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Book reviews

Kevin Clark’s and Ravi Scott Jain’s The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education (Classical Academic Press, 2013)

Everybody knows that public school secondary (and even primary) education is inferior.  Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain aim to convince us that the essential way to overcome the feeble educational structures of today is to do something truly bold, even revolutionary.  They want students to read books.

And not just any books, but the foundational, ancient works which are the canon of Western civilization, such as the works of Aristotle and the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Clark and Jain discuss and argue for the return of the seven subject areas of the Trivium and the Quadrivium, categorized in the acronym PGMAPT, which stands for piety, gymnastic, music, the liberal arts, philosophy, and theology (3).

It is a joy to read authors who cite with approbation (and not ridicule as contemporary politically-motivated “educators” do) several dominant concepts from the ancient and medieval worlds which inform Western culture, including St. Anselm’s “credo ut intelligam”, “I believe that I may understand” (4), and the ancient maxim that “Imitation precedes art” (5).  Plato’s idea that “the songs we sing, the stories we read, and the art we make and admire, form our souls” (27) is damning for those who think that rap and trap music meet the transcendentals of goodness, truth, and beauty.

Moreover, it is an especially delightful ecumenical joy to read the authors’ opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica: “In this text the reader finds a careful consideration of every known perspective on every conceivable theological and philosophical problem” (43).  High praise indeed!

Contemporary readers may be shocked to learn that the people of the medieval period, dismissed as mere peasants under the domination of what some would criticize as a patriarchal and oppressive Catholic Church, espoused ideas strikingly “modern”, such as the fact that “appeals to reason were the strongest form of medieval proof” (8).  Reason, therefore, did not just pop into the world with the advent of the bloody French Revolution, which was supposed to be the philosophical summation of reason.

Similarly, the ancient and medieval periods believed that gymnastic was important because “the body and the soul are united in such a way that failure to cultivate the capacities inherent in either is failure to cultivate the whole person” (22).  Catholic readers know that this unity is an essential criterion of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  Thus, it is good to see Protestant Christians recognizing the importance of the ancient belief in human beings consisting of both a corporal and a spiritual element, a belief always held by the Catholic Church.

One noteworthy idea needs to be emphasized.  Contemporary college and university professors will agree with Clark and Jain when they claim that today’s academics are like the ancient Sophists, as when professors argue, for example, that truth is relative (89).  Clark and Jain write further about “postmodern anti-realism, which is perhaps a variant of the ancient sophism” (112).  Any college or university academic who is forced into diversity or equity sessions promoting the  irrational and illogical support for the mental disorder of transgenderism will agree with the authors that such anti-realist efforts prove that contemporary academics are indeed more sophist than philosopher, let alone professorial.

There are two flaws in the work worth mentioning.  First, the footnotes expanding ideas in the text are often lugubrious—so thick that the train of thought in the original paragraph can be lost.

Second, the work is obviously a Protestant treatise, and the inability to identify the Roman Catholic component of Western civilization is not only intellectually dismissive, but also annoying.  The authors refer to the “medieval” world and its authors, but seem hesitant to mention an important descriptor of such authors: they were not merely Christian, but Catholic, and even more specifically Roman Catholic Christian (in contrast to Byzantine or Greek Catholic or Orthodox Christianity).  Maybe this hesitancy occurs because the authors wanted to appeal to a Protestant Christian audience which may not appreciate the efforts of 1,500 years of Catholic Christianity, continuing, by the way, well past the Reformation.  I hope that the hesitancy is not due to an inherent anti-Catholic bias, like the kind that secular and atheist thinkers in contemporary education have.

Despite these flaws, the work is a helpful handbook for those entering, for example, an academy which uses the Great Books or which operates in contrast to public or parochial schools which fail to stimulate sufficient wonder in their students, whether their charges are elementary or secondary students.

In fact, college faculty may find the authors’ premises helpful to reorganize their higher education curricula so that college and university education does not simply parrot the leftist nonsense promoted by certain political factions in society vying for their fifteen minutes of fame.  We college professors already know about the Trivium and the Quadrivium.  Clark and Jain make a compelling argument for their return to academia.

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Book reviews

Ellen Glasgow’s Barren Ground (1925)

Steven Spielberg would never film this novel since it features an unfulfilled feminist, so Mel Gibson will have to do it.

Pro-abortion feminists in this twenty-first century may think of Ellen Glasgow as just another dead white female writer, but pro-life feminists will delight in and learn much from this quasi-autobiographical and thorough narrative of Dorinda, a late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century woman who thinks that her life is a failure.

Maybe it’s a failure because Dorinda has been restricted by Presbyterian Christianity and therefore beyond the two-millennia tradition of orthodox Catholic Christianity and all that the religion has to say about love, marriage, and sex.

Maybe Dorinda is an unfulfilled woman because she (or the author) confuses the terms “love”, “marriage”, and “sex” throughout the novel.  These three terms seem to be used interchangeably when they obviously denote different things, as anybody steeped in Judaism and Christianity knows.  Dorinda’s comments on love and sex lead to the conclusion that she would have benefited from understanding the Theology of the Body as discussed by St. John Paul II, especially since the characters are Protestant.  Although the setting is decades before the saint first enunciated his ideas about the importance of sex and the human body, this claim is not anachronistic, of course, since Catholic Christianity has consistently taught that sex, instituted by the Creator, is so beautiful as the union of two bodies that it must be honored within marriage.  Dorinda utterly fails to understand that.

In fact, the terms and phrases which Dorinda uses to refer to the triad of love, marriage, and sex demonstrate the unfortunate ambiguity of her Protestant Christian heritage, becoming more nominal as she progresses through the decades of the plot.  Dorinda mentions the three terms in often obscured language, as when she talks about “this hidden knowledge of life” (27) or that she “became aware of her body” (63).  This hesitancy cannot be attributed to authorial fear of not being published.  After all, the novel was written in 1925, when Freud’s ideas about sex were emerging as popular topics; the author herself was as bold as most early feminists of that time were known to be.

Dorinda’s attitude toward life in general shows how pessimistic someone can become who distances him- or herself from the life-affirming Judeo-Christian ethos.  Dorinda equates life with “barren ground” (196), and she thinks the “will to love” is a “destructive process” (233).  It doesn’t help, either, that Dorinda was unwanted: “Dorinda and [her brother] Rufus both came while [their mother] was looking ahead, as she told herself, to a peaceful middle age unhampered by child-bearing” (39).

Closely related to sex, maybe Dorinda is such a lonely and unfulfilled character because she has a negative view of men.  Even though she encountered some men who were faithful and loving, Dorinda (like a typical teenaged girl) cannot get over her “first love”, who is more a disgrace to the male gender than a possible husband and father of Dorinda’s child.  This episode of fornication with a man who just wanted to get into her pants is the cause of her enduring negative views on men.  While asserting that she could live without any man is innocuous enough (106), agreeing with her mother in being secretive with men (124) and saying that “No good had ever come […] of putting questions to a man” (318) illustrate her inability to work with the male half of humanity—a fatal flaw in a person who should be a fully-developed feminist.

Overall, Glasgow paints a depressing portrait of an aging feminist, but it is a portrait which can not only educate us in the twenty-first century, but also force us to support traditional sexual norms in a twenty-first century culture which accepts the leftist idiocy of a distorted gender ideology and the mental illness of transgenderism as alternative lifestyles.  While Dorinda hopes for “something in life besides love” (198), contemporary readers must counter that love is the essence of life.  While Dorinda reduces love, marriage, and sex with the demeaning phrase “all that” (252) and babbles about “sex vanity” (292), contemporary readers, again, must reaffirm what the Creator originally intended: love leads to marriage, which enables a man and a woman to engage in the rapturous physical activity of sex.  Pity the man who marries a woman like Dorinda, who has “a distaste for physical love” (471)!

A final comment is necessary about the denouement.  Although she is a warped feminist, Dorinda is a successful businesswoman.  Moreover, she overcame her first experience of fornication and married another successful businessman in her home town.  Why, then, at age thirty-three, doesn’t she feel “complete” (355)?  Similarly, even though she has overcome major obstacles to her financial and social success, why does she still assert a hundred pages towards novel’s end, “Three months of love, and you pay for it with all the rest of your life” (412)?  Finally, near the end of the novel—a mere four pages away from the ending—why does Dorinda regret “the love that she had never known and the happiness that she had missed” (522)?  While she does claim “better by far the drab freedom” of simple women than the life of married women (88), the adjective clearly indicates that Dorinda disparages the single as much as she denigrates the married state.  Does she not know that being a single woman is a fulfilling vocation like being a married woman, or a woman devoting herself to a religious order?  Apparently, not.  Remember: Dorinda hails from a Presbyterian form of Christianity in a rural Virginia area, so religious diversity and the two-thousand year history of Catholic Christianity are closed to her.

Hopefully, some of the above conjectures and ideas may help students working on literature essays for their secondary or college courses.  The rest of us can simply delight in reading an early twentieth-century novel which functions as evidence that, even then, feminist writers were aware that a woman who closed herself to love led to an eventual unfulfilled life.

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Book reviews

Josh Hawley’s The Tyranny of Big Tech (Regnery, 2021)

Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and other Big Tech Democrats should worry: young Republican elected officials, who will soon replace them, are targeting Big Tech on behalf of the American people.

Reader warning!  Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, buy this book on any service other than Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned pro-life dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the publisher, Regnery: https://www.regnery.com/9781684512393/the-tyranny-of-big-tech/.

Senator Josh Hawley’s book is a masterly analysis of how Big Tech completes the efforts of the robber barons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to amass wealth at the expense of hardworking, ordinary American citizens.  Hawley summarizes how the monopolies of the late nineteenth century began through the efforts of millionaires like J. P. Morgan, who worked tirelessly to guarantee that the federal government did not interfere in their plans to hoard as much money as possible for themselves.

Hawley illustrates cogently how the robber barons’ ideology, called “corporate liberalism”, was strongly opposed by Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, only to become enshrined as the economic ideology of the United States under Democratic President Woodrow Wilson.  This ideology divided the American workforce into the elite industrialists and bankers who hoarded wealth; management, which did the bidding of the wealthy elite; and ordinary people who slaved for management and the plutocratic wealthy.  Since corporate liberalism was the foundation economic theory of the rest of the twentieth century, Hawley thus concludes that Big Tech’s primary goal of amassing wealth succeeds where J. P. Morgan and his fellow plutocrats failed.

And we ordinary Americans suffer accordingly at the hands of Big Tech monopolists.

Fortunately, though, not all is lost because, as Senator Hawley experienced firsthand when he interrogated Mark Zuckerberg in several interviews regarding Facebook’s censorship, “Big Tech is desperately afraid of public criticism, of someone taking a public stand” (126).  Hawley proposes several initiatives to stop Big Tech’s attacks on American life, including: placing the Federal Trade Commission, which can prevent monopolies, under the Department of Justice (152); ending Big Tech’s Section 230 immunity (153); giving social media users the “Do Not Track” option (154); and treating Big Tech platforms like publishers so that social media users can sue them for censorship (156).

Although he doesn’t say it, all of these positive efforts to combat the Big Tech monopoly can only occur, though, when Democrats are kicked out of the House, the Senate, and the White House.  While he points out that both Republicans and Democrats support the concept of corporate liberalism and have benefited from Big Tech’s major donations to their campaigns, both Hawley and we ordinary Americans know that the billionaires of Big Tech consistently support Democratic Party candidates over Republicans.

And the reasons why Big Tech supports the un-American values of the Democratic Party are obvious.  Big Tech endorses the LGBTQ agenda (which distorts heterosexual normativity) and the racism of Black Lives Matter (109).  Finally, Big Tech promotes abortion, even to the point of censoring pro-life groups; Hawley got Zuckerberg to admit that that Facebook “wrongly de-platformed a pro-life group, Live Action” (2).

Buying the book is absolutely necessary, not only to reward Hawley for having written a guide for future legislative action against Big Tech billionaires (remember: Simon & Schuster reneged on its plan to publish his book), but also to serve as a reference.  My own annotations spanned three full single-spaced pages, so purchasing the book from Regnery was essential instead of breaking copyright rules by photocopying relevant pages.  All of Hawley’s book is relevant.

Finally, here are some choice quotes for consideration, all of which can help students write solid essays on Big Tech abuses:

Hawley’s book “calls into question the reigning order of corporate liberalism, and it challenges the power of those who benefit from it” (ix).

“The book is an exercise in alternative possibilities, an attempt to recover a different way of thinking about society and politics; it is an attempt, most fundamentally, to recover the meaning of the common man’s republic” (xii).

Quoting Teddy Roosevelt: “And of all forms of tyranny […] the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of plutocracy” (28).

On the influence of St. Paul: “What was revolutionary about Paul in a political sense was his insistence on the dignity of ordinary people and ordinary life” (32).

“For reasons the chattering class couldn’t quite pinpoint, couldn’t quite comprehend or even describe, the voting public became more and more out of sorts as the twenty-first century dawned, more resistant to the usual political platitudes and talking points” (53).

“Zuckerberg’s spoke of change, a fresh departure from the past, but in fact his pitch was the climax of the revolution his robber baron predecessors had initiated a century before.  It was the climax of corporate liberalism” (58).

“The Age of Big Tech, like the age of the robber barons, would be the age of monopoly” (59).

“Far from empowering everyday Americans, Big Tech was assaulting the habits and mores of democratic life” (76).

“Woodrow Wilson and his fellow corporate liberals had portrayed self-development as a form of liberty, the form of liberty most suited to, most needed in, the modern era.  And yet the advent of social media made painfully, brutally clear that the search for self-development, self-expression, and originality could be as much a burden as a relief” (81; italics in original).

“The private-choice liberty of corporate liberalism was, of course, a version of the liberty Big Tech assiduously promoted to sell its products and justify its power.  And the irony was thick.  Big Tech’s social media platforms, the things Mark Zuckerberg said would connect the world, were perhaps the most anti-social devices in American history: not connecting, but isolating; not uniting, but dividing” (82; italics in original).

“As outrage became the norm on the social platforms, researchers found that heavy social media users were taking their outrage with them into the workplace, the neighborhood, the church—in short, to those actual communities made up of actual people that had once been havens from the outrage-by-algorithm of online culture but were now increasingly subject to its contagion” (86-7).

Quoting Robert Epstein, “Google […] has likely been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25 percent of the national elections in the world since at least 2015” (102).

Big Tech “produced almost nothing, paid next to nothing in U.S. taxes, made virtually no significant capital investment relative to their profits, and extracted nearly all their value as economic rents from a customer base held hostage to their monopoly control” (112).

Section 230 succinctly explained: “Under the new and improved statute, tech companies could shape or edit content without liability, could take down content without any show of good faith or fair dealing, and could display content they knew to be illegal—and no one could challenge any of it in court” (128).

“Victory against Big Tech’s pathologies requires that we reinvigorate family, neighborhood, school, and church, the places where, in authentic community, we come to know ourselves and one another, exercise our responsibilities, and find our sense of belonging.  These are the places where we become citizens, where we become free, where we learn to exercise the sovereignty of a citizen in a free republic.  Genuine community is now, more than ever, countercultural—and opposed to the ersatz ‘global community’ pushed by the corrupt and power-hungry Big Tech” (143).

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Book reviews

World’s Great Short Stories, edited by M. E. Speare (World Publishing, 1942)

Fight cancel culture zealots!  Read short story masterpieces from dead white male American and European authors.

I labored over the 334 pages of this anthology for weeks, not because the stories were so lugubrious that I had to whip out the dictionary or because I’m a slow reader.  The stories were didactic, yes, in the extremely positive way of teaching some beautiful truths about human life and expressing those truths in beautiful language.  (It is most unfortunate that the connotation of “didactic” is negative in today’s culture, which despises anything old—“old” being any tweet which has an age of one hour or more.)

Consider the range of topics from these dead white male American and European masters of the short story:

Steinbeck’s “The Promise”: a story about a mare who had to be killed in order for her colt to survive birth.  Issue to resolve: choice of life over death.

Saki’s “Tobermory”: a cat discloses secrets of the humans in its world.  Comedic, yet pertinent: why don’t we humans just say what we mean?

Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster”: Daniel Webster wins his case, protecting Jabez Stone from going to Hell.  Webster convinces a jury of devils that men take pride in being men, even with our faults.  The devil recounts that he was present since America was discovered.  Antifa domestic terrorists and the Democratic politicians who support them and cancel culture zealots: you lose.  Benét already admitted that the United States may not be a perfect nation, but we’re becoming one.  Besides, your efforts to destroy property and erase history accomplishes nothing.  Idiots….

Hemingway’s “My Old Man”: a pathetic story (that is, a story filled with pathos) of a son who loved his jockey father who won fixed races.  Although the father is killed in a race, the son still admires him.  How stupid some fathers can be!

Wodehouse’s “The Custody of the Pumpkin”: a cute story about a British earl who resists his son marrying an American woman, presumed to be beneath him in social class.  The earl relents when he learns that the father-in-law has more than $9 million.  Moreover, his prized pumpkin wins a vegetable show.  Vapid people then, vapid people now who think that money cures all.

Maugham’s “Red”: a story of a young man, Red, who falls in love with a native South Pacific woman, Sally.  Red was kidnapped and presumed lost at sea.  Meanwhile, Sally marries Neilson.  Red returns years later, an old fat man; Sally also grows fat.  Moreover, Neilson no longer loves her.  A memorable line: “The tragedy of love is indifference” (104).

Lardner’s “Champion”: a story of a dishonest, money-grubbing boxer who cares nothing for his handicapped brother, his mother, his wife, or his child.  The public just thinks he’s a hero.  Disability rights activists can find a friend in Lardner long before disability rights became an issue because abortion-supporting people and Nazi eugenicists thought that the handicapped were unworthy of life.

Twain’s “A Mediaeval Romance”: a story about a woman, Lord Conrad, disguised as a man because her father envied another’s ducal throne.  The Lady Constance falls in love with Conrad, but Conrad rejects him because they obviously can’t marry.  For her revenge, the scorned Constance gets pregnant by someone else.  At her trial, she accuses Conrad as the father.  He either must confess the truth that he is really a woman and be executed for falsely sitting on the ducal throne, since no woman was allowed to do that, or renounce his claim to the duchy which his father envied.  The narrator doesn’t resolve the dilemma, leaving it to the reader.  And some think that transgenderism is a new idea in the world!  Twain thought of it first.  Fools….

Bunin’s “Sunstroke”: a story recounting the feelings of a military man who had an adulterous affair with an unnamed woman who is married and has a child.  He would never see the little whore again, yet he suffers emotionally from his adulterous sin.  Fool!  She used you, yet you yearn for her?  Double fool….

Ewald’s “My Little Boy”: an irreligious father instills general ethical principles in his son and fears that his son will become contaminated with society’s ideas when the child eventually must attend school.  This father reads too much like a copter parent.  Besides, his hostility to religious ideas clearly shows how backward he is.

Pirandello’s “The Fly”: a ghoulish story of a fly infecting a man with glanders, which will eventually kill him.  He was to marry the same day as his cousin, who was also bitten by a fly and presumably will die from the same disease.  An episode suitable for The Twilight Zone.

Parker’s “The Waltz”: delightfully funny story of a woman who gives her honest thoughts while uttering vapid and socially-correct statements while dancing with a bumbling man.  Applicability to our own society: distrust what anyone, especially Joe Biden, says.

Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”: masterly story of a monkey’s paw giving an old couple three wishes.  The first wish is for 200 pounds to eliminate their debt, obtained at the cost of their son dying at work, mangled in his factory’s machinery; the second wish resurrects the son, without specifying that he would be made whole; the third wish restores him to death.  Exciting denouement!

Harte’s “The Postmistress of Laurel Run”: intriguing story of a postmistress who protects a man, a fellow postmaster, from being fired for absconding with government money.  The inspector who is on his case knows that she helped the postmaster not only restore the stolen money, but also escape prosecution.  Feminists would have a challenge justifying this woman’s action based on heart instead of brains.

Zweig’s “The Invisible Collection”: a story full of pathos; a blind man shows his collection of prints to an art dealer, all of which were sold so that his family could survive during Weimer Germany’s hyperinflation.  The art dealer consents to the fraud because the old man cherished his collection.  Contemporary reader, would you consent to a deception to preserve an elderly person’s mental state?

Maupassant’s “Two Friends”: a story of two French friends during the Franco-Prussian War who are shot and killed for not disclosing the password which allowed them to fish in their favorite place.  That’s the test of friendship, as Jesus said.

Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”: classic tale of terror, a man condemned by the Inquisition suffers torture designed to force him into a pit filled with hundreds of rats.  The ending is a deus ex machina as he is saved by French forces who invaded Toledo.  Reminds me of Stalinist, Nazi, and Democratic torture tactics.

Gorky’s “Twenty-Six and One”: a story of 26 men who slave away at a basement bakery, which is more like a dungeon, and who revere a woman who obviously disdains them.  They idolize her but turn on her when they realize she’s just an ordinary slut, falling to the affections of a boastful soldier who must likely got into her pants.  The little whore.  The word “contemptuously” used often, and that’s what we should feel for that woman and her skanky self.

Stevenson’s “Sire de Malétroit’s Door”: a young soldier in medieval France enters a house where he is trapped into either marrying a wicked uncle’s niece or be hanged.  He eventually falls in love with her, and they decide to marry.  Ah, love!  Hopefully, they made many babies together, all of whom are faithful Catholics, unlike the fraud @JoeBiden, Nancy Pelosi, and other useless Democrats of their ilk.  Oh…sorry…mi dispiace.  Everything isn’t political (is it?)

France’s “Our Lady’s Juggler”: a wonderfully simple and pious story of a monk, “a stupid fellow” (396), whose gift to the Virgin Mary is his juggling skill.  She honors him, though, by wiping the sweat from his brow to the amazement of his fellow monks.  Except for persons hostile to religion, Catholicism especially, who could not love this happy ending?

O. Henry’s “The Cop and the Anthem”: Soapy yearns to be jailed for the winter in New York.  After several unsuccessful tries to get arrested, he decides to recover his lost ambition and be a productive man.  At that point in his resolution, he is arrested for vagrancy and gets his wish of three months in jail, long enough to be out of the New York winter.  Irony at its best.

Balzac’s “The Mysterious Mansion”: another story of a whorish wife who asserts that her lover was not hiding in her bedroom’s closet.  The husband walls it up, the lover dies, and the husband exacts sweet revenge on her adulterous whorish body.  Sinister laugh here! 

Dickens’ “’Dr. Manette’s Manuscript’”: Dr. Manette’s letter, recounting his involvement with the Marquis St. Evrémonde, who impregnated a peasant woman, even though he was married and had a child, functions significantly in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  The ending of the novel colors this story with sadness because we all know how many people were killed during the disastrous French Revolution.

Daudet’s “The Last Lesson”: story of a French school forced to teach students German.  M. Hamel’s “Vive la France!”, written on the blackboard, is his last bit of patriotism before the last class to be taught in French is dismissed (334).

Thankfully, cancel culture zealots, masters at destruction, can’t touch these creations.  Besides, if you’re bored with the woke NFL, read these stories.  Their ideas last longer than the “fame” of a touchdown which would yield no benefit to your life.

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Book reviews

Phil Klay’s Missionaries (Penguin Press, 2020)

Detailed analyses of those who choose to fight terrorists, interspersed with religious commentary.

Like his previous novel Redeployment, Phil Klay writes convincingly about American soldiers who volunteer to fight against Islamic and Colombian terrorism.  Unlike Redeployment, though, where the sex scenes were more memorable, the gruesome ways in which Islamic and Colombian domestic terrorists—whether jihadist, paramilitary, or other categories—kill human beings will stay with a reader long after the novel is finished.

A gay man who is raped and then shot at the hands of a paramilitary who spoke against gay sex (42), another paramilitary who used a whore just for his sexual satisfaction (73-4), a man who is chainsawed to death (83), a medic who sterilizes a man by a vasectomy and who attempts the feeble joke of calling that sexual sin “a true cross-cultural bond” (154), an account of a guerrilla who forces a mother to abort (288): these episodes illustrate some of the many categories of violence that a human being with no moral compass can perpetrate against another human being.

And yet, the novel interweaves serious discussion about several main Jewish and Christian religious beliefs which inform the Western world.

The inherent religious longing that every human being experiences is expressed by Lisette when she declares, “I am broken, I am broken, and I do not know how I will ever fix this hole I’ve carved into my soul” (17).  A solider admits the crucial first step to developing a necessary attribute for his job of killing terrorists: “So I screwed up my courage.  First by talking to God” (191).  One passage is a tacit acknowledgment of Original Sin (221), and another suggests the classic ends-justify-the-means ethical problem (287-8).  Even the last pages constitute a descriptive passage of international contributions and culpability of drone warfare (401-3).

Although the 404 pages are sometimes tedious, faculty and students will appreciate Klay’s novel as an example of solid multi-layered narrative with philosophical insight.

Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, I recommend not buying this book on Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the publisher.

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Book reviews

Christopher Beha’s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts (Tin House Books, 2020)

A good way to spend two days: read about the lives of rich and devoid-of-religious-faith leftists.

What a bunch of sad sacks!  What can you expect of Obama supporters and rich New Yorkers who care only about money?  Can anybody in the flyover states learn anything from these myopic, faithless people?

The answer, of course, is yeah.  The 517 pages of often lugubrious narrative can teach that men don’t have to follow in the footsteps of lost boys like Eddie Doyle, who is so gullible that he would give millions of dollars from his trust fund to a street preacher, or like Justin Price, guilty of insider trading so that he could become super rich and forget his origins in the hood.

Women don’t have to be little tramps like Margo, who want to commit adultery with married men like Sam Waxworth (what a great name, sounds like the wax character he is), or like his wife Lucy, a typical only child (of course) of Midwest academic liberals (of course), who is irreligious and has no idea what the sacrament of matrimony is all about.

Conservative and Republican readers will balk at the stupidity of many other characters who seem to be Democrats.  For example, Lucy’s political opinions show either her ignorance or the degree to which this novel merely comports with the typical New York liberal publishing crowd.  Thinking about her marriage prospects, Lucy “couldn’t imagine sharing her life with an actual Republican” (143), and she thinks the virulently pro-abortion and anti-American Obama was “reasonable” while President George W. Bush was “subliterate” (262-3).

But I digress.  Must be that I, a Midwest boy, can’t sympathize with these characters that much.  After all, a character who regrets losing out on $95 million in stock value doesn’t match the concerns of us ordinary Americans, who want to safeguard the financial gains made during the years of President Trump so that the exorbitant tax policies of the incompetent Biden don’t send us back to the dismal days of Obama.

Overall, though, reading fictional accounts of these rich and devoid-of-religious-faith leftists inspires sorrow for their ignorance.  Many of them come so close to understanding how faith works in human life, yet they are too blind to make the rational leap to faith.  The main character, Sam, an atheist who believes in “reason” and thinks religion is “irrationalism” (107), is so close to understanding the concept of Original Sin, but doesn’t see it: “So much of what was wrong with him was her [his mother’s] fault, he thought, but no doubt whatever was wrong with her had come from somewhere, too.  How far back did it all go?” (508).

Duh!  The competent reader of the twenty-first century, who knows his or her Jewish and Christian heritage, can answer that, but the novel ends with Sam remaining a lost boy.

Similarly, when attempting adultery with Margo (he remains flaccid throughout the episode), Sam says, “my body and my mind are crossing signals” (348).  One would think that Sam, the supposedly pure rationalist, would perceive that natural law is telling him something about the purpose of a penis (it functions as a tool for a husband to deliver sperm into his wife).

But that would mean that Sam would have read St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, several steps away in his spiritual journey that he is not yet ready to take (in this novel at least; maybe a sequel).

Sam isn’t the only character who is blind to religious possibilities.  Praying a decade of the rosary brought Kit Doyle and Marinela, her servant, “on equal footing” (240), yet Kit, like other members of the Doyle family, are nominal Catholics; they could not participate in Mass because “They were just so busy” (393).

Why read this book?  Of course, English undergraduate and graduate students will delight in seeing how various literary theories can be used to explicate and appreciate the novel.  For example, Justin’s same-sex attraction to Eddie meets the criterion that every novel now must have some gay and lesbian element.  Lucy’s leaving Sam will meet the feminist nonsense that a woman should leave her husband when he confesses having committed adultery instead of realizing that marriage is rough, tough—and sacramental.  Sam’s wish that the conservative man whom he hates (Frank Doyle) was his father will be better understood by masculinist literary theorists who pounce on anything dealing with father-son love, especially important now that millions of American men have “grown up” without a dad.  That Sam has a wet dream, in part thinking about Frank, just adds more ammunition to that theory: “He woke with a shudder just as the sticky dampness filled his boxer shorts” (123).

What a great line!  No wonder the book’s cover consists of some of Eadweard Muybridge’s still photographs of a naked baseball player.  This novel lets it all hang out.

OK, enough guy stuff. 

Granted, the novel depicts an ephemeral New York rich crowd with whom solid Americans in Lewiston, New York or McCutchenville, Ohio cannot identify, but, if one wants to take a break from fighting against Biden’s virulently pro-abortion policies and just read something mellifluous, then Beha’s work will satisfy that desire.

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Book reviews

Mustafa Akyol’s Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance (St. Martin’s Essentials, 2021)

A lucid appeal to use reason, this book can be a tool for freeing Muslims from a despotic Islam.

While the author’s intent in writing this book was not to steer Muslims away from Islamic rules, my reading of this scholarly yet readable work concludes that Catholic evangelists have a magnificent opportunity to share the Faith with people who have suffered for 1,400 years under an aggressive and irrational system which purports to be a religion.

Akyol believes that intellectual reform is needed in Islam because it has “come to a dead end” (232) and because Islam “connotes aggression, intolerance, or patriarchy” (233).  It is not surprising, therefore, that the book discusses Islam in stunningly negative terms.

Islam has committed “intellectual suicide” over the past 1,000 years by rejecting rational thought from some of its major philosophers, including ibn Rushd and Averroes (xviii and 130).  Even though Averroes, like St. Thomas Aquinas in the Christian West, “argued that the findings of philosophy would not contradict the teaching of revelation” (112), al-Ghazali recommended death for philosophers (110).  Muslims are instructed to abide by rules established by Quranic jurisprudence, not, as in the Jewish and Christian West, by faith informed by reason (12).  The result, Akyol argues, is that, “in a long historical process, Islamic jurisprudence had become ‘a pile of rules,’ among which morality had ‘evaporated’” (46).

Moreover, Akyol’s discussion of Islam’s idea of “God” should leave rational people dumbfounded.  He asserts that Islam created a god who “was not really ‘lovable’” (34).  Muslims view God like a despotic ruler (152) because “God is always invisible and unreadable” (154).  These ideas are difficult for Westerners to understand since we know God as personal and worthy of our intellectual effort.

With such an impersonal and quixotic view of God, it is no wonder, then, that Akyol concludes that Islam “connotes aggression, intolerance, or patriarchy.”  I would replace “patriarchy”, an idea not elaborated as thoroughly beyond a few mentions of gender equality (13, 65, and 121), with “backwardness”, an idea which can be supported by numerous examples from the book.

Islamic militarism has been obvious for the past 1,400 years; one wonders if Islam’s billion or so “followers” would remain Muslim if they were freed from an Islam—which is deeply connected with the notion of adherence to the political state—if they were given the choice.  Akyol’s discussions of the “Compulsionists” vs. those who believed in free will (14) and Islam’s hold on forcing people to remain Muslim lest they be executed for apostasy ([195ff]) are particularly enlightening.

What I found most memorable are the numerous instances of Islam’s backwardness and intolerance, both of ideas and people who disagree with the Sharia-sanctioned edicts of those who wield power in the system.

Islam’s backwardness is remarkable and makes one appreciate living in the Western world, informed by Jewish and Christian values.  Unlike the West, where monasteries saved manuscripts from barbarian destroyers and where philosophical ideas are argued thoroughly, the rejection of philosophical debate is suggested by several accounts where manuscripts discussing the question of reason were neglected or, worse, destroyed; one manuscript lay dormant from the late fifteenth century to the 2010s (41).  Similarly, Islam’s backwardness is evident in that the printing press arrived in the Ottoman Muslim world three centuries after Gutenberg (102).  “’Political science’ would remain almost nonexistent in the Islamic world until the modern era”, Akyol claims, all because a political leader must be obeyed (145 and 152; internal quotes in original).  As a final example, while the West abolished it in the nineteenth century, Saudi Arabia and Yemen abolished slavery in 1962, and Mauritania abolished it in 1981; Islamic scholars, however, support slavery as consistent with the Quran (63-4). 

Islam’s intolerance through the centuries is common knowledge; what might not be common knowledge is that its intolerance continues in our century.  Unlike the West, where divergent views are tolerated, those who espouse views which conflict with the autocratic interpretation of Quranic suras can be executed for apostasy, as in the case of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a 75-year-old Muslim scholar, who was hanged in 1985 in Sudan for his ideas (179).  The case of Asia Bibi documents how free speech is impossible in Islam because “repeating blasphemy is also blasphemy” (204).  These instances particularly illustrate what Akyol calls Muslims’ “tolerance deficit” (212). 

Despite the numerous negatives which he summarizes about Islam’s irrationality, intolerance, and backwardness, Akyol hopes that Islam will adopt reason as a foundation principle.  I suggest, however, that the hope is not contained either in a trust that reason will succeed or in the author’s idea that Islam needs “a new genre of art and literature” (54).  Akyol hints at a better solution to the intellectual suicide of Islam when he reports that the hypocrisy of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran led to “many Iranians [who] left the religion, converting to Christianity or atheism” (193).

Leaving Islam is a good thing.  Doing so enables one to think freely and to see that Christianity is not the hostile force claimed by those who hold Islamic theological power.  Promoting the work of St. Thomas Aquinas may help since that thirteenth-century saint developed important ideas in Western Christianity which shaped the modern world.  For example, we in the West have internalized St. Thomas Aquinas’ conclusion that “behind God’s commandments there are objective moral values”, a conclusion which “led to the concept of ‘natural law’” (30-1), a concept which Akyol says is largely ignored in Islamic thinking.  Another idea familiar to Western readers, which is missing in Islam, is the importance of individual conscience; unlike the West, where countries have ancient Greek and Christian roots, “The truth is that, in mainstream classical Islam, there really was no well-defined concept of conscience” (52).

Finally, while Akyol anticipates “a brighter future” (230) for Islam, I argue it would be better for Muslims to abandon Islam and become Catholic Christians.  Doing so will modernize them not only intellectually with ideas which have been around for millennia, but also spiritually with God who is not merely a lawgiver (as in Islam), but just, personal, and loving.

Note: Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, I recommend not buying this book on Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the publisher.

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Book reviews

Ryan Scott Bomberger’s Not Equal: Civil Rights Gone Wrong (Bara Publishing, 2016)

Cogent analysis of pro-abortion ideas, focusing on the inherent racism of abortion advocates.

Bomberger’s analysis simply destroys pro-abortion claims—and the destruction is carried out with facts, not rabid emotionalism, and, often, keen humor at the expense of racist groups like Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.

Best of all, the book contains full-page examples of the artwork Bomberger and his associates created to counter pro-abortion lies.  Thus, readers will enjoy not only the quickly reading 135 pages of his insights, but also the nearly 80 memes and photos which illustrate statistical data explained in the text.

Faculty and students, of course, will also appreciate the 335 endnotes of sources Bomberger used to document his counterclaims to pro-abortion lies.  (Students, he’s done the work for you!  Just type in the URLs and write your research paper!)

Seriously, though, pro-life activists will, of course, rejoice in the clearly-written critical thinking that Bomberger brings to issues which are controversial for some in American society, but which have already been addressed by pro-lifers.  For example, pro-lifers already know about the inherent racism of abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood and the bias of the “legacy” media and other “news” sources like CNN and MSNBC (which are merely leftist cheerleaders for the pro-abortion Democratic Party).

Pro-abortion readers, also, will benefit from reading Bomberger’s work, although they may find it excruciating to conclude that organizations which purport to advocate civil rights, especially for African Americans, such as the NAACP and the National Urban League, are derelict in their duty to oppose the racist and eugenic goals of abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood.

This means that “legacy” civil rights groups like the NAACP and recent racist groups which say they support African-American civil rights, like Black Lives Matter, must be reevaluated for what they are: just two more organizations which sacrificed the admirable goals of advancing civil rights for the financial power and political prestige that comes with aligning themselves with abortion businesses and pro-abortion Democratic politicians.

Bomberger’s work will educate all readers—both anti- and pro-life—on several inconvenient and uncomfortable truths.  For example, how could anyone not know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. praised the abortion business Planned Parenthood in 1966 when he received the Margaret Sanger Award, named after its eugenicist founder?

According to Bomberger, such ignorance is easy for two reasons.  First, of course, abortion was not legal in 1966, so we really cannot be certain that King would have endorsed Planned Parenthood’s radical pro-abortion mission.  Second, Planned Parenthood itself hides its main source of wealth (abortion), since it wants to be known as a “family planning” (i.e. artificial birth control or contraception) group.

Similarly, Bomberger’s refutation of John Legend’s ridiculous claim that “more black men are in the correctional system than those who were slaves in 1850” (94) is a masterpiece of pure data and logical reasoning—aspects which aren’t needed for pro-abortion Hollywood on Oscar night.

Readers must thank Bomberger, then, for fulfilling the dual objectives of his work: exposing such lies from abortion advocates and correcting those lies with truth.

One major criticism of the book: future editions must have an index.  Bomberger comments on so many individuals and organizations which adopt Planned Parenthood’s racist and eugenic views towards African Americans that an index is necessary so that student researchers can quickly find documentation that, for example, Jesse Jackson was once pro-life but became anti-life when he ran for president (99ff) or that Mary Rhodan of the pro-abortion Essence magazine promoted a biased pro-abortion survey (105ff).

Note: Since it collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, do not buy this book on Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the Radiance Foundation’s website: https://theradiancefoundation.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage-2020/products/not-equal-civil-rights-gone-wrong-book-by-ryan-bomberger.

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Book reviews

Bethany Bomberger’s Pro-Life Kids! (Bara Publishing, 2019)

Diversity and inclusion are restored to the pro-life movement in this beautiful children’s book.

When people hear the buzzwords “diversity” or “inclusion”, they may shrug off whatever someone says as mere leftist intellectual garbage.  Usually, that’s true.  This time, however, Bethany Bomberger shows that pro-lifers have recaptured the noble concepts of diversity and inclusion in a beautifully-illustrated book, suitable for children primarily, so that the next generation is as pro-life as preceding ones.

After all, inclusion means that the unborn child should be included in the human family.  As everybody knows, legalized abortion made the mother seem more important than the unborn child or the father.

Moreover, diversity means that children who are differently-abled (previously called “handicapped” or “disabled”) should be included in the human family.  Again, as everybody knows, abortion supporters and those who advocate legalized infanticide think that handicapped persons are less than human and should be killed either in the womb (abortion) or immediately on being born (infanticide).

And some people think that Nazi genocide and eugenics died in 1945!  Don’t they know what the Democratic Party of 2021 supports?  Guess not.

While the book is unpaginated (a major drawback for students researching pro-life literature), the illustrations by Ed Koehler are vibrant and bold.  The only frightening pages are those depicting, appropriately, slaveowners and Nazi soldiers telling African-American slaves and Jews that they are “not a person”—a statement that everybody (except abortion and infanticide supporters and politicians in the Democratic Party) would find revolting.

And, yes, even adults will identify with some of the children rejoicing in their child-like behavior.  I identify with the blond-haired kid, snapping his fingers, dancing with body-wrenching Greek gusto.

Children will appreciate the rhyming quatrains, a pattern dominantly followed throughout the book.

Students of pro-life literature can recall Gail Patrick Brennan’s 1979 book Alone…A Story for Children…About Abortion! as perhaps the first major children’s work to advance a life-affirming philosophy.  By recapturing the ideals of diversity and inclusion, which some leftists appropriated for a restrictive and exclusionary purpose, Bomberger has added a delightful work to the body of life-affirming, pro-life children’s literature.

Note: Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, I recommend not buying this book on Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the Radiance Foundation’s website: https://theradiancefoundation.myshopify.com/collections/books.

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Book reviews

Rita Williams-Garcia’s Like Sisters on the Homefront (HarperTeen, 1995)

Forced abortion, wrong attitudes about sex, dysfunctional family, yet an atypical teen novel.

While this may seem to be a typical teen abortion novel, Williams-Garcia’s take on a dysfunctional African-American family includes many atypical elements.  For example, Gayle is forced into abortion, which is typical of many fourteen-year-olds whose mothers think that having a baby is the end of their daughters’ lives, yet the integrity of the family unit is maintained (kinda sorta like kinda) at novel’s end, which was atypical of African-American families in 1995 and even more so now in 2020.

Overall, however, the novel is typical for teens who want to read about abortion, sex, and family dysfunction.

The balance of this review will collate elements of the novel into the five questions of right-to-life literary theory.

First, does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless?  The answer to this question must remain ambiguous, although various statements from characters suggest that human life is more drudgery than joy.

Second, does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?  There is little evidence to support a positive answer to this question.  Perhaps the best evidence to show that characters in this novel respect human life is the great-grandmother’s rehearsal of the family’s history since slavery times.  The narration of “who begat whom” at novel’s end is a life-affirming technique, one which Gayle appreciates after 195 pages of trying to understand what a family means.

Third, if the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?  Excepting the Georgia faction of her family, Gayle has little idea of what constitutes a normal heterosexual family.  Her father is dead.  Her mother struggles to maintain a household of two children.  Gayle’s eighteen-year-old brother is content to be lazy.  Gayle herself seems to have no idea that sexual activity is meant for a marital covenant; she must think sex is something to do to have fun or a means to while away an afternoon.

Fourth, does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?  Obviously not on the part of Gayle’s mother, who forces her into abortion because she considers her unborn grandchild a “mistake” (3).  Nor is it obvious on Gayle’s part.  Although fourteen, she could have resisted her mother’s effort to force her into abortion; the author describes her capability in physically fighting with her mother, so Gayle could have escaped her mother’s clutches.

Moreover, Gayle’s claim that she “went along with the abortion because she could always have another baby” just makes her more complicit in the abortion.  Besides that, her claim shows that she has no respect for each individual human life, thinking that the child aborted was somehow “replaceable” (20-21).

The characters’ attitudes about sex are even more backward: Gayle treats sex as a mere casual activity, and her uptight Christian cousin Cookie thinks of it as sinful.  No character evinces the idea that sex is a natural activity given by God for the delight of spouses for their pleasure and for the procreation of children.  Thus, no Theology of the Body in this novel; the characters are stuck in the mindset of sex the way the abortion business Planned Parenthood thinks of it.

Fifth, when they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?  The great-grandmother, who is on her deathbed, is genuinely aware of religious tenets which guide human life.  Otherwise, the characters are either hostile to Christianity or at least the Protestant version of it (Gayle), ignorant of its teachings (Gayle again), or hypocritical (Gayle’s uncle, a dour and angry minister).

One item in the novel is unrealistic.  The narrator identifies a woman at the abortion clinic who wears a “RESPECT LIFE” pin (7; all caps in original).  How is it possible that someone wearing such a pin would work in an abortion clinic?  That’s like saying someone with a “Trump for President” button would attend a rally of the racist organization Black Lives Matter.

Despite this and maybe other faults, a cultural critic or African-American activist working for the integrity of the traditional family (like Ben Carson or Candace Owens) would be able to cite this novel as more evidence, not only of the unfortunate state of the African-American family during the horrendous Clinton years, but also of the even sadder condition of African-American families under the Obama reign/dictatorship.

While this novel is dated, it can help contemporary readers understand the disastrous effects of an anti-life philosophy on a teenager’s life.