Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Big Fat Read

The Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett

This is one of my favorite types of books - a great big story that covers several decades and which the reader can just sink into and get lost in for a couple of weeks. I read this on our vacation the last two weeks of July and was completely absorbed. I had never read any Ken Follett - he is normally a thriller writer - but this book had received so much acclaim that I was curious about it. It would hardly qualify as your basic forgettable airport page turner, but in my opinion it is much better. There is enough action and excitement to keep things moving, but also lots of interesting writing about architecture, monastic life, and church history.

There are times in our post modern society that I get irritated with organized religion. I believe that we are too quick to capitulate to cultural pressures and not courageous enough when it comes to repairing societal inequities. However, one only needs to read The Pillars of the Earth to appreciate how far we have come. The corruption and hubris of some of the medieval bishops and higher church officers is just astounding. I have read enough church history to know that although this is a work of fiction, the self promotion and downright evil of some of the leaders in the church during that period of time was all too real.

I was struck by the hypocrisy of the 12-century church. Bishops would court kings for their own gain, and would conspire in murders and other brutality to advance their own agenda. By contrast, the laws for common people were terribly rigid, and the theology centered around an angry God who was quick to punish and slow to forgive. Clearly, such a theology was a way of controlling people's lives and forcing them to conform to the church's view of how the world ought to be. The Pillars of the Earth is set about three centuries before the Reformation, so there was still a lot of waking up to be done before people could start to determine some of their own beliefs and practices.

The Pillars of the Earth made me think about heavy subjects, but it is extremely readable and entertaining. I loved the discussion of architecture as an art form, and the way the early cathedrals were built to focus people on the heavens. Whenever you are looking for a book that you can sink into and immerse yourself in for several days, consider picking this one up. You will not regret it.

Reverent Reader


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