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The Only Book To Be Read Was The Bible

Put the Bible back into society and let’s clearly stress that we are a Christian island – that’s the challenge set out by religious commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his latest Fearless Flying Column today.

With political turmoil the order of the day, maybe the Christian Churches can bring some level-headed calmness into the Brexit equation by restoring the Bible to its proper place in society.

The latest sexual abuse scandal has rocked the Vatican to its very core. Those events may have unfolded thousands of miles away in Australia and Rome, but the impact in Ireland will be to further undermine the Catholic Church’s influence – and ultimately the entire Christian faith’s role – in an increasingly anti-Christian society.

On paper, Ireland is still a majority Christian island, but the massive challenge which the Churches – of whatever denomination – have to radically address is how to make ‘being a Christian’ meaningful and relevant.

It is not a case – yet – that Ireland has been converted into a militantly secular unchristian island whereby to publicly admit to being a Christian is tantamount to suggesting there is something sexually deviant about you.

The census findings still show the island to be Christian – but Christians have become the silent majority. However, if the Churches do not sit up and take note, a time may come where Christians face as much persecution on the island of St Patrick as they would if they openly preached the Gospel on the roads and streets of North Korea.

As a teenager in the Seventies, I would hear horrific tales of physical persecution of Christians in communist China and Soviet Russia. Even in Africa, there was the terrible episode of the rape and murder of Elim missionaries at the Vumba in what was Rhodesia.

Whatever happened to morning assemblies in schools? Have we become such a ‘snowflake society’ that some sections are even offended at the mention of the very word ‘Christian’? How long will it be before Christians are being hounded for wearing symbols of their faith at work, at social events, and even in the street?

In days gone by, the bedside table Bible was common place in many hotel rooms and bed and breakfast establishments. But how many owners have decided to discreetly remove the Bible for fear of offending customers? But maybe its a case that the Silent Majority of Christians have made a rod for their own backs.

Look at how Christian clergy are portrayed in drama. As a youth (and still is!) my favourite television sitcom is Dad’s Army, which has the camp vicar who is always moaning. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, the Church of England was the subject of ridicule in the ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ TV sitcom.

The Catholic Church was constantly jibed at by the late comedian Dave Allen, and this ridiculing reached a peak with the ‘Father Ted’ series. Women clerics got a lambasting, too, in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’; then there was the smoking and drinking cleric in ‘Rev’, not to mention the portrayal of the gay vicar in the soap ‘Coronation Street’.

While many would dismiss these portrayals as harmless fun, the underlying trend is that the Christian faith is fair game for comedians and satirists.

But I wonder would the script writers be so keen to write a sitcom which poked fun at radical Islam? Why is the Christian faith seemingly always the butt of jokes?

Could it also be that we Christians are suffering the consequences of the old maxim - there’s too much religion in Ireland and not enough Christianity!

Those critical of Christianity or campaigning for ideals which run contrary to Biblical teaching have got their acts together and are really vocal. Look at how successful the campaigns to recognise same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws have been in the Republic.

Many of these activists have now set themselves the agenda - the North is next. If same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion legislation does become law in Northern Ireland, it will not be because the Province has become more secular, it will be because the majority Christian community have remained silent.

The bitter reality is that too many of us Christians are too afraid to stick our heads above the social parapet for fear of being branded racists, bigots, extremists, homophobes, islamaphobes and all the other ‘phobes’ you can imagine.

True, the Christian faith faces a lot more competition for activities - even on Sundays - than it did 40 years ago. In the Seventies, the independent Sunday afternoon Sunday schools were the order of the day.

Sundays were reserved for the worship of God - no TV, no secular music, no reading of print comics such as the Beano, Dandy or Victor; the only book to be read was the Bible.

Spool the clock forward four decades and ask the question - how many homes have a time of daily devotion with the families? Indeed, how many of us Christians have a daily time of devotion with our families? Bible study and prayer time revolves around the TV soap schedules or the sports channels.

Has my own attendance at the mid week Bible study and prayer meetings on Wednesdays increased because my beloved Gunners are not in the Champions League, but play in the Europa League which is screened on Thursdays? That’s a key personal question I’ve had to ask myself as a Christian!
In the coming months and years, we Christians will have to box very clever if we are to restore Biblical values and principles into Northern Ireland society.

This situation will become even more challenging if Stormont collapses totally and Direct Rule from Westminster is restored - especially if there is a General Election and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour forms the next Government.

Ironically, parents in England can have the luxury of sending their children to faith schools, especially those run by the Church of England. In Northern Ireland, if Christian parents requested that their children be excused from lessons which pushed evolution instead of Creationism, they would be privately - maybe even publicly - branded as fanatics.

I still recall the “Gud Auld Dayes” in the mid Sixties when I was a primary school pupil at Clough in Co Antrim when a local Presbyterian minister, the late Rev Robert Dalglish of Newtowncrumlin, would come into the school and take us for a religious education exam.

Sunday school prizes in the Sixties and early Seventies for reciting the Catechism or Biblical verses were seen as major awards, and winning a Ballymena and District Boys’ Brigade Battalion Scripture Award was seen as a huge triumph.

Perhaps a start could be the Churches indulging in better marketing of their Sunday schools. It would also be beneficial if more Christian parents got actively involved in school parent-teacher associations so that they have a direct influence on getting Biblical lessons included as part of the curriculum.


Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s slot, Call Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.20 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, as part of the ‘At The Table’ show. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

1 comment to ''The Only Book To Be Read Was The Bible "

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  1. "As a teenager in the Seventies, I would hear horrific tales of physical persecution of Christians in communist China and Soviet Russia. Even in Africa, there was the terrible episode of the rape and murder of Elim missionaries at the Vumba in what was Rhodesia."

    Look at little earlier in history to see why this happened, the 'Christians' seldom went anywhere carrying flowers and chocolates. Unsurprising when the local population decides on revenge. Stop this pish about Christian Victimhood it's 2019.

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