I arrived back from a vacation on Sunday evening, September 8. Among a number of calls on my answering machine was one from Michael Otis of The Interim, asking me to call back (I was supposed to return on August 23, but I had to extend my stay for various reasons). I knew what Michael wanted – my article for the October issue, and I was right. Except that it was worse than I thought. It had been due the week before!
However, with his customary magnanimity, Michael said that I could fax it in by Tuesday evening (today), they would try to hold things up.
So, I have to confess that so far, I am simply filling up space in the hope that some ideas may strike me as I type. Since the last full stop, I have given this article the title “Wither Ireland?”
What follows will explain.
As far as I remember, it was the famous TV personality, the late Bishop Fulton Sheen who gave the following analogy regarding what can happen to society>
If you put a frog suddenly into very hot or boiling water, it will try to jump out.
So would I!
But, if you put a frog in water which is of the same temperature as its pond water and then gradually, almost imperceptibly increase the heat, the frog will not resist even up to the boiling point and will then simply disintegrate.
I have never tested the veracity of this theory and I don’t intend to, but it does serve as an analogy of what can happen and has happened to society all over the Western world.
Ireland was a little later but, sad to say, has ‘come along side’ in recent years.
I imagine that people who have lived all their lives in Ireland do not notice the changes in the social and moral atmosphere. But those like myself, who return form abroad with memories of the ‘old days’ are more conscious of the changes which have taken place.
To give an example, in my early days of high school, I remember the shock of being told (it was whispered around) that the parents of one of the boys did not live together. At the age of 14, I could not imagine such a situation.
But the boy happened to be from England, so that explained it!
Today, separation, divorce and indeed, ‘remarriage’ are accepted in Ireland as part of modern living.
Although divorce is still illegal, it is again being debated.
A booklet entitled “Marriage Breakdown” gives some causes for the present weakening of the traditional marriage bond.
The greater degree of independence enjoyed by women today, together with a greater consciousness of their equality and their dignity, has contributed to making separation or divorce seem initially to be more economically or socially practicable for those who encounter serious difficulties in their marriages.
In some sections of Irish society over the past quarter of a century the standard of living has become relatively high and the material expectations of people entering marriage have risen accordingly. Regrettably, this improvement has been uneven; for those who have not benefited, there is a greater awareness, through the communications media of “how the other half lives’ and hence, a greater risk of dissatisfaction with the standard of living which is perceived to be less than can be, and is attained by others in our society.
For some, the availability of civil divorce elsewhere, together with the weakening of personal, cultural and religious motivation, has meant that divorce has become more morally and socially acceptable.
The fourth reason is, in my opinion, the most serious.
With an increase in mobility and greater emphasis on personal autonomy, the concept of exclusive commitment to another person for life may not be as attractive at the present time as it was in the past. Making personal sacrifices is often thought of as foolish, where once it was thought to be heroic.
If I were to attempt an opinion as to the underlying cause for this breakdown of marriage in my country, I think I would attribute it to the secularization of Irish society, mainly – though not entirely – due to the influence of television and the other media.
The world and its ‘values’ has been welcomed into almost every Irish sitting room and bedroom. And the influence of these values can be seen in almost every aspect of society.
Drugs are rampant with the usual violence. During the two weeks I was in Ireland there were three brutal murders. These had nothing to do with the situation in Northern Ireland. They were simply violent killings possibly related to drugs.
Sexual promiscuity has certainly increased due to a number of factors – family breakdown with consequent lack of home discipline; the influence of a steady stream of risqué TV programs and the availability of pornographic literature. According to the (Dublin), Evening Herald (April 10, 1991), ten out of twelve independent video shops in the Dublin area stock hard-core pornography including violence and sexual-deviant acts.
One of the big controversies going on at the moment is whether or not condoms should be made available to youngsters under 18. The question is not as it would have been some years ago – the morality of contraceptives – but simply how available they should legally be.
Some time ago I asked a philosopher friend of mine what he considered the greatest evil to be. He replied, “The greatest evil is present when society condones evil.”
Another side of the coin
All this must sound very negative, and so it is. But perhaps it is this aspect of Ireland that appears most obvious to a returned native like myself.
Yet there is another side to the coin.
There are wonderful families and many great Christians. On Sundays and even on weekdays, I was impressed by the number of people – mostly middle-aged – who attended Mass on a daily basis. However, they are not the ones who make the news headlines. One has to be alive to swim against the tide, for dead bodies float downstream.
And the present tide, flowing in the wrong direction, is extremely powerful.