I voted against the 8th referendum in 1983. I was in the minority and it passed. I was 20 years old and I felt out of touch with my own country. I could not understand how the holy Joe brigade won on that day.
I clearly remember them handing out lapel badges with tiny feet on them, to represent the feet of foetuses. I remember the praying women, bearing their crosses and their rosary beads, marching up and down the central reservation in O’Connell Street, saying the rosary.
I remember the convents being cleared out on the polling day to make sure that nuns who had not been outside their walls in decades were engaged to cast their votes.
Thirty years on the climate has changed in Ireland. The winds from Rome have weakened considerably. They iron hard grip of the church on society has slackened. The hand of the church is liver spotted, wrinkled, veined and atrophied. The church has failed to move with the times and faces dissolution. It is losing control of its two strongest bastions, education and health. Ireland is well on its way to becoming a fully secular nation.
I am not anti-christian. I actually think the Christian church was in its day the greatest force for positive change on the planet. The preaching of a message of peace and love was a giant leap forward from some truly awful religions. The breaking of bread and the drinking of wine as votive rites are much more civilised than chaining virgin girls to rocks, stoning sinners to death or slitting the throats of sheep and goats.
My issue is not so much with Christianity as it is with organised religion. My position is summed up by a speech from the film “Kingdom of Heaven” where the Hospitaller knight says to Balian:
I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.
In summary: Regardless of your intentions, we are what we do.
In the Repeal the 8th campaign we saw, yet again, what the Religions Right actually do. They lie. They cheat. They bully.
These are people who hold themselves up as the model of morality in our society. Their intentions are all good. But their actions are a disgrace. They intentionally distort facts to make their point. Sometimes they lie through omission and they have been caught in outright overt lies. When they are called to account on their lies they employ the tactics of “Deny, Delay, Defend”.
Uniquely in this campaign the social media giants like Facebook and Google decided they would not accept political campaign postings in the lead up to the vote. OK this is anecdotal but I did notice a fall off in “Repeal” material on my social network feeds. On the eve of the election I was still seeing “Vote NO” material. The no campaign exploited every loophole they could find to keep their campaign going. I classify this as cheating.
The bullying was overt throughout the campaign. Removal of Repeal posters. Attacking campaigners in the streets. Toppling their tables. Throwing their leaflets to the ground. Shouting down debaters in public discussion. It was all ugly behaviour and none of it was reflective of what I think of as the Christian ethos.
These are people who took the lesson of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, and use it as a model for how to wage every campaign. They weaponize religion.
They lost this campaign. They lost the same sex marriage referendum. They lost the right to travel referendum. They lost the divorce referendum. But every loss makes them smaller, tighter, closer and more and more fanatical.
Rónán Mullen is the tip of this spear. Elected by my own Seanad constituency. Who, who, who is voting for this Smeagol, this Gollum, this hobgoblin. Out, out, out I say. This must not stand.