RTÉ backs absurd campaign to redefine St. Brigid as a “lesbian abortionist”

Anybody who knows anything about modern Ireland would know that it would take something extraordinary for the nation to decide, in 2021, to dedicate another holiday to a Roman Catholic saint. After all, the prevailing cultural winds are blowing strongly in one direction, and one only: In favour of the complete and total separation of church and state. So, it might be confusing then to see all the support from the political left for the creation of a new bank holiday in honour of Saint Brigid of Kildare, the foundress of several monasteries of nuns in the fifth and sixth centuries.

It is much less confusing, though, when you listen to advocates of the holiday speak of their reasons. It is not that they wish to celebrate a Christian saint. It is, they say, that they wish to celebrate Ireland’s first radical feminist – a lesbian, and an abortionist. This is an interpretation of Brigid that would, of course, come as news to almost everybody in Irish history who ever invoked her name in prayer. And that is because, to speak plainly, it is absolute and complete nonsense.

Here is an article published by the national broadcaster, just yesterday, on the topic, by Dr. Karen Ward, a “Counselling Psychotherapist and Shamanic Energy Therapist” in DCU, no less. We’ll quote it here, because as always, it’s important to hear the opposing argument, published by RTÉ, such as it is:

So who was Brigid? She was a Celtic goddess, a Christian saint and a symbol of feminine power, strength and ancient wisdom that transcends religion, making her inclusive and appealing to all faiths and none…..

…..Most of us remember the myths and legends from schooldays of this Irish female matron saint from spreading her cloak over the plains of Curragh to weaving her iconic equilateral cross of reeds. Brigid founded a spiritual community for both women and men in Kildare, a thriving egalitarian monastery of men and women, living and practicing equally side-by-side…..

…..However, it’s important to highlight the fact that St. Brigid came from the early Irish Christian tradition which was far more progressive than today’s Catholic Church, and pre-dates the Reformation, before any division between Catholics and Protestants. Brigid is the embodiment of true Christianity, renowned for her compassion, healing gifts and care for the poor and sick. The Saint is an anomaly for modern Catholicism in that she was Ireland’s first recorded abortionist and a lesbian – both facts are recorded by medieval monks in the Annals.

Where to start? Well, let’s start at the beginning: It is factually wrong to say that Saint Brigid was a “Celtic Goddess” and “a Christian Saint”. The feast day commemorates Brigid of Kildare – an actual, flesh and blood person, whose skull, we are told, rests in a Catholic Cathedral in Lisbon. Brigid of Kildare was not a Celtic Goddess, though she shared her name with one. The Saint whose feast day falls on February 1st was, according to most sources, born in 451AD, near Dundalk. Brigid the Celtic Goddess, by contrast, does not have a feast day, being as she is a totally different entity, from a different and extinct religion. Claims that the feast day on February 1st commemorates both Brigid’s are, in the simplest language, just plain wrong. St. Brigid’s day does not seek to “transcend” religion. It is, and always has been, an explicitly catholic feast day, to celebrate an explicitly catholic saint. Claims to the contrary are invented, and false.

Second, let’s talk about the argument that early Christianity was “more progressive” than the modern, supposedly repressive, Christianity of today. That, too, is nonsense. Yes, the church may appear to have played a “progressive” role when it first emerged in Ireland, but that is because the time it existed in had many utterly barbaric customs: The old church stood against child sacrifice and ritual killings, which were a core part of the old religion it displaced. It is not especially difficult to seem progressive in a society in which your main opposition offers human sacrifices to the gods. And yet, devotees of that pagan Ireland, who mourn its passing, skirt around that uncomfortable subject, preferring to pretend it did not exist. The RTÉ article offers no evidence of how, exactly, the old church was “more progressive” than that of today. It is asserted as an unchallenged, and unchallengeable, statement of fact.

All of this nonsense, however, pales in comparison with the claims that Brigid of Kildare was “a lesbian, and an abortionist”.

These claims have become common in recent years, as pro-choice campaigners seek to find new ways to undermine Catholic teaching on the subject of abortion. They were perhaps best summarised by Dr. Maeve Callan, in an article for the Irish Times in 2018, which was nicely timed to salve consciences in the run in to the abortion referendum:

Callan contended that stories of St. Brigid, St. Ciarán of Saigir, St. Cainnech of Aghaboe and St. Áed mac Bricc show the performance of abortions on women who were nuns secretly pregnant or abducted women, including nuns, who had been raped. The stories talk about the baby in the womb vanishing or the womb emptying.

First, it is worth noting that those who fervently believe that St. Brigid could make unborn children vanish by laying hands on a womb and praying would generally sneer at any other medieval account of miracles occurring. Ask them do they believe that St. Patrick compelled all the snakes to leave Ireland, and you will find heartfelt scepticism and the dismissal of “superstition”. Ask them do they believe that St. Brigid was an exterminator of unwanted pregnancies, and you will find heartfelt belief. That speaks much more to the need modern Ireland has to have its own customs validated than it does to any historic fact. Indeed, on the historic facts, we should probably listen to historians more than we do to counselling psychotherapists:

A distinction needs to be made between miraculous events and ordinary life,” Charles-Edwards continued. “The evidence of saints’ lives concerns miracles as conceived by later hagiographers. It is usually bad evidence for what they actually did, better evidence for what later writers could imagine happening.” Callan’s claims also drew criticism from Dr. Paul Byrne, a Dublin-based independent scholar who has lectured in early Irish history at University College Dublin. “There is no credible evidence that any Irish saints were involved in any form of abortion,” Byrne said in comments provided to CNA

Almost all of the tales on which these abortionist claims rest were written hundreds of years after Brigid’s death. There are no contemporary accounts of her life. The claim that she was a lesbian is even weaker and is based on the fact that she is alleged to have travelled with a fellow Nun, who people allegedly described as her “soulmate”. In modern parlance, that might seem to imply a lesbian relationship. But there is zero evidence that it meant any such thing at the time. Indeed, it is little more than the inversion of an assumption that has plagued women for centuries: That if she spends time in the company of a man, she is sleeping with him. That there is no such thing as friendship without sex. If such an assumption was made about a modern woman, Irish feminists would be rushing to their defence, and rightly. But they have no difficulty making that same assumption about a dead saint, when it suits their personal agenda.

What we do know is that Brigid was a Nun who opened several catholic convents for women. We also know that at the time, homosexuality was considered a sin by the church. It seems highly unlikely that Brigid was a lesbian, and vanishingly unlikely that she had an open lesbian relationship. Again, you get the impression that this is much more about seeking ancient validation for modern Irish beliefs about sexual morality than it is about any historical fact. What’s more, it is all quite sad: Lesbianism is not moral, or immoral, or legal, or illegal, because of what somebody did or did not do 1,500 years ago. The desire to project modern sexual values onto an ancient figure speaks to a desperate lack of self-confidence in progressive Ireland.

Nevertheless, there is a relentless campaign to change Brigid of Kildare from 5th century nun, and monastery builder, into something else: The patron saint of radical Irish feminism. This campaign is largely being orchestrated by an astroturf, state-funded (there’s a shocker) group called “HerStory”, and given relentless coverage by RTÉ.

The National Broadcaster, it is fair to say, would hesitate to invite a “Shamanic Energy Therapist” to write about the budget of 1987, or the 1916 rising, or the declaration of the Irish Republic in 1948. When it comes to actual history, they would seek out a historian. When it comes to Saint Brigid, they seek out an activist. That tells its own story.

It is also not the first time that RTÉ has lent its platform to those who wish to redefine Brigid as a 5th century pro-choice campaigner and radical feminist. At this point, it would be unsurprising to see claims that Brigid was also an avid believer in Trans Rights and Assisted Suicide. Such articles have been a semi-regular feature on the national broadcaster over the last few years, and they appear almost as regularly in the Irish Times. That, of course, reflects the hopeless bias of the Irish Times and RTÉ more than it reflects any basic understanding of St. Brigid the person. Most of all, it reflects the desire of progressive Ireland for a religious holiday of their own, to honour their secular sacraments. That it is entirely made up is not surprising. It is only surprising that so many Irish people tolerate it.

 

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