Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Lapsed Agnostic

It is rare to find a book that presents a personal account describing the misunderstanding and suffering caused by the Irish Church's failure to understand today's cultural reality. John Waters, a columnist with The Irish Times, describes a journey that originated in a Catholic childhood, following the promise of freedom in the pop culture that led to his rejection of the faith, and his long and difficult return to the Church. Waters offers Lapsed Agnostic as a long voyage that addresses the cultural reality in Ireland where the Church leadership failed to respond to the challenges modernity presented and reduced the Christian message to morality and political dominance. The Irish Church never developed a coherent response to the Enlightenment and after independence was satisfied merely preserving external political realities. The local church dominated society in a way similar to the British colonial experience where it sought legal positions and moralistic behavior and was unable to show how Christ mattered to daily life. The dualistic tendencies that weakened the entire West were particularly destructive in Ireland and the life proposed by the Church was unattractive compared to the freedom promised by rock musicians and the wider pop culture. Waters followed the road where he thought he would find happiness and left the faith to embrace a life of 'freedom,' but this promise failed and ultimately led him to alcohol as a means to survive. He lived through the destruction of traditional culture and had nothing but superficial ideas to replace what was lost. His human needs were present but unfulfilled and he drowned his heart in drunkenness. Eventually he found his way to AA and rediscovered his faith through a long and difficult process that required him re-think his relationship with Christ and re-enter the Church. This process was particularly painful as it required him to discover where the Irish Church had reduced the faith and had failed to propose Christ. The cultural problems are still present in Ireland and Waters tells how he has difficulty talking to people who ask him questions about what he believes because they normally come from ideological positions that are unable to comprehend his responses.
This is a beautiful work where the author places before us the reality of his childhood and the consequences of a faith that is unable to generate a culture. “The Irish Church has not yet woken up to the scale of the anthropological and existential crisis that besets Irish society precisely because of the particular nature of its historical faith experience and its recent rejection of this.” The outcome was the people leaving the Church and embracing a shallow culture that left them unable to deal with the problems of life. Yet, the answer for Ireland remains Christ and Waters own experience shows why this return is the only response that corresponds with the human heart. Ireland has suffered a loss of its tradition and is hungry for something that can address our reality now. This can only come from an encounter with a Presence that is able to generate a culture.

John Water's recent column in The Irish Times: Freedom at Last to Think for Yourself

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