Monday, March 19, 2012

It’s not All Shamrocks and Green beer

Even for a woo woo peddling Huffington Post denizen loon like Byrne, her “Spirituality of St. Patrick’s Day” piece is way over the top. I’m fine with people making any manner of nonsensical claims they want about their own beliefs but applying them to an entire ethnic or national groups is unacceptable not to mention idiotic and false.

She opens the post with this gem:

“Every one of us who has even a drop of Irish blood has a special spirituality engrained within us – a flame that burns deep down within our souls, connecting us to the deep spirituality of our roots. This is what we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day.”

She’s wrong on both counts.  My ancestry happens to include Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, and French. I can assure you I have never been “spiritual” and barring unforeseen circumstance will never be spiritual. I guess Irish blood isn’t quite the magical elixir Byrne thinks it is. I also have serious doubts that most American’s think in terms of spirituality while they dress in green and down green food-colored beer. I actually don’t have much of a problem with the silly campy celebration that St. Patty’s is for most of the country. I take issue when people begin rambling on about the origin and “true” meaning of St. Patrick’s Day when it is so obvious that they have not bother to do the slightest bit of research or fact checking.

Byrne certainly did not bother looking into it despite writing as if she had. I suppose this level of error should be expected from a woman who repeatedly reminds us of her claims to “see angels every day.” I might actually consider it plausible that it’s her “angels” who do her research. Regardless, her grasp on church history is just as weak as her grasp on reality. At various points she reveals her blindly ignorant acceptance of all the various myth and legends attached to Patrick. One such statement has her regurgitating, “St. Patrick brought the wisdom that there was only one God and that they each had a soul that would live forever.” Despite some apocryphal tales of Patrick converting specific individuals he did not convert Ireland. Ireland was already predominantly Christian by the time he arrived. Ireland had already received numerous missionaries, had at least one Roman Catholic Bishop, and is on record as having various disputes with the Holy See in Rome.

That last point actually seems to be the main reason Patrick was sent Ireland. There can be no doubt that there were still pagans on the island but their numbers were declining. The Roman Catholic Church viewed the majority as heathens more because they did not belong to the “one true” Christian faith, their own. The Celtic Christian Church was established before Patrick was ever born. There is very little known about Patrick’s history but what is known seems to support his main mission to be the reigning in of another theologian that the Vatican deemed a heretic. Pelagius was hated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy not because he did not accept them as having authority, he did, but because he refused to accept that they were The authority of all Christians. The Celtic Christian Church had its own liturgy. Patrick brought in the monastic system and through it began dismantling the Celtic Christian Church's influence.

Somehow, I don’t think Byrne’s idea of spirituality includes Christians, harassing, abusing, and even killing each other. At least I hope it doesn’t. I have to assume that my assessment of her complete lack of knowledge regarding the religious history of Ireland is accurate. It just so happens that the Roman Catholic Church succeeded in wiping out the Celtic Christian Church. This was done largely through social and political maneuvering, with occasional violence. Patrick seems to have been canonized and sainted more as a thank you to the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and as a “Fuck You” to any remnants of Celtic Christian culture than for any actual merits of Patrick. Patrick does seem to have hated the Irish. Oh yeah, Patrick was not Irish. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish raiders. Details are a little sketchy about his early years. He was probably from either the northern coast of modern France or the southern shore of modern England. He was probably in his early to mid teens when taken. Holding a grudge against the Irish is understandable but does not excuse some of the stories, assuming they are as accurate as those related to his saintly behavior, of his brutality.

Despite not necessarily knowing for certain many of the details that have attached themselves to St. Patrick there are quite a few we know are not true. Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. There weren’t any. Patrick did not convert Ireland. It already had two Christian churches vying for control of the island’s faithful. Patrick was named “patron saint” of Ireland by the church that won out. That does not actually make him a “patron” of the people.  So if you want to dress in green and talk about leprechauns go for it. But if you want to talk about Irish history and culture please do some fact checking first. And for goodness sake stop repeating the false notion that a guy who apparently hated Irish culture is somehow a patron of the Irish.

Whether you believe in such things or not, an excellent book on Celtic spirituality that I would recommend is:

Davies, Oliver and Fiona Bowie. ed. Celtic Christian Spirituality: An Anthology of Medieval and Modern Sources. NY: Continuum Publishing Company, 1995.

It even has a few pieces from Pelagius.

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