I just finished one of those books that nourish my soul: Socrates in the City: Conversations of “Life, God, and Other Small Topics”, edited by Eric Metaxas. Some books do and some books don’t. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton always does but I can already tell that the book I started yesterday will not – Dracula by Bram Stoker. Socrates in the City is compilation of essays selected from a lecture series of the same name based in New York City where world class speakers address “the big questions” mostly about philosophy and religion with lots of science thrown in.
I listened to the audiobook and it was great to hear the voices of all the speakers as well as Metaxas’ funny introductions in which he mostly roasts the speaker of the night’s program and repeats the premise and motto of the series: Socrates’ maxim that “The unexamined life is note worth living.” Metaxas and Os Guinness, speaker at the series and author of many books, hatched the idea for the series based on the maxim and their concern that busy professional New Yorkers did not tend to take the time to contemplate the important questions of life.
Although I enjoyed every lecture and felt uplifted just listening to these accomplished people saying all these fascinating things about the problem of evil, the compatibility science and religion, and the existence of God, my first reaction was not so honorable. I was jealous. Of people who live in New York and get to go to a lecture series like this in posh venues with wine and cheese. This sort of thing does not seem to available to me in Suffolk, Virginia, but I will certainly look around and see if I can find anything comparable in driving distance. If not, I may have to start a lecture series with wine and Hors d’Oeuvres and my house even if the speakers are not quite as luminous.
Listening to the audiobook you get some idea of the event atmosphere – the laughter, the applause, the tinkling of wine glasses. It sounds like they are having fun. And that is part of the charm of the whole idea – that discussing questions of existence does not have to be grim and especially does not have to be boring. The topics discussed at these events are not only some of the most important but also some of the most lively and fun to discuss. Apparently many people agree judging from the apparent popularity of the series. It’s been active monthly since late 2000 right after the famous George Bush / Al Gore contested election, so the series was active though the 911 period, when I imagine New Yorkers became even more acutely interested in exploring the deep questions.
These lectures are all so rich and varied that it would be difficult to summarize even highlights in a blog post. I think the best thing I can do is list the eleven selected discussions included in the book. Each begins with Eric Metaxas’ introduction, proceeds to the 30- to 40-minute talk, and ends with a question and answer period. The title alone was enough to get me to spend 28 bucks for the book (yes in addition to listening to the audiobook I actually bought the book). I’m very glad I did because I will want to read through all of these essays/lectures again. Also, the book includes a bibliography of all the literature of these prolific speakers.
Had I read the list of topics and speakers I might have been willing to spend even more than 28 bucks, maybe for a ticket to New York City. If the very titles of the talks do not whet your appetite to pick up this book, you are probably not going to be interested anyway. I enjoyed every single one of them, but perhaps Father Neuhaus, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Eric Metaxas were my favorites, probably because they spoke on topics that interest me most. I didn’t think I was all that interested in The Importance of Fatherhood but I loved the talk by Paul Vitz. And of course, Paul Kreeft’s topic, Making Sense of Suffering, has always been the key question and will be for as long as humanity as we know it exists.
Belief in God in an Age of Science, Sir John Polkinghorn, FRS, KBE
Making Sense out of Suffering, Peter Kreeft
The Importance of Fatherhood, Paul Vitz
Can an Atheist be a Good Citizen? Fr. Richard John Neuhaus
Who Are We? C.S. Lewis and the Question of Man, Jean Bethke Elshtain
The Good Life: Seeking Purpose, Meaning, and Truth in Your Life, Charles W. Colson
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N.T. Wright
The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, Alister McGrath
The Case for Civility—and Why Our Future Depends on It, Os Guinness
The Language of God: A Believer Looks at the Human Genome, Francis S. Collins, MD, PHD
How Good Confronts Evil: Lessons from the Life and Death of Dietrich Bonheoffer, Eric Metaxas
* * * * * * * *
Socrates in the City: Conversations of “Life, God, and Other Small Topics”, edited by Eric Metaxas. Dutton Adult, 2011.
Socrates in the City: Conversations of “Life, God, and Other Small Topics”, edited by Eric Metaxas. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2011.
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