Thinking Aloud: Ian Paisley, 1926-2014

Sept. 13, 2014 by Darius 

Yesterday, the Reverend Ian Paisley died of heart problems at age 89.  Rev. Paisley can contend for the dubious title of being the greatest obstacle to peace in Northern Ireland for decades.

Ian Paisley was born in Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1926.  His parents were both involved in the Protestant church: his father was a Baptist minister, while his mother was an evangelist.  In 1946, Paisley was himself ordained as a minister, originally as a Baptist, then breaking off to form his own church in 1951.

Paisley quickly won himself a reputation in Northern Ireland for his political acumen and, especially, his vitriolic tongue at the pulpit.  He was among the most extreme and militant Protestant clergymen in Northern Ireland: he considered all Catholics to be members of the Irish Republican Army and once referred to the pope as the Antichrist.  Politically, his favorite word was “no”: no to more rights for Catholics in Northern Ireland, and no especially to any proposal that might lead to negotiations or power sharing in Northern Ireland.  During the Troubles, Paisley personally organized vigilante groups to defend Protestant neighborhoods from Catholic incursions.

In his sermons, Paisley was a major inciter of violence right up to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Accords—which his party, the Democratic Unionists (so called because of its support for continued union with the rest of Britain), opposed to the bitter end.  Riots often followed Paisley’s sermons, and he survived numerous assassination attempts.

Towards the end of his life, after the turn of the century, Paisley finally accepted what the rest of Northern Ireland had known for years and formally entered into a power sharing agreement with a Catholic party, serving as first minister of Northern Ireland.  In this, at least, he helped heal the decades of misery he had a role in unleashing.

There are plenty of men like Paisley in the world today: zealots who don’t care about the consequences of their actions.  One can hope that they follow Paisley’s path and eventually come to realize the necessities of peace and compromise.

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