What’s not helpful: The Religions Book (DK, 2013) is pretty but dumb, with oversimplifying throughout. It has sections on a variety of beliefs, but flattens everything so those who turn the pages will be reinforced in the illusion that they are walking down worldview supermarket aisles and picking bottles and boxes off the shelves, rather than walking on paths that will lead them to heaven or hell.
What is helpful: Donald Johnson’s How to Talk to a Skeptic, published this month by Bethany House. Johnson rightfully criticizes the idea of Christianity as a consumer product that we sell by suggesting that it will meet needs and desires. Instead, he understands that the important question regarding Christianity (or other religions) is not “Do I like it?” or “What can it do for me?”—the vital question is, “Is it true?”
Johnson explains that instead of reacting to specific assaults, we should “talk about which story of the universe is more reasonable to believe: Christianity or something else.” We should show that “Christianity is the worldview that best accounts for the evidence. Compared to any other worldview an unbeliever cares to offer, Christianity most adequately and comprehensively makes sense of life as we experience it every day.”
Instead of focusing on only one or two pieces of data, Johnson proposes that we defend the reliability of Scripture and the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, but also note claims of personal experience of God, providential and miracle claims, explanations for the existence of evil and good in the world, our experience of being conscious and having a conscience, the overarching unfolding of history, the way the world and the universe seem designed, and more.
Turning to a different kind of skepticism, we have good reason to laugh (and cry) when Obama administration officials say their programs have helped the U.S. economically, and particularly the poor. Casey Mulligan’s The Redistribution Recession (Oxford, 2013) provides economic evidence (sometimes technical) that shows how federal programs have kept the United States in a low-growth mode for five years. Expanded social safety net programs have lured many people away from work: Mulligan concludes, “One hundred percent marginal tax rates—when the safety net gets so generous that a number of program beneficiaries receive zero reward for enhancing their incomes.”
If you read Mulligan’s economics book you deserve dessert: Mark Leibovich’s This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital (Blue Rider Press, 2013). The book is a New York Times reporter’s sneer at the D.C. culture that the Times helps to perpetuate, but it’s amusing and will help non-Washington readers discern the town’s stylized rituals.
Erick Stakelbeck’s The Brotherhood: America’s Next Great Enemy (Regnery, 2013) would be better if it followed a WORLD adage, “sensational facts, understated prose.” Despite the realities of today’s crowded media marketplace, I hope that writers don’t have to scream to be heard: Stakelbeck screams, but he does provide useful information about the Muslim Brotherhood.
Stakelbeck is wrong, though, about the identity of America’s greatest enemies. Sure, radical Muslims aspire to proclaim their own brotherhood by bathing in everyone else’s blood, but smiling Muslims like Reza Aslan, author of Zealot (Random House, 2013), skillfully undermine the faith in Christ that makes millions of people willing to stand up against overt terrorists.
I wrote about Zealot three times on worldmag.com (“Fawning over falsehood 1 and 2,” July 15 and July 25, and “Press zealotry for Zealot,” Aug. 12) when its No. 1 bestseller reception was a hot news item. I’m mentioning it on this page because the book will probably be a library staple for years, despite its false assertion after false assertion: The Jesus/Pilate exchange “never happened,” New Testament writers didn’t care what actually happened, Jesus was a failure, etc., etc.
Ignorance of the Bible is so widespread among journalists that Aslan, promoting his book in hundreds of interviews, was almost never challenged. —M.O.