Cure for cabin fever

Worthwhile books for those housebound by winter

Issue: "Cuban conundrum," Feb. 5, 2000

The month off from teaching that I have in late December and the first half of January gives me a chance to catch up on some books that have piled up. With February beginning and some northern readers preparing for snowed-in days, here are four main suggestions and a couple of others also worth perusing. First, a terrific short overview of our current societal problems: One Nation, Two Cultures (Knopf, 1999), by Gertrude Himmelfarb. She writes clearly about the battle in America between the dominant culture that emerged from the late 1960s and now pervades academia and media, and the dissident culture that promotes biblical faith, family, civil society, sexual morality, and patriotism. The need for Christians and conservatives to work in coalition against the dominant culture could not be clearer. (Gertrude Himmelfarb is America's greatest scholarly expert on Victorian England. Since my newspaper columns sometimes engender nasty letters, I've held onto a scathing response to a USA Today column, "Queen Victoria was Right," that Professor Himmelfarb wrote in her field of expertise five years ago. The letter stated, "rather than writing several books, as her biography stated, she would be far better served, and so would her students, if she read several books." If a great expert can be treated as an ignoramus, I should not object to attack-dog letters to the editor. It all goes with the territory.) Second, a paradigm-shattering book: Peter Huber's Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists (Basic, 1999). I don't agree with many of Mr. Huber's recommendations or his worldview, but he brilliantly skewers the "soft green" oligarchy of regulators, many environmentalists, and their well-intentioned but sentimental allies. (Here's an example of how silly things have become: Over the last three years Oregon state workers have killed over 10,000 hatchery coho salmon, which are indistinguishable from "wild salmon" and have simply been raised from eggs in a captive environment. But since the hatchery kind are not "wild," they are seen as inferior and are being killed, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation, so that the "wild" kind will remain on the Endangered Species list.) Third, a massively documented account of why Christian colleges frequently head down the slippery slope to secularism: James Burtchaell's 868-page The Dying of the Light (Eerdmans, 1998). The pattern is common: Professors start buying into social trends (such as feminism or multiculturalism these days) rather than timeless biblical truths. They also look for approval from intellectuals, academic journal editors, or accrediting groups rather than pastors and regular folks in their own denominations. Meanwhile, trustees enjoy returning to campus a couple of times a year to relive their college days, but irresponsibly do nothing to maintain theological integrity. (For example, Mr. Burtchaell notes that the church board of trustees responsible for Lafayette College from 1854 to 1967 never exercised its right to veto faculty appointments. The board regularly reduced its stipulations concerning the faculty, "without any motivation except that it was made to feel like an intruder," becoming "daintily deferential to the autonomy of the educators.") Fourth, a devotional book: John Piper's A Godward Life, Book Two (Multnomah, 1999). I generally don't go much for such things, preferring to read Scripture straight, but Mr. Piper's 120 meditations are extraordinarily well crafted. He shows us how we can "prayerfully ransack the Bible." He gives us 26 questions to ask of those who demand gender-free Scripture,12 questions to ask when considering a job, and good things to think about in coming to an assessment of pluralism. He doesn't dodge issues involving God's judgment in history ("What does the slaughter of the Amorites mean?") and in our own lives ("What if our dying is discipline?"). Finally, two quick mentions. Robert Knight's The Age of Consent (Spence, 1998) is an excellent overview of the problems of American popular culture. (The title phrase comes from Mr. Knight's well-argued observation that in today's ethically challenged American society, no one is supposed to object to an action of any kind as long as those immediately involved in it consent to it.) And Fred Fedler's Lessons from the Past: Journalists' Lives and Work, 1850-1950 (Waveland Press, 2000) shows that journalism is a rough business. (Editors fired reporters for being fat, for having creaky new boots, for wearing a cap-but also for committing adultery.) Groucho Marx, in one of his movies, is trapped in a bathroom and says, "Let me out, let me out-or slip a magazine under the door." But sometimes, if winter snows close in, only a book will do.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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