Giving Ulster Protestants a bad name
Why is political Protestantism dominated by backward and intolerant opinions?
Why does political Protestantism in Northern Ireland persistently give Christianity a bad name? It appears to be dominated by backward, intolerant and bigoted opinions which continue to make the province the laughing stock of the civilised world.
Let's start with their negative and killjoy attitude to sexuality. Why do they persist in casting a dark shadow over one of humanity's greatest pleasures? And why do they reserve their special disdain for homosexuals? In 2007, Iain Paisley Junior told a magazine that gay people 'repulse' him and harm society. In 2008 Iris Robinson told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show that homosexuality was an 'abomination' and made her feel sick and 'nauseous'. She later stated to a parliamentary committee that homosexuals were worse than paedophiles.
Edwin Poots, as Minister of Sport, attacked the formation of a gay rugby team in 2008 on the spurious grounds that he couldn't fathom why people saw the necessity to develop an apartheid in sport. More recently, as Minister of Health, he has refused to follow the rest of the UK in relaxing legislation on the donation of blood by gay men. Poots has stated that he will uphold the ban, despite the fact that Northern Ireland accepts blood from other parts of the kingdom. In February he told the Belfast Telegraph that blood donations from prostitutes are less dangerous than those from gay men.
Then, last month, Lord Maginnis, again on the Nolan Show, called homosexuality 'unnatural and deviant' and a 'rung on the ladder' to bestiality. He stuck by his remarks the next day on the same programme and received a measure of backing from Lord Kilclooney, who said that there was widespread support for Maginnis's opposition to gay marriage.
If it is not homophobia, it is creationism. There is a clear DUP agenda here. In 2007 David Simpson spearheaded a campaign for creationism to be taught in schools, and in Lisburn City Council Paul Givan headed up a proposal to write to secondary schools in the area asking what plans they have to develop teaching material in relation to 'creation, intelligent design and other theories of origin'. Only a couple of schools replied, basically telling the Council to mind its own business, but the DUP is not letting the issue go away.
In 2010 Nelson McCausland wrote to the Ulster Museum asking it to include exhibits reflecting the view that the universe was created only a few thousand years ago. He claimed that such inclusion was a 'human rights issue'. To its credit, the Museum authorities resisted. A museum is, after all, a place for collecting and displaying objects of scientific, historical or artistic value, and what it includes under these categories is a matter for professional experts, not governments or the public for that matter. Factual truths are determined not by numbers of adherents or notions of equality or 'balance', but by evidence.
Yet we now learn that Mervyn Storey successfully pressurised the National Trust to include in its Visitor Centre the Young Earth creationist viewpoint that the Giant's Causeway was formed about 4,500 years ago as a result of Noah's flood. Its audio exhibition states that the 'debate continues', but it is false to claim that there is still such a debate going on over the origins of the Giant's Causeway, which is about 60 million years old. As far as all credible scientists are concerned, the creationist viewpoint has no scientific evidence to back it up, and it is completely wrong to portray it on an equal footing with the genuine scientific account.
If it is not creationism, it is a deep-seated anti-Catholicism that has permeated Protestant politics for centuries and retarded a more healthy and progressive culture. Louis MacNeice referred to the ‘voodoo of the Orange bands’ and it is an apt metaphor for the entire philosophy and ritual of Orangeism. Superstition, ‘blood and thunder’ drum-bangers, clerical witch-doctors casting evil spells on the enemy tribe, burnt papal effigies, sacrifice – or at least the remembrance of sacrifice – are all woven together into a primitive and repulsive brew which is annually inflicted on Ulster society even into the 21st century.
The incident outside St Patrick’s Chapel on the Twelfth, when an Orange band did a war dance and played a sectarian tune, is not exceptional because Orange marches are ultimately all about banners and tunes of songs jeering at or triumphing over their Catholic neighbours. Derry, Aughrim, the Boyne, the Diamond, Garvagh and Dolly’s Brae on banners were all battles or skirmishes which kept the papists firmly in their place.
I am quite sure that the majority of Protestants do not share these poisonous and negative attitudes. But where are the voices of liberal and tolerant Protestant Christianity? Unfortunately, we don't hear them very often, partly because theocratic dinosaurs swamp a sensationalism-seeking media which does not hesitate to give them the oxygen of publicity.
Not all Ulster Protestant Christians are bigots, creationists and gay bashers. If an atheist like myself can acknowledge this truth, then perhaps it is time that the media pursued it more rigorously too.
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