Archives for October 2011

Has Ireland elected an agnostic president?

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William Crawley | 10:37 UK time, Saturday, 29 October 2011

During the election campaign, Michael D Higgins, Ireland's new president, described himself as "spiritual", rather than religious. I suspect that means he is not a member of any institutional church, but that his mind and heart are open to a sense of transcendence.


The term "spiritual" is a strange one, since even some agnostics are happy to apply it to their sense of wonder at the world. By some definitions, Richard Dawkins might even be described as "spiritual", just as the agnostic Albert Einstein was. Seamus Heaney is one of the most "spiritual" poets one could find, but he, too, tells us he is agnostic on the existence of God.

This is worth noting because it would appear that the people of Ireland have just elected the least institutionally-religious of the available candidates for president. That may tell us something about the current cultural mood in Ireland. Or it may simply tell us that they made a last-minute dash away from Sean Gallagher.

In any case, Michael D Higgins will have to use some explicitly religious language when he takes the oath of office. A constitutional convention is due to review the wording of the oath next year (along with other proposed reforms), and the new president has already signalled his support for a change to more inclusive terms. But when he steps up to take the oath, Michael D will be asked to invite the help of a Being whose existence he may privately question.

The oath reads (Article 12.8):

"In the presence of Almighty God, I ... do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me."

Giles Fraser resigns

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William Crawley | 13:05 UK time, Thursday, 27 October 2011

"The Church should not put its name to any course of action that may lead to violence against the protesters. I can't in conscience go down the road on which they are embarked."

With those words, Canon Dr Giles Fraser said goodbye today to his job at St Paul's Cathedral.

Plans by the Cathedral authorities to remove the anti-capitalist tent city which has been ecamped on its doorstep for the last 12 days "could mean there will be violence in the name of the Church", according to Dr Fraser, a well-known contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought For the day, who has served as Chancellor of St Paul's since 2009.

Open Thread

William Crawley | 20:14 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

talktalk.jpgI don't often post an open thread, but some of you tell me it's a good idea because it lets you get stuff off your chest without throwing the direction of other threads. It also permits you to make suggestions about subjects we might give some more substantial space to on Will & Testament. Let's see. Expatiate at will (sorry about the pun). Keep it legal. The house rules still apply.

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