Religious Liberty in America: Political Safeguards.
By Louis Fisher.
University Press of Kansas. 266 pp. $16.95 paper.
Louis Fisher surveys the full sweep of U.S. history—from colonial debates about religious liberty to modern judicial, legislative, and executive positions on the status of conscientious objection, compulsory flag salutes, school prayer, Indian religious practices, and the religious use of peyote. He concludes that the legislative branch has historically been the more consistent defender of religious liberty. The provocative thesis will be deemed heresy by partisans of “the judicial usurpation of politics ”,” who inevitably assume that the rights of minorities receive their greatest protection from the courts. For his effective debunking of this view, Fisher’s book is most welcome. His argument falls short, however, when it comes to discussing the proper social or institutional role for religion in the public square, about which he seems to harbor serious misgivings. This may be why he all but ignores evidence, such as recent legislative efforts to guarantee parental religious liberty through parochial school aid or school choice proposals, that strengthens his thesis. According to Fisher, religious groups seeking to shape a cultural Weltanschauung should betreated as Madisonian “factions ” that win some and lose some according to their ability to cast religiously grounded convictions in sanitized secular language. But surely churches serve a more fundamental—even founding—function in liberal democracies than the sundry special interest groups that flourish within them. Still, despite this weakness, by challenging judicial idolatry in constitutional law, Fisher’s book opens an important avenue for dialogue.
—John M. Grondelski
Don't Tell Me What To Do!: A Catholic Understanding of Modern Moral Issues.
By Father Dave Heney.
Paulist Press. 165 pp. $11.95.
Heney, a parish priest in Southern California, begins this primer on moral decision making, appropriately enough, with a discussion of the Book of Genesis, identifying five characteristics of life before the Fall that serve as guideposts for moral living today. Adam and Eve, he writes, were equal under God and good because of God’s love for them, possessed free will, and were created in order to serve each other and worship God. Heney then shows how these “Garden Virtues ” apply to a variety of today’s thorny moral issues, including marriage, child–rearing, sex, abortion, genetic engineering, business ethics, capital punishment, drug abuse, and war. The book is suffused with a kindly, commonsense tone that may make it particularly effective in reaching those (and in our culture they are legion) who might otherwise be resistant to anything resembling traditional morality. Discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter that may be helpful for religion classes and church groups. The message throughout is that while moral living can be difficult, it is absolutely reasonable and utterly necessary if we are to fulfill our true nature and purpose. It is no coincidence, writes Heney, that “when we feel that awesome presence of God, we just naturally want to do something about it. ” The book is not intended to be the last word on Catholic morality, but, read in tandem with the Bible and the Catechism, it will likely help readers to take their first steps toward living the fullness of their faith.
The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination
By Gary A. Anderson.
Westminster/John Knox. 256 pp. $26.
An utterly fascinating ramble through the constituting stories of Jewish and Christian tradition, combining solid scholarship and intellectual liveliness with a winsome style that makes the book a delight for both the specialist and the general reader. Preachers, in particular, should not miss it. Anderson teaches Old Testament at Harvard Divinity School and brings to his subject an intelligent sympathy for the many ways in which Jews and Christians have construed the story of the Fall and the consequent fate of Adam and Eve. His insightful treatment of different understandings of freedom illuminates why Adam bears the greater guilt for the primordial catastrophe, and Christians of all communions will be instructed by his fresh presentation of the saving connections between Eve and Mary, who is the New Eve as Jesus is the New Adam. The book is an all too rare instance of employing historical scholarship and critical methodology in a way that enhances, rather than deflates, the rich symbolic connections cultivated and sustained by living tradition. Anderson's reading of Dante and, even more, of Milton casts their thought in a different light that should change and enrich future interpretations. The Genesis of Perfection is a striking achievement, a model of biblical scholarship that combines intellectual adventure with a loving fidelity to tradition, and effectively conveys to the reader a full measure of the pleasure that the author obviously had in writing it. Warmly recommended.
Evil and the Augustinian Tradition.
By Charles T. Matthewes.
Cambridge University Press. 271 pp. $60.
Matthewes teaches religious studies at the University of Virginia and here brings the vast literature on the “problem ” of evil, and especially the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr and Hannah Arendt, into conversation with St. Augustine. The argument is gracefully, and at points poetically, presented, and, in a sometimes indirect but effective manner, is solidly grounded in the cross and resurrection. Especially noteworthy is the author’s appreciation of the many dynamics of “tradition” in Christian knowing, believing, and teaching.
The Dignity of Difference.
By Jonathan Sacks.
Continuum. 224 pp. $19.95.
An important argument cum plea from the Chief Rabbi of Britain. The “clash of civilizations ” is not inevitable in a world where the politics of ideology has been displaced by the politics of identity. That displacement means that the communal roots of identity, which are religious, will become ever more assertive, but not necessarily, Sacks says, more conflictual. Far from contending that all religions are essentially the same, Sacks affirms the particularity of difference, insisting that the “dignity of difference ” must be respected by those who recognize in the “other ” the traces of the Other. A timely and urgent statement by a major religious thinker.
Habits of the High–Tech Heart.
By Quentin J. Schultze.
Baker. 261 pp. $24.99.
A moral and spiritual guide to, as the author puts it, “living virtuously in the information age.” Technological revolutions of the present, like those of the past, are commonly acclaimed or denounced as having changed everything. Schultze has a wise appreciation of the permanent things that must engage the new things, critically discerning both promise and threat. Every age is rightly described as an age of transition, and the author offers a clear view that resists both the hype and the denial of change.
Jews and the American Public Square.
Edited by Alan Mittleman et al.
Rowman & Littlefield. 374 pp. $29.95 paper.
Jewish Polity and American Civil Society.
Edited by Alan Mittleman et al.
Rowman & Littlefield. 420 pp. $29.95 paper.
Products of the huge Pew-funded project on religion in the public square, both books of essays will be of interest to students of American Judaism. The first attends to philosophical and theological questions relative to the American polity, including shifting views of church-state relations, while the second is directed more to intra-Jewish questions relative to organizational concerns.
The Strange New Word of the Gospel.
Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson.
Eerdmans. 176 pp. $23 paper.
The subtitle is “Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World, ” and the premise is that many, if not most, who today identify themselves as Christians are, in fact, post-Christians who need to be reintroduced to and reintegrated into the community of faith. Informed and provocative essays by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox writers.
A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.
By Joseph Nicolosi and Linda Ames Nicolosi.
Intervarsity. 254 pp. $15 paper.
The book assumes that parents-why is “parent” in the title in the singular-would want to prevent homosexuality in their children, and of course almost all, whether or not they would put it that bluntly, do. And for good reason. The authors are leaders in the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), and their book will be of invaluable help to parents. This is a welcome resource in response to a long felt need.
Ascent to Love: A Guide to Dante's Divine Comedy.
By Peter Leithart.
Canon. 192 pp. $12 paper.
Leithart, a regular contributor to these pages, offers a fetching introduction to the classic for high school and college students, along with questions and ponderings for classroom discussion.