The Belfast Telegraph is wrong to become Ms Angry over religion. Stick with decency

Gail Walker’s column in the Belfast Telegraph she edits  gives a  heavily nuanced  welcome to the prospect of the Pope’s visit  to Northern Ireland. For the millennial generation, it also marks a  new  division between all the Churches  and “the so-called progressives,” she stigmatises.

What is really surprising is just how much common ground over recent years the Christian Churches in Ireland have found with each other….

Force of circumstance has forged strange alliances in the Christian community in Northern Ireland over recent years. There was much solidarity in display over the Ashers bakery court case and cross-denominational positions on abortion in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality seem to have aligned in response to what many there see as a hostile and increasingly aggressive secular agenda being played out in the media and in Stormont.

The fact is that the old sectarian opposition of the traditional Churches has long given way to a sense of solidarity on the ground. In practically every town and village, there are strong links between the pastors of various denominations.

For Boomers like me, the division was between on the one hand, religious bigots like Paisley who railed and shouted about Protestant freedoms and the more sleekit style of Catholic  church imperialists, and the  decent people who had a bit of come and go about them on the other. Whether they realised it or not, the decent people were children of the Enlightenment, the rational world that is suspicious of any ideology or religion that is too complete.

The divide was over the second Vatican Council which introduced the Mass in the spoken language of the people. Opinion was split over whether this reform showed that the religious differences were less than people thought, or were part of a cunning plan to deceive gullible Prods that the Catholic leopard had changed its spots when it hadn’t.

Suspecting he might be on to a good thing, Paisley bracketed his anti-ecumenical campaign with attacks on nationalist displays.

For the silent majority, decency seemed more important than theology which could be left to the clerics. In the days  up to the late 1960s, lip service was paid to Christian observance of one kind or another and the decent people more often than not preferred to let sleeping dogs lie. It wasn’t a perfect position but it was better than what followed when the dogs woke up and started to tear at each other. That was when we discovered that the decent people had been out manoeuvred  if not actually outnumbered by the militants on the Protestant side.  Should we have fought harder? Perhaps we should have before the violence started. But how do you fight when you stand for tolerance?

I caricature, you understand. There were decent people on all sides. But it was often difficult to find out who they were when the chips of controversy were laid down. Hypocrisy was rife and  “whatever you say, you say nothing.”

The bigots divided and ruled for decades – or rather they prevented anybody ruling at all. They were the furious accessories  to the chaos of the people of violence.

It is taking a long time to reassert the decency which was what the Belfast Telegraph of Jack Sayers stood for.  To be sure today’s Belfast Telegraph is firmly even polemically anti-sectarian. But it has become Northern Ireland’s Ms Angry, a local Daily Mail looking for a market position that tries  to solidify socially conservative opinion across the divide, laced on the other hand with prominence  given to “ordinary ” crime, scandal and gossip.

Gail writes:

Inter-denominational food banks, volunteer kitchens, prayer groups, choral sharing – yes, even parish buses to the Waterfront to support the Ashers campaign … These initiatives are widespread and, this time, aren’t prompted by a need to disarm ruthless paramilitary gangs at their business under the cover of religious faith, but rather by an acknowledgement that Christian groups per se are under siege from a non-believing, non-sympathetic wider culture.

Gail’s ideas I suspect are still a work in progress. But she might acknowledge that food banks are not entirely the work of churches although animated by Christian ethics and that opinion  on the Ashers case  can be divided on human rights as well as Christian v secular grounds. There is diversity of opinion in what she thinks of as the secular world. It also includes the liberal Christians she appears to think of as the enemy.

In Northern Ireland professing Christians may be becoming  a minority but they are far from  beleaguered. On the contrary, Conservative Christian views as well as Christian sexism wield huge institutional power. Above all Gail, it is wrong to confuse humanity with belief and  vital not to sharpen up divisions in order to defend a particular version of the Christian religion. It was tried before with disastrous results.

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  • It was a repeat of the ‘aggressive secularist’ nonsense and inversion of reality that the religious right have been pushing for some time. My rebuttal is here: http://atheistni.org.uk/2016/11/29/belfast-telegraph-editor-uses-papal-visit-to-attack-secularists

  • Simian Droog

    The Belfast Telegraph printed this article:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/cured-by-prayer-joshua-got-out-of-wheelchair-and-danced-after-visit-to-healing-ministry-say-parents-34287311.html

    and I quote: “The Martins took Joshua to visit founder, Mark Marx. They claim that when he noticed one of Joshua’s legs was shorter than the other, he was able to make it grow in front of their eyes and, after the “miracle”, Josh got out of his wheelchair and danced.

    Kim said: “We hadn’t known about his leg but we were looking at him thinking: ‘He has cancer in his abdomen, why are you asking about his leg?’ What I did know is my mum and I and Joshua saw the leg growing out. We looked to check it wasn’t being pulled but Mark just had his fingertips under his heels. Joshua said, ‘This is God making my leg grow’.

    “Literally everything around us zoned out while the miracle was happening in front of our eyes. I will never forget. Mark said God wanted to encourage Joshua and that was a sign of what was happening inside him.”

    This is actually a well known confidence trick as shown here:

    Now how can anyone, take anything seriously, written in that paper?

  • Nordie Northsider

    A well-argued, balanced piece. And a lot more generous than the opinion piece that inspired it.

  • notimetoshine

    The tele really seems to forget that secularism is one of the corner stones of millennial sensibility. Granted it is coming a bit late to NI, but this ‘aggressive secularism’ isn’t going anywhere. Get with the programme, or become irrelevant.

    I suppose it’s easier for those millenials like myself from a Catholic background, where the church has lost all credibility, and indeed wasn’t taken seriously even when I was at school.

  • North Down

    A load off rubbish.Ask the pope’s, who are Christians, and they will tell you the Catholic Church , it is a sectarian church for many a evangelical , did you know protestants won’t go to heaven, only through the Catholic Church, dI’d you know why millions of protestants were murdered by the Catholic Church ,

  • Gopher

    What else can the Telegraph do but appeal to those of broad superstition. The internet with the BBC and UTV websites combined with portable devices have made a mainstream paper redundant. The Telegraph has only one place to go and that is Christian. Its easy to get their wagons in a circle, all sects together, there is a godless world out there full of Abortion, Gay marriage, Drugs, Porn, Gambling, Greed, Crime . Not that Christians partake in any of that. And for christ sake dont tell the readership that Christians actually run this country . Just give it the us v them slant its not as if anyone remotely radical would see the Telegraph as a career move in 2016 to write anything different. Don’t be too hard on the Telegraph its market forces.

  • Mirrorballman

    That you Willie?

  • Katyusha

    A load off rubbish.Ask the pope’s, who are Christians, and they will tell you the Catholic Church , it is a sectarian church for many a evangelical , did you know protestants won’t go to heaven, only through the Catholic Church

    This is simply wrong, ND. The Catholic Church regonises the followers of other churches as fellow Christians. To be accurate, the Catholic Church believes that the other churches and its followers are in partial communion with the RC Church.

    Here, have a read. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_communion#Full_and_partial_communion

    The Catholic Church makes a distinction between full and partial communion. Where full communion exists, there is but one church. Partial communion, on the other hand, exists where some elements of Christian faith are held in common, but complete unity on essentials is lacking. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as in partial communion with Protestants and in much closer, but still incomplete, communion with the Orthodox churches. It has expressed this distinction in documents such as Unitatis redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, which states: “… quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church … men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect”.[5]

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI, states:
    The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honoured by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter” (Lumen gentium 15). Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church” (Unitatis redintegratio 3). With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist” (Paul VI, Discourse, 14 December 1975; cf. Unitatis redintegratio 13-18).[6]

  • North Down

    No checked it again, it’s not hard to find, Catholic Church is the only true church, protestants are a apostate race, according to the Catholic Church, in fact we are known as heretics for the last 500 year’s. that’s one of the reasons the orange order was formed that’s y most minsters for the last 500 years preached against Rome, the free p still do, this is y it’s very hard for catholics to understand evangelical protestants because the difference and history between the two churches are not explained, big Ian was the only one to tell and he came out bitter, but every evangelical believed what he says in a church point of view, hope this makes sense, if u understand this u will understand that evangelical protestants will not Voe for a UI