Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

We won't get rid of bigotry until we cross divide

We're in one of those moments of history where events run counter to popular prejudice.

It's no longer true that there's No Pope Here. For the foreseeable future, there'll be Two Popes Here. Funnily enough, though, as the fundamentalist stance which used to fuel that chant has diminished in influence, it's been replaced by a new set of prohibitions.

Maybe it's simply because we are brought up in a broadly 'Christian' culture and because Christians themselves advocate that their religion is 'for everyone', but it is still odd how everyone seems to have a view on the resignation of the Pope, even when it's none of their business.

Not only a view either, but some of the most virulently stupid views imaginable.

There is of course serious comment in the public Press about how the Catholic Church, the Pope himself and other institutions, State included, handled the revelations of paedophilia and child abuse in recent years.

But that is as nothing to the torrents of accusation, blame, and allegations of direct, personal responsibility aimed at the outgoing Pontiff which have appeared on the internet, specifically on Facebook.

There is a certain point where virulent self-righteousness and intemperate unfounded accusations against the Pope blend perfectly with the old-fashioned anti-Catholicism and No-Popery of so much of our historical culture in Northern Ireland. Just as there is a certain point where venomous reaction to the discomfort caused by 'fleg protests' blends perfectly with the old-fashioned anti-Orange and anti-Protestant character of another stream of our historical culture.

Bigotry is a wonderful thing. When it isn't dug out root and branch but just lathered over by education, prudence and the odd cocktail, it hides out in our most cherished liberal beliefs and attitudes and, in fact, is given a certain legitimacy by them. We find we can travel quite a long way in our righteous indignation against, oddly, 'the other side' without our having to recognise with a shock that, er, in fact, we are just being bigots and not sophisticated liberal types after all.

Some of the comments online about the Pope over the last week have been extraordinarily offensive. It has got to the stage where Catholicism receives almost the level of internet vitriol which has traditionally been reserved for Jews – and still is, by the way.

It's embarrassing in some ways that the head of Catholicism can be targeted by accusations on abortion, paedophilia and homosexuality which I have yet to see or hear levelled at the leaders of other world religions, for example. Embarrassing because our liberal, opinion-forming elite pride themselves on being 'fearless truth tellers' wherever the occasion arises. That just isn't true.

Disappointed Catholics, ex-Catholics, über-Liberals, chin-scratching sophisticates, wailing feminists, middle-class Trotskyists and old-fashioned bigots from Hell speak the same nauseating language of hate. But that's alright because something about Catholicism gives a licence to any and every level of tirade and abuse. Funny that.

Which brings me back to the very low level of intercultural exchange that goes on in Northern Ireland. And no, I'm not talking about the whether or not Polish people here have social nights out with the Chinese community. I'm talking about the simple fact that cultural Protestants, however transformed by cash or education or leafy suburb, still mate with each other. And about the simple fact that cultural Catholics – ex-, disappointed, lapsed, prolapsed or collapsed, post- or pre-Vatican Two – marry their own sort. That's you, I'm talking about, by the way. You who don't think you are a 'cultural' Catholic or Protestant and who really do believe your 'relationship' is down to Lurv rather than prejudice.

You who advocate strongly for integrated education and mixed marriages, er, for others, but who quietly exclude yourself and your own intimate relationships from the requirement to be so liberal. Oh yes ... and exclude your children's relationships too. "Time's not right. Don't you know. Has to start with the, er, grassroots."

That's where the bigotry really digs its heels in. And no amount of posturing about right-on causes from climate change to gay weddings to Afghanistan to 'Not in our Name' to Palestine to whaling or poor polar bears will cleanse your black, bigoted, offensive, intolerant heart.

This is Northern Ireland. Rinse the dog pee out of your golf bags please. There's a bad smell on the internet and it's you.

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