Book Review: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

So, I finally decided to read this classic work of Christian apologetics and despite the buildup it’s been given over the years, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very strong book and I can see why it’s been responsible for many conversions over the years. (Chuck Colson wrote an introduction to the version I have stating how this book brought him to believe.)

I’ve seen a few criticisms of it over the years, but I think those were from people who misunderstood the book. As he stated in his introduction, Lewis wasn’t trying to write a doctrinal essay expounding every point of Christian belief, but rather a book showing why belief in Christianity is rational and logical. He’s not writing the Summa Theologica, just trying to get people started on the road to Christianity. On that line though, I was surprised when he wrote about the Eucharist, given the number of Protestants who don’t believe in that doctrine. (They’re wrong not to, but there are a large number of them, so I’m surprised Lewis brought it into his work.)

This book covers a variety of topics in an easy to understand format, including:

* Why we can know God Exists
* Why there must be an absolute Truth
* Why Monotheism is the only theism that makes sense
* Why Christianity is true
* Why the failings and faults of Christians don’t disprove Christianity
* Why it makes sense that the one God must consist of multiple persons

Given the clarity and logic of this book, I’d be interested to see what disagreements atheists have with it. It’s hard to disagree with. If you’re interested in Christianity, this book will help you understand why it’s the true faith, and if you’re already Christian it will reaffirm your faith.

Book Review: Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver

So, I finally got around to reading Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver. Considered a conservative classic, I’ve been hearing great things about it since I was in college. Despite the buildup of a decade and a half, this book more than exceeded my expectations. It’s amazing how prescient this book is examining developments in contemporary society, even though it was published sixty years ago. It really brings home how long this process of our decline has been developing.

In fact, Weaver traces the decline to the acceptance of William Occam’s doctrine of nominalism, which denied the existence of universals. An absence of universals, of course, makes a truly united society or community impossible, as there can be no common beliefs or creed upon which unite. Early in the book, he makes a distinction between truth and fact. Facts are true, but in no way tell us anything of important or eternal value. A way of thinking about this is that it is a fact that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in his career, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the human condition.

He often decries an increasing selfishness in Western culture seeing examples of that run through many segments of society. He claims music took on an increasing selfishness since Beethoven who, Weaver claims, was too fond of the French Revolution. This continued on through jazz which was overtly sexual and focused on a self-centered definition of love. (I can’t imagine what he would think of rock’n’roll and even more recent music.) Television and, to a lesser extent, radio encourage this selfishness by focusing on the material possessions and encouraging consumerism. Science for its own sake, divorced from morality, also comes under attack.

City living and corporatism come under attack as well as they reduce men to mere cogs in a machine, rather than a more rural or agrarian lifestyle in which man can find greater fulfillment in working more directly for himself and producing directly for his own needs.

He makes a convincing case that our society is too focused on pleasing the individual’s physical or material needs, while working to deny the existence and the eternal or transcendent, much less acknowledge man’s need for them and the importance they play in our individual and societal life.

What continually surprised me is how Weaver could have such a Catholic outlook on life, without actually being Catholic. Even more amazing, he spent a great deal of time with the early conservative movement, which was very Catholic in makeup. The leaders of the movement, largely Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr. were very Catholic, as were others very active like Brent Bozell. Yet, with such a Catholic outlook on life, and being surrounded by Catholics, he apparently never converted, which is a great mystery to me.

By the second page of the introduction, I assumed him to be Catholic. At the end of the paragraph continuing from the first page he writes:

For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.

It’s hard not to see a condemnation of Protestantism, where each Christian is left to his own devices to determine what the Word of God is for himself. He further claims that the perfect society was medieval Europe. How someone like that never became Catholic is beyond me.

But aside from that, this book is a great read and a truly important one. Despite the build-up it had been given over the years, it exceeded my expectations and really gave me something to think about. It’s a must-read.

Book Review: Benedict of Bavaria

I picked up this book after hearing an interview with the author on Catholic Answers Live. (Listen to the interview online.) By way of coincidence, the author Brennan Pursell is a professor at DeSales University in Allentown, run by the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales, who also run the best damn high school around. Oh, and while I’m on the subject of my high school: St. Mark’s sucks!

The point of this book is to draw a picture of Pope Benedict XVI not just as a theologian or a Bishop, but as a Bavarian. It does an excellent job of showing how growing up in Bavaria impacted the Pope’s life making him the person he is today. By the accounts of all who actually know him, he is a gentle, humble kind man who tries to lead and persuade, rather than impose his will as some stereotypes would have it. It should hardly need to be done, but Pursell takes the time to deflate the myths of the “Panzer Cardinal,” claims that Benedict was a Nazi who shot down American planes, or that he’s a hardliner who crushes all questioning on theological topics. He shows the falsity of all of those claims with specific examples from Benedict’s life.

He also provides an introduction to Benedict’s theological thought and beliefs which serves as an interesting starting point for learning more about his approach to Christianity. An interesting note: his thesis was rejected the first time it was presented due to his contradiction of the beliefs of a member of the board presenting it, and a poor typing job. He was given the opportunity to revise it and re-present it, only to have the board turn on each other debating his central arguments. He was, of course, ultimately allowed to pass. History could have taken a much different path had he been rejected again.

One thing I had read a while back, but forgotten, that the book brings out is that Bavarians do not really consider themselves German. Having had independence from greater Germany for much of history, they don’t feel as as strong a connection with the rest of the nation. (Religious difference likely exacerbate this: Bavaria tends to be very Catholic, especially when compared to the Protestantism of much of the rest of Germany.) Bavaria was one of the most anti-Hitler regions of Germany, as it wasn’t until Hitler was given dictatorial powers that there was much of a Nazi presence in Bavaria, and even then it tended to be “softer” than in the rest of Germany, while still quite deadly to those who openly opposed Hitler, and there were quite a few Bavarians who met their end this way.

This book serves as both a useful introduction to Pope’s theological views and his many theological books and a reminder that we can’t understand the person Joseph Ratzinger if we think of him as German. He’s not: he’s Bavarian as this book amply shows and explains. It’s a great way to get to know our “German Shepherd.”

Book Review: Living the Mass by Fr. Dominic Grassi and Joe Paprocki

Loyola Press had a promotion where people participating in a parish RCIA program either as candidates for full communion with the Catholic Church or as team members could receive a free book from their catalog. I looked at the books they were making available through the program and selected Living the Mass: How one hour a week can change your life by Father Dominic Grassi and Joe Paprocki. I didn’t really have high expectations for the book, as I had a hunch based on past experience with Loyola Press that the book would be somewhat fluffy and lightweight. Plus, you get you what you pay for, right?

Well, I wasn’t wrong… The book was kind of light and fluffy and I didn’t find much new in the way of insight. And the authors got some stuff wrong: they belittled the “old” Mass for giving people the supposedly mistaken notion that the priest alone, without participation from the laity present, performs the consecration, changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Of course, this is exactly what happens, as the priest-author should know, especially since he relates that he often celebrates the Mass alone, as priests are encouraged to do on days when they are not publicly celebrating the Mass. If the laity’s attendance were essential to the consecration, then he couldn’t perform the consecration alone. (I don’t think I misinterpreted what they were writing; I read the paragraph a number of times.)

In addition, they seem to develop a false dichotomy between the body and the blood of Christ saying that receiving under the appearance of bread expresses our unity with all of Christ’s baptized people, since “through baptism, we become members of his mystical body”, while receiving from the cup expresses our “commitment to the mission of the church.” There are a number of problems with this section. First, there is no separation between the body and the blood under the two different species. Receiving either under the appearance of bread or under the appearance of wine gives us the fullness of Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity. Receiving under both species is not necessary. While describing that way might be helpful and make it more meaningful, implying that both are necessary is incorrect and against the long-held teaching of the Church. Additionally, if receiving under the form of bread expresses our unity with all the baptized, why has the Catholic Church always restricted reception to those in full communion and good standing with the Catholic Church, excluding those Catholics not yet admitted to Communion, those not in a state of grace, and non-Catholic Christians?

I can’t really recommend this book. The theology is shaky and I think it really fails in its main mission of inspiring us to live the Mass during the week.

Book Review: Mary and the Christian Life by Amy Welborn

This is a short book, designed to help us appreciate the Mother of Jesus more and show the importance she has for all Christians. After all, no one was closer to, thought more about, or had a greater influence on Jesus than His mother. He took His existence from her, His very DNA was based on hers, she was by His side through His childhood, raising Him, teaching Him how to live in this world. No one in the history of the world spent more time with our Savior, and therefore it’s important for us to reflect on her so we can understand how we can be a more perfect disciple of Him.

Amy Welborn takes us through the Bible, discussing Mary’s appearances in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation:

The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Magnificat
Mary’s Pregnancy and Birth of Jesus
The Presentation
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The Miracle at Cana
Mary at the Foot of the Cross
“A Woman Clothed with the Sun” (John’s Vision in Revelation 12)

Each of these stories tells us something about Mary and her relationship with Jesus which in turn tells us about what we need to do to grow as close to Jesus as His mother was. Welborn also traces the beliefs and traditions about Mary through Church history, showing that Mary was revered and honored from the earliest history of the Church, quoting from Church fathers and ancient Christian prayers honoring Mary.

This book can help us all grow in our appreciation of Mary and help us all to understand how she can help us go closer to Jesus. This book can help us get “To Jesus, Through Mary” as Saint Louis de Montfort wrote centuries ago.

Book Review: Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony DeStefano

I read a number of good reviews of this book, but wasn’t particularly interested in reading it. I ended up receiving it in the mail from a charity I support (I’ve forgotten which one), so I decided to read it.

It’s a good read and helps us to remember how we should pray when we pray to God. While it has some Catholic references, it’s really written for all Christians; indeed, of the four “advance praise” quotes on the back cover, only one is from a Catholic. (I haven’t heard of the other three people quoted, so I presume they’re non-Catholics of some sort.)

The prayers that DeStefano lists are:

God, Show Me That You Exist
God, Make Me an Instrument
God, Outdo Me in Generosity
God, Get Me Through this Suffering
God, Forgive Me
God, Give Me Peace
God, Give Me Courage
God, Give Me Wisdom
God, Bring Good Out of This Bad Situation
God, Lead Me to My Destiny

The common thread among these prayers is a desire to come closer to Him, to be more like Him. They’re not about what God can do for us, but about shaping us to do His Will, to grow to be more like Him.

My favorite part of the book was where he points out the foolishness of those preachers who claim God wants us all to be rich or that He will give us anything we ask for if we pray with sincerity. God doesn’t desire us all to be wealthy; as the Psalmist wrote, “He hears the cry of the poor.” Plus, enough lose sight of Him as a result of their self-sufficiency and security, that being wealthy can be a detriment to a properly focused life.

This book reminds us that the greatest prayers we can make are to be more like our Lord; concern for others, sacrifice, love, acceptance of God’s will. Desire to grow in those virtues is something God will always help us with.

Book Review: Liberal Fascism

I finally finished this book, after having started it back in January. A combination of being really busy and a brief illness kept me from devoting as much attention as I would have liked.

Even had I had more time to devote to it, it still would have taken me a while to read; it’s over 400 pages plus 60 pages of footnotes and is a very thought-provoking book, requiring much reflection and pondering of its many points. It shatters many commonly held myths about the historical Left and Right.

The book had its genesis in the frequent attacks upon himself in particular, and conservatives in general, where members of the Left would attack conservative views and policies as “fascist,” and consider the argument over. Goldberg, like most students of history, knew these claims to be false as Fascism was virtually always a product of the Left. After all, if one philosophy holds for smaller, less intrusive government, while another calls for greater government control over virtually all facets of life which one is more fascistic? The one calling for larger government, of course, and yet it is the liberals, who subscribe to that point of view, who call conservatives fascistic. I believe it’s for this reason this book had never been written before: liberals didn’t know better and conservatives knew the charge was ridiculous and considered it unworthy of a response. Goldberg decided enough was enough and wrote a book that should, once and for all, demolish the association of Fascism and the Right.

He begins with a forward titled “Everything you know about Fascism is wrong” wherein he exposes the falsity of the association of the Right and the Fascists. He then continues with a chapter each focusing on Mussolini and Hitler, showing that their political roots lay in their nations’ respective Left. He shows that the hatred between Communists and Fascists lay not in their political opposition, but in the fact they were fighting over the same political turf: the Left. (Think of how much many Republicans hate John McCain, for example, even though he agrees with him so often. Ann Coulter dislikes him so much she’d promised that she’d support Hillary Clinton over McCain, despite the many disagreements between the two blondes. We get angrier with those we expect to agree with us than those who we write off. Just like no one can make us as angry as those we truly love.) He also makes a point to define Fascism before beginning his discussion of its history: “Fascism is a religion of the state.” The belief that “salvation” will come through a large, interventionist government that will remake society, and Man himself, for the better is the essence of Fascism.

Goldberg then takes us through American history showing development of Fascist thought and practice in our own nation. He points out that although it’s often claimed it could never happen here, it, in fact, already has. Perhaps the most Fascistic President of all was Woodrow Wilson how centralized power, jailed political opponents and increased governmental involvement in the economy to previously unimagined dimensions. (A recurrent theme in this book is that American Progressivism is really just Fascism with a smile. Rather than imposing their will on the people, Progressives claim to be doing what’s best for the people.)

The early 1920s did much to reduce the size and breadth of government, but that trend was reversed with the election of Herbert Hoover as President. Despite his portrayal as a typical laissez-faire President, he was actually a strongly interventionist President, as he had been in every public office he had held going back to the Wilson Administration. So, in the true history, there was a change only in degree, not in kind, with the election of Franklin Roosevelt, who may have been even more of a Fascist than Wilson. Both viewed their program in militaristic terms. Roosevelt created the National Recovery Administration, which determined what businesses could charge for their products and pay their employees. Businesses who did not comply were branded unpatriotic and even charged with crimes. (Declaring businesses “unpatriotic” is part of Obama’s economic platform today.) Goldberg quotes many European Fascists admiring FDR’s accomplishments and even expressing some envy at what he was able to accomplish.

He continues through American history with the 60s Hippie movement, which with its violence and attempts to overthrow the existing order, both political and moral, really does recall the early years of the Nazi movement in Germany. Fortunately, America didn’t fall under the sway of such leaders as Germany did. (Another point for the Founding Fathers who prevented swift change the way the drafters of Germany’s post World War I constitution did not.)

The weakest part of the book, in my opinion, dealt with Kennedy and LBJ. While he validly points out that Kennedy, as many actual Fascists did, used supposed emergencies to garner support for their policies, this was more, as Goldberg acknowledges, due to his need to have an emergency to focus on than an real attempt to centralize government power. Similarly, while LBJ did have some Fascist tendencies, I wouldn’t include him as a Fascist either.

He continues on with a chapter on how the Left uses race as a means to achieve their goals, while attempting to cover up the fact that eugenics, which sought to breed out the weaker races, was a phenomenon of the Left. It was the Right, and especially Catholics, who opposed forced sterilization of blacks and the mentally handicapped. Margaret Sanger was clearly a person of the Left and an active proponent of reducing, if not completely eliminating, the black population. (Interestingly, that racism is still apparently extant in Planned Parenthood today.)

Economics is another area where conservatism and leftist views are confused. It’s commonly assumed that conservatives being pro-business, are inherently Fascistic in their desire to help business. In fact, the historical record shows, it is largely the Left who has promoted government-business partnerships in order to increase the cohesion of society and unite it behind their view of how society should be. Again, it’s the Left and their interventionist economic policies who are more Fascistic than the Right.

He devotes a chapter to Hillary Clinton, who I had never bothered to read too much about and shows how from the 60s, she’s been interested in remaking society and overturning many long held beliefs. He concludes the book with a chapter showing how many things commonly held in our society were first promoted, or first widely promoted by the Nazis, such as the “natural food” movement, environmentalism, anti-smoking laws, among others. He doesn’t deride all of these things as wrong in and of themselves; in fact, he shops at Whole Foods frequently himself. However, he does point out that the desire to make things that are personal preferences or opinions mandatory does match the Fascist tendency perfectly.

He finished with an afterword discussing the dangers conservatives face that could draw them into Fascism. He uses Pat Buchanan as an example of a conservative who did become a Fascist. (Fortunately, the conservative movement has written Buchanan out of it in an October 1999 article in National Review. Another example of conservatives kicking extremists out of their movement, a step liberals seem reluctant, at best, to take.) He admits that, in many ways, President Bush does have some Fascistic tendencies, but they are largely in areas that the Left would agree with: the expansion of Medicare and the notion that government has to move when people are in trouble just to name two examples.)

This was an excellent book and one that anyone interested in political discourse should read to clear up a commonly held misconception. It will teach you a lot about history, exposing some myths that have, unfortunately, taken hold in our society and show that the real danger of Fascism comes from those most likely to cry Fascism.