It has long been fashionable to regard Christianity as myth, no different in substance than many other ancient myths. Sometimes this is done to glibly dismiss Christ’s message; sometimes it is done in sorrow, viewing, as C. S. Lewis did before his conversion, Christianity as one of many lies, even if was “breathed through silver.” René Girard entirely rejects this idea, offering an anthropological, rather than spiritual, argument for Christianity being a true myth, and for the complete uniqueness of Christianity, as well for as its centrality to the human story. Girard’s appeal is that his framework explains the core of all human societies, and thus explains, at any moment, the present. Therefore, though he died in 2015, Girard says much about America in 2021.
I have always been keenly interested in comparative theology. However, as a recent adherent to Eastern Orthodoxy, I approach analysis, as opposed to knowledge, of Orthodox theology as presumptively above my pay grade. This book combines both. Written by James Payton, a Protestant academic, Light from the Christian East is a fairly accessible text meant primarily to introduce Western Christians to Orthodoxy, and to challenge them to understand and appreciate the Christian faith better through a grasp of Orthodoxy.
Whenever, which is often, I see in the media that “experts say . . . ,” I immediately assume what follows is lies. The utter tone-deafness of using this locution, given that many, if not most, people assume as I do, amazes me. Or it did, until I realized it isn’t actually propaganda. Rather, for the media, the mouthpiece of the Left, the invocation of supposed experts has become an incantation, one that wholly substitutes for reason and by its magic keeps at bay the night, dark and full of terrors. Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never is a counter-spell, a book-length evisceration of environmental “experts,” and although it will have no impact on true believers in the religion of environmental apocalypticism, it strengthens resistance to the alarmists’ war against humanity.
A disease is going around. No, not the Wuhan Plague. This malady only affects the Right, and I name it Scrutonism. The symptoms of Scrutonism are a razor-sharp ability to identify one’s enemies and to understand their plans to destroy us, combined with a complete inability to imagine any way in which those enemies can be defeated. For a sufferer of this disease, his headspace is occupied by nostalgia and fear, in varying proportions—mostly the former in the late Roger Scruton’s case, mostly the latter in Rod Dreher’s case. Scrutonism’s harm is that it makes sufferers ignore the only question that matters for the Right today: what are you willing to do, given that your enemies are utterly committed to destroying you and yours?
Immediately before the Ascension, the last command of Christ to the Apostles was to “make disciples of all nations.” Ever since, at least until very recently, proselytizing has been a core goal of all Christians. This work has often not been easy. Christianity is always counter-cultural, opposed to the inherent dubious tendencies of mankind. Moreover, the history narrated in the Gospels is embedded in the world of first-century Palestine, and that world is starkly alien to most cultures that have been the target of conversion. Such challenges have been met in various ways by Christian missionaries, and by Christianizing conquerors. The Heliand, a ninth-century “gospel harmony” used to persuade the pagan Saxons defeated by Charlemagne to accept Christianity, was one such way.
We all know religious devotion has declined precipitously in America. Most of what religion remains is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is the sherbet of religions, an unsatisfying imitation of the real thing. No doubt this decline is temporary, since the human religious impulse, toward transcendence and final meaning, is too strong to remain unsatisfied. The success, or at least the visibility, of Scientology, a scam with falsifiable and internally incoherent beliefs, shows this clearly enough. I’m not going to beat up on John Travolta and Tom Cruise, though. I instead want to explain the religious principles and structure of a well-run state, and in particular, of the Foundationalist state.
A Time to Die is a small gem of a book which works on two levels. On one level, it is a self-examination for the reader, offering him a glimpse of a very specific kind of life and thought, thereby helping him think about his own death. On another level, it is an examination of the decline of our civilization. The monasteries profiled, and the view of human life and death their monks embody, seem like small wooden lifeboats—tiny, fragile, and tossed on the sea of liquid modernity, mere fragments of the glorious past of French monasticism. But are they as fragile as they seem? Or, if the future turns upward, are they rather the vanguard, seeds of a new thing?
The Japanese author Shūsaku Endō is known primarily for his 1966 masterwork, Silence, about the persecution of Christians in mid-seventeenth-century Japan. The backdrop of Silence is the aftermath of the Shimabara Rebellion, a peasant rebellion crushed in 1638, which erupted in reaction to the vicious suppression of Christianity under the Tokugawa Shogunate, part of the turn of Japan inward. The Samurai focuses on events two decades prior, when Christianity was only partially suppressed, and the Shogunate still somewhat open to contacts with Europe. As with many of Endō’s works, The Samurai focuses on the internal struggles of its protagonists to live a Christian life in circumstances of extreme external and internal pressure and conflict.
New translations of the Bible, targeted at a broad audience and done by individuals, rather than committees, seem to be a growth industry. This book, a translation of the Gospel of Saint Mark, joins, among others, Sarah Ruden’s excellent recent work, The Face of Water, which offers both commentary on translation and translation itself, and David Bentley Hart’s 2018 translation of the entire New Testament. The author, Michael Pakaluk, has done an outstanding job of writing a translation that is not daunting, yet is very enlightening, and this is a book well worth reading.
In recent months, I have talked a great deal about politics and current events. It is time to pivot, for a moment, and talk about something totally different—the eternal. This book is a detailed analysis of Eastern Orthodox views of Christ’s descent into Hades, a core yet obscure Christian doctrine found in both the Nicene Creed and the shorter Apostle’s Creed. It was recommended to me by a friend of mine, a Presbyterian minister, who knows of my particular interest in the areas of theology implicated by this doctrine. And, as expected, the book highlights areas of both commonality and difference among separate branches of Christianity.