Professor Conway invents a bogeyman of an Irish “subcultural secularist elite”

In a recent talk to the Iona Institute, Rev. Professor Eamonn Conway, head of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College, invented a bogeyman that he calls a “subcultural secular elite” to frighten Catholics into thinking that their control of the education system is under immediate threat.

Rev. Professor Conway has been President of the European Society for Catholic Theology, and the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology. In 2012, Pope Benedict appointed him as an expert adviser to the XIII World Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation. In 2014, he was appointed to the Theology Committee of the Irish Bishops Conference.

While Atheist Ireland is confident that our campaign to have our human rights protected in our schools will eventually succeed, we are not naive enough to believe that the establishment will take on the privilege of the Catholic Church in as strong a way as Professor Conway imagines.

Ironically, one of the reasons that the “subcultural secularist elite” is reluctant to challenge the Church is that the “subcultural secularist elite” is apparently unaware of Professor Conway’s analysis of the evangelising role of the Catholic Church in schools. Instead, they mistakenly believe that Catholic schools are inclusive rather than evangelising.

Who are the subcultural secularist elite?

Professor Conway quotes Peter Berger to suggest that, in Ireland, “an elite secular subculture” controls “the institutions that provide the ‘official’ definition of reality, notably the educational system, the media of mass communication and the higher reaches of the legal system.”

He is correct that the mass communication media is mostly secular, though that is mostly for commercial rather than cultural reasons. He is wrong that the higher reaches of the legal system is mostly secular, as they all have to swear religious oaths. And he is comically wrong to suggest that the Irish education system is controlled by an elite secular subculture.

As he well knows, the Catholic Church runs ninety per cent of our primary schools, paid for by the state but run according to the Catholic Church’s ethos, with religion integrated throughout the entire curriculum, and exemptions from our equality laws that allow the Church to discriminate against atheist and minority faith families and teachers.

Professor Conway’s only counter-example is to claim that “a subcultural secularist elite of education policy makers, politicians and media, in the context of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, has sought to banish specific expressions of religious conviction and to impose the teaching of an inherently secularist approach to the study of faiths, in a new programme called Education about Religions and Beliefs & Ethics, even in faith-based schools.”

The most useless subcultural secularist elite ever?

So this is Professor Conway’s “subcultural secularist elite ” — the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, the Department of Education, politicians and the media. They must be the most useless, ineffective “subcultural secularist elite” that ever existed. They have not managed to put in place any of the Recommendations from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism.

Even the proposed ERB course about Religion, beliefs and ethics will not be implemented in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles. Atheist Ireland has already asked for an opt out from the course given the legal framework in place in Ireland. Professor Conway is obviously a bit confused about the situation.

Atheist and secular parents do not believe that the Department of Education, policy makers, the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, politicians and the media are coming to our rescue any time soon. Atheist Ireland knows that we face stronger resistance from the establishment to our campaign to have our human rights respected within the education system.

Professor Conway will be pleased to know that some members of his so called “subcultural secularist elite” have recently claimed that they are constitutionally required to buttress religion. This of course means that the privilege that Professor Conway and his church enjoys is set to continue.

None of Professor Conway’s “subculture secularist elite” are either willing or capable of removing the privileged position of the Catholic church in the education system. The very same thing happened to the Recommendations in the Report from the Human Rights Commission on religion and education. They are the most useless “subcultural secularist elite” ever.

As far as the “subculture secularist elite” is concerned, religious discrimination in access to schools is to stay, and religion will still be integrated into the state curriculum (Rule 68).

The Department of Education will still oblige all schools to promote the moral and spiritual development of all children through religious education and the Catholic Church will still have control over the vast majority of schools in the country.

The Catholic Church will still have control over the hiring and firing of teachers and parents will still be responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religious instruction classes.

The Church’s mission in schools is to evangelise

Professor Conway began his speech by reminding us that the Catholic Church locates Christian education within the context of the Church’s mission to evangelise all peoples. We totally agree with him on that, as our children are evangelised while accessing their right to education.

He reminds us that the Church defends the right to a Christian education for Christians as foundational for growth in faith, the provision of which is considered “a grave obligation” for pastors and for parents.

Professor Conway does not want to underestimate the very real dilemma faced by secular parents, but feels he should remind everyone that the current focus on baptismal certificates could distract from other equally pressing forms of exclusion. In other words, religious discrimination against five year olds should continue as it is distracting from other equally pressing forms of exclusion.

It must be so difficult for Professor Conway to listen to atheist and secular parents fighting for their rights in a Republic, but he must be pleased that the “subcultural secularist elite” are so absolutely useless.

Professor Conway also points out that every effort should be made to accommodate parents that want to opt their children out of religious instruction classes but points out that religion will characterise every aspect of the school.

He then quotes from a Primary School Teacher who says that religious education is cross curricular, and if parents don’t want their children educated in such an environment, it would be prudent of them to seek out multi denominational education.

Professor Conway does not think that the human rights of atheist and secular parents in publicly funded National schools should take precedence over the so called ‘right’ of a religion to evangelise all peoples.

Professor Conway should talk directly to subcultural secular elite

Atheist Ireland has been trying for some time to convince the Department of Education that publicly funded National schools evangelise, and that atheist and secular parents cannot ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. We have pointed out that religious discrimination in access to schools, is just that, religious discrimination and not ‘lawful oversubscription criteria’.

Ironically, one of the reasons that the “subcultural secularist elite” is reluctant to challenge the Church is that the “subcultural secularist elite” is apparently unaware of Professor Conway’s analysis of the role of the Church in schools. Instead, they mistakenly believe that Catholic schools are inclusive rather than evangelising.

Professor Conway’s analysis could help us to convince the “subcultural secularist elite”, which he claims includes the Department of Education, that the mission of publicly funded National schools under the patronage of the Church is to evangelise.

We really appreciate Professor Conway’s help in this matter. He should tell the Department of Education directly that the Catholic faith will characterise every aspect of the school life, and if minority parents have an issue with that then they should seek an alternative.

By working together, Professor Conway and Atheist Ireland might be able to convince the absolutely useless “subcultural secularist elite” that the mission of publicly funded National schools under the patronage the Catholic Church is to evangelise all peoples, and that this infringes on the human rights of atheist and secular parents and teachers.

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