‘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.
A recording of Tom’s complete talk will be available here soon.