The Irish Catholic concerns pursued by David Quinn span 1994 to 2017.
What are the chances a collection of a quarter-century’s worth of op-ed columns enjoys a long shelf-life versus quickly moving to the backlist of an indie publisher? The Irish Catholic concerns pursued by David Quinn span 1994 to 2017. Ideally placed to observe the convulsions of a society rapidly booming under the Celtic Tiger, and then as suddenly deflating, Quinn documents his homeland as riven by dissension. Boom and bust subside. What remains? Bitterness after the bursting of a bubble.
This collection—opening with a nod of support from likeminded maverick John Waters (the Irish journalist, not the American cult icon) and prefaced by a recent conversation with Michael Kelly—enables the reader who lacks a pile of moldering copies of four newspapers to which Quinn has contributed to learn about his career. He left for Australia after university in the mid-1980s, one of hundreds of thousands seeking steadier employment overseas. Having married a Baptist woman Down Under, his interest in religion revived from childhood and he returned to Dublin to follow in his father’s footsteps in the fourth estate. Like many in this small nation, his family had been intimately involved in the civil strife between Irish as well as against the British. His legacy of loyalty to Fine Gael, roughly equivalent to a conservative Christian Democrat European party, continues throughout these articles.
Therefore, How We Killed God will attract those who wish for a compendium of how a right-of-center leadership capitulated to the secularizing and non-Catholic trends which began to overtake Irish traditional mores and government policies in the 1960s. While some uninformed observers assume a “Catholic Ireland” monolithic until the sexual abuse scandals of Church-run entities which gained exposure in the past couple of decades, a careful examination of Quinn’s journalism confirms how the reaction to religious convention emerges from the supplanting of anti-British sentiment with hostility towards “Rome rule.” Accompanied by a vow to reject institutions and embrace individualism, this mentality gained control of top-down policymakers as well as many priests. Quinn wonders why so many in the chattering classes wish to imitate the laxity of a liberal Church of England, whose pews empty, and whose tolerant, all-inclusive good news of a Gospel-lite engage fewer converts than ever. What use, Quinn avers, would be a Catholic Church who surrenders its doctrine for such passing gains?
“What’s in it for me?” This turns into the chant of today’s society, where Anglo-American mores replace any “native” traditions or inherited models of how to cope in a world of frenzied consumerism.
True, the debates summed up within dozens of brief entries may not offer deep analysis of a globalizing Ireland whose openness to immigration from the EU and beyond has transformed its workforce, its schools and its identity within a very short span. Quinn, by no fault of his own, in the limits of a few hundred words per selection within, has to allude to divisive issues familiar to most Irish about the exposure of abuses at the Magdalene laundries, for instance, which his original readers would have already heard much before opening the paper to find Quinn’s reactions. Yet anybody in a wider audience may take heed of his repeated warning. In the pursuance of an ideal of “family diversity,” the Irish social workers and educational managers accelerate “family breakdown.” Those who scoff at Quinn’s assertion may consider his marshaling of data. The Moyross housing estates north of Limerick city had nearly 60% of children living without married parents in the same household, and one may ponder given the rise in cohabitation if such (sub-)urban conditions have turned more stable or if the related gang and crime rates have plummeted since Quinn shared his findings a full decade ago.
However, any critic of Quinn’s slant must admit he’s no myopic mystic when it comes to the Church. He laments the massive damage done by its collusion with the State in a new nation that, a century ago and after not only anti-English war but a civil one, had to rely on the Catholic power structure to run its schools and hospitals after centuries of colonialism and persecution. In the absence of a welfare state, political parties such as the one his family remained faithful to had to step in and compromise with an often prejudiced and draconian clerical establishment who remained disdainful of dissension and dismissive of those who dared stand up to the powers-that-were. Quinn also juxtaposes the treatment of babies and single mothers in the Swedish bureaucracy from the mid-1930s through the mid-1970s, and how in the 1960s, England likewise proved itself as dictatorial and controlling as other “socialist” states when it came to intolerance towards out-of-wedlock births. And in Sweden, moves towards eugenics.
Such perspectives one does not encounter among writers eager to blame the Church for all that has gone wrong in Ireland. Nobody wants to return to a land which in 1946 had half its households lacking either an indoor or an outdoor toilet, or a 1935 economy whose wealth was a tenth of that nowadays. Quinn refuses romanticism. But he turns away from a shallow call for easy rejection of self-discipline.
The latter sections of this anthology scatter Quinn’s critiques and repeat issues; debates around abortion and same-sex rights churn as he charts the refusal of a formerly cautious Fine Gael to resist the drive to overturn moral standards as enshrined in law. Ending with a 2017 piece about Brexit, the collection halts. If more explanation of how the chapters arranged had been chosen and how they fit into a larger picture of 23-odd years of Irish reporting on moral and religious topics had been inserted into How We Killed God, the lasting value of these gathered contributions would have been boosted. As it remains, audiences will conclude with Quinn’s clever analogy. If the corruption around FIFA has not dissuaded fans to support their World Cup squads, then the sins committed by those in charge of an all-too-human assemblage of sinners comprising the Church may not discourage those within its ranks who strive to overcome their frail selves. Reform, not rejection, suggests a wiser and calmer answer.