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Category: Religion

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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Book Review: The Christians As The Romans Saw Them (Robert Louis Wilken)

We tend to think of Christianity’s global spread as somehow predestined.  A little thought, of course, shows this to be far from the truth.  In fact, many cultures have strongly resisted the message of the Gospel—most dramatically with violence and the creation of martyrs, but sometimes more successfully with intellectual arguments against the truth of Christianity.  For example, Martin Scorsese’s recent film adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence shows the torture and martyrdom of Christians—but it also shows vigorous and successful Japanese efforts to combat Christianity intellectually.  In the Preface to this 2003 second edition of The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, the author, Robert Louis Wilken, ruefully relates that the Japanese translator of the first (1984) edition ascribed the book’s success in Japan to that it “has given Japanese intellectuals new arguments against Christianity.”  This book, therefore, proves three things—that there are internally coherent intellectual arguments against Christianity, that those have been made for thousands of years, and that Christians equally have thousands of years of sound intellectual answers to those arguments.

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Book Review: Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Anthony Esolen)

Reading this book is like wearing sackcloth and heaping ashes on your head. It certainly brings home to you that things have gone wrong, but unless the act of penance itself calls forth redemption, which sadly today it does not, without further action it only makes you feel bad and gets you dirty.

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Colloquy: Of The Possibilities of Comity, The Suppression of Speech, Identity, And Humanity

[This colloquy sprang from a Facebook discussion (largely, but not always, an oxymoron) about “fake news,” which I alleged may exist, but not in the sense used by the Left, and that in the sense used by the Left, it was merely a proxy for suppression of conservative speech.  As always, italics are my interlocutor.]

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Book Review: Strangers In A Strange Land (Charles Chaput)

This is a self-help book.  I don’t mean it’s to be found in the bookstore under the sign “Self-Help,” where people gather to remake their lives by unlocking the secret of costless auto-regeneration.  Rather, this is a self-help book because it, like the famous Kitchener poster, points at the reader and says, “You—there is a problem, and you are the solution.”  Of course, since the author, Charles Chaput, is a bishop (and an archbishop at that), and this is not Pelagianism, the reader is not expected to act in isolation, but with the guidance and help of God.  He is to act nonetheless, and much hinges on what he does.

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Book Review: The Golden Key
(George MacDonald)

This is a very famous book, not quite children’s fairy tale and not quite adult allegory—or rather, it’s both, and more.  As fairy tale and as allegory, it has so light a touch as to be ethereal, combined with a feeling of enormous substance.  There is, for child or adult, little obvious moral, yet the reader is left with a feeling of transcendence.  Quite an accomplishment in what is really just a short story, and doubtless why the book is still famous today.

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Colloquy: On Christian Duty As Related To President Trump’s Executive Order On Immigration

[This is designed to be a colloquy regarding the recent executive order by President Trump, relying on authority granted by Congress to temporarily bar most entry into the US by individuals from seven named, predominantly Muslim, countries.  As always, responses of interlocutors are in italics, color-coded to differentiate different interlocutors.]

The topic here is (as phrased by me; feel free to correct!), “what is the duty of individual Christians, in their personal lives and their political activity, with respect to the matters covered by Trump’s executive order?”  This choice of topic therefore necessarily excludes analysis of the legality/constitutionality of the order and its wisdom as a political matter.

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Book Review: The Great Heresies
(Hilaire Belloc)

For no reason that is fully clear to me, I have always been fascinated by heresies.  It matters to me what the difference between a Monothelite and a Monophysite is.  Hence, I thought this book (from 1938, by the famous Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc) would survey various heresies and would explain, as its title says, the “Great Heresies.”  But that is not what this book is.

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Book Review: C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law (Dyer & Watson)

“C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law” collects in one short book the thoughts of Lewis on human collective action, i.e., politics. The thesis of the authors, Justin Dyer and Micah Watson, is that Lewis believed Christianity implied certain broad conclusions about how politics should be ordered. Moreover, these conclusions are essential to understand Lewis’s overall thought, which is often viewed as divorced from politics, but is in fact very much engaged with politics.

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Book Review: Render Unto Caesar (Charles Chaput)

Charles Chaput, now archbishop of Philadelphia, is probably the most prominent traditionally orthodox Catholic prelate in America. There exists, of course, more than one traditionally orthodox prelate (though fewer now, given that Pope Francis is deliberately reducing their numbers). But Chaput has the talent and drive to operate in the public square, to write and talk on the intersection of Catholic doctrine and public life. In fact, as of this week he has been in the news for a speech on this topic at Notre Dame. And next year, in 2017, he has a new book coming out on “Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.” This book, “Render Unto Caesar,” nearly ten years old, was his first book-length foray into the struggles faced by Christians against attempts to exclude them from the public square. This is a topic that has only become more pressing, and timely, because the day is already late.

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