9

BETWEEN EXTREMITIES

Irish Thought in the Twentieth Century

The kind of thought that we have been examining throughout most of the foregoing chapters-passionate, engaged, public-spirited thought-almost ceases to exist in the course of the twentieth century. The reasons for this decline have to do in large part with the decline in popular sectarian theological controversy. When thought is predominantly theological, as it was during much of the early modern period, it is available to any believer who has an informed and intelligent grasp of the central religious concepts on which debate and controversy rest. In other words, theological thought, no matter how serious or 'difficult' it is, has the potential to become controversial and 'popular', in the sense that it can become widely available to people who are not themselves theologians. Moreover, when theological thought in a religious age is primed and fuelled by change, reformation, and division within established churches, it achieves a level of controversy that embraces all those who have a spiritually vested interest in either conserving the old beliefs or switching to the new improved varieties. But the cultural ethos of contemporary European and Western cultural life is not as religious as it once was. The period of profound and turbulent theological controversy has ended for sure. Not only have the reformed churches become established in the aftermath of earlier controversies, they have become established within the context of liberal-democratic states in which all controversy is governed (for the most part) by the official Queensbury rules of tolerance and freedom of conscience. When

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