In his article, “Confessions of a Catholic Novelist,” author William Giraldi, believes one cannot be a Catholic and a good novelist simultaneously. “Catholics already have the truth, whereas novelists write novels in part because they don’t.” (New Republic, July/August, 2015, pg. 65.) A Catholic novel isn’t written to explore ideas but to espouse religious propaganda. (Ibid, p. 62.) Belief in redemption through Christ means there can be no real drama and no real tragedy. (Ibid pg. 62.) In sum, nothing remains for a Catholic novel’s fictional characters to do but enact the dictums of the faith.
Flannery O’Connor, according to Giraldi, is one of the few Catholic writers who escapes the trap of faith by creating characters who are gormless and reprehensible precisely because they imagine they have figured life out. (Ibid pg. 64) In an essay O’Connor remarks, “When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have long been famous.” (Ibid pgs. 64-65.)
While Melville and Hawthorne reflect something of their Calvinists leanings – the watered down offshoots of the Catholic church, as Giraldi refers to them – he believes their ideology never obtains a firm grip on their work. Jewish writers, he goes on to say, can be Jews yet shun the religion. But a Catholic writer without dogma? What would that look like, he asks.? (Ibid pg. 61.)
How Graham Greene or James Joyce would answer, I can’t imagine, though both are writers seeped in the Catholic tradition yet revered for their genius as novelists. Still, I am a writer and despite the fact that I fell away from the Church long ago, I would answer that something mystical is lost when Catholic epistemology is stripped away. Without it, good and evil no longer engage in a metaphysical struggle for the cosmos. Good and evil become traits of human character, making the struggle between good and evil no longer epic, though it can stupefy our understanding of ourselves.
I have written that my play Woman on the Scarlet Beast is a Catholic play. (Blog 8/7/15) Dogma is the intellectual framework upon which the story is suspended. My central character, Ruby Farrel, seeks redemption but the cannons of the Church work to crush her. Dogma is an exquisite rack upon which to torture the human psyche. That one can be destroyed by it — must be destroyed by it – yet retain hope, that is the Catholic mystery, the scaffolding upon which the grace of the human spirit is hung. Though Garaldi may not agree, a Catholic writer Is capable of more than pious trash. To use his words against him, a Catholic writer exposes the “dramatic itch for sin, for judgment and damnation, for the rottenness of the world and the holiness in us all.” (Ibid, pg. 65.) As for Flannery O’Connor, her arrows were aimed at Evangelicals which is a Catholic assessment.