Monday, May 19, 2008

Protestant Trash Culture

Let me be clear - I'm not referring to any group of people as "Protestant Trash" in the way that the term "white trash" is used in America to demean poor and working class white people. I'm referring to what is offered to poor and working class Protestants as "culture" - and it is trash. Cheap, valueless, decadent, exploitative, hedonistic - whatever you want to describe it as, it's trash. The people are being fed sweet-tasting candy floss but, culturally, are starving to death.

Paramilitarism and the Troubles have taken their toll on the urban Protestant working class in Northern Ireland. Educational standards in these communities are rock bottom. Hardly anyone in the Shankill Road goes to university any more. But this is a wider malaise than just the red brick streets of our cities and larger towns - it affects Protestants right across the social spectrum. No culture or trash culture - it's not much of a choice is it? As mainstream society gets dumbed down more and more each year, it even affects our churches, it affects our Sunday Schools.

Children are taught cuddly wee Bible stories that make them happy, far removed from any sense of the might and authority of God. David and Goliath? A wee boy with a lucky shot? Sure didn't he take five stones, so he mustn't have been that sure God was going to help him. How many kids know that the real reason he took five stones was because Goliath had four brothers and he was going to get them too?! Scripture is approached like a book of bedtime stories.

As the people's cultural (and theological) horizons are lowered, it becomes more and more difficult to raise them back up. With the whole deep complex well of identity now reduced to little more than wearing the replica shirt of certain football teams, how do we change this downward trend? Do we continue to feed people the same lightweight rubbish that they enjoy, but hope that there'll be some magic solution that will suddenly enrich and transform them? Someone needs to start to turn the tide, to wean them off the stuff that's killing them.


This isn't the answer, but maybe it's a start. Beginning next Monday (26th), the News Letter are publishing a week-long series called "Perspectives on the Covenanters". It feeds into the work I'm doing this year on "The Covenanters in Ulster" with William and Jack as well as Rev Harry Coulter and Rev Robert McCollum. Check out the growing Covenanter blog for yourself (the link is on the left).

I'm glad that the Editor, Darwin Templeton, has opened the pages of his paper to help spread the Covenanter story. There will be articles from me, Harry, Callum Webster of the Christian Institute, Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and the Scottish Covenanters Memorial Association - all leading up to a special Psalm singing event in Carrickfergus the following Saturday evening entitled Psalms Sung in Persecution Times, and an open air Conventicle at Carrickfergus Castle on the Sunday afternoon.

We're advertising the events heavily in the local press around Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey for the next 2 weeks, so even if nobody turns up, at least we're starting down the long hard road of getting positive, engaging and deep cultural messages into the public domain. Beyond Beckham, beyond Healy, beyond Rangers.

This is just a small effort and I hope it captures the interest of some of the News Letter's readership. To use a scriptural analogy, we can't keep feeding people on milk - they're going to have to move onto meat to stand any chance of growing.

(But I still hope Rangers win the treble!)