Visit Homepage
Skip to content →

Category: Religion

Book Review: The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality
(Kyriacos C. Markides)

In these days of changing ways, so-called liberated days, it is not only political beliefs that are getting a fresh look from a lot of people, but beliefs about all aspects of human life.  These include the beliefs of traditional Christians in America, whose options for Christ-centered communal worship within an organized framework narrow every day.  The Roman church is both corrupt and led by that man of perdition, Jorge Bergoglio; the degradation of ecclesiastical Protestantism is complete; evangelicals offer only Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or obeisance to Trumpian caesaropapism.  This leaves as the last institution standing the Orthodox Church, which shows no signs of trimming its sails to modernism and for whom Saint John Chrysostom might as well as have died yesterday.  Hence the recent surge in popularity of this 2001 book, a modern exposition of Orthodox spirituality, written by a man with a foot in both the West and the East.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The Fiery Angel: Art, Culture, Sex, Politics, and the Struggle for the Soul of the West (Michael Walsh)

Billed as a continuation, this book is really the chiral image of Michael Walsh’s earlier book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace.  That book was an attempt, with limited success, to outline and discuss the poisonous Frankfurt School of political philosophy, Critical Theory, through the prism of art.  This book, on the other hand, aims to discuss art, with Critical Theory as the subtext.  It is a largely successful attempt to outline and discuss the unparalleled genius of Western art, in its historical context and with its historical implications, and thereby to “restore Western culture to its proper place.”  That restoration is necessary for our culture to cauterize the venomous bite of the Frankfurt School, whose view of art as politics, and of Western culture as worthless and evil, must be rejected if the West is to regain its path.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss
(David Bentley Hart)

Although this is a book written by one of today’s most prominent Christian theologians, it is not a Christian book.  David Bentley Hart’s purpose is to demolish atheism, not to support Christian revelation.  Hart’s core point is that all theistic traditions, including the Abrahamic but also the Hindu and Buddhist, and even “various late antique paganisms,” share sophisticated reasoning about God and have arrived at certain conclusions which, if not ironclad, are much more reasonable and much more convincing than atheist arguments, which are, mostly, some combination of simplistic and irrelevant.  While I am not the target audience, it seems to me that an honest reader of this book is very unlikely to leave an atheist, even if he entered one, so if that is true, Hart’s book is a success.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Brad S. Gregory)

Exhaustively documented, and in some ways just exhausting, though at the same time exhilarating, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is a towering achievement.  It synthesizes centuries of history and multiple avenues of thought to analyze how we arrived at certain negative aspects of modernity.  Gregory’s claim is that we got here as the result of the unintended consequences of choices made in response to “major, perceived human problems.”  Those choices were, initially, the Reformation’s religious choices, which ran counter to the entire worldview of medieval Christianity.  But the Reformation did not solve the problems—it made them worse, in a declining spiral, accelerated and exacerbated by subsequent secularization, itself partially the result of the Reformation.  The result is a world in which the ability of humans to find meaning in their lives has been crippled, rather than enhanced.  We would, implicitly, be better off with something more like the High Medieval synthesis destroyed by Martin Luther.

12 Comments

Book Review: To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (Ross Douthat)

Ross Douthat has a job that is, I would guess, either enviable or unpleasant, depending on the day—that of being the only regular conservative contributor to the New York Times.  A frequent focus of Douthat’s is that most counter-cultural of doctrines, orthodox Roman Catholicism.  If you want to suffer, you need only visit the comments section in the Times for any Douthat column, especially one on Catholicism.  Exposing yourself to the firehose of bile and stupidity there will show you what Purgatory will be like, although perhaps Purgatory will be an improvement.  Undaunted, Douthat now offers a full-length book on the changes being brought about by Pope Francis.

12 Comments

Book Review: Republics Ancient & Modern, Vol. 2: New Modes & Orders in Early Modern Political Thought
(Paul Rahe)

To my surprise, I found this to be an extremely topical book, even though it discusses only people long dead.  It bridges, or at least brings more clarity to the framework of, recent bestselling books such as Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed and Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.  The former claims that the Enlightenment was a mistake and is now playing out its bitter end.  The latter, conversely, claims that the Enlightenment continues to make everything better, and will do so forever.  This book, twenty-five years old, makes no such claims about the future.  Rather, it tells us how we got here—how and why the West abandoned the Ancient Greek focus on virtue and political participation as the prime goals of a good life.  And the book addresses, without really meaning to, a current obsession of mine—to what degree is our current material prosperity, such that we not only have giant flat screen TVs, but, much more importantly, that we do not spend our days removing live Guinea worms slowly from our flesh, necessarily tied to the Enlightenment?  That is, in an alternate reality where the Enlightenment never happened, and we all lived in a West with the values, political and otherwise, of the High Middle Ages, what would our material lives look like?

3 Comments

Book Review: How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life
(Seneca & James S. Romm)

How to Die, compiled from various writings of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca by the excellent James Romm, assembles Seneca’s thoughts on death.  Seneca died during the reign of the emperor Nero, in A.D. 65, having been “encouraged” by him to commit suicide.  The reason for the compiling and publication of this book, presumably, is to educate moderns about how to die.  It also offers an interesting view into the philosophy of the late pagan Classical world, already dying itself, although Seneca didn’t know it.  This book can doubtless educate moderns, but for us, different than our predecessors, it is either valuable or dangerous, or both, depending on who is reading it and with what aim.

4 Comments

Book Review: God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For (Ulrich L. Lehner)

As I so often complain, the quality of modern discourse is atrocious.  Probably this is due to everyone being told for decades that his opinion always matters, along with a belief that democracy means all opinions are equally valid regardless of reasoning, capped off by modern avenues of communication that allow easy, free broadcasting of stupidity, when in the past dumb people had very limited ability to force the rest of us listen.  Worthless discourse exists across the political spectrum, of course, although that the Left dominates  popular media means the average person probably has to suffer more from being bathed in drivel from that side of the spectrum.  A subset of this general problem is that religious discourse is of equally low level, though rather (in most cases) being vicious irrationality, it is vacuous irrationality.  It is this vacuous irrationality, at its core the idea that God is “nice,” that Roman Catholic theologian Ulrich Lehner is here to dismantle, in this brief and accessible book.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity
(Robert Louis Wilken)

I think Robert Louis Wilken is fantastic, but this is the weakest book of his that I have read.  It is not that it is bad, or wrong, or stupid, in any way.  It is that it falls into the genre I call “capsule history,” where many short chapters cover different happenings, and only a loose framework connects the chapters.  The result is that a reader can learn something, or can even learn quite a bit, but the experience is too much like reading an encyclopedia.  On the other hand, the book does consistently excel in one thing—communicating the loss suffered when Islam dominated or exterminated Christianity in its lands of first flourishing, from northern Africa to Mesopotamia.  And if you’re looking for a factual overview of the first thousand years of Christianity, you’ll certainly get it here.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: Mormon Country
(Wallace Stegner)

Wallace Stegner, writer about the American West, is famous mostly for his novel Angle of Repose.  This book is not famous, but it is worth reading.  Mormon Country is a travelogue centered on the areas settled by the Mormons—basically Utah, of course, but also parts of Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico.  It is not a book about Mormons, though they appear prominently; it is about the country, as it was in the 1930s.  Stegner did not write this book to make a point.  There is no ideological overlay, and Stegner is neither pushing nor denigrating Mormonism.  He was not Mormon, but he respects them and their culture.  Mormon Country draws a picture of the area and its history, as of the time of writing, and offers intriguing tales (many of which have modern postscripts).

Leave a Comment