Mary FitzGibbon of Ireland Stand Up, the Catholic lobby group established to maintain the Irish Embassy in the Vatican, has been on Radio Kerry complaining about Atheist Ireland and casually defaming Jane Donnelly and me by associating us with Nazism.
It’s a fascinating example of some Catholic advocacy in Ireland today, in which Mary is confidently undaunted by her lack of familiarity with atheism, with Atheist Ireland, with Irish current affairs, with political history, and with the various sources that she cites.
The atheist and Marxist-Leninist Irish Council of State
Mary FitzGibbon starts by associating President Michael D. Higgins and the Irish Council of State with totalitarianism, revolution that begins with atheism, hatred of God, political and economic pretensions, militant atheism and communist policy. She says:
“What is more sinister with the Council of State and Higgins and all of that, is they want to get rid of any kind of reference to God or religious oaths, they want to remove God completely, and it is important that people read about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and what he says about Dostoevsky. Because, really, all of this leads to a type of totalitarianism, and even John Paul II, who is going to be canonized next year, has talked about this, and has lived over a totalitarian regime, so I would encourage people to read what he says, you know really, all of this revolution must necessarily begin with atheism, he said, you know, there is this incredible hatred of God, it is the principal driving force, this is Solzhenitsyn quoting Dostoevsky, more fundamental than all of their political and economic pretensions, militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy, it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.”
Actually, the Council of State is not doing anything. Six members of the Council are, in their personal capacities, asking the Constitutional Convention to do what has been recommended by various Review Groups and All-Party Committees: to remove the religious references from the oaths that the President, Judges and Council of State members have to take in Ireland.
Despite this, Mary has melodramatically linked both the Council and the President with a sinister warning that she describes as “Solzhenitsyn quoting Dostoevsky” (it is actually an extract from Solzhenitsyn’s Templeton Address of 1983, and he is not quoting Dostoevsky in the part of the address where Mary says that he is doing so, but is expressing his own opinion).
And Mary has left out the crucial qualifier in the middle of the quote, despite quoting from either side of the missing information. The piece that she accidentally missed is:
“But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force…”
So Solzhenitsyn was talking here specifically about the political project of Marxist-Leninist Communism and his view of the role of atheism within that particular system. He was not talking here about atheism generally, which of course does not entail communism (although he was also hostile to atheism for other reasons). And he was certainly not talking about the six members of the Irish Council of State who have made this request, none of whom are either atheists or Marxist-Leninist Communists, never mind both.
The mysterious God hiding in the United States Constitution
Mary FitzGibbon’s next piece of political speculation is on a unique version of the United States Constitution, which is infused with nonexistent references to rights deriving from God. She says:
“But think about it in America, Obama stood up there and swore the Oath of Allegiance to God and to the American Constitution, and their Constitution, the first three or four paragraphs are all about the inalienable rights that derive from God, so it is interesting that in a country that is so multi-cultural, you know, so diverse as America, they don’t have a problem with swearing an oath to God.”
In fact, there is no reference to God in the United States Constitution, and the only references to religion are:
Article VI – [public officeholders] shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Amendment 1 – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
And the Oath or Affirmation made by United States Presidents does not include any reference to God. The wording in the Constitution is:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
In practice, incoming Presidents by custom now add the words “So help me God” at the end of the oath, though nobody knows for certain when this started, and there is no Constitutional basis for them doing this.
In 2008 members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and others took a Federal law suit arguing that it was illegal for the Chief Justice to prompt the President to add the words “So help me God” at the end of the oath.
The Chief Justice argued that his prompting to say the extra words came after the oath had been taken, and not as part of the oath. He also argued that he was asking the President a question (“So help you God?”) rather than reciting words for the President to repeat.
This religious abuse of a secular oath is unfortunate but not surprising. The First Amendment Center describes the how some religious citizens constantly seek to row back on the freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment:
“However, Americans vigorously dispute the application of the First Amendment… Most people, at some level, recognize the necessity of religious liberty and toleration, but some balk when a religious tenet of a minority religion conflicts with a generally applicable law or with their own religious faith. Many Americans see the need to separate the state from the church to some extent, but decry the banning of school-sponsored prayer from public schools and the removal of the Ten Commandments from public buildings.”
How the Nazis started off, and we have this with Atheist Ireland
When somebody is on a roll like this, you know that a reference to Hitler is not far away. And sure enough, sandwiched between the atheist and Marxist-Leninist Irish Council of State and the mysterious God hiding in the United States Constitution, Mary tells us how she thinks the Nazis started off and warns us that “we have this with Atheist Ireland.”
Mary FitzGibbon: “I think you need to go on the Atheist Ireland website, and read the likes of Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly, and you know, when I think about Christianity, I think about it as respect, love of God and love of neighbour, and I thank God now that we have a Pope…”
Host Jerrry O’Sullivan: “But Mary, just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that you don’t respect your neighbour, or you don’t live a peaceful life.”
Mary FitzGibbon: “That is true, but what I said is, you have to look at the ideology, and where does it lead us? Again, if we don’t have, if we set ourselves up as our own Gods, where does that take us? And we have seen that happen. Read The Third Reich in Power by Richard Evans, and it is incredible how they started off, you know, and we have this with Atheist Ireland wanting to, you know, attack our Catholic schools at the moment, remove all religious symbols, don’t allow the Parish Priest into the classroom…”
Host Jerry O’Sullivan: “And the argument would be, from their point of view, that they don’t want to remove every religious school in Ireland, they don’t want to close down that, they just want a place for those people who don’t believe, to be educated in a way that doesn’t have religion imposed upon them.”
Ah, Mary… so many inaccuracies, so much casual defamation, and so little time.
As it happens, I have read The Third Reich in Power by Richard Evans, and if Mary has also read it I find it extraordinary that she should associate the Nazis with Atheist Ireland or even with atheism. I’ll respond later to this third part of the Ireland Stand Up Comedy approach to political history.