By Paul Ungar, University Press, 407 pages, $50.50.
Paul Ungar reflects as a psychiatrist, psychologist, and theologian on the condition of post-modern humans. By post-modern, we mean a stage of history in Western countries such as Canada where individualism, materialism, and skepticism have replaced traditional morality, social structures such as the family, and belief in God.
The Mystery of Christian Faith testifies to the spiritual, psychological, and emotional difficulties that such a loss to society and individuals have engendered. Modern Catholic leaders have been grappling with the following for decades:
“[U]nlike previous generations that were told by their religion and traditions exactly what was good and bad, or what the correct fundamental options in life were, many of our contemporaries have lost those traditional support systems and are consequently challenged by their own freedom of choice and their responsibility to find and fulfill their life meanings. This task causes enduring tension because there is a permanent gap between that which one is and that which one ought to be.”
Using the Doubting Thomas story as an archetype for modern, indecisive humans, Ungar examines the spiritual chaos of modern individuals from an orthodox theological basis. The first part of The Mystery of Christian Faith offers a basic introduction to Christian thought, starting with the ancient Israelites and, for instance, the moral as well as political centrality of their kings.
Ungar offers an erudite synthesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also much more. His psychological explanations for currents in history, such as the Reformation and increasing Christian disunity, dig deeper than the usual dogmatic and historical discussions:
“The real reasons for the fragmentation of Christianity are found not in historical, cultural, or even political events, but in the progressive mutual estrangement caused by the unloving, impatient, boastful, envious ... record-keeping attitude on the part of at least some of the key players in the process of fragmentation. These psychological reasons and attitudes were those essential causes of fragmentation, that were often expressed and became visible through unessential, visible, touchable, and measurable phenomena.”
The Mystery of Christian Faith delves into the deep currents of Christianity, and encompasses many elements because the author fearlessly examines the ancient Israelite prophets, the teachings of the New Testament, and Saints like Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm.
He also develops the idea of transempirical events as a way to reject the sense that any real chasm between science and Catholicism actually exists. These are events beyond the scientifically-measurable senses, such as the call of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.
Transmpiricism gets to the heart of Ungar's argument. Scientists who fail to “see” God in their research are looking with the eyes of pre-conversion Saul of Tarsus. They are failing to look with eyes of faith, and like countless people in post-modern Canada, are looking with cynicism and agnosticism instead.