Category Archives: Book Reviews

Overdue or overdone? ‘Fire and Fury’ and Trump

Certainly a great read…well written and enthralling …. especially for US citizens who would know all the characters! My reading of Fire and Fury: inside the Trump Whitehouse by Michael Wolff was biased by my personal dislike for Trump and all he stands for and so I enjoyed it immensely. What does that say about me?

The final word of Wolff is:

Trump, in Bannon’s view, was a chapter, or even a detour, in the Trump revolution, which had always been about weaknesses in the two major parties. The Trump presidency—however long it lasted—had created the opening that would provide the true outsiders their opportunity. Trump was just the beginning.

If this is just the beginning, what is the world in for? How do ordinary people deal with the current crisis of leadership in the world’s major economic and military power? Or is there no crisis?

The bewilderingly repetitive description of most of Trumps closely aligned campaigners and political leaders as less than really impressed by Trump and often privately very critical of his actions and words, demonstrates the amount of political power games were at play in his election. Trump moved rapidly from a ‘no chance’ in early 2016 to ‘ a likely winner’ by the end of the campaign towards the end of 2016. Much of this can be attributed to alliances and back room deals with media. There were some fateful incidents along the way:

On May 12 (2016), Roger Ailes was scheduled to return to New York from Palm Beach to meet with Peter Thiel, an early and lonely Trump supporter in Silicon Valley who had become increasingly astonished by Trump’s unpredictability. Ailes and Thiel, both worried that Trump could bring Trumpism down, were set to discuss the funding and launch of a new cable news network. Thiel would pay for it and Ailes would bring O’Reilly, Hannity, himself, and maybe Bannon to it.

But two days before the meeting, Ailes fell in his bathroom and hit his head. Before slipping into a coma, he told his wife not to reschedule the meeting with Thiel. A week later, Ailes, that singular figure in the march from Nixon’s silent majority to Reagan’s Democrats to Trump’s passionate base, was dead.

Trump’s failure to offer condolences to Aile’s wife, Beth, was typical of many undiplomatic slips and the funeral with only close Aile’s allies present showed the way in which the Republican Party was imploding and now needed trump to survive.

The president had surely become the right wing’s meal ticket. He was the ultimate antiliberal: an authoritarian who was the living embodiment of resistance to authority. He was the exuberant inverse of everything the right wing found patronizing and gullible and sanctimonious about the left. And yet, obviously, Trump was Trump—careless, capricious, disloyal, far beyond any sort of control. Nobody knew that as well as the people who knew him best.

The Trump campaign was a giant exercise in bluff and bravado. He rationalised that he was a gift to the USA and the world, that he was one win away from turning the US problems, and inevitably those of the rest of the world, around.

But it is not just the story of the election campaign that enthrals. It is the events that have followed too.

Global liberal leadership had been all but paralyzed by the election of Donald Trump—indeed, by the very existence of Donald Trump. But it was an inverted universe in the Middle East. The Obama truculence and hyperrationalization and micromanaging, preceded by the Bush moral militarism and ensuing disruptions, preceded by Clinton deal making, quid pro quo, and backstabbing, had opened the way for Trump’s version of realpolitik. He had no patience with the our-hands-are-tied ennui of the post-cold war order, that sense of the chess board locked in place, of incremental movement being the best-case scenario—the alternative being only war. His was a much simpler view: Who’s got the power? Give me his number. 

Trump has worked on the principle that the ‘enemy of the enemy is my friend’. Consequently in its simplest form his notion that Iran was the bad guy in the Middle East brought him into unquestioning support for Iran’s enemies. His lack of foreign power knowledge of relationships will be his downfall. This approach has given Russia an enormous amount of freedom in Eurasia and who knows where this will go.

We are going to see a lot of ‘prosecuting’ in the months ahead and all of this will only add to the hype around Trump and help books like this to sell. We must not forget that a key player in all the events around Trump has been Murdoch, at first opposed but later a friend and advisor. With friends like that, and advice from that quarter, we can expect trump to have plenty of wins in his attack on former friends.

This is a book that must be a significant artefact in the collection of Trump critiques. But the best book is yet to be written … after Trump slips into history.

oOo

 

 

 

 

Fundamentalism is a new phenomenon

Writing in the October 2017 edition of New Scientist, Philip Ball argues that “today’s religious fundamentalism that denies evolution and Earth’s age is a peculiarly modern delusion”. Ball is a science writer and author of Curiosity: How science became interested in everything.

Ball asks “Did the religious revolution 500 years ago clear the way for the scientific revolution?”

In part it did.

Four years after nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle church, Luther defended his strong movement of conscience to the 1521 Diet of Worms. Much bolder than Galileo’s weak defence of astronomy, Luther’s challenge to the authority of the Church in Rome contributed to the liberating of an enlightenment in scientific thinking that would not be held back any more.

Ball’s argument is supported by John Henry historian of science at the University of Edinburgh, UK. The Protestant Reformation opened the door to thinking outside the Bible. Robert Merton, in 1938, fuelled the idea of the Reformation opening up scientific thinking. he pointed out how Puritanism, an English strand of the protestant movement, fostered the work of Newton, Boyle, Hooke and others.

Pure reason, mathematics and measurement became the tools for understanding the world.

The notion that Catholic dogma was putting a brake on science is a myth based on the misconception that science and religious belief are enemies. Ball highlights the many scientific challenges promoted from inside the Church from the 1400s. Early Protestantism was not exactly ‘progressive’ on science either with Luther calling Copernicus a fool.

The forces for change are more complicated than sometimes reported – with numerous reformations with different origins occurring across Europe in the 16th Century. But one thing aided all of these reformations – the growth of the printing press. At the same time as reformers such as Calvin and Luther were evolving, so too were their reactionaries and it is too big a claim to say science progressed only because of the reformation.

When Galileo asserted that the Bible was not a book of natural philosophy, this viewpoint was not criticised as it would be today by a large section of the Church. 16th Century theology and Church teaching did not dwell on belief in the creation myth so much as how humankind should give God appropriate precedence in all things on Earth. That form of fundamental interpretation was left to a later age.

oOo

 

The search for the real Jesus continues

The December 2017 edition of National Geographic challenges skeptics about the existence of JC while attempting a fact vs fiction review of who he was. Author, Kristin Romey, herself an archaeologist, highlights the work of contemporary archaeology that throws new light on the man Jesus.

The difficulty of finding traces of proof for a person who lived 2000 years ago is acknowledged. The New testament texts, especially the Gospels (despite their divergent reports) remain as preeminent sources while being openly debated.

Tradition and archaeology inform each other in this search. Serious archaeology in the Holy Land is only 150 years old and has made shifts in perspectives in that time. Despite the emergence of some scholarly arguments against the existence of JC, few mainstream scholars today challenge his existence.

John Dominic Crossan, former priest and co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, supports the ‘existence’ arguments. However, stories of his miraculous deeds need considerable re-thinking.

Scholars who study Jesus divide into two opposing camps separated by a very bright line: those who believe the wonder-working Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, and those who think the real Jesus – the man who inspired the myth – hides below the surface of the Gospels and must be revealed by historical research and literary analysis. Both camps claim archaeology as their ally, leading to some fractious debates and strange bedfellows. (Romey)

Archaeologists have succeeded in showing the influence of Rome’s first Christian Emperor, Constantine, in developing the ‘church’ in his building and organisational influence. But proof of links between Bethlehem and the Nativity are scant. Once again Constantine in the 4th Century was responsible for identification and veneration of key sites in the Holy Land. What credence can we give to this?

However, the search for Jesus has produced more evidence in Galilee which had been subjugated by Rome 60 years before the birth of Jesus. John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus in 1991, presented an influential thesis inspired by new archaeological discoveries that Galilee, more urbanised and Jewish than at first understood, had a more significant role in Jesus’ formation than previously thought. He argued that Jesus was a wandering sage, living a counter cultural lifestyle, and challenging the old rules of cleanliness and wealth and status seeking.

Romey’s article goes on to explain how recent (late 20th Century) digs have brought to light evidence for homage to Jesus in the first century homes and meeting places. Similarly, the discovery of a boat, a synagogue and the Magdala Stone from the time of Jesus have only enhanced the speculation about the real Jesus.

But it is in Jerusalem that many lines of evidence attest to the way Jesus died and this is also more consistently reported in the Gospels.

For progressive Christians this search for evidence is important to having a better understanding of Jesus, his life and teaching. The integrity of the arguments are important to following a man of substance and applying his principles personally.

oOo

Recommended reading: God is Near: Trusting our Faith

Michael Morwood, author of Tomorrow’s Catholic and Is Jesus God? speaks to progressive Christians in a voice that is easy to understand, that resonates with their experiences and offers hope and encouragement to critical thinkers.

Michael calls on the reader to ask themselves some serious questions about how their faith or thinking about faith was shaped. How did the reader get to their current world view? The key question is: How is it that our Christian faith, which should be a privilege for us and a source of great peace and encouragement, is experienced by many Christians as a burden, as something restrictive, and, as such, is rejected?

This book can be used for personal or group study. It is structured in a way that the reader can interrogate the issues and question oneself along the way. Each chapter has a useful summary.

Chapter Topics:

  1. The God who is near to us
  2. Jesus: Revealer of the nearness of God
  3. The Eucharist: How close really is!
  4. The Church: called to be witness of God’s presence
  5. Prayer: Deepening our awareness of God’s nearness.

oOo

Book Review: A New, New Testament by Hal Taussig

Subtitle: A Bible for the 21st Century – Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts

Edited with commentary by Hal Taussig, with a Foreword by John Dominic Crossan.

Marcus Borg has described this book as “Important both historically and theologically. Readers will not be able to see the New Testament in the same way again”.

In autographing my copy, Hal said of his own work: Here’s to the powerful way the old and the new combine to help us grow.

So this combination of the traditional and newly discovered and analysed texts arriving a millennium and a half after the canon was settled for the New Testament will inevitably be threatening and intimidating to some but to many the beginning of a new and exciting journey of discovery about Jesus and his teachings.

A New New Testament contains amazing new material from the first century Christ movements and places this alongside the traditional texts. An eclectic mix of bishops, rabbis, well-known authors, leaders of national churches, and women and men from African American, Native American, and European American backgrounds have studied many of the recent discoveries from the first two centuries rigorously together, and chosen these new books.

The story of the discovery of the new books and bringing them into the light is a remarkable thing in itself and the story of the evolution of the traditional New Testament over 500 years helps the reader to understand why these new texts have not appeared sooner.

The new texts, like the traditional texts were all written between 50 and 175 CE, somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea, with similar themes and within certain realities of life. Like the traditional books, the new ones had a life of their own before they were added to the new New Testament.

The reader is helped through new texts (including The Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Truth, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, the Odes of Solomon, and the Acts of Paul and Theda) by a guide to reading the material and making sense of its chronological and thematic order. The reader is encouraged to read thoughtfully taking into account historical contexts. It is important to give thought also to who wrote each text and why. So it is a good book for personal reflection.

Expect to be surprised about the common material found in the old and the new, but most of all be excited about the the totally unique concepts and messages that we did not see in the traditional text. This is a book that provokes feelings and forces the reader to think about the nature of God, of Jesus’ mission and develops positive attitudes about the gift of learning we have in front of us.

Paul Inglis, 2nd November 2017.

Recommended: Two books on God

  1. “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong, author of “The Case for God”
  2. “God’s Human Future: the struggle to define theology today” by David Galston

1. A History of God

Karen Armstrong is one of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs. She spent years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at St Anne’s College, Oxford. In 1982, she became a fulltime writer and broadcaster. She is a best-selling author of over 15 books. An accomplished writer and passionate campaigner for religious liberty, Armstrong has addressed members of the United States Congress and the Senate, has participated in the World Economic Forum, and in 2005, was appointed by Kofi Annan to take part in the United Nations initiative ‘The Alliance of Civilisations’. In 2008 she was awarded the Franklin J Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal for her work on religious liberty.

“Indeed, our current secularism is an entirely new experiment, unprecedented in human history. We have yet to see how it will work. It is also true to say that our Western liberal humanism is not something that comes naturally to us; like an appreciation of art and poetry, it has to be cultivated. Humanism is itself a religion without God – not all religions, of course are theistic. Our ethical secular ideal has its own disciplines of mind and heart and gives people the means of finding faith in the ultimate meaning of human life that were once provided by the more conventional religions” (Armstrong)

Her description of the 4000 year history of God from Abraham to the present day makes for easy and interesting reading and challenges at all points. She is both reverent and curious and ultimately discusses the question: Does God have a future? Which is the subject of our next text ….. This is a big book but held my interest all the way.

 

  1. God’s Human Future

David Galston is a University Chaplain and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario, Academic Director at Westar Institute, a regular speaker at the Quest Learning Centre, and academic adviser to the SnowStar Institute in Canada. He is the author of Embracing the Human Jesus: a wisdom path for contemporary Christianity (2012) and Archives and the Event of God: the impact of Michael Foucault on Philosophical Theology (2012).

“The Bible holds uncommon authority in Western history and everyone presumably needs to know at least a little bit about it for no other reason than to appreciate great Western literature like Shakespeare. Still, once the surface is scratched, it turns out that underneath the cultural level basic knowledge about the Bible is piecemeal, even among the well-educated and, more surprisingly, especially among Bible fundamentalists. Before it is possible to talk about God and the western tradition of theology, the presupposition of that tradition, which is the Bible and its authority, must be encountered. It is important to know all that we commonly do not know about the Bible.” (Galston)

One of the great strengths of this work is the careful way in which it explains how we got here and where the current state of our thinking is likely to take us. As history it is a very different view of theology from that taught in most mainstream colleges. It is great reading for the sceptical and the progressive thinker. Galston managed to cheer me on rather than paint the depressing picture of human futures. There is a level of liberation in this book that justifies reading and re-reading it.

“We call something that is challenging, playful, and creative a work of art. In religion, we call it a parable. As a theology we can call it one of joy.” (Galston)

oOo

Recommended reading – The Book of Common Prayer: a biography

by Alan Jacobs – Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University.

Publisher: Princeton.

I found this little text in a book shop in rural Queensland! It is a gem that tells the full story of the evolution of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

The BCP has had an enormous influence on the evolution of church, prayer, doctrine and church and national politics in the most post reformation churches.

The book’s chief make, Thomas Cranmer, created it as the authoritative manual of Christian worship throughout England. It has been the focus of celebrations, protest and even jail terms.

Many forms have been developed to serve English speaking nations, wherever the British Empire extended its arms.

“From pious aspirations to ruthless politics, and from bonfires of hated communion rails to the Star Wars prayer, the history of the Book of Common Prayer, in Alan Jacob’s hands, is both an education and a bright panorama. I can hardly remember another read so swift yet at the same time so helpful.” Sarah Ruden, author of  Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Won Time.

Few texts have had as much influence on the language, culture and religious life of English-speaking nations as the Book of Common Prayer. Alan Jacobs masterfully distills its history with a poetic touch that is at once scholarly, reverential, and highly engaging. There is no better introduction or guide to the Book of Common Prayer than this one.” Carlos Eire, author of A Very Brief History of Eternity.

oOo

Book review: Christianity after Religion

The end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening

Diana Butler Bass

What is behind the great changes that are replacing traditional forms of faith with new ethical and areligious choices? Diana Butler Bass argues that we are at a critical stage in a completely new spiritual awakening and a wholly new kind of post-religious faith

This is a hope filled engagement with changes that are creating a fresh and authentic way of faith that stays true to the real message of Jesus.

In her typically provocative, well-informed and inspiring way Diana provides a range of essential questions, great insights and wise counsel about the future. She sees a new ‘Age of the Spirit’ dawning which brings both fear and hope. Her critical point is that faithful people should intentionally engage with the emerging issues and be part of the reform, renewal and re-imagination of traditions so that they make sense to contemporary people.

The trend to being multi-religious in outlook reflects the considered ‘choices’ that are replacing unquestioning ‘obligation’ and conformity. at the same time, more people consider themselves spiritual than religious. Many are dissatisfied with institutional religion and want to connect with with God , their neighbourhood and life in a more considered and personal way.

The resemblance of many denominations to corporations that have dominated life for the last century gives the impression of selling a ‘product’. This is a tough spiritual climate for them. Public trust in religious institutions has dropped dramatically in the last decade. Young people are leaving evangelical Christianity in droves. This is an age of choice. Diana sees this discontent as a gift. It is one short step from creating a better way of life, a better society, and a better world. Discontent reflects a longing for a better sort of Christianity, one that embodies Jesus’s teaching and life in a way that makes a real difference in the world. This calls for a return to pre-creedal church while calling for a more responsive and relevant church.

This ‘ great awakening’ is a call to human connectedness, economic equality, democracy, love of creation and spirituality. We need religion imbued with the spirit of shared humanity and hope, not religions that divide and further fracture the future.

Diana gives the last word to Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose prophetic voice from the mid-twentieth century offers:

There is a need for spiritual vitality. What protection is there against the danger of organisation? …. our relationship to God [is] not a religious relationship to a Supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness, which is a spurious conception of transcendence, but a new life for others, through participation in the Being of God. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

This review has not done justice to a wonderful book. There is much more that could be said about it. The reader will soon find that out. It is an important text and one which Brian McLaren expects and hopes will be the must-read church book for years to come.

Paul Inglis, July 2017

Earth Link Commentary/Review- Defiant Earth

DEFIANT EARTH

Our responsibility to care for Earth receives a new impetus from the recent publication of Defiant Earth  by Clive Hamilton, who is an ethicist at Charles Sturt University in Canberra.   He stresses that this is a new time in geological history, the Anthropocene, which he explains as a new geological epoch where “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces in nature”.  A new science has emerged which studies the whole Earth system.  The data is emerging that humans are changing the course of Earth.  This is a time to acknowledge the rupture that we are causing, and stand in solidarity with Earth rather than continue our exploitation.  Earth is increasingly angry, and all species are vulnerable in the face of this new situation.
Rather than offering you a review of this book, I am providing you with a link to the blog page of Bishop George Browning who responds to this situation in way that you will probably find helpful.

Earth Link began in 2000 in Brisbane, and moved to “Four Winds” at Ocean View, which was its base until the end of 2011.  During that time, Earth Link developed programmes and conducted workshops, retreats and rituals in cosmology, ecospirituality, sense of place, sustainable living, permaculture, and property management.  These were held at “Four Winds” and at other venues.
 
Earth Link continues to facilitate deep bonding with the whole Earth community through  resourcing, reflecting and acting.  We do this by conducting events, responding to invitations, and through our e-newsletter and this website.  Earth Link has a library from which you can borrow for the cost of the postage.

Earth Link invites you to

  • Deepen your connection with nature, the cosmos, self and the Sacred
  • Nurture a spirituality that links Earth, humans and the Sacred
  • Act with concerned others on behalf of the whole Earth community

    For more from Earth Link go to: http://www.earth-link.org.au/

oOo

Book review – Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.

Reviewed by Rodney Eivers – 22nd May 2017

 Glorify by Emily C. Heath

Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity

Glorify            I was drawn to this title in the MediaCom catalogue by its subtitle “Reclaiming the Heart of “progressive” Christianity”.  This is because, for all my own commitment to “progressive” Christianity I have to struggle with how we can generate enough passion about this option which will provide people with emotional satisfaction leading them to staying with it as a guide to the way we might live.

Although Emily Heath has much that is positive to say, the content of the book does not live up to my expectations.

Rev. Heath is at pains to identify with the “progressive” Christianity movement. A favourite phrase repeated in one form or another in pretty well every chapter is “We progressives”, yet her progressivism bears little resemblance doctrinally to what would be the standard for proponents such as, Spong, Geering and Borg – especially Gretta Vosper of “With or Without God” – with their dismissal of supernatural attributes of a 21st Century faith.

At one point Emily Heath goes as far as to acknowledge that she accepts a literal resurrection.  She then goes on however, to discuss this in metaphorical terms typical of modern liberal orthodoxy which is still anxious about disenfranchising itself from the wider church committed to the 4th Century creeds. Such a retreat from literal interpretation avoids the challenge from an educated public prepared to challenge supernatural interpretations of Bible stories.

Despite this, God, in this book, is spoken of virtually in theistic terms, as some form of ‘being” with whom one may make contact. I doubt that this is really Heath’s base position.

Her attachment to progressivism clearly comes from its acceptance and support of homosexuality and other elements of the LGBTQ community. With her being an openly gay minister of religion, recently married, thanks to changes in USA law, this is understandable.

She is spot on with her analysis of what is happening with the decline of church attendance, especially for the mainline denominations. She notes the reticence of today’s generations to join or commit to anything. This is being exacerbated by the attachment to screens and social media in preference to face to face interaction.

I am fully with her also on the place which local community interaction can play, perhaps must play, in maintaining and sustaining a vibrant Christian presence and initiative.

So I find the prominence given to “doing it our human selves” is made to sit uneasily against depending on God to sort it out.

The trouble is, what sort of God are we talking about here, assuming that we have moved away from the mediaeval, theistic persona waiting out there to come to our aid if we use the right prayer formula?

There are so many avatars of God. Jesus imagined God as a loving father but he also spoke of the God of nature, the creator of flowers of the field and of being neutral as to human welfare. “God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”.

Some speak of God as representing the spirit of love. As Don Cupitt has highlighted, the word “life” in common usage has become synonymous with God. Some see God, as the inner voice of conscience and reflection with which we each have an ongoing conversation. Another picture of God, somewhat allied to “life” or “what is” is that entity which comprises all the collection of chance events and probabilities ranging from formation of the cosmos to ordinary day to day living. That is, any moment in time. In this characterisation God itself does not know what is going to happen next. It is unpredictable. It is interesting that in this last case we can  pray to this god with intellectual integrity. In praying, for ourselves, or for someone else we can express a hope that the dice of life will fall our way. Is this not, indeed, what we are doing these days when instead of praying for someone with terminal cancer, we do not ask for supernatural healing. We simply express a wish, a hope, that the  doctors will do their best or that the end will be relatively peaceful.

So what is the God whom we are to glorify?

Perhaps the best we can do is to celebrate life and express our gratitude that we have the privilege of experiencing this great gift of living, of consciousness, of  knowing that we exist.

With these caveats I would suggest that although Emily Heath may not have found the secret to “heart” for most of us who call ourselves progressive, there is much of value in reading her take on the issue.

oOo