The women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb and the Resurrection of Jesus summarised the situation in this way for the Apostles.

“They have taken the Lord out of he tomb,” Mary said, “and we don’t know where they have put him.”

Sadly, the same phrase applies today to a small church near Longford town which was vandalised severely on the night the entire Christian world celebrates the Resurrection — Holy Saturday night.
The stained glass window was smashed to allow access. Inside, the thieves broke up the marble holding the tabernacle of St Michael’s Church, Shroid, in Longford parish. The tabernacle, which contains the consecrated hosts left after Mass for the purpose of veneration and prayer as well as for bringing Holy Communion to the sick, was taken.

It may well be the first instance in Ireland of such wanton vandalism of a church which also involved desecration and theft of the church’s tabernacle. A generation ago, this singular act would have the nation stunned. Today, some are shocked but many seize the opportunity to vent more hatred of the church online in social media.

A few hours and a short distance away another group in a Dublin suburb set upon two unarmed Gardaí and beat them to the point where they needed to be hospitalised. Ironically, the social response is similar: some people are saddened but as many more take advantage to disparage the Gardaí further in online anonymous commentary.

Both are evidence of a trend in Irish society which is being replicated elsewhere as online social media go racing towards the ‘global village’. The pattern is repeated: A wrongdoing is highlighted in a dramatic way and receives intense media attention which rarely reflects the full complexity of the issue (because this would compromise audience reach because the detail can be ‘boring’). Add into the mix the fact that the wrong is reported as being perpetrated by someone or people belonging to a group or profession which until now was considered privileged. This person then becomes the personification of the entire wrongdoing and becomes the free-for-all target of hatred and derision. Recent examples include individual bishops and priests, the Garda Commissioner, CEOs of banks, some politicians, and more.

However, the intensity of the coverage of the topic soon leads to the brush of contempt being widened to include almost everyone who is associated with that walk of life. So the wrongdoings and hurt caused by a small number of priests, a small number of Gardaí and a few high-profile bankers are used to damage the reputation of the entire community associated with each profession. The social consequence is that individuals don’t have to stop and think about the values they live by any more – they just attach themselves to a herd which makes up their mid for them. Then it becomes normative to splash with the same simplistic slogans no matter what the topic. So, for example, when the robbery of the tabernacle is reported, the trolls roll out again their bile about child abuse and the church. But one has absolutely nothing to do with the other — unless you have turned off your thinking faculties while you browse the comment boxes. The men and women of Shroid who collected money over a century ago to pay for their making of a tabernacle for their local church had no connection whatsoever with the clergy who abused children. But social media commentators maintain that there shouldn’t be any surprise that the tabernacle was stolen because the children were abused. And this tide gathers a nasty force because one of the core values of social media is that everyone’s opinion — no matter how ill-informed — must be and ought to be heard. So the young Garda who had a hand broken while on duty is said to deserve it because another Garda somewhere else is accused of entering false data on a computer system.

Secondly, the opinion of each person who wishes to be heard — whether as an online troll or on a radio call-in show — is presented as being of equal value. So, for example, the opinion of someone who was stopped by a Garda and given a ticket for speeding and feels aggrieved now appears with the same authority to comment on our national policy regarding road safety as the Garda Superintendent who has concentrated her career on researching this topic or the university academic who has a PhD on the topic! Because we are all equal! But, surely, we are not. If I needed brain surgery, I wouldn’t want the operation performed by another patient who had the same procedure a few years ago! It might be entertaining to know what he said when came out the anaesthetic but I don’t want him next or near me with a scalpel.

But in many instances of major social decision-making, the dominant voices are the entertaining ones (or those who consider their opinions worth hearing). The truth is in danger of becoming invisible and silent unless it can disguise itself as entertaining. And then few notice the difference.

And we won’t know where they have put it.