Should atheists ask for an inclusive symbol to replace the vandalised cross on Carrauntoohil?

by Michael Nugent on November 28, 2014

After my interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk about replacing the cross on Carrauntoohill, I had the following Twitter conversation with Paul Bowler and Paul Moloney, both of whom are atheists who disagreed with the way that I approached the interview.

I’ve recorded the Twitter conversation here because I think it includes some interesting points on both sides of the argument. To keep it simple, I have left out some minor contributions, for and against, by some other people.

I’ve left in the reaction to the discussion from Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper.

Paul B – what do you think you achieved with that interview?

Me – reminding people that Ireland 2014 is not Ireland 1950

Paul B – talking at people won’t help advance secularism. And will certainly make getting the cross taken out of KCC chamber harder.

Paul M – Think it’s a wrong cause as now links atheists to the vandalism and forces us on defensive.

Paul B – totally. AI should be saying only two things, this is terrible and how may we help.

Me – I said the vandals should be charged. Why should we help to restore a Catholic symbol, not an inclusive one?

Paul B – because if we are not part of the community, showing sympathy & empathy we will always be outside sniping and losing.

Paul M – “I said the vandals should be charged” Hence my point we as atheists are now being put on the defensive.

Paul B – exactly. We come across as hectoring and other because we hector and other.

Me – It’s the exact opposite. It is the cross that is hectoring and othering, not suggesting inclusivity.

Paul B – a donation from AI would go a long way in showing we are not threatening and alien.

Me – Threatening and alien? We’re not the ones imposing symbols, they are. I’m happy to donate to an inclusive symbol.

Paul B – all your doing is preaching to the already converted years ago Michael. And it’s a waste of time.

Me – I don’t agree that it is waste of time. It is all part of a process of normalising secularism.

Paul B – and a much loved cross on some hill is nothing compared to a cross in a council chamber.

Me – Any opportunity to promote inclusivity over sectarianism in the public space is valuable.

Paul B – normalising secularism in this country is about resolving issues of shared identity-not quoting the UN

Me – The Council chamber is another issue. We’re still working on that.

Paul B – and today you talked at people who saw a beloved symbol vandalised. Do you think that was useful?

Me – The UN relates to minimum rock-bottom human rights standards, regardless of identity.

Paul B – nobody cares abut that outside of Twitter and Dublin 4. Tone deaf and lacking in empathy.

Paul B – the council issue is an actual issue-you’ve managed-with your tone deaf contribution-to conflate them

Paul B – If you think suggesting inclusivity is talking at people, I don’t know what to say to you.

Me – Are you saying that suggesting inclusivity is tone-deaf?

Paul B – Nobody cares about inclusivity outside of Twitter and Dublin 4? I disagree.

Many people would call our position on the council issue tone deaf, yet you support that.

Me – Nobody cares about inclusivity outside of Twitter and Dublin 4? I disagree. Nobody cares about human rights outside of Twitter and Dublin 4? Maybe, but they are wrong.

Paul M – You honestly think a symbol in a govt chamber is same as isolated rural holy relic/symbol?

Me (to Paul M) – No, but the argument for inclusivity is the same with regard to both.

Paul B – what has led you to the belief that merely being right is enough? preaching over a fallen cross is tone deaf. that you can’t differentiate between those two issues is entirely tone deaf. when preached over the work of vandals it is tone deaf.

Me – “Tone deaf” is a subjective buzz-word. Many would think you are “tone deaf” on the council issue.

Paul B – and you simply telling a bunch of strangers that they are wrong should be enough to move them?

Me – Who are you suggesting is preaching over the work of vandals, and how?

Me – And we respond to crazy arguments by pointing out where they are mistaken.

Paul M – By this standard all public religious symbols be removed & Buddhas of Bamiyan be left demolished. Which UN law opposes public religious symbols?

Me (to Paul B) – Not on its own, but with the support of international human rights law that Ireland must enforce.

Me (to Paul M) – Of course it doesn’t. I said that the vandals should be arrested and charged.

Paul B – When I spoke about it on radio Kerry I was tone deaf. I spoke about rights instead of identity. you, today, on the radio, by saying sure it’s down now, let’s put something I like up instead.

Me – No, they are saying ‘let’s put up something we like’. I am saying put up something inclusive of all.

Paul M – My point is atheists as a group should be in the situation of having to call for such in first place.

Paul B – really? International law matters? Changes how people vote and feel? On what planet?

Me – planet earth.

Paul B – no, you are demanding things be done our way. Instead of building relationships and trust.

Me – I didn’t demand anything. I suggested that a community council should be inclusive of the community.

Paul M – Mick that comes across as dismissive of an arguments many atheists here are making.

Paul B – I’m obviously wasting my time here if you can’t see beyond simply being right.

Me – If you ask “on what planet?” you are inviting the obvious answer. But yes, human rights law matters. And yes, it gradually changes how people vote and feel. t’s not just about being right. It is part of a process of changing beliefs.

Paul M – Ok so which law is against public religious symbols?

Me – There is no law against religious symbols. I explicitly supported the right to display religious symbols.

Paul M – How is taking advantage of vandalise to remove an isolated religion symbol going to change beliefs? So why are you quoting human rights law ?

Me – Because the debate had moved onto the question of majoritarian views taking precedence over minorities.

Paul B – a process of changing believe requires empathy, especially from those asking others to change.

Me – Yes, and it also requires honesty and integrity and fairness

Me – By asking a community council (not a church) what symbol is most inclusive of their community (not church)

Me – I’m asking for inclusivity, he is saying we are a Catholic country, and you say that I am othering him?

Paul M – My argument is that campaign to replace/demolish tradition religious symbols is quixotic. (Accepting this one not particularly aesthetic. But I would have problem with removing religious symbols in Italy)

Paul B – you are demanding all the change now. An impossible thing and it weakens our argument. Pick and choose issues.

Me – We are not demanding all of the change now. We are highlighting the desirability of change at every opportunity. Here is how we have been proportioning our focus in 2014. We were also at a Children’s Rights Alliance booklet launch today. Media coverage does’t reflect all our work.

Paul B – you do realise that at not point in your interview did you offer sympathy to those upset by the vandalism.

Me – the first thing I said (without being asked) was that it was a criminal act and the vandals should be arrested.

Paul B – but no sympathy. No expression of understanding. No attempt to bridge build. did it not simply not occur to you or do you think those communities undeserving of sympathy and understanding?

Me – Okay, fair point. I’ll say that next time. But don’t forget they are the ones who are excluding others, not us.

Paul B – I am fully aware of that exclusion Michael, but simply attacking it won’t change anything.

Me – But I didn’t simply attack it. I supported Christians’ right to display religious symbols.

Paul B – we’re not going to agree here Michael. I think anything other than an expression of sympathy is antagonistic.

Me – By that standard, do you also think they are being antagonistic to atheists who feel excluded?

Paul M – How many atheists climbed Carrountouhill and were alienated when they got there?

Me – I mean atheists who feel excluded by them saying it is a Catholic country and not considering an inclusive symbol.

Paul B – They are, but they are not simply going to change because a tiny minority demands they change. that’s why this is an identity issue more than anything else. It requires we compromise & compromise til they change.

Me – That’s where we disagree, then. I think it requires that we consistently politely highlight the current injustice. Obviously we compromise de facto. But if we promote compromise, we end up compromising on the compromise.

Paul B – then I fear secularism will be even longer delayed.

Me – And I think the opposite. Privilege is rarely given away without pressure to do so.

Paul B – laws and attitudes are rarely changed without some kind of popular support.

Me – Yes, and that popular support comes from consistently highlighting injustices.

Paul B – it comes from persuasion, because when we white middle class men say injustice, we’ve a lot of explaining to do.

Me – Why? Would Irish Catholics be more open to the idea if a black working class woman was asking for secularism?

Paul B – are you deliberately missing the point?

Me – No, I am saying that I don’t have to explain being a white middle class man in order to promote secularism.

Paul B – I didn’t say you did, but you do have explain why our issue deserves notice when there are so many other problems.

Me – Paul B, you could say that about literally any issue.

Paul M – Which is, to re-iterate, an iron cross on a desolate mountaintop which to my knowledge no one had complained about

Paul B – I didn’t even know it was there until it was vandalised.

Paul M – I climbed it and rested there in the snow. Did not feel oppressed. :)

Michael Kelly (editor Irish Catholic newspaper) – Oh dear, atheists fighting trying not to appear shrill

Me – As you’re tweeting about us, can you please rejoin the Press Council so we can complain about this issue?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carrie November 28, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Wow. Well I can see that Paul B feels that you did not show enough empathy, but really it seems to me that there would be little to be gained, in the time that you had, by spending some of it making more sympathetic noises. The main points, that you feel the perpetrators should be punished and that a replacement monument should be inclusive, were made.

“I suggested that a community council should be inclusive of the community.” This, this is what a community council should be; not simply the voice of the majority.

As for Michael Kelly’s snide remark, that was simply silly.

2 Tony November 28, 2014 at 3:14 pm

As to whether a replacement should be requested: I think one of the comments mentioned on air was a good one that the natural beauty of Carauntoohill be the symbol and emphasis going forward. It was a particularly relevant suggestion given the point by Tim Moriorty that this was mostly about tourism rather than religion. Perhaps the case could be made on those grounds that less is more.

I would also like to offer a comment on Paul M’s suggestion that this is an argument AI should stay away from, lest the association be used as another stick to attack atheists with. I tended to agree with him at first glance, but it was instructive that Pat Kenny almost tripped over himself to make the association between the vandals and Atheists. It struck me as not dissimilar to the common tactic of mentioning some infamous fascist dictator (which Kenny also managed).

Atheists shouldn’t shy away from these arguments just because they’re easy for others to twist and manipulate. The fact is that whether there’s an Atheist involved in the call or not, it seems likely these same ignorant arguments will be thrown out there regardless.

Personally I was delighted that someone as capable as Michael Nugent was involved who on behalf of Atheists could so ably refute both of these patently ignorant suggestions. You had to love the retort from Michael that the only historic case of such vandalism in Ireland was by another religious group. Brilliant stuff.

To hijack a well known quote: the only thing necessary for the triumph of ignorance is for good people of intelligence to sit it out on the sidelines.

3 Matt Cavanaugh November 28, 2014 at 3:21 pm

1) Promoting an inclusive symbol will help people recognize the pernicious, discriminatory nature of a sectarian monument. An atheist org donating to erect a cross will, pace Paul B, win over exactly no one;

2) Anyone dull enough to link advocating for an inclusive replacement, with inciting vandalism of religious monuments, is also not going to be won over by any means;

3) Would Paul B also require a white, middle class gay man do “a lot of explaining” before complaining about the injustice of homophobia? Were a public building in need of new front steps, dare middle class, white handicapped men ask that a ramp be installed, or should they just shut up and check their privilege?

4 Matt Cavanaugh November 28, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Carrie wrote “As for Michael Kelly’s snide remark, that was simply silly.”

It’s always a hoot to see schadenfreude over internecine squabbles among atheists coming from a supplicant of the religion that brought you the Thirty Years’ War.

5 milesnagopaleen November 28, 2014 at 4:36 pm

A donation from AI would be tantamount to an admission of guilt in some peoples eyes. I think you handled it extremely well, Michael. The very fact that you, an atheist, were discussing on the radio it is a sign of progress. The whole concept of inclusivity is still novel to some people and you did the right thing to give it an airing. As for Pat Kenny comparing it with the round tower of Glendalough, what a joke!

6 Ashling O'Brien November 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm

“Personally I was delighted that someone as capable as Michael Nugent was involved who on behalf of Atheists could so ably refute both of these patently ignorant suggestions. You had to love the retort from Michael that the only historic case of such vandalism in Ireland was by another religious group. Brilliant stuff”

In this interview on Kfm the interviewer asks Michael outright if it was him or Atheist Ireland who brought down the cross!

http://kildaretoday.podomatic.com/entry/2014-11-27T07_16_00-08_00

7 Ewan Duffy November 28, 2014 at 8:07 pm

@ Ashling

I had one of the managers at work ask me did I cut down the cross :(

8 aleprechaunist November 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm

As someone who summitted Carrauntoohill several times I always felt the cross was ugly and intrusive. I don’t condone vandalism but I don’t see why the cross has to be replaced with any kind of symbol or structure. There is no improving on the spectacular and rugged beauty of the Magillicuddy Reeks.

9 Ashling O'Brien November 28, 2014 at 8:21 pm

@ Ewan

Think we need to get ‘it wasn’t me t-shirts’ printed up :-)

10 Ewan Duffy November 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm

@Ashling – I’m with you there 😉

11 John Mitchell November 28, 2014 at 11:23 pm

I think your appeal to pluralism is a fair and appropriate line line to take. I do think it’s worth emphasizing that it should be a decision made by local people, and that all you are asking is that when they do this they act in the best interests of the community as a whole, and not just the local catholic church.

Also, if the ancient buddha Statues are brought up…the comparison is absurd: the statues are of immense historical and cultural value. The crude crosses made out of metal girders all over the hills of ireland are not.

12 Ashling O'Brien November 30, 2014 at 1:09 pm
13 aleprechaunist November 30, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Ashling #12 – 20 years after the X case, women are still dying. But some ugly eyesore cross gets cut down? Bang! It’s back up in a week. Nice to see so clearly where Irish priorities lie!

14 dave kiernan December 1, 2014 at 12:00 am

I have been following this debate closely and there is no doubt that Michael Nugent has handled all aspects aspect of same on behalf of Atheist Ireland in a very professional manner. To answer Paul Bowlers queries : Michael Nugent made it patently clear in all interviews that this was `an act of vandalism’ in which members of Atheist Ireland were not involved. Anyway within a week the felled cross was reinstated. Why wasn’t the opportunity taken as Michael suggested in all of his interviews on all local and National Radio Stations to erect something that could have tried to heal the wounds of seventy years + of a Catholic Theocracy : say a monument to the thousands of our young men and women incarcerated in Industrial Schools, Irish women used as slave labour and humiliated in Magdalen Laundries or indeed why did the good citizens of Kerry not erect a giant image of a womens pelvis area as a testimony to the women survivors of Symphysiotomy in this beautiful Christian Country or indeed as many environmentalists have suggested just leave the Mountain top as nature intended without any man made symbol.

15 Carrie December 1, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Well, I am sad to see that those in charge did not use the opportunity to erect something that was inclusive of all in that community and, as dave suggest, attempt to heal those wounds.

I suppose it was always going to be a long shot and at least Michael made a very good series of interviews and made really good points to keep the Atheist community visible.

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