On the Cloyne Report, Somalia, and Anders Behring Breivik

July 26th, 2011

A rebuke, a hidden cause, a massacre – it has been a tough week for God. Or more specifically, for the parties of God.


By admonishing the Vatican in a Dáil speech last Wednesday in the wake of the Cloyne Report, Taoiseach Enda Kenny – a relatively conservative-minded Catholic – has effectively pressed the reset button on the Irish state and its relationship with the Church. The unfathomable master-slave relationship that has existed is now seemingly confined to the dustbin of history and, more importantly, Kenny and the wider Irish body politic do not appear to be seeking a reversal of that relationship, where the state would become master, but rather a separation or divorce. Ireland is dragging itself, kicking and screaming (and I choose this metaphor because that is what the pre-pubescent victims of rape at the hands of priests were no doubt doing), into the twenty-first century. While the state is rapidly losing its economic sovereignty, it is at least finally asserting its social and cultural independence from the vapid, corrupt and at times sadistic institution that is the Holy See.

What is particularly significant about this week’s events in Ireland and the Church is that, like the leaders that went before him, Kenny is aligning himself with middle Ireland – the mass of slightly conservative Catholics that make up a huge proportion of the electorate. The tipping point that made this speech possible is tripartite: firstly, gross crimes had to be undertaken and covered up by the Church; secondly, these had to be disclosed by a non-ecclesiastical party or parties; lastly, and most importantly from a political point of view, it had to be clear that at least half of the voting age Irish people had to be publicly affronted and sickened by what was disclosed. It is a sobering reflection to note that without that last part, it is unlikely that Mr Kenny would have delivered the speech, at least not in such bold language, no matter what his private feelings on the issue. It was not so much that Mr Kenny was being courageous – and we should not doubt that his feelings are sincere – but rather that the Irish people have finally given a government the opportunity to scorn the Vatican without negative opportunity cost.

A final thought; given what has come to light in recent days, months and years, one can only shudder to think what was happening during the centuries where the Church was above all criticism. How many Cloyne Reports were never written? We should not delude ourselves into believing that the Church’s rape-and-torture policy towards children (and, given the protection afforded to rapists, calling it a “policy” is quite legitimate terminology) was solely a twentieth-century phenomenon.


The United Nations has now declared famine in parts of South Somalia, a tardy declaration that has already cost lives. But what is famine? Its effects are more obvious that its causes – the most chilling being children with oversized heads sitting on wasted bodies, waiting to die. But famine is not something that suddenly comes upon a community, nation or region; rather, it is often as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning.

Media coverage and political responses to famine – and Somalia is no different – usually portrays famine as a natural disaster, but natural events are not so much a cause but a catalyst of famine. Drought, flooding or a bad harvest cause famine and its associated starvation and mortality, or so we are told. But that is rarely, if ever, the case. Al-Shabab, the Islamist fundamentalist group that governs – or more correctly, oppresses through a deliberate policy of mass death – large swathes of Somalia, is now blocking the attempts of secular NGOs who are trying to get food and medical supplies to millions of people who are presently at the point of no return.

About two-thirds of the starving are thought to be unreachable due to the presence of Al-Shabab, a theocratic party of God that is now launching a strategy of mass killing by starvation; starving people to death in the name of religion. (Note how much easier it is to kill innocent people when you believe you have God on your side, as the third and final segment of this article will further show). Previous famines also had political as well as natural causes, notably in Ireland, where the British government initiated a policy of negligence as part of its then Empire wasted and fled, but Al-Shabab has exceeded that level of callousness by actually becoming an agent in bringing about famine. While Western donors give aid, as well they should, they ought to know that without dealing with the political and religious problems that have exacerbated or caused this present famine, they will be asked to give more again when the next one comes around, as it inevitably will. The West may want to help Somalia and Africa, but it can’t do so without learning about it. The traditionally great powers have no further use for the continent. It can be left to rot and crash.

A final thought; during all your years of education, from pre-school through to third level, how much time was spent in the classroom or lecture theatre on African matters, save for the imperial scramble of the late nineteenth century? Answer: probably none.


Media coverage of the Utoya massacre in Norway is now four days hence, but few outlets and commentators are addressing one of the most unpalatable truths – Anders Behring Breivik is a Christian and a very conservative one at that. For Christians to disown him is moral cowardice and reveals a glaring double standard: if the 9/11 hijackers represent, at least in some part, a strand of Islam, then why does Mr Breivik not represent Christianity in some form?

It is clear from police and eyewitness statements given by survivors of the ordeal that Mr Breivik would not have stopped shooting at unarmed adolescents with the intention of killing them until police arrived on the island. He would have killed 3,000 people, given the opportunity. Why can it be said, as it has been repeatedly, that Mr Breivik is not a Christian, yet the 9/11 hijackers and their ilk are not only representative of a certain type of Islam – the fundamentalist fascistic type – but representative of Islam as a whole?

A final thought; if Mr Breivik has accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, do Christians by and large believe that he will go to heaven regardless of his actions on Earth? I often think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for people like him to go to.

Given the events of the past week, it is clear that one of the defining arguments of the twenty-first century will be between secularism and the separation of church and state on the one hand and theocracy and fanaticism on the other. One should never miss an opportunity to celebrate the Enlightenment and admonish those who believe that they may do as they wish because a deity commanded them to do so. That is the solace that we may take from the events of the past week.

The Women’s World Cup is Wonderful

July 15th, 2011

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone.

In one of my favourite Simpsons scenes, Lisa is having her future told by a Native American. Her future husband, an over-the-top Hugh Grant-coiffured opulent Englishman, says in reference to Lisa’s position within the Simpson family, “you’re like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.” Lisa is the flower, her family the pot of dirt.

This Sunday will see the United States play Japan in the final of the World Cup of Association Football. Sorry, I should write the women’s World Cup, but that prefix is becoming more and more of an afterthought. High crowds – more than 73,000 at the opening game and an average of more than 25,000 for the tournament – have watched good quality football, played with skill and a degree of endeavour and honesty that makes a mockery of much of what is going on in the men’s game. The tournament has shown us again that football, at its most basic level, is a means to distinguish extraordinary human beings from ordinary ones, and this three-week contest has contained both. It reminds us that even among the fickleness and corruption of FIFA in the twenty-first century, football still retains the ability to release from us our most extreme emotions. Yes, this current World Cup is like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.

Canada lost all three games in the group stage of the tournament, yet one Canadian, captain Christine Sinclair, was still justifiably lauded for one simple act – she broke her nose in the opening 2-1 loss to Germany, but continued to play and scored a superb 25-yard free kick while experiencing immense pain. There are very few players, male or female, who would willingly carry on playing in such circumstances.

Sinclair is one player who managed to succeed immediately after suffering an injury, but an arguably bigger story is that of Japan, a team hoping to bring joy and relief to a nation recently devastated by the double-whammy of an earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese winning goal against Germany and the ensuing ecstasy might do more than any monetary donation or government initiative to help the people of that land recover from desolation.

Media coverage of women’s sport has traditionally focused on femininity, proving time and again that male writers are generally inept at profiling women, particularly successful women. References to how many children they have or lengthy descriptions of their appearance abound, and subjects are described with words that contrast their femaleness with their careers; successful yet female, rather than successful and female. Or just successful. They are portrayed as a curiosity, a tangent to normality, a tributary to the gushing river of “real” news and coverage. There is no reason why we should not notice a subject’s hairstyle, young children or distaste for makeup. The problem starts when we get snaggled on these details, stuck to their femaleness like bubble gum in long hair.

What has been refreshing over the last few weeks is that players and coaches were, to most media outlets, first and foremost just athletes. Japan or the US would both be worthy winners in Frankfurt this Sunday, but – and excuse the litany of clichés that is about to follow – tears of joy and tears of sorrow will be shed, fingernails will be chewed to the quick and heart rates will go up exponentially. There will be winners and losers, but only in one sense. In reality, the real winners are those who took the time to follow the tournament in stadiums, sitting rooms, bars and newspapers or while listening to games on the radio. The tournament has reminded those for whom football is something beyond 22 individuals trying to move a ball into a net that for every Blatter-esque autocrat or ridiculous dive or feigned injury, there are many more moments of honesty and, dare I say it, beauty that are worth celebrating.