Saturday, December 31, 2011

David Quinn: Why no Christianity at Christmas time, Enda?

THE most symbolic event of this year was surely the visit by Queen Elizabeth in May. 

Nothing better highlighted the fact that relations between Britain and Ireland are now friendly and cordial or that anti-English feeling is now limited mostly to sports fixtures (if that) and little else.

There were, nonetheless, several notes of irony struck in the sometimes fawning commentary that accompanied the visit. 

First and foremost was the fact that our liberal commentariat suddenly found themselves drawn to an institution that represents many of the things they normally reject, such as inherited privilege and institutionalised religion.

True to form, in her Christmas message this year the queen, as head of the Church of England, gave special and unapologetic mention to Christianity.

She described Christmas as that "great Christian festival". This was followed by footage of the nativity play at a very multi-ethnic Catholic primary school.

She then told the viewers: "Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian message."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Enda Kenny delivered his Christmas message with a demeanour that was uncomfortably reminiscent of the minister for hardship of 'Hall's Pictorial Weekly' fame.

Enda told us that at Christmas our thoughts turned to the "higher things" -- but the "higher things" consisted of "family and friends", "good neighbours, and "our health".

Mysteriously, Christianity was left off his list.

Surely at Christmas, above all, Christianity and religion should figure somewhere among the "higher things"? Couldn't Enda have mentioned Christianity at least in a neutral way? For example, by stating the simple fact that many people would be marking Christmas by attending church services.

At my own parish, the church was packed to the rafters. Attendance was probably twice the usual figure, if not more, so this is how many people continue to mark the "higher things" at this time of year.

I still haven't figured out Enda Kenny's attitude to religion. On the same day his Christmas message was released, he turned up at the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin's inner city, where Brother Kevin Crowley has been feeding the poor since 1969.

It is not as though Enda is anti-religion. He made that clear in his attack on the Vatican in early summer (the other highly symbolic event of the year).

But does Enda believe that religion is essentially a private matter that might have a minor civic function -- like at the presidential inauguration -- but apart from that should have no real part to play in public affairs?

If so, how does he justify this? Why should religion have any less influence over public affairs than IBEC or the trades unions? Or, indeed, any given newspaper?

Why should religious people, alone out of all citizens, have to leave their values at the door of their house as they set out each day?

Is it because some people disagree with religious values and so they are "divisive"? 

But no one set of values enjoys complete assent and therefore all values are at some level "divisive". 

So again, why single out religious values from all other values in this way?

Perhaps Enda believes that in a multicultural society it would have been inappropriate to make specific mention of Christianity in his Christmas message.

But Britain is far more multicultural than Ireland and the queen rarely hesitates to mention Christianity where appropriate.

Ah, but she is head of the Church of England, so her role is entirely different from that of Taoiseach? Well, that is true.

ON the other hand, if her role as head of the Church of England was genuinely divisive in this multicultural age, then the voices calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England would be much louder and more influential than they are.

In any case, British Prime Minister David Cameron recently described Britain as a Christian society, even though church attendance there is much lower than it is here.

In America, Barack Obama also delivers an annual Christmas message. Unlike the queen, he is not the head of a church, and church and state are separated in the US, but he still regularly mentions Christianity or God or prayer.

In his 2009 broadcast, for example, he spoke of the "message of peace and brotherhood that continues to inspire, more than 2,000 years after Jesus's birth".

So again the question arises, why didn't Enda mention Christianity in his first Christmas message?

Was it an oversight or was it deliberate?

Did he leave it out from conviction or was it because those around him believe that any mention of Christianity in such a context is out of place in multicultural Ireland?

If so, then he is listening to a very extreme version of multiculturalism that David Cameron and Barack Obama wisely choose to ignore.

Next year, Enda can set some of these questions to rest by mentioning Christianity in his Christmas message.

But will he? 

Or is the Christian part of our heritage to be consigned increasingly to the scrap heap?

Hopefully, Enda's native good sense will prevail.