Category : Books

(First Things) Patrick Deneen–Moral Minority: A Look at Three recent Books on Christians in America

Thirty years later, the mood has changed. Three books have appeared almost simultaneously that assume the opposite of what Falwell believed: America is populated by an immoral majority. Not only is its leadership class dominated by progressive elites, but the American public more generally has been corrupted by constant saturation in a media of skepticism and irony, pervasive consumerism, unavoidable pornography, and incessant distraction fostered by entertainment centers in every person’s pocket. America has lost its faith, and so the faithful have begun to question their belief in America.

Published within months of each other—by a popular blogger and author who has journeyed from Protestantism to agnosticism to Catholicism to Orthodoxy, Rod Dreher; by one of America’s most prominent and intellectually accomplished Catholic bishops, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput; and by a Catholic professor of English at Providence College and renowned translator of Dante, Anthony Esolen—the books share the belief that traditional Christians are a moral minority. All three books were written in the midst of a political campaign that was expected to result in the election of Hillary Clinton. All three reflect the pessimism that accompanied that prospect.

The outcome of that election, surprising as it was, does not change the argument of these books: Politics will not save us. What is first of all necessary is to rebuild a culture in disarray. Compared with recovering the basic requirements of virtuous civilization—healthy communities, flourishing family life, sound education, a deep reservoir of cultural memory and practice, and formative religious faith—remaking the Supreme Court is a cinch. Philosophers who have described culture as the first requirement of a healthy civilization, from Plato to Burke to Tocqueville, have generally believed that the most one can consciously strive to achieve is preservation of a healthy culture, should one be fortunate enough to possess one. Once a culture is corrupted from within, however, they saw little hope of reversing its decay.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

(Guardian) Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter 86, RIP

Author Lee Child described Dexter as “revolutionary”. “He wrote a character without any concessions at all to likely popularity – Morse was bad tempered, cantankerous, esoteric and abstruse – and thereby showed us that integrity and authenticity work best,” Child said. “His literary descendants are everywhere. When our genre’s family tree is drawn, he’s the root of a huge portion of it.”

Author Peter James said “all of us who love crime fiction owe Colin Dexter a very great debt”.

“There are few writers of whom it can be genuinely said that they changed – or indeed created – a genre. But Colin Dexter did. Morse was unique, both in the pages of the novels and in the subsequent television adaptations,” James said. “In many ways he mirrored characteristics of Sherlock Holmes, with his fierce brain and quiet nature, and. like Holmes, he came off the page and stepped out of our screens to become a living person, someone any of us could imagine meeting for a drink in a pub.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK

(PD) Nathaniel Peters–Not Benedictine Enough: Rod Dreher’s Diagnosis and Prescription for American Christianity

Benedictines were grammarians. They cared deeply about words and their meanings and usage. Instead of calling Leah Libresco Sargeant an “effervescent Benedict Option social entrepreneur” they would recognize her for what she is: a Christian with a gift for hospitality and community-building. Sargeant notes that this kind of hospitality is not new, and neither is the Benedict Option:

People are like, ‘This Benedict Option thing, it’s just being Christian, right?’ And I’m like, “Yes! You’ve figured out the koan!” But people won’t do it unless you call it something different. It’s just the church being what the church is supposed to be, but if you give it a name, that makes people care.

She’s right about what is best about the Benedict Option—it’s just Christianity. But she’s wrong about the effect of the name. The Benedict Option is not a mystery designed to break open the mind; it’s a catchphrase that expresses a feeling of alarm and an intuited need for redirection. If the Benedict Option is just Christianity, it is neither inherently Benedictine nor is it optional. If it is a feeling and intuition, it needs to be guided by careful, prudent thought so that it bears good fruit. Dreher describes the question facing today’s Christians as “not whether to quit politics entirely, but how to exercise political power prudently, especially in an unstable political culture.” But that has always been the question facing Christians—and it is one to which Dreher never offers a clear answer.

These reservations aside, many readers will find Dreher’s counsel on practical spiritual matters helpful, even as they wish for clarity in his argument. Living the Christian faith intently in communities has been the heart—and challenge—of Christianity from the beginning. For like the monastic life, the Christian life has one ultimate goal: quaerere Deum—to seek God.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

Tim Challies review of The Shack: ‘the book has a quietly subversive quality to it’

So where does all of this leave us? It is clear to me that The Shack is a mix of good and bad. Young teaches much that is of value and he teaches it in a slick and effective way. Sadly, though, there is much bad mixed in with the good. As we pursue his major theological thrusts we see that many of them wander away, by varying degrees, from what God tells us in Scripture.

Despite the great amount of poor theology, my greatest concern is probably this one: the book has a quietly subversive quality to it. Young seems set on undermining orthodox Christianity. For example, at one point Mack states that,despite years of seminary and years of being a Christian, most of the things taught to him at the shack have never occurred to him before. Later he says, “I understand what you’re saying. I did that for years after seminary. I had the right answers, sometimes, but I didn’t know you. This weekend, sharing life with youhas been far more illuminating than any of those answers.”

Throughout the book there is this kind of subversive strain teaching that new and fresh revelation is much more relevant and important than the kind of knowledge we gain in sermons or seminaries or Scripture.

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, Books, Evangelicals, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture, The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Theology

Ross Douthat on Christians in America and Several Recent Books on the Subject

This reversal of fortune provides the unexpected backdrop for several new books from conservative Christian writers, all written back when liberalism’s cultural-political progress seemed more inevitable (that is, last year). They include Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World” and the Providence College English professor Anthony Esolen’s “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture.” The most talked-about title is Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” (blurbed, the alert reader will note, by Russell Moore), whose arresting title references the founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia, and whose countercultural themes have been percolating for some time in Dreher’s prolific blogging.

Each book has its own tone. Chaput’s is ruminative and strains for optimism; Esolen waxes poetic in the service of a cultural jeremiad. Dreher’s is an interesting mixture. It begins in sweeping pessimism, describing a Western Christianity foredestined to all but disappear, collapsing from within even as its institutions are regulated and taxed to death by secular inquisitors. Then it pivots to a more practical how-to guide for believers trying to build religious communities — churches, schools, families, social networks — that are more resilient, more rigorous and more capable of passing on the faith than much of Christianity today.

If I were giving “The Benedict Option” to religious readers, whether conservative or progressive, I would almost urge them to save the opening for later and just approach the how-to guide with an open mind.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks on Rod Dreher’s new Book–The Benedict Option

Rod is pretty conservative. “There can be no peace between Christianity and the sexual revolution, because they are radically opposed,” he writes.

Specifically, “L.G.B.T. activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war. The struggle over gay rights is what is threatening religious liberty, putting Christian merchants out of business, threatening the tax-exempt status and accreditation of Christian schools and colleges.”

Rod shares the fears that are now common in Orthodox Christian circles, that because of their views on L.G.B.T. issues, Orthodox Christians and Jews will soon be banned from many professions and corporations. “Blacklisting will be real,” he says. We are entering a new Dark Age. “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization….”

Maybe if I shared Rod’s views on L.G.B.T. issues, I would see the level of threat and darkness he does. But I don’t see it. Over the course of history, American culture has tolerated slavery, sexual brutalism and the genocide of the Native Americans, and now we’re supposed to see 2017 as the year the Dark Ages descended?

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Evangelicals, History, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(NYT) Anti Self-Help books: I’m Not O.K. Neither Are You. Who Cares?

Granted, reading a book that coaches you on how to reject self-help is like downing a shot of Patrón to get the nerve to stop drinking. But it appears to be working. Both “A Counterintuitive Guide to Living a Good Life,” by Mark Manson, and Sarah Knight’s “How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have With People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do” were best sellers. (Those are the subtitles. The titles use a pointedly vulgar phrase synonymous with “not caring one bit.”)

Now comes one of the better-written entries in the genre, “Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze,” which made its author, Svend Brinkmann, a psychology professor in Denmark, a media star there.

“Our secular age is shot through with fundamental existential uncertainty and angst, and this makes it difficult to stand firm,” writes the erudite Mr. Brinkmann, who, compared with his profane and jokey American colleagues, is the Max von Sydow character in this Woody Allen movie. Mr. Brinkmann’s book, like Mr. Manson’s, takes the stand that life is hard and you’re not special, so instead of focusing on shallow quantities like happiness or success as defined by others in our culture of constant acceleration, you should acknowledge your limitations and learn to love your morning bowl of pebbles.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology

(Economist) The amazing story of “Les Misérables”, a book that changed the world

Save for Hugo’s literary rivals (Alexandre Dumas likened it to “wading through mud”), everybody loved the long haul of Valjean’s rehabilitation in the company of characters who soon entered folklore: the street-girl Fantine, her daughter Cosette, the urchin Gavroche, the student Marius. Shorn of its condemnation of slavery, the novel even circulated in a pirate edition among Confederate soldiers during the American civil war. In a weary pun on their commander’s name, they dubbed themselves “Lee’s Miserables”.

From the humane treatment of ex-offenders to the care of street children, “Les Misérables” spearheaded calls for reform and contributed to “the future improvement of society”. Few books really change the world. This one did, long before it broke box-office records on stage. In the musical Hugo’s hero intones—in a song loved by television talent-show contestants—“Bring Him Home”. Mr [David] Bellos does just that, as he restores “Les Mis” to its maker and his times.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, France, History

(CC) Scott Cairns–Anya Silver’s imaginative poems speak from nothingness into new creation

Among the many recoveries manifested in Silver’s subtle arguments, the very heart of her matter in this collection is an insistent recovery of common life. The speaker””ostensibly identified with the poet herself””admits to her own bodily sufferings, but a good many of these poems speak to and of the bodily sufferings of others. Employing classical and historical allusion as well as references to friends and family, Silver articulates in no uncertain terms an emphatic empathy that recovers for us what it means to be a person in the image of a triune God. Each of our lives partakes of every other.

I am reminded here of that very strange passage in Paul’s letter to the Colossians wherein the apostle claims to rejoice in his own sufferings, adding that he “fill[s] up in my flesh what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). As I have observed elsewhere, instead of “what is lacking,” a more likely translation of isterimata might be “what is yet to be done.”

Silver grapples with an array of difficult human experiences to bring back into view the absolute interconnectivity of persons, and she presents the compelling proposition that what is yet to be done is our bravely accepting the cost of bearing one another’s afflictions, of becoming one. May it be blessed.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Church Times) David Goodhew examines growth and decline in parts of the Anglican Communion

…numerical growth and decline do matter. They matter theologically. Scripture, doctrine, and church tradition place a high value on growing congregations and starting new ones. They matter experientially: there is much evid¬ence that congregations enhance individual and community well-being.

And they matter also because churches, like individuals, live out of the narratives that they tell about themselves ”” and narratives of numerical growth or decline mould how churches understand themselves. Churches and provinces see themselves as “major” or “minor” players, are fearful or confident, because of whether they see themselves as growing or shrinking. Often, the stories that churches tell of themselves are not wholly based on reality, or they are based on past realities, ignoring what is happening now. So it matters that narratives of growth and decline tell the truth.

Besides, the Church of England (like many other Anglicans in the global North) has hardly been guilty of excessive concern for numerical growth in recent decades. There is much inverse snobbery about numerical growth, as something “just not done” in polite ecclesial circles. This feeds into a widespread “decline theology”. Decline theology sees church decline as unproblem¬atic, or even to be accepted as “inevitable”. Decline theology is an internalisation of the secularisation thesis. It creates an ecclesiology of fatalism. Perhaps God has other ideas.

Read it all from the long list of should-have-already-been-posted material.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Books, Evangelism and Church Growth, Globalization, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Theology

Emma Green Wrestles w/ Rod Dreher's argument for communal religious life in The Benedict Option

There was a time when Christian thinkers like Dreher, who writes for The American Conservative, might have prepared to fight for cultural and political control. Dreher, however, sees this as futile. “Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to ”¦ stop fighting the flood?” he asks. “Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” This strategic withdrawal from public life is what he calls the Benedict option.

Dreher’s proposal is as remarkable as his fear. It is a radical rejection of the ties between Christianity and typical forms of power, from Republican politics to market-driven wealth. Instead, Dreher says, Christians should embrace pluralism, choosing to fortify their own communities and faith as one sub-culture among many in the United States.

But it is a vision that will not be easily achieved. Conservative Christianity no longer sets the norms in American culture, and transitioning away from a position of dominance to a position of co-existence will require significant adjustment, especially for a people who believe so strongly in evangelism. Even if that happens, there are always challenges at the boundaries of sub-cultures. It’s not clear that Dreher has a clear vision of how Christians should engage with those they disagree with””especially the LGBT Americans they blame for pushing them out of mainstream culture.

Read it all from The Atlantic.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Children, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(NYTBR) Ibram Kendi–A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters

Many Americans might not know the more polemical side of race writing in our history. The canon of African-American literature is well established. Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin are familiar figures. Far less so is Samuel Morton (champion of the obsolete theory of polygenesis) or Thomas Dixon (author of novels romanticizing Klan violence). It is tempting to think that the influence of those dusty polemics ebbed as the dust accumulated. But their legacy persists, freshly shaping much of our racial discourse.

On the occasion of Black History Month, I’ve selected the most influential books on race and the black experience published in the United States for each decade of the nation’s existence ”” a history of race through ideas, arranged chronologically on the shelf. (In many cases, I’ve added a complementary work, noted with an asterisk.) Each of these books was either published first in the United States or widely read by Americans. They inspired ”” and sometimes ended ”” the fiercest debates of their times: debates over slavery, segregation, mass incarceration. They offered racist explanations for inequities, and antiracist correctives. Some ”” the poems of Phillis Wheatley, the memoir of Frederick Douglass ”” stand literature’s test of time. Others have been roundly debunked by science, by data, by human experience. No list can ever be comprehensive, and “most influential” by no means signifies “best.” But I would argue that together, these works tell the history of anti-black racism in the United States as painfully, as eloquently, as disturbingly as words can. In many ways, they also tell its present.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Race/Race Relations, Theology

(America) Ed Block–The transformational world of Jon Hassler

In an interview for Image magazine in 1997, I asked Hassler about the origin of his Catholic worldview. He responded, “I’m indebted to those first few grades in parochial school for teaching me that everything in life is connected.” A bit later he added, “I guess maybe I see life as a whole.” It is part of Hassler’s gift, throughout his career, to see life as a whole, juxtaposing events and characters, thus yielding new meanings and interrelationships, making the entire work appear to fly. In a word, Hassler’s style is not “magic realism” but realism magically transformed.

Again and again Hassler transforms the banality of evil into Flannery O’Connor-type characters and events. A crazed woman kills a burnt-out teacher; a brilliant teacher stricken by multiple sclerosis turns psychotic in his despondency; an unloved juvenile delinquent is crushed beneath a walk-in cooler like the Wicked Witch beneath Dorothy’s Kansas cottage. But like St. Augustine, who speaks of God’s love treating “each of us as an only child,” Hassler (who includes many only children in his fiction) treats every character in that way. Jon Hassler discovers God’s presence in everyday life, as his novels throw a grace-filled light upon caring teachers, open-hearted wives and lovers, priests and spinsters””and a latchkey child who responds to an old man’s need for friendship and for love.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Other Churches, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology

(CT) Rod Dreher–The Benedict Option's Vision for a Christian Village

In my 2006 book, Crunchy Cons, which explored a countercultural, traditionalist conservative sensibility, I brought up the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who said that Western civilization had lost its moorings. MacIntyre said that the time is coming when men and women of virtue will understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who want to live a life of traditional virtue. These people would find new ways to live in community, he said, just as St. Benedict, the sixth-century father of Western monasticism, responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order.

I called the strategic withdrawal prophesied by MacIntyre “the Benedict Option.” The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.
Today, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture and, increasingly, in law, as racists. The culture war that began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s has now ended in defeat for Christian conservatives. The cultural left””which is to say, the American mainstream””has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Books, Children, History, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Theology

Food for Thought at the Beginning of the Day from Jon Hassler

“You know why I’d never be a priest, Frank? Priests never know anything outside their field. They’re all so spacey.”

–Jon Hassler, North of Hope (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1990), p. 483

(Amazon)

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Books, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Theology