Jul 26


Puyallup-A Pioneer Paradise, by Lori Price and Ruth Anderson ★★★★
Now that I have lived in Puyallup for over 25 years, I decided that it would be nice to read a history of our town. This book became available at the local Costco, and at a most reasonable price. The book is organized mostly in a chronological fashion, starting from the early 1800’s and going up to the end of the 20th century. The focus is nearly entirely aimed at the central town itself, and the settlers who built the town. Many details are missing, which I presume are facts which might never be known. The book does provide brief sketches explaining why Puyallup was built the way it is.
My greatest complaint with the book is its brevity. The authors will use flowery language to explain town struggles during the war years and hardship times, such as with the hops aphid crisis. Reading past the flowery language, one wonders about the true nature of the settlers of the Puyallup valley. My second gripe relates to the focus entirely on Puyallup. In a way, it is good that Price and Anderson held to their stated topic, so, I can’t complain. Yet, Puyallup was developed in a much larger context. An explanation of the development of Sumner, Orting, Eatonville, and the (now ghost) towns that dot the banks of the Carbon River and Puyallup River are all of intense interest to me, and provide a greater understanding of the town of Puyallup. What about the Indian wars, and other relations with the Indians. Satulik? Other famous Indians of the area? Where were they? What about the railroads? Puyallup and the surrounding towns were bustling railroad towns, and how where they developed? Even details such as when the Puyallup River was given a straight course are left out.
The book is a fascinating read, and I was delighted in reading about my town history. It has piqued interest in further exploration of the Puyallup valley and its history.

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Jul 01


The Qur’an, by Muhammed
I’ve been quite curious about the contents of the Qur’an since it is so often quoted today in issues regarding to dealings with the Muslims. There are many that quote the Qur’an as a book of violence, though I’ve wondered whether those oft-quoted passages were taken out of context and thus mis-interpreted. The only way to give the Qur’an a fair chance would be to read the book through and through, cover to cover, and let the book speak for itself.
Any criticisms that I might have of the Qur’an are not intended to be criticisms of Muslims. I have many friends that are Muslim, and even a few relatives that are Muslim, and find them to be good people. I would never intend to use my comments on the Qur’an to reflect either good or ill of those people. This is solely a book review and not a person review.
The Qur’an is organized into a total of 114 suras, or chapters, and seem to be organized from the longer to the shorter suras, though not in precise order. Each sura has a title given to it, usually taken from a word or phrase found within the sura. The title is a very poor indication as to the prevailing topic within that sura. The suras are all independent, and none of them connect with others, either preceding or following. To discuss the book, it would be easiest to discuss the prevailing themes of the book rather than individual suras.The particular translation of the Qur’an that I read is by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, whom I presume is a devout Muslim as well as a scholar in both the English and Arabic language, and thus competent at the task. This particular translation has very few bad reviews, and mostly excellent reviews on amazon.com where I purchased the book, and thus seems to legitimately reflect the real contents of the Qur’an as found in Arabic.
Style of writing in the Qur’an
Amazon describes the Qur’an as the greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic. The Qur’an was written by only one person in one language, and has only one persistent stylistic form. It is a polemic against the heathen. There is no poetry. There is no prose. There are no systematic discussions. There are historical reiterations of Old Testament themes, mostly from the books of Moses, but they are told in a rambling fashion, providing no historical details as might be found in the Old Testament. Mohammed occasionally refers to contemporary history, but he does not elaborate that history, so that the translator must provide footnotes to explain the situation. Thus, the Qur’an is not a work complete in itself. No sura more than several paragraphs long has a consistent theme, but is a compilation of a flow of ideas. The repetition is intense, as sura after sura seems to say close to the same thing. There is no development of ideas, as might be found in Psalm 119, Ecclesiastes or Romans. Mohammed seems to have been forgetful of what he just wrote, but perhaps he was simply repeating himself to drive home a point. There are frequent inconsistencies in the Qur’an, and though those inconsistencies could be viewed as simple interpretative challenges, for the casual reader, it is often difficult to identify exactly what Mohammed was saying. The entire book is more a rant against anybody opposed to Mohammed, than a thoughtful development and argument for the Muslim faith. There is no delight in serving God reflected in the Qur’an as might be found in the Psalms and other passages of the Christian Bible.  As a literary work, the Qur’an does not excel.
What is right about the Qur’an?
There is much right in the Qur’an which orthodox Christians and Jews would agree with. Certainly the word “islam” means “submitted to God” and thus “Muslim” as “one submitted to God”. Christians could all agree that our primary function in life is submission to God. Thus, we would be correct in calling ourselves as Muslims, save that the word now has a very specific connotation. The Qur’an often mentions allah as all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, able to create by his word, and is a moral being. This is consistent with Judeo-Christian belief regarding the nature of God. The Qur’an encourages believers to live in a specified manner, maintaining honesty, being charitable to the poor and orphans, and acting with care toward fellow believer. This is consistent. There is a strong distinction between the believer and unbeliever, the faithful and unfaithful, which is also consistent with Judeo-Christian beliefs.
The consequences of unfaithfulness and immoral behavior will eventually need to held in account, as this life is the only beginning of a life after death, and judgement awaits all people, some destined to the fires of hell, and others to the bliss of paradise. This also is found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
Prevailing themes and pertinent thoughts

  1. Paradise and hell
    Many often poke fun at Christianity as a fire and brimstone religion, a religion that focuses on nothing but going to heaven or burning in the fires of hell. Yet, many of those same people will offer sympathies for the Muslim religion. It must be assumed that they have never read the Qur’an, since the topic of paradise (heaven) and hell (the fires) are mentioned in nearly every one of the suras, and often to excessive length in the suras. There is far more about the final judgement and afterlife in the Qur’an than in the Scriptures. From the reader’s perspective, the Qur’an is overly excessive in its mention of hell fire. Muhammed’s mind might have been a little hot in the desert.
  2. The present life on earth
    The Qur’an has a very dim view of life on earth. It is a sub-life, a temporary period of trial for the eventual welcome into paradise. Current life is pictured as a lesser existence, and that our presence here is for testing only. This is contrast to the Judeo-Christian view of life as a good and complete, though fallen existence. Life may be hard and oftentimes seemingly meaningless, but the emphasis is the God created us to enjoy His creation, and gave us good things to help us accomplish that end. Our first duty is to praise God with a joyful heart, something not seen in the context of the Muslim faith.
  3. The believer vs unbeliever
    Similar to all faiths, great contrast is drawn between the believer and unbeliever. The Qur’an suggests a somewhat unique approach for the believer to the unbeliever. The descriptions of the relationship of believers to unbelievers in complex and difficult to sort out. Friendship with unbelievers is highly discouraged, as it could lead to loss of faith. Migration to an unbelieving country is strongly discouraged as is betrays trust in allah. Whenever the Qur’an encourages friendship with others, it specifically refers to friendship with other “believers”, i.e., friendship with other Muslims. There is never a call to charity or help to the unbeliever. Muslims have frequently been very friendly to me, and I can only assume that that friendship is in defiance of the Qur’an.
  4. God
    The Islam view of God is drastically different from the Christian view of God. Mohammed is very careful to emphasize that god never begat a son, and that the concept of Jesus as God is a polytheism or perversion. Thus, he fails to understand the Christian notion of the Trinity, as no Christian would consider the Trinity as a trio of three gods. Mohammed fails to understand that this nature of God defies human explanation or understanding. To fail to comprehend a complex issue does not make it false; it simply means that the complexity of God is only fitting for a “real” god. The Muslim god is a non-complex god. God is all-powerful, but he never escapes having a human-like character in the Qur’an. His size and power ultimately defines his holiness and goodness, and thus are the only things that differentiate allah from man. Allah is gracious and merciful, yet it is a mercy of a human type. Allah would never die to save his enemy, which is exactly what the Christian God did. The pronoun for allah is frequently pleural in the Qur’an (we, us) yet there is no explanation as to why the pleural is used, especially since the Muslim doctrine adamantly states that allah is “one”. The Muslim approach to god seems much different than found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, especially referring to the Psalms. There is no reflection on the joy of being under God’s protection. There is no joy reflected in the worship of God. In the Muslim Scriptures, allah calls the believer to prayer at certain times, and those calls must be slavishly obeyed. Allah is definitely a different “god” from Jehovah.
  5. Battle against the unbelievers
    Much ado is made about the Qur’an call for Jihad, or battle against the unbeliever. I frequently see quotes from the Qur’an calling for the death of infidels and those outside the Muslim faith. In fairness, there are occasional passages, but also passages warning against taking undo violence to those outside the faith. Certainly, terrorism is NEVER called for within the Qur’an, and one could assume that terrorists are acting outside of the stipulations of their own Scripture.
  6. Reiteration of Old Testament Stories
    There are many Old Testament stories re-told in the Qur’an, including that of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Jonah, and others. The New Testament is occasionally quoted, though the NT stories are not told. The stories as told in the Qur’an are always different from the OT stories, and often different enough as to be impossible to be simultaneously true with the OT account. This would mean that the differences could not simply be accounted for as differing points of view. Which calls into question as to which account is the correct on (assuming that at least one account reflects a true event that actually happened). This issue leads to a deeper problem for Muslims, in that it is known that the Qur’an in its infancy had many forms. How will the Muslim know that his “Scriptures” are really accurate? He can’t know, assuming that even carefully protected text of the Old Testament “failed” to survive and needed “correction” and reinterpretation by Muhammed.
  7. Statements against the Jewish and Christian faith
    While I’d like to assume that the Qur’an has a neutral stance regarding the Judeo-Christian faith, I fear that it is not neutral. There are many condemnations regarding Christian belief. I mentioned above the Old Testament stories. Considering how carefully the OT was transcribed from century to century, it is unlikely that significant textual degeneration occurred in the OT. Muhammed is very confused as to the doctrine of the Trinity, and completely fuddles up the notion of God having a wife and a son (Jesus). The Qur’an issues frequent proclamations that believers in the Trinity will be going to hell. There are no subtleties or hidden suggestions here; it is very overt. In essence, either the Judeo-Christian Bible or the Qur’an is true, but not both.
  8. Women
    Outside of the OT stories in the Qur’an, the Qur’an has no stories, and thus women are mentioned only as a societal element. It is clear that the women of Muhammed are lesser people. One could argue that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures also hold women in a lesser state than men, yet to say so confuses status with hierarchical authority. In the Qur’an, I do not see women elevated to a status of worth equivalent to men. In terms of relations, Muhammed does protect women in the area of divorce by making sure that they are provided for, but never calls to question the issue of divorce itself, and does not give grounds for or against divorce. Thus, the Qur’an pictures women as important but of less value than men.
  9. What the Qur’an doesn’t mention
    I’ve read through the Qur’an only once, and have no intention of reading it through again. I was specifically looking for certain things that are often are associated with the Muslim faith, but that I did not find in the Qur’an. I can think of a few examples. A) Full Burquas are not called for. Women are instructed to dress modestly, but no where does it call for the covering of everything including the eyes. B) 70 virgins are not promised in paradise. Generally, only one maiden is assured of the faithful men. C) Terrorism is prohibited and not condoned by the Qur’an. It is mentioned that to slay another Muslim means condemnation to the fires of hell, yet terrorist self-sacrifice is doing exactly that. Terrorism is never mentioned as a means of absolving all prior sins and gaining favor with allah. D) The touching of pigs is not prohibited but just the eating of pigs, and even then, if pig is eaten out of the desperation for survival, it is promised that allah would be understanding and merciful. E) Strong intoxicating drink is prohibited, but alcohol specifically is not prohibited. F) The mandatory use of only Arabic in the legitimate reading of the Qur’an is hinted at but never explicitly mentioned. G) The call to prayer is not specifically mentioned, and call to prayer five times a day not mentioned. In all, this suggests that much Muslim practice and beliefs are not based strictly on the Qur’an. I realize that Muslims have other writings that they rely on, but how they view those writings in relation with the Qur’an is uncertain to me.

Summary
The dear reader of this review might argue that I inappropriately read the Qur’an with a Christian bias. That is totally correct. The Qur’an makes truth claims, and it is the responsibility of the writer  (Muhammed) to add legitimacy to those truth claims. In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, truth claims were also accompanied by miracles to substantiate the truth of the prophet. Muhammed is very quick and repetitive in defending the absence of miracles in his time on earth, yet he offers no other valid reason for accepting his truth claims. I have no reason to believe Mohammed over any other person claiming to offer prophecy and truth claims that supplement the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Mormons are a perfect example, and I would be very interested in seeing how a follower of Mohammed might challenge the claims of Joseph Smith, save that Joseph Smith was a polytheist, and thus “clearly” wrong. The Qur’an is not a supplement to the Christian or Jewish faith, but in direct opposition to it. Because it would be inappropriate in this book review, I did not elaborate on the differences in doctrines of the Muslim and Judeo-Christian faith. The most notable difference is that the Qur’an repeatedly calls allah merciful, yet that mercy must be earned. In Judeo-Christian doctrine (which I think is adequately maintained throughout the entirety of the Old and New Testaments), mercy is not something to be earned but is granted to undeserving sinners. Thus, the real meaning of grace in Judeo-Christian thinking is never found in the Qur’an.
There is a high amount of concurrence between Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinking, including the belief in only one God, a belief that God is a moral God, and a belief in an ultimate judgement. Many of the ethical statements are in accord. So, what do we make of the Muslim faith? Historically, the Muslim faith is an offshoot of Christianity. Like so many of the Judeo-Christian heresies, from gnosticism to Arianism to present day Mormonism, Muhammedism is sufficiently deviant from the Judeo-Christian faith both in its description of God and it’s belief system as to warrant the term “heresy”. It remains a heresy of the Judeo-Christian faith since retains much of the skeleton of its original Christian origin.
I am left in great confusion as to the behavior of Muslims based on the Qur’an. They claim to be “people of the book”, yet much of their practice is completely outside of what is mentioned in the Qur’an. My reading of the Qur’an does not draw the illustration of the present day Muslim. Perhaps they might be better known as “people of an Arabic tradition”. I am also confused as to why they don’t stand up against their fellow Muslims that choose to engage in terrorism, being that the Qur’an forbids terrorism. Muslims seem to not really believe their own Scriptures.
I am glad to have read the Qur’an in its entirety, and perhaps multiple readings might soften (or perhaps harden) my position. The question still remains… what is true? Is it the Qur’an? The Bible? Neither? If either the Bible or the Qur’an are true, then there is an eternity of implications for that. It behooves the reader to make than decision.

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May 13


Pacific Crest Trials: A psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, by Zach Davis and Carly Moree★★★
Zach Davis wrote this book as a parallel to a similar book he wrote soon after completing the Appalachian Trail, called Appalachian Trials. Zach seems to admit that at the time of the writing of this book, he had not yet hiked the PCT, though his co-author and friend Carly Moree has done both the AT and PCT. Sections of this book are now written by Carly. This book focuses on the mind games that play on the hiker leading to an unsuccessful attempt to complete the entire trail. The book emphasizes appropriate mental preparation for the hike, discusses how one can avoid the temptation to bale out and return to the comforts of house and home, but also includes the mental problems that are common among those who complete the hike. Advice is good, in that it helps to know what sort of mental issues are going to be at issue. His solutions are often in need of great personal modification. To mentally prepare, he encourages hikers to truly examine why they are wanting to hike the trail, what they expect to get out of it, and what will be the consequences of failure. There are several addenda to the book, one written by Carly Moree on the differences in the PCT and AT and how one would adapt to those difference. Then, a fairly experienced and multiply accomplished thru hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas wrote a chapter on gear.
I appreciated the author discussing something that is usually not addressed in planning a long thru-hike, that of the mental issues of enduring the trail. Most people focus on gear, resupply, planning, and other matters, and this book conveniently informs one of the mental anguish that will occur, allowing the hiker to be prepared for these issues. The main author also runs a website, which is quite informative in preparing for the PCT. It might have been nice if he had at least once done the PCT, and one could tell that much material seemed to be cut-and-pasted from the Appalachian Trials book, in that it continues to reference the AT.
 

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May 07


Bad Science, Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre ★★★★
This book was recommended to me by Dr. Tate, and is an enjoyable read. It is not about science, per se, but about research and science in health care. It is a book that I wish most people (who choose to be opinionated about health care problems) would read. The slightly less than excellent rating is not because it was a mediocre book, but for reasons to be explained below. The book is good because he hits at many of the issues that is encountered by popular medicine, whether it be conventional or alternative. So many people are deeply opinionated in things they know little about, and health care ranks at the top of the list. The book has 12 chapters, which I’ll briefly review.
Chapter 1, Matter, is an attack on a potpourri of crazy alternative health options, focusing on detoxification methods. Sadly, these treatments suggest that they are based on “science”, though worthwhile studies are virtually non-existent. Chapter 2, Brain Gym, attacks a ritual that I guess is quite popular in the British school system, but was exported from the US. In it, students go through a number of silly rituals to improve their “brain power”. Such a concept needs minimal argument as the method is so ad hoc and untested. Chapter 3 Homeopathy, is explored in a bit more depth. Goldacre’s biggest rant is against the extremely shoddy nature of their studies, as he begins to explore with the reader what it takes to engage in a legitimate clinical study. As a side comment, these were issues that were even of serious concern to the bench scientist. He spends some time introducing the issue of the Cochrane collaboration, and organization of scientist/statisticians which will take a given topic, research as many studies as possible that addressed the given topic, combine the studies through fancy statistical analysis, and then come to a conclusion. Chapter 4 is about the placebo effect, clarifying in many ways the power of a placebo. Chapter 5, titled The nonsense du jour, explores more about issues of bad science, how studies are poorly controlled, etc., but then focuses on nutritional studies and and anti-oxidants. Chapter 7, Nutritionists, develops an all out attack on people making ridiculous food claims, which are most plentiful. Chapter 8, The doctor will sue you now, goes into a personal story of Dr. Goldacre being sued by Dr. Matthias Rath for libel regarding Rath’s claims for the benefit of high dose vitamins, but lacking any substantial research to support that claim. Of course, the claim is so typical, that physicians and Bid Medicine are in collusion against alternative treatments, yet alternative treatment practitioners do not repel those claims by offering a legitimate scientific study. Which leads to chapter 9, Is mainstream medicine evil? Here, Goldacre takes a hard look at big Pharma, and instances where they have twisted or concealed data. The example used was of Vioxx, whose problem would never had been found if sloppy science was being used. But, Goldacre makes a claim that big Pharma has gone wrong in the past, and how pressures on the pharmaceutical industry will continue to manifest serious problems. In this chapter, I think that Goldacre was a little too kind to big Pharma. Yet, he also published an entire book attacking Big Pharma, so, perhaps he is leaving much to another book. Chapter 10, Why clever people believe stupid things, summarizes why very intelligent people, including those who have had scientific training, can be so wrong with healthcare studies. Not understanding randomization and statistics, preformed bias, drawing conclusions after the fact of the study all lead to wrong conclusions. This is probably the best chapter in the book. Chapter 11, Bad Stats, hits even harder on how study design, randomization, abuse of data, lack of critical thinking, etc., has led to so many false conclusions, and even major lawsuits, where the uncritical mind (especially lawyers) can draw conclusions from data that just isn’t there. Chapter 12, The MMR hoax, is a rant about the bad science used to suggest that the MMR vaccine is bad for you, causes autism, etc., etc.. His case is strong. I’m glad he didn’t attack the fight against the flu vaccine, whose science is pathetic. So, the book is good about detailing how bad science, bad statistics, and bad thinking can lead so many people (including very bright people, scientists, doctors) to wrong conclusions regarding issues related to health.
So, what did I not like about the book? I felt that Goldacre was completely lacking in humility, and his assumption that science can avoid issues of investigator bias are wrong. His assumption that with “good” science, all truth will be fore coming is fitting of a positivist mindset, which has been otherwise been thoroughly destroyed as a philosophic construct. Science depends on paradigms which so often are just plain wrong. It’s been shown that predictably, paradigms will change every 20-40 years, whether it be in health care, or in the hard sciences. He remains hyper-critical about everybody but himself. This is the greatest failure of this book, and Ben could use a dose of humility.

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Oct 24

seekingallah
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi ★★★★
This is an autobiography of the conversion of Nabeel Qureshi from a devout Muslim faith to Christianity. Nabeel was born in the USA, but grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family belonging to a sect called the Ahmadi. Living in Virginia, he was challenged in his faith by a close Christian friend David Wood. David and Nabeel met in high school, and continued on together in college, until Nabeel eventually applied to and was accepted into medical school. Through a number of years and Nabeel seeking inconsistencies in his faith, he finally had a series of dreams which led him to become a Christian. The book is written in multiple very short chapters, and so is somewhat spasmodic or convulsive  in the way it is read. There is a lengthy appendage to the book. I appreciated this book as a means of describing the challenges of bringing a Muslim person to faith in Christ. Nabeel has written several other books, one on Jihad and another on the distinctives of Muslim versus Christian theology.
Because Nabeel grew up in the USA and to a small sect of the Muslim faith, he is somewhat lacking in seeing the result of a large community of regular Sunni or Shiite Muslims. I am not challenging Nabeel of deficits in knowledge of the Muslim faith, but note that having lived for a while in two Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Extrem Nord Cameroon), my picture of the Muslim faith in those countries (as can be found in most Muslim countries) is less romantic than his views. The people appear bound by an ugly task-master of an intolerant god, with joyless worship of this uncaring and merciless otherworld being. Nabeel shows a kinder, gentler Muslim faith more closely related to its Christian roots, explaining why it is dangerous to categorize all Muslims as dangerous jihadists. Note that I view the Muslim faith as a Christian heresy (which it is!). This kinder, gentler subset of Muslims probably represents a small minority of Muslims just as most “Christians” are Christian in name only. The only problem is in being able to sort out one from the other.
Qureshi shows the reader the formidable challenge of witnessing to the Muslim. The most important aspect is not in having an encyclopedic knowledge of Muslim faith and doctrine, but in simply being able to share clearly the Christian faith, including the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity, the formation of the canon of Scripture, etc., and to know why these doctrines are important.
Qureshi continues to write. He has appended this book to fill in 10 years of time since he first became a Christian. He frankly discusses the problems of his family rejecting him for his faith. He discusses finishing medical school, but deciding upon going into the ministry instead, and now works with Ravi Zacharias. Only recently in the news is it known that Nabeel has an advanced gastric cancer and probably will not live too much longer. It will be sad to see the loss of such an interesting person.

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Jul 07

MetaxasKeepIT
If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, by Eric Metaxas ★★★
I ordered this book on-line in February from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail in late June. I’ve read another book by Metaxas which intrigued me, leading to me to order this book. I found out about the book on Facebook, coming from Metaxas’ blog site. I typically appreciate how Metaxas writes, and so felt that I would enjoy reading this book. I’ve met and chatted with Metaxas, I find him to be most likable, and would love to engage in more conversation with him. He is bright, and mostly right-on. The other book by Metaxas that I’ve read was “Bonhoeffer”, a stimulating read, though a book for which I felt Metaxas would frequently draw erroneous conclusions, such as to state that Bonhoeffer was a martyr, which he most certainly was not. That discussion might be found in my review of that text. But, let’s get on with “If You Can Keep It”.
The book is seven chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. I’ll comment on the chapters after I briefly summarize them. The introduction presents the topic, titled by a phrase uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the constitutional convention. When asked whether we would be a republic or a monarchy, Franklin noted that we would be a republic, if we could keep it. Focused on that phrase, Metaxas seeks to restore through the book the zeal to keep this republic founded roughly 230 years ago. Chapter 1 begins the argument by noting that a republic can function only in the environment of moral people. Government cannot make us moral, and each citizen must hold the responsibility for personal morality. Chapter 2 introduces a concept borrowed by Os Guinness called the golden triangle. Specifically, the triangle is that freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith, and faith requires freedom. Chapter 3 was simply a summary of the ministry of George Whitfield in America, leading to a spiritual revival. Chapter 4 notes how civilizations will have historical heroes that are venerated. He discusses the American heroes that are too commonly forgotten, such as Nathanial Hale, and the founding fathers, including Paul Revere. Chapter 5 builds heavily on the importance of moral leaders, contrasting the immorality of such leaders as Bill Clinton to that of Cinncinaticus, George Washington or William Wilberforce. Chapter 6 explores further the idea of American exceptionalism, and why it is important in thinking about our country. Chapter 7 is a plea that one must love their country (America) in spite of its faults. The epilogue recalls the sentimental experience of Metaxas seeing the statue of liberty in the New York harbor soon after the 9/11 tragedy.
What is the problem with this book? Several…

  1. Metaxas doesn’t express deep insights into the real nature of America, and with what has gone wrong. Perhaps the seeds of destruction were sown at the writing of the constitution itself? Perhaps America’s “exceptionalism” has been not the virtue of its wonderful constitution but its transitory moments where many Americans actually had a true faith in the God of Christianity? Perhaps many of the symbols that evoke sentimental emotions with Metaxas are false symbols, such as the statue of liberty, which is about as pagan as you can get. Not that I dislike Lady Liberty, but I acknowledge that the Christian faith has a seriously different concept of the entire notion of liberty and freedom than pagan or humanistic sources provide for. Metaxas almost hints on that in the book, but fails to follow through, lapsing back into a “God, mother and apple pie” notion of America.
  2. Metaxas confuses general morality with a Christian morality. He spends much time talking about the importance of American’s being moral, but fails to explain why any morality not grounded in Scripture is really a false morality. In essence, morality essentially becomes what the state deems to be good and right. If tolerance becomes the greatest virtue, so be it, because the state has declared it to be so.
  3. Public heroes are nice and important, but only in the light of how they lived consistent with Christian beliefs. I can hold Latimer and Ridley as far greater heroes, dying for far greater principles, than that of Nathanial Hale, or those that perished in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Heroes now tend to be sentimental figures that do not inform the public into taking a costly moral stance. Metaxas completely confuses this in his book on Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, which might be noble, but certainly true heroes like David from Scripture had better restraint when an opportunity to assassinate evil Saul presented itself.
  4. The golden triangle, with deepest respect to Os Guinness, seems to be nonsense. There are no specific definitions of virtue (whose morality?) or faith (in what?) or freedom (from what or for what?). Faith in the Christian sense does NOT require freedom, but affords a much greater freedom than is offered by the constitution or any other man-created document or system of government.

Metaxas labors long about the importance of love for country, being sure to dismiss the “my country right or wrong” notion. He argues that you can love a country while hating the sins of that country. But, one’s love for country is far more complex than just “loving” America. Is he talking about America as a system of government? Do we idolize the good but seriously flawed constitution, the “living” document that now controls our country? Do we love it for its extreme secularism, that refuses to take a stance as a Christian nation, and supporting equally Islam, Buddhism, and even Satanism as legitimate religions of the land?  Metaxas doesn’t mention that our only real citizenship is a heavenly citizenship, and on earth we are strangers and pilgrims. It’s not that we are solely citizens of an other-worldly realm, but that we have dual citizenships, and must reconcile how to deal with that, being both members of planet earth and asked to care for the earth, yet members of a heavenly kingdom. Some have responded by claiming that the US system is too far gone, and moved to a country which tended for stronger Christian sympathies. Others have moved on to more oppressive nations, though with the thought that they are subject to a King that is not the prince of this world. Others, like myself, stay, realizing that this is my Heimat, my homeland, that I can have an influence for good in the community in which I live. I do not find America to be exceptional, but like the prophet Jeremiah, spend my time weeping that my nation could have made better decisions but have gone the way of inevitable judgment of a most serious nature.
I see our government as far more corrupt than meets the eye. I see the constitutional structure as fatally flawed in that it is primarily a secular humanist document, and we are now reaping the consequences of that structure. I see the loss of a public Christian morality as the essential loss of anything that once was good about our country. I don’t view ourselves as having a representative government, or that our votes have any substantial meaning. A plethora of events within the last twenty years have shown that a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not exist in the USA, and that it will never return, save for a cataclysmic revival in our country. Why can’t Metaxas see this? I don’t know. I ponder the imponderable question as to how the majority of our “well-informed, greatest-nation-on-earth” citizens could vote in a fool and evil person to be their president. I find it even more confusing that some of my Christian friends voted and still stand behind that man, and will soon vote in an even more evil, corrupt liar. These Christian friends are very moral people as well as well educated intelligent folk, and so a generic “morality” just doesn’t explain how to fix America, as Metaxas’ thesis claims.
There is much that Metaxas says correctly in this book. I appreciate his insights into American history and his dissatisfaction with the current status of our country. I appreciate his appeal to return to a moral stance. I would find it easy to get along with Metaxas if we were to meet in public, and could easily become a good friend with him. I hope that with time and age, Metaxas would write a text about America lacking the sentimental statements and the sense that America is a city on a hill that we all wish it would have been. I would hope that Metaxas’ love for America would remain strong, but become more mature,  perhaps seeing America the same way that Jeremiah saw (and deeply loved) Judah.

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May 21

ChallengeOfRainier
The Challenge of Rainier, by Dee Molenaar (4th Edition) ★★★★★
I’ve seen this book around for many years sitting on shelves in the bookstores, but never bothered to purchase a copy to read. It seemed that the time was ripe. Mt. Rainier is in many ways my favorite mountain. It’s in my backyard, and I frequently bicycle its perimeter. I’ve climbed it twice. I’ve hiked the Wonderland trail twice. I’ve yet to have a truly bad moment on the mountain, even though rain has occasionally terminated an adventure on the mountain. Mt. Rainier is of particular note in that many of America’s most famous Himalayan climbers learned their craft on this mountain. It is frequently acclaimed to be the most photogenic mountain in the world. My love for the mountain has extended to all seasons, doing winter ski trips into the park, spending other times hiking the trails for the day, cycling around the mountain, and always standing in awe of it. Thus, learning more of the history of the mountain was most gripping to me. Dee writes very well, and it is hard to put the book down. He chronicles the first climbs of each of the main routes, the development of the park, recounts tragedies that occurred in the park, discusses famous and interesting characters who have climbed to the summit, and discusses the challenges of the park rangers in keeping the mountain safe for all who approach its flanks. Chapter 35, In Retrospect, hit a tender spot with me. Though my experiences on Rainier are far fewer and less intense than the author, we both share the deep sentimentality of the majesty and grandeur of the mountain, the respect for its challenges that it offers the visitor, and its desire to see it preserved from careless human ambition. I’d encourage any and all that have have fallen in love with Mt. Rainier to read this book, and to delight in the perspective of the mountain man on the greatest of American mountains.

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May 06

Spandex
Spandex Optional, by Peter Rice ★★★★
This is a short but cute little book about bicycle touring. It is an easy read, taking me about 2 hours to get through it on a leisurely basis. Peter discusses cycle touring from a non-traditional perspective. Some advice is not the best, such as riding any old beat up bicycle on a long distance tour. Much advice is great, such as just getting on the bike and doing it. The most salient theme was to simply RYOR (ride your own ride), using a similar phrase often used in the thru-hiking community (to hike your own hike); i.e., do it your way, as everybody will have their own individual style of doing a long-distance ride. It’s a nice read for anybody who feels that long-distance cycling must be performed in a certain fashion, such as wearing spandex shorts.

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Apr 30

JustRide
Just Ride, by Grant Petersen ★★★★
This is a cute little book of 89 chapters in 208 pages, giving advice on cycling. Grant Petersen founded Rivendell Bicycle Works, notes that he used to ride competitively, but now speaks strongly about the art of simply riding a bicycle and enjoying the endeavor. Advice fits into a number of categories, including how to ride a bicycle, what to wear, how to ride a bicycle safely, how to do the bicycle for health reasons, accessories for the bike, how to care for a bike, technical aspects of bicycle design, and philosophy of cycling. I disagree with some of what he has to say, but agree that his perspective on making bicycling an enjoyable pastime needs to be considered strongly by anybody riding a bike. It is a fun read, Grant writes well, and it will prove to serve as worthy advice even when he is not entirely correct.

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Apr 12

StealingAmerica
Stealing America, by Dinesh D’Souza ★★★★
This book is actually two narratives. The first narrative regards Dinesh’s stay for 8 months in an overnight retention facility, and the sentencing that led to that retention. Each chapter has stories from his sentencing or life in the confinement center. The second narrative spring-boards from the first narrative, in identifying how the US government is operating in an increasingly criminal fashion, akin to the hardened criminals that Dinesh met while at the detention facility.
The first chapter speaks of Dinesh being caught for a crime that seemed somewhat insignificant and something that is performed all the time, but felony charges are avoided because high profile people are aware of the minor technicalities in helping one avoid the label of “crime” to the “mis-deed”. Dinesh accidentally gave beyond donation limits by giving to a candidate through friends. He could have given massively larger funds through a PAC or other agency, but because he did what he did and had enemies, he was labeled a felon and ultimately condemned to 8 months in a confinement center, though avoiding up to 3 years of prison by paying his life earnings to a high profile lawyer. Having personally seen enough of the court systems, I can heartily agree with D’Souza that courts are a political sham; they are not blind, and justice is NEVER served in the courts. They are highly politically motivated by extremist liberal social justice warriors with an agenda. The myth of the American court system is screamed loud and hard in the sentencing of D’Souza.
Chapter two outlines the confinement center, a description of some of the people confined within the center. The description paints the guards and personnel that run the center as more pathological than the inmates. The criminals in the center, while they created heinous crimes (and oftentimes did not!), are described as less criminal than the people that run this country. The theme of “theft” and “stealing” is beginning to be developed in this chapter, where inmates may have performed robberies, but the grander robberies are daily performed in full public eye by our politicians.
The next few chapters begin to develop certain themes. These themes are based on the crimes that inmates committed, and how the politicians that run this country have the same pathological mindset as the inveterate criminals locked up behind bars. Gangsterism is one theme. Through their particular gangs (Republican or Democratic Parties), the once innocent politician goes from poverty to unbelievable wealth, which cannot be explained by their salary as a public servant. The reparations scam is another, where astronomical payouts to an undeserving dependent class of people are made even more dependent on the system, all under the guise of repaying groups for some hypothetical crime allegedly committed against their distant forefathers by people that have been dead for many generations. The greed and inequality scam is how the government feels it is their duty to level the playing field of inequality by the continual redistribution of wealth. The only wealth not redistributed is that of the leaders. Another scam is labeled the “You didn’t build that scam”, or as I would say, “it takes a village” scam. This supposes that you would never have been able to accomplish anything in life if it wasn’t for the government, failing to realize that the government would not have existed without yours and your forefather’s taxes being paid. The “you didn’t build it scam” give the government the permission to steal your earnings for redistribution.
D’Souza then switches gears and discusses the life of Saul Alinsky. Saul spent much time with Al Capone, learning first hand the art of gangsterism. This is relevant, because two characters, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both admittedly spent much time under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky, Clinton  writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, while Obama worked under him as a civic organizer. The criminal nature of Obama and Clinton are then both detailed.
The last two chapters bewail how America has been “stolen” from the people, and offering a solution as to how to crack the deception. He really doesn’t offer much, suggesting only that we need to restore the original America that did not steal from its citizens. I didn’t expect profound solutions from D’Souza, as he really doesn’t see the full impact of what has gone wrong with our nation.
There are some serious problems with the book. First, Dinesh identifies the “problem” as starting with Bill Clinton and exacerbated by the Bushes and Obama. In actual fact, the problems of corrupt government in the USA goes back to its founding, with founding fathers stacking the constitution in its own favor. I would identify progressivism as we know it as starting with Teddy Roosevelt and ultimately “losing it” with Woodrow Wilson. We are simply seeing the end result of a 100 years of deterioration in our government, making it unrecognizable should any of the founding fathers return from the dead. The second problem with the book is that Dinesh tends to think the problem of a stolen America to be primarily a Democrat problem. In actual fact, as recent events have shown quite clearly, the Republican party is way too similar to the Democratic party, and their politics tend to differ less than the politicians would like us to think. The Democratic Party is not the only criminal gang, but there are two criminal rival gangs fighting for preeminence on the public stage. As a side issue to the Republican party, D’Souza gives inordinate praise to president Lincoln, a man worthy of praise, but omits that he, more than any other president before him, established an uncontrollably powerful central government, much to our loss and giving rise to all of the problems D’Souza wails on in his book. By decentralizing government, empowering states and empowering the 10th amendment, reducing taxation and eliminating unwanted tariffs, Lincoln could have both abolished slavery and preserved the union without a war. The third problem is that D’Souza was affected by a wantonly corrupt court system in bed with the reigning politicians. Yet, he really doesn’t grasp the entire nature of how and why our court systems no longer administer justice or freedom. I am a little astounded as to why he is so blind to this issue. The fourth problem affects Dinesh as much as the country and that is a loss of faith. Dinesh fails to ever bring out that the primary reason America has gone the way it has, is that there is no longer a Christian morality, a Christian ethos, or a Christian faith in America. Dinesh, through his past divorce, seems to have somehow lost it himself. True, he still identifies as a Christian, but this book would leave you thinking that he only has a Christian gloss; there is nothing in this book that conveys a serious Christian mindset. By that, I mean a mindset that holds God in control of the universe, in control of politics, and a moral God that will judge the sins of the nation. His morality seems to be a morality that is entirely utilitarian in its function to maintain a civil society. This is not the morality of Scripture. I dearly hope that D’Souza will some day soon come to the realization of the problems above and write a book that can encompass a true reckoning of the spiritual and political state of affairs of our nation.
The book is a depressing book. It’s not that I’ve learned something new in the book. It’s that it’s all been reinforced from a person that tended to be very optimistic about our political system and the fruits of that political system. What’s most depressing is to grasp at how few people in America realize that we are a country that has gone off the cliff and is in free-fall without a parachute. People quibbling over whether Sanders or Hillary or Cruz gets the presidency are like kids playing on the deck of the Titanic during its final hours—”the boat’s going down children, and it isn’t worth haggling over whether Suzy stepped on the line in the hopscotch game”.

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