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Are You There, God? It's Me, Ellen

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Is it possible to be young, progressive, and a Catholic? Ellen Coyne is about to find out... 'You know, this isn't a Catholic country anymore, ' someone proudly declared in a Dublin pub where Ellen Coyne was celebrating the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. About to turn 30, like many her age, Ellen had left the Church a long time ago, but she had never stopped believing in a Is it possible to be young, progressive, and a Catholic? Ellen Coyne is about to find out... 'You know, this isn't a Catholic country anymore, ' someone proudly declared in a Dublin pub where Ellen Coyne was celebrating the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. About to turn 30, like many her age, Ellen had left the Church a long time ago, but she had never stopped believing in and talking to God. Now, she suddenly realized she wasn't quite ready for this statement to be true, however much of a contradiction it seemed to present with some of her most strongly held views. Abandoning the Church had been an act of protest, a form of punishment. However, she began to wonder: who had really lost the most? Why should those who did the damage to the Church get to keep it and all its good bits, like going to Mass for the ritual and the community, having a clear guide for living a better life, and the comfort of believing it's not the end when somebody dies? But how could she ally herself to an institution she doesn't entirely agree with? In her first book, Ellen tries to figure out how much she really wants to go back to the Church, and if it is even the right thing to do. A stunningly intelligent and thoughtful debut work of non-fiction.


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Is it possible to be young, progressive, and a Catholic? Ellen Coyne is about to find out... 'You know, this isn't a Catholic country anymore, ' someone proudly declared in a Dublin pub where Ellen Coyne was celebrating the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. About to turn 30, like many her age, Ellen had left the Church a long time ago, but she had never stopped believing in a Is it possible to be young, progressive, and a Catholic? Ellen Coyne is about to find out... 'You know, this isn't a Catholic country anymore, ' someone proudly declared in a Dublin pub where Ellen Coyne was celebrating the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. About to turn 30, like many her age, Ellen had left the Church a long time ago, but she had never stopped believing in and talking to God. Now, she suddenly realized she wasn't quite ready for this statement to be true, however much of a contradiction it seemed to present with some of her most strongly held views. Abandoning the Church had been an act of protest, a form of punishment. However, she began to wonder: who had really lost the most? Why should those who did the damage to the Church get to keep it and all its good bits, like going to Mass for the ritual and the community, having a clear guide for living a better life, and the comfort of believing it's not the end when somebody dies? But how could she ally herself to an institution she doesn't entirely agree with? In her first book, Ellen tries to figure out how much she really wants to go back to the Church, and if it is even the right thing to do. A stunningly intelligent and thoughtful debut work of non-fiction.

30 review for Are You There, God? It's Me, Ellen

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aoife McMenamin

    An interesting read, particularly if you’re religious and struggling to reconcile the horrors perpetrated by the Catholic Church with your own personal faith. I am neither, but enjoyed it, to an extent. The author’s unwavering faith in God appears to be based on comfort derived from habits formed as part of a happy (and superstitious) childhood. Sure, it’s certainly better than faith based on fear which was a dominant feature of our parents’ generation, but in touting this touchy-feely version o An interesting read, particularly if you’re religious and struggling to reconcile the horrors perpetrated by the Catholic Church with your own personal faith. I am neither, but enjoyed it, to an extent. The author’s unwavering faith in God appears to be based on comfort derived from habits formed as part of a happy (and superstitious) childhood. Sure, it’s certainly better than faith based on fear which was a dominant feature of our parents’ generation, but in touting this touchy-feely version of Catholicism, there’s no alternative presented. It’s either Catholic faith or total spiritual hunger. She even dismissively refers to her teenage “fervent atheism” without actually examining the basis for that in any detail. This is, in my view, a false narrative. Religion does not have a monopoly on morals and there is sustenance for the soul to be found outside of religion, but Ellen Coyne doesn’t stray too far beyond the parish boundaries and the rose-tinted look back at her all girls Catholic school education. She talks about her worries that right wing values are “taking over” the church. I’m afraid those right wing values have always been embedded, it’s just that when you grow up accepting them all as fact and truth, you don’t realise they’re right wing. It took living abroad for me to realise just how dysfunctional a relationship we have with religion in Ireland. It pervades all aspects of Irish life. Less so nowadays, but our schools and hospitals are still largely Catholic-run and the majority of children are receiving the same education we did 40+ years ago. It takes the author ages to address the sexual abuse of children and the cover up of abuse by members of the clergy right to the very top of the institutional church (Pope John Paul II anyone?) and she acknowledges that she’s avoiding the subject up to this point. Clearly it’s a source of discomfort. When she does address it, she doesn’t give it the importance that it deserves. The same goes for Magdalen Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes. I would describe her as being quite detached from the experience of survivors. Perhaps this is to ensure that her own faith is insulated and protected in the face of such harrowing testimony? She doesn’t mention that the Church has never said sorry. It has sought “forgiveness”, but what good is that to survivors? It has withheld a significant portion of the monies it was ordered to pay them by the various commissions of inquiry. She does repeatedly refer to the Church’s stance on LGBT issues and abortion, which suggested to me that these were issues of greater importance or relevance to her personally. This may be an age thing (she’s 30 I think). I suspect her journey (to use an awful metaphor) is not over yet. This is an interesting and entertaining read, but there’s something missing. I’d like to have seen the author examine why we believe in God so unquestioningly in Ireland. As Dawkins has said, there’s no such thing as a Catholic child, only a child of Catholic parents. Cultural Catholicism is alive and well precisely because of indoctrination in schools. We sort of don’t know any alternative; God is all we know from the age of four. Finally, the author neglects to mention that the Catholic Church thinks in centuries, not in years. If she thinks change is coming, I’m afraid she’ll be waiting. Worth a read but I’d make the case that even the heathens among us can rail against individualism and strive for the common good. 2.5/5 ⭐️

  2. 5 out of 5

    Breige

    Are You There God? It’s Me, Ellen by Ellen Coyne was released last year & kept popping up on my feed. I hadn’t considered reading it but it was available on BorrowBox & I was looking for something to listen to so decided to give it a go. It was the last book I read in 2020 Like a lot of young people in Ireland, Ellen has turned her back on the Catholic Church. But she starts to miss it and investigates what this means to her & her faith Ultimately this is not a book I clicked with. There was certa Are You There God? It’s Me, Ellen by Ellen Coyne was released last year & kept popping up on my feed. I hadn’t considered reading it but it was available on BorrowBox & I was looking for something to listen to so decided to give it a go. It was the last book I read in 2020 Like a lot of young people in Ireland, Ellen has turned her back on the Catholic Church. But she starts to miss it and investigates what this means to her & her faith Ultimately this is not a book I clicked with. There was certain things I did identify with, mainly anecdotes from growing up that a lot of Irish people like myself would have experienced. And while I’ve read points of views of people grappling with a crisis of faith before, this one is different because while that’s an element of it, more so is the crisis of faith the author has with the Catholic Church institution I started to take some notes as I listened, I wish I had done this from the beginning. Ellen states that somewhere along the line being Catholic has become synonymous with being right wing. But I think that’s always been there, the way the Catholic Church preaches is right wing, it’s not become right wing from nowhere. She speaks about the guilt of being nasty to people online, she would engage in that but kept thinking that behaving that way isn’t very Catholic. That even if she died and discovered she was incorrect about God and religion, she wouldn’t be embarrassed as she’d know the guilt would have helped her lead a better life. The guilt is like a security blanket, which lets her know that her pursuit of religion will have been worthwhile regardless of what comes after. At the very least, even if she was wrong about it all, it would have made her nicer to people. For me, I disagree with this. Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on morals, you don’t need religion to know when you’re behaving poorly At one stage she says religion is important than politics. And I completely disagree. Regardless, our politics and society is still incredibly entwined with religion in Ireland. Something Ellen touches on with her idea that Irish society/culture being different thanks to Catholicism. That people in Ireland are good because of being Catholic. You could say that on one hand but on the other, what about the people who are good despite of Catholicism (back to the idea that you don’t need religion to have morals). Or bad people who have a deep Catholic faith who use it as an excuse for their behaviour (for example,as we’ve seen in the news recently with the Mother and Baby Homes report). I would almost argue the other way, that Ireland as a society has been worse off for years because of the Catholic Church. There’s a lot of nostalgia in the book for the sense of community (going to Mass etc) but you don’t need to centre and foster community around religion Catholicism in of itself isn’t bad, it is a flavour of Christianity and there is plenty good in Christian teachings (love thy neighbour). However this book isn’t about returning to being a Catholic and faith, it’s more about returning to the Catholic Church. To me, I see a difference. The Catholic Church has been rotten for centuries now, right to its core. And reading this book made me uneasy, as I can not fathom being comfortable returning to the Catholic Church in Ireland. Especially as it has not atoned for its sins when it comes to things like abuse and seems unwilling to want to change. It’s a well written book but ultimately one I wished I hadn’t read as I took nothing from it

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caroline O'Donoghue

    I reviewed this book for the Irish Independent, and you can read my full thoughts here: https://www.independent.ie/entertainm... I reviewed this book for the Irish Independent, and you can read my full thoughts here: https://www.independent.ie/entertainm...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Ní

    Undoubtedly one of the worst books I read in a long time. I began to wonder was I reading a sequel to the also abysmal Aisling series. Do not get me wrong, I was excited to read. Coyne is a very good journalist and her articles are well researched and poignant. Unfortunately this does not translate to the book. The idea is half baked and the timeline is narrow so seems less profound. Coyne and I are the same age, however it feels like it's written by a woman 15 years her senior. Coyne writes like Undoubtedly one of the worst books I read in a long time. I began to wonder was I reading a sequel to the also abysmal Aisling series. Do not get me wrong, I was excited to read. Coyne is a very good journalist and her articles are well researched and poignant. Unfortunately this does not translate to the book. The idea is half baked and the timeline is narrow so seems less profound. Coyne and I are the same age, however it feels like it's written by a woman 15 years her senior. Coyne writes like she had the average Irish Catholic upbringing, and seems unaware she was raised in household and school that was staunchly catholic and at times her faith does come across as indoctrination. (She uses terms and phrases as norms which are not in my vernacular despite I myself attending catholic school).She seems to research internally in the church rather than speak to independent theologians and philosophers, which is totally fine as a personal choice, but leave the book a little poorly balanced. It does read as haste from a woman suffering the "where do I belong/I desire comfort battle that we all face on the cusp of our 30s" and she latches to her religion, rather than her faith. Content aside, I'm afraid from reading another book that should have been essay, I can only come to the conclusion that pershaps the ability to cross the medium from journalism to non fiction writer, has for now, died with Fisk. With Coyne having spent great time reporting (excellently) on repeal I wonder if this is the most interesting topic she could have written about. As a lover of theological philosophy, it falls so flat. A side note that throughout the book Coyne uses the term LGBT+ community which just wacks of a straight girl who doesn't know enough of us....

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy Thompson

    Ellen is an excellent journalist but this book was way off the mark for me. I don’t understand the place this book has in modern Irish society. It appeared sympathetic to the i Catholic Church despite their countless atrocities in Ireland. Her personal religious beliefs and convictions are to be admired but how can she rectify those beliefs with the Catholic Church, given all that she covers in the book. It was a mind boggling read because I had seen so many people recommend it. The whole thing Ellen is an excellent journalist but this book was way off the mark for me. I don’t understand the place this book has in modern Irish society. It appeared sympathetic to the i Catholic Church despite their countless atrocities in Ireland. Her personal religious beliefs and convictions are to be admired but how can she rectify those beliefs with the Catholic Church, given all that she covers in the book. It was a mind boggling read because I had seen so many people recommend it. The whole thing made me feel deeply uncomfortable because she seemed to be trying to find some decency in the church to make herself feel better for wanting to be a member. Her language is nice but I couldn’t overlook the hypocrisy of the book if I’m being honest.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily O’Dowd

    The premise for this book was so intriguing, as someone who has followed Ellen's journalism for a while. I loved the thoughtfulness of her consideration of the pros and cons of going back to the church, and am convinced she made the right decision for herself. I think the book is incredibly important for irish society, as someone who has no confidence or faith in the institutional church. At points I think it dragged a little, but overall would recommend! The premise for this book was so intriguing, as someone who has followed Ellen's journalism for a while. I loved the thoughtfulness of her consideration of the pros and cons of going back to the church, and am convinced she made the right decision for herself. I think the book is incredibly important for irish society, as someone who has no confidence or faith in the institutional church. At points I think it dragged a little, but overall would recommend!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    A measured, thoughtful book by the journalist Ellen Coyne, whose writing I have always enjoyed for its fearlessness and bravery. I always find her work really gets to the root of issues with her ostensibly benign but exposing questions, her laser focused critique but most of all, her humane motivations for doing the work that she does which is certainly evident in this book. Truthfully, I was quite surprised when I heard that she had a book coming out about wrestling with her Catholic faith as I A measured, thoughtful book by the journalist Ellen Coyne, whose writing I have always enjoyed for its fearlessness and bravery. I always find her work really gets to the root of issues with her ostensibly benign but exposing questions, her laser focused critique but most of all, her humane motivations for doing the work that she does which is certainly evident in this book. Truthfully, I was quite surprised when I heard that she had a book coming out about wrestling with her Catholic faith as I’d always seen the kind of work she did as antithetical to the conservative values of the Catholic Church as an institution, and I suppose that’s why a book like this needed to be written. While I myself am not a Catholic, I never felt that Coyne was trying to convert anybody. Rather she is trying to make the case that it’s possible to be both a Christian and a fierce advocate for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ issues and other progressive causes. She also argues that the church will fall to the right of it does not yet reclaimed by modernity and progressive causes. Maybe she shied away from taking too intensely about Christ himself and his teachings in order to be more palatable to the average reader like myself, but I got the impression that the values put forward in the New Testament of loving your neighbour, caring for the poor, sick and forgotten etc. have influenced Coyne’s politics. You can tell that the arguments are being made with a deeply empathetic approach, an awareness of human limitations and an acknowledgement of people’s’ reasons for leaving the church or abandoning their faith. An enjoyable and unique read. Perhaps it’s possible to renew the Catholic Church with modern and inclusive values. While I also hope this does happen one day, I have reservations as to whether it’s possible. Perhaps if there were more young Catholics and Christians like Ellen Coyne there would be more hope for it. I guess maybe I struggle with keeping the faith there as well.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan Lanigan

    As someone quietly undertaking their own return-to-faith journey, I could not wait to read Ellen Coyne's book and learn about hers. Already impressed by Coyne's work as a journalist from very early on, I was delighted when the paperback finally arrived in the post as I was *this close* to downloading the Kindle, I was so impatient! It was worth the wait It appears that Coyne never lost her faith to begin with, but was having trouble reconciling it with the historical venality, cruelty, abuse and As someone quietly undertaking their own return-to-faith journey, I could not wait to read Ellen Coyne's book and learn about hers. Already impressed by Coyne's work as a journalist from very early on, I was delighted when the paperback finally arrived in the post as I was *this close* to downloading the Kindle, I was so impatient! It was worth the wait It appears that Coyne never lost her faith to begin with, but was having trouble reconciling it with the historical venality, cruelty, abuse and hauteur of the established Catholic hierarchy. This wrestling match in her mind is the main driving force behind the book and Coyne's honesty means that I am never quite convinced she pulls it off. This is in no way to detract from the memoir's force and power, the honesty only making it more compelling. I enjoyed reading the tales of Coyne's childhood and student days, including the way the back of the ladies' toilets documented historical times such as pre-Repeal. Also her encounters with clergymen and women had me interested. It appears that disillusion within the institutional Irish Catholic Church is very high. Coyne's sections on the real consequences of the Eighth Amendment and institutional religious abuse are enraging reading. The fate of Rachel, who was constantly obstructed in her attempts to get a morning after pill and then to get an abortion, and who was left to have the child without a bit of support from the boy who had got her into that mess, had me absolutely raging mad. I nearly had to put the book down. If there was anything I would have liked more of, it was her early journalism experience as I found those chapters exciting too. Made me think of Monica Dickens a little bit. I wish Ellen the best in her spiritual return to Catholicism. I won't be following her - my weekly facebook live session with the Rev Mike of the Unitarian Church is fine for me - but I admire her honesty in dealing with a difficult subject.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Regardless of your religious belief or non-belief, this is a really nostalgic read for women who grew up in Ireland in the 90s and 00s, and witnessed a lot of social change that came with the secularisation of society. It's also very funny in several places! I enjoyed the nuance of Coyne's approach to the role of the RC Church in Ireland - a voice that criticizes out of a genuine desire for justice and for reform. Often such voices are not appreciated precisely because they don't take sides. I'm Regardless of your religious belief or non-belief, this is a really nostalgic read for women who grew up in Ireland in the 90s and 00s, and witnessed a lot of social change that came with the secularisation of society. It's also very funny in several places! I enjoyed the nuance of Coyne's approach to the role of the RC Church in Ireland - a voice that criticizes out of a genuine desire for justice and for reform. Often such voices are not appreciated precisely because they don't take sides. I'm bemused by negative reviews here from non-religious reviewers that say Coyne's implying you have to be religious to be moral or that she is naive to believe Church reform is imminent - in the book she explicitly says you don't have to be religious to be moral and that reform on women's ordination and LGBT+ inclusion is probably a century or two away. Conversely, the engagement with religious people on Twitter that she describes in the book also suggests those people seek out what they want to hate about her views. I think that this kind of petty criticism from two opposite perspectives proves that something complex and worthwhile is being offered in this book. I would recommend the book with one reservation shared by some reviews here - her engagement with theology was a bit light for my personal taste. She describes a philosophy of being sound with a bit of added magic, as opposed to anything that is particularly Catholic. However, she does point out that she's not a theologian and the fact that you shouldn't have to have a qualification to be allowed critique the Church, which is a valid point. However, if you are interested in a journey back to faith that delves into the really difficult theological dilemmas and questions, this is not quite the book for you.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Walsh

    I wasn't really sure what to make of this book. Ellen is on a journey back to the Catholic church and much of this book is about her trying to find a way to accommodate her liberal social views with a church that - in her words - is misogynistic and homophobic. In the end, she finds a way to park her reservations and proclaims herself Catholic. This isn't a bad book, its well written and provides an interesting social commentary of a changing Ireland. The problem is that I'm not sure its fair, El I wasn't really sure what to make of this book. Ellen is on a journey back to the Catholic church and much of this book is about her trying to find a way to accommodate her liberal social views with a church that - in her words - is misogynistic and homophobic. In the end, she finds a way to park her reservations and proclaims herself Catholic. This isn't a bad book, its well written and provides an interesting social commentary of a changing Ireland. The problem is that I'm not sure its fair, Ellen does mention in passing things like sex abuse, mother and baby homes etc but seems to be able to gloss over these because, you know, the church is great. I get that Ellen is probably lucky enough to have grown up in a faith that didn't cause her harm. She wasn't a victim of the church so she can see the good in it but I feel she dismisses things too easily and at the expense of those who were not so fortunate. Some of her comments are quite mind bending such as her belief that a Catholic wedding is a bigger vow than secular ones or how she believes the goodness of people during the Covid-19 epidemic is partly because of Catholic values. Well, this atheist would beg to differ. As I say its not a bad book and I did enjoy it and I'm glad Ellen has found her faith and is happy. I agree with her on a lot of what she says in here, I just found some of the mental gymnastics to rationalise her return to the church a bit ridiculous. We all know that the church has some great people in it, she doesn't need to paper over the horrors though. In the end I wasn't sure who Ellen was trying to convince, the reader or herself.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ana Marija Kojič

    Brilliant book. Portraying the struggles of why someone should or shouldn't commit to the church again when they're more mature. I found the background of issues with modern church very insightful with why young people don't want to have any relation with church. The struggles of people caused by the church are excruciating and the talks with victims gives this book great depth. Abortion issues was the big question for the author as she's a journalist that was greatly involved with the supportin Brilliant book. Portraying the struggles of why someone should or shouldn't commit to the church again when they're more mature. I found the background of issues with modern church very insightful with why young people don't want to have any relation with church. The struggles of people caused by the church are excruciating and the talks with victims gives this book great depth. Abortion issues was the big question for the author as she's a journalist that was greatly involved with the supporting abortion side. I don't think that what she was seeking to gain with church, could be only accomplished with returning to the church but understandingly, it's what she knew, she returned to. The book portraits what has been caused in Ireland by the church and it's priests, the horrors as well as how younger and more modern priests are trying to change the view on more classic views (abortion, women's rights, same sex marriage etc)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Listened to this on audiobook, as part of learning a bit more about Ireland as a nod to the Irish in the month of March, the month where Saint Pat's day falls. There's nothing more Irish than Catholicism, and they have had more than their share of horrors that have been revealed over the years. Ellen, is an accomplished Irish Journalist who misses practicing her faith after leaving the Church in her youth, she feels she may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. If good progressive Catholi Listened to this on audiobook, as part of learning a bit more about Ireland as a nod to the Irish in the month of March, the month where Saint Pat's day falls. There's nothing more Irish than Catholicism, and they have had more than their share of horrors that have been revealed over the years. Ellen, is an accomplished Irish Journalist who misses practicing her faith after leaving the Church in her youth, she feels she may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. If good progressive Catholics leave the Church then is there much hope for it. She examines all this an entertaining way in good faith, pardon the pun, and a good sense of humour. She kept this agnostic interested anyway. The delightful lilting Irish accent of the narrator wasn't hard to take either.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sinead Fox

    A great thought provoking read, especially for Catholics or lapsed catholics. Elle, a journalist who’s 30, left the church but is considering going back. She needs to understand whether she’d be welcome and how she’d reconcile with issues she’s had with the church like the place of women in the church, the position on LGBT+, abuse, climate, social change, and abortion. She meets people to talk it through. Really made me think. I listened on BorrowBox

  14. 5 out of 5

    Miss Eilis

    Very honest exploration of a very Irish topic. Well put together and a nice read

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    Thought provoking brilliance.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Just awful

  17. 4 out of 5

    Saoirse Fitzgerald

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marianne Conboy

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura King

  20. 4 out of 5

    Clare Ward

  21. 4 out of 5

    Conor Reidy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

  23. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maebh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth McGeown

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cecily

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lee Jones

  28. 5 out of 5

    Maeve McTaggart

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Crosbie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Hallahan

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