As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a film buff. I therefore was pleased when Dr. Peter Dans, a friend of mine and commenter on the blog, brought to my attention his book Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. Peter is a medical doctor and a former professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins. Go here to learn about his professional activities. He is also a faithful Catholic, a skilled writer and an all around good guy. However, I am here to review the book and not to review the author!
Published in 2011 by Sheed & Ward, the book is a fairly comprehensive look at how film has portrayed Christians and Christianity from 1905-2008. The book proceeds chronologically with chapters devoted to films of the silent era, films of the forties, etc. The chapters open with a general overview of the film period being discussed and then a look at selected films. The films are not limited to those self-consciously religious, but also those in which religion is a major plot element. Thus the Oscar winning film Sergeant York (1941) is included because of its examination of the religious conflict that World War I hero Alvin C. York had to resolve before he could in good conscious fight for his country. Dr. Dans also looks at the impact of the films examined, for example in regard to Sergeant York he mentions that the film was denounced by the isolationist Senator Nye as propaganda to get America into World War II. Some of the facts that the author discusses were news to me. For example I have watched the film Song of Bernadette (1943) about Bernadette Soubirous and Lourdes but I was unaware that it was based on a book written by Franz Werfel, a Jew, who made a vow to write a book about Bernadette when he and wife were hidden from the Gestapo by nuns and families at Lourdes. In regard to Going My Way, 1944, Dr. Dans reveals that Pope Pius XII was so taken by the film that he granted a private audience to Bing Cosby and credited the film with helping to spur priestly vocations. I like it when a book gives me information that I was unaware of, and this book accomplished that task.
The book is not limited to films that have become well known. For example there is a section devoted to one of my favorite westerns, Stars in My Crown, 1950, in which Joel McCrea portrays a Union veteran who becomes a Protestant minister and his travails as he brings religion to a town and fights the Ku Klux Klan.
Another damned thick book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?
Prince William upon being presented by Gibbon with a copy of a volume in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
My co-blogger Darwin Catholic has an intriguing post on the subject of books that a reader is supposed to like but didn’t. Go here to read his post. My response:
Piers the Plowman-Never have been able to make my way through that boring field.
Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories-I attempted to read them when young but got stuck in A Study in Scarlet. The odd thing is that I love Holmes as a character in film and in books written by other authors which feature Holmes.
Stranger in a Strange Land-I have read everything Heinlein wrote and I was saddened to read the story that began his “dirty old pervert” phase.
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants-I made it through all three volumes on the third attempt. Freeman’s erudition is vast and his scholarship impeccable, but he managed a near impossible feat: he made the Civil War seem dull to me. Continue reading
Can you answer the Teaser Questions at the end?
When I asked my political science and history buff, numerical mechanics expert, Special Ops retired military officer husband to recommend his favorite author so I could read it, it was a wifely effort to show love, to get to know him better. He answered, “Tom Clancy,” and handed me Debt of Honor and Executive Orders, an overwhelming 2,500 page paperback brick stack. My eyes bugged out.
But hey, I’m committed, so I read Tom Clancy’s masterpiece tale, and my hesitation turned into enthusiasm. The technical world of national warfare, really the pitting of good and bad individual leaders against each other, was fascinating and caused me to rethink the meaning of pacifism. Through the characters, I developed an appreciation for the courage and humility required of good leaders. Tom Clancy is a master at teaching through storytelling because his novels are exhaustively researched, reality-based fiction. The two-part story (only part of a bigger series) centers around a terrorist attack in which a hijacked Boeing 747 is flown directly into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress, decapitating the government. It is interesting to note that the books were published four and six years before September 11, 2001. Many people wondered about the prophetic nature of the book because it turned out to be more real than anyone anticipated. Tom Clancy understands the mentality of his characters, deeply.
Reading Val Bianco’s novel, Sons of Cain, was kind of like that, except Mr. Bianco brings a spiritual fullness to his work that makes it eternally pertinent. It is not nearly as tedious as working through a Clancy military novel, but the progression of the story ushers the reader into a life-changing experience, beckoning a more thoughtful dive into current world events and what goes on the minds of those who cause them. It makes spiritual warfare tangible and present, yet with an inspiring catechetical quality. I no longer wonder how to think of angels and demons, and I can almost see the “spiritual space” in the battle of good and evil when I consider how and why certain events happen the way they do. Are there large and terrible demons with their claws dug deeply in the heads and abdomens of men, preying on their minds and souls, coercing them to malice and perceived power, even as it makes them feel sick? Think about it! Continue reading
There is little question that the Catholic Church believes in the reality of the spiritual realm — St. Paul in Ephesians speaks of “our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” But it is a realm inhabited by angels, demons, and of course, Satan himself. (And, if you’re an enlightened “post-Vatican II” Catholic like Fr. Richard McBrien, you can scoff at the very mention of the latter).
As far as ghosts are concerned, the prevailing tendency among Catholics is to look askance at the concept of “lost souls”, trapped in this life and waiting to cross over. There is scarce mention of “ghosts” in the Catechism and judging by the absence of clear, definitive teaching — the Church has refrained from adopting a firm position on their existence.
According to Gary Jansen, a contemporary Catholic from Rockville Centre, Long Island, ghosts simply didn’t exist. For him, “heaven, hell, angels were basic tenents of my Catholic faith, but never basic tenents of my life. . . . these topics were never discused during my twelve years of attending parochial school.” While his devout Catholic mother would mention strange occurrences, he prided himself on his rationality.
Until, that is, when he had an unsettling encounter in his son’s bedroom in 2007. Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not-So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night is an account of one Catholic’s real-life haunting: Continue reading
Thomas Sowell has a new book about intellectuals that looks very interesting. The National Review has a review:
Sowell writes that it “was part of a long-standing assumption among many intellectuals . . . that it is the role of third parties to bring meaning into the lives of the masses.” Many people were shocked when in early 2008 Michelle Obama proclaimed, “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. . . . That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.” Sowell probably just shook his head in knowing disgust.
A guest post by Paul Zummo, originally posted at his blog, The Cranky Conservative.
It’s probably not a good idea generally to buy a book out of spite, but in some ways that is precisely what I did when I picked up Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. We had had a meeting at work, and several of my co-workers were amusing themselves with some anti-Palin jibes. So at lunch time I decided to take a stroll to the local book store and pick up Palin’s book, prompting the “Oh, Sarah Palin” observation from the clerk, who must be wondering why anyone in the middle of enlightened Dupont Circle would be interested in the right-wing Neanderthal. And I have to admit that I also delayed reading the book until after I got home from Thanksgiving vacation so that I could proudly read the book on the Metro.
Michael McConnell, a Law Professor at Stanford, offers this in a First Things review of Philip Hamburger’s new book titled Law and Judicial Duty:
Hamburger traces the development of modern conceptions of the law to the realization, in Europe and especially Britain, that human reason rarely provided clear answers to moral questions and therefore that an attempt to ground law in divine will, or a search for abstract reason and justice, would inevitably lead to discord. As a result, “Europeans increasingly located the obligation of law in the authority of the lawmaker rather than the reason or justice of his laws.” The task of judges, then, was not to seek after elusive notions of justice and right reason but to enforce the law of the land. Natural law shifted in emphasis from moral content to legitimacy and authority, and increasingly to an understanding of authority based on the will of the people.
This seems to me a profound explanation of how and why we understand law today the way we do. It simultaneously shows you what is wrong with the modern conception of the law and what is right.
Valkyrie, The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by its Last Member is a fascinating book, though not primarily for reading about the Valkyrie plot itself. Other books have been written specifically about the plot, and I would imagine that from some of them you could find far more details about the plot itself. This book, a narrative of Philipp von Boeselager’s wartime experiences as he told them to Florence Fehrenbach (herself the granddaughter of another of the Valkyrie conspirators) a year before his von Boeselager’s death in 2008, is in many ways too close and personal a story to give the reader the most detailed possible understanding of the plot as a whole. So long as the reader understands this, Valkyrie is a fascinating window on the experiences of an honorable young man caught up in the Third Reich.
The son of an old Catholic family of minor nobility with a tradition of military service, Philipp credits his resistance to Nazi ideology in part to his school headmaster, Fr. Rodewyck, who had served as a German officer in the Great War before going into the Jesuits, and whom von Boeselager credits with having taught his young charges a German patriotism which was rooted in Christianity.
My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome’s early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.
It may seem like overkill to write a multi-part book review, but historian Thomas F. Madden’s new Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World explores a thesis I’ve been interested in for some time, which has significant implications for our country’s foreign policy and the wider question of what our country is and what its place in the world ought to be.
The US has been often accused, of late, of being an empire. Madden effectively accepts that this is the case, but argues that this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Among his first projects is to lay out three different types of empire: empires of conquest, empires of commerce, and empires of trust.
An empire of conquest is one spread by military power, in which the conquering power rules over and extracts tribute from the conquered. Classic examples would include the empires of the Assyrians, Persians, Mongols, Turks, Alexander’s Hellenistic empire, Napoleon’s empire and to an extent the Third Reich, Imperial Japan and Soviet Union. Empires of conquest are spread by war, and conquered territory is ruled either by local puppet rulers or by a transplanted military elite from the conquering power.
An empire of commerce is interested only in securing enough of a political foothold in its dominions to carry on trade, and is less concerned over political control or tribute. Examples would include the British and Dutch empires; in the ancient world the Pheonicians and Athenians; and later, medieval Venice. Empires of conquest are typified by a network of far-flung colonies directly controlled by the home country, at locations which are strategic for exploiting natural resources or trading with regional powers. They are less focused on conquering large swathes of territority than with controlling enough of a foothold (and enforcing enough stability in the surrounding area) to carry on their commerce.
The book, however, is primarily concerned with a third type of empire, the empire of trust, of which Madden gives only two examples: Rome and the United States. The term “empire of trust” itself requires some unpacking.