This is not a Muslim conversion memoir. Yes, Islam shows up quite a bit in the discussion, as it must in any book that discusses cultures in the Middle East. But Sohrab Ahmari’s conversion was from atheist materialism, the religion of Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, to Christianity. True, he had converted to that new religion as a teenager, earlier abandoning formal observance of an inculcated Shiite Islam. So Islam, the politics of Islam, and politics in general do show up here. Mostly, though, this book is an simply a well-written and compelling personal narrative of the author’s search for, and finding of, the triune God, and adopting His worship in the form embodied in the Roman Catholic Church.
My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought. My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight. Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left. Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about.
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.
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 …
In today’s world, discussion about morals is a lost art. In part, this is because stupidity is on display everywhere, and encouraged to be so, even though most people’s thoughts and opinions are less than worthless, as a glance at Facebook or The New York Times comment sections will tell you. More deeply, it’s because America is dominated today by the nearly universal (but wholly unexamined) belief that the only legitimate principle of moral judgment is John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”—that no restriction on human action can be justified other than to prevent harm to another. The Righteous Mind is an extended attack on the usefulness of the harm principle as the sole way to understand and justify human morality, combined with detailed explanations of the much broader ways in which people can and do view morality. The author, Jonathan Haidt, uses this framework to understand political differences, and to plead for an increase in rationality and civility to arise from that understanding.
From its title, Theology for a Troubled Believer seems directed at people having a crisis of faith. That’s not precisely true; this is not a work of apologetics. The author, the late Diogenes Allen, did not intend to convert in this work, rather he “intended [it] to increase a critical but pious person’s understanding of the Christian religion.” True, the spur for his writing the book was receiving a letter from a man troubled by the particular problem of theodicy. The book itself, however, is a sophisticated philosophical overview of Christianity in which troubles, as such, play little part. Thus, it might be more accurate if the book’s subtitle, “An Introduction to the Christian Faith,” were the title, and the actual title the subtitle. Either way, the book is substantively excellent, if not an easy read.
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.
“The Evolution Of Everything” is a hard book to review, because it has no substance. Reviewing it is like reviewing a Cliff’s Notes or “For Dummies” book. It is a wholly derivative book, startlingly simplistic and frequently either disingenuous or stupid. What truth the book offers, is obvious, and what truth the book claims is not obvious, is not true.
This is a sprawling mess of a book. Flashes of arguably brilliant insight alternate with meandering musings. Fascinating narrow conclusions are drawn from carefully parsed evidence—and then sweeping conclusions are drawn from highly dubious evidence. Historical insights are used incisively in an argument—then the next argument is undermined by total historical illiteracy. At the end, the reader is left uncertain whether he has read 800 pages of genius, 800 pages of authoritative-sounding-but-meaningless fluff, or something in between. But I’ll go with the last one.
Lord Of The World is a highbrow, Catholic version of Left Behind, written by a priest, Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, in 1907. It is an apocalypse and theologically directed at Catholics, rather than at Protestants of the a premillennial dispensationalism bent. What makes it fascinating is that Pope Francis has repeatedly recommended it, no common thing in an apocalypse and not what you’d expect from a Pope reputed to be a theological liberal, and its predictive views, in 1907, of politics and technology.