I’m currently reviewing the book Popes and Bankers for Thomas Nelson publishers. It’s a history of credit and debt from the Ancient Greeks to the Modern present. Admittedly, I’m only up to the Reformation, but so far it’s a pretty enjoyable read. It combines a laid-back, easy-to-understand style with constant literary allusions and academic snark and sarcasm that paradoxically mocks the “Institution” while obviously speaking from within its intellectual ranks.
But as I said, this book has been published by Thomas Nelson publishers — the house that brings us Max Lucado (read my recent review), John Eldridge, and books such as Rick and Bubba’s Guide to the Almost Nearly Perfect Marriage. In short, this is the publishing house for many of the books that send postmodern Christian twentysomethings into cringing spasms. At times, these criticisms are a bit unwarranted (as in the case of Lucado), but Thomas Nelson unquestionably specializes in light Christian fiction and fare, mainly focusing on devotionals and “Christian” self-help.
This is why the other day I was struck with this thought: why on earth is this book — a history of economics — being published by Thomas Nelson? Sure, I had noticed the attempts of the author to reclaim and redraw the narrative of church history from the caricatures and misunderstandings that sometimes cast the Ccurch in a negative light. I read the occasional jabs at the “liberal” educational and historical establishment that dared to say “absurdities” like: the Crusades were bad and the Church was wrong to do them. (Side note: To defend the Crusades, the author employs the same cultural/religious-relativism he obviously disdains by saying things like “if we only understood what they believed they were doing in the context of their culture and time, we wouldn’t look down on them so much.” That was a paraphrase.) Yes, I could tell this guy was a conservative Christian who was writing a history book, but still, this book seemed not to fit neatly in the Thomas Nelson canon that precedes it.
So I googled the author, Jack Cashill. I wish I hadn’t.
This guy is f-ing insane. Maybe that’s something of an overstatement. But really, when I looked this guy up I was, well, shocked. Cashill’s most recent claim to fame was a series of essays he wrote trying to convince the reader that Barack Obama did not in fact write his two books, but rather Bill Ayers (the “terrorist” Obama was said to have been “pallin’ around with“). Check out the books he’s written. Cashill has a book written about how TWA Flight 800 was actually shot down by the military to hide the fact that it had been hijacked 9/11-style, and Clinton didn’t want a terrorist attack on his presidential record. And speaking of the Clintons, Cashill has a book about them too, where he may not outright accuse them of murdering a politically inconvenient family friend, but “isn’t it funny all these ‘coincidences’ that almost make it look like that? Well that’s weird!” He even has a not-at-all-subtly arrogantly titled piece entitled “How the Liberal Mind Works.” Even the faintest perusal of his personal website will show a magnanimity of some of the most hard-right, conspiratorial Republican rhetoric you’ll find anywhere on the web — and that’s saying a lot.
Honestly, I’m no bleeding-heart myself, but if you are a Christian with a brilliant mind and the ability to write as prolifically as Cashill can (and does), why would you choose (if you must choose) to beat this one drum — the hyper-conservative political drum — as if it were the single most existentially defining aspect of your selfhood you wish to express to the world? I can respect people for holding the opinions Cashill holds (heck, my parents hold most of them), but when this seems to be the only all-consuming passion of your intellect and emotions, I just can’t help but see a disconnect. Further, why would one of the biggest Christian publishing companies continually facilitate such an attitude, offering him an outlet? Would they publish a book by an equally radically liberal author? I doubt it. It frustrates me to see, once again, how pop Christianity is at times the greatest facilitator of hyperpartisanship and blind party politics in our society.
And lastly, I now don’t know what to do with the book review. I’m only a quarter of the way through the book and I can’t seem to bring myself to read it with any hope of clear judgment. I open it up and images of his “crazy books” covers flash upon my mind’s eye. Should I allow the full canon of an author’s work to influence my reading of one, or should I accept this one book on its own terms? Can I? I don’t know. I need help. So I’m throwing this out there for the rest of the world. How would you review such a book?
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