Wendel Messer's "Verus" - A Modern Satire on Organized Religion 12/30/09 | by Ian Malcomson | Categories: religion and philosophy, book reviews:
I connected with this rather oddball Canadian writer in early December 2009 when he phoned me out of the blue to ask if I would review his recent book. Since I wasn’t in to receive the message, I was left to decipher a rather garbled telephone message. To satisfy my curiosity. I quickly set about to determine who this nutcase was. A couple of clicks later on Google, and I was on his website, thesink.ca. There, I discovered why Messer chose to regard himself as a writer of some imaginative stature, which would explain why a mere mortal like myself had never heard of him before. From the brief annotations available on his three novels novels, it would seem that the man is on some quixotic mission to save the world from its idiotic self. There is a novel about a society succumbing to atrocious driving; another one about the early dawn of Canadian history; and then the one he asked me to review that deals with a modern society trying to rid itself of the tyranny of religion. In this story Messer creates a world that is futuristic - two centuries hence - with all the trappings of a “Brave New World” existence. Everybody seems to be under the thumb of the established church. The dominant culture of this church-run society, or theocracy, while a throwback to medieval times, is supposed to reflect a time in history when people have abandoned their natural powers of reason in order to embrace a dangerously seductive illusion about eventually living with God in Paradise. Messer’s society divides neatly into two camps between the fundamentalists who have fallen for the claim that an invisibly spiritual deity can logically connect to a material being and those modern humanists who vehemently oppose such unfounded claims. Each side has its champions who are introduced to the storyline in strange and unexpected ways. First there is Verus - a supposed avatar of Marcus Aurelius - one of ancient Rome’s great Caesars - who is mysteriously found wandering the streets of a modern North American city by two young people who serve as the story’s narrators. While Verus is on a mission to restore the glory of a former world order in the form of Pax Romana, Gregory, a modern-day European Catholic scholar has gone cold on his faith and wants to establish a new creed based on reason. While the main drama centers in Toronto, where Verus attempts to bring the past into focus with the present, a heated battle is brewing across the way in Europe between the Pope and his antagonistic adviser, Gregory. In the course of this complex and bewildering tale of rival views, Messer attacks what he considers to be the spurious claims that modern Christianity makes about ruling the world, whether it be through dogmatic Catholicism or fundamental Pentecostalism. The reader shouldn’t find it too hard to identify many of Messer’s thinly-veiled arguments against the validity of Christianity’s claims. Organized religion, as seen through Messer’s eyes, is made to look foolish, as it is continually embroiled in self-serving controversies to reinstate Latin as the official language of the church, keep the Pope as its head, and create false gods by which to dupe the common folk into following it. In the end, the reader finds a religiously-bound society suddenly transformed by a new UN/EU inspired leadershp determined to rid the people of their dependence on God: a modern reformation of sorts. This ushering in of a new era in world government somehow corresponds with Verus finally recognizing the restoration of the only life he is familiar with: Imperial Rome. Religion for Messer is simply one big circular argument where everything returns to where it started thousands of years ago: man’s futile quest to dominate the earth. While I don’t agree with many of the author’s views on the relevance of God in our lives, I did find the book quite entertaining and witty in places.