A fascinating work of compelling, erudite scholarship. The eminent Yale historian John Boswell takes on a monumental study of same-sex behavior in pre...moreA fascinating work of compelling, erudite scholarship. The eminent Yale historian John Boswell takes on a monumental study of same-sex behavior in premodern Europe, forwarding the controversial claim that both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches not simply permitted but actually performed official marriage rites for same-sex couples prior to the eleventh century.
Boswell begins with careful discussions of the terminology and definitions of the words employed in the study, which was both helpful and revealing. Then he follows this with two lengthy chapters on the historical development of love and marriage from the days of Plato (roughly the same time as David and Solomon) all the way up to the 9th century, in both heterosexual and homosexual couplings. The information here was invaluable and captivating, demonstrating among many other things that there is amply ancient evidence of people with lifelong partnerships and marriages to lovers of the same sex during this time. Then he shifts into an examination of what changed and did not change with the advent of early Christianity in the same period, followed by several chapters that address the parallel structures of marriage rites for both heterosexual and homosexual couples within the Church, effectively demonstrating that they were viewed as binding marriage contracts.
It should be noted at this point that many Christians will find such a position preposterous on the face of it, given what is presumed to be the clear teaching of Scripture. Such people are apt to suspect the book of foul play, or of being a mere polemic by an openly biased author. To the contrary, however, Boswell's primary concern is historical, to draw back the veil of our assumptions about the past and present it as it is, or as close as we can come to "as it was". The book is no polemic and he resorts to no bombastic rhetoric of discovering hithertofore unknown documents that secretly prove traditionalists are wrong. Rather, the book is a careful and reserved study of the known literature, demarcating between what is known, what is probable, and what is unlikely. Boswell does not pull back from noting weaknesses and areas where information simply is not known, and in fact includes about a hundred pages of appendices with the ancient documents in question in the original languages and in translation, with extensive notes, so that others can both follow and challenge him. Hardly the mark of a polemical author intent on concealing, rather than discussing.
In my opinion, the book demonstrates its thesis amply, and I think it is a good many Christians need to honestly wrestle with.(less)
A surprising and disturbing book that shows that the heart and core of Islam is not violence or conquest but peace and nonviolence. The fixation of so...moreA surprising and disturbing book that shows that the heart and core of Islam is not violence or conquest but peace and nonviolence. The fixation of some commentators, primarily conservatives and (sadly) Christians, upon the select few passages in the Koran that seem to justify violence and false narratives concerning Muhhamad's life. Pal does a good job exegeting the Koran, dealing with the life of Muhhamad, and refuting the claim that Islam spread by violent means. Christians really need to quit repeating ignorant propoganda, and this book is a good introduction to the subject.(less)
A good introduction to the life and influence of a woman whose unpleasant and vile legacy still bears rotten fruit. Weiss is, of course, more balanced...moreA good introduction to the life and influence of a woman whose unpleasant and vile legacy still bears rotten fruit. Weiss is, of course, more balanced than this introductory sentence of mine. But the book does a good job of showing how Rand's economic and philosophical teachings are at the heart of the Tea Party and other conservative policies, having conquered the world through her devoted disciple, Alan Greenspan. If you want to understand the conservative movement and the polucy decisions of our government, yiu need to understand Ayn Rand.(less)
A solid, meaty book documenting the political gerrymandering of scientific consensus and research by a handful of likeminded right wing thinktanks and...moreA solid, meaty book documenting the political gerrymandering of scientific consensus and research by a handful of likeminded right wing thinktanks and their scientific and political allies since the Nixon era. Well-documented and researched, the book shows how political conservatives poisoned the scientific process and policy implementation of scientific findings in order to further their own ends and aims at the expense of reality. Frim claiming there was no side effects to second-hand smoke to the ozone hole, acid rain, nuclear power, and global warming, this coalition of misinformation has had the ear of the public and media. Fascinating reading, which cuts through much of the confusion over these issues.(less)
Another phenomenal book by Peter Leithart. Divided into three parts, the first deals with the theology of empire and develops a proper picture of empi...moreAnother phenomenal book by Peter Leithart. Divided into three parts, the first deals with the theology of empire and develops a proper picture of empire in Scripture. This section alone is worth the price of the book. Then Leithart turns to the issue of empire in American history, helpfully undercutting all of the myths that have grown up around the Founding Fathers which paint them as kind and cosmopolitan 21st century folk lost out of their time. He traces the growth of Americanism, the heretical combination of eschatological and Kingdom language used by American people from the beginning, except that the place of Christ is taken by America. America becomes the great savior, the eschatological thousand years of peace will be brought in as America's principles spread across the globe. I'm paraphrasing, but I'm paraphrasing John Adams. Yeah.
He shows that Americanism is a heady gloss that allows us to dismiss our ill-deeds around the world and pretend they either don't exist or that they were for everyone's good, rather than for our own national self-interest. He also demolishes the strange and esoteric claim made by libertarians like Ron Paul that America was non-interventionalist before World War II. This is such an absurd claim I don't know how it can in good conscience be maintained. Finally, he sums it all up by arguing that the American church has for at least two hundred years been interested more in making disciples of Americanism than in making disciples of the Kingdom. He advocates for a strong Church and a strong eucharistic theology, a church that has reclaimed its own political space to declare wars as "just" or "unjust," and to deliver its determination in such a way that those Christians under it will then refuse to go to war or participate in it, even soldiers, if it is unjust. A marvelous, one-of-a-kind book.(less)
This was an absolutely captivating book. Cordingly is a leading historian on the pirate phenomenon and in this book he examines both the myth and the...moreThis was an absolutely captivating book. Cordingly is a leading historian on the pirate phenomenon and in this book he examines both the myth and the facts concerning pirates. He is happy to puncture some legends - pirates rarely if ever made people walk the plank, for instance - and confirms popular conceptions on the other (the familiar picture of the pirate with a bandanna, pistols on his belt, and a parrot on his shoulder is common enough to be based in reality). He looks at everything from shipwrecks, buried treasure, life aboard ship and the hierarchy of a pirate ship, all the way to the treatment of prisoners (the womenfolk almost always raped) and homosexuality (interestingly there is little evidence of homosexuality among western pirates, although there were over 50,000 cases of buggery among the Chinese pirates in the space of a mere four years!)
One of the most interesting elements was Cordingly's depiction of the hierarchy aboard a pirate ship. While the Royal Navy was structured in a fierce top-down manner, the pirate vessels were among the first democracies on earth. The captain was elected by majority vote, as were the destinations. The crew decided where to go, what ships to rob, what ports to burn. The captain, on the other hand, had absolute power in the times of combat, but otherwise had little to do. He was given the use of the great cabin, though it was not exclusively his, and he was often forced to share his food and space with any member of the crew who desired it.
I read this book because of research I'm doing for a pirate novel, but I finished it out of sheer interest. If you want to know what it was like to be a pirate, this is the book for you.(less)
This was an uncomfortable book, and one which I wrestled with. You can't really ask for much more in a solid book, regardless of your agreement.
Raise...moreThis was an uncomfortable book, and one which I wrestled with. You can't really ask for much more in a solid book, regardless of your agreement.
Raised in a conservative Christian home, in midwestern America, I have been profoundly shaped by that culture and mindset. I am grateful. But the story is not nearly as simple as all that. I have rejected the straightforward Republican narrative for some time now, and my confidence in "strict" Austrian economics seems to be becoming unhinged as well. We have assumed for too long that there is a straight transference between the cultural assumptions of our nation, conservative or liberal, apply right across the board into Scripture. The reality is way more complicated.
Neither, however, was this book convincing on a deep level. It attempts to refute free market economics by showing that Milton Friedman's policies created evil, torturous regimes in the third world. This sort of bounced off me without much impact, since I don't really think Friedman was very free market at all. In my view, he was much more like William F. Buckley. Not really a conservative.
Take, as illustrative, Klein's statement: "Friedman framed his movement as an attempt to free the market from the state, but the real-world track record of what happens when his purist vision is realized is rather different. In every country where Chicago School policies have been applied over the last three decades, what has emerged is a powerful ruling alliance between a few large corporations and a class of mostly wealthy politicians - with hazy and ever-shifting lines between the two" (15).
All the facts here are true, but has been said by many on the right as well. The point could not have been better put than by Jonah Goldberg, in his Liberal Fascism. Chicago School policies create corporatism (because Friedman thought they were a good thing), but the governing assumption is that it wasn't intended to do this in the first place. Friedman was pro-corporations, and his policies were designed to put more in their hands. And, not to mention, that Friedman's position wasn't exactly free market. Hence his policies are called neo-liberal.
But there is also the entire premise. That it was the policies of Milton Friedman that created the brutal suppression, and it was here that Klein is a little disingenuous. She does not deal with Friedman's policies, but rather the actions of regimes themselves. Thus, the question is raised as to whether the problems came from Friedman's views, or were simply the tactics of the third world. In other words, was torture and repression central to the free market policies, or were they incidental to them, but rather stemmed from some other source? Klein's argument appears to be one of noting the (very real and horrifying) abuses of the regimes, and then saying, "And guess what? Yup, they were free marketers!" This is not a way to construct a compelling argument. Each of these free market regimes began the same way as every other non-free market regime in the third world. A coup, in which the military overthrew the government. And these new "free market" regimes progresses apace in the same way as a marxist coup, by violence, terror, repression, and the torture and kidnap of dissenters. Friedman was wrong to attempt to smooth over such tactics, and to encourage them as "shocks."
Nonetheless, there is lots of good in the book as well. Friedman's policies do create a mutually-reinforcing alliance between big business and big government, and this needs to be screamed from the rooftops. Corporations are not a good thing, particularly mega-ultra-uber corporations. As Klein shows, the corporations used Friedman's policies to move into these struggling nations and essentially took them over. Much of the torture of dissenters was funded or enacted by the corporations themselves, independent of, or in cooperation with, the new tyrannical regimes. She documents how dissenting workers were imprisoned and tortured on company property, with the full authorization of the corporations themselves. Her suggestion that nations go through shock in the same way as individuals, and that governments and corporations take advantage of this "shock" to gain more power, is a valid, and I think, important observation that needs to be give much more attention.(less)
If you have read any of the evangelical theories of secularization from Nancy Pearcy or Francis Schaeffer, you're unlikely to find much new informatio...moreIf you have read any of the evangelical theories of secularization from Nancy Pearcy or Francis Schaeffer, you're unlikely to find much new information or content here. There's no interaction with more sophisticated constructions of secularism's origins, and he avoids Charles Taylor entirely. No one seems interested in doing much more than regurgitating the tired old categories of a culture war that belongs to the 80s and 90s.(less)
It is common in Christian circles today to find the fault of the Church’s many ills and problems today set squarely on the shoulders of Constantine th...moreIt is common in Christian circles today to find the fault of the Church’s many ills and problems today set squarely on the shoulders of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. He manipulated the support of the Church to his own advantage, to consolidate his own power. He controlled the outcome of the Nicene council the way he wanted; he set the stage for the Church’s subservience to secular government power in later periods.
Biblical scholar and Church historian Peter J. Leithart would like a moment to challenge everything we thought we knew about Constantine, about Church and Empire, and about the history of the Church. What if Constantine was a devout, but simple, Christian convert? What if the Edict of Milan – which legalized the Christian religion and outlawed its persecution – also granted tolerance of pagan religions? What if Constantine’s legislation was oriented around Christian ideals and principles, supporting the poor and oppressed, loosening the slavery laws, breaking the corruption of the courts that gave no justice to the poor, outlawed the gladitorial arenas and forbade the exposure of infants (the Roman equivalent of abortion)? What if Constantine did not control the council of Nicea or its outcome, but simply sponsored it because he believed in Church unity, and actually submitted to its rulings (and the rulings of the other councils of the period) once rendered? What if, at the very end of his life when he was finally baptized, after he had done all of this, he believed that his work had been only on the fringe of Christian obedience and swore “from thence onward” to actually live as a Christian?
In short, what if Constantine is precisely what many modern Christians want to be; missional, intentional, culture-building, forward-looking, protector of the poor and weak, oppressed and downtrodden, defender of the weak?
With all of the historical qualifications necessary to present a balanced sketch (yes, Constantine did persecute pagans occasionally; yes, he may have killed his wife and son-in-law for sleeping together; yes, he was a skilled politician), Leithart is able to present a balanced portrait of Christendom’s first Emperor. I have drawn certain emphases from Leithart’s book above in order to strongly contrast it with the common view to make a point. Leithart’s picture is far more nuanced, preferring not to present Constantine as either sinner or saint, but rather as the man he was. The job is well done, and you emerge from the book with a clearer picture of the sort of man Constantine really was. In Leithart’s words,
Constantine was a soldier, and a great one. He rarely lost a skirmish and never lost a war. He was not an ignorant grunt. Educated in Diocletian’s court, he retained an interest in theology, philosophy, and literature throughout his life, his dabbling that of a competent amateur. A man of high moral standards, of which he was somewhat vain, sometimes a bit of a prig, he expected everyone else to live up to his expectations. He liked to see the big picture and could be impatient with details. He had a strong sense of justice, and when aroused by what he believed unjust, he could be imperious, brutal, hectoring. He was aggressive and ambitious but was a stratagist with the self-restraint to wait out an opponent. When the situation called for it, he knew how to politick, compromise and build consensus. He had a sense of symbol and ceremony, knew the right gesture. He enjoyed the kitschy gaudiness of court and its adornments; the flowered robe rested easily on his shoulders, he liked his jeweled slippers, and he did not think a golden throne too much. But he also knew that he should treat it with disdain, and that disdain was sincere too. (p. 301)
At the same time, all the evidence points to Constantine being a genuine convert to the Christian faith. He meditated and lectured on theology, wrote letters to bishops on the fine points of doctrine, tried to reconcile the great heretic Arius with the rest of the Church, took both private and public opportunities to speak of the Christian religion. He supported its growth, submitted to its councils and its rulings, and above all desired its ecumenical unity – he desired universal agreement on the broad strokes of theology; hence the calling of the first council of Nicea, where the Christian Scriptures in use by the Church at the time were confirmed in the number and order of books as we have them today, and which defined forever more the “bounds of orthodoxy” with the famous (and glorious) Nicene Creed – which most churches over the whole world still recite with one voice in public worship.
On Constantine’s Christian faith, Leithart writes that after 312,
Constantine used his imperial power to protect and support the Christian church. He was a sincere if somewhat simple believer. He knew portions of the Old Testament and perhaps the basic outline of biblical history, and he could summarize the story of the Gospels. For Constantine, God was a providential Judge who supports the righteous and destroys the wicked, and he believed that the church had to be unified if it was going to offer pleasing worship to God. … He did not adopt a police of forced conversion, did not punish pagans for being pagans or Jews for being Jews. Pagans remained at his court and were given wealthy responsibilities in the empire. … Constantine expended an enormous amount of treasure on churches; it was used both on buildings and, with the emperor’s explicit encouragement, on establishing ministries of mercy to the poor, sick and widows. … He attended some of the councils and contributed to discussions but did not chair any council or determine the outcome. Once the bishops had arrived at a decision, Constantine accepted it a a divine word and backed up conciliar decisions with legal sanctions, mainly exile for those found guilty of heresy. … over the long run Constantine’s support of the church strengthened the church’s status as an alternative society and polity within the Roman Empire. Already during Constantine’s lifetime, and even more during the reign of his sons, church leaders became more aggressively confrontational toward the empire, fighting to protect the church’s independence from imperial intrusions. (pp. 302, 303, 304,)
Leithart’s scholarship is impeccable and staggeringly vast, assembling an expansive bibliography (pp. 343-366) which is oriented towards not simply Constantine and his life, but the lives of those around him, as well as the context and all avenues of Roman life to provide the fullest portrait possible. He begins the book with two large chapters of the bloody exploits of Constantine’s immediate predecessors to set the stage, chapters which are slow going but which prove necessary to what comes later.
Apart from the first two chapters, the book is never a dull read. The skill with which Leithart writes, the comprehensive nature of his knowledge of the period, does not detract from the story that he is telling. The truly remarkable thing is how ably he avoids sacrificing scholarship or storytelling. Part biography, part commentary, it walks a line few other historical works can. As unusual as it may sound, there were no drawbacks to the book that I could find, beyond the slogging nature of those two opening chapters. Leithart covers all the bases, checks all the sources, deals with all the objections. So I’ll simply finish by saying this is a fine book which will set the standard on Constantine and Christendom for a long time to come. Anyone interested in the Church, in history, in Constantine, anyone who thought they knew the story, needs to read it.(less)
Conservatives tend to think that racial discrimination ended with the Civil War. Lincoln freed the slaves, and there were some problems with Jim Crow,...moreConservatives tend to think that racial discrimination ended with the Civil War. Lincoln freed the slaves, and there were some problems with Jim Crow, sure, but all that racism stuff ended in 1865. We likewise conclude on the same basis that it's been so long since slavery that nobody need reparations. Oh, and the reason more blacks are in prison is because they commit more crimes than whites, so the system is being fair because they're committing the preponderance of the crimes.
This book shakes all that (okay, I added the topic of reparations). It's by a conservative-leaning libertarian judge and published by Thomas Nelson, one of the biggest Christian publishing houses. It's the perfect book to give out to folks for that reason. Napolitano isn't a liberal. Far from it, actually. He just doesn't back down from the actual history of race and law in our country.
Essentially, he argues that
1) there was slavery in America.
2) Abraham Lincoln used slavery as a convenient screen for his political agenda.
3) The civil war, reconstruction, and the heavy intrusion of federal power in the South made racism much, much worse.
4) Because equality was forced by military might on the South, they passed the Jim Crow legislation and reinforced their prejudices.
5) The Jim Crow laws were hurt in 1954, but alive and kicking until 1965. And Mississippi did not officially repeal them until 1995. That's not a typo.
6) Racism and discrimination continues in police departments and lawyering circles to this day - and has a huge amount of statistics and cases to back this up. He argues that through poverty and the intentional creation of the ghetto, our institutions continue to repress black people. Because they live in close proximity and live in poverty, they are more likely to engage in criminal activity (and he cites statistics that shows no matter what race you are, if you are below the poverty line in an urban culture of poverty, you are three times more likely to break the law).
This is shocking stuff. After some lynchings, the bodies would be cut up and pieces sold as souvenirs. That's the sort of story that you'd believe about Nigeria or Saudi Arabia, but not Georgia or South Carolina. But we fool ourselves. There are still people alive today who remember Jim Crow. And they're not that old. 1965 was only 45 years ago. We are a lot more at fault than we want to believe. Does that mean reparations? I don't know. I do know that I was blessed enough to live in a family that believed and taught us to believe Acts 17:26: "And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place." We're all the same race. And now my brother is courting a black girl who is simply wonderful.
The biggest flaw of the book is the fact that Napolitano appeals to "natural law" as the solution to slavery, and suggests that slavery is against the natural law. Well, the Bible doesn't know anything about natural law; it's not a doctrine taught in Scripture. In the Bible we get all our morality from God, not from an abstract "Creator" who only manifests himself through "nature." If we're being honest with ourselves, its actually natural to hate, repress and enslave other people who aren't like us. Just a part of sin. Only way out is Christ.
The book is also a great companion to Thomas Dilorenzo's The Real Lincoln which is cited a few times in this one and some of the civil war content overlaps.(less)
Very good. This is a whirlwind history through over two thousand years of history, but it is history as it should be taught; as a story, not as a dry...moreVery good. This is a whirlwind history through over two thousand years of history, but it is history as it should be taught; as a story, not as a dry assemblage of facts. There were a lot of things I did not know about places I thought I knew really well.(less)