Jim O’Brien: Religion still has a lot to offer in a world obsessed with super-wealth


I was speaking to clergy friends last week and was surprised to learn that non-religious weddings now account for between 60-70% of wedding services held in Ireland each year.

his friends did not deplore this development, they merely stated the facts. I was amazed at the change.

Like them, I wouldn’t complain about it — in some ways I would welcome it as symptomatic of the honesty people now have about their relationship or non-relationship with God, the notion of god, the Church and his sacraments.

A few years ago, another businessman told me how a friend of his, a young woman, called him to tell him she was getting married. He immediately pulled out the newspaper, assuming he would be asked to officiate, but she smiled and said, “You can book the day, but you won’t have to do anything but show up and have fun.”

She was getting married in a civil ceremony. “You and I know I’m not a believer,” she said. “I’m not going to stand on an altar with you and pretend I am, even for an hour on my wedding day. However, I wish you were here.

My friend was surprised but a little relieved. He went to the wedding and had a great day, with no pressure or pretension. We all breathe easier when we don’t feel compelled to do things that make us feel uncomfortable.

I’m sure there are plenty of church weddings where the priest and the couple are equally uncomfortable about the whole thing. They all know deeply that much of what is assumed and said does not reflect reality.

The bottom line is solid: two people make a public commitment to each other, and that’s the essence of any wedding ceremony under the sun. For many couples, the adornments of God are a plus.

The decline in religious practice is not a matter of opinion, it is a fact of life in Ireland, especially in recent decades. This decline has been accelerated by the pandemic – those who were clinging to Sunday attendance are not coming back to cling again. It will be interesting to see if baptisms and first communions follow the path of weddings.

While the numbers preoccupy church authorities, the question of who now occupies Christian soil is of greater concern?

It would seem that a rigid fundamentalism across Christian denominations is taking hold of this space, so much so that the term Christian is now associated with bigotry, exclusion, complacency and unwavering certainty. In some places you can add white supremacy to the mix.

Among some of the young people I speak to, anyone who calls themselves a Christian is presumed to belong to the religious right and to be part of a belief system that leaves little room for mystery, wonder, mercy, softness and low tolerance to hazards. to be human.

Maybe it always has been. Most certainly there was a harshness, born of dogmatic certainty and self-righteousness, that permeated a Catholic version of Christianity practiced in this country from times of famine until the recent past.

You could say that was an aberration, but it’s remarkable how, across religions, the do-gooders come to the top, the defenders of the faith are always at the forefront, protecting God from slights.

If they believe in an omnipresent and all-powerful God, why does he/she need such defense and attention? I remember a mentor of mine who once said, “God doesn’t need to be taken over by stone-faced fundamentalists; he is quite capable of taking care of himself”.

Somewhere between the vehemence of the righteous and the general abandonment of religious practice, there is a danger that the fundamental ideas of the great religions of the world will be lost. I am familiar with Christianity and its extraordinary ability to be counter-cultural, to overturn accepted priorities and challenge accepted wisdom.

Echoes of these ideas, such as “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” go against accepted principles of creeping capitalism. The proposition that “he who wants to be the greatest must be the least and the servant of all” is crazy in a world obsessed with super-wealth, executive privileges and celebrity status.

It will be a profound loss if the stimulating clarity of these ideas ceases to permeate our consciousness as the public practice of belief declines.

In a week where the newsfeed has been gorging itself on the chaos at Dublin Airport, we need voices to remind us that there is hunger to be fed, naked to be clothed, sick and in jail to to be visited and homes to be found for families with nowhere to lay their heads.


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