Denzil McDaniel: You can’t pretend that religion has nothing to do with the conflict that caused so much suffering


In the movie ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ as King Arthur and his knights prepare for battle, the holy pomegranate is brandished and Brother Maynard prays “O Lord, bless this hand grenade so that with it you may blow up your enemies small pieces ”.

Some Christians will, of course, be offended by what they perceive to be a lack of respect for their faith, but the parody sinks into a difficult problem; how can people who believe in a God of love and peace so willingly embrace the conviction that the same God is on their side in conquests that result in horrible massacres?

For centuries, and until today, participants in wars across the world are often convinced that their purpose is holy, so God is with them, but the brutality they justify seems far from the sacred respect for life that ‘they should have.


Thinking back to apartheid South Africa, most of us would be sensitive to the belief of black leaders that God was on the side of the oppressed; but in his day white rulers believed God was on their side to preserve their Christian nation. And let’s not start with the American white supremacists. Or the religious fanatics of the Taliban.

Anyone who believes in God thinks he is on their side, whether it is war or socio-religious issues. In Northern Ireland, religious who dogmatically condemn others cause great suffering to vulnerable people.

A TV documentary aired this week with former President Mary McAleese, titled “With God By Our Side,” explored the role of religion in the Irish conflict in which two branches of Christianity have killed each other for centuries, and posed the question of whether in changing times religion could provide a path to peace.

Personally, I don’t think we really have a complete answer.

Perhaps there wasn’t enough time in a multi-element short to explore it in depth.

Arlene foster

A number of people spoke about their experiences in the unrest, including Arlene Foster interviewed at the church in Aghadrumsee where her father is buried and there were selected snippets of historical background. Ms McAleese also spoke of her own past as a Catholic violently driven from a Protestant area of ​​Belfast by loyalists.

Her taxi driver on the show expressed the view that our recent Troubles were not about religion but about identity, Irish and British.

Sounds like a simplistic story to me.

The context and the progression of the old conflict are multiple and nuanced. Identity is certainly part of it, although it is a larger issue that the program portrays without any mention of Britain’s role in Ireland (English post-Brexit nationalism is not new).


Or the damage caused by the isolation of both sides of the border region by the partition. Or the clash of rich and powerful interests against the poor. But it is certain that religion played a major role, especially a century ago when Protestant unionists used the effective and understandable slogan that “Home Rule is Rome Rule” and a few years ago there was a clip of the Reverend Ian Paisley denouncing “the forces of popery”. by rallying its supporters.

After writing a column last week asking the question “who speaks for Protestants” in which I suggested that there is a disconnect between political unionism and civic Protestantism, there was a debate on Twitter and one person posted, “Why does anyone have to speak out for religious dominance?”

An absolutely right point and hopefully a day will come when politics will be bread and butter issues and not tribal dominated.

But we are there, at least for now even if fortunately things are moving quickly.

I remember once asking a friend the awkward question “What are you?” And his response “I am a Protestant atheist” left me puzzled for a moment. But it shows how tribal we are and how much religion is a factor in that.

If there had been a religious cleavage before Partition, the establishment of a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people in the new Northern Ireland, separate from the special position of the Free State of the Catholic Church has deepened this cleavage because religion on both sides of the border had a negative effect.

The perception that religion does harm saddens true believers who know that it can often overshadow the many good things done in their name for the greater good.

Maybe Arlene Foster, speaking in the McAleese documentary, was right when she said religion was the excuse for conflict.

But let’s not pretend that religion had nothing to do with it.

The documentary included Jonathan Swift’s quote: “In Ireland we have enough religion to make us hate us, but not enough to make us love us. ”

A very different place

It is important to say that Ireland in 2021 is very different from 1921. In the south there has been massive social change with the introduction of divorce, abortion and marriage equality.

I recently heard a senior Irish diplomat describe his country as “ungodly”, not in a derogatory way but to illustrate that the Church’s influence on the country is far removed from De Valera’s time.

The north is also a much more secular society than its image suggests, and young people in particular are among the growing number of people who do not attend church regularly.

That said, there are many people on both sides of the border who still hold strong faith, a belief in God, and the belief that as Christians they should live lives that follow Christ’s standards. Perhaps they no longer have so much confidence in institutions, but their faith in a loving God remains firm.

Question for all faiths

So the question remains for believers, including all faiths; Has your religious, even dogmatic, adherence to its rules and institutions done more harm than good in this country? And how can people of faith contribute to healing in the future?

To quote again from the television documentary, Methodist minister Reverend Harold Good acknowledged that “unfortunately it has taken a long time for institutional churches to realize that they have a very important contribution to make” and he felt that ‘they “had kept away”. .

“I keep saying that if we hadn’t been so quiet at the start and long before the violence broke out, if we hadn’t been so quiet about the injustices we were aware of, we could have make such a difference, ”he said. .

The great American statesman, Abraham Lincoln once said he didn’t care if God was on his side. On the contrary, he said, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

It is a great challenge for people of faith, of which I am a part. Don’t assume that God is on your side and that you can co-opt Him or have His approval for anything you do for your cause.

Be a force for good by making peace with others and creating a better society.


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