Religion in the New World: The Shaping of Religious Traditions in the United States
by Richard E. Wentz
Fortress Press, 370 pages, $19.95
Wentz, who teaches religion at Arizona State, set out to give the general reader an accessible overview of the diversities of religion in America. He has succeeded admirably. Clear, straightforward, balanced, and sympathetic—those are some of the adjectives that readily come to mind. Puritans, Fundamentalists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Jews, and adherents of Asian religions will all find themselves fairly represented here. For the reader who wants a reliable introduction to the worlds of religion in America, Religion in the New World is the book to suggest. Certainly a copy belongs in every parish or synagogue library.
Naming the Silences: God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering
by Stanley Hauerwas
Eerdmans, 154 pages, $9.95
Hauerwas, a frequent contributor to this journal, takes on the perennial questions of human suffering, but from a decidedly different perspective. In these three extended essays, he plumbs both personal experience and literary accounts of human suffering—especially the illness and death of children. Hauerwas challenges conventional “theodicies”—attempts to justify the ways of God to man—because they begin, he argues, with a universalistic notion of an omnipotent deity that is alien to biblical faith. Building on the work of the late Paul Ramsey (especially his Patient as Person), Hauerwas contends that medical technique must be subordinated and integrated into human stories. If we fail to do that, he contends, medicine itself becomes a kind of ersatz theodicy. Hauerwas is here in sympathetically critical conversation with Daniel Callahan and others who urge a sharp distinction between medical care and medical cure. Like Callahan, the author believes we should come to accept the concept of a “natural life span.” Unlike Callahan, who Hauerwas thinks perpetuates central myths of liberal individualism, he argues that one's natural life story is not defined by control and satisfaction but by continuing discovery in obedience to transcendent purpose. With Naming the Silences, Stanley Hauerwas adds to a prodigious corpus of work that reinforces his standing as one of the most challenging moral theologians of our time.