A panoramic view through myopic eyes.

THE FUTURE OF FAITH

Celebrated religious scholar Cox (Divinity/Harvard Univ.; When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today, 2004, etc.) argues that we are witnessing the dawn of a third epoch in Christian history.

First came the Age of Faith, a time of emphasis on the message of Jesus, lasting from his crucifixion to Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. Next came the Age of Belief, a long period marked by theological hegemonies and emphasis on creeds and theological points of view. Only in recent decades has this longstanding era begun to crumble against the insurgent Age of the Spirit, which is in many ways like the original Age of Faith. Cox examines the present death knells of two movements he describes as detrimental to people of faith: hierarchical theology, embodied mainly by the Catholic Church, and fundamentalism. These two movements, argues the author, stymie both faith and the true message of Jesus. Cox describes creed-making as a “toxin”; his disdain for orthodox theology is unmasked. As for the people, Cox attempts to show empathy toward Catholics, fundamentalists and even his own mid-20th-century divinity-school professors. This empathy, however, comes across as patronizing and condescending, opening him up to the “ivory tower” stereotype. Cox’s work is intriguing, and there is certainly truth in his observations about global Christianity and the rise of Pentecostalism and liberation theology. The author is also an entertaining writer who has known seemingly every major religious figure in recent history, including three popes and figures ranging from Jerry Falwell to Gustavo Gutiérrez. However, his black-and-white characterizations of wide-ranging movements leave his arguments wide open for attack.

A panoramic view through myopic eyes.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-175552-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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