Of course, the sheer existence of non-subscribers is something of a mystery, one of those things that make us scratch our heads in wonder. If you subscribed, you could have had all this delivered directly to you home. Printed! On paper! Which makes for a much more pleasant reading experience!
Still, for those who missed it at the time, here is the content of that February 2008 issue. It opens with three strong Opinion piecesan examination of the new stem-cell breakthroughs by Maureen L. Condic, an obituary for Henry Hyde by George Weigel, and a look at the Oklahoma bishops’ statements about immigration by Michael Scaperlanda.
So, in “Getting Stem Cells Right,” Condic writes: “A true, no-cost resolution of a conflict, where the interests of all parties are served without compromise, is an exceedingly rare thing. Yet just such an unlikely resolution may be in hand for one of the most acrimonious conflicts of recent times: the debate over human embryonic stem cells.”
Then, in “Henry Hyde (1924–2007),” George Weigel remembers his friend, the Illinois congressman and hero of the prolife fight:
One indelible memory that captures Henry Hyde in full involved Thanksgiving 1986. Henry’s prostate was giving him grief, so he spent the holiday in Georgetown University Hospital. When I went to visit him on Thanksgiving Day, I found him sitting up in bed, tubes running in and out of him, smoking a six-inch-long cigar, watching TV as his beloved Bears played the Lionsand reading a massive tome on William Wilberforce, the British parliamentary scourge of the slave trade. I asked Henry whether he’d had a lot of visitors. He replied that a guy who was interested in running for his seat had come in and expressed grave concern. Said Henry, in a growling whisper, “I told him, ‘The last words you’ll ever hear me say are gonna be, ‘Get your foot off the oxygen hose.’”
Finally, in “Immigration and the Bishops,” Michael A. Scaperlanda casts a cold eye on the recent turmoil in Oklahoma:
The new Oklahoma law might be read narrowly in such a way that much of the charitable and spiritual work performed by the Church and its members will not be affected. Oklahoma’s Religious Freedom Act also arguably exempts the Church and its members from the law’s harsh penalties, and there is a good argument that the state law is preempted by similar federal legislation.
All of this is lost in the archbishop’s Pledge of Resistance. Indeed, the pledge evinces subtle forms of American individualism and marginalization of the Church. . . . In seemingly speaking as individuals of faith and conscience, the signatories place their own view as one among many in the cacophony of voices weighing in on this issue. Lost in this muddle is the uniqueness of the Church’s authority to teach on these issues as the City of God in every age works to transform and humanize the City of Man.
Meanwhile, for major articles, the February issue features “Who Can Be Saved?” by Avery Cardinal Dulles, who begins: “Nothing is more striking in the New Testament than the confidence with which it proclaims the saving power of belief in Christ. Almost every page confronts us with a decision of eternal consequence: Will we follow Christ or the rulers of this world?” And after a broad historical survey, he ends:
We may conclude with certitude that God makes it possible for the unevangelized to attain the goal of their searching. How that happens is known to God alone, as Vatican II twice declares. We know only that their search is not in vain. “Seek, and you will find,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:7). If non-Christians are praying to an unknown God, it may be for us to help them find the one they worship in ignorance. God wants everyone to come to the truth. Perhaps some will reach the goal of their searching only at the moment of death. Who knows what transpires secretly in their consciousness at that solemn moment? We have no evidence that death is a moment of revelation, but it could be, especially for those in pursuit of the truth of God.
Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of believers to help these seekers by word and by example. Whoever receives the gift of revealed truth has the obligation to share it with others. Christian faith is normally transmitted by testimony. Believers are called to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Making a triumphant return to the magazine’s pages after a long absence, Peter L. Berger contributes “Secularization Falsified,” a strong refutation of what sociologists call the “secularization thesis”the notion that the advance of society equals the decline of religion. “Not to put too fine a point on it,” Berger observes, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber “were mistaken. Modernity is not intrinsically secularizing.”
Then David Novak adds “Theology, Politics, and Abraham Joshua Heschel,” a defense of the great Jewish theologian and political activist. “Was Heschel’s theology for the sake of his political activism and thus, in the end, a form of apologetics?” Novak asks. “I think not. . . . Abraham Joshua Heschel was first and foremost a Jewish theologian who, when the hour was right, allowed his great theological learning and reflection to bring himself (and others with him) to authentic, Jewishly informed political praxis.”
In book reviews for February, First Things features another longtime friend, former editor James Nuechterlein, reviewing John J. DiIulio Jr.’s book Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America’s Faith-Based Future. “People of faith have to keep alive an ethic of the common good,” Nuechterlein notes. “That may not require, as John DiIulio urges, that we all learn to “think Catholic”non-Catholics are not as without resources in this area as he supposesbut it does require that we give more careful thought than we often do to the moral shape a godly republic ought to take.”
Then, in “The Wages of Advocacy,” Steven D. Smith demolishes Martha Nussbaum’s latest, Liberty of Conscience. “Nussbaum’s overall strategy is, first, to show that” the American Founders “were committed to equality; then, having extracted such a commitment, she pours into that formal notion the substantive content that she favors.”
Next, in a review of Ethan Anthony’s new biography, Matthew Alderman insists that “Ralph Adams Cramthe twentieth-century church builder, neo-medieval social critic, spinner of ghost stories, and modern knight-errantis ready to take on a whole new century.”
It’s a strong book section, with further reviews by Curtis W. Freeman, reading Steven R. Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity and Michael Gorman, plowing through Anthony Kenny’s four-volume A New History of Western Philosophy. Then we added Briefly Noteds by the likes of Richard W. Garnett, Steven Long, and Marcos B. Gouvêatogether with notes from our in-house writers Amanda Shaw, Nathaniel Peters, and Ryan T. Anderson.
The issue has letters on Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi’s influential essay “What Is Anglicanism?” and poetry from Frederick Turner and Robert B. Shawall leading up to the Public Square, the column from Richard John Neuhaus, First Things’ most popular feature.
In his lead item this month, Fr. Neuhaus writes of Pope Benedict’s new encyclical:
We do not know the eternal life for which we hope, says Benedict. “All we know is that it is not this.” Then this from Augustine: “There is therefore in us a certain learned ignorance (docta ignorantia), so to speak.” We do not know this true life, this ultimate happiness, writes Benedict, “and yet we know that there must be something we do not know toward which we feel driven.” “The term ‘eternal life’ is intended to give a name to this known ‘unknown.’” He takes a poetic stab at description: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which timethe before and afterno longer exists.” Such a moment is “a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed by joy.” Such a hope is responsive to the words of Jesus, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). . . .
In night hours and in times snatched between the myriad appointments of the day, Benedict sits alone at his desk, writing and writing. He is ever the teacher, a “scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven . . . who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52). Hence the first two encyclicals; hence the compellingly erudite lectures at public audiences; hence the first and promised second volume of Jesus of Nazareth. It is said that this pontificate represents a return to the basics of Christian faith and life, and there is truth in that. More strikingly, it represents an appeal for the modern world to recognize that its achievements cannot be sustained apart from the authentic humanism of Christian faith. To date, and with few exceptions, those who control the commanding heights of culture have not engaged, or even deigned to notice, his efforts. Undaunted, he returns to the task again and again, writing and speaking in most intimate communion with St. Paul and St. Augustine, proposing to the world “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).
All in all, February was a powerful and strong issue of First Things. Why aren’t you subscribing?