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Book Corner May 2008

Summer Season Choices – A Trio

Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl

 

I Don't Believe in Atheists
by Chris Hedges  New York:  Free Press, 2008. PP. 208

Chris Hedges is a journalist and scholar whose credentials include a 2002 Pulitzer Prize and an Amnesty International Award in 2002 in the area of human rights journalism.  Hedges was raised as a Presbyterian and attended Harvard Divinity School.  He writes with the eyes of both a journalist and a theologian. This work is a brilliant description of the topography of two major types of fundamentalism, which are claiming the attention of Americans today and are global in terms of impact.

From this work:  “The battle between these new atheists and the religious fundamentalists engages two bizarre subsets of American culture.  One distorts the scientific theory of evolution, applying it to complex social, economic and political systems it was never designed to explain.  The other insists that the six-day story of creation in Genesis is fact and Jesus will descend from the sky to establish the kingdom of God on earth.  Neither God nor science, however, will protect us from the destructive forces within human history and nature.  We are not progressing morally as a species.  We are not headed toward uplands of sunlight and harmony, toward collective salvation.  The technological advances made by human societies have empowered in equal measure, those dedicated to preserving and protecting life, and those dedicated to violence and industrial slaughter.  The battle underway in the United States is not between religion and science. It is a battle between two utopian forms of faith.  These antagonists trade absurdity for absurdity.  They show that the danger is not religion or science. The danger is the fundamentalist mindset itself.”

Anyone attempting to sort out the books, viewpoints and names arguing these issues in the media and in print, should read this work.   Hedges’ work is eloquent and lucid in its descriptions, sources, history and message.

 

Fanon
by John Edgar Wideman.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin, 2008.  Pp. 229 

Wideman is an African-American author who has written both fiction and non-fiction works and teaches at Brown University.  The work is a novel of a character named Thomas who wishes to write a work about Fritz Fanon (1925 – 1961,) whose name came to fame with his work The Wretched of the Earth.  Fanon was a doctor and fought against France during Algeria’s war for independence.  His politics and written materials provide an intense analysis of the forces that some human beings use to subjugate and destroy others.

The novel’s narrator moves between his own life, sometimes a thinly veiled work in progress of the author’s own life, and the life of Fanon.  There are scenes of reflection that are piercingly beautiful and aching in their intensity.  In one, the author sits in the garden after a shared evening meal with his wife (pp. 139 ff) pondering his life, Fanon and the agonies of existence.

In other sections, the author mentally moves in street talk dialogue with Fanon, a native of Martinique.  

Wideman has not just ‘a way with words,’ but many ways with several languages.  His work is demanding, challenging and in many ways, tears at the heart.  His writing and his subject matter address the many nuances of what it means to belong and to be cut adrift simultaneously in this fragile venture called life.

 

The Bishop’s Daughter
by Honor Moore.  A memoir.  New York; W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. Pp. 364

Paul Moore, Jr. was Episcopal bishop of New York for twenty years in mid-twentieth century America.  He came of a privileged background, served in WW II and cast his lot with the famous names and figures of the Civil Rights movement.

This work is by the oldest of his nine children, Honor, a writer and artist.   The work is intended as a dual unfolding of both Honor’s own life and sexuality and that of her father’s.   Through correspondence, conversation and sometimes broken relationships, Honor reconstructs her parents’ married life to find that her father was bi-sexual.   This fact enormously influenced his life and that of his family.

The work criss-crosses events, gatherings, relationships, worship services and matters of theological education in such a way that it becomes clear theological title and rank have little to do – if anything – with the kinds of actions, sins and sufferings of those struggling to be faithful.

While the work focuses on Honor’s father, this is also about a woman – his first spouse – who raised nine children and suffered intensely in a marriage where speaking the forbidden was almost impossible. 

Moore does a good job of trying to untangle what the daughter-father relationship meant to her, but it is evident that the secrets of the parents can afflict and mold the children in more ways than one might think.