Recently I was called a “Catholic apologist” online. By somebody in the legal profession too so I was kind of rattled. Kind of. But it got me thinking about how I see the Church and what I believe in. And Elvis. I think about him too a lot. But that’s another days work.
I decided I was an atheist in 6th class just before I made my Confirmation. I’d read Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham, life was shit and where the fuck was God? And that was that or so I thought. Who in their right mind would believe in an all-powerful being they can’t see and will never see? Not me that’s who.
And then the Church imploded and I was right! The Church is dead. Priests are bastards. Nuns are evil. Etc and etc. As a nation, Ireland came out from under the shadow of the Catholic Church. We got divorced. We got all sorts of contraception. We got married in registry offices and hotels. We acknowledged how we treated women forced to give their babies away because they hadn’t entered Holy Matrimony. We voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality. We ARE a new people. We have Ann Summers and nobody cares anymore that you can buy crotchless knickers on the same street as Mothercare. Obviously we have more to do. Twelve women a day are leaving this great nation to access abortion abroad so #repealthe8th but again another day’s work.
So there I was, a happy atheist ( when I say happy I mean suicidally depressed but you know what I mean) and then something happened. I got married. In a registry office. My mother in law never recovered. And I had children. To baptise or not to baptise. GODDAMN YOU ALL I’M AN ATHEIST. But it wasn’t that simple. I went to a Catholic school where the nuns were lovely and loved us all. We were taught tolerance and that Jesus loves us all. We had a Joy Club and it was actually joyful. I told the priest at school that I was an atheist and we had a perfectly reasonable chat about it. He was a lovely man. Who was I to deny my children the benefit of a happy education. If they choose to embrace faith as part of their lives that’s their choice and if not and they reject it then that’s perfectly fine too. But I wanted to give them the option. So I did. So far so Irish.
But lately I’ve noticed that you can’t just be an atheist. You have to be an Atheist. Capital A. The Great Church of the UnGod. Atheism is a religion and a fundamentalist one at that. It’s become perfectly acceptable to sneer at people who have faith and pray or go to Mass. I’m still an atheist but I’m not at all happy with this creeping trend. Peak Atheism for me happened when the internet nearly blew up congratulating Stephen Fry for railing against an unjust god he doesn’t believe in on The Meaning of Life with our own Gay Byrne. Was there one dissenting voice? I certainly wasn’t brave enough to say: “You know what Fry? Fuck off you’re an ATHEIST”. Yesterday I witnessed a good, decent man who is also a priest being called a “sky pilot” on social media while he discussed an epidemic of suicide in his parish on the radio. He was angry and he was sad. 8 suicides in 3 weeks. Think about that. In one county. BUT HE’S A SKY PILOT. DON’T LISTEN TO HIM. Have we forgotten that priests are on the frontline when it comes to grief. They’re at deathbeds every day. They are at the homes of bereaved parents and wives and husbands after the most tragic events. They offer the only comfort they can, which is their faith. Have we really come to a point where we think it’s acceptable to pour scorn on every man of the cloth simply because he is one. That’s not the New Ireland is it? I’m not ready to reject what was part of my cultural upbringing. I went to Mass everyday with my Granny. I loved it. It was an important part of her day. She had friends. She was part of the Church. I’ve had friends and relations who have endured great personal tragedy and they took enormous comfort from prayer. They had to believe there was a reason, a better place. Maybe nothing changed but they felt in some small way better. I’ve been to the pit of despair more than once in my life and I’ve cried out desperate prayers to the Blessed Virgin or whoever would listen to me to help. And I felt helped. I felt better. I sang hymns on that boat back from England. I can’t say I believe in God but I won’t laugh at anyone who does. I won’t demonise good priests or the lovely nuns who teach my children. I’m Irish. I collect rocks to keep me safe. I’m a Catholic atheist. And proud to be one.