Eoin O’Mahony has a blog that is in my “primary reading” folder on Google Reader. That’s like Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin combining to give you a medal. It is that big an honour round at the old Cardboard Mansion. Maybe 53 Degrees, the sketchpad for his PhD is only interesting to sociology nerds but I encourage you to go have a gander at it sometime. Seriously substantial stuff to read on the internet is rare.
Last week he had a great post on the role of self identification as a “sign” of faith. It turns out that even in the case where faith is non-existent or nominal, people cast their social action in religious terms to lend them credibility and legitimise them in the eyes of others.
Eoin then considers in what way are Irish social action organisations like St. Vincent de Paul affected by this phenomenon. Historically Christian organisations staffed and operated by people who lack the Christian creedal belief but for sociological reasons want to maintain a religious hue to the ways in which they describe their pursuits.
These are fascinating questions but there is a reason why I am not pursuing a PhD in sociology. I’d make a damn fool of myself. Leave that to precise minds like Eoin and I can waffle elaborate webs of nothingness over here in theology!
Instead I wanted to reflect on my own life. I have been engaged in a quite a bit of justice work or social action or charity; which ever term you prefer. I think in every case it has been with evangelical Christian organisations and it is certainly motivated by my evangelical Christian faith. Yet when I talked about my work with friends and even family, I tended to water down the fact that I was going abroad with an evangelical charity (note: not necessarily for the purpose of evangelism).
Even today, in my job with a little Presbyterian church, I find myself verbalising the projects we engage with in terms that maximise the civic benefit in secular terms and watering down the fact that we are doing it because we believe human beings bear the image of God and the world needs to be shaped to reflect that dignity. So we build community gardens in the worst parts of Tallaght because Genesis says that human beings find who they are in their tending of the Earth but if we’re talking about it over a pint I say that it will be an excellent hands-on educational environment.
Sociologists in America have discovered that people tend to clothe their seemingly secular interventions for the sake of justice in the language of religion to gain credibility but in my experience at least, Christians in Ireland clothe their theologically driven pursuits in secular garb because to do otherwise would leave us open to criticism that we are foisting my religion on others.
Your Correspondent, Believes that vampires are the world’s greatest golfers but their curse is they never get a chance to prove it.