IS there anyone, anywhere on this island rock, who isn’t aware by now of the fact that the new leader of the DUP in the North is a Creationist?
Surely to God on high there can’t be a single person — man, woman or beast — who hasn’t been given the full lowdown on Edwin Poots and his beliefs, and perhaps been invited to have a good old chuckle at them?
As a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, he sincerely believes that the Earth was created around 4,000 BC, and rejects the theory of evolution.
Pressed on where dinosaurs fit into this cosmic mix, Mr Poots once said he was willing to admit that the likes of the T-rex may have existed, before they were all drowned in the biblical flood.
Unless you’ve spent the past month in a coma, you must be very familiar with all of this.
The specifics of Mr Poots’s faith have been inescapable, as mainstream media and social media combined in an unholy alliance to publicise — and mock, either directly or by inference — the admittedly unusual religious beliefs of a man who now leads a party which is anathema to almost all of the people living in the Republic.
The new DUP leader’s track record and actual politics and policies were considered of far less relevance, as commentators united in a major pile-on to smear the honestly held beliefs of a Christian man.
My, I thought, as I looked on at this unedifying spectacle, how far we in the once ‘Holy, Catholic Ireland’ have come, in such a short space of time, to have such a disregard for religion.
If this sort of cruel, school playground-style bullying, picking on someone who is merely different than most of us, is good enough for Mr Poots, surely it’s good enough for our own politicians, the large majority of whom are Roman Catholics?
I mean, wait until you read about some of the crazy, far-out beliefs of that religion!
But first, perhaps it is best to start by pointing out the fact that many of the beliefs of the Free Presbyterian Church are actually shared by the one founded in Rome.
Both worship the same Christian God, and his son — the one with the beard — and both sets of followers believe that when they pray, they are actually interacting with said God.
How mad is that?!
Oh, and get this about the whole Christianity thing: God sent his son down to earth in human form because he wanted to save us — despite being the Almighty. Like, God couldn’t somehow do that himself, having created the world in the first place?
Mad stuff, Ted.
Yet these central planks of Christianity were not deemed to be worthy of mockery when it came to targeting Mr Poots. Maybe believing in God and praying are still a bit too close for home, even in the secular, uber-liberal Ireland. No, it was the specific areas where Mr Poots’ religion differs from Roman Catholicism which so many seemed to find so hilarious.
Even though, to an atheist, believing in and praying to deities is just as silly as thinking the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old.
However, while Presbyterians do indeed believe in Creationism rather than evolution, the Roman Catholics have their own beliefs which, on the surface, appear just as zany.
Take, for example, Holy Communion, where Roman Catholics go the complete nine yards. They sincerely believe that the bread is the actual flesh of Christ and the wine is his actual blood!
Mr Poots’ Presbyterians don’t go that far, simply believing that Jesus is ‘spiritually present’ in the elements of the Eucharist.
Any non-believer may find the Roman Catholic belief laughable, worthy of mockery even. But would it be rude to do so? Of course it would.
Yet so many here, and many of them Roman Catholics, were aghast at Edwin Poots’ beliefs.
Forgive my irreverence here, in order to underline my point. But it’s fair to say if Mr Poots’ party in the North were to pour scorn on an incoming Irish Taoiseach for believing he was eating the actual flesh and blood of Jesus at the Holy Communion, there would be an indignant response from both believers and non-believers in the Republic.
However, I can’t see that ever happening, as unionists appear to have far more respect for other people’s religions than the folks here in the Republic.
Since when did we become such a judgmental, boorish country, mocking a man for his beliefs?
It’s strange, too, that many Irish people seem perfectly comfortable rubbishing the beliefs of a fellow Christian. If the new leader of the DUP had been a Buddhist, Sikh, or Muslim, would we have seen the same stampede to pour scorn?
Would the media here have taken such joy in gleefully pointing out that Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that Sikhs refuse to eat meat or drink alcohol, or that Muslims believe in angels? The very thought makes us recoil, yet Mr Poots was exposed to just that, and worse, for days on end.
The entire experience, with not a dissenting voice that I could hear, left me wondering if the people of the Republic will ever be able to achieve proper unity, when you see the lack of maturity and cruel nonchalance with which a respected figure of the unionist community was traduced.
It’s not as though Mr Poots will be trying to convert people to his religion in his new role. He is a politician, not a missionary evangelist. His religious beliefs — even if they may appear bizarre, or even abhorrent to some — are a private matter.
Religion has thankfully largely been banished from politics here in the Republic, but we were given a taste of it in March, when Tánaiste Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of sectarianism, and said the party did not have a Protestant TD — wrongly, as it turned out.
In response, party leader Mary Lou McDonald, who may well be our next Taoiseach, said: “I hope everyone can accept that people’s religious beliefs, their faith beliefs, are private matters.”
Amen to that.