Thursday, June 29, 2006

Books read in June (12)

1. Religion Versus Empire?: British Protestant Missionaries and Overseas Expansion, 1700-1914 - Andrew Porter

Were missionaries enthusiastic imperialists? Did the British Empire promote Christian missions? Read this book and find out. It is not an easy read being an academic study which ranges far and wide in time and space but you will finish it far better informed about empire and missions.
At the start we have missionaries in the most difficult of environments, West Indian slave plantations where most owners hated missionaries and some use violence against them. We are taken to South Africa and see missionaries struggling to be more humane than Boers or British government. We are taken to India and see an East India Company that did want the locals's religion disturbed. Then with evangelical influence in the home country the situation changed.

The author writes with sympathy for the self sacrifice of these Christian pioneers and their determination to but the spread of the gospel to the fore. Sometimes I wonder if he is accurate. Did Granville Sharpe actually go to Africa to establish the settlement which became Sierra Leone?

I think the author could have been more critical of colonial governors such as Lugard whose indirect rule in Northern Nigeria helped the spread of Islam while severely restricting Christian mission.

2. The Cricketer's Quotation Book - David Rayvern Allen

If like me you love cricket and quotations this book will have you in heaven. Quotes are here form 1699 onwards. If you cannot get to see a game played live or on TV, read this and cricket will unfold before you. You will find literary giants who loved the game, a few who did not, plus quotes from the great cricket

3. The Little Book of How to Survive the Big 60 - Aubrey Dillon-Malone

Just 90 quotations on getting older with a smile. George Burns is the expert and he is here. It will give you some smiles to crease your wrinkles.writers. It should be next to Wisden on the cricket lovers book shelf.

4. Napoleon (Reputations Series.) R.S. Alexander

This is the fourth book I have read in the reputations series and the least satisfactory.
If you want to know the biography of the great man, this is not one. His life is given 26 pages. Then we have Napoleon as inspiration for left and right in Europe which seems to me more about how his memory has been misused than an assessment of his reputation. There is extensive writing on the Little Corporal in literature and art including modern film. Finally the author discuses whether the Emperor was a conqueror or unifier in Europe, a question most readers will have little difficulty in answering.

I found this a hard read which did not grip my interest nor really inform me about a great soldier and ruler.

5. Oliver Cromwell - Peter Gaunt

This is the best biography of Cromwell which I have read. It is concise and an easy read. Particularly pleasing is how the author gives criticism of many sources on Cromwell to assess their credibility for many are from those with cause to hate him or so late to be of doubtful provenance. Despite losing some favorite quotes this way one is given plenty of others from Oliver himself which confirm that this was no hypocritical ambitious dissembler but a man who believed he was guided and blessed by Providence to lead and rule .

The speed of the transformation from a little known farmer to the greatest military leader on Briish soil and then to head of state is truly astonishing. Gaunt has a good analysis of the reasons why Cromwell refused the crown and of his much criticised Irish campaign.

I found this a very fair book. The reader is informed that you cannot understand Cromwell through modern secularist spectacles. You have to understand some 17th century theology to see what motivated this man. I think the author is very fair in giving us the views of those critical of Cromwell though showing that some critics, like Clarendon found much to admire in Oliver. He ultimately failed to get his godly reformation established but he was a champion of liberty before its time. Here is no self agrandising dictator but a man who only rules with his council of state and written constitution. He never sought the wealth and luxury of kings.

6. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies - Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit

This is a short well written book by, as far as I can tell, two academics, one American and one Israeli. They define their subject like this. "Occidentalism can be seen as the expression of a bitter resentment toward an offensive display of superiority by the West, based on the alleged superiority of reason.' They say, " More corrosive even than military imperialism is the imperialism of the mind imposed by spreading the western belief in scientism, the faith in science as the only way to gain knowledge." p.95.
They start with a meeting of Japanese scholars in 1942 asking how to overcome the modern. The modern is typified by the city, materialism, individualism and immorality. The history of the city as whore is discussed. Individualism is blamed on the West's reformation heritage. From Romanticism's rejection of Enlightenment rationalism we are shown how other cultures have emphasised the reason of heart not head and the importance of community. We are given a link from Romanticism to Islamism, even via Russian Orthodoxy and Marxism. It is a fascinating journey. the West is hated out of envy but more than envy too.

The authors are understanding of Islam showing suicide bombing as a recent innovation condemned by main stream Islam. Islam must deal with Islamists, but one wonders if this is any more than a hope. I wonder if they do give enough weight to the mainstream theology that says Islam must rule and all the world submit. The unique thing about the Islamists seems to me to be their methods of achieving this alone.

I recommend this book as helping us to see ourselves as others see us. Zealous Christians will be just as critical of the West's rationalism, materialism, individualism, exploitation and sexual immorality just like any Occidentalist.

7. The West and the Rest: Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat by Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton has written a timely warning about the dangers facing the West where nations have lost pride in their own cultures. He sees the West under threat, particularly from Islam. "Freedoms that western citizens take for granted are all but unheard of in Islamic countries, and while no Western citizens are fleeing from the West, 70% of the world's refugees are Muslims fleeing from places where their religion is the official doctrine. Moreover, those refugees are all fleeing to the West, recognizing no other place as able to grant the opportunities, freedoms and personal safety that they despair of finding at home. "p.ix

The Social Contract is sen as binding in the west where church and state are separated. In Islam, loyalty to the umma transcends all other loyalties. In the West Christianity has been the most influential cultural force . One way it is different from Islam is forgiveness. " ... one must recognize that the idea of forgiveness, symbolized in the Cross, distinguishes the Christian from the Muslim inheritance."p.38. This doctrine is compatible with defensive warfare but not with terrorism. With a doctrine of forgiveness there can be a political order without reference to tribe of faith, in which even the most fundamental differences can be accommodated provided there is territorial jurisdiction within established national borders. Islam demands a higher loyalty, a state never separated from religion, an other monotheists merely tolerated as secon class dhimmis without full citizen rights. Belonging in the West comes from loyalty to a nation state. Islam has a higher loyalty which must prevail. Loyalty is never ultimately to the nation state if that state is in conflict with an Islamic one. Scruton shows how Muslims must be rues by Holy Law, Shari'a. He shows the development of Islamism from Wahabbism and the Muslim brotherhood and how globalization has enabled the terrorists to use the western systems they despise to threaten us today.

So the diagnosis of what ails us is well done. What is Scxruton's prescribed cure. Strengthen the nation state, not the E.U. for which no-one will die. Stop bureaucratic legislation Have immigration policies aimed at integration not multiculturalism. Take pride in our own culture. Stop its denigration. It will be an uphill climb.

8. Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis Is America's, Too by Claire Berlinski

The author appears to be a young American secular Jewish woman who has spent a lot of time in different European countries. She writes in a popular style far removed from any academic pretence of objectivity and has aimed at the American market. Her approach is that of a journalistic travel book which may leave one wondering how representative her contacts and friends are, for from them she gives us her generalizations on the state of Europe. Foe example her studies at Oxford lead her to write about British Muslims who are high achievers, not your average poor immigrants from the Indian sub-continent.. Her other source on the English Muslim situation is from contemporary novels. This is not exactly first hand research into the lives of ordinary Muslims.

There are though some observations one rarely hears. Richard Dawkins is the promulgator of "the condescending strain of atheism ...His remarkably unattractive world view manges not only to be spiritually empty but also intellectually embarrassing". However her analysis of religion in Britain is perfunctory and I really do doubt that Islam is the fastest growing religion by conversion among native Britons. However this is the only book I have read that tells us the British approach to multiculturalism is so monumentally flawed as to waste public money translating publications into "community languages" where the people in these communities who have not learned English are illiterate in their own mother tongues .

The authors contrast with France where ethnic communities are not officially recognized and assimilation into all things French is encouraged is most enlightening. After reading this book one has a much better understanding of the French secularist imposition of uniformity in the public square.

With the present inability of most European countries to have self sustaining reproduction rates the demographic decline of Europe is foreseen as is the probable devastating economic consequences. There are timely warnings here. but one also has to wade through some awful reproduction of the lyrics of a revolting German pop group as she warns us about resurgent nationalism.

Once again here is a book often good on the diagnosis of Europe's problems but giving no prescriptions for a cure. I am left wondering why the author divides her time between Paris and Istanbul, not living in the US which is the envy of the world and where cultural diversity is, she reckons, so much better, even the restaurants.

9. A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England 1783-1846 (New Oxford History of England)
by Boyd Hilton

From the French Revolution to Chartism, life in England is comprehensively surveyed. This is not only political history but all of English life is surveyed including religion and culture. It is interesting to read of the curtailment of civil liberties after the French Revolution and the threat of Napoleonic invasion. One sees parallels with todays civil repressive measures in the face of the war on terrorism. Full of interesting detail like the first man to go back to having a beard in the 1820s. I shall want to read more in this series.

10. The Bible (NIV)

It is over 30 years since i started to use M'Cheyne's daily Bible reading schedule which aims to cover the whole bible in a year. Since then I have changed to two OT chapters, one NT and a Psalm daily. This gets on through the whole Bible in a year and through paslams twice. I confess it is only in recent years that I have really been disciplined enough to do yhis every day. Previously there were times missed then passages to catch up with

11. Londonistan: How Britain Is Creating a Terror State Within by Melanie Phillips

"According to British officials, up to 16,000 British Muslims either are actively engaged in or support terrorist activity, while up to 3,000 are estimated to have passed through Al Qaeda training camps, with several hundred thought to be primed to attack the United Kingdom." So the author quotes a 2004 Home Office paper which alerts us to the treat facing this country. Melanie Phillips tells how London has been allowed to be the world centre of Islamist plotting by Muslims not able to live in their own countries.
Britain has a long history of harbouring political refugees but in former centuries, people like Marx were not planning the overthrow of our country or Western civilisation. Islamist radicals are. She shows how the judiciary have used human rights legislation to stop the government imprisoning such people when eventually they woke up to the threat. This book carries repeated assertions that the majority Muslim population are peaceful yet argues that Muslim leaders have failed to condemn all terrorism, especially that against Israel.

She identifies multicultual paralysis as the reason that our authorities will not link Islam with terrorism, preferring to explain it as a violent reaction to the war in Iraq. Multiculturalism has lead to minority grousp claiming victim status. The cultural heritage of a Christian country is denied. The intellectual establishment has no concept of the value of our history having succumbed to a post-modernist denial of objective truth. The Muslim minority demands privileges in a way no other minority does wanting Shari'sa law recognised. Islam wants to take over our culture and our establishment is in denial. That includes many church leaders too. Ignorance of the threat goes right up to the heir to the throne whose rosy view of Islam seems to ignore what the Shari'a says about adulterers.

Where I do think the author goes too far is in her support for Zionism. She rightly exposes the chronic anti-semitism in the Muslim world and its hypocrisy over the Palestinians, but she seems to label any non-zionist as anti-semitic. Replacement theology, believing that the church is now God's covenant people and that Jews do not have a divine right to the land of Palestine is not to deny the right of the State of Israel to exist. But this is a minor aberration in an otherwise excellent book.

But as usual in books about the growth of Islam in Europe, brilliant diagnosis is not followed by convincing offering of remedies. She offers, stop appeasing terrorism, realise this is a war of religious ideology, see the folly of multiculturalism which does not demand loyalty to the nation state and acceptance of the majority culture, repeal the Human Rights act, withdraw from the European Convention on human Rights and the U.N. Convention on Refugees, restate the primacy of British culture and citizenship, address the cultural deformities of moral relativism. I agree with her, we must stop sleepwalking into cultural oblivion.

12. Return to the Hiding Place by Hans Poley

Hans Poley, was the first person hidden from the Nazis by the Ten Boom family. He was a Christian university student who refused the German demand to affirm his loyalty to their regime. Instead he hid at the Ten boom home before they had their building alterations done. Six people eventually survived the Gestapo raid on the house, hidden so well that friendly Dutch police could not find the hiding place despite direction given to it. Poley was not there though. He had been arrested while on a Resistance mission. By the grace of God the Gestapo did not find the gun concealed at his parents' home.Hhe was imprisoned but released before the war ended.

This is a fascinating account of the remarkable faith of the Ten Boons which lead them to do great things to help those being hunted for their lives. There is interesting debate on the ethics of deception.
This is a book to move you to tears and also to give thanks to God for the reality of true faith which leads to great works by ordinary people.

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