Saturday, December 28, 2013

Only One Mommy

by Rena M. Lindevaldsen
2011, 140 pages

How far would you go to protect our children from government-ordered indoctrination? And would you go to jail to protect someone else's children?

There was nothing hypothetical about these questions for Lisa Miller or the pastor she turned to for help. Only One Mommy is her lawyer's account of the seven-year custody battle Miller fought against her former same-sex partner. Miller conceived her daughter Isabella in 2002 via artificial insemination. Two years earlier she entered into a civil union with another woman, which they dissolved in 2004. Miller, now a professing Christian who has renounced homosexuality, tried to block her former partner's court-ordered visits with her daughter. The woman wasn't biologically related, and Miller wanted to protect her daughter from being exposed to her former partner's sinful lifestyle. After seven years Miller lost her court battle, but, instead of complying and giving her child up, she fled the country, and is now thought to be hiding in an Amish community somewhere in Central America with her daughter.

The book was published in 2011, but the story continues. In January 2013 the American Amish pastor who helped her flee, and who refused to tell authorities where she had gone, was sent to jail, then released two months later while his case is under appeal. You can find out more at the pastor's blog

Quite the story, and quite the relevant book – these are questions we need to consider. I pray that we would all go and do likewise.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nothing to Envy

by Barbara Demick
316 pages, 2010

When my wife's book club tackled this title, the bits she read to me were so bizarre I had to read it too. A few examples:

  • The two most famous stores in North Korea are known as Department Store #1 and Department Store #2. It's unclear whether the goods being displayed are actually available for purchase, or whether they are there only for show, to impress foreign visitors.
  • The few visitors permitted in are only allowed to see what the regime wants them to see. They aren't allowed to talk to the citizens, and are generally restricted to the capital city of Pyongyang. But keen observers, like the book's author, can spot what's wrong with the picture. On one visit she watched a troop of soldiers in crisp uniforms approach and lay a wreath at a statue of North Korea's "Eternal President" Kim Il-sung. "When they bowed low as a show of respect, their pants hitched up just enough to reveal that they weren't wearing socks." The country no longer has the means to provide all their soldiers with socks, but does make it a priority to try to impress visitors by putting on these sorts of military displays.
  • The author is a journalist who was trying to get an accurate understanding of North Korea. But because of the country's many restrictions, the only way she could properly assess the country was by interviewing the few who had managed to escape from it. She gave as a gift George Orwell's 1984 to one escapee, who "marveled that George Orwell could have so understood the North Korean brand of totalitarianism."

Journalist Barabara Demick gives us a revealing look at this, the most mysterious country in the world, with biographical accounts of 6 people who used to live there. We all know a bit about North Korea - it is in the news regularly, but even to the most avid article readers among us, this book will be an eye-opener. We get a glimpse at a truly Orwellian world where government is the source of not only material goods, but where it provides life's meaning as well.

While there is nothing graphic – North Korea is a brutal regime, but the author doesn't provide vivid details – the subject matter, and a handful of crudities make this a book best suited for older teens. It is very well written, shocking, and will give readers a better understanding of a people who are in need of prayer.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Psychology As Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship

by Patrick McDonnell
191 pages; 1977, updated 1995

Another review of a book that was already old when I read it, but it could still be a real lifesaver for any Christian student taking psychology in university, especially with the added material on "values clarification" in education, as well as on New Age religion.

Today, seemingly,  the very concept of the self is under attack... but not really. Even when people claim to have no stable identity, redefining gender and relationships as they see fit at any given moment, they still consistently look to their own personal preferences to justify their choices (though they may blame - or credit - society for those preferences). We are living in an age, like that of the judges in the Bible, in which every man does what is right in his own eyes, and elementary students are told that they have to determine their own gender.

This is where the title of Paul Vitz's book comes in. The pop psychology that tells us to rely entirely on our own resources and standards to guide our lives is so unquestioned, and so celebrated in song and story, that it functions as religion. This is largely due to the influence of four theorists that Vitz looks at. Three of them I will mention here. Erich Fromm I have seen featured in a Christian literature anthology, Carl Rogers had a huge role in making counselling the process of simply finding out what you really want in life (right or wrong), and Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is still used in government curricula for career development courses.

Next, Vitz looks at the different forms of self-centered psychology, at the problems in trying to describe selfism as science, and at the philosophical weaknesses of selfism. Despite all selfism's problems, though, it maintains a strong influence on society because it is a major driver for our consumerist economy, directed most strongly at the young, who have so much disposable income. This fits in with a later chapter on selfism and the family, focusing on the isolated individual (which mobile and wireless technology only promote even more) and the selfist willingness to blame parents for our troubles.

If selfism really is religious, then it probably interacts with Christianity in ways that can only lead to religious error. Vitz looks at the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach, the positive thinkers Emerson Fosdick and Norman Vincent Peale, and pietism, as well as tracing the religious background of Carl Rogers. Religious error can only be corrected by religious truth, which is why Vitz gives a Christian critique of selfism, and explains the need for Christians to support efforts to bring Christian influence back into psychology, including the government bureaucracy that supports so much of psychology.

Vitz ends with a look at how Christian understanding will help many who are feeling disillusioned by the vain attempt to determine their own meaning for life. For anyone involved in education, counselling, psychology, sociology, or child-raising, Vitz's book offers a compelling look at both the power of selfism (human nature's default position even without a philosophy to back it up) and the power of Christian insight to show us an infinitely better alternative.  


Saturday, December 7, 2013

9 Great quotes from Trevin Wax's "Clear Winter Nights"

This isn't your typical novel – Clear Winter Nights describes itself as "theology in story" – so the author isn't trying to be subtle about the intent of his book. He is here to teach, and he does so with flourish. Here are ten great quotes:

Don't trust in your strength, because there is such a thing as pride.
Don't despair in your weakness, because there is such a thing as forgiveness.

"Are you saying that you can't be gay and Christian?"
"No, I'm saying you can't be a Christian without repentance."

"He would think I'm attacking him personally. It would be like I'm saying there's something wrong with him."
    "That's just the point. Look at what King Jesus says about sex and you'll quickly realize there's something wrong with all of use. Something wrong that can only be fixed by what Jesus did for us on the cross and in His resurrection."

"There are only two ways to resolve the pressure you're feeling about being a hypocrite. You can do away with the ideal. Stop fighting your sin and abandon your faith. Or you can admit your failures. Strive in the power of the Holy Spirit and look to Jesus. Some people want to resolve hypocrisy by lowering the ideal. But instead, we ought to take the hand of Christ and move higher."

"It doesn't matter how tightly they closed her coffin. They encased it in bronze, locked it up tight and dumped six feet of dirt on top of it. But it doesn't matter. The casket will be no match for the power of the resurrection on the Last Day. Those locks will be undone. The decomposition of her old body will be reversed.... It may be winter, but spring is coming."

"The minute you think your faith is better than someone else's, you start down the path of having a superior attitude. What if we said no religion is superior? What if we said all religions are on equal footing? That would keep people from having an attitude of superiority."
    "You don't lose the attitude of superiority by saying no religion is superior. You get even more reason to feel superior. Now you're standing over against all the religions of the world, saying none is better than another. Don't you find it a wee bit prejudiced to say that we're the only ones who've figured out all religions are the same? All the while there are poor, mindless Christians or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus across the world still groping around in the dark. Poor souls. They think their religions are better."

"No Christian who truly understands grace can feel superior to anyone else. Grace shatters any sense of superiority."

"Truth is not a formula... Truth is a Person."

Chris took a deep breath and nodded. "Sounds like you got ahold of grace."
"No," Gil said, taking off his glasses and wiping his eyes. "Grace got ahold of me."