Harvey Walnut

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence

Posts Tagged ‘Ireland

Why I’m an Atheist

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Like most Irish people of my generation I grew up going to mass every Sunday, went to a Catholic school and took part in the usual cult like initiation rituals like communion and then confirmation. It was in primary school when I was very young that my first suspicions that maybe this god stuff was not all it was made out to be started to germinate.

Every now and then one of the local parish priests would arrive, unannounced of course, and spend several hours telling us that Jesus loved us and if we didn’t love him back just as much we’d burn in hell. Along with the obligatory prayer sessions, we also went to confession once a month (8 year olds being renowned for their wickedness) where we would usually wait patiently for our turn to go into the confession box and make up some sins.

Usually the sins in question were discussed and agreed upon with fellow class mates beforehand.

But well I remember one particular priest who just loved to make children cry, for horrific crimes such as not blessing ones self right or for having said a bad word(fuck having been just discovered). While we sat waiting our turn, child after child would come out crying hands clasped tightly together ready to say 20 Hail Marys in order to be forgiven for their crimes.

Even then I felt that something about this chap, who was supposed to represent the essence of love, was flawed. But it was one particular occasion when I had my epiphany. A different priest, a scarecrow like character with a bald pate, pinched face and permanent hunch arrived in for the usual indoctrination session. After several suicide inducing hours he began talking about good old Adam and Eve and the talking snake. One clearly precocious student (alas not me) eagerly threw his hand into the air to ask a question. Essentially asking, well if this is true then what about all that evolution stuff we’ve been covering as well?

The scarecrow sputtered and waffled, that the only truth was the truth in the Bible etc his head bobbing sagely, eyes bulging at the effrontery of such a question, while our teacher busied herself with finding something under her desk, lest her opinion be asked.

And I knew, I just knew he was lying. My young mind couldn’t really quite grasp why or intellectualise the feeling but there it was, the genesis of my journey to atheism. By the time I was in high school I’d discarded the entire edifice of Christian belief and told my parents that mass and I would be parting company.

But it was as an adult that I began to look forensically at religion and it’s proponents. The hateful, misogynistic, genocidal and narcissistic nature of the god all these people believed in was so obvious to me that it was clear it was a man-made delusion. Its entire purpose to act as a security blanket against the guaranteed end awaiting us all and as a powerful weapon of control over the illiterate , gullible and uneducated.

Add the insane claims these religion make for themselves, their seemingly never-ending thirst for killing people who disagree with them, it really is a miracle anyone believes at all. And without obligatory religious indoctrination of children in many schools throughout the world the number of religious people would be far fewer than it is now.

Thankfully in Europe religion has for the most part been domesticated and reduced to the realm of personal belief where it should be. But we still have a very long way to go.

While I do not believe in a god I do accept the idea of the numinous and love that frisson of excitement that I get when I hear or see something that touches me profoundly whether it be art, music, science or a line of prose. For these are far more rewarding than any biblical fairy tale and I dare anyone to look at the Hubble Deep Field image and not to be awed and to see how paltry and petty religion is in comparison.

We are lucky to live in a time when we’ve had the eloquence of the late Christopher Hitchens fighting for reason alongside, Dawkins, Harris and A.C Grayling.

So what happens after we die? no idea and it doesn’t matter because what’s important is what we do while we live.

I’ll leave the final world to the great Christopher Hitchens.

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Written by harveywalnut

June 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm

A tale of two streets

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I have lived just off Talbot street in Dublin city centre for nearly four years now and I tend to have a mixed bag of feelings towards my neighbourhood. No exclusive brand name shops for us, nor venerable cafes steeped in history, offering savoury delights and exotic coffees in salubrious surroundings. Alas we rarely if ever hear troubadours vying for our attention and money, playing everything from Bach to the Rolling Stones as is common on Grafton Street.

You see, for many in Dublin, Grafton Street is to Talbot street as the Champs Élysées is to downtown Kabul; chic,desirable and unlikely that one will end up running screaming through the streets being chased by a foaming mob of lobotomised people.

For many in Dublin a trip from the south side to the inner city of the north side is something you threaten your children with if they misbehave. ‘If you don’t eat your greens, I’ll make you spend a day on Talbot Street! Then you’ll see what happens to those who wouldn’t eat broccoli”

And I admit it’s not far from the truth. My neighbourhood is infested with the living dead: for ever shambling about in what I call the junky shuffle; always at speed, but feet never quite getting far enough in front of each to avoid collision. Perfect locomotion being secondary to their all encompassing need. And then there is The Call.

The average person attempts conversation using their voice as an instrument. Engaging it in a myriad of tones and individual mannerisms. Conveying meaning with a mere hint of tonal change or a whisper of expelled air. Not so the shuffling denizens of Talbot St. In a form of reverse Darwinism they have reduced syllabi, created a single tone and upped the volume to loud. They can be heard calling each other from one end of Talbot St to the top of O’Connell St. It is of course mostly unintelligible to those of us for whom being medicated involves some aspirin and a doctors note.

None the less the neighbourhood is more than just the sum of its drug addicts. It has a character,a certain flavour that one can taste no where else in Dublin.  Along with a few Irish owned convenience stores the street has many excellent  Indian and Pakistani food stores and a plethora of cheap home stores run by people from a variety of nations. It has several excellent Italian restaurants and a Thai restaurant that for my money is as good as anything on the south side.

Add the Russian tattoo parlour, Chinese noodle joints and ubiquitous pizza places, at times it feels more ethnic than Irish, more foreign than local. Diversity is the best of what the street has to offer. It seethes with a manic energy, like a meth addled clown performing modern dance with a monkey for a partner, one feels anything can and will happen.

On any given day I gravitate between love and hate; drab utilitarian buildings and the human detritus caused by the horrors of heroin abuse can cast a shadow on the brightest of days. But yet, the life, energy and comedy of it all is as addictive as the drug that has ruined so many young lives in the area. And besides, some of Dublin’s finest pubs and purveyors of excellent stout stand ready to bring a little cheer. Old man smell, free of charge of course.

So drop over some day, take a wander enjoy the madness and maybe stay a while. You might just find you like it.

Written by harveywalnut

June 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Limerick: a city of culture

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The Limerick is furtive and mean;
you must keep her in close quarantine;
or she sneaks up to the slums
and promptly becomes
disorderly drunk and obscene.

The Limerick is furtive and mean but the citizens of Limerick city are anything but. Though the city has enjoyed a less than salubrious reputation over the last few years and has often been the target of bad press and sloppy journalism, the reality is of course quite different. Rugby may be Limerick’s best known export and the hallowed ground of Thomand Park known worldwide, but not many people outside of Limerick know that it is the cultural capital of the Mid-West region.

It is a vibrant city for culture and entertainment with a growing music scene; home to the Irish Chamber Orchestra, Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, the Island Theatre Company and Daghdha Dance Company. The city has produced international acts such as the Cranberries and world renowned DJ Aphex Twin, Richard D.James.

Showcasing all this entertainment requires great spaces as well and Limerick is not to be found wanting: with the historic Belltable Arts Centre, the state of the art University Concert Hall and the Millennium Theatre at the Limerick Institute of Technology plus gig venues such as Dolans Warehouse and the Trinity Rooms mean the city has an abundance of venues to suit almost every artistic need. Limerick has also added to its cultural repertoire by creating its own yearly festival.

Since starting in 2004 Riverfest, Limerick’s annual May bank holiday weekend festival has grown from a local party into a festival that now attracts visitors from all over the country. Every year the event hosts the Great Limerick BBQ competition along with The Great Limerick run, live music and a plethora of markets selling everything from locally produced gourmet food to exotic treats and handcrafts from France, Spain, Holland the UK and Germany.

The 2011 Riverfest was estimated by Shannon Development to have generated up to 20 million Euros in visitor spend over the weekend with thousands of visitors coming from outside the city.

It may yet lack venues on the scale of Dublin’s O2 but what Limerck is certainly not lacking in is character; an almost ubiquitous sense of personality personified in the pride and self deprecating humour of Limerick’s citizens. This character is most vividly seen in the creator and curator of the Whithouse bar Wednesday night poetry sessions.

It will be ten years this summer that Barney Sheehan at the request of Whitehouse manager Glenn McGloughan, decided to pick Wednesday nights, being the quietest, to start The Whitehouse Poetry Sessions, “No one really thought it would last, but Limerick has many people involved in the art scene so here we are ten years later” and the old world Whitehouse bar could not have been a more suitable venue.

With previous patrons such as Limerick’s most famous son Richard Harris and writer and politician Jim kemmy, the bar’s history has provided the back drop for a literary journey that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

The bar is all gnarled dark wooden pannels and high stools, pictures of famous patrons adorn the walls along with the memorabila that a pub gathers with age. In the corner of the front room of the bar a lecturn stands; two thick wine colured curtains hang open on either side. It is here every Wednesday night Bareny Sheehan stands wearing an old suit and a colourful bow tie and introduces the first poet of the night to be followed by an open mic session.

Since the poetry nights began, opened by one of Irelands greatest poets, Desmond O’Grady, the standard has been exceptional drawing poets from as far afield as Australia. They have included such luminaries as Knute Skinner, John Liddy, Ciaran O’Driscoll, Tim Cunningham, Cristoir O’Flynn, Conor O Callaghan, Gerard Hanberry, Paddy Bushe and Mark Whelan.

Barney’s zeel and organisational skill have meant that in the ten years it has existed not a single Wednesday night session has been missed. And after talking to him I think not one will be missed over the next ten. When I ask him what the future holds for the whitehouse poetry night. “Well, there are millions of poets in the world, and I would like every one of them to know of the Whitehouse bar in Limerick and its Wednesday night poetry sessions”. One can’t but admire the heights of Barney‘s ambition.

Along with characters like Barney Sheehan and his coterie of poets, Limerick has a younger generation pushing the boundaries of art and music. Sarah Lynch, currently studying in the University of Limerick is the editor of the Limerick event guide and one of the founders of events promotion company Eightball Promotions and Media. Eightball has been behind some of the biggest events in Limerick since it’s foundation. Including hosting the Frames in the courtyard of king John castle, something that had never been done before in that venue.

Sarah has helped organise shows and events all over the city and has often used spaces that have never been used before like hosting The Swell Season in Daghdha Dance Company in St John’s Church. This capacity and will for creative thinking means Eightball has been gaining a reputation for bringing top class acts to Limerick and getting them to play in unusual places allowing for an exploration of the city outside of the normal venues. This in turn helps create new ideas and adds vibrancy to the music scene.

Like the rest of Ireland the recession has hit Limerick hard and nowhere is this more evident than Patrick street right in the city centre. This 3.2 acre site, once intended to be a shining new multi story shopping centre, now stands empty and derelict. Sold signs still attached to the many shop fronts add pathos to the scene. But the people of Limerick see this not as a failure but as an opportunity to develop a new area in the city with input and ideas welcomed from all.

With people like Sarah Lynch and Barney Sheehan at the centre of a creative and forward looking Limerick, it feels to me Limerick is not just a city with a thriving cultural scene but one that will grow and evolve into something that all of Ireland can be proud of.

Written by harveywalnut

May 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm

The politics and founding of Atheist Ireland

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Michael Nugent was in primary school when he lost his faith.  While working on a project on the gospels he had an epiphany, “I realised the comic book nature of the bible” So at a very early age Mr. Nugent started questioning the existence of God.  His journey to becoming a fully fledged atheist had begun.

With mass attendance in dramatic decline and the churches’ standing in Irish society severely battered due to the exposure of a litany of sexual abuse cases. The Irish Catholic psyche has suffered blow after blow to its collective faith in the church.  Added to the seemingly never ending reports, Ireland’s societal and financial changes have helped create an entire generation with little or no interest in religion as a part of their life; never before in Ireland has there been as open a space for alternative views on the metaphysical and for the skeptical questioning of the relevance and even the veracity of Judeo – Christian creation stories.  It is into this space Michael Nugent and Atheist Ireland have stepped.

Atheist Ireland as an advocacy group came about organically according to Mr. Nugent.  A friend, Seamus Murnane set up the initial website as a forum for Irish non-believers.  Following much discussion on the website and inspired by renowned atheist Richard Dawkins’s bus campaign, which had 800 London buses running with advertisements stating ‘There’s probably no god so stop worrying and enjoy your life’.  The decision was made to push the site off the screen and into the real world as an advocacy group with a formal political agenda.   Michael Nugent became the chairman and face of the new organisation.

Under Nugent’s chairmanship and using his years of experience as a campaigner against terrorism in Northern Ireland and against the ban in contraception, Atheist Ireland has defined its political agenda and set about the process of raising awareness within the public sphere, both through debates and direct political advocacy based around a secular agenda.

Currently the group is focusing on several major campaigns including the repeal of the blasphemy law, a submission to the council of Europe on protection of national minorities and an ongoing campaign for secular education and the removal of Rule 68; The controversial rule which mandates the inculcation of Christian values to be the main focus of primary school education.

On meeting Mr. Nugent I found him to be affable and erudite.  While being passionate about his advocacy he managed to come across as anything but adversarial, an accusation often aimed at public atheists.  He first talked about Atheist Ireland’s current political agenda.

“Well we have recently put together a list that we have sent to all politicians which we call  ‘5 steps to equal civil rights in a secular Ireland’  and what we’re talking about there is a list of everything we want in terms of secular education, secular constitution, secular parliament, secular government and secular courts.  That’s essentially our political agenda for the foreseeable future.   Separately to that the organisation has two ends; one is to promote atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism and we do that through debates, articles and the website and secondly we want to promote a secular state.  These are two different agendas; one we just do with our fellow citizens and are happy that religious people do the same but with regard to the secular part, what we are saying is that the state should stay out of that debate.”

The release of the latest census figures would seem to justify Atheist Irelands campaigns and lend impetus and certainty to their campaign for a more pluralist and secular country.  270,000 Irish people did not identify with any religion, an increase of 45% which at 6% of the population make non – believers the second largest census category after Roman Catholic.

Mr. Nugent however feels that in reality the true figure for non-believers is likely to be much higher based both on the reality of living in a more pluralist Ireland where mass attendance has declined and a leading census question that assumed everyone had a religion and merely asked them what the that religion was.  Many people would have ticked their childhood religion but in reality not be practicing their stated religion and are “culturally Catholic”

When I asked Mr. Nugent about the census and the decline in mass attendance he said  “I think it’s (religion) become a lot less relevant in Ireland and the only person who seems to realize that in the Irish Catholic Church is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, where as the others seem to be in denial.  But that said religion is still spreading in Africa and South America.  It spreads most effectively where there is poverty.  They will shift their marketing towards those areas.  The more pluralist and secular a society becomes the less religious”.

With the release of the report from the advisory group, the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Primary Schools, recommending that initially 50 schools be divested from the Catholic Church around the country and that “faith formation” be thought outside of school hours, it seems that one of Atheist Ireland’s main campaigns is on the way to fruition.

With an estimated 90% of schools in Ireland currently being run by the Catholic Church and an ever more pluralist society, calls from leading politicians and senators such as Ivana Bacik for an overhaul in the education system so as to reflect the new realities of Irish life have been welcomed by Michael Nugent who says with regard to Atheist Irelands education campaign,

“Well tactically we have decided that rather than rely on the argument that secular education is a good thing socially.  We’re focusing on the human rights element, which means under the Irish constitution and all sorts of treaties the Irish Government have signed up to, Irish parents have the right not to have their children indoctrinated in religious beliefs contrary to their own”.  This thinking is very much in line with the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn’s own views regarding a pluralist education system.

While there are voices in the Church who agree with the need for such radical change, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin amongst them, there are also those who see this as an attack on their religious freedom and the Catholic character of the state.   So while the campaign for secular education may be headed in the right direction as far as Mr. Nugent is concerned, it is just one of many battles Atheist Ireland will have to fight.

When public intellectuals like Richard Dawkins are being called strident or militant, the question of compromise in the context of such an important social debate becomes paramount.  Mr. Nugent’s position on this is quite clear.

“There isn’t a compromise when it comes to the state but there is plenty of room for compromise when it comes to society.  The distinction is we have a pluralist society where different people have different beliefs and where everybody has a right to their beliefs and a right to manifest their beliefs as long as those beliefs are not interfering in the rights of other people.   In practical terms the only way to equally protect and vindicate every ones rights is for the state to remain neutral.  I would be as opposed to an atheist state as I would be to a religious state”.

Atheist Ireland may be a relatively young advocacy group with just over 400 paid members and around 2,000 passive members, but it is growing with new branches opening in Cork and Limerick.  The change in attitudes to religion, access to information and the increasing liberalisation of Irish society seem to indicate that while young, Atheist Ireland and its secular agenda will continue to grow and to resonate with many in Ireland.  With the increasing disconnection between the Vatican and Irish Catholics, Michael Nugent may one day find himself preaching to the converted, asked where he sees Atheist Ireland going over the next few years he said,

“I used to be involved in a lot of anti terrorists groups.  Our mission essentially was to put ourselves out of business and ideally the same would be true for Atheist Ireland.  The only reason we exist is because it is necessary for us to exist”.

Written by harveywalnut

April 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm

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