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Book Review: Bill Donohue's "The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful"

alec vanderboom

Bill Donohue's new book, "The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful," proves an uneven read. The book's sweeping scope includes political theories, sociological reports, and medical studies to show how religious practices help Catholics live a better, longer, and healthier life.

Some parts of Donohue's book are brilliant! Chapter Four, "Coping With Anxiety" is the most concise explanation of redemptive suffering that I've read in six years of studying to become a Third Order Carmelite. Reading this chapter reminded me of spending three weeks with a sick newborn inside Children's National Hospital. My husband and I were physically isolated and yet hundreds of messages of encouragement were posted to this blog. I held our sick daughter while my husband read out loud every new comment as it posted. I experienced the bonds of community, which Donohue mentions in his book, as extending far beyond the ritual "sharing of the peace" during Mass.

Donohue has a gift for finding clever quotes that stick a pin into matters of deep theology. For example, he quotes a former Hollywood actress, named Dolores Hart, who once kissed Elvis onscreen and yet quit her career as an actress at its peak in order to became a contemplative nun.  "You can't find happiness putting another fancy dress on. Happiness comes when you find someone that you really love, that you can really give your life to." (page 129). Donohue is at his best when he describes the rich interior life of priests and nuns.

Yet Donohue's description of the secular worldview disintegrates into an ugly "us" versus "them" mentality. Donohue criticizes Hollywood actors for their poor life decisions with an incredible force. Drug addiction and suicide seem to be at the top of Donohue's "Thank God, I'm not a tax collector!" list.  In a weird twist, I found Donohue's chapter on the war crimes committed by Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin to be written with a less judgmental tone than his paragraphs about the accidental drug overdose deaths of Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Donohue's central argument misses the messy parts of a more open and gentle worldview. The saint and the sinner coexist to different degrees inside all of us. Religion is more than a set of useful practices or mantras picked up like a self-help book. Faith is a gift!

My takeaway from this book is that there is a lot of objective proof that my faith journey is good for me. Thank you Bill! Yet the invitation I have for this author extends to all of us Catholics this Lent.  We don't need to sell our Catholic faith, we need to live it!

For more book reviews check out the Catholic Advantage Blog Tour from March 3 to March 9th here.

On March 5, author Bill Donohue will be a guest on Raymond Arroyo on EWTN at 8 PM EST.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

"[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like the other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income" But the tax-collector, standing far off would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

(NRSV Catholic Edition, Luke 18: 9-14)