The movie, Angela’s Ashes, portrays life in Limerick, Ireland, just prior to and during WWII. It is a thoroughly dismal drama which shows the abject poverty and the hopelessness that result from a societal system which suppresses all attempts to better one’s self. In the midst of the physical poverty of living in the squalor of the Irish slums, the playwright also forceful illuminates the accompanying spiritual poverty perpetuated by the institutional church which instills fear, humiliation, and a hopeless definition of righteousness. The church dogma and practices just compound and facilitate the wretchedness of the physical world in which the characters of the story must live and somehow survive. Occasionally, in the depicted scenes of personal interaction with the church, a character may catch a fleeting glimpse of a different kind of God, one who actually has man’s best interest in mind, but the general state of the church mission and message is miserable indeed.
I can anticipate that many will attempt to rebut the portrayal of this film as biased and exaggerated. It may be, but its scenario will likely resonate with those among us who have not been raised to enjoy the blessings of economic success or the sanction of the church.
Others may want to differentiate between the spiritual impact of the depicted theology in Ireland and that of their chosen denomination. Though differences may exist, as long as one’s church embraces and teaches the eternal punishment of an angry god, it will be a purveyor of spiritual poverty of the very kind shown in this film. Why must the church be the source of additional anxiety and pain among those who are already society’s most vulnerable? Spiritual poverty does not have to be accompanied by physical depravation; but, when it is, the effects are doubly hellish.