The Bad Catholic’s Guide To The Catechism: A Faithful, Fun-Loving Look At Catholic Dogmas, Doctrines, And Schmoctrines, by John Zmirak
Admittedly, I read and review a book like this one as an outsider when it comes to Catholicism and its thoughts and ways and not as an insider. Perhaps unusually, I come to a book like this as a sympathetic outsider, not least because the author and I are online acquaintances and because I have some idea of the author’s thinking and opinions from having interacted with him and read a great deal of what he posts online, as he is a prolific writer on matters of the Catholic faith and its interaction with the contemporary world. This book appears to be written mainly for two groups of people, either sympathetic outsiders to Catholicism who can appreciate the importance of godly traditions and the need for church and authority to counteract the willful and rebellious tendencies of individuals unshackled from restraint, an audience which I am a part of, or those who are nominal Catholics who have at least some curiosity in better knowing what they feel a vague but not very well-informed understanding of and connection to. And by and large this works well at providing a sympathetic but brutally honest picture of Catholic teaching and doctrine that is well-aimed at making its internal and external enemies look at least a little bit ridiculous.
This book is about 250 pages long or so and it is divided into six very large chapters that tackle different aspects of Catholicism. The preface gives a loving discussion of how this book is sort of following in the footsteps of Fulton Sheen in making the Catholic faith accessible to others. The introduction gently reminds us that this is not a catechism in the formal sense, even though the book is structured as a dialogue between a clueless but inquisitive young nominal Catholic and a wiser and sardonically humorous persona of the author. The six chapters begin with a discussion of reason and revelation that deal with the authority of the Bible and of the magisterium (1). After that comes a discussion of God the Father (2), the Son (3), and the Holy Spirit (4) as they appear in the Bible, in Catholic teaching and understanding, and in the understanding of believers and even occasionally unbelievers, with a healthy discussion of various heresies that involve attempts at simplifying matters. After that comes a discussion of the Church (5), which also comments a good bit on the contemporary crisis of Catholicism in the light of the sexual revolution and a view of the sacraments that provides a thoughtful discussion of baptism, marriage, the Passover (called the Eucharist here), the laying on of hands for illness, and the other sacraments.
This book is part of a series, which is pretty funny from what I have seen so far, relating to a Bad Catholic looking at Catholic culture with an honest and loving but brutally honest eye. As someone who is similarly a loving but also brutally honest examiner of my own religious traditions, this is an approach I wholeheartedly enjoy and can entirely understand. Intriguingly enough, this particular book was written in a period where a run of conservative “good popes” was going on and where there was a high degree of respect for the Catholic hierarchy despite the recognized and serious problems of the Catholic bishops and ordained leadership as a whole. The author notes, though, that there have been plenty of periods where the leadership of the church was less morally elevated and quite worthy of disgust and contempt, and it appears that as I read this we are in one such period at present. If the author and I spring from different religious backgrounds, there is a lot I can relate to here and if you are someone who has a generally traditional but highly critical relationship with Christianity, you will find a fair amount to appreciate here as well.