Beauty and the Beast is probably my all-time favorite Disney musical.
My aunt took me to see the theatrical version on Broadway for my 14th birthday, and that sort of experience tends to be pretty formative (my 13th birthday was Phantom of the Opera, and I can still basically recite that play by heart without needing the music). But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the depth of the story:
It’s a call for open-mindedness and diversity that was pretty unusual for its day (1991) and remains relevant today.
Its heroine, Belle, is a much stronger woman character than had been typical to that point (only Jasmine is comparable until we hit the Tangled/Frozen era)
And its climactic song, unimaginatively titled “The Mob Song,” is a rousing and chilling exploration of how fear turns people into the beasts they so despise and war against.
Max Lucado has a message for you: Do not be anxious.
That’s basically the title of his 4 gazillionth book: Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World, released last fall.
Now, full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, and beyond the Amazon blurb, I don’t know what’s in it. Obviously, that fully qualifies me to write several hundred words about it on the internet!
Kidding. Kind of.
But let’s be honest; it doesn’t take a lot of insight to notice that this book came out exactly 10 months after the election of Donald Trump and all of the anxiety that attended – and has continued to follow – it.
In an effort to clear out some of my to-read backlog, I dove into Hell: A Final Word– a semi-autobiographical synopsis of Edward Fudge’s much longer and groundbreaking case for annihilationism as the biblical vision of the fate of the wicked.
Fudge, who died late last year, is little known outside of a very small group of people interested in challenging the traditional Christian notion of hell as the home of eternal conscious torment. In the 1970s, he was commissioned to spend a year researching the subject and to his surprise found that he felt the Bible taught that the souls of those condemned to hell eventually perished in the flames, thus the labels “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality.” That book was The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment; Hell: A Final Word was written to coincide with the release of a biopic about Fudge’s theological journey.
(While you might think a film about a preacher engaging in a yearlong quest of biblical scholarship about hell would be horribly boring, it’s surprisingly good! It’s called Hell and Mr. Fudge, and it’s worth your time if you’re at all interested in the subject. I ended up seeing a premier screening at Abilene Christian University’s annual Summit lectureship in 2012, where I also bought the book. Fudge was a lifelong member of Churches of Christ, thus the ACU connection.)
All of that to say, if you’re dissatisfied (or not!) with eternal conscious torment – either because of your own research or because of your discomfort with the nature of the God it requires you to worship – this is a good popular-level primer for how Fudge came to articulate the most comprehensive case for one of the two major alternatives.
I didn’t anticipate writing more about Marx beyond my comments last week about how despite being an avowed critic of religion, Marx has had profound impacts on Christianity, but here we are because I couldn’t help notice some parallels between the Europe of Marx’s time and the America of ours.
In honor of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, I’m reading Gareth Stedman Jones’ Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion.
As a philosophical biography, Stedman Jones’ work is focused beyond just the nuts-and-bolts info of Marx’s life; instead, he takes pains to paint the social and philosophical context into which Marx was born and raised. This is very helpful, as no one thinks in a vacuum, and if we are to understand Marx and what he believed, we should also understand the currents into which he was born.
Saturday was the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, occasioning a slew of think pieces and hot takes (he was a genius! he was a monster!) – but here’s one that rarely gets made: Marx, that notorious skeptic of religion, was arguably one of the most influential figures in shaping 20th century Christianity.
On the one hand, this is obvious – Marx’s influence on world history generally is hard to overstate, and to the extent that Christianity partakes in world history, it must also have been influenced by Marx. Likewise, because so much of American Christianity, especially the fundamentalist and evangelical strains, embraced anti-communism, Marx obviously exerted a significant, albeit negative influence in the development of those traditions.
But I mean something more specific, and more positive – that Marx’s critique of capitalism’s inherent depredations and his yearning for a better, more just society shaped at least two significant Christian movements in the 20th century.
The latest front in the seemingly unending culture wars is Bible-believing Christians versus GQ.
In case you are blessedly ignorant of what’s been happening, allow me to ruin your day.
First, GQ decided to publish a snarky, irreverent piece essentially saying: “These 21 books are almost universally considered great. They actually suck. Read these other 21 thematically similar books instead.”
Now, obviously, the goal of a listicle like this is clicks. Fans of the dissed books will express their outrage, whether feigned or genuine, GQ will reap the ad-revenue and brand-expansion benefits, and the world spins on.
End of story, right? Well, no.
12. The Bible
The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.
For the past few years, I’ve been posting quarterly updates of what I’ve been reading on Facebook with little two- or three-sentence reviews of what I thought. And now I transliterate it here, so that the five people who read me on my Facebook page can see the same post on my blog! It’s called cross-promotion or something. Deal with it. (Links go to my typically more in-depth Goodreads reviews.)
1. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956) – This retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid is quite good. It gave me a whole new respect for Lewis as a writer of more than “just” children’s fantasy and Christian apologetics. If you liked Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, you should give this a read because it’s better. *ducks*
2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Easily one of the best novels of 2017, if not the entire decade, if not this generation. Everyone should read it. Everyone.