Nothing Sacred: A Journey Beyond Belief

by T.F. Rigelhof

Published by Goose Lane Editions

360 pages, 2004

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Even More Blue

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen


Nothing Sacred expands on an earlier work, A Blue Boy in a Black Dress, and discusses the fate of organized religion in the 21st century. In doing that, it scrutinizes the driving forces of the human spirit. A tall order for a single volume.

This is the kind of book we used to read and discuss at campus beer gardens on Friday nights, arguing well into the night, loving the sounds of our voices and excited by the glimmerings of understanding that were flickering through our minds. You can tell that author T.F. Rigelhof is a teacher; he knows how to get you going. He does this particularly well in the later part of the book, when the autobiographical details come to a halt after his serious stroke and the ideas and conclusions start to build in chapters like "City of Churches," "Catching Fire" and "Anger Management." Many notable quotes appear, the kind you may want to underline or memorize but will definitely want to stop and think about and perhaps even challenge:

Christianity has always been reactive; it improvises responses to events beyond its control.


During the sixty millennia separating us from the earliest decorated grave, humanity has produced on the order of one hundred thousand religions.

The National Post once wrote that: "Rigelhof combines the urgency of good journalism with the depth of a true scholar..." The author describes himself as a person who writes in a way that resists conventional analysis. When you go on Rigelhof's faith you make your own trails; there are no sidewalks.

"Faith is holding on to whatever you can't walk away from, however hard you try to give it up," he writes. Curiously, that is the feeling I had about Nothing Sacred. I couldn't walk away from it, even though initially I kept trying. I didn't find this autobiography as interesting as the first memoir that this work echoes from time to tome. Blue Boy in a Black Dress was written in 1995 and was a Governor General's Award finalist a year later. Now out of print, the content of that book would grip anyone. Written before the upheavals in the Roman Catholic hierarchy and before the widespread revelations of the sexual mistreatment of boys, the memoir explains why the author went from altar boy to seminarian, almost committed suicide and finally left the Catholic church.

My vocation and my faith were both dead. I buried them with a piss and a smoke and walked away.

Nothing Sacred owes its existence to the stroke that Rigelhof suffered on January 27, 2003:

My stroke was a small one, a bruising on the left side of the brain that knocked out my right leg and foot for several weeks and caused collateral cerebral damage. Surprisingly, it put me back in direct contact with parts of myself that I had pretty much forgotten. The upshot is Nothing Sacred, a book twice as long as A Blue Boy in a Black Dress, that retains only the parts, thoroughly re-edited, that time and circumstances have not altered ... A Blue Boy in a Black Dress is where I was then; Nothing Sacred is where I am now...

Where he is now is Montreal, teaching the history of religion at Dawson College. He's also a literary essayist and a featured book reviewer for The Globe and Mail. He's the author of six other books, four of them fiction. One imagines his classes at Dawson to be hotbeds of passionate discussion.

The reader may not be driven to devour every page, but may find themselves, like me, reluctant to let the book go. It's the kind of book that may help you recapture those heady student years as you find yourself highlighting passages and lying in wait with your beer for a fellow reader to discuss them with. | September 2004


Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.