by Betty A. Deberg
Fortress Press, 165 pages, $9.95 paper
DeBerg of Valparaiso University makes the argument that the “first wave” of fundamentalism, around the turn of the century, is in fact the progenitor of today's “religious right” with respect to the “gender agenda.” The argument is against some historians who have suggested that the current focus on abortion and family values, together with a willingness to cooperate with Roman Catholics in the public arena, is something new in conservative Protestantism. The author has no difficulty in finding examples of enthusiasm for “muscular Christianity” in the earlier period. On the other hand, she does not argue but merely assumes that the accenting of the masculine in religion is very bad. This seems not to take very seriously the many scholars, men and women, who worry about the “feminization” of culture, and of religion in particular. But her limited point, that the “gender agenda” is not something entirely new in conservative Protestantism, is securely made.
The Church With AIDS: Renewal in the Midst of Crisis
edited by Letty Russell
Westminster/John Knox Press, 223 pages, $10.95
Some of the stories told here, by people with AIDS and by people working with people with AIDS, are quite affecting. Regrettably, editor Russell, a prominent feminist/womanist theologian, and most of the fourteen contributors take for granted that “acceptance” of gay/lesbian lifestyles is a mark of the new Christian orthodoxy. The result is that the book has less to do with “renewal” than with familiar agitations in the culture wars. That is a pity, for there is an important and less simple-minded story to be told about the various ways in which the churches are responding to the AIDS crisis.
Religio Medici etc.
by Thomas Browne
Sherwood Sugden, 392 pages, $14.95
Of this seventeenth-century moral reflection Dr. Johnson wrote, “The Religio Medici was no sooner published than it excited the attention of the publick, by the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtlety of disquisition, & the strength of language.” Sir Thomas Browne's prose is not as strong as Dr. Johnson's (whose is?) but the book lives up to the description. The publishers bring out this reprint without so much as adding a foreword, which suggests that there is something a little offbeat about Sherwood Sugden. There is. Their list is mainly Roman Catholic, mainly conservative, and not a little eccentric. (Christopher Dawson, M. E. Bradford, Christopher Derrick, George Rutler, Hilaire Belloc, etc.) For a complete account of their offerings, write 315 Fifth Street, Peru, Illinois 61354.
A New Creation: America's Contemporary Spiritual Voices
edited by Roger S. Gottlieb
Crossroad, 383 pages, $18.95
The subtitle suggests that these are America's contemporary spiritual voices. It seems a certainty, however, that 90 percent of Americans have never heard of most of the thirty-four contributors. For instance: Mantak Chia, Ram Dass, Blu Greenberg, Chungliang Al Huang, Aryeh Kaplan, J. Krishnamurti, and Dhyani Ywahoo. The more attentive public might be familiar with names such as Matthew Fox, E. E Schumacher, Henri Nouwen, and Starhawk. But the book does make an intriguing potpourri of New Age enthusiasms, gay/lesbian liberationisms, and feminist death-of-the-father-god extravagances. “Coming out,” writes feminist/womanist theologian Carter Heyward, “we are calling public attention to what we so strongly believe to be true.” Indeed. “Look at me!” as some people started saying at age three and now say in books. It is exceedingly tiresome, this chorus of self-declared “creativity” in generating new “spiritualities.” Nonetheless, Brother David Steindl-Rast says on the back cover that this is an important book that helps us to turn from “the truths out there with their rival claims” to “the inner Truth of who we really are.” Brother David Steindl-Rast is one of the contributors. With earlier books, editor Gottlieb made a mark of sorts as a Marxist theoretician. In promoting the debased gnosticism of the goddess of The Inner Truth, he has once again placed himself, he seems touchingly convinced, at the cutting edge.