Book Review: “What’s So Great About Christianity” by Dinesh D’Souza

I don’t follow the news and I’m not plugged into current events.   So when I was assigned What’s So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D’Souza for a seminary class, I had no idea that the author had been convicted of a crime, pardoned by the president, and was shrouded in controversy.  It wasn’t until half-way through his book that I found out any of that.  I was enjoying the book so much that I decided to search the web for more his work to put into my reading queue.  Then the internet split open and his tangled history spilled into my lap.

One of the most pervasive evils of the present day is the “blame-splaining” phenomenon.  Instead of engaging with someone’s ideas, the tendency these days is to sidestep them entirely and point to a personal failure or professional blemish.  Or, even more commonly, to mine their work, dig up an old quote from years ago, and trot it out with no context.  This requires the intellectual acumen of a ten-year-old brat. 

There was a kid in elementary school who just couldn’t stand anybody getting a complement of any kind. He’d point out some flaw in the person or the product, no matter how minor.   I can still remember his freckled ten-year-old face saying “Well, it’s not perfect.”  

It is not a brilliant intellectual insight that nothing and nobody is perfect.  A nasty little ten-year-old kid knows that.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a drunk, but The Great Gatsby is one of the world’s greatest novels.  Louis Pasteur — who saved millions of lives by pioneering vaccination and pasteurization — performed clinical trials without a medical license and may have experimented on humans with inadequate scientific rigor. Sure, you can argue character and motives, but you can’t refute the quality of Fitzgerald’s prose or Pasteur’s science.  

Likewise, Dinesh D’Souza is not a perfect person, nor is he the cultural equivalent of Fitzgerald or Pasteur.  But his arguments in this book are generally sound.  He points out that Christianity is the source of:

  • Separation of church and state (“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” Matt. 22:21)
  • Functional atheism (the search for logical/scientific solutions before resorting to the supernatural)
  • Public service (“the last shall be first and the first shall be last” Matt. 20:16)
  • The quest for objective truth through science (Fr. Georges Lemaître first posited the Big Bang Theory which was strenuously resisted by atheist scientists who desperately wanted to support the steady state theory)

But I think he’s at his best when he’s myth-busting.  It was very refreshing to see a popular book refute the often-touted “fact” that Christianity is a source of strife, war and death.  He stresses that the real killer isn’t Christianity but atheism.

The three crimes most often alleged against Christianity, D’Souza points out, are the Crusades, the witch trials and the Spanish inquisition.  But the Crusades were a series of wars against the Turks who had invaded the Holy Land, which had previously held by the Byzantine Empire. Losses were great on all sides. This wasn’t a “Christian” war — it was just a war.  The European witch trials, from 1450 to 1750, claimed 35,000 lives over 300 years. At Salem only 19 were executed. From 1478 to 1834 the Spanish inquisition resulted in no more than 5,000 dead over 350 years.   The grand total for these tragedies: 40,000.  

Atheist regimes, on the other hand, were responsible for millions of lost lives in a single century.  Mao killed about 65 million, Stalin 20 million, Hitler 6 million, and Pol Pot another 2 million.  Grand total: 93 million.  Christians aren’t perfect. Fair enough — and about as valuable as any ten-year-old’s observation goes. But Christianity, through its charity, philanthropy and peace-making work, has clearly saved a thousands times more lives than it may have taken.

I enjoyed his book a great deal.  It was smoothly written, engaging, and well-constructed.  As for D’Souza’s personality, his character, politics, criminal record, and other works, I’ll leave those evaluations to other reviewers.

Creature Teacher: Martial Arts Training Involution #176

Continuing the theme this month, this week’s T.I. is an excerpt from a forthcoming module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program on animal teachers.


We learned from Frog that there is a great lesson in sitting still, and we received the gift of contemplation which literally means to watch something — from the Latin  contemplārī meaning “to observe.”

From Dog we learned that there is great utility — and an evolutionary imperative — for not just hiding our suffering but learning to be happy and loving even when we are suffering.

From Hawk we learned that the ability to assume the thousand-foot view, and to keep our eye on the grand scheme, is essential to success.

And from the cave paintings of our ancestors we learned that what is truly unique to the human animal is our ability to visualize and to mythologize — to examine past failures, pre-test schemes and plans, and rehearse our strategies in the flesh-and-blood virtual reality environment of the brain.

From these four animal teachers we can distill four powerful tactics for fighting stress that you can use every day — not just during a self-defense situation, but at work, at home, or any time.  The problem is that when you’re stressed your tendency is going to be toward panic.  So you’ll need to practice this sequence often enough that it becomes second nature.

When you find yourself extremely stressed:

  1. Be like Dog.  Pretend to be perfectly calm and relaxed even when your thoughts are in disarray.  In the same way that water assumes the shape of the vessel in which it is placed, your mind will begin to conform to the attitude of your body if you buy it some time.
  2. Be like Hawk.  Breathe, soar, and gain some distance.  Take slow, deep breaths making sure that your airways remain open at all times.  Make a conscious effort to hesitate for a few beats between inhaling and exhaling phases, but never hold or clamp down on your breath.
  3. Be like your ancestors and go to the cave — the cave of your mind.  Regain your comfort zone by calling up a mental picture of either of a familiar and related training simulation or of an actual previous success during similar circumstances.  You’ve been here before and you’re going to be fine.
  4. Be like Frog.  Go on auto-pilot.  Just be in the present moment.

Creature Teacher: Martial Arts Training Involution #176

These weekly T.I.s can be very physically demanding —  especially if you’re doing them on the weekend in addition to another training program.  This week we’re going to take it a little break and do some head work.  Practice the above drill.  Run through all the steps one by one.  Then make a note in your planner, or set a reminder on your phone, to run through them every day for the next week or so until you have them memorized.  Then take a nice long sit, at least ten minutes.  Try to practice your contemplation for double your usual daily length (but not more than an hour).  Daily internal work — contemplation, meditation and prayer — are essential to the health of the human body, mind and spirit.  If you’re not doing daily internal work there’s no way you’re maximizing your health and potential.  So get started!


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!

Frontier Martial Arts Research Continues

Research for my Frontier Rough & Tumble (FRT) martial arts program continues hot and heavy.  Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been doing over the last month or so along with some pictures.

Onward and upward!

Field Research

  • This weekend I will be attending the 68th Annual Chickahominy Indian Pow-Wow.  I hope to learn more about indigenous culture and connect with fellow locals interested in both FRT and Powhatan Indian language revival.  Wingapo!
  • Last weekend I visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton Virginia (see photo set below).  I took numerous notes and photos and spoke with management about FRT teaching opportunities at the property.  Ms. Vaughn showed interest and we are going to try and put some demonstrations together.
  • Back in August I visited Crockett Tavern in Morristown, TN.  More about that trip here.
  • Camping.  Making an effort to get as much outdoor adventure time worked into my busy schedule as possible.

Books Read

Physical and experimental Studies

  • Movement experimentation, both armed and unarmed.  Including but not limited to obstacle clearing, safety rolling, vaulting, scrambling, running, and quad running.
  • Applications of traditional chores for strength building.  Repetitive hauling, lifting, digging, ramming, chopping, hammering, etc.
  • Meditation, contemplation and prayer practice.  Increased time commitment and added new emphasis on practical postures, less-than-ideal conditions, and lack of predictability.
  • Practical spirituality studies.  Exploring the places where Christian ideas, indigenous myths and stories, prehistoric art, and practical hunting, fighting, and observation skills all overlap.  Big discoveries here folks — big, Big, BIG.
  • Mark Hatmaker’s RAW Program.  And of course I am enrolled in Hatmaker’s distance learning program which includes, boxing, wrestling and FRT.  Mark is the man.

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DRACO AQUA a poem

Draco Aqua

Swirling whirling compass spins
The circle squared breaks its frame
Hits the deck its cross is maimed
Up is fouled, down is laimed
When chaos reigns the Dragon wins

Lifeboats down and time is up
Who will run for ropes and rails
And flee the darted poison tail?
Who will steer and dare to fail
Whelming death and drink the cup?

Storm-clouds break, the Dragon dives
Many the man who floats alone
Lost at sea, wandering gone
Stalwart few with spirits honed
Sailing on preserved alive

In vain we plot, as Graves decried
The Dragon’s death, or seeking proof
Denounce his scales and saw-edged tooth
Material man, here’s your truth
The Dragon flaunts an unpierced hide


“Hey Mitch, what’s this poetry thing all about?” I want to collaborate with Blue Öyster Cult and I’m hoping the Öyster Boys will think this would make a good lyric.

Did you know I wrote a paranormal/mystery/romance book inspired by Blue Öyster Cult’s lyrical themes?  Click here to download it here for free!

The cover to my book “Chatters on the Tide” inspired by the music of Blue Öyster Cult

Throwing Hands: Martial Arts Training Involution #175

Giant hand sculpture outside Squash-a-Penny

Since I’m camping this weekend, this week’s T.I. comes out a day early.  It flows out of last week’s theme about dogs and ties into the monthly internal focus at Cabal Fang which is the Hand of Mysteries.  The details following are an excerpt from a forthcoming module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. on animal teachers.

Throwing Hands: Martial Arts Training Involution #175

  • No talking, groaning,  grunting or complaining for the duration of the training session.  Let your hands do the talking.
  • Put your hands on the enemy.  Complete 100 Duck-Unders with the best form you can manage.  If you don’t have a partner, just do them shadow-style.  This is not a lunge.  Keep your spine perpendicular to the ground, head up, and pull hard on the rear hand.  Check your form here.
  • Throw some hands.  Heavy bag form drill.  Set a round timer for 3 rounds of 3:00/1:00.  Get after that bag with perfect form — practice your falling step, make sure your hips are fully involved, strike using the “right” part of your hands (based on your personal thoughts and/or martial style) and so on.  Count the strikes that you think are are not up to your usual snuff.  When all three rounds are over, do that number of Push-ups and write it down in your training journal.  Come back in a few days and beat your number.
  • Speak to the hand.  Not literally, figuratively.  Are you at least as evolved as a cave painter was 15,000 years ago?  Set a timer for  15 minutes and think about it.  What are your goals and aspirations?  What do you feel about  so strongly that would brave a dark cave with only a torch just to paint it on a wall?  Have you put in place an organizational method that insures you are setting goals and aiming at them?  Do you keep a journal?
  • Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training journal when you’re done.

Of Hounds and Hands

The words hound and hand likely have the same origin in the Proto-Germanic word handuz.  What does handuz mean?  Well, as with most of these proto-lingual words, which are mostly interpolations and guesses, linguists aren’t exactly sure.  The best guess is to reach for” or possibly “to obtain.”  I’d add “to grasp” to that list. 

Think about it.  That’s what hands and dogs do, right?  Grab and hold?  I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that both seem awfully close to the word “hunt” which means to grab a-hold of something to eat.  Makes sense, doesn’t it, when you consider that hunting dogs are very important whenever and wherever you have to hunt in order to get fed?

Now let’s look at it another way.  One of the oldest symbols known to mankind is the hand outline.  It is very common, found across the globe in cave art created by prehistoric hunters.

Look at the example on the right from the Cave of Hands in Argentina.  These hands were made using a form of prehistoric air-brushing.  The painters placed their hands on the cave walls and used hollow bones to blow colored liquids onto the surface so that a negative would be left when the hand was removed.   

The Latin aspiro means “a puff of air.”  An aspiration is an expulsion of air following a choke.  But an aspiration is also a hope, dream or goal which one seeks to obtain, grasp or take hold of — something you hope a favorable wind will blow upon.  Is there a connection here?

So you see, the cave painting above literally screams aspiration.   There is even a target on the far left toward which everything in the entire painting is headed, as if toward some grand intersection.

The artists could have held an animal carcass or bone against the wall and created a negative in the same way the hands were created.  Or the hands could have been sketched to match the style of the animals.  But neither is the case.  The animals and geometric shapes are sketched and the hands are traced with realism.  So why is one sketched and the other rendered using the prehistoric equivalent of a photocopy?

Because the animals are symbolic.  They are the dream, the aspiration, the hope.  But the hands are real.

The animals in the painting are virtually identical.   Because you see, it doesn’t matter what the specific animal is.   Each animal in the picture is at once any animal and every animal.

The painting proclaims that if the human mind can conceive it and believe it, the human hand can achieve it.


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!

HARROW a poem

harrow

In a world he ‘longs not to
To a dream he is not bound
By a road he does not walk
Only harrowed is he found

Lie down where you groan
Wander where you roam
Fissures, cracks and moans
Cried out once and gone

It’s a curve he cannot touch
From a touch he will be dumb
In a world of angels ‘lone
A sallow bone he’ll plumb

Lie down where you groan
Wander where you roam
Fissures, cracks and moans
Cried out once and gone

Words and language sere
Legion named and feared
Haunts my fearful soul
Fingers thumbs and tears

Lie down where you groan
Wander where you roam
Fissures, cracks and moans
Cried out once and gone

I said he cried out once
and gone, gone, gone
Only cried out once and gone

 


“Hey Mitch, what’s this poetry thing all about?” I want to collaborate with Blue Öyster Cult and I’m hoping the Öyster Boys will think this would make a good lyric.

Did you know I wrote a paranormal/mystery/romance book inspired by Blue Öyster Cult’s lyrical themes?  Click here to download it here for free!

The cover to my book “Chatters on the Tide” inspired by the music of Blue Öyster Cult

Canis Familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174

Phoebe (L) and Gobi (R). Phoebe is my wife’s dog, Gobi is my daughter’s.

In T.I. #171 I talked about the formidable faculties of the cricket frog and what we could learn from him about contemplation and the origins of meditation.

This week’s T.I. emerges from lessons learned from the humble domestic dog.  For all the background — and for another excerpt from the forthcoming stalking, tracking, and observation module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. — check out the details below the break.

Canis familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174

  • No talking, groaning,  grunting or complaining for the duration of the training session.
  • Half Pyramid of Clean & Press.  Don’t have a barbell?  No excuses — get creative.  Use two dumbbells.  Gradually fill a ruck sack with barbells, chains, or tools from your garage (a bag full of wrenches and hammers weighs a ton!).  Start  with a naked weight bar and do 10 reps.  Take a 1 min. break while you add approx  1/10th of your max safe weight to the bar.  Do 10 reps, take a 1 min break, and repeat.  When you can’t 10 reps, that’s okay.  Just do as many as you can and keep adding weight until you fail.  My sets were #20 x 10, #30 x 10, #40 x 10, #50 x 10,  #60 x 9, #70 x 8, #80 x 5 #90 x 3, #100 x 2, #110 fail.
  • Heavy bag speed drill.  Set a round timer for 10 rounds of :30/:30.  Get after that bag as fast as you can for :30 and then rest for :30.  Count your strikes for the final round and write it down.  Come back in a few days and beat your number.
  • Dig a hole.  Not literally, figuratively.  Instead of digging in the yard like your dog, dig into yourself.  Sit down in your meditative posture of choice, regulate your breathing, and think back to the last time you were cranky, whiny or selfish.  What was the “pinch that made you flinch” so-to-speak?  Physical pain?  Fear?  Worry?  Stress?  Aren’t you better than that?  What could you do to prevent that from happening again?
  • Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log when you’re done.

Our dog Gizmo, may he rest in peace. One of my wisest spiritual teachers.

The Delightful Demeanor of the Domestic Dog

If your dog is suffering enough to show it, take him straight to the vet.  If he’s in so much pain that he snips at you, he’s probably at death’s door.  Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this to be true.  Gizmo, my little Lhasa Apso, sixteen years old and falling apart at the seams, licked our hands and showed his love for us all the way to the euthanasia room.  I wish I could be half as loving, and half as tough, as that little guy was.

Underneath that happy face, lolling tongue and sleek coat lie millions of years of ingrained, evolutionary knowledge.  Sick wolves are unfit to be selected as mates.  Weak animals get singled out by predators and picked on by any bullies in the pack.  Snippy, grumpy dogs get less food from their human partners.  If you’re a dog, it has always paid to keep your whining to yourself.  It is, in fact, a matter of life and death.

Your dog’s happy demeanor is the result of practical stoicism.

Similar forces had to be working upon humans too.  Who knows why happy stoicism didn’t get baked into our DNA too?  My theory is that our self-awareness prevented it by allowing us an escape hatch — being two-faced.  If I’m right, that means that being a happy and loving stoic is directly linked to integrity.

You see, the stereotype of the stern and frowning stoic is just that.  Your dog knows that behavior is not a bilateral spectrum or a zero sum game.  Dogs — and people for that matter — don’t have to be either happy-go-lucky or  stoic.  Possessing self-control doesn’t mean you have to be inscrutable or have the deadpan aspect of a corpse.

Nor does it mean being fake.  To be clear, we are not talking about simply gritting our teeth and hiding the pain.  That’s grade school stuff compared to what any dog down at the dog-pound can do.  We are talking about actually being happy and full of love despite being in pain.  And this goes for physical pain as well as spiritual and intellectual pain, like stress, money problems, family strife, work pressures, and so on.

It boils down to being the same person all the time, no matter what comes our way.  Isn’t that what integrity is?  Being a dutiful person even when it’s inconvenient or dangerous?  Being kind and polite even when others aren’t?  Staying on course despite the winds of pain, anger, frustration and anguish?

Sometimes reality is literally a pain.   Deal with it.  Start with daily contemplation and awareness training.  Then make a resolution to be like a dog — to be happy and loving even when you’re suffering.  Be on the lookout for signs that you might be allowing your pains to change who you are.  Make a note in your training journal when you catch yourself being whiny, cranky or selfish.  Be introspective enough to untangle your behavior and figure out what’s eating you — just knowing what it is can release its hold on you.    

Toughen up buttercup, or your pains will become everybody else’s pains too.

———————————-

Note:  One of Mark Hatmaker’s readiness tests, the all-day tenderfoot drill, helped crystallize the above ideas in my mind.  What a great drill — thanks Mark!

 


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!