by luis tellez
witherspoon, 80 pages, $12
In Integrating God+Love+Law, Luis Tellez urges readers, especially his target audience of young people, to consider the “God question” and how it might affect the kind of life they lead. People, Tellez reminds his readers, are changed by and through relationships of love—with God and with each other. God, the cosmic Gamemaker, designed us for a purpose, and has a plan for each of our lives. Do we trust Him enough to make ourselves available?
Big things come in small packages. Here is a little book that will change your life if you let it. Tellez’s style is friendly, warm, and engaging, and the issues he takes up are relevant to us all. Some books on faith read like sales brochures for religious positions, but Tellez refrains from dumbing anything down or pushing emotional buttons. Short, concise, and jargon-free, his book provides important insights too often absent from contemporary discussions. Tellez stresses the importance of taking God as He is, not as whatever one wishes Him to be, and unmasks the prejudices of atheists as he goes. As he puts it:
[O]ften those of us who are not denying His existence are busy making up a God that suits us. Very few of us are asking Him what He is like, and then waiting for an answer. We spend a good deal of our life either chiseling away to construct a God of our own liking, or being disappointed in the little of God we understand. Some of us are so disappointed that no-God-at-all is the preferred option.
But as Tellez seeks to show us, “To insist upon a God who fits into our intellect is to settle for a rather mediocre God not much better than anything else we can dream up on our own.” Along with personal stories from his own life (he had a humble upbringing, and his educational background is in engineering), Tellez makes insightful references to great works of literature—Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and Scripture. These are juxtaposed with websites and pop culture references (The Hunger Games, Harry Potter) that will be familiar to younger readers.
Tellez helps us scrutinize the secular biases against Christianity that are so prevalent in our culture. He turns the tables on the familiar opposition to prejudicial attitudes based on ignorance (racial, sexual, ethnic). He shows how common it is for people to be prejudiced against God on precisely the same basis—their ignorance concerning God—which leads them to cling to unfair and distorted opinions of the sort fueled by closed-minded atheists in academia and the wider culture.
The notion that prejudice is wrong is widely accepted as a moral truth. But whereas racial prejudice is taboo, prejudice against God is rampant and celebrated. Those professing to have an open mind, Tellez advises, would do well to consider whether they themselves have an open mind when it comes to Christianity. This book will prompt them to scrutinize their biases against God as honestly as they scrutinize their biases in other areas of life.
The sections on “law” may be disappointing for some readers, due to their brevity. But the point of the book is to stimulate curiosity, not to provide a comprehensive account of natural law. That said, Tellez’s discussion of five “philosophical frameworks or ‘ethics’” is a tad convoluted. In addition to this fault in the presentation, Tellez ends up mischaracterizing Kant’s ethics. Like many writers, he treats Kant somewhat reductively, by focusing only on Kant’s early treatments of duty and principle, excluding his later writings about moral motivation, emotion, formation of character, and virtue. Contrary to what Tellez suggests, Kant’s theory of virtue (e.g., Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Doctrine of Virtue) takes moral feelings to be constitutive of a virtuous character, which are, arguably, in turn serviceable for ethics.
More worrisome is Tellez’s failure to discuss the resurrection and eternal life. Though he emphasizes God’s status as creator and source of “Supermeaning,” he does not mention heaven, instead stressing the worldly advantage of religious-service attendees—who enjoy lower rates of “mortality, depression, suicide, divorce, drug use, etc., and higher levels of life satisfaction”—and the way “God is useful to make our earthly relations more meaningful.” Suggesting (or implying by omission) that the end of accepting God (and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit) is to enrich one’s mortal life here on Earth is, admittedly, a strategy for persuading atheists to embrace truth. But to know and love God is to do so eternally. This is a wholly different kind of love, metaphysically “radical” in the sense that it breaks out of space and time—and that kind of “radical” ought to be of great interest to young readers. I do not wish to suggest that Tellez is intentionally misrepresenting the good news of the gospel. But is he afraid of scaring off young people?
Though Tellez has written this book for college students, its potential audience is much greater, for its concerns are universal. Tellez touches upon questions everyone faces repeatedly throughout the course of life—such as the problem of human suffering. In a poignant passage, he relates insights about human suffering with the gentle, persistent call of God’s love for us:
Like the birds, God is always on the move, actively reading out to persuade us to accept His love. But you cannot see God if your attention centers on your interests; you can’t know Him out of the corner of your eye. So what makes us lift our eyes to the sky and actually begin to watch the birds rather than vaguely acknowledging them? The only human event that is capable of lifting us out of our self-centeredness is suffering. True, suffering can turn us even more inward upon ourselves, making us bitter and selfish, but it can also be a wake-up call. When suffering comes, I urge you to awaken, lift up your eyes, and look for help from the skies … this will require an acceptance of your own weakness, otherwise known as humility.
Kevin Jackson holds the Grose Family Chair in Business at Fordham University.
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