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Adult Faith: Growing in Wisdom and Understanding
By Diarmuid O’Murchu;  Orbis Books, 2010;  216 pp.  Paper $20.00

 

             O’Murchu begins by rejecting the classical markers of adulthood--independence, family, work.  He nods to Fowler’s stages of spiritual development, which include maturing to individual responsibility for one’s beliefs, transcendence, and finally universalizing faith.  His thesis, however, assumes the protean self, a concept introduced into psychological literature in the 1970s.  The protean self is fluid, able “to morph into a range of differing identities as complex demands arise.”   Later, in a chapter entitled “Calling Forth the adult in the Twenty-First Century,” he expands protean to co-evolutionary, by which term he intends to transcend anthropocentric definitions of adulthood to include “a more conscious option to live in harmony with the rhythm and flow of the surrounding creation.”  Within this web, “we appropriate a different set of values in our engagements with daily life.”

             In Part One, O’Murchu reviews the “cultural meta-narratives” that inhibit the development of genuine adult consciousness, including among others “the revealed truth of formal religion,” “patriarchal power structures,” and “the valorization of rational thought.”  He deconstructs each of these meta-narratives with reliance on impressive research and, it seems to me, some uncritical acceptance and use of that research. 

             For example, in the chapter “The Tyranny of the Rational Mind,” he writes of the development of agriculture and cites authors claiming that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture resulted in widespread disease among American Indians.  From this he concludes “The agricultural revolution initiated profound shifts in human consciousness. . . ., “ and then he immediately adds another citation which links the agricultural revolution with the destruction of the “rich fertile plains of North Africa and with the “Ego Explosion, which resulted in war, patriarchy, social stratification. . .” and virtually all the other evils we know today.   O’Murchu’s conclusion is that “The patriarchal system as we know it today came into being (possibly for the first time).  A new caste came to the fore, predominantly male, with an intense desire for domination and control, using excessive rationality.”

             All of this may be true; I am not qualified to judge O’Murchu’s use of his sources; however, I find his rhetorical leaps unconvincing.  In the first place, why bring the development of agriculture into an argument on the tyranny of the rational mind?  There is plenty evidence of patriarchy in the body/mind-female/male dualisms in more accessible illustrations from our Greek heritage.

             In Part Two, O’Murchu attempts reconstruction, focusing on “a new way of being human” and evolutionary factors contributing to the new description of adult.  He extrapolates ideas from Part One into a vision of cooperation rather than competition, of spiritual integration with all of creation rather than individual salvation, of network rather than institution.  Unfortunately, in doing so, he repeats much of what he has already presented in Part One. 

             I appreciate the basic insight of this book, that the adult of the twenty-fist century must be flexible in order to co-create in a rapidly changing environment, and I am intrigued by the hopeful (Utopian?) vision of networks of local grassroots social and environmental movements influencing governments.  However, I find much of the book old news, and I find the insights and suggestions buried in a great deal of wordiness, repetition, and marginally relevant documentation.    My recommendation is decidedly lukewarm.

 

Pat Chaffee, OP

Racine, Wisconsin


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