Tomorrow, as every year, I will tweet out and re-share my article Fuck Saint Patrick. Then I will get a slew of criticism missing my point.
My point is, of course, that we shouldn’t praise people who do bad things, no matter what our religion. Patrick legendarily defiled temples in order to get his foothold in Ireland, and that’s just not someone I raise a pint for.
I can understand why some Christians would ignore that little snag (though I would suggest that immoral acts remain immoral even if you’re on the winning side). But it seems you don’t have to be a crusader for Christ to stand up for Patrick. Pagans and the non-religious have been kind enough to tell me over and over that the green bishop is totally great and his violent methods are no big deal. Why?
Because maybe they’re imaginary.
John wields bookkind.
The Hagiography Defense
Even Pagan blogger Alison Leigh Lilly offers a version of this argument:
I like how the hagiographic (read:mythic) stories about a single man more than a thousand years ago weighs… on the minds of modern Pagans
She’s not the only one—this is the single most common reply I get (other than grateful high fives from other polytheists). After all, the stories of Patrick’s life come to us from medieval manuscripts written long after his time. They may not be accurate.
To which my reply is: and?
For starters, many Christians for many centuries took those stories as fact; they were happy to praise him believing the stories were true.
More to the point, I don’t know that celebrating a mythical villain is really any better than celebrating an historic one. (Note the difference from fictional; I’d gladly attend a Darth Vader Day.) Figures of myth are powerful symbols, and this one is tied up in forceful conversion. If we’re willing to celebrate that it should raise serious questions.
It’s worth noting that even if the scenes from Patrick’s life in his medieval biography are fictionalized, it’s unlikely that he was more tolerant. The biographies weren’t written by his enemies, trying to make him look bad, but by fellow Christians. They could have made him seem as peaceful as they wanted to. They chose to depict him as someone who would interrupt blessings, wreck holidays, smash religious statuary and desecrate temples.
But that’s long over; frankly it doesn’t get my blood up. What I find deeply uncomfortable is that people today continue to celebrate a man famous for such alleged acts—and then shame anyone who refuses to join in.
I’m not interested in playing the victim. The acts wreaked against my religion 1600 years ago do very little to affect my life today. And I don’t begrudge the wild partying; I’ll likely be out at a pub myself. But when I do I’ll be wearing black, my small non-violent, non-confrontational gesture of objection to what the myth named Patrick stands for.
Every year, this approach gets people asking questions, and when I answer calmly and unjudgingly, every year it turns into great, thoughtful conversations.
Please join me in wearing black, not green, on Patrick’s Day.