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Tom Harpur.

Toronto, Oxford University Press, c1983.
248pp, paper, $19.95 (cloth), $9.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-19-540425-4 (cloth), 0-19-540248-9 (paper).

Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Bérard.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

This volume comprises a series of articles, some new and others revised, by Tom Harpur, the long-time religion editor of the Toronto Star who has also hosted popular radio and television programs on religion in that city. The collection covers a wide range of topics, from the inevitable essays on birth-control, abortion, and women's ordination to reflections on the relationship of the church to the electronic media and a fascinating travelogue of the author's trip to the Holy Land.

Most of the essays are quite predictable, given Harpur's curriculum vitae as a liberal Anglican priest turned media personality. He takes Pope John Paul II to task in several pieces for his failure to lead the Catholic Church toward an end to priestly celibacy, acceptance of divorce and remarriage, the encouragement of artificial contraception, the ordination of women, and away from its attachment to the idea of papal authority. In characterizing John Paul's papacy as "a disaster," he suggests that the Pope does not have the support of his followers on these issues and accuses him of trying to "turn back the clock to the Middle Ages." Harpur also calls for churches to review their hostility toward homosexuality and to base their stance on abortion on the notion that every child should be a "wanted child." Just as predictably Harpur conducts a spirited, if often specious and inconsistent, defence of the support given by some church groups to so-called "liberation organizations" in Africa and Latin America and makes the case that the only appropriate role for the contemporary Christian is that of the social and political activist. None of the arguments advanced by Harpur in defence of his views are particularly novel, and his treatment of complex issues betrays the superficiality of popular journalism.

On the other hand, in his coverage of traditional journalistic themes, Harpur displays his strength in writing and personal observation. He offers a moving retelling of the Christmas story, a revealing series of glimpses of daily life in Canada's arctic communities, and probing interviews with Jean Vanier, Mother Theresa, and author Robertson Davies. The volume closes with perhaps the best pieces, a series of reflections on death and dying and the academic-clinical death industry spawned by the writing of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The book as a whole makes for provocative and often entertaining reading, but its approach to controversial religious issues is so simplistic and slovenly as to make it of questionable value for use in secondary schools.

Robert Nicholas Berard, Dept. of Education, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
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