Richard Holloway 1

Richard Holloway.

Between the Monster and the Saint. Reflections on the Human Condition.

VIC: Melbourne. 2008. Text Publishing. (P/back).

I started reading this book in bed of an evening. But after nearly a chapter I closed it. No more at night, I thought. This is too raw.

Holloway is an excellent writer. He is the former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Chair of the Joint Board of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, and former Gresham Professor of Divinity. His pedigree is as long as your arm!

No wonder he is sharing in the Sydney Writers Festival this month (May). This, his latest book, holds a mirror up to our human condition and often finds it is the ‘monster’ in us that dominates. And that is not pretty!

A slim volume, 170 pages of text, the book is divided into three major sections: (i) X Force, (ii) Market place, (iii) Play Time. Likewise each section is shaped by two further sub-sections: Monster and Pity, Soul and Suffering, Comedy and Saint.

Nothing is off limits. Its heavy. Sexuality and our often violent mistreatment of others, often called torture, animal cruelty in our search for food and weird pleasure, ‘strong’ religion verses ‘weak’ religion as systems of thought and practice which seeks to respond to the mystery of existence.

As he says: “Reflective religious thinkers are no strangers to the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of things…” This book will test many readers, especially their preconceptions about what a bishop should say or write. It is full of graphic descriptions. Nothing much escapes his pen. After all he has had plenty of practise with 26 books published.

But it is not just about the ‘monster’. It is also about the ‘saint’. Holloway concludes his book with this touch of reality: “It is a harsh world, indescribably cruel. It is a gentle world, unbelievably beautiful. It is a world that can make us bitter, hateful, rabid, destroyers of joy. It is a world that can draw forth tenderness from us, as we lean towards one another over broken gates. It is a world of monsters and saints, a mutilated world, but it is the only one we have been given. We should let it shock us not into hatred or anxiety, but into unconditional love”.