Northern Ireland: A Play and Theocratic, Postmodern, Intolerant Liberalism

Northern Ireland is a curiously regressive place, and is becoming all the more so, it often seems. We are threatened with Creation museums, see Creationism and science equivocated, have LGBTQ bodies policed daily (gay men and women cannot donate blood in NI), and are more generally threatened with the ever-surprising ignorance of our politicians on nearly everything – not least community relations.

So, with all of this, the decision of a Northern Irish council in Newtownabbey to force the cancellation of a play by the Reduced Theatre Company, The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), is unsurprising. It was been deemed “blasphemous” and, apparently, inspired a “need to defend Christian values” – or so said Major of Newtownabbey, Fraser Agnew, in regards the latter problem.

The decision taken by the artistic board of the council has now been reversed, due to a new round of international criticism.

Now, there is much to be bemused about. For example, how exactly does a council have powers to make decisions such as this? In a purportedly “liberal” country, how is it possible for religion and politics to co-exist so comfortably? How, again, in a “liberal” country, do freedom of speech and expression find themselves so quickly cancelled?

All fine questions, but I can’t help but think they function to suggest that these people should better themselves as politicians; that they should simply improve as those elected to lead us. No, what we should better do is highlight just how exactly they are incoherent snakes and charlatans.

Take, for example, the comments of DUP MLA Paul Girvan, who says,

If a similar play was coming forward in relation to another religion I would be taking the same stance… if it was poking fun at those of a Muslim faith I wouldn’t be too keen to bring that forward either.

Which is to say: in view of the board’s decision to reinstate the play, he still has his concerns about its offensiveness, but would happily censor it again – as, for the sake of fairness, he would do this to any and everything.

Girvan invokes liberal tolerance, to further extent his capacity to be intolerant. Isn’t it marvellous! Not only this, but a fantastic and totally hypothetical postmodern, religious pluralism finds its way in so as to support and reinforce his Christianity’s dominance.

This fetishised religious pluralism was also sounded off with reactionary vitriol by Mayor Fraser Agnew, who, following the play’s cancellation and the ensuing flurry of criticism, said,

If it was a play to do with anti-gay material can you imagine the outcry there would be over that, if it was anti-Semitic, if it was anti-Koran… all of those things would create an uproar.

The implicit point here is that his fundamentalist Christianity is being bullied. If this assortment of other views and lifestyles get defended from oppression of varying kinds, why can’t his views? Why can Christian values not be defended!? Which is to ask, in a slightly different manner: Why can’t society be tolerant of his intolerance? Why can’t society, with its postmodern pluralism, be plural enough to support Mr Agnew’s views?

Well, aside from the totally hypothetical nature and practical improbability of both Mr Agnew and Mr Girvan’s examples – when exactly will Islam be in the assent in Northern Ireland to warrant potentially offensive plays? – we shouldn’t be taken in by this nonsense. They are raising in their defense values they are openly attacking. They are raising the shadow of hypothetical oppression to disguise their own oppression and suppression of alternative views.

As a recent New Statesman article communicates, “Christians aren’t being driven out of public life – they’re just losing their unfair advantages.” This is what the both the DUP and UUP would obfuscate. That their own, so defined, “Christianity” is losing traction with vast swathes of the NI population, and so also their position of privilege. This is about the end of theocracy, the end of the unquestioned assertion of fundamentalist views over public life.

Here we must contrast a play that satirises and demonstrates the unviable nature of fundamentalist Christian views – and more likely than not represents the views of the growing minority agnostic, atheist, post-Christian segments of society – with the dominant group of protestant Northern Irish leaders who would mobilise themselves, with all the trappings of arbitrary political power, to silence views that challenge their own intolerant and oppressive political and religious views – which they do claiming to have suffered from intolerance and oppression!

It is they who oppress and exclude LGBTQ people, fetishising their lifestyle by raising it to defend themselves. It is they who foster regressive anti-science views. It is they who promote and extend poverty and inadequate public education through inter-communal aggression and antagonism. This is what their “Christianity” and its “values” endorse and promote.

These are Northern Ireland’s postmodern, liberal, charlatans. They are nihilists. There is no substance to anything said here but power and privilege. They are plastic in the extreme – but this is what liberalism allows. Why are they deciding who should or should not speak? It is they who should be made to be silent! It is they who offend more than any other.

Here we are presented with questions over freedom of speech – and freedom in general –which is too often associated with the notion of, as Georg W.F. Hegel, the “freedom to do whatever one pleases.” “Such talk,” he goes on to say, “is the product of completely uneducated, crude, and superficial thinking.” Here we must not only observe that Western notions of “freedom” are contingent upon globally enforced abuse unfreedom; but, also that, insofar as freedom may be linked with the exercise of power (potentia), this power is contingent upon a responsible understanding of our need to not act (impotentia) – our need to not make certain potentialities actual.

In all of this we see just how crassly abusive and irresponsible our politicians and community leaders are. They only understand freedom as the power to act over and dominate another – for which they will do anything, not least descend into incoherence. They are charlatans and snakes, and the most responsible use of our potentia would be to get rid of them.