‘Continuously Searching’: Tom Inglis

Dec 28, 2021 | 1 comment

I am continuously searching for a God I am not sure exists,’ Tom Inglis told an ACI Zoom gathering on Thursday Nov 25, 2021.

Identifying as some kind of Catholic because no other identity quite fits, the retired sociologist explored the mystery of religious identity in a changing and often confusing Ireland that is now facing – with the rest of the world – a deep environmental crisis.

Tom vividly described his current retirement in rural Ireland, re-reading the works of John McGahern while living in one of the buildings that the novelist himself once occupied – and ‘dissolving’ in his walks into the mystery of that same rural environment.

‘Religion is a universal human interest’ he averred, attributing that perception to another sociologist, Max Weber.

“It is too early to say if the environmental crisis will lead to a religious and moral revolution,’ he said towards the end – but his manner of saying that suggested that he had not lost hope of that.

Outlining in the course of his talk the phases of change through which ‘Catholic Ireland’ has gone since the 1960s, the sociologist offered a categorisation of the different manifestations of ‘Catholic’ he saw as emerging from that:

  • ‘Orthodox traditional Catholics’ holding on to the same faith in e.g. saints and relics, and resisting change;
  • ‘Cultural Catholics’ for whom Catholicism is an ‘overcoat’ to be worn to sacramental events, but without deep involvement;
  • ‘Disenchanted Catholics’ who have ‘let go’ but do not seem to be searching for an alternative;
  • ‘Creative Catholics’ who are searching and interested in other religious traditions as well as less travelled areas of historical Christianity.

Looking forward to Sean McDonagh’s promised presentation to ACI in January 2022, Tom took time to praise the Columban ecologist – as a ‘saint’ who had been saying before Laudato Si’ many of the things that Pope Francis said in that encyclical of 2015.

Asked if he would participate in the Irish ‘Synodal Pathway’ now promised Tom was non-committal. One reading of this event on Thursday November 25th, 2021 is that by so honestly describing his own location on the ‘margins’ he has already become ‘synodal’ – by helping us Catholics to make sense of the confusing Irish landscape of faith and non-faith that we are all now looking at.

Tom’s complete talk is viewable below.

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Timothy Walters

    Comment“Identifying as some kind of Catholic because no other identity quite fits, the retired sociologist explored the mystery of religious identity and that in a changing and often confusing Ireland that is now facing – with the rest of the world – a deep environmental crisis

    Has the Celtic spiritual nature of the romantic and poet been lost within Irish culture forever with the demise of the oral tradition of storytelling with their practical and spiritual messages contained within myth and fable if so, can it be revived?

    In the early fifties, one of my uncles in Limerick was in need of a bed in Leeds and he was to have mine while I would stay at his very small cottage home with numerous cousins in Limerick. My aunty Edna was to take me while she made one of her regular visits to see her kith and kin.

    We arrived in Limerick in the late afternoon it must have been wintertime because the darkness of evening was coming upon us. Shortly after our arrival, she sat down with her nieces and nephews to tell one of her gifted stories for which she was famously known for telling within the vicinity and further afield.

    Just before she commenced, we had a visitor who said that she wanted to record her story as she was employed by the state to record, the ancient oral literary tradition before it was lost forever. Of course, I had never seen a tape recorder before which was quite large in comparison to a modern one, having no electricity it was connected to two or three large wagon batteries. Just before my aunty commenced her story, she said “will my voice be recorded forever on that tape” with the response of yes! she gave a small childlike giggle.

    About forty years later while laid in bed listening to a radio commentary given by the BBC on the oral tradition of storytelling within the Celtic culture. Extracts from recordings of actual stories told which are stored in Dublin were given from the late forties and early fifties, I was arisen from my slumber by a small unforgettable giggle.

    And the root of this memory flooded my heart
    No radio but stories of things above and below
    Oil lamp smoldering wick a candle was lit
    Shudder and flickering shadow
    Tales to chill the marrow
    Living in the market under the abattoir
    Bloodletting jig dead pig
    Sewer lid, Bigwig
    King rat does an Irish jig
    Matted coat black pudding joke
    Razor-sharp teeth he never goes to sleep
    Pointed ears, all he hears
    Ferret eye evil and sly
    With whiplash tail he can impale
    Slurry and slime making rhyme
    No longer day he makes his call and all do obey
    Full moon moving star
    A known gnawing his clans calling
    A horde moving in accord
    Dog and cat, are no match
    Fox, ferret, and weasel, rats are out of season
    Windswept street his playground as we sleep
    Over hill and garden rail swish of tail
    Gutter and grate making haste
    Fleeing cats devoured as they pass
    Sewer and river enough to make you shiver
    Jumping salmon better than gammon
    Trash and tin can, bread and jam
    Nook and cranny every dark alley
    Treasure trove, the place of repose
    Henhouse, no breakfast if we don’t keep him out
    Locking door ‘it’s time for bed’
    King rat is about and wants to be fed
    Creaking floorboard,” Is that the horde”
    Sardines in a tin very still
    Shower of rain pattering feet sound the same
    Scratching scrape in the grate
    Scraggy ends furry friends
    A thousand eyes on the floor
    “Shall I tell more”.
    Trotter’s feet are his favorite treat
    The tale hit the nail
    No one from bed did sail until the morning hail.

    How has the inner Celtic spiritual nature of the romantic and poet in the Irish bishops and clergy become so small and stayed before His vibrating heart of Truth and love?
    Was it stifled, while the best of them, the idealists were succumbed by the rational of the elite and sent to evangelize on far distant shores, who then contributed so much to the missionary spirit?

    To-day where are the courageous hearts that will come off the fence to confront the reality of this ongoing situation, that is one of abhorrent dishonesty before God and mankind, manifest by the elite colluding with blasphemy (The present Divine Mercy image) In God’s house, and on-going unaccountability for scandals emanating from the authority of Rome.

    Can the Irish leadership be a missionary leadership and recapture the dynamism of those idealists who left her shores, and now actual lead the church forward into a new dawn, and be the catalyst for change?

    Can the zing of the Christian hymn once again sing within Celtic hearts?
    Humility is the key but will we bend our knee. Will the phoenix rise again, will a new dawn break?

    kevin your brother
    In Christ


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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