Category Archives: Non-fiction

Look Again at the Lewis Chessmen

Scholarly paper warning.

David H. Caldwell, Mark A. Hall, and Caroline M. Wilkinson have written an interdisciplinary paper on the Lewis chessmen, uncovered in Scotland in 1831. They are centuries-old, walrus ivory chess pieces, 78 in all. The authors suggest the story may have become too streamlined to reveal reality.

Whether kings or princes from the Isle of Man or descended from Somerled, local nobles or high-ranking clerics, there were several men in late Norse Lewis who could have aspired to own the Lewis pieces, and who would have valued them as gaming pieces. Rather than accepting the deus ex machina  explanation of a passing merchant losing his stock, it is surely more plausible that the Lewis pieces were found in Lewis because that was where they were intended to end up and be enjoyed.
   . . .
There are two final points to make here. First, no matter how or why the Lewis pieces arrived at Uig, it is only a presumption that they were new when buried. If they belonged to a local nobleman or cleric they may have provided many years of enjoyment before they passed out of use. This is a significant point to which we will return after a more detailed analysis of the individual pieces. Second, the circumstances of the hoard’s discovery are so vague that there can be no confidence as to whether it was lost or deliberately hidden.

This isn’t quite the storyline of The Chessmen by Peter May, but you may find it interesting. Abstract to follow. Continue reading Look Again at the Lewis Chessmen

‘Hell’s Princess,’ by Harold Schechter

Hell's Princess

How they resisted the temptation to title this book, “Hell’s Belle,” I will never understand.

We Norwegian-Americans are generally reconciled to the fact that we occupy a secondary (at best) tier in American culture. But we take pride in our notabale sons and daughters: Politicians like Hubert Humphrey, scientists like Norman Borlaug, actors like Harry Morgan.

There is one prominent Norwegian American, though, whom most of us had never heard of (I had, but I’m fairly remarkable): Belle Gunness of LaPorte, Indiana, one of America’s first known serial killers and one of her few female serial killers. She also scores pretty high in the body count tallies.

Hell’s Princess, by true crime author Harold Schechter, tells her grisly story in a scholarly and judicious manner. Though the ending (as he admits) is kind of anticlimactic.

Belle Gunness was born in Norway in 1859; she was a large, unlovely woman and the victim of rape. She immigrated to America, worked hard, and had a reputation for kindness to children. But somewhere along the line she determined to be rich, and chose an easy road to wealth. Continue reading ‘Hell’s Princess,’ by Harold Schechter

No Little Women, by Aimee Byrd

[W]omen are created in the image of God as necessary allies to men in carrying out his mission. Because of this, women are to be good theologians with informed convictions. We are to take this call seriously and invest quality time in our theological growth ad Bible study within the context of our local church as a foundation to our service and contributions to the church, our families, and society.

Aimee Byrd, author of Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith and other books, took up the topic of women in the church in her thoroughly reasonably and well-written book No Little Women.  The title comes from 2 Timothy 3:6-7, “For among them are those [wicked teachers] who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” Do such teachers creep around today and do they find opportunities among church women who know something but not enough of the Bible?

Byrd worries that the ministry leaders of most of our churches give too little attention to their women’s ministry studies, allowing them to more-or-less do their own thing with any Bible-related study they find appealing. As a result, writers and conference speakers are using Christian language to teach unChristian principles to increasing audiences. And women are more open to these principles by the simple fact they read more. If their pastors give implicit approval to whatever bears a Christian label and no other instruction or training in the faith, then they can easily be led astray.

I worry many of our churches  lack the theological grounding to know they are going astray until the false doctrines have been laid and momentum gained. I remember a local Southern Baptist pastor telling me what he was teaching in new congregation (catechism and careful exposition), and one woman thanked him for trusting them enough to wrestle with big ideas. That was unusual.

I thought of that while reading Byrd’s recommendations to leaders for gaining the attention and trust of the women in their congregations. Understand, she said, that the body of Christ is both male and female and both male and female should be well-versed in God’s word. Also recognize while women may not be allowed in ordained teaching roles, they do teach–all the time. Mothers, sisters, and wives exercise their faith every day in diverse ways. Some bear witness to the truth, others to the lies of the world.

Men need women as necessary allies in the faith to speak the truth in love, to rebuke deception, guard affection, rally motivation, and rejoice over the work the Lord is doing in his people. Therefore, women need the same attentive training men receive.

Byrd briefly describes how, since the beginning of our country, many women have stepped up as spiritual leaders to take eager congregations away from God’s Word. “There is a common thread in the bad theology: these women have all claimed to have received special revelation from God.” But by equipping women to be the necessary and competent allies the church needs we can hold dear the truths of God for another generation.

(Photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash)

A Bedbugger Talks Work on the Road

This excerpt from The Long Haul, by Finn Murphy reads like a western, and I suppose it is, even though he says, “I do not for a moment think I’m a symbol of some bygone ideal of Wild West American freedom or any other half-mythic, half-menacing nugget of folk nonsense.”

My destination is the ultrarich haven called Aspen, Colorado. This makes perfect sense because I’m a long-haul mover at the pinnacle of the game, a specialist. I can make $250,000 a year doing what is called high-end executive relocation. No U-Hauls for me, thank you very much. I’ll take the movie stars, the ambassadors, the corporate bigwigs. At the office in Connecticut they call me the Great White Mover. This Aspen load, insured for $3 million, belongs to a former investment banker from a former investment bank who apparently escaped the toppled citadel with his personal loot intact.

… How well a truck is loaded is the acid test of a mover. I can look at any driver’s load and tell at a glance if he’s any good at all.

The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy was released last year.

’12 Rules for Life,’ by Jordan B. Peterson

12 Rules for Life

Ideologies are simple ideas, disguised as science or philosophy, that purport to explain the complexity of the world and offer remedies that will perfect it. Ideologues are people who pretend that they know how to “make the world a better place” before they’ve taken care of their own chaos within…. Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, and ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power, because a simple-minded I-know-it-all approach is no match for the complexity of existence.

Ever since Jean-Jacques Rousseau, there’s been a war between “science” and tradition. (I put science in quotations because the science involved is often just ideology, and it keeps changing. Nevertheless the ideologues are always convinced that they have finally mastered all important knowledge, and are in a position to lecture the rubes). Intellectuals, basing their arguments on what they called science (often just a theory of science), have explained to their inferiors that all the old traditions and mores are the products of superstition – which we have now happily transcended. From this day on, we will base our actions and policies on “enlightened” ideas. And because science is infallible, utopia will inevitably follow.

What Jordan B. Peterson does in the seismic book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is to deconstruct such arguments through the application, not of religion, but of Darwinian biology – plus his extensive experience as a psychologist.

He’s an open-minded thinker. He doesn’t rule out the possibility that the “old” rules of society might conceivably have a divine origin. But that’s above his pay grade. The evidence he cites is actual research in such fields as biology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and history.

His contention is that the traditional rules – which he considers the fruits of millions of years of evolutionary refinement – exist for a reason. He has distilled his list to twelve, and he explains why he believes in them.

Essentially, Peterson is the little boy who cried, “The emperor has no clothes!”

His book is fascinating, well-reasoned, inspiring, and sometimes moving. (There were some sentences that were badly constructed and confusing, needing an edit; that ought to be done.) Its naturalistic world view will be irritating to many Christians, but this isn’t a Christian book. This is a book about secular virtue. I read it in the light of Jesus’ statement to His disciples that “the one who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50).

Reading ’12 Rules’

12 Rules for Life

I’m still reading through Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Here’s a nice excerpt:

Absolute equality would therefore require the sacrifice of value itself—and then there would be nothing worth living for. We might instead note with gratitude that a complex, sophisticated culture allows for many games and many successful players, and that a well-structured culture allows the individuals that compose it to play and to win, in many different fashions.

Reading report: ’12 Rules for Life,’ by Jordan B. Peterson

12 Rules for Life

If society is corrupt, but not the individuals within it, then where did the corruption originate? How is it propagated? It’s a one-sided, deeply ideological theory….

Our society faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people who do not or will not fit into categories upon which even our perceptions are based. This is not a good thing….

I’m reading Jordan B. Peterson’s bestselling juggernaut, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. It’s a book remarkable for restating the obvious – which is a revolutionary act in the 21st Century West. I’m not ready to review it yet, but it’s so interesting I thought I’d share a couple thoughts.

The book contains elements that make me want to stand up and cheer, and elements that trouble me – particularly in its treatment of Christianity. To be sure, there’s no denigration of Christianity here – in fact, Christian doctrine and morality come in for a lot of praise. But the book is written from a naturalist, Darwinian perspective that would make me furious if the same statements came from, say, the leader of a liberal church.

But of course, the source is what makes the difference. I’ve noted before that a man walking toward me may be farther from me than a man walking away from me. But the man walking toward me may reach me in time, while the man walking away will get further and further away. Peterson has, by his own account, gone from Christian faith to atheism in the past. Then he started thinking his way through the great questions, and gradually began to see the simple, practical wisdom of Christianity (and other great religions, to be sure), which he sees as the beneficial fruit of evolutionary processes.

I hope and pray that Jordan B. Peterson will come to faith in Jesus Christ in time. But it seems to me that his current agnosticism places him, for the moment, in the ideal place to do an important work. If he were a believer, his book would be cordoned off in the “Christian Literature” section, and nobody would notice it. His skepticism gives him credibility.

‘The Winter Fortress,’ by Neal Bascomb

The Winter Fortress

I think I first heard of the World War II Norwegian Resistance sabotage at Vemork and Rjukan when the Kirk Douglas movie, The Heroes of Telemark, came out in 1965. I didn’t see the movie then, but I read reviews and articles in the paper. I finally saw the movie in college. I think I realized even then that it probably bore as much resemblance to real events as a Lego figure bears to a real person.

Later I read accounts in books, and saw a TV documentary (which stated, somewhat snarkily, at the end that recently discovered documents proved that it was all unnecessary, as the Germans never intended to build an atom bomb at all. This was a premature and exaggerated claim). Then there was the Norwegian/British miniseries, “The Heavy Water War,” which was more authentic than the movie, but also highly fictionalized.

I think I’ve got the genuine story, within reasonable tolerances, now that I’ve read Neal Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress.

The Norsk Hydro hydroelectric plant at Vemork, Telemark had a small, profitable, almost exclusive sideline manufacturing deuterium – “heavy water” – an ingredient in fertilizers. That operation became the focus of international intrigue when German scientists chose deuterium as a moderating agent in their atomic experiments – which did indeed have the goal of producing a super-bomb, though of course not every Nazi in the government supported the project. When the Norwegian Resistance, after the Occupation, discovered the Germans’ intentions for the stuff, they alerted British Intelligence, and halting heavy water production became a prime war objective.

The story of how a small group of Norwegian commandos, supplemented by an ill-starred company of British Army saboteurs, endured police searches, betrayals, horrific winter weather, separation from their families, and plain bad luck to carry out two highly successful sabotage operations forms the story of The Winter Fortress. The characters (particularly commander Leif Trondstad, Joaquin Rønneberg, and Knut Haukelid) come to life, and the times and circumstances are vividly painted. A lot of painstaking research went into this book, and it was not wasted. The story is exciting, and poignant, and often tragic.

Highly recommended. Not for the faint of heart.

What Did Lincoln Think About Slavery?

The president’s personal notes, that pull together into a fragmented diary, show how he thought about the argument for and against slavery in the United States. He asks if one person can claim a right to enslave another, what prevents the latter person from claiming the same right over the former? Is it color? Then we are all in danger of being enslaved or having to fight against that legal claim by anyone with fairer skin than our own. Lincoln then asks,

You do not mean color exactly? — You mean whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

In another place, he mocks the idea that slavery is good for the slaves, saying that’s the reason wolves eat lambs, “not because it is good for their own greedy maws, but because it [is] good for the lambs!!!” [via Prufrock News]

‘Right Tool for the Job,’ by Mark Goldblatt

Right Tool for the Job

The headphones jerked out of my ears, and I made a grab for them, which caused me to trip over my feet, fall onto my side, and shoot off the back of the treadmill, knocking over two young women in spandex outfits who’d been chatting behind me. As one witness said, it looked like I was picking up a six-ten spare.

Yes, I’m blogging through The Lord of the Rings, and I’ll be back with that momentarily. But my Facebook friend Mark Goldblatt announced a deal on his book Right Tool for the Job: A Memoir of Manly Concerns, and I figured it wouldn’t do me any serious harm to take a break between hobbits with a short, light book. I did, and it didn’t.

Right Tool for the Job is a collection of humorous essays, sort of an autobiography under strobe light. We begin with an awkward memory of Mark’s father taking him to a Turkish bath, and end with a meditation on giving up softball because your body’s just getting too old for the punishment. A recurring theme seems to be the unlimited indignities men’s bodies impose on them, with particular emphasis on sexual awkwardness, though all the stories aren’t about sex, and honestly, what else is a guy going to write about?

Author Goldblatt is Jewish, secular, and conservative. He’s also extremely funny. I laughed out loud more than once. I recommend The Right Tool for the Job, with cautions for mature themes. I especially recommend it to women, as an introduction to what’s laughingly known as male psychology.

How Do Christians Handle Pain?

“Any attitude that emphasizes hope while ignoring lament comes from a naïve and unrealistic optimism that contradicts our actual experiences. Lamenting without hope, on the other hand, is equally unrealistic, a kind of unfaithful cynicism that ignores God’s activity and crushes us in its unrelenting despair.”

Professor Kelly Kapic talks with ByFaith about his 2017 book which presents itself as “a theological meditation on pain and suffering.

As we close out our celebration of the Almighty becoming a man, Kapic’s book may be just the theological conversation we need to see ourselves as people with originally good, now broken by sin, physical bodies. It’s understandable that we often pray for God to take away our pain and sickness, but as Kapic notes in this video, all of us are either growing older or dead. What we feel and can do now in our bodies is part of the real world in which God calls us to bring him glory.

I regularly get emails from people who have read the book and speak of discovering the role of lament as if for the first time. That tells me, if I am hearing correctly, that we might not be doing a very good job of displaying this biblical expression in our corporate worship and Christian experience.

(See also this listing from WTS Books)

‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

The Last Closet

…Of my parents, he [my father] was the kinder one. After all, he was only a serial rapist. My mother was an icy, violent monster whose voice twisted up my stomach.

Very rarely, I need to begin a book review with a caution. This is one of those cases. Moira Greyland’s The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a shocking and deeply troubling book. It recounts horrors that will haunt you, and many readers will simply not be able to handle it. The occasional profanity is the least offensive element.

But it’s an important book to read, for those who can bear it.

Moira Greyland is the daughter of the late bestselling feminist fantasy/sci fi author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her father was Walter Breen, a world-renowned authority on numismatics (precious coins). Both of them were geniuses, and both had suffered horrific abuse as children. In a just world, both of them would have been institutionalized. They were delusional and barely capable of taking care of themselves, let alone children.

Both were homosexual, but they stretched a point to conceive Moira and a brother. It was all part of a master plan, her father’s Grand Vision – to raise superior (high IQ) children who would be diverted from the “perversion” of heterosexuality at an early age through incest. This would bring them onto the “natural” path of homosexuality, and position them to help to usher in a utopian future world order. Continue reading ‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

New release: ‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

The Last Closet

Moira Greyland is the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley, the late best-selling feminist sci-fi and fantasy author. A while back I passed along some published revelations about the abusive sexual practices Bradley and her husband indulged in, particularly in regard to their daughter. Just today, Castalia House has released Moira’s book, The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon, in a Kindle edition. [Reviewed here]

Here’s the blurb:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

Moira Greyland is a born-again Christian today. I bought her book within minutes of its announcement. This, in my opinion, could be just the book we need at this time in history. If not, it’s a good thing to set the record straight on any day.

‘Authentic Christianity,’ by Gene Edward Veith and A. Trevor Sutton

Authentic Christianity

What [Reformation thought] meant in practice is that the “spiritual disciplines” moved out of the monastery into secular life. Celibacy became faithfulness in marriage. Poverty became thrift and hard work. Obedience became submission to the law. Most important, prayer, meditation, and worship – while still central to every Christian’s vocation in the Church – also moved into the family and the workplace.

What does the Church require to reclaim lost ground in the 21st Century? How can we answer postmodernism? What can unite the countless feuding – and dissolving – denominational groups into a force for reclaiming the culture? We do not lack for books offering answers to those questions. My friend Gene Edward Veith, along with co-author A. Trevor Sutton, maintains in Authentic Christianity that the perfect solution is one already in place – Lutheran theology. (I did not receive a review copy, for the record.)

The “star” of the book is a Lutheran philosopher of whom (I have to admit) I’d never heard – Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88). Goethe, we’re told, called Hamann “the brightest mind of his day.” A convert from Enlightenment thinking, Hamann deconstructed rationalism and insisted that reason was useless and destructive when separated from faith. According to the authors, he anticipated postmodernism in his critique of autonomous reason. He may, they suggest, have been the father of that linguistic analysis which so dominates modern philosophy. But for him this line of thought led, not to absurdity and despair, but to trust in Jesus Christ, His Word, and His Church.

Veith and Sutton go on to analyze the (self-destructive) thinking of the modern world, and they explain how Lutheran theology answers the inherent questions of our time and fills basic human spiritual needs.

The book works itself out as a systematic apologetic for Lutheranism, aimed at modern readers. If you’re looking for a stable church home, you could do far worse than reading this fresh and interesting book. Recommended.