Category Archives: Religion

Philip Kerr takes up Prayer

Philip Kerr, Prayer. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

I have written on Kerr in the past, chiefly focused on his Bernie Gunther character, though I’ve read a few of his other works as well.  Prayer is unlike any other text I’ve read of his writings, and I’m uncertain still as to whether this is a good thing or not.  As I worked my way through the novel, I commented to a friend that I found the book creepy and more than a little frightening at times.  In the end, I lean more on the idea that the story is a bit messy, the main character thoroughly unlikeable, and some of the resolutions left me wondering – is it over? Was it real?  What was real?

FBI agent Gil Martins is a Scottish immigrant who spent formative teenaged years in Boston, MA, worked as a lawyer, and quit in the post 9-11 malaise to become an agent for the Federal Bureau.  He’s on the backside of a failing marriage, drinks too much, and has lost his faith in God, if not also humanity.  When the story opens up, we learn that Martins, raised Catholic in divided Glasgow, has converted to evangelical Christian but is really more of a burgeoning, if not fully committed, atheist.  The personal religious struggles of Martins are somewhat interesting, but as other reviewers have noted, Kerr has not created the most sympathetic protagonist.  Martins, as written, simply cannot pull off the sardonic, self-aware witticisms that come so easily to Kerr’s Bernie Gunther.

Perhaps this is unfair – making comparisons between the creations of an author, but arguably it is also the fate of a writer who largely works in the serial of the Gunther cosmology (or at least as done so for roughly ten years).  Despite what I perceive as a misstep in character design, there are elements of the story that certainly worked to keep me intrigued.

Ultimately however, I ended up disappointed in the novel.  I am still unclear, five days or so removed from finishing, exactly how the string of murders that were under investigation by Martins are resolved, or perhaps they aren’t?  I wrote earlier that the book was both creepy and frightening.  I will stand by that judgement and it is in this particular element that I see success in Kerr’s writing.  He effectively creates an unsure, unsafe, and bizarre environment with a touch of the paranormal.  My personal problem was, I did not care what happened to Martins, I was not certain I cared about the main antagonists, and I found the seeming abandonment of some characters, like Martins’ FBI partner, odd.

Does Martins, and Kerr by proxy, ask some interesting questions about the nature of God and prayer in general?  Perhaps, but I still found that in spots, the story was “flabby.”  Prayer is worth investigating, but if you leave off halfway through the novena? I won’t judge.

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Basics on a faith…

Gerald O’Collins, Catholicism, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

O’Collins is an English Jesuit priest employed at St. Mary’s University College in London. His contribution to the very short introduction series is intended for a wide readership who want to learn more about the Catholic Church. O’Collins asks questions about the origins of the church, how it has changed over the 2000 years or so of its existence, and what pressing challenges face the church in the current century.

There is a lot to like in this text, especially in terms of the fast pace and the intent of the book, though I tended to enjoy chapters three and on more completely. The first two chapters, in which O’Collins traces the history of Catholicism from about the year 30 through 2008, can be problematic. While much is revealed, there is a tendency towards “lists” as the author identifies quite a few personalities and trends of reform. To be fair, we are discussing 2000 years of development in under 150 pages, so there are going to be a few weak style moments here and there. This was more of an issue in the third chapter, as the worldwide expansion of the church was described wit new monastic orders, a variety of important popes, and the Reformation period and all it entailed.

Extremely useful as a shorthand reference guide to the actions of the Church, the various councils (particularly Trent and Vatican I and II), the book also gives readers a quick overview of the sacraments, appropriate for affiliates and non-affiliates alike. The fifth chapter gives readers a nice sense of moral teaching as it relates to Catholicism, including a second reference (after being brought up in an earlier chapter), to Rerum Novarum, the vitally important encyclical of Leo XIII, released in 1891. This particular encyclical has been cited time and time again as an important document for emphasizing social justice and redeeming humans from oppressive situations.

In his final chapter O’Collins asks some vital questions about the future of Catholicism as a faith and a church. Along with these questions, he has some critical remarks – it is probably his willingness to do so that endears me to him. Full disclosure however, O’Collins is a Jesuit and I am a graduate of a Jesuit college, so I have an affection for their logic and willingness to ask tough questions. I am interested to find out what O’Collins thinks of the new pope, particularly in light of some of the issues raised throughout this very short introduction. Whether you are a Church member or an individual seeking knowledge about Catholicism in general, the book should prove useful.

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Filed under Religion, Teaching, Teaching and Learning History