Adorning books about Ireland’s storied past are such titles as How the Irish Saved Civilization. Today’s Ireland, however, is busy losing it. In recent decades secularism has coursed through the country, transforming a pious island that once dispatched missionaries to foreign lands into an agnostic muddle that now needs them.
The news of November brought yet another illustration of secularism’s dismal triumph in Ireland: its government decided to shutter the country’s Vatican embassy. The Irish government will henceforth maintain remote diplomatic ties from Dublin, a move widely seen as a snub to the Vatican.
As if to underline the small-minded materialism that now holds sway over the Irish elite, Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore explained the decision on grounds of crass and dubious economics. “While the embassy to the Holy See is one of Ireland’s oldest missions, it yields no economic return,” he said.
Ireland has reaped spiritual and cultural riches from its close historic relationship with the Vatican, not to mention material ones through a tourism industry heavily dependent upon the country’s charming Catholic past. But Ireland’s cocky secularists don’t care. Like third-rate Jacobins, they seek to rebuild Irish society from scratch, using the Church’s recent disgraces as an anticlerical pretext to turn their backs on history, tradition, and faith.
These secularists see Ireland’s longest and deepest diplomatic tie as a silly relic of a past that they wish to forget, and in their sophomoric delusion take pride in fraying it, considering that a progressive blow to the Vatican’s prestige. In reality, it is only a blow to theirs. Even as they pant after the latest trends, they have failed to notice the Vatican’s rising profile in the eyes of international diplomats and the growing relevance of religion in global politics. As Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin noted, the Irish government’s decision to close the embassy comes at the very moment “there has been a growing awareness in international diplomatic circles of the importance of the factor of religion in an understanding of international security and peaceful coexistence among people.”
Thinking themselves progressive, Irish secularists now find themselves in league with such enlightened and liberated countries as China and Saudi Arabia. Those totalitarian states don’t see any economic, political, or cultural “return” in maintaining a Vatican embassy either.
Irish secularists live in dread fear of appearing “backwards” and unfashionable, even as they move backwards through hasty and amateurish policies. While superpowers, grasping the significance of the papacy, send more diplomats to Rome, the Irish government ingloriously pulls its diplomats out. While even some non-Catholic countries take a growing interest in religious freedom, opportunistic Irish pols, eager to capitalize on the abuse scandal, seek to suppress religious freedom, entertaining crackpot schemes to violate the confessional seal and limit the Church’s liberty.
“In order to meet its targets under the EU-IMF program and to restore public expenditure to sustainable levels, the Government has been obliged to implement cuts across a wide range of public services. No area of Government expenditure can be immune from the need to implement savings,” declared Gilmore, dismissing the Vatican embassy as an extravagance. Could a soulless EU drone have said it any better?
Of course, the real reason for the closure is not a lack of money but a lack of faith. Secularist spite drove the decision; the cost of the embassy is minor. Still, it is ironic that Irish politicians who fancy themselves architects of a prosperous and hip EU country can now be heard crying poverty.
Until the global financial bubble burst, an atmosphere of giddy wealth prevailed in Ireland. The Irish had lost their faith but had gained a roaring economy. In Dublin, some abandoned churches were even converted into posh pubs where the newly rich could sip beer while musing upon their quintupling home prices. But these days the Irish find themselves at once cashless and faithless, reeling from an unfolding crisis that the writer Christopher Caldwell described well in the Weekly Standard in 2009:
Over the last 20 years, Ireland found riches a good substitute for its traditional culture. But now the country has been harder hit by the financial downturn than any country in Western Europe. We may be about to discover what happens when a traditionally poor country returns to poverty without its culture.
This is, indeed, the experiment underway, and the Irish government’s shuttering of the Vatican embassy for its lack of “economic return” vividly symbolizes it.
“In 1927 a Manchester Guardian journalist asked Eamon de Valera, the father of the modern Irish state, whether he understood that closing Ireland off from trade, the better to protect its culture, would mean a lower standard of living,” wrote Caldwell. De Valera answered the reporter:
You say “lower” when you ought to say a less costly standard of living. I think it quite possible that a less costly standard of living is desirable and that it would prove, in fact, to be a higher standard of living. I am not satisfied that the standard of living and the mode of living in Western Europe is a right or proper one.
Outside the global economy, De Valera’s Ireland managed to cobble together enough money to purchase the Vatican embassy. Inside the global economy, 21st century Ireland claims penury to justify closing it.