The Catholic Church had a stranglehold on my thinking until I got to my early thirties. Our church leaders were in important ways close to Orwell’s Thought Police.
Although I accept that all organized religion is to do with control, the Catholic Church was especially masterful in these matters. For example, they were our conscience. We were warned against making moral decisions. These decisions were made for us, and hell-fire sermons from psyched up priests reinforced that state of affairs.
It was the moral certainties pervading these sermons that maddened me when I was thirty-two, and helped loosen the rigid control I had been subject to. So I read more and thought more and consequently began to lose my fear of what God might do if I continued to think for myself.
But strangely it was these very certainties that, more than anything else, led to the conversion to Catholicism of American writer and mystic Thomas Merton. Merton read James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and was so taken with the certitude in Father Arnall’s famous fire and brimstone sermon that he was swayed heavily towards the Catholic Church that was able to teach such absolutes. And the irony of it all was that Joyce wrote this long passage containing the sermon as a parody of what he considered to be the absurd rantings of a half-demented priest.
Life is indeed strange.
So the Colm Herron who wrote The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next) had tired of all these certainties and had instead turned his mind towards Benjamin Franklin’s wise words: “There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes.” But there is a third thing. And that is that Franklin was right.
Colm Herron is the author of four novels and numerous essays and articles. He hails from Derry, Northern Ireland, and his newest novel The Wake was released last November.