I rarely read fiction, but this past month I read two novels, one is famous political science fiction story and the other a fictional missionary auto-biography that critics evangelical missions. The other book I read is both religious history and political history and is very relevant to today. Check out my reviews, and I hope you find something that piques your interest :-)
Brave New World
I’ve known about this book since high school but never got around to reading it recently. The premise is a dystopian future where the majority of people see the world as having reached a utopian state… except for our disgruntled protagonist and a few others. In this future world of Aldous Huxley’s imagination, people are grown in laboratories, not born. Children are raised without parents and conditioned to assume a certain class in society, looking down on lower classes, and feeling inferior to higher classes. In order to maintain social stability, drugs and physical pleasure are promoted while art, science, individuality, and the search for truth and meaning are discouraged. Written in the 1930s, this is a fascinating and disturbing novel which foreshadows modern American society’s desire for big government to create safety and security at the expense of freedom. The world imagined by Huxley has similarities to George Orwell’s anti-communist book “1984", but whereas Orwell imagines an oppressive restrictive society from the top down, Huxley imagines an oppressive restrictive society from the bottom up, where people clamor for the security and comfort that their overlords provide.
No Graven Image
This is a phenomenal book but if I didn't know the author was Elisabeth Elliot, I might have guessed it was written by a cynical former missionary who abandoned the faith, or went emergent or something. "No Graven Image” is a novel about an idealistic missionary seeking to reach the mountain Indians in Ecuador, set in the 1960s. It gets right up in the face of just about every aspect of evangelical missionary sub-culture and its triumphalistic cliches and pat answers. The main action of the book takes place in the mind of the protagonist, Margaret Sparhawk, as her expectations of what a missionary should be and do are challenged by the realities of missionary life. She questions the unquestioned assumptions and party lines that missionaries (and their supporters) often employ. When the book came out, Elisabeth Elliot received severe criticism and it is not hard to see why. This was a devastating novel with a tragic ending, that bears reading by every missionary. Not every missionary will like it, however.
God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution
I really enjoyed this thoroughly readable history of how religion and politics mingled at the time of the American Revolution and in the years immediately following. Through his well-researched narrative, historian Thomas Kidd shows how evangelicals and deists joined hands to create a nation that preserved religious liberty for those with any religious faith, or no religious faith at all. This book has real value for modern political debates about church and state, and the nature of religious freedom as envisioned by the founding fathers.
On the one hand, contrary to claims of the Religious Right, the author shows that colonial America was not some kind of Christian nation where everyone was evangelical. In fact, there was much more religious diversity than that, with Anglicans persecuting Baptists, and important political leaders, such as Jefferson and Franklin, rejecting traditional Christianity.
On the other hand, contrary to the claims of modern secularists, the concept of the separation of church and state was never intended to remove religion from government and the public square. Both evangelical Christians and those who rejected that faith believed that in order for democracy to succeed, the people must be virtuous, and the best way to promote public virtue was to promote religion, albeit no specific form of religion other something vaguely Judeo-Christian.
In light of current political strife in the U.S., this book reminds the reader of the importance that the American founders placed on finding a way for people of diverse beliefs and outlooks to have the freedom of conscious to do what they believed was right. At the same time, the author doesn’t try to hide the failings and hypocrisy of many early white Americans who believed in liberty and equality for other whites but were unwilling to extend those same rights and dignity to African-Americans and American Indians.