Hefty Reading

Article excerpt

I'VE RECENTLY READ and I highly recommend the following four books. Each is different and satisfying. Each is hefty, which is satisfying in its own way--it always feels like something of a statement to travel with a hardback book that's hard to fit into an airplane carry-on bag.

The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong, is an ambitious historical survey of the way human beings have thought about God, beginning with the beautiful and mysterious cave drawings at Lascaux, France, that date from 12,000 to 30,000 BC. The book is scholarly but accessible. In the introduction Armstrong reports that readers have told her, "That book was really hard!" She says she wants to tell them, "Of course it was. It was about God." Armstrong comments on the neoatheist best sellers by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. None of these authors deals much with the age-old conversation and argument about God that has gone on within the religious community, but Armstrong reminds readers that scholars have been wrestling with ultimate issues for millennia. Her book has helped me with my own project this autumn: a sermon series titled "What the Bible Says and What We Believe About God."

I read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, partly because I enjoyed The Corrections so much and partly because I think a preacher ought to know about what everybody is reading. This big, engaging story touches on many of the social issues of our time. (See Rodney Clapp's review in the November 2 CENTURY, "Free for what?") Franzen's characters, I thought as I read, don't have enough important things to do. Even the attempt to save a songbird from extinction becomes compromised. I kept wishing they'd all pack up and go to church some Sunday morning and volunteer in a homeless shelter or sign up for a mission trip.

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, is based on a host of data. …