Irish Catholics have to work hard to make God visible again, David Quinn tells Michael Kelly
For almost 25 years, David Quinn has been a thorn in the side of the liberal establishment both within the Church and in wider society. As Director of The Iona Institute think-tank and a former Editor and columnist with The Irish Catholic he has often been a solitary voice.
His stubborn refusal to bow to what he sees as groupthink have won him both admirers and critics. Now, he has just published some of his selected writings in a provocative new book entitled How We Killed God and other tales of Modern Ireland. From abortion and same-sex marriage to the war in Iraq and the horror of clerical sexual abuse, David tackles some of the thorniest issues in contemporary Ireland.
The title is apt and speaks to Mr Quinn’s belief that God has been banished from both private and public life as “a relic of a more primitive age”.
“Official Ireland has banished him from view almost completely. Many people have done the same thing in their own lives and for the same reasons. God became for them a symbol of the word ‘no’ and people don’t want to hear that word in their lives,” he says.
“Many others who still believe in God and want him to be part of their lives want to reduce him to the role of a servant of their wishes. He’s good to turn to when you’re in trouble, but he’s basically there to smooth the path for you, to affirm you and give you a pat on the back for your efforts. He is not there to challenge you to greater things, never mind be a judge.”
It was Nietzsche who told of a madman who ran through the town saying, ‘God is dead and we have killed him’. For David this ‘we’ includes the Church itself sometimes.
“The Church could be tremendously authoritarian. If God in many
people’s minds represents the word ‘no’, it’s because the Church has often presented him that way. And this is without even mentioning the hugely harmful effects of the scandals.”
He thinks that the disaster for the Church, and for society, is that when people think of the word ‘Church’, they think of the institution, of the bishops and the priests and the religious. “This would be a bit like thinking of the FAI when you think of soccer. They don’t think of Jesus and all the people making a genuine effort to follow him,” he says.
“So, the Church has also helped to ‘kill’ God and eliminate him from view. Except you can’t really ‘kill’ God, of course, you can only pretend he doesn’t exist and that he doesn’t matter.”
David believes that “the task before all Christians now is to make him visible again.”
One thing that belief in God sustains is the belief that we are all created equal in dignity and moral worth, and David is not convinced this can survive the ‘death’ of God over the long term. “Evolution on its own suggests the opposite; that we are radically unequal. Many of the critics of Christianity believe we are of equal dignity and moral worth without being able to give this a proper philosophical justifcation. They just assume it, without realising they assume it because 2,000 years of Christianity has made it seem self-evident. It is not self-evident at all.”
In his more than 20 years as one of Ireland’s most controversial newspaper columnists, David has been charting the marginalisation of God and religion in Irish life. He has been a ready champion for causes that he is passionate about and has been willing to step forward to put an argument where others have feared to tread.
In the unreal world of social media, Mr Quinn is regularly subject to online tirades of abuse that would leave a lesser man shaken. In the political world, he is a formidable opponent. His strategising around key issues and his sheer ability to make a logical argument make him a voice that his detractors cannot easily dismiss.
While he would be seen as one of the staunchest defenders of Catholicism in Ireland, he has not been shy about denouncing corruption in the Church where it has been exposed. When it came to the clerical abuse crisis, he was one of the first commentators out of the traps to insist that the Church must
listen to those who have suffered and work to bring healing and compensation for the pain caused. He went so far as to call for heads to roll when senior prelates were shown to have been lax in their handling of abuse allegations.
‘Big deal’, some might say. But, from one of the more-respected voices speaking from within the Catholic tradition, Quinn’s interventions were a big deal.
Does David ever feel disheartened by some of the criticism he receives? It’s water off a duck’s back. “Let’s not exaggerate,” he laughs, “most people have never heard of me. I’m unpopular with people who don’t like the Church. On the other hand, I get a lot of emails of support and phone calls of support and people sometimes stop me in the street and say, ‘well done,’
or ‘keep up the good work’.
“When you stand up for something you will attract praise and criticism. Obviously, I go against the current secular consensus by and large, so I’m not going to win much support in fashionable quarters. So be it,” he says.
How We Killed God and other tales of modern Ireland is published by Currach Press and available in all good bookshops and www.currach.ie