This is a challenging book. There are three essays – “Ceremony,” “Expedition,” and “War.” I liked the first and last ones the most. You have to follow the mind and the considerable knowledge of the author, Christopher Merrill, as he travels the world (and I’m quite sure I couldn’t find some of the places on a map) to explore those three big topics. At times, I had trouble tracking his connections or keeping up with the ample amounts of background about the history of religion. Still, I stayed with it (in part because he’s visiting my class tomorrow). Maybe because it’s the last essay and I had finally gotten used to his style and maybe because it is his best essay, much of “War” is a page-turner. I found myself reaching for a pencil time and time again to highlight passages that leapt off the page. Examples:
“Your silence makes you an accessory” (276).
“It takes nothing to lay waste the sacred” (244).
“Poets search for a language adequate to experience” (229-230).
“In Greek tragedy there is always a reckoning for individuals contemptuous of the moral order. The same holds for overreaching states and empires” (225).
“The status quo invariably leads to a hardening of attitudes – and neglect” (222-223).
“Leadership consists in summoning every one of us to a larger vision of what we can make of our lives. This George W. Bush did not do” (223).
“More binds together these monotheistic faiths rooted in the desert (traditions of prophets and revelations, of ethics and eschatology) than divides them – and yet what blood flows from the differences” (220).
Merrill’s politics are quite clear (as you may have surmised), and perhaps I admired the “War” essay because he found words for what I felt. Whatever the reason, I am glad I read this.