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Opinion: Ring them bells! Why Ireland should never get rid of the Angelus

Twice a day, we should all stop and listen to those bells. Let them serve as a reminder of what happens when we outsource our thinking to anyone else.

Donal O'Keeffe

AS SOMEONE WHO is an atheist in every sense except caring enough to go around proselytising about it, I found myself the other day listening to RTÉ’s Liveline and repeatedly and un-ironically growling “Oh for God’s sake”.

You know it’s the silly season when the burning issue of the day is whether the Angelus should no longer be featured twice a day on RTÉ radio and television. I listened for nearly an hour to bored liberals with nothing better to be doing than arguing with Catholic jihadis who would love to see us all in scapulars and mantillas. Despite being someone who has been on the wrong side of the Roman Catholic Church for 30 years, I was surprised to find myself thinking “Ah here, it’s only a bloody bell to mark midday and six o’clock”.

Of all of the things which are grossly offensive about Ireland’s unhealthy relationship with Catholicism, surely be to God the Angelus is the least of them?

In an Ireland where the Catholic Church still runs about 3,000 of the State’s 3,200 primary schools, should we really care that RTÉ stops twice a day to play a pre-recorded bell?

In an Ireland where gay teachers can still be fired from religious-run schools for the ethos-endangering crime of, well, being gay, is the Angelus really, as someone told me on Twitter, “the aural equivalent of tanks on the lawn”?

In an Ireland where the religious orders can’t even be bothered to honour the sweetheart deal they cut with Fianna Fáil to pay a meagre few bob in redress to the victims of their members’ grotesque physical, emotional and sexual abuse, is the minute of bongs that makes the Six-One the Six-One rather than the Six really all that’s troubling us?

Let’s end these pointless arguments

If I could encapsulate the arguments of my fellow liberals, I think it would be fair to say “The Angelus is a powerful symbol of the Catholic Church’s blah-de-blah-de-blah and has no place in a modern, secular yada-yada-yada.” Listen: it’s a bloody bell. Cop yourselves on. The only thing this argument is a powerful symbol of is your own insecurity at the religious beliefs of (I’m sorry) the majority of Irish citizens and the fact that, deep down, you are every bit as intolerant as every other human being.

Instead of getting into a really pointless argument where the Church and its fellow travellers get to don the sackcloth of victimhood yet again, let’s be sensible. Let’s concentrate on prising the schools from religious control. Let’s pressurise our legislators to amend Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act so that “religious ethos” is no longer a cover for homophobic hatred. As to how we can persuade the religious orders to pay even the pathetic redress they agreed to pay to abuse victims… I actually have no idea. They seem impervious to all legal and moral pressure.

What would Jesus say? 

Heathen though I am, I’ve a lot of time for Jesus. I especially like the time he fashioned a whip made of cords and ran the money-men from the Temple (John 2:15). I also love the bit where Jesus advocated drowning anyone who would cause a child to come to harm (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2). I wonder what Jesus would have made of the religious orders.

Let’s keep the Angelus. We all need a pause in our day, a time when, like those people on the Angelus, we can take a break from the daily drudgery of re-enacting John Hinde postcards, teaching archery to pre-schoolers and carrying out Albrecht Dürer inspired acts of pavement vandalism. Who would deny that we are all better off for a couple of minutes of staring into the middle distance like we’ve just asked someone to enter their PIN at the counter in Centra?

Ring them bells! If for nothing else than to signify to those listening to the wireless that they are free at last of current affairs and can look instead to the promised land of Ronan Collins playing really brilliant music from the likes of Ron Sexsmith and Feist followed immediately by really awful music from people I don’t like.

A very important form of reflection

I really do think we should keep the Angelus.

I think the Angelus is a part of the aural landscape of Ireland, whether you like it or not, just as spires and steeples shape the skylines of our towns and villages.

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I think we should, all of us, religious and irreligious alike, observe the Angelus as a very important form of reflection.

Twice a day, we should all stop and listen to those bells and remember all that was done in Ireland in the name of religion.

Twice a day, we should all stop and listen to those bells and remember all the women shamed, all the women broken and all the women enslaved by joyless men, by joyless women, who waged war on love itself in the name of their own austere god of respectability.

Twice a day, we should all stop and listen to those bells and remember all the children raped, all the babies sold, all the fields where the country people whispered of “the sod that would not turn” to signify the little bodies dumped in unmarked graves.

Ring them bells. Let them serve as a reminder of what happens when we outsource our thinking to anyone else. Let them serve as a warning of the absolute corruption which always comes from absolute power. Let them serve as a monument to a time when Ireland had few clocks and even less Christianity.

Ring them bells.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe

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