Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: Hymns to an Unknown God

A Fair Trade Book

(Amazon wants to link to a new paperback edition with a different cover. What I physically have is the hardcover first edition, which looks like the picture above.)

Title: Hymns to an Unknown God 

Author: Sam Keen

Date: 1994

Publisher: Bantam

ISBN: 0-553-08903-X

Length: 293 pages plus endnotes and index

Quote: "I can't go back to traditional religion. Neither can I live within the smog-bound horizon of the secular-progressive faith...I want to find a way to lean on the everlasting arms."

Philosopher Sam Keen discusses his post-Christian spirituality. How much more do you need to be told?

Do you want to know what he has left, after having studied theology, then decided he couldn't feel sure that he believed in God? I did.

What would Sam Keen's spirituality-without-faith, such as it is, mean to you? Who are you readers anyway? What can I tell you about someone else's personal reflections when I have no idea who you are, spiritually?

You didn't use Disqus comments when this web site had those. You don't use Google/Blogger comments now that it has those. For a while, allowing for a certain number of page views from relatives and a certain number from Google's site monitors, the number of U.S. readers this web site had was roughly equal to the number of people who regularly sent us e-mail...but (1) dang if those people's e-mails ever showed any positive indication that they were reading this web site, and (2) the number of U.S. readers has increased, significantly, while the number of people from whom I regularly receive e-mail has dropped, but I have no idea who the new readers may be.

All I know about you is that most of you aren't willing to identify yourselves at all, much less with wonderful, supportive comments like this one:

...or with wonderful, informative comments like the links, anecdotes, even poems, people used to share on the Ozarque blog. (Or still share on Making Light, when anybody posts there. Or on the Dilbert Blog. Or on several other blogs whose common feature is that they seem to be written by people who, if not famous writers before they started blogging, at least seem to have had more forthcoming e-friends than I have, or than my e-friends noticeably have.)

It matters because, if I knew whether the people reading this are either the people who send me e-mail or the other people who read their e-mail, I'd have some idea whether anyone Out There is interested in Sam Keen at all. I have none.

I have no idea whether anyone Out There positively likes anything about this web site. You're not communicating with me. You may or may not be the same people who are bombarding me with e-mail "publications" that don't refer directly to anything I've posted here. You're not linking back to things posted here. You're not sending money, which you are indeed supposed to do if you like this site.

So the only way to write this review is to write it for The Nephews, and the only thing to say is that none of you seems likely to like Sam Keen. He was a skillful writer about the age of your grandparents who was read and admired by many baby-boomers when we were young. He was a good enough writer that some of us were interested in knowing what he'd decided he believed about the Great Spirit. Well, the short answer is that he agreed with me about an individual spiritual practice being much more important than merely going to a church-as-social-clique-for-adults. (Either he and his first wife were remarkably thin-skinned, or he's skimmed over a lot of the emotional and verbal abuse that goes on in a church-as-social-clique-for-adults.) And he agreed with Wendell Berry about a relationship with nature, environment, with one specific piece of land, being part of that spiritual practice. And beyond that...he wasn't able to agree with Berry about a permanent commitment to one marriage for life, nor was he able, in the end, to come to terms with the idea that God might be Infinitely More than either individual human spirituality or collective humanity. At the end of this book he's still aware of a belief that God is more than "progress" toward a one-world totalitarian government, but he's still trying to believe that that kind of "progress" is even viable--much less desirable--and he's still putting his money on that one-world government, and...feh. Better you should read me or Wendell Berry.

Should anybody Out There read Hymns to an Unknown God, then? For its historical interest, perhaps; it's the personal book Keen wrote late in life, the one with a lot of autobiographical information about what was going on behind his more abstract and philosophical early books.

For the insight it offers into the religion of progressivism? Yes, but...most of those who still rest religious faith in a one-world totalitarian government are not as sincere or as spiritual as Keen. You need to know that it's a religious belief but you don't need to imagine that, for most of these people, it has disciplines, rituals, or hymns. Keen grew up singing Protestant hymns and quotes at least one in each chapter of this book. For the hard-core totalitarians, people like that are a temporary nuisance, to be exploited, the way Hitler exploited the good Protestants of Germany.

How do I know? Because already the totalitarians have scrapped this kind of ideas. I can't just say that if we have any readers who want a one-world totalitarian government, this is a book about how they can express their spirituality and perhaps adjust to reality. They're getting their ideas funnelled in from the U.N. geniuses who came up with "Agenda 21," whose mission is to deprive humans (other than perhaps their own overprivileged selves) of the spiritual, and the practical, benefits of a relationship with the land. Today's "progressives" are likely to sneer at this "progressive" book.

So, maybe "conservatives" should buy Hymns to an Unknown God to remind any progs we know of the deterioration their one-world wanna-be-a-government has already introduced into their own ideas? Baby-boomers who supported one-world government believed in a relationship with the land...well, that was exploited and stripped out of the totalitarian movement. Want to bet on which of Keen's other noble spiritual thoughts will be stripped out of "progressivism" next? The one about at least keeping some sort of spirituality in the interpersonal bond that forms when people who have developed spirituality become physically intimate, with one another, or with anyone else? Or will it be the one about compassion, and about utterly rejecting anything likely to lead in the direction of Nazi Germany, the living definition of evil during Keen's formative years?

Wake up and smell the coffee, progs. Totalitarians are not compassionate in the way we spiritually minded introverts are. They don't really set any more value on the idea of keeping masses of people alive than they set on the idea of everybody having a good spiritual life on a clean, healthy private farm. And the direction of real progress, if that's going to occur, will be a continuous reduction of government, both in the sense of decentralization and in the sense of privatization, because the pendulum swung too far in the twentieth century and needs to start swinging back...before the people who've allowed themselves to be herded into Agenda-21-approved fifty-story apartment blocks perish horribly, whether in plagues, in natural disasters, or in acts of outright war.

This is not the most encouraging review...however, you're welcome to buy this book from me. (I don't agree with many things Keen has written but I've enjoyed his way of writing them.) Either the hardcover or the paperback edition can currently be purchased on this web site's usual terms: $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment; you'd send a $10 postal money order to the real-world address at the bottom of the screen, or a $11 Paypal payment to the Paypal account Message Squirrel Saloli, at that e-mail link, will send you.