As an anthropologist’s dissertation, Peter Mulholland’s evocatively titled Love’s Betrayal conveys the human fragility beneath diligent scholarship. Irish Catholics have in the past few decades borne an increasing burden of dispiriting findings of damage and oppression conducted by the Church-run schools and institutions. The system had given control of its education and healthcare to the Church, for after the Irish Republic’s (partial) independence nearly a century ago, its weakened economy and colonial depredations had left the new government, after its own civil war, unable or unwilling to fund secular counterparts. This background sets up Dr. Mulholland’s analysis of how Catholicism ebbed while new religious movements (NRMs) challenged, however dispersed or fleeting, the nearly monolithic Church-State Irish establishment.

President Mary McAleese responded to the 2009 Ryan report on clerical child abuse with the phrase that inspires the title. Mulholland tracks this betrayal back to the origins of Irish Catholicism, and the Pelagian “heresy” asserting that humans could reach salvation by their own efforts, without the grace that Augustine insisted upon, back around the year 400. Mulholland propounds how this clash between divine intervention and populist initiative spurred the subsequent long-lived reign of Catholic power.

Mulholland’s narrative roams about, but there’s an internal logic which his chapter beginnings and ends summarize, to follow the wavering course of the causes for Irish faith and the effects on practices. He begins with sociologists of religion Rodney Stark, Eoin Cassidy and especially Tom Inglis. Inglis perceives that by magical-devotional forms, the legalist-orthodox discipline of Irish Catholic ethos dispersed into folk rituals and subversive or submissive behavior. These, Mulholland argues, encouraged leanings towards decentralized individualism. After the Irish government turned away from clerical fealty to a bourgeois-friendly economic policy in 1959, the popular press, as Mulholland documents well, reveals how everyday Catholics reacted to contexts within which the NRMs sought willing devotees, as well as how more established non-Catholic religions rose, if suspected, in status.

Sensibly preferring the Sunday press to the middle-class “Protestant” liberal Dublin-centered paper of record The Irish Times as his primary source-material, Mulholland scans the attention paid astrologers, charismatics, yogis, gurus, faith-healers, and itinerant preachers who played noteworthy (or marginal) roles in widening beliefs and practices despite an overwhelmingly Catholic population. While few of the curious became “seriously involved” in NRMs and their “exotic” ilk, and fewer yet converted, Mulholland posits that nevertheless, this re-orientation accompanied dramatic post-war modernization.

Tom Inglis’ models remain the foundations upon which Mulholland erects his thesis. Yet the latter scholar corrects the oversights of Inglis’ data-mining and Lawrence Taylor’s pioneering fieldwork. Mulholland’s predecessors fell into stereotypical reductions of both rigid clerics and frigid mothers.

Chapters elaborate the aptly-chosen moniker of the “civilizing offensive” of the Church-directed and State-funded school and hospital establishments in their campaign to inculcate corporal punishment from the ‘50s on. “Beating the Devil” frames Augustinian doctrine of original sin around justifications of “religious coercion” into the training of students for professions and for celibate vows.

How ordinary readers and attentive journalists expressed their approval or discontent with such a stern rule by clerics and bureaucrats betrays signs of “discontent and apostasy.” These encouraged the reception, at least by a frustrated minority, of NRMs as these made small inroads from the 1’60s on.

Setting this mood within the wider worries of the Cold War and then the conflict in the North of Ireland, Ulster native Mulholland shows how mass emigration and economic hardships exacerbated worry. This tension found reification in apparitions and prophecies, however ephemeral. With the aid of psychoanalytic “attachment theory,” Mulholland reasons that during such heightened periods of crisis, debates over control by authorities and resistance among counter-cultural entities mirror great change.

This study, like most documents produced to fulfill a doctoral degree, relies on extensive inclusion of citations, nods to the experts and a naturally academic tone. A few slips in spelling eluded editors, but overall it remains accessible to those outside the ivory towers. Its appendix remains its most innovative feature; here: 158 examples from the popular press sum up the dramatic arrival of alternatives to the Irish Catholic norm. For, as Mulholland concludes, beyond the professorial limits of facts and figures, the truest explanations of how disparate trends and globalizing attitudes altered the land of saints and scholars lie within the men and women on the street, at least those interviewed or contributing to the creation of scenarios which emerge from hopes, fears and desires of those outside rectories or seminars.

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