Posts Tagged ‘The Last Word’

A Humanist Ash Wednesday?

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Ash Wednesday, 01 March 2017
The Last Word has phoned me and there’s a pre-recorded interview scheduled for 3.45pm today on the theme of Ash Wednesday.
I gave it a bit of thought and rang back agreeing to do the interview.
I feel privileged to have been asked.
I guess it’s exploring a question I’ve been musing on a bit myself. Yes we don’t need the penitence and the guilt.
But it is a day, an opportunity, a moment to ponder our inevitable mortality, the inevitability of our own death.
And it is perhaps an invitation to live this day well.
You never see a hearse with a trailer, so amassing possessions isn’t what life’s about.
Fame is a deceitful and unfulfilling thing.
Winners’ trophies may end up pawned or thrown into skips.
Excessive work can lead to an early grave and an empty home.
Remember man thou art but dust
And unto dust thou shalt return.’
Perhaps it’s forgetfulness of our inevitable mortality that leads us down so many cul de sacs in life.
As a Humanist, I am convinced that this is my one and only life. I do not believe nor do I feel the need to believe in an afterlife.
So Ash Wednesday reminds me, lest I forget it, that I will die.
And I could die before tomorrow’s sunrise, or even before today’s sun has set. Or even before the interview with Matt – partly why I chose to upload this now! The interview might not happen or it might not be broadcast. But now is real. Now I live.
Lessons for me? Don’t worry about tomorrow – I mightn’t even be alive.
Live this moment to the full.
Choose time out to ponder and reflect and to be self-aware.
Be grateful for those who have loved me, and those I love.
Enjoy this moment – it really may be my last one.
Choose moderation rather than excess – there’s enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.
Embrace ‘enough’ as a value and be wary of that seductive word ‘more’
Cultivate the gratitude attitude.
Know thyself. (Socrates)
And do what you are best at for the benefit of others. (Aristotle)

The interview with Matt Cooper was broadcast on Today FM on Ash Wednesday 1 March 2017. Prof Salvador Ryan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History,  St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Joe Armstrong discussed the significance of Ash Wednesday, for Christians and Humanists. It was a fun, lighthearted and harmonious discussion.

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.