NORTHERN Ireland’s Culture Minister has called on the local Ulster Museum to put on exhibits reflecting the view that the world was made by God only several thousand years ago.
Nelson McCausland, a born-again Christian who believes that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel, has written to the museum’s board of trustees urging them to reflect creationist and intelligent design theories of the universe’s origins.
The minister, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the inclusion of anti-Darwinian theories in the museum was ”a human rights issue”.
Mr McCausland defended a letter he wrote to the trustees calling for anti-evolution exhibitions at the museum. He claimed around one-third of Northern Ireland’s population believed either in intelligent design or that the universe was created about 6000 years ago.
Mr McCausland denied he was trying to dictate the content of material on the origins of life to the Ulster Museum, saying he was merely calling for the museum to reflect the diversity of views on how the universe was created within the province.
His call was condemned by evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins. ”If the museum was to go down that road then perhaps they should bring in the stork theory of where babies come from. Or perhaps the museum should introduce the flat Earth theory.”
Mr McCausland’s party colleague and member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for North Antrim, Mervyn Storey, has been at the forefront of a campaign to force museums in Northern Ireland to promote anti-Darwinian theories.
Mr Storey, who has chaired the Northern Ireland Assembly’s education committee, believes in the theory that the world was created several thousand years ago, even though the most famous attraction in his constituency – the Giant’s Causeway – is, according to geological evidence, millions of years old.
Last year Mr Storey objected to notices at the causeway stating that the rock formation was about 550 million years old.
The belief that the Earth was divinely created in 4004 BC originates with the writings of another Ulster-based Protestant, Archbishop of Armagh James Ussher, in 1654.
On the first day of 2010 (note: not 1310), Ireland’s new blasphemy law came into effect, making statements about the folly of religion punishable by a 25,000 euro fine. Specifically, the law forbids “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion.” Ireland, yet again, has shown the world the toxic result of religious influence on the state. Fortunately, the Irish specialize in blasphemers as well as zealots; a group called Atheist Ireland is flouting the law by posting on its website 25 quotations selected intentionally to outrage religious sensibilities and daring the authorities to prosecute them. They chose a wide range of blasphemy, which was smart, because the new laws, ironically, are intended to promote tolerance. Blasphemy was already a crime in Irish law; the new legislation merely extends the right not to be offended to people of any faith at all.
Alongside quotes from Frank Zappa about “The Cloud Guy who has The Big Book,” the atheists are promoting attacks on Muslims and even Buddhists, such as Icelandic pop singer Björk’s uncharacteristically hostile comment: “The Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say f–k the Buddhists.”
There’s only one blasphemer on the list of 25 blasphemous quotations that’s deemed worthy of two entries, and he is, of course, the greatest blasphemer of them all: Jesus Christ. Two thousand years after his ministry, if Jesus were to choose Ireland as the spot for his return to Earth, he would be fined ¤25,000. I guess the good news is he wouldn’t be crucified. (You have to take progress where you can find it.) Pope Benedict XVI should probably be careful what he says, though. If he were to repeat the remarks he made at the 2006 Regensburg lecture, in the course of which he quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II’s statement that Muhammad’s teachings are “evil and inhuman,” he might well be subject to prosecution.
Surely the problem with a multicultural blasphemy law will be in its implementation: With so many religious violators, whom should the police fine first? The Irish law stipulates that it is meant to punish only people who are “intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents.” Most atheists don’t care enough to blaspheme. Despite the recent spate of atheistic polemics, from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the rest, we simply don’t have a dog in the fight. Priests, rabbis and imams have to outrage other believers; it’s part of the job description. Muslims are supposed to outrage Christians. Protestants are supposed to outrage Catholics. And they all are supposed to outrage the Jews. Religions are inherently blasphemous against each other, which is exactly why, in successful societies, humanists have managed, through the painful effort of centuries, to kick religion out of government.
Religion is creeping back by any means it can find. The same week that the Irish government redefined blasphemy, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard managed to survive an assault in his house by a Somali man wielding an axe and knife. The assailant wouldn’t have had to attack if they had both been living in Ireland. Rather than being apprehended by the police, the assassin could have contacted them; Westergaard, and not his intended killer, would be the criminal in Ireland.
Religious tolerance has been confused with respect. How can you legislate that people not only put up with other people’s beliefs but validate them? What about new religions? Are they entitled to the same protections? What about people with private religions, i.e., the insane? What about people who believe in gnomes and fairies, an ancient religious tradition? Is it blasphemous to claim that the woods are not possessed by magical spirits? What if you work for the department of forestry? What if you insult little girls’ imaginary friends?
Another problem with the new Irish law is that the truth itself is blasphemous. It’s hard to report the events of the past two decades without “intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents.” The Irish government reported that the Dublin diocese of the Catholic Church tolerated “endemic sexual abuse” and sheltered more than 170 pedophile priests from justice for decades. Could you make a more damning statement about any religious group? The Pope goes to AIDS-ravaged Africa and tells people not to use condoms. He welcomes Holocaust-deniers into the priesthood. He commences the process for turning Hitler’s Pope into a saint. No atheist needs to make stuff up. What’s more blasphemous to the Catholic Church than the newspaper?
Religion is trying to make a comeback into the public sphere through the back door, not by insisting on intolerance, but by demanding a respect that it’s done nothing to earn. Fortunately, there will always be blasphemers to stand in the way.
THIS YEAR the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin is celebrating a year of evangelisation. The project’s website notes that “evangelisation is . . . an essential mission of the church”.
Necessary, courageous, no doubt, but, one might well ask the question, “why now?”
A friend told me, several years ago, of a conversation he had with a prominent Irish bishop whose diocese had the first exposure of an abuse scandal. “With this, what time do you think I have left for evangelisation?” asked the forlorn pastor. But worse was to come.
In recent times, it can be argued, the Catholic Church in Ireland has reached the nadir of its long history on this island. This institution is paying the price for its past success and for the kind of clerical dominance that almost inevitably leads to arrogance and the abuse of power.
Is it entering a land of exile?
The Ryan report was horrendous. The damage done to the victims was incalculable, the effect on the morale and reputation of the church, and, I would suggest, much of the country, devastating.
“How did we come to this?” we ask. It reflected not only on the church but also on the whole of Irish society. This will be followed up by the report on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin.
In the days following publication of the Ryan report, I was travelling on a train from Dublin to Tralee. Sitting opposite me were two elderly ladies, one going to visit her family, while the other was eventually joined by her sister, a retired religious in civil attire.
The conversation turned almost inevitably to Ryan. The two lay persons, both of whom had sisters who were religious, reacted largely as one might have expected from people of this generation and class.
There was a kind of uncomprehending anger towards the victims of abuse expressed in the most negative terms; a defence of the church, and those representing it; as well as an anger that was diffuse and directed at everybody and nobody, including the church. Above all there was a sense of confusion and loss.
These women, like many people today, struggled with the fact that the ecclesiastical institution, in grave difficulty, often reviled, had let them down.
While we have come to assume that young people have lost faith, this is not, of course, always the case. They continue their search for truth and for God.
A bond of trust has been so severely damaged that it is not clear whether it can ever be restored. While priests often receive generous support, they often sense distrust, even among their own family and friends.
And yet, this is the situation within which the church must carry out its mission. If we speak of contextual theology, a locus theologicus, it is within this context of vulnerability and weakness that we must start today. If we are to speak of evangelisation or re-evangelisation this is the locus where it must happen, for all those who present themselves as witnesses to truth.
It does seem bizarre that, in 2009, a modern European nation would seek to shield religious belief from criticism – yet that is what is happening in Ireland right now. In repealing the 1961 Defamation Act, the Irish government sought to expunge the worst excesses of Ireland’s draconian laws restricting free speech, but in the process it has ended up making offending religious belief a criminal offence.
Aside from a €25,000 fine (reduced from the €100,000 originally sought by the government), the new Defamation Act gives the authorities the power to stage raids on publishers: the courts may now issue a warrant authorising the police to enter, using ‘reasonable force’, premises where they have grounds for believing there are copies of ‘blasphemous statements’.
Many are asking why on earth blasphemy should be criminalised, particularly at a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland is being investigated for widespread child abuse and its public image has hit rock bottom.
The government has responded to its critics by saying there is a constitutional requirement for a specific blasphemy law in Ireland. Indeed so: freedom of speech is guaranteed by Article 40.6.1 of the Irish constitution. However, it goes on to prohibit the publication of ‘blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter’. One might call the Irish constitution a clear case of the left hand giving and the right hand taking away.
The fact that this has been the case since the constitution came into effect in 1937 seems to have blinded the government to its usual option: the traditional Irish response to divisive issues is to pretend that they don’t exist. It is not for nothing that Ireland’s acceptance of abortion for those with enough money to travel to Britain is called ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the constitution, only one case was ever taken under the blasphemy prohibition since the introduction of the constitution in 1937 (a 1999 case against a newspaper, in which the Supreme Court concluded that it was not possible to say ‘of what the offence of blasphemy consists’ and that ‘the state is not placed in the position of an arbiter of religious truth’). So, at the very least, it seems peculiar to bring the issue into the light of day in 2009.
It is true that the repeal of the 1961 Defamation Act and its replacement with (slightly) less outrageous legislation would leave a hole in the statute books if blasphemy were not outlawed. Yet the obvious answer is to amend the constitution, which, in Ireland, requires a popular referendum. Yet the minister behind the update to the defamation laws, Dermot Ahern, says that a referendum would be ‘costly and unwarranted’. The government is, however, perfectly happy to pay to send the country to the polls on the issue of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty for a second time. Presumably no cost is too high so long as the people make the decision the establishment wants.
Thanks to JT for the tip.
POPE Benedict XVI is not entirely welcome here in the wake of the damning Ryan report, a survey found.
More than half of people surveyed do not want a second papal visit following the revelations in the report on child abuse.
An online survey by radio station Newstalk, in which 1,108 people took part, shows the scenes that greeted the late Pope John Paul II during the first papal visit 30 years ago are unlikely to be recreated.
Back in September 1979, schools and businesses shut as thousands of Catholics flocked to the Phoenix Park during the three-day tour of Ireland.
However, despite strong feeling about a papal visit, the survey showed that the Ryan report has had little impact on the public’s religious practices. Just 4pc said the report had changed their Mass-going habits.
In addition, 68pc of people said religious teaching in schools should not include details of clerical abuse.
There has been speculation that the Pope might come to Ireland this year to mark the 30th anniversary of the historic 1979 visit, but 52pc of the 1,108 surveyed between June 22 and June 25 said he should stay away.
Many interviewees in the internet poll felt he should apologise before a visit could take place, while others said that saying sorry would not make any difference.
“Until he condemns what happened and pays compensation for his vile colleagues’ actions, and helps this country prosecute them by handing over all documents in relation to abuse issues and the movement of priests, then he shouldn’t be allowed set foot in this country,” said one of the interviewees.
Another person said a visit might be an important gesture to reach out to the abused, but only if the perpetrators faced their guilt. Another said they had difficulty taking any authority from the Pope.
“I did not elect him; he is old, lives a sheltered life and does not have to worry about where his next meal is coming from,” he said. “I am not sure what he can do now to ease the victims’ suffering. The church is churning out ‘mea culpas’. I am not sure how his sorry would be any better.”
– Anne-Marie Walsh
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s president said on Thursday a harrowing report into how Catholic priests and nuns had abused children had not come as a shock after her own convent school experiences.
“I had a fair idea it was happening,” Mary McAleese said in an interview with state broadcaster RTE.
“I was educated by Mercy Nuns, my brothers went to Christian Brothers schools. Some of the stories that come through the Ryan Report would not be unfamiliar to us.”
Revelations of floggings, slave labor and rape in Ireland’s now defunct system of industrial and reform schools have shamed Irish people, particularly older generations who did not confront the widespread abuse.
The report, chaired by High Court Justice Sean Ryan, criticized the Department of Education for colluding in the silence surrounding the abuse and noted children were also preyed upon by foster parents, volunteer workers and employers.
“I had always known that culture, that ethic, that domineering authoritarianism, allied unfortunately to a culture of corporal punishment and a culture of abusive corporal punishment,” said McAleese.
“It was pretty much a landscape of our childhood.” McAleese was born and educated in Northern Ireland which was not covered by the report.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said this week that information about the abuse had been around for decades.
McAleese, a former professor of law, said abusers should be prosecuted as a result of the report.
“In so far as there are people still alive who are responsible for these criminal acts then surely part and parcel of what comes out of the Ryan report is and should be that they are brought before the proper authorities.”
The inquiry did not name abusers after a successful legal challenge by the Christian Brothers, which had been the largest provider of residential care for boys in Ireland.
A spate of scandals involving sex predator priests has dislodged the Catholic Church from its once pre-eminent position in Irish society but there is anger that many have avoided jail.
Religious orders named in the report have come under pressure to pay more compensation to victims. A 2002 deal capped their contribution to a redress fund at 127 million euros ($177 million). The total bill is expected to top 1 billion euros.
In the United States, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to 500 victims in the largest compensation of its kind.