Militant atheist and secularist though I am I still respect religious beliefs as a vital component to the cultural heritage and identity of countless peoples and nations around the globe. Far too often non-believers find it necessary to denigrate the practices of faith adhered to by believers. This is simply a form philistine atheism. There is a beauty and an integrity to religious traditions that one should cherish. They form part of the greater whole of Human civilization which belongs to and enriches the lives and intellects of us all.
In an Irish context, despite my antipathy to the Christian faiths, I still enjoy the architectural beauty of many church buildings or admire the devotion of those who make the long walk up Sliabh Mis or suffer the purgatory travails of Loch Dearg. Why on earth would one belittle such customs or such experiences? Are they any less valid than the desire of those who follow their own traditions by pilgrimaging to some far away destination, be it an Ibiza club or a New York department store? We each of us seek our own form of solace, be it spiritual, social or retail.
Such is the human condition.
Therefore I embrace the traditions of my pre-Christian Celtic ancestors as much as I can – or as much as one can given the limitations of the sources of information available. When asked my religion I have always replied none. When pressed by those who insist that something must have come before nothing I reply that my faith is that of the Fiannaíocht. I could, I suppose, just as easily have stated that my faith is the Creidheamh Sí, a more recent label for a many-faceted thing. In any case tradition, more than belief, is what I respect. Unfortunately in this shallow and venal dystopian republic of ours believing in anything Irish, anything of Ireland, is frowned upon. Or ridiculed. Unless it comes from the mouth and pen of a poet. And even he or she must, perforce, toe the official line: such things are of our past, not of our present or future. Some argue that the great concrete furrow that scars the many-hedged fields and woods around Teamhair na Rí, spouting modernity and fumes, was a test for we contemporary Gaels. If so it was a test we failed.