Mealtime books: September 2018 - Mucknell Abbey
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Mealtime books: September 2018

At best a monkey shaved?


Eating in silence while listening to a book being read aloud is a practice found in Chapter 38 of the Rule of St Benedict. About once a month, depending on their length, we will be posting very short reviews of these mealtime books for anyone who may be on the lookout for recommendations.


Ask the Beasts

Elizabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (Bloomsbury, 2014) 

An interesting mix of biography, pseudo-scientific, theological and political discussion on the nature of the crisis of climate change.

The book seeks to create a dialogue between Darwin’s Origin of Species and the development of theological thought on creation and proposes a move away from the concept of stewardship towards one of mutual interplay between humans and the rest of creation in which we all as nature are interdependent and reflect the glory of God.The book begins with a short biographical account of Darwin’s early years, which was fascinating and provided a background to the Origin of Species in which early publications he still refer to a supreme being, before discussing the theory itself. It provided much ground for personal reflection as the link between creation and evolution by natural selection became apparent and this only lead to a greater wonder of God rather than a reduction in the power of the creator.

The author then goes through different modes of theological thought on creation before proposing her own approach, all of which provides interesting material for discussion. The political element of the damage we are doing as humans and how traditional models of stewardship and dominion may have played a significant role in distorting our understanding of the world to the point of potentially creating a crisis of mass extinction provided much pause for thought and encourages a response.

Overall quite an interesting read leading to a new outlook and fresh understanding of God and creation. Br Adrian


Idiot Brain

Dean Burnett, The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head Is Really Up To (W.W Norton, 2016)

Given the paucity of scientific interest in the usual run of monastic mealtime reading, this was an impulse choice which promised to be informative without blinding us, and it lived up to that promise.

With simple references to brain structure, and meticulous ones to the work of other neuroscientists and behaviourists, the author takes a fascinating look at a sweep of brain functions, from body regulation and the senses, to memory and fear. More speculative chapters consider what we might mean by intelligence or personality and what we know of the brain activity that affects these. In the later part of the book he looks, more ominously, at how our social priorities can cause the brain to ignore the data it receives, and how neural processes can result in depression, addiction or breakdown. What we had not expected was the amount of entertainment in the book, from humourous turns of phrase to apt and strikingly realistic examples of human behaviour.

A central theme is the complexity of the brain, and the intriguing way that different functions can reinforce or inhibit each other, sometimes betraying our more primitive instincts. As the author says of this human organ: “Impressive, isn’t it? But also a bit stupid”.

A very good read. Abbot Thomas