Author (or Editor): Rick Warren
Title: The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?
Fiction? No (theology, philosophy)
Publisher: Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI
Series Name: Purpose-Driven
Physical description: hardbound, 334 pgs with appendices
Relevance to doaskdotell: ethical philosophy, faith, religion and individualism
Review: (note: the book title appears both with and without the hyphen in the book. We notice that for Richard Warren’s 2002 book The Purpose-Driven Life, publisher Zondervan-Inspirio claims a trademark registry (®) for the “purpose-driven” phrase in the title (at least on the bn.com publisher’s notes). According to uspto.gov, the registry occurred in 1996. The hyphen does not appear to be essential to the workmark on uspto. However Warren also has another book The Purpose-Driven Church. A book series title can be trademarked when a single book often can not.)
What about those who can’t?
The significance of that riddle will come back to haunt me in this review. We all know that this book has sold millions of copies to those who want reassuring and simply principled answers to tough questions. The book is laid out as a 40-day journey (starting with a Covenant, with a signature for the reader and Partner), and seems to revel in babytalk at times. It seems particularly concerned with "why bad things happen to good people." But even Warren’s philosophy may not escape inherit contradictions forever.
“It’s not about you…It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power….This is not a self-help book. It is not about finding the right career, achieving your dreams, or planning your life.” Warren often says on television appearances from his California megachurch, “you have too much responsibility.” (Is that "personal responsibility"?) Instead, "you" need to accept that God wants psychological collectivism, and serve God with a certain selflessness. That's the only answer to the unequal distribution of hardships and "gifts of the spirit." You cannot save yourself, even from deepest shame, with your own effort as measured by the rules of meritocracy (particularly when there is external hardship); only the gift of Salvation by Grace, with is a both a collective and personal experience beyond your own direction, can provide for your eternity.
He will talk about complete surrender to God. About personal service to others, usually while keeping a low profile. About commitment to the Church. God has created you for His own pleasure, according to His own specs, and He knows exactly what He wants from you. Of course, even Allah says that. Now, I have a problem with the idea that it would be God's pleasure for someone to be created to endure the concentration camps. Rationalism can get ruthless.
The really interesting questions come when I start talking about God’s purpose for me. I know, you will say intellect is not enough, that prayer is necessary, but even God doesn’t change mathematics or the consequences of logic (or, for that matter, the Axiom of Choice).
I do have quite an ear for music, and I might have become a concert pianist or composer. Because of external circumstances (the Cold War) I was pressured away from that. (Just like Ephram in Everwood, I blew it, but for a different reason.) I wound up in computers. I do have an unusual life story, that I have communicated in a book and with a website for nine years.
Am I concerned with money? Not for its own sake. I need some stability to keep things going. Attention and the limelight? Well, I know that what I write has an effect, politically, and I get some attention, but not like celebrities. It’s certainly possible that I could achieve real “celebrity” later (maybe at any time). But that’s really not the point. No, what I am most concerned about is achieving what is uniquely mine to achieve, and not someone else’s purpose. Warren likes money only in connection with stewardship, the "Gates model" where wealth is "earned" only to be given away. Warren sees Time (rather than fiat Money) as forcing a more egalitarian communal sacrifice, since it advances at the same rate for everyone.
We all know from Rosenfels that unbalanced personalities like to choose their own goals deliberately. But I think you have to go through an intellectual process and do the homework (whether prayer or therapy) to know what God could have intended. You gradually notice the uncanny coincidences, the linkups of concepts and incidents over decades of a lifetime. That is certainly true of me. I think my soul was intended to experience this era, with its particular mix of moral problems in conjunction with specific cognitive abilities and organic inertia (rather Asperger-like), and to work these problems out in their subtlest details, at whatever cost.
So is wanting to follow through on this too “selfish”? I really don’t think so. But it is true, Warren (as do many other Christian or other religious moralists) talk about service as a personal experience, a willingness to “surrender” personal autonomy on demand of pampering by others, as if competitive autonomy, so demanded in a capitalist, global society, isn’t morally a good thing. But, isn’t research and writing a kind of service? It is, but it does not give people personal attention when they need it. Christian community in Warren’s world is a lot about emotional commitment, belonging, fitting in, being willing to meet the real needs of others on their own terms. I have had to confront this at various times, and it tends to fizzle out. (Boy, this book review “blog” is turning into self-therapy, isn’t it. Or self-indulgence.) Warren regards the Church family as more central to proper personal motivation than the biological nuclear family, which society often regards as the principle agent of personal socialization. There's even another philosophical, "chicken and egg" riddle: is a service valuable because if benefits some specific person in need, or is it the work or content itself that is valuable, as the benefit could be transferred to anyone else?
There is a trap in all of this “service.” When I was working as a substitute teacher, I was criticized for not being more able to discipline (short term) students. I was supposed to be the quasi-heterosexual grandfatherly male role model, the authority figure. I was supposed to exert authority for their goals, not mine, and in some cases I do not believe that their goals were ethically valid. (Okay, maybe it is pathetic that I could reach the age of 60 with no real experience in taking care of children, but I did live in a social exile.) Several other times, in critical situations, I have been asked why I was not more “assertive.” Sure, there is discrimination, but others will “help me.” I suspect that others fear that my accepting this kind of “help” to assert myself when it is my “turn” will somehow help them get off the hook. That is what is so unacceptable.
Warren talks a lot about weaknesses; God intends us to have them so that we will need Him, and, moreover, will have to work closely with others. We will have to accept socialization. Marriage and family are the main instruments of socialization in our society. In a real world, most people need some social support and a dash of hypocrisy if they are going to be able to function in a family bed, where the outside world is so competitive. There is one very obvious political benefit in Warren's focus on communal consciousness: one does not feel as tempted to run to politicians just to get one's own way, without regard to how others are affected. Warren's "anti-objectivist" ideas seem designed to give everyone a place "to belong" and to shield persons (even people who have had opportunities and made serious mistakes) from otherwise brutal over-consciousness of measuring their own personal shortcomings.
Warren distinguishes between spontaneous sexual interest, and lust, which he views as a deliberate process. I didn’t see discussion of homosexuality, but I can expand here. As a boy, I was not competitive in “male” things, but I think that when I “came out” I imagined that I was the person who sensed Beauty and knew what was Good (oh, yes, the Knowledge of Good and Evil Problem), and in paying attention to those who “excited” me (for whatever reason) I was communicating to the public a standard for men, a notion of who really should procreate, father children and continue a lineage. It’s not out in the open, but I think that’s what a lot of insecure heterosexual men fear, and that is what generates homophobia. (My tribulations occurred in an era when women's wages were low so that men would believe that they were needed and that their "power," however flimsy, was legitimate.") I would have the power behind the Throne, not on it. So if I exercise assertive behavior on other people’s terms, the jig is up. Ideology leads us into traps no matter what it is.
So Warren has this Christian utopia where everyone is guaranteed a fellowship-based place by God, but everyone must participate with levels of personal attention and involvement that probably go beyond most mainstream social norms today. It often disturbs me when others demand personal attention from me.
So, what about those who (that) can’t? How will "they" find meaning except from community with others who invite them in? It’s one thing to talk about different talents, to say that some people can hit home runs and others can win Jeopardy contests and others can play piano concerts. But many people can do nothing like this, and external circumstances often severely limit self-directed choices (is that what God wants? Remember "The Parable of the Talents"?) To bring any meaning back to the individual and to freedom (even autonomy), you have to map Warren’s Faith-based (or religion-based) philosophy back onto individualist ordinal meritocracy--as much as Warren wants do defang the idea that any individual can fail when on his own. (Yup, a lot of people would like to get off the hook.) Let’s say, what’s wrong with the world today is that burdens are not shared very equitably. We need a “pay your dues” society. (Or “pay it forward”.) Part of your assigned responsibility is to be accountable to other people (even if you don’t have your own children). People will vary in their ability to do this (they'll share some "low profile" service obligations to others) and still accomplish things on their own. But people will somehow belong (especially in families) and be taken care of. In that ruleset, one must still achieve his or her "purpose." It does take responsibility and homework. But this sounds like a reasonable solution, that in a mathematical sense, exists, and that saves some personal autonomy.
David A. Rich, 7 Biblical Truths You Won't Hear in Church but Might Change Your Life. (Eugene, OR, Harvest House, 2006 ISBN 0-7369-1607-3), 150 pages, paper. I bought this book, a mini-manifesto, at the Sideling Hill service plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, an odd place for a book like this. It stood out. The author was born with the name Matalico, in nearby Allentown, PA, and his last name became Trump-like through divine intervention, he says. His treatise is one of semantics. There is absolute Truth, but it has to be posited perfectly. And some of it most preachers don't want you to hear.
He lists seven of them. I won't name them all. But one of them is that God doesn't grade on a curve. He doesn't give part credit. You have to be perfect to be saved. But that is still a bit of a Jeopardy game. You are born dead, and have to be born again to live. As with Warren, God knows what He wants for you, so praying won't get you anything new. Intercessory prayer is fine, and necessary, though. The Law of the Ten Commandments is an intermediate step toward Grace. Some of this sounds familiar, though phrased more precisely. It is purpose-driven. But there is a bit of a paradox with the outer and inner person.
He hardly mentions sexual morality or family values in the conventional context (but then again hardly does Rick Warren). But they may be spiritual red herrings. One complaint of cultural conservatives is that sexual and visual openness of modern culture makes it hard for people of limited means to function in Biblical committed marriages. But that sounds like a paradox. God never said it was easy on one's own. It may not be the most important thing to have your own family, even if having it makes it easier to help others. Every person's Plan is different and visible only to that person, private, and encapsulated. Curiously, Rich's book sounds like a text in object oriented systems.
I have a but of a problem. Certain people have wanted me to feign assertiveness to manipulate others for their purposes. My disinclination to do so, based on personal non-male-competitiveness, is taken as hostility or of "lack of faith." I would rather let the client have all the information he/she needs, make her own choice, and live with the consequences as a free person. My value is in assembling really complete information. But too much information is said to be a distraction from "God's purpose." Well, the problem is, your boss or even your pastor doesn't know "God's purpose." Only you do. It is a question of information hiding. Purpose is a private variable.
Richard L. Purtill. C. S. Lewis's Case for the Christian Faith. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1981, ISBN 0-06-066711-7, 144 pages, indexed, hardcover. This short book attempts to explain the intellectual basis of Irish author and theologian C. S. Lewis 's "apologetics" for the Christian faith. There has always been an issue of identifying the postulates, and in knowing when to go with gut feel faith rather than just reason. I recall that in 10th grade English a girl wrote a theme trying to prove (formally speaking, argue) that God exists. Purtull provides extensive quotes from previously unpublished letters and many books, including The Problem of Pain (1940), and especially Mere Christianity (1960, Macmillan), a book I remember reading in college Sunday School at a liberal (both conventions) Baptist church. There is a lot of discussion about the nature of Jesus and why he must be essentially of God, and of the Trinity. There are ten chapters, and the eighth and most controversial may be Christian living. Purtill does provide Lewis's philosophy on "victimless" acts of homosexuality, masturbation, and procurement of prostitution. Purtill, on p. 98, quotes one of Lewis's letters:
"After all, almost all of the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison."
This sounds like some double entendre. But then Purtill extrapolates C. S. Lewis 's ideas regarding masturbation as a reticence for emotional commitments to others and extrapolates to prostitution and many homosexual liaisons. Purtill summarizes:
"Both the homosexual and the person who pays prostitutes for sexual gratification avoids the normal consequences of sexual activity, children and family responsibilities."
So we're cheating. He mentions sado-masochism as if in the context of irreversibility. But move on. Purtill soon says:
"The person who avoids commitment and treats others as objects increasingly lives in a solipsistic world where other people become unreal and the person becomes a pseudo-God in his or her own impoverished world."
Purtill admits that committed homosexual relationships exists, and this presents the eternal problem of the moral importance (whatever that is) of heterosexual complementarity. But Lewis seems concerned not so much about the social rules that serve society (providing the optimal institution for raising children, as is argued so much today against gay marriage) as what kind of behavior and psychic process brings one into a proper relationship with God. Lewis sees "coming out" as an emotional letting go that usually requires pampering heterosexual complementarity, as our Creator designed our biology. We can certainly disagree with that, and argue that polarity, even in a religious sense, transcends gender the way relativity transcends Newtonian physics (as some schools call it, "active physics").
Elaine Pagels. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage, 1979, ISBN 0-394-74043-3, paper, 214 pages, indexed, plus a 31 page introduction. Gnosticism has to do with "synthetic" religious beliefs imparted with secret teachings. I would consider the Rosicrucian Order as essentially gnostic in nature, but she doesn't mention it. There are several "gospels" that did not get into the accepted canonical Bible for doctrinal and religious reasons, and these include Thomas, Mary, Philip, and now Judas. But the book is topical, in six chapters, the most important being "Self-Knowledge as Knowledge of God." She writes:
"Gnostic sources often do depict Jesus answering questions, taking the role of teacher, revealer, and spiritual master. But here, the gnostic model stands close to the psychotherapeutic one. Both acknowledge the need for guidance, but only as a provisional matter. The purpose of accepting authority is to learn to outgrow it." (P 157)
In her Conclusion, she compares gonostic with orthodox Christian views of moral living. The gnostic model is much more accepting of individual diversity, as it sees the trappings of the physical world as somewhat irrelevant attachments anyway. Orthodox Christianity tries to define moral teaching in a manner like that of Lewis, above, or the Vatican. In this view, people should become socialized into the family, procreation, parenting, kin relationships, and the like, not only so that there is social stability and dependable child rearing, but because this helps people know God.
Zach Hunter. Be the Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World. 2007, Michigan, Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-27756-6, 158 pages, paper. Zach is, as of May 2007, fifteen years old and has been introduced on both ABC and CNN in conjunction with his campaign to fight modern day slavery with loose change. His main website is called "Loosened Chains". The book has a handwritten forward by Jon Foreman "of Switchfoot" and consists of eleven brief chapters, each based on a virtue. Each chapter gives a historical example of the virtue (sometimes from the Bible, as with Esther and Daniel, but he also gives Rosa Parks, as well as the parties in the film "Amazing Grace" -- the Chapman Sect incorporating Josiah Wedgwood and William Wilberforce). Each has a personal checklist and action plan, somewhat in the spirit of a self-help book -- for others. All of his ideas are Biblical, but they really can stand on their own. He introduces, early on, the idea that every person becomes his own corporate-like "brand." Maybe the most provocative chapter is "Sacrifice" where he writes, after mentioning ritual religious sacrifice, (p 110)
"But that's not the kind of sacrifice I'm talking about. I'm talking about when you give something of yourself for someone else."
That sounds a lot like what the Mormon Church demands of young men when it sends them on missions. (Hunter sounds like an evangelical Christian, but not Mormon; I just think the comparison is interesting.) Later, after talking about our individual rights and especially speech, he rights, interestingly, (p 111)
"Do we have the right to hurt other people with our words just because they're true?"
Indeed, "truth" unleashed can, as the Rosenfels "eternal feminine" personality knows, can defend itself with sadism.
Blogger discussion of this book is here.
Hunter mentions (on p. 39) a 2001 book called "Four Souls", without giving the authors. The complete bibliographic information is Trey Sklar; Jedd Medefind; Mike Peterson, Matt Kronberg,: Four Souls: A Worldwide Odyssey in Search of an Epic Life. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 200, ISBN 0-385-72010-61, 363 pgs, paper. Entry on this file. Book Website. review later.
The four young men, apparently having graduated from college in California, embark (with some donations) on a round-the-world journey to some of the planet's most troubled locations, hooking up with Christian groups to perform services at each location. The book makes many points about religion and politics, especially radical Islam, despite the fact that it appears to have been written just before 9/11. The book has many illustrations and individual journals. Here are a few quotes that set the tone.
(Quoting a converted Christian in Russia): "Now I am giving myself more to him every day. The question I ask each of you is, What is it that you are going to give your life to?" ( p 89)
"Because sin brings death to relationship. The fact that our bodies will someday die is part of it, but physical death is nothing compare to relational death." ( p 122).
(Jedd): "People don't have much of a problem with anyone believing just anything they want to believe." (Mike) "Right, but as soon as you present the idea that God chose to reveal Himself through Jesus, and that all of our religions and other efforts are destined to fail, that is when people start attacking you and calling you closed-minded bigots." (p. 229)
(Jedd): "Tolerance, though, really doesn't offer all that much. It requires no love or concern for others, no compassion or benevolence. You just have to be able to ignore...But there is a time for intolerance, too, and I think about what they do with little children here...." (p 303) (speaking from Thailand).
Blogger entry is here.
Somehow I remember a Church of Christ sermon in 1980 in Dallas that claimed that Christ was actually "narrow minded."
Christopher Hitchens: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York / Boston: Twelve, 2007.) ISBN 0-446-57980-3, 307 pages, indexed, hardcover). With a Milwaukee-Road yellow cover, with God in the smallest letters, the history and humanities professor manages to connect an overwhelming array of historical information to establish the idea that religion is primarily a tool of political power and control over people. Hitchens at least twice mentions that his own family was in need of protection when he housed controversial novelist Salman Rushdie (about the time of the 1993 Clinton inauguration), who was under a fatwa hit order from Iran. He also details an assortment of observations connecting religious practice with child abuse, ranging from circumcision (well accepted in the West, but involving a ritual that would be criminal outside of a religious context), to female clitoral mutilation, to largely homosexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. Circumcision, he also notes, is a most effective concept for social control, to reduce the idea of intercourse for pleasure. Blogger entry.
Craig and Marc Kielburger. Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World. Toronto: Fireside, 2004. Includes contributions from Richard Gere, Dr. Jane Goodall, Kim Phuc, Her Majesty Queen Noor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oprah Winfrey. 308 pages, paper, ISBN 0-7432-9831-4. The founders of "Free the Children" develop their case for "other-centered" ethics. They recently appeared on Oprah Winfrey's launch of "O Ambassadors." Bloggrer link here.
Jim Wallis. Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street: A Moral Compass for the New Economy. New York: Howard, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-8312-0. A bit similar to Rick Warren. Blogger.
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