Death by Suburb Non-Fiction Review : 2006/08/12
Death by Suburb: How to Keep The Suburbs From Killing Your Soul
by David L. Goetz
San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006, 204 pp., $23.95 hardcover.
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provides an interesting read, but I have my reservations about the book. I don't think the spiritual malaise Goetz describes is necessarily suburban, but since that's where you tend to find the middle to upper middle class Americans dwelling, I'll go along with his premise.
The eight core chapters deal with common environmental toxins by suggesting spiritual practices that counter those toxins. For example, when the toxin is "My life should be easier than it is," counter that thought by "accepting my cross with grace and patience (81).
In chapter 3, Goetz uncritically references French Catholic mystics Francois Fenelon and Jeanne "Madam" Guyon, writing that,
Fenelon was a bishop with a thing for Jesus...(and) a friend of Jeanne Guyon, another French Catholic mystic, who was imprisoned for her views on the deeper Christian life (49).
He doesn't explain that the views were heretical, a false doctrine called Quietism that the Catholic Encyclopedia
describes as follows:
...man's highest perfection consists in a sort of psychical self-annihilation and a consequent absorption of the soul into the Divine Essence...In the state of "quietude" the mind is wholly inactive; it no longer thinks or wills on its own account, but remains passive while God acts within it. Quietism is thus generally speaking a sort of false or exaggerated mysticism...It is fostered by Pantheism and similar theories...In its essential features Quietism is a characteristic of the religions of India. Both Pantheistic Brahmanism and Buddhism aim at a sort of self-annihilation, a state of indifference in which the soul enjoys an imperturbable tranquillity.
This fondness for mysticism is typical of the emerging trendiness that requires supposed evangelical writers to ignore evangelicals of the past in favor of Catholic mystics, Buddhists, Hindus and the like.
Madam Guyon is the perfect hero for emergents, since her mysticism is Eastern in orientation. If Shirley MacLaine and Joyce Meyer teamed up in the 17th century, you'd end up with Guyon. For more on Guyon's trance-like states, claims of divine inspiration for her writings, regular hallucinations and general instability, read The Mindless Mysticism of Madame Guyon
by G. Richard Fisher.
I'm well aware that all truth is God's truth, and that worthwhile material can be found in virtually any author's work (for example, I agree with some things John Eldredge states). However, holding up a thinker as a positive role model without qualification indicates at best, irresponsibility, and at worst, an endorsement of that thinker's worldview and theology.
Probably the best parts of the book are when Goetz writes of the importance of relationships, and of a greater level of committment to our local churches. Suburban life makes it easy to be a shallow church-hopper, and I've fallen prey to that myself at times. The grass is always greener in some other sheep's pasture.
Death by Suburb
is a quick and easy read with some useful ideas, but it should be read cautiously.