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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This book was originally published in 1969, yet it remains fresh and relevant today. Truly a critique of secularism, Howard contrasts the "old myth" (where everything meant everything) to the "new myth" (where nothing means anything). In his chapters he takes on different aspects of these contrasting worldviews, from dishrags and borzoi dogs to sex and beyond. From serious subjects to laugh out loud moments. A fairly quick read, but one that could be repeated several times to catch all the insights of a gifted writer who certainly can turn a phrase with the best. Definitely recommended.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Thomas Howard's CHANCE OR THE DANCE? is a little-known modern classic, the sort of book that has changed many lives and is changing them still. In prose that is as beautiful as any you will read, Howard lays out the fundamental question that faces us today, whether to accept a view of the world that says we are extraordinary creatures whose lives have eternal meaning and beauty, or to accept a view that says we are cosmic accidents whose lives have no meaning at all. Simply among the very best books of the latter half of the 20th century.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
Thomas Howard never fails to get me thinking. He also quite often sends me to my dictionary or m-w.com. One of his biggest strengths is his ability to bring meaning to just about any subject.

He spends a whole chapter on poetry, bringing all of his skills as an English professor to bear in his analysis of this monumental work:

One foot up, one foot down,
That's the way to London Town.

I'm not kidding. His insights are actually incredible and if I taught any kind of literature, I would make this chapter required reading for my students.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 25, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It is one thing to look upon the rotting corpse that is secularism today and critique its weaknesses. It is entirely another to take to pen when the victory of secularism over faith seemed almost complete and to announce to the world that the emperor had no clothes. Such was the case when Thomas Howard published his critique of secularism Chance or the Dance? in 1969. A lot has happened since then but the amazing thing in reading the book now is that it could have been written yesterday. In fact, if one does not notice the original publication date, you would probably think it was a recent writing. The reason is simple - Howard focuses on eternal truths and as such their veracity does not change with the winds of popular fashion.

Howard's views the weakness of the secular vision as hinging on the limitations it places upon what subject matter may be cosidered to contribute to our knwledge of the world. Secularism, with its restriction to the natural and its overconfidence in the impartiality of the scientific process, has not eliminated faith but exchanged God for an idol of our own choosing. The author, as an English professor, has a far different and more classical view of knowledge than that supplied by the "conventional wisdom" and explores this in a series of essays that return to a more varied fabric than that advocated by modernity.

For Howard, the dismissal of all strata of proposed knowledge beyond empirical data grossly misunderstands both natural and supernatural. By accepting only "facts" we have eliminated the search for purpose in the universe and reduced "the dance" (the interwoven fabric of existence) to "chance" (the purposeless interaction of matter). In relegating the mythical, poetic, and philosophical (in the classical sense) to the realm of the subjective, we have not only stripped the creation of its wonder but have muffled the call of God's image within each of us.

Even our most intimate moments have been impoverished by the fruit of modernity. Sexuality is meant to be a beautiful gift of the Creator and to be used in accordance with His purpose. But without purpose, it is something either to be relegated to a necessary bow to our barbaric past (as in Victorianism) or it is to be used for our own self-gratification (as promoted in the "sexual revolution"). Either view is a distortion of God's purpose for man and woman and each shows modernism's twin fascinations with the purely intellectual and the purely savage.

The views expressed in Chance or the Dance? are remarkably Catholic (in the general sense) and demonstrate the direction Howard was moving even at this phase of his Christian life. In a sense, the book has proven to be prophetic in that the things that may have seemed an overreaction at the time have over the decaded been shown to be on the mark. This is a memorable work that should be read by all serious Christians.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
Thomas Howard critiques "modern secularism" in a well-written relatively short work that does not pretend to be scholarly. Howard is a master wordsmith: he possesses the uncanny ability to turn unforgettable phrases. Furthermore, his vocabulary exceeds that of the ordinary mortal. Of course, Howard's book was initially published in 1969, so it has a few years under its belt (I was four years old when this work was published). Howard nonetheless effectively analyzes modern secularism although I do not concur with all of his assumptions or methods used in the critique. I will now summarize this work, then mention some of its strengths along with some weaknesses that I perceive in the book.

Chapter One outlines the difference between the so-called "old" and new myth. The old myth (Howard writes) claimed that people had souls, and the cause of mood disorders was considered to be demon-possession, whereas the source of pestilences was divine anger. Additionally, "the earth and sky were full of angelic and demonic conflict" (page 11). These ages are often characterized by the adjective "dark." But Howard informs us that the light eventually came. Or so men and women thought: "It was the light that has lighted us men into a new age" (ibid). In reality, one might characterize the so-called light as the "new myth." In the new enlightened age, Howard points out that miracles, angels, devils, virgin births and the attribution of causes to various gods by means of etiological myths became artifacts of human memory. They were replaced with special relativity, modern inventions, napalm, modern transportation and largely-populated cities. But the most important difference between the old and new myths is that in the old myth, everything meant something; however, in the modern world, nothing means anything. Howard finds this aspect of modern secularism to be extremely problematic.

Howard creatively titles Chapter Two "Of Dishrags and Borzois." The title is fitting since the chapter focuses on the phenomenon of imagination. What accounts for imagination? Why do we craft poems, write songs, spin fantastic tales or make utterances such as "Love is a journey" or "Juliet is the Sun"? Most persons would concede that vivid imagery pervades the human language. Just think of sayings like "He's as stubborn as a mule" or "You couldn't beat your way out of a paper bag." Howard writes: And yet we do it all the time; and it not only strikes us as not doing violence to things; it is positively helpful in heightening our awareness of experience" (24). But he contends that the "new myth" has trouble explaining the prevalence of imagery or the meaning it conveys for rational agents. It's possible that secularism cannot satisfactorily account for the comparisons that are often made between animals and royalty or geometry and mousetraps. Howard develops in some detail, how the borzoi manifests fleetness, and awe-inspiring qualities along with beauty. The borzoi (Howard avers) is a figurative monarch. Why do we often perceive these resemblances in such diverse things?

Chapter Three (entitled "Lunch and Death") deals with the deeper meaning behind gestures like shaking hands, sitting down for lunch or maybe tipping our hats. Why do we shake hands? Why not dance in a circle or wiggle each other's toes? There certainly seems to be no overt utility in shaking hands: it is not a vital necessity of life. So why do it? Maybe anthropology can answer this question by a close examination of human culture. To the contrary, Howard thinks that even if anthropology could tell us how the practice started, it probably could not fully explain why it has remained, long after the putative original significance of shaking hands has become a thing of the past. What we do know is that shaking hands and other similar practices function as rituals. They have underlying meanings which serve important social purposes. We could live without shaking hands or we could do without setting the table for supper. But being fussy about details for a meal or shaking hands (Howard insists) signifies the human recognition of form and meaning in apparently common phenomena.

Chapter Four is probably my favorite part of the book. It represents a brilliant analysis of poetic verse. Howard designates this chapter "One Foot Up, One Foot Down." One contention set forth by Howard is that just as mealtime differs qualitatively from simply gulping down nutritious fodder, so poetry is qualitatively different from everyday language: "For it is in poetry that human speech makes the supreme effort to approximate what our imagination leads us to suspect is, in fact, the way things are" (49-50). Poetry (at least, according to the "old myth") is a manifestation of the way things actually are. Poetry, nursery rhymes, the divine comedy of Dante or the tragedies of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus all communicate perennial truths. Moreover, the iambic pentameter of Wordsworth is no mere accident: without the "midwifery" of poetry, there is much that would be overlooked. Or so the old myth would have it.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Howard's work. He exposes the cracks in modern secularism, elevates the English language like no other writer and helps us to see the remarkable (the sublime) in seemingly mundane things. One criticism that I have of this book, however, is the suggestion that "everything" in this cosmos has some hidden meaning. After all, I believe that some facets of human language are accidental in the sense of being contingent. In this connection, grammatical gender does not always correspond to socio-cultural gender determinations, nor should one read too much into myths about masculine figures representing the Sun or feminine entities signifying the Moon. But Howard seems to be on the right track when he insists that the "new myth" (i.e. nothing means anything) is wrong-headed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"Chance or the Dance" gives an entertaining contrast between modern culture and pre-modern culture. Chapter by chapter, different aspects of culture are contrasted. One of my favorites is a chapter contrasting a Vermeer painting with a Warhol painting of a soup can. A Warhol painting recently sold for $33 million. But the Vermeer shows respect for the meaning of life and the Warhol shows a belief that life is no more meaningful than a soup can. Another chapter showed me the beauty of poetry and an appreciation of the simple act of walking as a delight. The cumulative effect of all these chapters is to show that modern philosophy and modern culture consider nothing meaningful and that we need to return to a pre-modern worldview to find meaning in our lives. All in all, "Chance or the Dance" is a beautiful, sublime, and poetic book that persuades me that modern culture is meaningless and that I need to choose a different worldview.

A good companion book for this one is "The Universe Next Door" by Sire which more explicitly contrasts different worldviews.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If you ever read only one religious book, make it this one. Howard really explains, in terms anyone can understand, why secular humanism is robbing us of the beauty, depth and profound Truths of Christianity. This is the book which set the standard for theological writing. It is a prescient book. It is more true today, in our anti-Christian, secular world, than in 1969 when he wrote it. He had amazing insight into what was to come when we leave Christianity in the rubble of history's great myths.

Sadly, it is even worse than he predicted.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Sharp presentation of two contrasting worldviews, the Christian and the post-modern. Howard has a very visual style, and makes great use of illustrations from art and film. Some original insights.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is definitely a book to read more than once...Very thought provoking, very well written...with humor, and easy to read...Louise3
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
First off, this is a beautifully written book. And that's saying something, today.

Next, Howard offers real insight into the blank heart of modern secularism. He points out that "The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing MEANS anything" (p 12).

To those imbued with Christianity, the fact that there was night and day, life and death--in fact, everything we saw and thought and understood--was part of the fabric of God's creation and it was all charged with meaning.

Against this there is the tragically reduced world of secularism. The narrow, random, agnostic, pointless world we inhabit today.

It is apparent in everything we see. It is apparent in the art we look at, now so suddenly changed from a world of magic, meaning, realism, drama, and intellectual worth, to random scribbles. (Be sure to read Thomas Wolfe's "The Painted Word" on this subject.)

As Howard puts it, "Since the idea of things as images of anything--that is, as having any significant content--had ebbed with the old myth, the artist's concern came to be with form" (p 84) like Warhol and his ugly pointlessly ironic soup cans.

Our architecture is now, as one wag put it, the box the buildings came in.

Our film and our literature is all about angst. "Unlike Lancelot and Guinevere's situation...there is no conflict" (p 103).

Face it. We have lost everything.
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