St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were one of the first casualties of the lockdowns as the COVID pandemic was taking hold at this time last year. Which meant that we didn’t get a chance in this venue to discuss the patron saint of amateur drinkers and artificially dyed beer. So let’s jump on that opportunity now!
St. Patrick, and the story of Christianity in Ireland, are both quite fertile grounds for thinking about some interesting questions. To give credit where it’s due, this week’s discussion topic is borrowed from the Pub Theology topics newsletter. So let’s jump right in.
Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pre-Christian religion. Further, Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.
So here’s a some questions: Given that much of the Bible was oral tradition before it was written down, at what level do you imagine that biblical stories were exaggerated, modified or even made up at a later date to serve the purpose of the author(s)? Does this take anything away from the inspiration or the “holiness” of Scripture for you?
Familiar with Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his missionary work, Christian teaching, and practice, instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
How do you feel about this style of mission work and teaching? Do you think it still happens today? Should it? Or should traditional cultural beliefs be fully set aside in order to embrace the Christian message? In fact, let’s discuss the process of assimilation of one culture into a foreign religion or tradition: Is any religion free of this adaptation and borrowing from other traditions? In other words, does a ‘pure religion’ exist?
Bring your own festive beverage and join us for the virtual conversation tomorrow evening beginning at 7 pm. Click on the link below to join the online discussion.