Book Review: The Irrational Atheist, Part 1 of Many (Why Vox?)

Given that militant atheism–or High Church Atheism, as Vox Day calls it–is quite a sell these days, what took so long for a serious rebuttal to Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris to hit the bookshelves?

Having spent my fair share of time at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I can attest that there is no shortage of contemporary theologians and Christian apologists who could hand High Church Atheists (HCAs) their collective posterior on a platter.

On the other hand, no Christian apologist or theologian could have done what Vox Day has done to HCAs in The Irrational Atheist. Whereas an apologist, philosopher, or theologian could easily dismantle HCAs–as HCAs have nothing new under the sun to offer–only a Vox Day could properly hoist them on their own petard.

Christian philosophers, theologians, and apologists are trained to think and reason within the sphere of theology, philosophy, and apologetics. They are trained to apply the exegesis of Scripture–using sound hermeneutics–to principles involving theology and philosophy to (a) make a case for the Christian faith, (b) demonstrate why certain ideas or frameworks are or are not compatible with Christianity, and (c) to logically challenge the veracity or efficacy of worldviews.

There is nothing wrong with those fields of study–I confess a sinister enjoyment of it myself at times–but a decisive rebuttal to HCAs required something completely outside the theological box.

Enter Vox Day, an accomplished game designer whose undergraduate training was in positive economics (the branch of economics that deals with the application of the scientific method to examine macro and microeconomic hypotheses).

What did Vox do that an apologist or theologian would not have done? He applied the scientific method–using historical data–to test the assertions of the HCAs.
The result is a smackdown of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens–and to a lesser extent, Dennett–that borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

If you are looking for a manual on Christian apologetics, forget it.

If you are looking for a theology book, forget it.

If you are looking for a book that makes a case for Christianity, forget it.

If you are looking for a book that provides Biblical insight into the follies of HCAs, forget it.

He rips the HCAs, but he does it using the scientific method, and exposes the many inconsistencies between what they say that support and what they actually support.

HCAs attempt to promote the idea that they are simply trying to protect science from being hijacked by religionists. In reality, very little of what they are doing has anything to do with science. In fact, their agenda is itself religious and political–while cross-dressed in a scientific veneer. Vox makes this point, and decisively.

I will be providing a severalfold review of The Irrational Atheist. While I do not agree with everything he has written–I will get to those points later–the totality of his case against the HCAs is very compelling.

In fact, Vox has handed them more than rebuttal; in fact, as serious academics, they should be professionally embarrassed and ashamed that a game designer with undergrad degrees in economics and Asian studies has exposed them for the naked emperors that they are, and administered a caning that Michael Fay could appreciate.

Book Review: The Weight Loss Cure (Part 3, or Lifestyle of Fitness)

This is the third installment of my three-part review of Kevin Trudeau’s book The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. I decided to write this review while–as I was on vacation–I saw an infomercial with Kevin Trudeau promoting his “Debt Cures” scam while alluding to his “natural cures” and “weight loss cure” scams. At that point, my thoughts were, “What the [Dick Cheney expletive deleted]???” I have a friend who died–breast cancer–following Trudeau’s “natural cures” crap, and decided that enough was enough! Because I know a thing or two about weight loss, I decided I would rip the hell out of his book.

Hell yeah, this is personal!

In part 1, I confronted the methodology that he uses to promote his weigjht loss scam, which is the same methodology that he uses to promote his “natural cures” scam and his “debt cures” scam. He mixes anti-government/anti-business paranoia with enough truth to make himself look credible, then markets himself like no other con man before him. I debunked his rationale by presenting the dynamics of the laws of economics, which–as the Soviets found out–are not up for repeal. The economy is global and no amount of government-business collusion will stop the wheels of the global market. In addition, for Trudeau to be correct, every high-ranking medical professional and researcher must be a lying crook who wants people to always be sick and fat.

In part 2, I confronted the major elements of his “weight loss cure” by presenting some general principles that apply to any weight loss strategy:

  1. Rapid weight loss–more than two pounds per week–is highly risky. It can lead to gall stones, cause ketoacidosis due to excessive fat and muscle breakdown, and even lead to multiple organ system failure. Ergo, his “30 pounds in 30 days” mantra is complete BS.
  2. Any medical therapy to alter your metabolism–especially hormones–carries substantial risks. This is why certain drugs–phen phen, ephedra, amphetamines–are illegal while others–anabolic steroids–are highly-regulated. Metabolism-altering therapies can impact the heart, the brain and/or central nervous system. Trudeau promotes the use of hCG hormone therapy, which–according to the most reliable peer-reviewed study available–has been shown to be ineffective in promoting weight loss. Furthermore, hCG is a hormone the long-term effects of the use of which have not been established. Given that other hormone therapies–such as postmenopausal hormone therapy and steroid treatments for asthma–have been shown to have some risks, it would serve you to beware of the potential downside to hCG therapy: the upside has not been proven, and there is a major unknown in the downside.
  3. Ultra low-calorie diets–such as the 500 calorie-per-day diet that Trudeau promotes–are counterproductive and potentially harmful.
  4. Colon cleanse therapies are utter scams. All you’ll get is a waste of your money, toilet paper, and water for unnecessary toilet use. The only muscle you’ll be exercising is your sphincter. Only a pervert could possibly find that experience rewarding.

This review has focused on general principles while addressing some specifics. This time, I want to leave with some general principles with respect to health and dieting. (NOTE: Please consult with your physician if you wish to radically alter your fitness regimen..)

Principle #1: Think in terms of a lifestyle of fitness, and not about losing weight. I’d suggest that most attempts at weight loss are successful. The problem is, the dieter has focused on losing the weight. Once the weight is lost, he or she goes right back to his or her former routine. Trouble is, that former routine is what caused the weight gain in the first place. Ergo, the weight comes back.

Rather than think in terms of getting the weight off, think in terms of a lifestyle of fitness.

Principle #2: a Lifestyle of Fitness requires selecting a dietary regimen that is conducive to good health. Find out what your ideal weight ought to be, and select the calorie target for the maintenance of that ideal weight. (Work with your doctor on this.)

As for specific diets, there is no one absolute “you must do this” regimen; in fact, there is plenty of room for flexibility. As long as it’s balanced, go with whatever floats your boat. I’m not a big fan of Atkins, but others swear by it. I’ve never done South Beach, but I’ve known folks who got in shape with it and have used to to keep the weight off. I’m not a vegetarian, but I know others who have been for years and have found lots of success with it.

There is lots of room for variety here; pick one, get your doctor to approve it, and then stick with it.

The only caveat I will provide: this is for getting and staying fit, and not for losing weight. If you want a “weight loss” diet, then prepare to gain it all back.

For the sake of discussion, I’ll disclose my regimen, while qualifying that it is not a one-size-fits-all…

For breakfast: I inhale oatmeal. I typically add Cape Cod cranberries, Splenda, and cinnamon. Sometimes, I’ll throw in a banana or apples. I could write 101 recipes for oatmeal.

For lunch: my middle name is rice. I prefer different flavors: chicken-broccoli, sesame chicken, cheddar-broccoli, and Spanish rice. Three times a week I mix salmon with it; three times a week I mix chicken with it. Sometimes, I’ll even add raisins to it.

For dinner: I’ll have some mixed vegetables, or some oatmeal. (I’m a lazy bachelor and don’t like to cook.)

Before a workout: I’ll have a Powerbar.

After a workout: I’ll have a 200-calorie protein shake.

If I eat out, I’ll pick Panera Bread, Wendy’s (for baked potato and small chili), or Subway (a grilled chicken or veggie sub)

Why the Powerbar and shake? I usually spend between 10 and 12 hours per week on an elliptical jogger. Right now, my biggest challenge is keeping my weight up, not down.

Remember: this is flexible; there are any number of routines that will work. Find one that you like, get with your doctor, work out a plan, and stick with it.

Principle #3: a Lifestyle of Fitness requires selecting an activity regimen that is conducive to good health. Most experts will stress the importance of regular cardiovascular exercise–30 minutes a day. How you do that is up to you. If you prefer brisk walking; jogging; cycling (regular or stationary), traditional aerobics, or even a Navy SEAL workout, just pick one and do it. Just make sure your doc gives you the okie-dokie before you embark on it. If you aren’t sure what you ought to do, ask your doctor. Go to a health club and solicit the advice of a trainer. This is not like Christianity: with fitness, there are many ways to get where you want to go. Personally, I prefer low-impact methods (stationary bike and/or elliptical jogger) for cardio, as it’s better on the joints than the treadmill.

In addition to cardio, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND strength training. Again, how you do that is up to you. Some folks prefer free weights; others prefer circuit machines. Personally, I prefer managing my own body weight (pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and hanging knee-lifts) because my exercises provide decompressive relief for my lower back. I haven’t done free weights since my college days. I’ve found that pull-ups and pushups are excellent confidence-builders.

(Trust me: when you get to where you can knock out enough pull-ups, push-ups, and dips to qualify for a military Special Operations training program, you’ll feel like King Kong.)

Strength training is important because it builds muscle mass, which increases your metabolism (without hormone therapy) and therefore your fat-burn efficiency. That allows you to more quickly reduce your body fat percentage by cutting your body fat while simultaneously increasing your muscle mass. (Lately, I have found it possible to GAIN WEIGHT while LOSING BODY FAT. There is nothing wrong with that.)

(If you do weights, go for lots of low weight/high-repetition sets rather than high weight/low-repetition. You’re getting in shape, not qualifying for the Olympic weightlifting team!)

What I am suggesting will not result in dramatic weight loss overnight. You might lose a half a pound one week, a pound another week, a quarter-pound another week. You will lose it so slowly you will not notice it for several weeks. Then, as weeks become months, you’ll notice. Eventually, everyone else will, too. Your journey will not be made-for-television, but yours will work.

In ten years, you’ll be in shape; Everyone else will still be zig-zagging.

If you want to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, then prepare for an extended hospital stay. If you survive, it’ll be without your gall bladder.

If you want to get in shape, then embrace a lifestyle of fitness and eventually–we’re talking months, a year, or, in my case, 18 months–everyone will be asking you what you did to get in shape. The bonus: because it’s not a weight-loss routine, your weight will be good AND stable. You won’t have a crash diet to ditch because you will not have been on one to begin with.

Book Review: The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About (Part 2)

Yesterday, I began my three-part review of Kevin Trudeau’s book The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t want You to Know About. I focused primarily on the way he attempts to sell his message, which is the same message he uses to sell his natural cures crock and his debt cures crock (more on that one some other time). I’ll bet money that he eventually writes The Sex Life Enhancer “They” Don’t Want You to Know About.

He sells his message by appealing to anti-establishment paranoia: he wants you to believe that if government and business would just get out of the way, we would have all these miracle cures for obesity, cancer, hemmorhoids, and all manners of health ailments. This is the same Kevin Trudeau who promotes government grant programs in his Debt Cures book. Go figure!

Today, I’m going to focus on the specifics of his “Weight Loss Cure Protocol”, heretofore referred to as WLC.

The funniest part about this is that it is not even Trudeau’s WLC; he does, in fact, credit the idea to Dr. A.T.W Simeons. Basically, Trudeau is using his marketing prowess to sell a decades-old idea that has little scientific merit, and for whose followers the medical implications can be downright risky.

As I said in part 1, Trudeau–like any skilled con man–wraps his fraud in fact, and connects it with other truths that apply at best on a peripheral level. For example, he rightly trashes fast food, as the vast majority of it is VERY HIGH in calories, fat, cholesterol, simple carbohydrates, and sodium. He also rightly trashes diet drinks and artificial sweeteners. Those have been shown to increase hunger and ultimately make people fatter.

(Later on, he justifies his government-fat alliance on the basis of the government-Halliburton contracts. That makes sense only if you wear a tinfoil hat.)

Here are the main elements of his WLC:

  1. hCG therapy that allows one to subsist on a 500 calorie-per-day diet
  2. the use of colon-cleanse therapies
  3. the use of “liver-cleanse” therapies
  4. the “Callahan Technique” to cure food cravings

There are other elements to his WLC–some of which are common-sense, others bizarre, still others downright nutty–but those are the main (and controversial) ones. Rather than pick on every element, here are some general principles that apply irrespective to the scam in question:

1. If you plan on losing 30 pounds in 30 days, make sure you also plan on getting your gall bladder removed! Yes, you read that correctly. Anyone who guarantees such high weight loss in a short period of time–with no side effects–is a liar, an idiot, or a crook. If you lose more than two pounds per week, you are taking a huge risk; rapid weight loss causes gall stones.

2. Any time someone recommends a metabolism-altering therapy (especially a hormone) for weight loss, BE VERY WARY!!! hCG is a hormone that is released during pregnancy. (Most pregnancy tests key on the presence of that hormone in the urine sample.) In the most reliable peer-reviewed scientific study, hCG therapy has not been shown to have any beneficial effect in weight loss: the placebo group was at no disadvantage.

It is my observation that attempts to promote weight loss by medically altering one’s metabolism is EXTREMELY risky. These medications often adversely affect the heart, can adversely affect chemical neurotransmitters in the brain, can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and a whole host of things that obesity is supposed to cause. Why do you think amphetamines, ephedra, and phen phen are illegal?

As for hormone therapies, let’s be honest: the medical community is only now discovering the risks of such treatments in a variety of scenarios. Post-menopausal hormone therapy is now being seen as a cancer risk. Steroidal treatments for asthma–with which I am well-acquainted–adversely impact the bones. Anabolic steroids are disastrous. We have no idea if hCG therapy carries similar risks, but remember: it is a hormone; it is alleged to alter metabolism. Ergo, be very wary of the risk, especially considering that it has not passed scientific muster!

3. Be VERY WARY of ultra-low-calorie diets. Your body needs about 1500 calories per day (more for some; less for others). Cutting to a third of that is counterproductive: your metabolism will crash as your body goes into starvation mode. You’ll lose some weight, only to gain it all back–and then more–when you resume your prior diet. Such a low calorie diet–combined with exercise–is a prescription for disaster. You’ll burn more muscle than you create. Furthermore, it is VERY difficult to maintain a low diet and still get the proper vitamins you need, and this will not be good for your immune system.

4. Colon and liver cleanse therapies are utter scams. Perhaps they worked for Kevin Trudeau, given how FOS he is, but in terms of promoting weight maintenance they are a waste of money, gallons-per-flush, and toilet paper in addition to being potentially risky. The only muscle you’ll exercise is your sphincter muscle! Ditto for liver cleanses.

Ultimately, there are no simple “weight loss cures” that government is keeping out of your hands.

As a libertarian, I loathe the FDA for a number of reasons, but the Internet is a free market of information.

Anyone who comes up with a cure for cancer, obesity, AIDS, or baldness can publish his or her work on the Internet for peer review. Any PhD student can develop a testable hypothesis that serves as a basis for a dissertation defense. Any Big Pharma company can test it, develop its own simiilar drug, get FDA approval, then market the hell out of it to the tune of billions of dollars in profits.

This is less about debunking Trudeau and more about knowing the difference between a thunderstorm as opposed to someone pissing down your back.

In part 3, I will present some general principles regarding weight maintenance, as that–not weight loss–is what is important.

Book Review: The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About (Part 1)

First things first: Kevin Trudeau is the mother of all con men. He is a fraud, a liar, a convicted felon who has made a career scamming people by playing to suspicions and paranoia. And those are his good qualities.

This is the first of a three-part review of his book The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. In this section, I will focus on the approach that Trudeau uses to sell his Bravo Sierra. In part 2, I will focus on the particulars of his “Weight Loss Cure Protocol”. In part 3, I will provide an alternate approach that relies on legitimate medical and scientific fact.

Why does this matter to me? An ex g/f of mine, Kilo, who developed breast cancer, bought into Trudeau’s natural cures scam, to the point that she would not entertain any rational discussion on the matter. She decided that chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation were evil, and that those were tools of the medical community that were designed to keep people sick. She died this time last year.

The purpose of this part of the review is to relay the dangers of the message promoted by Kevin Trudeau, which have been shown to get people killed.

There is a substantial portion of America–especially among otherwise conservative Christians–that distrusts any product of conventional science or research. They buy into every conspiracy theory from the Illuminati to the Rockefellers to the Rothschilds; their theological bent is almost always Dispensationalist. They tend to believe that–because government colludes with business–medical cures for everything from jock itch to AIDS are being hidden from the general population.

It is THAT segment to which Trudeau appeals. And it is THAT segment to which I extend my ernest plea to recognize Trudeau for the fraudulent huckster that he is.

Like all con men, he wraps his fraud within elements of truth. Fact is, the FDA does collude with Big Food and Big Pharma, just as the USDA colludes with Agribusiness and the USMSHA colludes with the mining industry. As a libertarian, I am very well aware of that marriage between Big Government and Big Business. I loathe such government-business collusion as much as anyone.

But is that marriage keeping miracle cures hidden from you? Not by a long shot!

That is because the laws of economics are as real as the laws of Thermodynamics: they cannot be overridden by government or business monopolies or combinations thereof.

Think about it: any researcher who discovers a silver bullet cure for breast cancer stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention a possible Nobel Prize in medicine.

If Merck or Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline or Genentech had such a bombshell, it would mean hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues, with profit margins to boot for 20 years. Investors–from you and me to Goldman Sachs and Citigroup–would be buying the stock. The best scientists in the world would be vying to hire into the companies, as they would have the capital for leading-edge research.

That is market reality, and no government-business collusion will change that fact. That is because the economy–including capital markets–is GLOBAL!!! Overregulation in America would only push legitimate research to Europe or Japan or Hong Kong or Shanghai. Capital would flow from Japanese banks, Chinese banks, Australian banks, hedge funds, Eurobanks, Russian banks, you get the picture! No act of Congress–or regulatory decision by a board of policy wonks–can stop legitimate research!

So–heaven forbid–if you get cancer, DO NOT eschew the advice of your physician. He or she has undergone a substantial training regimen, is familiar with the latest empirical research–tested with verifiable data and not anecdotal evidence–regarding which treatments are most successful and under what conditions. I’m not saying our system for training doctors is perfect–remember, I’m a libertarian–but it far exceeds anything the Trudeaus of the world can deliver.

So why is this rant about Trudeau’s “natural cures” scam relevant to his Weight Loss Cure book? He uses the same methodology to sell his “weight loss cure protocol”.

He wants you to believe that there are shortcuts around the First Law of Thermodynamics–the Law of Conservation of Energy–that government has been covering up for decades.

He wants you to believe that a simple regimen will allow you to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, with no side effects.

He wants you to believe that the medical establishment–and the food industry–are colluding with the government to keep people fat (just as he contends that government and big pharma and the medical establishment are colluding to keep Americans sick).

Anyone who thinks doctors want to keep you sick is not thinking rationally. Fact is, there will always be diseases that need treating. If we found the cure for breast cancer, we’d still be looking to cure pancreatic cancer, or brain cancer, or Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, or melanoma. Each cancer has different modes of origin, and different modes of growth and metastatis. This is why the vaccine for cervical cancer will not work for prostate cancer.

The same is true with respect to obesity in America. I’ve yet to meet a physician–and I’ve known many in my life–who desires to keep people fat. Every one of them–including my uncle, who is a retired cardiologist–preaches (and practices) the message of diet and exercise for proper weight maintenance.

Physicians are not out to make you fat, or even to keep you fat. In fact, they are happy to help you pursue a life of balanced diets, good exercise, and healthy weight maintenance.

“They” are not your enemy; Kevin Trudeau is your enemy.

My First Negative Ann Coulter Book Review

10/14/2007: It is with substantial disappointment that I cannot provide a favorable review of Ann Coulter’s latest book, If Liberals Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans.

Don’t get me wrong. Ann Coulter is one of only three columnists whom I take seriously, the other two being Pat Buchanan and Vox Day. I love her wit, which provides shades of Buchanan in his prime. Only–in terms of wit–she’s Pat Buchanan on steroids.

Trouble is, her latest book reveals nothing new. It is merely a collection of many of her past zingers. It’s nice if you want a categorical collection of her one-liners, but if you want a new work, you’ll be disappointed.

This contrasts with her prior blockbusters, such as Treason, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, Godless, and How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). My favorite was Treason, because that was deeper than her columns, and provided a glimpse of her scholarship abilities combined with her outstanding wit.

If Democrats Had Any Brains does not provide much of any new work. For that reason, I walked away sort of disappointed.

Plus, the title is wrong. If Republicans had any character, they’d be in charge.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 6.

Vox Day on Harry Potter

07/23/2007: A couple years ago, I was discussing books with a friend of mine. She had been an English major in college, and–being Christian–enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings series. I shared her sentiments, suggesting that The Chronicles of Narnia is perhaps the best fiction series of all time.
That’s when she took exception, suggesting that the Harry Potter novels are in fact the finest.

I disagreed with her for the same fundamental reason Vox Day provides: whereas The Chronicles of Narnia and Anna Karenina–another of my favorites–provide themes that strike to the basic fabric of the human condition, and provide answers, Harry Potter does none of that.

That’s not to say that I lack admiration for Rowling: she is a fine writer who has produced novels having a unique appeal. My hat is off to her successes in the global market. I love it when someone like Rowling nurtures a gift–in her case writing–and climbs from poverty to being the richest woman in Europe. I wish her continued success, and hope that she goes on to write even more novels.

That said, she is not in the same league with Lewis, Tolkien, and Tolstoy.

Great novelists are great because their novels reflect gravitas: they combine creativity and writing prowess to communicate truths and principles that transcend generations.

Rowling is talented and popular–and I wish her more success–but her works are a passing fad. Vox hit the nail well: she communicates emotion well and connects with people. Her works clearly appeal to children, who gravitate toward the emotional and need guidance–exhortation–to pursue the true and the virtuous.

Lewis, Tolstoy, and Tolkien harnessed literary prowess and intellectual firepower with their pursuit of the truth to deliver fiction that appealed to the real issues of humanity.

That is why–100 years from now–children and adults will be reading Lewis, Tolkien, and Tolstoy, but not Rowling.

Summer Reads

07/21/2007: This summer, I’ve read a couple books worth noting. I will not provide in-depth reviews, but heregoes…

The Reagan Diaries. Every American needs to read this book. Reagan is the last real President America had. If you want a birds-eye view of what went on during the 8 years of the Reagan Revolution, you must read the diaries. If you want to know what Presidential schedules look like, you must read those diaries. If you want to know how involved Reagan was in formulating policies, you must read those diaries. If you are a Reagan fan, you will be triply-impressed. If you are a Reagan-hater, you might soften a bit.

Otherwise, you’re just a communist.

What Jesus Demands from the World, by John Piper. I’ve already written a more thorough review, but this one is the real deal. Every Christian in America ought to read it. Piper delivered a fine work up there with C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Watchman Nee.

One Bullet Away, by Nathaniel Fick. This is the firsthand account of a Dartmouth grad who wanted to prove himself. He signed up for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School pre-9/11, went on to serve in Afghanistan after 9/11, went on to Reconnaissance School and joined the most elite Marine unit: the First Reconnaissance Batallion. He played an integral part in the Iraq invasion, leading a platoon in the march to Baghdad.

Reading Fick, you will gain special insight into what kinds of decisions officers had to make, the kinds of stresses his unit faced, the complexities of balancing your need to follow orders with the reaction of your unit, which knows that some orders are asinine. 

It also will make you think two or three times about what we are really accomplishing–and what else we can accomplish–in Iraq. Fick does not come across as pro-war or anti-war. In Fick, you have a patriot who was proud to have served in the Marines, who served in the most elite unit, and–whether intending to or not–added a very difficult perspective on the war. He comes across as neither hawk nor dove. He will make you think long and hard.

If you read no other books this summer, I recommend those three.

Book Review: What Jesus Demands from the World

I have read a lot of books in my life, and I have read many very good books. Every now and then, I even stumble across a book that is absolutely earthshattering, the kind that every Christian ought to read.

Apart from the Scriptures, there aren’t many of those books. C.S. Lewis has some real dingers: The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, A Grief Observed, and The Great Divorce.

Francis Schaeffer has a few: Escape from Reason, The God Who is There, The Great Evangelical Disaster, and How Must We Then Live?

Frank Peretti has a few must-reads: This Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, and The Oath.

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, is also huge, as is anything by Watchman Nee.

Add another one to the list: What Jesus Demands from the World, by John Piper.

In fact, put that one at the top of your list.

Most books on the teachings of Jesus are too fluffy–the authors assume conventional teachings are correct. Some present themselves as conservative but water down the teachings that don’t appeal to them.

Others present Jesus’s teachings in a way that reflect a willpower-based religion. The telos of this is rabbinical Judaism with a Christian veneer. That is hardly congruent with Biblical Christianity.

Still others present Jesus’ teachings in a vacuum, not addressing the continuity of Scripture and tying them to the most fundamental commandments–loving God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Such authors fail to address how such commandments are fulfilled.

John Piper falls into no such traps. In fact, he defies conventional teachings about loving God. Many preachers–albeit well-intentioned–preach that loving God is about exercising willpower even when the feelings are absent.

In fact, Piper, contends that such approaches are wrong: when Jesus commands that we love God, that implies that we are commanded to feel affection for God. That we do not always have that feeling speaks to our fallenness, and that is something that we must confess as sin, because it represents a most fundamental failure.

His presentation of the Gospel builds on that command.

Piper’s hermeneutics are very sound: he makes no attempts to minimize the hard sayings of Jesus, and the honest reader is confronted with the truth laid bare, contrasted with human depravity.

If you are looking for a book in which the author takes Jesus’ teachings on loving your enemies and minimizes them, then you can forget it. Most conservatives I know–upon reading Piper–will probably find their traditional approaches to enemies challenged.

On the other hand, Piper is very careful in that he does not sacrifice truth in the name of love, or love in the name of truth. He keeps exegetical gymnastics to a minimum, and lets Jesus speak with negligible interference.

(A pastor in my area is notorious for watering down the Scriptures to dismiss portions with which he does not agree; Piper does not do that.)

If you want to read a book that will leave you saying, “well-said”, this is not a book for you. A fluffy, feel-good devotional it is not.

If you want a book that will challenge you with the truth and underscore your absolute need for God’s grace, then this is a book for you.

Here are some of my favorite portions of the book:

  • His discussion of loving God: perhaps the best I’ve read.
  • His presentation of loving enemies: challenges Christians in all camps.
  • His presentation of sacrificial giving: he leaves no one comfortable.
  • His presentation on money: he pulls no punches, and leaves a sobering assessment on how Christians ought to live in this area. Anyone who reads that and does not question whether he is serving money, might need to re-read it. (It’s an area I often check myself, but–after reading Piper–I will be double and even triple-checking. Often.)

His presentations regarding Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage are the best I have ever read. As a lifelong bachelor, I find Piper’s presentation very difficult–by agreeing with the more literal rendering, it greatly restricts my potential choices for a spouse–but I cannot say that I disagree with Piper: he presents the most logical rendering of Jesus’ words.

Even on that issue, Piper is careful not to condemn those who are divorced and/or remarried, and rightfully so.

I’ve long maintained that the key to reducing the divorce rate is to address the issues before marriage: the Church needs to do a better job (a) emphasizing the sanctity and covenant nature of marriage, (b) underscoring the importance of equal yokes, (c) taking a strong stand against marrying believers with nonbelievers, and (d) emphasizing premarital counseling, ensuring that both parties get a sense of realism regarding their expectations.

With respect to discipleship, Piper is equally on-target, as he presents a model for making disciples not based on business plans or man-made evangelism models, but rather on loving God and neighbor, and the reality that Jesus has all power and authority, and is with us to the end of the age.

All-in-all, this is a book to be read. More than once.

Godless: In the Midst of Battle, Ann Coulter Keeps it on Full-Auto

06/21/2006: If Ann Coulter were male, she’d be in the Special Forces.

Her latest book–Godless–is her best one yet.

The funny part about it is the MSM has made a big hay out of the least significant part of the book: Coulter’s remarks about the “Jersey Girls”, who have arrogated themselves as speaking for all 9/11 widows (they don’t). I agree with Ann.

Coulter masterfully presents modern liberalism for what it is: a secular church. It has its own god (government), miracles (Darwinism), its own sacrament (abortion), its sacred scriptures (Roe v. Wade), martyrs (Alger Hiss, Sacco and Vanzetti, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), churches (government schools and universities).

While Laura Ingraham has commented favorably on Coulter’s abortion chapter–and it is a fine chapter–Coulter is at her best when she writes about evolution. It’s not that she makes groundbreaking scientific arguments against evolution–she is presenting in many respects what others already have–but rather the way she confronts the underlying paradigm that is driving blind devotion to evolution: Darwinism. Here, she hits back-to-back grand slams.

I have commented on these pages that the movers and shakers in the pro-evolution movement have a very religious agenda that is materialist, reductionist, and utilitarian. That is an integral part of the church of liberalism.

Ann Coulter decimates them, using a wit that outdoes Pat Buchanan in his prime.

Coulter incites the most vehement reaction from the Left. They don’t like Robert Novak or Cal Thomas, but they absolutely hate Ann Coulter. Not since Pat Buchanan has a right-leaning columnist provoked such vitriol from the left.

That is because Novak is like a .25 caliber pistol and Cal Thomas is an M-16A2, whereas Ann Coulter is the 155 mm howitzer of political discourse.

She obliterates all comers.

I give it a 10 out of 10.

Freakonomics: Levitt and Dubner are Spectacular!

Last week, I was looking really hard for some good reading material, so I went to my home away from home (Barnes and Noble) and picked up the much-acclaimed Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

In Freakonomics, Levitt (an economics professor at the University of Chicago) and Dubner (a reporter for the New York Times) explore some odd relationships, and some controversial ones, and seek to explain how various incentives drive various groups of people toward particular courses of action.

In the process, they do what very few authors have done in history: they have made a book on economics that is easy to read, insightful, hard to put down, and downright humorous at times.

They begin by asking what schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common. The answer: incentives that encourage unscrupulous behavior. I won’t tell the story of how they uncovered that relationship. (It would reduce your incentive to read the book for yourself!)

The next section is a most fascinating one: what the KKK and real estate agents have in common. (Answer: Incentives based on information, but I won’t tell details here!) Within this chapter is a most interesting story regarding a famous anti-Klan crusader. The applications of this chapter are enormous, extending to the Internet and the very way commerce is transacted in the world.

Outstanding!

Anyone who wants to learn about the dangers of risky behavior needs to read the section about why drug dealers live with their mothers. In this chapter, one statistic is particularly devastating: over a four-year set of data, a street drug dealer in a given gang had a 1 in 4 chance of being murdered, and made a salary less than that of minimum wage. (Talk about too much risk and no return!)

Perhaps the most controversial section is Where have all the criminals gone? Many pro-life respondents attack Levitt, who provides a link between Roe v. Wade and the dramatic decline in crime in the 1990s.

Unlike the other sections, I’ll provide some discussion here, as it seems–based on the responses I’ve seen–that many have mistaken Levitt on this one.

To be sure, there are some legitimate mathematical challenges to his study that are valid, but there’s not really a need to go there. I’m assuming his stats are good: contrary to many reactionaries, there’s really no problem with assuming that. I’ll elaborate more on that in a couple weeks.

In spite of the angst of respondents who were angered by his findings, I think Levitt was quite fair in his presentation, and appeared quite uncomfortable with his own conclusion as he noticed very unpleasant–and potentially dangerous–ramifications of his findings. In this section, Levitt indicates that unrestricted abortion–and centrally-controlled prohibitions on abortion–are a two-edged sword. (He begins the chapter with a most poignant irony that illustrates that two-edged sword.)

In fact, if you believe that an unborn is only worth one percent of a newborn, Levitt shows that his lower crime link with legal abortion is not a positive tradeoff. So, to my fellow pro-life supporters: cut Levitt and Dubner some slack here.

As for what makes the best parents, Levitt and Dubner examine some really interesting sets of data to determine what parental characteristics are associated with higher academic performance. The results are surprising. As with abortion, Levitt and Dubner ask some very difficult questions and tackle some very controversial subjects, but they are very fair and do a fine job distinguishing between correlation and causation.

Overall, Freakonomics is very thought-provoking and ought to be required reading in every economics and ethics class.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 9.5.