Last Sunday marked another day of glorious revelry on the part of college students across the nation. St. Patrick’s Day is a cherished establishment of socially acceptable debauchery, with a few family-oriented aspects thrown in for the kids. At church last Sunday, we were encouraged to pinch anyone unfortunate enough to not be wearing green.
The bizarre part about all of this is that all of the licentiousness often comes out some sort of religious celebration. And for most of us who consider ourselves religious, the most we know about why this holiday is even on the calendar has something to do, maybe, with snakes in Ireland a long time ago. The fact is, we don’t really care.
Christians have long complained that their main holidays, Christmas and Easter, have so been taken over with glorious exuberance by the gods of secularization that they are scarcely recognized as religious holidays at all. Even among the religious, we glance fondly at the trappings of the secular holidays, and often embrace them altogether. I have bought many a Cadbury egg in my day, and will again this year.
The delving into the mixture of secular and spiritual is not wrong. Being in the world means being in the world. It means getting into the nitty gritty of it all. That is what we’re called to do, after all. The St. Patrick’s effect comes into play when we, with ever-blissful ignorance, pass right on by the days that mark our time as religious and historical beings.
I suspect that this is an American phenomenon. I suspect that our society is so utterly consumed by where we are now, and where we are going, that the little intricacies of the past just don’t really matter to us anymore. The tendencies of our own lives are mirrored in what we choose as acceptable within our society.
We move from kids with heads down on our desks, a thumb in the air, desperately hoping that someone pushes it down, to kids with heads on our hands studying late into the night. We move on to college, move on to grad school, move on to marriage and kids and retirement and death, and through it all, we forget where we’ve come from as a person, and where we’ve come from as a society. We move onwards, but seldom upwards, and arrive at a place without ever knowing, and not really caring how we got there.
And so, the St. Patrick’s effect is not reserved for Christians. It infects all of us who are the way we are for a reason, but just don’t have the interest to figure out why we are at all.
St. Patrick was the son of a British aristocrat, kidnapped in his teens by marauding Irish invaders and taken to Ireland. He escaped in his early twenties, and was eventually ordained a bishop in the Church. He then returned to Ireland to evangelize the island, and eventually set into motion the steps that would make sure that Irish monks would serve as the guards of civilization during the Dark Ages. Kind of the Patty Hearst story with a cool Christian twist.
The St. Patrick’s effect is a pervasive thing. But ignorance in general is not too scary. It only gets scary when we don’t care that we are ignorant. When we no longer care about our history as a society, about where we’ve come from, or for that matter, where we’re going.
Because we’re too busy trying to find something green in our wardrobe.
Sarah Laribee is a second bachelor’s student in English education. She’d like to thank her parents for caring about stuff like saints, and, more importantly, for never ever wearing buttons that said “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.” Because, “Laribee” is not an Irish name. It’s Basque.