But there’s a key difference there - and I’m not talking about the lack of an onus on Catholics to wear crucifixes, in the way that Sikh men feel they have to wear turbans. I think the crucial issue isn’t the beliefs themselves but the socioreligious context in which this dispute is taking place. The south of Ireland is, in most respects, and notwithstanding the undeniable (if far too slow) changes that have taken place over the past couple decades, still a country permeated with Catholicism. Our population is 90% Catholic. Our schools are 95% Catholic. Our elected representatives (on a parliamentary level, anyway) are about 97% Catholic. And this is still, unfortunately, reflected in many of the laws and policies that affect our daily lives – including the lives of those of us who want nothing to do with the Church and its teachings. To have Gardaí going around wearing crucifixes would just reinforce the essentially Catholic-theocratic basis on which this state is still to an unacceptable degree run. You can hardly say the same about a Sikh policeman in a turban.

Now the logical conclusion to this is that Sikhs and Catholics would have to be treated differently: the former given permission to openly display their religion, the latter prohibited. It’s not a position I’m entirely comfortable with, framed in those terms. But in a way, I think it boils down to the same question that has divided the US in recent years with regard to affirmative action, or the Six Counties on the 50-50 PSNI recruitment issue: is differential treatment acceptable to achieve equality of outcome? I have always felt that it is, at least under some circumstances. It’s all well and good for the law to say that everyone is equal and no distinction will be made but, in practice, in societies where the dominance of one category of people has been firmly entrenched, such a policy usually just ends up reinforcing the status quo.

The questions we need to ask here are what kind of Ireland do we want, and what policy will best help us achieve it. As I've stated, I want one that is pluralist and secular. Allowing your man to wear the turban would obviously promote the first of these; as for the second, it probably wouldn’t help, but I’m hard pressed to imagine how it would hurt, either. We aren't a secular state, and we aren't going to become one by limiting the rights of minorities to practice their religion. They are the wrong target for us 'aggressive secularists'. When we have a society where belief is genuinely a matter for the individual, and the state actually is no longer promulgating religion in general or any religion in particular, I'll revisit my views on this issue. But until then...

25 comments:

WorldbyStorm said...

Hmmm... I know exactly where you're coming from but I'm not entirely convinced by the argument, although broadly I'm not antagonistic towards the turban being integrated into his uniform. Surely if we do say the socio-religious context allows a minority expression, but not a majority expression I think we're into very very tricky waters. For example, would you extend the same to Scientologists or whoever. And if all of them, then why not Catholics, or Presbyterians or Jehovah's Witnesses? Let's put it a different way. If a right is denied to a majority is that less offensive than a right denied to a minority? Both or neither seems to me to be the way forward.

And I thought that broadly speaking we were a secular state - or at least the institutions of same - notwithstanding the areas you point to which are beyond the state (although not state control if one wanted it). Which leads me to the point that I'm really really unsure about using another religion as a means to eradicate whatever religious elements remain embedded in the socio-political structure.

Wednesday said...

For example, would you extend the same to Scientologists or whoever.

Well, I think that's where the argument about the obligatory nature of the turban comes in. Most religions don't have such a requirement, so it wouldn't be an issue for Scientologists or whoever. I'd allow Orthodox Jews to wear those funny little caps on their head. I don't think it means you have to let Jehovah's Witnesses hand out the Watchtower on the beat, or do other things that they could just as easily not do. It's about making a reasonable accommodation to what the person considers an obligation.

If a right is denied to a majority is that less offensive than a right denied to a minority?

I'm sure it's no less offensive to those who feel their rights have been denied. But I'm looking at the bigger picture. A lot of white Americans felt aggrieved at the measures their children had to endure to achieve school integration - but they had a hugely beneficial effect on the black community and ultimately on American society as a whole. Sometimes you simply can't achieve equality by pretending differences don't exist.

I thought that broadly speaking we were a secular state

Eh ... we'll agree to disagree on that one!

I'm really really unsure about using another religion as a means to eradicate whatever religious elements remain embedded in the socio-political structure.

Good thing I never said that then :) See point in final paragraph re, won't help, won't hurt.

WorldbyStorm said...

Agghhhh. This is one of those issues which are so finely balanced that it is really difficult to make a determination.

"Well, I think that's where the argument about the obligatory nature of the turban comes in. Most religions don't have such a requirement, so it wouldn't be an issue for Scientologists or whoever. I'd allow Orthodox Jews to wear those funny little caps on their head. I don't think it means you have to let Jehovah's Witnesses hand out the Watchtower on the beat, or do other things that they could just as easily not do. It's about making a reasonable accommodation to what the person considers an obligation."

But are you then suggesting the principle that religious obligations/observance then becomes a factor which can override other considerations? Is it all other considerations, or just some and then where is the line drawn and who arbitrates?

"I'm sure it's no less offensive to those who feel their rights have been denied. But I'm looking at the bigger picture. A lot of white Americans felt aggrieved at the measures their children had to endure to achieve school integration - but they had a hugely beneficial effect on the black community and ultimately on American society as a whole. Sometimes you simply can't achieve equality by pretending differences don't exist."

But doesn't this depend upon the nature of the rights that are being denied. For example, white Americans might well feel aggrieved at measures to ensure equality of educational opportunity etc, but that was a rather different matter... ensuring that all are treated equally in respect of allocation of a material resource to reifying one religion above another simply because it happens to be a minority religion. As a stauch secularist that seems to me to be counter-intuitive.
As an intangible it strikes me that it is not entirely unreasonable to treat it differently to material resources.
Also, what exactly is the object of the exercise? To make the public space secular? I'm completely for that and hence the turban issue seems again counter intuitive.

"Eh ... we'll agree to disagree on that one! "

Obviously it depends upon what you mean by theocratic. Arguably this state is "less" theocratic than the state next door in terms of it's constitution etc, etc.The Catholic Church doesn't directly shape the laws of the state, and even indirectly has only one significant area where it's fingerprints can be seen i.e. abortion. WRT education, health and suchlike that seems to me to be a legacy issue from the last century. De facto the religious character of schools etc does not mean that the state is theocratic since that is a cultural rather than a political influence, indeed it's explicitly political since the state refuses IMO to take on it's responsibility to ensure it and it alone oversees these. But that's not to say that it couldn't be more secular. However, to unpick the cultural from the political seems to me a very difficult project and a transformational one at that which would be unlikely to garner considerable support.

Mind you, I still think that in this instance allowing turban wearing would be okay, if only because and to reiterate your point it can't do that much harm, I guess I take issue with your idea that it would be alright to then prevent someone from wearing a cross or whatever.

Wednesday said...

But are you then suggesting the principle that religious obligations/observance then becomes a factor which can override other considerations?

I think that's kind of a silly question, given I've already said reasonable accommodation.

who arbitrates?

I do, of course! This is Wednesday's Ideal World we're talking about, you know.

but that was a rather different matter... ensuring that all are treated equally in respect of allocation of a material resource

Well, the opponents of these measures would argue that all weren't being treated equally: students of one race were allowed to attend their local schools, while students of another were bused elsewhere. The intention behind this differential treatment didn't matter to them, either.

Also, what exactly is the object of the exercise? To make the public space secular? I'm completely for that and hence the turban issue seems again counter intuitive.

I agree that it seems counter-intuitive, I said as much in my opening paragraph. I just don't think you will make this public space secular by forbidding the turban. Did you see Prime Time just now? The Garda chief was asked if Catholic police would now be barred from having ashes on their forehead or indeed from wearing crucifixes. He tried to evade the question and when pressed on it all he could say was "we'll look at that". Doesn't that prove that this decision has nothing to do with promoting secularism?

The Catholic Church doesn't directly shape the laws of the state, and even indirectly has only one significant area where it's fingerprints can be seen i.e. abortion.

Arguably another is civil unions. Every party in this state (well except the nutters like the CSP) is in favour of civil unions. In the Dáil debate last February, every TD who spoke spoke in favour of civil unions. And yet, we still don't have civil unions. Why else do you suppose that would be?

WRT education, health and suchlike that seems to me to be a legacy issue from the last century. De facto the religious character of schools etc does not mean that the state is theocratic since that is a cultural rather than a political influence, indeed it's explicitly political since the state refuses IMO to take on it's responsibility to ensure it and it alone oversees these.

Yes, it is explicitly political, and not for that reason alone but because education is the foundation of society. Clichéd I know but true. The overwhelming majority of children in this state are being educated according to the decrees of the Church. A small but completely unacceptable number (one would be unacceptable, but it's larger than one) are being baptised into a faith their parents don't even hold because otherwise there wouldn't be a school for them to go to. And these are "national", state-funded schools. That is not a situation that would exist in a truly secular state.

Frank said...

Good debate and an interesting first post. I had the exact same internal debate process that Wednesday had and the same arguments. I got a different verdict though and came, narrowly, down on the side of opposition to the turban.

A police officer is a servant of the state. The state should not be permitting its representatives to associate their position with any relgious denomination, be it a Jewish skullcap, a Muslim head-dress, a Sikh turban or a large crucifix.

To me it comes back to the same arguments that took place around the hijab in French schools. ALL displays of overt religious symbols, including Jewish and Christian, were being banned to help make the schools a secular place.

I accept the point that being such a pervasively Catholic nation perhaps a different approach could be taken, but I think the correct response is to minimise the role of all religions in the state, not to turn a blind eye to a new one because of Catholicism.

Wednesday said...

I think the correct response is to minimise the role of all religions in the state

I agree completely. I just think you aren't really doing that unless you tackle Catholicism first. Otherwise, the effect is to make the state more Catholic rather than more secular.

The French schools issue I see as totally different, given it involves schoolchildren rather than teachers. The children aren't agents of the state and so I don't think any of these rules should apply; it comes down to freedom of expression, full stop.

Ciarán said...

Here's a story from yesterday's Lá Nua (for any Gaeilgeoirí out there). The PSNI have added their two cents to the debate, saying that they would allow a Sikh officer in the six counties to wear a turban, as long as it complied with health and safety regulations.

WorldbyStorm said...

Hmmm... I'm not utterly convinced that children are educated according to Church decrees. Outside of religion class there is little enough evidence of religion, and certainly none in the curricula. I'm completely with you as regards a secular school system, I'd personally prohibit private schools as well, but I don't think we need to overstate the case either.

Civil unions - a fair point. But it's hardly one that is uncontentious in the global context, and I think that in this and other societies where matters of sexuality and how they are dealt with in a society (particularly one like this that for so long was profoundly conservative) it's possible to point as much to a broader cultural conservatism staying the hands of legislators rather than the Church per se. That's not good enough either, but I can understand the fear that some politicians have. As an aside I have relatives who are active in RC church matters, and they are terrified not of the clergy and nuns who tend to be fairly liberal on matters, but instead of the activist laity who can be ferociously conservative to the despair of said clergy (mind you, I'm not ignoring the situation within the hierarchy either which is also conservative - or indeed inside the CofI where I also have familial connections and much the same process is in train). To be honest I'm optimistic that we will see this dealt with soon.

Re the pusillanimous response of the Garda (heh, always wanted to get that into a sentence), strikes me he didn't know what to say. But again, I'd like to see all manifestations removed from the public sphere.

What's fascinating is that we all wind up with different stances on the issue having gone through much the same thought process. I'd be somewhat in favour of allowing turbans (and even crosses), or not. But either or neither. You're in favour of turbans but not crosses. Frank is not in favour of them full stop. This is going to be tricky!

Wednesday said...

I'm not utterly convinced that children are educated according to Church decrees. Outside of religion class there is little enough evidence of religion, and certainly none in the curricula.

I'd argue that the fact they're being taught religion, as fact, is enough to prove the point. But the Church's ethos doesn't disappear when religious class is over. Look at the disaster that is RSE, for example. And there are other less obvious things, like the lack of support for homophobic bullying, and even the schools' ability to discriminate against teachers and students on the basis of religious ethos. At best, this limits students' exposure to diversity; at worst it can influence children through the reinforcement of negative stereotypes about minorities. My Middle Eastern-born friend teaching in a national school has all sorts of horror stories about the things teachers are saying about Muslims; and imagine the hypothetical (but not at all improbable) case of a gay teacher being fired after their sexuality becomes known. What signal would that send to their students?

And beyond that, the simple fact that the "national" schools are almost all Catholic schools sends a message in and of itself.

The bottom line here is that we're talking about the most impressionable people on the planet - children. I just think it's horribly naive to imagine that you can have this extent of control by one religion, and it won't leave any sort of mark.

On civil unions, they (and/or gay marriage) are provided for in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France, Finland, Portugal, Germany, Luxembourg, Andorra, Britain, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and parts of the US. That's pretty much a who's-who of the western world and I think it fairly well demonstrates that it isn't a contentious issue among the countries Ireland would claim as its peers (parts of the US, admittedly large parts, excepted). And I'm not really inclined to accept the excuse that the legislators are just running scared of the voters because (a) if that were the case, I doubt we'd hear so many of them openly stating that they support civil unions, at least in theory, and (b) there isn't any evidence of this being an issue that would mobilise voters against Fianna Fáil. Besides, God knows (if you'll pardon the expression) they've been able to get away with far worse...

You're in favour of turbans but not crosses

I wouldn't describe my position as being "in favour of" turbans. I just think in this situation they should be allowed.

But you're right, it is certainly interesting how people of broadly similar mindsets can travel the same road and end in such difference places.

WorldbyStorm said...

I'm not sure that they are being taught religion 'as fact'. Now in fairness the last time I was in a religion class was in 1981, and I was chucked out with some friends for being disruptive. But... even then it was clear that religion was sui generis, certainly not seen as science or whatever, more in fact like social bonding. And I think you underestimate the ability of children, and adults to parse this out themselves. They're voting with their feet and those feet are taking them away from religion rapidly.

Which leads me onto you next point. To say something is contentious is not to say that progress hasn't been made, or to say that progress has been made. But Ireland has been socially conservative and remains so in part. This society only legalised homosexuality within the last fourteen years. Blink of an eyelid in real terms. Which is not to say that people shouldn't maintain the fight not just for civil unions but actual marriage.

And in a way we have a legislature that avoids grasping the nettle time after time. This is just another example. Nothing personal, as they would say, it's just politics. Look at the way they haven't ratified the Hague convention for over a decade now. If they won't do that which is genuinely uncontentious, well civil unions are way down the pecking order, and as I said before their attitude will be "why rile the ultra Catholics?" It's ugly.

Which leads straight back to your points about Fintan O'Toole. As he said, the electorate elects.

Wednesday said...

I'm not sure that they are being taught religion 'as fact'.

Well we were certainly taught Catholicism as fact when I was in Catholic school. It wasn't taught like some sort of university Comparative Religions course or anything. The point was that you were supposed to believe it.

And I think you underestimate the ability of children, and adults to parse this out themselves.

But it's hardly a controversial idea that children (and indeed adults) are influenced by what they are taught. If that wasn't the case, there wouldn't be a tendency for Arab children to grow up to believe in Islam, for Israeli children to grow up to believe in Judaism and so forth. Obviously, humans not being automatons, this doesn't happen on a 100% basis but it does happen enough to establish a pretty obvious pattern.

But Ireland has been socially conservative and remains so in part.

Yes, and I maintain that the Church's influence within Ireland's institutions bears significant responsibility for that.

Anonymous said...

worldbystorm

I am that primary school teacher and you can be sure they are being taught Catholicism as fact. In fact, in the urban very mixed race school where I teach (1/3 of children are not Irish) in a largish city, most teachers pray with their classes 4/5 times a day. Religion permeates the entire day, as the school advises via the priest (Chair of BOM) when you interview.

I've seen Muslim students brought to mass to take communion (!) because the teachers couldn't communicate with the children (newly arrived Turkish 3rd and 6th class). Rather than ask or opt out, they sent the girls up to receive communion.

When I pointed this out, the teachers were more worried about how angry the priest would be with this rather than the fact that the girls or their parents would be upset. I tried to explain that in the newly arrived immigrant population, often parents agree to let their children go along iwth the Catholic indoctrination (RE lessons as well as all the praying) because they don't want to make trouble or be seen as different. They want to fit in and think that by agreeing, their children will be looked upon more favourably by the teachers.

Don't get me started on the 2nd and 6th class HOURS that are spent on Communion and Confirmation preparation!!

So, my point is, it's certainly NOT a secular society with regards to education. There are a good number of multi-d or non-d schools in Dublin but virtually none elsewhere. In a city of 75K where I live, there is one non-Catholic, non-CoI option available and the waiting list for 2011 is already over 100.

I'm hoping the new plan to include the VEC in running non-d primary schools pans out but the VEC are pretty much run by local politicians and wealthy business people who may or may not follow through with the multi-d side of things. Remains to be seen.

Wednesday said...

Thanks for that. Obviously it's even worse than I thought.

WorldbyStorm said...

Okay, anonymous, I won't doubt your personal experience, but I have relatives and friends in the INTO, and indeed the TUI and ASTI, and as importantly nieces and nephews who have recently gone through the primary school system in national schools in Dublin and Kilkenny. What you describe is so far from their experience that it's hard to square with it. In those cases children from different religions or cultures are entirely rightly allowed to remain outside of religious instruction or ceremonies. I'm wondering is it funding, or a case of the ethos of the particular school. Neither of those 'excuses' are satisfactory, but it is worth noting that the INTO are fully signed up to the Primary Curriculum of 99, which 'aims to develop a respect for difference'. Or to quote from their own consultative doc from 2004 " and in the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) Curriculum though the
principles of intercultural education permeate the whole curriculum. Primary teachers endeavour to
counter misconceptions and negative stereotyping of different cultures, religions or nationalities and
seek to develop an appreciation of other cultures. In order to support this process, the INTO prepared
Intercultural Guidelines for schools which were circulated to all primary schools in the Republic of
Ireland in Spring 2002".

Granted implementing such can be more difficult in the face of implicit inertia by traditionalist BOM's (although this raises other issues such as the nature of representation by community and society into schooling where traditionalism still remains a part of the social mix).

But this still evades the point that all of this is Pharisaic in the extreme on the part of parents, teachers and even clergy of various religions. Even if one is to take some of the way the idea that children are little sponges just waiting to soak up religion the clear message from all the data available is that in this, and other similar societies religion is something that is seen as a cultural patina, not a thing of any great depth. Otherwise the rapid fall off of church attendance since the 1970s would be inexplicable. People don't believe, what they do do is give lip service to the various rites which increasingly are devolving not to church on Sunday, but to Christmas, weddings, funerals and baptism. And study after study of social change here bears this out.

And I'm not arguing that this is perfection or even close to it. There is so much more to be done, but nor is it a theocratic catastrophe.

Incidentally a very close relative is in the VEC and the level of religious permeation is minimal, to the point where they're lobbying to get the name of the school changed from a saint to one of our more left wing patriots. No resistance.

Wednesday said...

nor is it a theocratic catastrophe

WBS you've got a fair tendency for the absurd overreaction. I said there was still an unacceptable level of theocracy in the way the state is run. I didn't say it was the feckin Taliban.

And while it's undeniable that the Church's influence is greatly reduced in recent years, I'd say that's more to do with the fact that Irish people are now more exposed to external influences than used to be the case. The Church's teachings have more to compete with - and fortunately for the rest of us, the Church isn't faring too well in the competition. But that doesn't demonstrate that that influence isn't there. What's your alternative explanation, for example, for the number of otherwise left-wing Irish people who support our draconian abortion laws? You just don't get that contradiction in most other western countries.

I expect A. will be back to deal with the schools issue, but a question for you: are your friends and relatives in Dublin and Kilkenny all (at least nominal)Catholics? I just wonder if maybe it's not as obvious if you're not one of those in the minority.

Wednesday said...

BTW I have those Disco Inferno and Butterfly Child CDs for you.

Anonymous said...

I haven't much time as today is the first day back to school, but I'll address these points briefly:

1. Look at the INTO website and go to the area that outlines the INTO head office staff. Is there anyone there who is not Irish? Catholic? Trained in any teacher training college other than the handful of major ones (MaryI, St. Pats, etc)? The only religion these teachers are being taught in teacher training college is Catholicism.
Go and see what happens if you try to include the teaching about other religions (other than Catholicsm or CoI) as part of the SESE curriculum. See how fast the BoM and or the Principal freak out that you'll upset the priest.

2. The Intercultural Guidelines that were distributed are great. In fact, I'm in charge of writing our school policy on Intercultural Education. Allegedly, each teacher in Ireland was giving a Guidelines book and I've yet to see a single teacher who is familiar with it at all. I've worked at 3 schools, two urban and one rural and trust me, you won't find them. My own daughter was told she could not 'opt out' of RE at our local village school and that 'this is not the place for you.' Clearly, this could be defended by the school and their BoM on the grounds of the ESA, (see below) and it's not worth pursuing. Their response is, "Go to an Educate Together School" but there is only one in our town (which we ultimately got a place in) and it's very oversubscribed to the tune of 170 on the waiting list for Jr Infants 2007. There is only 1 class of each year and there are 30 in the class, which is far from ideal but at least it's allowing more parents to opt out of RE. I've found, as an outsider, many Irish teachers (particularly primary ones) cannot see the forest for the trees on this issue. There simply are not any 'variations' in teacher training that would allow teachers of different backgrounds (not Catholic, RoI, etc) to join the teaching profession. Even in the Muslim schools, the teachers teach the 'curriculum' and there are special teachers brought in to teach Islam. In order to work in a Catholic School, you can be asked to provide a Catholic cert to prove you have been trained in RE. How is this inclusive?
http://www.educationposts.ie/forum/viewtopic.php?id=6977
http://www.educationposts.ie/forum/viewtopic.php?id=7144

3. Look at the main publishers in Ireland the two main ones that are used at the primary level have only white Irish (I presume Catholic) characters. This must change. I took an INTO course on line that discussed this issue and it is encouraging that many teachers are starting to recognise that these issues are subtle ways of demonstrating that there actually is very little in the way of intercultural education around.
http://www.educationposts.ie/forum/viewtopic.php?id=3044

4. As a teacher 'of colour' and a non-Catholic, yes, my religion has been an issue, as has my race. You may say it's the old guard (Principals) but frankly, the priest is usually on the BoM and in many cases, they have the last say. Oddly, there is a GayLesbianBiTrans (http://www.into.ie/lgbt/) teachers group in the INTO but you will not find a "Athiest/Agnostic" teachers group. They'd be blackballed from here to kingdom come.

Check the Equal Status Act of 2000, Section 7, part C.

WorldbyStorm said...

"WBS you've got a fair tendency for the absurd overreaction. I said there was still an unacceptable level of theocracy in the way the state is run. I didn't say it was the feckin Taliban."

It's a gift ;) , actually I'm just being a tad rhetorical, but in fairness it was you who introduced the term "Catholic-theocratic". Apologies though if it comes across badly. Still to some degree I think that there is a punitive element in reifying one religion over another because the former is pre-dominant within a society. To my mind partial punitiveness, which is the de facto logic of the position you take, against one religion is almost guaranteed to elicit a negative reaction (and it's also fair to point out that historically Catholicism, whatever one thinks of it as a belief system, was on the sharp end of legal suppression for centuries) apart from simply being inegalitarian. Again, I just don't see that as a path to anything like secularism (incidentally, one aspect of this debate has been to push me toward the position enunciated by Fintan O'Toole as regards the removal of all religious imagery from the public sphere).


And while it's undeniable that the Church's influence is greatly reduced in recent years, I'd say that's more to do with the fact that Irish people are now more exposed to external influences than used to be the case. The Church's teachings have more to compete with - and fortunately for the rest of us, the Church isn't faring too well in the competition. But that doesn't demonstrate that that influence isn't there. What's your alternative explanation, for example, for the number of otherwise left-wing Irish people who support our draconian abortion laws? You just don't get that contradiction in most other western countries.


I find that highly questionable as a proposition that it's 'recent years'. The first major dip in the influence of the Church can be traced to the 1960s. Modernity, consumer culture, media, rapid urbanisation, destruction and replacement of traditional communities with more atomised ones. I know people who stood up and left churches in the late 1960s because of the sermons about contraception. They were a minority, but a significant one and they just grew and grew. I well remember the early 1970s in urban working class communities where men simply didn't bother going to church any longer. So this is a process, but one which has been in train for decades and long predates either the rise of a 'liberal' agenda, or indeed the scandals that hit the church in the early 1990s.

I suspect that a number of factors combined on the abortion issue. Perhaps ... although I'm dubious about 'memory' functioning in this way... some reification of babies children and childhood in the wake of the Famine. Perhaps the somewhat matriarchal nature of the family structure and linkages, large families etc, etc (in my class in Kilbarrack in primary school I once counted up eight or so of my class mates who had 5 or more siblings). I don't doubt for a moment that the Church had some influence in terms of the approach to sexuality, but, and I'm not letting them off the hook here, they went with the grain of a society that again I suspect the Famine and perhaps a peasant (and I'm not using the term pejoratively) mentality that valued land and offspring fed into. I also think, although I may have mentioned this before that in some respects there is a curious cultural similarity to the US where 'culture wars' take a proxy role for the lack of genuine or deep rooted political competition. That I think was very evident in the 1980s where the vitriol about abortion, contraception and divorce was incredible. And you're dead right, I know people on the left or even liberals who in the day would take opposing sides on any of those issues, so for example they might be pro-abortion, but anti-divorce, and vice versa. Very strange.

I think I mentioned this on the CLR, I was at a funeral mass in a Catholic church recently where the priest had to tell the very large almost exclusively nominally Catholic congregation when to stand, when to kneel, etc, etc. Once it reaches that level it's over except for a hard core. The social teachings linger in areas, but not to any great degree. The legacy issues in education, health (now there's one that's thorny) and so on linger longer at least in the context of a political system that is unwilling to grasp the nettle because it will cost money, possibly lose some votes, etc, etc. There was a funny article in the Trib at the weekend about how the Archbishop thinks things are turning for the RC. Don't think so.


"I expect A. will be back to deal with the schools issue, but a question for you: are your friends and relatives in Dublin and Kilkenny all (at least nominal)Catholics? I just wonder if maybe it's not as obvious if you're not one of those in the minority."

Some send their children to Catholic schools, others to educate together. It depends. Almost all would broadly be strongly atheistic or simply disinterested in religion. Some take their kids out of class and haven't had any problem there at all. Others leave them in.

As regards the albums, that's great, I also have the DI CDs.

WorldbyStorm said...

Cheers, anonymous. To my mind there are so many issues addressed above that it's hard to disentangle religion from them easily. First up though I'd argue that if we're talking about secularism we're not talking about race except indirectly, nor are we talking about RoI/Non RoI. Those are different issues again which relate to multiculturalism or inter-culturalism and which have to be addressed on their own terms.

1. But... knowing quite a number of people in the INTO I suspect the issue of Catholicism at head office is moot. Trust me, they're probably not that Catholic. Incidentally that's not entirely accurate that they only get Catholicism in St. Pat's. There is exposure to other religions. The RoI issue is different. That's going to change as the society changes. There is a different argument here about the way in which primary teachers take a role in teaching all subjects, which is fine until one gets to religion. There the obvious problem arises which you point to as to how it is possible to do justice to the multiplicity of backgrounds children come from.

2. I actually believe they were distributed. But, as is the way, there is an onus on teachers to implement these things albeit in the context of a supportive structure. Your second sub-point I agree with. There is no question that in some places there is a very negative, and incidentally arguably legally wrong, line taken by schools and BOMs. But the solution to me isn't to go down the route of religion in schools but to detach it from schools. I strongly believe Labour et al should be pushing for secular schools, full stop. Problem is they're not which leaves people in the position you've found yourself in.

I'd argue for a broader curriculum that encompasses religion as a social element, but again the INTO material points to movement in that direction.

3. This is bringing a somewhat different element in than religion, although I do agree with you that it is essential to have exactly those materials there in the curriculum.

4. I'm not sure if in the majority of cases the priest does have the last say. But I'd agree that in some areas such dynamics exist. And yes, you're probably right that an atheists/agnostics group in the INTO might have serious problems.

Wednesday said...

Again, I just don't see that as a path to anything like secularism

And again, what I said is that it was essentially irrelevant to the path toward secularism ("won't help, won't hurt", remember?).

I find that highly questionable as a proposition that it's 'recent years'. The first major dip in the influence of the Church can be traced to the 1960s.

Well, unless you're disputing that Ireland was even less of a secular country in (say) the 1980s than it is now, you aren't really contradicting my point. Dips in the Church's influence could be found here, there and everywhere if you looked for them. I never suggested otherwise.

Some send their children to Catholic schools, others to educate together. It depends. Almost all would broadly be strongly atheistic or simply disinterested in religion.

But nonetheless from a Catholic background - whether they identify with it or not? I do think that's relevant.

if we're talking about secularism we're not talking about race except indirectly

Sometimes it's indirect, sometimes it isn't. See my earlier post about A.'s experience trying to get work in the Catholic schools. The religious ethos exemption was used to reject her even though they never asked what religion she was - they made an assumption based on race. I think there are times when the two can't be so easily separated.

WorldbyStorm said...

"And again, what I said is that it was essentially irrelevant to the path toward secularism ("won't help, won't hurt", remember?)."

Then why bother? It is gestural, and arguably the wrong and antagonising gesture to make in a society which has lost much of its Catholicism, but retains vestigial links to the ritual, cultural legacy etc.

"Well, unless you're disputing that Ireland was even less of a secular country in (say) the 1980s than it is now, you aren't really contradicting my point. Dips in the Church's influence could be found here, there and everywhere if you looked for them. I never suggested otherwise."

I'm not disputing that of course. But the trend is downwards (in terms of influence) and has been so since at least 1970. It hasn't rallied once in any meaningful way since then (and note how the Popes visit actually seems to accentuated that dynamic).

"But nonetheless from a Catholic background - whether they identify with it or not? I do think that's relevant."

No, not all from a Catholic background. Most would be from a strongly atheistic left background. So it's not a case, as it might be with some, of a residual affection or tolerance for the church.



"Sometimes it's indirect, sometimes it isn't. See my earlier post about A.'s experience trying to get work in the Catholic schools. The religious ethos exemption was used to reject her even though they never asked what religion she was - they made an assumption based on race. I think there are times when the two can't be so easily separated."

I think, in fairness, we'd need to consider A's case in much greater detail before we could come to a definitive understanding of precisely what factor was involved. Having been on both sides of interview panels over the years in education I'm continually surprised at the sort of factors which strenthen or weaken candidates in that context, and the subjective view of the candidate can often be incorrect. That holds really for all interviews now I think about it. To draw the general from such a specific instance is also something I'd be loath to do. And that's not in any sense to call into question A's points which I'm sure are representative of some parts of the country.

And returning in a way to the central point, a secular state, then I think it's clear that many of the manifestations talked about here such as education, etc result from the inability of the state to take up its responsiblity in education, in health, etc and a willingness to leave it to the church(es) to deal with them, resulting in the profoundly negative impacts we saw in numerous instances in the 20th century. But I still think it's a hollow shell that feeds into political and cultural conservatism or vice versa, rather than a clearly predominant reactionary centre inside the society.

Wednesday said...

Then why bother?

Answered in the original post. See first and final paragraphs.

But the trend is downwards (in terms of influence) and has been so since at least 1970.

Which is entirely consistent with what I said about its influence declining in recent years.

No, not all from a Catholic background. Most would be from a strongly atheistic left background.

So they were never Catholic, their parents were never Catholic, their grandparents were never Catholic, no familial link to Catholicism at all?

Having been on both sides of interview panels over the years in education I'm continually surprised at the sort of factors which strenthen or weaken candidates in that context, and the subjective view of the candidate can often be incorrect. That holds really for all interviews now I think about it.

As noted in the blog post, she never had an interview. They rejected her without even speaking to her, and gave the job to someone with none of her qualifications (but who was Irish and Catholic).

But I still think it's a hollow shell that feeds into political and cultural conservatism or vice versa, rather than a clearly predominant reactionary centre inside the society.

Obviously the two feed into each other. Again, I don't think that's inconsistent with my argument.

WorldbyStorm said...

I'm not sure we actually disagree in reference to the first two quotes. But as regards the third, I'm uncertain as to the point you're making. If you're saying all of them are Catholic and this influences their perception of these issues, well no, they're not, some are from a CofI background. And in fairness I'm not certain that one could hold third generations back against this generation (or the next).

That's a fair point about the blog posting. Indeed it's very interesting in one of the links she gives to note that religion is - apparently - used as a filter for race which is mighty disturbing.

That's also a fair point you make at the end.

Wednesday said...

The point WBS is that when religion plays such a prominent role within a culture, it becomes more than just a matter of holding a particular set of beliefs. I think this would be obvious if we were talking about the North (old joke: But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?), although you don't need actual sectarian conflict to create this sort of cultural religious identification (see for example Miguel de Unamuno's famous quote that "Here in Spain we are all Catholics, even the atheists").

Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that I don't think you can assume that a person whose heritage is of the religious (and therefore cultural) majority, but who has rejected that heritage, is going to have the same perspective as someone whose heritage is entirely different. I don't think the sense of cultural "other"ness is ever going to be quite as acute. I take your point about the CoI ones, but I don't think they'd have quite the same difference in perspective either. They're still Christians, after all, and the two religions are really pretty similar in the grand scheme of things.

I mean you could be right and maybe those particular schools (if not A.'s) really are essentially secular outside of religious class. But I'd just be more convinced if I heard this from, say, a Muslim or a Sikh.

WorldbyStorm said...

I'm more than certain that you're absolutely correct. But I'm genuinely unsure as to how to detach religious elements from the cultural.

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