National Catholic Register

Books

Wit Serving Faith

BY Father C. John McCloskey

February 24-March 9, 2013 Issue | Posted 2/23/13 at 8:30 AM

 

The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism

A Faithful, Fun-Loving Look at Catholic Dogmas, Doctrines and Schmoctrines

By John Zmirak

Crossroad Publishing Company, 2012

240 pages, $14.95

To order: crossroadpublishing.com

 

The bestselling apologist John Zmirak has written a new book, The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism.

Of course, this is not a "real" catechism like the official Catechism of the Catholic Church or its progeny aimed at students or RCIA classes.

Instead, it is a very modern and idiosyncratic method of communicating the truths of the faith to new generations who are media-savvy yet generally ignorant and skeptical from the get-go of the "teachings of the faith."

What came to my mind was Marshall McLuhan, the seminal theorist, Catholic convert and ’60s media prophet of the digital globalization. In some of his later books, he used humorous images and even some that were borderline offensive.

Zmirak does something similar to good effect — but be prepared!

In his own words:

My book isn’t nearly as high-minded as the [Catechism of the Catholic Church], or even the splendid YouCat aimed at young adults. Think of those two books as the dinner and lunch menus at an exquisite Parisian restaurant. My book is a paper plate full of hot authentic Tex-Mex served up at a gas station outside of Austin. And the spices will clear your sinuses, but it’s the last barbacoa for three hundred miles. So let’s begin.

This book is certainly not for everybody.

Here is a sample question and answer found on page 57:

Question: So why insist on the Virgin Birth?

Answer: Well, most obviously because (and I don’t mean to sound like a hard-shell Baptist here) it’s in the frickn’ Bible. Clear as day. There is a long narrative explaining in painful detail how an angel appeared to Mary and told her something impossible would happen and how her fiancé Joseph reacted — by nodding at her and smiling as he slowly backed out of the room. Can’t you hear him saying to himself, "Boy, did I dodge that bullet," as he logged on to JDate.com? …

Christ’s existence began with a miracle that wedded God to a woman. She represented the whole human race from that moment, and her "fiat" to the angel (rendered in the New American Bible as "OK, whatever you want") was the inversion of Eve’s decision to obey the snake. So Mary was mystically wedded to the Creator of the universe, and Joseph saw her, needless to say, in a very different light. This was not your average marriage, for that very reason. I’ve always been confused by priests who held up the Holy Family to ordinary couples as a model of behavior. What can a regular Joe Catholic husband really gain from imagining that his wife is a sinless virgin and his kid is the adopted Son of God? What part of that is supposed to be helpful?

I highly recommend this book, which is witty, insightful, doctrinally sound and, well, truly contemporary. After all, whoever heard of a catechism that provokes frequent laughter as you read it?

Father C. John McCloskey

is a Church historian and

research fellow at the

Faith and Reason Institute

in Washington.