Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Religion’s malevolence

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that currently heads the coalition Assembly in Northern Ireland was formed by Ian Paisley, a Protestant evangelical minister.


Sean Sheehan

“It starts with silence”


Although he honed a brand of hate speech directed at Catholics (‘they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin’) and the papacy (‘I denounce you, Antichrist! I refuse you as Christ’s enemy’), he fully shared the Catholic Church’s denunciation of abortion.

Christianity has always traded in binary oppositions and the fundamentalist DUP and the papacy are alike in equating abortion, no matter how early in pregnancy it takes place and regardless of whether a foetus is fatally ill or not, as an act of murder.

Pope Francis likes to repeat the line: ‘Is it permissible to contract a hitman to solve a problem?’

The DUP-mindset, aptly labelled the political wing of the Old Testament by Frankie Boyle, managed to prevent abortion being decriminalized in Northern Ireland until in 2020 it became legal up to12 weeks of pregnancy and with no time limit in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

“It starts with silence”

Even now, though, DUP opposition continues to makes it very difficult for women to terminate a pregnancy and in March of this year the Westminster government has had to signal its intention to compel Northern Ireland to implement the new law.

This is the background to Denise Gosnold and her husband Richard being told, that their expected baby, at twenty weeks’ gestation, was fatally ill. If the baby survived birth, she would suffer terrible pain, until she stopped breathing.

At the time, Denise had little choice but to carry the dying foetus and wait for the inevitable.

Photographer Richard Gosnold writes of “It starts with silence”, as depicting ‘my struggle to see beauty in the world, whilst knowing that I was powerless to help my wife and daughter’. Combining images with text, his book’s subject matter is necessarily distressing to read about and look at.

The reader is left with respect for his fortitude in confronting a harrowing predicament and anger at the religious malevolence of the elected representatives of what is still, though barely, the majority political party in Northern Ireland.

“It starts with silence”

Denise and Richard knew their baby had Edward’s syndrome and the NHS factsheet (photographed in the book) says ‘your doctor will talk to you about how you want to move forward’ and refers to the option of termination the pregnancy.

Not in Northern Ireland, though, and there is a photograph of scribbled notes detailing the costs of travelling to a clinic in Britain (over £2000). Other powerful images convey Denise and Richard’s anguish and pain as events unfold.

What are the prospects for the law allowing abortion in Northern Ireland to be properly implemented in the near future? One of the contenders for leadership of  the DUP, Edwin Poots, is a Young Earth creationist who believes that Earth and all its forms of life were created some 6,000 years ago.

“It starts with silence”, by Richard Gosnold, is published by Kehrer Verlag.

(Images provided by the publisher)

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