Books

Racial distrust in America

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RACIAL PARANOIA: THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
By John L. Jackson Jr.
Basic Civitas, 278 pages, $26

When clips from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons hit the national media earlier this year, colleagues and friends inundated me with questions: How could the Rev. Wright believe the words he preached? Does such a smart man really think that police officers supported inner-city drug use? Does Mr. Wright really believe that the government has anything to do with AIDS? At the time, I endeavored to explain Mr. Wright’s words in terms of history and the African-American prophetic tradition. Now, after reading John Jackson’s illuminating and penetrating Racial Paranoia, I would see Mr. Wright’s preaching and the responses to it as part of a broader American culture of paranoia over racial issues. Mr. Wright’s suspicion of the American government, his ambiguous claims, and the news frenzy all trafficked in a racial paranoia that Mr. Jackson wonderfully analyzes in the context of American media, music, literature and everyday social interactions.

Following Chaput into the political fray

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RENDER UNTO CAESAR: SERVING THE NATION BY LIVING OUR CATHOLIC BELIEFS IN POLITICAL LIFE, by Archbishop Charles Chaput
Doubleday, August 2008, 272 pages, $21.95

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver refuses to be quiet -- especially when it comes to Catholic politicians and abortion.

The outspoken Capuchin has repeatedly told elected officials who support abortion rights they shouldn’t take Communion. And he’s quick to correct Catholics who compromise on the issue.

Chaput’s new book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life , is a call-to-arms for fellow Christians to follow him into the political fray.

Religion News Service caught up with Chaput to talk politics and theology, as the Democrats were holding their national convention in his backyard. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Religion News Service: Democrats are meeting in your hometown. Does that make you want to run for the Rockies?

The sources of secularism

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A SECULAR AGE
By Charles Taylor
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 874 pages, $39.95

Readers of Charles Taylor’s encyclopedic work on secularity who expect to find a single explanation of the phenomenon, or even one definition of the concept, will be disappointed. What they will find is a comprehensive examination of how Western culture has influenced Christian teachings and practices and how churches have reacted to the increasing marginalization of their beliefs in the modern era.

Dr. Taylor, the winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, proposes three forms of secularity: the retreat of religion in public life, the decline in belief and practice and the change in the conditions of belief. In theorizing that the identification of religion as the opponent of human autonomy contributed to a decline in belief and practice as a self-fulfilling prophecy, he displays a refreshing humility for a scholar of his stature. “Here I confess that I am making stabs in the dark,” he writes. “A fully satisfactory account of this difference, which is in a sense the crucial question facing secularization theory, escapes me.”

How the 'good war' turned bad

DESCENT INTO CHAOS: THE UNITED STATES AND THE FAILURE OF NATION BUILDING IN PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, AND CENTRAL ASIA, by Ahmed Rashid, Viking (2008) 544 pages, $27.95

News coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent months has unsettled many assumptions about the U.S. war on terror.

To most casual observers of the war on terror, Afghanistan served until recently as a reassuring contrast to the grim and bewildering conflict in Iraq -- the “good war” as opposed to the “bad war”.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan offered a war which was unambiguously undertaken in response to the 9/11 attacks. The framing of the war on terror in Afghanistan presented obvious good guys (the secular democratic government of Hamid Karzai) and bad guys (al Qaeda and the Taliban). Above all, Afghanistan seemed to be a success story for peace and democracy.

Bringing the U.S. back into the international fold

RE-ENGAGE! AMERICA AND THE WORLD AFTER BUSH: AN INFORMED CITIZEN’S GUIDE by Helena Cobban, Paradigm Publishers (2008), 128 pages, $69

Helena Cobban’s new book, Re-Engage! America and the World After Bush, is not aimed at a target audience of officials, policy wonks and Washington elite think-tank types. So much is clear from a tagline running across the bottom of the cover: “An informed citizen’s guide.”

But that doesn’t mean that all the politicians and policy-makers can’t learn something from picking up a copy of Cobban’s succinct, 120-page blueprint for bringing the United States back into the international fold -- and, in doing so, tackle some of the world’s problems.

Relying on years of experience as a journalist and activist -- from both abroad and at home in theUnited States -- and informed by her Quaker congregation, Cobban has developed an eye for global strategic affairs. In her book, her insight lays out simple reasons for rejoining the world community and how to go about doing so.

Books on globalization keep readers current, raise questions

GLOBALIZATION, SPIRITUALITY AND JUSTICE: NAVIGATING A PATH TO PEACE, by Daniel G. Groody. Orbis (Maryknoll, N.Y., 2007). 280 pp. $24.

"Globalization" is shorthand for "a free-market economic system operating worldwide" -- with all the implied benefits and inequities.

As the phenomenon of globalization expands in influence everywhere, Christians are improving their capacity to understand and influence these developments. They do this with enhanced spiritual and social scientific awareness and skills.

The books under consideration help us to pray responsibly, think wisely and act with integrity as we confront the world's poverty, its injustices and the need for human freedom. Both books take seriously the Christian faith and current global realities. Each links theological reflection and spiritual discernment with the worlds of politics, economics and law.

Letters from C.S. Lewis offer ëspiritual companionshipí

YOURS, JACK: SPIRITUAL DIRECTION FROM C.S. LEWIS edited by Paul F. Ford. HarperOne (2008), 374 pp., $23.95

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), a British Anglican author and professor of English literature, first at Oxford, then at Cambridge, wrote numerous books that continue to sell not just well but very well more than four decades after his death. The name in the title of this book comes from his nickname, "Jack," used by friends and family, and which he preferred to his given name of Clive Staples.

It's no surprise whenever a new collection of C.S. Lewis material comes out in book form, given his continuing popularity. The theme that unites the hundreds of letters in this volume is the author's experience and practice of the art of spiritual direction.

Exiles from heaven

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EXILES: A NOVEL
By Ron Hansen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 240 pages, $23

“Imagine it otherwise.” That line from Ron Hansen’s new novel Exiles is a good departure point to discuss it. That’s because Exiles ultimately leaves readers wistful about the unfulfilled promise of lives tragically cut short. The aforementioned line is written about 19th-century Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, but it could have just as easily been said of the novel’s other protagonists: five German Franciscan nuns who perished in 1875 when the ocean vessel the Deutschland was shipwrecked.

The historical and spiritual have always figured prominently in Mr. Hansen’s fiction. His historical novels have focused on the notorious: Jesse James and Adolf Hitler. And Mr. Hansen explored spiritual themes in Mariette in Ecstasy, which examined the fine line between madness and mysticism, and Atticus, a contemporary meditation on the Prodigal Son parable.

Authors offer up a racy view of the Bible

The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book
By John Kaltner, Steven McKenzie, Joel Kilpatrick
HarperCollins, 224 pages, $19.95

Most believers would say the Bible is the Word of God, or at least a divinely inspired book written by divinely inspired men.

But what if the Bible had been mistranslated, or censored to remove the tawdry its about pimps, cross-dressers or, ahem, Brazilian wax as punishment?

That's what biblical scholars John Kaltner and Stephen L. McKenzie of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., were wondering, and they set out to investigate a handful of unorthodox interpretations of Old Testament tales.

The result was their new book, The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book, co-authored with Christian satirist Joel Kilpatrick.

They've got questions like: Was Eve actually created not from Adam's rib, but "from something a little lower down"? Was the "knowledge of good and evil" in the Garden of Eden a euphemism for sex? And, as Chapter 6 asks, "Did Abraham Pimp Sarah?"

Don't worry. Be happy. Be very happy.

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GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS: WHY HAPPINESS MATTERS FOR AMERICA -- AND HOW WE CAN GET MORE OF IT
By Arthur C. Brooks
Basic Books, 288 pages, $26.95

I opened the cover of Arthur C. Brooks’ book to find talking points for how readers can contribute to America’s gross national happiness, the first two being to vote Republican and get religion. This startling religio-political pronouncement is derived from surveys on happiness that ask people to rate themselves as “very happy,” “pretty happy,” or “not too happy.” People who regularly attend religious services respond that they are “very happy” consistently more frequently than those who do not, as do political conservatives in contrast to political liberals. Do higher scores of “very happy” mean the same as happiness?

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June 16-29, 2017

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