Archive for April 2009

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, by Joseph Ratzinger

April 27, 2009

This was Ratzinger’s last book, I believe, based on a lecture that he gave shortly before his election in April 2005.

It’s a very short book–large margins and type–really a long essay (or lecture). Many of the themes here are familiar to B16-watchers. Principally, Ratzinger argues that rationality is the foundation of Christian belief because Christ is the Logos. Because of this, dialogue with nonbelievers who also believe in rationality is possible. This is Ratzinger’s bet–that rationality will prevail over the irrational and that Christianity will attract those who seek the truth.

I don’t believe that Ratzinger mentions Nietzsche in the book, but he has argued with him elsewhere, and his ghost paces in the background as Ratzinger naively insists on reason and good faith in argument; not power, not will, not force to dominate the reader. Serene argument, coolly presented, will have an audience.

Ratzinger suggests that nonbelievers live “as though God existed,” as though the universe had a purpose and was rationally created. He assumes that even this supreme fiction, if only that, is attractive to everyone. So this little book (he calls all his works “little books,” as though with more time on his hands, he would have produced an encyclopedia) is really a starting point for dialogue with postmodern culture.

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The Heartless Stone, by Tom Zoellner

April 24, 2009

Want to know all about diamonds? You can find out by reading this book. You get more . . . a lot more, if that’s what you want (maybe you don’t).

The author tells how diamonds develop, how they’re mined, how they’re sold and marketed, and how artificial diamonds are made. He does not take a chronological approach. This is not a history of diamonds. Instead, each chapter focuses on an area of the world where diamonds are sold or marketed: Brazil, South Africa, Canada, etc. This causes some repetition of basic background facts.

What is a bigger problem is the author’s choice of the notebook dump approach to fact gathering. Instead of going to a location, interviewing knowledgeable people, digesting his notes, and writing a description based on his work, he makes his work the story. He doesn’t just gather facts from Vicki the Canadian geologist–he has to tell you what clothes she was wearing, when she was engaged, what she thought of diamonds for herself, etc. Some readers, I suppose, will like the author’s approach. For me, what is acceptable in a long magazine article became very tiresome in a book. I have said nothing about his motif of his own failed engagement and the saga of his useless rejected engagement ring.

Really, though, if you can bear that kind of thing, there is much useful information here. I read this book because I heard a recent interview with the author about his new book, Uranium, which I also intend to read.