November 23, 2013
Our poems, songs, and tales give us a sense that there is continuity in history and that we fit into it. But what sort of continuity? And what, if anything, should we do about it? In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky grapples with some of the most compelling meta-narratives that have ever shaped our experience of life as temporal beings.
November 12, 2012
A review of Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists.
Not long ago Starbucks sandwich boards advised us to “Take comfort in ritual”—in this case the diurnal rites of lattés and Frappucinos. It’s clear enough that the Giant of Joe benefits from regular patronage, but less clear is why recommending ritual might not be off-putting to a clientele whose apple of wisdom is to “think different.” Ritual is religious (or is thought to be) and is therefore considered wholly personal. Most Westerners tend to regard its presence in public space with suspicion.
March 2, 2010
A review of Rob Rieman’s Nobility of Spirit.
Joseph Bottum in the New Criterion has commented ably on some of the strengths and the signal weaknesses of Rieman’s book. My concerns here are not intended to overlap substantially with Bottum’s. Indeed, both Riemen’s and Bottum’s observations are well taken. By now, the demise of civilization (whatever this word may mean) is perhaps the greatest cliché among intellectuals everywhere. Mass society, especially perhaps of the American variety, is likely the most perturbing. The eminent Jacques Barzun has had the last word on this grand lament.
February 23, 2010
By Nathan G. Jennings
A review of Gavin Flood’s The Ascetic Self.
What does asceticism have to do with the formation of religious subjectivity? Can asceticism provide a point of comparison between religions? Gavin Flood, in his excellent new volume, The Ascetic Self, answers these questions with the thesis that asceticism is “the internalization of tradition, the shaping of the narrative of a life in accordance with the narrative of tradition that might be seen as the performance of the memory of tradition” (p. ix). Flood treats the literature on asceticism that has accumulated over the past twenty years or so.
February 1, 2010
Peter Augustine Lawler
It’s my pleasure to be able to introduce Nalin Ranasinghe’s Socrates and the Underworld: On Plato’s Gorgias to you as one of the most able, eloquent, noble, profound, and loving books ever written on Socrates. Ranasinghe restores for us the example of a moral hero who inaugurated a moral revolution in opposition to his country’s post-imperial cynicism and nihilism. What Socrates discovered about the human soul remains true for us in our similarly cynical and nihilistic time. Here’s the truth:
January 27, 2010
A review of Is Jesus the Only Savior? by James R. Edwards (Eerdmans, 2005).
Studies have shown that Christian youth are just as likely as their secular, non-believing peers to agree with the statement, “everything is relative.” They may have a deep relationship with Christ and a clear understanding of the basic tenets of Christian orthodoxy, and yet believe simultaneously (and without feeling any cognitive dissonance) that Christ is but one of many paths to God.
January 26, 2010
A review of Edmund Campion: A Life by Evelyn Waugh (Ignatius Press, 2005 [First published by Longmans, 1935])
That the undisputed master of dark humor and satire should have produced what is arguably the most compelling short biography of a saint to date is perhaps even more extraordinary than the claim that, today, both the biography and its author deserve close attention. Indeed, few means serve better to confront the hollow relativism of our age than turning to the conversion of Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) and the life of Edmund Campion (1540-1581), the saintly subject of his 1935 book.
October 29, 2009
A review of Allan C. Carlson’s Third Ways.
Question: What do the author of The Journal of My Brother Alexei to the Land of Peasant Utopia, the corporation of Swedish Socialist Housewives, the Dutch Christian Democratic movement, Hillaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton all have in common? Third ways, apparently. Third ways, apparently. In his book bearing the same title, Allan C. Carlson sketches various movements in twentieth century Europe that—based on Christian values, the appreciation of the family, and agrarian forms of life—provided a way out of the false dichotomy between state-dominated socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.
October 29, 2009
A review of Francis S. Collins’s The Language of God.
The reference to the late Paul Feyerabend is clear immediately, and willfully. I speak of a tale of abstraction. God may be an artist, not a scientist at all. The “language” might be an “evil demon”. Not a bad thought, even if Descartes is a bad example!
First, Francis Collins is a nice guy, a sincere evangelical Christian in thundering contradistinction to his predecessor as the head of the Human Genome Project (HGP), James Watson. Collins is also a fine scientist. Who could not like a guy who rides a motorcycle and plays the guitar? But in The Language of God, Francis Collins is out of his depth.
October 29, 2009
A review of William H. Sheldon’s Psychology and the Promethean Will.
That an oversized reprint of William H. Sheldon’s Psychology and the Promethean Will (1936) should re-surface in this century is both felicitous and perturbing: the former because Sheldon was one of the shrewdest American psychologists of the twentieth century; the latter because his new publisher, Kessinger, deals in, as their advertising trumpets, “rare mystical reprints”. It is not surprising on one level that any effort on the part of a psychologist and medical doctor to be genuinely holistic—to integrate, in this instance, religion, medicine, and psychology after the fashion of William James—should meet with such a fate.