It may not be the biggest but Sunday Sequence is certainly the best weekly programme on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster. This morning was no exception.
William Crawley interviewed, among other, Fr Martin Magill from Lenadoon. The priest made the point that people in Belfast talked about the Orange Order as an anti-Catholic organisation, but that he was from the country and had experience of neighbours who were kind and dependable - and Orangemen. I had something of a similar childhood. My father did cattle business with everyone, including men who were totally decent and Orange. As I picked it up, Fr Martin seemed to see this combination as a paradox.
I don’t, and it links to another item discussed on Sunday Sequence today: the notion of evil. The discussion came down to the point that all of us, under certain circumstances, have the capacity for the most appalling acts. William’s interviewee (I’ve forgotten his name) made the point that those who’d performed deeds of cruelty in the past were often (i) haunted by what they’d done; and (ii) friendly and likeable men (it was almost always men who were involved). Some attention was paid in the discussion to the preparation of young men for a life of soldiering. This required that they be detached from all things familiar, broken down, then rebuilt in a new simplistic way of thinking (good/bad, black/white) so that they could be got to do almost anything.
It was a fascinating topic and a fascinating interview, and Crawley as always probed with skill and intelligence. I found myself being affirmed in thinking I’ve had for a long time: people are nudged into or away from actions by the environment/society in which they find themselves. There’s even research from Yale (the Milgram Experiment) which shows ordinary people will administer near-lethal pain on innocent others if they believe officialdom sanctions it.
So to come back to Fr Martin and Orangeism. Of course it’s possible to be a good person in many ways and a member of the Orange Order. The fact is, though, the Order annually brings out the worst in many people.
Let me tell you a little story. My birthday is on the Twelfth (yes, I know, I know, and I’ve heard all those comments fifteen times before...). As a child, I’d get jelly and ice-cream to mark the occasion, then my sisters and I would go outside to play. Half-way through the afternoon of the Twelfth a thudding noise would be heard. That was the sound of stones striking the back of our barn, stones fired from the all-Protestant council housing estate that bordered our farm. Normally we got along OK with the neighbouring Protestant youngsters. In fact I had one friend in particular by the exotic name of Gawain. He’d come over the fence between us and we’d roam the fields in search of rabbits or climb the bales of hay in the hayshed or other excitements. But the week before the Twelfth his visits would taper off. On the big day itself, my sisters and I would go up to check on who was throwing stones at our good barn. The Protestant youngsters, at the sight of us, would increase their volleys in frequency and intensity, and would shout remarks about the Pope and his sexual habits. Incensed, we’d pick up our own stones and throw them in retaliation, sometimes adding information about the family life of the English monarch. And always, somewhere at the back of the group, would be Gawain. He never seemed to look directly at us, and when he threw his stones it was always in a weakish, half-hearted way. The exchanges would go on for an hour or so, until we got tired or it was teatime. Then it’d take about a week until Gawain, a little shamefaced at first, would resume his normal visits and our normal friendship.
My point? The Twelfth, the Orange Order and its associated ideas, was an annual source of division between people who otherwise would have interacted in a fairly civilized, friendly way. Year after year, the same pattern continued, until we all grew up and moved away. But here we are decades later and the Orange Order is doing what? Provoking normally decent people to engage in spiteful, bigoted behaviour. What our society is in sore need of is healing and the hand of friendship between former enemies. The Twelfth, year after year, brings its meat-cleaver division to these tentative efforts. Isn’t it time as a society we began to put two and two together as to what is damaging these delicate steps?
In the right environment, we are all capable of goodness and unselfishness. In the wrong environment, we’re all capable of being something closer to beasts. Guess which environment the Orange Order has been busy creating over the past century or two?