Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Book Review: American heretics : Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the history of religious intolerance by Peter Gottschalk

Author: Peter Gottschalk
Title: American heretics : Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the history of religious intolerance by
Publication Info: New York: Palgrave McMillan (2013)
ISBN: 9781137278296
Summary/Review:

I received a free early reviewers copy of this book via the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

As Americans, we proudly proclaim our religious tolerance and maintain that our country was built on religious freedom.  While many forms of religious expression have flourished in the United States, Gottschalk reminds of the many instances of religious intolerance in our country from earliest settlement to the present day.  The book is divided into seven chapters focusing on:

  1. Puritan persecution of Quakers in colonial Massachusetts
  2. The struggles of Irish Catholic immigrants in Protestant-dominated cities in the 19th century
  3. The Ghost Dance and the extermination of the Sioux
  4. 20th prejudice against Jews by the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, and immigration restrictions
  5. The Latter Day Saints struggle against violent opposition in the 19th century and how the political careers of George and Mitt Romney show a growing acceptance.
  6. The Branch Davidians and the vilifying of outsider groups as cults
  7. Islamophobia in the wake of the September 11th attacks

The book is short for all the topics it covers and Gottschalk really only touches upon these various topics.  The author can get oddly deep into some parts of the topics while being very broad at other times.  I also found it troubling how much he defends the Branch Davidians as a persecuted minority rather than recognizing that child rape and their vast military arsenal were a threat to the community at large.

It’s an interesting overview, and if you have a familiarity with American history there shouldn’t be too many surprises.  But if you think that religious groups have always been welcomed in the United States, you’ll want to read this book.
Recommended books: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman and The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Author: Reza Aslan
TitleZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Publication Info: Random House (2013)
ASIN: B00BRUQ7ZY
Summary/Review:

I’ve not read a lot about the historical Jesus so this short summary of his life and times was engaging and enlightening.  “His times” is an important part of the title as few historical documents survive outside the scriptures (canonical and otherwise) which tend to provide a spiritual truth rather than historical facts (or are completely made up if you’re a non-believer).  Aslan does a great job of establishing first century Judea with its Roman occupiers and Jewish elites who accommodate them.  Then there are the various Jewish groups who seek to fight against Roman oppression and/or purify the practices of the Jewish people.  It’s among these where Aslan places Jesus, a more revolutionary figure than often depicted.  The transition of Jesus from a Jewish zealot to a peaceful, spiritual leader for all peoples comes about after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the success of Paul to appeal to the Gentiles, the Gospels being written after this date.  While finding no historical backing for some of what the evangelists wrote about Jesus, Aslan is sensitive to the belief in Jesus as messiah that survives to today, and the revolutionary message of Jesus remains relevant.
Favorite Passages:

This is an extremely difficult matter for modern readers of the gospels to grasp, but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus’s birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the word “history.” The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foreign concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts, but of revealing truths. The readers of Luke’s gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant.

 

That Jesus had brothers is, despite the Catholic doctrine of his mother Mary’s perpetual virginity, virtually indisputable. It is a fact attested to repeatedly by both the gospels and the letters of Paul. Even Josephus references Jesus’s brother James, who would become the most important leader of the early Christian church after Jesus’s death. There is no rational argument that can be made against the notion that Jesus was part of a large family that included at least four brothers who are named in the gospels—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas—and an unknown number of sisters who, while mentioned in the gospels, are unfortunately not named.

 

In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it. So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form.  And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot.

 

To the modern mind, the stories of Jesus’s healings and exorcisms seem implausible, to say the least. Acceptance of his miracles forms the principal divide between the historian and the worshipper, the scholar and the seeker. It may then, to say that there is more accumulated historical material confirming Jesus’s miracles than there is regarding either his birth in Nazareth or his death at Golgotha. To be clear, there is no evidence to support any particular miraculous action by Jesus. How one in the modern world views Jesus’s miraculous actions is irrelevant. All that can be known is how the people of his time viewed them. And therein lies the historical evidence. For while debates raged within the early church over who Jesus was—a rabbi? the messiah? God incarnate?—there was never any debate, either among his followers or his detractors, about his role as an exorcist and miracle worker

 

Then something extraordinary happened. What exactly that something was is impossible to know. Jesus’s resurrection is an exceedingly difficult topic for the historian to discuss, not least because it falls beyond the scope of any examination of the historical Jesus. Obviously, the notion of a man dying a gruesome death and returning to life three days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. One could simply stop the argument there, dismiss the resurrection as a lie, and declare belief in the risen Jesus to be the product of a deludable mind. However, there is this nagging fact to consider: one after another of those who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus went to their own gruesome deaths refusing to recant their testimony. That is not, in itself, unusual. Many zealous Jews died horribly for refusing to deny their beliefs. But these first followers of Jesus were not being asked to reject matters of faith based on events that took place centuries, if not millennia, before. They were being asked to deny something they themselves personally, directly encountered. The disciples were themselves fugitives in Jerusalem, complicit in the sedition that led to Jesus’s crucifixion. They were repeatedly arrested and abused for their preaching; more than once their leaders had been brought before the Sanhedrin to answer charges of blasphemy. They were beaten, whipped, stoned, and crucified, yet they would not cease proclaiming the risen Jesus. And it worked! Perhaps the most obvious reason not to dismiss the disciples’ resurrection experiences out of hand is that, among all the other failed messiahs who came before and after him, Jesus alone is still called messiah. It was precisely the fervor with which the followers of Jesus believed in his resurrection that transformed this tiny Jewish sect into the largest religion in the world.

Recommended booksJesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus J. Borg, The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine, and The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing
Rating:

Book Review: When spiritual but not religious is not enough by Lillian Daniel

AuthorLillian Daniel
TitleWhen spiritual but not religious is not enough : seeing god in surprising places, even the church
Publication Info: New York, NY : Jericho Books, 2013.
ISBN:  9781455523085
Summary/Review: A Christian minister writes several essays about contemporary religious life, challenging people to go beyond seeing God in sunsets and waterfalls and seeking out God in the flawed human beings in the community around them.  Daniel is wise and humorous and at times sounds like a cranky old person (I looked at her author photo, she’s not), but always with the underlying goal of startling the reader into taking their relationship to God and community to a higher plane.
Favorite Passages:

“When you witness suffering and declare yourself to have achieved salvation in the religion of gratitude, you have fallen way short of what God would have you do, no matter what religion you are called to.

And by the way, while I think God does want us to feel gratitude, I do not think God particularly wants us to feel lucky.  I think God wants us to witness pain and suffering and rather than feeling lucky, God wants us to get angry and want to do something about it.

The civil rights movement didn’t happen because people felt lucky.  The hungry don’t get fed, the homeless don’t get sheltered, and the world doesn’t change because people are who are doing okay feel lucky.  We need more.” – p. 9

“At one point, the whole world was safe for animals.  Now their territory is constricted.  Human beings control so much of the landscape and we have huge areas where animals rarely go — schools, hospitals, stores, churches.  So I like to think of the sight of an animal in the airport as a special gift.  We get a glimpse of nature in a sterile place.  We get a dose of animal instinct in a place where we all have to behave ourselves.  It’s as odd as hearing a dog bark in church, and just as wonderful.” – p. 137

“I don’t want to choose.  The church has plenty of tents staked out on the battlegrounds of who Jesus is, and why it matters.  I pitch my tent in the field of mystery, and have yet to nail it down.” – p. 161

“I’m tired of playing by that dull and pedestrian set of rules, which has everything to do with a litigious, factoid-hungry culture and nothing to do with following Jesus.  I don’t come to church for evidence or for a closing argument.  I come to experience the presence of God, to sense the mystery of things eternal, and to learn a way of life that makes no sense to those stuck sniffing around for proof.” – p. 166

“I believe that there really is a connection between who we were raised to be and who we are now. It might bot be a straight line, but you cannot connect the dots.  God works through all kinds of religious communities at different points in our lives.

No spiritual home is all good or all bad. So give thanks for the small and tender blessings of every place that has never been our spiritual home, and for lessons you have learned.”  – p. 182

Recommended books:The Call to Conversion by Jim Wallis, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, and Pray All Ways: A Book for Daily Worship Using All Your Senses by Edward M. Hays.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Author: Alain de Botton
TitleReligion for Atheists
Publication Info: New York : Pantheon Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9780307379108
Summary/Review:

An erudite atheist, de Botton makes a good case for religion.  Not for the belief in god or the supernatural, but the basic fact that humans invented religion and carried it down through the ages that it must serve some good purpose.  In this book he proposes adopting some of the best elements of religion to secular purposes.  In chapters on subjects such as community, kindness, education, tenderness, pessimism, perspective, art, architecture, and institutions. he identifies the best of religion and make proposals for how these things may be adapted.  For example, he proposes agape restaurants where people dine and converse with strangers and universities where people read books to learn from their emotional content instead of literary analysis.  At times the ideas are silly, but I really like de Botton’s approach and open mind.  As a religious person myself, I find that extreme atheists (really, anti-theist bigots) are one side of the same coin of religious fundamentalists.  It’s good to have ideas that move beyond the tired arguments of the extremes and work toward the betterment of humanity.

Favorite Passages:

“In a world beset by fundamentalists of both believing and secular varieties, it must be possible to balance a rejection of religious faith with a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts.  It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting.  We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill:  first, they need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses.  And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of love ones and to our decay and demise.  God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away….” p. 12

“The true risks to our chances of flourishing are different from those conceived of by liberterians.  A lack of freedom is no longer, in most developed societies, the problem.  Our downfall lies in our inability to make the most of the freedom that our ancestors painfully secured for us over three centuries. ” p. 77

“‘The object of universities is not to make skillful lawyers, physicians or engineers.  It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.’ – John Stuart Mill” p. 100

“Secular education will never succeed in reaching its potential until humanities lecturers are sent to be trained by African-American Pentecostal preachers.” p. 131

Recommended booksBlue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer.
Rating: ****

Book Review: As It Was in the Beginning by Robert McClory

Author: Robert McClory
Title:  As It Was in the Beginning
Publication Info: New York : Crossroad Pub., c2007.
ISBN: 9780824524197

Books by the same author: Faithful Dissenters
Summary/Review: McClory boldly declares that democratization is coming to the Catholic Church, and soon, something not readily evident by the Church hierarchy’s growing conservatism in the past 3 to 4 decades.  His patient and hopeful thesis is built on a well-researched historical record of changing structures within the Church that have always returned to consensus fidelium.  Examples range from the efforts of the people to support the teachings of the Council of Nicea against bishops who campaigned for a contrary teaching to reform of the 20th century evident in the Second Vatican Council.  McClory illustrates a possible future in which the laity is included in a way that seems not just hopeful, but even possible.
Favorite Passages:

If modernity stressed reason, the church stressed faith.  If modernity stressed human progress, the church stressed original sin.  If modernity stressed freedom of thought, the church stressed the binding nature of its dogmas.  If modernity stressed democracy, the church stressed authority.  This stress-filled stalemate was to perdure for the better part of four hundred years.  If there had been even a small opening for discussion and dialogue between these two rivals, I think the church might well have served as a helpful brake on the runaway exuberance of modernity that led to riots, wars, and mass executions, of which the French Revolution is one well-known example.  By the same token, some discussion and dialogue between the two sides might have helped the church realize that many Enlightenment insights were not fundamentally different from some of its own foundational values. – p. 118-19

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Why You Can Disagree & Remain a Faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman
Rating: ***

Book Review: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman

Author: Philip S. Kaufman
Title: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic
Publication Info: Bloomington, IN : Meyer-Stone Books, c1989.
ISBN: 0940989239
Summary/Review:

A provocative title but a well-researched and informed look at many of the issues that divide the Catholic Church hierarchy and many of the faithful today.  Kaufman  explores the development of conscience among the people of the church over the centuries and how it has always been valued when regarding moral questions.  The idea of infallibility in teachings of the church has always had to consider the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) something that has not been considered or reached in many of the controversial issues of today.  These issues include birth control, divorce & remarriage, and democracy within the church.  Kaufman addresses each of these issues in detail exploring Biblical and traditional takes on the issues and how they’ve changed over time.  This is a good book to get an informed look at issues affecting the Church today and realizing that they’re not always as simple or clear-cut as they’ve been presented.
Favorite Passages:

The list of moral questions on which authoritative teaching has changed is long.  Defenders of a call for absolute obedience to all such teaching often hold that the doctrines taught were correct for their own time and circumstances, but that changed conditions and further enlightenment led to the formulation of new positions.  But such a justification can hardly be applied to Pope St. Gregory the Great’s condemnation of pleasure in marital intercourse, Innocent IV’s teaching on witches and the use of torture in judicial interrogations, or Pius IX’s condemnation of the proposition “that freedom of conscience and of worship is the proper right of each man, and that this should be proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society. – p. 21

It is often argued that scandal will be given by a relaxation of current practice [regarding divorce & remarriage].  If available statistics are any indication, lack of compassion toward people in great suffering and need gives even greater scandal.  It is a question of who is being scandalized.  Should our concern be only for those who will not accept change in church teaching?  What of the scandal of those who ask: Is it moral in the face of so much suffering by so many millions of the church’s own members to maintain a discipline with such a weak biblical, historical, and doctrinal foundation? – p. 115

Since God does not govern the church directly, however, but through human beings, it is legitimate and necessary to ask what type of government comes closest to realizing the New Testament ideal.  I doubt that autocracy, in which the educated, privileged few teach and control the uneducated masses, the so-called simple faithful, ever realized that ideal.  Autocracy is particularly inappropriate in the modern world.  The form of church government that accords best with the gospel spirit is democracy. – p. 119

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory, and Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Poverty of Spirit by Johannes B. Metz

Author: Johannes B. Metz
Title:  Poverty of Spirit
Publication Info: Paulist Pr (1976)
ISBN: 0809119242
Summary/Review:

This is a short, but profound book reflecting on the humanity of Christ incarnated and our own human condition.  It’s one of those books that I really ought to reread and meditate upon to do it justice.  Nevertheless I can say that it is a work that is deeply challenging and examines the many forms of poverty that exist in humanity and must be embraced to follow the way of Christ.
Favorite Passages:

“The only image of God is the face of our brother, who is also the brother of God’s Son, of God’s own likeness (2 Cor. 4, 4; Col. 1, 15).  Our human brother now becomes a “sacrament” of God’s hidden presence among us, a mediator between God and man.  Every authentic religious act is directed toward the concreteness of God in our human brother and his world.  There it finds it living fulfillment and its transcendent point of contact.  Could man be taken more seriously than that?  Is anything more anthropocentric than God’s creative love?” – p. 35

“Every genuine human encounter must be inspired by poverty of spirit.  We must forget ourselves in order to let the other person approach us.  We must be able to open up to him, to let his distinctive personality unfold — even though it often frightens or repels us.  We often keep the other person down, and only see what we want to see; thus we never really encounter the mysterious secret of his being,  only ourselves.  Failing to risk the poverty of encounter, we indulge in a new form of self-assertion and pay a price for it: loneliness.  Because we did not risk the poverty of openness (cf. Mt. 10, 39), our lives are not graced with the warm fullness of human existence.  We are left with only a shadow of our real self.” – p. 45

Recommended books: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Awakened from Within: Meditations on the Christian Life by Frere Roger, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Francis Of Assisi and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day.
Rating:

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