Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Soldier's Heart" by Elizabeth D. Samet

"Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point" is an account of a civilian English professor's teaching years at West Point. She shows how soldiers have found comfort in literature throughout time and particularly during the years after 9/11.

When she remains focused on literature as a means of understanding the human condition, in this case specifically dealing with the emotional trauma of war, the emotional toll on loved ones left at home and the struggle to keep honor and fulfill one's duty, she does an excellent job. Her writing is engaging and clear. She very effectively makes the case that literature not only has a place in the soldier's heart, but is beneficial for "soldier's heart," which is the name once given post traumatic stress syndrome.

But when Samet discounts the Bible as a source for achieving these same objectives, she soils her otherwise flawless work. Her attitude about the Bible seems to be that the sooner a person quits wasting his time reading it, the better off he is. She seems to crow with delight when a student rejects his Bible in favor of literature after having been in her class.

Sadly, this attitude says more about Samet than it does about the Bible. For someone of her stature to reject the Bible so handily is only a testimony to how little (if any) she's read of it and how little (which seems to be none) she's studied it. Her attitude displays a vast ignorance of how the Bible has shaped western civilization into the greatest powerhouse of prosperity, scientific knowledge, technology and equality for people under law that has ever existed. The Bible is not only a great work of literature in its own right, but millions and millions of people have found guidance, solace and empathy for the human condition within its pages. She dismisses the Bible as a place for guidance and solace without any understanding of why it has been such a source for so many centuries. It's a regrettable slap, exposing her own arrogance and ignorance.

If Samet had ignored the Bible altogether, this book would have achieved its objective, "...Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point." Since Samet didn't do that, I am left wondering what she has against the Bible and why she feels that way? On one hand, I'm glad she didn't address the issue because the hostility she seems to bear toward the Bible would have further marred this book. But, based on what I read in this book, I can't find evidence she's ever studied the Bible in the same in deep, thoughtful and analytical manner she's studied other literature. Samet seems to be such an intelligent person, very creative in her abilities to engage her students, very knowledgeable about all things film and literature, that I wonder how she can disqualify the Bible from her repertoire so glibly. The honest person cannot deny that the Bible has had an immeasurable impact on history, some bad, but mostly good. Her attitude reminds me of that old cliche about ignoring the 800 pound gorilla. The only explanation I can glean from the text is that her own education lacked a proper examination of the Bible and why it matters and she has made no effort to fix that lack. Her attitude exposes her for a shallow thinker, a narrow mind and diminishes her stature as an intellectual and as a teacher.

She is a secularist. And ultimately secularism is a hollow, dead end belief system. The secularist, though he have all the great literature of the ages at his fingertips, cannot answer the fundamental questions which plague the human condition. Only God can do this. He does this through prayer, through His Word and through meditation in prayer on Him and on His Word. No matter how smart a person becomes, he cannot provide reasons to be moral, honorable, charitable and hopeful using human wisdom alone. In fact, human wisdom, left without any guidance from God, has been shown repeatedly to fail on all these accounts.

The French Revolution set as one of its objectives to elevate reason while rejecting God. The French Revolution soon became the terror. The Bolshevik Revolution installed the atheistic, communistic regime of Lenin and Stalin promising to elevate the worker, but instead bringing suffering to the population. There are other examples. It's clear, secularism and atheism as practical foundations for human life fail abysmally. To suppose that soldiers who face life and death questions on the battle front, horrors and moral dilemmas ordinary mortals seldom encounter can survive and thrive on literature alone is not only vanity, but it's also vain.

Because Samet brought up the Bible and exposed her attitude toward it, the book turns from flawless to flawed. In so far as one might enjoy discovering how soldiers are comforted by literature, what we can learn about the human condition from literature and how an excellent teacher of literature does her job, I can recommend this book. For anything deeper, I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More on Bartimaeus soon. I finished the second book in the trilogy but need a bit of review before writing.