Public Education: An Autopsy
by Myron Lieberman
Harvard University Press, 379 pages, $27.95
The School-Choice Controversy: What is Constitutional?
edited by James W. Skillen
Baker Book House/Center for Public Justice, 128 pages, $6.99 paper
Two new entries in the never-ending stream of books advocating parental choice of schools take diametrically opposed routes to a similar conclusion. Myron Lieberman argues that public education is beyond redemption because it is inherently unable to perform effectively and is overly sensitive to the interests of teachers while ignoring those of children and their parents. He calls for a consumer-driven market in educational services, with for-profit schools encouraged to serve those parents willing and able to pay extra to give their children advantages. He dismisses with scorn attempts to impose policy constraints on such a market, such as First Things contributor John Coons’ proposal that schools receiving public funds be required to admit a proportion of children from poor families. Lieberman has delivered the most relentless attack yet on the American system of government monopoly of free schooling. The authors represented in the Center for Public Justice collection, by contrast, argue that a respect for liberty requires that parents be enabled to choose schools that satisfy their own religious or other deeply held convictions, without financial penalty, through a system of public funding that does not discriminate against choices made on a religious basis. Contending that there is no such thing as “neutral” education, the authors accuse the present system of representing an establishment of secularism and a denial of free exercise of religion, thus doubly violating the religion clause of the First Amendment. These brief essays”by ethicist Richard Baer, legal scholars Edward Larson and Phillip Johnson, and political scientist (and editor) James Skillen”provide a brief but clear exposition of the principled case for parental choice, an exposition sympathetic to religion but not premised upon theological considerations.
Charles L. Glenn
The Apostolic Faith: Protestants and Roman Catholics
by Frederick W. Norris
Liturgical Press, 206 pages, $14.95 paper
Emmanuel School of Religion is a small independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ seminary set among the mountains in northeastern Tennessee. As with other schools in this tradition, students there have to read the writings of Alexander Campbell. But at Emmanuel they also read the church fathers. This is because Fred Norris, the author of this delightful little book, teaches there. The Apostolic Faith is a warm and engaging memoir of Norris’ father and grandfather, both preachers, who were wary of Catholics, and Norris’ discovery that Evangelicals and Catholics have more in common than they realize. It is also a lively introduction to the Nicene Creed, the faith they share. Norris is an accomplished historian of Christian thought, but his treatment of the Creed focuses on its significance for the faith and life of the churches (Evangelical and Roman Catholic) today. One story stands out. When Norris’ father was serving a congregation in West Virginia in the 1960s a delegation from the local Roman Catholic Church asked him to consider becoming their priest. He was honored but declined. Norris takes this as a metaphor to urge that it is time Roman Catholics and Evangelicals take each other more seriously and seek to discover the unity they share. This is a wise and hopeful book, written out of love, and filled with yearning for the unity of the church.
Robert L. Wilken
The Debate on the Constitution
edited by Bernard Bailyn
Library of America, 2,389 pages, in two volumes, $35 each, $70 boxed set
For the last few years the Library of America has been producing splendid, and moderately priced, editions of American classics: Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Twain, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and, well, you name it. Not limiting itself to novels, short stories, and poems, Library of America has also come out with historical and political documents of special literary merit”for instance, a two-volume collection of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, letters, and miscellaneous scribblings, plus a new edition of Ulysses S. Grant’s famous memoirs. The Debate on the Constitution is the latest addition to this historical/political line; it is, as its subtitle indicates, a compendium of “Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle Over Ratification,” which took place from 1787 to 1789. The ratification debate was principally an argument as to how the country should be governed; on the one hand were the federalists (including Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, John Jay, Washington, and John Adams, among others) pushing for a strong, centralized, national government, and on the other hand the anti-federalists (such as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Clinton, and Elbridge Gerry) favoring a looser structure that vested more authority in state and local governments. More than two centuries after ratification, the issues discussed in these pages are still very much with us, and in many respects very much unresolved. But they are argued here with far greater eloquence and erudition, on both sides, than in any modern forum. Definitely worth owning.
Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching
edited by George Weigel and Robert Royal
Eerdmans/Ethics and Public Policy Center, 246 pages, $16.99 paper
Substantially revised and updated from an earlier edition, this book is a must for people who want to think through the connections between Christian faith and public life. The informative essays take in the full sweep of modern Catholic social thought, from Rerum Novarum through Centesimus Annus , and essayists include, in addition to the editors, such authorities as William Murphy, Thomas Kohler, Robert Sirico, and James Finn. This volume belongs in any basic library dealing with questions of religion and society.
An Apology for Apologetics: A Study in the Logic of Interreligious Dialogue
by Paul J. Griffiths
Orbis, 150 pages, $39.95 cloth, $18.95 paper
Engaging in interreligious dialogue”whether one be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Whatever”is generally thought to require a studied measure of wimpishness. In order to be polite and in order to keep the conversation going, one must pretend that he does not think his own religion to be true. Not so, says Paul Griffiths of the University of Chicago Divinity School in this bracing and well-argued little book. He offers a convincing apologetic for NOIA”the necessity of interreligious apologetics. All religions are chock full of “doctrine-expressing statements” that purport to be true, and an authentic interreligious encounter will recognize that statements are sometimes incompatible. Members of religious communities engaged in dialogue “enter the lists” to champion the doctrine-expressing statements of their own communities. They do so in order to learn but also, and inescapably, in order to vindicate their understanding of the truth. Without “positive apologetics,” Griffiths contends, interreligious dialogue degenerates into fideism and subjectivism. In addition to corrupting the dialogue process, the result is to discredit the notion that religion itself is capable of addressing questions of truth in any publicly important sense. And that, the author observes, is pretty much the way religion is viewed, with considerable justice, in the contemporary world. This is an important book deserving of careful attention.
Religion and Politics in the United States
by Kenneth D. Wald
Congressional Quarterly Press, 380 pages, $20.95 paper
The second and much-updated edition of a much-respected study of the ambiguous relationship between religion and the political culture. Ambiguity and balance mark the author’s approach to the hotly controverted questions engaged, and some readers may wish for a more sustained argument on one side or the other. But Wald’s determination to be fair to alternative views is also a strength of this reliable survey of issues too often taken captive to partisanship.