Happy are you Poor, by Thomas Dubay

July 29, 2011 at 01:27 (Book Reviews, Poorly Rated Books, Theology) (, , , , )

2/10

There is a lot of praise that could be offered for this book, and an awful lot of bad things that could be said about it. Frankly, it is indigestible, unlikeable and supercilious; and though it does say quite a few very true (and by necessity unpopular) things, the air of pomposity and the snooty attitude poisons it quite badly. The old adage about eating the meat and spitting out the bones seems made for this book, but after Dubay’s pedantry washes over the reader for the umpteenth time, the metaphor loses some power; and eating skinny, bone-filled food gets tiresome after a while.

Dubay has a frustrating tendency to reassure readers that he isn’t the one to tell them what the spiritual poverty looks like in their personal circumstances, only to do exactly that (usually followed by a choice example of this saint or that mystic, who was effortlessly able to show us all up and do things right). His overarching argument appears to at odds with his general methodology, and after a few chapters of this sort of thing it all starts to feel rather cynical.

“The saints actually are the best examples we have of biblical exegesis.”

-Happy are you Poor

At the same time, the book is hard to criticise because it does point out several incredibly valuable scriptural principles, commands and recommendations that any serious Christian reader would do well to note. It is just a pity that Dubay’s lamentation in the first few pages that nobody else writes about this subject is (largely) true. The world is badly in need of a book on poverty of spirit and freedom from materialism that is realistic where he is fantastic, winsome where he is condemning, helpful where he waxes philosophical and (dare it be said?) relevant where he drifts off into storytales about saints ritually abusing themselves.

The most incongruous section of this troublesome book comes from his final chapter, “Joy”, which flies in the face of his melodramatic litanies of men and women who seemed not to be seeking the joy of the Lord, but instead physical pain and discomfort. In a spectacularly Orwellian twist, Dubay seems to imply that only through abject misery and self-mutilation can any form of happiness be found. This and many of the examples included in this book are highly questionable, and readers will wonder loudly how compatible they are with the joy that he so readily proclaims. Yet it must be said that to many, even the slighest morsel of meat in this book, in amidst the bones, might stave off spiritual starvation and point towards the sort of New Testament Christianity that is so unfashionable in the world, uncomfortable to the flesh, and vital for a relationship with Jesus.

Perhaps there is a filleted edition out there somewhere…

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1 Comment

  1. Hannah said,

    Oh, J. H., your devastating review has caused me to consider actually reading this book. I will be profoundly shocked if it is half as bad as you claim. Yours truly, Hannah

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