I Wake Up. Nobody’s There.

Of course, this is a lie. I have been included in blogs4God, which may well be the nerdiest thing that has ever happened to me. I mean, having a blog characterises you as nerd in the first place, but a Christian blog and a Christian blog that is listed on a Christian blog directory! The nerdiness has slipped down my spine, out through my shoes and is now in a taxi on the way to the airport to infect the world.

When I first met my fiancé I was definitely a nerd. But I was a nerd with prospects. I had the potential to pull together a small start-up and make a fortune and then pay someone to love me. I could meet a barista girl in one of those fashionable coffee shops that e-commerce gurus hang out in, pay her €10,000 and bring her to Las Vegas for a weekend. I would be rich enough to pay someone to love me.

Before all this happened I met my future wife, lost all passion for financial fortunes and C++ and found Jesus. Also, the e-commerce bubble popped.

Fiancé isn’t the type to be wooed by €10,000 and a trip to Las Vegas.

Still, untested virtue and all that--.

The point of all this is that I am not alone in this blog because people are passing through all the time, joining the six or seven real people I know were reading. Welcome to you all. And here is a quote from Chesterton,
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

What is the first thing you can remember seeing on TV? Vaguely in the back of my mind I can recall the alien invasion antics of V and the Mexican World Cup, which were both in 1986. I would have been 4. A-Team is in there. The opening shot of Murdock in a lizard suit is iconic for me. It is burned in there. Still, the clearest memories come in 1988. That was the year Ray Houghton headed us to a millennium-justifying win over England in the European Championships. Remember that looping header? I do. Oh the joy and justice of it all. They occupy us for 800 years and in one fell swoop a little guy from Glasgow evens the score.

The other great memory of TV for me was also in 1988 and also had something to do with national identity. My nanny was a fierce woman, shorter even than Ray Houghton but fervent and adoring to both her family and her God. She was a turbo-Catholic in the classic sense. In her last years she rejected the “heresies” of Vatican II and descended into Tridentine legalism and nostalgia. It looked like a cult to my family and they may have had a point.

Imagine the scene then. I was sitting watching the news with her at 6pm. This wasn’t uncommon because a trip into “Nanny’s” meant guaranteed loot in the form of sweets and Lilt. The fireplace would be home to some warm licking flames, as it was every evening of everyday of every year. The headlines showed a big man in a parliament getting beaten up.

One of the seminal moments of my childhood was seeing Iain Paisley harangue and verbally assault Pope John Paul II. He called him Antichrist. What the hell was Antichrist?!? Why would you call the Pope Antichrist? The Pope whose benevolent face smiled out of a gold-effect framed portrait hanging above the very chair I was sitting in was a Polish man who was very good and played soccer and was the King of priests. Why would anyone be angry at him?

Whatever was happening was deeply wrong. I knew that because it troubled my nanny into silence. I now know that this was the European Parliament. I now know that it was an Italian MEP who clambered up over two rows of seats to be the first person to land a punch on the Rev Dr Paisley’s hard head. I now know why a dozen more politicians were incensed enough to join him in the ensuing meleé trying to shut this prophet of hate up and I know why they were so happy to drag him out of that chamber of democratic debate that day.

So all this is to lead into a mini book review. I have just finished “Evangelicalism and National Identity in Ulster, 1921-1998” by Dr. Patrick Mitchel. Its brilliant. Go to a library and take it out. You won’t be able to afford it because the Oxford University Press hates you and set the price so high to keep you in ignorance.

Mitchel assesses four movements within Northern Irish evangelicalism. The first two, the Orange Order and Paisleyism are described as “hard” evangelicalism and the second two, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and ECONI are characterised as “porous” evangelicalism. I really like these terms. The general point that the book makes is that evangelicalism isn’t a useful label to succinctly describe a Christian in their totality, as it is too wide in its possible meanings. Rather, it is a sub-spectrum within Christianity and it contains people who are poles apart politically and theologically.

The “hard” school amplify the distance that is needed from the “world” and isolate themselves on a hill of moral purity. The “porous” school are willing to run the risk of “diluting” their message (an inevitably hard school fear) in their openness to non-Christians and Christians of different persuasions.

In terms of Northern Ireland, evangelicalism in the hard school has taken a nationalistic tone. Paisley, it is argued, has appropriated the Gospel for his political intentions. Mitchel rubbishes the slogan of Paisleyism, “For God and For Ulster”. God no longer has a chosen people because God has chosen all people. God’s will can never be mocked by being squashed into a box constrained by the destiny of so small a majority in so small a part of so small a country.

Mitchel spends half the book analysing ECONI and PCI. PCI are too slow in acting on their theology of equality and ECONI are too slow in putting a coherent theology behind their action. Still, I am far happier to be in their camp.

So I close with a quote from the Rev Dr (the doctorate was courtesy of Bob Jones University) in an interview soon after attacking the Pope.

”I have read in the Book of Revelation, the power of the word of testimony, but I have never realized what power was in a martyr’s testimony-- that vast assembly erupted, and the books started to fly and the punches started to be thrown, and the kicking started, but I held my ground and maintained my testimony. There is no difference between Europe today and Europe in Reformation times. This afternoon I read again the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. Who presided over the Diet of Worms? The Emperor Charles, head of the Holy Roman Empire. Who was he? He was a Hapsburg. It is interesting to note that one of the men who attacked me is the last of the Hapsburgs- Otto Hapsburg-- I said to myself, “The Hapsburgs are still lusting after Protestant blood. They are still the same as they were in the days of Luther”.”

My response is that the cross of Christ covers every sin, even doctrinal error. So I look forward to playing chess with Iain in heaven because Christ will save him. But he is preaching a nationalism of Protestants. He finds his identity in Ulster and not in God. And in so doing he damages the testimony of the thousands of Catholics and Protestants trying to evangelise in Ulster.

While it may not be so scholarly a put-down as Mitchel (who wrote, “At its core, Paisleyism is fundamentally opposed to the radical, boundary-breaking Good News of the Gospel”) but I think it appropriate to quote the remix of the praise song Our God Is An Awesome God that Fiancé wrote. She was inspired by Christian students and their utilitarian view of God when she wrote it (God gets me through my exams. That is all) but it applies equally well to the Sinn Féin Evangelicalism of Paisleyism. (Sinn Féin are the Republican party linked to the IRA in Ireland and it means “Ourselves Alone” in Irish)
Our god is a plastic god
Who lives in a cardboard box
With newspapers, t-shirts and socks
Our god is a plastic god.

Your Correspondent, Porously soaking up the hate.

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