It's scary how quickly fanatical views can take hold worldwide
On Ash Wednesday a Protestant friend of mine called and asked me would I go with him that evening to a Solemn Eucharist - Ash Wednesday service in St Bartholomew's on Dublin's Clyde Road.
I was delighted to go. It was my first time at a service in that church and it was my first time to receive ashes from an Anglican priest. Indeed, it was my first time ever to be in an Anglican church on Ash Wednesday. It was a prayerful occasion, solemnly celebrated with fine music. A priest from Jerusalem gave the sermon, which was most appropriate for the day that was in it.
After the service, which lasted over an hour, my friend and I were talking about differences between the Protestant and Catholic religions. I pointed out that so many of the prayers were familiar to me. The same prayers we say in Catholic churches. It set me thinking about differences and divisions between peoples and how it always seems to happen that somehow or other fanaticism rears its ugly head, no matter how noble the cause.
About a year ago I bought myself an internet radio. A fantastic buy. It means you can listen to any station anywhere in the world. After Christmas I accidentally tuned in to 'Patriot Radio' in the US.
It has left me utterly dumbstruck. It is non-stop, wall-to-wall right wing propaganda. Every few minutes it finds an opportunity to say the nastiest things possible about Barack Obama's new health care plan. It calls US Secretary of State, John Kerry, 'Potato Face'. I have never in my life heard such nasty radio. And it's relentless. I have surprised myself how I keep tuning in. It's so wild there is an entertainment value to it. From all the evidence to hand I would consider this hate radio.
But that sort of fanaticism exists right across all walks of society; politics, the churches, nation states. And what is really worrying about it is that it always seems to have the ability of gaining momentum, gaining traction, to use modern jargon. It's so easy for that fanatical genie to be released from the bottle and then there is no stopping.
Just look at history. Millions are maimed and killed. For what? The lead picture on the front page of a national newspaper last week showed pro-Russian protesters in a show of defiance during a takeover of the regional parliament building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. They all looked vicious and wild. They really looked scary. Then on page two of the same paper there is a picture of Ukrainians rallying in the eastern city of Kharkiv to protest against Russia's incursion into Crimea. This time most of the people in the picture are women. They look so peaceful, almost as if they are praying.
How true, the first casualty in war is the truth. Of course there are rough and vicious people who feel more Russian than Ukrainian but there are also gentle and kind people who feel they have more in common with Russia than Ukraine.
Whatever about the rights and wrongs of what is going in Crimea, those two photographs have to be a great example of crass western propaganda. And what is most annoying about all forms of fanaticism is that it is always the poor and uneducated who are manipulated and fooled to suit the plans and conniving of the great and powerful.
On the way home from St Bartholomew's I was thinking that not so long ago people were led to believe that it was 'sinful' to visit a Protestant church. There might be a lot wrong with 'wishy-washy liberalism' but please, give it to me any day before any and all forms of fanaticism, which seems to be in the ascendancy right now.