Religion and politics, right?
In sensitive, politically correct America, we learn from an early age it’s not polite to bring up either topic. In Ireland, pretty much the opposite is true.
Now, my perception could be very easily skewed for a couple reasons – I live in a friendly, smallish town where people are curious about “Yanks” and like to heckle them a bit. Even acknowledging that, however, I noticed early on that the people speak quite candidly (and often bluntly!) about religion and politics. It still takes me off guard!
People in Catholic Ireland are much more relaxed about non-Catholics than perhaps they used to be, though there is still a noticeable divide. What’s funny is when I find myself in situations like my niece’s Christening a while back… and my father-in-law introduced me to someone as “the enemy!!!” Of course this was meant to be funny, but I still felt the colour rise to my cheeks! Imagine if I was Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist! What then?
But what strikes me as most interesting about the religious atmosphere here is that it seems more based on a sense of obligation than a sense of any beliefs in and of themselves. Catholicism to many is a tradtion more than a faith. This is very broad, though – I know many deeply devout Catholics here. But I also know way more Atheists here than I ever knew in Conservative little Indianapolis, or even Bozeman, for that matter!
At the end of the day, though, most people seem to just live and let live. I wonder if this is a more recent development, or if the tension with the Protestants in Northern Ireland is more political than religious? It’s something I’ve yet to grasp.
As for the politics… well, haha, good thing I was raised in a fairly outspoken political home so I could hold my own when I got here! Irish people often take a “big brotherly” approach to the Americans and are more than willing to chide us for our political blunders. When I moved here in 2008, George W. Bush was still President and the jabs never ceased to come my way from all sides, with a smile, of course, but still seriously meant.
I remember when a local businessman once declared to me, “The rest of the world should really be allowed to vote in American elections – it’s such a powerful country, influencing the rest of the world that we ought to have a part in picking its leaders.” I took his point… but, to be honest, was still aghast at the conceit of it. This, coming from Ireland, where they don’t even elect their own Taoiseach? Where the higher goverment lords about condescending over the rest of us as they royally screw up with no retribution?
I’m sure if you read the news you’ve heard something about the Irish government in the last few months… how terrible the economy is, how corrupt the politicians, how we had to be bailed out by Europe (sending the Euro into another spiral), how deeply people are sunk into the welfare system… a lot of this is due to the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and the one before him, Bertie Ahern. Now, I am really not an authority on the subject, so I won’t bore you with the little I know. But it has been said in recent days that there’s been a lot of talk of the Dail, or legislature, potentially taking a vote of “no confidence” for Brian Cowen, which would force him to resign or be sacked.
I wouldn’t mind. He seems to be something of an arrogant wanker to me, and earns more than the President of the US, the Prime Minister of England and the President of France, and that’s after a 20% pay cut in the last budget. Good grief.
See? There I go. 🙂
I’ve never aspired to be a political spitfire, though I think my parents had hoped I might become a hard-nosed Conservative journalist… but I must say, it is just a little refreshing to get my thoughts out there in the open without having to tiptoe around. The hard part is being ready, fists up, for the unavoidable response. But, I’m getting used to it.
If you’re really interested in the latest in Irish politics, here’s a couple good articles about the distinguished Mr. Cowen in today’s papers. Enjoy. 😉