The Romance Of Religion: Fighting For Goodness, Truth, And Beauty, by Dwight Longencker
[This book was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
When the author, who happens to be a married Roman Catholic parish priest (how did he get that gig?) talks about romance, he has three meanings in mind that are all an important part of this book. The first meaning, and most familiar, refers to the romantic longings expressed in the poetry of Dante, musicals like Oklahoma!, and in harlequin romances like those my mother is fond of, all of which the author defends as legitimate. The second meaning refers to the heroic quest that believers are on in terms of our battle against the darkness within ourselves and in the world outside, the subject of fantasy literature and other genres of low reputation like Westerns and adventure stories, of which I am fond . The third level of meaning that is meant refers to romance in terms of linguistics, as relating to Roman language (or the romance languages like Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, and Romanian) or to the culture of the Roman Catholic Church. These three layers of meaning are frequently mixed together in an immensely complicated but skillfully and exuberantly written way.
This book is, at its most straightforward level, a defense of the legitimacy of the longings for mystery and adventure and romance that are in the heart of every man and woman, whether those longings are frustrated or denied or reveled in. It is a book that combines references to the literature of C.S. Lewis (namely a chapter dealing with Reepicheep and the nature of courage), J.R.R. Tolkien, Edmund Rostrand (his masterpiece Cyrano de Bergerac), Rogers & Hammerstein (Oklahoma!) to movie references like Star Wars and the Matrix to a look at genre literature like medical romances and Westerns to philosophical references to Plato (the author himself appears to be an idealist in the way that Plato was). This is obviously a far-flung and complicated approach to the basic heroic story arc of scripture and its individual stories, so the more that a reader appreciates literary and cultural and philosophical references (along with a pretty standard apologetic approach to the legitimacy of the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ as well as the validity of the New Testament as an account of the life of Christ and the practice of the early church and the irrationality of atheism ) will probably appreciate this book far better than someone who does not share such diverse interests.
Some books have secret agendas that require a great deal of effort to uncover (and this book makes fun of conspiracy theories), but happily, this book is open about its worldview and intent. The book is written openly in order to present the Roman Catholic worldview, including its love of romance and mystery, as an alternative to the sterile and supposedly “post-Christian” rationalism of contemporary Western civilization. The author openly admits to his desire to inspire people to passionately fight against darkness and to adopt a Catholic worldview of something akin to liberation theology . Where this book succeeds the best is in its passionate defense of the worth of the ordinary human heart and its longings for love, beauty, and redemption. Where this book tends to stumble, it is in the fact that it fails to understand the distinctive nature of biblical law as a timeless but earthbound reflection of God’s character, in its typically Catholic syncretism  that views pagan thought and practice as amenable to being incorporated into Christianity. The books virtues are virtues of the heart and the book’s flaws are flaws of the mind, in a certain suspicion of reason and a certain bent towards mysticism and emotionalism. While by no means the last word on the stories of the Bible, it is an encouragement to believers to have a faith that includes matters of the heart, and this is a worthwhile purpose done well in this passionate work that is enthusiastic enough and warm enough to allow one to forgive it errors like its statement that Rahab tempted Joshua in the battle of Jericho and to appreciate it for its virtues even while one recognizes its shortcomings.
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