Category : Books

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Taking a New Look at the Book of Deuteronomy

Hence the program of Deuteronomy, which is fundamentally about the creation of a good society based on collective responsibility, or, as the opening phrase of the Preamble to the United States Constitution puts it, forming a group of “We, the people” under the sovereignty of God. The good society is the essential precondition of spiritual individuals, “since man, as is well known, is by nature social.”

Such a society is to be based on justice and tzedaka, meaning more than merely procedural justice, but in addition what we would call equity or fairness. Nor is that society to be based on abstract principles alone. Instead it is grounded in collective memory and active recall, in particular through celebrations at the Temple at various points of the year.

Underlying this thesis — that the life of faith requires a society dedicated to goodness as a whole — is the poignant story of Noah in the book of Genesis. Noah is the only person to be called righteous in the entire Hebrew Bible, but in the end Noah saved only his family, not his generation. He kept his own moral standards intact but failed to be an inspiration to others. Individual righteousness is not enough.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Judaism, Theology: Scripture

(CT) Oren Cass’s New Book–‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work

In The Once and Future Worker, Cass turns high ideals into concrete proposals to actually heal the fractures splintering the American workforce.

The most compelling is the “wage subsidy.” Rather than luring large corporations to town with big tax breaks (like the Amazon HQ2 hysteria of 2017) or levying payroll taxes on low-income workers and then redistributing the money through entitlements, why not “pay for jobs” directly? What if a worker saw a “Federal Work Bonus” on her next paycheck, adding three extra dollars for every hour she had worked?

Cass also advocates building an educational system better suited to the four-fifths of students who do not complete the high-school-to-college-to-career path. Around two-thirds of Americans don’t have a four-year college degree. To better ensure that more of them can get good jobs and contribute to their communities, Cass proposes reinvesting in vocational training and shifting toward a more “tracked” form of schooling—similar to systems found in Europe—where students are grouped according to educational ability rather than lumped together in the same classroom.

Yet there’s one area that government policy can’t do much about: our cultural views about the value of lower-wage workers.

“Waiters, truck drivers, retail clerks, plumbers, secretaries, and others all spend their days helping the people around them and fulfilling roles crucial to the community,” writes Cass. “They do hard, unglamorous work for limited pay to support themselves and their families.” Why shouldn’t we admire those who do harder jobs for lower wages on a broad scale? We’re capable of doing this with police officers, teachers, and firefighters. Why shouldn’t the work done by trash collectors, housekeepers, and janitors deserve the same degree of respect?

For that, we need not just policy reform but a different story about work altogether.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Local Paper) Charleston-area churches, bookstores could feel Trump tariffs and so-called ‘Bible tax’

Christian book publishers and some Charleston-area faith leaders fear that a proposed tariff on Chinese imports could lead to a shortage of Bibles in the United States.

Millions of Bibles are produced in China annually and a 25 percent tariff recently proposed by President Donald Trump would make it more expensive to print the religious text, according to Mark Schoenwald, CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. That cost increase likely would be passed on to consumers, who would pay more for the world’s best-selling book.

If the 25 percent increase is reflected in the sticker price, a Bible that costs $15 today would cost $18.50 after the tariff takes effect.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, America/U.S.A., Books, China, Economy, Foreign Relations, Politics in General

(Eerdmans Blog) 5 Questions with Ryan Stokes, author of ‘The Satan: How God’s Executioner Became the Enemy’

2. What do you hope readers take away from The Satan?

I hope that readers will gain an appreciation for the complexity of who Satan is in biblical and ancient literature. Satan is typically believed to be the Enemy. While this idea is certainly found in some ancient texts, there is far more to the story than this. In some writings, Satan is God’s enemy.

In others, Satan works for God. In some texts, Satan punishes sinners by harming them physically. In others, he tempts, tests, or otherwise attacks the righteous. While the Satan does not offer a biblical theology of Satan, I hope that it will both complicate and be of assistance to the work of theologians and other readers who want to know what the Bible says about Satan and about God’s relationship with superhuman evil.

3. What Challenges did you face in writing The Satan?

I am often asked this question by friends at church, who wonder whether I encountered any evil spiritual opposition while I was working on this book. I cannot say that I did. One unforeseen challenge, however, was identifying a person to whom to dedicate the book. Few people in my circle of acquaintances are eager to have a book on the Prince of Darkness dedicated to them.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Prospect Magazine) The world’s top 50 thinkers 2019

Make up your own list and then read it all.

Posted in Books, Globalization

(Guardian) John Marsden on the ‘toxic’ parenting pandemic: ‘I’ve never seen this level of anxiety’

[John] Marsden says that this contemporary crop of teenagers is outperforming generations past in terms of academic achievement, political engagement and so on – but he is fearful about their emotional health, borne out by statistics on the prevalence of mental health issues among the young.

“The scale of the problem is massive. The issue of emotional damage is pandemic,” he tells the Guardian. “The level of anxiety is something I’ve never seen before, and I don’t know how it can be improved.”

Marsden says that much of the anxiety among parents and children springs from concern that the world is a dangerous place, with traditional “safe” authority figures no longer to be trusted. That, coupled with an infantilisation of children as pure, helpless creatures, leads parents to cosset and fret over their offspring, and demand much of the same from educational institutions.

“Part of that is a fear, in particular, of physical injury,” he says. “Of course, all reasonable parents are concerned about physical injury to a child, but if that overrides everything else then what you have instead is a kind of slow death by emotional damage which is so awful to witness.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Australia / NZ, Books, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology

(FT) An interview with Karen Armstrong: ‘We’re just not good at religion’

“I always say,” Karen Armstrong admits with a conspiratorial grin, “that God bought me that place.” She is referring to the north London house she paid for with the proceeds of her series of bestsellers on religion — and Islam in particular.

If there was one specific book that underpinned the foundations of her Islington home, it was her short history of Islam. Published in 2000, this was perfectly timed for the west’s agonising over religion and the potential for a clash of civilisations sparked by the September 11 attacks the following year.

“I never saw the inside of a library” after that, she tells me as we are steered to our table. Instead, she was on the radio nonstop, “talking about Islam ” — as indeed she has been virtually ever since. She sees it as a civic duty to defend the religion — against both the misconceptions of non-Muslims and against what she sees as the corrupting influence of certain strains of Islamic theology, notably Saudi Wahhabism.

It is, Armstrong says of the latter, “as if a tiny sect in the [American] Bible belt had petrodollars and international approval to export their form of Christianity over the rest of the world.”

Read it all(subscription).

Posted in Books, Globalization, Islam, Religion & Culture

(CHE) A Scholar of Proverbs Built a Vast Collection of Books. Then Opportunity Knocked.

Good artists copy; great artists steal. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin knew as much, because when he wrote his famous Poor Richard’s Almanack, he did not cite sources for the proverbs that peppered its pages.

To many, quippy sayings like “Time is money” are synonymous with the Founding Father. People think Franklin thought them up. But Wolfgang Mieder, one of the world’s leading proverb scholars, knows better.

Mieder and a colleague traced the saying to a short, anonymous text published in a London-based newspaper, Free Thinker, in 1719. In fact, many of the sayings commonly attributed to Franklin actually come from English proverb collections, said Mieder, a professor of German and folklore at the University of Vermont.

Tracking down the origins of proverbs is “detective work,” he says. “You kind of feel like you’re discovering things.” He has researched and written about cultural wisdoms for nearly five decades and, in the process, amassed a one-of-a-kind scholarly library. It includes about 9,000 books (including 252 that Mieder has written, co-authored, or edited) and 6,500 photocopied articles and dissertations, all about proverbs. He doubts anything like it exists, anywhere.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Education, History, Language

(CT) Celibate Gay Christians: Neither Shockingly Conservative nor Worryingly Liberal

Researchers Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaporozhets step bravely (foolishly?) into this battleground with their comprehensive study of people like me: Costly Obedience: What We Can Learn from the Celibate Gay Christian Community. It’s an important book with an academic feel that grows more pastoral as you read on. Yarhouse has written multiple volumes on LGBTQ experience based on careful research from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University in Virginia, where both of the authors teach. I wouldn’t agree with everything he’s ever written, but I thank God for the gracious tenor of his contributions.

This newest book is essentially a listening exercise, based on an in-depth survey of celibate gay Christians. You hear their stories of milestone events and experiences in church life and ministry—as well as research that maps their mental health outcomes and relational challenges. But they are not the only voices recorded: There’s also input from friends, along with some fascinating insights into the perspectives of some evangelical pastors. The authors helpfully add their own measured reflections.

Certain conversation topics could prove controversial. We hear differing thoughts, for instance, on such questions as the origins of same-sex attraction, the correct labels to use (is it “gay,” “same-sex attracted,” or something else?), the possibility of same-sex desires that aren’t wholly sinful, and the prospect of changing one’s sexual orientation. But one of the authors’ strongest points is the need to discuss these issues more carefully. They write, “Some church leaders and some celibate gay Christians seem to us, at times, to be describing two different things, rather than disagreeing on precisely the same thing.”

This appeal for a better conversation within evangelicalism couldn’t be timelier.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(NPR) Girls Captured By Boko Haram Brought Into Focus In ‘Beneath The Tamarind Tree’

The British Sierra Leonean journalist Isha Sesay led CNN’s Africa reporting for more than decade — covering stories ranging from the Arab Spring to the death of Nelson Mandela.

But now, in her first book, titled Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Sesay has a chance to explore, in depth, the story most important to her career and closest to her heart: the ISIS-affiliated terrorist group Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok.

Sesay broke the story and followed it for years, despite government obfuscation and waning international interest after a wave of social media activism (remember #BringBackOurGirls?). For two years, 219 of the girls remained in captivity and 112 are still imprisoned.

In Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Sesay combines the released Chibok girls’ stories with her own journalistic experiences to powerful effect.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Nigeria, Teens / Youth, Terrorism, Violence, Women

A Statement from InterVarsity Press on Counterfeiting Books

You may have seen the recent article in Christianity Today describing two of our books, Liturgy of the Ordinary and Delighting in the Trinity, which have been sold in counterfeit editions by re-sellers on Amazon.

As the article stated, in response to InterVarsity Press’s proactively filing a formal complaint through Amazon’s standard protocols and after Christianity Today had made contact with its media relations team, Amazon removed the re-sellers of the counterfeit editions from its store. We are grateful for Amazon’s response to our complaint and its expressed openness to hear directly from us if we encounter counterfeit editions in the future. We consider Amazon a valued trade partner and recognize the extraordinary place it occupies in the global supply chain for books.

We have recently invested in a new service which allows us to more closely monitor our data distribution and to routinely pull a report of who is controlling the Amazon buy button on each of our books.

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology

(CT) Amazon Sold $240K of ‘Liturgy of the Ordinary’ Fakes, Publisher Says

IVP estimates that at least 15,000 counterfeit copies of Liturgy of the Ordinary were sold on the site over the past nine months, their retail value totaling $240,000. That nearly cuts sales of Warren’s book in half; IVP reported 23,000 legitimate copies were sold over the past year. IVP also found evidence of counterfeiting on a smaller scale for one other title, Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity, which came out in 2002.

“I’ve been constantly thinking of the verse about, ‘Do not store up treasures where moths and rust can destroy, and where thieves can steal, but store up your treasures where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot steal’ (Matt. 6:19–20), and it’s really hard to process,” Warren told CT last week, a day after she learned about the scope of the fraud when IVP officials called her at her home in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a huge loss of money for my family. Percentagewise of what I make as a writer, it’s an enormous amount of that.”

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues

(CT) Bekah McNeel reviews Karen Gonzalez ‘s new book ‘The God Who Sees’

González herself is an immigrant, from Guatemala, and she calls on that personal testimony to give a firsthand account of the fears, insecurities, and elations of the immigration process. She recalls finding dead bodies on the walk home from school, feeling lost as a non-English speaker in her first US church, and the difficult decision to leave her family home to attend college after the death of her mother.

The biographical portions of González’s story are broken up into thematic chapters following the sacraments of the Catholic church, a faith expression to which she feels some affinity, though she herself is Protestant and her parents were only nominally Catholic at most. The approach is reminiscent of Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath, which does the same with Jewish traditions, pointing out their enduring relevance for Winner’s Christian faith.

Alongside her own story, González examines the lives of other “foreigners” in the Bible: Ruth, Abraham, Hagar, Joseph, the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24–30), and the Holy Family. She draws parallels between these vulnerable people and the asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants US residents encounter in their communities. In looking at these figures in light of their displaced situation, González reminds the reader that upheaval and vulnerability are common to the people of God, and they offer opportunities for God to demonstrate his nature, his concern for them.

It is Hagar, the despised servant of Sarai and mother of Ishmael, who calls Yahweh “El Roi,” or, “the God who sees.” Again and again in the book, we realize that being misunderstood and unknown is at the core of the immigrant experience, giving immigrants a special appreciation for what it means to be seen and known.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Immigration, Theology, Theology: Scripture

President Abraham Lincoln’s Bible Is Now On Display To The Public

‘The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library has a new addition: a Bible that was first gifted to the president back in 1864. Sandra Wolcott Willingham, whose relative was given the Bible after Lincoln’s funeral, decided it was time to share the treasure with the rest of America.’ Watch it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Office of the President, Theology: Scripture

(Sightings) Matthew Creighton on Robertson Crusoe

. Even its conventional classification as a “novel”—arguably the first of its kind in the English language—belies the fact that the work is structurally indebted to the classical genres of confession and spiritual autobiography. Defoe’s own theological convictions, of some ironic distance to those held by his narrator, are beside the point here. What is of interest is the way in which events are at one and the same assimilated by Crusoe the storyteller into a distinctly religious framework and are informed by a distinctively Christian paradigm.

Apart from the book’s religious substratum, it constitutes an apposite subject for a publication devoted to communicating “sightings” of modern religious life because its main character specially embodies the metaphor of the publication’s title. As much as Crusoe may demonstrate the virtues of diligence and industriousness, and may manipulate his man Friday to promote his own drive for sovereignty, he is at bottom a discerner, one who “sights” inside and out, and who continually tries to make sense of the one on the basis of the other. For example, the animating impulse in response to his shipwreck on an uninhabited island near the Orinoco river is not lament or self-pity, but an effort to grasp his situation. Is his punishment due to a state of unresolved sin? Has it been caused by the dereliction of his divine calling? Or is it rather a result of violating the demands of filial piety and obedience by deciding to pursue the seafaring life? The answer, of course, is neither crucial nor susceptible of discovery. What is significant is that his misfortune is never taken at face value but is understood to have supernatural causation and design. Events, in other words, are always “symbolic” insofar as they point to a divine intention, and Crusoe’s narration is a sustained attempt to descry their purpose for him.

Furthermore, it is Crusoe’s dissatisfaction with the visible—his insistence that meaning lies beyond the given—that enables him to translate misfortune into blessing, to shape and re-shape events auspiciously even as they oppressively shape him. The “discovery” that his fate is by no means a sign of God’s abandonment but is instead proof of His benevolence, is what first allows him to reclaim the sense of himself as an actor who can fashion outcomes in his favor. It is this perceptual and attitudinal transformation that necessitates the first-person narration, for the reader must be taken into Crusoe’s mind in order to observe the counterintuitive logic of his thinking. On the other hand, the first-person account creates a situation in which a providential governor never appears but is only invoked. The immediacy of an intervening God as depicted in Scripture is replaced by a teller who orders and relates the story of his life once he understands its full meaning.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Spectator) Jean Seaton–How does today’s world compare with Orwell’s nightmare vision?

The second half of Lynskey’s book looks at how other artists used Nineteen Eighty-Four and its imaginative landscape. David Bowie, coming out of a period of ‘paranoid, cocaine-maddened, sleep-deprived’ confusion was neurotically unable to fly. So, on the way back from his 1973 Japanese tour, he got the Trans-Siberian railway from Khabarovsk to Moscow. What began as a bit of fun changed Bowie, as he watched the Soviet military parade in Moscow. He tried to write a musical based on Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell’s second wife, Sonia Brownell, refused it permission). Lynskey shows how Bowie’s song ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ — a brilliant, sinister merging of celebrity, advertising and demagoguery — was a direct response to Orwell. Bowie was putting himself into Big Brother’s brain. Margaret Atwood began writing The Handmaid’s Tale in Berlin in 1984, consciously re-engineering what she took from Orwell with a sophisticated feminist reading of a future.

Lynskey’s biography of the book is personal, and all the better for it — measuring our present against the future set out by Orwell. Dystopias are, he argues, prophylactic. If this future can be described in detail, perhaps it won’t happen. He quotes Orwell saying that ‘liberal values are not indestructible and they have to be kept alive partly by conscious effort’. In other words, the future might be dreadful, it might be ‘swindle, racket and humbug’, unless you do something about it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History

Still more on the remarkable Josiah Henson–the Trailer for his Documentary

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Movies & Television, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

Saturday Food for Thought from Upton Sinclair–“I will work harder!” one of the very best descriptions of works righteousness in Literature

More and more friends gathered round while the lamentation about these things was going on. Some drew nearer, hoping to overhear the conversation, who were themselves among the guilty—and surely that was a thing to try the patience of a saint. Finally there came Jurgis, urged by some one, and the story was retold to him. Jurgis listened in silence, with his great black eyebrows knitted. Now and then there would come a gleam underneath them and he would glance about the room. Perhaps he would have liked to go at some of those fellows with his big clenched fists; but then, doubtless, he realized how little good it would do him. No bill would be any less for turning out any one at this time; and then there would be the scandal—and Jurgis wanted nothing except to get away with Ona and to let the world go its own way. So his hands relaxed and he merely said quietly: “It is done, and there is no use in weeping, Teta Elzbieta.” Then his look turned toward Ona, who stood close to his side, and he saw the wide look of terror in her eyes. “Little one,” he said, in a low voice, “do not worry—it will not matter to us. We will pay them all somehow. I will work harder.” That was always what Jurgis said. Ona had grown used to it as the solution of all difficulties—“I will work harder!” He had said that in Lithuania when one official had taken his passport from him, and another had arrested him for being without it, and the two had divided a third of his belongings. He had said it again in New York, when the smooth-spoken agent had taken them in hand and made them pay such high prices, and almost prevented their leaving his place, in spite of their paying. Now he said it a third time, and Ona drew a deep breath; it was so wonderful to have a husband, just like a grown woman—and a husband who could solve all problems, and who was so big and strong!

–Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Chapter 1 (my emphasis)

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Poetry & Literature

Remembering D-Day–He got to witness The Longest Day

Cornelius Ryan was a 24-year-old war correspondent when he had a chance to see a defining moment in the defining event of the 20th century — the Allied landings on the coast of France to retake France and bring down Hitler.

Ryan at first witnessed the invasion from a bomber that flew over the beaches. Then, back in England, he scrambled to find the only thing he could that was going to Normandy. A torpedo boat that, he learned too late, had no radio. “And if there’s one thing that an editor is not interested in,” he said, “it’s having a reporter somewhere he can’t write a story.”

Recalling those five hours off the coast, watching the struggle on the beaches, he remembered “the magnitude of the thing, the vastness. I felt so inadequate to describe it.”

But today, as the 71st anniversary of D-Day approaches on June 6, Ryan is most likely to be remembered for being the one who did describe it, who told so many millions the real story of what happened that day, in his book which became the famous movie, “The Longest Day.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Media, Military / Armed Forces

Saturday food for Thought from Roger Scruton–What is the strange superstition that has arisen in the Western world?

Posted in Anthropology, Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy

(FPR) Jeffrey Bilbro–What Are People For? Control or Love?

The least-discussed chapter in Patrick Deneen’s much-discussed Why Liberalism Failed is—I would venture—“Technology and the Loss of Liberty.” Similarly, Rod Dreher has lamented that relatively few readers or reviewers discuss the technology chapter in The Benedict Option. These oversights are unfortunate because our current cultural and political climate is unintelligible without an adequate account of the role technology, and particularly digital technology, plays in enabling and shaping our quest for freedom.

Deneen’s focus is on how the political ideology of liberalism pushes societies to develop technologies that enable autonomous individuals to satisfy their desires, although these technologies often backfire and leave us more lonely and enslaved. In Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship, Jacob Shatzer explores the inverse of this dynamic: the digital technologies with which we live subtly yet powerfully shape us into autonomous, liberal subjects. Such technologies habituate us through what Shatzer terms “liturgies of control.” These liturgies create the plausibility structures necessary to sustain the myth of liberalism: that we are autonomous individuals capable of arranging the world to fulfill our appetites. The arguments that Deneen and Shatzer advance are really two sides of the same coin; as one interpreter of Marshall McLuhan put it (perhaps paraphrasing Churchill), “We make our tools, and then our tools make us.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(Fathom Magazine) A Sermon Under the Pastures An Interview with Nathan Poole

There must be fifty passages like that in the book, which indicates to me that you have a practice going here, this openness and attention, reverence and expectation isn’t the result of merely waking up in a good mood and writing a story. I wonder then, can writing stories function as a practice, like meditation?

NP: Yes, of course. I think it was Paul Auster who said that he is a common everyday neurotic until he is holding a pen. That’s absolutely true. I meet my maker when I’m writing, and my best self.

But in the quote you mentioned earlier, about finding the words “God” and “tree” insufficient, what I was speaking to was a kind of cultural hegemony. It’s a metaphor, for me. I need to explain this, I’m realizing now: There was a moment in my life, when I was out walking my dog, that I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was surrounded by trees, but that all I had to understand them was a singular category, “tree.” As in there’s a tree, and there’s another tree. It made me sad. And yet, in spite of the fact that these life forms were not only sustaining life on our planet, and the most ubiquitous form of life there is, I had no way of differentiating one from the next. It occurred to me that I would like to be able to call them by their names.

In many ways, this is the experience of Christians in the South, where the culture is saturated but not centered, in religion. They are offered one modality of faith, and it flattens the world. It propagates and prosecutes willful blindness, in the same way I once looked out onto a forest and just saw trees, trees, more trees. It’s not that I have a problem with the word “God” but that I wanted the experience of God to not be essentially gnostic, as in, God is in heaven and I need him in order to get there. I wanted to understand all the facets, the various ways God can be experienced, here and now. I wanted what the speaker in Maurice Manning’s Bucolics experiences:

“…I can’t

keep track of you Boss you’re just

too many things at once…”

Please tell me you’ve read that book?

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Energy, Natural Resources, Poetry & Literature, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

(CT) Why Character Is Making a Comeback

In a media landscape awash in flame wars and polarizing punditry, it’s a bit surprising that the topic of character formation is making a comeback. “Building character” is the stuff of childhood chores and onerous school projects, completed out of duty and little delight. Yet according to new research presented in the book The Fabric of Character, published by the DC-based Philanthropy Roundtable, character formation is a top concern among today’s leaders and charitable givers across the ideological spectrum. According to researcher Anne Snyder, anyone paying attention to social trends in the West recognizes that “the conditions under which good character is forged are in trouble—weakened as much by the decline of traditional institutions as by a culture that promotes ‘I’ before ‘we,’ pleasure before purpose, self-expression before submission to a source of moral wisdom beyond oneself.”

In the book, Snyder highlights several institutions—including schools, neighborhood renewal projects, and the Boy Scouts—as case studies of how organizations strengthen the moral fiber of their members. Snyder, the newly named editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, recently spoke with CT about why faith-based institutions are particularly good at teaching character.

When I hear the word “character,” I think of the dad in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip who is always making Calvin shovel snow because it builds character. It’s not a sexy topic. Yet as you note, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in it. Why?

I started this particular project for the Philanthropy Roundtable in early 2016. I used to joke that Donald Trump is a huge gift to my work because suddenly a lot of people who I never would have anticipated being interested in character, regardless of where they fell politically—even if they voted for him—began to say, “Actually, we really do care about it in our leaders.” When I began figuring out how to build a bridge between philanthropists and practice, a lot of people wanted to talk to me because they had a lot of worries about what was going on at the top of national leadership.

More broadly, as people look at social trends—everything from rising mental illness to widening and debilitating anxiety, particularly among young people, to what I would call hyper-emphasis on achievement alone as the only way to define what the good life is—a variety of those social trends have raised alarm bells about how we’re raising our kids and telling them what to value. Whether people would say there’s a moral vacuum, there’s definitely been a realization that we haven’t attended to the whole person. As a society, we’ve somehow not attended to the deeper, often invisible moral fiber of life.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Theology

A NYT Review of Jennifer Berry Hawes’ New Book on the Charleston 9 and the Mother Emmanuel Massacre

Hawes is a poised writer and a patient observer who trains her focus on the present. She gestures briefly to Charleston’s role as the epicenter of the nation’s slave trade (“as the Civil War approached almost three in four white families here had owned slaves”) and the long history of attacks on black churches, including Emanuel, which was first burned to the ground in 1822. Her primary interest is in the lives of the survivors and the families of the victims, “the people who will live this story forever.”

For most, trauma begat trauma: health problems, even sudden deaths. One widower lost 60 pounds and became unable to return to work. Bitter divisions flared. Eleven months after the shooting, Sharon Risher and Nadine Collier, two daughters of Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims, couldn’t even agree on a headstone for their mother. When Risher finally had one erected over the grave, Collier installed her own version directly in front of it. At one point, according to the author, Risher felt it was more likely that she might forgive Dylann Roof than her sister.

Even those who fought to return to some semblance of normalcy found that their lives had become uncomfortably public. Private people felt forced into activism and advocacy even as the shootings had left them adrift — and they felt spiritually abandoned by their church (which itself became mired in controversy after donations went missing).

Roof remains a shadowy figure in the narrative (see the journalist and critic Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s Pulitzer Prize-winning profile for a more detailed look at his life and radicalization). He is not even named at first, referred to only as “a young white man, lean of frame…”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer, Violence

(EF) Leonardo De Chirico–Deciphering Vatican II: A new book especially helpful for evangelicals

What are the implications of such a “paradigm change” occurring at Vatican II for evangelicals? Massive! Here are three tentative ones.

1. For the time being, Rome will not have an “oppositional” posture in relating to non-Catholics but will always try to find commonalities, underline unity, stress fellowship, and embrace evangelicals as much as possible. Evangelicals need to be aware that if they want to be faithful to the gospel, they need to be “counter-cultural” and talk of gospel distinctives, biblical separation, and convenantal allegiance to the Triune God over idols. Biblical truth always needs to confront and refute error, even when it comes from a traditional institution like the Roman Catholic Church.

2. Even after Vatican II, Rome is not commited to the biblical gospel but is dedicated to the all-embracing gospel of “analogy” and “participation” that is translated into Rome’s ecumenism, mariology, ecclesiology, inter-religious dialogue, mission, etc. Pope Francis may not even use the language of “analogy” and “participation”, but his message of “unity” and “mercy” is steeped in it. Evangelicals need to become more acquainted with the ground motives of present-day Roman Catholicism if they want to understand where Rome stands. The words used may be the same (gospel, grace, faith, conversion, etc.), but their meaning is different because Rome uses them within the theological framework of Thomistic “analogy” and “participation”.

3. Rome changes according to her pattern, which implies degrees of renewal always in the context of substantial continuity with its well-established self-understanding. Evangelicals need to learn to understand the Roman Catholic dynamics of change if they want to account for both continuity and discontinuity in present-day Rome. The Catholic Church may even talk about the need for a “reformation”, but it will always be below the standards of biblical reformation and always in a way that protects the institution. For all these reasons, Guarino’s book on Vatican II is particularly helpful for evangelical readers.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Roman Catholic, Theology

(LSE BR) Basil Cayli reviews ‘How Violence Shapes Religion: Belief and Conflict in the Middle East and Africa’ by Ziya Meral

The relationship between violence and religion is highly complex. Reductive analyses and explanations produce destructive outcomes. In How Violence Shapes Religion: Belief and Conflict in the Middle East and Africa, author Ziya Meral avoids popular explanations and refutes instrumentalism to offer the reader a systematic comparison that uncovers the complicated relationship between violence and religion. The book conveys the argument that violence shapes religion at different levels and religion influences the situation before the use of violence, its legitimisation in the course of violent attacks and its aftermath in a post-conflict era. As a result, what we see through these multidimensional interactions ‘is not an outcome of an intrinsic clash between imagined civilizations, but a very real case of self-fulfilled prophecies that create new fault lines across the world’ (176).

The author’s personal, academic and professional curiosity directed him towards showing the complexities in the multifaceted relationship between violence and religion (5). Meral argues that exposing these helps us to better understand the grim realities that lead to violence in different societies, where religion is perceived as a formidable social, political and cultural force. For this reason, Meral’s principal argument is based on two cases: Nigeria and Egypt. The meticulous analyses of violence in these two nation states reveal the dynamics of the relationship between religion and violent conflict in today’s world.

The author asks two key questions: 1) ‘Do religions in general, if not particularly Islam, cause such conflicts?’; and (2) ‘Are we really witnessing an escalation to extremes at a planetary level between followers of the world’s two largest religions, Islam and Christianity, showing itself in local conflicts between Muslim and Christian communities?’ (20). The book employs a comparative approach and analyses these questions within a political science theoretical framework. The multiplicity of ethno-religious communities in Nigeria on the one hand, and the disruptions of violence on the other, make the country an interesting case to study. The comparison of Nigeria with Egypt increases the originality of the book because an overwhelming majority of the population observe Islam in Egypt, whereas Muslims make up almost half of the population of Nigeria and are concentrated in the northern part of the country. Violence between Christian and Muslim communities is prevalent in Nigeria, while Egypt has millions of Christians who are frequently subject to discrimination and violence.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Egypt, Nigeria, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Guardian) Nathan Filer–Why what we think we know about schizophrenia is wrong

A mere nine years after I’d first sat in front of my computer to stare hopelessly at a blank page, my novel, The Shock of the Fall, was – by some miracle – finished. In that time, I’d left frontline nursing to work in mental health research at the University of Bristol. I’d also had a baby daughter, got married, and was wondering whether I should maybe try to write another book one day. Then the emails arrived.

They were from people I’d never met but who had read my fictional account of a young man living with “schizophrenia” and had taken the time to share their own stories. Many were upsetting, others hopeful. Rarely did they have the kind of neatly conceived beginning, middle and end that as a novelist I had the luxury to craft. A truth about the strange phenomenon we call mental illness is that it’s messy and chaotic; it can be extremely difficult to make sense of, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There’s a fragility to the mental health of everyone. It serves us all to be part of the conversation.

I realised I needed to think more about such concepts as stigma (and why anti-stigma campaigns may be missing the point); psychiatric diagnosis (and why the science behind this is deeply flawed); the causes of “mental illness” (and how sometimes what needs “fixing” mightn’t reside within the individual at all); delusions and hallucinations (and how these are a part of all of our lives, all of the time); and psychiatric medication (including cracks in the evidence behind current prescribing practices).

On my first day of work in a psychiatric hospital, I spent most of my time sitting in a dreary smoking room drinking tea with the “service users”. Someone took a long drag of their cigarette and told me that before they came on to the ward they hadn’t known such places really existed. I didn’t know what to say, which by chance meant I probably did the best thing. I listened. It’s not always possible to find the right words but we can walk with people for a bit, sit with them, hear them.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Health & Medicine, Psychology

(CT) An interview with James E. Beitler on his new book ‘Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church’

Few of us can escape the torrent of heated opinion and commentary on the world’s issues—in the news, on our social feeds, in our conversational circles. What do you see as an effective response from people of faith and the church at large?

One of the most important responses is opening up spaces for active listening. That’s something that I found C.S. Lewis did particularly well. Lewis had this posture of goodwill toward those around him—toward friends and students, but also toward people he didn’t agree with, including non-believers.

Also, we have too few spaces right now where dialogue across differing viewpoints can happen. Figures like Marilynne Robinson are incredibly useful in addressing this. Her stories are realistic about the difficulties of belonging, as they’re inhabited by people with very different beliefs. Yet she makes a welcoming space for readers. There’s an important moment in her novel Home when two characters, a father and son (Robert and Jack Boughton) who have a very tense relationship, are watching the news. Jack sees the violence happening in the South, and he exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” And his dad, who was a minister, reacts instead to Jack’s taking the Lord’s name in vain. On one hand, you have this figure who is very much concerned with social justice. On the other, you have someone very much concerned with truth and holiness.

It’s so valuable when the church has places where commitments both to truth and justice are radically affirmed. Robinson’s book points to an ideal of restoration, of harmony—what the biblical writers would call shalom.

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Posted in Books, Language, Religion & Culture

(CC) What book gives you a powerful glimpse of the Christian life? 10 writers respond.

We asked pastors and writers to tell us about a book that has helped them envision what it means to live the Christian life.

As a thought exercise see how many of the ten you can guess and then read it all.

Posted in Books, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Theology

(NYT BR) Joseph Ellis reviews Rick Atkinson’s new book on the American Revolution

My old mentor, Edmund Morgan, used to say that everything after 1800 is current events. According to Morgan’s Law, Rick Atkinson has been doing first-rate journalism, enjoying critical and commercial success for three masterly books on World War II, all thoroughly researched and splendidly written. To say that Atkinson can tell a story is like saying Sinatra can sing.

Now Atkinson has decided to move back in time past the Morgan Line, into that distant world where there are no witnesses to interview, no films of battles or photographs of the dead and dying. Visually, all we have are those paintings by John Trumbull, Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart, all of which are designed to memorialize iconic figures in patriotic scenes, where even dying men seem to be posing for posterity.

Undaunted, Atkinson makes his debut as a historian, determined to paint his own pictures with words. “The British Are Coming” is the first volume in a planned trilogy on the American Revolution that will match his Liberation Trilogy on World War II. It covers all the major battles and skirmishes from the spring of 1775 to the winter of 1776-77. There are 564 pages of text, 135 pages of endnotes, a 42-page bibliography and 24 full-page maps. Lurking behind all the assembled evidence, which Atkinson has somehow managed to read and digest in a remarkably short period of time, is a novelistic imagination that verges on the cinematic. Historians of the American Revolution take note. Atkinson is coming.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, England / UK, History, Military / Armed Forces