Wednesday, January 26, 2011


By Dan B. Allender, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 212 pages.

Dan B. Allender's book is great for the Christless Christianity crowd - those ministers and Christian sheep who like to talk about "spirituality" and who think that "the gospel" is me talking about me. Far from being the Father, "God" is the feminized divinity enmeshed with humans, joyful and not serious. Forget about fearing this divinity in the way that the Hebrews feared their God.

Sabbath is post-theos theology, where Allender aims however unwittingly to write Christ out of the gospels, replacing the Lord with the fuzzy me-first therapeutic religion of so many baby boomers. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the metaphorical Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Metaphorical = Meaningless.

Much of the time, the author is trying to sound poetic, and ends up saying absolutely nothing. What does the following mean? "The privilege to walk hand in hand with time doesn't come because you merely yearn for it or know it would be good for yourself and your family."

How could anyone want to spend 5 minutes listening to this guy? It's the kind of Christianity where everyone talks about their feelings, and we stand in a circle and hold hands, men with men if that's the order.

Is it inevitable that bourgeois Christianity be so empty, so full of saccharine? Is it inevitable that Christian men act and sound so womanly?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Way of Perfection

By St. Teresa of Avila, 183 pages, Paraclete Press.

The language of poverty, humility, and service to God forms the vision of The Way of Perfection. Repeatedly, St. Teresa warns about the power of sin. Jarring for modern readers used to therapeutic religion, she sees the world theologically.

Sin, like good and evil in general, is a theological issue. That it, it pertains to the truth. Feelings are lower than the truth on St. Teresa's scale of things, and shouldn't be the highest voice of moral guidance.

Yet the great saint is also rightfully acknowledged for her practical outlook. She has neither a therapeutic nor a sentimental view of how humans should love one-another, but a practical and theological vision:

"Love for each other is of very great importance. Anything, no matter how annoying, can be easily borne by those who love each other. If the world kept this commandment, I believe it would take us a long way toward keeping the rest."

Like a good Christian mother concerned about her squabbling children, St. Teresa's above words reflect her belief that practical matters, such as bickering, can harm us spiritually.

Equally jarring to the modern reader, she observes that religious life is not about affirmation but, in fact, the complete opposite – sacrifice, self-denial, avoiding the need to be in the right, and more. Readers can understand why St. Therese de Lisieux was so inspired by the Carmelite nun concerning the little things:

"Anyone who wants to be perfect must shun such phrases as: 'I had right on my side'; 'They had no right to do this to me'; 'The person who treated me was not right.'" Such words strongly counteract today's entitlement, me-first culture.

To Live Is Christ: A 40-Day Journey with Saint Paul

Compiled by Peter Celano, 168 pages, Paraclete Press..

While St. Paul is often a favorite of Protestants, used by Martin Luther and others for the core Protestant theology of justification by faith, To Live Is Christ shows how St. Paul is so deeply embedded in Catholic theology and practice.

As this book shows, justification is a deep part of Catholic theology as well. Passages from Paul, or from Acts that depict his evangelizing, are mixed with thoughts from Christian thinkers such as Pope John XXIII, whose selection concerns natural and revealed truth.

The late pope taught that humans can attain natural truth "by virtue of our intellects. But all cannot do this easily; often their efforts will result in a mixture of truth and errors." Obviously regarding those truths that are above our intellects, we need revealed truth. This is why, the pontiff teaches, "All men, therefore, are bound to accept the teaching of the gospel."

He warns that the "very foundations of truth, goodness, and civilization" depend on the gospel.

To Live Is Christ is a good introduction to basic Catholic theology. It shows how the Church uses selections from the Bible as a core, along with tradition, to preach the truth forcefully.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thrift: Rebirth of a Forgotten Virtue

By Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, 238 pages, Encounter Books.

Thrift's author, T.R. Malloch, believes in capitalism, but it is the capitalism of Calvin, Scottish Presbyterians, and even the ancient Greeks and their "middle way." Thrift is at the heart of this. More than a virtue, thrift is a spiritual way of living, which rejects mindless consumerism and believes in hard work, saving, and preparing the next generation for gainful employment.

Thrift is the ability not only to budget wisely, but also to discipline oneself over purchasing, work, and family. Duty and obligation play a greater role than rights and entitlement. In fact, Malloch sees our entitlement, me-first victim culture as destructive of social capital, which is essential for capitalism.

Virtues such as thrift build up spiritual capital, which in turn helps promote social capital. Social capital strengthens capitalism by establishing self-reliance, trust in each other and in social institutions, and financial credit. Social capital builds the network of trust relationships that enable capitalism to function. We trust the government that paper money is worth something; we believe that the banks will not fail; and we hope that the system itself is dependable and will serve us us when we are vulnerable, such as in retirement.

Malloch gives the excellent example of social capital being the education of the young generation by the older one. He cites a young entrepreneur who owns several pizza restaurants and plans to retire in only a few years. The man learned the business in his father's restaurant - not through an expensive business degree but by doing. His implicit, hands-on knowledge far outweighs expert knowledge.

Social capital comes from spiritual capital, which Malloch defines: "[T]he concept of spiritual capital posits that the sources of prosperity are knowable and that prosperity can be spread by knowledge and education... The idea of spiritual capital is deeply rooted in natural law and the theological study of God's action in the world."

Wealth creation and the economy as a whole have a spiritual dimension. Malloch goes so far as to say that religion has had much to do with the establishment of capitalism. Nowadays, with instant gratification, entitlement/victim mentalities, and hyper-individualism, the spiritual capital underlying capitalism is not functioning properly.

While Thrift is often quite Calvinist in its tone and outlook, Malloch's firm belief in the creative potential of humans and in how capitalism encourages this echoes some writings on work and justice by John Paul II, including his encyclical Centesimus Annus, where the late pontiff highlighted the creative aspect of work.

Malloch himself echoes the Catholic Church's concern to protect the family from individualism and social fragmentation: "The disregard for law and contempt for authority have sprung from the trend to more selfishness. But the long-term impact is greatest on the essential building block of society – the family."

Malloch puts so much emphasis on the forgotten virtue, thrift, because without it not only are we selfishly rejecting our families for our own needs, but gradually, as social and spiritual capital thin out, we won't be able to meet those individual, consumerist needs either. He suggests that we need to live virtuous, responsible lives, where we work hard and save for a rainy day, and where grassroots organizations rather than the government look after many of our basic needs.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Geography of Good and Evil: Philosophical Investigations

Andreas Kinneging, 285 pages, ISI Books.

"The central issue ... is the classical question of the good life – for the individual but also for society," writes Kinneging in this exploration of why the modern materialist-utilitarian concept of life is bad, and why we need to relearn the traditional art of living.

The Geography of Good and Evil rejects the social sciences' utopian search for all the answers, and relies on tradition's teaching of the virtues. Kinneging believes that we today need a better understanding of the ancient discussion of what constitutes the good life.

This concept is far superior to the victim-oriented, individualist routine of modern Western society, which is undermining our entire civilization as we live on the dwindling spiritual capital of the past. Today's superficial "public discourse on various momentous topics," such as "the debate on values, ... does not rise above the level of clichés."

The traditional approach takes the important issues much more seriously, and are needed so we can go beyond clichés. The tradition-based society is much more serious than the our superficially-playful society, which focuses on Hollywood gossip and politicians defined by their shiny speeches.

The virtues most helpful to getting us out of the current spiritual, social, and economic morass come from 2 sources, the ancient Greeks and the ancient Christians. Thus Kinneging takes a fresh look at the marriage of ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew-Christian thought that was so integral to the subsequent development of the West, and which the Enlightenment and Romantics rejected.

From the Greeks we have the sense of honor, which focused on externals. The honor-bound individual closely identifies with his community, which he serves. Trust is integral to this system, since everyone in the community depends on everyone else for their life and death. The greatest sin is to betray one's group.

Contemporary society has no notion of honor because we have little notion of community. This lack of connectedness is closely related to the changed view of the virtues, which The Geography of Good and Evil shows very well. For both the Greeks and the Christians, reason tempered the passions.

The Enlightenment upended this, asserting that we could and should change the world to suit our desires. The social sciences took on this approach, and challenged tradition as the seat of society's wisdom. Morality, at this point, became instrumental, Kinneging notes. Morality "serves rather than stands above the desires. Inner struggle in the sense of a superior part of the self – reason – supervising and calling to account an inferior part – the desires – has no room in this view."

While this discussion is necessarily heavy, it goes to the heart of what Pope Benedict XVI has been saying for decades: that we must orient our lives according to eternal virtues rather than according to the me-mentality.

The importance of community far outweighs the importance of individual desire. We must reject the current rights language, which so often degenerates into victim/compensation jargon, and return to the duty-bound view. In this vision, when something goes wrong, rather than blaming others and holding them accountable, I first ask myself if I have been amiss, and I hold myself accountable to others.

The Geography of Good and Evil is well worth the effort, even though it can be an academic, challenging read.