Saturday, February 7, 2009

Philosophy and Life

Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found by James V. Schall

I hadn't planned on reviewing this book for a couple of reasons. 1) It's philosphy and politics, areas in which I feel myself inadequate. 2) To do it justice, I'd really have to write a review of each of the essays and 21 seemed like quite a large number. But I decided to mention it at least briefly because it was really a wonderful thought-provoking book. Here, James Schall is encouraging us to delve deeply into what is (his words). Why are we alive? What can we know about life and living that will make our life more meaningful? They seem like overwhelming questions, and often they are, but spending some time contemplating them can deepen our appreciation for our world and the one to come.

Perhaps most importantly, Professor Schall piques our interest in various topics and then points us to some books he has found most engaging. If you've ever wanted to delve into the worlds of Plato or St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, you'll find many a resource in these pages. Personally, one of the ways I measure the value of a book is by the number of other books to which it leads me. By that measure, this book is one of the best.

Now, because I am perpetually tired (and therefore unlikely to be less tired tomorrow or in the near future when I might return to this post) and because it is late, I leave you with a few unqualified quotes. You'll have to check the book out yourself if they interest you.

Indeed, the most dangerous theories about today are undoubtedly those that see in the state, that is, in the collection of human beings, however defined, the ultimate end to which all else should be directed. This collectivity, however defined, is largely what substitutes for God in our world. Such a polity or collectivity will not merely decide who can belong to it, but will even decide what a human being is. Those who do not fit our political definitions will be excluded or eliminated. (page 202, On Devotion)

Let me conclude very simply. If the lessons of the world that we learn by living our lives suggest that this world is not enough, that some radical disorder exists in our society as well as in our hearts, we need something akin to prayer and fasting, no matter what our public or professional or academic status might be. I do not mean this to be a pious exhortation; even less do I wish to suggest that our job or duty or service is what opennes to the Lord is all about. This latter notion that religion is political action is probably the most subtle of the modern tempations, made no less so by the fact that what we do is indeed valuable, as well as by the fact that so many religious people in particular seem to succumb to it. (page 214, On Prayer and Fasting for Bureaucrats)

Interesting fact: My husband had to request this book through interlibrary loan, but by the time I was ready to read it, our library had purchased a copy. Maybe they thought once Kansas Dad requested it, everyone would feel the need to read it.


  1. You always read the most interesting books! I will have to put this one on the official book list.

    That last quote reminded me of something Si read to me last night. I think it was from Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. He discusses the connection between socialism and the Social Gospel movement of the early 1900s and explains that they kind of morphed together to where politics is religion and religion is political action.

  2. I think you would appreciate this book, Brandy. I'm often concerned by people of faith who seem more intent on easing the suffering of this world than promoting lives that will help us in the one to come. Not that we shouldn't serve those in need, but I think our focus should remain fixed on Christ and on how serving others here is really serving Him in all time. There's so much more to the book, though. I hope you have a chance to read it.

    I love checking out your suggestions. I'm reading Amusing Ourselves to Death now (which my husband had already read) and think it's fascinating!


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