Monday 22 October 2018

Liz Kearney: Three cheers for you if you've carved out your own secular path - because the Church’s web is wide

Liz Kearney
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

AN old friend called me recently with a dilemma. He’d recently become a new dad, and his wife wanted to baptise their baby girl. She was planning a big family celebration, a lavish party with friends and family in attendance, and it all sounded lovely.

The only problem was that my friend is a staunch atheist. He doesn’t believe in God, and he certainly doesn’t have any truck with the Catholic Church.

So what should he do, he asked me? Refuse to take part? Or go along with it, and stand on the altar and say as little as possible?

He wanted my advice in particular because he knows I have my own reservations in this area, though I wouldn’t call myself an atheist. I’ve never felt certain about what’s going on cosmically, so I’ve hedged my bets somewhat. And as a very general set of moral principles, I reckon Catholicism provides as good an ethical framework as anything else for living your life. But to me it’s plain, as it is to many others, that there are many, many areas of the Church’s teachings which are hopelessly out of step with modern life.

However, given that many of our taxpayer-funded institutions, like schools and hospitals, are still owned by the Church, it can be tricky, if not downright impossible, to opt out entirely. The Church’s web is wide.

And three cheers for you, by the way, if you don’t know what I’m talking about – if you’re the staunch naysayer who resisted any of the traditional routes and carved out your own secular path, then seriously, well done.

It must have been bloody hard work and probably involved stepping on many toes and giving yourself a range of logistical headaches like having to drive 20 miles to the nearest Educate Together school and so on. That’s why I know only a handful of people who have been brave enough to opt for this approach. It’s awkward.

Many more of us are in full ‘Lanigan’s Ball’ mode: taking one step in, then one step out again. We want ‘in’ when we want to get married, have the kids christened and educated, and our loved ones buried. Then we want ‘out’ again when it comes to having to sign up to the Church’s moral code, because how many of us, hand on heart, actually believe that they’re spinning a sensible line on the burning issues of the day?

And so it comes to pass that we find ourselves on a damp Tuesday evening watching David Quinn talking about sex and consent on ‘Prime Time’ and wondering once again if it really is a good idea to entrust debate of this crucial topic to the Iona Institute, whose preferred version of sex as outlined by Mr Quinn is that it happens in a committed relationship. Which sounds fine, until you remember that, in Catholic teaching, such a relationship means marriage. And marriage is only for straight people.

Many of us find that objectionable but, even so, with that peculiar ambiguity we Irish are so good at, we’re launching a whole new generation of kids into a muddy landscape of being raised in a kind-of-but-not-very-Catholic ethos, while crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

We’re done with the conservative stictures of the 1950s. But as we’ve been reminded in Belfast this past week, at the other end of the spectrum is a grotesquely oversexualised culture where derisory attitudes to women (“Any sluts get f***ed?”) pass as locker-room banter. Common decency, surely, would dictate that we can find a middle ground. The only question is, with one foot in and one foot out, who can locate it?

Meanwhile...

Have I got news for you two, too

Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, team captains on the long-running news quiz ‘Have I Got News For You?’, claim that the reason so few female politicians have hosted the show is not because they haven’t been asked. In fact, Merton said, women are far more likely to turn the job down. Hislop suggested that women were too modest to take on the role.

I wonder if it’s modesty, or simply that female politicians just aren’t ready to turn themselves into a punchline, at least not yet. Having not featured at all in public life for centuries, you’d be a brave woman to get elected and then decide to turn yourself into the class clown.

This feeds into the popular perception that women aren’t all that funny but, on the contrary, I think they’re just not ready to be that funny in public. Many of my female acquaintances are blessed with razor-sharp wit but keep it under wraps in the office. You can only play the joker when you’re very sure of your place at the table. That’s a while away yet.

Be careful what you wish for in the Park

Anyone who thinks Michael D Higgins has had a fair crack at the Áras and should let someone else have a go might take a moment to consider the latest names to enter the fray. Enter stage left Kevin Sharkey, a one-time TV presenter and now well-known painter. Despite being himself the son of an immigrant, Sharkey wants to start a national conversation about how many people are coming to Ireland and whether we can support them, which sounds like a nice inclusive approach to a presidential run.

If you’re not keen on Sharkey, well then enter stage right Bertie Ahern. With these candidates, ambassador, you really are spoiling us.

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