The received “wisdom” about Northern Ireland’s annual Summer riots goes something like this. “The peace process has been a top-down approach where politicians have learned how to get along but the people on the streets don’t really get it and still hate each other. Working class areas feel like they have been overlooked by the peace process. Meanwhile the parades issues still needs to be resolved.” This “wisdom” – the language of the “peace process” – needs to be replaced.
So here is my 10-point plan for changing Northern Ireland forever so that Summer riots become a thing of the past.
- Parents must assume the responsibility to teach their children that they belong to no tribe or group that claims to be better than any other tribe or group.
- Our society makes kindness the most important virtue. Kindness becomes the thing that our society holds most dear and that our society applauds most publicly.
- Any club or society that claims to represent the interests of one tribe, religion or group and demonises others tribes, religions or groups should be shunned by our society and particularly by our politicians.
- No politician should ever claim to represent any section of society more than any other. Our elected representatives should be left in no doubt that by claiming to represent Protestants or Catholics or Unionists or Nationalists they are helping to undermine our society and to return us to communal strife.
- No elected politician should attribute greater blame to any section of society over any other. They should recognise that a society that is based on tribalism is a society that is ill.
- Those who take part in marches or parades to maintain a “cultural heritage” that claims religious or nationalist superiority should be side-lined by our society. Marches and “loyal orders” should be seen for what they are, namely agents of hatred.
- The institutions of our civic society should be critically assessed by all. Churches and religious leaders should be subject to the same scrutiny as politicians. In a place that has been scarred and crippled by sectional conflict the role of the spokespeople for religions and sects should be reduced. Their voices should be replaced by voices that promote kindness and decency at the heart of our society rather than the people who maintain the tribes.
- The language of tribalism needs to be replaced by the language of decency. And decency requires that our civic institutions should not tolerate or use the language of tribalism and sectarianism.
- Our politicians need to recognise that they are all individuals answerable, ultimately, to themselves and their own innate judges. By perpetuating the politics of the tribe they ultimately do a disservice to themselves. They were not born Protestant or Catholic – those labels were applied to them by their parents and their community.
- We all have a responsibility to say, “Enough is Enough”. When people destroy and hurt in the name of a tribe or a community they do a disservice to us all. We need to recognise that intolerance and the mentality of superiority has been taught by agents we have created. But enough is enough. It’s time to change.
This week on 4Thought – those little films aired after the Channel 4 News – the topic is “Do we Need Religion“. My slot is on Thursday evening (23rd February) at 7.55pm.
Needless to say, I don’t think we do need religion any more – indeed, I wonder if we ever did. We managed to survive, as a species, before most of the “modern” mono-theistic religions were conjured-up. We managed to thrive, indeed. Perhaps part of the reason for our success was the ethical basis of our relations with our fellow human beings: reciprocal altruism, to lapse into Dawkins-speak.
Atheists and Humanists tend to be better at articulating ethics, these days, than people of faith. Part of the reason is that – as the evidence shows – free thinkers tend to be more intelligent. But, also, Atheists tend not to claim membership of a tribe or gang that assumes moral superiority over others. Unlike religionists, Atheists don’t have to sign-up to a tithe-based club, stick to a liturgy, or issue repetitive chants. Free thought is our only mantra.
Check out 4ThoughtTV to watch some of the previous episodes. I recommend Trevor Moore’s film. He does an especially good job at explaining that religion of the noodly appendage: The Church of the Flying Spaghetti. You’ll have to wait to later in the week to see mine. Or watch it on Channel 4, 7.55pm, Thursday. Let’s hope the edit gets my best side.
The publication of the 2,600 page report of the inquiry into Ireland’s church-run paedophile and child abuse ”reform schools” has done little to restore any confidence in the Catholic Church. The failure of the inquiry to name and shame the perpetrators of these abuses is a national disgrace. It also shows the extent of the Irish state’s culpability. Such was the internecine relationship between church and state in Ireland during the years when these institutions were run, naming and shaming may have resulted in the state itself coming under too much scrutiny.
However, the reaction from the Catholic Church itself is supine and insulting to our collective intelligence – and especially to the victims. This is an institution that repeatedly and systematically produces paedophiles. Indeed there appears to be a causal relationship between the very fibre of the institution of the Catholic Church in Ireland and its ability to produce child abusers and bullies. Therefore the response from Sean Brady, the Cardinal of Ireland, rings very hollow. He talked about restoring trust in the Church. But let’s look at the facts. This is an institution that cannot demand a restoration of trust – because when it had that trust it systematically abused it. Not just a little:
A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from. Commission Report.
The Catholic Church should not be asking for trust to be restored. Rather it should be conducting a root and branch review of what it stands for and the people it attracts into service. Its insistence on priesthood celibacy, its creation of sex-starved orders, and its insistence that it knows all the answers to moral questions runs counter to common sense and logic. Because it patently provides the wrong answers, the wrong people and the wrong structures to provide any degree of care or love to children. It is an institution that is so flawed it deserves no trust whatsoever.