IF YOU were born into a Catholic family, attended a Catholic school, were sent to mass every Sunday and lived in fear of the local priest then Eamonn McCann's new book on religion is the one for you. Conversely, if you were lucky enough to escape the Catholic church, then you'll also find Dear God a fascinating and funny read. Not being one of the lucky ones, I devoured McCann's book and by the end thought that he had penned it especially for me.
Written primarily about the bigoted and hypocritical role of organised Catholicism in Ireland, it doesn't stop there. This collection of writings is steeped in history and politics, and surrounded by wit. He does not belittle those who believe in god, but demolishes the role of religion in actively supporting and campaigning for the continuation of capitalism. The pope gets a good kicking from McCann, as does the corruption of the bishops and priests who thrive on superstition and ignorance. He tears apart any notion that 'human nature' or 'culture' can explain religious sectarianism in the North of Ireland.
Charting the history of the North, he outlines how the marriage of capitalism with religious bigotry served the needs of the rich and powerful. His rejection of the 'two tribes' argument leads on to optimism for the future. The absurdity of sectarianism in the North is illustrated by the question to be asked in the 2001 census: they will require knowing whether you are a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist!
The contradictions within religion are highlighted throughout and reflect his statement, 'Religion emerged as an expression of human helplessness in the face of vast and seemingly inexplicable power, and can also be a vehicle for protest.' He compares the treatment of Islamic fundamentalism in the press and by politicians to the silence that greets the extreme absurdities of the Catholic church.
McCann shows the hypocrisy of all religion, but particular venom is reserved for Catholicism. This is powerfully portrayed in his writings on clerical child abuse, which has destroyed many people's lives. Here Dear God is sad and full of anger. This book will leave you angrier and more determined to destroy a society that has claimed so many lives for the price of religious bigotry.
Dear God, The Price of Religion in Ireland, by Eamonn McCann, (Bookmarks £9.99). Phone 0171 637 1848 for your copy.