The paperback version of John Allen Jr’s Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church is coming out next week and I had received a copy for review. I had read previous views when it first came out which where very favorable. Anytime you see a subtitle that uses the word objective it kind of raises a flag, but in the case of this book it is entirely accurate.
Opus Dei has been a bit of a whipping boy throughout its history. Early from attacks that it was a Masonic crypto-Jewish organization and then later as the spiritual home of the albino monk assassin in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Controversy has followed Opus Dei with many charges leveled against it.
John Allen Jr has really created an impressive and balanced book that really shows his talent as a capable investigative journalist. It was quite obvious he spent a good chunk of time in researching Opus Dei and spent many hours speaking to people directly involved in Opus Dei, those acquainted with it, and the those who are detractors of Opus Dei. The variety of people he talked to all over the world really gives the book a depth that gives you quite a detailed look at Opus Dei.
As I have noticed in other books John Allen Jr. has written he is very good at taking apart objections that get passed along and become accepted by many as fact and gives extensive evidence for why they are mistaken. He starts of with a chapter that provides an overview of Opus Dei followed by one on its founder St. Josemaría Escrivá. He then goes on to chapters on the cores of the Opus Dei charism – sanctification of work, contemplation while living in the work, Divine filiation, and Christian freedom. He provides good introductions to these topics and how they are specifically practiced by Opus Dei. Though I had some familiarity with Opus Dei before reading this book these sections made me respect the vision of Opus Dei more and also an appreciation of its uniqueness. While sanctification of work and Divine affiliation are not anything new in the history of the Church, they have given them proper emphasis.
Of course on a book on Opus Dei you must come to the various controversies such as charges that they are elitist, secretive, fear women, are rich and politically manipulative, etc. All of the various charges are each given their own chapter and for the most part are debunked. This is not to say that Opus Dei is some perfect organization and that their actions haven’t at times lead to how they are labeled. Just that most of the charges were pretty much unfair in the first place, but Opus Dei did not handle these criticisms in a productive way and at times just made themselves look more secretive. Many of the charges were in fact quite the opposite of what is actually the case. At the start of the paperback edition there is a new preface that talks specifically how Opus Dei has responded in light of both the Da Vinci Code book and Movie and that they are obviously learning how to respond better.
The chapters answering charges are often self contained so some information is repeated throughout the book. This though I think was a good decision since somebody who was interested in one aspect could turn to just that chapter for information without having to go through the whole book and at close to 400 pages it is thorough book.
The last chapter of the book John Allen Jr. gives an overview of various aspects of Opus Dei and a summary of his conclusion. He then goes on to give suggestions as to how some weaknesses could be addressed. I think his suggestions are quite solid and would go a long way in removing some of the suspicion of Opus Dei. I really enjoyed the book despite that fact that I am really not interested in becoming involved in Opus Dei itself. This would be an excellent book for anybody interested in Opus Dei since it is truly objective and filled with information.
One caveat is that after reading several of John Allen’s books I wonder if he can write one without bringing up condoms? One place in the book it was necessary in addressing something that, I believe, a Bishop part of Opus Dei wrote on the subject, but the other segue into the topic just didn’t seem to be necessary.