Elizabeth Scalia’s Strange Gods is featured in my parish library’s “new book shelf,” so I borrowed the copy of her well-regarded book for a few days. As I read her introduction, it was familiar territory: politics and blogging and Catholic internet conservatives literally flying in the same flock. But the book gets much better.
Indeed, every chapter includes honest and self-deprecating personal experiences that draw the reader in and make it that much easier to confront the everyday idols of our American and Catholic lives.
I laughed to myself with Ms Scalia’s story of the hammock (p. 51) as she illustrated how close sentimentality is to the idol of prosperity, and I thought to my own indulgences: not only matchbooks from last century’s weddings, but candles and a handkerchief my wife monogrammed and keepsakes from the young miss stuffed in a few boxes that I only crack open every other year when I’m rearranging basement storage.
Chapter Five on the “Idol of Technology” is devastating. And while I might think I’ve traded in adulation by visiting conservative sites and making an absolute nuisance of myself, I can’t escape the feeling I haven’t escaped some weird idolatry by poking certain e-people like they were bees in a nest.
As the Catholic blogosphere debates on the naivete and prudence and lack thereof of Pope Francis, the author relates the end of a conversation about a marvelous homily that was never written down:
“I learned a long time ago,” (her priest friend) said, “to just get out of the Holy Spirit’s way. I read the scriptures, meditate on them, and just trust that what comes out of my mouth will be useful.”
Maybe another way to say that is “Drop the plans, step into the path of the Holy Spirit, unencumbered, and let yourself be used.”
You get the idea.
I know a few of the readers here tire of the Anchoress as an internet “personality.” There’s some of that in this book. But there’s also a good dollop of Benedictine spirituality as lensed through a life’s practice as a Catholic disciple not only online but in ordinary Catholic life. If you’re sometimes exasperated with the Anchoress, maybe Elizabeth Scalia’s book will be a balm for the idol of exasperation. I think this book demonstrates she’s a better author than blogger.
Strange Gods (subtitled Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life) is an accessible read. It can also throw you into a very self-reflective mode if you find yourself willing to engage the stories told and search for your own idols. As I was trying to engage my history in my Ignatian online retreat this week, this book was a perk for a period in my life that I felt was unacceptably shallow and dry. It will probably stay with me for the next few days.
This was my second Ave Maria Press book this year, and while it didn’t have as many errors as the other book I read, there was a poor layout choice (I thought) and a prominent (to a church musician) typo. Too much reliance on the assistant editor, the computer.
Recommended, especially for those inclined to self-honesty.