Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Those shouting loudest don't represent the most

Not all Protestants are bigots, creationists and gay-bashers, says Brian McClinton. So why do they dominate the headlines?

Why does political Protestantism in Northern Ireland persistently give Christianity a bad name? It appears to be dominated by backward and bigoted opinions, which continue to make the province a laughing stock.

Take sexuality. Why are they so killjoy about it? Why do they reserve special intolerance for homosexuals? In 2007, Ian Paisley jnr told a magazine gay people "repulse" him

In 2008, Iris Robinson told BBC's The Nolan Show homosexuality was an "abomination" and made her feel "nauseous". She later told a parliamentary committee homosexuals were worse than paedophiles.

Edwin Poots, as minister of sport, attacked the formation of a gay rugby team in 2008 on the spurious grounds that he couldn't fathom why people saw the necessity to develop an apartheid in sport. More recently, as minister of health, he has refused to follow the rest of the UK in relaxing legislation on the donation of blood by gay men.

Poots has stated he will uphold the ban, in spite of the fact Northern Ireland accepts blood from other parts of the UK. In February, he told the Belfast Telegraph that blood donations from prostitutes are less dangerous than those from gay men.

Then, last month, Lord Maginnis, again on The Nolan Show, called homosexuality "unnatural and deviant" and a "rung on the ladder" to bestiality.

If it is not homophobia, it is creationism. In 2007, David Simpson spearheaded a campaign for creationism to be taught in schools and, on Lisburn City Council, Paul Givan headed up a proposal to write to secondaries in the area asking what plans they have to develop teaching material in relation to "creation, intelligent design and other theories of origin".

Only a couple of schools replied, basically telling the council to mind its own business. But the DUP is not letting the issue go.

In 2010, Nelson McCausland wrote to the Ulster Museum asking it to include exhibits reflecting the view that the universe was created only a few thousand years ago. He claimed inclusion was a "human rights issue". To its credit, the museum authorities resisted. A museum is, after all, a place for collecting and displaying objects of scientific, historical, or artistic value. What it includes under these categories is a matter for professional experts - not governments.

Yet we now learn that Mervyn Storey successfully pressured the National Trust to include, in a visitor centre, the young earth creationist viewpoint that the Giant's Causeway was formed about 4,500 years ago as a result of Noah's flood.

Its audio exhibition states that the "debate continues", but it is false to claim that there is still such a debate going on over the origins of the Giant's Causeway, which is about 60 million-years-old.

As far as all credible scientists are concerned, the creationist viewpoint has no scientific evidence to back it up and it is wrong to portray it on an equal footing with the genuine scientific account.

If it is not creationism, it is a deep-seated anti-Catholicism that has permeated Protestant politics for centuries and retarded a more healthy and progressive culture.

We see it in burnt papal effigies every Eleventh Night and we hear it in speeches every Twelfth. Orange marches are, ultimately, about banners, drumming and playing songs jeering at their Catholic neighbours.

The majority of Protestants do not share these poisonous attitudes. But where are the voices of liberal and tolerant Protestant Christianity? Unfortunately, we don't hear them very often, partly because theocratic dinosaurs swamp a sensationalism-seeking media which does not hesitate to give them the oxygen of publicity.

Not all Protestant Christians are bigots, creationists and gay-bashers. If an atheist like myself can acknowledge this truth, then perhaps it is time the media did, too.

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