Monday, September 12, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt six)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

Irish people in this era – and perhaps in the long colonial period before it – were masters of ingenious hypocrisy. John McGahern was asked by a friend and neighbour in rural Co. Leitrim why he didn’t go to Mass. He said he’d like to but he’d feel a hypocrite because he did not believe. ‘But sure none of us believe.’ ‘Why do you go then?’ ‘We go for the old performance. To see the girls, to see the whole show… We go to see all the other hypocrites!’

Hypocrisy was the tribute realism paid to piety. It was not a threat to church and state but a homage to their stability and durability. But it had one rule: the duplicity, the slipperiness, the dodging, were supposed to be for the laity. There had to be a fixed point to weave around, a node of assurance in all this endless equivocation. If the people were to keep making the considerable mental effort to deal with great changes in their lives without challenging the moral monopoly of the church, the church for its part must be its predictable, straightforward self. To know how they themselves should dance, the people had to know where the church stood. This was the seed of destruction that was already present in 1968: the church was not the counterweight to our hypocrisy. It was the greatest hypocrite of all.

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