18 April 2016

Yet Still More Music for Grading

I'm not in the habit of doing Top Five lists anymore like I used to on this blog. However, it seems like without my meaning it to, it has become a tradition at some point each year to share the music I'm listening to while grading papers.

Music for Grading

More Music for Grading

Still More Music for Grading

So here's what's on my playlist this year. I guess my musical taste hasn't changed much here.






1. Andrew Peterson, The Burning Edge of Dawn
Someday Andrew Peterson will release a new cd that doesn't make my cry like a little baby when I listen to it. But this isn't the one. Powerful, painful, and lovely.

2. Jon Foreman, Sunlight and Shadows

3. Jon Foreman, Darkness and Dawn
Jon Foreman called these four cds "The Wonderlands". There are 6 songs per cd, 25 songs in all (okay, so one cd actually has 7 songs), each song corresponding to an hour of the day.

4. Randall Goodgame, War and Peace
Charlie Brown, Harry Truman, Pope Joan.. what sort of album is this? It's funny sometimes. And sad. (The title is "War and Peace" after all.)

5. M. Ward More Rain
M. Ward is always great music for relaxing.

14 April 2016

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves



Do you ever feel like people are counting on you to have the answers? To have it all together? To be strong? Do you feel like you fall short? Like you aren’t enough? Like if anyone found out what you’re really like, you would be pushed aside and forgotten? This is the feeling of shame.

Aristotle defined shame as “pain or disturbance in regard to bad things, whether present, past, or future, which seem likely to involve us in discredit.” This definition meshes well with the way Curt Thompson talks about shame in his book The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves. Shame is the feeling that you’re not enough, will not be enough, cannot be enough. It’s a fear that you can never meet the expectations that people have for you, or that you’re not good enough for people to care for you.

According to Thompson, shame is a key component of the lives of all people. While shame comes in many forms and in varying levels of intensity, it is always there, whispering in your ear, causing you to reshape the story you tell yourself about your life and relationships with others. The main fear that shame promotes is the anxiety of separation from others, the fear of abandonment and lonliness. Paradoxically, shame causes us to hide who we really are in response. We can’t show our weaknesses. We have to appear strong, with it, and put together lest people reject us as not good enough for fellowship. As this shame creeps like a pernicious weed into every part of our lives, we can end up withdrawing from people altogether and experiencing the lonliness that we feared at the beginning of our shame journey.

Thompson points out that shame is different from guilt. Shame can exist alongside of guilt, but unlike guilt, which can be good for us, shame is always negative. Without guilt, shame separates people. Because of the fear of separation, shame drives us to hide ourselves from one another, not willing to be vulnerable and weak. Alongside of guilt, shame causes us to hide from God, wearing our fig leaves and avoiding confession. Shame coupled with guilt also prevents us from confessing our sins to one another for fear of the rejection we may experience from others if our sin should become known.

This book shows how shame begins to have its effect on us from our earliest childhood experiences. It is inculcated, usually unknowingly, in our families. It features strongly in schools for both students and teachers. It infiltrates all organizations and workplaces. It can especially be prevalent in church communities, the one place one would expect to find freedom from shame.

Through the course of this book, Thompson talks about how to be attentive to shame and deal with its lies that it feeds us on a daily basis. He gives a reaffirmation of vocation the way God intended it to be, and shows how we can combat the way shame strips us of joy and fellowship in our lives.

This was an excellent book in every way. Thompson does great research into the neuroscience of shame. There is a lot of information about the brain and how the experience of shame affects the operations of the brain. Apparently shame can actually shear off neural pathways and affect our ability to form accurate memories of events that we experience. Shame is a state of mind that we slip into unconsciously, and by being consciously attentive to the process when it happens, we actually alter the physical functioning of our brains to combat shame. Thompson pays special attention to what it means to be humans, embodied creatures with body and soul. While our mind and our brain are not identical, the functioning of our brain has a great effect on the health of our souls.

I appreciated Thompson’s numerous expositions of Scripture. He shows how shame was present and active at the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. He shows how shame was active in the early church communities and addressed by Paul. He shows how Jesus dealt with shame and guilt in the way he talked to others and interacted with individual sinners.

I also appreciated the numerous case studies of his patients and clients. As a practicing psychiatrist, Thompson has a wealth of personal experience to draw on. It would be very surprising if you were to read this book and not find a situation that connected with you directly.

For me, this book has already changed the way I talk to my children on a daily basis. From finding ways to encourage hard work and creativity without the fear of falling short, to finding ways to deal with sin and bad behavior in order to restore fellowship rather than shame, this book would be helpful to any parent. I think this book is going to greatly affect the way I deal with students as a teacher as well. Schools, especially schools with a strong academic reputation, are hotbeds of shame. This book definitely explains the burnout I’ve seen in many students over the years. Oftentimes shame is a chain reaction in educational environments affecting administrators, teachers, parents and students. And this holds true from large schools to homeschool co-ops.

In conclusion I don’t think there is a person, family, school, organization or church community that would not benefit from this book, and I’m going to be recommending it like crazy to everyone I know.

07 April 2016

Medieval Christianity and the Rise of Science

I am currently reading, and very much enjoying, Rodney Stark's book The Victory of Reason. In the chapter I'm on right now, he attempts to show that, far from being a hindrance to the development of science, Christianity in the Middle Ages laid the groundwork without which science could not have developed.

"Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable—the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars.”[1]

He explains why this is the case:

“The rise of science…was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover these principles.

There were the crucial ideas that explain why science arose in Christian Europe and nowhere else.”[2]




[1] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York: Random House, 2005), 12.
[2] Ibid., 22-23.

06 March 2016

Mental Insurrection vs. Kindling the Fires of the Heart

"If all the universe and everything in it exist by the design of an infinite, personal God, to make his manifold glory known and loved, then to treat any subject without reference to God's glory is not scholarship but insurrection."

"God did not give us minds as ends in themselves. The mind provides the kindling for the fires of the heart. Theology serves doxology. Reflection serves affection. Contemplation serves exultation. Together they glorify Christ to the full."

-Quotes from Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

18 February 2016

That Hideous Strength

Last year I read the first two parts of C.S. Lewis’s “Space Trilogy,” Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. I thought they formed a wonderful experiment in meshing old-school science fiction to medieval cosmology. I especially liked Perelandra, which is a bit unusual because many people name it as their least favorite. However, despite how much I enjoyed the first two books, I approached C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength with some trepidation.

I might as well start by saying that I like J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction better than C.S. Lewis’s. I’m not dissing Lewis here; I already hear the boos and hisses from the Lewis fans. I do think that most of Lewis’s non-fiction is stellar and his fiction is great too. But none of the Narnia books come close to comparing to The Hobbit. And though Till We Have Faces is a great book, in my opinion Lewis’s best fiction, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Lord of the Rings. So, all that said, I was in two minds going in to That Hideous Strength because Tolkien, who was a fan of the first two books of the space trilogy, thought that the third book “spoiled it.”[1] He attributed this to the great influence of Charles Williams on That Hideous Strength and said that Lewis’s mythology was “broken to bits before it became coherent by contact with C. S. Williams and his ‘Arthurian’ stuff.”[2] So much for that. It’s well known that Tolkien and Williams, though on friendly terms, never saw eye to eye as far as literature went. Now add to this the fact that I am actually a fan of the novels of Charles Williams, and you can see why I approached this book with mixed feelings.

This book is very different from the first two. The first two books felt very much in the line of classic pulp sci-fi. They would fit well on a shelf with Edgar Rice Burrough’s Carson of Venus or John Carter of Mars series. This third book is wholly earthbound. We don’t see any of the characters from the first two book for a good long time (or at least we don’t know that we’ve seen them.) The plot does pick up elements of the first two, but it uses them in a wholly different way. This book does, as Tolkien said, take a distinctly Arthurian turn, and Lewis does channel Williams in parts. However, there are also parts of the book that are quintessentially Lewis. I will say that Lewis doesn’t do as good of a job being Charles Williams as Charles Williams does. When it’s time for psychedelic, esoteric, mystical/spiritual happenings, Williams beats Lewis hands down.  But the parts of the book that play to Lewis’s strengths are wonderful! Lewis is a master of understanding human psychology: what makes people tick, why we make the decisions we make, what motivates us to sin, etc. Lewis is also one of the only authors I know of who can make simple virtues seem exciting. The domestic scenes and the lessons Lewis has to teach about our relation in the modern world to careers, marriage, family, and fulfillment are perfectly expressed and wonderfully portrayed.


There are parts of this book that are beautifully written. The plot and pacing is gripping. I didn’t want to put it down, and only did so reluctantly. There is certainly a larger cast of characters in this book than in the first two; your mileage may vary on this, though, as one of the things I liked best about the first two books was the sense of adventure, isolation, and loneliness. However, having a large number of realistically drawn characters is something Lewis does well.

As far as weaknesses go, the first I would point out is that this book is clearly no longer science fiction like the first two. I loved the first two for their sci-fi vibe and this one clearly trips over into fantasy. It’s a great book in and of itself, and it could be read as a standalone novel without prior knowledge of the other books. However, as a book that is meant to be part of a series, the tonal shift is just too great for continuity. The very ending of the book was a bit weak as well, but it was a very “Charles Williams” ending. As I said before, Williams does Williams better than Lewis does Williams.

Overall, it is a very good book with clever satirical commentary on modern culture. It’s required reading for Lewis fans, and would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys Lewis’s other fiction.


[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 342.
[2] Ibid., 361

09 February 2016

2015 Book Awards and Reading List


Well, it seems like I get later every year with my awards for the books I read the previous year. Such is life, I suppose. But I’m not about to give up a tradition that I’ve had rolling for six years, so here we go. For those of you reading this who haven’t been around here for long, here’s how it works. At the beginning of each year, I make a list of all the books I’ve read during the past year. Then I select the best book in a variety of categories. These are not books that have been published in the past year, just books that I’ve read in the past year. I also only consider a book if it’s a book that I’m reading for the first time. So when you see a bunch of G. K. Chesterton books or C. S. Lewis books on my reading list and are wondering why I haven’t picked any of them as the best, You can just assume that it’s because I’ve read them before. Got all that? Great! Here we go!

The 2015 Flying Inn Book Awards!
Best Fiction Book I Read this Year:
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis


Runners Up: These books couldn't be considered the greatest I've read this year, but they were both good in their own ways. Last Call by Tim Powers combined the feeling of a Charles Williams novel with Las Vegas gangsters, Tarot cards, and Arthurian Legend. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter was a fun science fiction romp in and of itself, but the way it juggled and subverted so many common sci-fi tropes was great!

Best History Book I Read this Year:
Read Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Metz
Best Theology Book I Read this Year:
Inerrancy (Norman Geisler, ed.)



Best non-history, non-theology, non-fiction Book I Read this Year:
Beauty for Truth's Sake by Stratford Caldecott


Best Book I Read Out Loud to My Kids This Year:
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper



Special Mention
Cambridge Latin Course 1 by Ed Phinney
This book doesn't rate as a best book in any of the categories. However, I was trying to learn Latin this past year and I read it. Each chapter tells part of a story about a family living in Pompeii. The father Caecilius, his wife Metella, and the rest of their family perish at the end of the book when Mt. Vesuvius erupts. Pretty sad ending for a kids' Latin book. Shortly after reading this book, my wife and I got into Doctor Who (and by "got into" I mean "quickly became rabid fans of, and binge watched"). So imagine my happiness when it turns out that Caecilus and his family actually made it out of Pompeii after all! :)


And, as always, here are the books I read this year:



·  Doctor Who: The Last Voyage by Dan Abnett 12/15
·  Lords of the Sea by John Hale 12/15
·  The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett 12/15
·  Martin Luther's Christmas Book (Roland Bainton, trans.) 12/15
·  Father Hunger by Douglas Wilson 12/15
·  The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper 11/15
·  The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft 11/15
·  Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle 11/15
·  Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers 11/15
·  Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons by Robbie Morrison 10/15
·  Perelandra by C. S. Lewis 10/15
·  Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater 10/15
·  The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo (Maria Boulding, trans.) 10/15
·  Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis 10/15
·  Last Call by Tim Powers 10/15
·  The Trojan War by Barry Strauss 9/15
·  Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner 9/15
·  Thud! by Terry Pratchett 9/15
·  The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting 9/15
·  Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Volume 1: Revolutions of Terror by Nick Abadzis 8/15
·  With Lee in Virginia by G. A. Henty 8/15
·  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle 8/15
·  Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 8/15
·  Let's Study 1 Timothy by W. John Cook  8/15
·  A Skeleton in God's Closet by Paul Maier 8/15
·  The Ball and the Cross by G. K. Chesterton 8/15
·  Inerrancy (Norman Geisler, ed.) 8/15
·  Star Trek: U.S.S. Enterprise: Pride of the Fleet by Scott Tipton 8/15
·  The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien 8/15
·  Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 8/15
·  The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter 8/15
·  The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A. A. Milne 8/15
·  A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris 7/15
·  The New Testament (Richmond Lattimore, trans.) 7/15
·  A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett 7/15
·  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 7/15
·  Roman Realities by Finley Hooper 7/15
·  From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury 7/15
·  Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome 6/15
·  Murder in the Cathedral  by T. S. Eliot 6/15
·  Little Pear by Eleanor Lattimore 6/15
·  The Jewish Study Bible (Adele Berlin, ed.) 6/15
·  The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton 6/15
·  The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury 6/15
·  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster 6/15
·  Three Philosophies of Life by Peter Kreeft 5/15
·  National Velvet by Enid Bagnold 5/15
·  The Second World War: Milestones to Disaster by Winston Churchill 5/15
·  Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Interlinear) 5/15
·  The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings 5/15
·  Persuasions by Douglas Wilson 4/15
·  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis 4/15
·  Alarms and Discursions by G. K. Chesterton 4/15
·  The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Matthew Trewhella 4/15
·  The Proper Role of Law Enforcement by Richard Mack 4/15
·  The Greek Alexander Romance (Richard Stoneman, trans.) 4/15
·  Cambridge Latin Course 1 by Ed Phinney 4/15
·  Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis 4/15
·  Josephus and the Jews by F. J. Jackson 3/15
·  The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton 2/15
·  Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie 3/15
·  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis 3/15
·  Lingua Latina per se Illustrata by Hans ├śrberg 3/15
·  The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton 2/15
·  These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder 2/15
·  Tuck by Stephen Lawhead 2/15
·  Tutankhamen by E. A. Budge 2/15
·   Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Metz 2/15
·  The Voyage of Argo by Appollonius of Rhodes (E. V. Rieu, trans.) 1/15
·  A Survey of Israel's History by Leon J. Wood 1/15
·  Funeral Games by Mary Renault 1/15
·  Manalive by G. K. Chesterton 1/15
·  Old Testament Parallels (Victor H. Matthews, ed.) 1/15
·  Beauty for Truth's Sake by Stratford Caldecott 1/15

06 February 2016

Coraline

 Poor Coraline. She is stuck spending her summer vacation in the old subdivided house where her family has just moved. The only other people living there are two old ladies who used to be actresses and a crazy old man who claims to have a mouse circus that he won’t let anyone see. Everyone gets her name wrong; it’s Coraline, NOT Caroline! Her parents are always busy working and don’t have time to play. And her dad is always cooking fancy “recipes” for dinner when Coraline would just prefer some good, plain food. Yes, life is pretty glum for Coraline. That is until the walled-up door to the empty neighboring flat turns into a tunnel that leads to another world. It is a world with a house just like hers, except the two old ladies are young and energetic and put on fantastic theatrical shows to a room full of dogs; her room is full of wonderful toys that come alive and play with her; and she has another mother and another father who look just like her real mother and father, except that they have buttons for eyes. Coraline’s other father always has time to play with her. Coraline’s other mother buys her all the types of clothes she really wants to wear, cooks her the most wonderful dinners made up of all the foods she most wants to eat, and wants to keep her and cherish her and love her. Forever. The other mother even has a pair of nice black buttons that would fit Coraline perfectly…

I had seen the movie Coraline a few years ago, and so I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up the book. But of course, no movie could ever capture the lovely, delicious prose of Neil Gaiman. His writing is always so confident, skillful, and playful that reading anything he authors is like giving your imagination dinner at a five-star restaurant. Yes, the book is much better than the movie, and the movie was already pretty good. This is technically a children’s book, but really anyone over the age of seven with a pulse should enjoy Coraline. I also have to mention that Dave McKean’s illustrations do a great job of capturing the tone of Gaiman’s story as well.

Like most of Gaiman’s books, Coraline doesn’t follow the rules. In a conventional children’s fantasy book, the parents would realize that they’ve been neglecting their precious little snowflake and shower her with all the things she feels like she’s been missing. In this book, Coraline realizes that she needs to stop being dissatisfied and appreciate the fact that her parents love her even though they work a lot, and don’t buy her the clothes she wants, and her dad puts green pepper and pineapple on the homemade pizza. It’s a good reminder that not all love looks the same, and some things that look like love aren’t.

So do yourself a favor. If you are a parent looking for some good family out-loud reading material, or if you have kids who are looking for a good story, or if you’re a teen or adult who has a couple of hours to spend with a master storyteller, pick up a copy of Coraline.

31 January 2016

Medieval Combat by Hans Talhoffer


A Medieval fighting manual! Did you know that real medieval sword fighting did not involve clanking swords together rapidly until one hacked one’s way through the opponent’s defenses? Did you know that medieval fighting included smooth, judo-like movements, wrestling and grappling techniques, and methods of attacking with every part of the sword? Seriously, there’s a move in this book called the “murder stroke” wherein a combatant grabs the sword by the blade and swings the pommel of it like a hammer into their opponent’s face.

The aptly named "murder stroke"

The number of attacks that involve holding the sword at various points on the blade, and using the pommel as a weapon are astounding. The fighting methods described in this book often seem more like eastern martial arts than the repetitive sword-on-shield clashing or the fencing-style fighting in most movies. A combatant’s entire body becomes a weapon, and the swords, poleaxes, shields, maces, etc. function as extensions of the body.

Smacked with a pommel.
One of the more interesting parts was the combat with two shields. Death by shield seems like a bad way to go. The fighting on horseback with spears and swords was fun. The oddest part of the book was the description of a judicial duel between a man and a woman. The man was handicapped by being forced to stand waist-deep in a hole. If the man was pulled from the hole, or the woman pulled into the hole, the duel was over. This particular duel ended in the woman’s favor. As the text says, “The woman has the man locked in a hold by the neck and the groin and pulls him out of the pit.”

Death by shield.
Who would benefit from reading this book? Anyone choreographing a play or film with medieval fighting would do well to learn from this book. Anyone interested in historical reenactment should definitely read it. Writers who wish to write stories set in the middle ages should benefit from it as well. So, what about someone like me who doesn’t have any of these excuses? I just enjoyed looking at the reproductions of the illustrations from this fighting manual of the 1400s and imagining the fights, duels, and battles being described by them.


This is not how I expected this day to end...

21 January 2016

A Canticle for Leibowitz

I don’t remember where I first heard about A Canticle for Leibowitz. It’s one of those books that had been bouncing around on my radar for years, but I had never taken the time to read it. My interest was piqued again last year when Professor Eric Rabkin highly recommended it in a lecture series on imaginative literature that I listened to. My sister also told me that I needed to read it, and then just bought me a copy for Christmas, assuming, I suppose, that I would never get to it on my own.

First of all, let me say that A Canticle for Leibowitz is a great post-apocalyptic novel. It avoids many of the easy clich├ęs inherent in post-apocalyptic fiction, and it presents a story that doesn’t simply offer escapism but truly comments on the human condition and offers good food for thought. Some consider A Canticle for Leibowitz to be among the classics of 20th century literature, and having now read it myself I tend to agree.

On a slightly off topic note, I was thrilled to find that this book is the source of a spurious C.S. Lewis quotation that is ubiquitous on the internet. The quote, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body,” circulates on the internet with Lewis’s name attached, and I’ve known for years that it is a misattribution. I suppose at some point I had also read that the quote really came from Walter Miller, but I didn’t know it was from this book. It was an exciting nerd moment for me.

Plot

Anyway, the book opens on an acolyte named Francis who is fulfilling a Lenten fast in the desert in order to hopefully find his vocation and be confirmed as a full-fledged monk in the Order of Saint Leibowitz. It doesn’t take long for us to piece together that the story is taking place in the far future and that the world as we know it has been destroyed by a global nuclear war. The Church has survived however, and is the only force in a barbaric world attempting to preserve and further the learning from the previous fallen civilization. In other words, what we have is a parallel to the position of the Church in the early Middle Ages. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. The story of Francis and what happens to him makes up the first third of the book. The story then shifts hundreds of years farther into the future where we see that civilization has progressed to a time of a new Renaissance and the knowledge the Church has preserved for years is now desired by a first generation of new scientists. The final third of the book takes place in a civilization that is just ahead of us today. Many things seem familiar, but interstellar travel has also become a reality. Once again, nuclear weapons are a reality and we see the same monastery dealing with very modern political problems.

Themes

There are a few major themes that run through the book and tie all three stories together. Most of the themes are introduced in a basic form in the first part and culminate in the third part.

The first major theme is the idea that Christianity is the conscience of the world. The scientists in the book run toward new inventions and ideas, discovering many wonderful and amazing things. However, the scientists find themselves the political pawns of those in power who would use the new knowledge for destruction. And the scientists tend to make moral decisions in a utilitarian way. In this way, the book shows an interesting take on the old science vs. religion trope. The monks are not opposed to scientific knowledge and participate in scientific discovery themselves. This is, incidentally an accurate picture of the role of the Church in scientific discovery through the Middle Ages; the idea that the Church held back science is one of those popular modern myths with little grounding in reality. The main difference presented with the interest of the monks in scientific knowledge and the interest of the scientists in scientific knowledge is that the monks’ interest in science is never absolute; they always consider that there is a higher Law they must obey. Science is always considered a means rather than an end by the monks. The scientists see science as the main end of life, and the only true evil is physical pain. One of the abbots expresses it this way, “To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.”

This leads to another major theme that runs through the book: that of the relationship between faith and suffering. The image of Job is invoked at various points in the book to discuss the perseverance of faith in the fact of suffering in a world that seems to offer only absurdity. At one point, the story inverts the Job narrative, showing how, for many people, suffering and fear lead only to the loss of faith.

A third theme is that of man’s fallenness. It was the fallenness of man that led to the first Flame Deluge (the nuclear war that wiped out civilization). The main goal of the monks in the story for the centuries afterward is to preserve knowledge, but to get it right this time. This time around a return to civilization and knowledge will not involve a drifting away from faith and a progressive secularism. And of course, it won’t involve nations threatening one another with nuclear annihilation again. But alas, man is not only fallen, but is also falling at all times. Man is ever reaching out for the forbidden fruit, and the best efforts of men still fall far short of perfection.

Conclusion

I realize that the way I’ve described this book may make it sound like a heavy-handed religious allegory. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What I’m presenting is largely my perspective on the themes of the book. However, the questions raised in the book, questions about suffering, euthanasia, progress, politics, and the like, are never treated as simple questions with pat answers. There are no outright heroes or villains in the book, and as a reader you’re going to have to experience the story for yourself to see if you come to the same conclusions that I did when reading it. As for me, this is the sort of book that I think will warrant a re-read in the future to see how it strikes me again in a few years.

A Canticle for Leibowitz certainly deserves its reputation as a classic of 20th century fiction. This is no fluffy, pop sci-fi. This is a deeply resonant, well-written story with richly- crafted, realistic characters that should be read and appreciated by all lovers of great literature.

08 January 2016

Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought

Vern Poythress’s Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought is a hefty book. If you cut out the bibliography and the indices, it still clocks in at 708 pages. As such, it’s hard to review it all in one go. I’m going to try though by listing the things I particularly liked about this book and the areas in which I felt it fell short.

Pros

  • This book gives a breathtaking picture of the breadth of Logic in ways that other Introductory texts that I have read do not.
  • It is written from a theologically Reformed, presuppositional perspective (might not be a pro for everyone)
  • The author works hard to unify all the different types of Logic (i.e. categorical logic, propositional logic, Boolean algebra, predicate logic, set theory, modal logic, etc.) and to show how they all fit together and support one another.
  • The author clearly loves his material. His excitement seeps through the pages.
  • The author continually attempts to show how logic relates to other fields of study such as philosophy, physics, computer programming, theology, and science.


Cons

  • Even though it has over 700 pages, the book moves along at a very fast pace. Sometimes the concepts are zooming by so quickly that you might miss something because it didn’t seem significant at the time only to realize a few chapters later that the earlier concept is being used to build even more theoretical structures later on in the book. This means that there was a lot of going back and reading earlier parts of the book for me in order to follow his arguments.
  • There are very few exercises for a student or reader to work through. Even thought this book was purportedly written as an introductory logic text, it doesn’t seem to have been designed with the student in mind.
  • Some of the author’s theological explanations become repetitive over the course of the book. There are only so many ways to restate the relationship of logic concepts to the problem of the many and the one or to ideas of transcendence and immanence.
  • Syllogisms are really shortchanged in this book. I guess if I want more syllogisms I need to get my hands on Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic next.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this for students just starting out with Logic. If this is your first encounter with Logic, I imagine it might be overwhelming. If you already have a grasp of basic Aristotelian Logic and you want to expand your idea of what Logic is and what it can do, this would be a good book to read through.