It’s a Sunday morning and the sun is shining so it seems an appropriate time to bring this subject up. Yip.. you got it in one.. religion!
Now, I may be wrong here, but everyone perceives Northern Ireland as a “religious” war, don’t they? We hear so often that it is Roman Catholic versus Protestant in Northern Ireland. We talk so frequently about the religious divide we expect to find it on every street corner. But here’s the thing.. we’ve moved on, haven’t we? I don’t mean with the peace process thing and the political thing and the discrimination thing… I mean we’ve moved on with the religious thing. And, if the truth be told, I’m not all that sure that’s a good thing!
You see, the time was when every Roman Catholic chapel in any size of a town ran Sunday Mass at 7am, 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am and 12noon. Every Protestant and Presbyterian church held well-attended services a couple of times on a Sunday. Now, there has been a cut-back on the number of masses on offer because, quite frankly, there is little point in offering up a mass if the congregation is the sum total of one elderly spinster. And the Protestant churches are just as empty. So we’re faced with a several dying religions and the reputation for running a religious war. Neat, eh?
But why, I hear you ask, do I think this demise of organised religion may not be altogether a good thing? My unease comes from a feeling that with the loss of religious observance we are also losing social cohesion. In times past the church held the community together but now the community gel is more likely to be the golf club, the local pub or the football ground. The local church, of whatever denomination, has been side-lined by our fast moving modern society for so long that they have great difficulty even fielding a team these days. (One minister running several churches and a fall in the number of young men entering the priesthood are well recorded situations.) In days gone by when we all used to bump into each other at the church there was some feeling of togetherness, unity of purpose and continuity which went across the generations. With the loss of those frequent inter-generational meetings have we also lost the community gel?
I happen to think that there was some value in organised religion. Yes, I know there is a lot of nonsense around religions, and on another occasion you’ll probably get me started on those, but at least religions give people a system of beliefs to hang on to in hard times. When, with maturity, you rejected the pomp and ceremony you were at least left with a working set of morals and ethics to measure personal behaviour against. You always have something to question in your mind if you were brought up in an Irish version of an organised religion! To-day, I look around and what I see is a young generation who have nothing to hold onto except what they see on “Big Brother”, Sky TV and the movies. The conflicting sound from these sources must be so terrifyingly confusing for any young person. Is it any wonder that they struggle to make sense of living?
So, to open the debate .. some questions:
- where did it all go wrong for our organised religions?
- where is it still going wrong?
- if the religions are going to fade away to nothing, then, do we need something in their place?
- what might that something be?
And I’m sure readers will want to add their own questions and thoughts here. Let’s start talking about this…