Skeptics of Christianity and atheists often characterize faith as a fairy tale. Even many Christians frequently confuse the real with the imaginary, adore false gods and reject real truth, as presented in the Gospel. As unbelievable as it may sound, religion is a fairy tale in many ways; Father Dwight Longenecker argues in The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty (February 4, 2014, Thomas Nelson) that religion and our relationship with God bridge the gap between faith and fantasy.
As Longenecker notes, the story of Christ is filled with conflict and romance. He calls for the return of the romantic hero — the hero who knows his own frailty and can fight the good fight with panache, humor and humility. Conflict and romance are everywhere in the story of Christ, and our response not only guides our souls to salvation but our lives to joy, whimsy, wonder and even battle.
The Romance of Religion describes how the Christian faith is an adventure like no other, and the romance of religion is the romance of inner transformation. The plot line in the invisible world — the choices we make, the beliefs we choose, the person we marry, the children we have, the job we do, the god we worship — all of these mundane and quotidian decisions are simply the means through which we grow as human beings. We set out on the great adventure to accomplish some great task, but the really great task is not to do heroic things but to become a hero.
The Romance of Religion is about making a total transformation, reaching our full potential and becoming all that God created us to be.
Highly acclaimed writer and scholar Thomas Howard remarks Fr Longenecker’s writing, “Here is orthodoxy as heavy as the universe, made to dance like the universe. Reading this is like coming upon old Augustine dressed up like St Francis.”
Devin Rose –
Romancing the Religion
by Devin Rose
Forgive the (now somewhat dated) reference to the 80s movie, Romancing the Stone. In his latest book, Fr. Dwight Longenecker seeks to romance something even more valuable than a precious green jewel.
The Romance of Religion seems like a strange title, at first blush. “What,” after all, “is so romantic about religion?” Religion seems like the hidebound formal ritualism that has such little appeal nowadays. Add to that the even stranger fact that a Catholic priest has written such a book for a major Protestant publisher (Thomas Nelson), and you have the makings of extremely odd bedfellows.
Yet Fr. Longenecker’s book is a delight to read. With an enjoyable, cavalier style. Longenecker takes us on a journey of myth and belief, illuminating man’s universal desire for the infinite. He skewers the cynics of today and yesterday and reveals how the religious romantic is the real hero, for he is following the only path that is worthwhile, the path toward truth.
Fr. Longenecker channels his inner Chesterton. Every page is filled with clever turns of phrase, alliterations, and puns. Like Chesterton, he turns ideas on their heads to reveal their worth (or worthlessness). Take this incisive section on modern religion:
One of the reasons most modern religion is considered dull and boring is because it is dull and boring. Modern religious people have forgotten that religion is not about being good but about being religious. In other words, religion is about an encounter with another world. It is about reaching for reality. Religious leaders are full of politeness. They have become charming, but they have forgotten how to charm.
The mystic, the poet, the Reepicheeps and Cyrano de Bergerac’s of the world, these are the people (and rodents) who are living life to the full. They are embarking on the great adventure, diving in head first, laughing at the critics and encouraging the faint of heart. This, Longenecker explains, is what real religion is, and what the romance of religion is all about.
But the journey is not one of willy-nilly relativism, where each of us can head toward his own version of truth. As the book progresses, Fr. Longenecker moves from the general to the specific, from the truth of myth to the Truthful Myth: the story of salvation history, beginning with the Hebrews and culminating in Jesus Christ. He skillfully builds the case for the God of Israel and God Incarnate.
The book stops short of advocating for the Catholic Church or Orthodoxy or Protestantism. Fr. Longenecker’s purpose with the book is not to decide that question, but to bring as many people possible into the big tent of Christianity. And that is a noble goal. I wondered how he would handle that subject, and he does so in the very last pages with aplomb.
I gleaned many insights while reading the book. The section describing the religious dogmatist hit uncomfortably close to home for me. I realized that, of all the temptations a Christian can face, that particular one draws me in. I end up mistaking the dogmas for the greater Truth they are pointing to. That truth is a person, Jesus Christ, and the dogmas are only like boundaries on a treasure map. The goal is not to glorify the map, but to go on a journey to find the hidden treasure.
The Romance of Religion is an exciting romp through metaphysics, romance, heroism, and truth. It is accessible to anyone, no matter their faith (or lack thereof).
Review by Devin Rose, published at Ignitum Today website
Eustacia Tan –
Do you know what reading this book reminded me of? It was G.K Chesterton. I’m not kidding. But since the author is also a Catholic, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised.
While I don’t agree with Catholic theology, this book is thankfully devoid of that. Instead, it’s a book on the need for romance (specifically, the romance that religion brings) in this world.
The book wanders through the reason why we need romance (and why it is real), the heroics and fights (the fight for Life, Beauty and Love), stories and romance, and finally, the nature of this romance and how it relates to Christianity.
I’ll be honest, I love this book because of the language. In fact, I marked out a lot of stuff. Take a look at a few of these quotes:
Talking about ideas:
“Like Achilles, the hero who forgot his heel, or like Icarus who, flying close to the sun, forgot that his wings were made of wax, we should be wary when triumphant ideas seem unassailable, for then there is all the more reason to predict their downfall.”
“Because we are limited in our knowledge, even the sanest of us are slightly insane. Our limitations are a kind of madness, and we can only choose to deny we are mad, and so descend into a dark spiral of total insanity, or accept we are mad and embark on a quest to regain our true and wholesome sanity”
“Idealogues attempt to create heaven here on earth, and their ideologies, like all false gods, demand far more than they deliver, and what they demand is life itself. … … This is because ideologies live for an idea – they do not live for life – and any ideology that does not put put life first will invariable put it last”
If these quotes all seem so disparate, well, just know that they’re tied up with the idea of romance and the romantic hero.
Even though I have a lot of other books to read and review, I have a feeling that I’ll be re-reading this book soon – It’s worth another read.
Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.
This review first appeared at Inside the mind of a Bibliophile
Publisher’s Weekly –
In this exploration of the underlying themes of religion as romantic ideas, Longenecker (The Quest for the Creed), a parish priest, author, and blogger, urges readers to return to a vision of religion not as a respectable, rule-bound institution but as a way of life that is “a glorious adventure or nothing at all.” To make his case, he examines the role of the romantic— a lover of stories that get at truth— and the role of story in the development of the Christian faith, from the time right after the resurrection of Christ up to modern literature’s own spiritual and romantic stories of heroes and quests. Drawing on his own ideas about beauty, truth, and love, as well as his views on the use of language in the Bible, Longenecker offers a far-ranging study. Though his love of alliteration and metaphor occasionally borders on the precious (“He combines sonnets with sugar icing and terza rima with a raisin twist”), Longenecker’s thorough treatment of the topic provides armchair students and scholars alike a way into an important conversation.
Dwight Longenecker –
For an in depth radio interview with Dwight Longenecker and to learn more about the book listen to the show on Boston radio’s The Good Catholic Life. Use this link to listen.