Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Praising the Good (An Occasional Series).

1. Dr. Shelly Kagan. Yale philosophy Professor Shelley Kagan's lectures for his course on death are, astoundingly, available for free on the website. Sittiing on a desk, often cross-legged, and speaking without notes, Dr. Kagan shows how to lecture.

2. Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben's the NFL's best closer. Watching him lead late drives is close to a religious experience. Loved his line this season as he took the field in OT just before engineering a game-ending drive: "Get me my hat." Reminds one of Babe Ruth's calling his home-run shot.

3. Jon Krakauer. There are about three nonfiction writers whose books I will read regardless of topic. Mr. Krakauer's one. (James Stewart and Jeffrey Toobin are the others.) I've read every book Jon has authored. Just finished his work of art, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009). Staggering; it affects one's equilibrium.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review: Capitalism: A Love Story.

If this movie were a newspaper article, it would be an obituary.

If a song, a funeral dirge.

It's a requiem for the American dream.

Unlike prior Michael Moore offerings (all of which I've seen), most notably Roger & Me, Moore almost entirely abandons his technique of marrying comedy with tragedy. It's all tragic here.

Gone too are any semblances of subtlety. At the end, Moore pronounces capitalism as evil and calls for its eradication. In making this moralistic judgment, this movie is Moore's most religious. He features interviews with Catholic priests--who share his view about capitalism's immorality, and splices is scenes from the film Jesus of Nazareth. The movie even ends with Woody Guthrie's song, "Jesus Christ".

Given the few people in the theater at my screening, and its tepid box-office, it appears that the American public isn't in the mood for this. That's a shame because Moore does put his finger on issues that need to be critically thought-through, and he does uncover some outright outrages. For example, ever hear of dead-peasant insurance? Unfortunately, this is not the vehicle, especially since it stacks the deck through omissions of critical data. To hear Moore tell it, the "bailouts" simply gave away money. That's not quite the case. Loans and equity positions are not equatable with gifts.

Moore has been getting darker and darker in his movies--moving in progression from Roger & Me through his last before Capitalism, Sicko. I think he might draw in more people, and actually persuade more, through a less heavy hand. Hopefully he will rediscover his genius.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Book Review: Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle (2009).

The best parts of this book begin and end it.

The beginning chronicles how Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Tom Howes' plane crashed into the Colombian jungle in 2003, and then records how they were immediately captured by the FARC. Not a good day at the office.

The end tells of their rescue in 2008 through heavy doses of cunning, planning, and daring.

In the middle, the book lags somewhat, as not much happens during their 5-plus years of captivity. It was surprisingly thin on self-reflection. Marc Gonsalves comes the closest when he wrote a "personal life outline" while in captivity. (p. 113.) He decided that:

"1. [He] wanted to be a stronger spiritual leader for [his] family.
"2. [He] wanted to be stronger in the face of distraction or temptation.
"3. [He] wanted to become the best father [he] could be to [his] children.
"4. [He] wanted to become the best husband to [his] wife that [he] could.
"5. [He] wanted to become the most decent, honest, and fair person in [his] everday dealings with other people." (113.)

It's remarkable what trials can do; they can be purify and edify like no other experience. Gonsalves here proves the point.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Book Review: The Faith by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett (2008).

Charles Colson writes: "When I told friends I wanted to write an accessible book that would summarize in about 240 pages the basic truths of Christianity, several though it would be impossible....” (p. 9.)

They were both wrong.

Colson summarizes the basic tenets of the faith in far fewer than 240 pages. Instead, he spends many of these pages talking about other things, including political and other implications of these tenets. Colson explains this emphasis perhaps by his thesis that "Christianity is a worldview." (28).

Unfortunately, in summarizing “the basic truths of Christianity” in well under 240 pages, the book borders on the superficial. The Faith's philosophy of religion sections, “God Is" (origins of life) and "What Went Right, What Went Wrong" (theodicy, etc.), for examples, were the weakest--they either gloss over or ignore chasms of controversy. Better to go to with William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (3d ed.) or Richard Swinburne’s series, including Is There a God?

Nevertheless, the book is highly accessible; its readability is perhaps its best feature. Colson weaves in vignettes to bring the doctrinal material alive, for those who might not otherwise be so inclined.

If Colson's sobering diagnosis is correct--that the Church's "ignorance" of "what we believe--even what Christianity is" "is crippling us" (28), then this book represents at least a small step towards recovery. Other crucial steps, somewhat unaddressed in the book, are questioning and answering why this is the case.

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