Augustine: Conversions and Confessions

Robin Lane Fox,  Emeritus Fellow of New College, Oxford and Reader in Ancient History, University of Oxford, has recently released a new book about Augustine. I picked it up the last time I went into Waterstones, because it had a pretty cover and because I find Augustine’s views generally interesting.

Winner of the Wolfson Prize for History 2015, the book charts Augustine’s life up to and including his writing of the Confessions. It compares and contrasts his path with those of other thinkers of his time, including the pagan Libanius.

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Some thoughts on truth, lies, and belief

A couple of weeks ago, two of my friends came over for dinner. One is a committed atheist, the other a vague Christian. And me, a… well, a scar.

The conversation turned to religion at one point, and my atheist friend said that she didn’t understand how anyone intelligent could possibly believe in a god. How she is stunned to see scientists and people like them expressing beliefs in entities whose existence can’t be empirically proven.

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The Occult Tradition by David S. Katz

The Occult Tradition by David S. Katz is a book I read a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed, mainly because it didn’t just discuss dubious claims of current witches dating back their ancestry to ancient Egypt, but took an in-depth look at ‘occult’ concepts in a very literal sense – in the sense of discussing hidden or obscure material.

A lot of the book focused on Jewish and Christian mysticism, which was interesting because again this isn’t something that’s always heavily discussed in books on occult themes.

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Pilgrimage Project Plans

This week I’ve decided to experiment with doing the weekly round-up on a Friday. Doing it on Sundays never quite happens, because… well… Sunday. And Mondays feel wrong, somehow. So let’s see how this goes.

Considering that the last one was posted this Monday, this is more of a three-day roundup, but I’ve managed to fit quite a lot into those three days.

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Book Review: Being Christian

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A couple of weeks ago, I received an email asking if I’d like to review a “dark psychological novel that takes a voyeuristic look at the sex, lies, violence and debauchery behind one pastor’s ascent in the world of today’s mega-churches”. I find the concept of worshipping as part of a community fascinating, and I’m skeptical about hierarchical organisations where members aren’t allowed to challenge their authorities. The novel therefore sounded right up my street. I asked for a copy. When it arrived, the blurb was also pretty promising:

The product of a violent home, John Christian Hillcox overcomes long odds to build a Texas megachurch where he preaches the gospels of prosperity and End Times, and pulls the political strings of a key voting bloc. A man of enormous appetites and inadequate self-control, Pastor Hillcox rallies his flock to oppose everything he considers immoral and detrimental to the United States being a godly, Christian nation.

Being Christian is a gripping psychological tale of a man who uses religion to justify his own sins and lies, heedless of the consequences for his loved ones, his community, and the world at large. The story of this larger-than-life, but familiar, character follows him from his crime-ridden early adulthood to the prime of his ministry in post-9/11 America.

The storyline was fairly gripping: pastor with a dark past and probably less of a holy world view than he claims to have uses his powers to increase his own riches, but never manages to rid himself of his old demons. A plotline I like.

The book fell into a lot of the first-novel/independently-published traps, though. I can’t really blame it for that, because it’s normal, but it did make it harder to read. A few of these included: the writing of dialogue in the accent in which it is spoken, throughout the whole book; the lack of an editor to direct, chop and change the storyline; a back story that attempted to be too complicated and ended up with too many plot holes.

But it was still quite good. If you like reading independent novels, you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a story that has a lot of potential, and I think that if it got into the right hands and republished, it’d be a solid novel. It just needs a bit more finessing.

Verdict: 

Being Christian is out now as both an ebook and a hard copy, and you can find out more about the story and follow the author’s blog here