Mstation Book Reviews
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Mon, 01 May 2006

Opus Dei

John L. Allen, Opus Dei: The Truth about
its Rituals, Secrets and Power, Penguin

Notice of Opus Dei came to the general public through Dan Brown's fantastically successful fiction book, The Da Vinci Code. In it, Opus Dei (latin for "work of God") is a secret society that is party to the general frolics that go on. This, in turn, led to a lot of stupid journalism that in turn captured the minds of ... some people.

In this book, John Allen, a well-known Vatican correspondent has a very detailed look at Opus Dei and what they really stand for. First of all, they are not especially secret. A quick search on Google will no doubt turn up your local branch complete with contacts and mission statement. Aha, you say, but once you're in; that's when the secret missions start! Well, maybe, although the secret mission is more likely to be to get more buns but don't tell Nora.

One of the very appealing ideas behind Opus Dei is the sanctification of ordinary life and work. In other words, you don't rape and pillage all week and then meekly kneel at the altar on Sundays and expect, if not redemption, then a somewhat indirect word from God that it is alright to be smug. This philosophy of life and work is also a nice antidote to the tabloid philosophy that no-one's work has any importance at all -- a ridiculous nihilism that denies the reality that, in modern society, we are all dependent on one another. And this does especially include those who do more menial work. "God is in the details" takes on a fuller meaning here.

Less appealing to quite a number of everyday Catholics is a very strict adherence to the doctrines of the church -- not all Catholics agree, for example, with doctrines to do with abortion or contraception, or women in the priesthood, or even the necessity of going to Mass on a weekly basis.

Quite revealing in the book, is the actual daily religious practise of the members. Far from just applying the idea that the work of everyday life is sacred, there is quite a lot of time devoted to prayer and the like, including daily communion.

Needless to say a book like this will not allay the fears of conspiracy theorists but the rest of us are better informed after reading it and it's also a good guide to the ways in which quite a large section of humanity thinks -- the large section being not Opus Dei, who number around 84,000 for the whole world, but the Catholic church itself.

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