Changed, changed utterly
The words of WB Yeats in his poem 'Easter 1916' resonate with the Ireland of today. Our country is undergoing a profound cultural metamorphoses and doing so with pace and vigour. Ireland used to be wedded to its Catholic heritage, to be Irish was to be Catholic. The church held a position of power and influence which permeated all of society. Those days are gone. In May 2015 Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. Some 62% voted yes and that figure rose to over 70% in Dublin, changed utterly indeed. On the same day that result was announced attention was drawn to the next battleground, repealing the 8th Amendment. The 8th amendment was added to the Constitution in 1983 after a referendum and was worded as follows 'The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.' The many marches to repeal that amendment pulsated with anti-Church rhetoric. 'Keep your theology off my biology','Not the church Not the state Women must decide their fate' 'Keep your rosaries off my ovaries'. A local senator with the Labour Party appeared at our door and as we discussed the issue of abortion he said he had a good Christian background, acknowledged abortion was the taking of a human life but insisted it was a woman's right to chose to do so. In a landslide vote on May 25th the 8th was indeed repealed and the result was greeted with aplomb in Dublin where 77% voted yes.
The drive to repeal the 8th amendment converged with yet another dramatic change within our culture, the embracing of transgenderism. In July 2015, Ireland passed one of the most radical ‘gender recognition’ laws in the world. The term transgender relates to a person whose chosen gender identity does not correspond to their biological sex. Richard Boyd Barrett TD argues that 'the only man who should have the final say in an abortion decision is a pregnant transgender man, and that view is strongly and widely supported in the new movement'. Children as young as seven years old have 'transitioned' from one gender to another here in Dublin. Changed, changed utterly.
The Dáil reflects these changes too. Commenting on a debate to remove daily prayer before business commences, Independent TD Joan Collins said "I find it incredible that we are debating this issue. This is the twenty-first century. We need to move on. This prayer calls on a spiritual divinity to direct the words and actions of democratically elected representatives. I have not been sent here by the votes of the people in Dublin South Central to have my words and actions directed by Jesus Christ. That is quite simply a fact." Ironically the preamble of our constitution states the precise opposite, "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, we the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ...Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution". Changed, changed utterly. I suspect there will eventually be a referendum to remove that preamble.
Our country has and is changing at a staggering pace. What are we to do? Should we retreat and reminisce of the good old days? By no means! The Teacher counsels us against exactly that "Say not, why were the former days better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask this" Ecclesiastes 7:10.
Should we tailor the message to fit with our culture? Should we leave out the chunks of the Bible that cause most offence? To do so would be to rob the Ireland of today of what it needs most, the refreshing gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter's words in Acts 3:19-21 resonate in my mind "Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago." Ireland has changed utterly yes, yet the gospel is the ultimate agent of change, it changes us all utterly, for our good and for His glory. Please pray we would have zeal, compassion, gentleness and candour as we seek to make Jesus known in an increasingly hostile culture. Oh how we need the gospel to be the fulfilment of the closing words of Yeats iconic poem:
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.