Chance or the Dance: A Review

“The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything. Thomas Howard~

Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism by Thomas Howard
is a book for those searching for meaning in life–for an alternative to the secular view that we are here by chance and live without lasting significance.

It is also a book for those of us who already believe in God. We know His presence. And we see His work in the world around us. We ponder His ways and see in them the meaning that infuses every moment of our lives. 

Howard explains this way of looking at the world:

“It is a way of looking at things that goes farther than saying this is like that: it says that both this and that are instances of way things are. The sun pours energy into the earth and the man pours energy into the woman because that is how fruit begins–by the union of one thing and the other” (Howard’s emphasis).

Howard points out that, in spite of the world’s acceptance of the new myth, deep within ourselves, the old myth lives on. It is part of us–and we can only pretend to deny it. 

Everything has meaning.

Howard analyzes our partiality for poetry and art, the rhythms and patterns of language and image. The new myth presents a common experience in “order and harmony and serenity, and hence joy [as] a most rewarding fiction” without meaning. The old myth presents the “supreme reality: the way things are.” And that way is full of meaning.

We act out the old myth through a ceremony of meals that we mark by setting the table and arranging the food on the plate in an orderly way.

And we embrace freedom, which is more than “mere self-determination . . . [which would be] tragically limiting.” “Your freedom in the Dance is to be able to execute your steps with power and grace, not to decide what you feel like doing.”

Howard’s book is a delight. It was originally published in 1969–at the height of the sexual revolution. Yet it comes to us in this second edition with a foreword by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas read the book as a new Christian in 1988 and calls it “a kind of prose symphony” and a “rambling yet manicured and sweeping lawn” full of things “you will simply never forget.” 

It’s a book you’ll want to read slowing–to savor the ideas–since such beauty is not to be rushed–as in fruit taken too soon from a vine. 

And through your savoring, may you come to the Dance–to the idea that all we do has meaning now and into eternity.

“In this view, there is no hiatus between what we are given to do in life and what life is ‘really about.’ There . . . a synonymity. All this commonplace stuff is what life is really about.”

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27 Replies to “Chance or the Dance: A Review”

  1. Good thoughts, Nancy. Having studied nihilism, the emptiness of a life devoid of meaning was enough to make me hate it and fear it. I’ve never heard of this book but it sounds great. Our world clearly needs the hope that a theistic worldview brings, particularly the Christian one. If life were meaningless why the yearning to search for meaning? Only the vestige of the old myth could cause that. Great post.

    1. That’s exactly right, Chip. Those who embrace nihilism because they want to dance in their own way. Even so, they live like life means something–because it does. Thanks and God bless!

  2. Wow Nancy,

    This does sound like an interesting book. Love this quote, “Your freedom in the Dance is to be able to execute your steps with power and grace, not to decide what you feel like doing.”

    Planning to read!

  3. Thanks for the review. It is so wonderful to get recommendations and comments about a book to try. So often, I find myself staring at all the books on shelves and wondering what ones would be good. So reviews like this help me.

  4. I’ve never heard of this book! I’ll definitely have to add it to my list. I love seeing book reviews like these so that I know what to watch for when reading for myself. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I think I shall dance, Nancy. That, by far, sounds most fulfilling. As a Christian Apologist, I cannot tell you how many times I run into secularists who just think all of this—life—is nothing but chance. How they continue to live fulfilled lives with that worldview baffles me! May we always see life as the Dance of the Designer, one who loves us and desires to dance throughout eternity with us. Great book review – I have this on my wish list now! Blessings to you, Lisa Q

  6. The reality that everything we do has meaning is both liberating and uplifting for those of us who live mostly out of the public eye. My life is quiet. For decades it’s been rooted at home but it wasn’t quiet, but now one day flows into the next, each filled with silence and contemplation.

    I’d like to add this book to my To Be Read pile, so I can “savor the ideas–since such beauty is not to be rushed–as in fruit taken too soon from a vine.” The swelling warm rush of comprehension that deepens and grows, of gaining eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that feels, cannot be hurried. It is the Lord’s patient work of revealing himself in each and every beautiful thing.

    “And through your savoring, may you come to the Dance–to the idea that all we do has meaning now and into eternity.” I want to dance this particular Dance all my days. Every day and every thing, every breath and every action – even giving a drink to a small child – is filled with meaning in God’s eyes. Slowing down allows us to see him. Thank you for this book referral!

  7. Hi Nancy,

    Ebook reading and writing both need lot of patience. I believe in God and I also believe that every person believe in God in his own way. I also like finding the best way to improve life.

    Glad you shared this.

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