The November issue of First Things is now hot off the griddle¯a rich, tasty new issue, with major essays from the likes of Richard John Neuhaus, Gilbert Meilaender, and Stephen Barr. Book reviews, poems, letters, and Opinions¯to say nothing of another flavorful installment of the The Public Square: This is a big, big meal.

It opens with “ Babies Perfect and Imperfect ,” Amy Julia Becker’s account of having a Down syndrome child, which begins:

Our daughter was born at 5:22 p.m. on December 30, 2005. Two hours later, a nurse called my husband out of the room. When he returned, he took my hand and said, “They think Penny has Down syndrome.” As this news began to make its way into my consciousness, we heard shouts from the room next door. Another child had been born. “She’s perfect!” someone exclaimed about that other baby. “She’s perfect!”

Then Sally Thomas, in her inimitable fashion, takes up recent claims of America’s dumbing down through technology, in the perfectly titled “ iPhones Have Consequences

To get an account on Facebook¯as, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that both my teenage daughter and I have done¯is to enter a world in which people spend hours not only chatting but pretending to be werewolves who deliver bowls of pain to each other, or pretending to be pioneers on the Oregon trail who eat each other, or pretending to be superheroes who make each other levitate.

In such pursuits can an entire afternoon evaporate while the sentences sit undiagrammed, the history chapter unread, the magazine article unwritten. The Crito is out there, too, among the werewolves and the cannibals, but Socrates sits in his prison in vain: The youth of Athens are busy finding out what breakfast food is preferred by boy bands such as the Jonas Brothers.

Next up is “ Stem Cells: A Political History ,” a full-length account of those strange years when stem cells moved from science to politics, written by Joseph Bottum and Ryan T. Anderson:

There are lessons in all this for America’s scientists, beginning with the reminder that politicians are always going to be better at politics than scientists are. The scientific community invested a great deal of its prestige¯its standing as an objective, non-partisan reporter¯in a public account of stem cells that is now discredited. No explanation of how “people need a fairy tale” will hide the fact that many of the nation’s most prominent stem-cell researchers openly joined one side in a partisan political debate, with all the demagogueries, lies, and exaggerations that partisan politics creates.

There are lessons, as well, for the rest of us, beginning with the reminder that politically useful science is always suspect. “The potential to conquer all known maladies,” proclaimed Sen. Specter. That magical phrase should have made our skin crawl. When science dresses up in political clothes, it’s no longer science. It’s only politics.

Then the issue presents “ Islam’s Way to Freedom ,” by the foreign-policy specialist Thomas F. Farr, who concludes, “If we are to defeat Islamist radicalism, we must supplement sound military strategy, good intelligence, vigorous law enforcement, and state-to-state diplomacy with what has, until now, been the missing link. Ordered liberty demands realism about human nature. If democracies are to succeed in highly religious societies, they must be grounded in religious freedom.”

In “ Theology After Newton ,” the physicist Stephen M. Barr adds a scientist’s stern reading of the theological essays on science from Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the major theologians of our time.

Then, in “ Education & Soulcraft ,” Gilbert Meilaender gives his own stern reading of the new book from Stanley Fish, Save the World on Your Own Time . Is it possible to be right for the wrong reasons? “Would that Fish had pressed just a bit harder on this point,” Meilaender concludes. “For our students¯or, at least, some of them¯are drawn by an eros they cannot fully explain. It is ultimately . . . a longing for the Eternal. To see that is, of course, to see why Fish is fundamentally on target. Which of us would be so foolish as to suppose we could package the Eternal and guarantee to transmit it to our students?”

And then, in yet another meaty essay, Ralph C. Wood notes the hundredth anniversary of G.K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy : “The past century belongs to Chesterton because he was one of its most astute analysts. Orthodoxy remains his most prophetic book because he foresaw both the insane modernist rationalism and the lunatic postmodern emotivism that would engulf us. Yet Chesterton remained a happy pessimist because he was a Christian humanist. And his influence is alive and well after a century because he discerned one thing above all else: that humanity is a monstrosity, a wild and not a tame species.”

A cornucopia of book reviews follows, like the next course of a perfect meal. We’ve got notes from George Weigel on a study of John Paul II and Robert Louis Wilken on medieval Islam ¯and Matthew Levering on the new David Novak Reader , and Romanus Cessario on the essays of Martin Rhonheimer , and Thomas G. Guarino on the Protestant theology of Olli-Pekka Vainio .

We’ve got full-length reviews of Mary Lefkowitz’s History Lesson by Alan Jacobs and Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception by Steven Mosher . The great biblical scholar Gary Anderson examines John Barton’s Nature of Biblical Criticism , and the philosopher John Haldane reads the new volume from Patrick Lee and Robert P. George, Body“Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics . In “ The Odyssey of the Odyssey ,” the critic Zbigniew Janowski reflects on Edith Hall’s book about the cultural history of Homer.

The correspondence section features important letters on Russell Hittinger’s June/July essay “Two Thomisms, Two Modernities,” and if it’s poetry you want, this new issue of First Things offers a smorgasbord. Here’s a little taste, an epigram from A.M. Juster:

A Stern Warning to Canada

If you want peace,

withdraw your geese.

Add in work by Samuel Menashe , Timothy Murphy , Wiley Clements , John Drexel , Amit Majmudar , and Rob Griffith , and you’ve got something for every taste.

Finally, as in every issue, there’s the dessert of The Public Square , from Richard John Neuhaus. This month he takes up global warming, Charles Dickens, Freeman Dyson, and divorce in Switzerland. Here’s a sample for your palate:

Publishers Weekly announces that New Press, a far-left, not-for-profit publisher in New York, is launching a line of religion books. The first of eight books scheduled for this year is Daniel Maguire’s Whose Church? A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism . Maguire, an ex-priest, is best known for his work with Planned Parenthood in promoting “reproductive rights.” The second book is Whose Torah? A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism by Rebecca Alpert, who is described as “a lesbian and an ordained female rabbi.” “Our plan is to break down the stereotype of religion as a right-wing phenomenon,” says Rita Brock of New Press, which describes the religion books as “a political intervention.” That has at least the merit of candor.

Doesn’t all this sound like a meal to remember? So why aren’t you subscribing ?

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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