Reading time 5 minutes

God, I love Protestants

My boyfriend is a Spurs fan and I am a Catholic, and that is why we understand each other. Neither of us choose this life, but we are stuck with it. My feet are cast in the cement of the world’s second most reviled religion, and he has to lose to Crystal Palace every other Sunday. We are on the losing team, forever, and there is next to no chance of that changing. I think there’s something to that. We can both share in the fact that our underdog lot in life has left us with naturally guilty consciences, defensive manners, and an insistence that everything is not as bad as it looks.

I posed this theory to him recently while walking him around a Foyles pointing out which feminists I liked and which I hated. He was naturally incensed to be likened to a business whose key stakeholders like to ruin the lives of innocent children. “Besides,” he says “Spurs are doing alright this week.” “Yes,” I replied. “And the pope said something non-commital and mild about the gays this week. We all have our little victories.”

I considered the matter closed.

English people ask me a lot about religion, and depending on how bored or hungry I’m feeling, I change up my answer a lot. On the one hand, my parents are as close to agnostic as you can get. We gave God a courtesy wave every Easter and Christmas. It’s astonishing how much children will love God if he’s directly associated with delicious food or a new Furby. Up until we were about ten or so, our parents would sit at each of our beds before we went to sleep for a story and a prayer. This was much more about spending time with us then it was about religion, and like all divisions of parental time in a big family, it became competitive. After my mum or dad left my room to go to my brother’s, I would crane my neck to hear how much of that sweet sweet prayer time he was milking. He was getting an Our Father AND a Hail Mary? Not acceptable. I screamed across the landing that I was feeling sick, usually with whooping cough or polio or something else incredibly specific to a Penguin Children’s Classic.

On the other hand, I went though the Big C’s: Confession, Communion and Confirmation at the respective ages of 6, 7 and 12. Confession at SIX. Imagine having to search your conscience for evil at an age where the worst thing you’ve done is catch a side glance of your dad’s willy on his way to the bathroom. As I never tire of explaining, as an Irish child you generally know more priests by their first name than people of colour, and I think that does a lot to a person. I see the experiences of being Irish as being hand in hand with being Catholic: it’s a “not all fingers are thumbs but all thumbs are fingers” situation. Or: “not all fingers are thumbs but all thumbs hate the English and fear their own bodies”.

There’s an opinion, generally, that the last acceptable prejudice is fat people. A splinter group say that the last acceptable prejudice is white cis men. They are both wrong. The last acceptable prejudice is Protestants.

If Protestants only knew how funny they were they’d get in on the joke, because Protestants are easy going like that. They’ll never truly know, though, and that’s what makes it so funny. It’s not like every other kind of friendly prejudice, where the joke is usually masking some long-held hate. The joke about Protestants is that they’re nice and normal and hardworking and unassuming and level-headed and that is hilarious. The comedian Maeve Higgins has a joke that goes “I call my mother Mam. Some people call their mother Mum. And that’s alright isn’t it?” A pause. “If you’re PROTESTANT.” The Dublin audience loses their shit laughing. Maeve is spurred. “Ooooh, I’m going to make JAM with my MUM cos I’m a PROTESTANT.”

If you’ve ever seen that episode of South Park where a Mormon kid moves to town, you’ll have a vague idea of how Catholics feel about Protestants. Cartman makes every noble attempt to make the Mormon kid feel inferior, when the reality of the situation is the Mormon kid is smart, charming, has a family that loves him, and generally makes every attempt to understand everyone’s point of view. Cartman, on the other hand, is a fat, aggressive nobody with a dysfunctional family and the desire to hit out at everyone he loves. Sound like any particular religious group you know? When we make fun of Protestants we’re really just making fun of our inability to be as high-functioning, and there’s something kind of lovely about that.

For all their passive, temperate behaviour and love of jam-making, there’s one thing that Protestants don’t really get, and its religion. White England is largely secular, and from what I understand of the Church of England its mainly about letting your vicars have quiet, thin-lipped sex and drinking tea. As such, most Protestants aren’t really in touch with the cultural inheritance of their religion, mainly because its so mild and boring that its like feeling the cultural inheritance of a cashew nut. Catholics carry around guilt and insecurity, but also passion and fear and the innate sense that like a football team, they have no choice in their religion. Its simply what they’re stuck with.

“But I don’t even believe in God,” an enlightened Prod will say, as if that means they have no horse in this race. Look buddy: I’ll level with you. I don’t either. But I’m Spurs, and you’re Arsenal, and if you fail to acknowledge that I’m making fun of you then get out of the damn game. “I didn’t even know there was a game,” Proddy will plead. “Please, can we just go back to our meal so you can stop cornering me about an issue I literally have no stake in.”

Which is, of course, a very Protestant thing to say.

About Work In Prowess

Work in Prowess is the ravings of a mad king left to rot in a besieged palace


For any and all editorial inquiries please contact Caroline O'Donoghue the site editor.