I’ve been thinking a bit about church, state and post-Christendom Ireland over the last few weeks. As Christendom Ireland continues to unravel there seem to be a couple of opposing trends developing that could end up mirroring the culture wars in the USA.
1. One is to exclude religion from the Irish Public Square
Such has been the horror associated with a church exercising freely given and virtually unlimited, religious, social and political power, that many people in modern Ireland are convinced that ‘religion is bad for you’ and are determined to construct a society free from its ‘negative influence’. There is a fear of religion’s ‘totalising tendencies’ and subsequent limitation of individual freedom. Recent Irish history, and the sadly chequered history of Christianity itself, gives real weight to these fears.
But this impulse easily shifts into an intolerant political liberalism that seeks to remove religious voices from public debate. In other words you end up with the oxymoron of mono-pluralism. It is a contradictory, exclusionist and inconsistent form of tolerance and pluralism that only ‘allows’ as ‘legitimate’ voices that it agrees with.
2. Another is to fight to retain as much of the legacy of Christendom as possible
Some Christian conservatives seem to want or expect the state to protect the legacy of Christendom through a combination of political lobbying – hoping (in vain I would say) that the strong traditional Catholic morality of the Constitution can be protected and somehow shape contemporary culture – and through painting a picture of a fearful future in which Christians are marginalised and their values undermined.
So what is an alternative to what might become an increasingly bitter conflict between political liberals and relgious conservatives in Ireland?
Seems to me that we have not yet really begun to have a mature discussion about what a civil society might look like in the wake of the collapse of Catholic Ireland. A society in which Christians, atheists, secularists, agnostics, those of other religions and so on can all live together.
Such a society needs to be able to tolerate real difference [for example secularists not trying to silence or ‘outlaw’ Christians from sharing their faith OR Christians not insisting the state should reflect Christian morality].
In other words we need to see the law, not as a weapon to exclude and defeat enemies, but as a minimum that can order our lives together.
Comments, as ever, welcome!
7 thoughts on “Living together in post-Christendom Ireland”
I love to hear you post on “faith in Ireland” Patrick – its where you are at your best and most interesting.
As Ireland races into a post-Christendom era, a lot of genuine believers — including leaders — are struggling to get to grips with an appropriate response. Many are still silently struggling with the Civil Partnership Bill, head and heart not agreeing. I agree with you when you say we need more mature discussion about this new age in Ireland.
A lot of Jesus’ ministry was educational; he taught his disciples well. If we are to truly follow Him, surely key element of making disciples is educating them, particular for issues such as responding to paradigm shifts in Culture. After all, transformation comes through the mind [Romans 12:2].
In the Irish evangelical world, then, how could a collaborative, ecumenical “mature” discussion begin/be facilitated ? Ideas?
Just snatching a moment to reply Norm. I think it will be important not to be seen just to be fighting to ‘protect’ our own ‘rights’. As Christians what does it mean to ‘love the other’ – especially when the other is hostile or deeply different to us. We need to understand that the rights we seek for ourselves we also seek for the ‘other’.
And we need to be clear what we are seeking to achieve. Arguing for the benefits of a civil society and a truly inclusive pluralism is not ‘selling out’ what we believe but simply working for a society that makes space for Christians AND others freely to express and live out their beliefs.
So – in that I agree with you (and several of your past blogs on the subject) are you coming over here (USA) or do I come over there (God’s other promised land). it seems no one over here wants to hear this and if it’s the same over there maybe if you and i swapped places we could be heard.
When did we forget that we do not battle against flesh and blood? When did preaching the Good News become a blood sport or political agenda. I want to live out the tenets of my faith peacefully and respectfully but I’ve got way too many brothers and sisters over here who keep picking fights (and making lovely livings off of it don’t ya know).
Keep the challenges coming – Iona isn’t big enough for us all – so we’ve got to live where we are – somehow – our lips to God’s ears!
I suspect that the task of a post-Christendom Ireland will be much easier than we might expect because evangelical Ireland had not been a figure in Christendom abuses since the Bible wars of the 1820s. If a Christian conservative cultural backlash does emerge, evangelicals just need some wise heads to keep us out of it.
This is where I think the solution (not just the problem) must be stated ecclesially. A self-assured network of local churches content to fulfill their small brief and aware of the impossibility of taking on any more “ambitious” culture-changing briefs, will be able to guide themselves.
Michael – always glad of an excuse to visit the good ole USA 🙂 I think the big issue is power and how we believe change comes.
Kevin, well put as ever. Humility, realism and a focus on the primary calling of the church – great points to navigate by.
“Evangelical Ireland ” – where exactly is that these days? The Celtic Tiger advanced(greed/selfishness/corruption) so many people towards the melting pot of a secular Ireland that it beggers belief we still have Churches where people meaningfully attend. It is time we came out of the shadows to proclaim His Message so that those with ears will hear.
Patrick – love the blog !
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