Friday 21 October 2016

Ian O'Doherty: Blasphemy in our court and God in our schools. State of the nation 2014

Published 29/01/2014 | 02:30

Shock and awe: The cast of the Reduced Shakespeare Company
Shock and awe: The cast of the Reduced Shakespeare Company

I spent 20 years in Northern Ireland once. Well, it was one night – it just felt that long.

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Don't get me wrong, I like Belfast and the Antrim coastline is among the most beautiful in the world, but on this occasion, a booking error meant I found myself bunking down in a staunchly Loyalist part of the city.

The woman who ran the B&B was as icily polite as she could manage when she discovered a Taig at her door and I thought about this stoic daughter of Planters when I saw a play had been banned in Norn Iron because it was, apparently, blasphemous.

And I wager that she, in her own quietly furious way, was rather annoyed that the artistic members of the Newtonabbey council subsequently lifted a ban on tonight's performance of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God.

One of the councillors condemned the original decision for "making a laughing stock" out of the people of Northern Ireland. And laugh we did.

How we scoffed and chortled at the silliness of these people.

After all, what civilised society still bans and prohibits works of art that mock their imaginary Saviour? But we shouldn't be so quick to sneer at our friends in the North and their quaintly Biblical obsessions.

This week saw the Constitutional Convention publish a report that urges the Government to hold yet another referendum, this time to remove the crime of blasphemy from the statutes.

This became a ferocious hot-button issue when then Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern inexplicably put the issue back in the public eye a few years ago, although things have been quiet on the God-bothering front in recent months.

But while most people – and I include most religious folk I know – think that it's simply absurd to make it a crime to offend someone's religion, the original meeting of the Convention only passed this motion by 61 votes to 38. And that's hardly a landslide.

The worry for any referendum is that only the people who care about the issue turn out – just look at the shambles involving the Seanad – which inevitably skews the result towards those who want it the most. But what is even more worrying is that the Convention has suggested replacing the antediluvian Blasphemy provision and replacing it with an all too modern, and all too insidious charge of 'Incitement to Religious Hatred'.

What will constitute incitement and what will constitute hatred? And, while we're on the topic, since when did it become a crime to hate something?

I'm hardly wallowing in presumptive hyperbole when I say I speak for all readers in hating the excesses of the Taliban, for instance. Similarly, I wouldn't be a huge fan of the way so many Muslim countries seem to engage in recreational execution of those they don't approve of.

And as for those who argue that honour killings, mutilations and public decapitation are cultural and not religious activities? Well, the perpetrators insist they are doing it in the name of religion, and that's enough for the rest of us.

Of course, an 'incitement to hatred' is usually just an expression of contempt. And try as I might, I don't actually hate anybody. But I certainly have buckets of contempt for those who would have us emulate these societies – and then scream persecution when they're told they can't use their Holy Book as an excuse to kill gay people.

But as depressing as it may be to be even having this debate, it is unsurprising.

Because in a separate yet inextricably linked example of the weird stranglehold organised religion still has over our society, Ruairi Quinn is being painted as the new Himmler because he wants to limit the teaching of religion in Irish schools.

This has been denounced by the Association of Catholic Priests as 'unacceptable' and they say his approach is "an indication of an intention to undermine religious education in the vast majority of our schools".

To which I would say – let's hope so.

Schools are places of education not indoctrination and time would be better served in a civics class where children learn how to be considerate citizens.

We can snort all we like at a bunch of Bible-thumping Nordies getting their garters in a twist over the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

But as we're struggling with these issues then we're not much better.


So, Killaloe farmer, John McNamara, has been banned from driving because he refused to give a blood sample to a black doctor. He gave his reasoning as the entirely rational: "He's black, I'm not letting him do anything to me. It's not right." In fairness, he may be on to something.

After all, everybody knows that all those sneaky blacks spend years in medical school just so they can graduate and get their sick thrills from handling the bodily fluids of a pissed and obnoxious culchie farmer.

Eternal vigilance, my friends – eternal vigilance!


Parents in America are up in arms after Beyoncé and her hubby Jay Z's risque performance at the Grammys.

Groups of mad people, sorry, concerned parents have swamped the switchboards, messageboards and water boards of America as they gather together in righteous fury at the sight of pop's first couple gyrating and dancing and shaking their booty, as you young people say.

As someone who associates 'booty' with Treasure Island, I'm assuming all this booty-shaking involved the couple waving Spanish Doubloons at each other, which doesn't seem that controversial to me.

But no, people like Parents Outloud – not to be confused with their shy splinter group, Parents Who Are Really Quiet – have demanded that the organisers apologise for allowing such a shocking scene of wanton – wanton! I'm tellin' yis – rudery to appear on their screens.

But you just know that somewhere in Minnesota, there's a shy 45-year-old father of 23 secretly writing a letter which says: "Dear Grammys, I've watched and re-watched Beyoncé on your live telecast at least 17 times now and I must say I am outraged. At no stage can I actually see all of her boob. Even Janet Jackson got her boobies out, what makes Beyoncé so special?"

(And yes, pedants, I know Janet Jackson's infamous nip slip was at the Superbowl, but it's my column and I'll make whatever connections I want.)

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