Like many people I watched with interest Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s interview with Gay Byrne on The Meaning of Life at the weekend. Mr Kenny rarely gives interviews, his handlers preferring that he speak in set pieces or scripted opportunities rather than subjecting himself to in-depth questioning.
Anyone who knows The Meaning of Life will appreciate that it is not a political programme and, being produced by RTE’s Religious Affairs Department, concentrates broadly on spirituality and the attitude of the guest to the eternal questions.
Presenter Gay Byrne described Mr Kenny as a “very straightforward man”. I was keen to see Mr Kenny articulate his faith, given the fact that he is frequently at pains to point to his Catholicism. In fact, Fine Gael loyalists and some of their clerical supporters have sometimes pointed to Mr Kenny’s Catholicism as proof that his abortion legislation is not something Catholics should be concerned about.
So, what picture emerges of Mr Kenny’s faith? Well, Gay Byrne is right: Mr Kenny is a straightforward man. His interview reveals that he is, at best, a confused Catholic. One might even suggest that Mr Kenny’s attachment to his Catholicism borders on the sentimental. His views on some of the core beliefs that make Catholics Catholic are probably more akin to a thoughtful agnostic rather than a Catholic struggling with the reality of doubt before the mystery of God.
Mr Kenny appears uncomfortable in the interview with the idea of a personal God. Instead, he asserts his belief in an “energy or spirit [that] is around”. There is, he asserts, “an energy, a force, an almightiness there that is certainly beyond my reach”.
But, the Christian God and the idea of incarnation seems like an alien concept to Mr Kenny. “I can’t see it as a person or as a being,” the Taoiseach adds.
Mr Kenny readily admits that he doesn’t pray, but does go to Mass to “communicate with that spirit”. His faith, he says, is in “my God, and my God is that energy and power that I feel”.
Gay Byrne, ever the professional and realising the Taoiseach’s muddled thinking, asks if Mr Kenny recites the Our Father or the Hail Mary to which Mr Kenny says he does. “But to whom? What’s in your head?” Mr Byrne asks. “They’re part of the faith I was taught and the story behind it,” Mr Kenny answers without even trying to explain what he means.
On the Eucharist, the source and summit of the life of a Catholic, Mr Kenny admits that he sees the Mass as little more than a community get-together. He is dismissive of talk of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist preferring instead to return to his themes of ‘energy’ and ‘forces’ that guide him.
Mr Kenny says he is guided by an “inner belief that you want to do what is right”. He is firm in his conviction that he “happens to be a Catholic” and insists that he would never allow his Catholicism (such as it is) to influence his politics. It begs the obvious questions: what does influence Enda Kenny’s politics? What roots his morality? On what basis does he build his moral reasoning and decision-making about complex moral issues?
I can’t judge Mr Kenny’s inner-life, or his relationship with God (whatever he imagines that to be). But, he certainly comes across in the interview as a man who has given very little thought to the eternal questions about life. His belief and trust in ‘forces’ and ‘energies’ seems more in line with vague new-ageism rather than the Catholicism he claims to profess.
Mr Kenny, who was himself a teacher of religion in a Catholic school, appears in the interview to be the product of a very weak form of religious education where faith is reduced to sentimentalism and a search for ambiguous feelings of wellness.
Religion and spirituality stripped of faith is a pathetic looking crutch. Belief must have a content and a context, without either, it flounders in to a form of thinking where doubt becomes the only goal. Doubt, of course, is part of any serious faith journey, but it’s not the destination.
Doubt, like hunger, is a motivation to search for nourishment and fulfilment. However, for some, doubt has become the goal rather than the impetus to search more deeply.