Wednesday 16 October 2019

God spare us this overreaction to harmless tradition


Shane Coleman of Newstalk
Shane Coleman of Newstalk
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

When exactly did the word "outrageous" lose all meaning? Newstalk Breakfast (Mon-Fri 7am) told us how Yellow Furze national school in Meath had introduced homework passes for kids who attend religious instruction, and Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland declared it "obviously outrageous".

Clearly, this is nothing close to an outrage, and I say this as someone who's had absolutely zero faith for 25 years. As host Shane Coleman - the definition of common sense, as usual - put it: "Are we getting a bit carried away? The school wants to create a sense of community around the First Communion and encourage kids to sing in the choir. If you go, you get off homework. What's the big deal?"

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Nugent retorted: "It's a human right to not be coerced into religion." Coleman countered: "It's not quite up there with the Penal Laws, is it?" It is, Nugent added, "unconstitutional as well as morally wrong." Coleman responded flatly: "That's ridiculous."

Hard to disagree. In a world of unimaginable horrors, including some caused by religion, it's bizarre to get so worked up about a well-established and harmless tradition like First Communion. What happened to you, atheism? You used to be cool.

Ironically, on Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am), the power of spiritual faith was demonstrated, even to us non-believers, by a moving interview with Naoise and Christine Ryan, respectively the wife and mother of Clareman Mick who died in an Ethiopian Airlines disaster last March.

"He's around us all the time," Naoise said, "telling us to keep going. He's there all the time, he's our strength."

Christine travelled to the crash site a few days after her son died, and said she sensed his spirit there. "I felt he was at peace even though the place was traumatic," she said. "I spoke to him and it helped me."

O'Rourke said: "There's something about the spirit of Mick, from which you draw strength and inspiration?" Naoise replied simply: "Absolutely."

Does that poor man still exist in some incorporeal form? In my opinion, no. Is believing otherwise a provably beneficial thing? Definitely, yes.

RTÉ's Francis MacManus Short Story Competition is one of the longest-established and most prestigious, and this year's winners were given life through dramatisation all week (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 11.20pm).

Funnily enough, I didn't think that much of the winner - Honey Days by Stephen O'Reilly - a riff on AI that felt a little second-hand. But silver and bronze medallists, Niall McArdle's Vena Amoris and The Boxer Rebellion by Liz Houchin, were funny and deft, with sometimes-surprising depths. And the playing, by Jane Brennan, Eamon Morrissey and Janet Moran, was vivid and well-pitched.

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