11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2000
Edward Stourton is an avowed catholic. He says as much in the introduction of 'Absolute Truth', pointing to his Roman Catholic preparatory school and schooling at Ampleforth as evidence of this. He's not a tub-thumper, nor a religious fanatic, but a man who feels part of the Church and the Church part of him. This book is written from that perspective and, if you are tolerant enough to allow Stourton to odd lack of objectivity and glossing, then it is an interesting and enjoyable sprint through Catholicism as it stands in the shadow (or is it light?) of Vatican II.
Stourton's thesis - and for me, the most fascinating insight of the book - is that the Roman Catholic church is a contradiction in terms. The two words sum up two different feelings: 'roman' is all conquering and powerful, uniting the whole world by force under a single standard; 'catholic' is embracing, collective, respectful of local differences and deviations, a community united by a shared belief. 'Absolute Truth' charts the chasm that has formed between the two paths since John's momentus Council and looks at some of the desperate attempts to bring the Church back in line with itself.
All the usual suspects are here: Pius IX is taken as the benchmark; Humanae Vitae; the Polish Church and the fight with Communism; Hans Kung; Guttierez, Boff and Liberation Theology; contraception; the mingling of faiths in the New World. And Stourton treats each one gently, for the most part without passing comment on them, showing how they fit into the picture of the Church. Some of his assumptions are slightly doubtful - he's overly pessamistic (for my liking) about Leo XIII and the continuation of Liberation Theology - but these don't undermine the book in any way. It's highly readable and genuinely informative.
Some years ago, Ysenda Maxtone-Graham attempted a similar exercise - talking about the Church of which she was a member, the Church of England - in a book called 'The Church Hesitant'. 'Absolute Truth', for me, is a better attempt, though, not least because the Roman Catholic church better lends itself to the fights and squabbles that a book of this type relies upon.
Thoroughly worth reading.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 22 February 2002
The jacket blurb makes the book sound interesting as "Catholics reveal how their relationship with their chruch has changed since the second Vatican Council in the 1960s". It even starts well as Mr. Stourton provides, with obvious fondness, memories of his Catholic school upbringing. But that's about it. The book thereafter is just a rehash of the usual schpiel against the traditional Church. Yeah, he talks to a lot of people. I suppose being a BBC correspondent can open doors. But what insight is gained? Anyone familiar with the usual liberal view of the Church knows the drill. Everyone connected with the Church hierarchy is suspect - cold, narrow minded, and by implication, sinister. I mean when is somebody going to give poor ol' Cardinal Ratzinger a break! On the other hand, any critic of the Church is by definition imaginative and modern. The truly noble are presented as those lucky theologians that have actually been criticized or punished by the Church. It never ceases to amaze how the tenets and beliefs of a 2000 year old church are expected to just fold up when subjected to the Yoda like logic of modern public opinion. For example, Mr. Stourton takes great issue in the preparation and presentation of the encyclical Humane Vitae. The final encyclical is presented by the author as flawed because a consultative process that included the stories of "ordinary Catholics" was ignored. Supposedly,it followed that this teaching was rejected by the majority of lay Catholics because of a lack of recognition of their modern beliefs and societal needs. What is not explained by the author is why a Church teaching that challenges a layman's convenient view on contraception and abortion is wrong and somehow should not be taught. If the purpose of the orginal consultative process was to protect anyone from being uncomfortable about the encyclical then perhaps the Crowley's and their "ordinary Catholics" were not ignored and insulted, instead they were just the wrong people to ask to participate. This book is apparently a basis for a BBC series on the Catholic Church so I suppose the author had to follow the party line as found in the BBC/New York Times/Catholic Reporter/etc. However, Mr. Stourton did not write about the most significant change in the Catholic Church since the Council. How did it come to pass that in the 40 years since Vatican II we now have a generation of Catholic youth that have no understanding of basic Catholic theology, tradition, and history?! How did the Church in it's rush to implement the teachings of the Council manage to lose the ability to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the young in our society? I would submit that this is the true legacy of Vatican II. The great challenge of the Catholic Church in the new millenium will be to reevangilize our now mostly pagan society.
3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2002
Firstly to admit that this book is accessibly written, and informative on Latin America and Poland and on the whole birth control issue. Having said that, it presents a complete whitewash of recent Catholic history. For instance, Stourton's summary of the 20th century skates from the 1930s, where he admits the Church supported the "unfashionable side" (why not use the word 'Fascist', that's what Franco was)through 1942 where it justified the war "on the Russian front" (but why not use the word Nazi, that's what Hitler was). Then a leap forward to the late 1940s. Well, sorry, but there was a small matter of the Pope's support for Hitler, and the Church's failure to denounce Nazism or genocide. This is an inexcusable ommission in any view of the Church in the 20th century. On Karol Wojtyla's background there is no mention of the Holocaust, though Stourton devotes considerable time to a description of Krakow, home to a major ghetto which was eliminated during his period there. This throws the whole book's credibility into question. Paedophile priests - one of the top issues facing the Church in the last few years - mentioned once in passing. So if you want a highly biased book which omits distasteful facts and presents a distorted view of recent Catholic history, this could be for you. Otherwise you'd be better off reading John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope, Hans Kung's recent history, and the newspapers for almost daily reports of Church history in the making.