Saturday, September 11, 2010

Father Trendy

The Irish bishops' pastorals, from 1978 onwards, also emphasised justice as the primary virtue, although it is most infrequently invoked in the New Testament. The TrĂ³caire agency, widely supported by the clergy and the hierarchy, was set up to aid the poor in Third World countries, displaying a distinctly Marxist flavour in its crusades. Gone was the time when "Ireland's Spiritual Empire" emphasised the saving of souls and the need to bring Christ to the pagan world...In the left-wing, politicised Irish Catholic approach of the 1980's, spirituality did not seem to come into it any more. The agenda was to oppose the "Right".

I can vividly remember the atmosphere of which Mary Kenny complains in this passage from her excellent book (which I highly recommend). Of course, recourse to the words of the New Testament or "what Jesus said" are a favourite tactic of those attacking Church teaching-- as though everybody could interpret Scripture infallibly, and as though such "common sense" exegesis hadn't already caused war after war, schism after schism. It must also be added that, by the 1980's, the Irish had less need of bringing Christ to Africa than of getting Christ from Africa-- as the presence of so many African priests in Ireland proves.

But the general point, I think is, is a fair one (and Kenny's book is fair-minded throughout). The same situation seems to obtain in America, a point that has been made by Edward Feser here.


  1. I also liked Kenny's book. I thought she made a number of excellent points. Irish people have a tendency to look back at the "bad old days" and conceive of them as something unique to this society. She puts things in an international perspective. I was interested to learn that while Ireland never had censorship of the theatre, the Lord Chamberlain in England censored plays up until the 60s. I was appalled at her attitude to DeValera and Irish neutrality, but that reflects the influence of Conor Cruise O'Brien on her thinking, as well as fashionable 80s revisionism/anti-nationalism, when Irish society was being encouraged to become less 'insular'. Diamaid Ferriter's Judging Dev and the Transformation of Ireland are must read deconstructions of that idiocy.

    A few months ago RTE commissioned a documentary on the Irish missionary movement..."On God's Mission". It was fantastic.


  2. Thank you for your comment, Shane, and welcome to the blog.

    It's funny you should mention Diarmaid Ferriter. I work in UCD library and the Mary Kenny book actually came into my hands because Diarmaid Ferriter brought it to the returns desk! Though I had browsed through it before.

    I did think that her international comparisons were very good; she made the point that whatever was happening in Ireland tended to be blamed on the Catholic Church, even if the same thing was happening in Protestant or secular countries.

    I think I would probably share roughly the same view as you on Irish neutrality (and I absolutely agree with you about anti-nationalist revisionism), but I felt some of her points were quite fair. For instance:

    "If you alluded to the sufferings of the Poles, or the Jews, or the Czechs, all you got back was a lament about the cruelty of Cromwell. Irish nationalist sentiment promulgated this indifference to the sufferings of others; it was as though the Irish had jealously to defend their reputation as "the most distressful nation that ever yet was seen"-- and the sufferings of any other nation were an almost threatening form of competition.

    Now, maybe that's not the case, but it has seemed like the case, sometimes, to me-- even all these decades later.

  3. Thanks Maolsheachlann. That's a very interesting coincidence re Ferriter.

    On her point about Irish nationalists, that's long been called the MOPEry syndrome (MOPE = Most Oppressed People Ever). It's true that Irish Catholics tended to focus on their own sufferings, divorced from an international context, but any oppressed people or nation usually does the same thing. Jews and Poles (especially the former) get away with it all the time - in fact Jewish writers, and indeed most mainstream historians, tend to neglect the Polish Catholic aspect to the concentration camps. Remember the outrage over the Auschwitz cross and convent. Hitler didn't just want to eradicate Jews only. So while she's chastising Irish people for their ethnocentricism, I think she's indulging in a bit herself.

  4. Maolsheachlann, if you liked Kenny's book, you'll love this: (click on images to upload pdfs). Do see the first page of the second booklet. I thought the questions were hilarious.