Moore’s principal concern is with the phenomenon of faith, and more specifically with what constitutes that devotion. The novel questions whether faith is a product of instruction, coercion, or the imposition of authority. Certainly Kinsella and his ilk would argue for orthodoxy and conformity. Indeed, the central conflict can be seen as the differences between institutional and private faith. O’Malley well understands that modern people are not typically defined or animated by a deep, abiding sense of spiritual faith. He notes to Kinsella that attendance at Mass has declined with the institution of the vernacular Mass, whereas people flock to the Latin celebration. His argument highlights a central feature of faith: It is not rational, it cannot be legislated, and it will assert itself in often private, highly individualistic ways. Faith is furthermore not antagonistic or seditious, except to those authorities who demand conventionality. Thus a skeptic like O’Malley can yearn for and thoroughly respect the beliefs of the naïve Father Manus and the self-righteous Father Matthew, for he sees in each the radiance of true faith, which is absent from Kinsella’s secular demeanor and authoritarian obsession.
A second important concern is with the tension between tradition and modernity and the ways in which religion finds itself torn between these extremes. As the novel makes clear, for a people like the Irish, who endured the Penal Laws of a...
(The entire section is 405 words.)