HOW many of us in the long, drawn-out days of this pandemic have turned to things unseen, to prayer, to God?
It’s quite a question in post-Catholicism Ireland.
It takes us from the simple, human need for a belief in something deeper, to the distorted religious history of this country.
After successive revelations about clerical abuse you’d have to wonder how a scriptural message about love and forgiveness became a God of control and condemnation.
It is true too that many of those most willing to see hoax and conspiracy in the pandemic were those of a certain religious belief.
Just as Donald Trump had huge numbers of evangelical and Catholic backers, despite being the most unholy man it was possible to imagine, Covid conspiracy theorists had their tricolours and prayers.
Those who took the State to court, former journalists Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters, are a case in point.
O’Doherty and Waters not only believed fully in Covid as a conspiracy but did so through the strange prism of nationalism and prayer.
O’Doherty’s social media, since suspended for hate speech, combined relentless anti-immigrant ‘patriotism’ with holy pictures and biblical quotes. Waters combined a peculiarly nostalgic nationalism with aggressive Catholicism.
In Waters’ view the Ireland ridden by poverty, emigration, and an all-powerful Church was the very best of places.
Isn’t it strange that the most hostile, the most enthusiastic promoters of hate and prejudice, reference the Catholic God of compassion as their inspiration? The Irish National Party, which had a presence at the Dublin riots against Covid restrictions, is led by Justin Barrett.
Barrett made his name as an ultra-Catholic anti-abortion activist.
He spent some of his Covid lockdown aiming abuse at Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Hazel Chu.
On behalf of God and the Irish Nation, no doubt.
Imagine what vitriol his prayers must contain?
During lockdown my widowed mother was one of those who replaced Mass with the daily RTÉ broadcast from churches around the country.
In the old style, the style so many of us grew up in, her house is adorned with holy pictures.
Hers is a faith devoid of hostility and judgement on others.
Covid has been nothing but cruel yet in amongst all of that there has to have been a reminder to us all to consider meaning and life itself.
To think of something beyond this existence. To think of prayer, perhaps, hope, or God.
As one of the many fallen Catholics I’m not sure I even pray anymore, but I do think of something beyond and those who have gone there before me.
After all, it is quite clear that the Church as a political power, the disfigurement of the Church as an organisation or the criminal abusiveness of individual clerics is a different thing from individual belief.
There is a side of existence that is not economic or political.
The pandemic has surely shown us that.
We still have here the 6 o’clock Angelus before the evening news on television and radio.
Over the years there have been many calls for the Angelus to be abolished as an outdated relic of a vanished age.
Those calls were especially loud as the Celtic Tiger reached its peak.
Perhaps now we can accept that a moment of reflection isn’t a relic but a benefit. A reminder.
To acknowledge the possibility of something else doesn’t makes us allies of the religious right, so incoherent they can see Trump as God’s man, Covid as an evil plot, and Christianity as an excuse for racism.
And how telling is it that many of those most virulent in their rejection of the Catholicism they grew up with replaced it with a new adherence to a range of ‘spiritual’ beliefs?
And how telling is it that another large cohort of conspiracy theorists were these very people?
Over the years I have found it difficult not to notice how many Irish people replaced Catholicism with just another set of beliefs, everything from yoga to homeopathy to reiki.
And I’ve found it difficult not to notice this last year how many of those same people are in the conspiracy camp.
Post-Catholic Ireland has some odd corners. Does it still have God, though? And how many of us have hoped it does?