The Week in Books 2008, No 37

In his excellent book “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism,
Timothy Keller interacts with historical and modern philosophy, history, and literature, as well as citing his experience leading a large congregation in Manhattan.

The first section of the book discusses and counters seven objections commonly raised by Western skeptics, ranging from “there can’t be just one true religion” to “a good God couldn’t allow suffering” to “science has disproved Christianity.” Keller approaches each objection politely but firmly, making the content intellectually rigorous yet accessible.

Having dealt with objections against the existence of God, in the second part of the book Keller turns to positive reasons for believing in God. Again, the level of the discourse is high but still engaging.

Anyone who does much interacting with people who oppose Christianity, whether sophisticated intellectuals or otherwise, will recognize the common objections Keller refutes here, and I think the book would be useful for people who don’t believe in God but who are intellectually open to testing their own beliefs, or for Christians who interact with people outside their faith community. I would recommend the book especially to senior high kids to read before they go off to college. The arguments presented in this book are like the ones you might run into in late night dorm discussions or in a religion or philosophy class, and it would behoove you to be prepared in advance for them.

Keller doesn’t bang the reader over the head and call down fire and brimstone, but he does gently challenge readers, whatever their belief system (and we all have one, even people who think themselves above all that), to be rigorous in examining their beliefs and testing their preconceptions. This is a valuable book, and I highly recommend it.

Throughout their book Shopping for Time: How to Do It All and NOT Be Overwhelmed,
authors Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, and Janelle Bradsahw, encourage women (not just mothers, but ALL women at whatever stage of life, which is great) to think of the time we have in life from God’s perspective: He gives us time to do what He has called us to, it’s when we add in lots of extras that we find ourselves “overwhelmed, miserable, and exhausted.” The book, which is short at under 100 pages but full of insight, is further broken down into the authors’ five tips for getting our time priorities straight.

First, they suggest getting up early (dependent on circumstances – your best time might be at night) to carve out some time when you can spend time with God, plan your day before it runs away from you, and otherwise be refreshed. The second tip is to learn to sit still, which is hard for a lot of us to do. The sit still tip includes thoughts on having daily time in reading your Bible and prayer, and how not to be a legalist about it. Next is a tip to take time to sit and plan, whether once a year or once a week. They suggest using this “retreat” time to consider your goals and priorities, evaluate how you’re doing in those areas, and make plans for how to move forward. The fourth tip, to consider people and relationships, suggests carefully evaluating your family and friend relationships so you can invest yourself in those relationships and build them to be strong. I thought the section on different types of friends was particularly interesting – the authors point out the importance of not neglecting friendships with women in different stages and phases of life, which I think is easy to overlook. Finally, the fifth tip is about being productive and includes thoughts on planning, dealing with interruptions and busy seasons of life, and remembering our dependence on God.

Although this book is short and doesn’t contain the detail of many self-help type “get control of your life!” books, I found “Shopping for Time” to be encouraging and inspirational, and I’d recommend it.

More Mudpies to Magnets: Science for Young Children
is filled with interesting activities to teach different science concepts to children. One of the most useful parts of the book is that each activity/experiment is marked with an age recommendation, such as 2+, 3+, 4+ and so forth. In reading the directions for the activities, I thought most of the age recommendations were accurate. There are a few activities that would work well with a 2 to 3 year old, although most of the book would be better for kids in the 4-5 age range. Our library didn’t have the original Mudpies to Magnets: A Preschool Science Curriculum so maybe that book has more things for the 2-3 year olds. In any case, I did get some good ideas for science activities to do with the kids, such as making balloons blow up with vinegar and baking soda, observing how drops of food coloring behave in water versus vegetable oil, and so forth. If anyone has other recommendations for science type activities appropriate for toddlers, please let me know. I’m trying to do two per week. Lately our science has been mostly nature study, which I think is great for kids, but as the weather changes we might need more indoor activities.

In The 19th Wife,
David Ebershoff weaves together the story of Brigham Young’s 19th wife, who apostasized from Mormonism and crusaded against polygamy in the late 1800s, and the son of a 19th wife of a member of a breakaway polygamist sect in modern day Utah.

About 100 pages into this book I asked myself if I really wanted to keep going, because the topic of polygamy and how it affects everyone involved is deeply disturbing. Ebershoff admirably does NOT go into lascivious detail about the polygamy, mostly because I think he wanted to emphasize how the wretchedness of it is not due to kinky things, but just to the everyday problems of having plural wives and about 100 children in one household.

I’m glad I kept going, because as the story continued I began to appreciate some other choices Eberhoff made that had bothered me at first. For example, the son of the modern day polygamist is cast out of the compound (apparently that’s fairly common, so that the old men don’t have competition for the younger women) and becomes homosexual – I wondered if that was really a necessary detail, but I think Ebershoff sets up a thoughtful point with the homosexuality issue: our culture has a hard time finding grounds to condemn polygamy because we say that any choice between consenting adults is fine. Ebershoff also explores whether women really have open grounds to consent to polygamous practices, or whether they are coerced, and also seems to conclude that one of the reasons the state should crack down on polygamists is the dreadful toll polygamy takes on the children involved.

Although I don’t think Ebershoff went far enough with his points, I appreciate that he interjected them, and I think this book would make for particularly interesting discussion on this and a number of other points. I will warn you that there is some profanity in the modern-day sections, although I think it serves to underscore how the abandoned children are having to be tough to defend themselves as they are exploited and trying to find their ways alone. That said, I would recommend the book cautiously, if you’re interested in state/morality/parental rights type issues associated with polygamy, and if you’re able to take a step back from the questionable language and references in some sections.

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