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Theology in the Irish Public Square

Author(s): Gerry OHanlon

ISBN13: 9781856076852

ISBN10: 1856076857


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  • What have religion and theology to do with the recession, with crime and punishment, with health and sickness, with Europe, with issues of equality? Gerry OHanlon SJ draws on the rich resources of Christian humanism, to make connections between faith and real life, at a time of crisis and darkness. He does so in a way which will be of interest to believers (including Muslims) and non-believers alike, as we join together as fellow-citizens to work for a more just and sustainable world. He argues that, in the wake of the Ryan and Murphy Reports, the Catholic Church in particular needs radical reform if it hopes to make its religious and theological voice credible. Karl Rahner once said:Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness - this book is an application of Rahners words to contemporary Ireland.
  • Gerry OHanlon

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    This collection of linked essays is of the type produced with seasonal regularity by trained theologians throughout the Catholic community every year. A key feature in such works is a sense that a Catholic pedagogue must respond to the Churchs loss of moral authority, and that religious discourse in general must defend its relevance against a majority of indifference and a vocally antagonistic minority.

    The obviousness of these concerns belies their complexity, and a host of equally pertinent questions and answers emerge instantly from the core question of the Churchs continued existence in modern society. Attempting to deal with too much as once in such a context can make for a poor case overall, a risk to which this collection, despite its strong sociological and Christian scholarship, falls prey.

    The introduction announces a plurality of issues, all of which will have come to the notice of any attentive reader of newspapers. We begin and end with mention of the judicial diocesan reports and the sexual-abuse scandals in Ireland, and take extensive detours into more international topics, specifically the confrontation now occurring between Islam and Western/Christian society.

    The first subsection concentrates on the economic decline. What, OHanlon asks pertinently, does the blessed Trinity have to do with the likes of fiscal stimulus packages?

    This and other questions are considered in relation to the authors classical Christian learning and the Churchs up-to-date teachings on inter-religious dialogue, sexuality and crime, and solutions for the future are proposed. In the midst of many digressions, the writer keeps a hold on certain pastoral absolutes, namely the primacy of the Gospel, the authority of the papacy and the power of sacramental ritual to unify communities.

    OHanlons order of reference moves ably between Irish public discourse and the doctrinal output of the Churchs upper tiers. When attempting to draw in material from outside these areas, his precision is diminished: page one informs us that something called Socio-political Islam has forced its way into the public sphere.

    An understanding of the main stream of Islamic practice reveals this sort of distinction - between secular and ecclesial, and public and private - is all but meaningless when applied unthinkingly to that religion.

    As a later, more considered examination of the thinking of Tariq Ramadan implies, real Islamic practice and opinion tends to go against these essential western dichotomies. Intellectuals like Ramadan aside, many would argue about the size and nature of Islams actual contribution to public debate, in Ireland and elsewhere.

    OHanlons approach throughout is slow and even-paced, carrying into each point the determined social engagement which distinguishes the working philosophy of the Jesuits. Alas, this stately speed slips into mere confusion in many places, it seems to me.

    No human being ought to be deprived of basic human rights, he assures us on page 75, preaching doggedly to the converted. An old-fashioned style of argument is not necessarily a bad thing, if the topics and points are clear and persuasive.

    However, if the reader accepts his repeated assertions of the quite obvious fact that the Church is in an advanced state of crisis, this stately pacing might begin to seem inadequate to the task, especially as the books pages make references to so many bulky contemporary problems.

    The most compelling passages which are the fruit of the writers own learning: one thread begins with puritans in 17th Century America, giving way to the civil rights struggle in that country almost 400 years later before returning to problems of State interference in the lives of Irish citizens.

    With concentrated use of that personal learning and a more nuanced treatment of a single topic, the good-natured author could emerge as a wise and persuasive defender of tradition, which is more likely what the embattled institution of the Church needs.

    - The Irish Catholic, 17th June, 2010

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Theology in the Irish Public Square