Overcoming Catholic intolerance in college

Youth Space

The growing hostility of Irish universities and colleges to people of faith is becoming hard to ignore. I’m focussing on anti-Catholic hostility, but people practising any faith challenging the conventional wisdom most certainly get their own forms of grief too.

There are well-documented cases, like the vain attempts by UCC students to establish a pro-life society. UCC Student Union is determinedly pro-choice, and how mature and civilised it is can be judged from actions like setting up a giant inflatable penis outside the Honan Chapel and distributing condoms to students leaving Mass. (Three words: hot dogs. Mosque.)

Friends of mine have heard Trinity College students joke about murdering members of the Iona Institute (full disclosure: I’m one of them), and get laughs. I don’t for a second think there’s any intention to actually kill anyone, but similar jokes about Atheist Ireland or the National Women’s Council would receive a somewhat different reception.

Another friend is doing a FETAC course. Her fellow students don’t really know that she’s an orthodox, committed Catholic, and often have a go at “anyone who could believe such repressive rubbish”, to give one of the milder examples.

Calling Catholics homophobes and bigots merely for believing Church teaching is now almost completely socially acceptable.

So what can we do about all this? Well, either:

(a) Take the blue pill, retreat into our collective fortress, chunter to each other about persecution, and build up a victim complex of truly biblical proportions.

(b) Take the red pill and do something, anything else. Salt of the earth and all that.

Red pill it is. Welcome to Earth, collect your salt as you pass Go.

I shall now present to you a ‘List of Handy Tips’! I have always enjoyed such lists, but never before given myself the grave and solemn authority to write one.

Come out

I’m beginning with the reasonable assumption that most Catholic students aren’t actually intolerable. I’m assuming that the mad loons thronging Youth 2000 events singing and clapping; or hanging around in the chaplaincy discussing Aquinas and objective morality; or getting up every Sunday to go to Mass – are not actually the second coming of the repressive elements of 1950s Irish Catholicism.

So how to let people know this? Take a leaf from the gay rights movement’s book.

Gay people have, throughout a lot of (very recent) Irish history, faced stereotyping, prejudice and really terrible assumptions. Overwhelming change for the better happened mostly because people came out as gay.

It’s hard to hate people you know, and as the Irish got to know more gay people, the idea that they were all terrible just became increasingly unsustainable. So just mention being Catholic. Let your faith be the normal part of your life that it is. Be not afraid.

  • Remember that this isn’t actually persecution

I mentioned gay people. They have faced persecution. And still do. Yes, in Dublin universities, it’s probably easier to be gay than Catholic but, in lots of other places, overt, aggressive and even violent homophobia is still rampant.

And as Catholics go, we’re among the luckiest. Look at ISIS. At the Youth 2000 summer festival, whenever whinging about persecution began, my cousin, in the voice of an old-time TV announcer would say “meanwhile, in Iraq…” Or think of Northern Ireland’s recent history.

Christians are being beaten, exiled and murdered for their faith. We can manage student unions.

  • Don’t be afraid to call it out for what it is

The hostility that Irish Catholics get is to the soft end of the global scale – ‘persecution-lite’. But that doesn’t mean it’s any fun having your voice shut out. (At a Trinity College debate I attended called “Can the Catholic Church Be Salvaged?”, there wasn’t one orthodox Catholic speaker, student or guest.)

Avoid labels or counter-insults; just calmly talk to dismissive or derogatory people. Be reasonable – but be firm. And no need to be po-faced either. “What would Jesus do?” has many answers, and one is “produce witty comebacks”.

  • Humility

Over to Leah Libresco, atheist convert and Catholic blogger, in an America magazine interview: “It’s better evangelisation (and better for me) when my non-Catholic friends wind up learning about Catholic teaching when I ask them to help me remember to leave a party in time to pray Night Office without being exhausted, or if I ask them to provide a friendly ear when I’ve had a frustrating day, but emphasise that I also want help looking with compassion at the person who’s irritating me.

“It’s helpful for them to see what the Faith looks like as practiced, rather than as prescribed to outsiders, and it helps me open my life to them and receive their love.”

Go forth, be merry, praise God in word and deed!