Book Review: Who Am I To Judge by Edward Sri (4 *’s)

The book Who Am I To Judge by Edward Sri can be summed up by its subtitle: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love. It is written with purposes that coincide with my own: the utter destruction of the philosophy of moral relativism. To that end, Edward Sri produces a powerful work to aid the modern anti-relativist and, more specifically, the modern Catholic, in that effort.

The book doesn’t consist of a series of inescapable arguments against relativism. There are a few such arguments in the book, but the author’s purpose is more to give the reader a framework and a means to engage the relativist. Indeed, he admits in the beginning of the book, something that took me a considerably long time to learn—that logical arguments, like pointing out that “It is true that there is no truth,” is a blatant logical contradiction has limited usefulness. Between the state of the current culture and the lack of critical reflection in many people, “winning” a logical debate just doesn’t carry that much weight.

As a philosophy major back in the day, a lot of what he wrote was familiar to me. His basic strategy was to compare the classic approach to ethics and living based on Catholic teaching and the best of the ancient philosophers, with that of relativism. It is a powerful technique. He gives a brief overview of things like telos and virtue and similar such concepts.

Ultimately, he boils things down and gives the non-relativist seven different “keys” with which to engage the relativist all based on the real-life consequences of relativism, the advantages of the classical approach, and similar such considerations. Again, a powerful approach.

I enjoyed the book and found it a worthwhile read. I recommend it to anyone struggling with the relativism issue. The writing was good; the reasoning was sound. It was a great refresher for my old philosophy days and even taught me a few new things. Anyway, I gave it four stars out of five.


God’s Wrath

A way’s back, I wrote a review for Jennifer Fulwiler’s Book, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It. As I said, I liked the book and found it very interesting. One of the items of note was the discussion, or competing theories, of God’s Wrath versus God’s Love. Let us discuss this in more detail here.

In ancient times, believers in God were exhorted to “fear the Lord.” God was sometimes described as a wrathful Deity who must be placated. “Evidence” to support such a view of God could be found in the common beliefs about hell as a place of suffering and eternal torture of the damned. Likewise, unfortunate events such as the destruction of a nation could be attributed to the actions of an angry Deity who, because of the failings of that nation’s people, must see to their just destruction.

Then along came Jesus who described God as a loving Father, and all of that began to change. Jesus’ emphasis on love and forgiveness has deeply impacted religious thought all over the world. Now, it seems, many people have abandoned the notion that God stands in judgment of sinners, meting out punishment as he sees fit. Discussions of hell, purgatory, and even sin seem passe.

Is this view warranted?

In my view: to a certain degree, yes; to a certain degree, no.

Jesus described God as the Father; in other words, He is a parent. We are His children. A parent has the right and the obligation to punish a child when that child does wrong. In my view, we can gain some insight from this notion. Although a loving father must sometimes punish, he will never destroy, nor will he torture, nor will he murder his own offspring for a wrong that child commits. Such is excessive punishment and completely anathema to love. As a result of that, I find ancient notions of hell and purgatory to be dubious. God is responsible for our discipline, not our torture. He takes no pleasure in reprimanding us, but it is something He must do. Such discipline may come in life, or it may come in the after-life. If it comes in life, all the better; we can discuss it properly. If it comes in the after-life, its nature or even its existence is hidden from us. Regardless, hell, in particular, seems to be such an aberration from the concept of a loving, merciful God, I find it impossible to accept; as a result, I think the concept should be removed from doctrine; and purgatory is hardly any better.

Can and will God discipline us as appropriate? I’m sure He will. I just … I just can’t respect a Deity that claims to be a loving power and yet would be willing to punish one of His children with eternal internment in hell.

Of course, I’m also the antichrist (yes, I lost another reader), and I’m quite familiar with being punished in life for twenty years or so, but what I did was excessively stupid. Also, since I’m the antichrist, you probably shouldn’t believe me; make up your own mind.

Book Review: After the Darkness by Rev. Joseph M. Esper (3 ½ *’s)

I recently finished reading After the Darkness by Rev. Joseph M. Esper. It is a fictional novel about the, as he puts it, “The coming of the antichrist and the end of the world.” The copyright is 1997, so, giving about a year or so for the final organization of the book, everything in it after 1996 or 1995 or so is completely speculative. And he admits that fact in the Introduction saying that his work is NOT an attempt to predict the future. I think he merely intends to give his fictional account as a means to stress the seriousness of the topic and to exhort us to a deeper spirituality. Or something.

There are three parts to the book. The first is a fictional history of events written in “2061” about the preceding 65 years. Part II consists of journal entries from the life of a mystic and seer covering another twenty years. Part III consists of diary entries from the False Prophet; the antichrist’s right hand man.

For myself, I found the book an interesting read because he bases a good portion of the events in the book on actual prophecies of seers and prophets who have lived. And it’s all footnoted. He’s got stuff from the Bible, of course, as well as Marian prophecies, Nostradamus, and many others. I used to be a prophecy buff. As these prophecies all relate to the end of the world and the antichrist—an issue, as readers of my blog are aware, I struggle with—I’ve found it an excellent resource for such. And, having read the book including all those prophecies, I can safely conclude that many of them do not apply to me. Most specifically, I can quite emphatically state that the prophecies concerning the political career of the antichrist do not apply to me at all. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), this may be the result of my choice. There was a brief period of time where I considered pursuing a political career. Only God knows what would have happened, if I had. For myself, I’m inclined to think the prophecies noted above describe the political career I would have had, if I had entered politics. So, I can’t use these prophecies to argue with myself that I am not the antichrist (hence, the descriptor of ‘unfortunately’). However, as I now have no intention of entering politics (partly because I think I’m the antichrist), I can declare those prophecies avoided. Hah! A victory for the good guys.

Anyway, back to the book. Overall, it was okay, but not great. If you’re interested in prophecies, it’s a great resource. However, as a story, it was nothing spectacular and at times even seemed a little cheesy. The writing was fine; there were only a few typos here and there; and, overall, the presentation was original and good, it was just a little lackluster. Ultimately, I’ll give the book three and a half stars out of five.

Book Review: The City of God by St. Augustine (4 *’s)

I’ve been wanting to read St. Augustine’s City of God for quite some time. At the same time, I’ve been dreading it as well. I was expecting a book in philosopher-speak. Those who have studied philosophy, or those who have tried to read a philosophy book without having studied philosophy will know what I mean. Normally, a philosophy book is a pretty tough slog. I earned a B.A. in philosophy when I went to college, but that was years ago. These days, my philosophy brain has pretty much gone to rot.

Yet, as far as philosophy books go, Augustine’s City of God was pretty mild. I didn’t have to work too hard to understand what he was saying most of the time. Mine was an abridged edition so it was largely cohesive in nature; I understand that the unabridged version has numerous “discursions” into ancillary topics—a common practice at the time Augustine was writing.

Anyway, the book is a defense of the Catholic faith. More specifically, the stated purpose of the book is to describe two different types of humanity/lifestyles or, as he calls it, cities. On the one hand, is the City of Men. This basically describes the lives of those who are attached to earthly affairs. The other city is, of course, the City of God which describes the lives of those who are focused on spirituality and the divinely sanctioned life. Naturally, he lauds the latter of these two cities while condemning the former.

Was it well argued and supported? I guess so. I sometimes have difficulty concentrating when I’m reading stuff these days—especially philosophy—so, I may have not absorbed as much as I should have.

The things in the book that struck me as the most interesting, though, were the details he gave concerning pagan deities (Jupiter, Mars, etc…); more specifically, how it is the Church’s position that these “deities” are really demons in disguise, as evidenced by the depraved practices involved in their worship. I just found that curious. I also liked his commentary later in the book about the various mysteries of the world, mysteries we, 1700 years later, have explained or disproved. It’s just interesting to contemplate his wonder … and his errors. For example, at one point he claims that goat’s blood can dissolve diamonds. I mean, that’s kind of a curious myth (I assume it’s a myth—actually my antichrist stuff might have something to say about that, but I’ll leave that discussion to another day) and I wonder where it came from. He also claims that peacock meat does not decompose like human flesh does. He claims that he even verified this with an experiment, and that even after several months the peacock meat only dried out—it did not decompose. Very curious. If that truly did happen, how does one explain it? I can … but only with a theory that has earned me a number of psychiatric meds.

Anyway, I found the book to be decent overall, but not fantabulous. I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Book Review: The Eucharist and the Rosary by Louis Kaczmarek (4 ½ *’s)

I picked up The Eucharist and the Rosary by Louis Kaczmarek because, for the longest time, I was a lapse Catholic and, more recently, I’ve become more interested in the faith of my youth. In fact, I’m kind of on a quest for truth—to be fair it is entangled in my belief that I’m the antichrist—so I’m kind of reading everything I can. Anyway, having become more interested in the Catholic Church, I’ve started to pray in the evenings, more specifically, I’ve started to pray the Rosary. I knew I wasn’t doing it quite right, so I picked up the book to read and see if it would instruct me in the proper method of praying the rosary. It did. At the very end.

As for the book itself, it took a few chapters for me to get into it, but once I did, I devoured it. I enjoyed a good number of the “miraculous” stories associated with the Eucharist and Marian apparitions. My favorite story involved dogs. Apparently, a pope (don’t remember which one) was visiting a college of some sort, but he wanted to first stop in the chapel and say a few prayers. They sent a team of dogs in to scout the area for the pope’s safety—dogs trained to find people. And, apparently, they found one … in the Eucharist. There were other cute stories like that interspersed throughout. Like, the dead woman who came back to life to give her final confession.

Anyway, the book also made clear why the Protestants are so concerned with how the Catholic Church deals with the Virgin Mary. The Catholics almost, but not quite, deify her, and that “almost” qualifier may be lost on the Protestants. Although not Divine, Mary is, according to the Catholic Church, God’s most perfect creature, conceived without Original Sin, etc… etc…. And there is a goodly deal of devotion going along with that. Like the Saints (another thorny issue with Protestants) there are shrines and chapels built in her honor, etc…. However, Catholics don’t confuse the Virgin Mary with God. They just don’t. She is not the Creator. She is merely a creature, though the most perfect one.

Personally, I have doubts about all that. Although I will give the Catholics a fair hearing (which I am doing by reading all these books about Catholicism), I have problems with the notion of any “perfect” human being. In fact, I’m probably the only Christian on the planet who doesn’t think Christ was perfect (although I have misgivings about that, too—as you can see, I am adrift on the ocean of thought).

Anyway, once I got into it, it was a good book that I enjoyed and the reference in the back cleared up my questions about how to say the Rosary.

Book Review: Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler (4 ½ *’s)

I recently finished reading the book/memoir of Jennifer Fulwiler entitled Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It. It basically tells the story of her life and her search for meaning and truth. She started out an atheist who was fairly anti-Christian and wound up at the end of the book, a convert to Catholicism. It started out okay, but, initially, I wasn’t overly impressed, partly because of the story (I’m not much into life stories, I don’t think), and partly because in the beginning of the book she (and her soon to be husband) was pro-choice and I’m pro-life. The pro-choice movement just rubs me the wrong way … but I don’t want this post to be a discussion of abortion. Anyway, by the end of the book she is so much into Catholic Doctrine she is actually defending the church’s stance on contraception and the book got more interesting the more I read.

I wasn’t so much interested in her life as I was in her discussions of the philosophical issues and problems that we all wrestle with. I particularly enjoyed her discussion of the analysis of hurricane Katrina. I’ve forgotten who (was it Pat Roberts?) but a famous Christian pastor said that hurricane Katrina was a punishment sent by God. That statement set off a huge controversy and massive discussion among Christians on the Internet. She became engrossed in the discussion and described both sides, going back and forth between the two sides which she endearingly called “Team God’s Wrath and Team God’s Love” (not that either she or I want to make light of Hurricane Katrina; it was a natural disaster with tragic consequences, and it is good to remember that). She sided with God’s Love (as do I, I think), but she had to admit that both sides had scriptural backing. This disparity which showed that reasonable people could disagree with how to interpret the Bible led her to the conclusion that there was more to Christianity than just the Bible and this realization ultimately led her to the Catholic Church. It turned into an intriguing read.

The book was well-written and easily understood. Mrs. Fulwiler has an excellent analytical mind and the book benefited from that fact. All-in-all it was a pretty good book.