Despite lugubrious paragraphs and static characters, Martin’s novel illustrates how ignorant twenty-first century young people could be about the abortion wars of the past half century before they become pro-life activists.
The paragraphs are often pages long; even dialogue is encased in the solid paragraphs and not written in lines like other novels. Why the author chose to compose such lugubrious text cannot be determined. Maybe she was striving to match a stream-of-consciousness of an ordinary teenaged girl?
Also, the characters are more static than dynamic. Poppy is always obedient to her mother (slight rolling of the eyes notwithstanding). Tucker, her classmate with whom she discusses the pro-life topics ventured in the novel, is not merely a typical handsome high school senior, but a well-balanced young man who is a faithful Catholic, pro-life activist at a crisis pregnancy center, and just a good boy. Perhaps his only fault is that he touches his mass of hair too often. Can any young man be that pure and holy and dripping with righteousness? Slightly incredible say I.
Some scenes are depicted beautifully, such as the disclosure of the body of the abandoned baby (pages 250ff), which is a damning example of the callousness that some have of newborn human life. That episode, however, concerns infanticide more than feticide, the early area of concern that Poppy has, or abortion, which she later realizes is her primary social justice issue.
While the seasoned pro-life activist would wonder how such sweet innocents, raised in a culture of high technology as ours, could be so ignorant about the controversy regarding the right to life of the unborn child, maybe that is Martin’s purpose: to reach similarly ignorant, naïve, or just plain simple-minded young teenaged girls who come to the abortion issue without the benefit of knowing the movement’s history of five decades. If this is the author’s intent, then she may succeed with that reading demographic.
After reading this book, every parent will say, “This woke crap has got to stop, and it’s up to me to do something about it.”
The third word in the above quote was much more vulgar in the first version of this review, but I changed it because this is a book review and not a rap or trap song filled with obscenities and vulgarisms.
The problem of my editing the first sentence of this review, however, obtains: parents will be angered to the point of uttering vulgarities or obscenities when they learn to what degree that woke ideology has penetrated social institutions which were once safe for everybody, especially their children, including Disney (105ff), the American Library Association (108ff), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (136ff).
Bethany Mandel and Karol Markowicz do a stellar job of defining “woke”, demonstrating how that leftist philosophy has permeated the culture. Best of all, the authors punctuate their several chapters with suggestions on how parents can fight back against the woke indoctrination occurring in their children’s schools and entertainment venues. They state their purpose in writing the book clearly:
“In this book, we set forth with a few objectives: expose how the woke are infiltrating American childhood, provide parents with the tools to fight back, and tell the cautionary tales of parents who didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.” (17-8)
Numerous paragraphs could be included in any review to highlight facts and opinions which clarify the perversity of the woke movement. For example, the quotes culled from the book preparatory for this review take nine pages, single-spaced. The task of determining which quotes are worth mentioning brings me perilously close to the limit suggested for quotes.
But the fear of trespassing copyright law must not stop me from highlighting several trenchant facts and opinions which the authors include in their research.
For example, some facts are simply shocking; I can see how they would easily contribute to parents’ anger against woke teachers.
“A 2018 study by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge and University of Georgia psychology professor W. Keith Campbell published in Preventative Medicine Reports found that ‘even after only one hour of screen time daily, children and teens may begin to have less curiosity, lower self-control, less emotional stability and a greater inability to finish tasks.” (53)
Tell me again why public school teachers’ unions pushed so hard for online instead of in-classroom learning.
“By June 2020, the management company McKinsey & Company had ‘created statistical models to estimate the potential impact of school closures on learning.’ The company found that its models predicted the worst impact on the very students the equity-warriors pretend to care most about: ‘The average loss in our middle epidemiological scenario is seven months. But black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year. We estimate that this would exacerbate existing achievement gaps by 15 to 20 percent.’” (69-70)
Tell me again how woke teachers are supposed to be fighting for students because of “equity”, a concept that was once sound and justifiable, but which leftists took over as a tool to use against “white privilege” and other canards.
“The Biden administration was in on the crackdown of parents from the start. In an internal memo, the NSBA [National School Board Association] revealed that they had had discussions with the Biden White House before sending the letter. In an October 5 email, NSBA Secretary-Treasurer Kristi Swett wrote that it was President Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona who had solicited the letter from the group.” (74)
Tell me again, National School Board Association and your state affiliates, why you hate parents so much.
“In 2015, Verdant Labs released an extensive study on the political affiliations of professions. They used political contribution data to figure out which jobs lean Republican and which lean Democrat. What they found was that teachers were overwhelmingly Democrats. Elementary school teachers were Democrats by an eighty-five to fifteen margin. There were eighty-seven Democrats teaching high school for every thirteen Republicans. School health educators were even more ideologically slanted at ninety-nine to one.” (76)
Tell me again how such partisan teachers can be fair in the classroom.
“[Ibram X.] Kendi is just one of the people banking on schools paying up to make sure everyone knows they’re not racist. It’s a system ripe for con artists. […] It seems like a scam because it is. In April of 2021, the New York Times broke a story about BLM’s co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors ‘snagging four high-end homes for $3.2 million in the US alone’.” (84)
Tell me again— No, better not; don’t raise my blood pressure by talking about the racist and pro-abortion agitprop Black Lives Matter.
“American librarians are talking out of two sides of their mouths: they are decrying the ‘censorship’ of books that are wholly inappropriate for children while at the same time engaging in the actual censorship against classic writers like Jane Austen, Dr. Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.” (114)
Tell me again why a masterly British literary icon (a woman, too), rhyming children’s books, and a series of books about prairie life in the nineteenth century must be not only banned, but replaced with drag queens grooming children by encouraging them to twerk their little butts in public libraries.
The English professor in me recoils at the recommended verbosity and faulty causation of the following example of woke nonsense, this time promoted by the American Medical Association:
“In late 2021, the American Medical Association (AMA) released ‘Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts’ as part of a multi-year project called the ‘Organizational Strategic Plan to Embed Racial Justice and Advance Health Equity.’ […] The document calls for doctors to change their language to insert progressive politics into everything, even statements of fact. For instance, instead of saying, ‘Low-income people have the highest level of coronary artery disease in the United States,’ members are encouraged to say, ‘People underpaid and forced into poverty as a result of banking policies, real estate developers gentrifying neighborhoods, and corporations weakening the power of labor movements, among others, have the highest level of coronary artery disease in the United States.’ Everything must be modified to fit woke orthodoxy.” (149)
Tell me again why it’s not only improper but also wrong (in the moral sense) to tell an African American or another minority person that he or she is obese and should stop eating so much damned McDonald’s.
Quoting Dr. William Malone:
“the vast majority of childhood-onset gender dysphoria resolves naturally, ‘with 61-98% of children re-identifying with their biological sex during puberty.’ While there are no studies yet to provide comparable data for adolescent-onset gender dysphoria, one can imagine it would not be far different.” (172)
Instead of my own “Tell me again” repetition as a response to the authors’ presentation of facts, their own commentary a page earlier is a perfect conclusion to the ad hominem attacks which transgender activists use against parents who affirm that there are two genders:
“The battle for gay rights was always about acceptance—mainly, the right to marry. For ‘trans rights’ it’s a different ballgame completely, especially when it comes to minors. ‘Acceptance’ of a transgender child comes with body-altering modifications that can cause lasting damage. That fact is ignored and denied by its proponents. And if you bring up that pesky little fact, you’re told you’re a bigoted transphobe who wants eight-year-old trans kids to kill themselves.” (171)
Quoting Brian Willoughby, a professor at Brigham Young University:
“‘More and more young people,’ he says, ‘are seeing sexual content before puberty—not because they’re seeking it out, but because it’s been delivered to the smartphones their parents are buying them. In the current generation of young people, their first orgasms are tied not to real-life experiences, but to pornography. We know from brain research how influential first experiences are for mapping the brain, which could explain how year after year, we’re seeing fewer and fewer young people interested in sex, dating, and committed relationships.’” (199)
Tell me again why students whose ages are single digits must have sex education which does not merely show, but recommends (in alphabetical order) anal sex, exposure to “Minor Attracted People” (MAPs or pedophiles; page 201), gender bending, homosexuality, masturbation, multiple sex partners, oral sex, or other sexual practices which my innocent mind cannot understand.
Not all is doom and gloom, though. The authors are vibrantly optimistic that parents can effect change in their children’s schools and thus eradicate the woke nonsense which pervades the culture. They pepper their volume constantly with affirmations of how parents are the force of change. The following are the more concise expressions of what parents can do to achieve this change:
“Parents have to start drawing a sharp line when it comes to their kids. Our children belong to us. The home is where we teach our children to stand up for themselves and learn they don’t have to hide their true beliefs. There are a lot of jokes about ‘safe spaces’, a term that hit the popular lexicon when colleges began providing rooms with Play-Doh and crayons where students, the majority young adults, could hide from controversial opinions.” (44-5)
“The home is the last line of defense. In totalitarian societies, parents have to pretend to believe the lies that kids are taught at school, lest they make themselves or their children a target. In a free country, you don’t have to do that. You can and should explain to children that life isn’t black and white and that America’s history is complicated, just like any other country’s history. You can and should reassert the morals that matter in your family. You can and should teach your child to be himself or herself and not be coerced into other people’s opinions.” (46)
“No amount of nonsense equity education can take the place of actual academic instruction, and no amount of rejiggering the standards will help.” (87)
“Many activists like [Quisha] King [spokesperson for Moms for Liberty] recommend that parents start with involvement at the school board level. Attend the meetings, support candidates, and take seriously the local elections, as they have the biggest effect on what happens inside your child’s school. Support candidates who want school choice. Push for curriculum transparency. That one should be easy, and you can assume that a school district with nothing to hide will not have a problem with telling you what they teach.” (100)
“What can parents and concerned residents do about the woke takeover of the publishing industry and library system? Given that a great deal of the shift in kids’ literature is driven by publicly funded institutions like schools and libraries, one librarian suggested, ‘Patrons need to use the online purchase suggestion forms that most libraries have and start asking for titles! I had already been trying to figure [out] a way to get your books into our libraries before today, but it is difficult to justify ordering from lists of different companies without a specific patron request or without surrounding libraries doing the same.’ Moderates and conservatives should also vote with their wallets and support smaller publishers in a David and Goliath fight against the massive power that Scholastic (with its in-school book fairs) and other large publishers wield.” (126; brackets in original)
“Just like with books, paying attention to one-star reviews online and looking up potential shows and movies on Common Sense Media are important steps for parents wishing to keep tabs on what their children are watching. The assumption with any new show has to be that there will be objectionable content; and even shows we grew up on like The Muppet Show and Blue’s Clues can’t necessarily be trusted.” (131)
“We cannot afford the luxury of shutting out the outside world; we have to stay engaged, stay in the fight, and work to send wokeness to the dustbin of history. We should do it not just for the mental and physical health of our own children, but also that of children around the country for whom there is no voice.” (164)
The volume has some flaws. One intellectual problem is that the authors may have misunderstood that Catholic social justice is not equivalent with its distortion by woke zealots (156). The volume itself is flawed because there are no section breaks within the chapters; thus, for example, the reader must try to follow the explication of twenty-four pages on transgenderism in schools without subdivisional headings which would help the categorization of the ideas presented.
Worst of all, the book has no index. Faculty, parents, and students who want to quickly ascertain, for example, how the abortion business Planned Parenthood is involved in gender reassignment surgery and hormone blockers in children (pages 177 and 185) must plow through whatever chapter the reader thinks may concern that anti-life entity. Not even the twenty-four pages of small print endnotes, giving URLs for internet access to sources (pages 271 through 295), can assist the faculty, parent, or student researcher as well as a detailed index. One hopes this mission will be corrected in subsequent printings.
Despite these minor flaws, Mandel and Markowicz’ book is a mellifluous, yet aggravating read of the penetration of woke nonsense in American life. It will definitely inspire parents to get involved in the fight to make education great again for their children.
Well, well…what have we here? Evidence that pro-life pregnancy support clinics help women more than abortion clinics, which, like Planned Parenthood, promote abortion because of the $$$ they make off women.
If you know a dead person, then you should read this book.
Now that I have your attention…
Seriously, though, Aardweg’s book is not simply an illustration of the merits of praying for the dead (a feature of Judaism and Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, long abandoned by our Protestant brothers and sisters). It is, in contrast, an interesting summary of the theology behind Purgatory and the benefits of praying for those who have died.
Besides theology, the reader can accommodate the 134 easy-to-read pages in about two days, accounting for DuckDuckGo searches to locate more information about the persons who have seen or been touched by the dead.
That Aardweg was able to generate 134 pages of text (and 20 pages of endnotes and a bibliography) based on only ten artifacts held in the Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio (the Little Museum of Purgatory) in Rome testifies to his ability to incorporate accounts of the various seers to substantiate his thesis.
Despite the praise it deserves for bringing to the attention of twenty-first moderns the instances of souls from Purgatory reaching out to living persons, the book has definite flaws, some minor and one major. Some sentences are not as mellifluous in English as they could be; perhaps these matters of diction can be attributed to translation deficiencies. The major flaw is, as is typical with many books published by TAN, the lack of an index. (What is it with that company that it produces books with no indices? Doesn’t the company know that faculty and students may want not only to read its productions, but also to use them for research?)
“The prevailing cheap optimism holds that […] the life of practically everybody automatically ends up in a state of bliss” (x).
“Purgatory (to say nothing of Hell), penance, expiation, God’s holy justice: these do not fit in with today’s cheerfully cheap religiosity” (x).
“Yet on balance, the place or state of purification, of God’s fathomless justice, is at the same time a place or state of God’s mercy, of hope, inner peace, and joy” (xxi).
“Typically, ghosts, i.e., souls from purgatory, seem to wait humbly until their host questions them” (7).
“Some apparitions that present themselves as souls of the dead may indeed turn out to be demons in disguise, seeking to deceive the credulous” (17).
“Souls from Purgatory and Hell have one decisive point in common: they cannot be conjured up at will” (17).
“Reports of poor souls dwelling in churches are not exceptional; these souls seem to get more ‘rest’ in holy places and places of prayer than somewhere else” (22).
“The widespread age-old belief in reincarnation or migration of the souls (into newborns or even animals) was perhaps a degeneration of an originally more correct insight; at any rate, it contained the wisdom of the necessity of some purification after death” (29).
“Offering sacrifices for the dead is an extremely old and almost universal custom that at least hints at some awareness of Purgatory, and praying for the dead is so spontaneous and human a reaction that one can hardly believe that this habit originated only a few hundred years before Christ” (30).
“The notion of Purgatory and the belief that the living can come to the aid of the suffering souls there are anything but medieval inventions. Affirmations of the ancient Church Fathers show that the apostles themselves professed them” (33).
“It is furthermore remarkable that reports of apparitions of souls from Purgatory are highly consistent in the course of the centuries and vary but little from one historical period to another” (35).
“Terrestrial bonds of love continue after death” (36).
“The fire of Purgatory, which comprises the sufferings of the ‘pain of loss’ and the ‘pain of sense,’ is the fire of the love of God enkindled in the soul right after death” (40).
“Demons appear as repulsive creatures; if they disguise themselves as human persons, there is usually some abhorrent quality of shape or manners that puts the seer on his guard” (77).
“These apparitions clearly prove that it is the individual person and not some depersonalized, anonymous ‘soul matter’ that survives bodily death” (78; italics in original).
“It is not unusual for animals to perceive something physical, too: dogs may become scared, and cattle or chickens become restless” (78).
“The perception of a spirit cannot be reduced to a merely mental event, something internal in the seer; it is a manifestation outside of him. He can see the door opening or a strange light that makes the objects in the dark room visible; objects (such as a light-switch on the wall) cannot be perceived anymore during the time the phantom stands before it, but as soon as it is gone, the object is normally visible again” (78).
The Bavarian mystic Sister Maria Anna Lindmayr writes, “I have always been given to understand that: how you sin, so you must do penance” (79).
“It cannot escape us that the seers of souls from Purgatory are often reported to be especially good and pious persons” (80).
Regarding why more women than men are the seers of poor souls, “it might be explained by the motherly, caring, and more compassionate nature of the woman” (81).
The seer Eugenie von der Leyen recounts how the poor soul Old Heinz “threw himself upon me and strangled me so firmly by my neck that I thought I would suffocate. It didn’t last more than a second, to be sure, but it was horrible and totally upset me” (95).
The Bohemian widow who saw the dead, called “Ruth”, is told that the poor souls of deceased family members “stand at the door of their houses, of our former dwellings, and wait” (121).
The deceased father of a nun reports to her “that St Joseph was present at his judgment, that he had since repeatedly visited Purgatory in company of the Blessed Virgin to console him, and that he often saw his guardian angel, who came to comfort him” (132).
Chapter 5, endnote 1: “Apparitions of the dead are reported in most, if not all, pagan cultures before Christianity. In the light of the fact that some poor souls in recent apparitions manifest animal features, to express the vices they must atone for […], one may wonder if such apparitions didn’t occur in ancient times as well, giving rise to the confused idea that some souls come back (reincarnate) in animals” (140).
Chapter 11, endnote 9: “Look at the dehumanized figures of several poor souls who came to Eugenie von der Leyen. An exceptionally stark example was the soul that manifested itself as a snake” (145).
Chapter 13, endnote 4: “Some souls do not or cannot speak before reaching some minimal stage of purification, and when they speak, it is usually telegram-style, their answers being no more than a few key words that are all the more emotional and impressive” (147).
Chapter 13, endnote 26: “It may well be that demonic influences play a role in many cases of compulsive and obsessive needs and drives (which need not be precisely possessions proper, but rather partial possessions, or demonic obsessions and oppressions)” (148).
Chapter 17, endnote 5: “Family bonds of love and of responsibility reach over the grave” (150).
This 1957 masterpiece can help beleaguered conservative and pro-life people in 2023 understand how leftists (either ignorant of or deliberately opposed to basic philosophy) attempt to destroy contemporary society.
I found so much of this work significant that I have annotated (either by underlining, adding parallel lines in the margins, or drawing stars of David) virtually all pages, so repeating those annotations here would be repetitious to the extreme. However, the few comments which follow may be of particular interest to conservatives and pro-life activists concerned about, among other topics, the delusions of gender activists and anti-life/pro-abortion ideas.
For example, I think everyone has read about or seen on social media the lunacy of gender activists who claim that a man can become a woman merely by (poof!) claiming to be one. The mental illness of transgender activists doesn’t stand a chance when confronted with biological reality, a foundation principle of Western philosophy.
Sullivan’s comments throughout the book about reality being the basis of philosophical speculation should therefore encourage those who argue rightfully that there are two genders and that no cacophonous rage shouting by a transgender person that he is female can overcome reality.
In short, dealt with it, buddy. You have a penis and a scrotum containing two testes. Enjoy being a man.
Similarly, abortion wrongs activists have argued that the unborn child is not a person (which is, apparently, a legal term more than a philosophical one). In philosophical terms, this is comparable to saying that the unborn child is not a being in his or her own right. This rejection of science is necessary if abortion zealots want to force all of us to accept their anti-human philosophy.
Again, Sullivan’s comments about being, which are passim, can help pro-life persons counter those deluded souls who think that human life doesn’t begin with the reality of fertilization. Personhood, existence, or being isn’t granted to someone just because (poof!) his or her mother thinks so. The right to life, the right to exist, is an essential, inherent aspect of our humanity.
In short (yes, I know: the second one in this review), pro-abortion zealots should therefore shut up already and accept the reality that a pregnant woman carries another human being and that both mother and unborn child deserve our love and protection.
Reading Sullivan’s work can be disturbing for many. For example, Protestant Christians may ineluctably conclude that their denomination’s “Reformation” wasn’t that as much as a divorce from a coherent philosophy begun in the ancient pagan world through solid logical reasoning and refined by Western (Catholic) Christian saints for 1,500 years. The subjectivism of the Protestant mindset would lead to the nihilism of today, and all of us suffer from that five-hundred year rupture from reality and sound logical thinking.
Likewise, a second major disturbing result of Sullivan’s work is that many would reject philosophical study because it is infused with ideas and terms developed by the Roman Catholic Church. American Catholics know well that anti-Catholicism is a vibrant force, not only in the area of respect for life, but in virtually all of society. Therefore, the reader may despair that many in contemporary culture could remain ignorant of the structure and depth of philosophical principles simply because such profundity is rejected by their anti-Catholic bigotry.
Fortunately, though, there is hope that conservative young people will not only resurrect the sound philosophical conclusions reached by scholars like Sullivan, but also live their lives according to those principles. Two instances can justify this hope.
Philosophical proofs for the existence of God? St. Thomas Aquinas makes as much sense in the twenty-first century as he did in the thirteenth.
Can the old-fashioned virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice still apply in this utterly technological twenty-first century? Stifled by sexual immorality; families consisting not of mothers and fathers but a mother and various baby daddies; and politicians like the fake Catholic Joe Biden supporting abortion, which harms women, kills unborn babies, and alienates fathers: all of these social realities testify to the relevance of these, not so much old-fashioned, but ancient virtues which have guided human beings in prehistoric cultures to our own.
Though brief for an introduction to a major field of study (280 pages of text, followed by extensive reading lists and an index), Sullivan’s work takes time to read, digest, and understand, so prepare at least a month for delving into his summary of 2,500 years of Western philosophy.
The presence of an index is a major benefit. As many TAN Books customers know, works published by that firm often do not have indices, making it extremely difficult for students and faculty to conduct research without wasting time flipping through pages, hunting for a term or name.
Written in a high register of literary technical vocabulary which PhD students taught by leftist professors in English would understand more than the average man or woman, Hren’s collection of essays is still worthwhile as substantial reading to understand the idiocy of much contemporary fiction.
Although the 463 pages contain few mentions of fictional literature concerned with the pro-life issues (my central research concern), Hren’s essays can help readers who are forced to suffer through LGBTQ and transgender accounts of quasi-fictional gender dysphoric literary diarrhea. Moreover, readers will appreciate that the bizarre, sinful, and often laughable elements of those two categories of fiction (among others in the leftist realm of American publishing) are topics which Catholic readers must analyze, evaluate, and even teach.
Hren relies heavily on major Catholic saints and literary figures to justify why not only Catholics, but even secular persons should read novels exploring ideas contrary to ingrained natural law beliefs, including Dana Gioia, Jacques Maritain, St. John Henry Newman, and Flannery O’Connor.
For example, Hren quotes St. John Henry Newman often: “literature is largely a record ‘of man in rebellion’” (2; internal quotes in original), and another quote soon after expands on this idea: “You cannot have a sinless literature of sinful man” (4-5). With such assertions, it is easy for Hren to conclude that “Catholic thinkers should and even must analyze and teach, appreciate and criticize the sinful literature of man. Why? Because most men are not destined for the cloister” (5). The most significant words from Newman for Catholic writers which Hren quotes may be the following: “Take things as they are, not as you could wish them” (29).
O’Connor’s words about writing fiction can assuage the horror that many moral and righteous readers may feel when they delve into novels deemed important new works by young authors, but which to them seem not merely naughty, but often outright pornographic. Hren cites O’Connor’s “pious trash” (33) comment, and one can understand how many “religious” novels are often boring, making their hero characters flaccid caricatures or allegories instead of fictional characters meant to represent living human beings. This is especially true if the “good” characters end the novel with a “come to Jesus” moment, Evangelical Christian fiction being particularly disposed to resolve plot conflicts with such a righteous yet saccharine denouement.
On these bases, for example, the good priest’s famous (for me), infamous (for some) masturbation scene in Brian Moore’s novel Black Robe as he witnesses coitus by two youths is justified. Whether a reader delights in the prurience of the scene or not is something which he or she should consult with his or her priest in the confessional. For me, Moore’s novel goes beyond pornography to bring my attention to God’s deeper truths about not only sexual sins, but also sexual delights which should obtain between a married man and woman (since they are unmarried, the young people are committing the sin of fornication). While it’s odd that Hren doesn’t cite Moore’s novel as a solid example of Catholic fiction which depicts challenging matters, perhaps a future edition will include this novel and others.
Hren does, however, examine works by many twentieth- and twenty-first century authors, Catholic all (whether devout, lukewarm, or fallen-away), and his criticism of the various works can overwhelm readers with a literary load that seems insurmountable. Reading Evelyn Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future (which concerns euthanasia); Katherine Anne Porter, a “sometimes-Catholic writer” (133); David Foster Wallace, who “took his own life in 2008” (139); James Joyce, whose work includes short stories about altar boys most likely molested by priests—a topic considered long before the current pedophile and pederast scandals; Walter M. Miller, another suicide, whose major work, A Canticle for Leibowitz, examines euthanasia; Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder, which also contains a euthanasia element; and Michael Chabon’s short story about abortion may seem suitable only for those lucky English professors who achieved early retirement ten years ago and have time to sit back, crack open a book from interlibrary loan that no one reads, and annotate at his or her leisure. (Ahem!). Hren, however, thinks we all should read these works to show the great expanse of Catholic fiction.
And why we should read such works is answered well. Hren argues that “Good fiction helps us better grasp the fact that everything we deliberately do—from amusements to our acts of mercy—assumes moral significance” (2). Thus, “we ought not dismiss or underappreciate the importance of well-rendered sin in good literature” (4)—the phrase “well-rendered” not being ironic.
Hren further claims that the purpose of Catholic fiction differs greatly from a purely secular understanding of the art. If “the Catholic literary tradition has been marked by writers who understood that human nature finds its final cause not in mere beauty, not in mere inclusion, but in salvation” (48), then, he states, “a Catholic literary culture that works in continuity with its rich heritage will give us a contemporary literature that both gazes unflinchingly at the messiness of our present moment and artfully works out its characters’ salvation or damnation” (48). This conclusion is necessary because “Christian love is never aimed at the neighbor in-and-of-herself, but at the Imago Dei that is found in every human being” (199).
To bolster his conclusion, Hren quotes Dana Gioia at length about a “Catholic aesthetic”:
Catholic writers tend to see humanity struggling in a fallen world. They combine a longing for grace and redemption with a deep sense of human imperfection and sin. Evil exists, but the physical world is not evil. Nature is sacramental, shimmering with signs of sacred things. Indeed, all reality is mysteriously charged with the invisible presence of God. Catholics perceive suffering as redemptive, at least when borne in emulation of Christ’s passion and death. (342)
Unfortunately, the volume does not have an index, so the reader must guess that the various chapters may contain what he or she is seeking. Sometimes, the content of a chapter is obvious; sometimes, chapter contents are ambiguous from the title. The volume does contain two reading lists which can help the reader, whether faculty member or student, check off those items which Hren suggests as required reading to appreciate the depth of contemporary Catholic fiction.
Dr. Amir Azarvan’s collection of essays works to advance Catholic and Orthodox ecumenism. It will also make Protestants wonder how much they lost by separating themselves from branches of Christianity which prospered for 1,500 years before their revolt against authority.
The above is a recurring idea which one will obtain on reading the often trenchant essays in this 188-page volume (8 more pages of a bibliography). That is, if Byzantine and Roman Catholic Christians may not know much about Eastern Christianity, specifically the Orthodox Church, then they will be struck by the numerous points of comparison between the traditions, including the compatibility between science and faith, Scripture, devotion to the Virgin Mary, and salvation. Protestant Christians, in contrast, may perceive that they have lost much after the misnamed “Reformation” removed them from two branches of Christianity which developed theology derived from the apostles and asceticism meant to assist Christians on their journey to salvation.
For example, one essayist mentions that Hubble disproved Einstein’s idea of an “infinite past” and that the universe is only 13.7 billion years old (17). Some Protestants would not be able to reconcile the facts of science with a fundamentalist interpretation of the Genesis creation passages.
More importantly, regarding Scripture, Protestants have some “splainin” to do if, as several contributors remarked, the idea of “sola scriptura” is not in the Bible and was fabricated by Martin Luther to justify his revolt against the hierarchy of the Church.
Beyond sectarian insights, however, some quotes from the book can be useful not only for evangelizing, but also for apologetics. For example, if you encounter someone who argues that it is uncertain if Jesus ever existed, then cite Eugenia Constantinou, who writes in her masterly essay “The Historical Jesus” that “more independent evidence exists for Jesus than for the existence of Socrates, Homer, Abraham, Moses, and many other important historical figures whose existence people would never think to question” (32).
Several “new” ideas discussed in this collection of essays will probe deeper into theological tenets long understood by scholars and theologians but which may not have been perceived by ordinary practicing Christians.
For example, Jonathan Resmini argues two such novel propositions. First is his claim that, “If God is love and his love is eternal, indiscriminate and inescapable, then it stands to reason that there is nowhere that God is not present. Not even hell” (183). Resmini’s second claim is that “The Orthodox believe that heaven and hell are relational realities, that is, they are reflections of the way in which the human being perceives the love of God” (184). One can see how Catholic theologians would be able to agree with these claims while Protestant Christians would stumble over the deeper philosophical principles.
Overall, Azarvan’s anthology is a profound book, discussing theological concepts written by Orthodox scholars in language that ordinary people will easily comprehend.
While it’s only 61 pages documenting how damaged American society has become because of feminism and leftist ideologies, Krason’s work suggests hope despite the frightful state of American culture.
Key ideas after reading this book are: for men, maintain sexual self-control until you’re married with a woman, have sex with your wife, make babies with her, work hard, and raise them well; for women, do the same with your husbands.
The above paragraph is not a simplistic reduction of solutions for the vast problems destroying American life. Heterosexual normativity and morality worked throughout human history, and no propaganda from feminist zealots, abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, or the Democratic Party (same things) can overcome essential human nature.
Some statistics which Krason provides are shocking. How many of us know that children attending day care “are at a 50-100% increased risk for contracting certain fatal or maiming diseases” (15)?
Or that “40 percent of all births in the U.S.” are to single parents (21)?
Or that the claim that 10% of the population is gay or lesbian is false, the true figures ranging in the single digits or below 1% (28)?
Or that “nonvirgin brides have a 60% greater chance of divorce than virgin brides” (39)?
Or that the feminist claim that women make a quarter less than a man’s dollar “is outright untrue” (45)?
Or that “of the 3.3 million reports [of child abuse] in 2009 only 14.4% were substantiated” (53)?
Or that “To underscore the ineffectiveness of classroom sex education, during one ten-year period in the 1970s to the early 1980s government funding for it increased by a massive 4,000% but teen pregnancies increased by 20%” (67)?
And these are only statistics which Krason cites. His explanations in each of the chapters are eminently readable and cogent.
Granted, most Americans have come not to trust “scholars”, those leftists in community colleges, colleges, or universities who indoctrinate our children with racist theories like “white privilege” and who try to eradicate 5,000 years of Jewish and Christian thinking with cancel culture mindlessness. However, Krason is one of those who deserve the title of scholar without quotation marks. His commentary is sound and always supported by eminent sources, 394 endnotes to be exact.
Highly recommended for parents, first, and students, next, people who want to know what’s wrong with divorce, fatherlessness, absent parents and day care, polygamy, the welfare state, artificial birth control (commonly called contraception), sex education, pornography, homosexuality, prostitution, cohabitation, feminism, sexual harassment, and the false allegations of child abuse (these topics being the order of the chapters) will be shocked by sixty years of feminism’s stranglehold on all aspects of our lives. Hopefully, the shock will change to anger and then motivation to work against these corruptions of human life.