Book Review: Uncle Sam’s Plantation by Star Parker

Star Parker argues in this book that poverty is too complicated to be fixed by government programs. Parker herself was once poor and took advantage of welfare programs, but she climbed out of poverty through hard work and determination. The two great heroes of this book are freedom and personal responsibility, and the two great villains are what Parker calls liberalism and moral relativism.

I found Parker’s telling of her own story to be inspiring, and there were some parts of the book that I agreed with. On the whole, however, I didn’t care for this book. Here’s why:

1. Parker is not civil toward those with whom she disagrees. In fact, she treats them with disdain. She calls the practice of repeating a lie over and over until it is believed a “time-honored liberal tactic” (56). She rails against “liberal ideologues in the halls of power” (105) and “mainstream media elites” (173). She says that on the Left, “facts will never get in the way of ideology” (187). I think that the lack of civility between disagreeing parties is a major problem, and Parker’s language does not help. I was tired of it well before the end of the book.

2. Parker relies too much on rhetoric to make some of her points. I agree with her that moral relativism is a problem, but does moral relativism really lead to plane hijackings (41)? I think there was a lot wrong with the worldview of the 9/11 hijackers, but I would argue that moral relativism was not the primary issue.

3. Parker could have used a better copy editor. There are too many examples of typos and mangled sentences to list here.

4. At the basic level, Parker is arguing for moralism, not Christianity. She talks about “biblical truths” and “absolute guidelines” (98). She talks about “faith” and “ethics” (129) and an “absolute moral code” (134). She talks about “moral and spiritual” solutions (165). She says that the Old Testament law was about family, property and ownership, and “being concerned about building your own and not what your neighbor has” (223).

This, as a Christian, was what disappointed me most about this book. If Parker is to be believed, being a Christian is about being a good person and following rules. This is a mistake that a lot of people make, but it is still a mistake. Parker never mentions Jesus’ death on the cross, never mentions forgiveness of sins, never mentions grace and mercy, never mentions the resurrection, and never mentions that the Old Testament law was about God’s holiness. Parker seems to think that the solution to poverty is moralism: people behaving better. I think that morality is better than immorality, but please let’s not confuse being a good moral person with genuine Christianity.

If you are conservative and you are interested in feeling good about being conservative, then this is the book for you (it got blurbs from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity). If you are liberal, Parker’s characterizations of your position will probably make you angry. If you are a Christian who is genuinely interested in finding out how you and your church can help the poor, don’t bother reading this book. One book I’ve read recently that I’d recommend instead is Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller.

Note: Thanks to Thomas Nelson for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review. And clearly, I didn’t.

Book Review: William F. Buckley (Christian Encounters Series)

This is the second book that I have read in the Christian Encounters series from Thomas Nelson, and I must admit that the idea behind the series is a good one: short biographies of well-known people, with an emphasis on their Christian faith. The first book in this series that I read was Peter Leithart’s biography of Jane Austen.

I chose to read Jeremy Lott’s treatment of William F. Buckley because I wanted to know more about Buckley. All I knew was that he was a conservative, a writer, and the founder and editor of National Review. The book certainly did introduce me to Buckley: I learned about his wealthy Catholic upbringing, his time at Yale, his initial writing success, the founding of National Review, his unsuccessful campaign for mayor of New York and how his TV show Firing Line got its start, among other things.

Though the book did teach me about Buckley, I was put off by Lott’s writing. He alternately gushes about Buckley and criticizes those whom he (Lott) dislikes. He calls the announcement of Buckley’s campaign for mayor of New York “legendary” (70). Legendary to whom, exactly? He says that Buckley’s responses to journalists during the announcement of his candidacy “only fueled their cynicism” (74) – without citing any evidence for this opinion. He never wastes an opportunity to slight Garry Wills, whom he says “ended up endorsing just about any old liberal position you could think of” (47) – again, without citing any evidence.

Now, I expect biographers to have a certain affection for their subjects. And I suppose Lott has lots of reasons for criticizing the people he criticizes. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Lott never wastes an opportunity to inject his opinions into Buckley’s story. He never gives his readers the chance to make their own judgments, and I ended up wanting more Buckley and less Lott. I’d read more Buckley in a heartbeat, but I’ll have to think twice before I read anything else by Lott.