Monday, December 21, 2009

The Book of the Shepherd: Gnostic Twaddle Disguised as a Sweet Fable

I was asked if I'd like a review copy of The Book of the Shepherd: The Story of One Simple Prayer and How It Changed the World. The email commented, "... we believe this story of one simple prayer and how it changed the world does a superb job of examining the role of personal action in making the world more peaceful, and how peace on earth should begin with me."

My response was, "I must admit that I am dubious about this book, having read the first few pages at HarperCollins' site and also having just heard the first part of The Pilgrim's Progress. The Book of the Shepherd seems much of a muchness with that 300+ year old book.

However, if you believe I am wrong, then I am willing to read the book to see for myself."

Frankly, if I'd been them, that would have been enough to check me off the list. However, I received the book late last week and read it over the weekend.

My short review: the fable presented in this book is one of the biggest loads of sweetly simpering twaddle that has everything about 2/3 right. It should be avoided by all literature lovers and all practicing Christians.

I kept thinking that something was off as I read it, kept thinking "gnostic gospels?" but hadn't read any gnostic gospels. I got to the end and it turns out (Bingo!) that one of the author's sources was The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels which puts orthodox Christianity on trial as being formed from political and social reasons. Add to that her grateful credit to Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass and my sense of something being "off" proved completely justified.

The author wrote the story to illustrate the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi that most of us know relatively well.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

However, the author forgets what St. Francis never did. As praiseworthy as that prayer is, St. Francis's words are not gospel in themselves. He never would have urged us to interpret them without having Jesus Christ in the heart and center of them. This book is missing that heart and center.

I generally do not give bad reviews, especially to review books, preferring simply to ignore them. However, in this case, I felt my warning to the publisher was enough to justify setting that policy aside, especially as I feel this book is potentially dangerous to those of unformed faith. In fact, I had to scrape off the coffee grounds from this book after I plucked it from the trashcan in order to give you the dubious sources the author quotes. That is how much I care, folks. Avoid this book.

My advice is that excellent advice for how to live is found in the Gospels. If you want another source, then pick up a true classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. If reading it seems daunting, then this version on audio (both dramatized and a straight reading) is excellent. There is also this version at Librivox, free for the downloading. I admit I haven't heard it so can't comment on the quality of the reading. However, the point is that there is plenty of good material available without having to resort to The Book of the Shepherd.

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