Mary Kenny's return to Christianity has earned her the often bewildered respect of colleagues in the secular world of journalism. She explains how and why a postChristian environment brought her back to the religious traditions which she had rejected.
CONOR CRUISE O'Brien, my fellow countryman, wrote recently in The Observer about the strange experience of living between two similar, yet distinct, cultures — Ireland and Britain.
One society was. in all its outward manifestations, a Christian society — packed churches, plenty of devotion at country crossroads, a publicly maintained moral tone which was officially Christian: this was Ireland.
One society had all the signs of being post Christian; sparsely attended Churches, few, if any, outward signs of public piety. and a moral tone which was icon()elastic — which tended to attack conventional Christian moral values — Britain. And yet there were great paradoxes.
The so-called post Christian society contained within it many thoughtful and committed individuals who were Christian not because of the society they lived in. but in spite of it. The Christian society was not always marked by its charity.
I have lived through this same experience. My own Christianity is rooted in the tradition of Irish Catholicism. But I live in London, in 'a particularly irreligious milieu — the iconoclastic world of the media whose most essential values are antipathetic to Christianity.
You could never thrive as a journalist: I think, by following the precepts of the sermon on the Mount. You would never win yourself a by-line if you took literally the encomium Blessed are the meek.
Can you imagine running a successful gossip column along the guideline that you should never speak ill of your neighbour, or that you should correct your own faults before turning your critical eye in your brothers?
If it was Nietzsche who declared that God was dead it was the media who decided that God's laws were never going to sell a mass circulation newspaper or put up the ratings for TV programme. Malcolm Muggeridge once said — "I realise that if I had been correspondent in the Holy Land at the time of the Lord's ministry, I should have almost certainly have spent my time knocking about with the entourage of Pontius Pilate, finding out what the Sanhedrin was up to, and lurking around Herod's court with the hope of signing up Salome to write her memoires exclusively".
And yet, here again, paradox. It was this very pagan culture which forced me to re-examine and then to re-embrace. my Christian roots.
In an officially Christianny society, so ma things are taken for granted, when in truth nothing can ever be taken for granted where human behaviour is concerned.
In a post Christian society. you have to sweat out everything for yourself, alone, and often painfully. And that. in a way, brings you face to face with the Cross.
But there is one very positive social advantage. too, of everyday life in a post Christian culture. In Ireland. when I was grov.ing up, we divided the world into Catholics and Protestants.
"Fluther. flather. Holy Water. jump on the devil and back again," Protestant children would chant. "Proddy woddy skinnymelinks," we would catcall back.
It will not have escaped your notice that the Irish in Ireland are still at this — and how. Recently, I was in Belfast — a city, which. perversely, I love — where I took part in a phone-in programme on BBC Northern Ireland.
There was a general, very polite discussion. at the beginning. on Christian ethics, until the callers started to come on the line. "This Miss Kenny here," said the first caller, "she can't be a Christian. she is a Roman Catholic. And Roman Catholics are nothing but idolaturs."
The calls continued in this vein. reminding me what I know so well. but am apt to forget: that the Christian society of Ireland is one divided by bitter sectarianism.
Divided by sectarianism more in the North, it is true. than in the South. but some Ulster historians would claim that the sectarianism of Ulster was itself born of the secession of the Republic in 1921; that the bitterness arose because of Partition, historically caused (in their view) by the Republicans. However, that is a political question we must leave aside.
The point I would like to make in this regard is simply that in Britain — perhaps I should say in England, for I have no experience of living in Scotland or Wales — what a pleasure it is to find that Christians in this post Christian society are now almost devoid of the type of sectarianism I described in Belfast.
We are not all ecumenists; I. for one. am not an ecumenist at all: I think we should respect each other's differences and then get on with loving one another.
I know that there are folks in this country who are anti Catholic -.-I have had letters from them but seldom does such an animus come from other Christians. It comes from people who are, by the same token, anti Anglican. anti Methodist. anti Baptist and anti Plymouth Brethren.
Christians in England know that they are defending a common tradition and common values which are so vehemently under attack. In this atmosphere we simply cannot afford to be sectarian. Like the Poles. our watchword must now be Solidarity, even if it is solidarity under the different threads in the common fabric.
It really is extraordinary What one absorbs from the fellowship of other Christians. Catholics have never been particularly worked up about the evolution business. The ranging controversy of Darwin versus Genesis which so rocked the rest of the Christian churches during the latter half of the 19th century left the Catholics almost untouched.
This was for two reasons: ours has not been a faith particularly hooked into the Old Testament: and secondly. Catholicism is a devotional religion which accepts the miraculous.
Yet since I have listened to the Evangelicals and the Baptists talk against the theory of evolution. I am more and more inclined to take their side against the Darwinists. The fundamentalists are pointing to the central importance of scripture and the view that this produces of man — as a unique individual created by God.
The Darwinist view of the universe produces a completely different, and contrary. mentality: that human beings are just one product of a vast, prolific, various and wasteful work of nature, to be controlled. planned and programmed as much as possible so that nature will not always have her way, so that the onward march of civilisation can take place. triumphing over nature.
This realisation came to me when a friend casually said, in a discussion about abortion: "Babies are like acorns. They can always be grown again." No: that particular baby can never. ever be gfown again. because each baby is absolutely unique.
absolutely irreplaceable. It is nbt just a random product of mutation and selection. It is a unique. individual human being created by God.
More and more I feel that our fundamentalist brethren have been defending something tremendously important in refusing the Darwinist life-view.
Some of the facets of Catholicism which are most criticised by those outside the Church are among those most valuable to me.
I can take any number of Italian paintings that liquify at harvest time. Holy Water is, I am quite certain. a marvellous source of protection. Medals, religious objects and saints' relics are despised by rationalists as mere talismen and amulets, but I accept these manifestations of pious feelings as being quite natural.
I have come to'realise that a so-called post Christian society does not mean that the people in it are necessary post Christian. It can mean that the people in it understand with pointed clarity that. in the end, the Kingdom can never really be of this world, and all attempts to create heaven here on earth are doomed. For that Kingdom can ever, only. be within us.