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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four scholarly books reviewed by Marvin Olasky

Issue: "Focus on Mitt Romney," July 16, 2011

The Economics of Good and Evil

Tomas Sedlacek's The Economics of Good and Evil (Oxford, 2011) is a leading Czech economist's wide-ranging look at morality and money. For example, he reflects on moaning by the newly liberated Israelites about "the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost." Sedlacek writes, "One of Moses' greatest deeds was that he managed to explain to his nation once and for all that it is better to remain hungry and liberated than to be a slave with food 'at no cost.'" Many of Sedlacek's idiosyncratic points feed into his overall emphasis that facts always require interpretation: "Even the most sophisticated mathematical model is, de facto, a story, a parable, our effort to grasp the world around us."

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic, 2011) is the latest in a stream of books examining American individualism that began with Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, now a dozen years old. Turkle's work is a step above others in its technology emphasis and its interviews, such as the one with "a lovely raven-haired woman in her mid twenties" who wanted to trade in her boyfriend "for a sophisticated Japanese robot." She delves into mobile devices that liberate adults to work from home but give them no escape from work, and allow children to text and run but not too far from anxious parents.

More God, Less Crime

Byron Johnson's More God, Less Crime (Templeton, 2011) shows that faith-based organizations work: Inmates who complete Christian programs in prison later have much lower rates of arrest and incarceration. Academics who sneer at such data are falling prey to the huge prejudice against Christian-based approaches that reigns on typical campuses and in typical government offices. Johnson tells of submitting a scholarly journal article and receiving this response: "There is something wrong about this paper, I don't know what it is, I can't put my finger on it, but something is not right." That "something" is a biblical perspective, but if such prejudice rules we'll have many assaults, break-ins, rapes, and murders that could have been avoided.

The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse

One reason secular liberal professors have trouble grasping Christian arguments is that they don't recognize their own religious commitments, which are generally based in wishful thinking rather than reality. Steven D. Smith, in The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Harvard University Press, 2010), powerfully shows that non-recognition of religious commitments makes for shallow or dishonest discussion, where people smuggle in their convictions but encase them in vague notions of "freedom" or "equality." Natural law arguments often have the same problem when we do not ground them in Scripture, for, as Smith notes, "the secular vocabulary is too truncated to express the full range of our values, intuitions, commitments, or convictions."

Spotlight

Byron Johnson's More God, Less Crime shoots down the down-the-drain rhetoric of some Christians. Johnson writes, "Often fed by bad data and dubious thought leaders, many well-intentioned ministers unwittingly pass along misinformation to their congregations." Johnson criticizes "the claim that we are one generation away from a godless youth society. Similarly no reliable studies show that divorce is now more prevalent among churchgoing evangelicals than those that are unchurched. Nonetheless, accusations such as these are common fodder for sermons."

Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck's Why We Love the Church (Moody, 2009) also takes issue with nay-sayers, and in the process demolishes the myth that church attendance is declining across the board. Attendance at liberal Protestant and Catholic churches is down, but "the actual number of people attending an evangelical church on any weekend rose by several million over the last decade and a half." After a long decline many Calvinistic churches once again are growing, and Kenneth Stewart's Ten Myths About Calvinism (IVP, 2011) explains why: Calvinism is more than predestination and TULIP, and it does not lead to dictatorial theocracy, sloth about missions and revivals, and a host of other failings for which it has been blamed.

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