One Quote Review: Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada

Primo Levi said that it was the greatest book written about the resistance to the NAZIs in Germany and having finally finished Fallada’s Alone In Berlin I can heartily recommend it. It took a long time to read. I read novels at night before sleeping and this is a disturbing book. Small bites were all I could manage. Written in an unusual spacious style, it paints a portrait of a society utterly corrupted. The extent to which the NAZI regime lived by eating Germany’s society is brought home in the twisting and turning of the fortunes, manipulations and machinations of the state officials and the dense population of compromised informants.

It tells the story of an ageing couple moved to radicalism by the grief of the death of their son on the battlefields. They begin to write seditious postcards and drop them around the stairwells of Berlin. The plot is driven forward by the parallel journey of this couple, the Quangels and the Gestapo officers who are hunting them. It is a novel about resistance, moral obligation and what it means to live a good life. Very German and very good.

No, and you will never understand it, either. You see, it doesn’t matter if one man fights or ten thousand; if the one man sees he has no option but to fight, then he will fight, whether he has others on his side or not. I had to fight, and given the chance I would do it again.

Your Correspondent, Most people’s resistance is the path of least


What Comes Next?

At the end of this month I am going to close It is the end point of a long journey where more and more I realise I need something different than a blog as the focus point of my theological thinking.

Zoomtard started as a “theological sketchpad”; a place to put quotes that spurred thinking. If you look back through the archives you could informally chart how I fell in love with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Tom Wright, Karl Barth, Stanley Hauerwas and Marilynne Robinson. It developed into a place where I learned the craft of writing reasonably well, reasonably quickly. Over the last two years or so I have written a post for every week day and my ability to express myself clearly has been honed. People reliably inform me that my prose is enjoyable. Wife-unit marvels at how my grammar and basic sentence construction has improved.

But over the 7 years of blogging I have moved from being a theological enthusiast to a full-time Christian to someone who might perhaps possibly have something to contribute. The reality is that as much as we would like to boost the web as a revolutionary force, blogging is not the avenue that a young theologian needs to go down to make a difference in the church in Ireland.

So I no longer have a couple of good quotes battering around my head but whole parliaments of competing voices and a blog is not the forum to adjudicate between them. While I hope to maintain the discipline of writing something every day, I could use the challenge of using a voice other than this casual, self-deprecating tone I throw out here to make me seem cool. And while I have worked out ideas here in a very helpful manner, both for myself and others, I think I now need to start thinking, reading and writing more constructively for a wider audience in a more intense format.

So the daily blog will die. Mourn for a moment, why don’t you?

I will probably use the fascinating format of Google+ for link dumping in a way that I never felt I could do with zoomtard because it was extra-curricular to the task of “theological sketching”. I will use another blog format, wordpress, tumblr or posterous (I haven’t settled on one yet) to keep zoomtard alive but it will be much more sporadic and much less theological. Hence it will be more fun. My church blog that I share with my boss Keith will be a place where Zoomtardesque posts, filtered through a pastoral lens, can still be written by me and read by you.

I know there are a medium handful of people who have come to enjoy Zoomtard regularly so over the next few weeks if you have any thoughts on what Zoomy should do next, please do let me know, by comments, email or carrier pigeon.

Your Correspondent, He ain’t even started yet and he’s at the finish line

Fun Games For All The Family

In the post sent to my office at the end of last week was a batch of Jesus-junk; catalogues attempting to foist fridge magnets and bookmarks bearing verses from the Psalms on unsuspecting gombeens. Amongst the clutter were sample cards from a new fun family game called “Kingdom Cards” or some equivalent crap.

Check out the fun you can have with your family:

Evolution is stupid

I take every chance I get to tell any children in my life that evolution is stupid. So stupid it should only be debated by means of stupid arguments!

On the plus side, I did come across this:

Dino tunnels

Your Correspondent, Made living biological attractions so astounding that they’ll capture the imagination of the entire planet.

I'm Not My Perspective

Rilo Kiley were one of the great American bands of the last decade. More Adventurous is one of my favourite albums of all tme. And on Friday they formally announced they had broken up. Oh well. Harry Potter and Rilo Kiley are both finished. Time to grow up and buy some Sting albums.

Just kidding. Jenny Lewis will keep me cool.

Your Correspondent, Is just recreation for all those doctors and lawyers

New Feet

Fetishists would love my feet. Glorious high arches. Lovely bone structure. Fantastic so they are, if you are some class of a pervert! Decent sane Irishmen know nothing about perversion but know plenty about the merits of a hard day’s labour in the fields or a game of football well played.

I know about neither. On account of those glorious feet. Their high arches and flexibility make me over-pronate, which is a clever way of saying I run on the outside of my feet. Evolution didn’t work on me (hence it must be false!!!). Or maybe it worked too well? Regardless, my frankly explosive running career had been stalled by recurring calf strains brought on by the dynamics of my foot model’s feet. I was faster than my sister. I was faster than Lorraine. I was faster than pretty much all the women I ran against. Like Forrest Gump I was.

But with the calf strains I’ve been benched for what feels like three months. You might enjoy your lie-ins, undistrubed by the sonic booms caused by my scientifically improbable self-propelled speed but I miss racing the roads of Maynooth at just over six miles per hour, with the right wind at my back.

But I have hope. Thanks to wise advice from friends I went to see these lads up in Norn Iron and they turned on their lasers and made me a pair of these:

New feet

It turns out that my heel barely ever touched the ground when I ran. I was bound for painful pulls followed by even more painful pulls until my calves gave up and I hobbled into old age before I was 35. It will still be about two weeks before I can run in them. I have to progressively wear them in and they do feel very odd at this stage, but my hope is that they’ll have me back running but longer and faster and without the recurring injuries of the past.

New feet 2

Only then can I challenge Brent White to a race I am bound to lose.

Now only a crazy priest can stand in my way of Olympic gold in London next year.

Fr Liam Horan Olympics Marathon

Your Correspondent, Is now a little bit taller

After Cloyne

The latest report into abuse in the Irish Catholic church was published this week. What is most remarkable about it is that it still manages to shock. We discover at least in Cork that the bishop in question lied, that the Vatican interfered in a fashion that is almost worthy of a Dan Brown conspiracy and that reports of abuse were repeatedly mishandled even into the last decade.

Christians are called to proclaim: “Repent and believe, the Kingdom of God has come!” but the Irish church seems to still not be acquainted with that liberating word, μετάνοια. Major figures in the report seem unable to even form a morally cogent apology. The bishop in question, Magee, a man who was private secretary to three popes, has gone to ground. No one knows where he is.

Some Theses:

    To my Presbyterian/Evangelical/Born Againy readers, for all of our denominational identity or confessional convictions, remember that there is only one church in Ireland. This is not “their” problem. This is our problem.
    The Cloyne Report is not bad news for the church. It is good news. Every time sin is exposed, it is an act of liberation. The followers of the man who says he is “The Truth” cannot fear the truth. In that case, we are not following Jesus.
    There can be no segregation of these acts of abuse from the rest of the church. These acts are so horrific and are so widespread and were and continue to be so unacknowledged, that no language of “think of all the good that x or y is doing” can be accepted. The church must own its sin. No backstory can explain it. No sensitivity can justify it. No good deeds can ameliorate it.
    The contemporary hierocracy of Rome is untenable in terms of doctrine, history and Biblical warrant. A reformation of decentralisation is needed now more than ever.

Thoughts of this nature were actually proposed by my old English lecturer, Brian Cosgrave in this summer’s edition of The Furrow. Prof. Cosgrave was the man who introduced me to the genius of the under-rated Brian Moore. I remember one memorable class where I presented on the novella Catholics. It was the first time I had ever delivered a report at a post-grad seminar. It was the first time I had ever spoken in a humanities class at all, since I had just started the masters having completed a degree in computer science. I don’t know if he was just shocked into silence or full of charity but he responded way too graciously to an interpretation of the end of that book that probably bordered on the criminal. He still didn’t manage to enthuse me about Joyce however.

Brian Cosgrave on the right

His article in the Furrow is called “I wish to remain a Catholic but…” and in the light of news that the Irish government is trying to do the impossible and pry open the seal of confidentiality that surrounds the confession booth, a section of Cosgrave’s thoughtful essay seems to have more merit than all the mountains of analysis and comment I have already encountered on the issue. The Irish Times reports today:

Under the plans put forward by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, priests could be jailed for up to five years for failing to disclose information on serious offences against a child even if this was obtained in Confession.

And Cosgrave writes:

Doubtless a more informed theologian than I can claim to be would insist at this point that in matters of doctrinal definition the people can have only a limited input; and having read my [John Henry] Newman in the Apologia (the great chapter V) I have no problem in accepting a central authority in that regard. But doctrinal affirmations relating to Church dogma are one thing; moral positions regarding justice, as these affect the broader secular society, are quite another. What this means, surely, is that there ought to be no discrepancy between canon law and the law of the land; and democratic process requires that, if the former conflicts with the latter, then in the ordinary course of events it must simply give way.

Cosgrave is here outlining what I would call a pragmatic approach to culture in a post-Christendom state. It is so straightforward and obvious that I can’t quite step inside the mind that opposes it. Or at least, I can’t grasp why someone from the Reformed side would oppose it. If an evangelical leader in Ireland, representing less than 1% of the population, opposes proposed legislation on moral grounds that is (potentially) noble and appropriate. But if they insist on implementing their morality on the majority it is beyond ludicrous.

Is it any different for Roman Catholics, even if 85% or 48% or 623% of people claim allegiance to that church? It might be. Perhaps the peculiar metaphysics that undergirds the Roman Canon Law tradition renders this pragmatic approach not just unattractive but impossible. Consider a key concept in the historical development of Canon Law: Pope Gelasius’ Two Swords principle. Roughly stated, he argued that there are two powers in the world: the sacred authority of the priesthood and the authority of civil rulers. The priests have supremacy, the “sword” God gives them is greater and so the king is accountable to them.

If something like the Two Swords principle is taken to be a truth everlasting as against a political doctrine conceived in and for the Mediterranean world of 1500 years ago, then the church cannot relinquish the jurisdiction of the Canon over to the State. The Canon lawyer might be compelled to say that Canon is God’s territory. This brings us back to the last of my spontaneous theses. The church universal is much more central to God’s love of the world than we often realise. And this is true even in the Roman form of church. The theological investment they place in the church warps its picture, drawing it into battles it need not fight and tempting it into powers it cannot handle.

The Reformation is not something to be celebrated but it was necessary and it is necessary.

Your Correspondent, Emboldened by disgrace

An Addendum:
Wife-unit says my final paragraph is very obscure. Let’s have another go at it! The Gospel outlined in the New Testament is unintelligible without the church. The evangelical church tends to draw a midget ecclesiology. As a result, they consistently miss or warp key aspects of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic church doesn’t ever fall into the traps of the evangelicals. But on the opposite side of the spectrum they draw a giant, steroid ecclesiology. The church literally becomes incarnational. This warps or blinds them to key aspects of the Gospel and in tempting them to equate the church with God it draws them into battles they ought to have no business fighting. Any more coherent?

Tribalism Fail

The front cover of the summer edition of that must-read periodical, The Presbyterian Herald does not speak of any subconscious tribalism within our denomination. How could you ever suggest such a thing? Us? Ourselves? Self-interested? You couldn’t even find an image that speaks to that idea that our concern is just for us:

Presbyterian Herald Summer 2011

But notice the photo along the side and its unintentional prophecy of the significance of us:

Pres Herald Crop

Your Correspondent, Thinks he just got scrumped