Heroes are an important part of personal development. Perhaps it was my fascination with all things Celtic that led me to adopt St. Patrick as one of mine in the late 90s. Following the story of Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History), I envisioned him going into Ireland, meeting with local leaders, and converting them by proving to them the superiority of Christianity. In my mind, this was a mainly non-violent conversion, which ultimately allowed knowledge to be stored up in monasteries, thus allowing the return of such knowledge back to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Of course, St Paddy’s day became one of my favorite holidays (well, the beer was nice, too).
Over time, however, I’ve become a bit more sensitive to other perspectives on the matter. While I value the historical contributions that people made during that time (such as the preservation of knowledge), I can no longer hold Patrick in the same esteem I once did. I know that he was a product of his time (as am I a product of mine) and don’t fault him for that. But I also recognize that his conversion of the Irish leaders and the ensuing forced conversion of their people from their traditions was a form of religious imperialism. I’m a Christian anarchist. I understand and sympathize with the desire to share one’s faith with others, but I don’t deal well with imperialism.
Drew Jacob, also known as The Rogue Priest, will quietly protest tomorrow (St. Paddy’s Day). Rather than wearing green, he will be wearing black as his way of saying “Fuck St. Patrick”. As a Christian, it’s easy for me to identify with St. Patrick and the message of the God that he bore to the Celts. Drew identifies with the story differently. He is a polytheist priest who is pursuing the heroic life. He identifies with the pagans on the receiving end. This is how he retells the story to help Christians relate to his pagan perspective:
Wait, wait. Let me set the scene.
Imagine you are sitting in church. In the middle of the service, there is a commotion outside. A man enters the church, yelling at the top of his lungs. You’ve never seen him before, but he doesn’t look happy.
He makes his way toward the pulpit, and most people are too stunned to stop him. He has a sledge hammer with him, and he lays about himself.
SMASH! The cross on the wall is broken.
WHAM! The altar is stricken in half.
CRASH! The Holy Bible falls to the floor and he begins to flail it over and over, rending its pages with the hammer.
This is the wrong way to make a point.
For Drew, St. Patrick’s mission into Ireland was one of violent conquest. The victorious Christians dominated the vanquished pagans, destroying their way of life. He values other perspectives and ways of being in the world, and from what I can tell doesn’t have an issue with Christianity in general. “But,” as he says, “when it comes to forced domination in any form, I’m pretty comfortable declaring that it’s always wrong.”
I laud and encourage Drew’s protest tomorrow. And I will protest with him. But I will not be wearing black, his symbol of identification with those of his similar pagan faith. Rather, I will wear a color that echoes the voice of my own religious tradition. I will wear red, the color of Christ’s blood, the color that stands in solidarity with the victim.
Does it bother me that others will wear green and celebrate St. Patrick? No. I understand where they are coming from. I know that life is complicated enough and that getting up in arms over the “meaning” of a holiday for most people is just downright silly (especially when it’s an excuse to drink). But, as I hang out with my friends, I will do so in red as a reminder that every historical “advancement” comes through struggle, and there are always losers in every struggle. We must not forget that they, too, have a tale to tell. We must not silence them, but rather honor them in memory. For to do otherwise runs the danger of repeating the mistakes of our past.
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- Image source for “Bishop Patrick Bringing the Gospel to the Celts” (my title). Interestingly enough, that article is about the possibility that St. Patrick was a slave owner who fled to Ireland to avoid becoming a tax collector. Another alternative story that asks us to look at Patrick in a different light.