Obama: Irish Need to Get With the Secular Program

Remember the novel entitled The Ugly American, or the movie based upon it? The story is about Americans in Southeast Asia, and the obamaarrogance and ignorance of local culture that they displayed. Move the setting to Northern Ireland, and re-cast Barack Obama in the title role, and you’ve got a picture of the hash he made of a stop in Belfast Monday. The Scottish Catholic Observer reports:

US President undermines Catholic schools after Vatican Prefect praised them

The US President has made an alarming call for an end to Catholic education in Northern Ireland in spite of the fact that Archbishop Gerhard Müller told Scots that Catholic education was ‘a critical component of the Church.

President Barack Obama repeated the oft disproved claim that Catholic education increases division in front of an audience of 2000 young people, including many Catholics, at Belfast’s Waterfront hall when he arrived in the country this morning.

“If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation,” the US president said.

The US politician made the unfounded claim despite a top Vatican official spelling out the undeniable good done by Catholic education in a speech in Glasgow on Saturday and in his homily at Mass on Friday.

In context, here’s what he said:

In today’s hyper-connected world, what happens here has an impact on lives far from these green shores. If you continue your courageous path toward a permanent peace, and all the social and economic benefits that have come with it, that won’t just be good for you, it will be good for this entire island. It will be good for the United Kingdom. It will be good for Europe. It will be good for the world.

We need you to get this right. And what’s more, you set an example for those who seek a peace of their own. Because beyond these shores, right now, in scattered corners of the world, there are people living in the grip of conflict—ethnic conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflicts—and they know something better is out there. And they’re groping to find a way to discover how to move beyond the heavy hand of history, to put aside the violence. They’re studying what you’re doing. And they’re wondering, perhaps if Northern Ireland can achieve peace, we can, too. You’re their blueprint to follow. You’re their proof of what is possible—because hope is contagious. They’re watching to see what you do next.

Now, some of that is up to your leaders. As someone who knows firsthand how politics can encourage division and discourage cooperation, I admire the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly all the more for making power-sharing work. That’s not easy to do. It requires compromise, and it requires absorbing some pain from your own side. I applaud them for taking responsibility for law enforcement and for justice, and I commend their effort to “Building a United Community”—important next steps along your transformational journey.

Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity—symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others—these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs—if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.

Ultimately, peace is just not about politics. It’s about attitudes; about a sense of empathy; about breaking down the divisions that we create for ourselves in our own minds and our own hearts that don’t exist in any objective reality, but that we carry with us generation after generation.

And I know, because America, we, too, have had to work hard over the decades, slowly, gradually, sometimes painfully, in fits and starts, to keep perfecting our union. A hundred and fifty years ago, we were torn open by a terrible conflict. Our Civil War was far shorter than The Troubles, but it killed hundreds of thousands of our people. And, of course, the legacy of slavery endured for generations.

Even a century after we achieved our own peace, we were not fully united. When I was a boy, many cities still had separate drinking fountains and lunch counters and washrooms for blacks and whites. My own parents’ marriage would have been illegal in certain states. And someone who looked like me often had a hard time casting a ballot, much less being on a ballot.

So apparently Catholic schools and Protestant schools are not about inculcating religious values, or teaching faith alongside academics, or strengthening communities. They are about segregation, fear, resentment, and division. They need to be swept aside, and all children sent together to a common school, one that will no doubt be secular, government-run, and used to indoctrinate kids into the increasingly anti-Christian views that dominate so much of society in the United Kingdom. Oh, and they are just like the Jim Crow schools Barack Obama never attended (just as he never had any trouble voting, because he wouldn’t have been able to cast his first ballot until 1979 or 1980).

I’m sure that proclamation will go far in helping Catholics and Protestants continue their project of reconciliation.

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