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Book Review: Theology and Sanity

I recently finished reading Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity.  It is, in short, quintessentially Frank Sheed, delivered with the stark clarity that typifies his writing.  I can’t say for sure that it was his intent, but this book makes a perfect follow-on to his excellent Theology for Beginners.  These two books would serve well as a launching point for anyone interested in dipping their toe into theology.

To put it simply, Sheed doesn’t waste any time qualifying his positions or mincing his words in this book – what is, simply is, and what is not simply is not.  You quickly realize he truly means the word “Sanity” in the title of the book – a proper understanding of the topics presented leads to a more sane understanding of this creation God has made.  Perhaps an illustration is called for:

God, we say, moves the will, which moves the intellect.  But God does not do violence to nature.  He does not force either will or intellect to act against the nature He has given them.  The function of prayer and humility is to to prepare the will that when the impulsion comes from God it is ready to go with that impulsion, with no violence done to its own nature as a will.  The function of evidence and argument is so to prepare the intellect that when it feels the impulsion of the God-moved will, it too will be prepared to co-operate with that impulsion, with no violence to its own nature as an intellect.  It would be outside God’s normal mode of working upon man to move his intellect to an assent for which nothing had prepared it, against which much of its own experience as an intellect might well have predisposed it.

And again, because it is so relevant to the world in which we live today:

Whether this point is grasped or not, a moral code must be founded on something.  A society can accept a moral code without any conscious awareness of its foundation, provided the code is of long standing and not questioned.  But in a generation like ours where everything is questioned, the foundation must be clearly seen; and apart from God the foundation cannot be clearly seen.  The practical result for the average man of our generation is tha twhen he is faced with what his grandparents would have called a temptation, he has nothing to judge it by.  His first reaction is “Why shouldn’t I?”  Conscience may put up a brief resistance; but conscience, as we have seen, is the judgment of our intellect, and it is precisely our intellect that is confused; and in any event our modern man wil have heard half a dozen theories to explain conscience away.  All this is too weak a barrier against any really strong rush of temptation.  From the initial “Why shouldn’t I?” he passes with an uneasiness too slight to affect his decision to “I don’t see why I shouldn’t.”  As we have already seen, this last statement is precise almost to the point of pedantry.  He does not see why he shouldn’t; he does not see anything, because he has turned out the lights, or had them turned out for him:  he is simply conscious of a lot of urges and appetites in the dark, and there is no mistaking their direction.

Sanity is the same no matter what generation.  It is works like this book that help us to remember that only in, with and through God can we keep our wits about us in a world that seems determined to lose theirs.

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