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Faith and action

Books | Treadmill books about God, belief, adventure, and war

Issue: "The plots thicken," Jan. 12, 2008

Antonio Monda, Do You Believe? Conversations on God and Religion (Random House, 2007) includes some duds but also some intriguing interviews by the author with Saul Bellow ("I believe in God but I don't bug him"), Martin Scorsese ("God is not a torturer"), and Elie Wiesel ("I have a wounded faith").

Comments by nonbelievers are also interesting in their subjectivity (Spike Lee's "I no longer felt anything in church"), existential befuddlement (Toni Morrison's "the search is more important than the conclusion"), self-satisfaction (Arthur Schlesinger's prideful "I am an agnostic"), and idolatrous attempts to have other gods before God (Richard Ford's "I believe in the redemptiveness of art").

In other words, they say what many Christians, including me, used to say until we were surprised by grace. Our reaction should be prayer, not scorn. We should be grateful to have A Glimpse of Heaven-that's the title of a book published by Howard Books that compiles glimpses by Randy Alcorn, Joni Earickson Tada, and others.

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Unsurprisingly, Glimpse's best passage is C.S. Lewis' response to sneers that prizing heaven is like responding to a bribe: "There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object."

Heading heavenward is the greatest expedition of any life, but two books about great earthly adventurers are intriguing. Tim Jeal's Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer (Yale University Press, 2007) is a scholarly but wonderfully readable rags-to-riches to wronged-by-London-elites tale of the journalist/ discoverer. Henry Stanley came to the United States from England as a penniless 18-year-old and recreated himself, even claiming American birth. He was a fine writer and a gutsy explorer.

The second adventure story is a novel about Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame. George Minkoff's The Weight of Smoke (McPherson, 2006) is the first of a trilogy that portrays Smith as forestalling disaster through a strong will that springs into action against both temptation and gentlemen unwilling to work. Minkoff's fine writing recreates a forgotten world.

Also praiseworthy is Rick Atkinson's well-researched, well-written The Day of Battle (Holt, 2007), which brings to life the least-remembered American effort of World War II, the 1943-44 campaign in Sicily and Italy. This volume is the middle one in a planned three-volume history of the American war effort; volume one, An Army at Dawn, won a Pulitzer Prize, and this book is also worthy.

It's hard, though, not to read it with a bit of envy, given the disunity in the United States concerning our efforts in the current war against Islamic terror. With military deaths in one day sometimes surpassing those in all four years of the Iraq War so far, Americans remained united throughout World War II, realizing that this was a war that had to be won.

(Atkinson's book, by the way, is one more example of how the best history books these days emerge not from universities but from writers working independently. The situation regarding military history is even more embarrassing for academics: Many universities ban both ROTC and the history sub-discipline that was once a major part of learning about the past.)

And who is responsible for wars? Atheists such as Christopher Hitchens blame religion, but Meic Pearse's The Gods of War: Is Religion the Primary Cause of Violent Conflict? (IVP, 2007) answers the title question with a strong "No." Some religions are trouble: Pearse notes that Islam is violent but "we may not say so out loud." He then shows that irreligion bears the heaviest responsibility for most military deaths over the centuries.

The tens of millions of deaths resulting from the actions of atheists Mao, Stalin, and Hitler don't make the 5,000 executions decreed by the Inquisition less heinous, but a little perspective never killed anyone.

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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