Current Affairs

Not religious? Then say so!

No Religion

It’s been announced that the 2011 Irish Census will take place on Sunday, April 10th. The last Census took place in 2006, so it’s fair to say that a lot has changed since then. Most questions on the census form are fairly straightforward, dealing with how many people live in the house, and other such objective data. There is one question I’d like you to give a little more consideration to answering this time around, and that’s question 12: What is your religion? Many people use this section of the form to joke that they are a Jedi (or other similar answers), but when you fill out your form this year, I’d like you to consider ticking the “No Religion” box instead. I think this is important for a number of reasons, and I hope that, by the end of this blog, you may agree with me.

Firstly, you’re not a Jedi. Regrettable as it is, not one of us possesses a lightsaber, and even if the technology did exist, would you really want to deal with all of that preachy “fear the dark side” nonsense just to wave one around? It’s always worth a bit of a giggle to see people filling in things like Jedi, because for many, it’s their opportunity to make fun of organised religion, but this is not just a simple web quiz, or a form being filled in by marketing staff in matching t-shirts on Grafton Street.

Secondly, the data given on the Census isn’t just going to end up in a pie chart on the back page of the Daily Mail. It will be used to make decisions about where public money is spent, what facilities are provided, and how the government should best represent its people. And thirdly, it is one of the few ways in which you can declare yourself not of the church in a country still dominated by religion.

You might think it a little strange, but on examination, it seems that it’s harder to shift the label “Roman Catholic” than it is to shift blood stains. Generally, baptism happens when you are an infant, and are, really, in no fit state to object, and from this point onwards, you are labelled Roman Catholic (or, if you are older, and have decided not to go to church any more, perhaps a lapsed Catholic). Most people would have been reasonably happy to be labelled Roman Catholic or a lapsed Catholic until recently, but since the last census, there has been wave after wave of scandal involving the Church. This led me, along with many others, to reconsider my position as a member of the church. It’s no secret that I don’t believe in god, or religion, and certainly not in the Church, but, in the past, it impacted so little on my life that I didn’t really care. Now, in light of the child abuse scandals, and the way in which the Church dealt with them, I do care, and I don’t want to be considered a Roman Catholic, a lapsed Catholic, or in fact any kind of Catholic. In short, I want out.

Some time ago, a website called CountMeOut was founded, to allow people to formally defect from the church. It allowed you to look up your diocese and identify who you should contact and, if you filled in some details, would even generate the relevant form letters for you to send. Over 200 people defected from the Archdiocese of Dublin alone in 2009, (and a reported 6000+ in total) and over 300 had done so in 2010 before the whole process ground to a halt. This was not due to a resurgence in faith, or a vision of the divine mother – it was due to the Church. In 2010, the church released a revision to canon law, removing all references to the process of formal defection.

The people behind the CountMeOut website have been trying to get church officials to clarify the process for defection, with little success, since late 2010. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty as to the process, and although the Dublin Archdiocese has said they intend to make note of any who have expressed a wish to defect, this is not the same as a removal from the baptismal register. In addition, the following statement from Assistant Chancellor Rev. Fintan Gavin, D.C.L of the Archdiocese of Dublin concerning the changes to canon law seems to reaffirm the notion that once you’re baptised, you’re stuck:

Through baptism a person is born again, becomes a child of God, made like to Christ by an indelible character. He/she is also incorporated into the Church. For Christians that rebirth into Christ and his Church is a permanent, enduring reality. In a natural family, where offspring wish to have nothing to do with their family of origin, the familial bond, nonetheless, endures. It is the same with the family that is the Church of Christ. This is the key and essential difference between baptism and being, for example, a member of an organisation. In the latter case one simply resigns. No bond endures with the organisation after resignation.

The Church regrets but respects the decision of those who choose to leave. But such an act cannot change a fact of faith: that the sacramental bond of belonging to the Body of Christ cannot be lost by any such act. The Church, as a result, will always be there for them. The sacramental bond remains the basis for its care and interest. As a result, no action of the Church can ever give rise to a doubt or give a contrary impression concerning these fundamental tenets of Christian faith.

The formal act of defection related specifically to the right to marry. It was brought in to facilitate the exercise of the right to marry by those members of the faithful, who, due to their estrangement from the Church, were unlikely to observe the prescriptions of canon law that require a specific form of marriage to be undertaken for its validity. In relation to this, it is important to remember that marriage is an institution within society pre-dating its establishment as a Sacrament by Christ.

Baptismal registers record among other things, those acts which affect the exercise of one’s right in the Church. So, for example, it records when one is married in the Church, or is ordained. Formal acts of defection were recorded in baptismal registers for the same reason.

De facto defections, in general, refer to those who leave the Church without any wish to have this recorded. It now also refers — with the abolition of the formal act of defection — to those who wish to have their desire to leave the Church recorded: such acts do not have any legal effect in canon law and so are no longer noted in the baptismal register.

The maintenance of a register that records the desire of those who wish to leave the Church is an initiative of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It is an attempt, in the present circumstance, to acknowledge and respect those who wish to record their desire to leave the Church.

It would be trite to ask what Fr. Gavin thinks of other indelible marks that the church has left on people, but I cannot help but wonder if he would answer.

It might be tempting to say that none of this matters very much, but to ignore the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on Ireland would be foolish. We are one of the few “modern” countries to maintain a blasphemy law, updating ours while most countries were quietly repealing or ignoring theirs. Our national broadcasters are tied to a schedule of religious programming. Our constitution preamble “humbly acknowledges all our obligations to our Divine Lord“, and begins with the words “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred”. We begin, middle, and end with religion.

The Census is a chance for the people of Ireland to paint a true and accurate picture of what life is in this country. Using this picture, our government will decide how best to direct our country, so that we may prosper in the future. I believe that any society sufficiently advanced does not need religion, and I think that it is time we made that clear. In the past, we have seen that silence with regard to church matters does not benefit the people of this country. If you’re religious, feel free to disregard this post, but if you’re not religious, the for god’s sake, say so!

Current Affairs

Alternatives to the Quack Stuff

Today, I sent the following letter to the Irish Times.

Regarding “Alternatives to the Pink Stuff” published on Tuesday, March 8th.

A chara,

I find it disappointing and disturbing to note that a well renowned and regarded paper would publish what amounts to a puff piece promoting a form of quackery that has been debunked countless times. I refer, of course, to the Alternatives To The Pink Stuff article of March 8th. This article is a shameless promotion of homoeopathy, a non-medical treatment that is regarded as quackery by prominent doctors and scientists around the world. Its claims have been proven groundless time and time again.

We are told that, if a child is unwell, Ni Chinneide would treat them with fast-acting belladonna. Homoeopathic belladonna, aka Deadly Nightshade, is proposed as a cure because taking belladonna will give you a fever. Homoeopathic dilutions render the solution so dilute that it contains nothing but water. I’m not certain which is more laughable as a cure, but I am sure that neither will work.

Ni Chinneide herself says that if a child is in danger, one should see a doctor. Surely if her cures were as legitimate as this article makes out, one would have no need of a doctor?

The letter is in response to an article published on March 8th, called “Alternatives to the Pink Stuff“, and while I would have liked to go into more detail in the letter, I was advised that brevity is the watchword if one wishes to be published. Luckily, I impose no such restrictions here.

I was surprised, and more than a little disappointed to see that the Irish Times, a paper I would have previously regarded as being fairly upstanding, had published what amounts to a promotional puff piece, vaunting homoeopathy as a natural, safe, panacea-style alternative to all those nasty medicines that we stuff into our children.

After an opening paragraph which sets the tone for the article, “Applying the homeopathic, holistic principle of treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, she proposed more individualised methods of temperature control, specifically in childhood illnesses.”, we are introduced to Lee Ni Chinneide, a homoeopath working in the “Elbow Room” clinic in Dublin. Sadly, not two paragraphs in, and the contradictions and apologetic tone come to the fore. We are told that Ni Chinneide would treat a fever with “fast acting belladonna”, a delightful oxymoron. Just previously, however, we are warned that “if a child has suspected meningitis or could be in danger, do not delay seeing a doctor”.

Let’s get down to brass tacks here – either your medicine works, or it doesn’t. You can call it whatever you wish – alternative, natural, homoeopathic – but it all falls into one of two categories; the stuff that works, and the stuff that doesn’t. If fast acting belladonna provides fever relief, and the principles of homoeopathy are sound, then why preface your assertion with a “get out” clause? If homoeopathy worked, then you wouldn’t need to see a doctor if your child was in danger, as there are homoeopathic cures for virtually every ailment (including several purported cures for meningitis, such as belladonna, ferrum phos, bryonia, helleborus, and zincum metallicum). Of course, if one were certain that the medicine being administered was safe, and would cure all ills, then why caveat at all? It is an admission that the cures being administered will cure nothing at all, and that when the fast acting belladonna doesn’t take down the child’s fever, you’ll have to seek real medical help.

I’m not saying that everyone should rush to medicate their children at the slightest hint of a runny nose, but common sense should dictate that when your child has fallen more seriously ill, you should treat them with something more potent than water. Croup, diarrhoea, ear infections, and “tummy upsets”, may be common enough childhood illnesses, but that does not mean that they should be disregarded. Croup can cause rapid, and sometimes lethal, narrowing of the airways. Diarrhoea and “tummy upsets”, if prolonged or frequent, can be indicative of allergies or severe digestive problems which, if left untreated, can lead to the child becoming malnourished. Ear infections, left untreated, can result in ruptured eardrums, hearing loss, and bone infections. While these are undoubtedly the worst examples of complications from common illnesses, they are all possible. If a child begins to exhibit symptoms that indicate that he or she is not succeeding in fighting the infection themselves, and a parent chooses to seek homoeopathic treatment in lieu of real medical treatment, those complications become far more likely.

It goes without saying that all of the homoeopathic remedies mentioned in the article are extremely unlikely to cure anything, since they contain no active ingredients, and many of the purported ingredients have not been proven to be effective even when actually included in medication. Perhaps it needs to be said that, when it comes to children, doctor knows best.