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Fourteen books from the pile by my treadmill

Issue: "Balancing act," Sept. 8, 2001

It's four months since my last treadmill report, so here's a quick rundown on good stuff I've read while walking.

Let's start with the basics: Does God exist? Signs of Intelligence, edited by William Dembski and James Kushiner (Baker, 2001) suggests that He must, since earth's design shows intelligence rather than accident. How Deep Is Your Dungeon? by S. Joshua Swamidass (Send Fellowship International, 2000) proclaims, through an evocative rendition of the Book of Job, that He is near when He seems especially far away. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, by Paul Vitz (Spence, 1999) ingeniously picks up one of the arrows shot by those who hate God and sends it back their way. Sigmund Freud argued that immature people invent God because of their psychological need for a father, but Mr. Vitz shows that many grab onto atheism because they never had a good father and so doubt that one can exist.

Students of black-white relations can profit from two books with very different perspectives. Dalton Conley's Honky (University of California Press, 2000) is a vivid account (with some bad language) of growing up white in the largely black and Hispanic housing projects of New York's lower east side, and learning that race and class matter. John McWhorter's Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America (HarperCollins, 2001) is a powerfully argued analysis of how government makes things worse through programs that infect African-Americans with a defeatist cultural virus of three strands: victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism.

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I've frequently found, during the debate over President Bush's faith-based initiative, that otherwise well-informed people think the Constitution's First Amendment dictates a "wall of separation" between church and state. Those who want to learn how America's founders actually perceived the subject owe a debt to Rowman & Littlefield, publisher of two excellent collections of scholarly essays: Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson's Virginia (ed. by Garrett Sheldon and Daniel Dreisbach, 2000) and Religion and the New Republic (edited by James H. Hutson, 2000).

I've read four extraordinary books about the effects of war. Akira Yoshimura's One Man's Justice (Harcourt, English translation 2001) is a gripping novel about a Japanese war criminal who becomes a fugitive in his own country immediately after World War II. Steven Woodworth's While God Is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers (University Press of Kansas, 2001) is a scholarly book depicting heavy hearts that only God's grace could lighten. Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov's Stalinism as a Way of Life (Yale University Press, 2000) is a compilation of documents from the 1930s that shows how the Soviet government warred on its own people.

The fourth book, Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2001), tells what happened to 100,000 American prisoners of war in the Philippines during World War II. Shot by their captors, burned to death, starved, the sad captives-one was even sawn in two-desperately needed biblical belief. The phrase, "There are no atheists in foxholes," emerged from the Philippines battlefields, and there weren't many in the camp where 50,000 almost-starved, often-diseased POWs had to cram into barracks designed for no more than 9,000, so that they were "rank with the smell of humanity gone sour."

Many of the individual stories Mr. Sides tells are powerful, particularly because we don't know as we read whether the people portrayed will live or die. He memorably sketches Chaplain Robert Taylor, who in battle or prison camp "was known for instinctively placing himself at the point of maximum danger." Chaplains in peacetime sometimes seemed like extra baggage, but "in a world of perpetual suffering, the chaplains played an exceedingly important role in the life of the camp. Theology was an immediate, and intensely practical, matter. The mysteries of survival often condensed down to spiritual mysteries. The prisoners ... saw the way some individuals kept their faith even through their moments of deepest anguish."

After all that heavy stuff, it was a great pleasure to read three delightful books about the moral equivalent of war, baseball. Bob Muzikowski and Gregg Lewis's Safe at Home (Zondervan, 2001) is the inspiring story of how one Christian's work in setting up a baseball program in inner-city Chicago has touched hundreds of lives. Henry Dunow's The Way Home (Broadway Books, 2001) describes endearingly the experience of one Jewish father coaching his son Max's Little League team on New York's upper west side. Orel Hershiser and Robert Wolgemuth's Between the Lines (Warner Books, 2001) gives in a succinct and well-organized way nine principles to live by for success in baseball-and life.

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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