Abolishing the Angelus on RTE is one of those perennials that pops up in the pre-occupations of Ireland’s dominant cultural class a few times a year. Sometimes it’s in silly season, when the press are looking for a story, but more commonly it’s when news stories about the nation’s past surface which tend to inflame anti-catholic sentiment. Two days ago, we had the publication of the long-awaited mother and baby home report (if you missed our coverage, and my verdict, yesterday, it’s here), so it was the perfect time for prominent people to resurrect the old “ban the bongs” campaign, complete with a petition on lefty signature gathering site Uplift:
It's time the Angelus was taken off RTÉ. It's time Ireland moved past it's dark past of Church & State being linked. We need to focus on bringing a new, inclusive & secular Ireland forward & it starts by separating Church & State on our public broadcaster. https://t.co/in48DPfgaa
— Michelle Byrne (@Michelle_Byrne_) January 13, 2021
This is way down on the priorities here (so don’t whataboutery me) but maybe we should get rid of the bloody Angelus on RTE. Symbols matter. (No, it’s not now “secular”. You know why? Because it’s the Angelus. That’s why.)
— 🥃Donald Clarke📽 (@DonaldClarke63) January 12, 2021
It’s time @rte stops the Angelus, not in the future but start today, this no longer is acceptable
— Chazelena (@Chazelena) January 13, 2021
We won’t labour the point – there are plenty more where those came from. The petition to ban the Angelus has – at the time of writing – 1,856 signatures.
One of the things that regularly happens, these days, is that when people get angry, they search for something to lash out at. Unfortunately for people in Ireland who want to be angry at the Church, the list of totems of Catholic Ireland that remain standing, and which can be quickly smashed, is running thin. The Angelus is about the only one which could possibly be done away with a good, well-focused campaign.
Of course, the campaign to ban the Angelus is revealing, in its own way. Hardly anybody can be foolish enough to imagine that the Angelus – especially in its present, watered down form, which amounts to about a minute of b-roll footage of some lad painting a picture of a seagull and looking wistfully into the middle distance – is playing a key role in proselytising young Irish people into a life of devout Catholicism. As it stands, it’s a rather sad echo of a long-passed, and different Ireland. It’s not even intended to provoke the viewer into religious devotion, at least in so far as RTE’s producers have anything to say about it.
So what’s the point of banning it, then? Partly, you suspect, the thought process runs something like this: The Church behaved badly, and, as such, the church must be punished. Removing the Angelus would send a strong message about our new commitment to secularism. The problem is, of course, that the people hurt by removing the Angelus wouldn’t actually be the institutional church, but those ordinary catholics, and people of other faiths, who use it as a moment in their day to say a quick prayer. You’re not actually changing anything, for the positive, are you? It’s just a way to take something away from other people to make yourself feel better. Almost the very definition of mindlss nihilism.
It’s not going to happen, anyway, would be my bet.
The problem for RTE is that while a lot of people might be ambivalent about the Angelus, those who do value it are also – in large part – the station’s most valued demographic. They’re older, they’re more religious, and they are reliable viewers of RTE’s content. The people who want rid of the Angelus, by contrast, are as likely to be watching Emily in Paris on Netflix at 6pm, as they are to be sat on their couch, shaking their fists at the oppressive bonging on RTE.
And it also provides an invaluable fig-leaf to RTE. The station churns out progressive propaganda for much of the other 23 hours and 59 minutes of every day – having the Angelus allows them to say “see? We value people of religious faith, too”.
Take it away, and what are you left with? It would send a message about RTE’s view of the world which would be entirely accurate, and that’s the problem. The broadcaster would much prefer to have the Angelus as an argument, than get rid of it for a quick dopamine hit for the permanently offended.
The final point, of course, is that the Angelus is remarkably popular, even with the irreligious, for the simple reason that people like having things that are traditional, and harmless. If people wanted to strike at the church, they could just as easily campaign to abolish the practice of granting holidays around religious feast days. Why celebrate, for example, the Catholic feast of Easter, when we could move that holiday into July, when the weather is better?
The answer is that people like Easter, they’re used to it, and it’s become part of the fabric of our society, and the way we mark the year, much as the Angelus on RTE is part of the fabric of the day.
They won’t touch it. And anyway, if they did, the petitioners would have to find something else to complain about.