A God-Shaped Vacuum

In 1980s Ireland, a confused teenager takes increasingly radical spiritual steps to fill a binary vacuum

Will J Murphy


Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

Classroom religion

Kieron didn’t want Mr Macintyre or Carol Zinger to catch him watching them, so he peeked over a jumbo-size chorus book. He needn’t have worried. They were in deep conversation about saving a damned soul.


Mr Macintyre, the teacher who led the Christian Union, wore his customary corduroy suit. His tie was loosened because it was the after school Thursday meeting. This born-again Presbyterian elder wanted to bring everyone to Christ at the school, one student at a time, if that was what it took.

Carol Zinger was a young missionary back on furlough, touring churches and youth groups and was sponsored by Mr Macintyre’s church. She wore a calf-length, high-necked dress with a jacket. A simple, silver cross hung from a chain necklace.

Why was Kieron here? His friend, Richard, had nagged him into going. He had gone along to shut him up, but stayed when he realised that the group seemed genuinely friendly.

To his surprise, being part of it filled a need for social interaction he didn’t know he had. He had previously preferred libraries to clubs or bars. Richard said he was his favourite techno-hermit.

As the weeks went by, human company was increasingly an important part of his life. Small talk was still a mystery, but the Christian Union’s activities meant there was always something to talk about.

Disturbingly, however, it also became clear that Richard wasn’t simply concerned about his friend’s social life. The Christian Union was there to help fulfil Mr Macintyre’s great cause. You had to be born again. They rarely strayed from the topic.

He had been brought up in church, so the idea of God didn’t bother him. His experience of Church was passive, however, a background task that ran every Sunday. That was not the Christian Union’s version of Church, and definitely not Carol Zinger’s.

Carol Zinger intrigued and scared him. She had slammed home with a youthful friendly ferocity, the message that anyone not born again would go to Hell and…