Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Patrick was not a Catholic

As tomorrow is St. Paddy's day and as Dubinthedam is a Dubliner living in Amsterdam I thought it good to do a cross cultural topic. It is said that the Irish tri-colour flag represents the green of Irish nationalists and the Orange of Unionist Protestants with the white in the middle representative of peace between our two communities on the island. Some say that is untrue because the orange is not actually the colour of Dutch Prince William of Oranje (the house of Orange) but that it is actually derived from gold. And, that colour being impossible to produce in conventional printing terms, it altered to a representative orange tint.

Regardless of true origins I prefer to think that the story of peace between the two communities is the more relevant and truer version. More importantly I have known both communities in my brief years of 43. I was once invited to join an Orange Freemason Lodge as young man serving in the Royal Irish Rangers reserve battalions. My Sargent Major who proposed my candidacy once asked that, "as an Irish southern Catholic was it not a problem to receive such an invite". I replied, "that it was an honor and my informed opinion of Freemasons was that many were good people and it wasn't a club solely reserved for those of a Protestant faith". In the end I declined, I had began an interest in Tibetan Buddhism and had decided to leave the armed forces.

During my basic training in Northern Ireland I had befriended another young recruit, we just hit it off. Someone said that as he lived in one of the most notorious hard line Unionist area's of Belfast that our friendship would not be looked upon with great joy. I have often since wondered if he ever suffered reprisals for our innocent camaraderie. I can only assume not, as I never heard of such.

The regiment was predominantly Protestant, but with a surprising amount of Catholics scattered about the ranks, both from the north and south of Ireland. If fact I learned that traditional stereotyped ideas from the Republic of Ireland that Catholics never joined the British Army were untrue, the army was full of such Irishmen serving with great distinction and still are presently today overseas. The stereotyped false theory was actually one born out of fear and a pursuit of nationalistic conformity.

However it was only until I arrived in conformist 'Oranje' Netherlands that I truly began to understand Protestantism as a mentality. Firstly let me say that if I was a Christian by theological debate I would choose to be a Protestant as it makes more sense to me from what I've learned from Christian teachings. But in the Netherlands the 'New' faith interests me and frustrates me when it translates into social behaviors and society. I often say, "this is The Netherlands where even the Catholics are Protestant". By this I mean the Dutch can be very rigid and lacking in any display of emotion, social responsibility is emphasised as is individual responsibility which often results in a good pension fund but a lack of real empathy for those who do not have one.

It often translates into a coldness and indifference to others. It proposes to be a society that is pragmatic and responsible for all - but this translates as leaving the caring to local government or organisations. It leads to a puritanical corrective waving of the finger at misfits and a smugness or arrogance in oneself. It even leads to quiet a well organised Red Light District and a lax soft drugs policy, again stemming from this idea of practical solution from government which allows for self responsibility, you are your own redeemer! It frequently results in a competition to show how normal and responsible one is as an individual. An outcome is often a society where people - as individuals - have great difficulty with empathy and compassion for those around them who have failed and are addicted, dysfunctional or disorderly. The meek and lost are to be 'fixed' rather than a subject of focus for real Christian compassion. "Conform or get therapy, there are institutions to help you".

In Catholic Ireland I find a deep level of sincerity, I find a profound sense of the spiritual that swirls and drifts through the hills and bogs. I find devotion. I find a passion and humour, a healthy cynicism. I also find a gross level of corruption, a conservatism that cripples even the new economy and society. I find a spirit of rebellion but a dangerous love of fighting. I find narrow mindedness. I find an 'old boy's' network. I find a pursuit of the material born from a poverty laden history. I find a stubbornness. I find insecurity. I find a lack of individual responsibility and social pragmatism. I find Ireland is a land where the Protestants are too Catholic!

I have lived in 3 countries during my life, between two classes with 2 armies served and 2 religions practiced. That goes well with the meaning of St. Patrick's day, he was after all a Welsh Roman who was made a slave and used the Gaelic Druid traditions to spread the true meaning and teachings of Jesus Christ on the island. He was not a Catholic, nor was he a Protestant and today despite our frustrations with each other's social traits, we have a real and long lasting peace between our two communities both of whom celebrate by the wearing of the green - and perhaps just a little 'Oranje".

Faugh Ah Ballagh.

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