Ireland in many ways is a very odd country. Mostly it manifests itself in harmless idiosyncrasies. But just occasionally it comes out in the form of certain “harmless” traditions. The worst of these comes in the form of our tradition of forced indoctrination, otherwise known as baptism.
Yes I do realise that I am painting a big target on my back by posting this, but there are things that need to be said. I was, like most people in the Irish state, given no choice in my faith as a child. At a very tender age, when the highlight of any day was finding something new to chew and suck on, I was baptised into a cult which some people, myself included, now see as an illegal organisation, the Catholic church. This act immediately opened up for me a vast panorama of opportunities for both education and abuse.
Now while this post, could so easily turn into just another church bashing exercise, that is not what I wish to speak about today. Instead I want to call into question what I have already named “forced indoctrination”. I also want to speak about how the integration of faith and state leads not to equality, but instead to some citizens being more equal than others.
Let us start then with the children. An Irish child baptised into the Catholic faith is certain to receive a relatively good primary education. An education which their parents will most like approve of. Mixed in with the lessons on maths, Irish, English and all the other essentials of a good Irish education will be catechism. Half an hour per day of being taught how to be a good Catholic. Leaving aside the fact that this, 2.5 hours of class time would probably be better spent making sure the child is actually literate, what does it say about Ireland?
It certainly shows how deep the concept of faith is ingrained into our society. When you consider that other countries, the USA being a prime example, consider the religious education of children to be the parents responsibility, it does shed light on an unsettling fact about Ireland. Ireland is still a Catholic nation.
Of course this is rubbish. Ireland has always had and always will have its atheists, protestants, muslims, jews and pagans. But you only have to look at our laws and the constitution from which they spring to see the special position granted to Catholicism by our nation. Many people in Ireland will say “So what?”
To those people I say this, think back to your days in school. Did you even know one person who wasn’t a Catholic? I know I didn’t. In fact it wasn’t until my early teens, when I started to travel around Ireland that, I came into contact with fellow Irish citizens, people who believed in our shared country as fervently as I do but who were of any other faith. Even then, it was a year or so before I came to realise that many of them were by virtue of how Ireland is structured, second class citizens. And that the separation which existed then between me and them was founded on my forced indoctrination to a faith which in all truth and honesty I had never believed in.
These days after my removal from the register of baptisms, I am an odd sort of Pagan. I believe in all the gods who have ever been spoken of. It just happens that one specific god has better public relations these days than any of the others. But while I have no problem with the existence of a Judo-Islamic-Christian god, I see the Torah, Koran and Bible as nothing more than extraordinarily long-lived works of fantastical fiction combined with half-baked philosophy. Something akin to The Lord of the Rings, but with added rules. They are not holy texts to me, in my life no text is holy. But if I someday am forced to give evidence in court, or am otherwise expected to give sworn testimony, I will by virtue of how Ireland is run be required to swear on some book that to me is nothing but fiction.
What is all this leading to? A few questions actually, I don’t claim to have answers which would work for anyone else.
(The following questions are not intended just for use on the Catholic faith, insert the faith of your choice and the same questions should apply equally.)
How is it moral to drop a child, who can not consent, in to a faith not of their own choosing?
How is it moral to then while they are still too young to comprehend what they are undertaking, expect them to take part in further ceremonies intended to tie them for life to that same faith, again a faith not of their own choosing?
How can it be right for the vast majority of schooling in any country to be run by one faith, who insist on forcing over two hours of further indoctrination on their young impressionable students? (Admittedly this is finally changing, but it is a disgrace to our nation that the Catholic church has had this power for so long.)
Why isn’t the practice of an individuals faith something which is only undertaken in their own private life, period?
But most of all, how can we call ourselves a free nation, a nation built on the concept of universal equality, when one faith is enshrined in our laws?
How can I as someone who does not share that faith, feel that I have an equal voice in my own country, when the laws by which I must live my life by, give voice to notions which belong to that church?
How can I not feel that I am somehow segregated from my fellow citizens, when if I swear to give good evidence I can not simply state, “On my honour as a citizen in good standing, I swear to answer all questions with truth to the very utmost of my ability.” and have my word of honour be my bond? Doing this while understanding that my fate, if I should perjure myself will be the same as that of my fellow citizen who took their oath on a bible.
In modern Ireland we live as a segregated nation. Some of the forms of separation are blatantly obvious, such as the different rights for heterosexual and same-sex couples. However some of the ways in which we are held apart from our fellow country men are subtle and insidious. As subtle as an atheist/pagan swearing on what is to them a work of fiction, but having to hold a straight face while they do so, to save the sensitivities of people on the inside from being bruised, by those who live their lives on the outside.