Jul 07

MetaxasKeepIT

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, by Eric Metaxas ★★★

I ordered this book on-line in February from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail in late June. I’ve read another book by Metaxas which intrigued me, leading to me to order this book. I found out about the book on Facebook, coming from Metaxas’ blog site. I typically appreciate how Metaxas writes, and so felt that I would enjoy reading this book. I’ve met and chatted with Metaxas, I find him to be most likable, and would love to engage in more conversation with him. He is bright, and mostly right-on. The other book by Metaxas that I’ve read was “Bonhoeffer”, a stimulating read, though a book for which I felt Metaxas would frequently draw erroneous conclusions, such as to state that Bonhoeffer was a martyr, which he most certainly was not. That discussion might be found in my review of that text. But, let’s get on with “If You Can Keep It”.

The book is seven chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. I’ll comment on the chapters after I briefly summarize them. The introduction presents the topic, titled by a phrase uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the constitutional convention. When asked whether we would be a republic or a monarchy, Franklin noted that we would be a republic, if we could keep it. Focused on that phrase, Metaxas seeks to restore through the book the zeal to keep this republic founded roughly 230 years ago. Chapter 1 begins the argument by noting that a republic can function only in the environment of moral people. Government cannot make us moral, and each citizen must hold the responsibility for personal morality. Chapter 2 introduces a concept borrowed by Os Guinness called the golden triangle. Specifically, the triangle is that freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith, and faith requires freedom. Chapter 3 was simply a summary of the ministry of George Whitfield in America, leading to a spiritual revival. Chapter 4 notes how civilizations will have historical heroes that are venerated. He discusses the American heroes that are too commonly forgotten, such as Nathanial Hale, and the founding fathers, including Paul Revere. Chapter 5 builds heavily on the importance of moral leaders, contrasting the immorality of such leaders as Bill Clinton to that of Cinncinaticus, George Washington or William Wilberforce. Chapter 6 explores further the idea of American exceptionalism, and why it is important in thinking about our country. Chapter 7 is a plea that one must love their country (America) in spite of its faults. The epilogue recalls the sentimental experience of Metaxas seeing the statue of liberty in the New York harbor soon after the 9/11 tragedy.

What is the problem with this book? Several…

  1. Metaxas doesn’t express deep insights into the real nature of America, and with what has gone wrong. Perhaps the seeds of destruction were sown at the writing of the constitution itself? Perhaps America’s “exceptionalism” has been not the virtue of its wonderful constitution but its transitory moments where many Americans actually had a true faith in the God of Christianity? Perhaps many of the symbols that evoke sentimental emotions with Metaxas are false symbols, such as the statue of liberty, which is about as pagan as you can get. Not that I dislike Lady Liberty, but I acknowledge that the Christian faith has a seriously different concept of the entire notion of liberty and freedom than pagan or humanistic sources provide for. Metaxas almost hints on that in the book, but fails to follow through, lapsing back into a “God, mother and apple pie” notion of America.
  2. Metaxas confuses general morality with a Christian morality. He spends much time talking about the importance of American’s being moral, but fails to explain why any morality not grounded in Scripture is really a false morality. In essence, morality essentially becomes what the state deems to be good and right. If tolerance becomes the greatest virtue, so be it, because the state has declared it to be so.
  3. Public heroes are nice and important, but only in the light of how they lived consistent with Christian beliefs. I can hold Latimer and Ridley as far greater heroes, dying for far greater principles, than that of Nathanial Hale, or those that perished in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Heroes now tend to be sentimental figures that do not inform the public into taking a costly moral stance. Metaxas completely confuses this in his book on Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, which might be noble, but certainly true heroes like David from Scripture had better restraint when an opportunity to assassinate evil Saul presented itself.
  4. The golden triangle, with deepest respect to Os Guinness, seems to be nonsense. There are no specific definitions of virtue (whose morality?) or faith (in what?) or freedom (from what or for what?). Faith in the Christian sense does NOT require freedom, but affords a much greater freedom than is offered by the constitution or any other man-created document or system of government.

Metaxas labors long about the importance of love for country, being sure to dismiss the “my country right or wrong” notion. He argues that you can love a country while hating the sins of that country. But, one’s love for country is far more complex than just “loving” America. Is he talking about America as a system of government? Do we idolize the good but seriously flawed constitution, the “living” document that now controls our country? Do we love it for its extreme secularism, that refuses to take a stance as a Christian nation, and supporting equally Islam, Buddhism, and even Satanism as legitimate religions of the land?  Metaxas doesn’t mention that our only real citizenship is a heavenly citizenship, and on earth we are strangers and pilgrims. It’s not that we are solely citizens of an other-worldly realm, but that we have dual citizenships, and must reconcile how to deal with that, being both members of planet earth and asked to care for the earth, yet members of a heavenly kingdom. Some have responded by claiming that the US system is too far gone, and moved to a country which tended for stronger Christian sympathies. Others have moved on to more oppressive nations, though with the thought that they are subject to a King that is not the prince of this world. Others, like myself, stay, realizing that this is my Heimat, my homeland, that I can have an influence for good in the community in which I live. I do not find America to be exceptional, but like the prophet Jeremiah, spend my time weeping that my nation could have made better decisions but have gone the way of inevitable judgment of a most serious nature.

I see our government as far more corrupt than meets the eye. I see the constitutional structure as fatally flawed in that it is primarily a secular humanist document, and we are now reaping the consequences of that structure. I see the loss of a public Christian morality as the essential loss of anything that once was good about our country. I don’t view ourselves as having a representative government, or that our votes have any substantial meaning. A plethora of events within the last twenty years have shown that a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not exist in the USA, and that it will never return, save for a cataclysmic revival in our country. Why can’t Metaxas see this? I don’t know. I ponder the imponderable question as to how the majority of our “well-informed, greatest-nation-on-earth” citizens could vote in a fool and evil person to be their president. I find it even more confusing that some of my Christian friends voted and still stand behind that man, and will soon vote in an even more evil, corrupt liar. These Christian friends are very moral people as well as well educated intelligent folk, and so a generic “morality” just doesn’t explain how to fix America, as Metaxas’ thesis claims.

There is much that Metaxas says correctly in this book. I appreciate his insights into American history and his dissatisfaction with the current status of our country. I appreciate his appeal to return to a moral stance. I would find it easy to get along with Metaxas if we were to meet in public, and could easily become a good friend with him. I hope that with time and age, Metaxas would write a text about America lacking the sentimental statements and the sense that America is a city on a hill that we all wish it would have been. I would hope that Metaxas’ love for America would remain strong, but become more mature,  perhaps seeing America the same way that Jeremiah saw (and deeply loved) Judah.

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May 21

ChallengeOfRainier

The Challenge of Rainier, by Dee Molenaar (4th Edition) ★★★★★

I’ve seen this book around for many years sitting on shelves in the bookstores, but never bothered to purchase a copy to read. It seemed that the time was ripe. Mt. Rainier is in many ways my favorite mountain. It’s in my backyard, and I frequently bicycle its perimeter. I’ve climbed it twice. I’ve hiked the Wonderland trail twice. I’ve yet to have a truly bad moment on the mountain, even though rain has occasionally terminated an adventure on the mountain. Mt. Rainier is of particular note in that many of America’s most famous Himalayan climbers learned their craft on this mountain. It is frequently acclaimed to be the most photogenic mountain in the world. My love for the mountain has extended to all seasons, doing winter ski trips into the park, spending other times hiking the trails for the day, cycling around the mountain, and always standing in awe of it. Thus, learning more of the history of the mountain was most gripping to me. Dee writes very well, and it is hard to put the book down. He chronicles the first climbs of each of the main routes, the development of the park, recounts tragedies that occurred in the park, discusses famous and interesting characters who have climbed to the summit, and discusses the challenges of the park rangers in keeping the mountain safe for all who approach its flanks. Chapter 35, In Retrospect, hit a tender spot with me. Though my experiences on Rainier are far fewer and less intense than the author, we both share the deep sentimentality of the majesty and grandeur of the mountain, the respect for its challenges that it offers the visitor, and its desire to see it preserved from careless human ambition. I’d encourage any and all that have have fallen in love with Mt. Rainier to read this book, and to delight in the perspective of the mountain man on the greatest of American mountains.

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May 06

Spandex

Spandex Optional, by Peter Rice ★★★★

This is a short but cute little book about bicycle touring. It is an easy read, taking me about 2 hours to get through it on a leisurely basis. Peter discusses cycle touring from a non-traditional perspective. Some advice is not the best, such as riding any old beat up bicycle on a long distance tour. Much advice is great, such as just getting on the bike and doing it. The most salient theme was to simply RYOR (ride your own ride), using a similar phrase often used in the thru-hiking community (to hike your own hike); i.e., do it your way, as everybody will have their own individual style of doing a long-distance ride. It’s a nice read for anybody who feels that long-distance cycling must be performed in a certain fashion, such as wearing spandex shorts.

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Apr 30

Just Ride

By Kenneth Feucht books No Comments »

JustRide

Just Ride, by Grant Petersen ★★★★

This is a cute little book of 89 chapters in 208 pages, giving advice on cycling. Grant Petersen founded Rivendell Bicycle Works, notes that he used to ride competitively, but now speaks strongly about the art of simply riding a bicycle and enjoying the endeavor. Advice fits into a number of categories, including how to ride a bicycle, what to wear, how to ride a bicycle safely, how to do the bicycle for health reasons, accessories for the bike, how to care for a bike, technical aspects of bicycle design, and philosophy of cycling. I disagree with some of what he has to say, but agree that his perspective on making bicycling an enjoyable pastime needs to be considered strongly by anybody riding a bike. It is a fun read, Grant writes well, and it will prove to serve as worthy advice even when he is not entirely correct.

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Apr 12

Stealing America

By Kenneth Feucht books 1 Comment »

StealingAmerica

Stealing America, by Dinesh D’Souza ★★★★

This book is actually two narratives. The first narrative regards Dinesh’s stay for 8 months in an overnight retention facility, and the sentencing that led to that retention. Each chapter has stories from his sentencing or life in the confinement center. The second narrative spring-boards from the first narrative, in identifying how the US government is operating in an increasingly criminal fashion, akin to the hardened criminals that Dinesh met while at the detention facility.

The first chapter speaks of Dinesh being caught for a crime that seemed somewhat insignificant and something that is performed all the time, but felony charges are avoided because high profile people are aware of the minor technicalities in helping one avoid the label of “crime” to the “mis-deed”. Dinesh accidentally gave beyond donation limits by giving to a candidate through friends. He could have given massively larger funds through a PAC or other agency, but because he did what he did and had enemies, he was labeled a felon and ultimately condemned to 8 months in a confinement center, though avoiding up to 3 years of prison by paying his life earnings to a high profile lawyer. Having personally seen enough of the court systems, I can heartily agree with D’Souza that courts are a political sham; they are not blind, and justice is NEVER served in the courts. They are highly politically motivated by extremist liberal social justice warriors with an agenda. The myth of the American court system is screamed loud and hard in the sentencing of D’Souza.

Chapter two outlines the confinement center, a description of some of the people confined within the center. The description paints the guards and personnel that run the center as more pathological than the inmates. The criminals in the center, while they created heinous crimes (and oftentimes did not!), are described as less criminal than the people that run this country. The theme of “theft” and “stealing” is beginning to be developed in this chapter, where inmates may have performed robberies, but the grander robberies are daily performed in full public eye by our politicians.

The next few chapters begin to develop certain themes. These themes are based on the crimes that inmates committed, and how the politicians that run this country have the same pathological mindset as the inveterate criminals locked up behind bars. Gangsterism is one theme. Through their particular gangs (Republican or Democratic Parties), the once innocent politician goes from poverty to unbelievable wealth, which cannot be explained by their salary as a public servant. The reparations scam is another, where astronomical payouts to an undeserving dependent class of people are made even more dependent on the system, all under the guise of repaying groups for some hypothetical crime allegedly committed against their distant forefathers by people that have been dead for many generations. The greed and inequality scam is how the government feels it is their duty to level the playing field of inequality by the continual redistribution of wealth. The only wealth not redistributed is that of the leaders. Another scam is labeled the “You didn’t build that scam”, or as I would say, “it takes a village” scam. This supposes that you would never have been able to accomplish anything in life if it wasn’t for the government, failing to realize that the government would not have existed without yours and your forefather’s taxes being paid. The “you didn’t build it scam” give the government the permission to steal your earnings for redistribution.

D’Souza then switches gears and discusses the life of Saul Alinsky. Saul spent much time with Al Capone, learning first hand the art of gangsterism. This is relevant, because two characters, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both admittedly spent much time under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky, Clinton  writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, while Obama worked under him as a civic organizer. The criminal nature of Obama and Clinton are then both detailed.

The last two chapters bewail how America has been “stolen” from the people, and offering a solution as to how to crack the deception. He really doesn’t offer much, suggesting only that we need to restore the original America that did not steal from its citizens. I didn’t expect profound solutions from D’Souza, as he really doesn’t see the full impact of what has gone wrong with our nation.

There are some serious problems with the book. First, Dinesh identifies the “problem” as starting with Bill Clinton and exacerbated by the Bushes and Obama. In actual fact, the problems of corrupt government in the USA goes back to its founding, with founding fathers stacking the constitution in its own favor. I would identify progressivism as we know it as starting with Teddy Roosevelt and ultimately “losing it” with Woodrow Wilson. We are simply seeing the end result of a 100 years of deterioration in our government, making it unrecognizable should any of the founding fathers return from the dead. The second problem with the book is that Dinesh tends to think the problem of a stolen America to be primarily a Democrat problem. In actual fact, as recent events have shown quite clearly, the Republican party is way too similar to the Democratic party, and their politics tend to differ less than the politicians would like us to think. The Democratic Party is not the only criminal gang, but there are two criminal rival gangs fighting for preeminence on the public stage. As a side issue to the Republican party, D’Souza gives inordinate praise to president Lincoln, a man worthy of praise, but omits that he, more than any other president before him, established an uncontrollably powerful central government, much to our loss and giving rise to all of the problems D’Souza wails on in his book. By decentralizing government, empowering states and empowering the 10th amendment, reducing taxation and eliminating unwanted tariffs, Lincoln could have both abolished slavery and preserved the union without a war. The third problem is that D’Souza was affected by a wantonly corrupt court system in bed with the reigning politicians. Yet, he really doesn’t grasp the entire nature of how and why our court systems no longer administer justice or freedom. I am a little astounded as to why he is so blind to this issue. The fourth problem affects Dinesh as much as the country and that is a loss of faith. Dinesh fails to ever bring out that the primary reason America has gone the way it has, is that there is no longer a Christian morality, a Christian ethos, or a Christian faith in America. Dinesh, through his past divorce, seems to have somehow lost it himself. True, he still identifies as a Christian, but this book would leave you thinking that he only has a Christian gloss; there is nothing in this book that conveys a serious Christian mindset. By that, I mean a mindset that holds God in control of the universe, in control of politics, and a moral God that will judge the sins of the nation. His morality seems to be a morality that is entirely utilitarian in its function to maintain a civil society. This is not the morality of Scripture. I dearly hope that D’Souza will some day soon come to the realization of the problems above and write a book that can encompass a true reckoning of the spiritual and political state of affairs of our nation.

The book is a depressing book. It’s not that I’ve learned something new in the book. It’s that it’s all been reinforced from a person that tended to be very optimistic about our political system and the fruits of that political system. What’s most depressing is to grasp at how few people in America realize that we are a country that has gone off the cliff and is in free-fall without a parachute. People quibbling over whether Sanders or Hillary or Cruz gets the presidency are like kids playing on the deck of the Titanic during its final hours—”the boat’s going down children, and it isn’t worth haggling over whether Suzy stepped on the line in the hopscotch game”.

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