Category : Books

More Food for Thought from GK Chesterton–Everything will be denied until even the obvious will need to be defended

From there:

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

–Gilbert K. Chesterton, Heretics (London and New York:John Lane[The Bodley Head], 1905), pp. 304-305, my emphasis

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

(New Atlantis) Doug Sikkema–Taking a Careful look at the Modern disenchantment myth

That magic, religion, and superstition have all persisted up to the modern day does not quite demonstrate his claim that “we have never been disenchanted” — or, put another way, that “modernity signals a societal fissure” between religion and reason “that never occurred.” In his keenness to show that the idea of disenchantment is undermined by the persistence of both sides of the binary, he fails to examine a more interesting and arguably much more important line of inquiry: how this myth has altered the conditions in which both religion and science are now practiced. When we consider this, we see that despite the continued prevalence of enchanting beliefs and practices, we are indeed disenchanted in a more fundamental and pervasive way than Josephson-Storm recognizes.

Just recall his origin story for a moment and his blind spot becomes apparent. He deems pre-Revolutionary Europe to be merely a “historical moment” the Romantics were reacting against in their writings. In doing so “they were making grand themes out of the specifics of their local history.” But this reading fails to take seriously the broader cultural conditions in which such a political and philosophical climate even became possible. Might it have something to do with a broader notion of disenchantment, or “dis-God-ing” (to translate from Schiller’s “entgötterte Natur”), that transcended this particular place and time? If so, the German Romantics may have had real reason for concern, as may have the thinkers who built on their insights. Perhaps their understanding of history’s pattern as a linear alienation from God and nature was questionable, but the idea of a dis-godded condition becoming solidified in a theory of progress and in revolutionary politics, and of it manifesting in physical form in the new industrial world, was so terrifying to them precisely because they knew these things were greater than their particular historical moment.

The only way for the book’s argument to work, then, is to accept at face value the idea of disenchantment as the simple absence of religion and magic. But we are actually disenchanted in a much more profound way. Yes, religion and magic remain ubiquitous; but they are now performed against a backdrop in which disenchantment is regarded, in ways conscious and unconscious, as true. Disenchantment is the default position in the social imaginary, encoded in our language and in all manner of habits and practices that carry as if we inhabit a mechanistic world. It has become one of the myths we live by, even as we resist it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

John Mark Reynolds–Wrong, Not Just Because We Think So

Graduation time brings out the inspirational quote. One quotation keeps showing up, disasterous advice and a misquotation. Before getting to the ethics problem, as a public service, let me suggest three truths about citing famous people:

First, relying on quotation sites on the ‘Net is dangerous. Check the original text. 

Once while reading Sarah Palin, I discovered she had at least three quotations (including one from Plato) that were wrong. A quick Google showed a quote site that had all the errors.

Second, if the citation does not include a text reference and Google does not show the text it is from, assume it is spurious. 

Everyone gets something wrong, sometime. I relied on a book that said Alfred Wallace was a Lord: wrong. If you cite badly, just be sorry, correct, and hope your critic can let it go!

Third, Shakespeare and Plato are very dangerous to cite as they don’t always agree with their characters. 

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Theatre/Drama/Plays

(CT) Philip Jenkins reviews Professor Brian Stanley’s new book on Christianity in the 20th Century

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of trends in modern Christianity will have opinions about what Stanley’s 15 key themes should be. We might disagree with the exact contents of his list, but few would question the reasonableness of including, for instance, “uneasy marriages between Christianity and nationalism”; the persecution of churches in different societies; ecumenism; the dilemmas of living as a Christian under Islamic rule; human rights, gender, and sexuality; the role of migrant churches; or the relationship between Christianity, ethnic hatred, and genocide.

But if the topics to some extent select themselves, Stanley then startles with his choice of specific examples. Yes, we know that Christians in different eras have exalted the notion of “Holy Nations,” but how many authors would think to examine this approach with a comparative study of Protestant nationalism in South Korea and Marian Catholic nationalism in Poland? Or to compare the churches’ response to genocide in Nazi Germany and Rwanda? One might easily point to the fundamental cultural differences between the nations placed under the microscope, especially when Catholic and Protestant traditions are juxtaposed. But overriding those forms of diversity is one key question. Each of these churches, sects, or movements claims to be Christian, regardless of its location and historical circumstances. So what exactly is the identifiable core of that Christian belief or understanding? How malleable is it?

Another strength of Stanley’s book is the serious attention paid to a wide diversity of traditions and denominations. A generation or so ago, a book giving adequate and fair coverage to both Catholics and (mainline) Protestants was laudable. Stanley certainly treats those two fully, but over and above that he offers a chapter on the Orthodox tradition, as viewed in the cases of Greece, Turkey, and even East Africa. Given his interest in Global South religion, he is very informative on Pentecostal worlds, as well as the African independent traditions represented by the Aladura and other healing churches.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Globalization

(Washington Post) Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, dies at 101

Bernard Lewis, a preeminent scholar of Middle Eastern history whose work profoundly shaped Western views of the region — including fears of a “clash of civilizations” — but also brought scorn from critics who considered his views elitist and favoring Western intervention, died May 19 at an assisted-living facility in Voorhees, N.J. He was 101.

The death was confirmed by his romantic partner and co-author, Buntzie Churchill, who did not cite a specific cause.

Dr. Lewis’s prolific scholarship — including more than 30 books, hundreds of articles and competence in at least a dozen languages — traced fault lines that define the modern Middle East, such as sectarian divisions, the rise of radical Islamists and entrenched dictatorships, some backed by the West.

Along the way, Dr. Lewis often gained a privileged vantage point for events in the region during a life that spanned the era of T.E. Lawrence, oil discoveries in Arabia and showdowns against the Islamic State.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, History, Middle East, Religion & Culture

(CC) Jason Byassee reviews the new book ‘Preaching Radical and Orthodox’ (SCM Press)

Books of sermons can be hit or miss, but there is not a clunker in this volume. They can also be theologically diffuse, but there is remarkable synchronicity here: not uniformity, but coherence. Thomas Aquinas appears as a theologian whose work was for the training of social radicals, doing ministry with the poor. A theology of Mary appears regularly, as does an enormously high doctrine of the Eucharist, celebrated and contemplated and made deeply invitational. One might be forgiven for thinking the sermons Catholic. Fully one third of them—and many of the most memorable ones—are by women.

Alison Milbank is the preacher who appears most often, and Arabella Milbank—a priest in training who is the daughter of Alison and John—appears both as preacher and as an addressee of a wedding homily. Yet, unlike some settings, there is no bashing of tradition here, no apologies for previous misogyny, no special pleading that the church can be nearly as “woke” as the world. Rather, the sermons have a regular and pointed critique of the world, confidently offering the church as a viable alternative.

Most pleasingly to my mind, the sermons engage in an unapologetic reclamation of the legends of the saints…

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Preaching / Homiletics

(Patheos) Philip Jenkins–Making Monks, Forming Souls

I have been reading an important new book called Monasteries and the Care of Souls in Late Antique Christianity: Cognition and Discipline (Cambridge University Press, 2017). This is by my former colleague Paul Dilley, an excellent scholar whose work I have discussed in the past. The book is important because of its Egyptian setting, using many texts that are only available to those scholars with a knowledge of Coptic, besides the familiar Greek. Egypt is so critical to the making of early Christianity, right up through the sixth and seventh centuries and beyond, but our standard Western emphasis often means that this is underplayed. Also, given the central importance of monasticism through much of Christian history, Dilley’s book addresses a central if under-explored question: just how did people become monks? Not just how did they sign on to the profession, but how did they discover and absorb the lifestyle, its particular ways, assumptions and ideologies? How did they learn to live its world?

This would be a fine book if it just offered a straightforward historical analysis, but it is much more daring that that, and approaches its subject from the field of cognitive studies. Dilley describes such key cognitive disciplines as “meditation on scripture, the fear of God, and prayer.” He also discusses  “various rituals distinctive to communal monasticism, including entrance procedures, the commemoration of founders, and collective repentance.” That emphasis on ritual behavior fits so well with what we know about religious practices across the faith spectrum.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History

(America) David Michael–Alan Jacobs: a Christian intellectual for the internet age

In a post in late 2015, he wrote about curbing the distractions of the internet. He had deleted his Tumblr and Instagram accounts and had returned to older technologies: paper, CDs and even a “dumb phone”—though he had returned to his iPhone when I visited him.

Lately, he has started taking notes on multicolored index cards. He spends less time writing on a computer and more time writing in a notebook, using a practice called bullet journaling. He jots ideas down as they come to him, and reads over the notes when he has time. “It’s always like putting stuff in the compost pile and stirring it around and then putting more stuff in the compost pile and stirring it around. And then I take it out and move it to the place where something needs to grow.”

If an idea is still gnawing at him, he will work the idea into a more developed sketch. When he gets on a roll, he grabs his computer, sometimes writing four or five thousand words at a time. “That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to be good words,” he told me. “But it’s this kind of desperate let me get it all out while I still can.” When I visited him, he was in the midst of six different essays and a new book.

He calls his new book a theological anthropology for the Anthropocene Age, an account of what it means to be human in an era that seems radically empowering but also leaves the individual feeling helpless before technocratic powers. Theologians have not risen to the task, but Jacobs thinks that novelists like Thomas Pynchon can offer clarity.

“I have lots of ideas,” he told me shortly before I left. “I always have more ideas than I can possibly write about.” So he prays for discernment about what ideas to pursue and what ideas to let die. “And increasingly, over the last three or four years, I pray more and more that God would teach me when it’s time to shut up. That’s the thing that I’m least good at. Just shutting up.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NBC) Boston Marathon Bombing Survivor Pens Children’s Book Featuring Her Life Changing Dog

Posted in Animals, Books, Children, Terrorism, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

(CT) Theologian Jack Deere Went Through Hell to Come to Faith

Mere paragraphs from the conclusion of his story, Deere is not saying, “This was something I dealt with,” but “This is something I deal with.”

This rawness is rare in the church today. We are often told by leaders that they sin, but Deere’s memoir is refreshingly full of his sin. It is not gratuitous in any form. We never get the sense that he wants to gain our pity or empathy to manipulate us into thinking he’s better or worse than he is. He is simply factual (to our knowledge) and unapologetic to his reader, while increasingly more repentant toward those against whom he has sinned—God foremost among them.

In a world where, all too often, leaders present themselves as one-dimensional characters (primarily speakers, teachers, pastors, musicians, or writers), Deere shows us we are irreducibly complex beings. Our bodies matter. Our souls matter. Our minds matter. Our emotions matter. Our histories matter. These together form the whole of who we are, and any true ministry we do out of the whole is going to be wholly complex. Otherwise, it will be anemic, one-dimensional, and devoid of power. Deere recognizes this now. But it took hell to get him there. I haven’t even mentioned the half of it in this review.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Children, Christology, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Marriage & Family, Soteriology, Suicide, Theology, Violence

(Guardian) Terry Eagleton reviews ‘7 Types of Atheism’ by John Gray

Gray belongs to that group of contemporary thinkers, of whom George Steiner is the doyen, who disdain the secular but can’t quite drag themselves to the church or synagogue. They turn, instead, to a kind of transcendence without content, of which there is no finer example than what one might call Hollywood spirituality. Those celebrities who dabble in Kabbalah or Scientology do so as a refuge from a material world crammed with too many chauffeurs, masseurs, bank accounts and swimming pools. The spiritual for them is the opposite of the material, a mistake that Gray also makes in his less luxury-laden way. This is not the view of Judaeo-Christianity. When Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, he speaks as a devout Jew, for whom the spiritual is in the first place a matter of how one behaves towards others. Those who seek some otherworldly comfort in religion are apparently deaf to Jesus’s warning to his followers that if they were true to his word they would meet with the same fate as himself.

Another aspect of Judaism is its iconoclasm. You are forbidden to make images of God, because the only image of God is human flesh and blood. But since the Jewish God is the God of the future, you are equally prohibited from making graven images of what is still to come. Besides, if you can represent the future here and now, then it can’t be the future. Gray, with his aversion to utopian blueprints, would surely agree. What he might be slower to concede is that the only image of the future is the failure of the present. The task of the Old Testament prophet is to remind his people that unless they change their ways here and now, protecting the poor from the violence of the rich and providing for the widows and the orphans, there won’t be any future worth having. Marx, a secular Jew who urged his wife to read the Hebrew scriptures, was true to this ban on visions of the future. In fact, his work is notorious for how little it has to say about the nature of communism. For a writer who began his career in fierce contention with utopian thought, this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that the viscerally anti-Marxist Gray doesn’t see fit to mention it.

Seven Types of Atheism is an impressively erudite work, ranging from the Gnostics to Joseph Conrad, St Augustine to Bertrand Russell. In the end, it settles for a brand of atheism that finds enough mystery in the material world itself without needing to supplement it with a higher one. Yet this, too, is just as much a throwback to the Victorian age as Dawkins’s evangelical campaign against religious evangelism. Authors such as George Eliot, reeling from the death of God, took solace in the unfathomable intricacies of the universe. Gray condemns secular humanism as the continuation of religion by other means, but his own faith in some vague, inexplicable enigma beyond the material is open to exactly the same charge.

Read it all.

Posted in Atheism, Books

(AFP) China enforces ban on online Bible sales

Bibles have been pulled from Chinese online retailers in “recent days”, merchants told AFP on Friday, as Communist authorities ramp up control over religious worship.

The clamp down on “illegally published books” also comes as the Vatican and Beijing negotiate a historic agreement on the appointment of bishops in China

“Bibles and books without publication numbers have all been removed in recent days,” a merchant on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao told AFP, without giving details on how authorities have enforced the ban.

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

(AM) Alan Purser reviews ‘The gospel and the Anglican Tradition’ by Martin Davie

Martin Davie has written a useful and timely contribution to the current debate about the value and theological coherence of the Anglican tradition. Useful, because it gathers together in one place material from a wide range of Anglican texts (including The Homilies, the 39 Articles and the BCP alongside contemporary material from GAFCON and ACNA). Timely, because so much of this rich heritage is unknown to a generation for whom the words of the General Confession or the Prayer of Humble Access do not readily roll off the tongue, and for whom “Read, Mark, Learn” is a phrase supposedly coined by a well known London church for its bible study programme.

Whilst it would have benefited from more careful editing (the frequent repetitions, the number of extraneous words and the signs of it having been written piecemeal are unfortunate) this volume’s comprehensiveness is impressive, as is the author’s evident enthusiasm for his subject. Davie’s agility in citing examples from a such wide range of material exposes the remarkable theological consistency of the Cranmerian reformation, and the depth of its biblical, gospel roots.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books, Theology

(NYT The Upshot) In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America

Before the first hearings on the morning docket, the line starts to clog the lobby of the John Marshall Courthouse. No cellphones are allowed inside, but many of the people who’ve been summoned don’t learn that until they arrive. “Put it in your car,” the sheriff’s deputies suggest at the metal detector. That advice is no help to renters who have come by bus. To make it inside, some tuck their phones in the bushes nearby.

This courthouse handles every eviction in Richmond, a city with one of the highest eviction rates in the country, according to new data covering dozens of states and compiled by a team led by the Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond.

Two years ago, Mr. Desmond turned eviction into a national topic of conversation with “Evicted,” a book that chronicled how poor families who lost their homes in Milwaukee sank ever deeper into poverty. It became a favorite among civic groups and on college campuses, some here in Richmond. Bill Gates and former President Obama named it among the best books they had read in 2017, and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

But for all the attention the problem began to draw, even Mr. Desmond could not say how widespread it was. Surveys of renters have tried to gauge displacement, but there is no government data tracking all eviction cases in America. Now that Mr. Desmond has been mining court records across the country to build a database of millions of evictions, it’s clear even in his incomplete national picture that they are more rampant in many places than what he saw in Milwaukee.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, City Government, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Housing/Real Estate Market, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The Banking System/Sector

Martin Davie–Reimagining Reimagined – A Review Of Justin Welby’s Reimagining Britain

Contrary to what is said in the blurb on the back cover of the book, the Archbishop is not offering ‘a radical vision for 21st century Britain.’ If all that he proposes came to pass, British society would not actually change that much. What he is offering is a modest proposal for the development of existing British society and government policy along lines that have also been put forward by a large number of other writers on this topic.

What is helpful about the Archbishop’s proposal is that he identifies a number of key issues which anyone concerned with the development of British society needs to bear in mind.

Practices must reflect values and virtues.
In order to flourish Britain needs to be a society marked by the practice of love and by the values of community, courage and stability.
There need to be Intermediate institutions (including households and religious groups) that exist between the individual and the state.
Families, education, health, housing, and economics and finance are the basic building blocks of British society and problems in these five areas need to be addressed.
Britain needs to express its values in relation to immigration and integration, foreign policy and climate change.
It is important that churches and other religious groups should be given the freedom to challenge a liberal hegemony and be encouraged to bless society through their activities.
The specific policy proposals made by the Archbishop, such as giving greater support to those caring for family members, ensuring that those responsible for new housing encourage the development of community life and rebalancing the British economy so that it is less dependent on the financial sector, are also sensible and would have widespread support.

The Archbishop’s policy proposals are lacking in detail.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology