Tuesday 24 April 2018

Bless me Father, for I don't believe in religion any more

religion Faithless Tony Philpott Liffey Press, €16.95, tpbk Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

Rebelled: Tony Philpott
Rebelled: Tony Philpott

David Robbins

Tony Philpott is an angry man. And he has good cause. The Ireland he grew up in was a dour, priest-ridden, joyless place that left him scarred and bitter. He was born into a working-class family in Crumlin in the 1950s. Religion dominated the lives of his parents, who were devout and unquestioning Catholics.

His uncle was told by a priest that the only book a good Catholic needed to read was The Song of Bernadette, an account of the 1858 Marian apparitions at Lourdes.

His teachers warned him about the dangers of masturbation, about sins venial and mortal, about the temptations of the flesh and the rewards that awaited him in the afterlife if he remained true to his faith.

Like the bright lad he was, young Tony regarded all this as cant. He rebelled against the smothering influence of the church, forsook the faith of his fathers and, aged 34, left for Canada.

The book he has written -- subtitled A Journey Out of Religion with Stops for Light Refreshment Along the Way -- is a kind of autobiography with philosophical and humorous asides on religious history, theology, the Bible, the papacy, and the sacraments and beliefs of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, there is too little of the former and too much of the latter. Tony Philpott writes well and has a lovely touch -- his account of blowing up a gas-filled balloon and driving the hens in his back garden mad with fright is a highlight.

But his relentless and rather obvious attacks on religious belief become repetitive and rather pointless. The usual targets are set up and duly fired upon.

Why, if she was so concerned about the conversion of Russia, did Mary appear to peasants in Portugal, rather than to the Politburo in Moscow?

Why did his parents believe that the deposit for their shop on Dean Street appeared in answer to their prayers, rather than because an insurance policy matured?

Why did people believe that holy water cured a sore throat? Why would anyone believe the story of Adam and Eve?

Why did people kill, rape and pillage in wars over a religion that was supposed to be all about love?

Tony Philpott -- a successful screenwriter -- has much to say on these topics, and some of it is funny.

But it's like shooting fish in a barrel. No one now defends these practices; no one holds up 1950s Ireland as an exemplar of how a society should be; not even the church now believes that theocracy is the way to go.

In the final chapter, Philpott writes that "you probably sensed a little anger along the way". That is putting it mildly. The anger is the vinegar that turns the humour in the book sour.

More memoir and less polemic would have mellowed this book and taken the bitter taste away.


Irish Independent

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