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A Life of C.S. Lewis

by george sayer
crossway, 423 pages, $13.99 paper

Most biographies of C. S. Lewis so far have been hagiographical chronicles, the great exception being A. N. Wilson’s notorious warts-and-all treatment, which, though it has unfairly been called a hatchet job, would rather create warts than leave any unexposed. George Sayer”who was Lewis’ pupil and then his friend for thirty years”avoids the “plaster saint” treatment, and is more willing to let the warts show than most of Lewis’ other Christian biographers; but his admiration for Lewis is so great that it sometimes disarms his critical faculties. Wilson, for all his recklessness and poor scholarship”some of which Sayer responds to in an Afterword to this new edition (of a book first published in 1988)”is savvier in a number of ways. Nonetheless, Sayer’s book is clear and reliable, and it is particularly useful for American readers baffled by the little mysteries of English culture: the sociology of the public schools, the tutorial system at Oxford, and so on. But many of us are still waiting for a more responsible writer than Wilson to provide not just an account but an interpretation of Lewis’ remarkable character. To be fair, Sayer claims only to “present the factual background” to Lewis’ “motivation and character,” but at this point in the history of Lewis studies one wishes for more. Perhaps Sayer remembers all too well J. R. R. Tolkein’s words, just after Sayer had met his new tutor: “You’ll never get to the bottom of him.”

—Alan Jacobs

The Alienist
by caleb carr
random house, 496 pages, $22

It’s 1896 in New York and a murderer is horribly mutilating and eating boy prostitutes. On the case are a brave and astute investigative reporter from the New York Times and his friend, an iconoclastic and freethinking alienist (which is what psychologists were called then). They are backed up by a fetching feminist who wants to be the first female cop in New York and by the very progressive new police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt. The villains are flashy gangsters (who can also turn out to be good guys) and J. P. Morgan and his sycophants, such as the Catholic and Episcopal bishops who are in his pay. Not so much a villain, since he is more sinned against than sinning, is the fellow who eats little boys. He is, after all, the victim of a rigorously religious upbringing. This first novel puts one in mind of Claude Rains’ line in Casablanca, “Round up the usual suspects.” The story line formula can be simply put: Controversial and courageous secular enlightenment vs. repressive and corrupt religious tradition, nicely peppered with prurience. In the acknowledgments, the author thanks a Tom Pivinski who helped him “turn nightmares into prose.” The prose is generally effective. If only he had more interesting nightmares.

—Janet Marsden

The Price of Prophecy:
Orthodox Churches on Peace, Freedom, and Security

by alexander f. c. webster
ethics and public policy center, 349 pages, $22.50

Webster, an Orthodox priest and former research fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has produced a valuable introduction to Orthodox theory and practice in the area of public policy. After providing a helpful guide to the complex ethnic and political diversity within American Orthodoxy, he focuses on the experience of the Russian and Romanian Patriarchates under communism. Here Webster honestly addresses cases of ecclesiastical collaboration with Communist governments, although he also points out numerous examples of dissent. He is just as frank when he discusses the American Orthodox concern for human rights abroad, demonstrating just how one-sided and ethnocentric much of that interest has been, e.g., the Antiochian Archdiocese’s concern for Arab and Palestinian (but not Israeli) human rights. Two chapters on conventional and nuclear security issues include detailed criticism of various official Church pronouncements ranging from World War II to SDI and Afghanistan. The final chapter is a thoughtful reflection on the moral, political, and ecclesial dilemmas confronting Orthodoxy’s public policy witness. Webster is quite critical of Orthodoxy’s failure to provide adequate leadership on these issues, characterizing most of its public policy statements as “woefully deficient expressions of authentic Orthodox moral tradition.” These shortcomings are further exacerbated by the scandalous and uncanonical disunity of Orthodoxy in America. But Webster sees the beginnings of a renewal of Orthodoxy’s moral tradition in what he refers to as the “morally reborn” Churches of Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, and suggests the ironic possibility that this rebirth may well eclipse American Orthodoxy’s role as a prophetic voice for peace and freedom.

—Allyne Smith

The Essential Paul Ramsey
edited by william werpehowski and stephen d. crocco
yale university press, 272 pages, $30

Tragedy, Tradition, Transformism:
The Ethics of Paul Ramsey

by d. stephen long
westview, 220 pages, $49.95

The editors of The Essential Paul Ramsey have judiciously selected some of the best and most representative writings of one of the most distinguished religious ethicists of the century. Here is Ramsey on resistance to illegitimate authority, on the justification of war, on the patient as person, on love as the foundation of faithfulness, and much else. The editors provide an extended introduction that will help the uninitiated to understand why Ramsey left such a major mark on the work of so many moral philosophers and theologians in our time. This is a most welcome volume. The study by D. Charles Long of Duke Divinity School has the makings of an intellectual biography and provides some new and important insights into the development of Ramsey’s thought. It will be of interest chiefly to Ramsey scholars and those engaged by internal debates in contemporary academic ethics. One gets the impression that Long fell out of love with Ramsey as he was working on this book. His final judgments are harsh. Ramsey, like other “realists,” was so daunted by the tragedy of life that he betrayed the power of Christianity to transform the world. He became a defender of the status quo and ended up, as it is said in some circles, doing ethics for Caesar rather than for Christ. The book is dedicated to Paul Ramsey and Stanley Hauerwas, who were close friends. Long echoes Hauerwas’ critique of “ethical realism,” but without his generosity of spirit toward Ramsey.

Putting the Soul Back in Medicine
by david schiedermayer, m.d.
baker, 192 pages, $9.99 paper

The author practices internal medicine at the County Hospital in Milwaukee and teaches medical ethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. A thoughtful addition to a growing Christian literature on the dilemmas of medical treatment and the need to make human again the relationship between patients and those who care for them.

Aids, Gays, and the American Catholic Church
by richard l. smith
pilgrim press/ucc press, 159 pages, $14.95 paper

In his foreword, sociologist Robert N. Bellah writes that he agrees with the author that “a principled rejection of gay sexuality, whether put forward by the Church or any other sector of society, is morally indefensible. It has the same status today as arguments for the inferiority of women. To remain stuck in that position, as the church for the time being seems likely to do, is not only unfortunate: it makes the church collaborate in continuing forms of domination.” Actually, the author, who dedicates the book to his male lover, has written a work less strident than Bellah’s foreword might suggest. While he, too, wants the Church to bless same-sex unions and thinks Catholic teaching is the product of “social constructionism” and can be changed by reconstruction, the book offers an informative and frequently moving account of Catholic ministries to PWAs (people with AIDS). While there is little that is new in terms of substantive argument, this is gay advocacy of a more civil order than usual.

The Catholic Tradition
by timothy g. mccarthy
loyola university press, 426 pages, $23.95 cloth, $13.95 paper

The author covers the period from 1878 to the present in a readable manner and sticking quite closely to the way the story is usually told. He concludes with a moderately progressive version of “liberationism” as the most promising prospect for the future of Catholicism.

Through the Moral Maze
by robert kane
paragon house, 251 pages, $27.95

A University of Texas professor of philosophy offers a careful and nicely reasoned approach to the subject of his subtitle, “searching for absolute values in a pluralistic world.” No fireworks, but an unusual measure of common sense and a desire to be fair to opposing views are evident in this reflection that concludes with a strong chapter on the indispensability of the family in moral formation. “When there is love in the home, there is peace in the kingdom,” said Confucius, and Kane warmly agrees.

The Question of Free Will:
A Holistic View

by morton white
princeton university press, 135 pages, $19.95

The veteran (some would say venerable) professor emeritus adds to his long list of writings a reflection on a perennial question. His pragmatic or “holistic” epistemology provides the possibility, he contends, of affirming something like free will without denying determinism. The specialists who are most likely to be interested in this book will no doubt divide on whether White’s free will is anything like free will. Others might stick with the wag who observed, “Of course we must affirm free will. We have no choice.”

The Theme Is Freedom:
Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition

by m. stanton evans
regnery/gateway, 322 pages, $24

A conservative champion offers a counter-history to the usual secularized telling of the American founding. The book would mainly benefit those who have been taken in by that telling, but they are the least likely to read it. Opponents of government’s increasing encroachment upon religious freedom will find a strong ally in Mr. Evans.

The Hail Mary:
A Verbal Icon of Mary

by nicholas ayo, c.s.c.
university of notre dame press, 231 pages, $32.95

The author sets himself no easy task. He intends to rehabilitate traditional Marian devotion in a manner that sympathetically engages contemporary ecumenical and feminist concerns. Given the difficulty of the goal, he succeeds quite remarkably. Protestants and Catholics, feminists and those of less elevated consciousness, will find in this book common ground for the acknowledgment of Mary as the first of the faithful.

The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are:
The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

by robert wright
pantheon, 467 pages, $27.50

A senior editor of the New Republic clearly lays out an argument that only a few years ago would have been widely condemned as an instance of reactionary Social Darwinism. In a generally bleak intellectual culture, this book is a welcome sign that some previously forbidden subjects can be calmly and intelligently aired. With an emphasis more on evolution than psychology, Wright describes the ways in which natural selection produces mental mechanisms that do not determine behavior but do equip human beings to respond to new circumstances. Although his confidence in evolutionary theory, and it is a theory, tends toward the dogmatic, the author tries to resist evolutionists’ customary compulsion to radical reductionism. At the same time, there is a tendency to debunk what James Q. Wilson calls “the moral sense,” which results in a deflation of authentic morality in “the moral animal.” There are other major problems with the argument-not least Wright’s reliance on a rather thin version of utilitarianism”but it is an argument very much worth engaging.

Understanding Your Rights
by russell shaw 
servant (ann arbor), 227 pages, $8.99 paper

A conservative Catholic who believes that the Church is plagued by clericalism of several insidious varieties, Shaw has produced a handbook to help lay people understand their rights (and, he insistently adds, responsibilties) according to canon law and official Church teaching.

The Two Churches:
Catholicism and Capitalism in the World System

by michael l. budde
duke university press, 172 pages, $31.95

The author, a political scientist at Auburn University, contends that the Catholic Church is essentially anticapitalist in its teaching and will become more so, despite the efforts of apologists for nationalist capitalism such as Michael Novak, George Weigel, and other known suspects. Regrettably, Mr. Budde is more given to assertion than to argument. That, combined with his cavalier assumption of the moral superiority of socialism (which he distinguishes from “state socialism”), reduces a potentially interesting book to little more than a very opinionated tract.