Cahill and The Irish

I was looking for a break from all the fiction I’ve been reading, and I happened to find a book on the shelf at work. It Called How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Actually, the title is longer than that, but everyone seems to know about this book so I’ll leave off typing the (very long) subtitle.

Well, I’m not really fully convinced that the Irish “saved civilization” so far, and I’m two-thirds of the way through, but I suppose Cahill might nab me by the end. I doubt it, but it’s possible. Still, what I am enjoying immensely is the glimpse I’m getting of Irish pagan society in transition, before the arrival of Christianity and after. The pagan society Cahill describes is rather familiar, and feels slightly Homeric to me, even. I don’t get any sense that it’s characteristically “Irish” but then, I wouldn’t. I don’t think I’ve met more than one or two Irish people in my life, anyway, at least not any who strongly self-identified as Irish.

But it’s fascinating enough for me to want to read some of the ancient Irish epics he mentions; then again, maybe it’s just my Western Canadianness that makes me interested in what was going on in the far periphery at the time when Rome was in decline. Cahill has a way of painting characters that makes them fascinating and very human. His Augustine and his Patricius (St. Patrick) and of the pre-Christian Irish world are captivating, and by that I mean I want to read more about them, want to give Augustine a go, and would like to read more ancient “barbarian” literature, whatever of that is extant.

And then there’s his comments on politics, from the page linked above:

Republicans: Others have taken the trouble to tell me how disturbed they were to read reports that I had said (in answer to a question at the end of a talk) that I failed to understand how someone could be a Republican and a Christian. What I actually said was that it seemed to me that “Republican” — at least in its current usage — and “Christian” had become contradictory terms. Of course, I know there are many people who consider themselves to be both (and some of them are even good friends of mine). I am also well aware that historically there have been many Americans who were both good Republicans and good Christians, Abraham Lincoln perhaps most preeminently. But the Republican Party in its current incarnation is racist (racism being the clear premise of its “Southern strategy,” pursued so singlemindedly since the days of the ineffable Richard Nixon) and the enemy of the poor. To be these things — to be against the poor and the marginalized — is, in my reading of the New Testament, to be specifically anti-Christian.

Anyone who says something like that is after my own heart, as that’s something I’ve thought and occasionally said for years now.

Of course, I think one can be Democrat and anti-Christian too. Hell, I think too-strong nationalism can even render one’s claims to piety false and hollow.

Anyway, the Cahill book is good so far, and almost done.

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