The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square
by Joseph Viteritti
Princeton University Press, 294 pages, $27.95
In his 1999 book, Choosing Equality, Joseph Viteritti presented a compelling and eloquent case, grounded in equality and religious liberty, for choice in education. He demolished the too often unexamined myths and exposed the widely ignored prejudices that have stymied reform efforts and entrenched an unjust and dysfunctional status quo. Now, in The Last Freedom, Viteritti treats with similar clarity and understanding broader questions relating to the rights of religious believers and the role of religious arguments in the public square of a constitutional democracy.
Like many other contemporary writers and commentators, Viteritti confronts the challenges that religious pluralism and deep disagreements about moral questions pose to public unity and political tranquility. Unlike others, though, he understands that divisions are inevitable in a free society, and that the way to civil peace and the common good is not, and cannot be, the marginalization of religion or the homogenization of religious institutions. In our traditions, he explains, the end is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. For those hoping to better understand not only our current debates about faith, politics, education, and citizenship, but also the history of America's experiment with religious freedom under and through law, The Last Freedom is a welcome and illuminating work.
—Richard W. Garnett
The Teachings of Modern Roman Catholicism on Law, Politics, and Human Nature
edited by John Witte Jr. and Frank S. Alexander
Columbia University Press, 536 pages, $79.50
Adorned with an “Introduction to Modern Catholicism” by Russell Hittinger, this collection will prove an indispensable volume for theologians, philosophers, jurists, and political theorists. It compiles arresting source materials from the most prominent of Catholic minds who have defined the grappling of Catholic intelligence with the modern state: Leo XIII, Jacques Maritain, John Courtney Murray, John XXIII, Gustavo Gutierez, and Pope John Paul II.
Additionally, the work frames consideration of these materials with helpful interpretative essays. Such a work of course opens itself to marginal criticisms of exclusion—but no one can argue that those included are not in historical and doctrinal terms centrally important figures. (One may perhaps be forgiven a certain skepticism, though, with respect to the idea that Gutierez—whose historical importance and influence are not in question—has developed the tradition in ways strategically comparable to the achievements of the other authors.)
Meanwhile, Hittinger's essay articulates the rich contrapositions and influences sparking the Leonine scholastic creativity in social, political, and legal theory together with its essentially Thomistic character. The question at the font of this creativity—a creativity that was incited by the political and social questions placed on the doorstep of the Church by the advent of modernity and the nation-state—remains all the more with us today.
As Hittinger puts it: “Thomists argued that pluralities stem from intrinsic unities, beginning with human nature itself, and including matrimony, family, church, and body politic. The question was not whether there is social pluralism with distinctive modes of authority and freedom, but whether there is an ontological landscape internal to social forms. By nature and supernature, are there norms anterior to, and higher than, the laws imposed by civil law and contract?”
At a time in which the Supreme Court of Massachusetts can baldly declare that matrimonial union is a creation of the police power of the state established by the state to distribute benefits and collect information, the reality of natural societies possessed of an intrinsic unity with an “ontological landscape” interior to themselves is, if anything, more controversial and volatile than it has been in the past.
The insight that society is not merely a placeholder for church or state, and that its common good embraces the ends of natural societies whose divinely bestowed gifts and teleologies should be respected and honored in law and custom, is in differing ways at the heart of Catholic social teaching and its application to questions of justice, freedom of religion, church-state relations, and social life. Those wishing to contemplate the depth and profundity of this enormously fertile body of teachings, and of the great minds who have developed them, should turn with joy to this compendium.
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
by Eric Metaxas
HarperOne, 320 pages, $13 (paper)
In a book that modestly maintains that its purpose is not “to break new ground,” the author makes the somewhat immodest claim that Wilberforce produced “nothing less than a fundamental and important shift in human consciousness.” Beyond toppling the British slave trade and inspiring the emancipation of British slaves, Wilberforce gave rise to the mindset that spurs celebrities to globe-trot as U.N. goodwill ambassadors and us average citizens to drop off cans at the food bank.
In today's terms, Wilberforce popularized “social consciousness”—in Wilberforce's own words, he “made goodness fashionable.” The author illustrates his point by correcting the reader's misconceptions of a pious and prim eighteenth-century society. College freshmen at Oxford led a life as debauched as those cavorting at school today—“They drank hard and their conversation was even worse than their lives.”
Outside the university, morals were no better. With dramatic relish, Metaxas paints a picture of a societal elite that was “exquisitely selfish” and a lower class that was ghoulishly brutal. Neither received moral inspiration from the Anglican Church, which “seemed to present civility and the preservation of the status quo as the summum bonum.”
In short, Metaxas admiringly observes, Wilberforce “replaced an entire world of brutality and misery with another of civility and hope.” For the reader who likes to emerge inspired rather than disenchanted, Amazing Grace is aptly written.
As a commemorative work, the book seeks to venerate and defend its subject rather than focus on shortcomings. The author tends toward a verbosity that at times makes his presentation appear over the top. And if you prefer your biographers to be invisible conduits, you may be annoyed by his irrepressible voice that bubbles beneath the story line. Nonetheless, the story is fluidly told and provides a compelling example of faith that leads not to “meditation only but to action.”
—Anna Deborah Bingham
Cry Havoc!: The Great American Bring-down and How It Happened
by Ralph de Toledano
Anthem, 254 pages, $18
G.K. Chesterton's fantastic tale The Man Who Was Thursday warns of “a purely intellectual conspiracy” that would “threaten the very existence of civilization . . . [T]he scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State.”
Cry Havoc!, the final book by the late conservative journalist Ralph de Toledano, claims that all this has already occurred and largely succeeded. The villains are the intellectuals of the neo-Marxist/neo-Freudian clique known as the Frankfurt School. A project of the Communist International, intellectual subversion was only one part of the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University, but it was where the institute had its greatest success—far beyond what Willi Muenzenberg and the other founders hoped for.
Academic ne'er-do-wells like Herbert Marcuse, Theodore Adorno, Wilhelm Reich, Kurt Lewin, and Max Horkheimer provided the mental muscle for the institute, and their influence rose when John Dewey brought it to America in 1938, where Columbia University's Teacher's College provided an ideal platform for the dissemination of its theories—which followed the young Marx's call for the “ruthless destruction of everything existing.”
Not merely capitalism but family, culture, art, religion, and taboos were under baleful judgment. And the critical theory the Frankfurters formulated has come to dominance on college campuses, much to the detriment of our civilization.
The book overreaches at times; as destructive as Marcuse, Adorno, and the rest of the Frankfurters were, they were only part of a greater intellectual disaster—scads of scholars turned against the West without their tutelage. Nonetheless, de Toledano provided an important account of how one branch of intellectual corruption spread a vast shadow over the West.
Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief
by Rowan Williams
Westminster John Knox, 159 pages, $16.95
How does one introduce the intelligent skeptic to Christian belief? The archbishop of Canterbury aims to do so with a book bridging the interests of a thinking unbeliever and the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds.
The first chapter's approach is representative: Williams combines the natural starting place of the skeptic (the title: “Who Can We Trust?”) with that of the Christian (the subtitle: “I believe in God the Father almighty”).
The archbishop has an expert and delicate touch, and the resulting blend is both intellectual and orthodox. His patient discussion of the divinity of Christ follows the slow, cautious steps that led the Church to the bewildering and yet undeniable confession that Jesus is God. The drama of this description makes a point often missed when the battle lines are drawn too carelessly: This fact astonishes Christians, too.
At times, however, the secular reader may feel too much at home to be challenged. The archbishop's examples of Christ's visible activity through the Church include international debt relief, urban social work, and resolution to ethnic conflict. These are very good causes, but they are also the sort that many unchurched intellectuals find most laudable: There's a rather discouraging whiff of “me too-ism.” Can the Church witness here to a vision any different from that of the world's?
The archbishop is evenhanded, and his learning is admirably employed to the task; this book is a good one for friends who find Christianity unreasonably bizarre. But ideally an introduction to Christian belief will invite an introduction to Jesus as well.
—Marcos B. Gouvêa
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
by Philip Zimbardo
Random House, 576 pages, $27.95
In The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo theorizes that people discount situational influences when judging the actions of others. In particular, he recounts in detail the events of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE), which he designed and directed: He replicated a prison block in a Stanford building and assigned male undergraduate volunteers to act the part of guards and prisoners.
The experiment, which was originally planned for two weeks, grew so dangerously out of control that Zimbardo was forced to shut it down after less than a week.
Drawing on his experience as an expert witness for the court-martial hearings on Abu Ghraib, Zimbardo presents a body of research evidence to suggest that the military as well as the Bush administration fostered a situation that turned ordinary soldiers into torturers and abusers. Zimbardo also suggests, however, that the power of situations can be used to promote good behavior and turn ordinary people into heroes. The Lucifer Effect is at times unbalanced and disjointed but well worth reading to remind us that where we are may affect us as much as who we are.
—Cole R. Milliard
Playing With God: Religion and Modern Sport
by William J. Baker
Harvard University Press, 336 pages, $29.95
William Baker tells the history of sport's change from sinful to sanctifying. The Puritans generally saw sport as a distraction from godly things, but immigration and urbanization created a need to civilize and catechize urban youths. Preachers built gyms and delivered sermons about “muscular Christianity” to keep kids out of trouble.
In the early twentieth century, Notre Dame football helped Catholics gain acceptance, and Jewish stereotypes were smashed by Jewish boxing success. Evangelicalism especially owes much of its growth to sports ministries. One of baker's themes is the struggle of religion to keep sport in check: Today sport replaces church in many American families. Playing with God is good reading for anyone interested in how sport has come to dominate American secular life.
Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril
by David Klinghoffer
Doubleday, 256 pages, $24.95
If you think America is making even the slightest spiritual strides, David Klinghoffer will quickly dispel your optimism.
Using Seattle as a case study, Klinghoffer retrieves examples of America's immorality and godlessness from bizarre and shocking news stories to demonstrate how Americans are breaking Moses' moral code and, consequently, heading full speed to destruction.
But rather than offering an analysis that instructs or at least encourages believers to steer America away from its impending doom, Klinghoffer merely offers a grim picture of the ugly underbelly of our nation. By the conclusion, one wants something more than a fatal diagnosis, but Klinghoffer gives no prescription except an assumed command to obey God.
Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education
by David S. Dockery
B&H, 264 pages, $19.99 (paper)
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul commands the Romans. As the rich Christian heritage repeatedly attests, the gospel call involves both heart and mind: Faith seeks understanding; the quests for God and truth ultimately converge. David Dockery, president of Union University, takes this seriously. It is not enough to embrace a clandestine Christianity, he argues.
Today more than ever, Christians—and Christian universities in particular—must engage the broader intellectual culture and the world. With this articulate and unabashed book, Dockery seeks to rekindle
the Christ-centered scholarly community.
Dockery recognizes what so many have before him: American higher education has fractured under the weight of secularization and specialization. He does not blow the horn of retreat, however, and seek isolation from modernity. Nor does he advocate complacent surrender and assimilation, imprisoning faith in the pew or leaving it to die in the field. Instead, Dockery calls for Christians to be great scholars, to bring the Christian worldview to society through their diverse academic disciplines.
Dockery's prose is quick and conversational, but his challenge is not for the faint of heart. The communal life of Christian devotion and serious scholarship that he advocates is easy to proclaim but difficult to live. Dockery doesn't say it will be easy, but his zealous arguments, speckled with practical tips and historical examples, should give professors and students the encouragement to try.
Yet I can't help but ask: What happens after graduation, when the young missionaries leave their Christian havens and journey into the wilderness? If the world receives them not, do they shake their dusty feet or dig in their heels? I only wish Dockery had answered these questions, for, outside the Christian university, they are inescapable.
In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas
by Theodore Dalrymple
Encounter, 129 pages, $20
Theodore Dalrymple is a man of prejudice, and he argues that it's a good thing. Good prejudices, Dalrymple writes, come before metaphysics and reflection. It is good, for example, that some men and women examine the reasons for not having children outside of marriage. But, regardless of their desire for ratiocination, potential parents need to acquire the social prejudice that it is better for a child to have a mother and father who are married.
Furthermore, he argues, “We can rid ourselves of any particular attitude to any given question, no doubt, but we cannot give up having any attitude whatsoever to it.” Indeed, “to overturn a prejudice is not to destroy prejudice as such. It is rather to inculcate another prejudice.”
In his career as a physician and a psychiatrist, working regularly with patients in an English prison, Dalrymple witnessed the pernicious effects of bad prejudices on sexual mores, chiefly in the form of increases in domestic abuse and children born out of wedlock. When modern society demolished the prejudice in favor of the traditional family, the result was not a lack of prejudice but a new prejudice in favor of boundary-free social relations.
Looking at the lives of his patients, Dalrymple writes that the results have been disastrous: “What I saw was human conduct as it becomes when the requirement to conform to inherited social restraints no longer exists, when it is left to the whim of individuals how to behave. The result is an urban hell.” Dalrymple's well-written diagnosis of our social ills comes from his first-hand experience with their symptoms. His arguments persuade the reader of the need for good preconceptions in an age prejudiced against them.
by Jacques Philippe
Scepter, 134 pages, $9.95 (paper)
In a world that places more demands on people's shoulders than ever before—from keeping up with endless strains of e-mail to meeting the next deadline, from keeping the boss happy to keeping the spouse and kids happy—how does the Christian retain a sense of freedom? In his beautifully written Interior Freedom, Fr. Jacques Philippe takes readers by the hand to rediscover the freedom that comes from Christ alone.
While the peace of God surpasses all understanding, Philippe makes it seem attainable as he draws from Scripture, literature, and the saints to offer simple advice on how to find peace in the midst of our complicated modern lives.
This inner peace comes from the freedom offered in Christ. And learning to accept ourselves and the situation in which God has placed us is the first step to beginning the transformation that he desires for us. As we come to realize that our true happiness lies not in the will to power but in the power given to us by Christ to accept and follow the will of God, we will begin to experience true interior freedom—even in the midst of exterior burdens and chaos.
Philippe touches on the trials that other people may cause in our lives, the redeeming purpose of suffering, the dynamic that grace and law exercise in our response to the gospel, and the daily necessity of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Of course, the greatest of these—and what we will take with us into eternity—is love. And Philippe counsels readers that the best way to prepare for eternal life is to live love in the present moment. The truly free person “is the one who has nothing left to lose,” for he has realized that all of life is a gift of love, to be given and received freely. Written in short digestible segments, Interior Freedom is a perfect book to use for inspiration during times of prayer, as devotional reading, and to keep on your nightstand.
—Ryan T. Anderson
Rhyming Poems: A Contemporary Anthology
edited by William Baer
University of Evansville Press, 168 pages, $12 (paper)
As editor of The Formalist throughout that journal's celebrated fifteen-year run, founder of the annual Richard Wilbur Book Award, and editor of two previous anthologies of formal verse, William Baer has played a key role in the resurgence of rhymed, metrical poetry. His new anthology, Rhyming Poems, contains one poem by each of the one hundred contemporary poets included. With the exception of a few written by elder statesmen such as the late Anthony Hecht and Gwendolyn Brooks, most were published within the past fifteen years.
In his brief introduction, Baer explains rhyme's curious appeal; describes the various ways it affects the structure, composition, and reception of poems; defends rhyme against its detractors; traces its history throughout the Western tradition; and explains why some languages such as Latin and Greek are less amenable to it than others such as Italian and English.
The poems come in a wide variety of forms, from sonnets, villanelles, and ballads to rhyming stanzas of various shapes and sizes. Unlike the dreary confessional musings and scattered observations of much contemporary verse, these poems cover a surprisingly large range of subjects and moods, from Midge Goldberg's affectionate ode to a sump pump to Maura Stanton's sonnet on grief and aging, “Artificial Tears.”
Lucid, insightful, and often witty, they also support the editor's contention that rhyme is not a straitjacket but frees poets to discover new metaphors and hidden musical structures within the texture of language.