Implosion: The End of Russia and What It Means for Americaby ilan bermanregnery, 256 pages, $27.95 This book arrived in my mailbox the day the Winter Olympics in Sochi began. It was disquieting to read Ilan Berman’s grim account of the dying of a once great state as the vulgar grandiosity of a . . . . Continue Reading »
Papal EconomicsR. R. Reno blew it rather badly (“Francis and the Market,” February). He writes, “and there’s the mother of all questions, the one Francis brings to the fore: How can we include as many people as possible in the prosperity being created by the capitalist revolution sweeping the globe?”But this is not the “mother of all questions,” and it is not the question that Evangelii Gaudium addresses. Indeed, the pope himself states directly, “This Exhortation is not a social document.” Instead, he refers his readers to the “Compendium” of the Church’s social doctrine. Evangelii Gaudium does not attack that powerful tool, global capitalism. Much less does he propose socialism. As to the use of these tools, the pope would probably agree with Reno’s penultimate and most of his ultimate paragraphs. The aim of the exhortation is “to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy” of the Gospel. The first dangerthe “great” dangerto this goal lies in consumerism, in the “complacent yet covetous heart.” If one has the capital and the talent, perhaps one can benefit many people by creating more wealth. But in itself, that is not the same as loving them. To build a factory employing a hundred workers is a good thing, but it does not of itself make one virtuous or merciful.A wise priest once asked me how much more I could love if I had a lot of money (I didn’t then and don’t now). No doubt with a lot of money I could do some good (and someone who had the know-how could do much more good). But his point was that I can love. So can we all, even the man in the corner office. That’s what Pope Francis wants us to do. Continue Reading »
by matthew j. ramage
cua, 312 pages, $39.95
Benedict XVI’s letter Verbum Domini refers to “dark passages” of the Old Testament that contradict the ethical teachings, monotheistic claims, or assertions about the afterlife presented in the Gospels. In his new book Dark Passages of the Bible, Matthew J. Ramage, assistant professor of theology and biblical studies at Benedictine College, shows how these passages can be illumined by historical-critical exegesis and the light cast by the revelation of Christ.In keeping with the subtitle, Ramage divides most prior thought on this question into two groups, which Benedict XVI calls “Method A” (patristic and medieval exegesis) and “Method B” (historical-critical exegesis). Many Christian readers of the Old Testament today slip into a Method A hermeneutic without knowing it. For example, rather than allowing for the polytheism apparent in early Jewish writings, they impose fully developed Christian readings onto the mentions of other gods. Continue Reading »
No-fault divorce changed the American culture of marriage. So did the sexual revolution. Now proponents of gay rights are redefining marriage at an even more fundamental level. What’s to be done? As a post-biblical vision of sex, gender, and marriage gains the upper hand in our society, should our religious institutions get out of marriage? Should priests, pastors, and rabbis renounce their roles as deputies of state authority in marriage? Or should we sustain the close links between religious and civil marriage?To help us think more clearly about these issues, we asked eight writers to respond to the following question: With the legal affirmation of same-sex marriage in some states, should churches, synagogues, and mosques stop performing civil marriages? Continue Reading »
DiscriminationEven though we disagree on gay marriage and on gay rights more generally, I admire R. R. Reno’s honesty and integrity in his writing about these issues, and I read what he says with care and appreciation. However, I was surprised by his dismissive remarks regarding the aims of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“Public Square,” January).While he has “no doubt that in many circumstances gays and lesbians feel put upon,” he also wants to point out that African Americans have it worse, that he’s “virtually certain” that obese people have it worse, and that smokers have it worse. It’s therefore important to put the “feelings” of people who allege mistreatment “in perspective,” since, after all, “everybody has a grievance, some imagined, others justified.”First, arguing that Sally should not complain of mistreatment because Sue has it worse is not likely to be persuasive to Sally. Nor is Sally likely to be persuaded by Reno’s other main point, which is that there aren’t many people like Sally. Moreover, as questions of moral and legal reasoning, should such arguments persuade her? I don’t think so.Second, such seemingly blithe comments about the possible mistreatment of others can’t be entirely separated from their larger contexts. Reno does not answer the question directly, but his argument clearly suggests that he views this proposed non-discrimination measure as unnecessary and perhaps harmful. And perhaps he holds this view at least in part because he endorses, and aims publicly to advance, the view that all homosexual conduct is inherently immoral and therefore unworthy of nearly any form of specific legal protection or recognition.And perhaps this view, which until fairly recently was dominant in American culture and law, and which still exercises influence (in, for example, significant publications such as First Things), helps to explain why many gays and lesbians still, as Reno says, “feel put upon.” Even if obese people have it worse.
Institute for American Values
New York, New YorkR. R. Reno replies:To be put upon. It’s a widespread feeling, a widespread reality. However, political wisdom involves knowing what diseases the law can cureand when the cures are worse than the diseases.The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation, executive policy, and judicial expansion mobilized the power of the state to effectively crush racist practices, especially in the South. Some at the time feared that the instruments of remedyintrusive, coercive, punitivewere in excess of the injustice of racism. But police dogs, water hoses, churches bombed, children killed, and all this against the background of ruthless segregation? Reality testified otherwise, and political wisdom dictated dramatic action.My argument against ENDA is not based... Continue Reading »
edited by allen d. hertzke
oxford, 386 pages, $29.95
Should We Live Forever? The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging
by gilbert meilaender
eerdmans, 135 pages, $18 An esteemed Protestant ethicist (and First Things advisor and contributor) has here an extended essay that is at turns philosophical, literary, and biblical, and is throughout humane. Drawing insights from and making arguments with diverse thinkers and cultural figures from Aristotle to Groundhog Day, Gilbert Meilaender shows why aging is good, even as it also can be right to slow it down; why humans have bodies, even as they are also burdens; and why the deep longings of faith take us outside any place we might stand on the trajectory from womb to tomb. Meilaender would have us ponder: If we were never to die, could our lives escape boredom, repetition, and meaninglessness? But if there is eternal life after death, how does that life avoid empty, boring repetition? Or: Do not our everyday human virtues (for example, patience) depend in complicated ways on our lives having a length of a certain sort? How then can we understand that something that is good (life) requires its termination (in death)? Continue Reading »
Jesus in IslamIn “Jesus the Muslim Hippie” (December), Gabriel Said Reynolds demonstrates the dissonance within the Muslim community between what the Qur’an says about Jesus and what later Muslims wrote about him. This helpful distinction notwithstanding, his article fails to discuss how to reconstruct the Christ of Islam, or whether it is even feasible to do so. The inevitable conclusion of Reynolds’ argument is that such a reconstruction is an impossible task, or at least would result in an erroneous portrayal.While this appears to be true if we only examine the later Muslim interpretations, I argue that limiting our focus to the Qur’an could still yield an important portrayal of Jesus. Though conflicting with the biblical portrayal of Jesus, the qur’anic view still tells much about the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus.In the Qur’an, for example, Jesus is born from Mary, who is better than all women (3:42). While God is the only creator (3:47), Jesus also creates (3:49; 5:110), though granted, he does so “by God’s permission.” But then, one may ask, how can a mere human, even if he was a prophet, possess such a divine attribute? Muslim exegetes typically downplay these verses, but they still afford Jesus qualities that are shared by no other human.Moreover, Jesus is given the title “the Word of God” (3:45; 4:171), which suggests that Jesus manifests who God is and that he was with God since the very beginning, for God was never wordless. Furthermore, Jesus is called “sign and mercy” (19:21), “truth” (19:34), and even “illustrious” (3:45).Most of these titles only appear in the Qur’an in reference to Jesus. Taken together, these texts represent a valuable and unique portrayal of Jesus that even elevates him above other messengers of God.When compared to the Bible, the qur’anic picture of Jesus is incomplete and inaccurate on important matters, but it should not be dismissed as irrelevant. For the Qur’an sheds light on the uniqueness of Jesus both in its similarities to the biblical witness and in its divergence. This qur’anic portrayal is important to keep in mind as Christians engage with their Muslim neighbors.
Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, California Continue Reading »
by amy andrews and jessica mesman griffith
loyola, 324 pages, $14.95
Over the course of three years, Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith wrote each other what were, for a while, daily letters. This regular exchange began as a Lenten practice: Andrews was preparing to enter the Church; Griffith was her sponsor. Their letters reflect all manner of spiritual concern, thought through and tested against the many works they were reading at the time: authors such as Julian of Norwich, J. M. Coetzee, Pope Benedict XVI, Simone Weil, and Marilynne Robinson.
In the summer of 2006, however, when Andrews’ first child was stillborn, their discourse on conversion and chatter about pregnancy turned into meditations on suffering, death, and the nature of heaven. Love and Salt they would call their collection of letters, salt being the suffering that matures and preserves love.
With each letter, Andrews and Griffith reveal something of what it means to be people of faith, whether confronted by the profound or by the quotidian, or by both at once: “If I could collapse all my experience into an instant, that gradual unfurling of belief that has brought me to this Lent,” writes Andrews, “it would likely be as loud as a thunderclap, bright as a burning bush. But as it is, I squint my eyes and strain my ears and try to discern God.” Continue Reading »
PhariseesIn “Marriage Matters” (“Public Square,” November), R. R. Reno wondered how such a display of “public” immoralitysame-sex marriagecould be greeted without comment. He worried that, in the presence of a gay married couple, acting as if everything were “normal and fine” would be to “bear false witness.”I have the same reaction after reading Reno’s very public column. To act as if everything were normal and fine after digesting something so antithetical to the Gospel would be to bear false witness. So let me take his advice, avoid “accommodation,” and speak up: Didn’t Jesus say a thing or two about self-righteous Pharisees?
Key Biscayne, FloridaR. R. Reno replies:In the New Testament, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of a mere outward piety that disguises the corrupt heart within. Thus the term pharisaical refers to the effort to appear holier-than-thou while in private largely ignoring divine commands.My reflection on gay marriage was meant to say that the danger we face is precisely that of pharisaical hypocrisy. Here I sit, writing as the editor of First Things, penning columns defending the moral truth about human sexuality, marriage, and the natural familyand my commitments to civility and friendship tempt me to carry on in my private life as if none of those truths really matter.If I just smile and accept and affirm in my private life what I publically rejectand I sometimes, indeed often, dothen I am a Pharisee in a painfully exact sense: a whited sepulcher outwardly ornamented with orthodox convictions but inwardly filled with decay. Continue Reading »