Minister Ahern on Christianity and the family

Recent pronouncements by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern on the influence religious values should play in the life of a legislator have been depressing to say the least, but yesterday he seemed to contradict himself, although not in the way you might expect. In fact, he added insult to injury.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago he said that, as a legislator, he left his religious values at the door. But of course, if he leaves his religious values at the the door, there are plenty of secularists who are prepared to bring their values through the door instead. Indeed, the Minister himself has signed up to the value of ‘equality’ and ‘non-discrimination’, however you might care to define these.

But remarks he made at the launch yesterday of the publication of Seanad speeches supporting the Civil Partnership Bill by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) seemed to indicate that he does, after all, believe that religious values should play a part in the legislative process.

He described the passage of his Bill as “the epitome of a Christian and pluralist society”. On that basis, given his previous remarks on not bringing his religion to the legislative process, should he not have opposed the Bill?

Quite apart from that, however, Mr Ahern’s definition of “Christian” seems a little…eccentric. The leaders of the largest Christian Church in the country, the Catholic bishops, opposed the Bill. In addition, a number of prominent Church of Ireland bishops sought a conscience amendment to the Bill. Their request was rebuffed.

Over 30 evangelical Christian leaders wrote a letter to the Irish Times opposing the Bill.

Many Christians of all denominations also individually contacted their TDs. This was attested to by Fine Gael’s Seymour Crawford. He’s a Presbyterian and he too wanted a conscience clause.

Clearly, therefore, quite a few self-professed Christians opposed his legislation. But Mr Ahern is now telling Christian leaders, and individual believers, what is and isn’t Christianity, even though he says he sets aside his religious values when legislating and even though he has also said that politicians shouldn’t let religion ‘cloud’ their judgment.

He is obviously equating Christianity with ‘tolerance’ and ‘pluralism’, as he defines them. But the Minister is clearly confusing tolerance and pluralism with moral relativism.

Mr Ahern then added further insult to injury by seeming to suggest that there is no ideal family structure. A relativist, of course, would have to say such a thing because a relativist believes there is no ideal anything, that there is simply your ‘ideal’ and my ‘ideal’.

He said: “I think we all have to live with each other as best we can. Of course people would like the ideal – as they regard their own definition of what ideal is – but we have to deal with reality.”

He is certainly right that politicians and other civic leaders have to “deal with reality”. But the reality is that children fare best in the married family, on average. That is what social science repeatedly finds when it methodically examines reality.

That means that, where possible, children should be raised by their own married mothers and fathers. Society, backed by the State, should encourage this family in the interests of children while also helping other families in need. It’s no good the Minister pretending there is no ideal family structure when there actually is an ideal family structure, although there is obviously no such thing as a ‘perfect’ family per se.

If we’re serious about following what the evidence has to say we must continue giving special support to marriage.