The October issue of First Things has arrived¯a big-tent issue, a three-ring extravaganza of essays, poems, letters, and reviews.
Under the big top, for instance, Richard John Neuhaus looks back at the Second Vatican Council. In his essay-length review of two new books¯John W. OMalleys What Happened at Vatican II and the work collected by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering in Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition ¯Neuhaus writes:
A great difference between the Lamb and Levering hermeneutic and the OMalley hermeneutic is that the former is primarily theological and attuned to what is believed to be divinely revealed truth as it has been handed on and its understanding faithfully developed over the centuries. The OMalley interpretation is dominantly sociological, psychological, and linguistic, aimed at demonstrating how the council moved beyond the status quo. . . .
All that having been said, however, OMalleys book is much the better read. As Xavier Rynne and the editors of the New Yorker understood, personalities, politics, factional fights, and dark conspiracies make for high drama. Especially when combatants are cast as good liberals versus bad conservatives. More than forty years later, however, the hermeneutic of reform in continuity is prevailing, and serious readers who want to understand the significance of the council will be better served by Lamb and Levering.
This months issue moves on to the Princeton professor Robert P. George, writing about Making Business Moral : Business is a pillar of decent and dynamic societies. It can and must support the other pillars, since it depends on them for its own flourishing.
No? Not for you? Then how about John McWhorters review of Elvin Lims new volume on the history of presidential rhetoric? Analyzing all the presidential inaugural addresses, McWhorter notes, Lim shows that the average sentence length has become ever shorter and the level of vocabulary ever lower. The rallyesque State of the Union address that is now typical¯a sequence of punchy lines designed to elicit applause¯was unheard of until the Nixon administration.
In the genre of true crime, the facts always seem to have a strange, half-religious light cast on them, as though, in the end, original sin alone provides much explanation of crime. If fiction is the great humanistic endeavor, seeking human reasons for human behavior, then true crime is not an art form but a sort of low-rent theology. In its American form, at least, it offers little more than a Christian worldview¯or what the Christian worldview would be without the possibility of Christ: sin without redemption; the Fall without the Resurrection; justice, sometimes, but never mercy.
Aint nothing, really, but a meanness in this world.
Back in the main ring is this months free article¯available even to the non-subscribers who want to peek in under the tent¯is a pair of articles from Bruce D. Porter and Gerald R. McDermott on the question: Is Mormonism Christian?
By self-definition and self-identity, unquestionably so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that it is a Christian-faith denomination, a body of believers who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and who witness that salvation is possible only by his atoning blood and grace. By the simple dictionary definition of a Christian as one who believes in or worships Jesus Christ, the case is compelling. To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate¯unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different¯but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue.
And McDermott insists:
In sum, then, Mormon beliefs diverge widely from historic Christian orthodoxy. The Book of Mormon, which is Mormonisms principal source for its claim to new revelation and a new prophet, lacks credibility. And the Jesus proclaimed by Joseph Smith and his followers is different in significant ways from the Jesus of the New Testament: Smiths Jesus is a God distinct from God the Father; he was once merely a man and not God; he is of the same species as human beings; and his being and acts are limited by coeternal matter and laws . . . . If Christianity is a shoot grafted onto the olive tree of Judaism, Mormonism as it stands cannot be successfully grafted onto either.
Meanwhile, Jordan Hylden explains what he thinks were the surprising signs of hopefulness at the Anglicans Lambeth Conference this summer, and our features editor, R.R. Reno, rereads Jack Kerouacs On the Road :
All of this makes it wrong to read On the Road as a story of adolescent self-indulgence and thrill-seeking. Just as St. Francis tore off his clothes in the city square and rejected life according to normal hopes and fears, so Dean is a man entirely outside society. His criminality is not motivated by a mean desire for money. He does not steal cars to sell them, for that would simply be a dishonest way of getting the equivalent of a regular paycheck. Dean commits crimes because it is in his nature to grab whatever is at hand to enjoy the moment. His transgressions, Kerouac tells us, were all part of a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy.
Over in the letters section , such writers as Anne Barbeau Gardiner, David Beauregard, O.M.V., and Peter Milward, S.J., take out after Robert Miolas article on Shakespeares religion¯joined by a final exchange in William Chip and Michael Scaperlandas discussion of the bishops and immigration, and Wesley J. Smiths complaint that Wilfred McClay did not go far enough in his essay on Charles Taylor.
In Air on the Side of Prudence , the poet Laurance Wieder remarks that while he was Seated at the table with Oedipus and Isaac, / The conversation turned to parenting ¯a pair of lines as funny, I think, as almost anything thats ever appeared in First Things .
Wieders work is joined this month by poems from Bryce Christensen , Timothy Murphy , A.M. Juster ¯while Justers new translation of The Satires of Horace , just out from the University of Pennsylvania Press, receives an enthusiastic review from the poet A.E. Stallings. In this issue, as well, is one of the last poems from the writer Thomas M. Disch, together with a memorial poem for Disch, From a Line in a Novel, by David Mason.
Just to help fill out events here under the big top , John Lukacs looks at the memoir from John Jay Hughes, and Shalom Carmy reads Jonathan D. Sarnas A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew , and Kristen Scharolds praises Cry Wolf , the novel by First Things ’ poetry editor, Paul Lake.
In fuller reviews, Gary Anderson examines Joseph A. Fitzmyers The One Who Is to Come , about the problem of Jewish messianic expectations in the generations just prior to the birth of Jesus. Richard Garnett adds a careful reading of Nicholas Wolterstorffs Justice: Rights and Wrongs , and Benjamin Balint looks at Hilary Putnams Jewish Philosophy as a Guide to Life . The indefatigable Alan Jacobs takes on James Simpsons Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and Its Reformation Opponents , noting that
the advocates of literacy we educated folks celebrate as our intellectual ancestors were the ones who advocated violence against those who did not read Scripture as they did. Simpson finds this horrifying, and, if one had to say that Burning to Read has a single purpose, it would be that of convincing readers to repudiate these ancestors, to deny their family resemblance to early modern evangelicals.
In the final show¯as always¯ First Things features the high-wire act of The Public Square , the popular column from Richard John Neuhaus. This month Fr. Neuhaus takes up What We Cant Not Know, and the question of miracles, and much else besides¯noting, for example that
Frances Fitzgerald is a woman of enthusiasms. Her latest find is The New Evangelicals, and, in an article by that title in the June 30 issue of the New Yorker , she writes them up with glowing appreciation. The drafters of An Evangelical Manifesto, discussed in the last issue of First Things , probably didnt expect such quick results . . . . It is a heady sensation to be exalted by the likes of the New Yorker , the Washington Post , and the New York Times , but it is an embarrassingly paltry reward for betraying the promise of evangelicalism in American public life, and I am persuaded that most evangelicals will not accept the deal.