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Canadian novelist Dorothy Cummings McLean on Islam, Catholicism, secularism, and the mythical "Catholic novel"

Canadian writer Dorothy Cummings McLean, whose new novel, Ceremony of Innocence, has just been published by Ignatius Press, is interviewed by John Herreid for IPNovels.com, and she pulls no punches:

In Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) book A Turning Point for Europe? he declares that the term “fundamentalist”, primarily associated with American Protestantism, does not really apply to current Islamist radicals, instead pointing to a fusion of Marxist and Islamic theories of liberation as being the undercurrent driving Islamist terrorism. So, despite being used as a weapon against the West, this form of terrorism has some roots in Western ideologies. Does this attraction to a kind of Marxist “liberation” play a part in the plot? Does it explain why a Westerner might be attracted to Islamist radicalism?

I think Westerners are attracted to Islamist radicalism because, to be blunt, they think it is sexy. It is strong, it is well-funded, it is exotic, and it claims to fight for the underdog. It also aligns itself with the religion of Islam, which is itself culturally strong and, thanks to the jaded Western palate, appeals to Orientalist sexual fantasies of masculine domination and feminine submission.

By contrast, Western culture divorced from Christianity and its own past is pallid, shallow, consumerist, and even distasteful, and that is the culture most Westerners of the post-Vatican II, post–mainstream Protestant era have grown up in. Unfortunately, millions of Europeans and Americans have been indoctrinated by the culture to believe that the Christianity of their ancestors is uncool and therefore bad. The victory of the counter-culture has also given rise to North America’s fratricidal culture wars and, where Islamism is concerned, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

I am certainly concerned by what Western teenagers, especially in the English-speaking world, are taught about their ancestors and the histories of their countries or, rather, what effect it has on the teenagers. If the teenagers feel inspired to make their countries better places to live, good. If the teenagers despair and think Al Qaeda is justified, bad.

Meanwhile, I am very concerned about idealistic teenagers being sucked into causes by manipulative adults, no matter what the cause.

McLean says that influences on her writing include Graham Greene—her novel is "both a tribute and a parody to Greene’s novel" The Quiet American—Gordon Korman, P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, and Ernest Hemingway. "In terms of philosophy," she says, "St. Thomas Aquinas and, to a certain extent, Father Bernard Lonergan, S.J. and Professor Linda Hutcheon."

As for addressing the themes of repentance and conversion in fiction, McLean warns against an overt, didactic approach:

The besetting temptation for a religious novelist is propaganda. Propaganda is the great slayer of art. It acts like gravel in the gas tank. And the sad thing for the Catholic would-be novelist who writes propaganda for Catholicism is that he of all people should know that there is no need. We have been given the fullness of truth, and all we have to do is write about the world from that perspective. Grace moves though nature; if you can see it, write about it. But don’t wrap either nature or Grace in cotton candy. Tell the truth.

Read the entire interview on the IPNovels.com site.

 
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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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