July 02, 2015

Conor Cruise O'Brien - The church and school helps to encourage, exalt and extend tribal-sectarian self-righteousness

Cartoon of Conor Cruise O'Brien
[UPDATE - John Hume wrote in The Irish Times, May 18 1964, "Bigotry and a fixation about religious divisions are the first thing that strike any visitor to the North."]

Our parents are patrons of prejudice, bequeathers of bigotry. Churches and chapels inculcate hate. 

He was that Irish essayist and polemicist so "sorely deficient in Anglophobia". Conor Cruise O'Brien (who was satirised in the 'Gentle Black and Tans'), drew across the grain on so many issues. He was the arch-"revisionist", a charge he countered here. A controversialist and a man of irrepressible energies, we sorely lack his type today.

As well as republican, he fell foul of other orthodoxies and dogmas.

It's often said, gormlessly, that the conflict in Northern Ireland has nothing to do with religion. As someone, to my mind ridiculously, said here. Here's  a loyalist lady in the early 1990s:
"I’ve nothing against Catholics, if that’s their religion let them practise it. Only not here: they should go across the border and live in the south, where they can be Catholics to their hearts’ content. Where we are now is Ulster: it’s part of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom isn’t a Catholic country... The only way Ulster’ll ever be made into a better place to live is if they’re all, men and women Catholics I mean, cleared out and sent across the border to live in the south."
O'Brien said in 'States of Ireland', Conor Cruise O’Brien shared the story of an evening spent before a large audience at Queen’s University Belfast in October 1969, speaking on ‘Civil Disobedience’. He said:
"I was criticised… Quite heatedly for mentioning an aspect of reality: the existence of two separate communities, Catholics and Protestants. This was held to be ‘irrelevant’… 'Religion' one student said, 'is a red herring'. I said if so it was a red herring about the size of a whale. ‘No, no,’ said another student, ‘no one in ulster is the least bit interested in religion.’ ‘Not even in Sandy Row?’ I asked. Another student said he himself came from sandy Row, and could report that no one there cared whether a man was Catholic or Protestant. This thumping lie was loudly applauded.”
On page 310 he said:
"The two communities can never be defined in purely political terms… It is ridiculous to dismiss religion as ‘irrelevant’."
O’Brien said on page 313:
"The role of the church is encouraging, exalting and extending the kind of tribal-sectarian self-righteousness which forms a culture in which violence so easily multiplies. This is more obvious on the Protestant side… On the catholic side the imaging is subtler, or slyer, as one might expect, but no less effective in inculcating the conviction that ‘we’ are morally superior to ‘them’. The ‘need’ insisted on by the Hierarchy for separate schools is part of this, but really only the tip of the iceberg. Over generations the Irish catholic clergy systematically fosters, not a militant, overt anti-Protestantism, but a well-enforced avoidance of social contact when Protestants, a sort of creeping freeze-out. The laity happily cooperated: the boycott had a sectarian edge, favouring catholic shop-keepers as against Protestants.”
"The two charities of intolerance, different as they are in tone and presentation, in fact feed on one another and feed their cruel children, ultra-nationalism an sectarianism, Cathleen and King-Billy."
As well as encouraging, exalting and extending tribal difference through religion, tribal difference is extended through the school and knee-top narrative. Roy Foster said:
"To be a protestant or catholic in eighteenth-century Ireland indicated more than mere religious allegiance; it represented opposing political cultures, and conflicting views of history."
Jonathan Drennan wrote in the Irish Times:
"On my street, cricket and touch rugby were played every night throughout the summer. A stone’s throw across the city, children in West Belfast pucked a sliotar about dreaming of lining out at Croke Park. 
We tuned into CBBC, they watched Dustin on the Den on RTE. We sang God Save the Queen at school prize days, they rose for Amhrán na bhFiann at Antrim Gaelic football games. We lived in opposing bubbles on the same island, largely ignorant of each other."
And added:
"The bigotry and segregation was never obvious or stated in my experience at home, we were simply raised in parallel worlds."
I have written before about hereditary hate, and about the fact we need to top waiting for sectarianism to die out with old people. On the idea of heritable hate, Dale Hansen wrote:
"Kids have to be taught to hate. And it’s our parents and grandparents and our teachers and coaches, too, who teach us to hate. Kids become the product of that environment; I was and they are."

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