The Enlightenment and the Millennium

Conor Cruise O'Brien, the Irish diplomat-journalist-scholar and one of the more astute writers of our time, lapses into spiteful diatribe in this collection of essays. Provoked by the position taken by the Vatican on abortion and contraception at the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in September 1994, O'Brien fears an orthodox Catholic and fundamentalist Islamic alliance for "the Repeal of the Enlightenment." Moreover, he views this to be the objective of Pope John Paul II, about whom he proclaims, "I abhor him and hope to see the end of his pontificate—before the close of the millennium," and for whom "hardly a day passes that I do not murmur to myself the prayer . . . 'May his days be few and may another receive his Bishopric.'"

Pope-bashing is not the only theme of O'Brien's essays, which contain insights regarding the addiction of democratic leaders to popularity, the inappropriateness of secular optimism, and the dangers and irrationality of politically correct multiculturalism. His animus toward the Pope, however, is central enough to require some explanation. It can in part be attributed to his Irish origins and personal history. The child of anticlerical parents (although of zealously Catholic maternal grandparents) who went through the formality of having him baptized but deliberately kept him from a Catholic education, O'Brien was never really...

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