A Western elite’s dream for a new Christianity.

UNBELIEVABLE

WHY NEITHER ANCIENT CREEDS NOR THE REFORMATION CAN PRODUCE A LIVING FAITH TODAY

A call for a new reformation casting aside the beliefs of Christianity.

Episcopalian bishop and prolific writer Spong (Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy, 2016, etc.) has penned what he declares to be his final book, encapsulating a lifetime of thinking and teaching in order to call upon Christianity to undergo a transformation. Echoing Martin Luther, he offers 12 “theses” upon which to build his argument. Spong asserts that the entirety of traditional Christian theology has been debunked by science and reason, leaving the church intellectually bankrupt. The only answer is to turn toward a new understanding of God and of Jesus, salvation, and every other pillar of Christian thought and belief. The author sees God not as a being, but as “Being itself.” Indeed, “God is not a noun we are compelled to define; God is a verb that we are invited to live.” Similarly, Spong asserts that Jesus was not a supernatural being in any way but rather someone who demonstrated a new way of living and a higher plane of ethics. The author believes that the resurrection has been misinterpreted and that the New Testament authors did not expect their accounts to be taken literally. “Resurrection was…a moment of new revelation,” writes Spong, “that occurred when survival-driven humanity could transcend that limit and give itself away in love to others, including even to those who wish and do us evil.” Leaving the author’s theology aside, his view toward modern Christianity is regrettably smug. Having made his home in the declining Episcopalian denomination, he seems to look at the “church” and see only his reflection: Western, highly-educated, and skeptical. Throughout his 12 theses, Spong speaks only for his own brand of waning Christianity, excluding even from consideration the tens of millions of Christians worldwide who may not share his views but indeed still believe in what he rejects.

A Western elite’s dream for a new Christianity.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-264129-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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