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Category: Religion

Analysis: On Rebellion

[This post duplicates my review of Captain Blood, without the book-specific parts.  I am cross-posting it because it fits in two categories, Reviews and Analysis.]

American history is full of rebellion—the War of Independence and the Civil War, of course, but also unsuccessful smaller-scale rebellions—Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, John Brown’s assault on Harper’s Ferry, and the leftist rebellions of the 1970s.

We can conclude that rebellion is relatively commonplace and that it arises from different causes.  What I want to talk about is when it is intellectually and morally justified.  We will examine theory and practice, Aquinas and Rogue One.  I am sure that writing this will probably get me on some list, or rather some additional lists, and prevent my being appointed to any government position—at least, in the current dispensation.  But since I doubt if the current dispensation will last, this is probably not the hobbling it seems.

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Book Review: Captain Blood
(Rafael Sabatini)

Captain Blood, to the extent it is mentioned today, is remembered as a 1935 movie that made the career of Errol Flynn.  The story was originally this novel, published in 1922.  It is the story of an Irish physician who, in the late Seventeenth Century, settles in the southwest of England, in Somerset, after wandering the world for a decade.  He is caught up in the Monmouth Rebellion, in which a bastard son of Charles II rebelled against James II and lost the 1685 Battle of Sedgmoor, the last battle fought on English soil.  Captain Blood (his name is Peter Blood; the title is not a nickname, as one might think of a pirate novel), treats a man wounded in the battle.  He is therefore dealt with as a traitor, even though he took no part in the rebellion itself, but his death sentence is commuted to being sold into slavery in Barbados.

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Book Review: How Civilizations Die (David Goldman)

I have read David Goldman for a long time, under his alter ego, Spengler, a columnist for the Asia Times.  His columns are invariably excellent—pithy, insightful, and a pleasure to read.  But the talent set required to be a columnist is very different than that required of a book author.  Many columnists are unable to write a book that is other than either a set of compiled columns or a padded out column.  The late Joseph Sobran, who wrote for National Review when it was more than a forum for third-rate neoconservatives angling for jobs under Republican politicians, was one such.  David Goldman is another, and it shows in the many defects of this 2011 book, How Civilizations Die.

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Book Review: Augustine: Conversions to Confessions (Robin Lane Fox)

Most of us, or so I like to think in order to feel better about myself, steer away from actually reading St. Augustine.  We know that he is an intellectual giant and one of the handful of core, key thinkers of Christianity, but everything he has to say seem so dense, and wasn’t he the mean proto-Calvinist who thought unbaptized infants go straight to Hell?  Not to mention that, after all, it was all so long ago and far away.  Like a lot of people, I own several works by Augustine, but mostly to show my erudition, not for, you know, actual reading.  But after completing Robin Lane Fox’s Augustine: Conversions to Confessions, I think I’m inspired, or at least impelled, to sit down, concentrate, and read some of Augustine’s works.  Assuming the feeling doesn’t pass, I think that’s exactly what I’ll do.

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Book Review: The Life and Prayers of Saint Joan of Arc (Wyatt North)

This book is pure hagiography.  While I suppose hagiography has its uses, mostly to gull and overawe the under-educated, I dislike hagiography.  But at least it can be good hagiography; it can be great literature by towering men of intellect, or if not that, at least it can interest and inform the reader. Not this book, though, which is unrelievedly bad on every level, and whose only virtue is extreme brevity.

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Book Review: The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible (Sarah Ruden)

Sarah Ruden may be my favorite author.  It’s not that I’ve read everything she’s written—her main oeuvre is translation of classics such as the Aeneid, and I find all the classics hard going.  (The Aeneid is something that you know you should read—in college, I read the Cliffs Notes instead, and have felt guilty ever since).  It’s not that I agree with Ruden on politics (she’s a liberal, though a thinking, nuanced one, as far as I can tell) or very closely on religion (she’s a devout Quaker, and there is only some overlap there with my Crusader-oriented theology, though we’re both Christian).  I think that, ultimately, it’s two things.  First, her work is original and fascinating, which in itself is a great deal.  But, combined with the second element, the charm and humor that shines through her work, the reader of her books feels like he’s sitting down for a few hours of conversation in a nerdy version of the Dos Equis commercial—the Most Interesting Woman in the World (or second most interesting, after my wife).

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Book Review: Resurrecting The Idea Of A Christian Society (R. R. Reno)

Already before I began writing this review, I was worn out reading books with a similar theme, that  of Christian renewal, including Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land.  I was already going to retire and turn to reading biographies for a while.  It is not, of course, Reno’s fault that this is the final book I read in the chain.  I have tried to ensure that my being worn out does not color my perception of the book.  Nonetheless, I was disappointed in this book.  While what it says has value, and Reno’s heart is in the right place, his book is largely derivative and superficial, and it omits, for all practical purposes, any real plan for achieving the goal of its title.

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Book Review: A History of Islamic Societies (Ira Lapidus)

This is a famous book.  Together with Marshall Hodgson’s three-volume The Venture of Islam, it is the touchstone of modern long-form histories of the Islamic world.  A History of Islamic Societies, as its title implies, covers both history and theology.  Given that I like history, and that I have a particular interest in comparative theology (primarily as between Christianity and Islam, with forays into other religions, living and dead), you would think reading this book would be, for me, an ideal way to spend my time.  But it nearly defeated me.

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Book Review: Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living (Joseph Prince)

This is not the sort of book I normally read.  It is spiritual fluff from a Singaporean megachurch “grace preacher,” Joseph Prince.  But a friend of mine sent me a copy and suggested I read it, since he obtained a lot of spiritual benefit from it.  I warned him that I would likely abuse the book and the preacher.  I am here to execute on my warning.

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Book Review: The Benedict Option
(Rod Dreher)

The Benedict Option is, as I expected, an outstanding book.  Rod Dreher has definitively shown that he is the Pope Urban of a new and dynamic movement, and this book has occasioned much commentary in the mainstream press.  Unfortunately, the main point of Dreher’s book—to make a countercultural call for individual and group Christian renewal focused on communities of believers—has been somewhat lost in a secondary point, the real and growing persecution of Christian believers in mainstream society.  This was inevitable, I suppose, because persecution is more interesting to outsiders than a call to holiness, but unfortunate, because it caricatures Dreher and tends to erode receptivity to his message.

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