All posts filed under: Religion

Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective (Hilarion Alfeyev)

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.

The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs (Martin Mosebach)

This book is, brought to the temporal sphere, Revelation 20:4. “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Martin Mosebach’s The 21 is an exploration and explanation of the twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers killed by Muslims in 2015 for refusing to to apostatize from their Christian belief, a martyrdom made famous by the slickly produced video through which the killers broadcast their bloody work.

From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith (Sohrab Ahmari)

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.

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (Andrew Willard Jones)

Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, I spend my days searching for a useful political program.  Necessarily rejecting all Left philosophies as anti-human and anti-reality, I go searching through the thickets on the Right, where of late various new approaches have arisen, to accompany various old ones that are getting fresh attention.  They do not get much older than the one espoused in this book, Catholic integralism—versions of the idea, in essence, that church and state should be cooperative joint actors in pursuit of a flourishing society, rather than separate spheres of action.  There is a lot to be said for this approach, but as always, its modern proponents spend too much time talking about the past, and too little on how elements of this approach could be used to build the future. Before Church and State is a very detailed examination of the relationship of church and state in the kingdom of Saint Louis IX (r. 1226–1270).  The focus is not so much on the king, although he appears often in the vehicle …

Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name (Leah Libresco)

Creating a social movement is hard.  Creating a social movement of conservatives is even harder, since for the most part progressives derive much of life’s meaning from social action, while conservatives just want to live their lives.  For three years now, Rod Dreher has rung the alarm bell of his Benedict Option, warning that the hour is late, and Moloch is within the gates.  Many are listening and receptive, even eager.  But the Benedict Option faces challenges, of which the first is inertia, since conservatives find it hard to act to change their lives when not directly impelled.  In response, Leah Libresco here outlines an excellent plan to overcome that inertia. When I first started writing this review, I thought I would discuss as well as second challenge—the enemies of the Benedict Option.  But after thought, it is not quite correct that enemies are a challenge that will rise to meet the Benedict Option.  It is more accurate to say that virtue and goodness have enemies and the Benedict Option will be one of their …

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Mark Sedgwick)

This book is an academic study of an obscure movement, Traditionalism.  The name has a specific meaning; it does not mean traditional forms of belief, that is, generically, conservatism.  Rather, “Traditionalism” is a type of Gnosticism, holding that a core of hidden knowledge, contained within all true religion, is the cure for what ails the modern world.  I certainly think that the modern world needs curing, though I don’t think that Traditionalism is what the doctor ordered.  Still, the pull of Gnosticism across time and space must mean something.  But what?  Mark Sedgwick’s book helps us begin to answer that question.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us. . . . (Michael Pollan)

I have led a boring life, at least as measured by the topics covered by this book, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind.  Not only have I never taken any psychedelic drug of any type, I have never taken any illegal drug at all.  Similarly, I have never had any type of mystical experience whatsoever, though I am certainly open to such a thing and have total confidence that many other people have.  Just not me.  But here, as in many matters, others go where I have not tread.  Pollan, famous mostly for books on food, decided to explore drug-induced alterations of consciousness, and this book is the measured result of his spelunking in the caverns of the mind.

Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (Etienne Gilson)

Etienne Gilson is one of those men who shot across the sky of the West in the first half of the twentieth century, and were mostly forgotten by the end of the century, thrown overboard in the general wreck of Christendom.  He combined in his thought any number of now-unfashionable currents:  a love for Roman Catholicism and high medievalism; a focus on Thomistic thought; a dislike for the downsides of the modern world; and many more.  No wonder he has slipped from our memory, or more accurately, been erased by neglect.  But, as with other thinkers from his vanished time, from Carl Schmitt to Henri de Lubac, there are signs his star is rising again (though to some it is a baleful star), so I am here to summarize a little of his thought.

The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity (Timothy Ware)

As I and my family continue our inevitable pivot toward Orthodoxy, I have been reading more works on, you guessed it, Orthodoxy.   This book, by the English theologian Timothy Ware, who as a bishop uses the baptismal name Kallistos, is a classic introduction to Orthodoxy.  It was first published in 1963 but has more recently been revised, so it is fully up to date on history—and doctrine has not changed in Orthodoxy since 1963, or 963, for that matter.  I’ve actually owned the book for several years, but have only now read it, having been told by several people that it is very much worth reading.  And they were right—it is an excellent book.

The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality (Kyriacos C. Markides)

In these days of changing ways, so-called liberated days, it is not only political beliefs that are getting a fresh look from a lot of people, but beliefs about all aspects of human life.  These include the beliefs of traditional Christians in America, whose options for Christ-centered communal worship within an organized framework narrow every day.  The Roman church is both corrupt and led by that man of perdition, Jorge Bergoglio; the degradation of ecclesiastical Protestantism is complete; evangelicals offer only Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or obeisance to Trumpian caesaropapism.  This leaves as the last institution standing the Orthodox Church, which shows no signs of trimming its sails to modernism and for whom Saint John Chrysostom might as well as have died yesterday.  Hence the recent surge in popularity of this 2001 book, a modern exposition of Orthodox spirituality, written by a man with a foot in both the West and the East.