Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some Not-So-Goodreads

A few reviews of books I haven't liked from my Goodreads feed:

Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing & What To Do About It (Julia Duin)

This felt really "cut & paste" - as if Julia Duin had taken a number of articles & blog posts about church decline & slapped them together into a book. There are some brilliant insights here - particularly in how churches deal with singles - but her general cynicism about "seeker" churches and her longing for the charismatic go-go days of the Jesus Movement cast a pall over the book.

The "cut & paste" nature of the work (Ms. Duin is not only a reporter & religion editor but also a blogger of note) leads to another problem - if a pastor took to heart all of the advice she mentions positively, they would need to be a combination of Dr. Phil, Billy Graham, Superman & Steve Jobs in order to adequately perform.

She seems to have picked sides in the emerging/emergent church discussion as well - Mark Driscoll is pull-quoted & castigated for his complimentarian view of marriage (for the record, I'm not sure I completely agree with Driscoll, but his view is a bit more nuanced than presented in the book). OTOH, Brian McLaren is quoted as an expert without any reference to his critics.

I think my primary reaction to this book is simply that she spends 180 pages detailing the flight of the faithful from American churches - and suggests only broad-stroke non-answers rather than specific recommendations for action. I don't dispute her findings - she's in a far better position than I am to see what's going on across denominations. What I question is the worth of a book like this which depresses rather than inspires.

Me of Little Faith (Lewis Black)

I knew going into this that Lewis Black was going to offend me... but my experience with his comedy (someone else here on Goodreads called it "intellectual comedy") suggested that he might have some interesting/funny things to say about a subject that, let's face it, can use an occasional pie in the face.

But I kept getting hung up on inconsistencies - Lewis styles himself as atheist/agnostic (yes, I realize they aren't the same thing), but is amazed at the accuracy of astrology & has a long-term relationship with a psychic. He tries to make a semi-logical argument about why he thinks evangelicals are loons (and some of us are, thanks for reminding everyone) by positing an either/or proposition: believe in a literal 6-day "young earth" creation or believe that you evolved from slime. (Never mind that not everyone on the "God created it" side is married to Bishop Ussher's timetable... nor that evolutionary theory is far more nuanced than "I'm a monkey's uncle.") This is "intellectual comedy"?!

Finally (and this doesn't end my disagreements with the book, just the end of my quick review), shooting at Jerry Falwell (whom Black admits was dead by the time he wrote this) and Pat Robertson is not the cutting edge of comedic thought - heck, I've taken potshots at Robertson on my blog and I'm not exactly what you'd call the center of the cultural universe. (I'm not even sure you can see the center of the cultural universe from my blog.) And if you're going to take Falwell to task for what he said on The 700 Club following 9/11, you need to also take into account his willingness to apologize for his statement... but actual facts would get in the way of Black's poking a dead guy in the eye.

Yep, not a fan of the book.

A People's History of American Empire (Howard Zinn)

I don't dispute that much of what is presented here is factual. I would however dispute that ALL of the facts are being presented. I understand that those who believe in "radical" politics feel that their viewpoints have been massively underrepresented - but that doesn't give you a pass on dealing with historical facts that don't support your overarching thesis.

This is a polemic on American imperialism rather than an alternative look at American history... and that impression is reinforced by the pamphleteer-style art that you find in the graphic novel. While I appreciated hearing Zinn's story & personal connections both to WW2 and the Vietnam protest movement, I feel like a couple of things happen with those elements of the book:

  1. It gives Zinn an opportunity to make his point without dealing with the whole history of either war.
  2. It is painfully obvious that Zinn exalts in his friendships & associations with Father Berrigan & Daniel Ellsworth... that being on the stage of history around North Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers & the sit-ins in Atlanta validate his viewpoint on American history.
Again, I don't deny that horrific things have been using American power for the benefit of American business... but I think it is simplistic to blame the last 120 years of world history on American imperialism.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I haven't read Zinn's graphic novel but it doesn't surprise me that you don't get much nuance from a comic book. I'm slowly making my way through his book, People's History of the United States and it has many references.