David Martin, the central character is engaged in trying to understand the roots of religion. His conclusions could be presented as a very uncomfortable analysis of the traditional church;
‘ . . . beliefs arise from an event or character that may or may not be authentic and rapidly involve into social movements that are conditioned and shaped by the political, economic and societal circumstances of the group that accepts them. Are you still awake?”
“A large part of the mythology that develops around each of these doctrines, from its liturgy to its rules and taboos, comes from the bureaucracy generated as they develop and not from the supposed supernatural act that originated them. Most of the simple, well-intentioned anecdotes are a mixture of common sense and folklore, and all the belligerent force they eventually develop comes from a subsequent interpretation of those principles, or even their distortion, at the hands of bureaucrats. The administrative and hierarchic aspects seem to be crucial in the evolution of belief systems. The truth is first revealed to all men, but very quickly individuals appear claiming sole authority and a duty to interpret, administer and, if need be, alter this truth in the name of the common good. To this end they establish a powerful and repressive organisation. This phenomenon which biology shows us is common to any social group, soon transforms the doctrine into a means of achieving control and political power. Divisions, wars and break ups become inevitable. Sooner or later, the word becomes flesh and the flesh bleeds’.
The novel was the fastest selling book in Spanish publishing history, its magical narrative gives moments when there is a need to stop and think. Someone not religious would concur with David Martin’s thoughts and move on, it is not the first time such a view has been expressed. But if such analysis, which is a damning description of the traditional church, is borne out in news stories, then those within the church need to give thought as to how to recover the original faith that has not been interpreted, administered and even altered to suit the powerful interests of a small elite. In Ireland doctrine has been used repeatedly as a means of achieving control and political power, McQuaid’s Republic and Paisley’s Ulster were a far remove from Jesus of Nazareth.
Re-reading David Martin’s words, there is a feeling that Jesus might not have disagreed with too much of what he said. Repressive power has been used to silence Redemptorist priests and American religious sisters. ‘Individuals appear claiming sole authority’, writes Ruiz Zafón; history repeats itself.