Angela’s Ashes, Part Two

by J.D. Roth

You can imagine how stunned I was to read this article by Pat Buchanan, a man I quite dislike, and yet agree with nearly every word. This is what I’ve been saying since September 11th. This is what I’ve been arguing about, standing in the office, shouting over Mike (who is shouting over me), explaining that the United States can’t stop terrorism by going to Afghanistan and blowing people up, can’t stop terrorism through a war of rhetoric, can’t stop terrorism at all unless it leaves the Middle East. That’s too simple for most people to understand: the Saudis (and other people in the Middle East) don’t hate us for our politics, our freedom, our wealth (though they don’t like these things), they hate us because of our Imperialistic attitudes, because of our presence on their sovreign soil, on their holy lands.

Pat Buchanan is absolutely right on this particular issue.

(From metafilter, my original source for this Buchanan story, comes this McLaughlin Group transcript which features a quote from Buchanan in which he displays not only his insight on this particular issue, but also his particular brand of charm that makes me hate him so: “I am talking about an interventionist policy in every darn country in the world that is Islamic, where crazies are, so they turn all their attention right to the United States of America. What is there over there that is worth a nuclear weapon in my hometown?”)

As promised, here is another excerpt from Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, Angela’s Ashes:

The master, Mr. Benson, is very old. He roars and spits all over us every day. The boys in the front row hope he has no diseases for it’s the spit that carries all the diseases and he might be spreading consumption right and left. He tells us we have to know the catechism backwards, forwards and sideways. We have to know the Ten Commandments, the Seven Virtues, Divine and Moral, the Seven Sacraments, the Seven Deadly Sins. We have to know by heart all the prayers, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Confiteor, the Apostles’ Creed, the Act of Contrition, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We have to know them in Irish and English and if we forget an Irish word and use an English he goes into a rage and goes at us with the stick. If he had his way we’d be learning our religion in Latin, the language of the saints who communed intimately with God and His Holy Mother, the language of the early Christians, who huddled in the catacombs and went forth to die on rack and sword, who expired in the foaming jaws of the ravenous lion. Irish is fine for patriots, English for traitors and informers, but it’s the Latin in which the barbarians pulled out their nails and cut their skin off inch by inch. He tells us we’re a disgrace to Ireland and her long sad history, that we’d be better off in Africa praying to bush or tree. He tells us we’re hopeless, the worst class he ever had for First Communion but as sure as God made little apples he’ll make Catholics of us, he’ll beat the idler out of us and the Sanctifying Grace into us.

Brendan Quigley raises his hand. We call him Question Quigley because he’s always asking questions. He can’t help himself. Sir, he says, what’s Sanctifying Grace?

The master rolls his eyes to heaven. He’s going to kill Quigley. Instead he barks at him, Never mind what Sanctifying Grace, Quigley. That’s none of your business. You’re here to learn the catechism and do what you’re told. You’re not here to be asking questions. There are too many people wandering the world asking questions and that’s what has us in the state we’re in and if I find any boy in this class asking questions I won’t be responsible for what happens. Do you hear me, Quigley?

I do.

I do, what?

I do, sir.

He goes on with his speech, There are boys in this class who will never know the Sanctifying Grace. And why? Because of the greed. I have heard them abroad in the schoolyard talking about First Communion day, the happiest day of your life. Are they talking about the body and blood of Our Lord? Oh, no. Those greedy little balguards are talking about the money they’ll get, The Collection. They’ll go from house to house in their little suits like beggars for The Collection. And will they take any of that money and send it to the little black babies in Africa? Will they think of those little pagans doomed forever for lack of baptism and knowledge of the True Faith? Little black babies denied knowledge of the Mystical Body of Christ? Limbo is packed with little black babies flying around and crying for their mothers because they’ll never be admitted to the ineffable presence of Our Lord and the glorious company of saints, martyrs, virgins. Oh, no. It’s off to the cinemas, our First Communion boys run to wallow in the filth spewed across the world by the devil’s henchmen in Hollywood. Isn’t that right, McCourt?

‘Tis, sir.

Question Quigley raises his hand again. There are looks around the room and we wonder if it’s suicide he’s after.

What’s henchmen, sir?

The master’s face goes white, then red. His mouth tightens and opens and spits fire everywhere. He walks to Question and drags him from his seat. He snorts and stutters and his spit flies around the room. He flogs Question across the shoulders, the bottom, the legs. He grabs him by the collar and drags him to the front of the room.

Look at this specimen, he roars.

Question is shaking and crying. I’m sorry, sir.

The master mocks him. I’m sorry, sir. What are you sorry for?

I’m sorry I asked the question. I’ll never ask a question again, sir.

The day you do, Quigley, will be the day you wish God would take you to His bosom. What will you wish, Quigley?

That God will take me to His bosom, sir.

Go back to your seat, you omadhaun, you poltroon, you thing from the dark corner of a bog.

He sits down with the stick before him on the desk. He tells Question to stop whimpering and be a man. If he hears a single boy in this class asking foolish questions or talking about The Collection again he’ll flog that boy till the blood spurts.

What will I do, boys?

Flog the boy, sir.


Till the blood spurts, sir.

Now, Clohessy, what is the Sixth Commandment?

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Thou shalt not commit adultery what?

Thou shalt not commit adultery, sir.

And what is adultery, Clohessy?

Impure thoughts, impure words, impure deeds, sir.

Good, Clohessy. You’re a good boy. You may be slow and forgetful in the sir department and you may not have a shoe to your foot but you’re powerful with the Sixth Commandment and that will keep you pure.

My “now reading” box on the right has been lying for the past couple of weeks. I’ve actually been reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury. I’ve started Angela’s Ashes now, though, and so Faulkner will have to wait because after I finish this book I’m going to reread Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (fifth or sixth time for that one), then read The Journals of Lewis and Clark (as edited by John Bakeless), and then read Angle of Repose. Only after I’ve finished all of these will I be able to return to Benji and the rest of the messed-up gang in The Sound and the Fury.

I love books.


On 07 June 2002 (07:20 PM),
Mom said:

I loved Angela’s Ashes and the scene you have included demonstrates the kind of religion I hate. As you may or may not know, I wasn’t brought up being allowed to question and it still doesn’t come easily for me. I’m better at it now than I’ve ever been before in my life. In my opinion, fanatical religion in various forms is the root of many kinds of cruelties and injustices in this world.

I, too, think it’s ironic that you are agreeing with Pat Buchanan. I think that our insistance on making sure we have ready sources of oil rather than finding alternative fuels is a big cause of our continuing strong presence in the Middle East. It is coming back to bite us.

I love books, too. I’m trying to read “A Fine Balance”, an Oprah book club book — can’t remember the author’s name at the moment — and it’s difficult to read because of the graphic way in which it portrays some of the past and present conditions in India. However, it’s probably something that I need to read. I’m in limbo a bit right now on reading material that I really enjoy. I suppose a visit to the bookstore is in order sometime soon.

I hadn’t been to your site to see what you were up to for a while. I hope you don’t mind me putting my 2 cents worth in!

Updated: 05 June 2002

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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