Book Review: “How Do I Know If I Know?” by John Byetheway.

Title: How Do I Know If I Know?How Do I Know_f
Author: John Bytheway
Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Devotional
Year: 2014
Binding: Softcover
Number of pages: 138
ISBN: 9781609079215
Cost: $9.99

Reviewed by Ivan Wolfe for the Association for Mormon Letters

John Bytheway has made a fairly nice niche for himself writing books aimed at Mormon youth that do quite a few things well: He doesn’t talk down to them, he avoids overly complicated language, and he presents the ideas straightforwardly.

I could see a complaint that his writing is too simplistic in handling controversial aspects of the gospel (his work is not at all like Adam Miller’s recent “Letters to a Young Mormon” which does tackle hard issues). However, such a criticism would be missing the point. Continue reading

Book Review: Polygamous Wives Writing Club

HarlineOne of the perks of being a Mormon blogger is the opportunity to comment. Recently I was informed of a new book Oxford University Press will be publishing in June 2014, titled The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women, by Paula Kelly Harline.

Ms. Harline assembles stories of twenty-nine women who entered into polygamous marriages between 1847 and 1890. Ms. Harline wished to show the lives of regular women who remained faithful to Mormonism yet were not leaders themselves or wives of leaders. Continue reading

Review of “Mere Christianity” Part III

This series has been cross posted from Straight and Narrow Blog

Book III: Christian Behaviour

The section on Christian morality reflects C.S. Lewis at his best. He is not a very good theologian, but he is credible as a social critic and moral apologist. A person of any faith can accept what he says about behavior. Not that he ignores the underlying theological framework he set up earlier and will continue exploring. Instead, there are arguments about moral actions that don’t have to have those pre-conceived religious notions to have a powerful impact. They work independently from the Christian life.

His biggest problem is the bias against particular forms of religious observance that even some of his co-religionists would disagree with. This bias goes beyond simple formality and extends to stereotyping and possible blatant bigotry. It also has political implications that may or may not be properly termed as Christian based. He believes that Christians should not force through law or any other means the morality they hold as important. In fact, he says, “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up” (pg. 78). Despite what C.S. Lewis says, it can just as easily be argued that the whole point of laws is to decide what kind of moral and ethical behavior should shape society.

What make his argument more than a simple political position that could be acceptable is the borderline bigotry based on his non-interference theory. He says that Islam rather than Christianity is a “tee-totaller” religion. In other words, a religion that expects abstaining from certain things for its followers. For him, a Christian is someone who can eat, drink, and otherwise do whatever they want in moderation and moral judgement. Why he singled out Islam is unclear. He could easily have included Jews, Hindus, and probably Mormons without hesitation.

Continuing on, he discusses three levels of moral choices. There is the way we feel about the inner self. There is how we interact with others. Finally, and most important to him, there is for what purpose the other two exist. He compares them all to a fleet of ships. A ship alone might not do any damage, but it doesnt’ do much good. A fleet of ships can encourage, strengthen and help each other, but they might still always remain at sea. Only ships that have someowhere they are going can truely realize their full potential. Of course, it is religion that gives purpose to life. He does acknowledge that the third moral way causes the most disagreement, and he chooses Christianity as the destination.

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Review of “Mere Christianity” Part II

This series has been cross posted from Straight and Narrow Blog

Book II: What Christians Believe

This second section is really the heart of his writing, although there is so much more to go. He gets right to the point of what sets a Christian apart from other religions. In many ways it is the closest a Mormon could agree with his theological musings. This is only natural since Mormons are Christians in many of the ways that C.S. Lewis perceives of what makes the religion important. There is, of course, points where he both goes against or merely anticipates Mormon doctrine or fails logical conclusions.

His idea of Christian theology hinges on the familiar Mormon concept of free will. The whole point of Salvation for a Christian is that humanity is free to choose faith in God and Christ. Although the subject of the end times when Christ will return is at the end of the section, it represents most of what he is saying. With all the evil in the world there is an objection of why God simply doesn’t “invade” earth to make things better. If God were to do that, there wouldn’t be a point to living. All the hard choices that lead to freely accepting or rejecting God would be over. It might end the horror in the world, but it would also end personal and human progress:

When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? (pg. 65).

Of course, this begs the question of what the free will is choosing. The answer is simple; good and evil. C.S. Lewis had already touched on what good and evil is in the first section. He will go into more detail in the third section when he talks about Christian morality.

Continue reading