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.
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.
[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.
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.
“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.
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.
Reviewing anything by C.S. Lewis seems presumptuous. Between the fame and erudition of the author, and the endless stream of reviews and analysis by others vastly more qualified, reviewing “The Screwtape Letters” seems like reviewing “Hamlet”—an activity that is likely to offer nothing new, and also to reflect poorly on the reviewer. Every page of “The Screwtape Letters” shows a deep understanding of human nature, as well as an orthodox Christian faith and sensibility. It is impossible to even summarize such a book, and it’s certainly short enough that at least an initial read requires no significant time commitment by the reader, thus further reducing any benefit a reviewer may offer. So I’ll keep this brief, and focus not on the spiritual aspects of the book, which are its main offering, but on Lewis’s prescience about the present day, given that it has been nearly seventy-five years since this book was first published.
I read “Laurus” because Rod Dreher told me to, on his blog at least, and I do everything Rod Dreher says. I was not disappointed. And if you’d like detailed analysis of the book through a much more sophisticated lens than mine, you should search his blog for his many posts on this book.
This book is not a polemic or a book of apologetics; it is instead an exposition of what early Church theologians thought about important topics in Christian belief, and how those thoughts evolved and grew. If you think all theology is merely empty wind or arguments about angels dancing on the head of a pin, this is not the book for you. But if you want to know how early Christians developed their thought about the Trinity, or theological views on Christ being simultaneously fully human and fully divine, or how they viewed faith through the prism of reason, this is the book for you.
Rod Dreher’s latest book is a mix of self-help advice, autobiography, and literary exposition. It sounds odd. It is odd. But it works wonderfully.