edited by allen d. hertzke
oxford, 386 pages, $29.95
In matters of religious freedom, we seem to be living in the best and the worst of times. The best, because an abstract, propositional assent to religious freedom as a fundamental human right has never been more widely embraced, and codified in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet also the worst, because that abstract assent seems to have diminishing influence over the actual condition of religious freedom in the world, which has markedly deteriorated in the past two decades. Accounting for this paradox, and finding realistic ways to address it, is the goal of this volume of essays, featuring a lively array of eminent contributors from all over the world, including Gerard Bradley and Thomas Farr, who are well known toFirst Things readers. It is a judicious and thought-provoking collection, deserving of a wide audience.
The book’s contents range from a consideration of the status (often eroding) of international legal protections for religious exercise, to a series of diverse case studies of how religious “markets” operate (or are kept from operating) in various countries. It concludes with a powerful critique of the growing tendency of governing elites in the Western democracies to reject the advancement of religious freedom as an integral feature of an effective foreign policy, out of an unfortunate combination of secularist blindness and reflexive avoidance.
Taken together, the essays teach the importance of attending to the specific historical processes by which religious freedom is realized in each particular place. One size does not fit all; one Declaration cannot change the world. The challenges to genuine religious freedom in Turkey or China are quite different from those faced by the non-Orthodox in Putin’s Russia or by citizens of the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe, let alone the Muslims of India.
Of particular interest are the book’s four chapters dealing with the problems and prospects of bringing contemporary Islam to a fuller embrace of religious freedom. One Turkish contributor, Recep ?entürk, insists that Islam has ample theological resources for sustaining a robust doctrine of religious liberty, but others warn that the social experience of Islam indicates the need for caution and countervailing force. In the years ahead, much will hang on which side of that argument has a greater portion of the truth.
Wilfred M. McClay, a member of First Things’ advisory council, is the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma.
by geoffrey treasure
yale, 488 pages, $35
In many ways, France’s first Protestants, the Huguenots, were “more puritan than the (English) Puritans” in both doctrine and morals. Although they were never able to make France a Calvinist country (as their coreligionists did in Scotland and elsewhere), they did in the 1560s and 1570s attract between 7 and 10 percent of the French population, including a slight majority of the nobility, as well as seven of the 114 Catholic bishops.
Geoffrey Treasure, a retired senior master at Harrow School in England, has produced a long, detailed, immensely readable study of the Huguenots, clearly aimed at a wider potential audience than academics. Knotty questions and complex details are usually relegated to the endnotes.
The Huguenots were able forcibly to resist the attempts of crown and Church alike to suppress them, and then to win a broad degree of religious toleration, unequalled anywhere else in Europe but Poland, through the Edict of Nantes in 1598. There followed a half-century or more during which the Huguenots enjoyed a broad measure of prosperity, respect, and even acceptance in Catholic France.
Louis XIV’s revocation of the edict in 1685 was followed by a massive flight of some 200,000 Protestants from France, and renewed persecution at home met with a sustained guerilla uprising in the rural area of the Cévennes in the early years of the eighteenth century, which diverted French military forces at a critical moment from their struggle against foreign enemies. French Protestantism continued to exist underground until, in 1787, Louis XVI’s Edict of Versailles granted religious toleration to Protestants (Calvinists and Lutherans) and Jews.
The author has a decided sympathy for the Huguenots (but also a distaste for Calvinist theology and the crusading zeal it inspired), and although he does not seem to have the same degree of sympathy for the “Catholic party,” his treatment of the seventeenth-century French Catholic revival and of Jansenism’s role as a bridge by which significant numbers of leading Huguenots crossed over to Catholicism is masterful. He is also aware of the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the Huguenots’ self-conception as “God’s chosen people.”
Anyone with an interest in the Huguenots would be well advised to turn to this book for a full account of their origins and early history.
William Tighe is associate professor of history at Muhlenberg College.
by nathan schneider
university of california, 272 pages, $34.95
In his historical tour of the proofs for and against God’s existence, Nathan Schneider, a journalist and activist whose last work treated the Occupy movement, unfolds the story of provers and their arguments from the ancient Greeks through medieval Muslims to today’s analytic philosophers and New Atheists.
The chapters are divided roughly chronologically, with a bent toward categorical themes. Schneider sketches the historical development of various categories within the proof genre as thinkers on both sides create, critique, and reinvent arguments in an ongoing debate spanning centuries. He categorizes these proofs and disproofs as cosmological, dialectical, historical, ontological, phenomenological, sociological, teleological, and transcendental.
His tour culminates in a description of the modern resurgence of Christian philosophy among today’s most eminent philosophers engaging with the New Atheists. Isolated individual philosophers have given way to an apologetics movement that has become an industry in itself.
Schneider helpfully presents these philosophical controversies within the context of each philosopher’s life and shows the personal nature of the search for truth. He challenges readers not only to weigh the proofs but to determine the proper relationship between intellectual argument and heartfelt belief.
Closing on a personal note, Schneider says that however urgent the search for proofs or disproofs may seem amid current controversies, we may not find a conclusive argument that settles the matter forever. Instead, arguments carry people toward one side or the other as individuals confront pressing questions and find profound answers. Relayed in non-technical language, God in Proof challenges the casual and the experienced philosopher alike to engage with historical arguments as they make their own quest for truth.
Timothy Jacobs is an M.Div. student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
by nadia bolz-weber
jericho books, 206 pages, $22
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a hip, tattoo-clad, foul-mouthed, formerly alcoholic pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America who heads a start-up congregation in urban Denver. She has received attention in the national pressa November profile in the Washington Post declared her representative of “a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity” that “speaks to fed-up believers.”
In this profanity-laced autobiography/ministry study, Bolz-Weber narrates her own upbringing in a male-dominated Church of Christ congregation; her eventual alcoholism, drug use, and promiscuity; and ultimately, her recovery, conversion, and decision to enter the ministry as a pastor to the “spiritual but not religious.” In Pastrix, she examines her own vulnerabilities and prejudices, as well as her trials as a minister in a newly formed church.
Yet despite its merits, Pastrix’s message comes up short. Dietrich Bonhoeffer decried “the grace we bestow upon ourselves.” Bolz-Weber embraces it.
For instance, she refuses to disavow her Wiccan past, as many Christians expected her to do. “I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity.” In other words, the author finds gender-neutral language easier than the language of repentance.
Pastrix differs from the typical conversion testimonial wherein the evangelist explains how the love of Christ has led to faith, repentance, and a new path. If one can get past the oft-repeated triumphalism over the ELCA’s 2009 decision to bless same-sex relationships, there is a great deal to like in this book. Its message is entertainingly delivered. Since Bolz-Weber was a comedian, her insights are often quite funny.
Most notably, she is a powerful preacher of grace to those alienated from the church, and a convincing witness for Christ’s power to heal addiction. But her conversion message allows one to enjoy the self-help benefits of faith without the guilt: Just be who you are.
Dennis Di Mauro is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Warrenton, Virginia.