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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Save Send Delete" is "Fun, Pervy, Christian Apologetics"

Prodigious Amazon reviewer Peter Sean Bradley, who reviews serious books about Catholicism, has posted a review of Save Send Delete. Please rush on over to Amazon and buy Save Send Delete today. It is relatively cheap lately. (Prices go up and down.) The Amazon page for Save Send Delete is here.

Peter's review is below. You can see it at Amazon here

This is an unusual book of apologetics.

There are other "correspondence-style" books that consist of the exchange of correspondence between believer and non-believer, or between varieties of non-believers. Such books used to consist of exchanges of letters, but e-mails have taken over. What these books have in common is that they are published with the agreement of both sides and the "form" of the exchange is only in the background.

This book is far different from the norm. In this book, the reader sees only one side of the exchange, that of the believer, the non-believer's side being omitted out of a respect for his privacy. This format makes the presentation "choppy" and sometimes requires the interpolation of information from subsequent emails to make sense of the topics referenced in prior emails. This "choppy" reading experience is common to anyone with experience reading another person's email chain (as a lawyer, I know this experience), and there are times when I really, really wished I could see what the non-believer had written.

The book is also unusual in being a kind of roman a clef. The author insists that this is a real email exchange with a real atheist doyen. She calls the atheist Lord Randolph Court-Wright, Marquis of Alnwick, "Rand" for short, and offers clues to his identity - English, tall, good-looking, on television - which are tempting clues. (She also provides interludes with her friend, an actress who - maybe - accepted the role of DA in Batman.).) Take the clues at face value..or not.

The book opens with the author sending a long email upbraiding "Rand" for things he said as part of a Bill Moyers' presentation. Moyers had introduced Rand as a "skeptic," but, as is typical of the modern variety of "skeptic, Goska observes " were as dogmatic in your atheism as a Monty Python parody of a pope." Goska challenges Rand with the fact that Western science has always been braided with religious Commitment. Goska also challenges Rand's manhood by arguing that his commitment to atheism may just have a lot to do with being a sexual and social loser in the high school hierarchy. (She also mentions Jung's "synchronicity" in her first email, which will come back in a later email.)

Goska, or the character in her book - I honestly could not tell if these emails were entirely bona fide or invented - is surprised – shocked! mortified! – when Rand responds.

One of the interesting features of the modern internet age is how the mythic/legendary figures that we never used to interact with suddenly pop up on the internet as real human beings with real feelings. As an Amazon reviewer, I know how it feels when the living person who bled and fought to put their thoughts and feeling into a text reaches out to critique my critique of their work.

The email conversation then takes off in the usual direction that emails conversations take – everywhere, i.e., the existence of God, the problem of evil, the meaning of life, etc.

Goska is not in any sense a trained Christian apologist, and I suspect that she has absolutely no desire to be a Christian apologist in any formal sense. She is, however, a thinking person and a Catholic and she has thought about the great questions from her life experience as reflected through the prism of lived Catholicism. This makes her presentation substantially different from the normal "debates" that these kinds of books take. Most of her arguments do not fall in the great patterns of apologetic arguments, which may be why Rand probably found countering her arguments baffling (and she is not afraid of simply telling Rand that his arguments are nonsense, which must have been a new experience for him.) For example, in what I thought was the best part of the book, after Rand raised the atheist's chestnut of the "problem of evil" – which they can milk for all its emotional worth – Goska appealed to her own experience of suffering – and that of people she knows – to turn the emotional appeal around on him:

"Atheists like you say that you can't believe in God because there is so much suffering in the world. That's imperialism. You presume to speak for others, others who do not want you to speak for them. You start with the Holocaust. Fair enough. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who rescued Jews. Not only was she still a Christian after her imprisonment in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, she prayed for, and received, God's gift of forgiveness when one of the cruelest camp guards approached her after the war. Oswald Rufeisen, a Jewish survivor, became a monk. Elie Weisel, who survived Auschwitz, believes."

Atheists point to suffering from the outside, not the inside. We all do. We look at a person who has been crippled and we wonder how he could live that way because we can't imagine ourselves living that way, but people do get crippled and they find joy and love – and, yes, even value – in their life as it exists. Atheists are good at expressing the horror of suffering, but they may not understand suffering from their privileged outsider perspective.

As someone who lives in the inner city and teaches the disadvantaged, and because of her own health care issues, Goska appreciates the significance of analyzing suffering from the inside. That perspective allows one of the best paragraphs on the subject I have ever read:

"Ninety percent of the suffering people I know choose, not to work their way out of the Hell to which fate has condemned them, but to upholster it. My students, my friends, visibly, actively choose to exacerbate the most hated features of their lives. Dating an abusive man? Heck, why not up the ante and get pregnant by him. Working a dead-end job? Here's a great idea – start drinking. That will really improve things. Lost everything in a flood, fire, war, and brokenhearted over that? A suggestion – don't, whatever you do, move on; don't enjoy the present moment. Cling to your memories of what is gone, and your sense of yourself as a victim."

I know a lot of people who suffer because they are in the business of "upholstering" their own private Hell. (This is not a question of blaming individuals; it is a question of recognizing human nature.)

Goska also makes the common sense observation:

"It wasn't suffering per se that made me a better person. It was my response to it. I had two choices: to be sucked under, to become a monster from which my best self would recoil, or to strive to keep my head above water. As best as I was able, I chose the latter – I strove. I approached every feature of my suffering: loneliness, pain, paralysis, despair, terror, rage, waste, poverty, as an obstacle on a course I was running for my own spiritual growth in the eyes of God – and, nobody else. That choice is what made all the difference."

Atheists, of course, argue that God could have done it different – he could have made self-improvement a matter of scoring well on tests or something equally trite, which never answers the question of whether this would actually end suffering; perhaps, the new standard of suffering would be "failing a test."

Atheists don't answer the problem of suffering so much as make suffering meaningless. A Christian – specifically, a Catholic Christian – accepts that the reason God uses suffering is not known to us presently but accepts that God must have a good reason for it, particularly since He suffered in his humanity in the Passion and the Crucifixion. In my own time of suffering, I discovered Pope John II's Salvifici Dolores, in particular this passage:

"8. In itself human suffering constitutes as it were a specific "world" which exists together with man, which appears in him and passes, and sometimes does not pass, but which consolidates itself and becomes deeply rooted in him. This world of suffering, divided into many, very many subjects, exists as it were "in dispersion". Every individual, through personal suffering, constitutes not only a small part of that a world", but at the same time" that world" is present in him as a finite and unrepeatable entity. Parallel with this, however, is the interhuman and social dimension. The world of suffering possesses as it were its own solidarity. People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering. Thus, although the world of suffering exists "in dispersion", at the same time it contains within itself a. singular challenge to communion and solidarity."


"29. Following the parable of the Gospel, we could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one's "I" on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer. The world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love which stirs in his heart and actions. The person who is a " neighbour" cannot indifferently pass by the suffering of another: this in the name of fundamental human solidarity, still more in the name of love of neighbour. He must "stop", "sympathize", just like the Samaritan of the Gospel parable. The parable in itself expresses a deeply Christian truth, but one that at the same time is very universally human."

An atheist might hand-waive about the evolutionary significance of "compassion," but confining it to a purely material world is a challenge.

And this is what happens to Rand when he is forced to explain to a suffering person why that suffering person should not end her suffering by suicide – he fails and lapses back into the numinous. Goska responds:

"ME: You can use all the big words you want, Rand. I've got a thesaurus, same as you. But if you boil it down and put it in plain English, there is NOTHING materialist about your argument. You are chickening out and adopting the stance of a believer in a transcendent reality. "Precious," "sacred," "the dignity of the human person" – did you think I would not notice that you lifted that phrase straight from the Vatican? "a whole which transcends" – you even use the word!!! – "the sum of its parts." "Spirit" !!! Oh, Mister Man, you are in a world of trouble. The Vocabulary Police levy WEIGHTY fines when an atheist uses the word "spirit.""

I have always felt that atheists should be fined when they use words like "progress" in the sense of achieving a "better" state closer to some "goal" since there can be no such thing in atheism.

This exchange rang true for me. Atheists – at least the modern "New" variety – are deconstructionists. Their game consists of shifting the burden and announcing how they don't find evidence persuasive, actually they refuse to consider evidence as "evidence." Their intellectual muscles have atrophied, but they don't know it because they can smuggle in Christian concepts into their arguments as if those concepts didn't have a Christian substructure. In fact, Goska gets an admission from Rand that would never happen in a formal setting:

"He caved in and confessed that, yes, he doesn't know how to craft a purely materialist defense of the value of human life – we had been talking about that – and then he changed, jumped, from one tone to another."

On which point, I found Goska's points about God to be eminently satisfying to my Catholic sensibilities (honed as they are by decades of reading Aquinas). Here is one:

"On the other hand, I don't believe in a God who, the moment you cast your lot in with him, or read that bestseller about the power of positive thoughts, makes you happy, pretty, and rich. I do believe that there is a supernatural entity who can make you feel 100 % better instantaneously, and his name is Satan. Feeling angry? Smash in someone's face. In pain? Inject heroin. Poor? Steal. All sins provide quite the rush. Nine out of ten hedonists and ten out of ten cowards recommend Satan as their deity of choice."

Everyone suffers; Christ suffered; deal with it.

Another one:

"The students in my folklore classes read myths from various cultures, and, especially if they're also reading authors like you, they dismiss all myths with a wave of the hand and a comment like, "It's all the same nonsense." It isn't all the same and it isn't all nonsense. These verses communicate the unique identity of the Judeo-Christian God. Our God is not Ba'al or Tiamat or Apollo or Allah. Our God is the Word – logos – truth and reason.

The village Hinduism I knew was typified by stories in which a not particularly good or even observant man accidentally engaged in an act that was similar to worship, and reaped rewards thereby. One example: the village drunk got lost in the forest and began to cry over his fate. His tears wet the exposed tip of a Shiva lingam, most of which was buried underground. The man didn't see it, had no intention of worshiping, and was not conscious of weeping on a lingam, but his tears were close enough to the libations a pious person would spill that Shiva rewarded the man anyway. A tale: a Brahmin leaves his wife for a prostitute, kills his parents, and eats taboo foods. One day he accidentally overhears a sermon about Shiva. When he dies, the god of death comes to carry him off to deserved punishment for all of his heinous crimes, but Shiva intervenes and takes the sinner to Mount Kailas, close to heaven. The moral is very blunt: all that matters to the gods is that they get what they want – worship – by hook or by crook."

The slogan "Our God is not Ba'al or Tiamat or Apollo or Allah. Our God is the Word – logos – truth and reason" is one that I want to memorize.

Obviously, I am doing extended quotations because there is so much of this book that I want to remember.

A frustrating part of the book was the weird prurient romanticism of the book. Anyone who has been involved in internet dating should have been able to recognize the signs from the first email. The flirtatiousness that turned into what seems to have been an obscene letter at the end. Goska clearly identified where Rand was coming from in her first letter – a frustrated wannabe Casanova who now has the notoriety and can live out his teenage fantasies….but so ineptly. The flirtation went both ways and even developed to the extent of the two planning to meet in Paris, when Rand suddenly discovers that he and his wife – previously a heartless, alienating bitch – "can work things out." As a person with not an insignificant amount of experience in internet dating – and having listened to women talk about their internet dating experiences – this is such a cliché that I don't understand how Goska could not have seen it coming from the second email.

I found this part of the book "weak," but – hey! – if it is real life, and this part seems like real life, then one of the doyens of atheism is a "macher" and a "perv," which shouldn't be surprising because notwithstanding the "Mr. Spock" air of logical detachment that they want to exude, we can see in the real life antics of Richard Carrier and Michael Shermer, that at heart, they are still the lonely teenage boys with acne who never got to date the prom queen.

This is an unusual book of apologetics. It is worth reading. It's also fun, apart from the pervy creep factor of the famous atheist engaging in what looks like "grooming behavior."

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