A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Saturday, June 2, 2012

That good old religion chestnut...

Sorry about the delay in updating the blog folks; have been rather manic in preparing for my move to the UK. This is just a short piece regarding a recent opinion slot I had in the Irish Times, and the ensuing furore over it;  Back in May, I wrote an opinion column which ran in the paper of record under the title "Evil, militant anti-christian secularism is simply a myth" and generated a lot of debate and traffic. For the record,  I suggested the slightly shorter title "The myth of militant secularism" but you can't fault an editor for wanting to raise the ire of the pious more expediently! You can read the original piece here and my argument can be bullet pointed something like this

  • Because secularism allows everyone to practice what they believe in private without mandating for any particular belief, militant secularism is a cynical oxymoron which makes about as much sense as aggressive pacifism or hard line tolerance. 
  • No particular set of religious beliefs should be legislated for above any other; no one should receive special treatment because of their religion and certainly no one should experience discrimination because of it. 
  • Claims by certain religious pundits that their rights are being violated are disingenuous; rather they are outraged at their long entitled position being made equal to those of all faiths.  

The response the piece generated was overwhelmingly positive and I was both humbled by the reception and heartened to see that my sentiments were echoed by the majority of Irish people discussing the piece.In fact, I was greatly buoyed by the fact the vast majority of the discourse on the civil and interesting, reaffirming by belief that Ireland is slowly and surely getting over its destructive relationship with religion.  Predictably though,  it generated some rage from the Roman Catholic faithful of Ireland. Some of the comments on the article are an absolute riot; here's a selection of my favourite vitriol;

Catholic pundit Mary E Fitzgibbon forgoes ball, plays man.

It's too much effort to deconstruct this argument, so not doing so proves it wrong! QED!

Yup. I often skill doing research and pray that radiological measurements will be garnered by divine revelation.

I'm now denigrating the lofty PhD standard to boot

All of this comments were roundly and amusingly savaged by other posters, and I kept out of the debate, in the hope that what I had written was clear enough that people would not need me to constantly explain it to them. Of course, David Quinn of the catholic think tank the Iona institute wrote a piece bemoaning my article, which is kind of a compliment in a strange way. As a direct result of the article, I ended up debating Bishop Nazir - Ali on Pat Kenny's radio show. You can hear the debate here; 

The bishop was a pleasant gentleman, but wrong on a number of issue;

  • He opened with the thoroughly debunked "Winterval" myth, which states that Christmas is being banned in certain areas. This is not in the least bit true
  • He confuses secularism with Stalinism - this isn't in the recording, but in the pre-edit version he uses Stalinist Russia as an example of a secular nation. This is patently false; secularism allows everyone to practice what they believe, Stalinism did not. 
  • He mistakes secularism for a belief, not a principle as I explain to him.

Certainly worth a listen, and hopefully I acquitted myself well. The feedback has been good and I would hope that means I handled it well - I've got quite a face for radio. I even got to meet the infamous David Quinn, who apparently had requested that I not be invited onto the show because I might be flippant. Me ? Flippant ? Never.

Anyway, sorry about delay in posting - new and exciting science material is on the way!

Worth every penny, Mr Kenny....


  1. They were both very good, the article and radio interview: well done!

    I may be cynical in this but part of me thinks that the resulting diatribe of your pieces comes from a sense of internal conflict for some people ("I know he's right in a way, but I've been religious all my life, and now I don't know what to do except bury my head in the sand.").

  2. Thank you! I think you're very right there - the attacks are more borne of a sense of frustration and loyalty rather than a detached critical approach.

  3. I think any defence of an illogical position has to be illogical in turn or else it betrays the holder of said position's knowledge of the attack being valid.

    The idea of "totalitarian humanism" is hillarious in it's blatantly misunderstood use here. I can just imagine you sending around the belief squads to ensure that people are continuing to have freedom of choice and that they're damn well liking it. You're the purveyor of it, you see. Can't get it anywhere else.

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