Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v. Wade
By Carole Joffe
Beacon, 250 pages, $24
It is refreshing to read a book on abortion that refuses any pretension of neutrality, and the sociologist Carole Joffe has composed an unapologetic paean to the abortionists she sees as heroes. The rejection of a middle ground, however, is her book’s only good feature. Lingering lovingly over Michael Griffin, Paul Hill, and John Salvi, Joffe demonizes anyone who questions abortion as a violent zealot. One wonders why, in her interviews with forty-five heroic abortionists, she found no time to interview Abu Hayat, who casually ordered a bleeding and semi-conscious patient out of his office. Or David Benjamin, who performed complex third-trimester abortions without anesthesia in his office because he couldn’t obtain hospital privileges anywhere. Or Stephen Brigham, whose medical license has mercifully been suspended. Or Allen Kline, who let a thirteen year-old die from a botched abortion. Or Robert Crist, whose seventeen-year-old patient bled to death in Houston. Even within her narrow bounds, however, Joffe shows herself astonishingly ignorant of events in the abortion revolution. I was there in the early days, and can tell her that she misunderstands the position of Alan Guttmacher (who resisted abortion on demand) and omits or barely mentions such key figures as Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen (who created the Clergy Consultation Referral Service), Lana Phelan (a significant west coast agitator), Betty Friedan, Lawrence Lader (perhaps the most important figure in the entire abortion movement), John Willkie (the politically sophisticated president of the National Right-To-Life Committee for almost ten years), and Bill Baird (the vociferous pro-abortion advocate whose name is memorialized in two decisions of the Warren Court). Ethically, the book is an opera-bouffe. Though Joffe appeals frequently to conscience, she provides no foundation for the appeal. To allow the crucial ethical issue to remain unexamined is to abandon any scholarly aspiration”and to compose only a partisan political tract. What sets Joffe’s book apart even from other abortion tracts, however, is the absence of any moral reflection. Has she never had a moment’s doubt about abortion? Are her beliefs so calcified that she has never experienced the tiniest wiggle of uncertainty? The lack of even a sliver of reflection is compelling evidence of a paralyzing ideological servitude”and an appalling lack of conscience.
”Bernard N. Nathanson
Psychoanalytic Studies of Religion: A Critical and Annotated Bibliography
By Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
Greenwood Press, 208 pages, $69.50
This scholarly, comprehensive (and very expensive) collection of over six hundred references gives brief synopses of all the best psychoanalytic studies of religious experience, with a careful account of the essential contribution of each article to the field of psychoanalysis. Historically, the psychoanalytic contribution to religion has not been particularly helpful”concentrating mostly on either the explication of symbols, mythologies, and rites or the sociocultural phenomena of anti-Semitism, cultism, and ritualistic conformity. Even when it has dealt directly with religion, psychoanalysis has tended toward the reductionistic, with, for example, mystical states (Freud’s oceanic feeling) reduced to regressive fantasy. Following in this psychoanalytic tradition, the referenced works typically ascribe religious experience to unconscious drives for order, control, and psychic equilibrium, or to ego functioning, cultural determinism, the search for the good father, and of course, displaced sexual urges. The reader seeking insight into the nature of religion will be disappointed here. But the failure is not in the book, but in the nature of psychoanalytic inquiry”a limited system of thought for investigating the phenomenon of religion.
The Rise of the Imperial Self: America’s Culture Wars in Augustinian Perspective
By Ronald William Dworkin
Rowman & Littlefield, 245 pages, $23.95
If there is a specific moment in the history of the Old World that the American present brings to mind, it is the period of late antiquity in which Saint Augustine lived. So writes Ronald William Dworkin, co-director of the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, in an ambitious if somewhat uneven book that illuminates our culture wars with the parallel ones that raged in the fifth century a.d. The doctrines of the Manicheans, Donatists, and Pelagianists are seen by Dworkin as precursors to our own regnant ideology”which he calls expressive individualism, and into which he crams everything from psychoanalysis to the Contract with America. Over against it all, Dworkin sees”in the person of the Tocquevillian American”an essentially Augustinian type whose habits of mind and body point to something beyond the self. If this sometimes seems to stretch Tocqueville beyond recognition, it nonetheless yields some startlingly original insights. Dworkin’s convoluted and mostly unhelpful forays into such distant fields as the philosophy of Nietzsche and the sociology of David Riesman, Vance Packard, and Robert Bellah can make the book hard slogging, but the thesis itself is plausible and obviously the product of considerable thought and erudition.
The Merry Heart: Selections 1980-1995
By Robertson Davies
Viking/Penguin, 400 pages, $25.95
The novels of Robertson Davies are full of people who love to talk. This posthumous collection confirms the suspicion that that was because their author himself loved to talk”and, perhaps even more, to be asked to talk. The selections in The Merry Heart , drawn primarily from the addresses, toasts, and occasional talks Davies delivered in the last fifteen years of his life, are full of learning and humor. They make clear that Davies had delved deeply as a scholar into the subjects that inform his novels: from the art forgery he played with in What’s Bred In the Bone to the medicine he used in his last novel, The Cunning Man . The introductions are provided by Davies’ literary editor, Douglas M. Gibson, who sets them in the context of Davies’ development, and”by judicious reference to the author’s personal diaries”lets us know how much it mattered to Davies that these occasional pieces speak to their audiences just as well as his novels had.
By James F. Kirby, Russell F. Richey, and Kenneth E. Rowe
Greenwood, 424 pages, $75
This book is one of the products of the United Methodism and American Culture project that has its headquarters at Duke Divinity School. By taking up accounts, in turn, of the bishops, the conferences, the members, the major players, and the major events of episcopal Methodism, this book manages to make five passes through the history of American Methodism. At times the story that emerges seems a story of ecclesial accommodationism”as when General Conferences and bishops tried, unsuccessfully, to neutralize the issue of slavery through denial, silence, and then procedural adjustment. But at other times the story seems an account of ecclesial insight”as when the theory and the practice of conference kept American Methodists connected in a society that naturally dissolves connections. This book will be of interest primarily to scholars and serious students of Methodism.
”Paul T. Stallsworth
Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit
By Clark H. Pinnock
InterVarsity, 280 pages, $24.99
Pinnock’s is a provocative and frequently unpredictable evangelical mind, and he here engages with refreshing ecumenical generosity the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit, and how Christians have tried to understand that experience. His approach is thoroughly trinitarian, resulting in a book that can help Protestants and others to more fully mean it when they say they believe in God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit .
A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism
By Alister McGrath
InterVarsity, 287 pages, $19.99
As the subtitle suggests, this is an apologetic for the intellectual state of evangelicalism. Taking into account the critiques of the evangelical mind offered by Mark Noll and David Wells, McGrath proposes that evangelicalism has now come of age as a formidable interlocutor with contemporary thought. The reader may be persuaded that that is true of Alister McGrath.
The Sensate Culture: Western Culture Between Chaos and Transformation
By Harold O. J. Brown
Word, 256 pages, $21.99
Five decades ago, the Russian expatriate Pitirim Sorokin wrote compellingly about Western culture’s impending turn from materialism to things of the spirit, and of the Spirit. The author, a noted evangelical who teaches theology at Trinity Divinity School in Illinois, picks up Sorokin’s themes and relates them to our contemporary circumstance, offering a combination of jeremiad and inspiration to guide us through the years ahead.