My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Here is the remainder of my summer reading summary – a bit late, but, in this case, late is better than not at all!
This is the fourth book in the Canadian Baptist Historical Society’s new book series. And it is an excellent volume of essays by accomplished scholars.
The easy and often common assumption is that religious fundamentalists are stupid, reactionary, mean, and petty. But, as in most things related to history, the truth is far more complex. This work is a helpful and insightful reminder to not make quick and easy assumptions about people and movements that seem different – and a reminder that people, such as Baptist fundamentalists, often operated out of a coherent worldview and a genuine desire to be faithful to the faith. And, while a few may have been pompous and mean-spirited jerks, most were not.
Memorable Quote: “How one defines fundamentalism is aa hotly debated topic these days. The burgeoning literature on fundamentalism in multiple academic disciplines and in both religious and secular contexts has produced multiple definitions that can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Is fundamentalism amental illness or disorder, a radical religious belief system, an orthodox religious belief system, a heretical religious belief system, a historical and theological religious movement, or one, none, some, or all of the above? One can support for every one of these perspectives and plenty more besides. This reality leaves one in a quagmire.” (8)
One wonders how the human race continues to function or even survive when one reads of the folly of its leaders. Tuchman provides a fascinating and insightful glimpse into the folly of Troy’s citizens, Renaissance Popes, British rulers in Colonial America, and America in Vietnam. Selfishness and self-interest and hubris abounded – leading to the exact opposite desired outcome. If one thinks our contemporary political leaders are inept and arrogant, one would be right. But this book reminds us that such leaders are more often the norm than the exception. I suppose that is, in some strange way, comforting.
Memorable Quotes: There are so many memorable quotes in this book. Here are just a few.
“A principle that emerges in the cases so far mentioned is that folly is a child of power. We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton’s dictum, that power corrupts. We are less aware that it breeds folly; that the power to command frequently cause failure to think; that the responsibility of power often fades as its exercise augments. The overall responsibility of power is to govern as reasonably as possible in the interest of the state and its citizens. A duty in that process is to keep well-informed, to heed information, to keep mind and judgment open and to resist the insidious spell of wooden-headedness. If the mind is open enough to perceive that a given policy is harming rather than serving self-interest, and self-confident enough to acknowledge it, and wise enough to reverse it, that is a summit in the art of government.” (34)
“It qualifies as folly when it is a perverse persistence in a policy demonstrably unworkable or counter-productive. It seems almost superfluous to say that the present study stems from the ubiquity of this problem in our time.” (35)
“Strong prejudices in an ill-informed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.” (149)
“Confronted by menace, or what is perceived as menace, governments will usually attempt to smash it, rarely to examine it, understand it, define it.” (180)
“Folly had now set sail.” (184)
“It is the kind of war in which even victory will ruin us.” (221)
“…the responsibility of power often requires resisting and redirecting a pervading condition.” (60)
John was a missionary among the Telugus in India from 1887-1904. This is an account of his upbring, call and preparation for ministry, his family life, and his work in India. The tragic element to the story is his being infected with leprosy during his ministry among lepers. He eventually had to return to Canada and, ultimately, live and die in a sanatorium. And as the quote below indicates, even the writing of this volume was an extraordinary task.
John’s courage and faith in the midst of such disappointment and pain is remarkable and is a witness to God’s grace in the midst of suffering. It is also a poignant reminder that even living a life of stellar service to God does not guarantee our safety – in fact, that very service may be the cause of our suffering and demise.
Memorable Quote: “On the suggestion of my brother George and fellow missionaries, I have written this brief sketch of my life. I cannot speak out loud. A large part of my body is paralysed, so this has been a slow and difficult task and has taken a long time. I wish the reward of a rich blessing upon the lady who so kindly gave me her spare moments to write down my thoughts. I could not sit and write and re-write as I might if I were well. Nor could I wait until I was in the mood for writing. I had to work whenever I could get some one to write for me, and, so the pictures are not so graphic nor the sentences so smooth nor the thoughts so cohesive as I would like.” [This is from the preface to the book]
This is an old-school summary of the work of a number of impressive women missionaries, whose faith, resiliency, innovation, and courage far surpass that of many of us in the church today. This is an easy but worthwhile read for the historical value (to get a sense of what was done in the past), but also for its devotional value (to get a sense of what can be done today). Here are the women: Alexina Mackay Ruthquist (India), Bowen Thompson (Middle East), Mary McGeorge (India), and Mary Louisa Whately (Egypt). Take note, however, that the cost on these women’s health was a heavy one – a good reminder to avoid Pollyanna or romantic visions of Christian service.
Memorable Quote: “We look upon it as a great honour conferred upon stay-at-home Christians to be permitted to sustain the hands of these far-away workers; to be permitted to count one such worker upon a family roll is a patent of heaven’s nobility. Those who have given friends to this high and holy enterprise may rest assured that the gift is honoured by the Master, and will redound in blessings on those whom they have left behind.” [This is from the preface to the book]
I enjoy the adventures of Jules Verne books, and fortunately I managed to get a free edition of the complete works of Jules Verne from Kindle (I do not like reading electronic books, but made an exception in this case). The optimism and confidence of nineteenth-century western Europeans is palpable in Verne’s novels (see quote below). This novel is a sequel to From the Earth to the Moon. However, as for this particular book, I was disappointed. The story seems to be more about Verne displaying his scientific prowess than telling a good story. However, at least he does not leave the crew of the spaceship floating helplessly around the moon like he did in From the Earth to the Moon.
Memorable Quote: “And now will this attempt, unprecedented in the annals of travels, lead to any practical result? Will direct communication with the moon ever be established? Will they ever lay the foundation of a travelling service through the solar world? Will they go from one planet to another, from Jupiter to Mercury, and after awhile from one star to another, from the Polar to Sirius? Will this means of locomotion allow us to visit those suns which swarm in the firmament? To such questions no answer can be given. But knowing the bold ingenuity of the Anglo-Saxon race, no one would be astonished if the Americans seek to make some use of President Barbicane’s attempt.”
I saw this book in the used book bin and could not help but pay 25 cents for it. I read it in high school during the oil crisis of the 1970s and thought it would be fun to read again about how one author envisioned the United States invading Canada to take control of its resources. Although it became a best-seller in Canada, the book is certainly not a prize-winning piece of literature. I was especially disappointed that I got all the way through the book to find out that the last three pages were missing! (Note to self – check all used books before buying to see if all pages are included.)
 Next summer I hope to read yet another Verne book on the subject – entitled The First Men in the Moon.
 The genre of US invading Canada has a history in Canadian literature. See https://thewalrus.ca/when-america-declared-war-on-us/