More junk from Dan Brown

This Friday the movie release of Dan Brown’s other poorly researched book “Angels & Demons” hits theaters. Though I am loathe to give this more attention than it needs, I think there is an obligation to correct the blatant lies this work purports as truth.

Firstly, and more concerning than any idea that a Pope would engage in sinful behavior, is the idea that there is a divorce between faith and science– that the Catholic Church is somehow hostile to science. This is simply untrue. Although with the sketchy “theories” floating around as scientific fact today, it’s not hard to see where one might get that impression. But that’s the fault of modern scientists pushing an agenda rather than seeking to truly understand the world.

The Church loves science, and there is (and can be) no hostile relation between faith and science– by which most people aim at understanding as reason. When we paint science as reasonable, we paint faith as unreasonable. Faith is a comforting fairy tale, they say, and reason is the mature real world understanding. But this is simply a false dichotomy. Faith and reason is not an either/or situation. Yes, faith is beyond that natural (i.e., faith is supernatural); but faith does not violate reason. To use a pedantic analogy: it is not unreasonable for me to believe that my car stays parked in the parking lot while I’m shopping in the store and can’t see it. Barring some abnormal occurrence like someone stealing my car or a tornado comes by and takes my car three towns over, my car will indeed still be in the parking lot even when I can’t see it. This would not be considered an unreasonable belief– in fact, most people might suggest it would be unreasonable to think otherwise.

Now, I do grant that the belief of religious faith is a bit different. But not entirely. God’s existence is something the Catholic Church has taught can be known by the light of natural reason. We did not need God to tell us that He exists. But matters of faith like the Incarnation, that God is three persons, one God are things we could not have figured out had God not revealed them to us. This kind of faith is not simply believing something exists even when I’m not looking at it, but is a kind of belief in the testimony of others alongside recognition that God is not (and cannot be) a deceiver by His very nature.

Some reading recommendations:

Pope John Paul II’s “Fides et Ratio” (“On the Relationship Between Faith & Reason”)

Answering Angels & Demons by Mark Shea (free download from Ascension Press)

Angels & Devils by Joan Carroll Cruz

Book Review: The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Overall: Save your money, there are better reads. Much better.

It would be foolish to ignore such a popular read. Indeed, one that’s been at the top of the bestseller list for a few weeks now. It’s just a shame that people read weird books.

The basic gist of The Shack is that the main character, Mack, is invited by God to the place where his youngest daughter was brutally murdered and Mack has thus distanced himself from God. Mack spends the weekend there at the shack and chats about all sorts of relevant issues with God: the Trinity, forgiveness, love, free-will, sin, etc.

I freely admit that there are good elements to The Shack, but anything worthy that might be found here is overshadowed and confused by the author’s attempt to depict God. The “flying lesson” on the Trinity that God the Father (aka “Papa”… who is a big black woman… get that sorted out?) is absolutely atrocious. That bit of flying ended in a terrible crash landing from which there were no survivors. None. The theology is too muddled and muddy to see a clear picture. However, one could see this coming since right off the bat the author creates an Indian legend about a girl who commits suicide to save her people and likens this to the sacrifice of Christ… Jesus did not commit suicide! It’s a very crude and poor analogy that falls flat without ever standing. This is not the place to discover the Blessed Trinity. The Christology was pretty much blatant heresy as well. The author wants so desperately to remind us that God became man in Jesus Christ that he divorces the human and divine in Jesus and makes God out to be entirely human with superpowers (like flying, he just doesn’t activate them…). In the end, the God of The Shack is not the one true God; but a shabby impersonation that seeks to push a specific agenda… This Catholic, for one, is shocked that Christian author of a Christian book would have strayed so far from the Bible. With no Bible, and no Church (this author rejects any institutional/hierarchical Church in favor of some wishy-washy Church you can’t quite pin down where or how it exists) what’s left? Mr. Young’s Trinity is not biblical, nor is his Jesus. But this flows from his already demonstrated poor understanding of the Trinity and the sacrifice of Christ.

And if that wasn’t enough, it’s just corny writing. It was difficult to trudge through without crying– not from being moved, but from trite and juvenile dialogue. For example:

…Jesus went straight to Papa and kneeling at her feet, began to wipe off the front of her clothes. He worked down to her feet and gently lifted one foot at a time, which he directed into the basin where he cleaned and massaged it.
“Ooooh, that feels soooo good!” exclaimed Pape as she continued her tasks at the counter.

This book deals with a serious subject– the man’s 6 year daughter is abducted and brutally murdered–a tragedy permitted in God’s divine will, and instead of getting to the heart of the matter they share a chuckle over Jesus having butter fingers and dropping things in the kitchen. I just walked away feeling like things were trivialized and made juvenile by the end. The writing wasn’t consistent with the story.

So, in sum, if you’re looking for a good story, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for decent theology, it isn’t here. Better luck next time.

Book Review: Brisingr

And no, for the last time, I didn’t spell the title wrong. I can’t help it when authors use made-up words for their titles. It’s their perogative.

Overall: Decent series so far, it’s worth a read if you like fantasy. It’s not my favorite, but it’s not terrible either.

Brisingr is the third installment in the Inheritance Cycle (that was supposed to be… and probably should have been a trilogy) by Christopher Paolini who had most of Eragon written when he was just fifteen. If nothing else, I read Eragon simply because I wanted to know if a fifteen year old really could write a decent novel. I was surprised, and actually enjoyed Eragon and most of Eldest. Brisingr, overall, was not a disappointment but there were a few things that had me shaking my head. First off, each book keeps getting longer and longer as though Mr. Paolini is thinking ‘I wonder how long I can make the next book?’… and Brisingr is no exception. In fact, Brisingr was in dire need of a non-biased editor. This definitely could have been a trilogy because this third book should’ve been about half its size– each journey Eragon takes has 2-3 pages simply describing the journey. It doesn’t make your characters seem more realistic if you have them eating a meal and complaining about how hard it is to get to sleep at regular intervals… it just makes the book drag. And drag. And drag. I really wish I still had a copy of the book to count up how many times we get a description of Eragon eating or complaining about how exhausted/sore/tired/but-still-couldn’t-sleep he was feeling.

That said, I did manage to trudge through the entire book and it was decent, I still like the series. It’s exciting (overall… including Eragon and Eldest), and I’m anxious for the fourth and final (it better be) installment of the series. It’s true that you can see the author’s influences (and love of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) but I think he does bring his own adjustments to the story that sets it apart from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (mostly).

Another good thing about this series is that it is relatively PG rated. Which is nice to find. You can still tell a good story without resorting to base language and sexual themes. Does Eragon have a love interest in the series? Yes, but descriptions of her are tasteful and pure. It makes for a better story, in my opinion. Plus, he has a little bit of trouble wooing her, as it is… but he likes her as her, not her as a body and so presents a better idea of the ‘love story’ aspect of the adventure.

Despite the length issues of Brisingr, I still thought he managed to tell a decent story and I hope the fourth book is published soon.

Book Review: A Long Fatal Love Chase

(WARNING: spoilers possibly (and probably) contained below)

Bottom Line: I liked it. A lot.

Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase is a far cry from Little Women. It’s almost hard to believe both books written by the same author. A Long Fatal Love Chase is the story of a young, beautiful, and naive girl, Rosamond, who, bored with life, admits that she “often feel[s] as if [she’d] gladly sell [her] soul to Satan for a year of freedom”. Cue the man. As Rosamond’s elderly grandfather remarks, “speak of Satan, and he appears”. In walks Philip Tempest, an older (but not too old), handsome, and wealthy man who wins Rosamond from her gambling grandfather and whisks her off on his fancy yacht to exotic places around the globe. Almost sounds like a great romance novel. Almost. Rosamond receives more than a few hints that something is very wrong with Philip Tempest, but her desire for love and excitement blind her to the obvious red flags seen long before it was too late.

With some semblance of conscience, Rosamond demanded that Tempest marry her (as her grandfather requested) before they began their whirlwind adventure and Tempest reluctantly consented. Unknown to Rosamond though, her marriage to Tempest was void. Upon discovery of such great tragedy, Rosamond feels (rightly so) deeply wronged and flees from her life with Philip Tempest. And, as the title implies, Tempest chases after Rosamond because he can’t bear to lose her. He is enthralled by her beauty and excited nature. Tempest tracks Rosamond to the house of a famous actress and friend, and from there unravels her secret escape to a convent. At the convent, Rosamond finds an unlikely new friend in the person of one of the priests: Fr. Ignatius. A young priest. A young, handsome priest, and the obvious attractions develop.

(Okay, BIG SPOILER warning)

Full-hearted Catholic that I am, my red flags were raised, and I hoped for a decent treatment of such a precarious subject. Living in our modern world, my expectations were set low, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that our author handled this relationship amazingly. Truly. One of my favorite parts of the novel: (this is the BIG SPOILER)

Fr. Ignatius is helping Rosamond escape Philip Tempest and so is keeping a close watch on her in England;  Tempest, always spying, confronts Fr. Ignatius on the road at night:

“Tell me one thing; you love Rose and are beloved yet cannot marry; how will it end?”
Tempest needed one more lesson and he received it when Ignatius turned on him a face full of love and longing, full of a man’s dearest and strongest passion, yet answered steadily though his cheek paled and his eyes darkened with intensity of feeling, “I shall love her all my life, shall be to her a faithful friend, and if I cannot remain loyal to both God and her I shall renounce her and never see her face again. You call this folly; to me it is a hard duty, and the more I love her the worthier of her will I endeavor to become by my own integrity of soul.”

… You don’t see that nowadays. Honesty. Faithfulness. True love. All developed and praised appropriately together. It was such a relief, and truly made the story all the better for it.

Philip Tempest was truly a scary character, and the ending only proved to make him seem crazier… but such was the character. Rash, evil, and obsessive.