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!