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Sects and Violence
The world is full of well-meaning people making things worse. After the murder of the three Quinn children, well-meaners jammed the lines to phone-in programmes with suggestions, for example, that a covered walk-way should be constructed along the length of the Garvaghy Road
Eamonn McCann, 08 Jul 1998
The world is full of well-meaning people making things worse.
After the murder of the three Quinn children, well-meaners jammed the lines to phone-in programmes with suggestions, for example, that a covered walk-way should be constructed along the length of the Garvaghy Road and various tableaux and artefacts installed so as to create a “memorial gallery” to all the dead of the Troubles, along which the Portadown District of the Orange Order might march every year, contemplating the whys and wherefores of this, that and the other – the sort of suggestion of which the journalistic equivalent is a thought-piece by Andy Pollak (Irish Times).
A more interesting suggestion came in a call to Radio Foyle: wouldn’t it be apt for the Orange Order to erect a memorial to the three children, so as to give permanent expression to the Order’s feelings about their deaths?
What words might most appropriately be carved into a such a monument? Remembering the huge banner displayed at Drumcree advising “Croppies lie down!”, perhaps a chorus of the traditional ballad from whence the phrase comes?
Poor Croppies ye knew that your sentence had come,
When you heard the dread sound of the Protestant drum.
In memory of William we hoisted the flag
And soon the bright Orange put down the Green rag.
Down, down, Croppies lie down.
Ms. Ruth Dudley Edwards would, I am sure, be happy to perform the unveiling ceremony.
My old friend Liz Harries, interviewed on the day after the triple murder, was asked why the Church of Ireland archbishop, Robin Eames, hadn’t commented at that stage on the use of the church, church hall and church grounds at Drumcree as organising centres for the Orange Order’s siege of Garvaghy Road. Liz, once a NUJ militant, is now the Church of Ireland’s press officer.
Eames, she explained uncomfortably, took the line that whatever he’d said would likely have been ignored by the Portadown brethren. What would have been the point?
Which prompts the thought: whatever happened to moral leadership, giving witness, proclaiming the Word?
Eames did stir himself later to remark controversially that the people who had burned the Quinn children to death had acted in an “unChristian” manner.
At the funeral in Rasharkin on July 14th the Catholic bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Walsh, made the same point, referring to “strident, harsh, discordant noises, carrying words of hatred, incitement, recrimination”. These were words, he claimed, “not found in the vocabulary of Christianity”. In the same week’s edition of the Irish Catholic, a leading Vincentian, Fr. Pat Collins, wrote, apropos the North, that “Christian life is rooted in awareness of God’s love . . . It urges us to love one another, including enemies”.
Sentiments of this sort flutter constantly across the airways, the word “Christian” used casually to denote decency and tolerance, “unChristian” for cruelty and hate. Whereas, of course, it makes more sense to reverse the definitions, use “Christian” as a synonym for darkness and evil, “unChristian” to mean kindness and light.
In the week before the Quinn killings, following a seemingly coordinated series of arson attacks on Catholic churches and homes, a leaflet was distributed to the crowds gathered at Drumcree, showing Tony Blair standing alongside a priest in the blackened ruins of a church at Crumlin, Co. Antrim. The headline above the picture was taken from Deuteronomy: “But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their alters (sic), and break down their images and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire”.
Underneath there were quotes from Revelations, with the Catholic Church taken to be the Scarlet Woman and Whore of Babylon . . .” And the Kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning . . . Alleluia . . . ”
The argument advanced in the leaflet was better based on biblical scholarship than anything on offer from Dr. Walsh or Dr. Eames.
From its earliest days, Christianity has sanctioned hatred. In the New Testament itself, in his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul is already denouncing other Christians as “false brothers”, “accursed”, “servants of Satan”, and so forth.
Just as soon as the majority tendency within Christianity – the Catholics – in the fourth century gained the status of Roman Empire State religion, the leaders began using physical force to subjugate, if necessary to eradicate, rival claimants to Christian authenticity. And it has been thus ever since.
Millions of people, literally, in every generation and wherever Christianity has taken root, all over the world, have been disadvantaged, expelled, imprisoned, tortured, burned to death by Christians, most commonly for being members of a different Christian group. “Thus shall ye deal with them . . .”
It is when this Christian hatred is injected into politics that it’s at its most lethal. Absolute certainty and irrational fervour, fed into human conflict, make cruel atrocities inevitable.
The specifics of the Northern situation illustrate the deadly way religion works as it courses through the body politic. Take the people who published the fire-bombing leaflet. A tiny group of demented extremists? Perhaps. But they will have shared with a broad range of individuals one key perception – that the cause of Ulster and the cause of Protestantism are one and the same. Ian Paisley, Willie Thompson MP, “Pastor” Kenny McClinton, Joel Patton and thousands of other unremarkable Northerners take this view.
In their perspective, to accord legitimacy to Nationalism is to give credence to Catholicism. It is to go against God.
Thus religion leads, “naturally”, to an absolute intransigence rarely encountered in secular politics, and to a view of political opponents not just as carriers of disagreeable ideas, but as embodiments of transcendant evil. This is what Ian Paisley had in mind when, 30 years ago, he denounced the mildly reformist Unionist Prime Minister Terence O’Neill as a “blasphemer”.
It isn’t that the killers of the Quinn children will have muttered religious incantations as they hurled their incendiaries through the bedroom window at dead of night. It is that religion provides a moral context in which transient considerations to do with human mortality don’t matter at all, in which murderous hatred can be experienced as righteous anger, and the mindless thug can imagine himself as a crusader for Christ.
Or at least – and it amounts to the same thing – take comfort from the knowledge that he’ll be seen in such a light by elements generally regarded as respectable, even reverend.
This has been the role of religion, and especially of the Christian religion, through the ages. Sectarian murder is a thoroughly Christian phenomenon. If Walsh, Eames and the rest don’t know this, they are ignorant to a degree which stretches credulity of the institutions for which they speak in such authoritative tones. If they know the truth, and yet speak as they do, they are hypocrites and liars.
We need more Christianity in this society like a burning house needs hosing down with kerosene. We need an end to Christian hatred, and people left at last to live their lives in an unChristian spirit of tolerance and love.
And from time to time we need to remind ourselves that the Christian denominations whose leaders prattle of peace are the sects to which the word sectarianism refers.