Posted By: June 16, 2014

Tom Kelly. Irish News Belfast). Monday, June 16, 2014


THERE is a play in the West End at the moment called Hobson’s Choice and it focuses on the limited options open to the unfortunate cobbler Henry Hobson.


The term Hobson’s choice is known as having no real choice at all; one either takes it or leaves it. Either way there will be consequences. Many Christians living in modern Britain and Ireland feel as entrapped as old Hobson when it comes to talking about faith matters in an increasingly secular society. The liberal voice is now the standard to which all must seemingly conform.


Yet, as the late Cardinal Newman wrote, being a person of faith is not just about following dogma – those of faith have as much a “right to speak as to hear”. Unfortunately for Christians and indeed people of other faiths that right to speak is being increasingly dismissed and sometimes denied.


During the recent elections Bishop Noel Treanor issued a pastoral letter in his diocese of Down and Connor called ‘Christian citizenship in the local council and European elections’.


Contrary to media interpretation, the bishop did not tell people how to vote.


In fact he would have no right to do so. He merely reminded Catholics in particular that voting was a matter of personal conscience but that as Christians they had a duty to ensure that their conscience was an informed one.


He focused on four issues: the right to life; the sanctity of marriage; social justice; and peace and reconciliation. Unsurprisingly there were voices raised in opposition to the bishop’s intervention. I


t seemed to some that his position was an attack on those parties which had supported legislative changes or which had party policies contrary to Catholic teaching.


Instead of criticising the bishop, people should have been defending his right to speak up. This is, after all, a democracy. I


t was unfortunate that the bishop’s carefully thought out pastoral letter was somewhat undermined by a prominent cleric taking to the airwaves in the days before the elections to hammer home points better made without the heat of the election. T


he fact that the same cleric had participated in DUP events lead some to conclude that the Catholic clergy were encouraging the Catholic electorate to vote unionist. That was not the case but it was an error of judgment.


Gandhi and Martin Luther King often spring from the lips of every nerdy liberal leaning leftie and libertarian but how often do they quote either on the subject of conscience?

said that: “In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no part.” He went on to say “there is a higher court than the courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts”.


Martin Luther King wrote that sometimes conscience tells us that some laws are unjust and that often people of conscience must act to spur on the conscience of the wider community against those laws.


Even Voltaire, that scathing satirist against the Catholic Church wrote, “that the safest course is to do nothing against one’s conscience”.


However, it seems that today it is increasingly difficult for people of faith to be able to live by their conscience as they are continually being coerced into accepting the liberal narrative as supreme. The separation of Church and state is an important feature of any modern functioning democracy.


Countries and nations should not be defined by any monolithic religion whether that religion is Christian, Islamic, Hindu or Jewish. Nor should a state be so secular that it denies freedom of religion. Obviously the intolerant rants of mad mullah’s, evangelical wing-nuts and fanatical priests often drown out the rational voices of reason within faith-based communities. Political parties are becoming increasingly cold houses for faith-based politicians with many individuals being hounded into positions that force them to act against their consciences. The parties should be broad enough to allow their members to vote with their consciences. No-one is suggesting that a faith-based position on a matter such as abortion should be paramount but they should be freely decided in line with an informed conscience. And conscience is the cornerstone of freedom as recognised by George Washington who said: “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.” There is a debate on the issue of conscience and the liberty that comes with freedom of speech, which has not but should take place. It would be ironic in the extreme if democracy diminished its own voice by denying conscience.