Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger
By Elzbieta Ettinger
Yale University Press, 139 pages, $16
This slight volume has become the occasion of a media uproar. But the text is really too puny to sustain serious debate about how deep runs Hannah Arendt's philosophical indebtedness to Heidegger, or how tainted Heidegger's philosophy is by his muddled embrace of National Socialism. Rousseau abandoned his five children to foundling hospitals (and likely early death), but I daresay no thinking person would urge that we therefore burn Emile—although we may rightly think less of its author. Heidegger behaved horribly in the 1930s and offered no public condemnations of National Socialism in the postwar years. But these facts do not tell us either that there is a connection with his philosophy or that there isn't. The easiest interpretation of a thinker is either to collapse his person into his thought or separate them entirely, but easy interpretations don't seem right here—for either Heidegger or Arendt. Arendt's intellectual debt to Heidegger is clear—she credits him for the philosophical framework of The Human Condition and other works. But this acknowledgment itself suggests that Heidegger's thought is compatible with a variety of political commitments, for Arendt was an antifascist and a great lover of the American revolution and founding. The moral high ground is very crowded these days, however, and points like this are not the ones seized upon by controversialists out for a cheap moral victory over Hannah Arendt. One newspaper called Ettinger's breathless tale a “Holocaust Scandal”; Eli Wiesel branded Arendt “arrogant” for daring to “forgive” Heidegger. Those of us at less Empyrean heights are left to ponder once again the complexities of human love. The affair and friendship seem mawkish at points, tawdry at others, and yet oddly affecting as well. So why the lynch mob? Perhaps great women thinkers are permitted fewer foibles and lapses than men, for the only charge against Arendt is that she loved wrongly and befriended badly. There is a good bit less in the Heidegger/Arendt relation than the press or Ettinger would have it. But there is a good bit more as well: an occasion to muse on the perplexities of friendship in a terrible and tumultuous time.
—Jean Bethke Elshtain
Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit: The Place of Zen in Christian Life
By Robert E. Kennedy
Continuum, 144 pages, $15.95
Robert Kennedy is a Jesuit, ordained in 1965 and so of the generation whose coming of age coincided with Vatican II. The Church into which he was ordained was soon transformed liturgically almost beyond recognition, and this transformation took from him, with anguish, the form of Catholicism with which he had grown up and which he had expected to last. For Kennedy, that loss has been partly made good by the study and practice of Zen Buddhism. He has become a sensei, an authorized teacher and transmitter of Zen, and he understands this not as a replacement of his Catholic Christianity but rather as a new way of being Catholic. He is still a Jesuit and sees no tension or difficulty in bearing and representing both traditions. His book is partly a spiritual autobiography and partly a set of meditations on the spiritual life. It contains much good sense about prayer and meditation, and occasional passages of beauty and profundity. It is the work of a deeply thoughtful and compassionate man, and yet it is also full of pathos: in it, the Church is a supplicant, rudderless and poverty-stricken, seeking instruction in begging from Buddhists. She has nothing to offer and much to learn, and although Kennedy makes a spiritual virtue of this, it is difficult not to feel in it the agony of loss. Vatican II had many effects, not all of them expected; this book, and others like it, are an instance.
—Paul J. Griffiths
A World Religions Reader
Edited by Ian S. Markham
Blackwell, 368 pages, $54.95 cloth
A fine collection of basic texts woven together with informed and eminently readable commentary. High school teachers and those responsible for introductory college courses in religious studies will want to give this book a careful look.
Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America
By Mark Silk
University of Illinois Press, 183 pages, $19.95
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is where the author works, and he has obviously been paying close attention to both religion reporters and their critics. On balance, this somewhat sanguine analysis is on the side of the reporters. He offers suggestive proposals on the story lines (he calls them “topoi”) that dominate the reporting of religion and how they might be stretched to include more of religion as it is understood and experienced by the religious.
John Hume, Peacemaker
By George Drower
Victor Gollancz, 221 pages, $29.95
An admiring profile of a Northern Ireland political leader who has been admirable in his steady hand and head throughout “the troubles.” Hume is much more the leader of Catholics in the North than is the IRA's Gerry Adams, who is so undeservedly lionized in this country. Hume should be better known here. (Available from Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret, Vermont 05053.)
Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage
By Gerard B. Wegemer
Scepter (Princeton, NJ), 307 pages, $24.95
The English Prayers of Sir Thomas More
Templegate (Springfield, IL 62705), approx. 100 pages, $9.95 paper
Except for Abraham Lincoln, probably no political figure has inspired the Christian moral imagination more than Thomas More. It is hardly surprising, then, that More continues to inspire new scholarship and publication. A case in point is Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage by Gerard B. Wegemer. Wegemer, a devoted More scholar teaching at the University of Dallas, has produced an admiring and stylistically winsome profile in courage. This short book is itself very handsome and is elaborately annotated, which makes it not only a fine introduction to More but also to the vast literature about More. At the end of his life, More frequently expressed the desire to “be merry together in heaven” with those who were set upon destroying him, and Wegemer persuasively argues that this essential good humor was grounded in his supreme confidence that “All things work for good for those who love the Lord,” even if they didn't love Thomas More. Also worth noting is The English Prayers of Sir Thomas More, which includes the prayers written while in the Tower of London in 1534, plus the Treatise on the Eucharist. Handsomely printed, this makes a very nice gift item for friends.
Saying Goodbye to Daniel: When Death Is the Best Choice
By Juliet Cassuto Rothman
Continuum, 180 pages, $18.95
The author recounts the days following the injury of her son in a car wreck—an injury that led the author and her husband at last to agree to kill the young man by the removal of medical life support. Consolation exists where one finds it; far be it from these pages to complain when a mother finds solace for her grief. But this is not a good book: it drapes the reality of sorrow in a blanket of sociological jargon; it muffles the fact of death in a quilted comforter of moralizing about the right to die. To the pain of losing a son, anything—pagan rage, Stoic self-containment, Christian hope—is a better response than this arrangement in which a mother can be consoled only if other mothers terminate life support for their sons as well.
Changing Witness: Catholic Bishops and Public Policy 1917-1994
By Michael Warner
Eerdmans, 202 pages, $20 paper
The author, who earned his doctorate in history under Martin E. Marty at the University of Chicago, offers an intelligently critical overview of the changing ways in which the U.S. bishops have attempted to address public policy questions, from the National Catholic War Council in the World War I era to today's National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and its operating arm, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC). In the first decades under study, the bishops tracked more or less closely papal social doctrine, especially that of Leo XIII and Pius XI, with its strong attachment to natural law and an organic view of society. This changed dramatically with Vatican Council II, and especially with the widespread theological rebellion against the 1968 encyclical on human sexuality, Humanae Vitae. According to Warner, natural law was largely jettisoned in favor of secular notions of equality and liberation. The notion of justice found in Aristotle and Thomas, the rightly ordered society with each contributing to the common good, was displaced by justice defined as the battle against inequalities and the meeting of needs. Warner provides a helpful guide to the controversies over the two major pastoral letters of the 1980s, one on world peace and the other on the American economy, and argues that both—especially “The Challenge of Peace”—rested on ideological foundations that have been decisively discredited. Throughout the bishops' “changing witness,” abortion has had a stated primacy among NCCB concerns but its importance has in fact been sharply relativized by being joined to a farrago of other issues—presented in the name of a “consistent life ethic”—and this has consistently weighted the bishops' witness toward the left of the political spectrum. Warner clearly does not share the political biases of the bishops conference, but his more telling point is that missing from the many statements is any clear theological witness to Christ as the fulfillment of the human project. This is in sharpest contrast to the social encyclicals and other teaching documents of the pontificate of John Paul II, which Warner says the U.S. bishops should emulate. Because of the bureaucratic structure of NCCB-USCC, the political prejudices of those in charge, and the inability of individual bishops to give in-depth attention to the statements that go out in their name, Warner is not at all hopeful that the problems described in Changing Witness will be effectively addressed any time soon.
Saints and Schemers: Opus Dei and Its Paradoxes
By Joan Estruch
Oxford University Press, 302 pages, $30
This peculiar book was prompted by the suggestion of our colleague Peter Berger that Mr. Estruch should pursue his hunch that the role of Opus Dei in the modernization of Spain (under and after Franco) might suggest some interesting variations on Max Weber's well-known argument about capitalism and the Protestant ethic. As Estruch got into his project, however, Weber and social theory quickly took a back seat to the author's interest in how the members of Opus Dei have regularly engaged in radical historical revisionism in telling the story of the organization and its founder, Blessed Josemaria Escriva (who died in 1975 and was beatified by John Paul II in 1992). The author insists that his is not simply another attack on Opus Dei, but he does not successfully conceal his deep suspicion of the movement. Nonetheless, he does make valuable contributions in showing how Escriva and his followers changed their purposes after the founding of Opus (which Estruch says was in 1939, not in 1928, as the official story has it), and in demonstrating the excesses—if not outright prevarications—indulged by Escriva's hagiographers. Of particular interest is the author's tracing of the roots of the long-standing enmity between Opus and the Jesuits. According to Estruch, the Jesuits in Spain were the true reactionaries who were threatened by the renewalist efforts of Escriva and his companions to challenge the long-standing Jesuit monopoly on tutoring the powerful and promising of Spanish society. In Spain and elsewhere, the Jesuits today have largely abdicated that role, as well as their status as the “shock troops” of the papacy, and Opus has replaced them on both scores. Opus members will not be pleased, however, with Estruch's further argument that there was very little that was original in Blessed Josemaria's vision, a great deal of it having been stolen from the Jesuits. Only toward the end does Estruch get a bit hysterical when he suggests that Opus may be exercising undue influence over this pontificate. He notes that Opus people and John Paul II frequently use the same vocabulary, which is hardly surprising since they're both seriously Catholic. As for Max Weber, Estruch adds to a thousand others yet another demonstration that Protestantism has no monopoly on the spirit of capitalism. The book is of interest, however, for what it says about the history and current self-understandings of Opus Dei, quite apart from sociological theory.
A Short History of American Catholicism
By Martin E. Marty
Thomas More, 231 pages, $10.95
Pretty much what the title says. A useful and sympathetic overview by one of the leading Protestant observers of the religious scene. Marty's usual light touch does not fail him as he limns the possible and promising at the beginning of Catholicism's next half millennium in North America.
Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification
By R.C. Sproul
Baker, 221 pages, $15.99
Sproul has been the foremost theological polemicist against “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” the document initiated by Charles Colson and R. J. Neuhaus and issued in the spring of 1994. While Sproul's rigorist position has isolated him from many evangelical colleagues and contributed to his departure from Reformed Theological Seminary in Florida, he is also viewed by others as a champion of Protestant orthodoxy doing battle with Protestants who have gone soft on Catholicism. The present book, including a glossary of Latin terms for the layman, is a useful exposition of a Calvinist sixteenth-century understanding of justification. Sproul's argument is deeply flawed by an unwillingness to credit both Catholic and Protestant theological developments since then. If Sproul's view of justification by faith alone really does define the true church, it is a fast shrinking church, as he seems to acknowledge in his wistful reflections on the decline of what he believes to be authentic Protestantism. A brittle, bitter, and finally very sad book.
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down
By Marva J. Dawn
Eerdmans, 316 pages, $16.95 paper
An insightful treatment of the “worship wars” that afflict many Protestant denominations and are being felt also among Catholics. The author's theological analysis is serious but accessible, and she provides much-needed help in understanding why worship that is really the worship of God cannot be compromised to the goal of “church growth.” No friend of traditionalism, Dawn knows the most astute appreciation of contemporary culture cannot be a substitute for a solid grounding in authentic Christian tradition. An important book.
Truth on Trial: Liberal Education Be Hanged
By Robert K. Carlson
Crisis (Washington, D.C.), 201 pages, $13.95 paper
Inveighing he does go, through the rotten fields of contemporary higher education. But it is more often than not a delight to follow an author who does not lose his style when he gets his dander up. The story turns around the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, which was an enormous success and therefore focused the wrath of the peddlers of the truth that there is no truth. The author says he was inspired by Bill Bennett, who said, “Get mad and get in the fight.” Carlson has unquestionably acted upon that counsel, with the result that a good many others may be moved to go and do likewise.
Dance of a Fallen Monk
By George Fowler
Addison-Wesley, 310 pages, $23
In a long line of escape-from-the-convent tales, the new twist is to discover the inner child or, in Mr. Fowler's case, the “inner dance” that had for so long been oppressed by the horrors of organized religion (the subtitle is “The Twists and Turns of a Spiritual Life,” and the allegedly awful religion the author encountered was in a Trappist monastery). We are told that he suffered “excommunication from the Catholic Church for marrying a nun,” which is not and has never been grounds for excommunication. Whatever the reason for his excommunication, if in fact he was excommunicated, Mr. Fowler wants the world to know that he is extremely pleased with his discovery of his authentic self. He writes, “This book is about everybody's dance.” Not quite.
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences
By Norman Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie
Baker, 538 pages, $24.99 paper
One of several volumes prompted from the evangelical Protestant side by the 1994 declaration, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” Inevitably, different readers will think the authors are too critical or too sympathetic toward Roman Catholicism, but they manifestly strive to be fair. The book can be warmly recommended to study groups including Protestants and Catholics, with the proviso that the Catechism of the Catholic Church be kept close at hand.
Handbook of Denominations in the United States
By Frank S. Mead
Abingdon, 352 pages, $15.95
The tenth edition of a once-over-lightly but generally reliable guide to background, membership, and polity of the maddening variety of churches in the U.S. The bias is touchingly Protestant. The Unitarian Universalist Association, with less than two hundred thousand members, gets 4.3 pages; the United Church of Christ, with 1.5 million, gets eleven pages; the Methodists, with thirteen million in the U.S. and eighteen million worldwide, get thirteen pages; and the Roman Catholic Church, with sixty million in the U.S. and a billion worldwide, gets 7.5 pages. The entry on the last concludes with the jejune observation, “These are indeed tense and critical times for this historic church.”
Cosmos in the Chaos:
Philip Schaff's Interpretation of Nineteenth-Century American Religion
By Stephen Graham
Eerdmans, 266 pages, $22 paper
Schaff was the foremost Protestant church historian in the late nineteenth century and something of an ecumaniac (to use a much later term). He envisioned a “glorious union” of the churches in which Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy would play a leading role in what he viewed as an essentially Protestant (and Reformed) culture. Schaff affirmed an “evangelical catholic” Christianity that still resonates in some circles today.
The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer Disease
By Stephen G. Post
Johns Hopkins University Press, 143 pages, $29.95
An intelligent and morally informed treatment of dementia in the aged, of which Alzheimer Disease is the most publicized. Post, who teaches ethics at Case Western Reserve, offers practical counsel and a hopeful approach to possible cures. Throughout, his argument is against “preemptive suicide” and other steps that let families and physicians abandon their obligation to care.
Let Us Pray: A Plea for Prayer in Our Schools
By William J. Murray
Morrow, 205 pages, $20
On behalf of her son, Madalyn Murray O'Hair took her war against school prayer to the Supreme Court, and in June of 1963 she won. Now her son, a committed Christian, argues for the restoration of voluntary prayer in the public schools. He makes the case in an informed but popular manner that many will no doubt find persuasive as the Congress acts to restore school prayer.