‘Good religion, Bad religion’ by Joe McVeigh

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Everything is mystery. There is nothing that is not mystery. That’s the way life is. We live in Mystery, another way of saying we live in the eternal presence of God – and we die in mystery. That’s what good religion tries to capture and teach. That’s what the prophetic words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels convey. Bad religion does enormous damage to human minds and souls and communities. Bad religion tries to present everything as certain and sure and clear and logical! Bad religion is based on fear and control and threats of eternal damnation. Good religion is based on compassion and freedom and learning to be open to the mystery. We got a lot of bad religion over the years. Those in authority wanted to keep everyone under control. The old Lenten pastorals forbade people to dance! Parish Missions and some sermonisers used scare tactics -warning people about the dangers and horrors they faced in hell if they did not obey the rules. Children who were not baptised were condemned to Limbo. This nonsense caused many especially mothers plenty of anxiety. Most people did not take them too seriously but some did.


Many in the past made a mockery of the Christian religion. Back in the 1940s and 50s they often tried to beat religion into children. A poem by Brendan Kennelly gives a flavour of what went on in schools and passed for religious education.

Religion Class

Mulcahy taught us God/While he heated is arse to a winter fire

Testing with his fingers the supple sally rod./“Explain the Immaculate Conception, Maguire,

And tells us about the Mystical Blood./Maguire failed, Mulcahy covered the boys head with his

Satchel, shoved him stumbling among the desks, lashed his bare legs till they bled.

“Who goes to hell, Dineen? Kane, what’s a saint?/Doolin, what constitutes a mortal sin?

Flynn, what of the man who calls his brother a fool?”/Years killed raving questions,

Kane stamped around Dublin in policeman’s boots. /Flynn was afraid of himself.

Maguire did well out of whores in Liverpool.

In this angry poem, Brendan Kennelly captures the fear, the brutality and the dreadful consequences of this kind of religion.


Bad religion is still being propagated, not by the bishops /the official church in Ireland, but by a determined bunch of mavericks who seem to have loads of money at their disposal. These fundamentalist mavericks produce so-called ‘Catholic’ newspapers which are dropped in churches every week unrequested and they are offered free of charge. They contain much that is bad religion. I often wonder who is paying for the printing and delivery. ‘The Catholic Voice’ and ‘Alive’ are not reputable Catholic papers. They are disgusting propaganda. I would ask people to refuse to read these free newspapers as they are generally hostile to Pope Francis and to the Second Vatican council. They should be used for lighting the fire and not for seeking inspiration or education. They are a total perversion of Church teaching and of the mystery of faith. The Irish bishops should stop them from being dumped in churches all over the country giving the impression that they are officially sanctioned by the Irish Catholic hierarchy. There is nothing Catholic or wholesome about these crude publications.


There is an urgent need for renewal in the Irish church in order to promote a healthy version of the Gospels. There are signs that this is already happening if only in a tentative way. It is a pity to hear this week that a reputable publishing company like Columba Press which has published some ‘good religion’ books exploring the Mystery of faith has gone into receivership.


It seems that many in Ireland have rejected the faith of their fathers and mothers. Perhaps it was not hard to reject an immature faith. Perhaps many were hurt by the Church and many wee disillusioned by the child abuse scandals. In a way it is a miracle that so many still adhere to the Catholic faith. I think the more people discover the mystical side of the faith and the more they see the positive and caring side of the Catholic faith as presented by Pope Francis, the more people will once again rediscover the richness and consolation of the faith. Until recently, the mystical side of our faith had almost vanished. Thankfully it is making a comeback.


7 Responses to ‘Good religion, Bad religion’ by Joe McVeigh

  1. billy August 31, 2016 at 8:45 am #

    luigi is still in denial.he knows the abuse is still ongoing.

  2. Gritton August 31, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    Another great article . In England there seems to be a number of priests wanting to turn the clock back to 1940/50s . This attitude emptied the pews of our church and brought it to its financial knees. People did not relate to this pantomime played out by the cleric and went elsewhere . Preaching against homosexuality at Christmas midnight mass ? Crazy .He had to go and now we are left to rebuild a community. Thanks Joe and Jude.

  3. fiosrach August 31, 2016 at 9:51 am #

    I don’t think that the churches in general have become more caring,liberal or whatever. They simply saw that they had lost control of the people and society and were now irrelevant and are now trying desperately to carve a new niche for themselves. For hundreds of years the ecclesiastical institutions had opportunity to show a caring side but plumped for Mammon.

  4. Kieran Maxwell August 31, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    “There is an urgent need for renewal in the Irish church in order to promote a healthy version of the Gospels.”

    Hi Joe, I would agree with your line above and if you’ll allow me, I’ll share with you my thoughts on helping this along.

    I’m a passionate Catholic, I love my faith and this is due to what I can only explain as an ‘encounter with Christ’ that I had several years ago. Maybe I’ll tell you more about it some other time; but that encounter had a profound effect on me, it opened my heart, my mind, and my soul. I realised that the faith I grew up with was something more than just routine, it was something that infused every aspect of my life; it was deep, it was mystical, it was good.

    And my faith has grown over these recent years due to three things; three things that reflect the ‘trinity’ of Heart, Mind & Soul: that is – Piety, Study & Action!

    My Piety is about my relationship with God, and it comes in many forms such as prayer, Mass, adoration, fasting. Through these things and others I’m conscious of being drawn nearer to God. I am sustained in this walk with Christ.

    Studying the faith, if you’ll permit the pun, was a revelation to me. I had no idea that the Catholic faith is an intellectual faith, we don’t leave our brains at the front cover of the Bible – and with this new understanding my objections to the faith were slowly answered; I thought I was the first person to raise this or that objection, but no, I was centuries behind, a bit like Chesterton in Orthodoxy when he say’s:

    “I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before…I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it… I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

    In my Action as a Catholic I partake in the Gospel and this genuinely excites me, I love talking about my faith and sharing my joy in the same. I understand that I have a duty to bring other souls to Christ, for when I’m judged He may ask “Who else did you bring with you?” I’ve been given joy and I want others to experience this joy, I can’t keep it to myself, it would be wrong. I must be like the diluted cordial when added to the glass of water, I must permeate every aspect of that environment; I must aim to bring Christ with me in every environment I find myself in.

    So it is in our Action co-coupled with our Piety & Study that we will forge our way to a renewal.

    Spread the Word Father!

  5. Dominic Hendron August 31, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    A bit like good politics and bad politics. Good politics empowers people and frees their minds to think outside the box. Bad politics gives people a narrow nationalistic view of the world which excuses violence and justifies murder and creates enmity between peoples. Good politics always challenges injustices but never adds to them, asks questions of power but never seeks to control the way others think. Good politics is concerned with the here and now, not tethered to the past. Putting a Catholic newspaper into homes were two thirds of the congregation don’t attend Mass with the title Alive sends out a message, even if the paper is not read in a critical manner and ends up in the fire.

  6. Freddie mallins August 31, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    Jude, I think the church, certainly Catholic, has been forced into a political rethink. People with power tend to be conservative as that way they can hold what they have. Even Pope Francis saw the error of his ways, when in his early career he condemned the Liberation theologists. He has admitted that he was wrong and now accepts that he too should have lived his faith out amongst the poor and dispossessed. Basically, socialism in its pure form, is Christianity in its pure form. The churches have been forced to the left by the people, towards compassion, forgiveness etc. It is the people who forced the change, albeit a work in progress.

  7. Croiteir (@Croiteir) September 2, 2016 at 6:16 am #

    The errors of the V2 generation saw the emptying of the Church and the churches, thankfully the Church is regenerating from the roots up, the Traditionalists are making a come back, the SSPX are being courted by the Vatican as it sees that its seminaries are full, the Latin Mass, the Mass of all time is attracting more of the faithful fed up with the crassness of the vernacular. Cardinals are calling for Ad Orientum. All pointers are for a return to the pre Vatican 2 era. Watch will the old guard, the Spirit of V” Fr Trendy’s, are exorcised. They had their day and it was a cold one for Catholicism. Pope Francis is as good as it gets for them.