Monday, March 17, 2014

Controversial St. Patrick's Day Fare

Adapted from an original essay on March 17, 2010

Have you ever eaten Irish nachos?  Ohhh, they’re so good, and so drenched with fats and salt, a friend of mine was specifically ordered by his cardiologist to stop eating them.

Local dive restaurant J. Gilligan’s here in Arlington, Texas, claims to have invented Irish nachos, and has even been featured on a cable foodie show with their delicacy.  You slice up some potatoes, fry them just a bit, then smother them with cheddar cheese, jalapenos, bacon bits, and diced onions.  Then you heat it a bit more until they're all melted together.  Top it off with some chilled sour cream and chives, and dig in!

My friend’s doctor was right, wasn’t he?

I bring up the specialty of the house at J. Gilligan’s because today is St. Patrick’s Day, when this and all other Irish-themed restaurants throw green-beer-fueled bashes, and anybody can be Irish until midnight.  Here in Arlington, the city actually closes down streets around J. Gilligan’s for blocks so crowds of revelers can eat, drink, and carouse.  I'm told it's great fun - or, at least, that's what participants want to assume it was, seeing as how few of them can actually remember it the next day.

This past Saturday, Dallas threw its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade down the older, quaint part of its bar-lined Greenville Avenue.  In actuality, it’s less parade and more beerfest, and an excuse for public lewdness, although sponsors keep saying it’s a family-friendly event.

Not that drinking beer is a sin, but negligent parenting can be.

Granted, there’s more to St. Patrick’s Day than drinking beer.  Like social protests, for instance.  Today, in New York City, what's billed as the world's oldest and largest continuously-held parade will once again celebrate Ireland along Fifth Avenue, but like a lot of other traditions in America, it's being held hostage by radical gay-rights groups.  New York's newly-installed activist mayor, Bill de Blasio, is making a political statement by not marching this year, while booze purveyors Guinness and Heineken have famously dropped their sponsorships, fearing a backlash by gay customers if they didn't.  Who's not attending this year is making more news than the parade itself.

Apparently a lot of civic-minded liberals have forgotten that the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade is actually a quasi-religious event, officially sponsored by an affiliate of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), which is closely linked with the Roman Catholic Church.  The AOH is a staunchly pro-life group with programs for military veterans, and outreach to the poor, along with perpetuating nostalgia for Ireland.  But in our modern world of knee-jerk political correctness, one prevailing issue can utterly negate everything else.

St. Patrick's Day parades in other cities, like Boston and Pittsburgh, are experiencing similar snubs by politicians and sponsors this year in relation to gay marriage.  While the mainstream media has been fawning over Roman Catholicism's new Pope, and what they've been interpreting as his openness to sexual alternatives, it's become open season on Catholic organizations that appear to be out of step with the Vatican's supposed pluralism.

How ironic, then, that a fellow named Os Guinness, the great-great-great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, Ireland's legendary booze king, has become something of a progressive evangelical when it comes to the subject of religious freedom.  Os Guinness is a writer and intellectual whose latest book, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, "calls for a bold reaffirmation of the priority of religious freedom for people of all faiths and none."

Religious freedom?  For people of all faiths, or none?  Sounds like he needs to ship some boxes of his book to the folks who now run his family's former distillery.

Adding to the irony is that up until the 1950's, Guinness' family company, which used to be nicknamed the "Protestant Porter," discriminated against Catholics in Ireland.  That makes Guinness' withdrawal from New York's celebrated Irish parade as historically incongruous as its previous sponsorship ever was.

Discrimination, of course, can be a vile thing.  Religious discrimination against Catholics sounds bizarre to many of us Americans today.  Meanwhile, gay marriage activists want sexual expression to be equivalent to religious expression, and for society to encourage both, as long as one doesn't overlap the other.  However, when there is overlap, it is sexual expression that they claim trumps religious expression.  Tit for tat, supposedly, since from time immemorial, it's been us religious zealots who've been discriminating against gays.

Times change, they say, and people want morals to change, also.

The idea is based on how whites discriminated against blacks, and Americans finally came to realize that such discrimination is wrong.  Gay marriage advocates postulate that just as whites may have prevented blacks from marching in parades back in the day, the great emancipation today is for gays who want to marry each other.  Yet the correlation some want to draw between the two struggles misses two key facts.  Denying civil rights based on race is unBiblical, since God welcomes into His family people regardless of their ethnicity.  But gay marriage is completely different than racism.  Gay marriage, not racism, is something God prohibits.  But that truth, thanks to decades of increasingly ignored sexual morality, strikes many Americans as being as bizarre as discrimination against Catholics.

Traditional racism deserved to be demonstrated against.  But untraditional marriage?  People who want it believe that retaliating against conservative Roman Catholics who hold traditional St. Patrick's Day parades has become the demonstration of conscience these days.  After all, the parades aren't about some dead religious leader anymore, but a little country with an outsized influence on American society.  Yet for devout Catholics, as well as non-papist evangelicals, it's not so much the marginalization of Ireland's patron saint that we find disturbing as much as it is the now-incessant push for the marginalization of religion in general, demonstrated by demonstrations like the ones against the AOH.

Would that putting a Tex-Mex flair on the staple of an Irish diet was as controversial as St. Patrick's Day has become!

We live in a mixed-up world these days, don't we?  We think we're making progress, but sometimes, it seems like we're spinning our cultural wheels in good old Irish mud.  We call for freedom, yet deny freedom, while trying to re-brand morality to suit our conscience. 

Meanwhile, the ancient words traditionally ascribed to Patrick himself, believed to have been written in 433, ring as relevant today as when they were penned as part of his "breastplate" prayer:

Against the demon snares of sin,The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger...

May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

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