Religious Fascism in Northern Ireland: A Feature Not a Bug

The banality of evil—Rev. Ian McNie

Northern Ireland (NI) has been defined by the fascist agenda of Protestants for more than a century. This political reality forms all level of social life—including religion, with which it forms a unique resonance in the British Bible Belt. This is all, of course, aided by the adaptive nature of liberalism throughout this time—which, as we know, is always as such demonstrates either muted or unmuted levels of fascism.

In this manner, it comes as no surprise when the Moderator-designate of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI—known for its having the ear of numerous MLAs on the religiously charged Protestant benches of the Northern Irish Assembly, and policing the politicians among its own ranks when they break dogmatic script), Rev. Ian McNie, betrays sentiments that belong squarely on the Right, ideologically speaking.

Here he is on the topic of all things democracy and oppressed, underrepresented minorities:

“The problem in our society … is that the definition of tolerance has changed considerably. It used to be that if I disagreed with you, and you disagreed with me, we were tolerant of each other and we agreed to disagree. Nowadays it seems to me that the definition of tolerance is such that we are not only supposed to accept that there are a whole lot of views [out there], but we’re supposed to accept and embrace as equally correct every view that is expressed.”

Liberalism, predicated as it is so historically on exclusion, cannot overcome the privileged white male who wishes to exclude some more—never in danger, as he is, of such brutal treatment. He who is afforded a second opportunity to further qualify statements conveying that the church can be, should be, and is a space that treats women differently to men, contra the rest of society, typifies the cis-gender, white supremacist slant of liberal privilege extended to the included in NI. (Bear in mind these comments must be contextualised with the problems of sexism, anti-LGBTQ and heterosexist stances, and Islamophobia in NI in mind) Not only that, but this second opportunity is subsequently used to promote a social vision in which those without a voice, those without political representation (are made to) stay silent—apropos the “back in my day” school of argumentation. Fascism: a feature not a bug of, well, fascism.

Insofar as PCI purports to follow representational democratic elective procedures, it is right to conclude that this man is indicative of wider sentiments held institutionally; actively demonstrating that, at the highest level, PCI is possessed of people who, at best, have no awareness that they form a power bloc that actively positions the church against minoritarian positions and groups, or who, at worst, do so consciously—an incredibly political thing to do, for someone who doesn’t recognise himself to be a “political animal.”

None of this is surprising as one follows the application of liberalism, which works by way of kaleidoscopic exclusions organised and maintained by the “liberal” group (the presence of representational democratic procedures and the language of “tolerance” make clear that PCI and its members understand themselves in this light). Yet here the internal contradictions descend in to an infinite regress as one touches upon the aporias present in the metaphysics of liberalism—does one liberally tolerate this illiberalism liberalism?

At all times, we can see the issues present here as questions regarding politics and power, as well as where one declares the site of truth to be located. Does truth come from above or below, and what mandate does this truth command for social organisation? It is clear where PCI sees this truth coming at us, like a missile, from—God; destroying all those who do not know it. This is a truth that oppresses those it would free, tortures those it would heal, kills those it claims to love. It only punches down. This is the politics of fascism.

The political truth we can come to can only come from below, from materiality, from the inside of a universe that knows no arche. This truth is that which coalesces around the multiple truths of a multifarious people—a power bloc of minoritarian difference. This is not a unity of the difference of the same, but a unity of the difference of the different qua difference. Christianity has always offered potential for narrating the formation of this kind of truth—as it sees the incarnation as the formation of a truth from below, as it comes to know itself socially and politically in the specificity of an oppressed people.

Yet, no narrative is ever singular in the interpretation it allows, and as such we are given to see how that PCI—under a politics of fear and exclusion unique to Northern Ireland, where religious conservatism has played a unique role in the maintenance of colonial power allegiances—mobilises its faith in a manner that supports a social agenda predicated on denying voices to the voiceless—unless they assume its voice—and extending only its own view as “equally” correct.

Here’s to another year of fascism being accommodated in the centre of social life in the heartland of liberalism!