A Question I Was Asked:

Isn't Religion to Blame for the Irish 'Troubles'??

The Question:

In your article on secularism which I have to admit is well-written and persuasive, you tend to refute the idea that religion, and especially Christianity, has caused many wars and periods of unrest [the article, by the way, is here]. I think you make some good points, especially when pointing out the millions killed by atheistic communists, but what about the 'troubles' of Northern Ireland? Do you not blame both Catholicism and Protestantism for that?

UK Apologetics Reply:

No, I absolutely do not. Those infamous "troubles" of Ulster were and are tribal and political in nature - not strictly religious. Oh, I know that religion was brought into it because the two tribal factions were of two Christian-type traditions: Roman Catholic and Protestant, but the troubles were tribal, between the Protestant-supporting 'northerners' (Scottish and English in descent) and the proper Irish who had always been more supportive of Catholicism. Hatred was there from an early point because the true Irish bitterly resented the British move to 'plant' a huge non-Irish community in the northeast corner of their island.

The six counties of Ulster had been cleared of Catholics and planted by Protestant Englishmen and Scottish lowlanders by the English king James I (who was also the Scottish king James VI) in the early 1600s. Those descended from these planted people have called themselves 'Unionists' because they want to keep their status quo of Union with Great Britain and separation from the main body of Ireland.

This political action has never been accepted by many Irish, although they should accept that James was legally king of both England and Ireland (quite apart from being king of Scotland).

The problems have been, therefore, both tribal and political, however, since the two groups supported two branches of Christianity, the religious aspect has often been brought into it, but it was never an original cause, as most all historians agree. The religious divide did not help but it was never an original cause of conflict.

At length, terrorists became involved, initially from the Irish side in the form of the IRA ('Irish Republican Army'), but also, during the later part of the troubles, from the 'northeners' side and much blood has been spilt, as we all know. But these 'terrorist' people were committed to political changes through terrorism, they were not committed Christians, even though they would employ these badges as and when it suited them. It never has been the case that true and stalwart practising Catholics and Protestants were content to go out and murder others, rather, the killers were people who would 'use' religion but never be seen in any Christian assembly. They were nominal in their religious support - nothing more. This point has been made by countless priests and pastors who were - and are - 'on the ground' in that country.

So I seriously maintain that the Irish 'troubles' were, and are, political and tribal in nature and not strictly religious in nature. It should further be added that there has long been a Protestant community in southern Ireland who have not been persecuted by the Catholic majority. In fact, a number of years ago I was invited to Ireland to pastor one of these churches but since we had just become involved in foster care in our local area, we could not take up the opportunity.
Robin A. Brace. April 21st, 2011.