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Posted December 3, 2013

Book: The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty
Author: Dwight Longenecker
Thomas Nelson. Nashville, Tennessee. 2013 pp. 222

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The world at large likes to claim that religion is a fairy tale. Ironically, in many ways this is true, but only because the story contains mystery and truth forged both in this world and the world beyond. And it is actually religion and our relationship with God that bridges this gap.

In The Romance of Religion, Dwight Longenecker 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.

A fine romance is a good story --- a story, like all good stories everywhere here and at every time, that reveals eternal truth within a gripping tale. We are entranced by a good story because it incarnates the truth. A good storyteller locks the truth so tightly that you cannot get at the truth without telling the story.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Greeks told the tragic story of Orpheus, the son of the great god Apollo. Orpheus was the master of music, the prince of poetry, the one who gave the rites to the mortals for the practice of their religion. He fell in love with the beautiful Eurydice, who died after being bitten by vipers. Orpheus went on the long journey into the underworld to rescue his beloved, and he was able to charm Hades and Persephone, the king and queen of the realm of death. They allowed him to lead his beloved back to life on the provision that he would walk before her, never looking back until they reached the upper world. When he stepped out of the darkness he looked back to see her, forgetting that he could not look back until they were both free, and so she vanished forever.

The curious and delightful thing about this story is that it is echoed in other myths in other cultures at other times around the world.

. . .the same stories live today in our comic books and movie theaters. There the superheroes do today what the gods did in ancient days. There ordinary newspaper reporters, students, and millionaires don masks and capes and spandex suits and so become great heroes. They fight villains who look and behave like demons. There, in the comic books and summer blockbuster movies, the barrier between the everyday world and the supernatural breaks down. Ordinaray mortals assume supernatural powers. They become gods and engage in the battle between good and evil just as certainly and powerfully for us as the myths and mystery religions did for our ancestors so long ago.

What I find curious is that there is a type of human being who does not enjoy or engage in this very human activity. The cultural elite, the tasteful, and the academic either studies this phenomenon or ignores it, but it is more likely that he despises it. The literary critic looks down his fine nose at fantasy stories, science fiction tales and comic book heroes, yet a vast majority of the population find such things not only entertaining but enlightening, and not only enlightening but enriching. They participate in the drama of the modern-day gods and goddesses in the comic book and on the silver screen with the gusto and enjoyment of a good religion.

The critics of superhero culture sneer that it is for boys in shorts. Those who despise fairy tales say they are interested not in fantasy but in facts; they are interested not in science fiction but in serious fiction. By this they mean they want to read novels about grown-ups committing adultery and then feeling guilty about it. From my perspective, there is nothing more childish and frivolous than grown-ups playing sex games, feeling guilty, and going to an analyst, and there is nothing more serious and eternal than the interplay of the gods and men. It may be that boys like comic books and girls like fairy tales and pimply teenagers like science fiction and tales of superheroes. I am on their side, and I am reminded that unless I become like these children I cannot enter the kingdom, and it is their kingdom of kings and princes and knights and dragons and supermen and green goblins that I want to enter. In comparison, adultery and angst and sex and psychoanalysis are terrible boring.

Table of Contents:

The Foundation for Fighting

1. Cyrano or cynicism? Why rollicking romanticism is good for you.

2. All er nutin --- the non-romantic options

3. The matrix and my Mickey Mouse lunch box --- the quest for something more

4. Of whirlwinds, words, and other worlds: the grammar of romance

5. Either the ethereal or the real --- the illusions of reality

The Point of the Sword

6. The mouse that roars --- fighting the good fight

7. Ideals, ideologies, and idols --- the fight for life

8. Beatrice, beasts, and beauty --- the fight for beauty

9. Hollywood heroes and harlequin romance --- the fight for love

10. Truth, treasure, maps and traps – the fight for truth

The Point of the Story

11. Hobbit holes and the holy ---the way down is the way up

12. Paganism, poetry, and pointers --- why the old stories matter

13. Miracles and magic in dust and dirt --- how the Hebrews romanced religion

14. Of Gods, girls and glory --- the maiden and the mystery

15. Superman or Son of Man? The man and the mystery

16. The sacred sacrifice --- on death, redemption and romantic heroes

The Road Leads Ever On

17. Conspiracy, heresay, and history --- the event that changed everything.

18. My red plume --- the eternal flame

19. The rule of religion --- the secret army

20. Riding into the sunset --- the end of all things.