Jan 212015

When I first came across Alice Von Hildebrand while watching Mother Angelica Live I was rapidly impressed with her. Her quick wit, intelligence, and common sense was a delight. Since then I have been interested in what she had to say. Around the same time I became acquainted with the works of her late husband Dietrich Von Hildebrand. I have by no means fully dipped into all his works, but I want to go further. His Transformation in Christ is a book I dearly love.

When her biography of her husband came out The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand I quickly attained and read it. Such an amazing story and an equally amazing man. You would think somebody who was a named enemy of Hitler would have his story more well known. There is at least a new book out called My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich.

When I read Soul of a Lion I wondered about his later years since the story ends, as I remember, after his escape and ultimately ending up in New York. Some of this is covered in Alice Von Hildebrand’s new book Memoirs of a Happy Failure. While this autobiography does go into how she met her future husband and some of her life with him, she is mostly quiet on her personal life in this regard except when there are interactions with her students.

What this book does cover is her life growing up in Belgium before World War II and her subsequent move to the United States during the war. The book starts out with her on a ship headed for New York that was threatened by a German sub with orders to evacuate before being sunk. I was quite interested in her descriptions of being raised in a very Catholic culture and the descriptions of her family members including the roles they played during the war. There were differences in both sides of her family that caused some tension.

The large majority of this book covers her years as a teacher at Hunter College which is part of the City University of New York. This was to be where she ended up teaching philosophy throughout her career. Now having heard her speak I was aware of the difficulties she had regarding students versed in moral relativism as she taught the objectivity of truth. I just didn’t realize that this was a continual philosophical battle.

What shouldn’t have surprised me is that this was rather minor considering even worse problems with the other faculty and those above her. The stories she relates regarding how she was treated by her fellow academics in such a pitiless back-biting manner raises your ire as she relates them. A Darwinian survival of the fittest where the fittest meant you had the right politics and sneer regarding subjective truth. Part of this was due to her being a women, but no doubt a lot of it was due to her being Catholic or really for being a faithful Catholic. Academics have no problem with Catholics just as long as they don’t believe that stuff. She describes how her education as taught by nuns little prepared her for such an atmosphere of prejudice and ill will.

What I enjoyed most was her stories of students. It was quite obvious her love of teaching and her love of her students. There are many wonderful stories regarding the opposition she got and when the truth of what she was saying clicked with many of her students. Even stories of students converting to the Catholic Church despite the fact that she never talked about the Church at all in her lectures. Not all the stories regarding her students go well and some are rather sad. Still there were several that came into the orbit of her personal life along with her husband. Despite the opposition she was getting from the school and the many attempts to sabotage her career and to force her to leave, she endured. It must have really annoyed them the number of students who elected to take her classes over other philosophy professors more in tune with the zeitgeist.

The title of her autobiography is quite apt. From the measure of the academic world she was mostly a failure. From the measure of her students that was not correct and even ultimately the school had to grudgingly admit this. I enjoyed the good humor she uses as she relates all these episodes. Experiences that might leave many bitter, yet her happiness shines through along with her love of the truth.

On a side note this book provides another example to me regarding the cultural revolution of the sixties. In that it was not as if everything was in good condition before then and that this was a sudden revolution. Her examples of attitudes in the 1950’s show just how much the culture was infected with moral relativism and that it was even worse in academia. Cultural termites had already weakened the foundations of the culture.

Jan 132015

My conversion to the faith and the rise of the Internet and social networking occurred in roughly the same time period. So my interest in this intersection regarding how it relates to the faith has been continually of interest to me. EWTN and Catholic Answers both had websites around 1996 and the Vatican came on board around 1998. If you look at the Vatican’s site circa 1998 it’s appearance hasn’t much changed. The year 2001 mostly marks the year specifically Catholic blogs started to grow. Catholic podcasts started to appear in 2006 (the Catholic Cast by Jayson Franklin was the first one I as far as I know). Most of the growth in Catholic new media over the years were mainly individual efforts with some organizations being early adopters.

Diocesan and parish websites also started to come on the scene. The diocesan site my diocese came on board in 2002 and I slowly watched as parish websites started appearing. These Diocesan and parish websites also from the start seemed to lag behind in about every way with other websites. Sometimes I like to go to The Wayback Machine to see a snapshot of a what a web site looked like a decade ago. The sad truth is that I don’t need The Wayback Machine for most parish sites since either their design is stuck a decade ago or that was the last time it was updated. I am usually quite frustrated when looking a parish web sites in my diocese, but this problem certainly in not just local.

So I was quite interested when I received a copy of Transforming Parish Communications: Growing the Church Through New Media by Scot Landry. While there are few bright spots regarding diocese taking new media seriously, the Archdiocese of Boston I would consider to be the brightest spot. They have set standards for others to follow regarding diocesan blogs and their podcast The Good Catholic Life and other other social networking endeavors. Since Scot Landry has been involved in this he know of what he is talking about.

In this book he makes the case for using new media for communication and evangelization from primarily the diocese on down. Why time and effort should be expended using these new technologies. What I appreciated about this book is that it does not get bogged down in the technology involved. As Scot writes “For me, new media outreach is much more about communications than technology.” There is always a temptation to follow the latest buzz-word approach that might not actually be of much help. Evangelization requires communication and so we must consider the most effective ways of transmitting the Good News.

In the first chapters he takes Pope emeritus Benedict XVI example of the digital continent to explain some of these capabilities. Since Scot considers himself more of an immigrant to this digital continent instead of a early adopter he provides a valuable perspective. As a geek if I was to talk on the subject it would be all about responsive design, content management systems, and making sure passwords used for diocesan and parish sites weren’t kept just in somebodies personal files. His approach in the whole book gives a much larger perspective.

As he moves from the case for use of the new media he then moves towards the more specific regarding planning for implementation and overcoming embracing of this form of communication.

My belief is that the biggest and most inclusive reason Catholic parishes have not embraced social media is because their culture and the main activities are preoccupied with maintenance (or survival) instead of mission.

I think this statement by him applies quite generally to many parishes beyond just social media. We tend to have mission statements full of jargon and not really missionary. Getting bogged down in building maintenance instead of building the Church (hey even St. Francis got that backwards at first). What this book gives us is sound advice and a constructive plan regarding implementing this. That a parish can build up this capability and as they become more confident expanding out. He provides concrete examples regarding parishes that are making an impact why this is not beyond your average parish.

Several appendixes to the book provide specific implementation plans and a “Rate your Parish Website” checklist (available also at Catholic Tech Talk). The Archdiocese of Boston did take on a survey of parish web sites to see the current state and what needed to be done.

I found this to be a very helpful and positive book exploring what can be achieved and providing a plan regarding how it can be achieved in your own parish. Ideally a diocese should be spending effort in the new media and guiding and helping parishes to achieve the same. Still if you can get involved in helping your own parish in this regards I would strongly recommend picking up this book.

Now while the book is rant free regarding the current state of new media in the Church, I am not rant free on this topic. So I will leave with just one example regarding how a parish website is usually being handled.

Say for example a parishioner volunteered to take care of the parish bulletin. Then this parishioner started mimeographing copies and delivered copies some weeks but not others. When copies were provided they were weeks or months behind in content. Would a parish find this acceptable? Of course not, they consider it important enough that money is spent for professional printing and up-to-date content is provided. The quality of design regarding bulletins has also vastly improved as bad liturgical clipart has finally met its day.

Yet the parish web site is treated exactly in the manner of this individual produced mimeograph bulletins. We can be very thankful for the volunteer that stepped in to produce something with their time and effort. Some of these volunteers might even have the professional skills required. Yet an endeavor that requires such maintenance and fresh content should not be left to just a talented volunteer. For most parishes this means having a site created, training to maintain it, supervisory focus to provide content. The parish web site is more and more going to be the face of a parish. It can be a center-point for the new evangelization or just another missed opportunity.

Dec 292014

One of the gems I got for review late last year was A Year With the Saints: Daily Meditations With the Holy Ones of God. by Paul Thigpen. In the past when I got a book in this format I would just read through all the daily meditations to see if everything was good. I tried to do that with this book but quickly found that I did not just want to read through this book. I wanted to use it as intended as daily meditations. So that is what I did and I think I will just put this book on annual replay since I love everything about it. What makes this book standout is the wide and varied source of quotations from the saints. Here and there you will find something familiar from a familiar saint. Still I found do much wealth in the sources he gathered.

The format is a thematic title followed by a quick introduction to the text regarding the saint or the context the the text was written for. This is followed by a short reflection on the text and a closing prayer. Often I find in books of this format that the short reflection wasn’t all that worthwhile. That is hardly the case here as they really do spur spiritual reflection. So I pretty much love everything about this book of meditations.

So when I found out he had a new book coming out I was more than a bit excited. Manual for Spiritual Warfare. It seems book subtitles seem to be getting longer and longer and can take longer to read than the book. So it was nice to have a book where the title stands for itself.

As the introduction spells out:

Sacred Scripture speaks of our ongoing battles with the world, the flesh, and the Devil (see Jas 4:1–7). This book focuses on our struggle with the last of those three adversaries …

He gives his reasons for concentrating on this aspect based on disbelief in Satan’s existence, lack of knowledge regarding resources available, and that even our struggles with the flesh and the world can be influenced by the Devil’s interference. This is a book of considerable balance and prudence. There are plenty of caveats for a book of this type and Paul Thigpen takes care to make all the proper distinctions. One of the important distinction is regarding aspects that are reserved for the priestly role and what the laity is able to do. These distinctions are reinforced throughout the book. This manual avoids the Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady cry of “Could it be SATAN?” while specifying the reality of spiritual warfare and demonic influence.

The first part of the book is a primer on the scriptural and theological aspects of spiritual warfare. The reality and urgency of what are response should be is spelled out as we really do have a mortal enemy who wants to seek our destruction. While we are alive there can never be a ceasefire regarding spiritual warfare and spiritual pacifism is just surrender of our soul. I really enjoyed this whole section of the book as it lays out the theology reinforced with a solid bedrock of scriptural references.

The second part of the book broken up into multiple sections providing the tools and the weapons for spiritual warfare.

  • Church teaching about spiritual warfare from Catechisms, Councils, and Papal documents.
  • Biblical reference that provides a glossary, biblical history involving the Devil and Demons, and related scriptural verses.
  • Wisdom from the saints on spiritual warfare. Like his saint’s meditation book I totally loved this section for the wide range of pertinent quotes. This is a part of the book I will want to revisit from time to time.
  • The last section includes specific prayers, devotions, and hymns related to spiritual warfare. This section is about a third of the book and is a great resource for prayer. Included in this are Rosary meditations for each mystery along with some very nicely written prayers from the author.

So this is surely all you need to be interested in this book. Yet there is one more aspect that makes this book even better. That this manual was published like an “old school” prayerbook meant to be kept at hand and well used. It is described as “Premium Ultrasoft with two-tone sewn binding, ribbon marker and gold edges.” This is just beautifully made. I am pretty much converted over to only using ebooks and I did read this as a PDF, but I was totally delighted when I received this book in the mail.

Here is a short interview with the author about this book,

Dec 222014

For the last two years my habit has been to re-read Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Just perfect reading leading up to Christmas to review all the scriptures related to the story of Christmas. After reading a book review by William Newton I have found another book to add to that annual reading. Scott Hahn’s recent book Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).

In some ways they are companion books especially as Joy to the World references Pope Benedict XVI book throughout. The underlying chronology is of course similar as you would expect when the primary sources are a limited number of passages in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Reading them together back-to-back they reinforced certain themes while also have different emphasis. If you line up 15 scripture scholars together you are likely to get 15 different opinions regarding reconciling some texts and that is also the case here to a small degree.

In Joy to the World I especially enjoyed one chapter on the angels and his saying “… Christmas appears in the Gospels as an explosion of angelic activity.” I found this phrasing rather striking and such an apt descriptor. He then canvases the Old and New Testaments to all the appearances of angels. While angels are certainly not lacking in the Old Testament the arrival of Jesus really does bring in an explosion of angels. We also learn from Jesus that angels are really good at multitasking. The Guardian Angels can both guard us and worship the face of the father.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 18:10)

Don’t blame Scott Hahn for the multitasking observation since it is my own. Really Scott Hahn kept his punning to a minimum in this book. Still I was laughing over his observation comparing the styles of St. Matthew and St. Luke in a chapter regarding the Magi. There is much in Mr. Hahn’s writing style I appreciate as his love of scripture is always infectious. I also enjoy his phrasing of things.

“We live in a world of marvels, but we are schooled to put these aside if they do not fit the broadest generalities in categories confirmed by the scientific method and approved by a magisterium of skeptics.”

Another point he brought out that struck me and stuck with me:

“Though the Gospel is certainly rich in allegorical meaning, it is first of all history. If there is allegory in the infancy narratives, it is fashioned by God, and not simply with words, but rather with creation itself—with the very deeds of sacred history. God writes the world the way human authors write words.”

This observation really applies to all of scripture. There is just so much parallelism and echoes in scripture. Mark Twain said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Reading salvation history there is more than rhyming involved, and an agency involved with God as poet. All the crooked lines of human history being straightened with repeating refrains. Scott Hahn goes into some of these parallels as they relate to the infancy narratives such as the parallels between the New Testament Joseph and the Old Testament Joseph. While he doesn’t reference the parallelism of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant in this book he has covered it elsewhere. Those scripture parallels give me virtual goosebumps as God’s plan is revealed in a series of parallels passages between the Old and the New Testament regarding Mary. You can read his article on the subject here.

Dec 152014

For some book reviews I am almost tempted just to mention that some author has a new book out and that should be sufficient to pique your interest.

Case in point is Peter Kreeft’s new book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas. This is an author always worth reading. Since he is also a rather prolific author, directing your attention to specific books of his is also worth doing.

Peter Kreeft’s books have had a positive impact on my life. His book Handbook of Christian Apologetics coauthored with Fr. Tacelli really helped me in my limbo from atheism to belief. It was the book’s format like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae with objections and the answering of objections that helped me to get passed some of my doubts. That I didn’t have to jettison my reason for faith and in fact required fuller use of it.

In the intervening years I have found his other books to be helpful also. His latest book Practical Theology has quickly become my favorite book of his. The concept of the book is rather simple. Peter Kreeft uses St. Thomas Aquinas works and organizes them in a way beneficial as spiritual direction. As he reminds us this Doctor of the Church wrote his Summa Theologiae for “beginners” and that the same audience this book is intended for. Still it is rather hard for most people without a solid philosophical background to easily read St. Thomas’ works. I remember once picking up “The Pocket Aquinas” and being totally lost trying to read it. Fortunately that is not a problem here. Besides the saints words Mr. Kreeft provides an abundance of clarifications. Even when quoting passages he briefly interjects information to clear up St. Thomas’ meaning. After these passages he then further illuminates it.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was just how focused it was. For the most part the topics are contained to just one page with few going beyond that. Combined with Peter Kreeft’s playfulness you have a nice touch of humor that doesn’t intrude on the topic. When I first received this book I figured at 366 pages I could read it in a week and then prepare a review. That plan was quickly wrecked as I more slowly read through the book and let it marinate in my mind. This was not a book I wanted to rush through. In fact I think I will shortly read it again. Only this time I will limit myself to reading just one or two chapters a day. With 358 topics this book is a good candidate for a topic a day to read through in a year book. Flannery O’Connor use to spend at least 15 minutes with the Angelic Doctor each night.

One aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings that really spoke to me was not just the answers he gave to questions, but the questions he asked. This really brought to my mind this comment from G.K. Chesterton.

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. – Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

I have no doubt the saint would have totally agreed to this comment as his theological output was a playing in this playground. There are many who can’t see the forest for the trees and can’t see the playground because of the boundaries. There were questions he asked that I times I had wondered about, but figured nobody would have giving them any serious attention. So the best thing about “Practical Theology” is that it helped me to play in this playground and to remember that spiritual direction and spiritual reading can really fill you with joy.

Dec 072014

John C. Wright’s latest SF short story collection is called The Book of Feasts & Seasons.

Stories are arranged from the Liturgical Calendar starting with “The Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God.” This provides a thematic presentation of the stories although many of the stories would only generally fit into specific feasts and seasons. All of them are SF stories and include time traveling, contacts with aliens, and even a ghost story. The first story “The Meaning of Life as Told Me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer in New Jersey” is really rather fun.

While I enjoyed all the stories, some of them were exceptionally good. Short stories are not my favorite medium, yet I found several stories I want to revisit later. Two of the stories I had read before. “The Ideal Machine” was one I read in volume 1 of the “Sci Phy Journal” not that long ago. Still I enjoyed it even more on the second time around as a unique alien visitation story that takes place in a parish with a priest and two military men. The other one I had read before was “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” which was posted on his blog. A very powerful story perfect for Christmas or really the Feast of St. Nicholas”. A story that brought tears to my eyes again as did another story in the collection.

The rather unique ghost story “Pale Realms of Shade” was one of these and one that fit with the theme of the book. One of other themes of this book was marriage and sacrifice and surprisingly by the title “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” fit in there. His explorations of the consequences of time travel as in his other short story collection are really fresh and unique as in this specific story. The one titled “Nativity” is another time travel story going into a territory explored before regarding going back into the time of Christ. In “Nativity” we a presented with a husband’s grief over the death of his wife and his travel into the past seeking answers to his questions. The question of evil and whether anything ultimately matters. I hadn’t found time traveling stories into the time of Christ very worthwhile in the past. Some were much better than others such as Brandon Sanderson’s novella “Legion”, but none of them really made contact with me; much less contact with the premise. “Nativiy” presented in the Advent section of the book is great Advent reading which contains both the wonder of good SF along with the wonder of Christ and was the other story that brought tears to my eyes.

As the theme of this collection suggests these are stories that have a philosophical and theological dimension. Yet this is not pious SF that sacrifices storytelling for piety. These are excellent stories that happen to have a deeper dimension. His description of crucifixion in “Nativiy” was especially vivid to me and strangely I would love a set of reflections on the Rosary from his hands. There was a realism in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that I liked, yet some sentences in this story brought the horror of crucifixion fuller to my understanding, especially some very unglamorous aspects. Well done Mr. Wright.

Dec 032014

After listening to Tim Staples for many years on Catholic Answers I was always hoping he would finally get around to writing a book. He has produced lots of audio CDs along with one book containing a collection of his excellent columns in This Rock (now renamed) magazine. So I finally got my wish with Behold Your Mother – A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines.

The Marian doctrines and the high place Mary occupies for Catholics was never really a problem with me during my conversion. Once I got over the “Yes there is a God” and accepted the authority of the Catholic Church I was in the wanting to learn more mode. Still Catholic radio has certainly demonstrated that this is very often a stumbling block for Protestants. Whether they are heading towards the Church or just dumbfounded by this it is an obvious problem to address in the area of apologetics.

With Tim Staples bing an ex-Assembly of God Youth Pastor he has experienced this reaction personally. The focus of this book is largely of an apologetics nature in working with Protestants, but can also be useful for Catholics not quite sure what the big deal is about Mary.

As a one volume work in popular apologetics it really packs a punch. As the subtitle suggests it looks at all the Marian Doctrines along with a lot of the titles associated with the Blessed Mother. I really enjoyed the tone of the book which was instructional without being dry. Common and other objections are dealt with during each chapter along with later chapters and appendixes providing deeper information.

Tim really did his homework and there are a wealth of footnotes. These footnotes go beyond just references, but also contain further information along with fuller quotes. For a change instead of just skipping over the footnotes, I actually read many of them. As you would expect there is also plenty of Patristic references matched up to the chapters in the book.

Al Kresta on his radio show when talking about this book said that he wished such a work was available in his Protestant days as he would have returned to the Church much sooner. This illustrates exactly why a book like this is so important since there are so many objections to Catholicism based on our special veneration due to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Dec 022014

I’ve read some books on the history of the Crusades and it is a rather fascinating chapter of Church history. It is kind of like the Facebook relationship status “It’s complicated.” Yet as interesting as the history of the Crusades is, it is usually a history that was filtered and altered down to us as a synonym of evil. In a Robert Heinlein book I recently read the Crusades were put on the same par as the Holocaust.

So when I first heard mention of a new book put out by Catholic Answers on the subject I was of course intrigued. Especially since it has the provocative title of The Glory of the Crusades. So I was very happy to get a review copy.

The author Steve Weidenkopf is a lecturer of Church History at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. As with other books on the history of the Crusades I have read there is a robust debunking of the various myths associated with them. I really enjoyed getting a much broader look at the historical context especially all the events that lead up to them. These events make it more understandable to see why Pope Urban II called for what became known as the first Crusade. In the past I had thought that it was the case that pilgrims to the Holy Lands were harassed or killed. I had no idea the scope of this such as when a group of 12,000 pilgrims were massacred by the Seljuk Turks. At the same time there were incursions on the Byzantine Empire as the Seljuk Turks took over Nicea and were in range of Constantinople. This caused Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to send ambassadors to the pope seeking help in a rescue effort. An irony of history considering the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade.

One of the problems with reviewing this book is that I learned so much from it along with the book being chock-full of surprising tidbits. It would be so easy to want to fill the review with all this information. I was totally absorbed in his relating of this history the good and the bad. While called The Glory of the Crusades this book does not shy off from the shame of some of the actions during them such as the despicable Sack of Constantinople. Lots of contrasts between men like Godfrey who rejected the title of king and his brother Baldwin who had no qualms about being named King in Jerusalem. Contrasts between St. Louis IX and Frederick II. The retelling of this history is such that at times I felt frustration over the stupidity of how the Crusades were managed from a logistical point of view and how they seemed to learn no lessons from previous Crusades. Along with anger regarding the evil done during the Crusades. This history became bright in my mind like it was a recent event. In modern times we think of national armies like the wars in the last 100 years and how different this was from the reality concerning the centuries the Crusades occurred in. The picturesque phrase “herding cats” seems to be an apt comparison to the loose associations of the men signed with the cross.

The term Crusades is a modern word as the author notes.

“Crusading contemporaries used the term passagia, among others, meaning an “exceptionally large military expedition declared against unbelievers.” Those who undertook the passagia were known as crucesignati, or “those signed with the cross.”

One final aspect of this book that I enjoyed is it also went into a more detailed history of how the well-known myths became the accepted history for many. It is easy to see how this was done as we have experienced in recent history regarding Pius XII. A history retold through through anti-Catholic bias by first Protestants and then secularists, Communists, and eventually Muslims. There was enough evil in the Crusades that it didn’t need to be embellished, yet still it was recast as if the Crusaders were the invading armies bent only on riches. At least modern Crusades scholarship is now more focused on studying this history through the perspective of the participants instead of simply projecting on them their motives.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read with close to 700 footnotes. Usually a large number of footnotes is inversely proportional to how enjoyable something is to read.

Oct 292014

I have been very impressed with the work of Trent Horn of Catholic Answers. I always enjoy when he is answering calls on Catholic answers and his last book Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity was excellent. So when I had heard he was writing a new book I certainly looked forward to it.

Now having read Persuasive Pro Life: How to Talk about Our Culture’s Toughest Issue which was recently released I can say this book is another winner. Still I had wondered if this book would just be a collection of all the pro-life defenses I have heard. I should have known better.

Since Trent Horn hosts the mostly shows where he answers questions from atheists and considering his last book I thought apologetics regarding this topic was his expertise. I did not know about his years working full-time in the pro-life movement and all that he had learned during those years. He references some of his work during this time and what he had learned from his own mistakes in talking to people.

What I especially found worthwhile is that what he lays out in this book is not just confined to pro-life apologetics. There are many basic principals that apply when talking to people on most subjects that are highly polarized. The basics of actually listening to people and not just waiting to unleash your counter-argument is evident, but so easy to be forgotten. Asking questions and not just making statements also helps.

He provides a wealth of practical advice when dealing with others. A central theme seemed to be staying on point. There are so many side channels that such discussions can diverge on. Rabbit holes crossed with connecting gopher holes. In this case always leading the discussion back to the central question “What are the unborn?” He provides lots of advice on how to do this. The tool _“Trot Out a Toddler (TOAT)” is one of those ideas that can stick in your mind and to help in these discussions. He provides other mental tools and acknowledges their sources.

Much of the book provides tactics in how to stay on track and to be able to answer both common and more uncommon questions. He goes in-depth regarding just how to answer these questions and to drive the question back to the central point. While ad hominem arguments are common among those who defend abortion, he also points out ad hominem arguments that are common among pro-lifers. I think his prudential approach to some common pro-life arguments and while some of them are very good points, they don’t prove the central point. This book is very thorough in answering objections and categorizing these objections for later reference. Appendices at the end of the book goes into How to Talk to Pre- and Post-Abortive Women and Answering Infanticide.

This book is just a treasure-trove in regards to both information and advice. Really this is the best presentation on this topic I have ever seen. I would say it would be highly useful to anybody from someone who might have casual arguments on this topic with co-workers and friends to those on the front lines of defending life.

Oct 272014

When it comes to books regarding J.R.R. Tolkien and his books it has become much like scripture interpretation. Which means in this case is that you learn much more about the philosophy of the author and very little about Tolkien’s works. Famously his books have been taken up by socialists who rather crazily assumed he was a fellow traveler, to environmentalists, and hippies. Anybody with a narrative can read into his books much like scriptural eisegesis.

So I was both intrigued and wary of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot which was recently released by Ignatius Press and authored by the team of Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt.

Regarding Tolkien’s books I am relatively late to the game. For quite a while I ignored Fantasy as being unscientific and embarrassingly held a view much like Richard Dawkins disdain of Fairy stories. Added to that I remember seeing a parody novel as a youth called “Bored of the Rings” which I think unconsciously prejudiced me as an added weight towards any interest in the novels. Seeing the Rankin-Bass animated version certainly did not reduce my prejudice against the novels. It was only on my way into the Catholic Church that I kept running across references to these novels and I finally picked them up. Since then The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy have been close to being an annual revisit. I am no Tolkien scholar by any means, just a Tolkien reader. The only biography I have read on him is Joseph Pearce’s Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life.

Reading these books through a lens of economics and small government could be such a distorted view with all the problems I referenced in the introduction paragraph. Is the Shire to be taken for an idealistic view of economics and government? Can some of Tokien’s views in this regard be seen in the novels. Coming away for this book I do think the authors make a good case for what the novels reveal about Tolkien’s economic and government views. Using the novels, his letters, and the originally unpublished volumes of his works they make a good case while not asserting something when there is ambiguity. Thankfully this book does not just concentrate on this narrative and leaves open where there is some doubt regarding Tolkien’s thoughts. I think I even enjoyed more the discussions regarding freedom, corruption of power, and just war theory. These discussion for me teased out more from the book and provided insights that will help me on my next read.

I remember the first time I read Return of the King and was very surprised that the destruction of the ring at Mt. Doom was in the middle of the novel and the episode of The Scourging of the Shire made little sense to me thematically. I have grown to appreciate that episode much more since and the chapter on this subject helped me even more. The final chapter titled Love and Death in Middle-Earth was also very enlightening. The book goes through the novels showing how much love and death was an integral part thematically. Over and over I was drawn to a deeper understanding of the novels and even such minor things as etymology of words used also brought this out for me.

So I found this book to be worthwhile giving me much to think about, but not being a Tokien scholar or a scholar of any kind I can’t testify to their assertions. Since I am already inclined to the views of the book my own biases could get in the way of a more critical read.