Nuala McAllister, the atheist lord mayor of Belfast, Northern Ireland, created a bit of a stir during her installation dinner when she didn’t ask anyone to offer formal prayers before dinner. It shouldn’t have been an issue since everyone was free to pray on their own, but you know how religion works: Prayers only matter if other people watch you say them out loud. Silent prayer is obviously for fools.
Naturally, the prayer issue came up today during an interview with The Irish News.
McAllister said she was being true to herself as an atheist, but she knew this was a lose-lose situation no matter what she did.
“It was a storm in a teacup,” she says, but adds that she made a point of speaking with all the leaders of the Christian Churches and Muslim faith that night and that no-one raised it with her.
“Had I stood up and said that there was not going to be grace because the lord mayor is an atheist, it would have been a same situation. You just can’t win.”
“I didn’t want a chaplain as I provide my own guidance and I wouldn’t want to lie. I made it clear that I would not read from scripture during my year but would attend ceremonies or religious institutions as I believe it is expected, and should be, of the lord mayor as I’m representing everyone.”
She’s absolutely right. If she made a big issue of her atheism, she would’ve been criticized for politicizing her lack of religious faith. If she asked someone to lead prayers, she would’ve been criticized by other atheists for being a hypocrite. And by remaining quiet and letting people pray on their own, she was criticized for not giving proper respect to a 25-year-old tradition.
You would think her statement about how she plans to attend religious ceremonies or locations would be enough. She’s not anti-religious. She supports freedom of thought for everyone. And yet some people think anyone who’s not deeply religious has no business in a leadership role.
Those critics need to grow up. More power to McAllister for not backing down on this. She didn’t do anything wrong when it comes to her treatment of religion, and she has nothing to apologize for.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Brian for the link)