Saturday, August 03, 2019

Groundshift – 'politics trumps faith' / 'I'm homesick for the home I've never had'

Things in Northern Ireland are changing fast, so the currently accepted wisdom says. But I disagree. Like with Ernest Hemingway's famous quote about bankruptcy – "slowly, then all at once" – that's actually a better description of what has happened here.

Crawford Gribben's stimulating piece in The Article - 'Behold, the end of Protestant Ulster' (link here) is worth a read, on the Westminster vote which has paved the way for the introduction of same-sex marriage and the legalisation of abortion law which took place just days before The Twelfth.

For the past 30 years or so, I've been back and forward to England and Scotland a few times every year to see family or to travel, and the 'Britishness' that exists there bears no resemblance to that which many in Northern Ireland imagine. But, ill-equipped for change and without the 'tools' to help them contemplate it, many traditionally-minded folk have retreated into their bunkers and have had their heads buried deep in the sand – trying to shut out the noise, and conjuring up in their imaginations some kind of utopian conservative world which had actually died a long time ago if it ever truly existed at all.

Widespread social change – on these two topical issues but also a huge raft of other ones – has been moving along here for decades, slowly and steadily and not attracting headlines. The barbarities of the Troubles took their bloody and psychological toll, as have all sorts of ongoing repercussions from the political and demographic aftermath of those violent, vulnerable years.

As just two simpler examples:

• Throughout the last 20 years of schooling, most of our childrens' friends come from what used to be called 'broken homes', now single parent families, or parents who never committed to a marriage in the first place – or else families with multiple biological parents. That's just how it is. The 'structural' family is a rarity for the forthcoming generation. It's a middle class luxury of a sort.

• A 'good turnout' at an old-fashioned event - whether religious or secular - is interpreted by its organisers as a great success, thereby staving off thoughts of decline for another day. They're good folk but they have no idea of how to grow, adapt, to release control, to do 'succession planning', to bring on a new generation. "Ach it'll do me my day" is a familiar defeatist drone. Or "we've always done it this way". Survival is seen as a mere numbers game, the emphasis on recruitment and 'bums on seats', rather than anything to do with purpose and meaning and relevance. Few ask themselves "Why do we do the things we do?", or "why should anyone care?".

Crawford's article is right on many levels. Old 'identitarian' Protestant Ulster is long-gone. I recall a story of a parade about 10 years ago, where a wee country accordion band was playing hymns, and they were verbally abused by red white and blue clad onlookers – "take your effing hymns to effing Cornmarket". The lazy public and voluntary sector shorthand of PUL (for 'Protestant, Unionist & Loyalist') makes no meaningful sense.

It has been "slowly, then all at once". The ground has shifted on this island. It will not shift back.

But the silver lining is that in doing so, if these shifts create space for a new and better articulation of what the Reformed faith is actually about, freed from perceptions of social 'power', that will be a good thing.


PS – Crawford's article could be considered an equivalent to his 'Catholic Ireland is Dead and Gone' from 2018, (link here).

PPS – American rock band Soul Asylum have a song called Homesick, with the line 'I'm homesick for the home I've never had'. It challenges notions of rose-tinted nostalgia, and also points us towards an eternal future. As CS Lewis famously wrote –
'If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.'