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Don't be in such a rush to get rid of God

LIKE thousands of Irish holidaymakers to Turkey down the years, I recently climbed the mountain to "Mary's House" where Jesus's mother is said to have lived and died. I don't believe a word of it.

There is strong evidence that Mary died in Jerusalem, but I still felt Mary's House was a holy place: a place for deep and big thoughts.

It's not just Catholics who flock to Mary's House. It's a holy place for Muslims, too. And I'm guessing it was a holy place long before Jesus was born: mother goddesses have always reigned supreme in that part of the world.

People have had religion as long as they've had life. It's part of what we are.

I'm all for respecting difference, but if you see no worth in our religious inheritance you are an idiot.

I'm not saying Ruairi Quinn is an idiot. The report he commissioned on primary schools, which recommends taking up to 50 schools out of Catholic management, is very welcome.

People should not be forced to send their children to Catholic schools if they don't want to.

But we're going to have to think very carefully about how we replace religion. I hope we don't go the way of the French and replace 2000 years of moral values with values cooked up in a few months by a quango.

When the French expelled religion from their schools, it was done in anger. Priests and nuns were turned out on to the roadside.

When you repress beliefs, you get more repression. Nowadays in France, Muslim girls can't wear their headscarves to school. There is widespread discontent in Arab suburbs. And the far right-wing Marine Le Pen has the support of 28pc of young voters.

Sarkozy's vaunted "secular republic" isn't working.

That's why the wisdom of stopping preparation for sacraments during the school day in the remaining Catholic schools, as the report suggests, is open to question.

Does it really impact so badly on the kids' academic performance? Are non-Catholics really out-performing their Catholic peers? Do non-Catholics really have such an issue with sacramental preparation?

Are the VEC-run schools which split kids up for religious education really the disaster RTE made them out to be last week?

I have to be honest here. Preparation for First Communion and Confirmation have been the best part of my kids' schooling up to now.

The night of my daughter's first confession I welled up when I looked at the collages on the wall and saw her little woolly sheep being minded by the Good Shepherd. One boy's sheep was in the Good Shepherd's arms. "He'd need to be", muttered his mother, "or he'd make a run for it."

Some preparation could take place outside school hours, if teachers put in extra time or we imported enough priests.

But my autistic child could not have made his First Communion without being drilled at school because he is slow to learn.

No-one can tell me it was wasted time. Apart from learning about God, he learned how to participate in a social ritual.

His First Communion day was one of the only times in his life that he knew what to do in a social situation. We were all bawling, but he seemed to be in a state of grace.

Without preparation at school, he won't make his confirmation. And he needs it. I need it. We need the promise of a love that cherishes everyone equally to help us through the night.

We need to ask the big questions about why we are here to which no-one can be sure of the answer.

No-one except the idiots who have the answer to everything.


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