Thursday, May 23, 2013

Strange Gods by Elizabeth Scalia

"At first I thought, 'the cover is the best thing about it!'"

My name was on the publisher's list...

Rather, my name was on Mrs. Scalia's list of those to whom she would like to send copies of her book.  The publisher, Ave Maria Press sent me the book with a press kit.  I suppose I could follow the suggested interview questions and interview the author, but I know she is busy - she didn't answer my last email, and I'm sure she's doing a book tour and posing for photographs and getting ready for Charlie Rose and maybe The View. 

An urban anchorite's room with a view...

The Anchoress

Seriously, I must admit I was honored to have received a copy of the book. I'm a fan of Scalia's writing, attracted to her initially by the title of her blog, The Anchoress.  So monastic and medieval sounding, I expected a modern day anchoress writing ascetical-mystical romances on living alone in an urban flat, with her bedroom window facing the Catholic parish church next door, twelve stories lower than her little austere, yet lovely in its simplicity, apartment.  Not so.  Elizabeth Scalia is a wife, mother, and Benedictine Oblate - and rather normal.  I need normal.  She's also a very good, insightful writer.

Love the cover!

I did a quick read, or overview of the book.   I wasn't real excited, thinking the cover was probably the best thing about it.  Fr. Barron called it a 'must read' and to be honest, I couldn't go that far.  Scalia is online and one has access to her thoughts and point of view, but... I thought, 'It's not a bad book - but it seems to be just another theme book.'   I wondered if Ave Maria might have invited Elizabeth to write a book because she is so well known online and has a good following in new media.  Always the skeptic, I am - my apologies.  I'm always suspicious of online personalities and apologists, pretty much writing, about the obvious and publishing their latest work.  Not unlike friends of mine who teach, and had to have so many published works in order to get tenure.  But I digress.  Obviously I'm not the best person to review your work - just a heads up.

That being said, I wondered, what am I going to say about this book?  A book that others have already acclaimed and praised and even tied in with what the Holy Father said recently about idolatry and the Golden Calf worship of money ...
We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal. - P. Francis

The Pope and the Anchoress - great publicity, huh?  Had he received an advanced copy of Elizabeth's book?  Or was Elizabeth simply stating the obvious and reaffirming Judeo-Christian teaching?  I had to search the pages of Strange Gods to find out.

The Introduction grabbed me.

I sometimes skip introductions.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps I assume I already know what the book is about and why the author wrote it, and because I just don't want to read more than I have to.  Although I will often go back and read the intro after I finish the book.  The introduction to Strange Gods is what changed my attitude towards the book.  Elizabeth really has something important - and new - to say, and a book was necessary to make a statement.  The book is necessary to point out the obvious that has been obscured by our own personal idols.  In my case, self-opinion and pride - and more than I care to mention right now.  Although I will be referring to the book in future posts.

Elizabeth has a lot to say in this little book.  She articulates things I may know, but sometimes have difficulty articulating.  She writes:
"I look at our modern mania for educational credentials as a kind of idol - a thing so burnished and glittery that sometimes the perfect candidate for a position is never seen because the required credential is hovering between him and HR; and the idol - the thing that reflects our self image back to us - must be served."
Yes!  I wanted to say that - but Elizabeth Scalia said it better than I could.  Have I been 'envious' that Scalia has a book and I don't?  That she writes about something I wish I had written?  Is that why I wasn't able to 'get into' her book right away?  I don't know.  I doubt it.  Yet these are the sort of questions, self-examen type questions, Scalia's book elucidates as I go through it.  Again, Elizabeth points out:
"We dismiss the golden calf story and its lessons at our peril.  It is true we are no longer flinging our precious metals into a crucible and buffing up stolid beasts of burden to worship.  In some ways matters are worse, for we do not know the idols we bow down to.  Our present day idols are much less obvious, but they are also less distant and more ingrained within us.  Idols begin with ideas.  From there we shape them in the psyche, grow them in the ego, and then engage with them intimately, throughout our lives, in out families, our culture, our entertainments, and our political discourse.  We create idols of our own norms of behavior, our material possessions, and social status.  We even create them out of our faith.
"We are so comfortable with our idols and so convinced that they are built on entirely correct ideas that we have stopped wondering at anything and therefore are comprehending almost nothing."
Yeah but...

I know!  So doesn't Scalia have any idols - I mean - she's practically enslaved to the Internet and the blogosphere, right?  Yup - and she pretty much admits it - "we can barely clear out an old idol before we erect a brand-spanking-new one in its place..."  The book is written from experience... she says, "my expertise is grounded in my experience, for I am a great idolater and have been all my life." 

It is not a holier than thou, self-righteous self-help book by any means. 


I like it.  I really like it.  I even have to agree with Fr. Barron, it really is a must read - for people like me at least - I still have idols clinging to me and around the house.  Me, the Catholic, who performs daily devotions at my home lararium - my laptop...  Mrs. Scalia writes about her devotion in the Conclusion to her book...  

One's work, being online, can keep us from prayer and even Mass.  It can happen.

Read the book.

BTW: It's available on Amazon.

Disclaimer - I never do promotions or ads on my blog - I made an exception in this case because Elizabeth was kind enough to have a copy of her book sent to me.   


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