Monday, 31 October 2011

Book Review – Dear God by Eamonn McCann

Eamonn McCann takes us through a wild romp describing the shear insanity of religion. Mostly he targets Catholicism in his home country of Ireland; but, along the way, he also manages a few detours to other parts of the world. What's described here, obviously, has its analogues for other religions and countries; there's nothing that special or original about Christianity or Catholicism. No religion has a monopoly on lunacy.

Dear God: the price of religion in Ireland is pieced together from snippets of journalism McCann has produced over the years. This does give the book a sense of immediacy and of dealing with hot political topics. However it also results in some deeper issues being overlooked. For a source for some of the articles see here where the story is continued and other, non religious topics, are also discussed.

So much of religion is bizarre. It almost appears the more weird the ideas espoused the more this demonstrates commitment to some lunatic faith. If you're totally wacko then you're a real believer and to be honoured. In itself this may not matter and could be dismissed as a few harmless cranks. But many of these cranks have quite offensive political ideas. Most of those lionised by the church recently have been extreme right wingers and some downright fascists. Quite how embracing former Nazi sympathisers and making them venerated saints enhances the church is hard to explain. It's not the kind of advice any reputable PR company would give to its corporate clients trying to make its way in the modern world.

Marxism is not just about poking fun at religion; entertaining as that can be. Equally, if not more, important is explaining why so many still believe. After all religion fails so many tests: logic, rationality, the remotest connection with the historical record. So poor is the connection with reality that some theologians suggest treating religious texts more as fables with a profound moral meaning. If that's true then why believe one set of fables over another. Alas, this book does not really go into this question of the persistence of religion. A useful starting point might be found here (and by someone with similar ideas to those of McCann).

All religions force feed their followers some form of family values. Some of the most moving sections here show how Catholicism has torn many families apart. The gamut runs from everyday oppression and subdued violence of religious run children's care homes through to the abuse, both physical and sexual of children. And along the way we find priests cohabiting or using their position to gain sexual favours. With all this immorality you wonder how many Christian types really believe in God or eternal punishment in the afterlife. In all of these cases little concern has been given to professed family values and indeed the real life families of the victims.

Have these relig-idiots no shame? The answer is a resounding: NO. Those who practice institutional religion never themselves act as if the religion they preach is supposed to be true; or is something they themselves should follow; it's always something to control the lower orders. And above all protecting the institution of the church counts above everything; there's a lot of power and prestige at stake, and often cold hard cash as well. Doctrine and humanity are well down the list.

This book is a great read with some wonderful descriptions. (And just the occasional klutzy sentence, every half dozen pages or so, where McCann seems to have become carried away by his bravura style. Or is it that, as the book is made up mostly of journalism, there has been little editing applied.) A book well worth digging out.

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