Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Amazing Tales Not so Amazingly Told

Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys, Neil Oliver

(William Morrow, 2009), hb., 364 pp.
Ages 7+

Last year I wrote a post on this book just after purchasing the volume. I quoted the back of the book (which is what induced me to buy the book) and wrote, “How can a book that says this not be good!” Sadly, I must now write to say in answer, “They found a way.” In spite of the inspiring writing on the book cover this is not a very good book and I cannot recommend it. I like the concept but the execution was poor.

The biggest problem with the book is its total lack of a moral compass. I had seen criticism of the book along the lines that it simply gloried in men dying in combat. I dismissed the critique at the time expecting that it came from people who failed to consider the value of self-sacrifice in this way. Now, I appreciate the criticism. Without a moral compass nobility and valor are hard to distinguish. Various comments in the book demonstrate carelessness for real values apart from dying bravely. For example homosexuality among Spartan young men is discussed casually without any moral judgment. Profanity is sprinkled liberally throughout. This is not what I want to read to my boys.

Related to this, the book does not sound like it is really written to boys. Quite a bit of information is assumed and even examples used relate more to adult men. It sounds like a conversation between adult men which they imagine will resonate with boys.

Lastly, though many powerful stories were selected, the manner of retelling the stories was typically ineffective. These are great stories which ought to be powerful, but they never soared. They were like great lions that only meowed. So much more was expected so that the disappointment was great.

We do need to retell the great stories which used to be commonplace and which capture the imagination of young boys inspiring them to be men. However, manhood is not sheer recklessness. It is willingness to sacrifice for the good, an arranging of life according to a compelling moral vision which shows when it is right to fight and when it is not.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Fathers and the Nurture of Souls

A few months ago I wrote a column arguing that as fathers hug their children they engage in spiritual warfare for their children. The thesis may sound overstated to some. However, two items I read in the last week have reinforced my conviction in this area.

First, a friend of mine recently shared his story of his journey through homosexuality. He mentions his abusive father, and how at age seven he rejoiced when his father died. He wrote:

I have no memories of my father or my mother ever holding me or expressing love for me. I grew up starving for love, nurture, acceptance and affirmation.
What is so striking about this is that it is so common in the experience of people struggling with homosexuality.

Second, I am reading Jim Speigel’s latest book, The Making of an Atheist (I have commented before on an earlier book of his). This is a great book which I commend to you. In one chapter Speigel interacts with the work of psychologist Paul Vitz (particularly Vitz’s book Faith of the Fatherless) who argued, through an examination of many prominent atheists, that a broken relationship with one’s father predisposes many people to reject God. Vitz does not say that a broken relationship with one’s father ensures atheism, but that it often predisposes one to atheism. Speigel comments further:

We unconsciously (and often consciously, depending on one’s worldview) conceive of God after the pattern of our earthly father. This is even encouraged in Scripture, as Jesus constantly refers to God as our “heavenly Father.” When one has a healthy father relationship and a father who is a decent moral model, then this metaphor and the psychological patterns it inspires are welcome. However, when one’s earthly father is defective, whether because of death, abandonment, or abuse, this necessarily impacts one’s thinking about God. Whether we call it psychological projection, transfer, or displacement, the lack of a good father is a handicap when it comes to faith.

Experience and observation simply confirm what the Bible teaches. Fathers, our presence, care and nurturing of our children is crucial for their souls. They will make their own choices one day, but the choices we make today shape the way they see God. Some will rebel against God in spite of godly parents. Still, we do truly wage war for their souls as we demonstrate loving care.