03May Specsavers and Fundamentalism: our Church Today


Mohammed Al Bouazizi doused himself in petrol and burned himself to death. This sparked off the path of protest sometimes known as the ‘Arab Spring.’  We have had Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria.  NATO sends in planes over Libya but is silent on other countries.  Iraq, Afghanistan  and even Vietnam haunts the West and it loses its arrogant certainties. Hamas and Fatah speak and Israel is confused. Ronan Kerr got blown up by the Dissidents. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness come to the funeral. The PSNI and GAA carry the coffin.  Masked men appear in  a Derry graveyard and promise graves to anyone who disagrees with them. We are appalled at their inability to grasp the obvious. The documentary on Michaela Harte shows a husband, full of grief and faith; consoled by his wife’s rosary and we are amazed.

The unexpected and unlikely interest in Democracy with the Arab Spring  surprises us but we are fearful of the extremes of Godliness. We recall the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union and even the hopes around Tiananmen Square and all the other Squares that promised so much but are now very unsure where this new hunger for freedom might lead.  

In the midst of much change, there is hovering over us a concern on fundamentalism.  We still cannot believe that anyone can be so blind and so lacking in insight as the Arab States (Absolute Monarchs); as the Dissidents in N Ireland; as Al Queda; as our Politicians;  as our Bankers; as our financial Regulators; as our Journalists who  missed the obvious.  It was clear to anyone with an active mind that the bubble created by the property boom could not last and yet none of the Establishment saw it. And even now our ‘Leaders’ shift the blame to global problems. It was accentuated by the global issues but was home grown.  (Nyberg Report).

Any of us who deals with addicts- drink/drug/gambling/sex ends up utterly frustrated and infuriated.  We find it impossible to grasp how anyone can be so stupid and lacking in insight. We are overwhelmed by their gibberish and their grandiosity and their deceit and their denial and their disconnect from reality. Similar frustration and incredulity is evident when we deal with sexual abuse. It is beyond us to grasp how anyone could find satisfaction and pleasure in harming a child. We cannot deal with it because we find it impossible to believe it is happening and we always expect such people to see sense and reason. Yet we know it never happens like that.  Reactions of horror or any sensationalism or blaming institutions will never sort out the depths of these problems because we are caught in the intrigue of  parallel thinking. 

Many ask how this Island of Saints and Scholars could create a history which led to the Ryan Report or the Murphy Report.   How could praying people or holy people or good people, who by vocation and inclination set out to help the most vulnerable and most fragile in society, do this or allow it happen?  It is beyond us to understand.  All the policies in the world won’t explain away what happened and how no one shouted stop. All this was done in the name of Christ.  Society and culture lived in a harsh environment, saw nothing wrong and wore blinkers. Where was insight? Where was understanding? Where was anyone anywhere thinking or alive to the message of life and humanity and Christ? 

In this land of experts and the highly educated people where is the general insight that has produced reflection or theology? All of us who have allowed our country be destroyed.  What made up our educational system? What now makes us educated? Are people learning how to think? Or do we just decorate our students with qualifications?  McDowell said at the height of the Tiger that all these successful people wanted as a good weekend was – “to get pissed and to get laid”. Is this success? Is this the fruit of education? Is this the achievement of humanity?

Rome has been taken over by the Poles. They celebrated their Pope. But how could Rome Beatify John Paul?   It all feels like insider dealing. He was a holy man and a good man and a leader but he also remained at his post for too long and didn’t have the sense or the insight to get out after a few years. He was a product of his country and was very rigid and therefore so unChristlike.  How can Rome provide a home for the Lefebvre style of Church or the disaffected Anglicans?  How can our leaders and our Bishops allow through a Missal full of (bad) stilted and Latinised English?  Where is insight?  All we get is docility and deference which is the opposite of being Faithful. It is craven, stupid and lacks insight into the way of Christ.

Why do 95 %+ not come to church in places like Finglas South  and in such areas? Do they lack insight into the ways of God? Or are they bored with what we do and how we do it or is ‘God missing and not missed’ or is our Celebration of God so lacking sense and so disconnected from their reality in language and life?  And what are we going to do about it?   

Mervyn Bragg wrote a book on the Impact of the King James Bible. In a Review in the Sunday Times this was said: ‘When the idea surfaced around 1600 about a translation there was a great protest but ‘ this new translation was an attempt to Wrestle back the Word of God from the Latinist elite.’  Has anything really changed?  The ‘old men’ of the Vatican will never rise beyond the Bureaucracy. They will never be capable of ‘embracing the incarnation’ which is much too dangerous and unmanageable .  All of us now must disregard the woodenness of Central Government and its race back to the securities of the past which is a form of comfort eating. People settle for what they know because they can’t face the reality of a changing world. But Christ met the same problem.  The Governing elite were fearful in their own formulism and the Word of God was frozen.  This was fundamentalism. Change can only come from local communities. We cannot wait for our leaders. They are lost within themselves. They know only one way and that way is over.  ‘Basic communities’ or ‘parish communities’ must now begin to share the Communion of their experience and create a new Church. (Synod or otherwise).

It is clear and true that the Fundamentalism which shocks us in the Islamic version – really is what we have ourselves – in Politics; in financial markets; in Church.  There has been a severe lack of insight and an inability to seriously reflect on life and each new day.  Education has been measured in quantity rather than quality. Theology has been conveniently frozen in the deep freezers of Rome We are all so tied up in our narrows and so controlled by our own comfort zones in Church and State, in University and in Schools that learning and reflection doesn’t happen anywhere. Leadership is almost bereft of humanity, honesty, humility and humour. All forms of fundamentalism are an escape from thinking. It is cheap, easy and total avoidance of the troublesome reality of life.

It is understandable why we can’t grasp the mind of a paedophile or the convoluted thinking of an addict… but surely we can see that the opportunity/challenge created by the collapse in Faith with Institutions (Politics/Church/Banking) must lead us into a new way of thinking which demands broad minds and big hearts and imaginations to take us beyond the sacred cows of dead thought.  The Arab Spring (and our secret hopes for the outcome – that they might become like us!) should push us beyond arrogance and certainty towards a different reflection on everything.  We see them as trying to break free. And we can dream that they might find freedom- like us. However we cannot forget our own rigidity and our own limitations. We watch the Arab Spring and feel so superior. We watched as Church (in our dogmatic and absolute statements) and felt so superior.  The arrogance and certainties have rightly gone. We are now floundering – the Old Boat is in the open seas and Christ seems asleep with his head on a cushion. I think he can manage. Can we?   

Dawkins has great play with the world of God. However he attacks the caricature which too often is the only version to hand. Stephen Hawkings also suggested that the God of so many official Religions ‘is too small’. And this is then our task to see the Desert we have got lost in and begin to find a way out.  Osama Bin Laden may be dead but the madness in the version of faith that he promulgated scatters its stupidity everywhere.

Extravagance and exuberance and excitement are essential. We need our poets and our artists to help us break into a new imaginative framework for thinking. A new Missal full of flowery and unusable English is not going to help. The Beatification of John Paul is not going to help. We need many new mini popes (or real characters of inspiration)  of the ilk of John XXIII who can let in the fresh air and admit that  the fundamentalist version of faith; of government; of politics; of education; of humanity  has to be smashed utterly and totally.  We all need a new Spring.    It isn’t just about the Arab States.

Seamus Ahearne osa   Rivermount Parish, 60 Glenties Park, Finglas South, D11

0876782746; 018343722; seamus.ahearne@gmail.com   2nd May 2011

One Response

  1. Martin

    ”He was a holy man and a good man and a leader but he also remained at his post for too long and didn’t have the sense or the insight to get out after a few years. He was a product of his country and was very rigid and therefore so unChristlike.”

    — So, he was a holy and good man, yet he was also ‘unChristlike’? Which is it?

    ”How can Rome provide a home for the Lefebvre style of Church or the disaffected Anglicans?”

    — The Church welcomes all those who want to be in communion with the Church, united around the Pope and those bishops in union with him, and believing in the one deposit of faith.

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