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Despite popular belief, the Bible is not the most printed or translated book in the English language, reminded a library special collections expert.
Though the statement very likely will puzzle many people, Richard Clement – head of the Department of Special Collections at the University of Kansas – explained that the Bible was not originally written in English.
Instead, he pointed to the Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, first published in 1678, as the title holder of both the most printed and most translated English book, according to ABC News on Monday.
Pilgrim’s Progress was first translated into Dutch but has since been translated into more than 100 languages.
The book was written by John Bunyan who spent most of his life in jail because he refused to deny his faith and pledge allegiance to the Church of England. He wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in jail.
Perhaps more interestingly, however, is that these two Christian books along with The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren together hold some of the world records for best-selling books in history.
The Bible, with an estimated over 6 billion copies “sold” (publishers say there is no way to track exact copies sold in its lifetime), is by far the best-selling and most translated book in the world.
Meanwhile, the more contemporary Christian book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best selling hardback in U.S. history with more than 30 million copies sold and translated into over 50 languages, according to its publisher Zondervan.
“People are surprised when they hear that the Bible is not only the best-selling book of all-time, but also the best-selling book every year,” said Paul J. Caminiti, vice president and publisher of Bibles at Zondervan, to The Christian Post.
Zondervan is both the world’s leading Bible publisher and the publisher of The Purpose Driven Life.
“Who would have ever thought that a book about finding purpose in one’s life would give Harry Potter a run for his money?” commented Caminiti. “All of this illustrates that people are incurably spiritual, and the best-seller list is further proof.”
More recently, however, militant, atheist writers have been making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of best-seller lists. While some say liberal outrage over the policies of the nation’s born-again president is partly fueling sales, the Rev. Douglas Wilson, senior fellow in theology at New Saint Andrews College, a Christian school in Moscow, Idaho, sees the increase of anti-religion books as a sign of secular panic.
Nonbelievers are finally realizing that, contrary to what they were taught in college, faith is not dead, he told the Associated Press.
According to Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, religion has been one of the fastest-growing categories in publishing in the last 15 years.
Misty Bernall, She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall (Plough/Word 1999). Written by the mother of slain Littleton, Colorado student, Cassie Bernall, whose last words were an affirmation of her belief in God. A chronicle of a daughter’s journey from adolescent turmoil to finding faith in an age of doubt, the book draws on reminiscences of Cassie and others impacted by Cassie’s life and tragic death.
David Aikman, Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century (Word 1998). Aikman, a respected journalist and former TIME Magazine bureau chief in Europe, profiles six extraordinary people who have changed the century by modeling essential, undeniable virtues. With amazing insight, Aikman examines the lives of Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Pope John Paul II, and Elie Wiesel in this book about greatness for a generation without heroes.
Robert Hudnut, Call Waiting: How to Hear God Speak (IVP 1999). The author describes how to listen to God by reviewing stories from Scripture of those who heard God speak to them. For the big decisions and the daily choices, these men and women trusted God to provide direction in their lives. When God spoke, they were listening. Hudnut describes different ways we might hear God’s call today—during times of stress. Short chapters are ideal for devotional reading.
Waller R. Newell, commentary and editing, What Is A Man? (HarperCollins 2000). Each of the eight sections in this volume, from a major secular publisher, addresses one aspect of the shared traditions of manliness—from wisdom to chivalry to nobility. From Aristotle on courage to Sir Thomas Malory on love, honor, and chastity; from Shakespeare on leadership to John Cheever on adolescence; from Jane Austen on pride to Theodore Roosevelt on family life—each contributes perspective to this multifaceted exploration of what it means to be a man. A fascinating retrospective of our culture’s view of the manly virtues.
William J. Bennett, The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (Simon & Schuster 1993). From the author of The De-Valuing of America and The Moral Compass, this has now become a classic reference source and a refresher course for all Americans on the values and traditions that provided the framework for civilization for a thousand years and longer. Chapters cover self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith.
Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (St. Augustine’s Press 1999); Happiness and Contemplation (St. Augustine’s Press 1999); In Defense of Philosophy (Ignatius 1992). Recently gone to his reward, the late Dr. Pieper makes one of the more powerful cases for the poignancy and importance of Classical thought. He combines shrewd intellect with timely cultural observations and a love of the Eternal.
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game; Speaker for the Dead (Tor). Card has established himself as one of the more readable and interesting writers of speculative fiction—he’s also one of the more thoughtful. Ender’s Game is a gripping page-turner that doesn’t require you to check your intellect at the door. Speaker for the Dead brilliantly considers the implications of multi-cultural evangelism in a way few of us have ever imagined.
Stephen Lawhead, Taliesin; Merlin; Arthur (Morrow). Lawhead makes a welcome contribution to the literature surrounding the Arthurian legend. Whether or not you’ve read Malory, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Marie de France, T. H. White, or Mary Stewart, you’ll likely find something new and delightful in Lawhead’s presentation of the “Matter of Britain.”
Plato, The Republic (Bloom translation, Basic 1991). Just read it.
Flannery O’Connor, “The Misfit” (and other stories). Perhaps known best for her short stories, O’Connor may be America’s greatest Christian writer. Her presentation of grace will stretch almost any reader’s understanding—and appreciation.
P. G. Wodehouse, Anything. Wodehouse is the sort of thing you will love if you like that sort of thing. You simply can’t go wrong, unless laughter puts you at risk of injury. Start with the Jeeves tales (such as Enter Jeeves: 15 Early Stories (Dover 1997). The PBS video series Jeeves and Wooster is also worth a gander after you’ve read through the stories.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (multiple editions; also available online) and Lord of the Flies by William Golding (multiple editions). Conrad’s novella, the literary basis for Apocalypse Now (arguably the greatest film of the last quarter century), is the best literary illustration of the essential fact of the human condition: We are fallen and often it is only social convention that keeps us from acting out the basest impulses of our fallen natures. Golding’s novel extends that truth to include children. It is an antidote to the romantic nonsense that turned children into angels without wings.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (multiple editions; also available online). This is a page-turner, if perhaps a second-rate piece of writing. But as E. Michael Jones argues in his book, Monsters From the Id: The rise of horror in fiction and film, Shelley’s novel represents modern man’s repulsion to the morality that was adopted after society jettisoned biblical morality. The Monster stands in for the ills loosed on the world when we rejected the biblical God’s law.
Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain (Random House 1997). The best novel about the Civil War I have ever read. It will transform you to a different time and place. It helped me to appreciate that life before technology was truly worth living, that humans can live well without all the trappings of modern society.
David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon & Schuster 2000). This book will show you why contemporary American culture feels, smells, and sounds like it does.
P. J. O’Rourke, Give War A Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind’s Struggle Against Tryanny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer (Random House 1993). The conservative columnist for Rolling Stone aims his nonconformist—and side-splittingly funny—criticism at such topics as freedom, the 1960s, drug testing, and the Gulf War. The book will help you get behind the pretensions of our culture.
Brenda W. Clough, How Like a God (Tor, 1997). This novel, which can perhaps be classified “contemporary suburban fantasy” takes a computer programmer from suburban Washington, DC (my backyard) with a wife, two kids, and a minivan, and gives him absolutely god-like power over other creatures. A fascinating character study and exploration of ethics, plus a good story. There’s a brand-new sequel, Doors of Death and Life (Tor, 2000) that can be read as a stand-alone if necessary. Clough offers a sensitive portrayal of Christians and the gospel.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Cordelia’s Honor (Baen, 1999). This is an omnibus edition of two novels that make one story. The second won science fiction’s prestigious Nebula Award. Bujold is not a Christian, but she is very sympathetic, and her characters and stories are compelling and well worth pondering. Think of it as a mix of romance, space opera, culture clash, parenthood, and political thriller, with a high ethical component. Very appropriate for its underlying discussion of the bioethics of cloning and reproductive technology.
Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (Bantam, 1998). This is an extremely funny exploration of divine providence and human freedom. Mix Dorothy L. Sayers with P.G. Wodehouse, time travel, and a love story and you begin to get the idea. God really is in the details. Pay attention! Readers with less time and more interest in contemporary society will be interested in her 1997 novella, Bellwether, which deals with modern trends, chaos theory, and why humans act like sheep.
Kathy Tyers, Firebird (Bethany House, 1999). This is an updated and reworked edition of a novel that Tyers previously published with Bantam Spectra; the Christian themes that underlay the original are brought out and more fully dealt with. Good character development, a fast-paced plot, and well written throughout. Buy it if only to convince the CBA market that this caliber of fiction has an audience. Peretti has nothing on Tyers. The sequels are Fusion Fire and Crown of Fire. Recommended without reservation for the BreakPoint audience.
George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie (several editions; also available online). These fairy tales are all-time classics of the Christian imagination. They have the power to change your life. Appropriate for children of all ages. Read them aloud to somebody.
Dava Sobel, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love (Walker & Co. 1999). This memoir uses 124 surviving letters from Galileo’s eldest daughter, Maria Celeste, to paint a vivid picture of his scientific exploration—and his life and faith—in seventeenth-century Italy.
Helen MacInness, While We Still Live (Harcourt Brace 1989). This novel of intrigue is set in 1939 during the fall of Poland. Its vivid, likeable characters and suspenseful plot starkly expose the horrors of Communism.
Beowulf, trans. Burton Raffel (Signet 1999). This is a new modern-language translation of the classic and delightful eighth-century Anglo-Saxon epic poem.
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (Raffel trans., Norton 1999). Raffel’s translation painlessly brings out the real flavor of this great work of humorous satire that chronicles the life of a noble knight-errant and his faithful squire. The Norton Critical edition offers some helpful explanatory notes and essays.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Brian Stone (Viking 1987). In this classic medieval romance, Sir Gawain enters into a bargain to save King Arthur’s court.
Dan DeHaan, The God You Can Know (Moody 1982). I came across this book several summers ago and I found its language captivating. It presented such a clear picture of God and His character. A great book that challenges the mind and refreshes the heart.
Frank Peretti, The Oath (Word 1996). An exciting thriller that explores the reality of sin in the world and the powerful effect it has. A great good vs. evil story.
Steven Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness (InterVarsity 1997). A great book for understanding the critical college years. It addresses the issues that college students face—connecting what is believed about the world with how to live in the world.
Terry W. Glaspey, Children of a Greater God (Harvest House 1995). This book provides an excellent examination of the role that parents can play in helping to develop their children’s moral imagination.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (multiple editions; also available online). This classic novel explores two unadmirable characteristics that define its hero and heroine. Austen traces their transformation into admirable characters with sympathy and an enjoyable British wit.
Chuck Swindoll, Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity (Word 1997). This book provides insight into the life of a godly woman who used her beauty and intelligence to save lives. Esther is one of a series of books on people in the Bible; others include Moses, David, and Joseph. You will be amazed at what you learn about these admirable heroes.
Lois Gladys Leppard, “The Mandie Series” (Bethany House). These are great mysteries for preteen and teenage girls. Turn off your television; these books will encourage your daughters to read—and read and read: there are almost three dozen in print.
Ken Davis and Dave Lambert, Jumper Fables: Strange-but-True Devotions to Jump Start Your Day (Zondervan 1994). This is an excellent and fun book for high schoolers—very relevant and applicable to a young Christian’s life. You will have no need for jumper cables with this book!
Judith Morgan, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography (Da Capo 1995). This book gets inside the mind of the creator of The Cat in the Hat. It provides insight into the genius of his creative mind and discusses the surprising life of Mr. Geisel.
John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Zondervan 1997). Ortberg addresses the spiritual concerns many Christians by modeling his book around commonly asked questions. Ortberg’s anecdotes help us understand how to become more Christ-like. He writes about how to develop a Christ-centered life that will influence every aspect of living.
Richard Adams, Watership Down (Avon Books 1978). This story about rabbit warrens and their dealings with societal organization is a novel for animal lovers that also provides an in-depth look at different political schools of thought. Fiver, along with a few other rabbits, leaves the warren due to a sense of danger, and encounters various other warrens and their political systems.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (Mansfield translation, Chicago 1998). Machiavelli’s ideas contribute greatly to political thought today. He looks closely at the ways a leader obtains power, the means by which he holds it, and the ends to which he seeks.
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn (multiple editions; also available online). This classic is a must-read for everybody. We watch a young boy growing up in society and his run-ins with religion, morality, family, freedom, and justice. Huck struggles with what he feels are restraints that society places on his freedoms, and his struggles are contrasted with those of his friend Jim (a slave), who must deal with the institution of slavery.
Jean-Baptiste Molière, Tartuffe (multiple editions). In this humorous play, a master of French theatre uses his character Tartuffe to reveal the religious hypocrisy he saw in France during the late 1600s. The play will stir up laughter while raising issues about hypocrisy in the church of the Reformation era—and today.
By Mark Earley
1948 was the year the “Big Bang” theory was introduced, the game “Scrabble” was first played, and state of Israel was established. It was also the year that A. W. Tozer wrote The Pursuit of God—a small book, but one that has profoundly influenced Christians for the past 60 years. It has challenged me, and I hope this summer you give it a chance to challenge you.
Ken Boa, who features The Pursuit of God this month in his tremendous “Great Books Audio CD” series, says that Tozer was “a modern mystic who had given priority to the lost art of meditation.” Tozer, a self-taught pastor in the Chicago area, was not known among those in his congregation as the most gregarious man. In fact, it was rumored that Tozer rarely visited his congregants unless they were deathly ill. But his aloofness was simply the product of a man relentlessly chasing after God.
Boa explains that when Tozer prayed, he would often put on a ragged pair of pants—what became known as his “prayer pants”—and spend hours in solitude with God. In fact, it was during one solitary train ride from Chicago to Texas that Tozer penned The Pursuit of God—all of it!
Tozer’s behavior might seem a bit strange to us today, but his words offer timeless significance. In The Pursuit of God, Tozer tramples on mediocrity in the Christian life. He wrote: “The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing.”
Here, Tozer confronts what he called the “tyranny of things”—in other words, the subtle way that materialism can take us captive. He asks readers to consider whether they are willing to walk through sadness, suffering, and solitude in order to know God deeply. This he calls “the blessedness of possessing nothing.”
He explains that man can discover this blessedness only by wholeheartedly running after God. “The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One,” he wrote. “Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness.”
Much of what Tozer had to say slaps modern man in the face. He calls into question the materialism and idolatry that continue to infect our churches and our lives. He asks us to question why we have difficulty spending time in solitude. And, he gives us the opportunity to return to a place of “meekness and rest,” where Christ becomes all that we need.
I highly recommend you pick up this book this summer and read it. It is quite short, but I guarantee you will be surprised by its depth and profundity. But also prepare to be challenged by what it truly means to pursue God.
By Chuck Colson
On his latest “Great Books Audio CD,” Dr. Ken Boa returns to the work of C. S. Lewis, this time examining The Screwtape Letters. In this amusing and delightful book about a demon instructing his nephew in the art of tempting humans, Boa says, Lewis again displays his “wonderful ability to distill so much good theology in such a . . . condensed way.”
Lewis was self-deprecating about his own book—he joked that it was “the sort [of book] that gravitates towards spare bedrooms [or sits on coffee tables], there to live a life of undisturbed tranquility.” But in fact, The Screwtape Letters has been stunningly successful ever since its publication. (Just recently, a dramatic adaptation of the book starring actor Max McLean has done well in both New York and Washington.)
Boa tells us that Lewis got the idea for the book shortly after hearing Adolf Hitler speak on the radio. Lewis marveled at how persuasive even such a tyrant could be. Lewis later wrote to his brother that he planned to write a book presenting “all the psychology of temptation from the other point of view.”
The striking thing about evil and temptation is their sheer ordinariness. Lewis conceived of hell as being something like “the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern”—the sort of place, Boa wryly observes, that most of us are familiar with here on earth.
In the book, the demon Screwtape teaches his young protégé Wormwood how to tempt his human “patient.” Many of these temptations are surprisingly petty. Boa quotes Lewis’s friend and biographer Walter Hooper, who says the book paints “the immortal consequences of seemingly small and insignificant choices in the life of every man.” There are no unimportant choices.
It is our tendency to avoid serious thought, reflection, and self-examination that often leads to our succumbing to temptation. Some of the demons’ most powerful weapons are simply distraction and deception—like convincing us that we are always in the right in whatever we think or do. Screwtape writes of his patient at one point, “You must bring him to a condition where he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who’s ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.” I left the White House realizing that all humans have an infinite capacity for self-rationalization.
It is sobering to realize just how easily, completely, and willingly we can be deceived—about God and about ourselves. It is even more sobering to be reminded that the point of the temptation is to bring the human to a place where he can be totally devoured or absorbed by the ravenous evil spirits. But the great hope of the book lies in the reminder that God is actively working against our spiritual enemy and that His goals for us are very different. As Screwtape spitefully remarks, while the demons consider us “cattle,” God wants to make us into “servants” and ultimately into “sons.”
The demons, in Lewis’s imagination, have no understanding of the love and grace that God has for us. The glorious paradox of The Screwtape Letters is that, through the demon’s jealous and uncomprehending eyes, we ourselves come to understand God’s love and grace all the better.
Adults who want to read the new Harry Potter book but feel embarrassed to admit their fondness for kid lit would do well to consider the words of C. S. Lewis: “Critics who treat adult as a term of approval,” he said, “instead of merely a descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.”
I haven’t read any Harry Potter myself — a problem I hope to correct in the coming weeks — but I have read plenty of C. S. Lewis, and in particular his seven-volume classic, The Chronicles of Narnia. These books of course were written with children in mind, even though Lewis had none of his own. (Isn’t it strange how some of our most popular children’s writers, such as Margaret Wise Brown and Dr. Seuss, were childless?) And they may be best experienced as children, though their aims are as mature as anything found in literature.
That’s because the fundamental purpose of the Narnia stories is to convey the reality of Christian truth — a project that became Lewis’s lifework following his conversion in 1931, after his friends Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien convinced him of it during a nighttime walk. Lewis spent the next 15 years or so giving the lectures and writing the books that would make him the 20th century’s most famous Christian apologist (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, etc.). Then, in 1949, he began writing the Narnia stories in earnest, adding to his reputation.
One of the reasons they succeed as children’s literature is because they are rollicking good stories full of talking animals, dastardly villains, and climactic sword fights. They can be enjoyed as if they were nothing deeper than dashed-off fairy tales. But there’s actually much more than rousing adventure going on in Narnia. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then Narnia is the continuation of Sunday school by different devices. The first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, presents the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Another one, The Magician’s Nephew, recounts the creation and the fall. The last in the series, The Last Battle, describes the end of the world.
Some readers have said that the Narnia stories are Christian allegories — i.e., literary representations of Biblical events. Lewis insisted that he was up to something else. He called the Narnia stories suppositions: “Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would have happened.”
Perhaps this is a distinction that only an English professor like Lewis could love. The bottom line is that readers of the Narnia books are meant to come away with a keener appreciation for what the Bible teaches us. Lewis’s approach works because he doesn’t whack readers over the head with what he’s doing. “Some people,” he once commented,
seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.
When I read the Narnia books to my first-grade son this spring, I didn’t tell him that Aslan the Lion is a Jesus figure, and the connection didn’t dawn upon him. But something tells me that learning about Aslan prepares him to learn about Jesus, which he’ll be doing more and more as he grows older.
It’s also perhaps worth noting that even children who grasp the fundamentals of Narnia will miss a fair bit of what was going on in Lewis’s imagination, like a joke in a Disney movie that’s meant to keep the parents engaged. Lewis happens to pack some rather adult commentary into his tales. I find it hard to see the ape Shift in The Last Battle, for example, as anything other than a satire of Roman Catholicism in general and the papacy in particular. Those menacing Calormenes, who loom large as villains in The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle, resemble Islamic soldiers on the march against Christian Europe. The Silver Chair begins by mocking “co-educational” schools — “what used to be called a ‘mixed’ school; some said it was not nearly so mixed as the minds of the people who ran it.”
The next time my family wanders into Narnia, incidentally, it won’t be through a wardrobe, or a picture hanging on a wall, or any of the other ways in which Lewis says children from our world have made their way into that other one. Our portal won’t be on the printed page — or even on the silver screen (the forthcoming movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe promises to be a box-office smash this December). Instead, it will be via a set of new audiobooks, played on long summer drives: The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, read by the likes of Kenneth Branagh (The Magician’s Nephew), Lynn Redgrave (Prince Caspian), and Patrick Stewart (The Last Battle). I’ve previewed one of them, and it has reconfirmed my belief that actors who “perform” on audiobooks are far preferable to authors who merely “read” their own words.
One thing is certain: Unlike Susan Pevensie — a character in the books who grows up a little too fast — my family plans to return to Narnia as much as possible.
— John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the co-author, most recently, of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books Of The Century” appeared in the May 3, 1999, issue of National Review.
Earlier this year, Random House announced that it would release a list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. The publisher had enjoyed success (and controversy) with its 100 best novels; now it would do this. Here at National Review, we decided to get a jump on them by forming our own panel and offering our own list. Under the leadership of our reporter John J. Miller, we have done so. We have used a methodology that approaches the scientific. But-certainly beyond, say, the first 40 books-the fact of the books’ presence on the list is far more important than their rankings. We offer a comment from a panelist after many of the books; but the panel overall, not the individual quoted, is responsible for the ranking. So, here is our list, for your enjoyment, mortification, and stimulation.
Richard Brookhiser, NR senior editor; David Brooks, senior editor of The Weekly Standard; Christopher Caldwell, senior writer at The Weekly Standard; Robert Conquest, historian; David Gelernter, writer and computer scientist; George Gilder, writer; Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School; Jeffrey Hart, NR senior editor; Mark Helprin, novelist; Arthur Herman, author of The Idea of Decline in Western History; John Keegan, military historian; Michael Kelly, editor of National Journal; Florence King, author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady; Michael Lind, journalist and novelist; John Lukacs, historian; Adam Meyerson, vice president at the Heritage Foundation; Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things; John O’Sullivan, NR editor-at-large; Richard Pipes, historian; Abigail Thernstrom, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Stephan Thernstrom, historian; James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense.
1. The Second World War, Winston S. Churchill
Brookhiser: “The big story of the century, told by its major hero.”
2. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Neuhaus: “Marked the absolute final turning point beyond which nobody could deny the evil of the Evil Empire.”
3. Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
Herman: “Orwell’s masterpiece-far superior to Animal Farm and 1984. No education in the meaning of the 20th century is complete without it.”
4. The Road to Serfdom, F. A. von Hayek
Helprin: “Shatters the myth that the totalitarianisms ‘of the Left’ and ‘of the Right’ stem from differing impulses.”
5. Collected Essays, George Orwell
King: “Every conservative’s favorite liberal and every liberal’s favorite conservative. This book has no enemies.”
6. The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper
Herman: “The best work on political philosophy in the 20th century. Exposes totalitarianism’s roots in Plato, Hegel, and Marx.”
7. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis
Brookhiser: “How modern philosophies drain meaning and the sacred from our lives.”
8. Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset
Gilder: “Prophesied the 20th century’s debauchery of democracy and science, the barbarism of the specialist, and the inevitable fatuity of public opinion. Explained the genius of capitalist elites.”
9. The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. von Hayek
O’Sullivan: “A great re-statement for this century of classical liberalism by its greatest modern exponent.”
10. Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman
11. Modern Times, Paul Johnson
Herman: “Huge impact outside the academy, dreaded and ignored inside it.”
12. Rationalism in Politics, Michael Oakeshott
Herman: “Oakeshott is the 20th century’s Edmund Burke.”
13. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph A. Schumpeter
Caldwell: “Locus classicus for the observation that democratic capitalism undermines itself through its very success.”
14. Economy and Society, Max Weber
Lind: “Weber made permanent contributions to the understanding of society with his discussions of comparative religion, bureaucracy, charisma, and the distinctions among status, class, and party.”
15. The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
Caldwell: “Through Nazism and Stalinism, looks at almost every pernicious trend in the last century’s politics with stunning subtlety.”
16. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
Kelly: “For its writing, not for its historical accuracy.”
17. Sociobiology , Edward O. Wilson
Lind: “Darwin put humanity in its proper place in the animal kingdom. Wilson put human society there, too.”
18. Centissimus Annus, Pope John Paul II
19. The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn
Neuhaus: “The authoritative refutation of utopianism of the left, right, and points undetermined.”
20. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Helprin: “An innocent’s account of the greatest evil imaginable. The most powerful book of the century. Others may not agree. No matter, I cast my lot with this child.” Caldwell: “If one didn’t know her fate, one might read it as the reflections of any girl. That one does know her fate makes this as close to a holy book as the century produced.”
21. The Great Terror, Robert Conquest
Herman: “Documented for the first time the real record of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. A genuine monument of historical research and reconstruction, a true epic of evil.”
22. Chronicles of Wasted Time, Malcolm Muggeridge
Gilder: “The best autobiography, Christian confession, and historic meditation of the century.”
23. Relativity, Albert Einstein
Lind: “The most important physicist since Newton.”
24. Witness, Whittaker Chambers
Caldwell: “Confession, history, potboiler-by a man who writes like the literary giant we would know him as, had not Communism got him first.”
25. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn
26. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Neuhaus: “The most influential book of the most influential Christian apologist of the century.”
27. The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet
28. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.
Helprin: “The infinite riches of the world, presented with elegance, confidence, and economy.”
29. Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell
30. The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton
Lukacs: “A great carillonade of Christian verities.”
31. Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton
O’Sullivan: “How to look at the Christian tradition with fresh eyes.”
32. The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling
Hart: “The popular form of liberalism tends to simplify and caricature when it attempts moral aspiration-that is, it tends to ‘Stalinism.’”
33. The Double Helix, James D. Watson
Herman: “Deeply hated by feminists because Watson dares to suggest that the male-female distinction originated in nature, in the DNA code itself.”
34. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Phillips Feynman
Gelernter: “Outside of art (or maybe not), physics is mankind’s most beautiful achievement; these three volumes are probably the most beautiful ever written about physics.”
35. Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, Tom Wolfe
O’Sullivan: “Wolfe is our Juvenal.”
36. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Albert Camus
37. The Unheavenly City, Edward C. Banfield
Neuhaus: “The volume that began the debunking of New Deal socialism and its public-policy consequences.”
38. The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
39. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
40. The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama
41. Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker
42. The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter
Herman: “The single best book on American history in this century, bar none.”
43. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes
Hart: “Influential in suggesting that the business cycle can be modified by government investment and manipulation of tax rates.”
44. God & Man at Yale, William F. Buckley Jr.
Gilder: “Still correct and prophetic. It defines the conservative revolt against socialism and atheism on campus and in the culture, and reconciles the alleged conflict between capitalist and religious conservatives.”
45. Selected Essays, T. S. Eliot
Hart: “Shaped the literary taste of the mid-century.”
46. Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver
47. The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs
48. The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom
49. Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell
50. An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal
51. Three Case Histories, Sigmund Freud
Gelernter: “Beyond question Freud is history’s most important philosopher of the mind, and he ranks alongside Eliot as the century’s greatest literary critic. Modern intellectual life (left, right, and in-between) would be unthinkable without him.”
52. The Struggle for Europe, Chester Wilmot
53. Main Currents in American Thought, Vernon Louis Parrington
King: “An immensely readable history of ideas and men. (Skip the fragmentary third volume-he died before finishing it.)”
54. The Waning of the Middle Ages, Johann Huzinga
Lukacs: “Probably the finest historian who lived in this century. “
55. Systematic Theology, Wolfhart Pannenberg
Neuhaus: “The best summary and reflection on Christianity’s encounter with the Enlightenment project.”
56. The Campaign of the Marne, Sewell Tyng
Keegan: “A forgotten American’s masterly account of the First World War in the West.”
57. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Hart: “A terse summation of the analytic method of the analytic school in philosophy, and a heroic leap beyond it.”
58. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Bernard Lonergan
Glendon: “The Thomas Aquinas of the 20th century.”
59. Being and Time, Martin Heidegger
Hart: “A seminal thinker, notwithstanding his disgraceful error of equating National Socialism with the experience of ‘Being.’”
60. Disraeli, Robert Blake
Keegan: “Political biography as it should be written.”
61. Democracy and Leadership, Irving Babbitt
King: “A conservative literary critic describes what happens when humanitarianism over takes humanism.”
62. The Elements of Style, William Strunk & E. B. White
A. Thernstrom: “If only every writer would remember just one of Strunk & White’s wonderful injunctions: ‘Omit needless words.’ Omit needless words.”
63. The Machiavellians, James Burnham
O’Sullivan: “Burnham is the greatest political analyst of our century and this is his best book.”
64. Reflections of a Russian Statesman, Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev
King: “The ‘culture war’ as seen by the tutor to the last two czars. A Russian Pat Buchanan.”
65. The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin
66. Roll, Jordan, Roll, Eugene D. Genovese
Neuhaus: “The best account of American slavery and the moral and cultural forces that undid it.”
67. The ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound
Brookhiser: “An epitome of the aging aesthetic movement that will be forever known as modernism.”
68. The Second World War, John Keegan
Hart: “A masterly history in a single volume.”
69. The Making of Homeric Verse, Milman Parry
Lind: “Genuine discoveries in literary study are rare. Parry’s discovery of the oral formulaic basis of the Homeric epics, the founding texts of Western literature, was one of them.”
70. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling, Angus Wilson
Keegan: “A life of a great author told through the transmutation of his experience into fictional form.”
71. Scrutiny , F. R. Leavis
Hart: “Enormously important in education, especially in England. Leavis understood what one kind of ‘living English’ is.”
72. The Edge of the Sword, Charles de Gaulle
Brookhiser: “A lesser figure than Churchill, but more philosophical (and hence, more problematic).”
73. R. E. Lee, Douglas Southall Freeman
Conquest: “The finest work on the Civil War.”
74. Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises
75. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
Neuhaus: “A classic conversion story of a modern urban sophisticate.”
76. Balzac, Stefan Zweig
King: “On the joys of working one’s self to death. The chapter ‘Black Coffee’ is a masterpiece of imaginative reconstruction.”
77. The Good Society, Walter Lippmann
Gilder: “Written during the Great Depression. A corruscating defense of the morality of capitalism.”
78. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
Lind: “For all the excesses of the environmental movement, the realization that human technology can permanently damage the earth’s environment marked a great advance in civilization. Carson’s book, more than any other, publicized this message.”
79. The Christian Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan
Neuhaus: “The century’s most comprehensive account of Christian teaching from the second century on.”
80. Strange Defeat, Marc Bloch
Herman: “A great historian’s personal account of the fall of France in 1940.”
81. Looking Back, Norman Douglas
Conquest: “Fascinating memoirs of a remarkable writer.”
82. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams
83. Poetry and the Age, Randall Jarrell
Caldwell: “The book for showing how 20th- century poets think, what their poetry does, and why it matters.”
84. Love in the Western World
Brookhiser: “What has become of eros over the last seven centuries.”
85. The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk
86. Wealth and Poverty, George Gilder
87. Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson
88. Henry James, Leon Edel
King: “All the James you want without having to read him.”
89. Essays of E. B. White , E. B. White
Gelernter: “White is the apotheosis of the American liberal now spurned and detested by the Left (and the cultural mainstream). His mesmerized devotion to the objects of his affection-his family, the female sex, his farm, the English language, Manhattan, the sea, America, Maine, and freedom, in descending order-is movingly absolute.”
90. Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov
91. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
92. Darwin’s Black Box, Michael J. Behe
Gilder: “Overthrows Darwin at the end of the 20th century in the same way that quantum theory overthrew Newton at the beginning.”
93. The Civil War, Shelby Foote
94. The Way the World Works, Jude Wanniski
Gilder: “The best book on economics. Shows fatuity of still-dominant demand-side model, with its silly preoccupation with accounting trivia, like the federal budget and trade balance and savings rates, in an economy with $40 trillion or so in assets that rise and fall weekly by trillions.”
95. To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson
Herman: “The best single book on Karl Marx and Marx’s place in modern history.”
96. Civilisation, Kenneth Clark
97. The Russian Revolution, Richard Pipes
98. The Idea of History, R. G. Collingwood
99. The Last Lion, William Manchester
100. The Starr Report, Kenneth W. Starr
Hart: “A study in human depravity.”
By Gina R. Dalfonzo
A good deal has been written in recent years about the deplorable state of the Christian literary world (see also here). Yet among the formulaic novels, the glut of self-help manuals, and the diet books (What Would Jesus Eat?) are some encouraging trends that many critics tend to overlook. One such trend is the steady popularity of a brilliant yet highly readable 20th-century Oxford don who, as his friend Chad Walsh wrote, “called himself a dinosaur but . . . seems to speak to people where they are.”
Even the most poorly stocked Christian bookstore is likely to carry a few titles by C. S. “Jack” Lewis; the bigger ones often devote several shelves to him. A proliferation of books like Reading the Classics with C. S. Lewis; The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life; and Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis suggest an almost inexhaustible market for all things Lewis. (They also suggest that the purveyors of the Christian pulp fiction and nonfiction may be underestimating their audience.)
A noteworthy addition to this field is David Downing’s The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith. (I should mention here that the author’s wife, Dr. Crystal Downing, was one of my undergraduate professors.) Downing, an English professor at Elizabethtown College, has taken an unusual and valuable approach to his subject. He examines Lewis’s first 30 years, until his conversion to Christianity, thus ending his book at what many current Lewis studies use as their jumping-off point.
Lewis himself covered the same territory in his book Surprised by Joy (1952) in order to “tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity.” However, as Lewis admitted, in this book he concentrated on the events he thought most important to his spiritual development — biographer George Sayer points out that fully a third of the book deals with his six years in boarding school — leaving out quite a lot that might be considered “important by ordinary biographical standards.” (One of his friends quipped that the book should have been titled Suppressed by Jack.)
Downing, understandably, is able to provide a much more objective and thorough presentation of Lewis’s early years, even though he too focuses on spiritual events. Lewis’s pilgrimage to faith was not at all a conventional one, at least for the contemporary reader who tends to see faith primarily as an emotional affair. Not that Lewis was devoid of emotion by any means — one of the strongest motivations for his spiritual explorations was the intense experiences of joy, referred to in the title of his own book, that visited him from childhood onward. Yet it was his probing mind that kept leading him from one philosophy to the next, in search of a worldview that would satisfy him.
Raised as an Irish Protestant, young Jack Lewis abandoned his already weak childhood faith during his years in boarding school, after his mother’s death, and embraced atheism and materialism. But as Downing demonstrates, the bold new philosophies that tantalized Lewis’s intellect left his imagination hungry. He would write later, “Nearly all that I loved [such as poetry and mythology] I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.”
Downing vividly portrays this conflict as central to Lewis’s religious quest, exploring his early writings for clues to his thinking, and tracing connections between them and Lewis’s later works. (He finds it telling, for example, that the materialistic seventeen-year-old Lewis tried his hand at a romantic epic, “The Quest of Bleheris” — and put a Christ figure in it, to boot.) When “his mind was not able to rest on pure materialism” — when his imagination would no longer let him believe that matter is all that exists — he went on to embrace dualism, idealism, and then pantheism, trying to understand the relationship of the “reason, revelation and romanticism” that influenced his thinking.
Downing gives a much fuller and more helpful explanation of these philosophies than Lewis himself did in his own book. He also shows how Lewis’s gradual acceptance of theism and then Christianity finally resolved the lifelong struggle in his mind, bringing together the various aspects of his thinking as no other philosophy had. He was helped immensely by a conversation with his friends J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, who believed that Christ’s incarnation was the literal fulfillment of the ancient myths that Lewis had always loved, but which he had thought had no relation to reality. “In Christianity, the true myth to which all the others were pointing,” Downing writes, “Lewis found a worldview that he could defend as both good and real. It was a faith grounded in history and one that satisfied even his formidable intellect.”
Finally, he surrendered his will — which, both Lewis and Downing suggest, may have been at the very root of the problem all along. Lewis’s own description of that decision is almost comically brief, considering it serves as the climax of his book: “I was driven to Whipsnade [in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle] one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.” By contrast, the same scene is the most moving in Downing’s book, as he allows himself to speculate on what might have passed through Lewis’s mind as the pieces of a great puzzle began to fall into place for him and he began to comprehend the freedom to be found in surrender.
Opening himself up to God, as many besides Downing have observed (especially Dr. Armand Nicholi in The Question of God), transformed Lewis as a person and as a writer — humbling his pride, teaching him a new respect for and enjoyment of his fellow human beings, and stimulating his creativity to new heights. Walter Hooper, Lewis’s secretary for a short time, summed him up as “the most thoroughly converted man I ever met,” and Downing adds that he “seems to have been one of those rare souls who could combine goodness and greatness.”
This view of Lewis suggests that it is more than just his clear and logical explanations and appealing personality that fascinate his readers. The rigors of his spiritual journey and the fact that he took so much convincing to come to Christianity gave him a more complete understanding of his faith than almost any other twentieth-century writer, as well as a sympathy with the spiritual struggles of others. In explaining Lewis’s own struggle and how it shaped him, Downing helps us understand why so many restless searchers can identify with his arguments — and why Christian readers fed up with the shallowness, sentimentality, and glib answers in too many other books will continue to be irresistibly drawn to him.
— Gina R. Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint Online and a graduate student at George Mason University.
An NRO Symposium
As Jeffrey Hart notes elsewhere on NRO, Christmas can bring out the best writing in people. We asked some NR/NRO family members and friends for their favorite Christmas scenes in the books. Here’s what they told us. Enjoy. And, of course, Merry Christmas.
There are some splendid narrative scenes of Christmas celebrations, the best known probably being the story of the Cratchit family’s Christmas, and the story of a succession of Christmases from the perspective of a Welsh child who grew up to be a marvelous poet and a fatally undisciplined man. But the account I find myself quoting most often at this time of year is by the English poet John Betjeman. He depicts all the pre-Christmas bustle in village, town, and city — the decoration of private homes and provincial town halls and London shops; the gift-buying by even the least filial of young men and women; and — for his account is not of a wholly secular Christmas — the greening of a village church and the ringing of bells on Christmas morning. Whereupon, after five stanzas of gentle irony, the narrator suddenly asks: “And is it true?” Did “the Maker of the stars and sea,” he asks, really “become a Child on earth for me?” For if He did, the narrator concludes, none of it — not the silliest gifts, nor the warmest love within a family (no, not even Tiny Tim), nor the loveliest church service —
Can with this single Truth compare —
That God was Man in Palestine
And Lives today in Bread and Wine.
— Linda Bridges is a contributing editor of National Review.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this if I am past all hope?”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it, “your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has some treacle, a lot of wonderful stuffing and sauce, and also the most important message of the season: the promise of hope over determinism and hardness of heart, if we will only listen.
— Richard Brookhiser is senior editor of National Review. His most recent book is America’s First Dynasty.
Comic: The bathroom encounter from Chapter 6 of William Boyd’s A Good Man in Africa. The plot is so hilariously convoluted I can’t give a full mise en scène. Suffice it to say that the protagonist, Morgan Leafy, is a minor functionary at a British diplomatic mission in a godforsaken West African country. Just at Christmas time, the station is honored with a state visit by the Duchess of Ripon, an elderly member of the royal family. Morgan has to dress up as Santa Claus. He also has to manhandle a decomposing corpse and blow up a car (I told you it was complicated). It ends with Morgan, in full Santa costume, hiding behind a bathtub shower curtain while the unsuspecting Duchess relieves herself a few inches away. Then she decides to take a shower...
Tragic: The almost unbearable end of Part I in Vera Brittain’s autobiography Testament of Youth, which encapsulates all the grief, horror, and disillusion that came upon Europe in 1914. Vera’s first love has gone off to the war, but has managed to get leave for Christmas. She sits up all day waiting for him. When he doesn’t arrive or contact her, she assumes that difficulties of travel and telegraph on a combined Sunday and Christmas Day have delayed him, and she goes to bed still full of anticipation. Next morning she gets a call from his family: He had died of wounds on December 23.
— John Derbyshire is a columnist for NRO and NR contributing editor. He is the author of Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, among other books.
S. T. Karnick
The climactic scene in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” captures the spirit of Advent in a fascinating way. Throughout the story, Doyle has repeatedly returned to the tale’s central image, a great, precious stone, the famous Blue Carbuncle, that was stowed away in the crop of a goose. This image strongly evokes thoughts of two much-greater jewels: the kingdom of Heaven, which is described in Matthew 13:45-46 as a pearl “of great value,” and Jesus Christ.
The Bible describes Jesus as the capstone or cornerstone in Luke 20:17, and Jesus describes himself and his words as “the rock” in Matthew 7:24-25. Just as a precious stone is indestructible, so are Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven, and Christ is established in Scripture as eternal. Like the carbuncle, the key to the kingdom of Heaven was kept for a time in the corruptible body of an earthly being. The goose is humble and not overly attractive in physical terms, as Scripture establishes Christ to have been, and it is made to be eaten, a parallel to the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion. Finally, Doyle evokes both the Transfiguration and Resurrection of Christ when the Blue Carbuncle is let out of its place of confinement after several days and allowed to sparkle in all its glory:
Holmes unlocked his strongbox and held up the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold, brilliant, many-pointed radiance.
Further confirming that Doyle knew what he was doing in this story is the message of mercy Holmes sends by letting the prisoner escape at the end:
I suppose that I am committing a felony [Holmes says], but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. . . . Besides, it is the season of forgiveness.
The story, especially this scene, suggests just why we need a Savior, what He is like, and what that means about how we should treat one another. With this deeper meaning waiting within, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is a wonderful Christmas gift in itself.
— S. T. Karnick is editor-in-chief of American Outlook, published by the Hudson Institute.
Religion is the opiate of the people? Whoever said that — Marx, possibly, although I’ve never been able to find the source — didn’t know the liturgical calendar. Just three days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents. In the King James Bible:
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men [fearing a rival, Herod had asked the magi to lead him to the infant whose birth they had traveled from the East to celebrate], was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
We tend to think of Christmas in the terms Charles Dickens invented. Family gatherings, carols, the aroma of turkey and roast beef in the oven — Christmas is all that. But it is not only that. “Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted.” How spare. How hard. The mystery of pain — in our own time, the Holocaust, the tens of millions who suffered under Communism, the scandal of abortion — somehow, the Church insists, it is all present at the Nativity.
— Peter Robinson, a research fellow at the It’s My Party: A Republican’s Messy Love Affair with the GOP and host of the PBS program Uncommon Knowledge.
NEW YORK — This fall, in churches throughout America, worshippers are hitting the books to search for answers to the question: “What on Earth am I here for?” But it’s not the book you might think of.
Last month, over 4,000 churches began a 40-day campaign to explore the ideas about faith and the meaning of life presented in Rick Warren’s bestseller, “The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?”
Advocates say the program, used at Christian churches across many denominations, is revitalizing faith at parishes. But critics are skeptical of the self-help approach to spirituality.
The book is a how-to guide for living a Christian life. Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., lays out five main God-centered “purposes” meant to give meaning to people’s lives — worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism.
“To discover your purpose in life, you must turn to God’s word, not the world’s wisdom,” he writes as he goes on to link each of the five purposes to Biblical Scriptures.
The book is reaching people seeking a higher purpose, while also offering Christians a new understanding and relevance for their faith, according to Rick Stillwell, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church near Shawnee, Okla., whose parish is participating in the Purpose-Driven campaign.
“One of the greatest challenges we face is showing the relevance of God to our lives today,” said Stillwell. “‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ is not a fad. Although it’s very professional and organized, it’s still transforming lives.”
However, Kenda Creasy Dean, an assistant professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, views the campaign mostly as savvy marketing by the book’s publisher, Zondervan.
“This book is designed to help church leaders lead the life they preach about, but the danger is that there is no one-size-fits-all method of spiritual formation,” she said.
There’s no doubt that “The Purpose-Driven Life” has touched a nerve. The book has sold over 8 million copies since it came out in October 2002. When it was released, the publisher launched the first “40 Days of Purpose” campaign in which 1,500 churches participated. This year, the campaign was re-launched and more than twice as many churches signed up.
Churches officially participating in the campaign paid a registration fee from $750 to $1,150, depending on the size of the church, which included a resource kit of sermon outlines, videos, group curricula and promotional materials.
As part of the campaign, churches have organized weekly sermons and formed small groups to discuss the book’s topics. Every day, church members read one of the book’s brief chapters on their own, and each week, one of the five main purposes is introduced at the Sunday service.
Teri Sowinski of Union City, Ind., leads a small group at her home and said she enjoys bringing people together who are at different stages of their faith.
“It’s rejuvenating to bring those who might feel burned out with their faith together with many who haven’t been to church in years,” she said.
“We’re learning how to put our faith into practice beyond Sunday mornings,” said Sowinski, who is working on a Christmas mission project because of the book.
As the campaign nears its end, she is also seeing an energized spirit at church. At the coffee fellowship between Sunday services the room is so crowded, it’s hard to get inside, she said.
Stillwell’s parish is also experiencing growth as a result of the Purpose-Driven campaign.
“We’re seeing people of those hard-to-reach ages coming and taking a new approach to things they might have been turned off by before,” said Stillwell.
Dean said “The Purpose-Driven Life” has essentially given churches strategy for reaching parishioners who have become disenchanted. In the last half of the 20th century, she said, churches have become more like corporations, and in the process “have lost their soul.”
“The truth is that many churches are so rudderless that any intentional plan or sense of direction is an improvement, which is partly why Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven” language is so appealing,” she said.
And despite its appeal, Dean said the book’s message is not new.
“It’s really just back to the basic biblical principals,” she said.
Whatever the reason for its popularity, Stillwell contends that the campaign and the book are having a positive effect merely by bringing parishes together again.
“People for the first time in decades are recognizing church as a community of people.”
Christians and the constitutional landscape
By Kathy Shaidle
Judicial Activism: A Threat to Democracy and Religion is a timely essay collection surveys the bleak Charter-crazy culture in which Canadian Christians are presently obliged to exist. Distinguished lawyers, activists and academics revisit recent notorious court cases that illustrate Chief Justice Antonio Lamer’s chilling, matter-of-fact observation that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had effectively rendered Canada a secular society.
To many of us, this litany of decisions is depressingly familiar, and the details never fail to raise the blood pressure. We look once again at the Vriend case:
“Vriend was a chemistry teacher at King’s University College in Edmonton. The school, citing a conflict between his flaunted homosexuality and its Christian principles, dismissed him. His subsequent human rights suit seemed to have a critical defect: the Alberta Human Rights Code did not protect homosexuality...” No matter: “Thereupon an Alberta judge read ‘sexual orientation’ into the provincial code...”
And at that of Scott Brockie, the Toronto printer who refused to print materials for the Gay and Lesbian Archives, and who finally conceded defeat, $100,000 poorer.
“What next?” asks contributor Rory Lieshman. “Will some court contrive to find some pretence under the Charter for a ruling that a faithful Christian has no right to refuse a print order from an organization dedicated to destroying innocent human life?”
We read again about the Marc Hall “gay prom” case and Chamberlain vs. Surrey, in which a judge sided against a group of parents who objected to the gay-themed picture books on their children’s kindergarten curriculum.
And we’re reminded that the Saskatchewan Human Rights tribunal ordered, “Evangelical Protestant Hugh Owens to Pay $4,500 in damages to three gay men who were offended by an advertisement he took out in The Saskatoon Star Phoenix that contained a pictograph of two men holding hands superimposed with a circle and a slash — as well as a list of Bible verses condemning the practice of homosexuality.”
“The same fate,” Lieshman warns, “threatens all Canadians who uphold the traditional principles of Judeo-Christian morality: anyone who so much as prints or publishes a statement opposing gay marriage now runs the risk of harassment by Canada’s human rights police and their enforcers in the courts.
“Ultimately, though, it’s our cynical and craven politicians who are responsible for this travesty of justice. It is they who are allowing our masters in the courts to invoke Canada’s so-called human rights codes and the misconceived Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms...”
Lieshman’s is characteristic of the book’s outraged, occasionally high-handed tone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; we Canadians could stand a bit of the hyperbolic political rhetoric that thrives south of the border. Better to be hot or cold than lukewarm, as Christ told St. John.
But such books (like The Death of Right and Wrong, by U.S. author Tammy Bruce) proffer outrage with one hand and solutions with the other: people to complain to, companies to boycott. One gleans a little hope that a sort of Christian counterculture is thriving out there, somewhere.
Now, Judicial Activism is a valuable book for anyone looking for the facts about these historic Canadian cases, and other debate ammunition. Political science professor emeritus Edward J. McBride emerges as a fine phrase-maker and Ian Hunter is always a joy to read, but ultimately, Judicial Activism is disheartening, perhaps unavoidably. Scripture is quoted wisely throughout, and readers are left to wonder whether the only response left for us, as we watch the culture wars rumble on, is to hunker down in our closets and pray.
To order a copy contact the Life Ethics Information Centre at 416-204-9601 or email Catholic@catholicinsight.com.
Kathy Shaidle is a writer / author / blogger whose web site can be found at http://www.relapsedcatholic.blogspot.com/.
by N. T. Wright
This is unquestionably the Book of the Moment in religious studies — hailed by preachers and lay scholars, Protestant and Catholic alike — and deservedly so. It makes the forceful and persuasive argument that the resurrection of Jesus is not just historically plausible, but in fact the most plausible existing explanation of how the early Christian message came to be believed. It is that rare theological book that combines academic depth and rigor with a lucid style that is not just accessible, but compelling, to the average educated layman.
The problem Wright sets out to address is this. After Jesus was crucified, his followers came to the near-unanimous conclusion that he had risen from the dead. How, in the context of the Rome-dominated ancient Near East, could they have come to believe this — and how could they have persuaded others to do the same? The commonly held view among skeptical scholars today is that the disciples were using symbolic language of bodily resurrection to represent their sense of Jesus’ continued importance. In short, they invented stories of Jesus’ empty tomb and post-death appearances as a metaphor, of the kind that their credulous cultural world would spontaneously have generated.
To investigate how this could have happened, Wright engages in a detailed historical analysis of the thought patterns of the Hellenistic world, and of the Jewish theology of the period. But what he discovers is that the idea of a bodily resurrection, far from being an idea swirling in the cultural air and ready to be used by the Christians, was actually a dramatic innovation with virtually no popular or elite support. Not among the Greeks: “Neither in Plato nor in the major [Greek] alternatives . . . do we find any suggestion that resurrection, the return to bodily life of the dead person, was either desirable or possible.” Nor among the Jews:
Israel as a whole would be vindicated [at the end of time]. But nobody imagined that any individuals had already been raised, or would be raised in advance of the great last day. There are no traditions about prophets being raised to new bodily life . . . There are no traditions about a Messiah being raised to life . . . The world of Judaism had generated, from its rich scriptural origins, a rich variety of beliefs about what happened, and would happen, to the dead. But it was quite unprepared for the new mutation that sprang up, like a totally unexpected plant, within the already well-stocked garden.
So the claims about Jesus really were, to use Paul’s phrase, folly to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. If the disciples really were just trying to find metaphorical language for their religious experience, such language was in fact ready to hand in both Greek and Jewish traditions. To impress the Greeks, they could have spoken of the exaltation of Jesus’ divine spirit while his body moldered in the grave; to impress the Jews, they could have said Jesus was transported up to heaven like the prophet Elijah. But what they did instead was tell a story that could not have been better calculated to offend their listeners — and to alienate them from the message. If it was a lie or a metaphor, it was one that was spectacularly ill devised for its purpose.
Which leads all but inescapably to the conclusion that the early Christians spread this message because . . . they believed it. And Wright provides hundreds of pages of gripping scriptural exegesis that proves precisely this: The writers of the New Testament, and the earliest Christians as a whole, believed with virtual unanimity that Jesus had been bodily resurrected. That they went from an impossibility to a certainty, and persisted in that certainty, strongly indicates that something really happened. And if we ask what it was, no more convincing answer has yet been given than the one the disciples gave from the very beginning.
This is powerful stuff, and deserves the widest possible audience. Does it “prove” the resurrection? That’s the wrong question to ask, because the skeptic’s standards of proof are notoriously elastic. What this book does do is force the present age to confront evidence, and to be as skeptical about dismissals of the resurrection as it is inclined to be about the resurrection itself. The audiences addressed by Peter and Paul were skeptical too — and thousands came to believe in their message.
Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Anthony DeStefano, executive director of A Travel Guide to Heaven. He discussed his first book just before Christmas with NRO.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: However do you know enough about heaven to write a travel guide? You get some special deal with God that eludes the rest of us? Will you get a professional discount when your time comes?
DeStefano: I don’t care about getting a discount, I just hope He lets me in! What I really want is for the book to do so well and for it to help so many people, that God, in His infinite mercy, decides to, shall we say, overlook some of my more my more unpleasant character defects and some of my more flagrant violations of his commandments! But my wife thinks I’m trying to pull a fast one on God and that it’s not going to work. She may be right!
Seriously though, I’m not one of those New Age gurus, nor am I a television psychic, nor a palm reader, nor do I claim to talk to the dead. I’m actually a very skeptical person. I wasn’t even brought up in a very religious household. Everything I’ve come to believe about my faith has been the result of a painstaking examination of the tenets of Christianity. So I’m not some “fringe” person and this book is not the “Gospel According to Anthony.” The truth of the matter is that, while I haven’t personally been to heaven, I happen to believe (along with 94% of the general public) that God lives in heaven, and moreover, that he’s told us an awful lot about the place, starting with what’s in the Bible itself. All I’ve done is take what’s in Scripture, and what has been written by the church Fathers and other brilliant theologians over the centuries, and present these ideas in an exciting, fun, slightly provocative way.
Lopez: You’re young yet. Do people meet you and say, “Give me a break. What do you know about life, never mind death?”
DeStefano: I’m young yet? May I give you a big fat kiss on the lips before answering your question? At 38 I’m afraid I’ve seen enough of life, and, unfortunately, death, to be qualified to speak with at least a little wisdom — I hope — on certain important questions. Also, I think that in this case, a shot of some youthful adrenaline may be just what the doctor ordered. Newsweek reported last year that something like 76% of Americans believe in heaven, and yet nobody seems to be bubbling over with excitement about it. Some of that may just be because of the way the Christian teaching is being relayed. I believe that when it comes to the subject of heaven, we need to have a spirit of adventure. T. S. Elliot said human beings should be explorers, no matter what their age. We need to tap into that inborn, forever youthful, desire if we are going to understand the kind of outrageous paradise God is planning to give us. To tell you the truth, I think I’m the perfect age to write a book on heaven. I’m old enough to have been around the block a few times and to know human psychology and how life works, but at the same time I haven’t lived long enough to see my world destroyed, my body gone to pot, and all those other cruel things that can make a person grumpy and cynical.
Lopez: When did you sit down and say “Yes, I’m writing this.” And why?
DeStefano: Well there’s a spiritual answer, and a secular one as well. First the spiritual: I had an absolutely horrible year awhile back. I had to attend something like fifteen funerals in six months. Everyone in my family seemed to be dying on me. And I had the opportunity to listen to an awful lot of sermons, homilies, and eulogies about the afterlife. The thing that struck me was that, while all the pastors and priests who presided at these sad affairs were being truthful and sincere, their words weren’t resonating with the mourners quite as much as I felt they could have. The reason was that they weren’t driving home one very important, fundamental point about the Christian teaching on heaven, namely, that one day — after the resurrection — heaven is going to be physical as well as spiritual. Therefore, when we see our lost loved ones again, we’re not just going to be seeing ghosts. We’re going to see real, live human beings — with warm bodies, faces, eyes, hair, and voices. This fact, to me, is the single most consoling element of our faith, and I knew that something needed to be written which highlighted and proclaimed the point. The problem was that I didn’t know how to write such a book. I know I didn’t want to preach to the choir. But the dilemma I had was, how do you make a book about such a spiritual subject appeal to the secular masses?
Enter my second moment of epiphany. A few years ago, I took my wife, Kimberly, to California for our five-year anniversary, and, as a surprise, booked a one-night stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Unfortunately, when we got to the place, they had lost our reservations, and there were no other rooms available — except one, the presidential suite! The reason why that was open was because it costs $5,000 per night, which I just didn’t happen to have on me at the time! But the hotel, believe it or not, actually gave us the suite for the same price as a regular room, and we got to stay there. Now this place is absolutely decadent. Fireplaces in every room, a Steinway Grand Piano in the foyer, his and her bathrooms, saunas, a conference room, and a terrace that stretches the entire length of the hotel. Incredible. Well, I went out onto the terrace with my wife in order to make a champagne toast, and I said something goofy, like, “This is really heaven on earth.” The second I said those words, it was as if a light bulb went off in my head. I immediately knew that this was the way I could write a book on heaven and make it appeal to the mainstream. Just compare the afterlife to an eternal, five-star, celestial resort. Because everybody understands the thrill and fun of getting away from it all and going on vacation. I actually left my wife flat on the balcony, her champagne glass still hoisted in the air, and flew back into the room. I grabbed some Beverly Hills Hotel stationary and quickly scribbled down the title of the book and some chapter headings. It was as close to a grand moment of inspiration as I’ve ever had. Once I got back to New York, it only took me three months to write the book.
Lopez: How is heaven like The Wizard of Oz?
DeStefano: In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy thinks she’s going to find her true home “somewhere over the rainbow.” What she learns is that the thing she’s looking for — her heart’s greatest desire — is right there in her own backyard. In the same way, at least part of heaven is going to exist, someday, right here on good old planet earth. The Bible says there’s going to be a “new earth,” it doesn’t say there’s going to be something completely different. Our earth will be renewed, transformed, reborn, etc., but it won’t just be thrown into the incinerator, never to be seen again. It will experience “resurrection” in the same way that human beings will be resurrected. That means that heaven will be more recognizable to us than we usually imagine. It won’t just be cloudy and spiritual and unreal. This is the key to my whole book. If the life we’re living right now is real; then the life we’re going to have in heaven is not going to somehow be less real than that. If anything it’s going to be more real. We’re not going to suddenly go from living in a beautiful color world to a boring black & white world. We’re not going to go from leading lives of excitement and activity to lives of boredom and inactivity. We have to start giving God a little more credit than that. Our God is a God of creation — he loves creating things. He’s not going to stop creating things just because our little world comes to an end. Moreover, He’s a God of Life, and his kingdom is going to reflect that. Heaven is going to be a real place — it’s going to have lots of things to do, lots of living creatures, and it will be a feast for the senses.
Lopez: How is marriage like tennis?
DeStefano: The New Testament says that there’s not going to be anyone married in heaven. And there are many reasons why that’s the case. But some people get worried that if there isn’t any marriage in heaven, then there won’t be any other kinds of “relationships” in heaven either. What will become of the feelings I have towards my mother, my father, wife, my husband, my children, some people wonder. I try to explain in my book that we’re worrying about nothing. Just because the institution and sacrament of marriage doesn’t exist in heaven, that doesn’t mean the relationship we have with our spouse won’t continue forever. I compare it to a game of tennis. If you’re having a match with someone on the tennis court, you’re called “tennis partners.” You dress a certain way, use specific kinds of equipment, play by certain rules, stay within certain boundary lines, etc. Once the game ends, however, you’re no longer “tennis partners.” But that doesn’t mean your relationship with the person ends, or that you even drive off in separate cars. On the contrary, your relationship might be even deeper off the tennis court. The same is true for our relationships in heaven. God doesn’t destroy any of them. One billion years from today, your mom will still be your mom, and she’ll be able to say things to you only a mother can say. One billion years from today, your brothers will still be your brothers, and you’ll have a certain camaraderie with them only siblings can enjoy. Some people think that when we go to heaven we suddenly get amnesia! Or that we become boring, emotionless robots that go around loving and worshipping, loving and worshipping — for all eternity. If that were true, then we wouldn’t even be human beings any more, and heaven wouldn’t be a paradise at all.
Lopez: Is Christmas celebrated in heaven?
DeStefano: I have no idea, really. It’s certainly a nice idea. I’ll tell you what, if it is, it must be one great party, mainly because the man whose birthday we’re celebrating will actually there, in the flesh, to blow out the candles on His cake! When Christ appeared to His disciple after His resurrection, He ate some fish in order to demonstrate that He had a real body, and wasn’t just a ghost. Well, if He can eat a piece of fish, I guess there’s no theological reason why He shouldn’t enjoy a piece of birthday cake either!
Lopez: Dogs go to heaven?
DeStefano: Believe it or not there’s been a lot of controversy over this question in the long history of theology. Some prominent theologians have said that animals can’t go to heaven because they don’t have immortal souls, or because Christ didn’t die for them on the cross. And they’re absolutely right — animals don’t have any natural claim on heaven. But that doesn’t mean God won’t allow them to be in heaven anyway. God can do anything he wants, right? He can certainly allow animals to be in heaven by special permission. There’s going to be lush vegetation in heaven, and flowers and trees, and other beautiful living things, correct? They don’t have immortal souls, either. Christ didn’t die for them. Well, do you think God is going to grant life-everlasting to some shrub and then deny the same gift to a puppy? I don’t think so. You know, there are over 120 different species of animals mentioned in the Bible, and they play very prominent roles. Animals are part of the beauty of the world and the joy of living. I just don’t think God is going to leave them out of paradise. I firmly believe every single pet we’ve ever had is going to be there — every dog, every cat, every bunny, every gerbil! Now, will we need animals in order to be happy in heaven? Of course not. We won’t need anything. We’ll have God — we’ll have the Beatific Vision. Happiness will be our starting point. But God is so good and so loving that he’s going to give us a beautiful world full of all kinds of beautiful creatures as well — it will be like icing on a cake.
Lopez: People today — especially the ones doing the public talking — seem to embrace a cloudy, nebulous spirituality (a la Madonna’s Kabbalah) instead of tried and tested theology. Where are the people you are meeting? Do they just need some glimmer of hope for life after life or do they generally have an idea already?
DeStefano: Yes, it does seem that a lot of people embrace this kind of false spirituality. At least on the surface. C. S. Lewis said that human beings are like cars that are built to run on a certain kind of fuel — and that fuel is God. When God created us, he purposely gave us this inborn desire and need we have for spirituality. So naturally, when you have a culture where God is “dead” or so undefined and nebulous as to be nonexistent, then you are going to have a culture where a lot of “cars” are running out of fuel and starting to break down. Which is exactly what we see happening around us. Modern society has a big problem with the moral law, we all know that. Moral relativism is the order of the day. So these secular folks, especially people like Madonna, can’t very well embrace traditional Christianity because then they’d have to deal with all those annoying “Thou shalt Nots.” (Why, she might not even be able to French-kiss Britney and Christine on television in front of millions of kids!) But Madonna, like all other human beings, has this built-in need for spirituality and God, so in order for her not to feel as if she’s running on empty, she’s got to find something — anything — to make her feel connected to “god.” But obviously it’s got to be something that’s not really demanding, morally. Enter Kabbalah. Or Pantheism. Or whatever. This is the reason the whole New Age movement is so popular. It’s spirituality without either moral substance or consequences — it’s basically “religion-light.” But you know the interesting thing is that the second any of these people experience a real loss — the second someone in their family dies, or they themselves are told they have a life-threatening illness — you know where most of them head? Straight back to church. The church that they grew up in. This indicates to me that much of this interest today in New Age and other forms of nebulous spirituality may just be surface silliness — not even taken seriously by those who say they believe in it. Not when the chips are down, anyway.
Lopez: Especially at this time of year, even the ever-faithful can be sidelined by the pain of the loss of someone they love. Can your book help?
DeStefano: I certainly hope so. Obviously, when you’ve lost someone you really love, the suffering is intense and can go on for years and even decades. Nothing can prevent that kind of grieving from taking its course. But I think that knowing you are going to see that loved one again — and knowing that you’re going to see that person in the flesh — for real and forever, never to be separated — of course that can help a little. My book really tries to drive that point home, because that’s the “Good News” of the Gospels. That’s what all the worship, all the praying, all the churchgoing, all the faith, all come down to. The funeral is not the end of the story. Hospitals and doctors and coroners and death certificates and funeral parlors and cemeteries do not have the final word. That’s the message of Christianity, and that’s the message of my book. What I’ve tried to do is make that more real to people. I try to describe that first morning in heaven, when we see our dad and mom and grandma again for the first time. I try to describe all the sights, sounds, and sensations of that first incredible reunion. Even if I succeed a little, I think it may do some good. At least I hope so.
Lopez: Have you ever considered standing outside a taping of that John Edward show Crossing Over, handing out your book? Maybe a photocopy of your section on the resurrection of the body?
DeStefano: Well, it would be nice if someone did that, yes. Because I think it would prove what I’ve always said. That when it comes to the whole subject of life after death, the answers that are offered by traditional Christianity are infinitely more compelling and uplifting than any of this New Age nonsense. The Christian teaching on heaven — the fact that heaven is real, that it incorporates the best that this life has to offer as well as a whole lot more from the mind of God, that we’re going to see our loved ones again and live in a world where there is no death or suffering of any kind — that is an outrageously beautiful teaching. You may disagree with it, but there’s no question that it’s a heck of a lot more dynamic and exciting than anything the palm readers and television psychics are saying.
Lopez: What’s been the most surprising reaction to your book for you? The most moving?
DeStefano: The most surprising thing has been the way the book has taken off so fast. I’m a first-time author and don’t have the benefit of a million-dollar PR campaign. Also the book, while written in a pretty secular, mainstream style, is still very much a religious work. It’s all about God and what the Bible says about heaven. Usually those kinds of books are relegated to Christian bookstores or the back of Barnes & Nobles and Borders. Not so with A Travel Guide to Heaven. After just a few weeks, we’re already in our seventh printing! The book’s been #1 on Amazon.com a few different times, and it’s selling off the racks. Plus, over the next six months, it’s going to be published in 18 countries — even Japan! Of course I had high hopes about the book’s potential, but I promise I would have been happy to sell just a few hundred copies. Just to have a book published was a dream come true. So I’m very surprised.
By far the most moving thing has been the number of people who have written to me about their children who have died. I can’t tell you some of the heart-wrenching stories I’ve heard. (I’ve posted some of them on the “Memorial Page” of my website, at www.travelguidetoheaven.com). One little girl named Mary, an absolutely beautiful child in the second grade, was playing outside her house one day last May when she just collapsed and died. They think it might have been heart arrhythmia. [Her] mother was distraught, obviously. She saw a copy of my book in the local bookstore sometime afterwards, and she sent me an e-mail saying it gave her a little relief. What can I say to that? As far as I’m concerned, that validates my whole life. If you’re able to console people who are going through that kind of suffering — even if it’s only to bring them a temporary lift out of their misery and impart some hope and strength for the future — then nothing else matters. If I were to die tomorrow, I really wouldn’t have any right to complain to God. He’s given me a truly incredible gift.
Lopez: Is there any one thing in your book that resonates most with non-Christians?
DeStefano: I think the main thing that non-Christians can appreciate is the way the book portrays God. As I’ve said so many times, this is not a New Age book. It doesn’t espouse any kind of “fortune-cookie” spirituality. It’s about God — the personal God of the Old and New Testaments. The God who created the universe. The God who cares about how we act and what kind of lives we’re leading right now. It doesn’t make the “earth” our God — nor any kind of pet social theory. This idea that there is a real, personal God — a magnificent, awe-inspiring, loving God who is not distant — that’s something that can resonate with non-Christians too. In fact, non-Christians are free to believe much of what I’ve written in my book about what heaven is like. I’ve given copies of the book to several rabbinical scholars and also to several Muslims. Most of them have told me that they are free to believe that heaven is going to be physical as well as spiritual. They can believe that we’re going to see our loved ones again. They can even believe we’re going to see our pets in heaven. It’s just that they don’t have the kinds of “proofs” we Christians have. We’ve got the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, and the writings of Paul. We’ve got 2,000 years of eschatological theology behind us — theology that concentrates on the “end things.” Christians have such a tremendous treasury of this kind of theology on heaven. Non-Christians don’t have that benefit. They may indeed believe in my depiction of the afterlife, but they just might not buy into the proofs I’ve offered.
Lopez: Your next book is on prayers God says “Yes” to. Is that one of the secrets of Fatima? How did you find those out?
DeStefano: There’s actually a lot of them. And that’s really a key point to grasp. Traditional Christianity is so exciting and dynamic. We don’t even realize it sometimes because we’re so used to it. But the truth is, you don’t have to compromise one iota of theology and morality, and you can still write books that appeal to the mainstream. In fact, I believe that if we present Christian theology correctly and we’re not afraid to be a little bold and maybe even have a little fun with the subject, we can win millions of people over to our side who are lukewarm, spiritually. Why? Simply because, as St. Peter very accurately said to Christ, “To who shall we turn, Lord? You have the words of Eternal Life.” In the case of prayers, why not write a book about the ones God always says yes to? I mean, after all, he says “no” and “maybe” and “not now” to so many of the prayers we utter. Why not focus in a little on the ones he answers in the affirmative 99.9% of the time? There are plenty of them. Some, I admit, may not be very “sexy” in terms of their appeal to today’s consumer society, but they work! And that’s the important thing. For example, let’s say that tonight, before you go to bed, you quickly pray, “God, please make me an instrument. Send some people my way who are suffering and use me to carry out your will for them.” I tell you what, if you even utter that prayer, watch out! I guarantee you that within a week you are going to have more opportunities to “help God carry out his will,” than you can possibly imagine. That’s because there is so much suffering in the world. God wants to help people these folks, and he wants us to get involved in helping them. So when we actually ask him to set that situation up for us, he’s only too happy to channel some of the work our way. For God, it’s a “no brainer.” Well, there are many prayers like that. It’s time we focused on them. Because you know, in a way these prayers themselves become the greatest proof of God’s existence. It’s fine to study the “Five Ways” of Thomas Aquinas and all the other rational proofs that are in theology books, but we also have to remember that our God is a Living God. He doesn’t love us “from a distance” like that old song says. He actually gets involved in our lives. He reaches down from heaven and gets his “hands dirty.” So when we’re able to see the hand of God moving clearly in our lives, in response to actual prayers, that can help us to have a solid, unshakable faith. And that’s the goal of my next book.
Have you forgotten? Sean Hannity hasn’t. The conservative radio and cable television megastar’s most important contribution to political discourse since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been his tireless reminder to America’s liberal elite that the attacks did indeed happen — and that our enemies, foreign and domestic, must not go unpunished.
For the Long Island native, this is a personal mission. He goes to church with families who lost members to the murderous destruction at Ground Zero. He has two young children whose futures and freedoms he passionately wants to preserve. Last July, he hosted a concert that raised $1.5 million for families of U.S. soldiers killed or disabled while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. And with an unabashed patriotism that greatly antagonizes the Manhattan-Berkeley-Hollywood Axis of Snivel, Hannity uses his daily bully pulpit to provide full-throttle support for President Bush’s war on terror.
In his new book, Deliver Us From Evil, Hannity rallies against the forces that threaten American liberty: “I decided to write this book because I believe it is our responsibility to recognize and confront evil in the world — and because I’m convinced that if we fail in that mission it will lead us to disaster. Evil exists. It is real, and it means to harm us.” Deliver Us From Evil takes readers through a useful tour of the nation’s (and the world’s) struggle against terrorism, despotism, and liberalism. He devotes chapters to the Holocaust, the Cold War, the first Persian Gulf War, and the corruption of the Clinton years. “Every great champion of freedom in the modern era has had to overcome a prominent voice of appeasement,” Hannity writes. “For Winston Churchill there was Chamberlain, for Ronald Reagan there was Jimmy Carter. Today, George W. Bush faces the modern Democratic Party.”
Even before the book’s Feb. 17 release, detractors were balking at the inclusion of liberalism in Hannity’s trio of evil forces. But as he notes, it is the “professional apologists of the Democratic Party…eager to turn any setback in the war into a referendum on the Bush administration” that he pegs as menaces — not rank-and-file Democrats or post-Sept. 11 national-security hawks such as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Georgia Democrat Sen. Zell Miller, and political operative Donna Brazile, who urged fellow Democrats last spring to channel the spirit of Scoop Jackson and return to the “muscular national security principles” of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy. “If voters continue to see us as feckless and effete,” Brazile noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed cited approvingly by Hannity, “they will re-elect Mr. Bush.”
The most compelling chapter of Hannity’s book, titled “Playing politics at the water’s edge,” recounts when the talk-show host obtained a jaw-dropping memo last fall, apparently written by a Democratic staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The memo detailed plans by Democratic strategists to use the panel’s ongoing review of intelligence activities to undermine the Bush administration’s case for preemptive war. “We can verbally mention [e.g., leak] some of the intriguing leads we are pursuing....We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation of the administration’s use of intelligence at any time…The approach outline[d] above seems to offer the best prospect for exposing the Administration’s dubious motives,” the memo noted.
“If that isn’t bad faith,” Hannity writes, “I don’t know what is.” The memo “is only the tip of the iceberg — a symbol of the attitude of the liberal Democratic Party, which is single-mindedly bent on discrediting the president and winning back the White House — even if it means compromising national security in the process.”
There was a time when both major political parties could be relied upon to put national security above short-term political gain. Hannity might have mentioned the extraordinary bipartisan cooperation between the Roosevelt administration and Republicans in protecting the secrecy of the MAGIC decrypts of Japanese diplomatic codes. When Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey vowed to make intelligence failures at Pearl Harbor a campaign issue in 1944, which raised the dire possibility that the cracking of Japanese codes might become a public issue, Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall appealed directly and confidentially to Dewey to protect MAGIC. Intercepted messages between the Japanese and Hitler were providing critical information. Citing the central role MAGIC played in the victories at Midway and in the battle of the Coral Sea, Marshall asked Dewey to consider “the utterly tragic consequences if the present political debates regarding Pearl Harbor disclose to the enemy, German or Jap, any suspicion of the vital sources of information we possess.”
Putting the national interest above his political ambitions, Dewey heeded Marshall’s advice — and lost the election to save American lives. Would John Kerry or Hillary Clinton do likewise today?
For its part, the Bush administration’s execution of the war on terror, especially at home, has not been flawless. I pray nightly for someone to deliver us from the evils of Saudi coddling, border insanity, Norm Mineta, and Islamist influence over the White House. My one complaint is that Hannity gives short shrift to these national-security lapses in the book, though he has been openly critical of some Republican missteps over the airwaves.
In the end, as Hannity writes, “when it comes to confronting evil, the fact is that there are essentially two types of people: those who are willing to fight it, and those who try to excuse it — or, worse, deny it even exists.” Deliver Us From Evil is a valuable read not only for conservatives, but also for the new breed of swing Democrats-turned-”9/11 Republicans” and soccer moms (turned “security moms”) whose lives were changed inalterably by the terrorists attacks — and who, like Hannity, “pray that America will make the right choice” in 2004.
— Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist and author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores.
Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait, by Midge Decter (Regan, 240 pp., $24.95)
In the summer of 2001, the smart money in Washington was betting that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be the first member of the Bush cabinet to resign. There was rumored to be a Pentagon pool on the date of his departure; but, to quote the subject of Midge Decter’s new book, “The only thing we know for certain is that it is unlikely that any of us knows what is likely.” A few months later, convinced feminists were calling him “Rumstud,” and optometrists were selling out of the rimless frames he had made a fashion statement to middle-aged executives yearning for mojo by association.
This slim, quick-reading volume provides a glimpse of this extraordinary man. It does not pretend to be a comprehensive biography, and in some respects is very cursory. One gets mere hints of his spirit as athlete and adventurer. He was a champion wrestler and naval aviator, ran with the bulls at Pamplona, and once — as a congressman — apprehended a fleeing criminal. Age never dampened his physical courage, and Rumsfeld famously dashed from his office on 9/11 to tend to the injured.
When he was called upon to return to the Pentagon in 2001, he had nothing to prove. Life, as he said, was good. He had accomplished more than most men will in their professional lives, and was past the age when many would have retired. In the 1960s he was a four-term congressman, who — as leader of a group of Young Turks (“Rumsfeld’s Raiders”) — helped secure Gerald Ford’s ascent to the office of minority leader; Ford later made Rumsfeld the youngest secretary of defense in history. In 1977, he became CEO of the Searle pharmaceutical company — where he became known as “The Axeman,” a pitiless downsizer who fired employees and sold off unprofitable assets. When he arrived, Searle stock sold for $10; several years later Monsanto bought the company for $65 per share. It was a great achievement for a businessman who had started out as an assistant watermelon seller.
The Pentagon Rumsfeld inherited in 2001 was badly in need of reform. For the Clinton administration, it had been bureaucratic dumping ground; lack of leadership had allowed the department to fragment into its numerous tribes. The acquisition system was weakened by politics, and promotions were marked by cronyism. Congressional controls and oversight requirements had blossomed, providing a case study in Parkinson’s Law: In 1975, the Defense Authorization Bill was 75 pages, but by 2001 it had grown to 988, even though defense manpower was down by a third and defense outlays as a percentage of GDP had declined by 40%.
Furthermore, for all the money being spent on defense, there was no clear national strategy. Rumsfeld turned to Andrew Marshall, longtime head of the Pentagon Office of Net Assessment, who had impressed him in his first tour in the 1970s. Marshall produced a strategic vision that highlighted the need for joint war-fighting, expeditionary forces, flexibility, and technological adaptability — emphasizing networks over weapons platforms, precision effects over big-ticket programs. The overarching concept was Defense Transformation, a means of reconceptualizing threat assessment and balancing risks with resources to cope with a rapidly changing global security environment.
Unfortunately, the Department of Defense is not Searle pharmaceuticals. The virtues of private-sector management are, in the public sector, considered deadly sins. The Axeman faced employees he could not fire, assets he could not sell off, a dysfunctional board of directors (namely, Congress), and no threat of bankruptcy to discipline the process. His first eight months on the job were frustrating, or so it was reported. The New York Times ran a story averring that “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld . . . was declaring war on bureaucracy in the Pentagon” — this in the morning edition of September 11, 2001.
The terror attacks that day gave Rumsfeld the opportunity to sidestep bureaucratic channels and test Transformation directly on the battlefield. On orders of the president, he began to plan the first 21st-century war. Looking at Rumsfeld’s history, one understands how he was able quickly to conceptualize the scope of the effort necessary to meet the terrorist threat. His views are marked by an unstrained consistency in policy positions, derived from basic principles: peace through strength, loyalty to friends, and certain punishment for transgressors. After the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, during which disabled American Leon Klinghoffer was shot in his wheelchair and thrown overboard, Rumsfeld made a speech in which he called terrorism a form of “outright warfare” that the U.S. should take immediate steps to deter. He advocated attacking terrorists on their home ground, rather than allowing them to choose their own targets. His words were prophetic, but it took 9/11 to prove the point.
It is an improbable historical coincidence that Rumsfeld was in the ideal position to put his 16-year-old strategic framework into action. The nine-week war in Afghanistan silenced many of his former critics, particularly those who preemptively uttered the word “quagmire.” Throughout the book Decter takes a certain pleasure in reprinting quotes that pundits wish they had never made.
Beyond validating the Transformation paradigm, the war also made Rumsfeld a star. Millions would tune in to his Pentagon briefings, a startling fact when you think about it: Did anyone set his VCR to catch Les Aspin? His speaking style is artful and direct, precise without being wooden. His turns of phrase are witty and unexpectedly philosophical, especially compared with most discourse in relentlessly wonkish and humorless Washington. The collection of aphorisms known as “Rumsfeld’s Rules” should be required reading for anyone pursuing a career in government or business. He reached a pinnacle of sorts when, in November 2002, People magazine declared him a sex symbol. Pretty good for a 70-year-old grandfather of six. And Decter points out that he could be thought a “studmuffin” for the very reason Bill Clinton could not: He was not self-conscious about it, he did not seek it, and deep down he did not care. Clinton had the charm of the seducer. Decter describes the essence of Rumsfeld’s charisma as “manliness.”
This book is a very affecting personal portrait, though it’s a bit of a shame that the author does not insert herself much into the narrative. She makes her presence felt more in the acuity of her insights — she observes, for example, that French opposition to war in Iraq but not in Afghanistan may be explained by the fact that the former was an expression of American strength, and that the latter arose from American weakness. She also offers a good explanation of the difference between power and celebrity — power being essentially something that exudes from within, celebrity being a projection of the celebrants.
As Decter’s excellent book makes clear, Rumsfeld is a man of power, not celebrity. The media, with their passion for manufacturing story lines, seek new and interesting wrestling matches: Rumsfeld vs. Powell; Rumsfeld vs. Tenet; Rumsfeld vs. Rice. But as Rumsfeld himself says, “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.” And it is noteworthy that in these purported matchups he always gets top billing.
— James Robbins is a national-security analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.
By Jeffrey Hart, NR Senior Editor
Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think, by Victor Davis Hanson (Doubleday, 278 pp., $27.50)
Victor Davis Hanson is the only modern writer I know with the sensibility of an ancient Greek: He, like Homer, is implacable. In his remarkable Carnage and Culture (2001), a mind-opening work, we are with Herodotus — an artist of gentler effects than the Iliad, because of his philosophical distance. With Ripples of Battle, though, we are there: on that concentrated and all but indescribable, except by Homer, plain between Troy and the cobalt sea.
Herodotus taught his lesson throughout his History, but especially in Book VII: Free men are better warriors, and usually win against warriors who are essentially slaves. Hanson explains the same thing, a bit more analytically for us slow learners and sentimental multiculturalists: Hellas over the mass armies of Darius and Xerxes, Rome over Carthage, which it (N.B.) annihilated, Europe over Islam and the Sultan (Poitiers, Lepanto), Cortez over Montezuma and the Aztecs (Mexico City), the U.S. over Japan. This scenario echoes through Western literature. Milton’s Satan and his hordes appear as the sultan and his; the heroic Christ defeats them, with heroic power, and it helps that, like the West, He has artillery and Satan does not.
Herodotus, one of Hanson’s models, relates a conversation between Demaratus the Greek and Xerxes in the Persian camp before Salamis. The great king asks Demaratus how he thinks the Persians will do.
“My Lord,” Demaratus replied, “is it a true answer you would like, or merely an agreeable one?”
“Tell me the truth,” said the King, “and I promise that you will not suffer by it.” . . .
“[The Greeks] fighting singly . . . are as good as any, but fighting together they are the best soldiers in the world. They are free, but not entirely free; for they have a master, and that master is Law, which they fear much more than your subjects fear you. Whatever this master commands, they do; and his command never varies: It is never to retreat in battle, however great the odds, and always to stand firm, and to conquer or die. If, my Lord, you think what I have said is nonsense, very well; I am willing henceforward to hold my tongue.”
Xerxes broke out laughing at Demaratus’ answer, and good-humoredly let him go.
Free men freely obey the laws because they have a voice in making them. They tell the truth to their superiors without fear. They are inventive, contentious. They are property owners. Xerxes had to assure Demaratus that he would not, at very least, have his tongue cut out, and what he heard was probably the first truth he had heard in years. Similarly, as Hanson shows in Carnage, disaster awaited the Japanese navy at Midway because Yamamoto’s admirals could not tell him that his plans for the battle stank: Yamamoto was the Emperor’s deputy.
With Ripples of War we are up close — in the battles, as in the Iliad. The theme is battle itself and its ramifying effects; Hanson’s mind is part of the sub-zero cold world of the late Bronze Age, the Age of Achilles, around 1250 b.c. You yourself may not be ready for this Arctic chill. It is said that Cheney likes to talk with Hanson.
Ilium, or Troy, is part of Homer’s universal cycle of destruction, as is the warrior, as are all cities. Achilles is the “destroyer of cities.” The Iliad — so named by Herodotus; it could have been the Achillead — begins, “Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles.” In this Bronze Age world, only women and children weep. When Achilles wades through slaughtered Trojans and is about to plunge his sword into Laocoön, who shows fear, Achilles’ words are pitiless: “Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so? Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you. And look, you see how handsome and powerful I am? The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you, death and strong force of fate are waiting.” The only light in this world is nobility according to the code of areté, and the beauty of artifacts: the glint of the sun on Achilles’ bronze armor, the great funeral pyre at a hero’s death, and the immortal songs sung by the poets, like Pindar and Homer.
Hanson’s excellent book demonstrates that war is always war, its Bronze Age chill no less palpable at Shiloh in 1862 than it had been on Homer’s plain. After the first disastrous day, Grant said that you could walk across the field of battle and never touch ground, so thick were the corpses, whole or shot to pieces, and sunk in the mud. In the evening, Sherman, who had been badly wounded and had two horses shot from under him, said to Grant, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the Devil’s own day, haven’t we?” “Yes,” said Grant. “Lick ‘em tomorrow.” Grant was implacable, Sherman not quite: The nihilism of the battlefield nauseated him. He resolved to keep casualties at an absolute minimum. Hanson writes that Sherman’s “odyssey through the South” was a spiritual journey, one that had begun “with his wounds and lost mounts at Shiloh.” And the field of corpses.
Sherman destroyed the infrastructure of the Confederacy, not its armies, and launched the huge pincer that came up on Lee from the south and won the war. Hanson thinks that thereafter, the United States sought — to the extent it could — to destroy property, not people. In his discussion of Okinawa (1945), Hanson returns to this question of avoiding casualties. The Japanese, he writes, had a simple plan: kill so many Americans, and destroy so many of their ships and planes, “that the United States — both its stunned military and its grieving citizens back home — would never wish to undergo such an ordeal again.” The Japanese strategy actually worked. Our losses on Okinawa were catastrophic, with the result that there would indeed be no invasion of the home islands of Japan. But the strategy elicited an equally creative response — Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of course, but also the fire-bombing of Tokyo and other cities:
The always deadly inventive Gen. Curtis LeMay was ready on his own to use airpower in radically new ways to avoid American casualties. In response to the horrific losses on Okinawa, he was carefully assembling a monstrous fleet of B-29s — perhaps eventually 5,000 in number — to be augmented by 5,000 B-24s and B-17s transferred from the European theater, with the possibility that over a thousand British Lancaster bombers and their seasoned crews would join the armada as well! That rain of napalm to come from a nightmarish fleet of 10,000 or more bombers on short missions from Okinawa would have made both atomic bombs seem child’s play in comparison. The fire raids on March 11, 1945, alone killed more than died at Hiroshima, and were followed by far more destruction — perhaps 500,000 incinerated in all by the subsequent bombing — than occurred at Nagasaki.
Hanson faces war’s reality in a direct, Greek manner. Augustus Saint-Gaudens also caught it perfectly, in his great statue of Sherman on New York’s Fifth Avenue: Sherman and his horse, led by Nike, the goddess of victory, look down that great Avenue to Stanford White’s Roman arch in honor of George Washington. Look at Nike. Her eyes are wide open, expressionless. Far beyond cruelty: a Greek goddess. Sherman’s prancing horse walks over the pine cones and leafy fronds of a Confederacy that, like the Japanese Empire, would not rise again, but join Persia and Carthage, the Aztecs and the Sultan, totally eliminated from history.
Bin Laden should read this book. He is playing 10th-century Arab — and does not understand, not for an instant. Poor fool. The “bomb” of 9/11 was a homemade firecracker compared with the products of Western freedom and ingenuity. Another attack on our civilians — bomb, anthrax, whatever — and he and the rest could be out there in the frozen galactic spaces. Hanson knows this, hints at it; Nike’s cold eyes are gazing still.
Another welcome voice in broadcasting is ABC’s surprising libertarian, John Stossel. In Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media (HarperCollins), Stossel describes his progress from chasing small-time crooks to exposing major-league political peddlers of special-interest hoaxery. This memoir is chockablock with great stories. Here’s one example, from his years as a consumer reporter:
I had heard some doctors were so greedy they’d perform abortions on women who weren’t pregnant. In the era before home pregnancy tests, crooked doctors could take advantage of women whose periods were late. They would simply test the women’s urine, tell them they were pregnant, and pretend to give them abortions. . . . I sent two female researchers to six abortion doctors with samples of my urine. Two of the six clinics told the women they were pregnant and tried to abort them. They only escaped by jumping off the tables and shouting, “No! I’ve changed my mind!” We got the conversations on tape and broadcast them. Both doctors closed their clinics and disappeared.
The book will delight all believers in free minds and free markets, as Stossel gives copious instances of the harm done by excessive government regulation and politically correct censorship.
The issue of homosexual marriage seems to have exploded on the national scene in 2004, but this is an organized effort that has been ongoing for over 30 years. It is now affecting every level of our society. Families agonize over this issue, while the church has been rocked with the ordination of homosexual clergy and same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The nation remains divided as states struggle to define their own laws on gay marriage while litigation is pressed in the courts often ruled by activist judges with their own judicial agendas.
A proposed marriage amendment to protect the traditional family unit has highlighted the confusion and shifting positions of politicians from every political party on this flashpoint issue. You and your family cannot afford to remain in the dark on this issue — it is simply too important to your future.
This compelling and compassionate new book, “The Gay Agenda” by Dr. Ronnie W. Floyd, answers pivotal questions on this issue such as:
* The “gay agenda” — what are the effects within our society?
* What does this issue mean for the traditional family?
* How will the church be affected as the divisions within denominations and congregations grow?
* What impact will this have on the character of our nation?
* Where do individual rights and freedoms begin and end with this issue?
Dr. Floyd provides an in-depth overview of this issue as he discusses its impact and cultural consequences frankly and with compassion in this groundbreaking book.
A pastor for over 27 years, Dr. Floyd highlights the importance of the traditional family, and challenges everyone to approach the issue first with love and respect — loving the individual while disagreeing with their choice of lifestyle.
Struggling with these issues of fairness and morality? Unsure of where you stand on this issue and why? Learn why state laws governing marriage may mean little in federal courts, and how this issue already impacts our schools, workplace, and neighborhoods. It is an issue that will not be going away, and it will affect your family in numerous ways.
While Dr. Floyd encourages the church to stand strong, but with love, in upholding the clear, unambiguous message of the faith regarding homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage, he challenges everyone to consider the profound changes the decisions on this issue will have on the future of families within our nation.
NOTE: Purchasing “The Gay Agenda” from WND’s online store also qualifies you to receive a FREE 3-month trial subscription to our immensely popular monthly print magazine, Whistleblower.
The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable
by Michael Novak
Michael Novak is one of American conservatism’s leading voices in debates over culture, religion, and democracy at home and abroad. A longtime National Review contributor, he is a confidant of popes and presidents. Intellectually, he is an eloquent spokesman for what could be called the Catholic Whig position. His latest book, The Universal Hunger for Liberty, is a Whig vision for a 21st-century world civilization.
As a Whig, Novak puts his emphasis on human liberty as he presents an optimistic, yet realistic, analysis of future possibilities. Ever the trinitarian, he sketches out a vision of “Caritapolis,” a benign view of globalization in which the Whig virtues of political liberty and economic growth are underpinned by a third virtue: the moral-cultural sensibility informed by religion, particularly Christianity and Judaism. While “many intellectuals look at the world in purely secular terms,” this secularism, Novak tells us, is “too thin an interpretation of human life” upon which to structure a universal civilization that is credible to the world’s 6 billion people, most of whom are religious.
The Islamic question is at the center of this book: Can Islam come to terms with democracy? Novak answers with guarded optimism. He implicitly rejects the Turkish solution — the coercive secularist model of Ataturk — which, like the shah’s reforms and the Arab Socialism of Nasser, has proved to be ultimately unsatisfying to large numbers of Muslims. The choice, Novak insists, is not simply between “the Ayatollah Khomeini and Salman Rushdie.” Sudanese resistance fighters battling the oppressive radical Islamist regime of Khartoum told Novak, “We are serious Muslims . . . please help find us a Muslim theory that embraces the best of the modern world, including democracy.”
While radical Islamism is anti-democratic and at war with the West, Novak sees “other intellectual resources burning deeply in the bosom of Islam [that] may lead to a Muslim defense of several ideas crucial to democracy.” These include “the dignity of the individual, consultative government attuned to the common good, religious liberty, and the fundamental equality of all human beings before God.” Novak notes that “Bernard Lewis himself” points to elements in Islamic tradition that “assist” the “development of one or another form of democracy.” He also cites the work of younger Muslim scholars, including Khaled Abou El Fadl of Yale University and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, as offering hope.
Novak believes that whether most Islamic societies eventually embrace political democracy and market economics depends not upon their secularization (which has and will continue to fail) but upon whether Muslim scholars can find the intellectual, moral, and practical possibilities of democratic life and economic growth within the Islamic tradition. Novak notes that Catholicism, indifferent or hostile to liberalism (the animosity was mutual) and democracy until well into the 20th century, underwent just such an intellectual and moral reexamination. Himself a major participant in the development of Catholic democratic thought, Novak devotes a section of the book to analyzing the current work of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, including that contributed by some other prominent American conservative intellectuals such as Mary Ann Glendon and Jean Bethke Elshtain. He also argues, at one point in the book, that Catholicism itself may have the best intellectual tools “to defend the presuppositions of democracy.”
The Catholic Church, Novak states, is also starting to make its peace with capitalism. With limpid prose Novak makes the case that the greatest hope of the world’s poor to break the chains of poverty is free-market capitalism. He cites the successes of Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Ireland, and Chile. Novak calls for a worldwide Catholic “Initiative for the Poor.” What is needed, he says, are practical proposals such as the development of teaching guides and seminars offering technical support for “local elites and the poor alike.” The author recalls the plaintive words of a priest in Nigeria begging him to “set down” some practical criteria to fight poverty through economic growth.
Novak declares that it is time for a “blue” environmentalism to replace the “green” environmentalism that began in the 1970s and had great successes, but was sometimes “contaminated” with “eco-socialism.” Blue environmentalism is realistic and not opposed to economic growth: It holds that nature exists for man and not vice versa. Blue environmentalism “takes seriously the obligation to help the poor” escape from poverty by promoting markets and liberty, as well as the obligation to deal responsibly with our natural habitat. Novak characterizes “blue” as the “color of liberty, personal initiative, and enterprise” as contrasted not only with “green,” but explicitly with “red” — the traditional color of the Left and socialism. One suspects that the astute Michael Novak is having fun by reversing our contemporary (and misleading) “red-blue” political dichotomy and returning it to its traditional meaning.
Along with Augustine, Alexis de Tocqueville is a figure to whom the author returns throughout the book. Novak endorses Tocqueville’s claim that the first political institution of American democracy is religion (meaning specifically Christianity and Judaism). Although seemingly counterintuitive for secular intellectuals, Novak argues, this claim is true in the most basic sense. First, he notes the empirical evidence: On any given weekend, more Americans attend religious services than watch football on television both Saturday and Sunday together; five times more Americans go to church each week than go to movies; a higher proportion of Americans go to church today than in 1776; and “the religious factor is highly potent in American electoral politics, some would say it is the single most important factor.”
Philosophically, he declares that the essential beliefs of American democracy in human dignity, equality, and liberty would not have taken shape without prior belief in the religion of the Hebrew and Christian Bible. Thus, democracy in America “owes an enormous debt to Jewish and Christian faith.” Moreover, “biblical faith provides to reason practical fixed ideas (moral laws) that only very few philosophers — and they only uncertainly — can reach for themselves.” In America — unlike Europe — faith and reason, Jerusalem and Athens, Tocqueville’s “spirit of religion” and “spirit of freedom” are not adversaries, but, in the Frenchman’s words, “companions” in the maintenance of ordered liberty (as opposed to license).
Novak declares that at the center of the premises that undergird democracy is the regulative ideal of truth. Without the ideal of truth or the existence of an objective moral order independent of human will (whether based on religion or some form of natural law), there is no standard by which to judge right and wrong — and thus, only will and power remain. The so-called “critical thinking” theories in our law schools, which analyze all issues in terms of “power and interest rather than their relation to truth,” clear the way “for a regime that exercises naked power.” Indeed, this is what happened in the 1920s when anti-rational “theories of the absurd” served the “Fascist exaltation of power.”
On the underpinnings of American democracy Novak agrees with the Founding Fathers and Tocqueville that religion is an “indispensable” support of this republic. He disagrees with Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy’s declaration in the Casey decision that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Kennedy’s principle, Novak tells us, “throws every person into a region of lawlessness and personal arbitrariness. Its commandment is: do as you please.” The “destructive” logic of the Supreme Court decisions in Casey, Sullivan, and Lawrence demands the conclusion that “right and wrong are whatever we desire them to be.” The subtext of Kennedy’s reasoning is that there is no objective moral order, that the most important questions of life are defined by will, and thus, by power in some form (majoritarian-populist, or judicial-activist-elitist).
Novak’s book provides powerful insights into the interplay of religion, economics, culture, and democracy in the globalizing world of the 21st century. At the same time he implicitly defends and clarifies a principled American conservatism that does not simply adjust to the latest trends in the zeitgeist, or parrot theories of expressive individualism or states’ rights on core-values issues such as the definition of marriage, but stands forthrightly for an objective moral order in the tradition of the Founders and Lincoln.
Throughout the book, Novak examines various challenges to liberal democracy and the erosion of democratic mores and institutions within existing democratic states. However, one emerging threat to constitutional democracy is missing. I call this challenge “post-democracy.” It is the growing power and influence of transnational progressive elites (many of them American) who seek to limit the democratic sovereignty (i.e., the self-government) of the United States and the democratic sovereignty of some of our friends, including Israel, Britain, and Australia. The transnational progressives would use global institutions such as the U.N., the EU, and the International Criminal Court and seemingly benign concepts such as international law and human rights to limit American self-government and the self-government of other liberal-democratic nation-states. This global challenge to “government by consent of the governed” has been amply documented in recent years by, among others, Jeremy Rabkin, John Bolton, John O’Sullivan, and Robert Bork, as well as by Margaret Thatcher and Vaclav Klaus. It is time to take it seriously. Perhaps the subject of a future book by the prolific Michael Novak?
Mr. Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
“Politcs,” a near great man once said, “is not process. Politics is history.” It’s an astute observation. Process-oriented politicians are the bane of innovators and true believers. Focused on the need to keep the machinery of government oiled and working, they have little regard for what that machinery is supposed to do or why.
On the other hand, the idea that politics is history produces a view that the nation has been shaped by common experiences going back decades if not centuries. For most of the country’s existence, the values of the current generation of Americans evolved in a linear fashion from the priorities of the past. Politicians who embrace the historical view are more easily able to develop a program for the future, a vision of where America should go and what it must do to get there.
One such political leader is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In his latest book, “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America,” Mr. Gingrich proposes a series of reforms designed to renew American civilization, a phrase he once used to define the end-goal of his vision for America.
To Mr. Gingrich, the dawn of the new millennium has coincided with a period of great peril for the United States. Of the five threats to America he identifies early in the book — that Islamic terrorists and rogue dictators will acquire and use weapons of mass destruction; that God will be driven from the public life of the nation; that America will lose its patriotic sense of self; that the Chinese and Indian economies will surpass the United States’ because of failing schools; and, that the American system itself will collapse under the combined weight of Medicare and Social Security — four could, as he says, “undermine, even eliminate America as we know it.”
Subtlety was never his strong point.
And yet Mr. Gingrich is correct when he defines the problems as serious, even nation threatening. Big problems demand bold solutions, precisely the kinds of solutions that make process-driven politicians cringe. The risks — loss of power, electoral defeat, inability to rise to higher office — are too great for them to bear.
For Mr. Gingrich, who rose to a position of power second only to the president of the United States on the back of the first “Contract with America,” such concerns are trivial. Having been to the mountaintop, he is once again in the political wilderness — almost the same place he was when I first met him in 1988, seven years before I became the political director of GOPAC, the political committee he led before becoming speaker.
One of Mr. Gingrich’s gifts is his ability to distill what others insist are complex and nuanced problems into a set of clear and opposite choices, something that maddens liberals who seek to win power through obfuscation. His approach also does not sit well with some conservatives — like those who are coming out against President Bush’s call for the addition of private accounts to Social Security — who are busy finding reasons not to do anything. The possibility that Social Security may survive for a few more decades is, to them, a reason to leave it alone. For Mr. Gingrich, that is precisely the reason to take action now.
Mr. Gingrich — to reduce his ideas to their barest essentials — notes that these problems will be addressed in one of two ways: either through solutions that involve a maximum of expense and a minimum of freedom, or through those that maximize freedom and minimize expense.
These choices, and their potential outcomes, are real. One only need look at Tennessee, where the state government was being crippled by the costs associated with TennCare — a government health insurance subsidy for the poor that was once seen as a model for the future — to see that this is true.
The solution to the crisis, as Gov. Phil Bredensen defined it, was to slash the number of enrollees by half and to institute rationing to keep costs down. These were exactly the same kind of “solutions” conservatives like Mr. Gingrich warned would eventually be required if ClintonCare were adopted in the 1990s.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the crisis posed to Tennessee by TennCare is exactly the kind of crisis Mr. Gingrich identified as one of the five most serious now facing the United States.
“Winning the Future” is sure to provoke debate on the left and on the right. The problems identified are real and the solutions proposed are, in the main, sound places to begin the discussion of what is to be done.
Peter Roff is a senior political analyst at United Press International.
In one of the most significant Christian publishing events of our era, James Ussher’s colossal history of the world, titled “Annals of the World” is now available from WorldNetDaily – in English – after over 300 years of being accessible only to scholars.
In this masterful and legendary volume, commissioned by Master Books to be updated from the 17th-century original Latin manuscript to modern English and made available to the general public, can be found the fascinating history of the ancient world from the Genesis creation through the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.
# Why was Julius Caesar kidnapped in 75 B.C.?
# Why did Alexander the Great burn his ships in 326 B.C.?
# What really happened when the sun “went backward” as a sign to Hezekiah?
# What does secular history say about the darkness at the Crucifixion?
In the years 1650-1654, James Ussher set out to write a history of the world from creation to A.D. 70. The result was published in 1658 as the literary classic “The Annals of the World.” This famous comprehensive history of the world, originally published in Latin, offers a look at history rarely seen. Ussher traveled throughout Europe, gathering much information from the actual historical documents. Many of these documents are no longer available, having been destroyed since the time of his research.
Integrating biblical history (around 15% of the text is from the Bible) with secular sources, Ussher wrote this masterpiece. Considered not only a literary classic, but also an accurate reference, “The Annals of the World” was so highly regarded for its preciseness that the timeline from it was included in the margins of many King James Version Bibles throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
“The Annals of the World” is a necessary addition to any church library, pastor’s library, or any library — public or personal. The entire text has been updated from 17th-century English to present-day vernacular in a five-year project commissioned by Master Books. Containing many human-interest stories from the original historical documents collected by Ussher, this is more than just a history book — it’s a work of history.
# Important literary work that has been inaccessible in book form for over 300 years
# Includes CD of Ussher’s Chronology of the World — full of colored charts, graphs, timelines, and much, much more
# Translated into modern English for the first time
# Traces world history from creation through A.D. 70
# Over 10,000 footnotes from the original text have been updated to references from works in the Loeb Classical Library by Harvard Press
# Over 2,500 citations from the Bible and the Apocrypha
# Ussher’s original citations have been checked against the latest textual scholarship
# One of history’s most famous and well-respected historians
# Spent over five years researching and writing this book
# Entered college at age 13
# Received his master’s degree at age 18
# Was an expert in Semitic languages
# Buried in Westminster Abbey
One mark of a great book is a thesis so powerful that after a few years people take it for granted. Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions (1987) is such a book. Its thesis: The policy arguments between liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, do not arise just from differences in priorities regarding freedom, equality, and security. At root, they draw from different conceptions of the nature of man. The Left holds an unconstrained vision: Given the right political and economic arrangements, human beings can be improved, even perfected. Success is defined by what people have the potential of becoming, not by people as they are. The Right holds a constrained vision: People come to society with innate characteristics that cannot be reshaped and must instead be accommodated. Success in political and economic policy must be defined in light of those innate characteristics.
Once you have this framework in your head, the history of the great political debates of the 20th century coheres in a new way. The expansion of the welfare state, how to deal with crime, how to conduct the Cold War, the feminist revolution, colorblind policies versus affirmative action, who should control the schools — whatever the topic, the positions held by Left and Right make sense in terms of each side’s underlying vision of the nature of man.
A second mark of a great book is that it clarifies events that occur after its publication. Sowell wrote A Conflict of Visions during the 1980s, when the modern-liberal vision still had life and the influence of the classical-liberal vision was at its height. People on both sides still knew why they were so passionate about their political beliefs. Now we have the passion, but no why. The political climate is more partisan and bitter than ever, but what are we fighting over? Sowell’s thesis is useful in understanding this new environment.
Start with the Left. The difference between the Left of the 1960s and that of 2005 is that the politicians of the Left no longer believe in human malleability. The last two decades have refuted every basis for that belief, from the failure of Communism to the accumulating science of innate human nature. And so we end up with a politics of the Left stripped of the idealism that used to dignify even its most wrongheaded positions. The Left used to say that people were driven to crime by poverty and that the real crime was to punish them. Now the Left complains about too many people in prison, but it’s a cost/efficiency issue. The Left used to say that greater equality of income would lead to a happier society for everyone. Now the Left tries to play the envy card, but without the egalitarian idealism. On issue after issue, mainstream politicians of the Left no longer even try to appeal to the prospect of changing human beings for the better. Liberalism has become reactionary, trying to hold on to terrain it occupied in the Thirties and Sixties. Using Sowell’s language, we are watching what happens when Democrats have lost faith in the unconstrained vision of the nature of man and have not found anything to replace it.
Now apply Sowell’s explanatory template to the Right. From the founding of National Review — an opening date that I nominate without fear or favor — through the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the intellectual vigor of the constrained vision grew. Then, during the 1990s, we discovered how much the vigor of the constrained vision depended on competition. With the Left intellectually moribund, politicians of the Right began to take the easy way out. It is understandable, because advocating the policies of limited government is psychologically uncomfortable. It requires a politician to say he wants to do things that will cause pain — cut benefits for young women with babies, scrub regulations that putatively protect the environment, or end affirmative action. A decent person can endorse such actions only if he believes that they are essential for the ultimate good, and that means being steeped in the wisdom of the constrained vision of the nature of man. In the aftermath of the Reagan ascendancy, when running and winning as a Republican became so much easier, we got more and more Republicans who wanted to be nice guys. George W. Bush is their leader. And so we have watched a Republican-controlled government take a giant step toward federalizing public education through the No Child Left Behind Act; add a major new unfunded entitlement to Medicare; and, last summer, demonstrate that Republicans in power love pork as much as the Democrats ever did. We are watching what happens when Republicans have forgotten the constrained vision of the nature of man and replaced it with a fuzzy desire to do good.
A Conflict of Visions gives us an intellectual framework that must shape an attentive reader’s way of looking at the political world forever after. But I cannot celebrate it without pointing out that this is just one of over 30 Sowell books to date, and not necessarily the one that his biographers will designate his most important. I used to think that first place went to Knowledge and Decisions (1980), a statement of classical-liberal thought that is clearer than von Mises and more comprehensive than any single book by Hayek. But then I worked on projects for which Ethnic America (1981), crammed full of material one could find nowhere else, was an essential source. Or there is Sowell’s trilogy on the interaction of ethnicity, culture, and politics — Race and Culture (1994), Migrations and Cultures (1996), and Affirmative Action Around the World (2004) — an international empirical exploration that it is hard to imagine anyone else’s even attempting. Or choose one of the 29 books I haven’t mentioned, ranging in topic from technical economics to the phenomenon of late-talking children. Happily, Sowell is still at work, but his intellectual legacy is already staggering in its combination of breadth and depth. He is a national treasure.
Mr. Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
By Erin Montgomery
UNHINGED: EXPOSING LIBERALS GONE WILD
By Michelle Malkin
Michelle Malkin — conservative blogger, syndicated columnist, New York Times best-selling author and Fox News contributor — has accumulated hate mail that would make even her most audacious critics cringe. The e-mail messages are racist, misogynistic and at times downright pornographic — and they reached the height of viciousness during and after the 2004 presidential campaign. Luckily, this alleged “paid prostitute for the Republicans” has got a thick skin and devotes an entire chapter to the profane correspondence in her new book, “Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.”
The author’s new book is a case study in uncensored hatred. As she shows, this hatred goes far beyond some Democrats’ distaste for President Bush, the war in Iraq and conservative journalists. The Democrats who claim to value peace, tolerance and compassion have become violent, bigoted and just plain bizarre — and Mrs. Malkin has done a thorough job of chronicling their disturbing behavior.
She includes the story of a Democrat in Vail, Colo., who used a chainsaw to destroy two Bush/Cheney signs on private property. And one about registered Democrat Nathan Alan Winkler, who ran a Tampa woman and her two children off the road because their car displayed a Bush/Cheney sticker. Even after rounds of therapy to get over the depression and heartbreak that many liberals experienced after John Kerry’s loss, they’re still not healed. (Yes, many liberals visited therapists for “post-election depression,” as Mrs. Malkin explains in her book’s hilarious introduction, “Liberals on the Couch.”) “You won’t believe just how crazed the pacifists have become,” Mrs. Malkin writes.
Some “pacifists” have resorted to all-out violence against military recruiters on college campuses across the nation. At Seattle Central Community College, for example, 500 students attacked two Army sergeants who were manning a recruitment table on campus. Police officers whisked the soldiers off campus instead of dispersing the protesters — who went unpunished by the college president.
Also in Washington state, at an Independence Day parade, antiwar agitators showed contempt for Jason Gilson, a 23-year-old Marine who was injured in Iraq. Upon seeing the decorated young war veteran holding a pro-Bush sign, the crowd called him a “liar, a “baby killer” and a “murderer,” and made obscene gestures at him. Adds the author, “Gilson’s mother, who brought her entire family to the parade in support of her son, could not believe the viciousness of her neighbors.”
Even the hallowed halls of Congress weren’t spared from liberal lunacy when Democratic Rep. Pete Stark of California yelled homophobic slurs at Republicans during a mark-up session on pension funds legislation, or when Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia conjectured — before Howard Dean did — that Mr. Bush knew about the September 11 attacks before they happened.
The media, academia, literary elite and Hollywood celebrities have also played a significant role in advancing conspiracy theories and engaging in irresponsible chatter. They find themselves on Mrs. Malkin’s top-10 lists throughout the book. Cameron Diaz earns the No. 1 spot on the author’s list of “Top 10 Unhinged Celebrities” for implying on national TV that the re-election of Mr. Bush would lead to the legalization of rape.
The author has a knack for turning a phrase and constructing a supreme simile: “Like the hideous creature in the movie Alien, gestating in the stomach of a seemingly benign human host, the unhinged liberal feeds off the illusion of normalcy until he can no longer tolerate his artificial confines. This book is a forensic examination of the extraterrestrial creature exploding from the Democrat Party’s gut. Like any good horror movie, it’s scary and silly at the same time.”
Mrs. Malkin’s colorful and, at times, tongue-in-cheek words should leave no reader wondering how she really feels. She concedes that “fringe right-wingers do indeed exist,” but it’s not Republicans who are advancing conspiracy theories, making half-serious jokes about assassinating the president and acting violently against innocent people who express their right to patriotic expression.
The views of some liberals are “no longer relegated to the private remarks of a few Democrat politicians or the bloviations of a few fringe figures on the far Left. The syndrome is far more pervasive, intense, and sanctimoniously self-delusional than anything on the Right,” Mrs. Malkin writes. She will undoubtedly continue to document the dangerous and wacky world of unhinged liberals, but will her book be enough to change their ways? For the sake of our nation’s well-being, we can only hope so.
Review by Emily Yee
A seven-year old boy that gets into fights, goes to school, does his chores, and runs to his mother when he’s scared—can this really be describing the God of the universe?
For an author who faithfully provided her cult-like reader following a book every year for 25 years, Anne Rice has stepped into foreign territory—with a new kind of faith. Not only did she not produce anything for a two-year period, but the godmother of modern gothic fiction has undergone a complete turnaround. She went and got religious.
In 2003, Rice released The Blood Chronicle, the tenth in a best-selling series of vampire fiction. And just two months ago, the famous vampire author released a book with a whole new sort of title: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. What happened in between? Rice returned to the Roman Catholic Church after having kept away for decades, and as she has said in recent interviews, decided she would from then on “only write for the Lord.”
But even without knowing the shock of the author’s great personal turnaround, the story told in Christ the Lord bears a shock effect all of its own. Through the eyes and mind of Jesus bar Joseph himself, Rice puts to words what daily life during the early Roman Empire must have been like for a child the Christian Bible says was both fully man and fully God.
Read as any other novel, the book is a typical well-done Anne Rice classic. Jesus is a richly complex character, his family’s struggles are finely painted as dark inner and outer battles, and the reader’s emotions are captivated all throughout. But without even trying, the book is not like any other fiction novel. The story inherently elicits the reader’s understanding of the spiritual. The crux of the novel is precisely found in the fact that the boy narrating the story is the Son of God.
Throughout his whole life, Jesus had known that there was some great mystery about him, but his parents had always claimed the proper time had not arrived for that mystery to be revealed. The novel takes place at a time when clues begin to take shape and Jesus’ curiosity leads the way for pieces of the story to come together. Jesus learns that after he was born, his family was forced to flee their home of Nazareth, but he does not know why. His Uncle Cleopas frequently alludes to Mary’s vision from the Lord of long ago and then is silenced each time, but Jesus does not know why. And Jesus realizes that he has never called Joseph “Father,” but again—he does not know why.
Why, after getting into a fight with a bully, in which Jesus seemingly kills the other child that eventually comes back to life, must his family flee Egypt? Why does his brother James stare at Jesus as he does so often with a look of both awe and solemnity? Why, when his family finally returns to their home in Nazareth, does Joseph tell Jesus not to listen to the townspeople’s whispering about him, when Jesus does not even know why they would have reason to whisper?
Christ the Lord tells the story of a boy discovering he is God. Though Rice has spoken about the extensive historical and theological research that went into the accuracy of this novel, the thought of creating words, images, and emotions for a story so delicately acknowledged as the unknown, must raise some cause for caution.
But Anne Rice does well what she does best: she tells a story. Now whether the book is meant to be more a uniquely helpful insight into the God who humbled himself to come down to this earth as a man, or simply as a best-seller that delves into the curious world of the spiritual and non-spiritual, that will be entirely up to the reader. For Anne Rice, she has accomplished what she had set out to do: write for the Lord.
Emily Yee is the Editorial Assistant for Townhall.com
By Rebecca Hagelin
My teenage son Nick is smacked in the face with liberal, socialist dogma every day of his life. The notion that Big Daddy Government can take care of everyone, natural disasters and all of mankind’s ills is commonly accepted in his generation, because that’s the message the modern culture shoves down their throats.
It’s no wonder John Stossel’s book “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity” is Nick’s new “textbook” for fighting ignorance.
Just released in paperback after its status as a New York Times best-seller in hardback last year, “Myths” is the best graduation gift you could buy for any kid headed off to that bastion of liberal dogma — the American college campus.
But don’t take this old woman’s word for it. Nick thinks everyone should read the book. This bright kid often serves as my personal lab for how various products appeal (or don’t) to young adults. After eagerly consuming most of the book in one sitting, Nick was emboldened and equipped to challenge the status quo in his senior high-government class, and he had fun doing it.
Buy a copy for yourself, too. John Stossel has created a fun, bold, in-your-face handbook that debunks much of the ignorance that often fills adult conversation. “Myths” is also frighteningly entertaining. Stossel so easily trashes “common wisdom,” it’s downright scary the nonsense many Americans have been led to believe.
Fans of “20/20” have come to expect Stossel’s bold exposes and confrontations of liberal shenanigans. But if you think he’s fun to watch on television, you should experience him in action before a live audience.
Stossel recently spoke at The Heritage Foundation about his book and showed, once again, that he is an anomaly among network anchors and investigative reporters. He had the conviction and nerve to proclaim, “The free market makes everything better,” “Stop taking for granted the miracles of capitalism” and “Government holds people back.” Of course, he provided fact after fact to illustrate his declarations.
You find “brash” statements and documentation on every page of “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity.”
Stossel’s willingness to be courageous has not been without personal cost. As a young reporter on a mission to expose the ills of business and competition, John was showered with 19 Emmy awards before his own reporting convinced him that people and nations thrive in free markets. He hasn’t taken home one Emmy since.
But never mind — Stossel, also a popular columnist with Creator’s Syndicate, just wants to get out the truth.
You’ll find lots of great tidbits in his columns, “20/20” segments and in his books. (He also wrote the New York Times best-seller “Give Me a Break.”) In “Myths,” for instance, Stossel takes on the common belief that “drug companies are evil price gougers.” Politicians routinely pander to this sentiment, promising to protect poor, defenseless consumers. The truth is, as John points out: “The higher the price of drugs, the more good drugs we get.” He explains:
“Drugs don’t just suddenly appear. Thousands of researchers work tirelessly to develop them. Most attempts fail. But the few successes repay the cost of the failures. … The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development says the average cost of developing a new drug is a staggering $802 million. … The hated pharmaceutical companies make big profits, but I want them to make big profits because they have to make huge investments, suffer lots of failures and go through 10 to 15 years of testing before they can bring me the drugs that might save my life or alleviate my pain.”
Think government might do a better job? Like, say, the fine job it does running your average motor vehicle administration? Going down to your local MVA is like visiting a museum of what life was like in the old Soviet Union. And how about the post office? Is it just possible that the free market could help there? When it comes to delivering packages, John says, it has: FedEx, UPS and other private companies use the power of competition to bring you a better product for less money. (Even the post office has benefited here, offering “Express Mail” on packages.)
The fact is, there’s nothing the government can bring us that some good old-fashioned free-market capitalism can’t give us better and cheaper. The free market may be fueled by “greed,” but the fact that it’s free means that businesses must serve people to get their profits. They must deliver a superior product or watch themselves go out of business. A government monopoly, whether in health care or any other market, means less innovation, less efficiency and a lower quality of life.
Healthy, free-market competition flat out makes life better. Read Stossel’s book and you’ll be able to argue this truth with confidence.
Christianity Today magazine has released its list of this year’s top books on faith.
‘The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief’ by Francis S. Collins was one of ten books chosen as a winner in the ‘Christianity Today’ Book Awards 2007. It won in the category of Apologetics / Evangelism.
As part of the Christianity Today Book Awards 2007, judges selected ten winners in an assortment of categories ranging from Fiction to Christian Culture as well as twelve honorable mentions (Awards of Merit) to highlight quality work in Christian publishing.
“The evangelical book industry is often criticized for producing too much fluff,” explained Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, in a statement. “That’s true, but it also produces a great deal of good stuff. This contest is our attempt to reward good, thoughtful writing that addresses issues that concern evangelicals.”
The judges selected the best among the 291 titles from a combined 43 publishers that the contest brought in.
“We had, as usual, a happy problem,” added Galli, “choosing a winner among many clearly great books.”
The ten winners and their respective categories are as follows:
• Apologetics / Evangelism – The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins
• Biblical Studies – Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
• Christianity and Culture – The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World by Miroslav Volf
• Christian Living – Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey
• The Church / Pastoral Leadership – Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger
• Fiction – Dwelling Places by Vinita Hampton Wright
• History / Biography – Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War by Harry S. Stout
• Missions / Global Affairs – The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher J. H. Wright
• Spirituality – The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life by Robert E. Webber
• Theology / Ethics – The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche’s Critique of Christianity by Stephen N. Williams
The Association of American Publishers (AAP), the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry, recently released its annual estimate of total book sales in the United States, and according to its findings, religious books had a “difficult year.”
The report, which reveals sales from 2006, marked a sharp 10.2% drop in religious books sales compared to the previous twelve months. The trend was one of the biggest decreases among all the book categories reported on by AAP.
According to AAP, the drop is not critical, however, since “compound growth is still strong at 7.5% per year.”
Coincidently alongside the sag in sales of religious books has been a rapid interest in atheist books over the past months. Books that had not sold that well in the past are now beginning to turn into purchases.
According to some critics, people in the United States are starting to resent the role religion has played in society.
“There is something like a change in the Zeitgeist,” explained Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, in the Associated Press. “There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying.”
Some Christians, however, say they see the rise in atheist literature as only a reaction to the rise of religious influence. Christianity is gaining more strength, with several victories gained throughout the year.
Examples include the growth of homeschooling and private Christian schools, limits put upon stem-cell research, and a ban on partial-birth abortions that occurred recently in the Supreme Court.
“It sort of dawned on the secular establishment that they might lose here,” explained the Rev. Douglas Wilson, author of Letter from a Christian Citizen, in a debate on ChristianityToday.com. “All of this is happening precisely because there’s a significant force that they have to deal with.”
With the growth in the number of anti-religion books being sold, more are expected to come out on the market.
The report from AAP calculates its sales numbers by compiling data from the Bureau of the Census as well as sales data from “81 publishers inclusive of all major book publishing media market holders.” AAP estimated that U.S. publishers had net sales of $24.2 billion in 2006.
Religious books data were compiled in cooperation with statistics received from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) – an international non-profit trade organization of 260 member companies worldwide that “promotes excellence” among Christian publishers.
An annual publication that gives a comprehensive view of U.S. book publishing dollar and unit sales has unveiled a snapshot of the religious book market that is different from another recent report, which labeled 2006 as a “difficult year” for religious books.
Book Industry Trends 2007 was released this past Friday by the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG) – one of the U.S. publishing industry’s leading trade associations for policy, standards and research. It showed that religious books had grown strongly in 2006 with a net increase of 5.6% in net revenue compared to 2005.
The newly released stats are contrary to those presented in the sales report released recently by The Association of American Publishers (AAP), which compiled its data in cooperation with statistics received from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). The AAP report claimed that religious books had a “difficult year” with a 10.2% drop in 2006.
The difference may be due to a number of smaller publishers, who earned less than $50 million in revenue, included in the report by BISG. This was the second year that BISG included these minorities, allowing for a more complete picture to how religious books are faring.
“What we did see through our research is that there was definitely an increase in the number of publishers out there,” explained Jeff Hayes, research director for InfoTrends, in The Book Standard. “We estimate around 88,500 active publishers (both religious and non-religious) in 2006, which was about 1,400 higher than 2005.”
BISG has provided reports on book publishers and sales for the past 30 years. Book collaborators specifically look at eight categories that are major segments of the book business: adult trade, juvenile trade, mass market, religious, professional, university press, elhi, and college.
Among all the categories, Book Industry Trends 2007 revealed that religious books actually had the largest increase, followed by adult trade with a 3.9% growth.
Religious books also had the largest growth in unit sales at 3.1% compared to the other seven groups. Adult trade followed with a 1.7% increase.
As has been shown in the past years, there was an expected pattern yielding larger sales increases compared to unit sales growth.
According to BISG, the total publishers’ net revenues in 2006 reached $35.6 billion, an increase of 3.2%. AAP, in comparison, had only estimated that U.S. publishers had net sales of $24.2 billion.
Book Industry Trends 2007 writers also made sales forecasts for 2011, predicting strong gains for religious books.
Despite what critics have said about his highly popular and hotly debated best-seller, The Shack, author William Paul Young remains convinced that his book “is a God thing.”
“I absolutely am convinced that this is a God-thing that God is the One stirring this all up, challenging us to rethink and entertain growing deeper in a relationship with Him rather than pursuing our independence,” Young said during a live chat with book lovers last week.
Though Young had not originally intended the novel to be for public consumption, since its debut on the market last year, The Shack has reaped in a surprising amount of success, generating a large amount of buzz – both positive and negative – within Christian circles.
“This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his,” stated Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus Of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, in a published endorsement for the book. “It’s that good!”
Young’s No. 1 New York Times best-selling book tells the fictional redemptive story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, whose daughter is tragically abducted and murdered during a family vacation.
Four years after the tragedy, Phillips receives a note, supposedly from “God,” inviting him back to the abandoned shack where evidence of his daughter’s murder had been found. When Phillips accepts the offer and returns to the shack, he enters into a kind of spiritual therapy session with “God,” who appears in the form of a jolly African-American woman and calls herself “Papa;” Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.
“This is a story of one believer’s brokenness and how God reached into that pain and pulled him out and as such is a compelling story of God’s redemption,” explained author and former pastor Wayne Jacobson, who was part of a team that worked with Young on the manuscript for over a year and also is part of Windblown Media, the company he and Young formed to print and distribute The Shack.
“The pain and healing come straight from a life that was broken by guilt and shame at an incredibly deep level,” Jacobson wrote in his personal blog, “and he (Young) compresses into a weekend the lessons that helped him walk out of that pain and find life in Jesus again.”
Young says he had suffered sexual abuse in New Guinea as the child of Canadian missionaries and spent a decade in therapy trying to earn back his wife’s and family’s trust after an extramarital affair 15 years ago.
In 2005, Young started writing what would eventually be The Shack to show how he had healed by forging a new relationship with God.
“It wasn’t an intended thing,” Young said during an interview earlier this year on The Drew Marshall Show. “It wasn’t saying ‘Well, this is the new formula for touching the hearts of the people,’ but people are – they’re just starving for authenticity. They’re just starving for someone to stand up and say, ‘You know what? God loves the worst of us – the losers, the screw ups.”
“I’m an example of what grace looks like,” he added.
Young says he receives up to a couple hundreds of e-mail each day in which people communicate to him the “transformational” impact of the story.
“I know of three ‘avowed atheists’ who have embarked on a relationship with God because of this story,” Young said during last Wednesday’s weekly “Authors at Abunga” chat at Abunga.com. “This is a God thing and I am just thankful to be a part of this.”
Despite the positive impact, which Young said he believes is “for good and God,” critics of the book say there is too much “bad” that cannot be ignored.
“Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God),” wrote influential blogger Tim Challies in a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel’s assertions to Scripture.
“But the book also raised several concerns,” he continued before addressing the issues of the Trinity, submission, free will, forgiveness, scripture and revelation, and salvation.
In his conclusion, Challies said it was clear to him that The Shack is a mix of good and bad.
“Sadly, though, there is much bad mixed in with the good,” he added.
Young, however, argues that support from the theological community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Al [Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.] tried to get the book banned but was unsuccessful because the theologians of his denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) ‘could find nothing unorthodox in The Shack that would warrant it being removed or banned,’” Young claimed last Wednesday. SBTS, however, told The Christian Post that Mohler had not at any point asked an organization to restrict the sale of the title in any way, including LifeWay Christian Stores, which pulled the book from shelves for a brief two-week review of its theology.
“These men do not know me at all,” Young said of critics, which also includes Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, who Young said had not even read the book before criticizing it.
“[B]ut in the process,” he continued, “what they have written have actually told us much more about them than about the book.”
Therefore, despite whatever controversies there are surrounding the book, Young said there is nothing in the book that he would wish to have changed.
“Nope...would not change anything,” he said. “It is not a perfect book – I know because I wrote it – but it is the gift I wanted to give my children.
“I don’t feel that I stirred up the controversy any more than I feel like I am the reason for the success of the book. I believe that both are activity of an affectionate God who has an incredible sense of humor,” Young said.
Over one million copies of The Shack have been sold since it was published in May 2007. It has maintained its status as the No. 1 Paperback trade fiction seller on the New York Times best sellers list since June 2008.
According to Young, the title of the book “is a metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centered.”
by Gina Dalfonzo
Theshack Chuck Colson weighs in on the popular book in today’s BreakPoint commentary:
Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim’s Progress, allegories contain deep truths. That is my problem. It is the author’s low view of Scripture. For example, [protagonist] Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who “beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses.” The author reflects derisively in another spot that “nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that ‘guilt’ edges.”
The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting.
Also worth reading is our own Travis McSherley’s review:
. . . Instead of expanding our thinking and our appreciation for divine mysteries, the book shrinks them quite dramatically by creating a deity so clearly influenced by human expectations of what God should be. The awe-inspiring, indescribable Lord of Heaven is turned into a fishing buddy or cafeteria lady. Where is the consuming glory that has brought prophets, saints, and kings to their knees?
By Chuck Colson
When the prophet Isaiah and the apostle John caught glimpses of God, they were overcome with despair at their own unworthiness in the light of His glory. The same could be said of Daniel or Paul, or any number of figures from Scripture.
But when the protagonist of a new book called The Shack is introduced to the Father of heaven, he is greeted by a “large, beaming, African-American woman” who goes by the name of Papa.
If you have not heard about The Shack, there is a good chance you will soon. A novel self-published about a year ago by William P. Young, the book has gained quite a following in Christian circles. It is still among the top 10 sellers at Amazon.com. And when it receives a glowing endorsement from a scholar whom I respect, like Eugene Peterson, it is not a phenomenon that discerning Christians can ignore.
The story is about a man named Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. One day he finds a note in his mailbox—apparently from God. God wants Mack to meet Him at “the shack,” the place where his daughter was killed.
When he arrives, the shack and the winter scene around it transform, Narnia-like, into a mystical mountain paradise, perhaps meant to be heaven itself. Now dwelling in the shack are three mysterious figures—the African-American woman, a Middle Eastern workman, and an Asian girl—who reveal themselves as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The rest of the book is basically a discussion between Mack and the three persons of the Trinity. While the discussion is mostly on the deep topics of creation, the fall, freedom, and forgiveness, too often the author slips in silly lines that, frankly, seem ridiculous in the mouth of the Godhead. Jesus, looking at Papa, says, “Isn’t she great?” At one point, Papa warns Mack that eating too many of the greens in front of him will “give him the trots.” And when Jesus spills batter on the floor and on Papa, Jesus then washes Her—or is it His?—feet. Papa coos, “Oh, that feels sooooo good.” Ugh.
Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim’s Progress, allegories contain deep truths. That is my problem. It is the author’s low view of Scripture. For example, Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who “beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses.” The author reflects derisively in another spot that “nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that ‘guilt’ edges.”
The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting.
That is not to say The Shack is without merit. The centrality of Christ and God’s breathtaking, costly love come through loud and clear. But these truths are available everywhere in Scripture, everywhere in Christian literature. You do not have to visit The Shack to find them.
As Papa warns Mack, God is not who Mack expects He is. But He is also not what our creative imaginations make Him to be, either.
He Is, after all, Who He Is.
By Travis K. McSherley
A popular song from the ‘90s asks, “If God had a face what would it look like? . . . What if God was one of us?” Those are hardly original questions. Man has spent millennia confounded by the mysteries of the divine, wondering what the Father of Creation really looks like, sounds like, acts like.
Pop culture never strays very far from such ideas, either. As might be expected, Christian art has a vested interest in exploring the reality of God’s nature. But secular music, books, movies, and performances have also offered myriad attempts to personify God the Father or Jesus Christ, encompassing nearly every genre in every form of media.
Few of those, however, have had quite the spiritual influence—or received quite the spiritual endorsement—as William P. Young’s rising bestseller, The Shack. Originally writing to explain God to his children, Young eventually self-published the story, and over the past year, its popularity has ballooned. At last check, the paperback version was in the top 10 sellers at Amazon.com (number one among Christian books) and near the top of Publishers Weekly’s bestseller list.
Perhaps more noteworthy than the number of readers it is receiving are the supportive and excited testimonies from many of those readers. Eugene Peterson, creator of The Message paraphrase of the Bible, compares The Shack to a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress; and countless other reviews and blogs have testified to the book’s life-changing influence.
And that is surely the effect the story is meant to have. Readers are subtly challenged, along with the main character, Mack, to set aside their preconceived ideas about who God is, particularly if those ideas were formed through some institutional means like a seminary class or biblical exegesis.
As the plot unfolds, Mack is more than ready to shed his own perceptions of God, whom he blames for allowing his young daughter to be kidnapped and murdered during a family camping trip. Mack spends the ensuing years defining his life by his “Great Sadness,” until he one day receives a note addressed by “Papa”—the name Mack’s wife calls God—inviting him to come to the shack where his daughter was killed. In a desperate search for some kind of answer, Mack obliges, and makes the pilgrimage back to the symbol of his greatest anguish.
God is indeed there, ready to restore Mack’s joy, regain his trust, and rebuild his theology. Those are first jolted when Mack opens the door to find a warm welcome from a “large beaming African-American woman”—Papa.
If that’s not weird enough, the shack has two other residents as well: an Asian woman named “Sarayu,” who is a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit; and the Incarnate Jesus, who has once again stepped down from His seat of glory to take on the characteristics of a vulnerable, even weak, man. Mack spends time with all three Persons of the Trinity throughout the course of his weekend, and they each attempt to instruct him on the true nature of love, forgiveness, submission, and Trinitarian relationship.
Perhaps the book would have worked as some kind of metaphor. Instead, readers are presented with a literal encounter with the Godhead. And that’s what makes it disturbing. As blogger Tim Challies noted in his spot-on review, “The Pilgrim’s Progress . . . is allegory—a story that has a second distinct meaning that is partially hidden behind its literal meaning. The Shack is not meant to be allegory.”
The book is entirely a work of fiction and not a claimed experience (although the preface actually leaves the matter somewhat ambiguous), but nearly every interaction between the characters makes subtle or obvious theological claims. What a bold, if not dangerous, endeavor it is to create a character who doesn’t just purport to speak for God, but who claims to be God.
But “Papa” is not God. At least not the God of Scripture. He (or she, in this case) doesn’t speak like God, doesn’t judge like God, and—despite the entire premise of the book—doesn’t love like God. Nearly every aspect of God’s glory and power are distorted and diminished in the “Trinity” of The Shack.
This is the root of the book’s problems. In the course of the biblical narrative, God the Father never reveals Himself in the form of a human. In fact, Christ rebukes His disciples for even suggesting it. That is probably because the human mind is so completely incapable of grasping the fullness of God.
The Shack would not dispute these limits of understanding—it dedicates many pages to chastising believers who cling too tightly to traditional views of God’s nature. Yet, instead of expanding our thinking and our appreciation for divine mysteries, the book shrinks them quite dramatically by creating a deity so clearly influenced by human expectations of what God should be. The awe-inspiring, indescribable Lord of Heaven is turned into a fishing buddy or cafeteria lady. Where is the consuming glory that has brought prophets, saints, and kings to their knees?
The entire presentation of the Trinity is unsettling. And it’s not just because the Father is presented as a woman, though that in itself leaves some unnerving dialogue where God is referred to by male and female pronouns interchangeably, sometimes in the same sentence.
What’s left is a postmodern and somewhat new-age depiction of God that, par for the course, strips away almost every notion of God as a just, holy, and occasionally wrathful Lord. No where in The Shack does God demand obedience to, well, anything: “Not ready?” Papa asks Mack. “That’s okay, we’ll do things on your terms and time.”
And as much as God’s majesty and power and authority are diminished, His Word is completely disregarded. “God’s voice had been reduced to paper,” says the author, “and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.”
Thus, the book rarely cites Scripture directly (though Jesus does seem to pull a quote from The Matrix at least once), but when it does, the purpose is almost always to disregard biblical study or show how revelation can come from other sources—like The Shack, perhaps?
With the tether to Scripture broken, the book makes plenty of bold, though unsupported, assertions involving God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, forgiveness, submission and relational hierarchy, the purpose of pain, the design of Heaven, and many other issues that each have been written about and debated for centuries.
The central theme, though, seems to be that no matter what happens in our lives, God’s love is sufficient to carry us through. Fair enough. But that endless love will never encroach upon His role as King, Redeemer, and—yes—Father. For all the emotional pull that the book offers, the most convincing image of the rich love of God comes from Mack, not from Papa.
The Shack can’t receive a pass on how it addresses such topics simply because it’s a fanciful narrative. Other works of fiction, including movies like Bruce Almighty, have attempted to portray the Father as “one of us,” but few have had the temerity to wade so deeply into doctrinal waters as The Shack. And few have as much potential to distort their audience’s understanding of God.
As in those other works, there are a number of truths in The Shack, even valuable ones, like the importance of trusting God and not allowing fear of the future to dictate the present service to Him. But these small nuggets of truth are in no way worth taking in the abundance of theological distortion. The book asks many of the right questions—why must the innocent suffer? Can God really be loving when there is evil in the world? But its answers are so devoid of any scriptural foundation, or any reason to be confident in God’s power, that you are better off staying far away from The Shack.
Although there are many who wish it weren’t so, there is no question that The Shack is the publishing phenomenon of the year.
Author William Paul Young had not originally intended the novel to be for public consumption, but since its debut on the market last year, The Shack has shot surprisingly to the top of best seller lists and set up camp there, generating large amounts of buzz – both positive and negative – within Christian circles.
Not surprising, however, is the development of up and coming books and materials that hope to counter the bestseller.
“It was the most disturbing book that I had ever read in my life,” writes John Langemann in the yet-to-be-published book Beware the Shack, according to an advanced copy.
“The evil hidden in between the warp and the woof of this amazing tapestry is insidious,” adds the author from Cape Town, South Africa, who is pursuing his doctorate in theology. “The writer drops little ‘pearls of wisdom’ of language, theology, history, philosophy, etc. into his narrative to intimidate the reader into believing, mistakenly, that he has quantitive or qualitative knowledge in any, or all those areas, ‘so he must know what he’s talking about.’”
While many of the arguments presented in the new books are nothing new considering the months of debate The Shack has inspired, they are the latest in efforts by opponents of a book considered to be even more harmful than The Da Vinci Code, which centers on the alleged conspiracy to conceal the offspring of a married Mary and Jesus.
“Indeed, because it is being promoted as Christian fiction, it is much more dangerous than books like The Da Vinci Code, which never claimed to be Christian,” argued ministry leader Tim McGhee of Powell, Tenn., in a review of the book. “The Shack is nothing less than rank heresy disguised as Christian literature.”
According to Eric Barger, who has produced the DVD “The Death of Discernment: How The Shack Became the #1 Bestseller in Christianity,” the real problem with The Shack and other books, movies, and television shows like it, is that Christians can fail to use scriptural discernment if they let their emotions rule.
“We can be taken captive by ‘evil imaginations,’” argues Barger, who runs Take a Stand! Ministries.
And it is for reasons such as these that opponents of the bestseller are producing anti-Shack materials.
“As one who wears his emotions on his sleeve and who found himself being swayed by the heartbreaking storyline of The Shack, I must again caution,” Barger says. “To allow a gripping story to cloud our ability to detect even the subtle theological errors strewn throughout its pages is exactly what Dr. Michael Youssef meant when he described The Shack as ‘a deep ditch that’s covered by beautiful landscape.’”
To date, The Shack has sold more than 4.4 million copies in 24 different countries after being initially spurned by 26 publishers.
It has remained on the New York Times Bestsellers List for Paperback Trade Fiction for 29 weeks and currently retains the No. 1 spot.
The book has been openly criticized by conservative Protestant heavyweights including R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries; Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle; and influential blogger Tim Challies, who wrote a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel’s assertions to Scripture.
According to reports, Young is not a member of a church and is somewhat reticent about being labeled a Christian. Despite the book’s success, Young said he isn’t contemplating a sequel though The Shack may possibly be turned into a screenplay.
For 33 straight weeks, popular novel The Shack has been holding the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best-sellers list for Paperback Trade Fiction and reported a significant growth in sales last month while overall book sales dropped.
“During the five week period from November 2nd through December 7th, Neilson Bookscan reported a 43% growth in sales of The Shack,” reported Brad Cummings, publisher of Windblown Media, which was formed expressly to publish The Shack in May of last year.
“Publishers Weekly reported a 6.6% drop in sales the week ending December 7th while Bookscan reported a 22.5% increase in sales of The Shack for the same time period,” he added in an announcement last week.
Though author William Paul Young had not originally intended the novel to be for public consumption, since its debut on the market, The Shack has shot surprisingly to the top of best-sellers lists and generated large amounts of buzz – both positive and negative – within Christian circles.
“We live in a world of uncertainty, in which religion has not been able to produce the authenticity, forgiveness and love that resonates deep in the human heart,” says Young.
“Unexpected and unanticipated, this little story is touching places of the human soul in transformational ways and can only be properly characterized as ‘a God-thing,’” the former janitor adds. “I am humbled and grateful to be invited on this beautiful though sometimes painful adventure.”
Young’s best-selling book tells the fictional redemptive story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, who receives a note, supposedly from “God,” inviting him back to the abandoned shack where evidence of his daughter’s murder had been found. When Phillips accepts the offer and returns to the shack, he enters into a kind of spiritual therapy session with “God,” who appears in the form of a jolly African-American woman and calls herself “Papa;” Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.
The book has been openly criticized by conservative Protestant heavyweights including R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries; and influential blogger Tim Challies, who wrote a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel’s assertions to Scripture.
“Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God),” wrote Challies in his review/guide on The Shack.
“Sadly, though, there is much bad mixed in with the good,” he concluded.
Despite warnings, or perhaps as a result of them, many have been drawn to the book, titled as a “metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centered,” according to Young.
It has also prompted a number of individuals to produce books and materials to counter the surprise best seller, which they describe as “nothing less than rank heresy disguised as Christian literature.”
“Indeed, because it is being promoted as Christian fiction, it is much more dangerous than books like The Da Vinci Code, which never claimed to be Christian,” argued ministry leader Tim McGhee of Powell, Tenn., in a review of the book.
Also coming out are books and materials defending the book, including Finding God in The Shack by author Randal Rauser.
“The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to,” argues Rauser. “But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation.”
Despite the success of The Shack, Young said he isn’t contemplating a sequel though the book may possibly be turned into a screenplay.
According to reports, Young is not a member of a church and is somewhat reticent about being labeled a Christian.
2009 Books Issue: Our contest for the best last lines of books drew some great entries | Marvin Olasky
When my April 25 column announced a contest for "best last lines" of books (50 words maximum), we at WORLD looked forward to receiving maybe 100 entries. We received about 400 and have included 80 of them over the next eight pages, so if yours is included you hit the top 20 percent. If not, thanks for participating—I had to cut out some very good entries.
The 80 winners are listed this way: First, the 10 finalists for 'best' that went to our panel of judges. (Names of judges, and a paragraph that summarizes the process, are at the end of this article.) Then, 20 in each of three categories—classics, fiction, and nonfiction. Next, two endings chosen as best by the most readers and given honorable mention. (Because how could we slice up 30 ways the three subscriptions to WORLD that we are giving away?) Finally, eight last lines of books of the Bible; these were not subject to best-in-show judging, for every line in the Bible is an inspired winner.
The three endings not from the Bible judged best are in large type on the next several pages. One was a solo submission, but each of the others garnered eight nominations. In those cases we picked out the subscription winner by providential chance. Names of the winners: Julie Clason, Derek McCravy, Kent Schmidgall.
And a special honorable mention to a young reader who recommended our most-nominated ending, the conclusion to C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle. The reader also provided an excellent plot summary and concluded, "I really like when Aslan tells them, 'The term has now ended and the holiday has begun.' That is the best ending to any story. (Signed) Aslan Anthony, age 9 (that really is my name)."
Enjoy—and if a last line intrigues you, head to a library, bookstore, or electronic outlet and take a look at all that precedes it.
Jim Bouton, Ball Four
"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time."
—submitted by Drew Cochrane
Whittaker Chambers, Witness
". . . when our time shall have come, when our children shall be grown, when the witness that was on us shall have lost its meaning, because our whole world will have borne a more terrible witness or it will no longer exist."
George Eliot, Middlemarch
"For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
—Ruth A. Harris, Mike Kittle, Julie Clason, Rae Crum, Carol Fruge, Robin Weidman, Ben Slade III, Hope Owsley
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . and one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
—Deborah K. Adams, Megan Von Bergen
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
"Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
"Nothing had spoiled the day and it had been almost happy. There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his sentence, from reveille to lights out. The three extra ones were because of the leap years."
—Bruce R. Spidell, John R. Torczynski, McCleary family, Janice Hill, Paul Holloway, Derek McCravy, Ralph Clark, Gary Ferris
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
"'You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'
'Thank goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar."
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
"But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before."
—Beverlie Kardulas, Connie Ruzich, Beth Walker, Craig Johnson
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
"It's not often someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."
—Laura Hawbaker, Jean Worley, Kim & Brad Anderson, Barbara Wingard
Ellis Peters, The Sanctuary Sparrow
"'And now, I suppose,' he said, seeing his friend's face still thoughtful and undismayed, 'you will tell me roundly that God's reach is longer than man's.' 'It had better be,' said Brother Cadfael solemnly, 'otherwise we are all lost.'"
—McCleary family —
Louisa May Alcott, Little Men
"For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive."
Augustine, The City of God
"From all who think that I have said either too little or too much, I beg pardon; and those who are satisfied I ask, not to thank me, but to join me in rejoicing and in thanking God. Amen."
—Chuck Edwards, Cathy Flowers
G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
"There he saw the sister of Gregory, the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl."
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
"There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth."
—the Griffins, Eric Bierker, Vanda Fisher
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer
". . . my white hat left behind to mark the spot where the secret sharer of my cabin and of my thoughts, as though he were my second self, had lowered himself into the water to take his punishment: a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for a new destiny."
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
". . . and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"
—Janiece Robinson, Kent Schimdgall, Jill Kaltenthaler, Brooks Carlson, David Ragonesi, Linda Knowles
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
"But here begins a new account, the account of a man's gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, unknown reality. It might make the subject of a new story—but our present story is ended."
—Mitchell Sunblade, David Ragonesi
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
"He turned out the light, and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."
—Megan Hill, Janet Klepper, Mary Pierce, JoAnna Williams, Leslie Hahs
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
"Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."
—Amy Burback, Jo Ann Kosobucki, Jim & Faith Lawrence
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."
—Beth Benson, Alandra Blume
John Milton, Paradise Lost
"Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way."
—Steve & Shirley Rowe, Meghan Bowker
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
"I'll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara, I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."
—Linda Gale, D'Ann Mateer, Jennifer Rath, Sondra Bolzman, Mrs. Thomas Clarke
George Orwell, Animal Farm
"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
—Abigail Maurer, Eric Schansberg
George Orwell, 1984
"Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."
—Michael Friend, Esther Bayazitoglu
Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
"For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret."
—Susanna Brister, Betty Reynolds, Judy McDonough, Claude Anderson, Michael & Sharon Krall
Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
"And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be."
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
"He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance."
Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
"She leaned her head against the sun warmed door, and closing her eyes, whispered, just as if she had been a child saying her prayers, 'God bless Aunt Miranda; God bless the brick house that was. God bless the brick house that is to be!'"
Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days
"What had he brought back from this long and weary journey? Nothing, say you? Perhaps so; nothing but a charming woman, who, strange as it may appear, made him the happiest of men! Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?"
E.B. White, Stuart Little
"But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction."
—Mary Norton —
Richard Adams, Watership Down
"He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom."
Randy Alcorn, Safely Home
"Every one of them realized something with undiminished clarity in that instant. They wondered why they had not seen it all along. What they knew in that moment, in every fiber of their beings, was that this Person and this Place were all they had ever longed for . . . and ever would."
—Shilloy Lowe, Kimberly Snell, Anita Weber
Lloyd Alexander, The Illyrian Adventure
"The dear girl, I fear, may be contemplating some alarming, disruptive, perhaps dangerous project. In which case, I would naturally do all in my power to keep her from any such rash or foolhardy enterprise. Unless she wished me to accompany her."
Wayne Thomas Batson, The Rise of the Wyrm Lord
"Adventures are funny things. They offer dark, uncertain times, forks in the road and choices between comfort and peril. And in such times, heroes can be made or undone."
Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline
"'I want the name of a man I can respect on my diploma, Colonel.' He handed me back the diploma without signing it. 'There already is, Bubba,' he answered. 'There already is.' And he pointed to my name."
—Chris Weaver, Adrian Yelverton
Leif Enger, Peace Like a River
"Is there a single person on whom I can press belief? No sir. All I can do is say, Here's how it went. Here's what I saw. I've been there and am going back. Make of it what you will."
—Beverlie Kardulas, Bruce MacPhail, Deena Bouknight
Kathryn Forbes, Mama's Bank Account
"'Five times,' I said wonderingly. 'Five times. And all you went through raising us—'
'It was good,' Mama said.
'How can you say that? Why, I can remember times, Mama—'
'It was good,' Mama repeated firmly. 'All of it.'"
C.S. Forester, The African Queen
"Whether or not they lived happily ever after is not easily decided."
Jan Karon, At Home in Mitford
"He felt a weight lifting off his shoulders as the little plane lifted its gleaming wings over the fields. Go in new life with Christ, he said silently, wondering at the strangely familiar thought. Go, and be as the butterfly."
Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley
"How green was my valley then, and the valley of them that are gone."
George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind
"A lovely figure, as white and almost as clear as alabaster, was lying on the bed. I saw at once how it was. They thought he was dead. I knew that he had gone to the back of the North Wind."
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's greatest flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. . . . Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
"Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."
Ralph Moody, Little Britches
"Father had always said grace before meals; always the same twenty-five words, and the ritual was always the same. Mother would look around the table to see that everything was in readiness; then she would nod to Father. Then she nodded to me, and I became a man."
—John Holzmann, Holly Schoeppler, Trish Bober, Amy Gosswiller, Anna Funke, the Dan Fox family, Gina Remer
Frank Peretti, Piercing the Darkness
"Tal smiled and shook his head in wonder. 'Redemption. It will never cease to thrill me.'"
Ellis Peters, One Corpse Too Many
"You did the work that fell to you, and did it well. God disposes all. From the highest to the lowest extreme of a man's scope, wherever justice and retribution can reach him, so can grace."
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling
"In the beginning of his sleep he cried out, 'Flag!' It was not his own voice that called. It was a boy's voice. Somewhere beyond the sinkhole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever."
Jules Verne, Purchase of the North Pole
"The world's inhabitants could thus sleep in peace. To modify the conditions of the Earth's movement is beyond the power of man. It is not given to mankind to change the order established by the Creator in the system of the Universe."
—Ken Mueller —
Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers
"'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?'
'No,' I answered, 'but I served in a company of heroes.'" —Sgt. Mike Ranney, Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR
Stephen E. Ambrose, D-Day June 6, 1944
"To think of the lives that were given for that principle . . . paying a terrible price on this beach alone, on that one day, 2,000 casualties. But they did it that the world could be free. It just shows what free men will do rather than be slaves."
Roger Angell, The Summer Game
"The players below us—Mays, DiMaggio, Ruth, Snodgrass—swim and blur in memory, the ball floats over to Terry Turner, and the end of this game may never come."
—Roy D. Hall
Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box
"That life was designed by an intelligence is a shock to us in the twentieth century who have gotten used to thinking of life as the result of simple natural laws. But other centuries have had their shocks. . . . We will endure the opening of Darwin's black box."
Brother Andrew, God's Smuggler
"Together, the two of us. The twelve of us. The thousands of us. None of us knows where the road will lead. We only know it is the most exciting journey of them all."
William F. Buckley Jr., Up from Liberalism
"Obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free."
Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body
"If faith is at war with fear, if catastrophe can turn from death to resurrection, if hope can triumph over despair . . . if there was ever a time for the church to be the church, it is now. Go light your candle!"
Nicky Cruz, Run Baby Run
"Vamanos! Let's run. It's time to do Jesus' work."
Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism
"We do not fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not subsequently converted; we fail only if we do not faithfully tell the gospel at all."
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
"I go my way, and my left foot says 'Glory,' and my right foot says 'Amen': in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise."
—Betty Reynolds, Joanna Strube
Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers
"He (the scientist) has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom
"And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see that time and again, Christianity demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength."
Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
"I stayed on deck to watch Elephant Island recede in the distance. . . . I could still see my Burberry flapping in the breeze on the hillside—no doubt it will flap there to the wonderment of gulls and penguins till one of our familiar [gales] blows it all to ribbons."
—John & Angela Eerkes
John C. Lennox, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
"Inevitably, of course . . . all of us, have to choose the presupposition with which we start. . . . Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second."
Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences
"Today marks my final role call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps—and the Corps—and the Corps. I bid you farewell."
David McCullough, 1776
"Especially for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning—often circumstances, storms, contrary winds, the oddities or strengths of individual character had made the difference—the outcome seemed little short of a miracle."
—Douglas R. Meyer
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
"For in the end, he [Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking."
Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man
"The country now seemed to remember again what it always knew: that the adventurer was the force who pushed the country forward. It was the adventurer's America too that the soldiers would shortly be defending. And no one wanted to serve more than the Forgotten Man."
Joanne Shetler, And the Word Came With Power
". . . besides, I've never quite figured out just how to bring God glory. But I have learned to surrender my dreams to him. And he has made the reality of living according to his plan even better than my greatest dreams."
Joni Eareckson Tada, The God I Love
"There are more important things in life than walking."
Elie Wiesel, Night
"I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me."
Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?
"Jessye Norman later confessed that she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. I think I know. The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it."
—Michelle Weeks —
The two most popular entries
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."
—Dale Youngs, Ken Mueller, Lesly McDevitt, Lyle Nussbaum, Drew Flowers, Charlie Starr, Clay Belcher, Patrick Glennon, David Misner, Kalie Jean Ferris, Paul Wicks, Cathy Broom, Bridgette Schulz, Catharine Platt, Gayle Robinson, Vince & Jo Calo, Andy Klepac, Marda Kirkwood, Janet Spears, Mary Norton, Kathryn Dillard, Ann Dennen, Michael Jackowitz, Lisa Richardson, Kalie Jean Ferris, Elsa Wilson, David Chester, Kiersten Llewellyn
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
"All their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."
—Randy Jahns, Dan Johnson, Susan Marlow, Thomas & Faith Miller, Jenny Alvis, Caitlin DeMarco, Hanna Austin, Thierry Ross, Lindele Elliot, Danielle Christy, Valerie Benzinger, Helen Keen, Cindy Austin, Emily Newman, Lori Parziale, Pierce family, Christie Thawley, Bonnie Easton, Doug Perkins, Tracy Murchison, John Reishus, Emily Valine, Christopher Colaccia, Amy Meyers, Kerissa Lee, Tom Sanders, David Couchman, Cole Le Mahieu, Amber Amland, Susan Gingrich-Rudd, Sherry and Sarah Worthen, Trevor Thomas—and Aslan Anthony —
Note: translations are those used by contest entrants
"In those days there was no King in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
—Norman Ripley, Craig Johnson
"After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days."
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her words bring her praise at the city gate."
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."
—John Langley, Kevin Crain, Tim Paige, Dawnna Pearson, Carol Schoenheit, Mark Carroll
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."
"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen."
—Rod Johnson, Cindy Davis, Barry Voorn, Ralph Ringenberg, Dan Johnson, Thomas Grisa, Melvyn Michaelian, Rebekah Jackowitz, Rose McCauley —
The literary form of the memoir - from Latin, via French, meaning “memory” - has had a good run these last few years.
The quick-turnaround life story by the person in the news is among the safest bets in the risky business of book publishing, and self-help books are routinely marketed as personal narratives of redemption.
But this success, driven by the modern reader’s attraction to “true” stories, has also led to opportunism and scandal. Now, it seems that a good story well told is nowhere near enough. A memoirist must also be willing to falsely claim that her childhood was a drug-fuelled, pedophilic romp through America’s truck stops, or that he survived Auschwitz by sharing apples with a friendly German child on the other side of the fence.
Recent examples of autobiographical fiction abound, from memoirs of booze (James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces being the most notorious), to criminal subcultures (J.T. LeRoy’s The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and Margaret Seltzer’s Love and Consequences) to the Holocaust (Herman Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence, Misha Defonseca’s Surviving With Wolves).
But the modern preoccupation with truth-optional memoirs is more than just a publishing trend. It is basic to the culture, and it reveals a deeper truth about memory: having a flexible relationship with the truth is not just good business, it is human nature.
There is even a psychological term for it. Hedonic editing is the tendency to see one’s past through rose-coloured glasses, to exaggerate the good, minimize the bad, and invent or omit details to make one’s life a better story. Those who are unable to do this can find themselves irrationally tormented by the past, even to the point of mental illness. Understandably, some of them have started to write memoirs.
Jill Price, author of The Woman Who Can’t Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science - A Memoir, has been interviewed by just about every major American media outlet over the last year, most of which focused on her uncanny ability to recall the dates of sitcom episodes and major news events, before probing the darker aspects of her personal and emotional life.
Speaking to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, she said, “I still feel bad about stuff that happened 30 years ago. Not one or two things. Everything.”
Gary Marcus, a cognitive scientist who also interviewed her, concluded that she had a very unusual memory, but he is skeptical. “Except for her own personal history and certain categories like television and airplane crashes, Price’s memory isn’t much better than anyone else’s,” he writes, adding, the title of her book is “manifestly false.”
Ms. Price “remembers so much about herself because she thinks about herself - and her past - almost constantly,’ he wrote. “The truth is, most people could remember their lives in considerable detail if they contemplated them with the same manic intensity.”
This, clearly, is abnormal, and more than one expert has explained her ability (or disability) as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Likewise, the New York writer Augusten Burroughs (also at the heart of a memoir scandal and a lawsuit, although he maintains Running With Scissors is “entirely accurate”) claims to be able to remember, in fanatically rich detail, events in his life back to infancy. More than a few critics have wondered what is actually remembered and what is conjured out of whole cloth, and what, if anything, the distinction means to the modern memoirist.
The common thread among memoirs is a fixation on the self as the source of artistic insight. If memoir is a reflection on identity, memory is the mirror in which it takes place.
In history, “everyone tends to agree that autobiographical memory is almost exclusively Western,” said John Hellman, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal.
He sees Facebook autobiography as the culmination of a cultural trend that began, more or less, with the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Hadrian had an arranged marriage to his third-cousin Sabina. He also had a male lover, Antinous. In AD 130, Antinous drowned in the Nile while on a lion-hunting trip. The death devastated Hadrian, who tried to ease his grief by ordering the construction of “memory palaces” all around his empire in honour of Antinous. Prof. Hellman cites this as one of the first times in Western culture that autobiographical memory emerged as a driving force in culture.
Now, he sees his students becoming more inclined to talk about themselves in ever greater detail. “Every year they’re more autobiographical. More into MySpace, more into Facebook, more into ... putting themselves out there and talking about themselves,” he said.
One of Prof. Hellman’s students, Leah Meth, explored the roots of this tendency in her presentation on nostalgia in the work of the 20th century American artist Joseph Cornell. He is best known for his construction of Memory Boxes, small surrealistic “assemblages” of found items in glass-fronted boxes that were, in effect, modern riffs on Victorian curiosity cabinets.
“His whole life was about containing time,” she said. “He was lonely because of his conception of time. He couldn’t be comfortable in the present until it had become the past, until he could categorize it.”
It remains to be seen what the rise of the Internet will do to future memoirs, and how this will affect the existential worry that, as Cornell put it, “we are tomorrow’s past.” Perhaps the angst will fade, and nostalgia will come easily to people who have digitally recorded every detail of their lives. Or maybe these online records themselves will be a source of despair at growing old.
Either way, autobiographical memory is not what it used to be, and Cornell’s angst about nostalgia seems prescient. He may have been fixated on the past, but he was ahead of his time.