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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

'Boston Globe' focuses on religious books for Easter.

Holy Week doesn't leave much time for reading, what with my wife's full calendar of evening events — have I mentioned that one woman fainted in the middle of Tenebrae on Wednesday night, bringing an ambulance as Mrs Philocrites was dousing a candle? or that we watched another woman faint at the Episcopal monastery during the veneration of the cross service on Good Friday? and those are just the events I also attended! — not to mention all the cooking for Easter dinner and the fact that I was busy closing a magazine. Whew.

But all that's behind us now, and I'm turning my attention to all sorts of accumulated reading. I did notice, however, that Sunday's Boston Globe dedicated the Books section exclusively to religious titles. (I wonder who they think is sitting at home on Easter Sunday? All the Christians are busy. Easter would seem to be the perfect day for a religion-free — or at least Christianity-free — book review.)

Nevertheless, here's what you and I missed: Dan Wakefield (a member of King's Chapel, the UU Christian church in Boston) reviews God's Politics. George Scialabba reviews John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed's In Search of Paul, Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity, and David Klinghoffer's Why the Jews Rejected Jesus; Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals who tend to get twitchy around the Apostle Paul will find Crossan and Reed's argument especially interesting:

Roman imperial theology, in Crossan and Reed's brilliant reconstruction, bears an uncanny and dismaying resemblance to contemporary American imperial theology. In counterpoint, the authors weave an ingenious interpretation of Paul's writings, which they claim opposed Roman ideology on all essential points. Paul's formula was "peace through justice." Against military force he sets grace; against the Roman vision of "hierarchy within the scenario of global victory" he develops a vision of "equality within [the scenario] of global justice." Crossan and Reed argue that Paul's views on slavery and patriarchy were far more egalitarian than those prevailing in his time; and they convincingly show that apparent examples to the contrary, which account for Paul's equivocal reputation, are nearly all found in epistles mistakenly attributed to him.

Harvey Cox reviews Jaroslav Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages, which I recently picked up. Jason Berry reviews Pope John Paul II's Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium and writes a separate review of John Cornwell's The Pontiff in Winter and the pope's Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way. Rich Barlow gives brief reviews of ten recent religious books and recommends five religious classics — including former UUA President John Buehrens's book Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals.

("A Faith Independent of Left and Right," Dan Wakefield; "From Sect to Church," George Scialabba; "Text Messages," Harvey Cox; "Discourses, by Turns Brilliant and Troubling," Jason Berry; "Papacy as Paradox: A Mixed Legacy," Jason Berry; "Finding and Keeping Faith, in 10 New Religious Titles," Rich Barlow; "Recommended Religious Classics," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 3.27.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 29 March 2005 at 6:15 PM

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March 30, 2005 01:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

I would agree on the analogy between Roman imperialism and American imperialism. The only question is, overall, is it good or bad.

As a Jewish-American, my Hebrew School education endowed me with a heavy bias against Rome. Like Freud, I even sympathized with Hannibal in his doomed effort to destroy Rome. As I distanced myself from my upbringing, I realized, hey wait a minute, these Romans, while imperfect, were pretty civilized, while my Maccabean ancestors were religious theocrats who suppressed Jews who adopted Hellenism. The story of Hanukkah is quite analogous to the 1979 Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomenei, except switch the Jews for the Iranians, and the United States for the Greek Selucid Empire.

Among Jews of the Roman era, the Zealots who ended up committing mass suicide at Masada were terrorists who had a lot in common with Al Qaeda, with the exception that they never committed terrorist acts outside the Holy Land.

Thus, as opponents to imperialism, the non-violent Christian resistance looks good. Despite its problems, however, people lived better and more secure lives under Roman imperialism than they did again until the 1600's.

That's not an endorsement of American Empire, but a statement that the alternatives can be worse, and that a collapse, as Jared Diamond suggests, is not inconceivable. The question is, did the turning away from rationalism, the conversion of the empire to Christianity, and the closing of secular academies, cause the decline of Rome, or was decline inevitable due to ecological problems, and Christianity's main role to provide a comfort?

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