Tag Archives: Dublin

George Frederick Handel

Born in Germany in 1685, George Frederick Handel moved to England in 1712

His various compositions were successful but eventually financial failure threatened to overwhelm him, and his relentless attempts to keep solvent had an adverse affect on his health. By 1741 it seemed certain he would land in debtors’ prison.

Yet that very year became the turning point for him when his close friend, Charles Jennens, gave him a libretto for a sacred work. It was essentially 73 Bible verses focusing on the prophecies concerning, and the coming of, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, both from the Old and New Testaments.

A charity in Dublin paid him to write something for a money-raising performance, and for 24 days Handel barely ate as he worked almost constantly composing. In fact he told a friend he could barely keep up with the notation as the melodies and ideas flowed from within, directly from God Himself! At one point, the composer had tears in his eyes and cried out to his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!” He had just finished writing the “Hallelujah” chorus.

Every word was from the Bible, 42 verses from the Old Testament and 31 from the New Testament. The “Messiah” was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, to great acclaim.   It was so successful, it’s said that it’s proceeds freed 142 men from debtors’ prison!

Someone has said that Handel was a relentless optimist whose faith in God sustained him through every difficulty.

To God alone be the glory!


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After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last? via CNN

Sunday Assembly founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans have begun to franchise their “godless congregations.”
January 4th, 2014

By Katie Engelhart, special to CNN


The world’s most voguish – though not its only – atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim.

So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.

“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”

But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.

In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.

“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”

Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.

Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue.

The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

In a recent interview, Jones described the split as “very sad.” But, he added, “ultimately, it is for the benefit of the community. One day, I hope there will soon be communities for every different type of atheist, agnostic and humanist. We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there’ll be congregations for every godless palate.”

Nevertheless, the New York schism raises critical questions about the Sunday Assembly. Namely: Can the atheist church model survive? Is disbelief enough to keep a Sunday gathering together?

Big-tent atheism

I attended my first service last April, when Sunday Assembly was still a rag-tag venture in East London.

The service was held in a crumbly, deconsecrated church and largely populated by white 20-somethings with long hair and baggy spring jackets (a group from which I hail.)

I wrote that the Assembly “had a wayward, whimsical feel. At a table by the door, ladies served homemade cakes and tea. The house band played Cat Stevens. Our ‘priest’ wore pink skinny jeans.”

I judged the effort to be “part quixotic hipster start-up, part Southern megachurch.”

The central idea was attractive enough. The Assembly described itself as a secular urban oasis, where atheists could enjoy the benefits of traditional church – the sense of community, the weekly sermon, the scheduled time for reflection, the community service opportunities, the ethos of self-improvement, the singing and the free food – without God. I liked the vibe and the slogan: “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”

Shortly thereafter, Assembly services began bringing in hundreds of similarly warm-and-fuzzy nonbelievers. The wee East London church grew too small, and the Assembly moved to central London’s more elegant Conway Hall.

The Assembly drew criticism, to be sure—from atheists who fundamentally object to organized disbelief, from theists who resent the pillaging of their texts and traditions. But coverage was largely positive – and it was everywhere.

In September, a second wave of coverage peaked, with news that the Assembly was franchising: across England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia. That month, the founders launched a crowd-funding campaign that aims to raise $802,500. (As of mid-December, less than $56,000 had been raised.)

Still, prospective Sunday Assembly franchisers seemed exhilarated. Los Angeles chapter founder Ian Dodd enthused that he would “have a godless congregation in the city of angels.” In November, his inaugural Assembly drew more than 400 attendees.

But as the atheist church grew, it began to change—and to move away from its atheism.

“How atheist should our Assembly be?” wrote Jones in August. “The short answer to that is: not very.”

Pippa Evans, Assembly’s other co-founder, elaborated: “‘Atheist Church’ as a phrase has been good to us. It has got us publicity. But the term ‘atheist’ does hold negative connotations.”

Warm-and-fuzzy atheism gave way to not-quite atheism: or at least a very subdued, milquetoast nonbelief. Sunday services made much mention of “whizziness” and “wonder”—but rarely spoke of God’s nonexistence.

The newer, bigger Sunday Assembly now markets itself as a kind of atheist version of Unitarian Univeralism: irreligious, but still eager to include everyone.

In a way, this is a smart move. According to the 2012 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation, but just a fraction of those identify as atheists.

A godless congregation is likely to draw crowds if it appeals to what Herb Silverman, founder of the Secular Coalition for America, calls “big-tent” atheism, which includes “agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, nontheists, anti-theists, skeptics, rationalists, naturalists, materialists, ignostics, apatheists, and more.”

But atheists who wanted a firmly atheist church—a Sunday Assembly where categorical disbelief is discussed and celebrated—will not be satisfied.

As the Sunday Assembly downplays its atheism, it also appears increasingly churchlike.

Starting a Sunday Assembly chapter now involves a “Sunday Assembly Everywhere accreditation process,” which grants “the right to use all the Sunday Assembly materials, logos, positive vibe and goodwill.”

Aspiring Sunday Assembly founders must form legal entities and attend “training days in the UK,” sign the Sunday Assembly Charter and pass a three- to six-month peer review. Only then may formal accreditation be granted.

This is not an East London hipster hyper-localism anymore.

Selling swag and charisma

Organized atheism is not necessarily new. French Revolutionaries, for instance, were early atheist entrepreneurs.

In 1793, secularists famously seized the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, to build a “Temple of Reason.” They decorated the church with busts of philosophers, built an altar to Reason, lit a torch of Truth – and brought in an actress to play Liberty.

A half-century later, French philosopher Auguste Comte drew acclaim for his “religion of humanity,” which imagined an army of secular sages ministering to secular souls. London has hosted formal atheist gatherings for almost as long.

History suggests, then, that there is nothing inherently anti-organization about atheism. As Assembly’s Sanderson Jones puts it, “things which are organized are not necessarily bad.”

To be sure, Sunday Assembly members in the United States say they’ve long wanted to join atheist congregations.

Ian Dodd, a 50-something camera operator in Los Angeles, had long been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church; he enjoyed it, but wanted something more explicitly irreligious.

Nicole Stevens of the Chicago chapter found herself yearning for a secular community—a “place to check in and think about things bigger than the day-to-day”—after having her first child.

But it is one thing to support an atheist “church” – where the ‘c’ is small and the effort is local – and another to back an atheist ‘Church’ that is global and centralized.

The former responds directly to the needs and fancies of its community. The latter assumes that its particular brand of disbelief is universally relevant—and worthy of trademark.

Centralized atheism also feeds hungrily on charisma, and Sanderson Jones, who resembles a tall, bearded messiah – and who, despite the SA recommendation that Assembly hosts should be regularly rotated, dominates each London service – provides ample fuel.

But it remains to be seen whether the Sunday Assembly’s diluted godlessness is meaty enough to sustain a flock.

“Because it is a godless congregation, we don’t have a doctrine to rely on,” explains Sunday Assembly Melbourne’s founder, “so we take reference from everything in the world.”

So far, Assembly sermonizers had included community workers, physicists, astronomers, wine writers, topless philanthropers, futurologists, happiness experts, video game enthusiasts, historians and even a vicar. The pulpit is open indeed.

My own misgivings are far less academic. I’m simply not getting what the Sunday Assembly promised. I’m not put off by the secular church model, but rather the prototype.

Take an October service in London, for example:

Instead of a thoughtful sermon, I got a five-minute Wikipedia-esque lecture on the history of particle physics.

Instead of receiving self-improvement nudges or engaging in conversation with strangers, I watched the founders fret (a lot) over technical glitches with the web streaming, talk about how hard they had worked to pull the service off, and try to sell me Sunday Assembly swag.

What’s more, instead of just hop, skipping and jumping over to a local venue, as I once did, I now had to brave the tube and traverse the city.

Back in New York, Lee Moore is gearing up for the launch of Godless Revival – but still speaks bitterly of his time with the Sunday Assembly network.

Over the telephone, I mused that the experience must have quashed any ambition he ever had to build a multinational atheist enterprise.

“Actually,” he admitted, “we do have expansion aims.”

Katie Engelhart is a London-based writer. Follow her at @katieengelhart or http://www.katieengelhart.com.

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Three Men in a Boat

One summer holiday from University saw D and M and I on holiday in Ireland.

We hired a cabin cruiser to sail (via the many locks  on the Grand Canal) from just south of Dublin to Athlone – just before the latter reaches the River Shannon.



We three inexperienced but intrepid sailors had a marvellous time until one evening when we docked en route in a small town and went to “the dancin'” – our first experience of hearing a “showband” and impressive they were too – and of the strange custom (to us) of clearing the floor after each dance.

We got back to our boat late and discovered that it had been broken into during our absence, although only one small thing had been taken (I can’t remember what – but it was inexpensive)

It was decided, however , to contact the Garda – so one of my pals went to find a phone box (no mobiles in those far off days).

Half an hour later, a “jolly” policeman appeared.  He had obviously worshipping at the altar of Bacchus that evening, as his gait was so unsteady that we had to help him cross over to our boat which was double moored.

Unsteadily, he staggered into the cabin and plonked his ample frame on the bench.

“It will be restorations” he began – enigmatically

We looked at each other and then at the perspiring stout police-officer.  “But nothing’s been restored; it’s been stolen!”

“Not ‘restorations’ – I mean ‘reparations'” he answered – even more mysteriously.

I thought of reparations in payment for past British actions in the Emerald Isle- but was our law enforcement friend an historian of sorts.

So I asked him, “What are you implying?”

Cryptically – “It’s because you’re from the North”

“No, we’re from the West (west of Scotland)”

“Derry way?”


“Aye, I’ve heard of the ‘Brig’ton Billies’ – that’s it, then – I’ve deducted (sic) it – it’s retribution ….. that’s the word I was looking for” said he, sleuthfully and triumphantly.

“Right,” said Sherlock, “I’ll be takin’ down yer details”, taking out his police notebook and a stub of a pencil.

Now this part is genuinely true – as the skipper of the ‘Vital Spark’ would have said, “If Dougie were here, he would tell you”:  he ran out of space on the page, so tore off a blank page from the back of his little book and sellotaped to the side of the page on which he had written, in order to continue his notes!

at one point he asked what my occupation was and when I replied that I was a theology student, he asked if I were studying for the priesthood.  When I replied that I was a Protestant, he muttered, “Aye, ’twill be retribution, for sure”

We offered him a drink – he knocked back a Jamiesons in one gulp, then we helped him off the boat and watched, as he staggered away into the night – never to be seen again…… and we heard no more of the matter.

btw we continued our journey to Athlone, and having tuned into Radio Athlone as a teenager, discovered a small building (it must have been a transmission post) with the Radio station’s logo on the door.

I knocked.  The door opened and a wee leprechaun of a man looked at us furtively and not without a degree of suspicion.

“May we have a look inside, please?”

“Are you from the North?”


“OK, in you come!”

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Miami Taxi Drive

I once took a cab ride from Miami airport to Miami Beach.

The driver was a Hispanic guy whose English was limited.

“You from Britain?” he asked.

“Yes, from Scotland”

“I have a cousin who lives in Cardiff, do you know him?”

We moved on…

“I notice that you have various faith symbols in your cab… rosary beads, pictures of the saints, a crucifix…. but also Sikh symbols  and Buddhist and Taoist, Jewish, Muslim  and many more; are you an ecumenical person?”


“Is it for the benefit of your passengers of different faiths?

“No,” he replied, “I’m just hedging my bets!”

To Dublin – many years ago…. I always got slightly apprehensive when pulling away from a bus stop, the driver would cross himself; did he know something we didn’t?

An old joke…. my grandfather died suddenly and peacefully at the job he loved; can’t say the same for the passengers  in the bus he was driving at the time!

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May 13, 2013 · 10:13

Father Murphy and Heaven

Father Murphy goes into a pub in Dublin and approaches the first man he sees

“Do you want to go to Heaven?” he asks

“Truly, I do, Father”

“Then for God’s sake, leave this pub right now!”

He then goes to the next man, “Do you want to go to Heaven, my son?” And the man answers, “Yes Father, indeed I want to do that very thing.” “Then ye must get out of this pub right now!” orders the priest.

Father Murphy continues this throughout the pub until he comes to the last man. “Do you want to go to Heaven, man?!” exhorts the priest.

The man looks at his half-full beer, turns, looks at Father Murphy and says, “No, I don’t,Father.”

“You mean to tell me, young man, that when you die, you don’t want to go to Heaven?” asks the priest incredulously.

“Oh, well, when I die, yes Father, I certainly do. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!”

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