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In Dublin young families are inspired by august intellectuals who don’t mince their words

Parents hear talks by David Quinn on the crisis of the family and John Waters on finding religion (and learning to pray on his knees)

By on Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Cardinal Brady described the columnist John Waters as a 'great man' (Photo: IEC2012)

Cardinal Brady described the columnist John Waters as a 'great man' (Photo: IEC2012)

Young parents with several small kids running around their legs are dotted throughout the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). The stadium looks like it is hosting one big school day out – as schoolchildren and watchful teachers are mesmerised by the proceedings. One nine-year-old said to me, “everyone here is so happy”. This encounter with faith will have a direct impact on the standards of RE in Irish schools. In one sacramental preparation programme Jesus in the Eucharist is referred to as “bread man”. Today that will seem an inaccurately silly description to the children now that they are hearing that our beloved Pope asked people during Wednesday’s General Audience to “spiritually unite” themselves with the Christians at the Congress, that the Eucharist is Jesus’s “gift of Himself to us” and “the pulsating heart” of the Church.

I spoke to one young father of four children who gave witness of how the Eucharist healed his crippling depression. His life had been at a standstill until he went for a Youth 2000 weekend retreat where he found Christ’s love in the Eucharist. After two years of seeking the healing graces from the Eucharist, he got married and now has cherubic, blond curly-haired kids. I shared with this young father how attending Youth 2000 prayer groups got me into saying the rosary, which has drawn me into the lives of Jesus and Mary. The young father said that sometimes people challenge him for having had four children, that it’s more acceptable in Ireland to have a family half that size. He doesn’t let it bother him because, he says, “their words don’t get to me. I know the Eucharist is true. I’m here with my wife to bring our kids to Christ.”

Yesterday the Congress was devoted to marriage and the parallel between Christ giving Himself entirely for us in the Eucharist, and that the sacrament of marriage calls husband and wife to give themselves entirely to each other. Too often debate on the family happens in the absence of children. But here there was something wonderfully realistic when the intellectual luminaries spoke about marriage in the presence of many parents who are tired from energetic toddlers and bullied by an intolerant society that sticks its nose into their private affairs. This wasn’t a time for waffle; the speakers had to be sincere to resonate with the hardworking parents present.

David Quinn, who last year was invited over to London by Catholic Voices, where he explained how to argue against gay marriage, gave a feisty talk on the evolution of the Irish family. David didn’t mince his words; “The old norms around family life had to be cast aside in the name of sexual freedom. There has been a move from the time when marriage was the only acceptable form of family to changes in the name of choice and freedom. There was the justifiable removal of the weapon of stigma against unmarried mothers. But sundering all the old norms means that a growing number of adults feel under no obligation to raise their kids together. The culture is that if my personal happiness requires that I leave my wife for someone younger, then so be it. If my personal happiness requires that my girlfriend have an abortion, then so be it. But the big losers are the children who are either aborted or left orphaned by parents who seek their own personal fulfilment above anything else.”

Throughout my upbringing in Ireland, David Quinn was the intrepid journalist who unseated liberal commentators, who learned fast that trying to beat David in an argument was as pointless as trying to pick up mercury with a fork. Why? David takes matters to their full logical conclusion. In the face of prevarications from liberal law-makers, David has the guts to say that the maximisation of sexual immorality means the minimisation of the welfare of children, who must be eliminated in the womb or passed from pillar to post.

If I was edified by David Quinn’s ripostes to secular society, I was touched to my marrow by my time with John Waters. For some hours, I interviewed John about his new book Was It For This? How Ireland Lost The Plot, published in recent weeks by Transworld.

In his new book John compares the obsession with ridding society of the spiritual, to taking a chainsaw to the pole at the centre of a circus. “They think there will be so much room without the big pole, so they hack away at it, not realising that there will be nothing without it.” John does not see religion as separate, but that “religion is part of everything. It’s all there in the first question of the Catechism – who made the world? God made the world. If that is true then there is no reality without religion.”

I mention to John that my favourite prayer is the decade of The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple, and John says that his favourite prayer is the serenity prayer, “it defines for me the dilemma that faces me moment to moment; to accept the things that I cannot change. It defines a line in my own life of what I can do and what only God can do.”

John Waters gave a talk called “Finding My Religion” and the hall was full to bursting. I was listening outside the door of the hall, cheek by jowl with a group of 50 other people who did not fit into the main hall. I saw a tall figure walk in who I recognised as Cardinal Brady. He was looking for a chair, and when I found him one, he closed his eyes and listened hard to John’s conversion story, after which the cardinal said, “ah sher he’s a great man”.

John did not have an easy route to belief in God. He was born to “very devout parents” in the 1950s, in the west of Ireland, but lost his faith in the 70s. He thought he could satisfy his desires in alcohol, but “where I ended up was not what I was promised”. When he was recovering from alcohol abuse, he heard “the God word” a lot in AA. He was invited to pray on his knees, which he first thought was a “horrific idea”, and he could not make his knees bend. Someone suggested he take off his shoes, throw them under the bed and then pray after he had knelt to find his shoes.

John described a very heart-rending moment in his own life when he was beginning to believe more in God, and was caring for his baby daughter Róisín on his own. He put her to sleep in her cot, and watched her fall asleep, but stayed and kept his eyes on her, for fear that anything would happen. He couldn’t leave her side until he had entrusted her to the care of “the One who made her”.

  • Oconnord

    Indeed how intelligent are you if you marry Sinead O’Connor?

  • Oconnord

    Lazarus… you are just like a slave who accepts the rules..

    But you never question the master…. We don’t live like that anymore.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    Ho ho! As you say, you’ve spent a lifetime bolstering up your fantasy notions with faux intellectual waffle.

  • Lazarus

    Hi Daniel! A reply to your ‘
    As you say, you’ve spent a lifetime bolstering up your fantasy notions with faux intellectual waffle’ post below (which has descended into the ‘pillar of letters’ stage.)

    I don’t think I did say that: it wouldn’t be accurate for one thing. I’ve spent most of my life holding what I take to be similar views to you. Fortunately, exposure to people who really cared about ideas and rational argument (both atheists and  theists) made me realize that they really won’t wash. There is, for example, absolutely no point in inventing a story about how Catholics use the Bible and then complaining when it’s pointed out that it is just a story.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    It is not so long ago when a Catholic was expected to believe that the whole of the Bible was a record of real events.

  • Lazarus

    Evidence of this claim?

  • Daniel_Borsell

    Were not all Catholics creationists 200 years ago?

  • Lazarus

    Response to:  ‘Were not all Catholics creationists 200 years ago?’

    a) Depends what you mean by ‘creationists’ (all Catholics believe God created the universe; hardly any believe this was in 4004 BC); b) even if (in some sense) all Catholics were creationists (eg because of the state of scientific ignorance of the time) to show that would be a different matter from showing that they were obliged as Catholics to be. 

  • Lazarus

    Name calling.

    I’ll indulge myself in a similar fashion. Oconnord, you’re just like the saddos at school who do whatever the cool kids do because they’re too pathetic to think for themselves.

    Now we’ve got that off our chests, perhaps we could get back to rational argument.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    Where is your evidence that Catholics did not believe in Noah’s ark 100 years ago?

  • Lazarus

    “Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, the attitude of the Catholic Church on the theory of evolution has slowly been refined. For about 100 years, there was no authoritative pronouncement on the subject.” 

    Admittedly, I’m assuming this is what you mean by ‘believe in Noah’s Ark 100 years ago’. I suspect you’re just throwing these points out without thinking precisely what you’re asking.

    You’d honestly do better to do some serious reading rather than expecting to trip me up on these superficialities.If you could get it out of your head that Catholics believe obvious absurdities (even if you still think we believe things which are ultimately absurd) you’d save yourself some time.

    You might enjoy the latest story of the conversion of an atheist to  Catholicism: 

  • Daniel_Borsell

    So Catholics’ belief, or not, of Bible stories are just superficialities are they? When I was at (Catholic) school in the 1970s Bible stories were told to us as factual events. We children had to work out for ourselves that it was all nonsense.

  • Lazarus

    Hi Daniel

    Getting the distinct impression you’re not really entering into this discussion in good faith! So I shall leave this  as my last comment -you can always chase me onto my blog if you’re really interested in a discussion.

    On your two last points:

    a) ‘Are Catholic beliefs in the Bible superficialities?’ No, but asking straightforward questions about Catholic interpretation of scripture when the answers are easily available elsewhere is a superficial (and futile) exercise.

    b) ‘Bible stories told as factual events.’ All of them? I’m not sure I believe you (there’s room for a great deal of misremembering of subtleties even in a well intentioned child). But if you were, then you were misinformed. I’d recommend the teaching document on the BIble produced by the Bishops in the UK:

    There you’ll find (eg) (p25):”Since the questions asked and answers
    given here concern all people, it is not surprising that certain
    similarities are found between these religious stories of the early
    chapters of Genesis and traditional material from other cultures,
    notably from the ancient East. The discovery of such material led the
    Church to develop her teaching concerning the literary genres found
    in the Bible. It became clear that the material found in these chapters
    of Genesis could not simply be described as historical writing. Though
    they may contain some historical traces, the primary purpose was to
    provide religious teaching” 

    In general, don’t judge religion by what was thought suitable to teach to children: I wouldn’t judge the academic discipline of history by what I was told in Primary school; it’s equally unreasonable to judge Catholicism by  childhood experiences.

  • Oconnord

    Harsh comment in reply to harsh comment. You called me arrogant, I replied that you behave like a slave. The format of the replies means that it’s hard to see both comments, let alone in context.

    But let’s get back to your point. How is it more arrogant to be 99.9% sure god does not exist than it is 99.9% sure he does exist. And that he listens to you and, under the right conditions, appears once a week for your consumption. 

    I make no claims about knowing how the universe came into existence, other than it’s unlikely Zeus, Odin, Jupiter, Baal or Isis created it. You claim not only to have a personal relationship with the “creator”, but that you can know his wishes.

    How am I more arrogant than you or any other religionist who makes those claims?

  • Lazarus

    Not quite how I’d describe the context. I started by accusing accusing ‘Dawkins and his ilk of Promethean arrogance’…but let’s put aside the ‘I said he said’ bit and fasten on the substance.

    First, I don’t think that all atheists are arrogant. Some have become atheists after patient intellectual and moral reflection. They remain open to argument. They realize the intellectual difficulties of their position whilst reckoning these as rather less than those of theism. 

    Second, some theists are arrogant. (For obvious reasons.)

    Now that seems to me the commonsense position: that there is the possibility of arrogance on both sides. But you wish to assert that there is an essential arrogance to orthodox Catholicism: a) because we assert the belief in God; b) because we claim a special relationship with him. 

    Taking a), I’m not sure why the mere assertion of belief (or non-belief) in God is in itself arrogance. But there is, shall we say, at least the breath of arrogance in appearing on a Catholic website, and somehow thinking that within the limits of a combox debate, you can dispose of a highly developed theological and philosophical system such as Catholicism. It suggests the arrogance of someone who believes that their position is clearly and demonstrably correct, and that only someone who is a knave and a fool could disagree. Now, I don’t suggest that it is impossible to enter into these combox debates from a different attitude, only that, insofar as it is actually displayed here, that arrogance is quite apparent in a number of posters.

    Taking b) -and this I take to be your main argument- you suggest that mere belief that I have a personal relationship with God is arrogance. Well, putting aside what you mean by a personal relationship (no voices in the head or special treatment in getting parking places for most Catholics!), it is true that I believe God loves me and cares for me. But I also believe that he loves and cares for you: it is less a personal relationship in the way that I have a personal relationship with my wife and you don’t, but an intimacy of relationship that God shares with all human beings.

    So no special treatment for Lazarus over Oconnord. But the difference is that you have rejected God, preferring to trust in Oconnord. Now, I quite accept (as I said earlier) that this might be done in a spirit of intellectual and moral humility -and if that were the case, I’d simply say keep your heart and your mind open and God will find you in his own time and way. But instead you regularly parade arguments that demonstrate both an extremely thin grasp of what Catholicism actually teaches coupled with an obsessive  zeal to share your insights in this Catholic space. I accept, given the limitations of internet exchange, this rather public bravado may well conceal a sensitive, humble soul seeking the truth in the cut and thrust of public debate: if this is the case, then I apologize for misreading you.

    And just to head off an obvious turn in the argument. I know my own posts are rarely obvious displays of humility. Quite possibly I do suffer from the vice of arrogance (I certainly do suffer from many other vices). But as far as my conscious motivations are concerned, I’ll admit to a certain irritation at turning to a Catholic paper and finding its space invaded by militant atheists determined on witnessing in fairly crass ways:  I don’t think it arrogant to wish to repel boarders. Second, I am genuinely interested in some sort of dialogue with atheists: I find the issues (when we get beyond the usual Dawkinsian slurs) intellectually interesting and I think it the duty of educated Catholics to pursue them in some way because Catholicism (unlike Baal worship etc) has nothing to fear from truth. Exploration should lead to deeper understanding.

    Anyway, I will plead guilty to the vice of immoderate internet use as a displacement activity!