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A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ’n’ Roll
by Mark Judge
Doubleday, 208 pages, $14

As Mark Judge chronicles in A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ’n’ Roll , his generation of late baby boomers reaped the whirlwind of the worst aspects of our ongoing societal decline. Yet all has not been darkness, even in the raucous and rebellious world of rock. With ample citations from song lyrics, Judge makes the case that many of the best rock artists were and are looking (generally in all the wrong places) for God. It’s an argument that reminds one of Fulton Sheen, who once said that every man who knocks at the door of a house of prostitution is really looking for God.

An insightful history of the rise of contraception in the last century provides the most valuable material in A Tremor of Bliss . Here we encounter the Sanger and Kinsey crowd, spreading their gospel of sterility with funding from major foundations and the government. Pope Paul VI’s counterattack in Humane Vitae is encapsulated in the story of the rise and fall of former Catholic theologian Fr. Charles Curran.

The hero of this book, however, is Pope John Paul II, whose Theology of the Body Judge perhaps too ecstatically identifies as the theological rationale for a plenary affirmation of legitimate sex, rock ’n’ roll, and Catholicism. Judge contrasts Karol Wojtyla’s patient development of the implications of his Theology of the Body with the demonic plotting of the votaries of the culture of death in the second half of the bloodiest century in history. A less than satisfying section toward the end of the book trashes the writings and opinions of nominally Catholic political pundits E.J. Dionne and Andrew Sullivan; this seems all the more unnecessary in view of the fact that Judge apparently countenances the legalization of homosexual marriage. Nonetheless, A Tremor of Bliss is a book well worth reading from an author unafraid of showing some “attitude.”

Matthew Kenefick is a Catholic church historian who writes from the Washington, D.C. area.