Elections not a matter of life and death after all

Elections not a matter of life and death after all The late Keelin Shanley on RTE Photo:Irishtimes

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve always thought that religious belief and practice has to make sense on a human level. One of our human characteristics seems to be a need for ritual. Some rituals are faith related, but when the ritual lingers after the faith has been left behind I feel there’s an emptiness.

On Friday’s Leap of Faith (RTÉ1), presenter Michael Comyn spoke to broadcaster Ruth Scott, once a Catholic now a humanist. She says she’s “100% atheist” and takes the scientific view of things, including nature. But then many people of Faith take a scientific view as well, a point that would have been worth making.

After deliberately cutting ties with the Catholic Church, she attached herself to the humanist movement, but again there are people of Faith that are humanist, another point that would have been worth making, so again I felt there was a false dichotomy, an unnecessary polarisation.

She said she missed the rituals of religion, that she missed “the smell of the church”. Comyn asked if she saw no mystery or greater power when she observed nature (they were on a walk by the Dodder river). She didn’t but also wondered “who is to say I have the right answer?”.

On her idea that everything can be broken down to constituent parts, Comyn asked her where the atoms came from – her response was “was that not the Big Bang?” (the theory developed by a Jesuit priest Fr Georges Le Maitre). Now a secular celebrant, she has the rituals, but, I feel, with much of the meaningful content hollowed out.

There followed another interesting interview with a woman who favoured science over religion (false conflict again) – this time Sasha Sagan, daughter of the famous astronomer Carl of TV show Cosmos fame. She also was into ritual, divorced from religion. She came across as quite a pleasant character and seemed to get good fun out of Comyn’s  gently challenging question about her wanting to have her cake and eat it, wanting “the best bits” but not committing to “the whole deal”. Laughingly she accepted that might be “fair criticism”.

Maybe a person of Faith committed to religious rituals would have been a useful addition to the show, but the final guest Nick Spencer of Theos, a UK organisation that stimulates the debate about the place of religion in society, in speaking of the need for religious literacy in the media and society, said that it was important that commentators needed to be religiously literate about rituals if they were going to be discussing them.


You could say that elections, like religion are replete with rituals too – the postering, the door knocking, the voting, the counting, the cheering, the weeping and finally the negotiating.

It was a great few days for political anoraks and I found myself glued to the TV and radio last weekend and early this week, especially to RTE’s Election 2020 (which bumped the TV Mass over to RTÉ2). Commentators reached for the superlatives – even to talk about a Sinn Féin “surge” seemed an understatement. And so there was “seismic”, “tsunami” and the clear winner, “unprecedented”.

By Monday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ1), I was hearing ‘earthquake election’ and sure enough even by then it was looking likely that even if they got together Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael wouldn’t have an overall majority – never thought I’d see that day.

Various media outlets ran the exit poll on voting day, and I thought it was significant that Brexit and immigration did not figure significantly in the reasons for people voting the way they did. I heard no mention of the right to life or the broader liberal agenda, but it seems to me that the media has decided that these issues are off the table at election times, and most other times too.

At the start of RTÉ’s election coverage their staff was hit with yet another high profile bereavement, with the passing, all too young, of journalist, reporter and presenter Keelin Shanley who should have been there in the thick of it.

The obvious emotion shown by newsreaders and presenters (I especially noticed it from Eileen Whelan and Miriam O’Callaghan) reminded us of our common humanity no matter where we stand on fractious political issues.

May Keelin rest in peace and may her family and colleagues find comfort.


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EWTN, Sunday, February 16, 9 pm

Fashion Model Leah Darrow on how modern society’s expectations of women have become detrimental to them.

EWTN, Monday, February 17, 7 am, also Tuesday (night), February 18, 12.30am

The life and faith of Dorothy Day, a Catholic champion of non-violent approaches for social and political reform.

Confronting Holocaust Denial
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David Baddiel explores the multi-faceted nature of Holocaust denial and why it is on the rise.