Thank God the Bible is leaving Irish politics
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently cited the Bible in defence of the inhumane policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. Quoting from St. Paul, the pre-eminent early Christian theologian, Sessions reminded sceptics that earthly laws should be obeyed. Since imprisoning children in a former Walmart is now the law, Christians are duty bound to accept it. The backlash was swift and predictable: social media lit up with Bible quotes commanding charity and help for strangers. Even non-Christians were happy to pluck a line or two from Leviticus and meet Sessions on his own terms. But his critics’ arguments are no more or less valid than Sessions’. Through cherry picking and personal interpretation, the Bible can be used to justify just about anything. We only need to look at our own country to see just how dangerous biblical politics can be.
The Irish Government’s decision to hold a referendum on blasphemy is a welcome one. The constitutional ban on blasphemous speech is the most explicitly Christian law still remaining in the Bunreacht, now that the people have voted to remove the Eighth Amendment. Of course, when we say ‘Christian’ in this country, we almost always mean ‘Catholic.’ Every religiously inspired article of the 1937 Constitution is a direct result of Catholic influence, both open and insidious. We have gradually removed Catholicism from our most fundamental law and with every step we’ve come closer to finally putting the Bible aside. This has made Ireland an outlier in a world where religious conservatism is on the rise. But we were an outlier before.
Authority beyond question
The Ireland of the 1920s and ’30s was an outlier in two ways: First, it was a democracy with frequent elections while much of Europe fell into dictatorship. Second, it enjoyed a broad political consensus – a consensus centred on the Catholic Church. Ireland’s Civil War did not produce a Catholic Fascist tyranny, as the war in Spain had, nor did the Church support a cult of personality, as was the case in Mussolini’s Italy. No, newly independent Ireland was much easier to influence than that. Both major parties slavishly adhered to Catholic doctrine, there was no genuine socialist or anti-clerical opposition and Ireland frequently followed unwritten rules: Don’t question the priest, immoral women must be dealt with, authority is unimpeachable.
Some have rightly argued that the 1937 Constitution was not as Catholic as it could have been. Catholicism wasn’t made the official religion and other faiths were explicitly recognised. Indeed, Pope Pius XI withheld his formal approval of the document, but he didn’t openly reject it, either. Regardless of how far the ‘special place’ of the Church in the written constitution went, no-one can deny the very real power the Church exercised for decades. Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, forced adoptions, sexual abuse cover ups, bans on abortion, divorce and contraception – these are not the policies of a secular state. They are the product of a Bible-based society.
And in the Bunreacht itself, the Catholic Bible is self-evident. There is the explicit ban on blasphemy, which the people may soon remove, the infamous ‘woman’s place is in the home’ section – a ludicrous addition reminiscent of the Nazi League of German Maidens or Mussolini’s ‘Battle for Births.’ And, of course, the 1983 amendment giving a foetus the same rights as a pregnant female citizen. Every word of these laws can be traced back to the Bible, through the winding roads of Catholic teachings.
We should be proud, or perhaps relieved, that as the Catholic Church retreats in this country, it’s taking the Bible-based laws with it. But complacency is not an option. We only need to look across the Atlantic to see a society increasingly infected by the Bible. From locking up children, to closing abortion clinics to supporting a foul-mouthed serial adulterer, there is nothing the Bible cannot be made to justify. We Irish know that better than most. Thank God the Bible is leaving Irish politics.
Darragh Roche is an Irish freelance journalist writing about politics, society and culture. He writes a regular column at the London Economic. He studied History and English at the University of Limerick and American studies in Budapest, Hungary. You can follow him on twitter here