Nothing Compares 2 Her, part I

Nothing Compares 2 Her, part I

Today, I have good news and bad news.  The good news – especially for those of you who worry that this space has become little more than an anti-ESG rant-blog – is that I won’t be covering ESG today or, likely, on Monday.  The bad news is that this space is now a Sinead O’Connor rant-blog!

Settle down, settle down.  No need to hit the “unsubscribe” button.  I’m only kidding.


The truth of the matter is that I started writing a piece on the late Ms. O’Connor, noting how her life and death reinforce more than a few of the cultural and political ideas we have discussed in these pages over the years.  Unsurprisingly, given her complexity and my predisposition to ramble on at length, that piece grew wildly out of control and, as a result, is still “under construction.”  I will eventually finish it, however, which is to say that I will, all but certainly, publish two essays on Sinead O’Connor – that one and today’s – which is roughly two more than I ever expected I’d publish and, I’d guess, two more than some of you ever wanted to read.

Almost without exception, the obituaries and other encomia for Ms. O’Connor focus disproportionately on her battle with the Catholic Church and especially her moment of greatest infamy, when she tore up a picture of Pope Saint John Paull II on Saturday Night Live, admonishing us all to “fight the real enemy.”

Inevitably, we are told that, in retrospect, O’Connor was right about the Church and its horrid child-abuse scandals and that she was, therefore, treated incredibly unfairly by the rest of society – including the entertainment industry – who banned or shunned her for most of the rest of her life.  The Church let her down, the commentaries insist, failing to heed her pleas and failing to root out the evil she identified.  It was a horrible act of “violence” against her, they intone, practically in unison.

Now, as you know, we truly hate to criticize the mainstream media, especially for engaging in facile groupthink, but this storyline – which, again, dominates the encomia to O’Conner – is about as trite and useless a bunch of pabulum as we’ve ever read.  It offers us no insight whatsoever into O’Conner’s life and the matters that animated her, and even less into the Church’s true failure in her case.  Or to put it more bluntly: of course O’Connor was right about the Church hiding and harboring unspeakable evil; and of course the Church missed an enormous opportunity to address its grotesque deficiencies.  Tell us something we don’t know.

Because of this particular incident and because of her enduring hatred of the Catholic Church, O’Connor is usually described as “anti-religious” and as an “activist” or “political crusader.”  In truth, she was none of those things.  She was a sad, damaged woman; a physically and musically beautiful person with a brutally disfigured soul.  She was, in fact, a deeply religious individual in a superficially “spiritual” age.  She yearned for truth, healing, meaning, and purpose (i.e. “telos”) and instead was given political platitudes, contemporary “theology,” and other wholly inadequate trivia.  The Church let her down, all right, but it did so by treating her as it has treated all of its adversaries since the Enlightenment, in secular and rationalist terms.

Throughout her career, O’Connor recorded spiritual and religious music.  In 1999, she was ordained as a priest in the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church (an “independent” heretical Catholic sect).  in 2018, in what might be called the least surprising development ever, O’Connor converted to Islam and officially changed her name to Shuhada’ Sadaqat.  None of these is an act of an “anti-religious” person.  They are all, rather, the acts of a deeply religious person who is hopelessly lost and finds no solace and support whatsoever in the traditional Western faiths.  They are the acts of a woman screaming out for God and his presence on earth.

As we have argued in these pages before, one of the great tragedies of the Enlightenment and its aftermath was that the Church, of all institutions, lost faith in its legitimacy and in the legitimacy of its mission.  As a result, it surrendered that mission’s otherworldliness and agreed to fight only on temporal grounds.  In other words, when the Church responded to its attackers, it did so not on its own terms, but on the terms – and in the terms – of those attackers.  Rather than focus on its mission and the eternal truths for which it had become the earthly vessel, the Church became distracted.  The problem wasn’t that the Church failed to defend itself, but that it did so on the foreign turf of the rationalist philosophers, economists, sociologists, and politicians.  And it continues to do so.

When Immanuel Kant insisted that God’s existence cannot be proved by philosophy, science, or reason, Christianity should have conceded and moved on.  Christianity is not about proving those things to nonbelievers.  It is about fostering the faith necessary to believe them without proof.  In his classic novel Dr. Faustus, Thomas Mann described this grievous mistake as follows:

Orthodoxy itself committed the blunder of letting reason into the field of religion, in that she sought to prove the positions of faith by the test of reason.  Under the pressure of the Enlightenment, theology had almost nothing to do but defend herself against the intolerable contradictions which were pointed out to her: and only in order to get round them she embraced so much of the anti-revelation spirit that it amounted to an abandonment of faith. . . . Since this went a little too far, there arose an accommodation theology . . . . In its conservative form, holding to revelation and the traditional exegesis, it sought to save what was to be saved of the elements of Bible religion; on the other hand it liberally accepted the historico-critical methods of the profane science of history and abandoned to scientific criticism its own most important contents: the belief in miracles, considerable portions of Christology, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and what not besides. . .

The 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine also saw this problem and foresaw its inevitable result:

From the moment that religion requires the aid of philosophy its downfall is inevitable.  Attempting a defense, it chatters itself more and more deeply into destruction.  Religion, like all other absolutisms, may not try to justify itself.

When Sinead O’Connor needed healing, forgiveness, and love, she was instead greeted with confusion and contempt.  Even on the cultural Left, where her “bravery” was heralded, she was treated as something other than human.  She was turned into a “secular saint,” a righteous warrior against the inequities and “fantasies” of organized religion, rather than the profoundly broken woman she was.  The Church, in turn, continued its worldly cover-up of abuses, addressed the “evil” O’Connor identified legalistically, and exacerbated many of its problems by continuing its efforts to save souls through decidedly rationalist means.

As we will note in the next episode of our new All-Sinead-All-the-Time format, O’Connor was emblematic of contemporary Western civilization in so many ways.  She was deeply troubled.  She was inarguably self-indulgent.  And she was abandoned to society’s nihilism by the very institutions that should have saved her from it.  She was no hero and certainly no saint.  But she was, in many ways, all of us.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
[email protected]

Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.