Why things stay the same

So this happened:

Last September, I started a degree course at Dundalk Institute of Technology. It’s a great college, and I’m very happy here. But there’s always a but.

Part of the (mandatory) orientation included all of us being addressed by a Catholic priest. I left the room before he started speaking, I happened to have a legitimate excuse, but if I hadn’t, I’d still have left. It felt so, so wrong to have an address by a religious figure included in the orientation for a course at a secular college. But that’s just my own, private, personal feeling so I aimed to handle it discreetly, and I think I succeeded. I just want to keep my head down and get my degree, then move on.

Then boom, I got these emails from the priest. The first one was understandable, he had to let everyone know he was there if they wanted to confess something, right? But the second one was not okay. Nor was the third. By the time I received a fourth email (this at a rate of about one a month), I asked very politely that I please be taken off their mailing list. That was not possible. The priest, in this college, has blanket access to every single student email, he has licence to inject his religious invitations into your inbox if you study here, whether you like it or not. He couldn’t exclude me even if he wanted to.

I tried to block emails from his address. It was not at all an obvious process, and why should I have to be the one to have to actively resist this spam? Why is the onus not on the person actually sending this stuff? But hey, I just wanted to quietly and privately opt out of this, so I figured it out and changed email settings to make sure I at least didn’t have to see this ridiculous assumption of entitlement stuffed under my nose into my inbox every month.

What do you know, it didn’t work. So in January, I emailed the college president, explained as politely as I could why I had a problem with the current state of affairs, and got a great, understanding response. That is not sarcasm, my faith in humanity was restored. In February, I got another feckin’ email from the priest. And again in March. I replied and asked him to please stop spamming my email account.

Finally, an email from an administrator, offering for me to go to her office for her to help me set up my email to no longer receive these emails. They had changed back-end stuff since December, so now it was in fact an option to send such crap directly to the shredder. This doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that the college assumes by default you want to receive all the priest’s news every month, and that you have to jump through hoops to get it to stop. It doesn’t solve the problem that the RCC is given outrageous privilege in access to students who never asked for it. It doesn’t change my extreme discomfort that something that’s not exactly secret but also most certainly not public – my student number, which is part of my student email address – was given to the RCC’s servant. But by now I just wanted to get this over with and I was exhausted after a rough week. Just… whatever.

So finally I’m in the admin’s office, and I tell her I’m ragged but am going to try very hard not to swear. Just so’s you know, I don’t think this solves the problem. I mean, how can it be right to send religious emails to people through an academic communication channel? What the fuck?

POUNCE! I swore. Bad girl, to quote her, “watch yourself.” Fair enough. Because, I then realised, firstly I was wrong to swear, no matter how many months I’ve had to struggle to get the extremely simple request met to not be spammed, no matter how frustrated I was, no matter how outrageous the situation seemed to me. It was not on.

But also:

Reason One why things stay the same:

When you point out something that has always been done this way is wrong, you’d better make sure you’re perfect because The Powers That Be are going to nail you to the floor for every single flaw you show. I decided at that point to be courteous and under no circumstances to try to argue my point. Just to emphasise, I was wrong to swear, I don’t deny that, but the “watch yourself” was a reminder how the game is played. I just had to shut up and get the priest’s spam to be dealt with then leave.

So. When she said our student email is not an academic communication channel, I didn’t argue. This:

not_academic_comm_channel

…is not an academic communication channel. Which brings me to:

Reason Two why things stay the same:

When you dare to complain and they can’t fault your arguments, we’ll start getting extremely technical about definitions, for instance, to create, out of thin air, a way to invalidate your complaint. So God for instance may get redefined until they claim when they pray to Jesus to open a meeting, when you hear Jesus you should understand it to mean some vague deity which totally can include whatever you believe. Wink wink.

I saw the light. Of course, this email with the college logo and which has your student number and the college acronym as part of it, through which you get notifications about classes changing or being cancelled and when your assignment has been submitted successfully and through which you’re notified when an assignment has been marked and through which lecturers notify you of changes in deadlines, it’s not an academic communication channel, therefore presumably it’s okay for it to be used to circulate the RCC’s notifications and invitations and shit.

How could I not have understood that from the beginning.

Reason three why things stay the same:

Bad, bad me! The chaplaincy is a requirement for all academic institutions in Ireland. How can I ask anything to change that is required from on high?

So that was indeed new. Wow. The state actually requires SECULAR academic institutions in Ireland to have a chaplaincy for students*. But her next sentence blew me away:

“We can’t afford to pay for representatives of all faiths, so we pay the priest and he covers all religious needs.”

Okay. Right. So I’m not even going to begin to try to begin to START discussing everything that’s wrong with looking at religion that way. I mean, I’m an atheist, but I used to be an evangelical Christian and I can give you a written guarantee I would not EVER have turned to a Catholic priest for my religious needs. We viewed the RCC as a corrupted version of Christianity and the Pope was speculated to be the antichrist. I remember my mom being very progressive and controversial when she said, years ago: “You can find true Christians even in the Catholic church.” That statement blew me away back then. What a novel thought, that you’d find an actual real Christian in the RCC.

But yes, sure, great, I’m sure all students of all religious persuasions are just grand to have a one-size-fits-all priest. I wonder does he have a collection of signs in his drawer, and he pops one around his neck to just let whoever is with him know today he is an imam, tomorrow he is a guru, day after that he is a shaman.

And there I was fooled by that black outfit. Looks just like a Roman Catholic priest, but you learn something new every day. No doubt nobody would ever feel reluctant to go see him fearing he’d either deliberately or uncosciously steer them towards his particular religion. The RCC is after all not known for indoctrination.

So now we have to go back to that little sentence and have another small inner explosion. I’m sorry but WHAT THE FUCK is this time totally justified: the college has to PAY the priest???!!! I… let’s just move on before I sprain something.

Reason three, summarised, is that if you complain, you create problems for often already overburdened organisations who are just doing their utter best to comply with the demands made of them. This is usually true. You may not be a villain, you may just want to stop receiving spam, for instance, but you will end up feeling like a villain and chances are if you make more of a fuss you’ll look like one, too.

Reason four why things stay the same:

You may not need this service, but others do.”

How dare you object to 100% of students being subjected to an intrusion by a religious organisation through a non-academic communication channel mandatory for all students, with no opt-out possible unless you email the college president and eventually make an appointment with an admin to show you how to implement the instructions secured from the IT department? How dare you feel it’s not right for a representative of religion A to be paid and given an office on campus to minister to people from religions A through Z? You’re so selfish.

Things stay the same because if you dare complain, you always end up feeling like the sea couldn’t wash you clean.

Reason five things stay the same:

“Really?” said my husband when I told him about the one priest to rule them all, one priest to find them approach to ministry on campus. “Why don’t you make an appointment with him, tell him you’re a satanist and you need religious guidance. Ask him to have the Satanic Bible on hand, you really need an expert’s advice. Go on, I dare you.”

I laughed. “Nah.” Because I just don’t have the energy or time. Reason five things stay the same is because It’s Always Been Done This Way is like a huge blob of… let’s say jelly. If you try to push it, it doesn’t really resist, but it’s also not moved. You end up covered in it, exhausted, possibly ruined, and the jelly will be exactly where it was before you started.

Not for me, thanks. I just wanted to stop some spam.

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*A friend asked a legitimate question: really required? By the state? I realised it was an assumption, she didn’t specify who required it. So now I am puzzled and intrigued. I can find no explicit info online. It would be interesting to know. If I find out I’ll update this. πŸ™‚

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15 thoughts on “Why things stay the same

  1. Hi … fantastic post! It’s absolutely infuriating!

    Could I buy you a coffee sometime and tell you about my own experiences with Fr Paddy at the DkIT Chaplaincy … and also the correspondence I’ve had on this with DkIT administrators? I’m the Chair of the Cavan/Monaghan Branch at Atheist Ireland. I’ve also been considering how we can help create an Atheist Society at DkIT.

    Please drop me an email. I can swing into DkIT at your convenience.

    John Hamill.

  2. I’m in DkIT as well, I’d be interested in an atheist society, even just to see the opinions of everyone. Update here if it happens, please?

    1. I’ll update you, this post has had surprising impact. I’m meeting a representative of Atheist Ireland on Monday, see comment above yours. πŸ™‚ I think one of the topics will be possibly starting just that.

  3. I’m a mature student at WIT, nearly finished my 4th year, and I have never received and email from a chaplin or any other religious figure, either through my college email or my usual email address which the college also has. That mandatory excuse is bullshit. If I had, I’d be as angry as you are about it. Great post!

  4. “WATCH YOURSELF!”

    If you are ever having this conversation at DkIT again Nadia, perhaps “watch yourself” is the phrase you should be using to them. Under the European Convention and Article 18 of the UN International Covenant of Civil & Political Rights (to which Ireland is a signatory) you are entitled to a neutral studying environment. Under the Article 44.2.1 of the Irish Constitution you are also entitled to opt out of any religious aspect of your course.

    You shouldn’t have to ask permission for these freedoms. You should be granted them as of right. Anyone who doesn’t immediately vindicate these rights for you … should watch themselves.

  5. There’s no end to an atheists’ problems! You don’t have to be in Catholic country, nor do you have to be Irish, and you certainly don’t have to be in DkIT! Try this one:

    I live on the Isle of Man. The authorities tell me this is a Christian island – whatever that means. So anyway, our local property taxes are called Rates. These are not unknown in Ireland, where I lived near Wicklow for almost thirty years. Each year, the Rates Demand comes through the mail. It is thoroughly itemised, so the poor taxpayer can see how our hard-earned pittance is being squandered. The first item reads, “Upkeep of Ballaugh churchyard … Β£56.00”. (Ballaugh is the name of our small village). So I contact the Manx version of an Irish TD and ask him why I should have to pay this, considering I wouldn’t be seen dead, buried in any churchyard. I was assured it was my right to refuse payment, but that the Local Authority would prosecute me for non-payment of any part of my Rates. Then the local Court would order me to pay, and any further refusal would be considered Contempt of Court. So this is the little problem … if anyone is found to be in that situation, being jailed is automatic and INDEFINITE, until the Court considers the Contempt to have been purged. That could be the rest of your life! So guess what? I pay the Β£56. Didn’t they say somewhere in their bible about not pissing against the wind?

    1. I’d highly recommend getting in touch with Atheist Ireland. Their knowledge of the relevant law etc. is excellent, they’d be able to give you advice at least on where you stand. At the very least, informing them of the problem makes them aware of these issues, so they can include these cases when lobbying for change. Best of luck!

  6. I like your husband’s idea; but he could take this further. You should be a pagan, and seek guidance on a very knotty problem. You wish to hold your midwinter commemoration inside the passage at Newgrange, but the authorities are being very unreasonable, requiring you to take part in a lottery before you can gain entry. You must feel that these newcomers are usurping your 5,000 year right to hold a ceremony, and a religious one at that. Therefore you should ask the priest to use his good offices with the powers that be in the state to permit you this fundamental human right.

      1. Alternatively, register yourself as a minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (it can be done in Ireland!) and then ask the priest to meet to discuss shared pastoral care with the students. You can, of course, offer your services for free, so there won’t be a cost for the college to bear.

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