Review of ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith

Child-44 Tom Rob Smith, Child 44 (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

A serial killer haunts the western Soviet Union in 1953. According to Communist Party doctrine, such a crime cannot exist in a socialist country, where the State has eliminated inequality and poverty and hence the crimes that arise from them. To assert that a serial killer exists—let alone to track him down and seek his punishment—is thus a counterrevolutionary act, a crime that the State takes seriously and punishes severely.

Leo Stepanovich Demidov is a decorated hero of the Great Patriotic War and a loyal soldier of the MGB (predecessor of the KGB). Married, and with a promising career before him, he must confront a colleague and friend whose child is the forty-fourth victim of a serial killer whose very existence the State denies. Caught between his loyalty to the State and the evidence plain to anyone with eyes to see, Demidov dares to follow the truth and pursue a killer who must be stopped, In the process, he reveals a horrifying truth about Soviet history that explains the killer’s actions.

In Child 44, Tom Rob Smith captures the contradictions, paranoia, and massive evil of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s final year. It is a riveting page-turner of a mystery, not to mention a complex meditation on what it mean to pursue justice in a fundamentally unjust society. This is the first volume in a trilogy—The Secret Speech and Agent 6 are the succeeding volumes—all of which are highly recommended.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

George F. Will on the Comprehensive, Aggressive, and Dangerous Threat to Free Speech in Contemporary America

George F. Will spoke at the Inaugural Disinvitation Dinner of the William F. Buckley Program at Yale University. His thesis? “Free speech has never been, in the history of our republic, more comprehensively, aggressively, and dangerously threatened than it is now.” Take a look!

Review of ‘Agent 6’ by Tom Rob Smith

Agent-6 Tom Rob Smith, Agent 6 (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

Agent 6 is the third book in Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 Trilogy. It follows ex-KGB officer Leo Demidov over three decades and across three continents as he seeks to unravel a conspiracy and avenge the murder of a loved one. Usually, when I read a series that features a central character, I try to read the books in order. I didn’t do that with Agent 6 because it arrived before the other two, and I wanted to crack it open immediately. I’m not sure if I missed any necessary backstory; I’ll find that out when I read the Child 44 and The Secret Speech. What I’m sure of is this: This was an engrossing read. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down until I finished it. For me, that’s the mark of a good mystery: It grabs you and won’t let you go until you see the solution. I look forward to reading Smith’s other books.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Review of ‘How Dante Can Save Your Life’ by Rod Dreher

How-Dante-Can-Save-Your-Life Rod Dreher, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem (New York: Regan Arts, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

When his sister Ruthie died, Rod Dreher found himself drawn back to his hometown of Starhill, Lousiana. He appreciated Ruthie’s “little way”—her life of close-knit family, down-home neighbors, and ordinary kindness that, though not garnering headlines, was nevertheless rich in love. While happily married with children, Dreher felt that Ruthie’s “little way” supplied was lacking in his and his family’s urban existence; so, they moved to Starhill.

The problem was that Dreher had left Starhill for a reason: The inability of his family—especially his father, but even Ruthie herself—to understand any way that wasn’t their way. The family had stayed put; Dreher had traveled abroad. They were Methodist; he was Methodist-turned-agnostic-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox. They did stuff; he read books and wrote articles.

Ruthie’s death didn’t resolve the conflicts that arose from their mutual incomprehension; it only exacerbated them. Soon after returning home, Dreher was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, one of the leading symptoms of which is stress-induced fatigue. In Starhill, Dreher was constantly stressed and chronically fatigued. “Well,” his rheumatologist told him, “you have a choice. Leave Lousiana, or resign yourself to destroying your health.”

Dreher felt that wasn’t a choice. There must be a way to stay put and find inner peace. While browsing a book store not long after the conversation with his doctor, Dreher chanced upon Dante’s Inferno, the first of three volumes in The Divine Comedy. How Dante Can Save Your Life is the story of how Dante saved his.

The Divine Comedy—if you remember—is the story of how Dante makes a pilgrimage through Hell and Purgatory until he reaches Heaven. But as Dreher points out, “To read Dante literally is to misunderstand him.” Dante is not writing a travelogue of the afterlife; he is drawing a map of the inner life. “The Commedia is written as an allegory of the soul’s journey through life,” Dreher points out; it is “about avoiding hell and gaining heaven.” He continues: “To be saved is not to be saved from the consequences of sin but to be freed from the desire to sin—that is, from the desire for our own will over God’s.”

This desire for self-will over God’s loving will, Dreher realized, was the cause of his family’s estrangement and the source of his own sickness. Dreher the Orthodox Christian did not agree with all the details of Dante the Catholic poet’s theology—nor do I the Pentecostal reader, but that disagreement doesn’t mean discounting Dante’s brilliant spiritual insights into “the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.” And in finding that godly love, Dreher found himself whole.

Those looking for an introduction or running commentary on The Divine Comedy should look elsewhere than this book. It’s not for them. Those looking for a self-help book that doesn’t rely on the structure and reasoning of a 700-year-old poem also should look elsewhere. But those who believe that great books have therapeutic value if read insightfully and personally will be delighted by Dreher’s testimony and the gentle nudge he presses on readers to follow in Dante’s path.

If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Justice Scalia’s Worst Opinion

Today is the 25th anniversary of Justice Anton Scalia’s opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, which Michael Stokes Paulsen describes as Justice Scalia’s Worst Opinion:

Smith is not by a long shot the worst Supreme Court decision of all time, or even of the past twenty-five years. As a matter of the human harm it inflicts, there are far more egregious cases.Planned Parenthood v. CaseyandRoe v. Wade, the Court’s abortion decisions,top the listin the modern era. Nor isSmith the most indefensible of opinions in terms of the Court’s legal analysis.Roe,Casey,Lawrence v. Texas, andWindsor v. United States, each adopting and extending some form of “substantive due process,” are worse thanSmithon this score.Smithis a dubious and insidious interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause, and Scalia’s opinion is an embarrassment, but it embodies an at least barely plausible argument from the constitutional text.

ButSmith is hugely pernicious in its effects. Like a weed, it intertwines with other actions of government, strangling freedom. In fact,Smith’s subtlety and superficial plausibility are in part what make it so deadly. AndSmith is positively perverse in its consequence: not only does the Constitution’s protection of religious free exercise entail no positive protection for religious free exercise, butSmith’s rule means that the sphere of religious liberty is utterly at the mercy of government’s choices. Thebroaderand more unrestrained government’s reach, thesmallerthe sphere for religious liberty. As government expands, religious liberty shrinks. This is an upside-down reading of a constitutional provision that obviously singles out religion for special protection from government.

Twenty-five years afterSmith, we’ve come a long way, but not in the right direction. The right to freedom of religious exercise and conscience—which Scalia cheerfully left in the hands of legislatures—is being overrun by those same legislatures and by courts acting in the name of the Constitution. We are relearning a bitter lesson: that what Scalia called “a luxury” that “we cannot afford” is in fact the first, the last, and the most fundamental line of defense against tyranny in the form of legal evisceration of religious conscience.

Scalia’s opinion was so bad that three years later, a nearly unanimous Congress (all but three votes in the Senate) passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a legislative remedy. Ironically, yesterday’s liberals–who overwhelmingly supported RFRA–are today running from it. I guess they are okay with Scalia’s shrinking of the sphere of liberty…

The Best Is Yet to Come: Why Credentialed Women Ministers Matter to the Assemblies of God

From Enrichment Journal:

That’s a critical point for young women who are very sincere and see this servant model of leadership in Christ and are not comfortable with a rights issue. This has nothing to do with rights for men or women in ministry. That’s not the rationale for following Jesus in leadership in ministry. Don’t we cripple ourselves in the Kingdom by not empowering both men and women to use their God-given gifts?

Wood: I’ll tell you a sad story. Just a few months ago, a very competent, young, ordained, seminary-trained, female graduate interviewed for a pastoral position of a church of about 100 to 150 people. At the end of a process, the board said they were not going to recommend her election to the membership of the church. Two of the board members came to her privately and said, “You know, we all realize you’re the most qualified person to be pastor. But two of the board members are opposed to having a woman as pastor. Therefore, the person we’re going to recommend is not as qualified as you.”

My heart just sank at that. I thought, That is not right.

I feel passionate about changing the situation at the local level. Now, if the woman candidate had been less qualified than the male candidate, I would feel equally upset if they said, “We’re going to choose you because you’re a woman even though you’re less qualified.”

Either way, that has to be taken off the table. The bottom line is: Is this person qualified? Is she gifted? And what’s the Spirit saying? Let’s not use artificial, secular means for making decisions in the body of Christ.

Calling Out the High-Tech Hypocrites

From Calling Out the High-Tech Hypocrites:

As a country, it is time to understand that the tech oligarchs are not much different from, and no better than, previous business elites. Like oil companies under the Bushes, they relish their ties to the powerful, as evidenced by Google’s weekly confabs with Obama administration officials. No surprise that a host of former top  Obama aides—including former campaign manager David Plouffe (Uber) and White House press secretary Jay Carney (Amazon)—have signed up to work for tech giants.
“None of this is to say that the tech elites need to be broken up like Standard Oil or stigmatized like the tobacco industry. But it’s certainly well past the time for people both left and right to understand that this oligarchy’s rise similarly poses a danger to our society’s future. By their very financial power, plutocratic elites — whether their names are Rockefeller, Carnegie, Page, Bezos or Zuckerberg —  need  to be closely watched for potential abuses instead of being the subjects of mindless celebration from both ends of the political spectrum.

“Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike


Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled

eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as His Flesh: ours.


The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then

regathered out of enduring Might

new strength to enclose.


Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

the wide light of day.


And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.


Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

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