01-05-2008 - Traces, n. 5

The Intensity of a Life

by Mauro Biondi

What’s surprising about John Waters’ book is the honesty of a man who doesn’t want to close the issue, who isn’t afraid of walking all the way down a path of search and verification, always spurred forth by the desire for freedom, and always ready to reopen a wound that ideology and the current fads seem to have closed once and for all. John Waters, a writer and essayist, has been for a long time a top Irish media journalist/commentator, giving voice to the generation that identified the desire for freedom with the rejection of Christianity. He then discovered Father Giussani, and with that he re-discovered the reasons for Christianity. Lapsed Agnostic is the biography, profoundly entwined with the history of Ireland from the fifties until now, of a man once loved and later barely tolerated–when not openly opposed–by those in power. It begins in a predominantly Catholic country, where the young Waters clashes with a Christianity “joyless and without reasons,” to the point of rejecting it in favor of a thoroughly embraced agnostic position. Then came economic development, secularization, the scandals within the Catholic Church, and the birth of “Modern Ireland,” a phenomenon welcomed with joy and a sense of relief by intellectuals and the media, where there wasn’t any space left for a discredited  institutional Church or  even for the issue of religion itself. Stumbling onto Father Giussani’s book, The Religious Sense, made John cry out that, indeed, the issue was not resolved. Furthermore, he reconsidered his own life and the life of his country starting from the wonder he experienced in front of the page of The Religious Sense where Father Giussani invites the reader to “picture yourself being born, coming out of your mother’s womb…” (The Religious Sense, Chapter 10, p.100). After that, everything was like before, past history with its drama and its contradictions (the experience of alcoholism and a difficult family life) was like before, yet nothing was like before anymore. The intensity of life and the richness of humanity experienced by keeping his quest for meaning and freedom alive became, in time, the fertile ground where the seed planted by the secular Irish Christian tradition could germinate and start to bear fruit. One does not abandon agnosticism in favor of an ideological position; it can only happen on account of the discovery of a true and convincing hypothesis for one’s life, and through the sincere desire for verifying this hypothesis on a path of knowledge of self and of reality. Nothing in the book is static; the author can never be caught in the attitude of one who perceives himself as “having arrived.” On the contrary, he is always available to verify everything, to judge everything, and, like Innocent Smith in Chesterton’s Manalive, to travel the whole world with the desire and the certainty of going back home.