Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in the Winter

Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in the Winter
By Amy S. Hansen, Illustrations by Robert C. Kray, Boyds Mills Press, 2010, 32 pp., ISBN 978-1-59078-269-9, $17.95.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Mar2011, Vol. 81 Issue 3, p.239.
Have you ever noticed that bugs seem to disappear during the winter? Where do they go? Bugs and Bugsicles answers this mystery for us. The writer, Amy Hansen, writes science for kids. She does a good job at explaining this mysterious process to kids. The clear writing of Hansen is enhanced by the beautiful illustrations of Robert C. Kray. Kray is both an artist and illustrator and his illustrations have been published in popular magazines like, Outdoor Life and others.

Hansen writes about the life cycle of eight different insects: Praying Mantis, Monarch butterfly, an Arctic Wooly Bear Caterpillar, ladybug, a field cricket, pavement ants, a honeybee, and a dragonfly. She tells how the cold winter weather challenges insects. She explains the different methods they seek to survive. Some of the bugs hide, others lay eggs and some even freeze. 

The intended audience is ages four through ten. Kray’s beautiful double-page acrylic illustrations complement Hansen’s prose. The illustrations bring the bugs to life. This would be a good book for elementary classrooms and story time in public libraries.  My only complaint is that the book would have better if it contained fewer words on each page. Overall, this is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

The Christmas Sweater

The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Book
By Glen Beck, illustrated by Brandon Dorman, adapted by Chris Schoebinger, Aladdin/Mercury Radio Arts, 2009, unp., ISBN 978-1-4169-9543-2, $17.99.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Sep2010, Vol. 81 Issue 1, p63.
The Christmas Sweater is a story about a little boy named Eddie who wants a bicycle for Christmas. He is disappointed when his grandfather tells him that he doesn’t think he will be getting a bicycle for Christmas. Instead, he will be receiving a Christmas sweater. Eddie tells his grandfather that he does not want a “boring, useless, itchy sweater.” The grandfather explains to Eddie that this is no ordinary sweater. It is a hand-made gift filled with love and this love “turns into Christmas magic.” Eddie doesn’t exactly accept this explanation, but he soon falls asleep and in his dreams, Eddie has many adventures that will help him understand what his grandfather had been trying to tell him. 
The Christmas Sweater is beautifully illustrated by Brad Dorman. These illustrations complement the text and are colored. The book contain common elements that most people associate with Christmas- snow globes, family, snow, sledding, ginger bread houses, and gifts. However, under these elements is a message of the true meaning of Christmas. Of course, we understand as Christians that the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ. This is a secular book and there is no mention of the church or of Jesus Christ. However, this book has a positive message: Christmas is not about getting the things we want, but about expressing our love for each other and being thankful for the love-gifts we receive. This is definitely a message a materialistic culture needs to hear.

The Christmas Sweater is written for children four to seven years old. It is recommended for all libraries that have children collections.

Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God

Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God by Addison Hodges Hart. Eerdmans, 2009. 136 pages.
In Knowing the Darkness, Addison Hart argues against popular ideas of Christianity. He seeks to correct false views about conventional piety, skepticism, melancholy, friendship, and God. The first few chapters analyses popular views of skepticism and melancholy. Then he looks at two biblical books that discuss melancholy and skepticism. He believes the discussion leads to friendship because friendship sustains believers in difficult times. He concludes the book with a discussion of what faith is and what it is not.
            Addison Hodges Hart is Parochial Vicar for the Newman Center at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois and a contributing editor for Touchstone magazine.
            In the introduction Hart illustrates the subject of the book by discussing the doubts of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa wrote: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me—of God not being God — of God not existing” (1). Mother Teresa wrote this in 1959. She struggled with doubts her whole life. She once remarked, “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness” (1). Hart writes about this darkness in his book. Hart observes, “Darkness of an interior kind, and even a sort atheism, are not inimical to faith, and certainly not to Christianity and Judaism” (3). St. John of the Cross wrote of the dark night of the soul in the sixteenth century.
            Hart chooses to write of melancholy instead of depression. He does not see melancholy or skepticism as sinful. In addition, melancholy does not necessarily indicate clinical depression. Hart thinks that skepticism is compatible with faith. He insists that a mature faith includes skepticism. He distinguishes it from cynicism. Hart defines skepticism as “to fix one’s gaze on, to look into, to examine, to observe. It has to do with inquiry, consideration, investigation. It isn’t synonymous with doubt, and it isn’t the antithesis of faith” (17). He seems to be thinking of unbelieving doubt. He insists again: “Skepticism, again, is not the same thing as doubt, but rather the act of looking hard at things for the purpose of discovering and understanding what may be true about them” (18). The author argues that skepticism is beneficial to the Christin. Hart writes: Skepticism “is firmly rooted in a Hebrew concept of faith, one that instinctively distrusts human reason, recognizing its fallibilities and limitations, but embraces relational trust in a self-revealing and self-interpreting God. It is a faith open to questioning God, examining His ways, complaining to Him, and even expressing exasperation and impatience at his silence” (23).
            The last chapter of Knowing Darkness Hart discusses faith. He notes that this is what the book is actually about. He seeks to correct false views of faith: “Faith is not good feelings. It isn’t rationalism. Nor is it superstition” (127). The author states that faith is not “static or flat.” He thinks faith is “dynamic,” ever changing. Faith is “living, growing, changing, and it is integral to a human being’s very existence and maturing” (129). This idea makes a lot of sense to me. We do not stand still. So our faith must not either.
            The author describes why he believes skepticism is necessary for faith: “Skepticism will always preserve him from the false forms of faith —the emotionally dependent, the rationalistic, the irrational and superstitious. It will also preserve him from the sort of perennial popular and philosophical atheism that has plenty of argument and rebuttal, but not much else. Skepticism will always doubt the value of doubt itself, because doubt — as opposed to faith — explains nothing about the most essential mystery of humanity” (133-134).
            In addition, Hart notes that friends are a gift of God. Friends will help us to get through the tough times. I would add they also make the good times better and help us to flourish in life. This is a truth even Aristotle saw.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Evidence for God

Paul K. Moser, The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Paul K. Moser, professor and chair of the philosophy department at Loyola University Chicago, has written a book that he thinks argues for the existence of God from a “new perspective.” He calls this new perspective “Personifying evidence of God, because it requires the evidence to be personified in an intentional agent” (ix). The Evidence of God picks up where he left off in his previous book, The Elusive God (2008). The hiddenness of God remains an important aspect of Moser’s argument. Moser contrasts his views with the views of scientific naturalism, fideism, and natural theology.
Moser begins his book with “A Wilderness Parable” which describes the content of the book. He asks the reader to imagine themselves lost in a wilderness that is not easily accessible. You are lost in a wood that is full of danger (wild animals, “unpredictable temperatures,” and dangerous foot paths) and no access to the outside world. Your only luck is that you come upon an abandoned cabin with a barely functioning ham radio. Your only hope, according to Moser, is to find a guide that can lead you to safety. You have basically four options: Despair (you do not believe such a person exists). The second option is “passively waiting.” You do not know if a guide exists or not. The third option is a leap of faith. You can just choose a path, follow it and hope for the best. The last option is “discerning evidence.” You look around at the “available evidence for a way out of the dangerous wilderness predicament” (6). These predicaments describe the four types of evidence or non-evidence for the existence of God: Scientific naturalism, fideism, natural theology, and Moser’s own view, personifying evidence of God.
Moser’s basic point is that God may have a moral reason for being elusive. In calling people to faith, God wants to move us not only cognitively and emotionally, but also volitionally. God also does not want to coerce our will to believe in Him. Moser argues that faith “includes one’s obediently receiving, and volitionally committing and yielding oneself to, God as perfectly authoritative and good” (104). In some sense, Moser’s thesis is that a “perfectly loving God would seek noncoercively to transform the wills of wayward humans, and thereby to have humans themselves become personifying evidence of God’s reality, in willingly receiving and reflecting God’s moral character for others and thus bringing God’s presence near to others” (16). Moser claims this is a new perspective in arguing for the existence of God. This reviewer  wonders if this argument is not similar to ideas presented by William James, Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Marcel. Moser is critical of fideism and the thought of Kierkegaard. One wonders if his reading of Kierkegaard is accurate. He interprets Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” as suggesting that “faith in God cannot have supporting evidence” (100). Kierkegaard is difficult to interpret. He does not speak directly. Does Kierkegaard really justify irrational faith? I doubt it.
Moser does a good job in providing experiential evidence for the existence of God. God does seem to be elusive. Does He do it for moral reasons? It does seem that God is interested in more than just satisfying our intellect. It does make sense of the question often asked by unbelievers, why didn’t God provide more evidence?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When Faith is not Enough

Kelly James Clark, When Faith is Not Enough. Eerdmans, 1997.
            Clark has an excellent chapter on faith and doubt in his book, When Faith is not Enough. Like the rest of the chapters he draws from literary sources to illustrate his point.  He quotes from Tennyson: “Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,/At last he beat his music out./There lives more faith in honest doubt,/ Believe me, than in half the creeds” (94).
            Then he quotes from Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being: “I think there is no greater suffering than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do(94).” O'Connor makes an important point here. Our faith must grow as we grow intellectually. We cannot have an adult mind with a child-like faith.
 Clark thinks that faith is not like a headache or a broken arm. It is more like “arthritis, nearsightedness, and the common cold” (96). These things are not “necessarily terminal ailments, but they are not easily curable either” (96). Clark is arguing for the idea that there are no quick cures from doubt. It seems to be a permanent fixture to the life of faith. The author notes, “These are ailments we simply must learn to live with, even though learning to live with them is not something we desire or welcome. So too with doubt: it is a malady that we shouldn’t relish or glorify, but we must make do with it” (96).
Clark even draws from Calvin on the reality of doubt in the Christian’s life even though Calvin “writes of a convinced and certain faith, of belief without wavering” (96). Calvin writes: “Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief” (97). Calvin thinks that this is because of the warring between flesh and Spirit in the Christian. Calvin writes, “In the course of the present life it never goes so well with us that we are wholly cured of the disease of unbelief and entirely filled and possessed by faith. Hence arise those conflicts; when unbelief which reposes in the remains of the flesh, rises up to attack the faith that has been inwardly conceived” (97).
 I was watching Santa Claus Two last night. It is the one when Santa Claus, played by Tim Allen, needs a wife. Two statements are made in the movie that caught my attention. Both of them occur in the interaction between Santa Claus and the future Mrs. Claus. The first one occurs when the future Mrs. Claus says she wants to be able to believe in something. She has lost her faith. She wants something to give her life meaning. The second statement comes from Tim Allen when he tells her that she does not need to have all her questions answered. We can believe without having all our questions about God answered. That is why it is called faith. Faith is not against reason, but is above reason. I like a quote by George Woodberry: “A life without faith . . . is too narrow a space to live.” Faith needs reason and reason needs faith. Mystery is part of the Christian faith. Reason will never be able to answer all of life’s questions. God is great than the human mind. We are human and there are limits to what we can know. It is sin and foolish not to accept our human limitations.