Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020

Every now and again you read a book that you just can’t put down. For me, Veith’s latest work was one such book. In the space of one afternoon—and a very late night! —I ploughed through the more than 300-plus pages. I simply could not put it down.

Veith provides one of the best analysis of contemporary thought and culture currently in print. He tackles all this through four major sections: Reality (how we understand our existence especially since the Enlightenment); the Body (how we now view gender and sexuality); Society (in particular how education and politics have changed); and then finally, Religion (that people are more ‘spiritual’ but less attached to religious traditions).

Not only does Veith write in an engaging style, he is also incredibly well-read. There is a wealth of information in the footnotes for the reader to follow-up on if interested. Veith is also a Biblically conservative Lutheran which means that there is always a Gospel framework to whatever issue he discusses.

One of the best insights that Veith makes—and this really frames the approach of the entire book—is in his introduction titled, ‘The Universal Wolf’.  Veith quotes from William Shakespeare’s, The History of Troilus and Cressida, act 1, scene 3, lines 109-10, 122-27:

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows…
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey
And last eat up himself.

Veith explains the significance of this as follows:

For Shakespeare, the coming together of power, will, and appetite forms a “universal wolf” that devours everything. As we have been seeing in contemporary thought and culture, this wolf is eating up universities, laws, technology, the family, the arts, the media, and churches. But, having done so, there comes a point, says Shakespeare, when the wolf starts eating up himself.

This is an extremely helpful observation and insight, especially into our contemporary culture. As Veith goes on to further argue:

For both post-Marxists on the left and Nietzscheans on the right, all institutions, all governments, all art, all moral beliefs, and all religions are nothing more than a mask for power. All of culture—the family, social institutions, philosophical systems—is nothing more than one group exercising power over another group (men over women, whites over racial minorities, heterosexuals over homosexuals, humans over animals, etc.) Thus, every dimension of life is politicized and critiqued as part of a system of oppression. The only way to resist this oppression is to be transgressive and to seize power for your own group, which will include exercising oppression against your enemies (silencing them, marginalizing them, and otherwise punishing them).

It is significant that Veith promotes the long-forgotten work of J.G. Hamann, a contemporary and brilliant ‘metacritic’ of the Enlightenment thinker, Immanuel Kant. Veith is currently overseeing the translation of Hamann’s works from the original German, and believes that they provide some of the best critiques of Enlightenment  thinking. If you are at all interested in culture and how Christianity should interact with it—and every believer should—then this is a great place to start. Regardless of your political leanings, you will not be disappointed.

Post Christian

A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture

Gene Edward Veith Jr. | Crossway

Available at Reformers Bookshop