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Opinions contained in The Iona Blog are not necessarily those of The Iona Institute. The Iona Blog is open to anyone who broadly shares the views of The Iona Institute. If you wish to post a comment on a relevant topic please email 200 – 400 words to firstname.lastname@example.org and it will be considered for inclusion in the blog.
Last week, director of the Iona Institute David Quinn (pictured) gave a talk at the International Eucharistic Congress about the many changes that have affected the Irish family in the last three decades. You can listen to his talk here.
In 2009, the Iona Institute published a study by Professor Patricia Casey, “The Psycho-social Benefits of Religious Practice” on the positive impact of religion on people across a range of measures, including mental health. While the paper and the associated conference – the first of their kind in Ireland - received considerable media coverage, there was little sustained interest in the subject. But in today's Irish Times, Professor Des O'Neill says that there is a need for a better understanding of religion and spirituality in the medical world.
A very important new study that compares children raised in families headed by same-sex parents for part of their lives with children raised in other families was published this week. The study has been heavily criticised by advocates of same-sex marriage but the criticisms they are levelling at it apply with much more force to studies they quote in favour of same-sex marriage and parenting. In other words, by attacking this new study by sociologist Mark Regnerus they are sawing off the branch on which they are sitting.
It often seems puzzling, given the overwhelming evidence showing that marriage is the best family structure for children, that politicians are so unwilling to acknowledge this and make policy accordingly. This was one of the topics addressed in a very thoughtful speech made by Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh (pictured) at the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan last month. Senator Walsh laid out the extent of the problem of family breakdown.
Kay Hymowitz is one of America’s most acute social observers. In an article in The Los Angeles Times last week she draws attention to the link between single motherhood and poverty. The figures are both devastating and tragic. She writes: “Poverty remains relatively rare among married couples with children; the U.S. census puts only 8.8% of them in that category, up from 6.7% since the start of the Great Recession. But more than 40% of single-mother families are poor, up from 37% before the downturn."
One of the arguments used by those who have insisted on maintaining the current definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman has been that redefining marriage would suddenly mean that anyone who thinks that a child needs a mother and a father would suddenly be defined as a bigot. Once the state says that marriage is no longer about ensuring that as many children as possible are raised by their biological mother and father, but about validating adult sexual relationships, then society will view the former attitude as simple prejudice.
The rise in the number of civil marriages in Ireland is a sure sign of the rise of secularism in Ireland as well. According to the latest CSO figures, in 2009 no less than 29pc of weddings conducted in the State were civil weddings. That was up 17pc on the year before. There was huge regional variation. In Dublin City for example, the total rose to 47pc and in Donegal it was just 10pc.
When it comes to public health, we have come a long way. Having improved hygiene and medical treatments, a whole series of infectious diseases which claimed millions of our forebears have been banished. This is often presented as just another victory for reason over ignorance, science over wrongheaded thinking. But when it comes to our sexual health policy, we seem to have moved backwards, and a peculiar modern form of superstition seems to be the cause.
This is a battle coming soon to a Catholic school near you, namely the clash between demands that school introduce anti-gay bullying programmes and the insistence by the Church that such programmes would contradict the identity and ethos of Catholic (and other denominational) schools. This clash is particularly intense in Ontario, Canada at present where a bill is being debated that would force all schools to introduce ‘gay/straight’ clubs. Obviously, the bishops of Ontario have a big problem with this with respect to their schools.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published their “Better Life Index” this week, and it had some rather interesting things to say about Ireland. In particular, it showed that we have one of the highest levels of volunteerism in the developed world. According to the report, on average, “people in Ireland spend 8 minutes per day in volunteering activities, one of the highest figures in the OECD where the average is 4 minutes per day”.
The European Court of Human Rights issued another very important ruling last week. The decision upholds the right of the Spanish hierarchy to sack teachers of the Catholic religion who flout the teachings of that religion. If the ruling had gone the other way, the implications would have been far-reaching for obvious reasons
Last week, the Church of England Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir Ali (pictured), gave a talk to the Iona Institute on aggressive secularism. You can listen to him debate the topic here with secularist David Robert Grimes.
We're frequently told that the introduction of same-sex marriage is inevitable because young people overwhelmingly support it. As older, more traditional voters die, so the reasoning goes, younger, pro-gay marriage voters will take over. However, according to this blog by Daniel and Lazar Berman at the American Enterprise Institute there might be a wrinkle in this apparently straightforward thesis.
On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama came out in favour of same-sex marriage. Iona Institute director David Quinn and Brian Sheehan of GLEN discussed the subject on the Scott Williams show on Q102.
An article in yesterday’s Irish Times set out to disprove the existence of aggressive secularism but ended up going a long way towards doing the opposite. Entitled ‘Evil, militant anti-Christian secularism is simply a myth’, it was full of scorn and contempt towards religion. Its underlying message to religious believers was clear; know your place. This, of course, is the very essence of aggressive secularism. By definition, aggressive secularism is characterised by an aggressive attitude towards religion and by a desire to drive religion from the public arena.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn have both appeared before the Seanad this week to discuss issues to do with the rights of denominational schools. Both men showed an awareness of the need to not simply trample over religious freedom rights. Ruairi Quinn was commenting on the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism. That report makes recommendations that would severely curtail the right of denominational schools to be meaningfully denominational.
Last week, one of Britain's most senior judges, Sir Paul Coleridge launched a new project to tackle what he called "the scourge of divorce". Maria Steen, barrister and a board member of the Iona Institute, appeared on Newstalk's Breakfast Show to discuss the impact of divorce on society. You can listen to the discussion here.
A recent case came before the European Court of Human Rights involving a German brother and sister in an incestuous relationship who have had several children together. The couple are in breach of German law and the couple brought Germany before the court saying their rights to a private and family life had been violated. The court upheld German law saying it is up to individual states to decide their own laws in this regard.
On Wednesday the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, in the course of reiterating the Government's committment to holding a children's rights referendum confirmed that the referendum wording would include a reference to a child’s ‘best interests’, and would ensure that children are treated as citizens. What she neglected to mention is that Irish law actually contains reference to the ‘best interest’ of children, or that the Constitution already treats children as citizens.
Religious freedom is one of the concepts which underpins most modern democracies. Most significant international human rights documents guarantee religious freedom. And most people when you ask them say they are in favour of religious freedom. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about “freedom of religion”? Increasingly, secularists are attempting (and succeeding) to redefine freedom of religion as simply “freedom of worship”.
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