Sunday, 31 May 2009
Mixed-gender dancing, drunkenness, and general merry-making on Sundays
Today I needed a relaxing Sunday but I never thought I would be the centre of religious discussions.
I took Naila and my two boys Mahdi and Ablai to the country fair at the British School in Jakarta, expecting a non confrontational day. I spent the first hour supervising the Tiger train where Mums, Dads and children had a mystery ride around the area.
Being keen on Scottish dancing and bagpipes, I walked across to the outdoor stage, where young children were dancing around the Maypole. I have written about pre-Islamic fertility poles in Afghanistan to celebrate Nouruz (the first day of Spring in the Persian calender), but I knew little about Maypoles. Standing close to me was an Englishman and I asked him about the significance of maypoles, and he told me they were once banned by the Protestant Church in England because they were seen as a symbol of the mixed-gender dancing, drunkenness, and general merry-making on Sundays. Did I believe him ? Later i looked it up on the web and it told me
Hostility towards maypoles, emanating from evangelical Protestants, grew, first manifesting itself significantly during the Reformation of Edward VI, when a preacher denounced the Cornhill maypole as an idol, causing it to be taken out of storage, sawn up, and burned. Under Mary and Elizabeth I this opposition to traditional festivities lacked government support, with Elizabeth recorded as being fond of them, but Protestant pressure to remove maypoles, as a symbol of the mixed-gender dancing, drunkenness, and general merry-making on Sundays that they opposed (see Sabbatarianism), grew nontheless.
After the maypole dancing the MC announced the Champagne, beer and Dilma tea tents were open for business. With the sun being almost vertical above the yard-arm, I decided a glass of champagne wouldn't go amiss. I sat next to an interesting man, that time had been kind to. He was tall handsome and certainly enjoying aging.
I quickly found out that his name was Vincent, an Irishman from a village 40 minutes from Dublin, and he was 82 years old. He hardly looked a day over 70.I brought glass of white wine for Vincent and a glass of Champagne for myself. " I prefer spirits, " said Vincent, and rattled over the names of a number of Irish Whiskeys he loved. I said "are you a real Irishman ?" His eyes leveled at me for a moment, " My Father was English, my Mother Irish, and I am an Irishman," he replied emphatically.
We then moved on to poetry. Now tell me an Irishman that doesn't love his writers and poets. Vincent's favourite was Omar Khayyam. He started off in a delightful Irish lilt....
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
Then he recited
Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ
Then it was my turn, and I recited
'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
After the first two words, Vincent joined me and we recited it twice together.
Mario, the French Canadian running the champagne tent, could see we were drawing a crowd, so he gave us the next glasses free. We had a wonderful time quoting Khayyam, Kipling, Yeates, Brendan Behan, Robert Frost and James Elroy Flecker. Vincent and i both loved his epic, HASSAN.
As we recited Khayyam, the maypole dancing started again. As I got to know Vincent better, I asked him, "Are you a Catholic ? " No, I am an atheist, my Father was an atheist, and I think we are right." Look at what the Catholic Church did to my country, my people," he said with a sense of anger and shame. He spoke of the findings of the Ryan Commission that I had read some weeks back and was shocked to the core to find out about the systematic abuse of children in Irish religious institutions. I knew this wasn't going to be a quiet Sunday as a few more Irishmen joined our table. They asked me what I thought about the Ryan report. Fortunately I had read Paul Conneally's blog http://headdowneyesopen.blogspot.com/
and I was able to quote from what I had read. Here is what Paul wrote:
The findings are simply horrific. Ryan went so far as to say that not only was there systematic abuse but "abuse was the system".
As an Irish citizen I feel an unsettling mix of extraordinary shame and a rasping relief that the contents of this report are now open to public scrutiny. It causes deep shame but could deliver us into a truly modern era, free and healed from the hypocrisy of the Catholic clergy.
The report investigated the known chronic abuse carried out by religious orders throughout Ireland when they were charged with the care of vulnerable, poor and uneducated children. It paints a dark picture of a priest-ridden country where children were systematically abused and the population systematically turned a blind eye. It portrays a country at the genesis of its independence which chose to hand unaccountable power to the self-declared omnipotent church, perched on its unassailable moral highground, and a State that ignored its own responsibilities to its citizens. A State that covertly colluded with child abusers over some 60 odd years.
The report churns out horror after horror perpetrated by pervert priests. From forced labour, separation of siblings, young children being lied to about their parents being dead, brutal beatings and endemic sexual and physical abuse. The investigation categorically tracked down more than 800 abusers in some 200 institutions over 30 odd years. These are most likely a representational ratio from a statistical certainty of a mob of molesters which was so widespread that it touched every community and town in Ireland.
The Irish Times, in a poignant editorial, had this to say: "There is a nightmarish quality to this systemic malice, reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. We read of children “flogged, kicked . . . scalded, burned and held under water”. We read of deliberate psychological torment inflicted through humiliation, expressions of contempt and the practice of incorrectly telling children that their parents were dead. We read of returned absconders having their heads shaved and of “ritualised” floggings in one institution.
We have to call this kind of abuse by its proper name – torture. We must also call the organised exploitation of unpaid child labour – young girls placed in charge of babies “on a 24-hour basis” or working under conditions of “great suffering” in the rosary bead industry; young boys doing work that gave them no training but made money for the religious orders – by its proper name: slavery. It demands a very painful adjustment of our notions of the nature of the State to accept that it helped to inflict torture and slavery on tens of thousands of children. In the light of the commission’s report, however, we can no longer take comfort in evasions."
The Report's findings will not shock many people in Ireland, merely the fact that they have now seen the light of day. We have all grown up with the untouchable power of pompous priests. In my own school we had a serial abuser. All parents knew and opted to ignore it, to carry on in denial, such was the punitive power of theology over the huddled masses of a nation coming out from under its colonialist yoke. We all heard the stories of young girls, raped and impregnated by uncles or neighbors (or priests on occasion) and sent to industrial homes run by nuns to live out their institutionalized days in servitude to the very people who demonized them.
Ryan goes to some lengths to point out the rays of hope and light. The rare, humane company of a kind priest or nun that maintained the sanity of so many. We don't want to paint a picture of a completely tarnished religious order throughout the country; but in essence that is what it is. So widespread and deeprooted was the abuse that it required thousands of non-abusers to turn a blind eye, a degree of abuse in itself.
The report will have a great effect on Ireland in both a cultural and spiritual sense. Gone is the hubris and abuse of power of the Catholic church and gone forever the rem ants of reverence and deference that so many Irish communities had for their priests - a trait handed down from the schools and pulpits governed by the very same preachers.
This week I am thinking of Mannix Flynn, a man whose company I kept in Dublin in the nineties after I had read his novel 'Nothing to Say'. Mannix was a great writer and playwright whose work brilliantly depicted his days as a former resident of one of Ireland's more infamous industrial schools in Letterfrack, savagely run by the Christian Brothers. Drinking with Mannix one night in Dublin after his biographical one man play James X had received standing ovations, he said something to me like: I was abandoned and brutalized by my country so I have abandoned and brutalized myself (in reference to his hard drinking and drug taking).
I also remember one of our recently departed writers John McGahern who tried so hard to hold a mirror up to Irish society and to hold its clergy accountable. His own childhood was deeply marked by predatory priests and a family fully in thrall to the Church's twisted morality. He once remarked for instance: "When I was in my 20s it did occur to me that there was something perverted about an attitude that thought that killing somebody was a minor offence compared to kissing somebody." And writers like John Banville who wrote movingly on this topic in the New York Times today. Am not sure why writers are providing such solace or reference during these times, but so be it. Maybe the new spiritual void will be filled by people far more worthy.
Finally of course, such a post would be erroneous without mentioning all the victims of abuse who have had to suffer in silence for decades. Those who have had to relive the horrors of their abuse as they cooperated with the Ryan Commission and, maybe worst of all, have had to suffer further indignities and humiliations at the hands of the Catholic church who chose denial, collusion and cover-up as their preferred approach to deal with the victims of their systematic abuse. Shame on them, it's a legacy from hell.