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Not for the first time, the mainstream christian churches are expressing concern about religious cults. EAMON McCANN reckons they have a cheek.
Eamonn McCann, 24 Nov 1999
A shocked audience in Dublin has heard that a religious sect is putting intolerable pressure on Irish students. Some of the students have been persuaded to hand over sizable sums from their meagre incomes. Former members of the Dublin Church of Christ told the gathering at Clonliffe College on October 30th that they'd been told by leaders of the sect to "target" students at UCD, Trinity and Dublin City University.
Mairead, a former sect member who, apparently, didn't want her identity disclosed, provided personal testimony as to the sinister and manipulative nature of the fanatical group. She revealed that devotees at Trinity would join together at lunchtimes to pray for the conversion of UCD. (I must say young Christian zealots pitch their ambitions rather low these days. When I was at the nuns, we tried for the conversion of Russia.)
"The student group is one of the harsher groups in the Church", Mairead recounted to the assembly. "It was very performance oriented. The number of visitors you brought to services and the number of baptisms you performed were seen as a measure of your spirituality."
The former Dublin Church of Christ members were speaking at a conference of the inter-Church body, Dialogue, which brings together members of the Catholic and Protestant denominations. The Dublin broadsheets reckoned it deserved decent coverage: the story was carried across four columns on page four of the Irish Times.
None of the reports I read made the point that the Catholic Church and all of the Protestant Churches are themselves Churches of Christ, and that all of them ask their members to cough up cash on a regular basis. True, the Dublin Church of Christ asks for a tenth of members' incomes, which is a lot. But it says it doesn't make this a condition of membership. The practice was known as "tithing" when it was a standard feature of Christianity everywhere. Dublin Church of Christ spokesperson John Partington denied that his group put the people it was proselytising under unfair pressure. "But", he added, "the call of Jesus is to make disciples".
And so it is. "Go forth and multiply", the man himself is said to have said, an injunction which the likes of Eamon Casey and Michael Cleary may have misconstrued but which the Dublin Church of Christ seems to have taken in the spirit in which it has been traditionally taken. How many recruits has the Dublin Church of Christ managed to attract with its high-pressure bamboozlement since its arrival in the city in 1991? Well, total membership has reached "about 80", it seems. So they're advancing at a rate of 10 a year. There'll be10,000 of them in another millennium's time. A hundred thousand years from now they'll be up to a million. Terrifying.
There are only two aspects of the matter worth attention. One is the bizarre arrogance of the mainstream Christian sects in complaining about a tiny handful of loopers doing what they themselves have been doing on a far vaster scale for, oh, almost 2,000 years now.
And, two, the upside-down values of major news organisations which present the silly squeaks of the Clonliffe assembly as if there was something here we should all think about. The Clonliffe gathering was the equivalent of a meeting of Mafiosi calling for vigilance against people parking on double yellow lines. Or, to be more accurate, like a meeting of Mafiosi complaining about people parking on double yellow lines and having their concern solemnly written up in the New York Times.
Wouldn't happen over there of course. Mad as hatters some Americans may be. But not as mad as the mainstream Christians of Ireland.
The well-established fact that the biggest banks in Ireland were up to their eyebrows in criminal tax-evasion, in the process ripping the rest of us off for hundreds of millions, has given rise to a great parade of political moralising. Everywhere we turn, we hear calls for stern measures against the top officials who facilitated the fraud. But nowhere have I seen a call for the most obvious appropriate measure of all.
You drive your van across the border with the tank full of green diesel and if you're caught they confiscate the vehicle. Try to smuggle a consignment of fags in from France in your motor-boat and if you're caught they confiscate the vessle. Buy a pad with the proceeds of a wage snatch and if you're caught they'll confiscate the house.
By the same logic, shouldn't the banks involved in the criminal scams be confiscated? That is to say - to put it in a phrase suitable for chanting - Nationalise the banks! You know it makes sense. But you know, too, it won't be taken up by any Dail party or any interest uncommitted to fundamental change.
The legalised robbers of capitalism and their political and journalistic front-persons are agitated by fear that those among them who have strayed into illegality might provoke opposition to robbery full stop. This is the implicit message of at least ninety percent of coverage of the "golden circle" scandals. n