‘Fundamentalists are people who don’t understand poetry.’

The RTE Centenary Concert at Bord Gais Theatre was impressive on Easter Monday. It dramatized our story as a nation. Michael D’s words were powerful. We were indeed blessed in having no Government in place. Very few of our political representatives inspire confidence as leaders and could have been an embarrassment or a distraction. Michael D was indeed resourceful in his historical recall and very challenging to our national imagination on a way forward. His accent on inclusivity was threatening to all with a petty insular notion of politics. Leadership is our great need.
In the US the noisy screaming of Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Sanders is hardly promising for the future. In the UK the chaos with a divided Cabinet and the lurking Boris (Read M Parris!) and his Brexit companions is hardly inspiring. And in Europe, the fiddling around with Turkey (money for migrants) and Greece is worrisome. Francis’ comment on the seas as ‘insatiable cemeteries’ is hardly heard by the dull-of-hearing in a self-interested cluster of nations that is the EU. Who will lead us forward?
Simon Jenkins writes of the media response to Brussels saying that ‘it required patience and restraint which it didn’t get.’ The issue of Brussels and Lahore and Boko Haram leaves us helpless in our efforts to understand how Religion could ever take anyone to such depths of depravity.
Is bombing everyone into a democratic way of thinking our only response? What can be done? Who will discover a different way to reach the so called radicalised? There are very few ideas around to give us signposts towards the future. Where will the needed leadership come from? Who will create the map that we need? What have Religious people to say other than to condemn ‘atrocities’ ? Who are our leaders? In the Church we should have some grasp of their warped sense of faith even if their conclusions are way beyond us.
Gabriel Daly has a quotation in his book which says that fundamentalists have ‘neither irony nor humour in their thinking.’ He quotes John May: “fundamentalists are people who don’t understand poetry.” Michael D looks for imagination in our country. Religion needs that breadth of view. Theology is full of poetic mystery but we were satisfied with crude prose for years and it passed as orthodoxy. It became official and those who stepped outside such thinking were condemned. The New Missal is a monument to fundamentalists who knew nothing of a living God or Grace. Their Liturgy was solemn, static and ignored the incarnation. Even the Synod got hijacked by the rigids on a non-issue (admittance to Communion by the divorced). We are in danger too of destroying the concept of a ‘year of mercy’ when we confuse it with getting people back to Confession. This was a Sacrament we utterly destroyed with our lack of Godliness and our fundamentalism. The Bible was raided in our theology for arguments rather than understood or seen in its historical context. All of this takes us back to fundamentalists and poetry. Why are so many people caught up in a very limited understanding of God? (In Islam? In Christianity? In clerical circles?) How is it possible among those who lead us (supposedly) in Religious and Church matters during this ‘year of mercy,’ are incapable of reaching out to people like Tony Flannery (and are unable to talk to some of us?) We put Communion at the heart of our Faith and we can’t talk.
For an Island often rather grandiosely described as a ‘land of saints and scholars,’ are we now lacking both? A hundred years on – on our day of Celebration as a Country, Luas was on strike. Recently we heard of outrageous salaries for our RTE celebrities and there was hardly a whimper and yet these are the ones who ask and demand immediate yes/no answers to complicated questions; as if it was their right to know. Those who can’t form a Government keep on meeting. Demands are being made – ‘horse-trading’ goes on. The queue will form as soon as a Government is in place for more money. The housing problem has to be solved. The hospitals have to be fixed. Education has to be looked after. The water charges have to be dropped. The property tax has to go. The welfare payments have to be increased. And on and on it goes, with no ability to learn or to face reality. The ‘wishing well’ is surrounded by every sectional interest. Where is the Common Good? Where is the sense of Nation? Where is the Proclamation? Where is the poetry? Where is the humility that shows we have learned something from past failures?
Leadership asks for big minds and big imaginations. In Church life, after three years of Francis (as pope), we thank God for his leadership. (I was on a Radio programme with a female protestant theologian and she was delighted with his words and his prophetic gestures). But Francis can’t do everything. If only what he is trying to do was being caught and learned – the National Church Leaders and the local church leaders would be learning from him. There would be healing of those hurt by the damaging times of John Paul 2 and Benedict. The real questions now would be faced. I can never believe, that in our Church, the Pope had to say to our so called leaders at the Synod, to speak honestly and openly and not to worry about saying the right thing.
I was chatting with Gabriel Daly on Easter day. This man of 88 is brimming over with enthusiasm and excitement on the issues of faith. In fact, he was wondering if he could meet with a few bishops to discuss their concerns and his hopes and dreams. This would make his Easter. He wasn’t looking for an argument. He wanted to share in honest Communion. (I couldn’t promise him that I would organise such a session. I told him that I might start with Charles!) His book has been reviewed in Doctrine and Life; in The Furrow; in The Tablet (will be shortly) and in Theological Studies (will be shortly). What matters is – that the conversation goes on. I see another older person who has written an exciting and poetic article in Doctrine and Life (March 2016). Mary T Malone offers us ‘The Mystagogy of Motherhood’ which is a beautiful theological reflection. If we could only catch something of it we might appreciate the place of women in theology. Mary and Gabriel offers us leadership. Obama still does it but he was thwarted all along the way. He seems a giant now as compared to his would-be successors. Francis lifts the hearts of all with his direct and colourful language. Michael D does it also. We need more. Where will they come from? Is our educations system flawed? Does it lack poetry? Where do people grow in faith and learn to argue in faith? What is the literature that is available in our country? (Serious Religious discussion – a Thomas who asks questions).
We sat around the Table on Holy Thursday and we talked of the Table of life in our Community and in our family lives. The easy talking and story-telling (sharing) was leadership at its best. We did our version of the Vigil on Holy Saturday – and people were immediate in their responsiveness. The story of faith was told personally and communally. We walked around the estates of the Parish on Good Friday or rather staggered and all of this was simple and real leadership. Jonathon Tulloch writes in The Tablet (and in the London Times) on nature, speaking of life and resurrection, and so it does. It speaks poetically and draws out the best in all of us. Michael D challenges us in our imaginations (as did our two Marys previously). Francis does something similar. If we are to face; understand; enter into the mind-set of those who are now ‘our terrorists’ we have lots of stretching to do on our minds, on our faith, on our imaginations to even to begin to understand.
I conclude – and quote again: ‘Fundamentalists are people who don’t understand poetry.’ Politicians. Church people. Educationalists. Trade-unionists. Society.   All need to begin to learn humbly how to live out the Proclamation; the Gospel; the challenge of being a grown up nation and an adult Catholic. There is much to do.
Seamus Ahearne osa

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9 Comments

  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    It certainly does start and end with you Teresa. Are you self-aware? How far does this awareness go in influencing your activities on a daily basis? “Rulers are the ones who do things and we are the ones things are done to” has completely been destroyed in my thought process the last decade. Is this the true path to an imaginative take on the world as we know it? Not exactly sure but it certainly has a nice ring to it. It helps me eliminate a lot of “kings” from the fray, at least, so I can focus on one.

  2. Teresa Mee says:

    Leadership: I’m searching both the article and the responses for an action action plan that ‘starts with me’.

  3. Well, it’s all communication. They said what they needed to say. They don’t need due process because that is a democratic term and the church is far from a democracy so you don’t play by those rules. You don’t have to sell me on what it is they are doing. I agree but don’t romanticize this with words like “skewer” and “mental time-warp”. This is how the CDF wants people to react. We need fixing before we can move forward, together. If I could pose a question to the Association, it would be : what are you ready to put on the line for the sake of Tony Flannery? Would the apostles have stopped the crucifixion if they had numbered in the 10,000 or did that have to happen for a greater lesson to be learned? What is that lesson?

  4. @5. Lloyd Allan McPherson
    I’m a bit lost here. Perhaps I have misunderstood “reaching out”. The CDF skewered Tony Flannery for expressing what many Catholics now think. They deprived him of his mission in life without due process. They are aggressively promoting a version of Catholicism which has refused many opportunities over the centuries to relate to the real world and are keeping Catholics locked in a mental time-warp. It is they who need fixing not Tony Flannery.

  5. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    The people that I’m referring to would be the CDF. If the CDF functions as it ought, then they should be on the look out for others who share his opinion, right? One would think that the Associations would be doing all they can to promote a united front. How can it be that St. Thomas Aquinas warns us about keeping men/women held to unnatural laws but agrees to priestly celibacy? Because these items are rules put forth by men and folks will have differing opinions on them but are not the true essence of the Faith. I know what Tony wrote. Heresy? It certainly inspired a witch hunt.

  6. Pól Ó Duibhir says:

    @ Lloyd Allan McPherson
    “People have already reached out to Tony Flannery but he hasn’t returned the favour” …
    Could you perhaps expand on this a little?

  7. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    “Why are so many people caught up in a very limited understanding of God? (In Islam? In Christianity? In clerical circles?) How is it possible among those who lead us (supposedly) in Religious and Church matters during this ‘year of mercy,’ are incapable of reaching out to people like Tony Flannery (and are unable to talk to some of us?) We put Communion at the heart of our Faith and we can’t talk.”
    I think at best our understanding of God should be very little. We should know that we will meet him someday but most of us, based on our behaviour and ignorance clearly don’t see this. Stick to the 10 commandments and we all should get along fine.
    People have already reached out to Tony Flannery but he hasn’t returned the favour and I’m not sure what you are waiting for. I’m positive the Associations near 10,000 members world-wide and for you to stand in solidarity with Tony, means that each of you should be served the same conviction as he had been if you are assembling correctly. If they don’t reprimand you all in the same fashion, then legally, they couldn’t have reprimanded him, right? Am I off base with this understanding? So this is how you are communicating right now and they are so happy you all have not pushed the envelope.
    That is a clear message that has to be delivered under labour law and would be better represented by a trade union.
    Would Israel agree the surrender all their military might if the Middle East agreed to demilitarize (which makes sense under Sharia Law)? Important question. Would the West? Are there any crazy nations out there threatening world domination right now? Should we have such massive militarization in progress? Fundamentalists are people that don’t have to answer to the general public. How do we live out the Proclamation if we don’t have the ability to ask serious questions? Enough with the story telling already. The next chapter should be about asking tough questions.

  8. When the Pinochet troops raided Pablo Neruda’s house after the September 73 Coup in Chile looking for weapons, Neruda told them that they would find nothing more dangerous than poetry. The danger, the value of poetry, is sometimes too easily forgotten.

  9. How very true that we have lost our sense of poetry I the world. As a citizen of the US I hear all too well the screeching of the voices of our commanders and would be commanders. There are no leaders today only the followers of polls and frightened Bishops and others fearful of losing their power and control. Mercy only exists here as something for someone else to provide. We have our fundamentalists as well. This feast of the Annunciation is truly a feast of poetry.
    Poetry was once described as moonlight captured in the belly of a frog. Today we celebrate the light of divinity cradled in the belly of a human.
    We fear poetry because we have to think about the meaning, and find that it slips so easily from our grasping hands. There will be leaders in the future if not now and they will energize the world with the good of the Gospel and the message of peace. It has always been so and will be so again.

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