Archive for the ‘Belief to Unbelief’ Category

What would a Humanist Ireland look like?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

It would begin with children. Every child in Ireland would have equal access to his or her local national primary and second-level State-funded schools. None would be discriminated against because he or she was not baptized.

How shameful it is that in 21st-century Ireland that that still remains the case!

And, staying with children, in a Humanist Ireland, young children would not be taught to believe in deities simply because their parents or grandparents believed in them. The integrity of children’s minds would be respected. Children would not be taught as ‘fact’ something for which there is not one whit of evidence.

Warping children’s minds is intellectual child abuse. There was a time when lots of people got away with child sexual abuse because the wider community didn’t appreciate how shameful a thing it was to sexually abuse children. Or they didn’t realize how pervasive it was. Or it was just hidden and not talked about, so unlikely and outlandish did it sound.

Likewise, it’s not that long ago since corporal punishment was allowed in schools: physical abuse of children was socially acceptable. Now, thank goodness, neither child sexual nor physical abuse is tolerated.

So how long will it take before people realise that to abuse children’s minds is equally despicable?  Why do we still think it’s OK to teach children that man-made deities exist, watch them, judge them and will punish or reward them?

I speak as someone who believed in a religion for years, who staked my life on that false belief and spent nine years studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood. I, more perhaps than many, realize the tortuous and difficult path from belief to unbelief. It is like casting off an addiction. It is to rethink everything.

Imagine if a society believed it acceptable to give alcohol and drugs to children as young as three and five and seven and nine and twelve? And yet, I submit, that is what we do in having children ‘imbibe the faith’. A nice word for indoctrination.

Religions indoctrinate children because if most sensible, rational and reasonable adults were to  first encounter the crazy doctrines of religion as an adult they would laugh and dismiss them without giving them another second’s thought.

So what would a Humanist Ireland look like? Equal access by all children to their local State-funded primary and second-level schools, with baptismal privilege abandoned as not only discriminatory but abusive of children’s innocent minds.

Denis Green, Marist priest, RIP

Friday, October 9th, 2015

DenisGlendalough A man whom I loved, Denis Green, Marist priest, died on Wednesday night 6 October 2015. He will be buried today. He was the priest whose distinctive, lovely voice forms the backbone of my RTE Radio One Documentary, From Belief to Unbelief. He was with me when my father died in 1981. He helped me break the psychological umbilical cord with my mother. Aged 94, he was, to the end, the youngest man I have ever known. He was open. He was himself. He was engaging. He was genuinely interested in people and ideas and books. He was devout. He was, every inch of him, an actor. From the first moment he lectured us in novitiate back in 1980 he stood before us as one who might have leaped from a Shakespearean stage. He loved life. He loved people.

He was one of the worst singers known to human history, but that never stopped him singing! A memory: some 40 seminarians doubled over with uncontrollable laughter in the chapel at Mount St  Mary’s, Milltown, as Denis attempted with abject ineptitude to sing the Eucharistic Prayer.

His infamy as a singer was very closely matched by his reputation as a driver. On one occasion after I was astonished still to be alive I felt something needed to be said.

‘Did anyone ever tell you you’re a good driver, Denis?’

‘No,’ he replied, ‘I don’t believe anyone ever did.’

‘Think about it.’

And he was the kind of guy you could say something like that to – i.e., be entirely honest with – and nothing would harm the relationship.

He told me years ago that he wanted ‘How Great Thou Art’ sung at his funeral. Yesterday, before his coffin was brought from the chapel at Mount St Mary’s – the same chapel in which his gorgeous voice reverberates in my documentary – I told the congregation gathered there that Denis had told me that he wanted it sung at his funeral. And I, atheist and Humanist celebrant, appealed to those present to sing it with gusto and I led the singing and everyone joined in and we did him proud. The place came alive again, Denis’s final farewell to Mount St Mary’s.

Born on 11 June, 1921, in Clontarf, Dublin, he was a pupil at Catholic University School (CUS), Leeson Street, and he worked there as a chaplain until very recently. CUS is closed today as a mark of respect to him. He entered the Marist novitiate in 1940 and was ordained on 23 March 1947. In 1952 he was offered a place at the Sorbonne but he accepted a place in Cambridge! He worked in England from 1955 to 1975, as a teacher, headmaster and as Provincial of the then English Province of the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers). He came back to Ireland in 1975 and he was one of four priests in charge of us in my novitiate 1980-1981. He also taught at Chanel College, Coolock;  was associated with the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation in Wicklow; with St Killian’s German School, Dublin; and he was for a while Secretary General of the Marist Fathers in Rome.

Denis, I loved you. You were a human being! You lived a good life! You were open and thoughtful, creative and caring, affectionate and loving. Goodbye my friend.


Thinking for yourself

Friday, March 14th, 2014

At pretty much every wedding that I conduct, I will say that Humanism is about thinking for yourself and caring for people, that it is about reason and compassion. And I am often struck that some religious people sometimes feel that they think I am getting at them. Why is this? I suppose it’s obvious really: religious belief is based upon letting someone else do your thinking for you – which is not a very adult thing to do.

Nobody can think their way into religious belief. As we used to say in religious circles (while I was in religious circles) religious faith isn’t so much taught as caught.

Like a cold, I might add.

Religious belief is fanciful thinking. It is escapist surrealism. It is living in a dream.

And perhaps that is why religious people get upset when I say that Humanism is about thinking for yourself. It seems it unintentionally rubs the underbelly of the flight from reason and logic that is religious ‘thinking’.

It upsets me when I consider that even today children are being indoctrinated into religious thinking. Their minds are being wired wrong, with fanciful superstitions presented as ‘gospel truth’. Having taken years, decades, to clamber out of the cage of religious thought, I was astonished to discover thinkers who had lived and died generations before me who centuries ago knew religion to be the twaddle that it is. And there was I spending the first quarter of my life (or more should I die before a hundred!) immersed in the mental death of religion.

How indescribably hard I found it to break through the glass cage into which I’d been immersed and into which I had immersed myself. And breaking out of that man-made trap – for all religions are man-made – felt just like walking through glass: imaginary glass. For the constraints of religion are artificial, at least within the mind.

Why do we permit innocent children to have their minds miswired from infancy with religious nonsense – yes, even in this day and age? Why do we hold as a right parents’ so-called ‘right’ to indoctrinate their children with their particular brand of the ‘opium of the people’? If parents were giving their children drugs, would not reasonable and responsible citizens have an opinion on that? Or if they were teaching them as truth nonsensical things as if they were facts, scientifically established? And yet is that not what religious schools do and religious parents do, indoctrinating innocent children’s minds, warping from from reality. Setting up in their minds ridiculous notions of the ‘elect’, the ‘saved’ and the ‘damned’; the ‘need’ for ‘salvation’; ‘original sin’; the ‘infallibility’ of the Pope; angels; devils; and the ‘inspired word of god’ – when all it is is what religious leaders interpret various literary works (all written my mortal humans) to mean. Inducing guilt into children when they should be instilling confidence into children. It sickens me that we are still at it, in this day and age. People earning a living by claiming to know the mind of a deity that doesn’t exist. And they pretending to have the ear of the so-called master of the universe.

Do I regret the many years I spent trapped within religious belief? Well, I guess I could have spent them trapped within alcoholism or drug addiction or any other addiction. But, honestly, looking back, I see religious belief as far, far closer to the more socially unacceptable addictions than I ever could have imagined while I was a believer.

Mind you, Humanists are far from perfect. None of us is perfect. I guess it’s the struggle of life. Breaking through constraints of the mind. Someone told me recently that I shouldn’t have asked a question. And it reminded me of getting a clatter on the head when I was in religion class as an adolescent and I asked a question and the religion teacher hit me on the head with the bishops’ pastoral on justice and told me not to be impertinent! Yes, we should all ask questions and no responsible adult should let anyone else do their thinking for them; nor to not ask questions; for asking questions is the beginning of knowledge, understanding, judgment, decision-making and adult responsibility.

Highs & lows of interviews

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

We learn by our mistakes. I have been privileged to tell my story of my journey from religious faith to unbelief in the media in recent months. First, there was my RTE Radio 1 documentary, From Belief to Unbelief, which was shortlisted for a prize at the New York Festivals world radio awards. There was a great profile done of me by John Meagher in the Irish Independent on the day last October when the documentary was first broadcast. And my appearance on TV3 on 30 Oct. 2012 was contented, calm and balanced.

I was very happy with my Newstalk interview on the Tom Dunne Show on 26 June 2013 (my bit starts 26mins and 50 mins into Part 1 of show). I was also delighted with my interview on Gerry Kelly’s Late Lunch show on LMFM on 2 August 2013. He said I seemed very happy in my skin. And I am, (generally!).

I think it’s fair to say that in all of the above I was balanced and respectful of all views, even those I disagree with.

However, I wasn’t happy with my performance on yesterday’s The Last Word show on Today FM. I am entirely responsible for this, and nobody else. I hadn’t slept the previous night. I have been overwhelmed by the number of inquiries I have received to conduct Humanist ceremonies – more than twenty-five requests within my first two weeks as a celebrant. And I was asked, quite understandably, before the interview, if I would comment on the Bishop of Meath’s recent directive that there was to be no secular music and no eulogies at Catholic funerals in his diocese, and that these represented a ‘dumbing down’.

Unable to sleep, I checked out the actual words he had used on the diocesan website. Reading it, I felt very angry. It is a long time since I’ve read diktats from a bishop and it instantly brought me back to a very negative space in my mind. I saw ‘control, control, control’ all over it. I was offended by his suggestion that secular music is a dumbing down of the faith and I reflected, honestly, that faith itself involves the greatest dumbing down of the intellect imaginable – since there is not a shred of evidence to support the presumed authority of any bishop nor the dogmas of any church. Religious faith, by definition, involves believing in supernatural deities and powers that somebody else tells you exist (even though there is no evidence for the existence of these imaginary powers, angels, spirits and deities) which, in my understanding, is the last thing that any responsible adult is meant to do. I was annoyed with myself that I had submitted my mind and my will for so many years of my life to religious nonsense. And, having liberated my mind from that, and analyzed what the bishop had said, it pulled me back into a very negative place in my head, the likes of which I have not revisited for a very long time.

And so, rather than present the positive things about humanism in general and humanist ceremonies in particular I kept reacting to the bishop’s words which I’d read in the middle of a sleepless night.

The church is a dysfunctional organization. It prohibits free speech, censoring its priests and theologians and silencing those who don’t toe the party line (even though much of the current party line is at odds with previous teachings of the church). It indoctrinates young, innocent minds and that continues to trigger justifiable anger in me and others, not least because it does not teach children to think for themselves and to make their own meaning in life. It (and other religions) marks infants out as Catholic or Protestant or Muslim from birth rather than teaching children their common humanity. It insists on segregating children through the education system that it still largely runs. This is the organization that used to burn ‘heretics’ and that still silences those who disagree with the party line, depriving the church of the voices of the loyal opposition within the church. As you see, the anger has not gone away. And why should it? This is the church that teaches that gays must be celibate for life. It is the church which forbids its tens of thousands of married priests to serve the church, even though they remain priests for life. In this, the church places its man-made rule of compulsory celibacy (it admits that it is man-made) above what it pretends to be the god-given vocation to the priesthood. It forbids even discussion about women priests. It threatens priests that don’t agree with the current status quo that they will be stripped of their right to exercise their ministry. And I haven’t even mentioned its criminal protection of pedophile priests which were left freehand to rape and abuse young children.

I cannot deny the anger I feel about all the foregoing. And yet I regret my focus during yesterday’s interview on that negative aspect of things. As I have stated in pretty much all my previous interviews, it’s all about love and nothing else. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, so long as one treats one’s fellow human beings as you would like them to treat you: the golden rule, which, of course, predates christianity by centuries, although the chances are students won’t have been told that in what passes for religious eduction in our schools.

The Beatles did indeed get it right: all you need is love.

While I regret my negative tone yesterday, I don’t think that it has at all really come on to the public agenda the extent to which individual lives have been damaged or in some cases ruined by their indoctrination into Catholic or other religious beliefs from infancy. People who are not born into a belief system never have to clamber out of one. I had to rethink everything. Nor is the issue only about intellectual abuse of children. There is also the emotional abuse of teaching children to fear god, to fear hell. Catholic guilt is not just a cliche: it is real. Men and women have lived their whole lives believing in nonsense and many have died without ever really having lived. Or thought! This is a human rights issue.

In times past, sexual abuse of children took place and children were not believed. Priests got away with it. And now everyone knows the price of that in the lives of adults who were sexually abused as children. But spare a thought, if you would, for those of us, myself included, who were intellectually and emotionally abused by the church. We have every right to be angry about it. Just as I was taught that 2+2=4, I was indoctrinated as a child to believe that everything the pope said was true. I was taught to obey and not to question. I was taught to repeat and not to think. I was taught that to leave the Church would result in the loss of my ‘eternal soul’, or if I left the seminary I would not be happy. I was taught all kinds of manipulative and untrue things. I absorbed them and believed them, things that I now know to be false or silly or crazy.

While the sexual and physical abuse of children was an abomination, the emotional and intellectual abuse of children was, and remains, a crime against human rights. It is a violation of the rights of the child.

Saying these things aloud in public places is a bit like it once was reporting sexual abuse. People weren’t believed. Or the crimes – of rape or molestation – were hushed up. Well where are all you good people out there whose minds and emotions were raped by priests and religious and nuns and ardent lay people? And can we stand idly by while young children continue to be taught crazy beliefs as if they were scientific truths in schools paid for by the taxpayer? I cannot stop being angry about this no less than I’d be enraged if children went on being knowingly beaten or raped in our schools.

20 seminarians joined in 1980. 17 have since left religious life

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

I don’t think I ever mentioned here, or provided a link to, the excellent article written by John Meagher of the Irish Independent when he interviewed me last October about my journey from belief to unbelief. It was published the date that the RTE documentary From Belief to Unbelief was first broadcast. You can read John’s article for free by clicking here. And you can listen to the documentary for free by clicking here.

Atheist Priests/’Oh Me of Little Faith’

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Atheist Priests

Here is the essence of my article about atheist priests and clergy that was published 3 March 2013 in The Sunday Times: ‘Oh Me of Little Faith’  (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/ireland/article1223820.ece)

Joe Armstrong talks to the priests who feel trapped in their ministries – because they dare not tell their flocks they have become atheists

While 115 cardinals deliberate upon who will be the next pope, all around the world many priests have a far greater crisis: their unbelief in God.

Atheist clergy – Catholic and Protestant – who have outgrown their religious faith often feel trapped financially, personally and professionally.

Typical is Adam, an atheist clergyman interviewed for an American television documentary using a pseudonym, a disguised voice and being shown on film in heavy shadow lest he be identified. These measures emphasised the huge risks atheist clergy take in going public: job, livelihood, security, home, community, friends and even marriage can be at stake.

A long-time cleric untrained for any secular job, Adam doesn’t want to risk his family’s financial security. “I wear a mask every day,” he said. “I am trapped. My greatest fear is doing nothing and pretending to be someone I am not for the rest of my life.”

He is one of the founders of the Clergy Project, an online community of more than 400 atheist clergy, Catholic and Protestant, a quarter of whom remain in active ministry. Several of its members live in Ireland.

In his bestselling 1980s book Help my Unbelief, Michael Paul Gallagher, a Jesuit priest, included a chapter entitled Saying Mass an Atheist.

“Perhaps I would choose a different term now, because ‘atheism’ usually implies a steady stance of denial and I was talking about a temporary mood of doubt, an eclipse that did not last,” Gallagher said. “I have never become an atheist but I have run into times where God seems painfully unreal. I don’t think this is surprising.”

As proof, Gallagher even cites the former Pope Benedict, who once admitted to having been threatened by the “oppressive strength of unbelief”. Too often, priests give the impression that faith is a fortress of security, Gallagher believes. “That’s not the usual personal experience,” he said.

“There are many big reasons for unbelief: the suffering of the world; the painful silence of God – God’s strange shyness, one might say. A priest runs into all these.”

Kevin Hegarty, sacked as editor of church magazine Intercom in 1994 after publishing an article about clerical child abuse, also admits to doubt: ‘‘I’ve had an experience of saying mass when my faith was very fragile. It can be very fragile,” he said. “Faith ebbs and flows. At times I preach something and wonder, is it really true? I don’t expect exactitude. I’m prepared to work through doubt, bit by bit. There are times when I have my doubts about the doctrinal teachings of the church – but they’ve never been overwhelming.’

For Tom Rastrelli, a US-based member of the Clergy Project who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 2002, the doubts were overwhelming. “As the abuse scandal worsened and more bishops denied the crimes they’d committed, my belief in church as a divine institution faded,” he said. “In the confessional, I saw the damage that abusive priests and bullying bishops had done to people. There was nothing of divine inspiration in that. In the trenches of ministry, I saw how harmful particular teachings and actions of the church were to people.”

During the final months of his ministry, Rastrelli said, he no longer believed in the authority of the Catholic Church, the Pope, or the bishops. “I didn’t believe in the Marian teachings – the virgin birth, the preservation of Mary’s hymen during childbirth, the immaculate conception, and the assumption.”

He stopped believing in the “real presence” of the eucharist and could no longer say the creed in good conscience. He questioned everything he’d been taught. “Your life and sexuality are a gift, but since you’re gay, if you act on that gift you’re sinning,” he said. “The god in which I’d been taught to believe was vindictive not loving, a human construct to justify atrocious human behaviour, prejudices, and fears.

“No longer believing in the inspiration of the scriptures, I became a fully-fledged agnostic. Within another few months, I was comfortable saying that I didn’t believe in a god. I was no longer afraid of what people thought of me, of the negative stigma surrounding the word ‘atheist’. I felt free to be a fully realised human being. Thousands of years of canonized fear, loathing, shame, and distrust vanished. I owned being an atheist.”

Rastrelli would say he didn’t “lose” his faith. “I evolved beyond it,” he said. “Having witnessed first-hand the damage that people do in the names of their gods, I’m thankful that I did evolve beyond it. Now I’m free to be who I am. I’ve seen how disgustingly judgmental people can be when armed with their gods. I wouldn’t give my integrity in exchange for the coddled security of priestly life.”

Unlike most atheist clergy, John Shuck, a Presbyterian clergyman in good standing in America, is openly atheistic. He doesn’t believe in the existence of God, the divinity of Christ or the resurrection of Jesus – all of which he regards as useful metaphors created by the human imagination.

Asked how fellow ministers regard him, Shuck said: “Many appreciate what I am doing, as they have many of the same convictions. Others think I represent everything that is wrong with my denomination.”

Shuck rejects the charge of hypocrisy. “I am about the most open person I know with regard to what I believe and don’t believe. I have publicly blogged about this for seven years and preached openly for 20.

“The real charge of hypocrisy should be levelled at those who confuse truth with power; self-appointed gate-keepers of traditional belief who say they are about affirming the truth on one hand, then put up fences of dogma around their cherished beliefs on the other. They are unwilling to look at truth and then threaten with excommunication and loss of employment those who do. That is hypocrisy.”

Shuck does not believe in an afterlife. “The core belief has been, in the words of the catechism, ‘to love God and to enjoy God forever’. If you take the supernaturalism out of that and substitute ‘life’ for ‘God’ and ‘my whole life long’ for ‘forever’ you get the real point of religion.

“It is about how to live a good life. The supernatural elements are excess baggage of an age that is fading away.”

Iain and Kyle – not their real names – are two members of the Clergy Project, both atheist ministers within a mainstream Protestant denomination in Ireland. They envy John Shuck’s “coming out” as an atheist and his congregation’s acceptance. Iain and Kyle say their whole worlds would fall apart if their atheism became known.

“I knew I was an atheist from the early 1990s,” said Iain. “My wife knows. She finds it hard to accept. I don’t look at her while I’m preaching.”

His dilemma is that if he told people, his income would stop immediately. “I don’t think I’d be eligible for a pension. I’d have no job. I’d lose my home,’ he said. He has worked in the church all his life, but finds it increasingly difficult to keep up the pretence. “I don’t see how I can keep going to retirement.”

Iain feels worst about deluding children because he agrees with Richard Dawkins, the biologist and atheist campaigner, that inculcating religious faith in minors is a form of child abuse. “I’d love to stand up and tell my congregation the truth,” he said. “But I don’t have the courage, even though many of them know there is no God. My call is just like anyone else’s, [it’s] total and absolute nonsense – a delusion.’

Kyle says he is torn over his unbelief. He tries to carry out all his religious duties without the supernatural background. Funerals can be especially difficult, however, since he is expected to preach about an afterlife.

Although a Protestant minister, Kyle’s atheism was triggered by Catholic clerical child abuse. “I couldn’t believe a god could permit child abuse. It’s impossible,” he said. “The systematic concealing of it doesn’t get God off the hook. Prayers for the sick are never answered. So for me there’s no way I could believe in God anymore.”

Iain feels trapped and would like to leave the ministry. “I feel guilty. I’m taking their money. I’m living in their house,” he said. But Kyle doesn’t want to leave. “I can influence people for the good as a minister. [The church] is a place where the community gathers and has a sing. We support each other and children are safeguarded against drugs. We don’t take religion too seriously. It’s like inventing our own surreal world.”

Mathew – not his real name – is a Roman Catholic priest affiliated to a diocese in America. He became troubled by the theology that a newborn child carried the stain of original sin and needed baptism.

When he realised he didn’t believe, saying mass became a chore he dreaded.

“I felt like a fraud and wondered how long before someone found me out. I worried that I might slip and reveal my lack of belief,” he said. “I felt sorry for the people who came to mass, which I considered empty and meaningless. I wondered, couldn’t their time be better spent?”

He became disgusted by the theological undertones of the eucharist. “The notion of a god demanding a blood sacrifice – from his own son no less – repelled me. I could not believe in a god who would demand a violent death as reparation for the supposed wrongs of humans.

“The sanctuary’s large crucifix with its bloodied and bruised Jesus became a horrible and disgusting sight. Each morning, as I put on my clerical band collar, it felt like I was putting a heavy metal shackle around my neck. I realised that my doubts about every line in the Creed, including the very existence of God, were not going away, no matter how much I tried. Once I accepted my unbelief, I was not nearly as bothered by it as I had imagined. Unbelief felt natural in a way that religion never had.’

For Patrick Semple, a former Church of Ireland rector and atheist, being an atheist is simply a way of trying to make sense of the mystery around us. “People are genuinely atheist. It’s not a badness or a perversity,” he said.

As a priest Semple accepted doctrines rather than believed them, and was never convinced about life after death. He sees a lot of religious security as a regression to childhood. “I abhor the expression ‘lost the faith’ – it sounds like culpable negligence,” he said. “It was a positive decision that I no longer believed. I realised I was not a Christian agnostic – I was atheist.”

Upon realizing his atheism, Semple talked to his bishop, who was not shocked and simply told him to get back to work. When Semple told another Church of Ireland clergyman of his atheism, his fellow cleric replied: “Join the gang!”

* Joe Armstrong’s documentary ‘From Belief to Unbelief’ can be heard at www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/radio-documentary-from-belief-to-unbelief-joe-armstrong-catholic-priesthood.html

Father Flannery, the Vatican and the Taliban

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Father Tony Flannery was told by the Vatican that he could only resume his priestly ministry if he agreed, amongst other things, that women should never be ordained as priests. In light of the so-called Catholic Schools Week designated for next week 27 January to 3 February, are we to take it that children, especially girls, are required to be taught that they, and any of their gender, can never be priests because they are female? Are ordinary parents, innocently depositing their daughters (and sons) in Catholic schools, happy that unmitigated sexual discrimination under the guise of religious claptrap is being taught to their children? Are people who are capable of thinking for themselves not outraged that nuns, priests and teachers are required to indoctrinate such Stone Age folly in the 21st century? Are ordinary Catholics not outraged at the treatment of Father Flannery by the Vatican? For decades, devout Catholics innocently enrolled their children in Catholic schools not realizing the very real risk of sexual abuse and the cover up of sexual abuse to which they were subjecting their children. How long will it take ordinary Catholics to realize that subjecting their children to the intellectual abuse that comes with being taught such drivel – under pain of excommunication – is every bit as bad as having their children sexually abused?
Father Flannery is a man of good conscience. He represents a regrettably dying breed of priests who were willing to think for themselves and speak their mind rather than being moronic uncritical mouthpieces for the Inquisition. Yes, the Inquisition is alive and well, the thought police, repressing freedom of thought and freedom of expression, and threatening dire consequences for those who don’t submit.
St Peter – insofar as we know anything about him – never said a single word about women being prohibited from ‘ordination’ to the ‘priesthood’. Nor, for that matter, did he ever say a single word about contraception or homosexuality. The man whom the Vatican claims as its first pope wouldn’t have a clue what Rome is on about today, and I expect he’d be staggered at the suggestion that anyone should be ‘excommunicated’ or prohibited from exercising his priesthood because of his belief that women should not be excluded from the priesthood. So, Father Flannery, if they do dismiss you, it says a whack more about them and their thought control and fossilized thinking than it says about you.
St Thomas Aquinas said better to disobey the Pope than not to follow your conscience. The Inquisition within the Catholic Church, no less than the Taliban and Islamist terrorists, cannot be allowed to win. Love casts out fear, and the Inquisition can thrive only on threat and fear. I salute you, Father Flannery.

Overwhelming feedback from my RTE documentary

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback to my documentary From Belief to Unbelief. Here, in no particular order, is an arbitrary selection of just some of the feedback. Sorry if I haven’t included yours hear. I just wanted to give a flavour.

  • ‘Just listened to documentary.  I was knocked out by it.  I was shaken when it was over.  It was a powerful piece of work, no blame, no shame, just fact.’ – BF
  • ‘A five star rating. It is brilliant’ – EM
  • ‘I stumbled across your documentary on the RTE website. Your programme was very evocative, speaking of a time and a mental space that does not exist any more and looking back now can seem unreal. Yet it was a time that went a long way to shaping me (for good and bad) into what I am now.’ JG
  • ‘I thought it was excellent. Very insightful. Interesting people, each in their own way. Couldn’t be critical of the choices made by anyone!’ NC
  • ‘I was truly moved by your radio doc. Thank you. Taken back through time to people, places and even feelings almost forgotten. Actually not forgotten, just dormant! Great job!’ – DM
  • ‘Wonderful!’ – TL
  • ‘Excellent documentary’ – CC
  • ‘Brought back many rich memories. Missed out on how much being a Marist enriched my life’ OC
  • ‘a beautiful documentary, very honest – about yourselves and the Marists. Gentle without being ‘soft’’. ‘You should be very proud as it is exceptional work. Very thoughtful and non-threatening which I appreciate. Exceptional work I must say. Very moving.’ – AM
  • ‘It gave me goose-bumps.  It brought back so many memories – not of the priesthood obviously,  but the rest –  the atmosphere, the Salve Regina, the rules, timetables, the rituals, being told what to think – were all part of my boarding school  experience so it might as well have been a novitiate.’ MO
  • ‘I really liked it! I will forward it my friends, believers and unbelievers alike.’ – CD
  • ‘It’s wonderful, so interesting, so seamlessly constructed and love the special effects. Presume you know it’s one of RTE’s most listened to?’ PO


Richard Dawkins Foundation promotes Joe Armstrong’s documentary

Monday, November 12th, 2012

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has promoted my documentary on its website, and provides a direct link to the RTE Radio 1 website where you can listen to the 40-minute audio story of how three guys who joined the Marist Fathers’ seminary in Dublin in 1980 transitioned through insight, personal crisis, realization and personal decision from devout belief to happy and contented unbelief.

Happy unbeliever

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I’m glad I no longer believe in God. I’m glad I’ve given up that foolishness, that escapism, that childishness. Adults accept the real world as it is: they re-wire their brain if they’ve been thought to believe in gods and leprechauns or the tooth fairy. Now is good. Live it and enjoy it to the full.