Thursday, June 28, 2012

Southern Baptists elect its first black president

The Southern Baptist Convention elected its first black president, Fred Luter, last week. This was a historic event. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 when it separated from its Northern brethren over the issue of slavery. The Baptists in the South wanted to appoint a fellow Baptist as a missionary. The problem with this was that he was a slave owner.

 The electing of Fred Luter coincides with the United States electing its first president, Barack Obama. These historic events are encouraging because it shows we have come a long way from slavery days. We do not live in Eden, however. Each of us battles with racism inside ourselves. The greatness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it can help us become truly reconciled with each other if we let it.

See the link below for an article on Luter's election by a Louisiana writer, Luter's home state.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Josef Pieper on Tradition

Tradition: Concept and Claim
By Josef Pieper, Translated from the German by E. Christian Kopff, St. Augustine’s Press, 2010, 95 pp., ISBN: 978-1-58731-879-5, $13.00 (paper).

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Catholic Library World, 81(3): 230 (Mar 2011).
What is tradition? Is it hostile to reason and modern thought? Is it anti-historical? These are some of the questions Josef Pieper seeks to answer in his book, Tradition: Concept and Claim.Josef Pieper(1904-97), a popular German philosopher who has written many great works which have been translated into English: Guide to Thomas Aquinas, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, and many others. 
Tradition was originally published in 1970, a revision of lectures he delivered a decade earlier. In this book, Pieper defines tradition as the handing down of a truth or teaching from one generation to the next unchanged. He asks in chapter 1 of the book, “Is Tradition Anti-Historical?” It is difficult to determine Pieper’s answer to the question. On one side, he says that the tradition is passed down to each generation unchanged. Nothing is added to it and nothing is deleted from it. Pieper says, “It is an essential part of the concept of tradition that no experience and no deductive reasoning can assimilate and surpass what is handed down” [19]. On the other hand, Pieper says that the tradition must be translated to changing historical circumstances. 

What is the relationship of tradition to authority? Pieper thinks that accepting tradition has the structure of belief. He illustrates this by comparing Socrates and Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias. He compares their different response to the myth of Judgment after death. Callicles treats  the myth as a good story. Socrates believes in the message of the myth and orders his life by it. Both Plato and Cicero believe that the sacred tradition comes from the gods, an answer that is similar to the answer given by Christian theology. The important element is that the tradition originates from a divine source. 

Is tradition hostile to reason? No. Tradition needs reason and reason needs tradition. Philosophy is different than the handing down of tradition. Philosophy is reflecting on the whole of tradition. Speaking of philosophy, Pieper says that “all of Western philosophy maintains its vitality by nourishing itself on the conversation” or the debate “with the sacred tradition of Christendom that precedes it” [64].

Pieper’s Tradition is a good book. It will help us wrestle with important questions. Pieper is a perfect example of a scholar who translates the sacred tradition to modern society. This book should be read with many of his other fine works like Leisure, the Basis of Culture.

Is Dumbledore Gay? : Can Literary Criticism Help?

A few years ago J. K. Rowling created a controversy when she announced that she had "always thought of Dumbledore as gay." When I first heard about this statement, I asked myself why would she make such a statement and why now. This was after the seventh volume had been published and the series completed. It seemed to me it would just give ammunition to those who are opposed to the Harry Potter series. The question this leads one to ask Is Dumbledore gay because Rowling says he is? There are at least three possible answers from three different theories of literary criticism. These three theories are intentionalism, structuralism, and reader-response theory. Karen Kebarble does a good job in showing how these three different theories could answer our question in her essay, "If Rowling Says Dumbledore is Gay, is He Gay? : Harry Potter and the Role of Authorial Intention" in Hog's Head Conversions: Essays on Harry Potter edited by Travis Prinzi. Kebarble argues the intentional view, but she notes, "What Rowling says in interviews does not determine the meaning of the texts, but what she intended as she wrote them does."

Kebarble and others think that the evidence in the text is non-conclusive. She gives possible reasons for this: Rowling was writing for both kids and adults and hid the meaning.; there was no intent; or Rowling failed to communicate. I find the evidence proving Dumbledore as gay lacking in the text. I think Rowling was making a political statement because she believes in diversity. I believe in author's intention, but they are not the only voice in the process of interpretation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gabriel Marcel Reader

A Gabriel Marcel Reader
Gabriel Marcel and Brendan Sweetman, St. Augustine’s Press, 2011, 163 pp., ISBN 978-1-58731-326-4, $24.00 (paper).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Shaffett, John E. Catholic Library World, 82(3): 222-223 (March 2012).

In A Gabriel Marcel Reader, Brendan Sweetman makes available the thought of Gabriel Marcel from many of his key philosophical writings, including The Mystery of Being, Homo Viator, and the Metaphysical Journal. Marcel (1883-1973), a French existentialist philosopher, was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Marcel influenced many modern writers, including Paul Ricoeur and Walker Percy. Some of the major themes in his writings were humans as wayfarers, the importance of the human person, and a critique of modern rationalism.
A Gabriel Marcel Reader is edited and introduced by Brendan Sweetman who is Professor of Philosophy at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri, is also president of the Gabriel Marcel Society. Sweetman authored The Vision of Gabriel Marcel (2008). Sweetman intends A Gabriel Marcel Reader to be an introduction to the major ideas of Marcel: The “Nature of Philosophy,” epistemology, the “human person,” and others. In the introduction, Sweetman introduces the reader to the main ideas of Marcel’s thought. For example, he says that Marcel’s thought can be considered existentialist because Marcel “accepts that philosophy begins with concrete human experience; he gives concrete human experience an ontological priority when doing philosophy over a purely reflective approach that emphasizes abstract logical arguments and conceptual analysis of philosophical questions, usually divorced from concrete lived experience of the human person” (3).
The Marcel Reader is divided into seven chapters plus an introduction. Each chapter contains a commentary or reader guide preceding the selections. These are helpful in putting the selections in context and familiarizing the reader with the main ideas Marcel discusses in the selections. These selections do a good job in communicating many of the significant themes in the writings of Marcel. For example, the difference between mystery and a problem is significantly discussed in multiple sections. In recognizing a mystery, our whole being is involved. Marcel says “to assert the meta-problematical  is to assert it as indubitably real, as a thing I cannot doubt without falling into contradiction” (30). When we see something as a problem, we are thinking of techniques to solve the problem. We are cutting ourselves off from the mystery of being.  Another similar idea is thinking of knowledge as an encounter with “presence.” Marcel says that “presence involves a reciprocity which is excluded from any relation of subject to object or of subject to subject-object” (42). It is like when Walker Percy says that science explains everything but the scientist.
There are many more significant ideas in this collection of Marcel’s writings. It is a good introduction to the writings of Marcel with helpful guidance from a scholar well-versed in the writings of Marcel. The thought of Marcel is just as relevant to post-modern culture as in his own time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Surprised by Meaning

Alister E. McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2011. 136 pp.

How can we make sense of the world? Are science and religion compatible? Is it possible to experience meaning and purpose in this life? These and other questions McGrath answers in his new book, Surprised by Meaning. This book is based on lectures McGrath delivered in 2009 and 2010. McGrath is professor of Theology, Ministry, and Head of the Center for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King's College in London. He has doctorates in theology and science.

McGrath makes a strong case that Christianity both helps us make sense of this world and provides meaning and purpose. He quotes from C.S. Lewis: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else." McGrath believes the Christian faith is credible in itself, but it also explains what we experience in this world. He also shows how the truths presented by the disciplines of sciences, humanities, and the social sciences point to God. He does a good job in showing what science can do and what it cannot do. In this book, McGrath presents a case for natural theology. He does not believe that the existence or non-existence of God can be proved. He notes that most of our most important beliefs cannot be proved. The most important questions of life cannot be answered by science. McGrath is not against science, but against those who make science the only method for knowledge. This idea is known as scientism. Faith, however, is not a leap in the dark. He shows how even science is based on faith. McGrath asserts, "Christianity may be open to criticism on many grounds, but it is certainly not vulnerable to the charge in contrast to scientific or empirical thought, it rests on mere faith"(114). McGrath believes "To hold that something is true and reliable may be justified without necessarily being proved" (113). McGrath's purpose is not to prove that Christianity is true, but to show that many clues exist to show that Christianitry is true.

In chapters one to three, McGrath describes how humans try to make sense of things. This pattern is evident in the sciences. We come up with theories that will explain our observations. In chapter three, Mcgrath lists three commons ways we make sense of things: "causal explanation, the best explanation," and "explanatory unification." This is even what he does in presenting the case for Christianity. What best explains all the phenomena we experience in this world? In chapter five, he descibes his journey from atheism to Christian belief. He also examines the New Atheism and how much of their arguments is based on empty rhetoric. In chapters six through nine, he shows how the universe is fine-tuned for life. The last few chapters show how the Christian faith makes sense of not only science, but history, culture, and the human experience. The last chapter shows how Christianity satisfies the search for meaning.

McGrath makes a good case for why Christianity makes sense in itself and makes sense of our experience in this world. It is written for the general public and is easy to read. McGrath is an author you can trust.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Informed Learning---A Relational Model

Bruce, Christine Susan. Informed Learning. Chicago: American Library Association, 2008. 197 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8389-8489-5

Christine Bruce in her book, Informed Learning, argues for a relational model in teaching information literacy. The book is based on extensive research on how people actually use information. The focus of this book "is about how we interact with and use information as we learn: learning formally through studying or doing research at universities, and learning informally in community and work contexts" (2). Bruce is an Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology in the Faculty of Information. She has published several articles on Informed Learning and given many presentations on the topic at conferences.

Informed Learning main idea is using information to learn. It provides a different approach to teaching information literacy. The ideas presented in this book is compatible with the practices of academic disciplines. It also focuses on using information in both professional life and the community. Informed Learning will help to embed information literacy in the curriculum. Informed Learning also have a life-long learning focus: "By being creative and reflexive information users, we are able to learn and continue learning in any field or walk of life" (3).

Bruce lists the characteristics on Informed Learning in chapter one. Some of these are: drawing from the experiences of teaching and learning, drawing from our experience of using information to learn, and drawing from diverse forms of information. In chapter two Bruce describes the "Six Frames for Informed Learning" : knowledge about the world of information, competencies or skills, learning through engagement with information,"  (34) and others. The "Seven Faces of Learning" is described in chapter three. These seven faces was based on "research participants" experience in using information. These seven faces are "information awareness, sources, process, control, knowledge construction, extension, and wisdom." These first three chapters are the theoretical foundation for the rest of the chapters. The remaining chapters looks at the experiences of Informed Learning in different groups: students, the disciplines and professions, the workplace and community, research community, and graduate students. The chapter on graduate students focuses on doing a literature review. I found this chapter quite enlightening.

This book is an excellent addition to the field of Information Literacy. It focuses on a relational model which seems to be different than the skills focus. It also stresses knowledge creation which has not been a focus in information literacy. It is research-based and shows how students, professors, and professionals actually use information. It also distinguishes between information, knowledge, and wisdom which will fit in with a more Christian model of teaching information literacy.

A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke. Wheaton,IL: Crossway, 2011.
Why should Christians read books? Should Christians read non-Christian books? Should Christians read fiction? These and many other questions are answered in Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. The author is a former journalist who is now serving as a theological researcher, writer and blogger. This is his first book to be published.
Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books is divided into two parts: the first part presents a theology of reading books and the second part provides practical suggestions for reading books. One of the best chapters in part one is the chapter on reading non-Christian books. Reinke describes seven benefits for reading non-Christian books. Some of these benefits are: Non-Christian literature can describe how the world works; it can “high-light common life experiences;” it can “teach us wisdom and valuable moral lessons;” it can help us see beauty in the world and in great literature; it can help us to understand the questions that are answered by the Christian faith.
Some of the significant chapters in part two are instruction on reading fiction and nonfiction books; how to find time to read; and the benefits of reading fiction. Some of these benefits are: “fictional literature provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed;” it broadens “our range of experiences;” it “can deepen our appreciation for concrete human experience.” Another important chapter is how to read non-fiction books. Many of these tips are similar to the guidelines provided by Mortimer Adler in his classic work, How to Read a book.
This book should be helpful to both reluctant and more experienced readers. It should whet the appetite to read more books and to read in different genres. The chapters are short and easy to read.Go out and get you a copy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Art of Reading

Some people think it is strange that I have read Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book multiple times. Reading, however, is both an art and a science. You get better by doing it and it helps if you read books for pleasure. The more you read, the better you get at reading which will motivate you to want to read more books. Adler recommends you read books a little above you to stretch your mind. The mind is a muscle that improves with exercise.

Tips on Reading for NonFiction Books

  • Read the preface, introduction, foreword, the blurb on the cover because they give you an overview of the book and the author's purpose, argument, and intended audience.
  • Skim the book: read the title, table of contents, conclusion, beginning and ending paragraphs of each chapter, and the index, and extra material in the appendix
Mark the book as you read---underline key words and phrases; outline the arguments of the book; mark things you do not understand, and things you dispute; write one to two sentences summary at the end of each of the chapters. Make sure you understand the book before you critique it.

Don't forget to read the notes and bibliography after reading the book. It will lead you to other books you might want to read. The notes will also allow you to enter in conversation with the author.

Some of the books you read will be over your head. That is okay. The best thing is to read the book quickly the first time. Do not worry about things you do not understand. More understanding will come with each reading of the book. Do not believe that we should read books only once. Some books take many readings to get all the knowledge and wisdom contained in the book. You wouldn't want to read the Bible only once. We get new things out of it with each new reading.

Not all books will require a thorough reading. Some books you will skim for needed information. Some books will be read for pure enjoyment and some books you will chew on and digest. 

Do not forget the library. The library and librarians are the reader's best friend. The library also offers an Inter-library Loan that allows you to order books the library does not own. A library is a good place to find good books to read. Librarians take time to select the best books published for their collection. They also can provide guidance on good books to read. In addition, they can provide help in finding resources you need.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reading for Pleasure

James V. Schall mentioned in one of his essays about his experience in walking in military library and being overwhelmed with so many books. What books should he read? Which book should he read first? Many people have had this experience. Here are some tips that I have discovered.

First, find an author you like and read a wide selection of his or her writings. I have followed this idea most of my life. Alan Jabobs offers a tip in addition to this one in his book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. The idea he provides is reading upstream and downstream. Read the authors that have influenced the author you enjoy. Read also the authors that your favorite writers have influenced. Jacobs also makes the important point that we should read for pleasure.

Here are some of my favorite writers if you need help to get started:

C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Great Divorce
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
James V. Schall,  The Life of the Mind
Joseph Pieper,  Leisure the Basis of Culture
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
J. K. Rowling, The Harry Potter Series
Dante, The Divine Comedy
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A good book for reading non-fiction books is Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. It also includes a list of  great books to read.

Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

Why Choose the Liberal Arts?
By Mark William Roche, University of Notre Dame, 2010, 198 pp., ISBN 978-0-268-04032-1, $20.00 (paper).

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, John E. Catholic Library World, 81(4): 308(Jun 2011).

What is a liberal arts education good for? Students attending college and their parents are more concerned about what degree will help them make lots of money, rather than the degree that will help them live well. Can a liberal arts education be defended in a time of economic decline? Mark William Roche thinks it can and that is what he does in his new book, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? He defends three ideas on the enduring value of a liberal arts education. First, a liberal arts education has intrinsic value; it is an end in itself. This point contrasts with the idea of education as a means to another end. Second, like John Henry Newman, Roche believes that a liberal arts education will cultivate the intellectual virtues that will make it possible for the student to participate in life-long learning. Third, unlike some of the modern proponents of education who thinks that the cultivating of moral virtues are not part of the aims of education, Roche argues that a liberal arts education should cultivate the moral virtues and help the student to develop “a sense of vocation, the connection to a higher purpose or calling” (10-11).

            Roche includes personal reflections to illustrate and personalize his points on the enduring value of a liberal arts education. He shows how businesses and organizations want employees who know how to read, write, speak and think clearly. Roche asserts that a liberal arts education is not only its own reward, and “integral to the life of the mind;” but it is also applicable in a practical way (82). The majority of workers will change jobs or careers multiple times in their life. A liberal arts education is better preparation for this type of future than vocational education. Why Choose the Liberal Arts is a needed book and highly recommended.