Unshackling the chains that bind

Author Sean O'Conaill
Author Sean O'Conaill

SEAN O'Conaill's challenging novel The Chain That Binds the Earth gets a Derry launch tomorrow, with Bishop Donal McKeown scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

Dr McKeown, the Bishop of Derry, read the book - which Mr O'Conaill has written with a young adult audience in mind - while on holiday and, because he liked it, agreed to help with the launch.

The launch will include a discussion of the book's themes. These include the relationships between Protestants and Catholics, the shadow of Northern Ireland's past and the search for meaning in life, with all the implications that holds for Christian faith.

It is here that the theory of so-called mimetic desire advanced by the French philosopher René Girard, who died last month, heavily influences Mr O'Conaill's narrative.

"The frequent denial that life can have any deeper meaning than to 'live it up' leads inevitably to the culture of self-harm that threatens people of all ages today, especially those on the threshold of adult life," observes Mr O'Conaill.

Mimetic desire is the idea that far from being autonomous, when it comes to our heartfelt desires we actually end up borrowing, or copying, them from those we admire and envy. Followed through, this has consequences for the causes of violence and war, scapegoating and - of course - Christianity.

Authentic Christianity, argues Mr O'Conaill, seeks to break the cycle of this mimetic desire by being counter-cultural. He sees young people, such as the protagonists in his book, as being able to lead this charge for change.

This is heady but worthwhile stuff, profound in its implications for what it means for Christians seeking - indeed struggling - to faithfully walk with Jesus.

"Our Catholic Christian tradition is not dying in Ireland," says Mr O'Conaill. "It is preparing itself, through deep trial, for a new and different cultural reality."

:: The launch and discussion of The Chain That Binds the Earth is at the Everglades Hotel, Prehen Road, Derry on Friday December 4 at 7.30pm. More information at Mr O'Conaill will be signing complimentary copies of the book, with any donations going to support migrants and refugees.