The religious spectacular

Random and recent online activity brought me back to the blog of Fatmammycat for the first time in several years. FMC – to the pre-2007 bloggers – posted recently that she thought Joe Coleman is mad. Yes, that Joe Coleman: the man from Ballyfermot who draws scores of people to Knock in Mayo to help him witness cloudy apparitions of Jesus’ mother. Joe says that he is communicating with both the devil and with Mary and that at this time, he is fighting with the devil. You can read more about Joe’s original apparitions here. It is clear that in this 3 minute clip from Fatmammycat’s post and some of the comments that RTE’s decision to have him as a guest on one of their biggest (ie crappiest) shows was a bad decision. Not because Coleman has nothing interesting to tell us but because he makes ‘us’ uncomfortable. You know? Us, the people of Ireland? Those who do not need holy water fonts inside the door but want to get married in a church all the same? We might snigger at Joe but he is not our opposite but part of us. Hugh Green knows this. It’s called a spectacular.

By being on television, Coleman is presented as someone with something to say. But of course he has something very specific to say which we already know (by his introduction and his previous newspaper coverage) is not relevant to ‘us’. Conan Drumm knows this and alludes to it in his comment:

Why is a national public broadcaster oxygenating and feeding this man’s psychiatric pathology, not to mind lending him a credibility that will sway gullible and easily led viewers?

Putting Coleman up on our screens not only allows him to tell us his story but could “sway gullible and easily led viewers”. Isn’t that what ‘we’ are afraid of? That ‘people’ will be easily led? Is a decision to buy an apartment in Budapest an instance of people being easily led? Or perhaps the insistence on an electoral system without clientelism? Another comment from Larry states:

As for mehal carpenter [previous commenter], get outta here. If you believe in transubstantiation then you’ll swallow any bullshit.

Belief in transubstantiation is clearly up there with aliens crashing in Nevada and a healthy Irish banking system. So not only is Coleman a bullshitter then by extension, a central aspect of Catholic faith the entire belief system of millions is also bullshit. For some, Joe is Catholicism in Ireland. Not only is he Catholicism as ‘we’ now believe it to be, but he is ‘our’ Catholicism: we are in a dialectical relationship with his beliefs. Joe Coleman’s experiences are related to ‘our’ reactions to it, as moderns, as the secular. Fatmammycat has it right then:

Who cares what you believe? I don’t. You’re entitled to your opinion. I expect the same, nothing more nor less.

Other commenter’s right to state their opinion is (patronisingly) validated but ‘we’ really don’t care what you think. The stating of an opinion, contrary to our own, is valid but you know, ‘we’ don’t care what that opinion is based on. ‘We’ do not care what other people believe but yet we expect an entitlement to an opinion.

[T]he real political battle is between those who have a role in the spectacle and those who are left out, that is, between those political options that are acceptable within the political imaginary and those that have to remain outside.

– Chiara Bottici.

4 thoughts on “The religious spectacular

  1. I have to confess a certain embarrassment for Joe Coleman seeing him being interviewed on the Late Late Show. Whether he is a fraud or simply delusional is hard to tell. People believe all sorts of things like fairies, homoeopathy and that the recession is ending. Joe just goes public about it and he and people like David Icke and Brian Cleeve just add to the gaiety of nations.

  2. Thanks for the comment Haymoon. But this is the point I am trying to make: we are embarrassed by him because he is culturally closer to us than ‘we’ modern, secular types would ever care to admit. The vitriolic reaction from FMC and many of the commenters makes more sense in this context.

    Frankly we do not need to know if he is delusional or fraudulent (although by the sounds of things he does a good line in BS peddling but hell, he ain’t alone in that!). What’s important to me is how we react to people like Coleman, Icke and others. There’s so little separating Coleman and Dawkins, you would not believe it.

    Keep reading!

    1. “There’s so little separating Coleman and Dawkins, you would not believe it.”

      This, to me, is the interesting point. I don’t know of Coleman, but there are examples of similar types of people across Europe, the US and beyond. They’re nothing new. What seems newer and potentially more interesting to me is the rise of a similar kind of fundamentalism in atheism/secularism. Why these two opposing fields are using such similar techniques and approaches to make their ‘point’ is fascinating.

  3. I would say that similar techniques are used because they are very aware of what is the nature of the field upon which they need to communicate their messages. Via Hugh Green’s link above:

    182: the sudden expansion of society’s knowledge…brought about the irreversible self-knowledge that found expression in the abolition of God. This “prerequisite of every critique,” however, was also the first task of a critique without end. In a situation where there are no longer any tenable rules of action, culture’s every result propels it toward its own dissolution. Just like philosophy the moment it achieved its full independence, every discipline, once it becomes autonomous, is bound to collapse — in the first place as an attempt to offer a coherent account of the social totality, and eventually even as a partial methodology viable within its own domain. The lack of rationality in a separated culture is what dooms it to disappear, for that culture itself embodies a call for the victory of the rational. (My italics)

    This “call for the victory of the rational” that Debord and others bring to mind is what I am talking about here. Dawkins et al. see the unfolding teleological rationality in everything because they’re in a conflicted, dialectical relation with their opposite.

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