By Roger S. Magnusson.
Yale University Press. 306 pp. $35.
Roger S. Magnusson opines that mercy killing should be legalized and regulated because, in no small part, “illicit euthanasia” is already practiced. But so too are incest and self-mutilation, and no reasonable person would suggest that those activities should be given the sanction of law. To make his argument, Magnusson relies primarily on an analysis of the Dutch experience with euthanasia and upon anecdotes from the euthanasia “underground,” particularly among AIDS patients. Not only does he fail to note the remarkable success of St. Christopher’s Hospice in London with treating AIDS patients, which demonstrates that the delivery of good palliative care and emotional support leads to remarkably few requests for assisted suicide, but his analysis of Dutch euthanasia is superficial. Magnusson does not even reference the splendid and thorough articles by Dr. Herbert Hendin on the Dutch experience, nor his authoritative book, Seduced by Death (1996). Hendin isn’t even listed in the index, and his book is missing from the bibliography. There is a good reason for this omission. Confronting the work of an opponent of euthanasia as powerful as Hendin—the one man who has most thoroughly analyzed the insidiousness of the Dutch way of death—would make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that guidelines will protect against abuse. Not only do Dutch doctors kill people who are not terminally ill, which Magnusson mentions but generally glosses over, but some pediatricians and neonatologists have moved euthanasia into the pediatric ward. (According to the Lancet, about eight percent of all babies who die in the Netherlands are killed by their own doctors, some without parental consent.) Nor does the author mention that when euthanasia officially became legal earlier this year, the Dutch Minister of Health proposed that old people who are “tired of life” have access to suicide pills. As for the author’s assertion that euthanasia would not be about money, he apparently hasn’t read the statement of Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry, according to which saving money is the “unstated argument” in favor of euthanasia. Euthanasia advocates are going to have to do better than this if they want to persuade thoughtful citizens of their dark agenda.
—Wesley J. Smith
The Patient as Person: Explorations in Medical Ethics.
By Paul Ramsey. Second edition.
Yale University Press. 320 pp. $17.95 paper.
The reissuing of Paul Ramsey’s The Patient as Person: Explorations in Medical Ethics could not be more timely. The occasion is the thirtieth anniversary of the Lyman Beecher Lecture series, a multidisciplinary and interreligious conference that featured the esteemed Princeton University ethicist. Given the ever more secular cast of academic “bioethics,” Ramsey’s distinctive Christian perspective toward medical ethics is refreshing. For Ramsey, ethical reflection is inevitably rooted in the biblical notion of covenant. He viewed human sanctity and dignity, buttressed by a faithfulness to our social commitments, as preconditions for a proper relationship between caregiver and patient. His approach remains a model for ethical discourse, whether in a religious or secular context. Consent as a form of loyalty, the difficulty of defining personhood and death, the necessity of caring for the dying, the moral dilemmas involved in harvesting of organs, research on human subjects, and the use of medical resources—Ramsey’s reflections on these and related issues remain as pertinent today as they were three decades ago. The difference, however, is that the patient—whether prenatal, neonatal, infirm, or genetically exceptional—is inclined to be viewed less as a “person” today than he was when Ramsey delivered his lectures.
— J. Daryl Charles
Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.
By Gilles Kepel. Translated by Anthony F. Roberts.
Harvard University Press. 454 pp. $29.95.
One way to become a famous intellectual in France is to advance a counterintuitive (read: nonsensical) thesis. By this standard, Kepel excels, for he argues that militant Islam is in decline and manages to fill 376 pages of text with examples and arguments meant to support the idea. His only fault is a certain lack of originality, given that a colleague, Olivier Roy, beat him to the punch by publishing L’Echec de l’Islam politique a full eight years earlier. Both scholars, it bears noting, are much lionized and deeply influential in France. Kepel’s take differs from Roy’s in that the latter made much of a distinction between two nearly identical streams of militant Islam (which he dubbed Islamism and neofundamentalism), while Kepel dismisses militant Islam on sociological grounds. It was doing well in the 1980s, he claims, but fell apart in the 1990s due to an inability of the Islamists to keep together its alliance of the young ýrban poor and the devout middle class. What about September 11, 2001? Kepel breezily replies to the question by asserting that it was a mere “provocation” that only confirms the “waning” of militant Islam. In his view, it was nothing but “an attempt to reverse a process in decline with a paroxysm of destructive violence.” No better is Kepel’s fluency with facts. To cite a random sampling of the most egregious errors: he claims that the entire decade of the 1980s was “overshadowed by a power struggle between the Saudi monarchy and Khomeini’s Iran” (forgetting a small episode called the Iran-Iraq war); he falsely attributes to the U.S. government the goal of supplying aid to the Afghans during the 1980s to precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union (the goal was far more limited and defensive); he believes that the umma is the unit ruled by the laws of Islam (this is the body of all Muslims; Dar al-Islam is what he meant to say); and he somehow fails to find any signs of active support in the Muslim world for al-Qaeda’s long-term objectives (to which one can only ask, where was he during September and October of 2001?).
The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.
By Colleen Carroll.
Loyola. 306 pp. $19.95.
The author examines twenty- and thirty-something adults who are taking God and church seriously for the first time in their lives. Fed up with boomer-era relativism and its influence on mainstream American Christianity, these “new faithful” embrace not only orthodox worship but also what Carroll calls its “theological and moral roots.” As she points out, these young adults are not just anybody; many of them come from our cultural elite: lawyers, models, doctors, media professionals, and so on. But unlike those liberal members of the elite who get so much attention, these young believers have had enough of “secular success” and the self-absorbed lifestyle that often accompanies it. They yearn for community, self-sacrifice, liturgy, and a divine Christ—all of which lifts their gaze from hedonistic temptation and teaches them how to live well. Consequently, they often develop a vision for social and political justice, ministries of mercy, and other outward manifestations of personal holiness. If the author’s background as a journalist helps to contribute to the liveliness of her narrative, it also tends to limit her ability to analyze the trend she identifies. Aren’t there important differences between Catholic and Protestant versions of the movement? What, precisely, is the meaning of the word “secular” in this context? Is the movement likely to last or will it quickly fade like so many other fads in modern American life? All of these questions surface, but none are addressed thoroughly. On the other hand, Carroll never promises to do more than “paint the broad strokes of a phenomenon that has gone largely unnoticed in the secular media and even within the Church.” Which she does, quite well.
— Aaron Belz
The Dawn of Universal History: Selected Essays from a Witness of the Twentieth Century.
By Raymond Aron.
Translated by Barbara Bray. Edited by Yair Reiner, with an introduction by Tony Judt.
Basic. 520 pp. $35.
Raymond Aron (1905-1983), French political philosopher and sociologist, intransigent critic of ideology and sober defender of liberal democracy, was arguably the best political analyst of the twentieth century. From an American standpoint, the main drama of the latter part of the last century involved three conspicuous facts: the rise of ideological movements and regimes, the awesome powers unleashed by technological science, and the need to defend liberal democracies against their antiliberal adversaries. In addition to these challenges, Europe faced its own distinct problems, including the weakening of the nation-state, the loss of colonial empires, and, in turn, a diminishing role in world affairs. Aron analyzes all of these issues magisterially in this anthology. In writings spanning four decades he in effect produced a learned, incisive, and richly textured “history of the twentieth century” (the title of the French version of the collection). Its main sections indicate as much: “Nations and Empires”; “From Sarajeýo to Hiroshima”; “The Secular Religions”; “The Imperial Republic”; “The End of Colonial Empires”; and the volume’s theoretically rich concluding meditation on the approaching “Dawn of Universal History” (which we prefer to describe, somewhat less precisely, as “globalization”). In the section on “secular religions” (a phrase Aron himself coined in 1944), he launches a powerful and still pertinent critique of ideologies of the right and the left that have served as ersatz substitutes for “transcendent faith.” Also of interest are his prescient speculations about the various futures available to Europe after the demise of the bipolar world of the Cold War and America’s unique character as an “imperial republic.”
— Paul Seaton
By Douglas Groothuis.
Wadsworth. 97 pp. $15.95.
Readers approaching Blaise Pascal’s great work of Christian apologetics, the Pensées, for the first time can be excused for thinking that the book consists only of aphorisms. Actually, Pascal had planned a complete work to be called An Apology for the Christian Religion, but died at the age of thirty-nine, a death so early that he could only bequeath to the world a shoebox stuffed with various notes, jottings, and isolated fragments. But so powerful was this almost random gathering of disjecta membra that the posthumously published book was immediately recognized for the great work it is. For that reason, I have always felt that, when introducing Pascal, the briefer the better. Douglas Groothuis has written a fine introduction to Pascal under one hundred pages and he succeeds admirably in covering all facets of Pascal’s achievement. Pascal once said that the main reason most people don’t become Christian is that they find it so hard to stay in a room alone for any length of time. An hour or so alone with this fine introduction may not turn readers into Christians, but it should motivate them to consult Pascal’s texts directly—a consultation that for many has led to conversion, and reconversion.
— Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
Ascension and Ecclesia.
By Douglas Farrow.
Eerdmans. 340 pp. $35.
This is a weighty and wonderful piece of work. That it is weighty is indicated by the subtitle, “On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology.” It should be packaged with the label, “Some theological training required.” That it is wonderful is experienced in the reading of an argument that begins with the observation that most Christians are somewhat embarrassed by the question, “But where did Jesus go?” Embarrassment leads to reticence or evasion in preaching about the Ascension. It was not always so, and Farrow, who teaches theology at McGill University, lifts up the second century Irenaeus as a model of bold and faithful thinking about the significance of the Ascension. Through the prism of the Ascension and the truths that it entails, Farrow engages almost the entire history of Christian theology and is particularly insightful in his treatment of Schleiermacher and the liberal tradition, which Karl Barth so vigorously, but with limited success, attempted to counter. Farrow also casts in a fresh way the sixteenth-century disputes, between Protestants and Catholics and among Protestants, over the nature of the “pure absence” or “pure presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, and makes connections with the ways in which those disputes continue in different guise in contemporary arguments about language, meaning, and what is real. Ascension and Ecclesia is learned, complex, gracefully written, and a great intellectual workout. Most important, it challenges us to think more deeply and clearly about the Ascension promise of the angel that the one who will return is “this same Jesus.”
This memoir makes for painful reading, much like watching a drunk stagger across a busy freeway and wondering whether he’ll make it to the other side. A former Jesuit scholastic, Kaiser reported the Second Vatican Council for Time magazine and has since freelanced in Rome, writing a stream of articles and books in sustained and angry protest against what he views as the oppressive and antiquated ways of a Church that, as he says again and again, has refused to follow his example in growing up. The villain in his jagged story line is Malachi Martin, a former Jesuit priest, womanizer, and legendary fabulist who broke up Kaiser’s marriage, in addition to several others. There are moments of humor, usually unintended, in the author’s depiction of prominent liberals who played a part in the Council and gathered regularly at Kaiser’s Sunday evening salon. The praise bestowed on his achievements, and the envy of others, are amply treated. The book ends with Mr. Kaiser, wobbling but upright in the middle of life’s freeway, still raging and shaking his fist at the oncoming cars, although it is now late at night and the traffic has slowed.
Not a biography but a group of evaluative essays in which the distinguished historian John Lukacs engages the judgments, both positive and negative, made of Churchill during the almost half century since his death in 1965. In the last chapter, a memoir of his attendance at Churchill’s funeral, he calls him “my spiritual father,” a tribute to be understood in light of Lukacs’ youth in Europe when, in 1940, the Third Reich was triumphant everywhere and, it seemed, for farther into the future than anyone could see. Then it was that the lonely and defiant roar of Churchill gave birth to hope. Once again, Lukacs is critical of “conservatives” and “neoconservatives” (his quotes) who were ideologically obsessed with communism and missed the larger historical drama discerned by Churchill, and by Lukacs. That is less than persuasive, but the book is nonetheless an engaging appreciation of one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most consequential, lives of the twentieth century.
Likoudis has been reporting on Catholic sex scandals for the Wanderer for more than a decade, and this book brings together much useful, if deeply depressing, information about the malfeasance of priests and bishops. Regrettably, his account is driven by his own agenda, relies on conspiracy theories that are sometimes farfetched, is prone to crediting second- and third-hand gossip, and violates both good journalism and the Eighth Commandment in order to advance the thesis that the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago directed a vast and hugely successful master plan to “homosexualize” the Catholic Church in America. ’Tis a pity, for patterns of corruption in the Church, including sexual corruption, are all too real and deserve a better book than this. A much better book.
There was a time when books of sermons were best-sellers. No more. Maybe because preaching is no longer taken so seriously, which is maybe because most preachers do not attend to the craft of their art. Gilbert Meilaender, a regular contributor to these pages, is an exemplary exception. These sermons turn on the final virtue, which is love, as it is lived out in life in the ordinary. Preachers should buy the book and emulate its homiletical quality, but they should not preach these sermons from the pulpit, since some in the congregation may have read them for their devotional quality.
Count it a blessing that the works of Christopher Dawson are now being reissued on a regular basis. Dawson, who died in 1970, wrote with a grace of style, breadth of knowledge, and courage to generalize in defense of the proposition that there is such a thing as Christian civilization, and that we cannot understand our modern moment apart from Christendom. The present essays deal with the last days of the Roman Empire, the reasons for the decline of Byzantium, the complications of Christian-Jewish relations in fifteenth-century Spain, and why the entanglements of natural science, philosophy, and theology were cast in the arguments that continue to our day. Dawson is among the most sure cures for the disease of historical amnesia.
Starting out as a New York aristocrat of conventionally leftist (in his case Trotskyite) views, Burnham gained wide attention with his 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, which was understood to have invoked a pox upon both communism and the free world. His matured views were mostly articulated in the later years with National Review, and, dying in 1987, he did not live to see the end of the Soviet communism against which he had so vigorously battled. Kelly’s is a deserved tribute to a major figure in the history of American conservatism.
What is meant when a Christian is said to be “orthodox”? Some answer that such a Christian stands in the Great Tradition. This book intends to specify more precisely by speaking of Nicene Christianity, and proposes that such orthodoxy is the basis of a new ecumenism that can and should replace an older ecumenism too often marked by departures from orthodoxy. The essays are by Protestant (both evangelical and oldline), Catholic, and Orthodox theologians, including Carl E. Braaten, Augustine DiNoia, Douglas Farrow, Robert Jenson, Susan Wood, and David S. Yeago. Theological meat.
An erudite romp through history, philosophy, and cultural criticism in the service of demonstrating what very much needs to be demonstrated, namely, that sex is not a private matter but a civilizational force of enormous social consequences, and that chastity, within and outside marriage, is a great communal as well as personal good. In the tradition of George Gilder’s Sexual Suicide, but from a perspective more fully formed by the Judeo-Christian moral tradition.
Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft is, among his many other attributes, a controversialist of rare accomplishment. The subtitle of this little book—written for pro-lifers, pro-choicers, and people who just wish the question would go away—is “a thoughtful and compassionate guide to today’s most controversial issue.” It is that. Kreeft fairly lays out the opposing arguments and concludes with a very believable “dialogue” between intelligent and caring opponents, leaving the final decision to the reader, who, as a consequence of reading this book, will be in a better position to make that decision.
An instructive critique of proportionalism in Catholic ethics. Against those who insist that it represents a recovery of Thomistic moral reasoning or an outgrowth of the “spirit of Vatican II,” the author convincingly argues that proportionalism reflects and amplifies the peculiar theoretical weaknesses of the neo-scholasticism that dominated the intellectual life of the Church prior to Vatican II.
Proceedings of the American Maritain Association, with wide-ranging essays on faith and reason, faith and science, the renewal of higher education, and Christian (and specifically Catholic) engagement with the culture.
A fair-minded and sobering survey of what contemporary thinkers make of the troubled role of religion in the public square. The author’s own view of that role is that it is fragmented, incoherent, and in decline, forcing us to rely ever more firmly on the Lord of history whose purposes we cannot clearly discern. That firm reliance will be evident most of all in local communities of faith that can be, just as Jesus said, the salt of the earth.
Lectures from 1933 by the German Lutheran theologian and martyr who continues, with good reason, to grip the imagination of Christians prepared to undertake what the title of one of his better-known books calls “the cost of discipleship.” These lectures are a way into the mind and soul of the young theologian on his way to the ultimate consequence of his faith.
Concise, straightforward, and just the thing for which many in the West have been looking since September 11, 2001. A fine reference, with the added attraction of being handsomely illustrated (hence the hefty price tag).