Treasury in Heaven

From the October 2014 Print Edition

Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition
by gary a. anderson
yale, 232 pages, $30

In the last few years there has been a subtle shift in our social and political discourse. While an earlier generation commenced a War on Poverty, we now deploy our military metaphors in the fight for equality. Framed this way, the moral issue is not, strictly speaking, the plight of the most vulnerable among the 99 percent. It is rather the spectacular difference between their lives and the lives of the 1 percent, or, as Thomas Piketty would have it, the widening gap between the rate of return on assets and general economic growth. The imperative is justice, not generosity; the motive outrage, not compassion. Few would deny that economic inequality, described recently by President Obama as the “defining challenge of our time,” deserves sustained and serious attention. Yet the focus on equality suggests that the problem is preeminently technical and political: the fair acquisition and distribution of wealth. The challenge is only moral to the extent that it overcomes vices like greed and indifference, which are said to stand in the way of progress and reinforce an unequal status quo. What is missing here is reflection on why helping the disadvantaged is ultimately, somehow, the right thing to do. Continue Reading »

Criticism’s Limits

From the January 2014 Print Edition

Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture,
by scott w. hahn and benjamin wiker
crossroad, 624 pages, $59.95
What was once a bold and ­disciplined endeavor to recover the truth of the Scriptures had become, argued Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger twenty-five years ago, a confused, self-defeating enterprise. Critical analysis never arrived at “hermeneutical synthesis.” Modern biblical scholars trying to illuminate the text became lost in a “jungle of contradictions.” To find a new way forward, Ratzinger argued, we must understand the roots of this project. We must carry out a “criticism of ­criticism.”

In Politicizing the Bible, Scott Hahn, a professor of biblical theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and Benjamin Wiker, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, have attempted to do just that. Citing ­Ratzinger’s famous call for a critical examination of biblical scholarship, the authors take aim at the beginnings of modern biblical study. The essence of the modern project, they argue, is not the search for historical truth but the reformulation of ­political power. 

Early modern interpreters (those writing between 1300 and 1700) were not disinterested scholars but men seeking to remake society—to liberalize it—by circumscribing the power of the Church. Hahn and ­Wiker claim that biblical criticism manifested a deep Erastian impulse to wrest authority from the Church and invest it elsewhere, either in nationalistic governments, powerful princes, or sober-minded individuals. What deserves to be called “modern” in this period is not scientific study of the Bible per se but rather a determination to subordinate biblical interpretation to political ends in order to secularize the social and political order. Continue Reading »

Some Assembly Required

From the March 2013 Print Edition

Holy Scripture and the Quest for Authority at the End of the Middle Ages by Ian Christopher Levy University of Notre Dame, 332 pages, $38 As long as the Church has endured, the “quest for authority” has been a problematic enterprise. Christians have always agreed that the Scriptures are . . . . Continue Reading »

Payne’s Books of Job

From the May 2012 Print Edition

At the center of Alexander Payne’s moral vision stands the Little Human Being. His clever, contemporary comedies”most recently About Schmidt , Sideways , and The Descendents ”are sympathetic to human fragility and yet not sentimental, honest about moral weakness but not cynical. . . . . Continue Reading »

A Pious Scholar

From the Aug/Sept 2011 Print Edition

“I Have Always Loved the Holy Tongue”: Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship by Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg Harvard, 392 pages, $35 Anthony Grafton, professor of history at Princeton University and president of the American Historical . . . . Continue Reading »