There’s a funny exchange in Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man in which Stephen Dedalus explains that he’s lost his faith. When one of Stephen’s friends asks if that means he’s left the Catholic Church to become a Protestant, he’s met with this rejoinder:
I said that I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?
It’s hypocritical of me to find that amusing, and yet, I do. Because as much as I abhor any form of prejudice, especially religious prejudice, I can’t fault an Irishman for sticking up for the religion of the oppressed even as he disowns it.
I’ll be honest: I gave up on the whole thing one night in late September 2009, as I sat with my brother Tom in a hospital room in Naperville, Illinois, listening to him moan in agony as his nurses attempted to titrate just the right concentration of morphine and Ativan and whatever other narcotics and anti-anxiety meds you give to a dying man who’s in horrific pain just to stabilize him enough to take one last ambulance ride home, with a pharmacopeia of drugs in tow, to die in his own bed with his kid and his dog nearby. Which is not to say I have an opinion whether a god or many gods exist; only that I’ll leave it to better, smarter people to figure out why, if there is a god, he/she/it could sit idly by when people suffer like my brother suffered. Because what the hell; he was dying anyway. Why make him go through all that?
But that’s just me. If you can reconcile those kinds of questions – either way, you know; pro or con – more power to you. I don’t disrespect religion and I certainly don’t disrespect religious people, I only accept my own inability to make sense of it. It’s easier for me to live my life without asking those questions in the first place. Maybe that’s weakness, but so be it.
So I have to give credit to people who are able to wrestle with the seemingly impossible conflicts between religion and reality, whether it’s maintaining your faith despite the overwhelming human suffering that exists in the world, or maintaining your faith despite the fact that your faith rejects you. Take, for example, Donal Óg Cusack, one of Ireland’s greatest athletes. Until his retirement earlier this month, Cusack was the highly acclaimed goaltender for Coyne’s hurling club. He’s also gay:
In October , Cusack became the first high-profile Irish sportsperson to come out as gay, in his autobiography, Come What May. It would be an overwhelming experience for almost anybody but him. The news has been discussed earnestly throughout Ireland on radio phone-ins, chat rooms, editorial pages, talk shows, in saloon bars and dressing rooms. The headlines have ranged from the lurid to the laudatory, but the extraordinary interest his revelation has generated has been quite unexpected to the player himself.
Ironically, it is his unapologetic, no-fuss approach that has made him so fascinating. “There was no torment or agonising,” he says. “Once I knew what I was, I just got on with life, got on with hurling. I wanted to write this book while I was still playing; it would have been too easy to write it and walk away, but I’m amazed at the amount of interest in it. Stunned. It’s a sports book by a fella who just happens to be gay.”
Unsurprisingly, being an Irish sports hero, he’s also Catholic. The Catholic Church, of course, has a terrible record on gay rights, yet Cusack is able to maintain his faith while maintaining his dignity, a feat which, I confess, I could not pull off. It’s a good thing, though, because it enabled Cusack to write this brilliant commentary, published today on the Irish Central website, in which he asks the new Pope some hard questions:
Still. I’d like to know someday about how the mother feels about the fact that her son whom she loves won’t ever be allowed to get married in the church that she cleans in the village she has always lived in. The pope who gets the bus and talks about love is against gay marriage. He’s never been to Cloyne by bus or by car but he’s one of the last people on earth who cares that I am gay. If I find somebody I love the Pope won’t be letting me celebrate that relationship in the church which baptised me, gave me my communion, confirmed me and which will probably seize my body for burial if I let it. If I find somebody I love and we settle down and want to share our home with a child who needs loving parents the pope will have an actual hissy fit. Gay adoption, he says, is child abuse. That’s a pretty big steaming slice of ignorance for any badged rep of Catholic Church Inc. to be offering to the customers in this day and age.
As an aside, Jesus Christ that’s so Irish I can hear his accent as I read it. Good lord these people know how to turn a phrase.
But Cusack goes on to say this, which, if I were to pray on an Easter Sunday morning, this would be my prayer:
And when he learns some truths about real humility and real love he might look around the bus next time he’s on one and realise that the percentage of his fellow passengers don’t look or sound any different to anybody else and no matter what your belief they were created in the same way as everybody else.
Amen, brother Donal. Amen. Would that the Bishop of Rome understood as much about humanity as a goaltender from Coyne.
In any event, here’s something for the believers, from, as Bono once called him, “an Irish-Italian with a Jewish-sounding name”:
(Special thanks to my Twitter pal @LiberalIrishDem for linking to Donal Cusack’s Irish Central piece.)
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]