Those friends of the decanter who are interested in such things may like to know that ol’ Robbo just finished John Zmirak’s latest book, The Bad Catholic’s Guide To The Catechism. My reaction? Well, I plan to go right back to the beginning and start all over again, if that gives you any indication. Of all the Bad Catholic books Zmirak’s put out to date, I really think this is the best one. It’s set up as a Socratic dialogue between a worldly sophisticate and the author, in which the latter explains (patiently, for the most part) how this whole big thing called Catholicism actually works. The book is tight and snappy (although there are some occasional rants aside for those who like ‘em) and laugh-out-loud funny in many places (although it is deadly serious in others, especially when confronting the nastier episodes of Church history). So far as I can tell in my own ignorance, it’s also bang-on orthodox in its teachings. Above all, it fills me with that sense of awe, wonder, humility and idiocy that makes me want to shout with joy at God’s greatness and hide under a rock lest He spot me, all at the same time. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)
I like to think of Zmirak as the Jonah Goldberg of Catholic Apologetics. And I mean that as a compliment. Like the G-man defending Hayek or Adam Smith, Zmirak delves into the Magisterium with a mix of honesty, luminosity and humor in language that is never stuffy or remote, but instead attuned to the current culchah. (Okay, with its assortment of Tolkien and Star Wars references, it might be argued that he’s dialed into the geekier corner of said culchah, but that’s no bad thing.) Also like Jonah, he tends to talk about his dogs a lot. The comparison breaks down insofar as I don’t believe Zmirak’s couch talks to him, but if you imagine his interlocutor here as a piece of furniture (I’m thinking something Danish Modern) instead of some Upper West Side hipster doofus, then you’re nearly there.
A couple of specific grace notes in this book made me smile in particular. One was a mention of putting aside some trouble of the world and listening to a Haydn Mass. I getthat. In fact, I was doing just that thing just last evening. (I also listened to settings by Taverner and Byrd, but it’s not the same.) The other was his flagging of a particularly obnoxious piece of political correctness at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, CT, where some stoodent group from the gender politicks fever swamp sent a memo round demanding that everybody replace he/she/him/her in their writing (and speech?) with ze (subjective) and hir (objective and possessive). Ah, me. I see that things haven’t especially changed since I was there 25 years ago.
In fact, what’s changed is that this sort of nonsense is no longer confined to asylums like dear old Wes, but instead permeates the mainstream more and more. Which is all the more reason to work of further anchoring oneself in knowledge and faith. Reading this book certainly helps with that.
John Zmirak is easily one of the funniest writers alive...He attacks the subject matter with the best of his doctrinally sound depth of knowledge and relays it with maxium humor.
- Thomas McArdle, former communications director, Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights
A ploymath who is at the same time gloriously funny and massively serious...thoroughly orthodox and sane. The reader will be instructed, blessed, and exhilarated.
- Thomas Howard, author, Evangelical Is Not Enough