Tag Archives: Catholicism

On the Virtues of Beards.

Villainy or Liberty?

Today a bearded man is often the villain, a malevolent force in a Disney movie, a Machiavellian character in a TV show, the man quietly asked to step aside for a detailed search in an airport. Facial hair has become a relative oddity in most professions outside of education, and has almost become synonymous with a hedonistic student life, extreme religious ideologies, or fringe cultures in society. Yet this was not always the way…

The Mark of a Man.

The Ancient Egyptian elite wove gold into their beards, the Mesopotamians and Persians admired well-groomed facial hair, for the Indians it was a sign of wisdom, and for the Greeks it was a sign of virility and was almost sacrosanct. Alexander the Great demanded that his soldiers cut their facial hair as their opponents frequently seized it to better kill them. And even though Aristotle adopted this new fashion, a bearded man was generally accepted as being a philosopher. The Romans really enjoyed shaving, having little or no hair on their body, except for a neat haircut. For them beards became either a symbol of achieving manhood, mourning, or squalor. The Romans may have seen the beard as barbaric, since they were the rulers of the ‘civilised’ world, and many of their enemies wore beards, and grew their hair long.

The Long-haired Kings.

The so-called ‘Barbarian’ kingdoms which replaced the Western Roman Empire were often ruled by dynasties which embrace facial hair. The Ostrogoths and Visigoths, which dominated Italy and Spain respectively, enjoyed long hair and moustaches. The Frankish royal family, the Merovingians, were commonly refered to as ‘the long-haired kings’. They even had strict rules about how long a man could wear his hair and beard depending on his social status. Indeed if a rebellious lord was captured, he was not killed, but made to shave his face and scalp, and cast into a monastery. Often such rebels would reappear several years later at the head of a new army, but only once their hair had grown back. The Carolingians maintained this hairy fashion, but their successors, the Capetians, had abandoned facial hair by the 12th century, and, with only a few exceptions, beards and moustaches were no longer grown by the monarchs of France. The Holy Roman Emperors also abandoned beards in the 12th century, by they were revived briefly in the 16th, but again went out of fashion. The rulers of the various Spanish kingdoms often wore beards, almost as often as they didn’t. In England, the Anglo-Saxons had a proud tradition of hairiness, which became a symbol of defiance when the short-haired Normans conquered the country, as it did in Scotland and Ireland. Even during the English Civil War, the shaven were godly puritan Parliamentarians, know as the Roundheads for their short hair, though they soon began to grow their hair long in defiance of the rulings of the Church of England. Peter the Great of Russia even tried to force the men of his empire, who have had an ancient and flamboyant love affair with facial hair, to become clean-shaven as a mark of civilisation, though many maintained a beard or moustache in defiance.

Catholicism and the Beard.

Why, you might wonder, was there a hiatus of facial hair between the 12th and 16th centuries, possibly the most religious period of European history? It may have been due to the fact that the Church began to threaten their wearers of beards with excommunication. Anselm of Canterbury encouraged the preaching of clean-shaveness and short hair throughout England, even though the king was fond of long curly hair, and punished Canterbury after the death of Anselm by allowing the see to remain vacant for several years. When the bearded Richard the Lionheart returned from the Crusades, he found his kingdom clean-shaven due to the influence of the clergy, which had filled the void of authority due to his absence. This clerical disgust of the beard is made deeply ironic by the fact that Jesus and his apostles are more often than not portrayed as being long of hair and beard, and that many popes followed this tradition.

The Modern Beard.

The beard appears to be fashionable, but not in fashion, in this era. The Presidents of the USA often wore beards, though none have done so since 1913. The beard vanished after 1914 due to the popularity of the clean-cut military look, a style which dominated the media of the English-speaking world until the 1960’s and the rise of counter-culture. This disdain for militarism brought on by the Vietnam War encouraged rebellion and civil disobedience, one aspect of which was a revival of long hair and beards. This trend has been maintained by students, musician, actors, and such, but the beard has yet to make a popular return to the Western world, probably due to its association with explosive anti-Western extremism.

The wearing of facial hair has become correspondent to immorality, and the clean-shaven has become the paradigm of virtue. In the past, facial hair has been a symbol of impiety, wisdom, defiance, and liberty, and as such it is to be embraced.

One cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion – G.K. Chesterton.

Issues of Investment

Who’s the Boss?

The Investiture Controversy, which had its roots in the 8th century and was unresolved until the 12th, was basically a fight between the Pope and various kings and emperors over who was more important. The Catholic Church reckoned, since the Pope was God’s representative on Earth, and they held the keys to salvation, that they were clearly more important than all the kings in the world put together. The kings, however, disagreed, as they had all the money, the power, and the women.

Who’s the vassal now?

The king of the Franks was king in name only; the kingdom was ruled by a man called Pippin, whose father had ruled the kingdom before him, but was also not a king. Pippin didn’t like having the responsibilities of a king without all the cool stuff that went with it, the robes, the crown, the authority to kill anyone, and so he asked the Pope if he could be king. The papacy feared the growing power of the Lombards in Italy, and the possibility that annihilation might be on the cards, so basically Pope Zachary switched teams. Previously, Rome had been a subject of the Byzantine Empire, but they weren’t doing a very good job of protecting the Eternal City from rampaging barbarians, so Pope Zack reckoned he owed no loyalty to Constantinople. The emerging power that was the united Frankish kingdom of Pippin-not-yet-a-king seemed like a better bet. Zack agreed that Pippin could be king if he came and beat the crap out of the Lombards. Zack died in 752, but the papacy was saved by the bell two years later, as Pippin, once he was anointed king, gave the Lombards a good thumping, and granted the papacy authority of a swathe of land from Ravenna to Rome. Pippin’s son, Charlemagne, confirmed the donation of land to the papacy, and the Pope made him an emperor to rival the one that sat in Constantinople. Here we find the cause of the controversy; had the Carolingians given the land to the papacy in trade to gain legitimacy, making the Pope and independent and sovereign ruler? Or had they seen it as investing a vassal with property, like they had done, and would continue to do, with the rulers of Brittany, Aquitaine, or, to a certain degree, Croatia? Or had the Pope appointed the Carolingians as his protector, an employee of his state, a bodyguard, without relinquishing his own authority? Who was in charge of whom?

King’s pawn to bishop…

The other part of the problem was the issue of the appointment of bishops. The new ‘barbarian’ kings of Europe frequently granted bishoprics and other important ecclesiastical lands and titles to members of their family, or loyal entourage, allowing them access to the vast wealth and manpower at the command of their local churches. The papacy wanted to maintain that power as its own, and assure its freedom to appoint whatever bishops it chose. The papacy could not advance too much in the pursuit of this cause as could not risk annoying the Holy Roman Emperor too much, since his army was much bigger than the Pope’s. Luckily for the papacy, the Emperor died, and a new one took his place, but being only six years old, the new Emperor Henry had very little authority. The papacy launched its programme of reform, appointing bishops as it thought it should. When the young Emperor Henry grew up, he also appointed his own bishops, as did the king of England, another king that the Pope thought of as a vassal. The Emperor renounced his support of the Pope, and the Pope excommunicated him. What followed was essentially a civil war; many of the lords and bishops of the Holy Roman Empire picked a side, and fought intermittently for 50 years. The rebel lords appointed their own king, and the Emperor created an Anti-pope in the first recorded particle accelerator. The Emperor lost the war in the end, as his son chose to rebel against him and support the papacy.

The road to secularism.

After fifty years of war over who had the right to invest whom, the kings of Europe were less keen on employing religious folk as ministers, attendants, legates, and courtiers, as they had done in the past. They turned instead to men educated outside the clerical system, a process which led eventually to the secular bureaucratic system which we have now. In the short-term it looked as if the papacy had won, but men seeking advancement realised that they could find employment without giving up sex, drugs, and troubadours, turned away from the priestly orders and made themselves servants of the state, not the Church. Ultimately this bit the papacy in the arse when in 1870 an Italian nationalist army succeeded in seizing what remained of the Papal States, and integrating them into the recently united state Italy.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam.

Spontaneous creation or God?

NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.

Image via Wikipedia

Recently (3rd Sept. 2010) Stephen Hawking declared that it was not necessary to invoke the hand of God in the creation of the universe, that the powerful force of gravity could accomplish the fabrication of the vast and wonderful cosmos in an act of self-creation.[1] He was almost immediately rebutted by John Lennox (a professor of mathematics from Oxford University), who said that “As a scientist I’m certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can’t explain the universe without God.”[2] He then proceeds to offer rather flimsy examples of how objects need to be designed by an exterior mind, which I believe is deceitfully misleading and over-simplifies Hawking’s argument. He also makes utterly nonsensical statements like “…the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense”, and “But support for the existence of God moves far beyond the realm of science. Within the Christian faith, there is also the powerful evidence that God revealed himself to mankind through Jesus Christ two millennia ago. This is well-documented not just in the scriptures and other testimony but also in a wealth of archaeological findings”. The first statement is utterly wrong, unless the science to which he is referring is the psychological study of mass hysteria, superstition, enforced tradition, cruelty, and genocide. The second statement is dishonest; the evidence offered for the existence of God comes from ‘within the Christian faith’, which makes it faith, not evidence. The ‘well-documented scriptures’ are delightfully corrupt texts, there is no non-Christian ‘other testimony’, and there is no, I repeat, no archaeological evidence for the Christian god, or Christ himself. Lennox even says that “The existence of a common pool of moral values points to the existence of transcendent force beyond mere scientific laws. Indeed, the message of atheism has always been a curiously depressing one, portraying us as selfish creatures bent on nothing more than survival and self-gratification”. Both of these statements are fallacious, morality has nothing to do with faith, and atheism is hardly depressing, and in fact encourages community over selfishness because it does not believe that a myth will save humanity from destroying itself.

Lennox does have a vaguely defensible point though; he believes that there must have been a being to set things in motion, an unmoved mover, a first cause which, at the very least, created gravity, which in turn created the universe. This is the crux of the debate, as it has always been, and probably always will be. Every time science deduces a rational answer for the existence of the universe, and all that lies within it, faith takes one step back. When it was found that the earth was not at the centre of the solar system, religion said it was still the centre of the universe. When it was realised that we evolved from chemicals, religion declares it was a development guided by the ‘hand of God’. The Big Bang must have been seen as a wonderful theory by the established faiths; it provides a point in time, a creation event to which they could attach the label ‘God did it’, even though this was not what science had sought to achieve. And then science pushed back further, but still ‘god’ must be the first cause.

The simple fact of the matter is that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of ‘god’ (yet). And a true scientist, a skeptic to the core, must accept that there is a possibility, however remote, removed from reason, or absurd, that there is a supernatural force that impelled the universe into being. It must be made clear that this ‘god’ is a very different to the ‘god’ of religion. This hypothetical unmoved mover would be far removed from human discourse, a detached entity existing outside the universe. Arguing that this ‘god’ has anything to do with Christianity, as Lennox does, is intellectually misleading. The revelation of ‘god’ to desert nomads, a carpenter’s son, or faith healers might provide many people with some notion of comfort, but it should not be accepted as the basis for society, morality, laws, or educational practices, which, sadly, it is. His arguments grant credence to oppressive religions, allowing them to argue that there is scientific evidence for ‘god’, and, consequently, all of their incumbent traditions and bizarre beliefs and practices. The ‘god’ of faith is an irrational creature, prone to violence and jealousy, and the religions based on the deranged visions of so-called prophets and messiahs are uncritical of their own practices and beliefs, cling to tradition, and deflated dogma.[3] They can hardly claim to have any scientific basis or any grounds as historical fact.

Whether ‘god’ exists or not is an opinion, not a fact which can be proved or disproved. Hawking believes the weight of the evidence suggests that the universe came into being through the agent of gravity, and Lennox holds that ‘god did it’. What can be proved or disproved are the links in the chains of faith, the shackles of religion which fetter the freedom of thought, and of humankind. Everyone should be free to believe what they wish, but they are not. Religion is imposed on society, indoctrinated from birth, and enshrined as the font of all morality. It is not open to criticism, or investigation. Religion is a closed concept, a narrow viewpoint which seeks to eliminate all others, a parasite of the mind. Whether or not ‘god’ exists is not the point; religion does, but it shouldn’t.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam


[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1308278/Stephen-Hawking-God-did-create-Universe.html.

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1308599/Stephen-Hawking-wrong-You-explain-universe-God.html. See also, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1308616/Stephen-Hawking-Archbishop-Canterbury-attacks-claim-God-did-NOT-create-Universe.html.

[3] See previous posts, ‘My Problem With Your God 1-5’.

Celtic Christianity and the Cult of Nonsense.

There has been, in recent years, a growing trend in ‘Celtic’ themed products and beliefs in this nation perpetuated by streams of American tourists whose dollars we so desperately want. There are shops specialising in Celtic jewellery, candles and books, Celtic rituals, new-age Celtic pagans, books of Celtic names, and other such fanciful re-imaginings of fact to be found in every town, city, culture centre and airport in this little island. Most of this might be dismissed as harmless nonsense, a mildly irksome trend designed to capture tourist wealth, the source of a raised eyebrow, dismissive glance, or exasperated sigh by people who know better. There is, however, a particular undercurrent of ignorance and lies propagated by such popular ideologies. While I had been aware of such a thing, it had never angered me, until ‘Celtic Christianity’ received its fifteen minutes of fame early one morning on RTÉ Radio 1 on the Pat Kenny Show.[1] A certain individual[2] had written a new book arguing that Catholicism was essentially the first multinational corporate body. It wasn’t, simply because ‘nations’ did not exist until the 17th or 18th centuries, and corporate bodies were recognised in the pagan Roman Republic before Jesus was even born. Latin writers of Antiquity and the Middle Ages did often use the word natio to describe peoples and communities, but they did not mean ‘nation’ as we understand it today. He also stated that Ireland was home to a more pure and spiritual form of the faith called Celtic Christianity. The show received several texts and e-mails from people expressing surprise in this ‘fact’, and many were intrigued and appalled at the suppression of ‘our native faith’.

Let me be absolutely clear: Celtic Christianity never existed. It is an entirely modern invention. How can I be so sure? Well, firstly, and most importantly, the Celts, as they are commonly conceived, never existed, and they certainly never came to Ireland, therefore there could never have had a version of Christianity on these islands in any way associated with the Celts. Secondly, there was no exceptionally unique version of Christianity, such as that which the guest suggests, on these islands for any imaginary Celts to have.

‘Celtic’ is a linguistic term, like ‘Latin’ or ‘Germanic’. ‘Celtic’ refers to a family of languages which a certain group of people spoke. The remains of these languages are found in Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, and Manx. ‘Celtic’ was attached to this linguistic group by 18th century scholars. This does not mean that the Irish, Welsh, etc., were Celtic people in a racial sense, or even in a cultural sense, but only in a linguistic sense. The English speak a Germanic language, yet they are not called German. France, Spain, Italy, Romania, parts of Africa, and all of South America speak languages descended from Latin. This does not make them ‘Roman’ or ‘Latin’ peoples. There were La Tène and Halstatt cultures in Central Europe, which may have been comprised of Celtic-speaking peoples, but they too were not ‘Celts’. Someone who knows their Caesar might then cry out that he refers to the Celts of Gaul, and that even the Ancient Greeks wrote of contact with a Celtic people. These ancient authorities were not even remotely concerned with historical, factual accuracy when writing about peoples outside their ‘civilisations’. They would have met a community and then named whole peoples or regions, and their culture, after that one community. The whole island of Britannia is named after one tribe which inhabited the south of the island, simply because they were Rome’s first contacts with the native population. ‘Africa’ referred roughly the lands encompassing Tunisia to Libya, and was named after the Afri tribe. Now it is the name given to an entire continent and people.[3] Demonstrably, names are not always accurate descriptions of reality. There was probably a tribe who may have called themselves something close to ‘Celts’ somewhere in Central Europe (their word was rendered into Greek, then Latin, so we don’t know exactly what they called themselves), and their name was applied to a whole culture which spread across continental Europe, but there were certainly no ethnic Celts in Ireland. What were the Irish then, if not Celtic? They called themselves ‘Gael’, or ‘Féne’, while in Latin they were called the ‘Scotti’.[4] They did not call themselves, or think of themselves belonging to a race of people called, ‘the Celts’. The native inhabitants of Ireland absorbed a Celtic language, and elements of the material culture most closely resembling that of La Tène, which possibly derived from Celtic-speaking peoples, but none of whom were necessarily ‘Celts’ themselves.

It might be argued then that I am simply being pedantic. While there were no Celts in Ireland that does not mean that there was no ‘Celtic Church’. The term ‘Celtic’ might be applied to distinguish the native Church from that of Roman Catholicism. It is true that the Irish Church had developed some interesting innovations which distinguished it from the continental Church, and in this sense could be referred to as ‘Celtic’ in the same fashion as the ‘British’, ‘Merovingian’ or ‘Visigothic’ Churches, which all fell under the umbrella of Rome. The problem is that ‘Celtic’ has become a loaded term. Scholars will refer to an Insular Church, but not to a Celtic one simply because ‘Celtic’ is not an accurate term when discussing the history of Ireland, outside of literature. Even if we were to be kind an accept that the terms ‘Celtic’ and ‘Insular’ might be synonymous, the Celtic Christianity espoused by Pat Kenny’s guest on the nation’s airwaves is a complete and utter fallacy which obscures historical truth.

Here follows several samples of his misrepresentation of fact:

Pat Kenny: “Would they [Celtic monks or priests] have been married?”

Guest: “I think they would certainly have had partners. They practiced concubinage…”

The Insular Church condemned concubinage among the laity in the De concubines non habendis cum legtima uxore (“On not have concubines as well as a legitimate wife”), found in the Collectio canonum Hibernensis. Celibate bishops had the highest honour-price of all clerics in Irish law.[5] On the other hand British bishops often took wives.[6] This simply due to the fact that the vow of celibacy was only made a mandatory feature of clerical orders at the First and Second Lateran Councils in the 12th century, and re-affirmed at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, long after the more curious habits of the Insular Church ceased to be practiced, some time in the ninth century. Irish monks tended to take vows of celibacy, but priests often did not. This was an aspect of religious life common to all of Western Europe, yet the author portrays this as being a unique feature of the ‘Celtic Church’, a blatant misrepresentation of historical fact.

Guest: “… the Irish developed a form of Christianity quite independently of Rome…”

The first bishop of the Irish was Palladius, personally appointed and dispatched by Pope Celestine in AD429.[7] This is the first reliable date connected to Ireland, and is accepted as being the beginning of the history of Ireland. The first date in Irish history is a direct contact to Rome. Around AD633 the Irish cleric Cummian convened a synod to discuss the Easter Question. The synod could not come to agreement, so a delegation was sent to Rome to ask for the judgement of the papacy. This Irish bishop was following canon law to the letter, and shows that the Irish Church did see Rome as its superior and the ultimate court of arbitration, and that it was in contact with the See of Peter. In fact there are several letters of communication back and forth, from Rome to Ireland, which survive from the pre-Norman period, illustrating that the Irish Church was in sustained and frequent contact with its patriarch on issues of doctrine and canon law. This is hardly evidence of the type of ‘independence’ which the guest suggests.

Guest: “… [the Irish form of Christianity was] what we now call, in terms of heresy, (in inverted commas) Pelagian.”

The guest also informs listeners, at a later point, that Palladius had been sent to Ireland to confront the Pelagian heresy, which is true. However, Palladius seems to have been successful as the Pelagian heresy was suppressed by the late 5th century, before the growth of the Insular monasticism in the 7th and 8th centuries, which is evidently what the guest claims to be the shining example of the ‘Celtic Church’. He may be referring to a 7th century letter from Pope-elect John IV in which Rome mistakenly confuses the Eater controversy in Ireland with Pelagianism. The Irish were not Pelagian, at least not after AD500, long before the Golden Age of Irish monasticism, which is obviously the period which inspired the guest.

Guest: “The God we believe in is one of our own creation… …spirituality is what the spirit within you that makes you free”

Is he a closet atheist? He also states at various points that he does not submit to the judgment of the Church but instead relies on his own. This is a laudable principle, yet he fuses it, somehow, with spirituality, and with what he believes to be the true form Christianity. The ‘spirit within’ that makes individuals free is Reason. The guest has freed himself from the institutions of faith, but remains bound to their ideologies. He has questioned his faith, but only to a point. He has realised that the Catholic Church is not the vessel of God’s truth, but he still clings to the same ultimate fantasy as they do. It is almost as if he has seen through the illusion, but has decided, rather than turn from it entirely, to refashion it to suit his own purposes.

Also, contrary to what the guest and Pat Kenny say, modern scholars hold that the Jews were not slaves in Egypt but were employed as highly skilled labourers and courtiers.

In fairness to the guest he is correct on many of his views concerning the expansion of the Church of Rome, and its partnership with the Roman Empire, and I agree with many of his more philosophical views of how faith evolved, its perverse view of sexuality, and that Jesus would be horribly disappointed in how his teachings have been corrupted by institutionalised faith. The Insular Church did disagree with Rome on several issues of practice but never doctrine. They held the exact same religious views as Rome, but granted greater powers of administration to abbots, cut their hair a different way, and had a different day for Easter. The guest makes specific reference to the last point, as if it were something special. The great Christian cities, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Carthage, Alexandria, Jerusalem, all had slightly different ways of calculating Easter, and so often celebrated it at different times. So did the Irish, but it happened that the Merovingian Church was attempting to standardise Easter in its lands at the same time that it was receiving an influx of Irish missionaries who celebrated the movable feast on a different day, causing some upset. Vast swathes of Christendom, and many of its most important cities, were conquered by Islam leaving Rome in the west and Constantinople in the east as the patriarchs of the Church. Merovingian France was the most powerful kingdom in the west, so Rome agreed with it. This is not evidence of a different, more spiritual religion, only of widespread differing religious practices.

At the end of the program a contribution from a listener was read out. In brief, it is said that the illustrious Columbanus did not accept the primacy of Rome, and specific mention is made of a letter he sent to Rome telling them to ‘look after their own business,’ and leave him alone. This is not exactly what happened. Columbanus wrote to Pope Gregory the Great, an educated reformer whom the Irish monk saw as a like-minded individual, hoping to convince him that the Insular method of calculating Easter was far superior to the Gaulish method, and that the Merovingian bishops were exploiting the laity through practicing such contemptible acts as simony.[8] What also comes across in Columbanus’ letters is his acceptance of papal authority in such controversial matters, but with a certain caveat. The popes were, for Columbanus, the leaders of the Church as the rightful heirs of Peter, but they could only enforce the laws of the organisation, not change them; such a power could only rest in the hands of the Church as a whole, as decided upon by synods.[9]

There was no Celtic Church as defined by Pat Kenny’s guest. While older scholars have referred to a ‘Celtic Church’ modern scholars have replaced it with the more accurate term ‘Insular Church’. Neither of these names, which refer to one organisation, agree with the Celtic Christianity as espoused by the guest. This Celtic faith is based on assumption, and a misleading interpretation of the evidence. He also projects modern terms and concepts back on the past, which is anachronistic, and academically and intellectually reprehensible, if not irresponsible. There are many examples of the popular history of Ireland to be found on the bookshelves which are worthwhile to read, but this work is absurd in its portrayal of religion in Medieval Ireland. It would be laughable had it not been conferred a worrying level of legitimacy by appearing on the programme of a respected broadcaster such as Pat Kenny. Due to this, many of the opinions stated, however true or false they may be, and which were dressed up as historic fact, have passed into the popular domain. Misinformation and obfuscation have been granted a seal of approval. Lies and half-truths have been planted in the minds of listeners.

I would welcome the disintegration of organised religion, as would Pat Kenny’s guest, but not if it were to be replaced by local “bioregional spiritualities that go beyond both monotheism and polytheism.”[10] This is pure nonsense. ‘Bioregional’ has nothing to do with faith, it is an ecological term invented in the 1980’s. ‘Spirituality’ is a vague tapestry of lies. The only thing that goes beyond mono- and polytheism is atheism. Pat Kenny’s guest is using vague and pseudo-scientific language to grant himself an air of authority, and perverting history to ‘prove’ his theses. This acceptance of abject deceit, whether intentional or inadvertent, which has become pervasive in today’s society, has been long recognised as a threat to Science. It is also a menace to other forms of investigation. An attack on real History,[11] and the acceptance of pseudo-history, allows fanciful notions of ersatz nationalism to take root, and for the recognition of quasi-historical works, such as the Bible, as unadulterated fact. This must not be tolerated.


[1] Today with Pat Kenny, 07-01-2010, available for download from the RTÉ website, 1:39:10. The website promoting the book in question can be found at http://www.aislingmagazine.com/index.html.

 

[2] I am not entirely aware of the legalities of naming private individuals in an essay such as this, but he is named in the radio programme, and his website http://www.daramolloy.com/.

[3] Think this is crazy? That this could only happen in ancient times and would never happen in the modern era? When explorers first arrived in what would be Canada they asked the Iroquois natives of a village what was the name of the place they were in. The Iroquois replied ‘Kanada’, and so the country was named. Later it was learned that ‘Kanada’ means ‘village’ in the Iroquois language.

[4] The Scots are descended from Irish populations which established themselves in the west of the county and intermarried with the native Picts. Both the inhabitants of Scotland and Ireland were recognised as having a common origin for most of the Middle Ages.

[5] Corpus iuris Hibernici, Miadsleachta.

[6] Gildas, De excidio Britanniae.

[7] Prosper of Aquitaine, Chronicle.

[8] Hughes, K., “The Celtic Church and the Papacy”, in Lawrence, C.H. (ed.), The English Church and the Papacy in the Middle Ages, (Burns and Oates; London, 1965), p13. (Please note that ‘Celtic’ here refers to ‘Insular’; this article was written before the scholarly shift in terminology.)

[9] ibid¸ p16

[10] From his website http://www.aislingmagazine.com/globalisation/theses.html.

[11] Acceptable, and accessible, works on the history of Early and Medieval Ireland are available in bookstores, such as Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín’s, Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200. There is also A New History of Ireland, Vol.1: Prehistoric and Early Ireland, which contains various works by many eminent scholars in the field. This essay was written specifically with these works in mind (except for two explicit references to an article by Kathleen Hughes which will only be available to certain libraries) so that anyone who was curious could easily investigate my sources.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam.

The Zola Stratagem.

Atheism is a bête noire in modern Ireland. The Catholic religion, having long ago established itself as being synonymous with the nature and character of the people, and as a driving force in the foundation of independence of the nation, has entrenched itself on the very meaning of what it is to be ‘Irish’. The Catholic Church, even if it is not active in pursing its goals, affects everyday life across vast swathes of the planet. We might think that we live in more enlightened times, that it was previous generations who were held in the full thrall of the Faith, and that we are free of it, emancipated by technology and consumerism. Where society revolved around the parish, when our parents would not even discuss the sin of sex denounced from the pulpit, the Catholic Church clearly held a firm grip of the lives of Irish people. The Church’s influence in this nation reached levels of savage proportion such that it could hide the lowest filth of the earth in its vestments, and condemn innocents for the vile deeds of white-collared men. It is our lamentable inheritance that we suffer the inability to bring these people, and the institution they represent, to any form of justice other than their own. They repent their sins and beg for forgiveness as they sit in their comfortable homes and palaces while those they tortured endure the prison of wrongs never righted. The Catholic Church may have ‘good people’ as members, people who are trying to improve the lives of others in a meaningful way, but the organisation is a foul corruption of the teachings of its supposed saviour, an insult to any who believe in it, and a malignant cancer on our society. The Catholic Church should be tried for crimes against humanity, for terrorism, and for the torture and abuse of the citizens of the sovereign nation of Ireland. Yet the faithful continue to support the men in black. Mass attendances are rising; a Novena summons a torrent of sycophants, all providing the Church with the mandate it needs to continue behaving like the greedy, abusive tyrant that it is. Sheep herd themselves into narrow halls and pray for salvation, listening to the languid words of immoral collaborators. Yet I am looked upon with incredulous eyes for daring to profane against the faith. I am the delusional one for not believing in the spastic rants of desert nomads and impoverished carpenters. I am closed-minded for not seeing the transcendent truth and glory of life-everlasting. I am somehow inherently wrong for questioning the Church and not believing in God.

To be an atheist in Ireland is to be wrong. The vast majority of people wander in depth of ideology from the firmly religious to the flimsy spiritualists. There is a shade of faith in the Other to suit everyone, and someone willing to sell you the associated paraphernalia. To not belong to a grey area, to firmly establish yourself as a dark knight against the tarnished white purity of faith, is seen as alien. Theism, however vague or profound, is the order of the day. Exceptional claims are made, and accepted, without any requirement, or desire, for proof. Why am I wrong to demand proof? Why am I wrong for needing more than a fiction to explain existence? Why am I wrong for thinking that God is equally as (un)believable as Zeus or Odin? Why am I wrong for thinking that organised religion is the enslavement of free-will, and that faith is a morally bankrupt shackle? Might it be that it is not I who is wrong? Might it be that it is they who believe in spirits in the sky, zombie saviours, and ephemeral kingdoms guarded by winged harp-players who are, at the very least, misguided, or at worst, delusional? Surely not. I mean, everyone knows God, miracles, angles, Heaven, Hell, spirits, Santa, the tooth-fairy, and the Devil are real, right?

As a child, I must admit that enjoyed reading the Bible, it was almost as exciting as other books I read concerning the myths and legends of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Norse, and Irish were. I knew that Romans made sacrifices to their gods and we gave up chocolate for Lent, that they had many small gods and we had a multitude of saints. Then someone told me that the gods of old were not real, but somehow our one was. This puzzled me for the longest time, because those ancient peoples built magnificent temples and monuments for, went to war in the name of, and prayed to, their gods, just as we have. What was it that made their gods less real than the one I was told to believe in? Besides, their gods were far more interesting; animal-headed men and women who had more affairs than was decent, and habitually toyed with the lives of mortals. I recall sitting in religion class thinking if this was the way Greek children were told about their gods, that theirs alone were true while the Egyptians believed in fairytales. By the time I entered into Secondary I was a blossoming atheist, thoroughly skeptical of the God and deeply suspicious of Faith I had been told that I had to believe in. I was fascinated by History and Physics, and in the course of studying these two diverse subjects I came to understand that the Universe is an astounding place, even without the presumed privilege of being created in the pristine image of a fantasy, and that the past can be manipulated, censored, misinterpreted, and ill-understood. I was, and continue to be, unrelentingly curious. I had to know more; ‘God did it’ was not a sufficiently pleasing answer for me as seemed to for others. The more I read of physics the more I realised it provided far more convincing answers and arguments for why the universe is the way it is. The more I read of history the more I understood why humanity clings to Faith in preference over Reason. I could trace the evolution of God from ancient to modern times, and see each bizarre twist and turn in the development of the Catholic Church, the branch of the spiritual tree I was most interested in understanding as it was the one which besieged me. It became clear that for the majority of people it is far easier to say ‘God did it’, or remain ignorant, than actually find a reasonable answer.

Atheism is not, I would argue, the belief that there is no God or gods. Whether it is a figment of the imagination or not, a supreme ruler of Creation is a very real thing in the minds of a substantial portion of the world’s inhabitants. Atheism itself is almost a misnomer; it is defined in terms of faith. What I am should not be defined in terms of what they are. Why are we identified in terms of their superstitions? Atheism is to place one’s confidence in Reason and all its ancillaries. It is Reason, we are Rational. Those who believe in burning bushes, the immanent Rapture, and voices in the sky are not Theist, they are Irrational, Unreasonable. I am a Rationalist, and I see no reasonable motive or incentive to believe in the supernatural or divine. The human mind invented these spirits, which are used by established religions to beguile those willing or indoctrinated to believe, as means to attach reason to unreasonable events. The Catholic Church is the greatest offender as it is the largest and most widespread centrally organised religious institution. Only human intellect can unravel this web of deception, this veil of ignorance that has been drawn across the world.

Organised religion is firmly planted in the quagmire of tradition. The preservation of customs and practices are common, and very important, to any society, yet when they become entrenched and dogmatic, refusing to adapt except under the most extreme pressures, they have become harmful rituals. Religion requires absolute stagnation; there is only one perspective in which the world can be viewed, they one decreed by clerical authority. Reason too demands a certain perspective of the world, one that adapts, revels in novelty, is inclusive and develops. Religions are based on one stunted, malnourished idea; Reason provides an overflowing cornucopia of inspiration. Tradition instills conformity, an unchanging sequence of events designed to plough rigid furrows of compliance through independence and imagination in the mind, enslavement disguised as education. Decent education should encourage freedom of thought and individuality. Religion only teaches us what is wrong. The Catholic Church makes claims of moral authority which it then fails to uphold, happily chastising the faithful while its own ministers commit vide deeds. Various branches of religion condemn women who dare ask for any form of recognition beyond that which a man has chosen for them, men and women who prefer the intimate company of their own gender, or anyone who dares to impinge the divinely ordained sanctity of their version of the truth. Intolerance is a hallmark of faith, only the faithful can be saved, otherwise what would be the point of being faithful?

Religions have usurped a fundamental right of every human being – freedom. Freedom from tyranny, freedom from persecution, freedom of speech. All brands of religious belief are feudal tyrants, a miasmic hangover from the Middle Ages that have no reason for continued existence in the modern world. The Age of Reason gave birth to the Enlightenment, the fruits of which make up our lives today. This has often been described as a revolutionary event in the history of humanity, I beg to differ. Reason has for too long sought to maintain a status quo with Faith, it had not dared attack openly as it did not have the strength to withstand the torrent of ignorance at the command of the religions. For too long it sought to appease, it hoped to explain to people that the images on the wall were just shadows designed by the despotic authorities, and encourage them out of the cave where ignorance was taught as a virtue. There has been some success, but new, more radically severe religious movements, and bafflingly dense pseudo-scientific gurus have appeared in response. This is no time for appeasement. The very fate of mankind rests in the hands of Reason; it alone can hope to offer solutions to the horrible mess we have made of the planet. A billion prayers uttered by the faithful to fantastic deities every day will not turn the tide of global warming, nor would they bring about world peace. God is dead, yet religions prop up its fetid corpse to rally the faithful to the cause of the tyranny of ignorance. This is a call to war, a war for the mind. Reason stands for intellectual and personal freedom, a product of which is Atheism. Each side has its armies; secular academics face clerical dogmatics, while scientists challenge quacks. If the various faiths of the world survive this war it will not be because the faithful won, they would prefer annihilate each other, but rather due to the fact that Reason did. Only Reason defends freedom unconditionally, even the freedom to believe. Only it can solve the peoples the human race faces on a local and planetary scale. For their own sakes’ the faithful must believe in the cause of atheists because we are the only ones who have their best interests in mind. Organised religion surely doesn’t, it seeks only to line its own bed, wallow in its self-aggrandising propaganda, and presume moral authority over all creation.

Why am I an atheist? Atheism is right. It makes sense. It is morally superior. It is the better path. It accepts all this world has to offer and sees the beauty in the universe without any need to attribute it to the hand of an insipid divinity. It does not demand blind faith but rather encourages inquiring minds. Life-everlasting is tantamount to hell; we must work to make the world, and precious little time we have, into an approximation of the painfully impossible heaven. Religion is standardised, institutionalised hate. It encourages division and requires a belief in the supremacy of its own twisted view of reality. Atheism is the cure for this immoral disease. The tyranny of malevolent organisations, be they political or commercial, are frequently denounced, and wars have been fought to end their oppression, yet organised religions, the tyrants of the mind, persist. To paraphrase PZ Myers, there will be no tyranny of the mind in the Rationalist Eutopia of the future. Why am I an atheist? Because I believe in taking responsibility for my actions, in seeing the world as it is, in understanding others without prejudice or preconditions, in freedom, equality, and compassion. The difficulties of our time require more than faith in the divine to resolve, the issues which affect the people of the world are more complex than any religion was ever designed to cope with. There is no magic cure for the ills of the planet or its inhabitants. We must rise to the challenge, forsake primitive fantasies and fanciful notions of surviving death, and use human wisdom and reason to improve the real world. Faith is an impediment to progress, to freedom, to civilisation. Reason, also know as Atheism, is the only way forward, the only answer. Its failure will doom mankind to an isolated existence and bleak ignorance in a remote corner of the universe; its success will grant us access to the wonders of all creation and rational appreciation of all of humanity’s best and worst attributes. The only way forward is to adopt the Zola Stratagem.

“Civilization will not attain perfection until the last stone, from the last church, falls on the last priest.”
-Émile Zola

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam