Paisley’s religious legacy

Watching the two hours of the BBC’s documentary on Dr. Paisley brought to mind my blog from six years ago of Paisley and Prospero where at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero turns to the audience and says “Now my charms are all o’erthrown And what strength I have’s mine own.” At times it felt a bit like Mallie was interviewing a slightly more quick witted version of Leonid Brezhnev in his latter years.

I had intended doing a blog on the politics of the Paisley interviews but so much has already been said and so relatively little of it has much current political currency that I thought leaving that at least for the meantime might make sense.

Where there has been relatively less analysis is of Paisley’s religious legacy. There has been much analysis of what he did in religious terms and also the tumultuous end of his moderatorship and subsequently the end of his individual congregational ministry at the Martyrs’ Memorial. The apparent enforced end of that congregational ministry did seem quite distressing to all. However, two things were notable. Firstly standard Presbyterianism has always held to a collective congregational leadership with the minister merely being a preaching elder and not above the other elders. Traditionally it was said that the Free Presbyterian Church did not function in such a fashion and gave the minister much greater power – indeed Presbyterian detractors to the Free Presbyterian Church often accused the Free Ps of being essentially primitive baptists or congregationalists. The ability of the Martyrs’ Memorial’s elders to persuade / force Paisley’s retirement shows the fundamentally Presbyterian nature of the relationship. The rotating moderatorship of the whole denomination since Paisley’s retirement also represents a clear classic Presbyterian form of church government.

The second notable issue is that often it is difficult to get aged, physically infirm and intellectually weakening ministers to retire. I know of one Coleraine Presbytery church which had the same minister for over 50 years in the nineteenth century and apparently had enormous difficulty getting the minister to retire despite his clearly (to everyone else) fading powers. The somewhat acrimonious nature of Paisley leaving the Martyrs is far from unique.

Of potentially greater interest is Paisley’s religious influence where Maille’s programmes shed no new light to those who know much of the story of Paisley’s position.

Ian Paisley was the son of a Baptist minister and had a “conversion experience” at the age of six at a children’s meeting run by his mother. That is a common sort of occurrence in fundamentalist / evangelical circles. Most parents’ most fervent hope and prayer is that their children come to such a position and evangelical Christianity is still frequently a position handed down the generations.

Paisley then following his father into the ministry is again relatively unsurprising as is his reputation as an effective evangelist though I know of a number of his contemporaries who would report that he was the best gospel preacher they had ever heard. That said the position of gospel preacher whether ordained or not who travels about Ulster and further afield preaching was and is a common one.

Where the Paisley story becomes much more interesting is when he first seems to have publicly collided with the mainstream Presbyterian Church in Ireland at Crossgar in 1951. Paisley had been due to preach at a gospel meeting but such was his reputation that a larger premises was needed. It seems the Kirk Session of the local Presbyterian Church granted use of its buildings for the meeting but was overruled by the presbytery. This is indeed an interesting position and dependent on who held the trusteeship of the buildings it is highly unclear whether the presbytery had any right to reverse the kirk session’s decision. This decision can hardly have been made on the grounds of objection to Paisley’s politics as he was not then a political figure. Rather this will have been due to Paisley’s religious views.

The Presbyterian Church has for an extremely long time had a liberal and a more fundamentalist wing. In the eighteenth century there was a strong Arian influence (New Light) which persisted in various manifestations of Unitarianism. This was defeated during Cooke’s time in the nineteenth century but the liberal and less evangelical part of the church has waxed and waned over the years. In the 1950s and 60s this more liberal theological position was fairly prominent within Presbyterianism and also Methodism.

The reaction of many especially ordinary members in the pews against this liberalising trend is unlikely to have been solely in Crossgar but here the kirk session seem, with the backing of much of the church, to have taken a stand. The church split and in fairly short order the Free Presbyterian Church was founded with Paisley its moderator.

The Free Presbyterian Church has grown markedly from those small beginnings to now having approximately 12,000 members in Northern Ireland along with congregations in GB, the RoI and Australia along with missionaries in Africa, Spain and India.

Ian Paisley also made contact with American conservative evangelicals and received his doctorate from the Bob Jones University. This doctorate is often derided but it is fair to point out that in evangelical circles not only is he rated as a preacher but also as a theologian. His exposition on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is highly regarded in evangelical circles well beyond Northern Ireland or Free Presbyterianism. It is also worth noting that Presbyterian moderators all receive honorary doctorates and are always thereafter styled Dr. on equally shaky academic grounds.

The fact that now, some years after his leaving the moderatorship, the church remains intact and has not disintegrated is something of a legacy. In addition to many evangelicals his preaching which has resulted in many “getting saved” is the most important legacy. However, neither of these from a secular analysis of religion is an enormous issue. The denomination is after all less than 1% of the population of Northern Ireland.

Another legacy which is rarely mentioned is, I would submit, much more important to a secular analysis of religious practice. As mentioned above the initial falling out in the creation of the Free Presbyterian Church was over a gospel mission. The idea that a presbytery would attempt to overrule a kirk session on such a matter now is much less likely: indeed in many areas inconceivable; the idea that it might want to is even more remote.

In response to that split the PCI seems to have become considerably more reluctant to impose its will on congregations and the centralised control of the denomination seems weaker than ever to the extent that Church House’s views and decisions are of almost no relevance to the congregations or presbyteries. That such a decentralisation of control is a legacy of as controlling an individual as Paisley is truly ironic. It has, however, at least for the meantime tended to favour his conservative theological position.

The other response to the challenge of Paisley and the Free Presbyterian Church is that the mainstream church has moved towards a more theologically conservative position. There are still liberals and ecumenists within the PCI (the current moderator recently attended a joint service with Roman Catholic prelates). However, the rotating of the PCI moderatorship between theologically conservative and liberal ministers, though it has largely continued, has begun to look increasingly eccentric in view of the fact that the vast majority of the PCI congregations are theologically highly conservative as are their ministers. In a number of recent cases where liberal ministers have retired their replacements have been conservative and evangelical. Clearly the liberals still exist eg Steve Stockman in Fitzroy. However, they are increasingly becoming marginalised. Indeed as Gladys Ganiel noted recently there are few to follow the likes of John Dunlop and Ken Newell. That the PCI has gradually yet fairly decidedly turned away from a liberal ecumenical and indeed political position towards a conservative even fundamentalist position which eschews politics is again I submit a legacy of Paisley.

Although comparing churches across parts of the UK is deeply complicated in a theological sense the contrast between the PCI (a largely conservative evangelical church) with that of the Church of Scotland or the Untied Reformed Church in England is marked. Clearly there are pockets of conservative evangelicalism within especially the CoS but again that is largely where there is a sustained challenge from conservative seceders such as in the Western Isles with their strong Free Church and Free Presbyterian Churches (unrelated to the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster).

As with the decentralisation, in part in reaction to as centralising a figure as Paisley; the fact that the depoliticiasation of the PCI is in part a reaction to as politically involved an individual as Paisley, is deeply ironic. The move towards increasing theological conservatism less so. That tendency, however: the theological one is the most important religious legacy of Paisley. It is also seen, albeit to a lesser extent, in other branches of the Protestant churches. The Methodists split to form the two much smaller Independent and Free Methodist denominations. Lacking a centralising figure such as Paisley and being offshoots from a smaller denomination they are not as large but again their existence has probably prevented the Methodists from becoming as theologically liberal as they are in England. The same is probably true of the CoI which again in Northern Ireland remains more conservative than the CoE (though conservative evangelical elements within the CoE are often underestimated).

Clearly one person alone, even a figure as charismatic and apparently dominant as Paisley, cannot be solely responsible for religious practice and most Christians would attribute most events in the church to the guidance and will of God. However, if one wants to look for the religious legacy of Paisley it is not the Martyrs Memorial nor even the Free Presbyterian Church but the largely evangelical, theologically relatively conservative, nature of the mainstream Protestant denominations in Northern Ireland. Although during his life time Cooke was a divisive figure in nineteenth century Presbyteriansim he is now lauded as one of the greats of the PCI. Whether as an outsider Paisley will ever be accorded the same status by the PCI is dubious. His influence has, however, been nearly as profound.

, , ,

  • Excellent post.
    Little with which to take issue..not least because I am an outsider.
    On the programme itself, Dr Paisleys 1950s and 1960s religious activity was not scrutinised. Certainly among older Cathoics I. West Belfast, his religious activities are as well remembered as anything political from the mid 1960s.
    I am not convinced that the Presbyterian Church retreat from “liberalism” is related to Paisley.
    Is it not as much to do with liberals leaving the Presbyterian Church.
    I say this…not so much as an observation of the Presbyterian Church but rather a reflection …a mirror image of the Catholic Church.

    Certainly in the post Vatican Council era there were a lot of liberals (a comparative term of course) in the local Catholic Church and those of us who are still liberal minded Catholics have found it increasingly difficult to find priests …or more accurately …an institution that reflects the hopes (as we saw it) in the 1970s.
    There has been a welcome sea change over the past five years, accelerated of course in the last twelve months. So I do see a parallel.

    It is of course closely related to politics here.
    Those of us Catholics who might want to see a liberal Church and even Ecumenism do not necessarily want to see that togetherness extended into politics.
    I certainly dont.
    Over the past six months on three occasions, I have heard the institutional churches criticised and individual ministers-priests lauded as being as “mavericks”. Rev Newell mentioned above …is also mentioned in dispatches.
    But the people lauding these ministers are not talking RELIGION.
    They are talking POLITICS.
    And I think that distinction must be made.
    We must not confuse liberal minded ministers-priests….with a form of LetsGetAlongerism
    Religion ( including liberal minded Religion) should be a matter of Conviction. Not Compromise.
    So indeed should Politics.
    Conservative and Liberal Theology I can admire. Nothing washy washy.
    To that end I admire Paisleys religious conviction.
    And I think he might well admire it in others.

  • BluesJazz

    Turgon, what’s your point?

    I can tell you, from year on year experience in education, that religion is dying. More students reference Richard Dawkins than any living theologian. Science has kicked the door, roof and walls in on the whole range of creation myths.

    Very few people under 50 actually believe any such thing as ‘God’. Some go through the motions-habits are hard to break- but most are elderly. Ritual going through the motions.

    Religion has held on more in NI than the rest of the UK because it’s related to political status.

    FJH is the last (but one) generation to follow these rituals.

    Go to Martyrs Memorial on ‘the Lords day’ to witness the tiny congregation. Then go to IKEA and see real crowds.

    If you want to see thriving religion, go to Bradford or Leicester.

  • Charles_Gould

    I’d agree with FJH a very interesting post.

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say that Free Presbyterians are a very small denomination?

    Regarding Presbyterians- i also found the comparison between PCI, URef and CoS interesting.

    Not sure I would agree with it all, but interesting.

  • Its a funny old world.
    Theres not THAT much difference in believing in the Son of a Carpenter born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and believing in the Son of a Plantation Owner, born in Nyassaland 75 years ago.

  • Charles_Gould

    Dawkins is not actually that well liked in academic circles.

    He was appointed at Oxford to the Chair of Public Understanding of Science, and used it for the wrong reasons. Rather than explaining science, he used it to attack religion instead. For a while it was tolerated, but it became more and more dogmatic and boring, and ultimately did not promote science much at all.

  • Neil

    Dawkins is religious about his atheism. It’s true, it’s dull.

    Ian Paisley also made contact with American conservative evangelicals and received his doctorate from the Bob Jones University. This doctorate is often derided but it is fair to point out that in evangelical circles not only is he rated as a preacher but also as a theologian.

    His doctorate was honorary as you say, so regardless of his being ‘rated’ as a theologian, you cannot link his honorary doctorate to his theology, and as you passingly allude to good form on honorary doctorates is not to use the title Dr. as it demeans the hard work put in by others to attain the title. I’m unaware of the distinction when it comes to theological honorary doctorates but I if suppose surgeons get Mr. due to tradition then maybe that’s true.

    As to being ‘rated’ I wonder by whom and how many. I see little to argue about between the various branches of Christianity, Judaism and other faiths. Obviously Paisley’s views on the Catholic religion mean I rate his theological insights as offensive, and often rude.

  • aquifer

    Dawkins is intolerant of religion

    Which is fair enough looking at the violent intolerance delivered by followers of religions.

    Is our appetite for wee stories that alternate between victimhood and manifest destiny healthy?

  • Drumlins Rock

    its late, but just want to say, spot on Turgon, been telling people the same story all week.

  • BluesJazz

    Ian Paisley was a bigot.

    And his religion. like many others, is dying.

    That’s good. Science is thriving,.

  • Turgon: you are correct, Paisley did have an influence over Irish Presbyterianism moving more conservative in the 1970s. However, this was just as much due to internal opposition over the PCI’s membership in the World Council of Churches and a response to the sectarian violence than to Paisleyism. Paisley’s real theological legacy is interjecting a strong religious element (as in devotion, not culture) into the Troubles.

    Membership in the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster has stagnated since the 1990s, not over Paisley’s political stances, but because he began spending too much time on the DUP and less on his church. Moreover, Free Presbyterianism and Calvinist separatism no longer attracts many older converts and more importantly does not appeal to younger Christians. IKEA might be crowded on Sundays, but so are more charismatic churches (Christian Fellowship in East Belfast and Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on the Shire Road to cite several examples). The Free Presbyterian Church in growing, but not in Ulster – only (as noted) in North America, Africa, Asia and Spain.

    Blues Jazz: yes, organized religion is dying, not necessarily Christian belief. Yes, one hundred years ago science kicked the door on creation myths. But science can only explain how the universe works, not give a definitive answer as to what/who created it. Furthermore, true Christianity is a good moral system. This is why Christianity will always exist. God? The Big Bang Theory? Kaley Cuoco?

    Neil, et al: Bob Jones University gave Paisley his doctorate just as much for his imprisonment than for Paisley’s theological career. In June 1966, Paisley was arrested for protesting the Presbyterian General Assembly and accepted 90 days in jail instead of posting a bond and promising to maintain the peace for two years. If Paisley had accepted the court order and remained free, it would have effectively muted his attacks on Protestant ecumenism, the Catholic Church and Prime Minister Terence O’Neill. While Paisley was in Crumlin Road Jail, Bob Jones Jr. came to Martyr’s Memorial and presented the doctorate to the church body. Bob Jones University accepted Paisley’s “The ’59 Revival” (written in 1959 and republished in 1969) as his dissertation. Of course, this not the same as attending a seminary and going through the required studies, but the university argued that Paisley produced other theological works as well, had been a minister for 20 years and was the moderator of his own denomination. I do no think that is the ‘honorary’ status of Paisley’s degree that annoys people, but his theological and political message. If Paisley had been a moderate and worked for community reconciliation, the degree would not be an issue.

  • Gopher

    Have to agree with Bluejazz organised superstition is dying out except in our political parties or Justice system where John Larkin was able to change the title of his office to Witchfinder General. Hopefully the Greens and NI 21 will keep temporal and let the enthusiasts fight other what remains.

  • Turgon

    Thanks for that. I am honoured that a proper commentator on religious matters has commented (I mean that sincerely). I agree re the other independent churches. Indeed in an initial draft that was mentioned and I suspect they drew and continue to draw some encouragement from Paisley’s success when setting up independent churches. That said Christianity in other parts of the UK and elsewhere has shown an increase in independent churches so it is unlikely to be too much of a Paisley induced phenomenon.

    On the topic of the PCI and the World Council of Churches again I largely agree. I think the fact that Paisley was about encouraged those opposed to WCC membership within the PCI and maybe made some waverers less keen lest Paisley capture support if the PCI joined the WCC.

    I know that John Dunlop always seemed to have a particular dislike for Paisley and blamed him as well as others for the PCI not being in the WCC. He had a long rambling attack on almost everyone in the Presbyterian Herald after his last attempt to get the PCI to join the WCC was defeated in the 1990s.

    I was told (by an anti WCC member of the General Assembly) that on that occasion the pro WCC lobby thought they had found a form of words and a mechanism of tricking the country bumpkin elders into supporting the WCC only to find (as so often) that yokels are far from stupid and the General Assmebly duly rejected the WCC proposal: hence, Dunlop’s piece in the Herald. The fact that no further attempts seem to have been made and the pro WCC lobby has no prominent supporters is instructive.

    Thanks for that. My understanding (and I am welcome to be wrong) is that Omagh was once a very theologically liberal presbytery (1960s) but has now become a conservative evangelical one which again illustrates your and my thesis.

  • Morpheus

    Speaking of religion…

    …am I the only one who thinks it is absolutely bizarre that we aren’t talking about ‘Christian’ fundamentalists censoring the arts and media in Northern Ireland?

  • streetlegal

    Religion is important within the DUP and therefore becomes important in the social and political direction which N Ireland will take in the next few years. The DUP rank and file will be forced to make a decision on this very point in the course of this year, as they must choose a successor to Peter Robinson. If they choose Dodds then they will be opting for an evangelical Protestant approach to policy and administration.

    We have had a little foretaste of what that would mean from McCausland as Minister of Culture and as Minister of Social Development and from Poots as Minister of Health. But with Dodds as First Minister we would see a more concerted evangelical and Protestant approach within all aspects of government – a return, if you like, to the old agenda of a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People.

  • Morpheus

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again streetlegal, even though less than 2% of the population are members 1 in 5 of our elected MLAs and 1 in 3 of our elected MPs – God knows how many elected Councillors – are members of a secret, ritualistic organisation which punishes members for simply attending Catholic funerals.

    People vote DUP/UUP but get the Orange Order and their extremist ‘Christian’ fundamentalist ideals whether they want it or not.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Morpheus, firstly no-one was punished for attending a RC funeral, the charge was thrown out because no breach of the rules occurred. As for your figures, the IRA formed a miniscule proportion of the population yet a large proportion of SF represenative came from its ranks, don’t hear your complaint there. As for the “fundamentalist” OO, I have found it to be very much centre ground with a strengthening evangelical influence, overall apart from ecumenical matters it is mid way between CoI & Presbyterian, I’m not sure how “secret” an organisation can be when it openly parades its entire membership on the streets every year! As for Ritualistic, I think the Anglicans still have the upper hand there.

    Turgon, I’m Tyrone Presbytery ( it is only the eastern third of Tyrone but most of South l’derry ) which is the most conservative of them all! But have spoken to folk in Omagh and it has changed dramatically. You are right about the rotating moderator, but there is a suble but also major difference there, it has gone from Liberal / Evangelical to liberal Evangelical / conservative Evangelical. Even Stocky is far from liberal in the old sense, he has much more in common with Paisley than either would care to admitt.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Very interesting analysis, can I ask about the situation in Glenarm/Carnalbanagh if the Presbyterian Church is not likely to censure local presbyteries? or is this just an isolated case?

    I think an important factor is that as much as Paisley railed against the Pope he was in effect a Pope as far as a central figure to unify the organisation.

    When people feel threatened and their culture is under severs threat there is a tendency to spilt into factions and I see the Free Presbyterians as a form of this. It was a response to the threat of Catholicism, through the proxy of ecumenism and linked into the political threat, as sen from the view point of the civil rights and the political liberalism of O’Neill.

    As far as the silly point that science has destroyed religion, that shows a startling misunderstanding of science and religion.

  • Morpheus


    Here is a link to 2 senior elected Ulster Unionists who were summonsed like naughty schoolchildren. Their ‘crime’? Attending the funeral of Ronan Kerr. A perfect example of the OO dictating to our elected politicians what they can and can’t do based on their rules. Is that ‘centre ground’?

    As for the secretive rituals then maybe you can explain the significance of the following:
    • Blindfolding a new recruit and making him kneel on a mock coffin while vowing to destroy his own life if he divulges the teachings of the order;
    • Tying a rope around the neck of the recruit, who, as in Freemasonry, has most of his clothes and one shoe taken from him and has a purple ribbon fastened to his shirt;
    • Riding the goat – a ritual in which the blindfolded initiate is wrapped in a canvas sheet and then kicked and tossed about by the assembled members of the Order;
    • Beating the candidate across the legs with brambles and, in some cases, holly to the accompaniment of laughter and even goat-like bleatings.

    Going to the funeral of a police officer = not acceptable. Taking an oath to destroy your own life if you divulge the teachings of the order while sitting on a coffin = acceptable. How Christian.

    Bottom line is that they are a dying organisation who still hold a grossly disproportionate level of influence in Northern Ireland politics. If the organisation wants to stand for election and imposeit’s morals on the general population then it should stand for election – instead it is getting into power through the backdoor made available through the DUP/UUP

  • streetlegal

    It is important to remember that unlike Robinson, Dodds is a member of the Orange Order in Belfast. As a dedicated Orangeman, Dodds absolutely holds to all of the principles of Orangeism – including it’s absolute antagonism to any toleration of Catholicism within the spheres of religion or society.

    For men such as Dodds, McCausland and Poots this is not a matter of discretion, but an imperative upon which all of their decisions, public and private, must be based. This imperative finds it’s expression not only in prohibition from attending religious services, but also in the awarding of public contracts, housing and employment.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Allegations were made, investigated and those concerned completely cleared. Making clear it does not breach any OO rules attending a RC funeral.

    None of the rituals you describe relate to the Orange Order.

    Members promise to refrain from all uncharitable actions to their Roman Catholic Brethern, and obey the law of the land which outlaws such practicies.

    The Paisley / Robinson double act which personified anti catholicism, was outside OO influence and often attacked it. Like the influence on the PCI it could be debated that Paisley had a greater influnce from without, but I think it is less clear cut.

    Lets take a different slant on things, we can agree that the Orange influence is much stronger in rural areas and to lesser extent old working class urban areas, if we also look at our politicians from all sides we notice that a disproportionate number of them also comes from these area. I don’t think it is co-incidence, a strong community identity is often the birthplace of successful political careers.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘Ian Paisley was the son of a Baptist minister and had a “conversion experience” at the age of six at a children’s meeting run by his mother. That is a common sort of occurrence in fundamentalist / evangelical circles. Most parents’ most fervent hope and prayer is that their children come to such a position and evangelical Christianity is still frequently a position handed down the generations.’

    I’ve always suspected that most ‘born-agains’ in NI are actually born ‘born-again’ .How can anyone take seriously a ‘conversion experience’ at the age of 6. He probably wanted to be a train driver as well. It’s a pity he ‘backslid’ in that regard.

  • Gopher

    I see the Witchfinder General steps down in May and Marty and Peter are discussing a replacement inquisitor. Should this appointment not be independent? Marty’s defence of Larkin today was touching though standard across theses boards “he may be a bastard but he is our bastard”. Should we not have an AG that will help dismantle the antiquated society here rather than one the unholy alliance of fundies can agree on.

  • Delphin

    OM, he probably dreamed of running his own railway company and making Catholics travel second class.

  • USA

    Paisley is an opportunistic, egocentric, intolerant, bigot and religion is a fairy tale. Everything else is waffle. “Rated theologian” …doubt that and care less.
    All the recent TV bluster from Paisley is just weaken Robinson and promote Jr.
    Paisley is still a bitter twisted individual. His recent rantings are politically motivated, not religiously motivated. O’Mallie stroked Paisleys huge ego and Paisley used the platform to spit forth bile at someone. No surprise there !!! He is an abomination.

  • Turgon:

    Thank you for your comment. I wrote my dissertation on Paisley and his relationship with North American fundamentalists such as Bob Jones University during the 1960s and have spent much time studying him. That said, I would not call Free Presbyterian churches independent in the sense that the Christian Fellowship Church is. Free Presbyterian congregations are tied together into 2 synods (one in North American and one in Ulster that both maintain rigid theology. Free Presbyterians are somewhat unique in Ulster, however, in that they seem to be on the forefront of opening fundamentalist schools (these are popular in the U.S. and which Bob Jones has been an important supporter and supplier of teachers).


    your comments on the DUP and its Christian religiosity are correct. Another Robinson means less Free Presbyterian influence (this probably has something to do with Paisley’s comments on the BBC) – but whoever they choose, the DUP will always have a strong fundamentalist element.

    some Orange lodges might be Christian and/or fundamentalist but these must becoming/or are a minority. Once in Belfast during marching season I tried to talk to a Cooke’s Defender about Henry Cooke. He did not have a clue who I was talking about.


    you take a ‘conversion experience’ at age 6 seriously when the converted became the founder of his own denomination, used his Protestantism as a protagonist during the civil rights era and who became First Minister.


    an ex-politician and theologian making politically and theologically motivated comments – unbelievable!

  • BluesJazz

    “Bob Jones University supports young-earth creationism, all their faculty are young Earth creationists and the university rejects evolution, calling it “at best an unsupportable and unworkable hypothesis”.

    So it’s a load of old bollocks. The ‘Doctorate’ the ‘University’. I suppose the fact that people believe in Astrology and Voodoo backs up the fact that people who are born into such families follow the same path.

    Oh it goes…

  • BluesJazz
  • Richlinkedin

    Is religion dying as suggested by a poster ?

    There is a post today on the Army Rumour Service website (never for the faint hearted) in which someone now risks being internet eviscerated for suggesting Leonard Cheshire (VC no less) may not have been suitable saint material at all.

    He cites a piece written by Richard D North, Bryn Estyn Inquiry, who he describes as “A clever little biscuit whose opinions on tea are received with much approbation on the tacit understanding he has never been dunked”

    He then reveals that “RDN” was at one time the aide and driver to Leonard Cheshire. So no stranger to a dunk in the world of institutional residential care at all then.

    He then sets out the position of the Attorney General in the context of Operation Yew Tree . And what emerges is that the Attorney General is using secret public interest custodianship power to deny access to the High Court.

    In effect protecting a future Catholic saint making process from a prior examination in a properly constituted court of mere man.

    So is religion dying ? It appears at the moment that Dominic Grieve is giving it CPR. In a private ward …..

    What may (or may not) be of interest in Ireland is the matter of the role of Special Branch. These are sworn constables whose master is the law itself yes ? But by a quirk of misunderstanding, allegedly involving MI5, they acted to stop the law getting a look at Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder activity. (But Including deaths of staff and inmates with autopsy reports that maybe should be looked at by Operation Yew Tree. Except the Attorney General seems to anticipate that the police sudden death reports will no longer exist …….

    We can all be assured that nothing untoward was going on by simple reference to the impeccable reputation of charity founding trustee Airey Neave.

  • Coll Ciotach

    So religion is dying due to the Army Rumour Service – who would have thunk it

  • streetlegal

    Drumlins Rock – ‘Members promise to refrain from all uncharitable actions to their Roman Catholic Brethern, and obey the law of the land which outlaws such practicies.’

    This promise to not to treat Catholics ‘uncharitably’ given by Orange Order members is limited by the core principles of Orangeism – that Reformed Protestantism should be promoted within society and Catholicism, in all its forms, should be resisted. Therefore, consistency demands of all members of the Orange Order that they do everything in their power to promote the interests of Reformed Protestants and to deny any advancement of Catholics within society.

  • Reader

    streetlegal: Therefore, consistency demands of all members of the Orange Order that they do everything in their power to promote the interests of Reformed Protestants and to deny any advancement of Catholics within society.
    In much the same way that one fights poverty by attacking the poor?
    No – you have overstretched your argument.

  • David Crookes

    Turgon, let me felicitate you on a most balanced and magisterial essay. You manage to write about the evangelical world without being in any way partisan. You even contrive to explicate its language.

    Much of what has been written about Paisley has been coloured by anger (What a dreadful man he is!), by clever-liberal scorn (How pathetic he and his followers are to believe the daft things that they believe!), and by a species of academic careerism whose exponents display a belief in their own divine wisdom.

    The academic and liberal nyitterati rarely ask themselves whether they are actually capable of apprehending any such thing as a man’s religious heritage. Often they are content to deride things that they cannot understand. Thus Richard Dawkins reacted to Antony Flew’s renunciation of atheism with a disgraceful piece of ageism. Of course the anti-ageist anti-sexist anti-whateverist liberal establishment found no fault in Dawkins at all.

    Your essay deserves to be widely read. It comes across like a concert review written by a critic who knows the music thoroughly, and who isn’t tone-deaf.

    Maybe in fifty years’ time members of flourishing evangelical churches (the superstition of disappearing Christianity is helplessly incorrigible!) will look back to Paisley as the man who encouraged evangelicals to stand up for the Bible. History has a great way of concentrating, simplifying, and even selecting the parts of a man’s heritage which go on working after his death.

    Thanks, Turgon. That took a cool head.

  • pauluk

    Thanks for the thoughtful article, Turgon. I appreciate your objectivity and magnanimity.

    I think that Dr Paisley’s and Mrs Paisley’s comments to Eamonn Mallie (who successfully brought out the worst in them by playing to the very human weakness of the need of vindication) were a PR disaster for the Paisley family, but your comments have brought some balance in reminding us of the positive influence that Ian Paisley has had, particularly in evangelical circles in NI.

    Over the past twenty centuries many attempts have been made to extinguish biblical Christianity, but it will never happen. Christ has promised that He will complete His church, and nothing will stop Him. The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God, and, sooner or later, he will come to recognise his folly.

  • Comrade Stalin

    reminding us of the positive influence that Ian Paisley has had, particularly in evangelical circles in NI.

    positive influence ?

  • Turgon

    Normally you make useful contributions: I may not agree with them but recognise their merit. However, you rarely comment on religious matters. It is none of my business what your religiousness or religious views are. However, this is a thread about religion and I believe from your previous comments you are not an evangelical Protestant.

    This thread is about Dr. Paisley’s contribution to religious life in NI: not his politics. Since as I noted above you are not usually a contributor on religion and are not an evangelical protestant you are in a poor position to comment on Paisley’s religious legacy within Evangelical Protestantism.

    The simple fact is that my thesis is that Paisley has had a major effect on evangelical Protestantism within NI and not just the Free Presbyterian Church but also on the Presbyterian Church (and others). That position has been concurred with by a number of commentators including serious religious commentators.

    If one believes in evangelical protestantism and believes it is the most appropriate form of religion then Paisley’s contribution (acknowledged above) is indeed positive.

    I suggest that you are allowing your political (and maybe religious) dislike of Paisley to colour your position and the above post is no better than trolling.

    There have been plenty of threads on Paisley’s politics and I may do another one this weekend. Maybe save your comments for that one and leave the one about evangelical protestantism for those who know a bit about the field?

  • Delphin

    Turgon can religion and politics be separated? To my mind the desire to be ‘right’ and impose their world view on others is very strong within evangelical protestantism. Separation of church and state does not come easy to such people. I my view Paisley’s intolerance stems from his faith.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    David Crookes

    “Of course the anti-ageist anti-sexist anti-whateverist liberal establishment found no fault in Dawkins at all.”

    Admittedly I’ve met a few people who find Dawkins faultless.

    My brother (atheist to the core but an uncommon respect for old school Presbyterian ethics and culture) summed him up as “evangelically anti-evangelical”.

    Once I’d finally learnt how to spell that summary I thought it rather sharp.

    Just a distraction, as you were…

  • Turgon

    “Separation of church and state does not come easy to such people”

    I am afraid that merely shows how little you understand about the complexities of evangelical Protestantism. There are some who do bring together church and state. The Brethern on the other hand almost all feel that church and state should be separate. Indeed very few of them vote and some feel that Christians should not vote.

  • Delphin

    Indeed Turgon I would not claim any detailed knowledge of evangelical protestantism, although I do know some Brethren and they are, as you say, disengaged from the political process. But members of the party that Paisley founded appear only too willing to impose the out comings of their faith on all and sundry.

  • David Crookes

    Delphin, you say, “To my mind the desire to be ‘right’ and impose their world view on others is very strong within evangelical protestantism.”

    Heh heh. You make John Charles McQuaid sound like an evangelical Protestant! Sorry, I’m being bad.

    AG, thanks for that. Many religions have living saints and lamas who may not be criticized. The personal-dislike-of-God sect of atheism is one such religion. Let me add in fairness to RD that he has received a lot of utterly evil hate-mail from people who believe themselves to be Christians. Any real Christian is bound to deplore the conduct of these wicked persons.

    I sometimes wonder how Dawkins will fare at the hands of his most enthusiastic votaries if he follows Antony Flew across the line. It isn’t impossible.

    Turgon is correct in what he says about the Brethren. I know, because I’m one of them. As it happens I vote, and so do quite a few others. There was a hilarious little moment outside a gospel hall some years ago when one who is physically related to me in the degree fraternal went to preach there. Outside the front door of the hall he found sundry persons being interviewed by a BBC television team. It turned out that some eminent politician had attended this hall in his youth. ‘No, we’re Brethren,’ one elderly man was saying, ‘and we don’t vote.’ ‘Hold on,’ said my brother. ‘I vote.’ ‘But are you a Christian, sir?’ asked the man. ‘I certainly hope so,’ my brother replied. ‘I’m your preacher tonight.’

    Now back to Delphin’s question. Can religion and politics be separated? Up to a point they can be. In the old days of O level history you were asked a question in odd-numbered years about Bismarck’s home policy, and a question in even-numbered years about his foreign policy. Turgon has elected to write about IP’s religious HERITAGE. When you write about the heritage of a man who is still alive and kicking, you are really exploring the history of the future. To reproach Turgon for failing to adduce this or that element of IP’s political past would be the merest whataboutery. It would be like reproaching an O level candidate of yore for failing to consider Bismarck’s home policy in an essay that was supposed to be concerned with his foreign policy.

    Let me conclude with an anecdote for which I have no documentation. Last week I relied on my memory of a particular Columbo episode, and talked a load of old tosh. I’m going to rely on my memory now in the hope that someone who was ‘there at the time’ will put me right if I’m wrong.

    Irish Presbvterianism in the early 1960s was preparing to dip its toe in the waters of unbelief. (By doing so during the mid-1929s, it brought to birth the Irish Evangelical Church, still up and running). Anyway. There came a day, it may have been around 1962, when a clergyman by the name of Erskine addressed a question to his congregation. “We don’t believe in the miracles of the New Testament, do we?” he asked. “Yes, we do!” cried several members of the congregation as they walked out. If my memory is functioning properly, that incident took place in Knock Presbyterian Church.

    It may not have made it into academic studies of Irish Presbyterianism, but that incident was a cardinal moment in the ecclesial history of Irish evangelical Christianity. A lot of IP’s religious activity has been bound up with the idea that Christians ought to believe in the Bible.

    Turgon is right to point out the international dimension of NI’s evangelical Christianity. On every working day, five tons of Christian literature are printed in Dromore.

  • Turgon

    David Crookes,
    Firstly let me thank you for your praise of my article. I did not respond before as I was a little abashed at the praise.

    I think your point about the Bible is vital in a secular sense (self evidently I agree in a religious sense). To you as a member of the Brethren the primacy of the Bible is unquestionable. Almost throughout the PCI (and in the Methodists and most of NI’s CoI) it is much the same.

    Even liberals in the PCI nowadays will try to argue from the point of view of accepting the inspired nature of scripture. That is much less likely to be the case in many mainstream churches in GB.

    Clearly many non believers scoff at the idea the Bible is inspired and that is fair enough. The point is that in many places outside Northern Ireland many who claim to be Christians will also hold that opinion and state it publicly.

    It seems that in the 1950s and 1960s there were substantial parts of the PCI (or at least their ministers) who were moving towards not believing the truth of the scriptures. I think Paisley and the campaigns he led are part of the reason that trend is almost dead in the PCI.

    I do think there is interesting academic research to be done on the history of the demise of theological liberalism in NI’s mainstream churches during the latter half of the 20th century.

    Incidently also agree re Dawkins. It would be wonderful for his soul, for evangelical Christianity and deeply amusing if Dawkins got saved.

  • David Crookes

    Many thanks, Turgon. Amen to what you say about Dawkins. Watch for heap rage and displays of hatred from his admirers if it happens. Saul of Tarsus Mark II.

    People who believe nothing tend to approve warmly of those decaying faintly deist churches which believe almost nothing, especially if the said churches embrace the moodiest totems of modern times. But when a church which is founded on Scripture abandons its Biblical foundation, it ceases to be a church, and becomes a Dolly Mixtures Club.

    Every new day offers an infinity of intellectual adventures, and of course we all get lots of things wrong, but as a preacher IP has operated in the spiritual tradition of those who know what they believe and hold on to it.

    If you go down the other road far enough in the company of Leslie Weatherhead, Norman Vincent Peale, Newell Dwight Hillis, & Co, you will eventually come to Doreen Virtue, PhD, Christian Buddhists, and people who play with Christian tarot cards. That Spiritualist Church has some funny ideas, but they give you a lovely cup of tea…..

    One last reflection on your original essay. The warm regard in which IP is held by many persons outside the FPC, some of whom don’t even vote, may represent a response to the Biblical stand that he has taken as a preacher of the gospel.

  • Delphin

    David C, ref JC McQuaid – many religions see it as their god given duty to impose their beliefs on the ‘ungodly’
    In my view Paisley the politician and Paisley the pastor cannot be separated as one must influence the other, otherwise there would be little substance in his faith. How he has affected the inner workings of evangelical protestantism is beyond my knowledge or interest, but how his beliefs have affected his politics is of legitimate interest to all.

    By the way I share your distaste for Richard Dawkins.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Delphin. You don’t want to be drowned in a flood of holy chat, but when a Christian looks at RD he sees a man made in the image of God whose intellectual energies may yet come to be put at the service of his Creator. I reserve my ‘distaste’ for the faux-evangelicals who send RD hate-mail.

    On evangelicals in politics: a refusal to compromise on spiritual matters should not make it impossible for one to compromise on political matters. To see EVERYTHING in absolutist all-or-nothing terms is effectively to disqualify oneself from taking part in serious politics.

    Most go and visit a loved one. St Paul said that he fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, but he never had to contend with the RVH car-park…..

  • Drumlins Rock

    DC, you last reflection certainly holds some truth, Paisley was highly regarded by many Evangelicals who at the same time were disdainful of politics, something I always found it hard to get my head round. TBH some of it was simply the Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke, Don’t Swear, etc. attitude in common, but also Paisley also tapped into the “revival” tradition that remained strong across many denominations. It however should also be clear his constant attacks to the PCI & CoI were a political liability that might have delayed his political rise to power for a decade or more, it could be argued that it was only when UUP agreement defectors made the DUP more ecumenical that many in the pews were prepared to vote for them. I get the impression that that process has stalled somewhat at lower levels, in fact it might well have reversed.

    PS. My argument to brethren non voters is God has set HM QE II to rule over us, it is her will that her government be chosen by public election, not voting is therefore rebelling against God’s government.

    PPS. One of my best friends will be helping print that 5 tons from next week 🙂

  • SK

    “My argument to brethren non voters is God has set HM QE II to rule over us, it is her will that her government be chosen by public election, not voting is therefore rebelling against God’s government.”


    What century is it up there?

  • BluesJazz
  • David Crookes

    Bless you, DR, yes. The Roman Caesar was one thing, but when you have the chance to replace bad Caesar with not-so-bad Pompey you should think about taking it.

    SK, please allow me to reword your Christians-lie-down question.

    What time is it, Eccles?

    The illusion of modernity is so unhelpful to the apprehension of reality that some people have coined the stupid word postmodernism.

    We are all human. Lots of us believe in a benign Creator, and contrary to vulgar superstition our numbers are not diminishing. What time it is on the clock or the calendar has nothing to do with that fact. To reproach us for our outdated notions is like reproaching musically literate people for listening to Bach.

    Cheers-frightfully-ho! I’m off to church.

  • @RichardJordan,

    Out of curiosity, do the Free Presbyterians have anything more to do with the mainstream Presbyterian Church in terms of theology and organization than they do with the Baptists or the Methodists?

  • tmitch:

    the Free Presbyterians and the mainstream Presbyterians are exactly the same in organization (presbyteries and synods), although the Free Presbyterians are too small to have an official General Assembly. Instead, they have an annual general meeting. The theology is basically the same (Calvinism, predestination, a literal interpretation of the Bible and adherence to the Confession of Faith). However, the mainstream allow ministers to be more liberal. There are Presbyterian churches that are Unitarian or who allow ministers who do not accept the Confession. Presbyterian churches (in theory) decide on their own who will minister their church, but the presbytery sends them candidates that they approve of. Presbyterians believe in baptism as a child.

    Baptists are a very diverse group, but have three characteristics in common – they all believe in adult baptism, each Baptist church is legally independent and each congregation decides who they will accept as pastor. Baptists do join together in fellowships (for the strict fundamentalist) and into conventions (such as the South Baptist Convention) but these organizations cannot interfere in the affairs of each church – only expel those they find apostate.

    Theologically, Baptists can be either Calvinist and those who accept predestination or the concept that when God created the universe he chose who would be saved and who would be damned (most in the British Isles take this position even if they are liberal – Paisley’s father was Reformed) ; or they are Free Will, where one makes a conscience decision to accept Christ (and become ‘saved’). What confuses matters is that some Calvinists (such as Paisley) believe that they can also become ‘born again’ through the actions of Holy Spirit who lets the Elect know that they are saved. This is considered a second baptism, but does not invalidate baptism as a child.

    Most of the original Free Presbyterians came from a Presbyterian or Baptist background, so to reconcile the difference on baptism, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster allowed baptism either as an adult or a child.

    Methodism came out of the Church of England, so authority rests in the bishop. Churches are connected into conferences that have control over church assets and the appointment of the minister. Methodists are Low Anglican in theology and believe that there is a ‘method’ to Christian devotion that involves interaction with the Holy Ghost – this is where the Holiness movement (Salvation Army etc.) originated.. Free Presbyterians have little in common with Methodists. But once again and to confuse matters, some Methodists accept predestination (for instance in Wales or the Bob Jones family who were originally Methodists).

    I hope this helps. Where do I find your blog?

  • Greenflag

    “My argument to brethren non voters is God has set HM QE II to rule over us, it is her will that her government be chosen by public election, not voting is therefore rebelling against God’s government.’

    That may be your argument but where is the evidence that God played an active role in setting up HM QE II to rule over us ? Seems God must have been very busy micro managing the entire British (as well as all the other’s of course ) hereditary monarchical successions back to Boadiciea and before to ensure that Queenie E2 sits on the throne and heads a minority Church in the UK >

    Poor God must have overworked himself/herself /itself all these years as while his /her /it’s back was turned – other hereditary monarchs like KIm Il Sung of North Korea slipped into power whereas the Bourbons , Hapsburgs and Romanov’s were set for extinction >

    And then theres the dinosaurs and the 5 Great Mass Extinctions which God decided all those billions and millions of years ago must happen so that the mammals could be permitted to evolve and bring forth ‘humanity ‘ so that Queen E 2 could reign over us ?

    Utter rubbish of course . Believe it if you will – but Dawkins like Galileo and Darwin has science and factual evidence on his side .

    The faith folk are free to believe in the Spaghetti Flying Monster if they will .They can’t help it anyway as it was (as per their faith ) predestined about 13.7 billion years ago when this universe was brought into existence .

    As to those other universes which may have preceded this one or which may exist alongside this one we have as yet no evidential knowledge .

  • Greenflag

    @ Blues jazz (profile) 28 January 2014 at 12:09 am

    Thanks for that link . Should be required reading for the FSM Brigade but it won’t .Unlearning is tough especially in matters of faith /indoctrination .

  • Greenflag

    @ DC;

    ‘On evangelicals in politics: a refusal to compromise on spiritual matters should not make it impossible for one to compromise on political matters. To see EVERYTHING in absolutist all-or-nothing terms is effectively to disqualify oneself from taking part in serious politics.’

    Good point .Sadly the evidence from NI politics is that it does . One reason why it took 40 years to achieve a political ‘compromise ‘ that would have taken two or three years elsewhere .

    A refusal to compromise on spiritual matters was always the forte of the RC Church and particularly so in medieval and Pre Reformation times . Today those flying the absolutist flags of faith are to be found predominantly in the Middle East , Israel and in some of the more backward areas of the USA and alas among some in Northern Ireland .

    The effect on politics of the ‘absolutist ‘ religionists can be seen from Teheran to Belfast to Beirut . Nowhere can such effects be seen as positives for either peace or progress .Their God /Gods aren’t interested in peace or progress.:(

  • Delphin

    Greenflag, welcome back to SluggerWorld, created 13.7 years ago by Mick Fealty, who when sorely vexed will smite the sinner with his cards of many colours.
    Anyway, your argument against religion is focused on refuting biblical creation myths using scientific theories of cosmology and evolution. It would appear that the Roman Catholic church has no trouble embracing these, as do many other Christians. It is mostly the evangelical/ born-again types that have difficulty with this.
    So your argument is only valid for certain Christian sects not religion as a whole.

  • David Crookes

    Greenflag, (12.53 pm) you’re on the wrong thread here. People are trying to have a conversation about one man’s religious heritage, or about that man’s effect on the community of Christian believers. Drumlins Rock was speaking as one literate member of that community to another when he subtextually alluded to Romans 13. Let us not try to make DR’s subtextual allusion the excuse for a debate on an issue which has very little to do with the thread.

    By the way, I notice today that the Ellison story, for which one poster yesterday supplied a link while writing on this thread, has been furnished with a scandalously partisan headline on the local BBC news site. “Lecturer disappointed at email row.”

    Pretend it was late 1939.

    Hitler disappointed at unhelpful reaction of Poles.

    Now for your 1.27 pm post. Yes! I was trying to say that some evangelicals make bad politicians because they see everything in all-or-nothing terms. Such persons should be encouraged to keep out of politics.

    But this is a thread about one man’s spiritual heritage. It’ll be good if we can conduct our discussion without anyone robotically pressing button B for make-fun-of-the-creationist-community. Thanks for your postings.

  • @RichardJordan,

    So it sounds like the Free Presbyterians are basically Presbyterians with their own pope.

    My blog is at:

    But I rarely post on Northern Ireland. Originally it was mostly on Israeli politics. Today I post on just about anything in international politics that strikes me as interesting.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Thank you David. Have got fed up with comments on slugger that descend in random attacks nothing to do with either the subject or drift of previous comments. It a rather obtuse bit of theology these days, but major implications in the past, including a civil war!

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, DR. Yes, it’s almost as if people like Turgon and you and me were attending Crufts, discussing the merits of the different canine competitors, while outside in the street some of our friends insisted on yelling into megaphones that of course there was no such thing as a dog.

    I reckon that Turgon has written an essay which will be read with interest in years to come. Like Eilert Løvborg in Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’, he considers the future.

  • Pingback: The Last of Paisley | Daly Stew()