Following is the first part of my book page column that appears in this weekend’s edition of The Catholic Post. Since it was a longer review, and I cover other books, I split it into two posts–stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow: “How geekiness can strengthen the family.”
The Screwtape Letters is C.S. Lewis’ classic book of what I like to call “epistolary apologetics,” “letters” from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his apprentice nephew demon Wormwood.
Everything is twisted in the book, so “the Enemy” is God and the advice is all backwards from what would make people truly happy. One letter has Screwtape cautioning Wormwood to avoid letting his subject have any real, natural interests or pleasures, because:
“There is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”
Count me firmly in the “tripe and onions” category. Whether it’s Jane Austen reading jags, pilgrimages to children’s literature sites, or my well-known and longtime love affair with dark chocolate, I embrace my nerdy obsessions and want to convert you, too.
So I might be a little suspicious of people who don’t have passionate interests, even if they aren’t my interests. (But seriously, how can you not love Pride & Prejudice?).
No surprise, then, that I loved GeekPriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer by Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, a Dutch parish priest with an international social media reach.
This book is a kind of spiritual/cultural memoir about how Fr. Vonhogen’s religious vocation grew up around, and because of, his own geeky interests. It’s also how he has become a social media pioneer, spreading the Gospel by connecting his passions for computers, popular culture and faith in a natural, approachable way.
GeekPriest can seem light in tone, since it’s making connections between things like Star Wars, Disney or even The Biggest Loser, and living a healthy, well-balanced life. So readers looking for the next St. Augustine’s Confessions might be disappointed.
What GeekPriest does offer is a realistic and deceptively deep look at where good pop culture intersects with our faith. Fr. Vonhogen is not writing just another “here’s why Star Wars is a Jesus archetype” story. Instead, he shares how his struggles through a breakdown and other reverses led to a more mature balance, faith and priestly life. His honesty and ability to synthesize so well helps this book rise above the common.
I would recommend GeekPriest to teens and young adult readers, and not just because I kept “losing” my review copy of this book as teens and tweens at our house kept wandering off to read a chapter here and there.
I’d also recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about “the new evangelization,” or using modern methods and modern ways to share the Truth. Fr. Vonhogen’s an expert and an example to many, no doubt. GeekPriest offers a challenge to anyone with geeky interests: how are you going to connect this to your faith, and begin a journey to share that with others?
I’m not sure if this is the right sort of aside to share here, but I want to share two things about Fr. Roderick.
First is that I have never met him. The two times I have made plans to go to the U.S.-based Catholic New Media conferences that he has organized, (even to the point of flights and hotel reservations), family needs required canceling at the last moment. And even though I’m an avid podcast listener, I have yet to subscribe to any of Father’s many podcasts, something one of my sisters, a fan, found really funny. So I don’t actually know Fr. Roderick, but feel a genuine kinship with his ideas and love of new media. And now I promise to subscribe to at least one of his podcast series.
Second is that when I was searching for an image of the book to plug in here to this review, here’s what came back on my Google image search: