Category Archives: religion

I’m talking about religion, so if you’re easily offended, look away now

In Ireland today there were jubilations and probably quite a few sore heads from last night’s party. Same-sex marriage was voted in by 62% of the people, with a massive turnout of 60%, voters coming home from the UK and even further afield to make their voices heard and drag Ireland into the twenty-first century as a country where gay people are just like other people – entitled to love and announce their love in public.

In Ireland today there were also Confirmations and First Holy Communions – lots of families celebrating traditional rites of passage for their children with parties and lunches and dinners and posh frocks. In the 2011 census, 84.2% of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholic, so I’m talking about a lot of people, not one or two.

Statue of Mary above Irish road signs

Not my photo (click for source)

This means, unsurprisingly, that many people who are bringing their children up in the Catholic faith also voted for gay marriage. A lot of them probably didn’t even think twice about their Yes vote: it was a no-brainer. That might be a bit hard for the rest of the world, and especially others of the Catholic faith, to understand, though.

When I came to the US I was still a card-carrying, Mass-going Catholic. But I discovered that the Church in America was different from the Church in Ireland. I didn’t like it so much. It wasn’t so tolerant. It seemed to think its members should keep all its rules, not just the ones they liked the sound of. It didn’t just let you brush under the carpet the things you disagreed with. It implied, in fact, that if you didn’t want to do Catholicism the way it was intended, the way the Pope said, then you were welcome to go off and be something else instead. A Lutheran, a Methodist, an Anglican, a Unitarian, even. The Unitarians take everyone, even atheists.

So I stopped going to Mass, because things like the plaque outside the church saying we should pray for babies who died from abortions offended my sensibilities. I didn’t agree with everything – I never had; but in Ireland that didn’t really matter, they were always happy to have you. In Ireland my churchgoing was motivated by the comfort of ritual and tradition, but I wasn’t going to show up every Sunday just to be made feel guilty or to be pissed off by all the things I disagreed with that the US Catholic Church seemed determined to throw in my face.

Some time after that I sort of became an atheist, so maybe it had been coming all along.

My point is that the Irish in Ireland for the most part see no contradiction, no difficulty with the fact that on Friday they voted to let gay people get married – in civil ceremonies of course, not in the church – and on Saturday they went to Mass and watched their kids receive a sacrament, helping them make promises to honour the laws of the Church. Even though the Catholic Church officially views homosexuality as disordered and gay sex as contrary to the natural law. It cannot possibly condone gay marriage.

I don’t think the Church in Ireland is in crisis, exactly. The number of people who continue to identify as Catholic shows that. But what they mean is not, perhaps, what the Church might think they mean. They’re cultural Catholics, the way many Jewish people are non-orthodox. (If this is a terrible, awful, insulting, heretical parallel to draw, I apologise. I don’t mean it that way.)

In Ireland, something can be two things at once. It’s one of the beauties of the place. You can have two opposing viewpoints and vehemently believe in both of them. You can be a devout Catholic and also support – no, more than that, be thrilled to tears for – the cause of same-sex marriage. It’s okay.

YES - Thank you


As always when I write about religion, this is just my opinion. I have no intention of disrespecting anyone’s beliefs.

Photo credit: Thesis statues via photopin (license)

Atheist children and deep thoughts about George Michael

I have to admit it’s nice to live in a secular country where I can get stuff done on Good Friday instead of hiding out being bugged by the children (or going to an interminable stations of the cross service, which we would obviously never dream of doing with the children even if we were still church-going Catholics). Today we went to the thrift store, went out to lunch (what I saved on baseball pants I spent on a high-class fish burger), popped into the library, and finally got some vitals at the supermarket, including a bottle of red for dinner. Catch anyone doing that on Good Friday in Ireland.

The children are on spring break, as of yesterday afternoon. That’s why all this productivity is notable, because they were with me. These days, when I’m so hedonistically child-free for six hours daily from Monday to Friday, I can usually do most of those things without either of them cramping my style. Though I suppose lunch wouldn’t have been so much fun without my two french-fry munchers, who were very good while I insisted on telling them why fish was traditional for this particular day of the year.

It’s so funny raising atheists. I mean, “sin” was a new word to them very recently, that needed to be explained, all theoretically, of course. I love that, I can’t lie. (That would be a sin, after all.) How will they do without all that vital Catholic guilt weighing them down? It’s going to be interesting to find out.

I had this epiphany about George Michael’s lyrics on our way home from New York as we delved our iPod’s back catalogue for some good 80s/90s road-trip music. There was George writing all these songs and making videos with beautiful women in them, and there we all were, us girls, imagining that George wanted to be our lover – and all the time he was probably having a great time thinking what eejits we were because every single song was about gay relationships. Of course. Which are just the same as straight ones in so many ways. Very subversive. Anarchic, practically.

Happy Easter. I changed my header for you – more seasonal, don’t you think?

PInk fuzzy blossoms

More of the same


Praise cheeses

I’ve spent the past few days layered in tracksuit bottoms and wrapped in blankets, mainlining herbal tea and being completely uninterested in baked goods. Yesterday I suddenly felt that muffins were missing from my life and this morning I actually took an interest in what I was wearing – I’m better! I have the zeal of the newly converted: everything is wonderful, even the feckin’ snow and the two-hour-delay AGAIN and the massive mess of my house; because I am whole once again. I was certain I was dying of consumption or ebola (thanks Ciara) or possibly a relapse of Lyme disease even though I took all the antibiotics last autumn, but it turns out it was just a virus and lo, my health is returned to me and I am victorious and also somewhat sheepish about having been, as usual, such a melodramatic hypochondriac.

Saturday was Valentine’s day, and the children gave us many cards, after an unforeseen uptick in crafting, cutting, glueing, drawing, and generally spreading paper around the house. I had to quickly throw together a card for Mabel, who was feeling hard done by that she’d made all these cards for other people but nobody had done one for her, so I made a quick one for B too, who had bought a lovely loaf of apple cinnamon bread on his way home from his run that morning, so everyone was happy and that was the extent of our marital celebrations of the auspicious date. We’re such diehard romantics, dontcha know.

Mabel gave me a note that said “You look as good as cookies smell”, which was just the loveliest sentiment. I was delighted. Then she gave me this, saying “You used to go to church so I thought you’d like one.” I was lost for words.

Pink paper crucifix with "Jeesis" written on it.

Because, as a friend said, nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like Jeesis on a cross.


Conversations with Mabel

Me: What’s going on with the soap, Mabel? Why is it all over the sink? Is there a problem with it?
Her: The problem is that you had me at the exact wrong time.
Me: Oh. Really.
Her: Yes. If you’d had me when you had Dash, I’d be 18 by now.
Me: No, you’d be seven.
Her: Well if you had me when you were born, I’d be 18 by now. 


Mabel: I hope Santa knows that I want infinity toys and things I like for Christmas.
Me, prosaically: Hope so. 


Monologue while playing: 

“Sweetie, how could you have done that? You’re just a horse.
Oh, there’s the phone.
You’re a sapling, just a sprout.” [This is a line from a song in Tangled, I belatedly realised.]
“The next morning, she said …”
“Neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh
Neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh
Neigh neigh neigh”
“Sweetie, you’re going in time out, but I love you. It’s dangerous. Think about it. If you did that, you would drown. And you’d never come back to life.”
Sings: “I would never/ Do that ag-ainnn”
[This must be a musical.]


– You have to do what I want.
– Why?
– Because I’m the smallest and I complain more.


“On the contrary” (repeated, out of context, all afternoon)


– Why is Christmas so important, anyway?
– Well, because it’s remembering when baby Jesus was born. He was pretty important to a lot of people.
– Why don’t we remember when Heracles was born?
– …
He was half god.

I knew that Greek mythology would come back to haunt me.

Mabel painting on the deck


Yesterday I had to leave the house at 3.00 to get Dash from school, as usual. The new pope was due to be announced and I had the tv on, but even though I waited – “Come on, it’s two minutes past, where is he?” – I had to leave without finding out who it was.

Not that I even knew who the contenders were. Dougal wasn’t one of them, neither was Grumpy Cat, and they were the only possibilities my Facebook feed had informed me of in the past weeks; but suspense is suspense and the Vatican knows how to play up a theatrical moment. I asked my friend-and-neighbour, as we bumped into her on the way up the road, if she knew, and we reminisced about past popes, as you do.

“When Ratzinger was elected I was teaching middle school…” she started to tell me.

Hang on. What? But she was a teacher a lifetime ago, and Ratzinger is almost new. I know it’s a lifetime ago because her kids are the same age as mine, and she taught before they were born. I was … wait, I was in southmost Texas, so it was my kids’ lifetimes ago too, but I feel like the election of the last pope is still a pretty recent event because I blogged about it.

Which just goes to show that I’ve been blathering on here for a long time. For more than a whole pope, you could say, using the ancient and irregular unit of measurement.

Everyone’s saying – where “everyone” is the people I know who might discuss these things – that they hope this pope is more open to change and more forward-looking and more willing to let in tiny things like, say contraception or women priests to the Catholic church. I said it myself yesterday.

But I’ve changed my mind.

The thing is, if the Catholic church did all those things that I and many other Catholics and ex-Catholics want it to, things like accepting contraception, and considering married clergy or even women priests, and acknowledging that it’s okay to be gay (not even touching on the more controversial topics like abortion and euthanasia), it wouldn’t be the Catholic church any more. So I think I actually agree with what Benedict said about wanting a “smaller, purer church.”

If all the people who genuinely disagree with the church’s teachings but still wish to participate in organized religion voted with their feet and left, heading instead for some more inclusive and accepting place (Anglicanism is not a huge stretch), the church would be much smaller – and perhaps have fewer resources and therefore less influence.

So many people stay in the church for the sake of tradition: because they were raised that way and it’s what they know, and they like the warm familiarity of the hymns and the responses and doing what they always did at Christmas and Easter. Maybe because your mother would be devastated if you didn’t, because you’ve never heard of anyone moving church – sure one’s as good as another, even because your in-laws wanted to know when the party was when you had the first baby, so you had a christening even though you hadn’t been to mass in years, and things just snowballed from there.

But unless you’re particularly attached to the other things that only come with Catholicism – transubstantiation and venerating Mary and the saints are all I can think of right now – maybe it’s time to move on. My mother was never a big fan of “a la carte” Catholics who take what they like and ignore the rest, and I’m starting to come around to her opinion, albeit from the opposite direction.

I know many people talk about working for change from within, which is laudable indeed. But the Church doesn’t want to be changed. The Church would rather you left, actually, if you want things like equality and contraception. God is God, and I’m firmly convinced that he/she/it doesn’t care what religion you adhere to and whose rules you follow so long as they’re not hurting anyone else.

Then again, I’m an atheist 85% of the time, so you can feel free to disregard my opinions on God altogether.

Disclaimer: As always when I talk about religion, I don’t wish to offend anyone and absolutely acknowledge your right to believe whatever you want so long as you respect everyone else’s point of view too. The flying spaghetti monster endorses this post.

The Irish news

My American readers might be blissfully unaware of any brouhahas going on in European circles, so I feel it’s my duty as one more connected with things happening on the other side of the Atlantic to update you every now and then.

Thing is, it turned out a few weeks ago that some beefburgers for sale in an Irish supermarket were not all beef. In fact, they were as much as 30% horse. Everyone choked on their breakfast sausages and vegetarians all over the country had a quiet chuckle. The rest of Europe thought we were all big gombeen eejits for not realising we were eating the geegees – until it turned out that horsemeat (and possibly donkey) was being substituted for beef in frozen lasagnes and ready meals sold all over Europe, and in fact the Irish were the cleverclogs who had uncovered these horrible shenanigans, which are starting to look like a Sopranos-style scam of the highest order, lining the pockets of some very crafty somebodys somewhere. Probably somewhere on a beach in the Bahamas.

I’m on Twitter these days (follow me! there’s a button over there ->), and it’s interesting to see how much more immediate and reactive it seems to be than Facebook. There were suddenly a lot of tweets about people being so hungry they could eat a horse.

Meanwhile, of course, the Pope resigned. That was news everywhere, and there were plenty of memes going round Facebook about how he was giving up the papacy for Lent and how the Queen thought he was a big ol’ wuss for throwing in the towel. The Irish meme brigade were out in force with Dougal from Father Ted; because when you’ve a national cultural icon that’s suddenly relevant (sort of) to global news, you photoshop the heck out of that.


If you don’t know what Father Ted is, you haven’t been paying attention. Let’s just say it’s spawned more catchphrases for the Irish population than Friends, Seinfeld, and Frasier put together.

Agnostic bible studies

Raising your children to be respectful agnostics is hard work, you know.

Okay, so we don’t have to get out of the house in time for Mass on Sundays. Nobody has to keep their good clothes clean for church. I won’t have to budget for the big bucks some people will be shelling out for First Holy Communion dresses in a few year’s time. But there’s a lot of explaining.

When Dash was born, one of B’s aunts sent us a very nice Usborne edition Children’s bible, with the explanation that she knew we were pretty religious. This was interesting, and also, clearly, not actually true, though I suppose we both had been at some point in the past, and she had attended our church wedding, so she wasn’t being unreasonable. But by then we were busy not baptizing our firstborn into the Catholic – or any – Church, so we looked at it with some degree of distaste.

It’s sat on the bookshelf ever since, because it does have lovely colourful illustrations. The only other book about God that we have is a really beautiful nativity story, with raggedy-winged angels in big boots, and text that’s all but incomprehensible to the children, as it comes straight from King James. I like to read it to them at Christmas just for the poetry of the words, and explain the pictures in my own way.

So one day last week, Dash pulled the children’s bible off the shelf and asked to read some stories from it. He’s old enough to understand much more now than when we first talked about the concept of God – God as a type of superhero, God as possible fact and possible fiction, God as putative but not necessary creator of everything. So I told him that most of what was in the first half of the book – the Old Testament – was probably not true, or was what people had made up from old, old stories; while what was in the second half had more weight of fact and provability behind it to the extent that we know Jesus was a man who did exist and who was put to death by the authorities because they didn’t like that he was stirring up trouble and trying to make change among the poor people.

He and Mabel enjoyed reading the stories of creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah’s ark; and then some from when Jesus was a baby and a young boy, like when he was lost and they found him preaching in the temple to the elders. We didn’t go as far as his death, but I said we’d read it nearer to Easter.

I’m presenting the stories, especially the Genesis ones, as just that: stories. I have told the children that some people believe that they’re absolutely true, and I’ve also told them that – unlike with God, where everyone gets to make up their own mind – those people are wrong when they believe it. Science is not an option, it’s plain fact, by definition. I don’t want them to disrespect anyone’s beliefs, but I can’t in good conscience tell them that when people choose to believe that dinosaurs walked the earth with man, or that the seas were created in one fell swoop on a Tuesday, or that the first woman was made from the rib of the first man, that it’s okay and they can believe that too if they want to. It’s not.

Creationism is not an issue in Irish schools. Partly, I think, it’s because evolution isn’t anywhere on the curriculum – or at least, it wasn’t on mine anywhere – but also because the average Irish Catholic has no difficulty with the concept of metaphor. We are happy to take God or leave him, and simultaneously understand that the earth was created over many millennia yada yada fish, monkeys, apes, humans.

So I’m happy to keep reading the bible with my children, and answer their questions as well as I can, and try to help them understand that these stories are good to know, just as much as knowing their fairy tales and their nursery rhymes, because they’re part of the fabric of our culture and our history, and because they often come up in pub quizzes. Beyond that, it’s up to them.

(I hope I don’t have to put a disclaimer here about how everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs and I don’t wish to offend anyone with this blog post. I would be quite surprised if any reader of mine is a die-hard Creationist, but if you’re out there, I’m sorry for saying you’re wrong. You are, but if I was having a conversation with you I would be polite and not mention it, and do my best to respect the other tenets of your faith.)

Spice of

The existence of lesbians is giving my mother a crisis of faith. Apparently.

She said that the news at lunchtime today was all about lesbian weddings in Ireland.
“Where were all the lesbians when I was growing up?” she asked me. “None of the girls at school were, or in the bank [where she worked before she got married], or on the road where I lived. Where did they all come from?”
“Well, they weren’t invented in the last five years, Mother. They’ve always been around. People just didn’t talk about it in those days.”
“But I don’t understand what God was thinking about. Why did he make them?”
I decided not to tell her that I can’t answer that because I tripped and fell into a vat of atheism.
“Maybe he just likes variety.”

Electric avenue

Boom, boom, boom, Mister Brown is a wonder. Boom, boom, boom, Mister Brown makes thunder.

Right now it’s lashing rain and crashing thunder and if Mabel wakes up from this unaccustomed early night – acquired only at great personal expense due to a total lack of napping – I will be most upset with Thor, or whoever it is that’s in charge up there.

Monkey has been hearing about Greek myths again lately – he was talking about how people believe in God the other day, except he kept saying “gods” instead. I didn’t think it necessary to correct him. There’s not much point saying, “Well, it’s God that we don’t know exists. There definitely aren’t gods, that’s just wrong.”

Oh. There goes the electricity. That was predictable. Time to locate the torches (flashlights, I mean; don’t be visualising us going around brandishing giant flaming branches or anything) just in case. How am I going to get my coffee now, I ask you? I shouldn’t even open the fridge to have milk with my cookie.

Seasonally appropriate musings

On Friday we went to a playdate, and I brought gingerbread muffins, because chocolate chips seemed inappropriate for Good Friday. I decided gingerbread, while not exactly redolent of repentance, was just that bit more sombre.

This year, with Easter Sunday falling handily on Monkey’s fifth birthday, any quibbling about bunnies that may or may not leave gifts for other children or demands for luridly coloured marshmallow birdies have been pushed far out of the way by considerations like cake and ice cream and cupcakes and tomorrow’s party. I’m pretty sure any notion Monkey may have had that there’s anything else going on this weekend has been expunged from his memory. We were going to an egg hunt yesterday morning, but it was rained off.

I think it’s at this time of year, even more than at Christmas, that I miss the pomp and circumstance of church. Once again, I puzzle over how to mark the special times of the calendar for my children without reducing everything to a present-grab or a frenzy of candy and chocolate and Red 40. I’d almost like to bring them to church, except that at this age they wouldn’t last five minutes in the quiet alien environment, and anyway, it feels hypocritical. Easter Sunday is the most important Sunday of the year to the Church, and the priest always used to issue a special welcome to anyone who wouldn’t normally be there (mind you, he’d say that at Christmas too). But even if I just crept in on my own to sit at the back and soak up the atmosphere or listen to the music or whatever I’d be there for, I imagine I’d feel either to a greater or lesser degree like an interloper and a hypocrite. I know they’re all for the return of the lost sheep, but maybe not the return and immediate departure again for another year or three.

I do believe that the world works in mysterious ways, whether God is involved or not.

I do believe that there are far more amazing things than we can fathom on heaven and earth, even if I don’t necessarily believe in Heaven.

I do believe above all that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us, regardless of irrelevant details such as race, colour, creed, or sexual orientation.

And I definitely believe that my gorgeous family is a gift, a privilege and a blessing, though couldn’t say whether it comes from God or karma or the amazing random universe. In a way, it’s all the same thing, so it doesn’t matter.

Maybe we’ll just blast Handel’s Messiah on the iPod every Easter and leave it at that.