The Romance of Religion, Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty
By Dwight Longenecker, W Publishing Group, 2014
Rarely have I reviewed a book so loaded with spiritual dynamite, or been so pleasantly surprised by an author’s insights. As a surgeon applies the knife to soft tissue and bone, Longenecker cuts to the chase, or should I say, the quest, in this in-depth overview of the “Divine Comedy” woven between the lines of human mythology.
He is a wordsmith, and a word-player of the first order, which at times can shroud his meaning and intentional thesis: “Modern religion has ceased to be a religion at all. It has become a set of table manners.” (p.52)
We’ve settled for milquetoast and marmalade, a colorless, insubstantial, bloodless story of God’s invasion of our privacy over two thousand years ago.
He posits his protagonist to be a “religious romantic” who wields the pen as a verbal sword, using words as a weapon to fight for Truth and Beauty. He considers all great literature and the ancient myths the really truest stories, because they point to the “real possibility that the unseen world could intersect this world”. I am reminded that C. S. Lewis wrote along the same lines in his retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth in ”Til We Have Faces”.
“How odd of God to choose the Jews”, is an actual remark loaded with truth. The Jews were an ordinary, unremarkable tribe of nomads, yet this “desert trash” has actually incarnated the spiritual and psychological history of the whole human race: “tales of lost children, transit through the underworld, quest for redemption, the salvation from slavery, the passage from death to life, and the hero’s battle with the forces of darkness…these fantastic tales become family saga.”
He points out the fundamental flaw of science and materialism is actually a bargaining chip for the poets and religious romantics, who have always seen the unseen world as more real than what the senses can perceive. Modern scientists have ultimately concluded: “the energy that holds the physical world together is the same energy as light, or as one physicist, David Bohm, has said, “Matter, as it were, is condensed or frozen light”, and “Einstein decided that all matter could be reduced to photons-little particles of light” (p.49) Modern man, on the other hand, has been content with dull and boring religion, and forgotten it is really about an encounter with another world, an unseen kingdom. The poet and the priest (Longenecker is both) contend with language and meaning, make new connections, and break open the human psyche to receive more light.
This is a wonderful read that must be reread because the author has condensed so much light between the pages. He brings magic, romance and mystery to bear on the heart of today’s religion that has lost it heart, its passion, its power to enchant and capture the dying souls of men.