Book Reviews


Radical Religion in Cromwell’s England: a concise history from the English Civil War to the end of the Commonwealth
Andrew Bradstock

I.B. Tauris, £15.99
Tablet bookshop price £14.40 Tel 01420 592974

In the revolutionary years around 1649 unthinkable things happened in England: a king was put on trial for treason against his people and beheaded by order of Parliament; monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished; the Established Church was destroyed “roots and branches” and the legal obligation on all, Catholics included, to attend divine worship on a Sunday was revoked; and Oliver Cromwell set out to “extirpate” (his word) popery in Ireland and the regime he represented set out to remove all Catholics from 28 of the 32 counties of Ireland. When such unthinkable things were happening, it is not surprising that unthinkable thoughts were being thought and indeed published. It was a time of teeming liberty, and every heresy there had ever been, especially antinomianism, blossomed afresh.

This book celebrates this effervescence in what it claims to be “the first genuinely concise and accessible history of the fascinating ideas and movements which emerged in this fascinating period”. This is a bit hard on Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: radical ideas during the English revolution (hardback 1972, Penguin paperback 1975), one of the most popular and highly regarded works of the historian who bestrode seventeenth-century studies from the 1960s to the 1980s. But concise and accessible it certainly is. Seven chapters deal with the enduring movements, Baptists, Quakers, and startlingly Muggletonians, who kept going as a tiny sect until 1979, and those that are not so much movements as epiphenomenal moments, such as Levellers, Diggers, Ranters, and Fifth Monarchists, framed between a rather narrow historiographical introduction and an expansive conclusion which claims that many of the ideas survived and, it is asserted, deserved to survive, into modern times. Readers may well share my position, midway between Hill-Bradstock enthusiasm and the slightly rancid revisionist realism
represented by Professor John Kenyon’s judgement on The World Turned Upside Down: “I think we are entitled to ask where all this discussion of obscure left-wing fanatics is getting us. That some of them were mad we have always impatiently known, but Dr Hill positively glories in it … This was not really a proletarian movement at all. It was an unexpected opportunity for failed shopkeepers, lazy artisans and eccentric academics to find their voice.”

Andrew Bradstock’s Radical Religion in Cromwell’s England is very much Hill redivivus. There is the same sentimental celebration of liberty descending into licence, the same insouciant acceptance of his radicals’ accounts of their experience of persecution as they challenged what was left of hierarchy and authority, the same wistful plea for the evergreen integrity of their ideas. Ironically, Bradstock is so successful in locating his radicals in their own times that his claims for their enduring value seem less plausible at the end than at the beginning. That said, he does indeed offer a wonderfully clear summary of his three movements and four moments, and the bigger and more enduring the better he is.

This is certainly now the best short introduction to the truculence of the early Quakers – militant passive resisters, organ-isers of tithe strikes and disrupters of services in steeple houses – and of the determined separatism of the Baptists; and it offers a measured account of the Fifth Monarchists, constantly disappointed in their conviction that the 1,000-Year Rule of the Saints was tomorrow night. It is less surefooted with the Ranters, brushing aside the compelling evidence of J.C. Davis that whatever the antinomianism of a congeries of violent anti-Calvinists, the “movement” was in the minds of establishment puritans more than in the gatherings of men and women determined to demonstrate that they were free from sin by practising all the sins which are most fun. Davis’ work is dismissed in a sentence in which he is “anonymised”.

It is good to see the profound if idiosyncratic biblicism of the Levellers and Diggers (the one radical libertarians, the other radical egalitarians) taken seriously, and entertaining to find anti-clericalism taken to such extremes. Most readers of this book will find its presentation entertaining and enlightening, but most will also find its wider claims unconvincing. The bibliography is tendentiously selective and no references are provided for the host of lively, vivid, startling quotations from original sources, which is a real pity. Bradstock has written passionately in the past about Gerrard Winstanley, most passionate of the Diggers, and it is with them that his sympathies most obviously lie. This book will make few converts among readers of The Tablet, but it will do them no harm to see just how thinkable some thoughts are when there are no bishops around to keep the faithful in line.


The Arabs: a history
Eugene Rogan
Allen Lane, £25.00
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 Tel 01420 592974

January 2010, Review by Mark Allen: Oiled wheels of Eastern power

Looking out on the Middle East, where culture and politics seem to have serious difficulties with change, it is hard not to wish that we knew a bit more about the past, the roots of these dismaying problems. There has been no shortage of quick comment, hazard-warning signs about terror, Saddam, Islamists and energy, but depth has been less easy to come by. So it is a relief to turn to a substantial new book, written by a serious scholar who lays out the background to a region which threatens to make itself more, rather than less, felt in the years ahead.

Eugene Rogan does not offer us an easy ride, but, as with all good journeys, we feel better for having made it. Rogan is head of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford, the principal centre of excellence in this country for the study of the modern Middle East. His book initially struck me as mid-Atlantic (the spelling is American) and mildly anti-British, but I turned back to his introduction: “I believe Western readers would view Arab history differently were they to see it through the eyes of Arab men and women who described the times through which they lived.” It was an important corrective. The imperial British and French who had so much influence on the region from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, do well to consider how their exploits must have seemed to those at the other end of the bayonet or, indeed, to the Americans. Rogan doesn’t spare the home truths; robust readers will cope.

He starts in 1516 with the Ottomans’ victory over the Mamluks who ruled Egypt, Syria and Western Arabia. He ends in early 2009 with the latest Israeli operation against Gaza and the departure of President Bush. The principal themes of empire, nationalism, modernity, religion, oil and the Arab- Israel dispute are set out and related to each other with great skill and pace. Vivid cameos from contemporary sources are balanced by summary passages which distil and present the significance of these in the narrative.

The great modern work in English on Arab history also came from St Antony’s, Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples, published in 1991. Hourani’s great interest was in societies, culture and the lives of cities. He describes the intellectual traditions and social preferences which have given the Arab world such a notable character. Rogan’s history more than stands comparison, although it is very different in style and purpose, for Rogan is primarily interested in the narrative of power. He leads on the personalities of regimes and movements, the rulers and activists who drove political events.

This distinction between two historians by no means intends exclusive categories, but is an attempt to suggest where the centre of gravity in each book lies. Their differences of approach are matters of personal inclination and also formation. Both are needed and it is good that those asking for background on today’s Middle East can now be recommended two guides, Hourani and Rogan, to get the best possible picture.

Rogan’s political emphasis complements Hourani, and to good purpose. The political drama of the Middle East affects us too – energy security, finance, demography and violence will see to that. Rogan tells a story of power which is fast-moving, and we can scarcely fail to be moved by its thread of passion. Some of this derives from frustration: the Arabs care about their problems, but are unable to treat them. And the fault does not entirely lie with the outsiders.

Until the story reaches today’s nation states, the reader may well feel that the Arabs themselves are secondary actors in the plot. We recognise the geography as the Arab world, but the main players are Turks, their non-Arab viceroys and imperial Europeans. Later, even under the banner of Arab nationalism, Arab men of power remained elite and authoritarian. And, actually, so it has continued. The rulers of the new nation states and their revolutionary successors, even the dynasts of the monarchies which are still in place, have played popular aspiration and modernising ambition, but they have kept power tightly to themselves. Outsiders, with their strategic interests, have had great influence, it is true, but they have also been manipulated by local regimes: the costs paid by ordinary people have been grave.

In consequence, a popular temper of disability, even victimhood, suffuses an authoritarian region and is a driver in today’s upswing in religious sentiment and observance. Ordinary Arabs have little say in policy and direction. This deficit in broad political experience partly explains why the Iraqis reacted to the coalition invasion in 2003 as they did, and why prospects remain so opaque.

Personal power and a lack of institutions entail the ugly conclusion that “it takes a strongman to rule”. Bolstering the status quo then seems a foregone policy imperative. Bush’s striving for freedom for the people of the region may have been well intentioned but, as was the case with earlier outsiders, the policy and strategies he chose lacked depth of understanding. There is depth in Rogan’s History. He has done his generation a great service.


Climbing The Bookshelves – The Autobiography
Shirley Williams

Virago, 2009
432 pages
ISBN: 9781844084760

As new generations rise in British society, internationalists such as Baroness Shirley Williams could be mistaken for representing the Liberal Democrats’ long-held enthusiasm for unique characters who defend strongly held principles. However, this autobiography reveals to new and old generations alike that the woman who will give CAFOD’s Pope Paul VI lecture on 27 November 2009 is a pioneer of depth, breadth, and outstanding ability, as well as enthusiasm, kindness and conviction. While many of us admired her before this book – she once called me to give my first national party political conference speech in 1987 – others will find in it a fascinating story of a woman who made her way in the predominantly male world of twentieth-century democratic politics.

Shirley Williams was brought up by parents who, despite being Catholic, had no belief in the need for infant baptism. Consequently, she committed to Catholicism as a teenager, making her faith a part of a richly lived life. It was to the Jesuits that she ran first when she heard of Oscar Romero’s assassination, and during the crisis that followed the murder of six Jesuits in El Salvador. Despite being a progressive politician she stuck to the annulment process when her first husband, the philosopher Bernard Williams, left her for another woman. And, as a candidate in Crosby, near Liverpool, it was to Archbishop Derek Worlock that she turned when the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), lacking political judgment, sought to use local parishes to condemn her – not for being pro-abortion (she had pro-life views), but for refusing to take her political lines unquestioningly from SPUC in the future, rather than her conscience. However, this is the life story of a professional Catholic politician rather than a professional Catholic. It is not ecclesiastical matters that rise and fall through the book’s pages, but questions of government and governance in the UK, the US, Europe and, more recently, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Williams is part of that generation of radical British centre and centre-left politicians who emerged in the years after the Second World War. Many passed through Oxford University thanks to a government scheme that allowed war veterans to take up scholarships for accelerated study. For them, the decadent, crypto-aristocratic dream of Brideshead Revisited was an irrelevance as they sought knowledge, skills and vision to make sense of, and civic contributions after the horrors of the war in which so many of them had fought. They tumbled into the Labour Party’s social democratic right, and the Conservative Party’s moderate ‘one nation’ social conscience, in pursuit of a new consensus that would grant equality in their time. The veterans included Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins and their allies included Shirley Williams at Oxford and, soon after, Roy Hattersley from Sheffield via Hull. Many of them, as this book reveals, are friends to this day.

So, Shirley Williams became General Secretary of the Fabian Society, MP for Stevenage, junior minister and cabinet minister. As the key pioneer of comprehensive education she finds herself perplexed even today at Tony Blair’s innovative enthusiasm for Academies and state school reform. A vital figure on the Labour right, she was a key architect in Labour’s progress until, having lost power, the party collapsed into a mess of recrimination and decay.

It was at this point in the narrative that I was expecting more detail, more description of the gut-wrenching frustration that flowed through the hearts and souls of those who would eventually come to found the Social Democratic Party in 1981. While in the memoirs of David Owen and Roy Jenkins such frustrations are scattered across the pages, in Williams’s account the seismic impact of the ‘Limehouse Declaration’ and subsequent political events take on something akin to a religious analogy. For Williams, while she is working hard to found a new party and political force, it is almost as if she has not moved on ideologically but rather moved from one denomination that calls itself ‘social democratic’ to another, with the same discourse but a different address.

This is not just a political observation but a professional one too. In the years that follow, Williams emerges – despite her new institutional home in the SDP and then the Liberal Democrats – as an almost classic example of the senior Labour politician with strong US links, who shuttles between an Ivy League School, the UK campaign trail and the House of Lords. This is not a criticism because not since the moral stature of another post-war Catholic woman, Barbara Ward, has the English Catholic community given such female genius to the international community. It does, though, reveal just how many motivations, and networks of friendship and principle, were at play in the creation, sustenance and demise of the SDP, and the rise of the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown especially. One cannot but wonder how different, or more complicated, these may have been if Williams, rather than Roy Jenkins, had become the party’s first leader and had held a seat in Warrington, Crosby or Cambridge.

This is an admirable autobiography by an admirable human being. Particularly encouraging are the chapters that add news of the personal happiness found in marriage in later years to Harvard Professor Richard Neustadt, of the joy of being a grandparent, and of friendship and civic contributions across the political divide.

Underlying all of this, though, I couldn’t help noting how understated so much of this progress is. For Williams, there were no family political patrons or allies such as those enjoyed by Douglas Hurd in the Conservative Party or Roy Jenkins in Labour, nor any instinctive backing from the male bastion of the trade unions such as those upon whom Labour’s Hugh Gaitskill could rely. How interesting then, that after Williams has been grilled by an all-male parliamentary committee it is a young Margaret Thatcher who encourages her with the words ‘we mustn’t let them get us down’.

It will be the responsibility of a future biographer to tease out just how costly, in personal and political terms, the struggles of this outstanding generation of public servants – and especially its female figures – have been. And that responsibility will be more than likely to include recording just how much a new generation owes them, no matter what their political or religious affiliation.

Francis Davis is a Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford and Visiting Fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, Johannesburg.


Faith and Its Critics: a conversation
David Fergusson
Oxford University Press, £16.99
Tablet bookshop price £15.30 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
08 October 2009, Review by John Cottingham

The debate occasioned by the writings of the “new atheists”, headed by Richard Dawkins, has become polarised, and the quality of argument, on both sides, has not always been very high, with many theologians and philosophers preferring to remain fastidiously aloof from the fracas. David Fergusson, however, finds the work of the new atheists “intensely interesting”, and aims to establish “a conversation … between those occupying the middle ground of scepticism and faith, where each side recognises that it has something to learn from the other”.

Fergusson is professor of divinity at Edinburgh, and this volume is based on the Gifford Lectures he gave last year at his alma mater, the University of Glasgow. The book is pleasantly jargon-free and addresses the reader in an open and accessible style. An initial historical chapter clears the ground by tracing the varieties of atheism that have preceded the present strain, from its early beginnings through to the “self-assertive” atheism of the Enlightenment, on to the “wistful” atheism of the Victorian era, and then the “combative” species deployed by Bertrand Russell in the twentieth century. Atheism in the Western world now presents “a liberating humanist alternative” to belief in God, claiming to provide “a more rational and fulfilling way of life”.

Fergusson responds to it on five fronts: the philosophical, biological, moral, socio-political and scriptural. Philosophically, he concedes that long debate over the traditional arguments for God’s existence has resulted in a stalemate: we are left with the “predictable and rather banal conclusion that there is no available knock-down argument that will finally secure either of the competing positions against its rival”. But something can perhaps be salvaged, since it remains a source of “wonder”, as Fergusson puts it, that the world exists at all, and that it exhibits such a “complex yet elegant rationality”. Wonder, of course, is not a logical argument. But it does seem to tell against the complacency of a materialist world view that has no room for anything beyond what is disclosed by science.

Things become more exciting when Fergusson examines the challenge allegedly posed by Darwinism. Consistently with his “middle-ground” approach, Fergusson sees no reason for the theist to baulk at evolution by mutation and natural selection: “divine agency resides, not in particular adjustments to the flow of evolution, but in creating and sustaining a cosmos that is informed with sufficient natural properties to bring this about.” In short, God is not an alternative to evolution, but works through it.

This must, I think, be the most sensible position for a theist to adopt. Essentially, it is refusing to pick a fight with Dawkins and company on their own terrain. The recent proponents of so-called “intelligent design” (ID) theory, of course, insist on just such a head-on battle; and some of them in North America have lobbied to have ID theory taught in school biology courses as an alternative to Darwinism. But in one of the best sections of the book, Fergusson firmly resists any help from this tempting but ultimately specious quarter, offering four killer arguments against ID theory. First, it is not a “theory” at all: it has no research programme and no predictions. Secondly, it gives hostages to fortune: in pointing to phenomena that are supposed to be incapable of explanation via natural mechanisms, it is forced to retreat in confusion when (as appears to be happening) such mechanisms are discovered. Thirdly: how are we supposed to inspect and scientifically calibrate the points at which God allegedly adjusts the natural processes? And fourthly, it is surely worthier of God to suppose he initially created a cosmos that is “fit for purpose” – able to bring forth life and intelligence though its natural mechanisms operating over time – than to see him as having to accomplish his ends by tinkering.

Fergusson’s strong inclination to accommodate science rather than challenge it also emerges when he criticises the reductionism of the sociobiologists who assert that all our behaviour is a function of evolutionary conditioning. Yes, there are the mechanical processes of evolution, but they are “enabling” rather than determining: they facilitate patterns of moral discernment and allow us to think and feel in ways that do not reduce to strategies for success in the struggle for survival.

We need a non-reductive world view, one that allows for complexity, layers of meaning, and our awareness of the world as “from our perspective … irreducibly characterised by moral and aesthetic truths”. But, to this reader at least, there seemed to be a worrying reticence here, signalled by the hyper- cautious qualifier “from our perspective”. Fergusson can sometimes appear over-reluctant to express his explicit endorsement of a theistic world view, or a specific faith.

The closing chapters, dealing with the rise of militant Islam and of scriptural fundamentalism (in Christianity and Islam), acknowledge frankly that religion has sometimes fostered violence, and concedes that secularisation (e.g. in Ireland) sometimes seems to have reduced the causes of conflict; but to balance the record Fergusson points to periods (for example in medieval Spain) where near universal religious allegiance went hand in hand with conveniencia – peaceful coexistence between faiths.

The concluding message, that “the future of the human race requires the cooperation of people of all faiths and none”, is surely unexceptionable. But the book’s project in a way highlights the difficulty besetting modern Christianity in its liberal Western incarnation. Its opponents, whether religious fundamentalists or militant atheists, are advancing their views with an urgency and passion that seem to be gaining them increasing support. To counter this with the tools of carefully balanced discussion is a worthy aim, but more seems to be needed – not necessarily something more strident, but something that shows how the Christian world view is not just intellectually respectable and consistent with science, but offers a vision of searing beauty and luminous moral energy, a vision that can transform our lives.

In fairness to Fergusson, he explicitly sets himself a much more modest goal – the “preliminary exercise of exploring sympathetically the wider terrain in which religion is positioned”. To that task he brings exemplary clarity, an impressive grasp of the relevant recent literature, and a fair-mindedness that is at times inspiring. These are virtues that are not lightly to be set aside; how much they can do to check the tide of secularism remains to be seen.


God is Back: how the global revival of faith is changing the world
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
Allen Lane, £25
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
10 September 2009, Review by Austen Ivereigh
Stand up and be counted

This Economist-style faith survey by that publication’s Catholic editor and his atheist colleague proves that religion has undergone a remarkable global revival. This is not in reaction to, or as a refuge from, modernity (although that may be true of the fundamentalist fringes) but as its handmaiden. The forces of modernity, manifest in greater pluralism and individual choice, are increasing an adherence to faith, not weakening it as the theory of secularisation has long insisted. Indeed, it is because the evidence is, everywhere, destroying that theory that secularists such as Richard Dawkins have lately grown so shrill.

So firm, among policymakers and academics, has been the conviction that modernity would cause religion to scurry back into its hole that they have been quite unprepared for its comeback. This is especially so in Washington where, say the authors, the ignorance – especially of Islam – has been “mindboggling”. The foreign-policy catastrophes which have resulted are proof, if proof were needed, that ignorance of faith is ignorance of the modern world.

The Americans should know better, for it is in the United States that religion and modernity have most happily coexisted. The genius of its constitutional arrangements, in separating religion from the state but encouraging it, so that faith is both freely chosen and welcome in the public square, means that religious vitality goes hand in hand with religious diversity and toleration. Hence the great examples of the anti-slavery and black civil-rights movements – born in Churches, legitimised in Scripture, inseparable from faith.

God is Back sings a hymn to that religious free market, and urges Americans to be bolder in exporting it. The United States’ arrangement allows faith to flourish; the European model, where the Church is bound up with the State, whether absorbed or spurned by it, mostly causes it to shrivel. “In America the shepherd seeks the sheep and gathers them to his bosom,” observes a Swedish Lutheran quoted here, whereas in Sweden “the sheep must seek the shepherd and address him with high-sounding titles”.

Religion, the authors show, flourishes in freedom, and prospers most when it best adapts to the key element of modernity, which is pluralism. Because pluralism implies choice then faith is increasingly chosen, not inherited. This fact alone changes the nature of the relationship between authority and believers, which is one of many reasons to read this book. But it also explains why, as the world globalises, it is becoming more, not less, religious.

Consider immigration. When migrants of another faith arrive in a place, the natives turn to their Churches with new enthusiasm. As Pope Benedict recently pointed out, globalisation makes people neighbours, but not necessarily brothers; and in the short term, at least, people faced with newcomers become more conscious of their own values and identity. But the counter-intuitive fact is that as people move they become more, not less, religious: the desire to belong, to be recognised, to be treated as human beings in a commodified world, for morality to counterbalance choice – all these are bolstering religion, which is increasingly replacing gender, class and race as social identifiers.

This book is essentially positive about that, especially since faith nowadays offers a moral critique of capitalism rather than root-and-branch opposition to it. Religion, in this view, offers both a moral corrective to as well as charitable relief from unfettered capitalism, providing “a way of enjoying the fruits of capitalism while protecting yourself from its thorns”.

Yet this misses too much. The authors quote Pope John Paul II’s “searing” criticism of consumerist capitalism, but fail to note that he was speaking out of a 120-year-old body of Catholic social teaching which is as strong on the need to spread private property as it is to defend it, and which does not believe that wages should be dictated by the market alone.

The same lopsidedness is evident in the authors’ treatment of the social power of faith in America, noting in detail the amazing extent of welfare provision by Churches but nowhere mentioning that, for example, the Catholic bishops in the United States pump billions every year into community-organised initiatives to expand the political power of the poor.

Thus President Obama’s faith journey, and the way he chose his church in Chicago, is told as a paradigm of the contemporary approach to faith. But the authors ignore what he was doing at the time: on a salary paid by Cardinal Bernardin, he was organising eight poor Catholic parishes to enable them to win local battles on wages and housing. Faith, in other words, does not just critique capitalism and soften its edges through charity, it also acts to make markets and politics accountable to ordinary people.

This is faith acting in politics, but not the sort the authors have in mind in their discussion of the one of the contemporary tensions, between religious sensibility and individual rights. Such battles have no easy resolution, and will continue to be fought. But meanwhile, say the authors, both sides should relax.

Secularists need to recognise that the enemy which poisons everything is not religion, but the union of religion and power, while believers need to accept that religion flourishes best in a world of choice. The message of God is Back is, in other words, a comprehensively liberal one. Which sounds not unlike the gospels.


Augustine of Hippo: a life
Henry Chadwick

Book Review 20 August 2009, Review by R.A. Markus

Since Cornelius Jansen, the seventeenth-century Bishop of Ypres from whom Jansenism drew its name and inspiration, who had read all Augustine's works 10 times, many up to 30 times, no scholar can have had as deep and extensive a knowledge of Augustine's writings as did the late Henry Chadwick. Chadwick also had unrivalled knowledge of the Roman world that Augustine inhabited, of the classical literature he had been brought up on, and far more of the Greek and Latin fathers than Augustine had been able to read. This posthumously published book is essentially a draft written in 1981 for the "Past Masters" series and discarded for a shorter version, published in 1986, more narrowly focused on Augustine's thought than on his life.

There is much that Chadwick shared with Augustine, and not only the overriding desire to understand, as Augustine put it, what he believed. Peter Brown, in his graceful and generous foreword to the book, remarks on their shared love of music. Like Augustine, Chadwick was also a churchman: for both, the hard intellectual grind mattered, supremely, for the community they served. The past was of profound importance, to nourish a living Christian tradition and, for both, but especially for Chadwick, to help in discovering the crucial common ground shared by Christian communities divided by their troubled histories. What Chadwick says of Augustine's style when preaching to his flock, remarking on the natural cheerfulness indispensable to an effective teacher, a directness "which knows just what effect monosyllables may achieve", is in its way as characteristic of his own writing as of Augustine's preaching.

Unlike Jansen, and unlike so many modern interpreters (not excluding the present reviewer), Chadwick has no theological agenda to hang on to his subject. He wishes to return to the living and endlessly enquiring, restless mind behind the figure of towering authority that Augustine was to become in Western Christianity. The book abounds with insights, often unconventional, and provides a rich guide to Augustine's thought as it developed.

The narrative of Augustine's youth, education and career as a provincial professor of rhetoric, to rise, eventually, to teaching in the imperial city of Milan, is interwoven with his youthful quest for wisdom, encouraged by a now lost work of Cicero's and ending in adherence to the dualist teachings of Mani. Chadwick is especially good on telling the story of Augustine's disenchantment with this sect, largely under the influence of the platonically tinged Christianity he discovered in Milan, in educated circles around the bishop, Ambrose. The months spent at a country retreat in the company of his mother and like-minded friends were a time of both high-spirited philosophical discussion and preparation for Augustine's baptism in 387.

After his mother's death and his return to Africa, he lived in his home town of Thagaste as a Christian intellectual with like-minded friends associated in a mildly ascetic community, not very different from the months spent in his retreat near Milan. Chadwick sees Augustine's ordination as bishop in nearby Hippo as the great divide in his life and thought. Accepting what he would always call the "bishop's burden", imposed on him in his early forties, brought "far deeper and more obvious changes in Augustine's character than even his conversion at Milan 10 years before", and "turned him into a great man such as he would never have become had he remained a professor of rhetoric". All his great works, starting with his Confessions, were written after this turning point.

Chadwick alludes to Augustine's more profound engagement with St Paul at much the same time, without, however, dwelling on the new preoccupations and the fissures across the smooth surface of his optimistic estimate of human capacities that many of his commentators have associated with it. It is characteristic of his account that while sometimes noting disagreements, it keeps as clear of controversial interpretations as possible. There is an excellent account of North African Christianity and of the division between the Catholic and the Donatist communities; but no reader who is not already familiar with the subject would guess from these chapters that the schismatic community of the Donatists had a better claim to represent what had long been the orthodoxy of the North African Church than did the Catholics, whom they saw, not unreasonably, as an import from "overseas", imposed in North Africa by the imperial authorities. Similarly, Chadwick treats his account of the great work of Augustine's old age, The City of God, as indeed did Augustine himself, in the perspective of the conflict between Christianity and paganism. But despite passing hints, we would hardly realise that the work was aimed as much at his fellow Christians, summoning them to a heart-searching over how they should understand the Roman world and, by implication, the whole secular world, its culture and institutions, in relation to the Christian Church and God's providence.

The account Chadwick offers is far from uncritical. "There are obvious points", he writes, "where [Augustine's] arguments and standpoints invite attack, most notably his treatment of suffering, punishment and sex." A long and searching final chapter on freedom and grace is the most striking example of an area of thought in which Augustine allowed himself to be pushed in the course of controversy into adopting positions from which the Church came gradually to dissociate itself. Here and there modern overtones make themselves heard, as for instance in Chadwick's remarks on Augustine's lack of fear of the natural sciences: "Rather his fear is of theologians, orthodox in intention, who try to treat the book of Genesis as a source-book for science without realising the very different purpose of the sacred book. Like Mani, they merely end in writing bad science and bring discredit on their faith."

Chadwick naturally disclaims any intention of writing a critical account of the man and of his doctrines, something too complex and lengthy for the scope of this book. It is designed "simply to introduce him and his ideas in the intellectual and political context of his age". In this, however, Chadwick succeeds in spectacular manner, by dint of his uncanny skill in catching, time and again, the odd revealing detail, moving about in Augustine's vast textual output with magisterial ease, hitting on just the right phrase or allusion. His Augustine emerges from his pages as an altogether more human and more humane figure than we meet in many of his interpreters.


The Last Crusaders: the hundred-year battle for the centre of the world
Barnaby Rogerson
Little, Brown, £20
Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
16 July 2009, Review by Marcus Bull
Heroes, villains and derring-do

Barnaby Rogerson is a travel writer with a particular interest in north Africa. He also writes informative books on the history of Islam for a non-specialist Western readership. These two come together effectively in his most recent book: The Last Crusaders is a lively and engaging history of the Mediterranean world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and in particular the power-struggles that pitted the Ottoman Empire against a Christian Europe dominated by Habsburg Spain.
Much more was at stake than two empires slugging it out for world dominion, however, for there were other players in what was a complicated and constantly shifting struggle for political and economic power. These include the Portuguese, the sultans of what is now Morocco, the maritime city-state of Venice, and the order of the Knights of St John. Nor is the action confined to the Mediterranean, for Rogerson’s narrative ranges broadly across the Atlantic in the company of the conquistadores, and around Africa in the wake of the Portuguese as they penetrated the Indian Ocean in pursuit of the unbelievable riches promised by the spice trade.

The geopolitical sweep is impressive, and reminds us how much of what we now take for granted about the political, religious, and cultural landscape of the modern era was not a foregone conclusion. It was not inevitable, for example, that the Ottomans would remain bottled up in the Mediterranean and not compete with Christians’ powers in the process of Atlantic exploration, just as it was not inevitable that Portuguese and Spanish toeholds in northern Africa would not turn into some more durable and extensive presence.

Many of the events that Rogerson narrates are the stuff of familiar early modern history: for example, the dogged resistance of the Knights of St John during the siege of Malta in 1565, when they saw off an enormous Ottoman army; and the Battle of Lepanto six years later, when a loose coalition of Christian powers, under the flamboyant leadership of the dashing and very young Don John of Austria, overcame the might of the Ottoman fleet, an event so momentous that even the bells of Protestant Europe rang out in celebration. Similarly, many of Rogerson’s cast of characters will be familiar names: Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Vasco da Gama, Hernán Cortés, the pirate captain Barbarossa (there were in fact two Barbarossas, two brothers), and the Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror and Suleiman the Magnificent.

But other, less familiar, characters take turns to hold the stage, men such as Pêro da Covilhã, who pushed Portuguese naval exploration into east Africa and the Gulf around the same time that Columbus was sailing less productively westwards, and the distant, austere, and loveless King Sebastian of Portugal, who died in the futile pursuit of epic glory in the sands of Morocco, at a stroke destroying his kingdom’s armed might and political independence.

Whether dealing with the traditional plot lines or alerting us to less familiar sideshows, Rogerson knits his whole story together into a coherent and compelling whole. The book tells its tale with aplomb and dash, and, as befits an author with a travel background, the evocation of place and of the culturally exotic is well handled. This is all good swashbuckling stuff, its vision of the past as a place of excitement, brutality, excess, larger-than-life characters and strange twists of fate.
Rogerson errs when he applies the term “Crusaders” willy-nilly to all Westerners coming into contact with the Muslim world, for this massively over-simplifies the range of interactions between Christianity and Islam and reduces the complexities of Crusade thought and practice to a form of holy war posturing. Something of the sophistication and cleverness of his leading characters, Muslim as well as Christian, is lost in the process.

On the other hand, the book is to be warmly applauded for trying to tell the story of the period in its own terms, thereby avoiding the sort of facile and uninformed analogies with modern-day disputes and religious tensions that one finds in all too many history books about Christians and Muslims in conflict.

Rogerson could easily have pitched the book as in some way the “solution” to the mystery of contemporary religious and cultural frictions; and it is to his credit that, despite one or two nods towards later colonial history and racism, he generally does not take this easy route. To the point, indeed, that the ending of the book after the climactic Battle of the Three Kings in 1578 is quite sudden and low-key. There is a great deal to enjoy in Rogerson’s pacy and informed telling. This is ultimately a book about heroes, villains, and derring-do, but it is no less enjoyable, informative and readable for that.


The Grand Turk: Sultan Mehmet II – conqueror of Constantinople, master of an empire and lord of two seas
John Freely
I.B.Tauris, £18.99
Tablet bookshop price £17.10 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review 02 July 2009, Review by Robert Carver Machiavelli of the Ottomans

When he heard the news of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III broke down in tears, and shut himself away in his quarters to pray and meditate. Pope Nicholas V issued a bull calling for a crusade, condemning the Ottoman Sultan as "a son of Satan, perdition and death". The man who caused such consternation across Europe was Mehmet, 22-year-old son of Sultan Murat and an unknown slave concubine who was probably a Christian. For the next 27 years until his death, he was to wreak havoc across Christendom. Known as the Conqueror to the Turks for his feat in overcoming the last bastion of the ancient Graeco-Roman world, he was feared and loathed by his enemies, who called him everything from the Antichrist to the spawn of Beelzebub.

He was undoubtedly the most dangerous enemy Christendom has ever had to face. In almost 30 years of constant warfare he overcame Venice's empire in Greece and the Aegean, crushed and occupied Byzantium, Albania, Serbia and Bosnia, severely defeated Hungary, and invaded Italy to establish a base at Otranto, from which he intended to conquer the whole of Western Europe. His armies reached the outlying villages of the Venetian terra firma, a few miles from St Mark's Square, burning, looting, killing and taking slaves. Only the heroic Knights of St John on Rhodes, under their resolute Master, Jean d'Aubusson, succeeded in resisting his overwhelming military onslaught. Half the Knights, including many brave English and Scots, were killed by the end of the siege.

John Freely is one of our most eminent historians of all things Turkish and Levantine: any new book by him raises high expectations. This timely study of an Islamic warrior militant, implacably arraigned in permanent warfare against the Christian West, succeeds triumphantly. Lucid, impeccably balanced and fair-minded, deeply researched, clearly written and highly readable, this is a masterpiece and a model of what a really outstanding historical biography should be.

Mehmet was no fundamentalist, rather a Renaissance prince who welcomed Greek philosophers to his court at Topkapi Palace, which he himself had built. He was a decided Hellenophile who visited Athens and Troy, exempting the former from all taxes out of admiration for its illustrious past. A poet in Persian and Turkish, he commissioned artists such as Gentile Bellini to paint his portrait, and encouraged eminent scholars like the Greek Plethon to adorn his court. His role-model was Alexander the Great, whose exploits he aimed to surpass, but in reverse - that is, conquering the West from the East.

But he was also a ruthless enemy. His word was worth nothing: those who surrendered after being promised quarter were almost always executed. He tortured, impaled and beheaded at will. Priests and bishops he used to have strapped between two planks and then sawn in half through the middle. His army killed Christian children like dogs; women they raped and then enslaved; men were killed or enslaved. The terror he caused across Europe was the origin for the visceral hatred Islam and the Turks still inspire in many Christians throughout the Balkans, Greece and the Levant.

His policy was divide and conquer. He exhausted Venice after years of warfare, forcing her to sign a disadvantageous peace. Then, after crushing the Balkans, he attacked Hungary and Naples. Western Europe failed to unite against him in spite of endless papal diplomacy for a crusade to reconquer Constantinople. When he died, aged 49, of an abdominal blockage which one suspects may have been caused by poison, he was preparing to take a vast army into Italy to capture Rome. That he would have succeeded no one at the time doubted. Had he lived another 20 years, Christian Europe would have been no more. The strength of the Ottoman autocracy, its centralised, authoritarian command structure, depending on a single man at the top, was also its weakness.

When Mehmet died his empire was convulsed by civil war as his sons vied for power. The papacy was making plans to flee to Avignon when news of Mehmet's death arrived. All over Europe church bells rang and joyous celebrations erupted. For hundreds of thousands of Christians, enslaved or killed, it was, however, too late.

This book should be in every library and in every school in Europe and America. Western Christian weakness and disunity in the face of ruthless, cruel enemies is as much a part of our world as that of the fifteenth century. In a sense Mehmet was an Ottoman Machiavelli, whose lust for power had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with vanity, egotism and false pride. He used Islam and Turkish imperialism as vehicles for his own ambition. His reign of terror was ultimately pointless and destructive, indicative of the hollowness and futility of earthly ambition. The last chapters of this brilliant study give a thumbnail account of the rest of Ottoman history until the collapse of the dynasty after the First World War. This outstanding book deserves to win all the prizes going.


Blood and Mistletoe: the history of the Druids in Britain
Ronald Hutton
Yale University Press, £30
Tablet bookshop price £27 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
04 June 2009, Review by Gwyn Thomas
Brighteningthe Celtic twilight

The Druids have a sort of subliminal presence in the British psyche. On occasions like the National Eisteddfod of Wales or the celebration of the summer solstice at Stonehenge they surface as figures that recall a dim antiquity. What kind of a relationship our modern Druids have with that dim antiquity is one of Professor Hutton's considerations in this monumental study.

As he says, what is known of the first Celtic Druids - the Celts had a prominent European presence from about 700 BC to about 400 AD - is found in representations of them by Greek and Latin authors in what amounts to about a dozen pages of print, though there is more if we include Classical reports about the religion of the Celts, and there may be some evidence about their religious beliefs in their art. Most of those representations are the product of hearsay, or are coloured for political or other purposes.

Two aspects of the Druids are presented, characterised by the "blood" and "mistletoe" of the title of this book. On the one hand, we have references to their human sacrifices and other gory practices: on the other, we have presentations of them as wise men, lawgivers, astronomers and priests.

These early Classical records are supplemented by references in early Irish literature, and in early Welsh literature, here quoted in English translations, and in contexts that reveal their priestly and magical powers. These powers gradually weakened and evolved into bardic offices and services. To the two sources of data about the Druids and the Celts that have been mentioned, we should add the evidence provided by archaeology.

In the British consciousness the dim presence of the Druids became even dimmer during the Middle Ages. They could well have become the concern only of dusty scholars, had it not been for a resurgence of interest in them in what became a quest for historic roots across north-western Europe during the Renaissance. Since Britain had no place in biblical antiquity, and not much to speak of in Classical antiquity, Hutton claims that the Druids were the only impressive figures in its remote past. And so began a period of magnificent pseudo-history, with the Druids rampant mainly as the wise men of our past or, alternatively, as bloody, pagan priests.

The works of several "engineers" of our Druidic past are examined in detail in this book. Three inventors who claim most attention are William Stukeley, who held that the Druids built prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge; Edward Williams, also known by his Bardic name of Iolo Morganwg, who invented the Gorsedd of Welsh bards which became a prominent feature of the modern Eisteddfod; and George Watson Reid who "made the name of Druid into a vehicle and metaphor for English cultural radicalism and founded a tradition ... which continues to this day".

Instead of treating these inventors, to use a colloquialism, as "nutters", as archaeologists and literary purists have done over the years, Hutton has looked at them sympathetically and sought to discover what exactly they were trying to do. He presents them, in a way, as neo-Druids, with very little in common with the Druids of antiquity, who attempted to set forth values that were dear to them, and many others, values that had their own validity. And it may be that their aspirations had more contact with what we can surmise about the beliefs of the ancient Druids than the self-contained rigidity of some archaeologists.

If we are willing to consider the utterances and ideas of such neo-Druids as having very little to do with the ancient Druids, and to accept that the ancients served only as inspiration or starting points for their ruminations, we need not have to rave about their wild imagining, fatuous fantasies, or their "unrelieved lunatic darkness" (in the words of the eminent archaeologist Stuart Piggott). We should accept them in their own right, as this book recommends, as the work of people who might have something worthwhile for us to consider. This is exactly what happened in Wales. In the early twentieth century Iolo Morganwg (1747-1826) was revealed to be a notorious forger of medieval poetry and a scurrilous inventor of Druidic "nonsense" by two eminent Welsh scholars, Sir John Morris-Jones and Professor G.J. Williams: at one Eisteddfod a Ioloesque Archdruid, Hwfa Môn, had to be restrained from making a physical attack on the former for his views. But a canny Archdruid, Cynan, the architect of the present Eisteddfodic ceremonies, said, more or less, "Of course, we all realise that our Druidism is a fabrication, but it is an excellent fabrication, so let's make use of it." And he did, with very satisfactory consequences.

Professor Hutton would, I am certain, have approved of this, for a reasonable understanding of people's Druidic views is one of the main recommendations of this truly excellent and readable study.


Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor   Eamon Duffy
Yale University Press, £19.99
Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
29 May 2009, Review by Alec Ryrie
Zealots who fanned the flames

Wishful thinking is a perennial companion of moral outrage. In particular, we wish that those two cardinal virtues, prudence and justice, were indivisible. When fulminating against torture, we readily slide from asserting that it's inherently wrong to claiming that it doesn't work. The same sloppy logic affects debates over vivisection, and a great deal else. We dislike the idea that something can be both morally wrong and practically effective.

Christianity's own-brand version of this wishful thinking centres on martyrdom, a form of spiritual ju-jitsu which takes apparent disaster and turns it into strength. There are, of course, excellent theological reasons for this. Moreover, it can work. The blood of the martyrs can be the seed of the Church - sometimes.

But any seed can be washed away by over-watering. The nasty truth about religious persecution is that it sometimes succeeds, especially if (unlike most of the ancient Roman persecutions) it is thorough and relentless. The extermination of the huge Japanese Church in the early seventeenth century is the most spectacular example. Eamon Duffy's new book turns to a more controversial case: England under Queen Mary I (1553-58).

In 1992, Duffy wrote a brief, path-breaking reassessment of Mary's reign, attacking the notion that she was little more than a speed-bump on England's inevitable (providential?) road to Protestantism. He argued that her attempt to restore Catholicism was well thought out, widely supported, well- resourced, forward-looking, and was cut short only by her untimely death. But he attracted criticism for passing over the most notorious aspect of her reign in near silence. This was, as Protestants have never let anyone forget, a regime which in less than four years burned nearly 300 men and women alive for heresy. Now Duffy has written a fuller version of the reign, with the burnings front and centre.
His most striking claim is an uncomfortable one, but a very powerful one. While morally appalling to modern eyes (he makes no bones about that), the campaign of burnings was working. Indeed, in its own terms, it was necessary. As a sixteenth-century Home Secretary might have said, persecution works.

That said (and despite the title), this is not a book about the burnings, but about the Marian restoration. Its real hero, whom Duffy sees as the regime's religious mastermind, is Reginald Pole, the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. (Mary herself, by contrast, is oddly absent from the book.) For researchers, it is the work on Pole which is the most exciting. Pole has a reputation for being gentle, high-minded, Italianate, over-subtle and ineffectual. For Duffy, he is a devastatingly effective thinker and reformer. Several hoary myths are exploded here: in particular, the claims that Pole disapproved of preaching and that he short-sightedly excluded the Jesuits from Marian England. No one should now ever be able to make those claims in polite company again.

More broadly, Duffy argues that the regime's religious policy was not merely up to date: it was innovatory, and its experience went on to inform the final sessions of the Council of Trent. His cheeky final line suggests that the regime did not merely discover the Counter-Reformation, it invented it. Now nobody who is familiar with Duffy's work will be in the slightest surprised by these conclusions. And while he makes an excellent case, it is a polemical book. At times, he can become positively dewy-eyed about the regime's efforts; he can also slip into caricature when dealing with Protestantism. I was also disappointed to see him join in the too-easy condemnation of Anthony Kitchen, the only Marian bishop to accept Elizabeth I's re-established Royal Supremacy: an octogenarian in a Church which Pole and Mary had stuffed with clear-eyed zealots, but who still defied his new queen to an extraordinary extent and was allowed to run his Welsh diocese as a virtual Catholic enclave until his death in 1563.

Such nuanced compromises are not Duffy's fashion, as is evident when we turn to the burnings. The logic of his argument is strong. Almost everyone in the sixteenth century agreed that it was sometimes right and necessary to execute people for their religious views; so our revulsion at the principle tells us nothing about how contemporaries reacted. There is in fact slender evidence for any widespread revulsion at the burnings (as opposed to outrage from Protestant partisans). And it was working. The regime successfully wiped out the Protestant leadership in 1555-56 and then moved on to rounding up underground congregations, a campaign which peaked in 1557. The decline thereafter, Duffy argues, was not because of any change of policy; rather, it reflected some practical difficulties and the fact that there was not a limitless supply of would-be martyrs. So the campaign was just, in contemporary terms, and was succeeding, by any standard.

Two cheers for that argument. Successful: yes. The argument is all the more powerful for being constructed largely from John Foxe's passionately Protestant martyr stories. But just? Mary and Pole were, to say the least, at the hard-line end of the range of contemporary opinion. Duffy shows how uneasy some were with prosecuting heresy so vigorously. One of this book's surprises is the revelation that Bishop Bonner of London, long a comic-book villain of the persecution, was actually driven by the Council and his own officers to burn suspects whom he would rather have freed.

The contrast with Edward VI's and Elizabeth I's reigns is instructive. All of the Tudors executed religious offenders. Yet Edward VI executed no Catholics as such, and nor did Elizabeth for 20 years. The main wave of killings of Catholics in the 1580s was linked to fears (genuine, if also paranoid) of invasion and subversion. Mary executed the Protestant bishops she inherited; Edward and Elizabeth imprisoned the Catholic ones they inherited. Mary's regime demanded a far higher level of inward and outward conformity from her subjects than Elizabeth's (a difference which partly reflects the limits of what Elizabeth could realistically hope to achieve). Mary Tudor's Church was, Duffy's account makes clear, an intensely instrusive Church. Any  withdrawal from communal participation constituted prima facie grounds for an accusation of heresy.

This book has persuaded me that Mary's (and Pole's) religious policy was creative, forward-looking and brutally effective. But I'm still not sure that I like it.


Church and State in 21st Century Britain: the future of Church Establishment
R.M. Morris
Palgrave Macmillan, £55
Tablet bookshop price £49.50 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
22 May 2009, Review by Theo Hobson
Evasion of disquieting truths

Imagine a line-up of 100 English people, of all ages and types. Only two or three of them are active members of the Church of England, which is England's official religion (establishment has a separate Scottish edition). What does establishment consist of? It's hard to say: what we now have is the vestige of a very intimate intertwining of Church and State, a vestige which, in practical political terms, seems negligible. But in terms of national symbolism it is very considerable: the fact that our head of state must pledge to defend this Church is of no small relevance to "national identity".

So is this still what we want? It's hard to say: Christians seem in favour, and the rest of the people in that line-up seem indifferent. Progressive opinion occasionally picks up the issue, as if it were some weird exhibit in a museum, and then shrugs and returns to something more pressing.

But events are forcing the issue on to the table: the House of Lords is being reformed, although at a speed that would bore a tortoise; and the heir to the throne is occasionally to be heard tinkering with his future religious role. And recently Gordon Brown renounced his right to appoint bishops, one of the last expressions of Parliament's theoretical supervision of the Church. The rise of Islam, of course, has also contributed to a new wariness of religion-in-politics, and the debate about faith schools remains intense. The case for disestablishment seems to be gathering force, but what might actually happen? Is partial reform possible, or is it all or nothing?

R.M. Morris, of London University's Constitution Unit, has written an excellent guide to these questions (there are a couple of chapters by others, but this is really Morris' book). It aims "to help inform current discussion about the future of the relationship between the two Established Churches in the United Kingdom and the State". So does it claim impartiality? Not quite: "It is the argument of this book that it is time to look again at the relationship between the state and established religion in the United Kingdom. While the forms of establishment in Scotland and England are very different, both represent past political solutions to issues of Church/State relations long overtaken by subsequent changes." Reform is needed, he argues, but it can be and should be gentle, incremental: we can modernise our constitution without scaring the corgis. And if such reform is not pursued, he warns, the constitution will lose credibility, and so is likely to have rougher change thrust upon it.

So is he, or is he not, advocating disestablishment? He resists the question, on the grounds that establishment is a complex web of relationships, not a simple link that could be severed. The Church is so involved in national life, through its property, its chaplaincies, its schools, and so on, that any talk of a total break with the State is unreal. Some might suspect him of being a bit cunning: of seeking to soft-sell radical reform to conservative minds by disavowing the word "disestablishment". For he certainly does advocate the key changes that most of us would associate with "disestablishment".

When he comes to consider the monarch's role as Supreme Governor he observes that it has already been emptied of meaning, for in practice the Church has become autonomous. So why not relieve the monarchy of this meaningless burden, which ties it to discrimination? The legal difficulty of reform is exaggerated by conservatives, he says, and carefully explains the best way of effecting change. But why would anyone bother initiating such a controversial and complex reform? "It has to be remembered that the weight of evidence about the state of religious belief and its plurality beyond Christianity render the surviving late seventeenth-century settlement in principle indefensible even if its increasingly emaciated formal remnant may stagger on. The problem is to how to identify the routes which do as little damage to existing institutions as possible."

Conservatives who say that the monarchy would be endangered by this change are missing the point: "While at first sight detaching the sovereign from the religious supremacy may seem revolutionary, it is but to recognise that the head of state's role changes when society changes and it is undesirable for it to be so intimately associated with one particular religious form whether in England or in Scotland."

Morris notes that the presence of bishops in the House of Lords is unsustainable, and that trying to balance bishops with other faith leaders would be full of problems: "in a situation where no other sovereign democratic legislature includes religious representatives, no overwhelming case appears yet to have been made for the principle in the United Kingdom".

But how will reform get going? Parliament is less than keen, and the Church is even less so. A couple of times Morris quietly implies that the Church is being culpably timid; instead of repeating the old rhetoric about defending Christian Britain, it should be leading the discussion, ensuring that the inevitable reform happens as smoothly as possible. He tentatively wonders whether its evasion of the issue is rooted in its fear that serious change will magnify its old internal division.

I would go further: in my opinion the Church's evasion of this issue has been shameful. The Church of England used to be notable for its many courageously honest voices, ready to speak inconvenient truths. It is now more notable for its chippy, defensive tone; it seems to lack the confidence to look this matter of great national importance in the eye.

This book will be widely read by canny politicians and policy wonks; its careful dissection of the issues will help to inform the choices that are coming. Bishops will probably complain that it is biased.


Paul Cardinal Cullen: portrait of a practical nationalist
Ciarán O’Carroll
Veritas Publications, £19.95
Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review 14 May 2009, Review by Michael Walsh
Wise and eminent patriots

There have been 10 Archbishops of Westminster from Wiseman to Murphy-O'Connor, all of them made cardinals, and one Archbishop-elect, Vincent Nichols. Of the installed archbishops, all except the last (who is happily still with us), and William Godfrey (who was unmemorable), have attracted biographers, in some instances several biographers. That is not exactly true: John Carmel Heenan provided his own life story in two volumes, and no one has so far risked taking up the challenge of a revised version. Heenan, as a young priest, also provided the first account of the life of his predecessor, Arthur Hinsley. It was a work of pietas, produced in 1944, very soon after Hinsley's death. He owed it to him: Hinsley had rescued Heenan from the clutches of an unsympathetic diocesan bishop.

While Heenan's wartime biography was necessarily short, Dr Hagerty's is a stout volume, all the stouter for the unnecessarily heavy-weight paper on which it is printed, making it difficult to hold open. This, too, is something of a work of pietas, because the author was headmaster of St Bede's in Bradford which Hinsley founded and served for a time as headmaster.

He did not last long. In what would now be termed a "mission statement", St Bede's undertook "to increase devotion to the See of Peter, reverence for Ecclesiastical Superiors, and intelligent interest in public affairs". These were then no doubt seen as highly admirable intentions. Hinsley's grasp of the concept of reverence for superiors, however, seemed somewhat lacking. He was a bumptious young man who took on the (then Catholic) scientist St George Mivart in the letter pages of The Tablet over the theory of evolution, fell out with his colleagues on the staff of Ushaw, and resigned from St Bede's after a contretemps with governors and bishop. He moved to the embrace of Bishop Amigo at Southwark. Then, much to the alarm of at least some of the English hierarchy, he was appointed rector of the English College in Rome, where he was an enormous success. He was made a bishop, then archbishop, and sent first as apostolic visitor and later as apostolic delegate to the British colonies in Africa. He returned to Rome ill, and looked forward to a peaceful retirement as a canon of St Peter's, until Pius XI sent him back to England as Archbishop of Westminster.

And the rest is history - literally so, because his time at Westminster coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War, during which the cardinal played a distinguished role in rallying Catholics, and other Christians, behind the war effort. His chief means for doing so was the Sword of the Spirit, later the Catholic Institute for International Relations, and later still Progressio. Hagerty seems to be of the impression that it was the brainchild of Hinsley himself. There are other contenders, not least Barbara Ward, but I have long suspected that digging about in the Public Record Office might reveal the hand of the Ministry of Information in Sword's creation.

Hagerty is, I think, too sympathetic to the cardinal's ultimately unsuccessful effort to foist Catholic Action upon English and Welsh Catholics. There had been in the 1930s a great flowering of Catholic organisations of all sorts (one of which was the Catholic Association - and not, I think, "Institute" as the author has, I imagine inadvertently, written) for International Relations, which Hinsley at first wanted to bring under a creaking bureaucracy. I find it quite amazing that this interest in affairs national and international by the Catholic middle classes should have existed beside such virulent anti-Semitism. In the editor's chair at The Catholic Herald Michael de la Bédoyère proposed exporting "surplus Jews", while the anti-Semitism of Pétain did not dissuade Douglas Woodruff at The Tablet from backing the Vichy regime - much to Hinsley's distress. Even if Hinsley kept a signed photograph of General Franco on his desk, he would have no truck with Fascism in Italy or Germany.

Hegarty's subtitle is "priest and patriot", while Ciarán O'Carroll chooses a rather similar "portrait of a practical nationalist". That both Cullen and Hinsley were patriots of a fervent kind goes without saying, but there were other similarities. Cullen, born in County Kildare in 1803, like Hinsley studied in Rome, and became rector of his national college. Both were unexpectedly sent back home, Cullen in 1850 as Archbishop of Armagh and, two years later, as Archbishop of Dublin (he became Ireland's first ever cardinal). Both, for the most part, supported the government of the day. In Cullen's case, this was curious, for his government lay in Westminster rather than in Dublin. That is the point of O'Carroll's use of the word "practical". The cardinal had no love of Parliament in London, but he believed the only way to improve the situation for the people of Ireland was by constitutional means rather than by resorting to violence.

His stance was unpopular with some of the Irish bishops and with a good many of the Irish clergy. The cardinal battled in vain to restrain the political activities of the clergy. O'Carroll remarks, for example, that in the Sligo by-election of 1853 "the clergy played a prominent, and at times violent, role". When the national synod forbade clergy to display before the laity dissent among themselves, priests simply closed the doors to lay people and chose candidates for parliamentary seats without reference to lay electors.

Archbishop McHale of Tuam was Cullen's main opposition among the hierarchy, a supporter of radical means to free Ireland from the British. At Vatican I he opposed the definition of papal infallibility, and returned home to a tumultuous reception.

Cullen, on the other hand, banned Fenians of whatever variety, claiming them to be a secret society which plotted against Church and State: they denied the ban because they did not plot against the Church. The Vatican dithered: it was not until 1870 that it came out with a clear condemnation. Among Cullen's solutions to the Irish problem was to have Irishmen running the administration in Dublin. After all, he opined, "the Irish are in general very far superior in intelligence to Englishmen".



The Inheritance of Rome: a history of Europe from 400 to 1000
Chris Wickham
Allen Lane, £35
Tablet bookshop price £31.50 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review
02 April 2009, Review by Nicholas Vincent
Dark ages, brilliantly illuminated

The period of the "Early Middle Ages" covered by this massive tome is traditionally regarded as one in which the peoples and hence the nation states of modern Europe were first brought to birth. Against this background of "ethnogenesis", the twin beacons of imperial and Christian Rome burnt at first feebly but ultimately in such a way as to cast their light forward into the period of expansion and "renaissance", after the year 1000. Chris Wickham, Chichele Professor of Medieval History in the University of Oxford and the undisputed master of this field, will have nothing to do either with "ethnogenesis" or with the sort of reading of the past that seeks to trace the origins of the modern and sophisticated to the ancient and crude. The result is quite the best general synthesis of early medieval history ever published.

The breadth of Wickham's survey is remarkable, encompassing a geographical region that stretches, in deliberate rejection of the Europe of Jacques Delors or the Common Agricultural Policy, from the Atlas Mountains to northern Norway, and from Connacht to the banks of the Ganges. If it had any single cause, then the fall of Rome in the fifth century resulted from the Vandal seizure of the granaries of north Africa. The revival of trade in the eighth and ninth centuries resulted not so much from the puny administrative efforts of Western rulers such as Charlemagne, as from the economic impulses of Egypt and those parts of the eastern, and by this time Islamic, world, in which urbanisation and long-distance trade had survived Rome's fall. So inclusive is Wickham's survey that even the British Isles are allowed to take a proper if unaccustomed place in European affairs.

Precisely because he views his subject from an off-beam, insular perspective, Wickham, like other Anglophone historians before him, achieves a detachment and a breadth of sympathy that continental historians find difficult to match. The Middle Ages as described by Marc Bloch or Georges Duby were a distinctively French affair, with Clovis and Charlemagne very much at the centre of things. The path from Rome to Aachen was strewn with wine barrels and perfumed, if not with Gauloises, then with the peculiar aroma of Gallic pride. There is no such unconscious bias here. Far from being a dumber-down, Wickham is a thinker-up of history, so that his analysis is always probing towards complexity, away from complacency or accepted "truth".

The result is neither a comfortable nor an easy read, the rough edges rendered sharper still by a prose style that is far from the suavity of a Bede or an Edward Gibbon. Willing to celebrate individual personalities, and not shy of anecdote where a good story can be told, Wickham nonetheless writes within an essentially materialist tradition: social-economic explanations are to be sought for most great changes in history. Some may object that religion is treated merely as an aspect of politics or anthropology. Others may be surprised to find as much about Muhammad as about Christ in the history of a continent whose conversion to Christianity during this period remains one of the few things that most people can remember.

Set against this are the extraordinary comparisons which Wickham's coverage permits. Diet as much as religion was what set the Barbarians apart from Rome. What changed after 500 was not the Germanisation but the militarisation of Western Europe. Where the Roman legions had been fed bread paid for from public taxes, armies of meat-eaters now served for glory and a position within the warrior elite. Despite its conquest by Islam after 711, Visigothic Spain had in many ways been a more stable and centralised polity than seventh-century Francia, and the appanages created in Iran for the successors of the Abbasid caliph Al-Rashid can be directly compared to those created for the Carolingians in the West. The tenth century no more witnessed a "feudal" revolution or the collapse of public authority than the sixth century had been dominated by a cataclysmic outbreak of bubonic plague. Some of these points may be familiar. Others are deeply iconoclast.

Throughout, Wickham reminds us of how profoundly our understanding of the archaeological and literary evidence has changed over the past few decades. If historians writing 50 years from now can claim to have made anything like the same advance upon our own present state of knowledge, then there will be hope for a world that at present seems uncomfortably close to the intellectual and economic collapse of the later Roman empire. Like all of the best teachers, Wickham does not so much lecture his readers as invite them to draw comparisons and conclusions from the great riches he displays. This is a book which, in small doses as much as in totality, cannot fail to enlighten. To any serious student of Europe's past it is absolutely indispensable.


Darwin’s Island: the Galapagos in the garden of England

by Steve Jones
Little, Brown, £20

Book Review 12 February 2009, by John Cornwell

Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College, London, is by his own admission more atheistic than Richard Dawkins. He told me not so long ago that, on a scale of one to 10, Dawkins had professed himself to be two points religious, whereas he, Jones, considers himself only 1.5 points religious. He was recently voted "Secularist of the Year". All the same, it is a huge relief to read a book about Darwin by an ardent atheist that neglects to attack God, creationism, intelligent design or religion.

Darwin visited and studied the flora and fauna of some 40 islands in his lifetime. Great Britain was both the first and the last. He spent more time studying the natural history of Kent than any of the jungles of the Amazon, or the rocky islets of the Galapagos. To celebrate the Darwin bicentenary, Jones has written a book that ranges from the Galapagos to the countryside around Downe House, Kent, where the great man spent 40 years of his life. Darwin wrote six million words there, and published 19 books and many hundreds of scientific papers. Much of his massive oeuvre is concerned not with theoretical polemic about evolution but with observations, experiments, and reportage of natural organisms, over which he cast his talent for making wonderfully imaginative connections. Not least of Darwin's works, forming the central plank of Jones' book, is the four-volume, 1,000-page study entitled Barnacles.

It is commonly believed that barnacles are a sort of snail because of their solid shells. In fact they are joint-limb animals not unlike crabs, spiders or flies. Their ancestors once roamed the oceans, but they now spend most of their lives within their shells stuck to

strategic vantage points on rocks and hulls of ships. Darwin became interested in barnacles when hunting for marine life while studying medicine at Edinburgh. Ten years later, on the coast of Chile, he found an unfamiliar soft-bodied marine creature similar to the British barnacle, but without its shell.

It led him to initiate a work of many years, categorising barnacles the world over. He was convinced that barnacles (and indeed all animals) came from a common ancestor that could be traced ever further back into the distant past. "Five years after his cirripede [barnacle] opus," Jones tells us, "that radical notion became the theme of The Origin of Species." Jones goes on: the study "has grown into the science of evolutionary developmental biology, which unites barnacles from across the world with each other, with crabs and lobsters and even with geese. It reveals the common foundations upon which all animals are built."

In this passionate, beautifully written book, Jones expands out from the humble barnacle to a wonderful circuit of natural observations. The British barnacle, for example, has a shutter, which opens to extend its legs at high tide and closes to keep in water when the creature is exposed to air. Its mouth has teeth like those of crabs and cockroaches. Some barnacle species excrete through the mouth, while others lose their eyes in adulthood through being tucked away in the dark.

Many have a kind of complex cement made of a protein that repels water. According to Jones, it is "the toughest known natural glue". There are two components: when mixed, "cross-links" are made between the molecules and the barnacle, making it virtually impossible to shift. In a typical factoidal flourish, Jones tells us that a ship uses 40 per cent more fuel when covered with barnacles than when its surface is smooth.

Jones' excitement about Darwin's barnacles derives ultimately from his academic specialisation, genetics, which continues to shed new light on the affinities between embryos of distant creatures. "DNA, like the bodies it builds," writes Jones, "is itself based on a series of variations on a structure theme. As egg becomes adult, complex organs - eyes, ears, hands and brains - are pieced together from elements that can clearly be distinguished only in the embryo." In early development many organisms strongly resemble each other more than in their adult maturity, since each, as Jones puts it, "shares a series of genes that lay down the basic body plan, from head to tail. Such genes are control switches in the journey from fertilisation to the grave."

The genes stored in the embryo's DNA guide the egg to maturity; but "errors" or mutations in the genes' instructions can result in differences of form that drive evolution: "Eyes transformed to legs in fruit flies, lambs with two heads or extra fingers in human babies - together with more persistent changes such as those that made birds form dinosaurs or barnacles form the ancestors of crabs."

Jones' book reads at times like a hymn to the beauty, subtlety and astonishing potential of the embryo and its extraordinary progress "from fertilisation to the grave". If this is true of the humble barnacle, how much more remarkable is the journey of the human being from embryo to neonate. Jones has not set out to engage in polemic about the ethics of human embryo research; but the sheer poetry of his writing on the epic journey that connects every single embryo to its post-natal maturity is, for this reader, a stunning contribution to our understanding of the dignity of human nature, from "fertilisation to the grave".


Vatican Secret Diplomacy: Joseph P. Hurley and Pope Pius XII
Charles R. Gallagher SJ

Yale University Press, 2008
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-300-12134-6

book review

Charles Gallagher, currently studying theology at Heythrop College, won the American Catholic Historical Association's prestigious John Gilmary Shea Prize for 2008 for this monograph, the second book to emerge from his doctoral thesis on the diocese of St. Augustine (Florida).

An almost casual invitation from Edward Mooney, appointed apostolic delegate to India in 1926, introduced Joseph P. Hurley into the world of Vatican diplomacy. Hurley emerged from an immigrant Catholic ghetto eager to demonstrate its strength ('muscular' Catholicism) and its allegiance to American principles (the 'blessed harmony') in the face of still strong, strident anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice. The former dictated his 'eyeball to eyeball' confrontational style; the latter, his framework for interpretation. At Mooney's side he observed the success of a diplomacy rooted in inflexibility first in India and then in Japan. In 1934 he started his work in the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

Hurley established close (perhaps too close) relations with the American ambassador in Rome, William A. Phillips. Indeed, he became Phillips's 'man at the Vatican'. Immediately before Hitler's visit to Rome in May 1938, Hurley anonymously wrote an editorial for L'Osservatore Romano: 'there are now two crosses side-by-side in Rome . . . the cross of Christianity and crooked cross of new-paganism' (p. 75). Through Hurley, the British and American governments convinced Pius XI that fascism was a greater threat than communism. Hurley summarised this argument thus: 'If you have two enemies, and one of them is holding a dagger to your throat, you have to take care of the enemy holding the knife before you try to defeat the other' (p. 76). Hitler did not meet Pius XI so the latter's plan of 'icy confrontation' was not implemented.

As Mussolini cracked down on freedom of the press, the American government used Hurley to get its news, reports, and views into L'Osservatore Romano. By publishing verbatim material provided by the US State Department, Hurley de facto converted the Vatican newspaper into an organ of American propaganda. In July 1939 the Italian government demanded that the newspaper cease publishing anti-Fascist material. Hurley's persistence led to Fascist reprisals. But Pius XI's death in February 1939 had left Hurley without a protector.

As the world eased towards war, Hurley saw the upcoming conflict in quasi-eschatological categories. Pius XII's advocation of impartiality was, at root, immoral. Hurley believed that the new Pope was missing the point as he abandoned the confrontational style of his predecessor. Despite papal preferences and after Italy's entry into the war, Hurley broadcast an interventionist, pro-Allies speech on Vatican Radio in July 1940. In Summi Pontificatus Pius had recommended prayer and mortification during the war; in this broadcast Hurley urged Catholics to fight for justice! On 13 August 1940 Patrick F. Barry, Bishop of St. Augustine, died. Three days later, and astonishingly quickly by anyone's standards, Pius nominated Hurley to the post. From a much smaller podium, Hurley continued to preach his interventionist views with facts and figures provided by the Roosevelt administration.

Hurley's removal from Rome, according to Gallagher, illustrates the timeworn principle promoveatur ut removeatur (promote in order to remove). Granted that Hurley's role as the voice of America in the curia and on Vatican Radio, and his outspoken promotion of interventionism on the side of the Allies, clashed with Pius XII’s policy of impartiality, but was this difference the sole reason for his transfer to a backwater diocese? Did not Pius tolerate Hurley's newspaper articles and radio broadcasts? Could fear for Hurley's personal safety or anxiety regarding his close identification with American interests have been factors? Once the danger had passed, Pius did indeed recall him to Rome.

Despite their differences, Pius appointed Hurley as acting papal regent to Yugoslavia in January 1945. Brought in out of the cold, Hurley reverted to his confrontational diplomacy in his battle with Marshall Tito. With the imminent defeat of fascism, communism regained its status as the Church's principal enemy. In Hurley's eyes there were no gradations of communism so Tito was no different from Stalin, any attempt to prove otherwise was 'so much dust in the eyes' (p. 183). With firm American support, Hurley won some battles over the imprisonment and execution of Croatian Catholic collaborators. Hurley also vigorously defended Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, who was found guilty at a controversial trial of many crimes including collaboration with the Nazis and forceful conversion of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism. In this campaign, Hurley had Pius's full support. Indeed the Vatican excommunicated any Catholic involved in the judgement against the Archbishop. But on this issue the United States remained silent, perhaps out of a hope to wean Tito from Stalin.

Hurley returned to Florida in 1950. Not only had the United States failed him, but he suspected this failure resulted from communist infiltration. Haunted by the spectre of communism, Hurley become increasingly reactionary. He viewed the changes in the Church during the pontificate of John XXIII with hostility. The Church had become soft on communism, and Hurley reprimanded the Council for their strong defence of Jews while neglecting imprisoned Catholics such as Stepinac. He dismissed contemporary theologians: 'The clerical "teen-agers" are jubilant about their victory. Like the Sisters they behave like bobby-soxers. Scream at every call for freedom–every clamour for youth. They are followers of Küng, Rahner, et al., as American girls were of Sinatra. . . Hans Küng is to theology what Elvis Presley is to music' (p. 220). Because of Hurley's influence, Martin Luther King made overtures to him when the civil rights leader targeted St. Augustine in 1964. Hurley refused public support; he remained sceptical of the civil rights movement because of its demonstrations and civil disobedience. If he had lived, one wonders how he would have reacted to the public protests against Humanae Vitae, and clerical involvement in the anti-Vietnam movement.

Journalists and historians have not been kind to Pope Pius XII over the past forty years. Earlier accolades, for example Golda Meir's 1958 comment 'During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims' (cited in Examining the Papacy of Pope Pius XII [New York, 2008] p. 139) have been brushed aside and ignored definitely post hoc and probably propter hoc the production of Rolf Hochhuth's Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy [or The Representative]) in 1963. Apparently this is another triumph of literature over history, comparable to the portrayal of Sir Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons. The book under review makes an important contribution to the debate. Gallagher may be criticised for a one-sided, post-Deputy interpretation that maximises differences between Pius XI and Pius XII, minimises Pius XII's efforts, and juxtaposes Hurley's 1943 denunciation of 'orgies of extermination' with papal silence, but in the author's defence he is simply explicating Hurley's perception of Pius XII, which is more or less compatible with Hochhuth's. But has the author underestimated how Hurley's patriotism may have prejudiced his perceptions? Why was Hurley so uncritical in his acceptance and use of data provided by the State Department? Was he so certain of America's moral rectitude? Bishop Hurley may have been dwarfed by the taller pope in the photograph on the dust jacket, but Gallagher elevates the status of this hitherto little-known American prelate whose importance and influence extended beyond wartime Rome.

The reviewer, Thomas M McCoog SJ is the Archivist of the British Province of the Society of Jesus.

Find this book on Yale University Press's web site


Evolution or Creation: do we have to choose?

by Denis Alexander
Monarch Books, £10.99

22 January 2009, Review by Ernan McMullen

What do we mean by evolution? Denis Alexander, a distinguished immunologist and a biblically literate Christian, gives as good an answer in 100 clearly written pages as one is likely to find anywhere. His book is an immensely valuable addition to a literature where works of this quality are not plentiful.

He opens his account of the biblical doctrine of Creation with a helpful discussion of the issues involved in interpreting biblical texts. The most important point is that they were not intended to teach natural science. He goes on to display an array of texts that testify in powerful prose to a personal Creator who is both transcendent to and immanent in our universe. The first chapter of Genesis, he contends, is to be understood figuratively, as it was through much of earlier Christian history: it offered a coherent alternative to and critique of pagan Creation stories. The second chapter of Genesis laid out a theology, not a chronology, emphasising the responsibilities that came from being made in God's image. What we know about cosmic and terrestrial evolution fits comfortably into this picture: this was how the Creator produced our wondrous world. But what about human evolution? Where does that fit?

For Tablet readers, this is where Alexander's book has most to offer. Three topics stand out. First is human origins: the evidence is by now quite conclusive that human bodies bear numerous, unmistakable traces of genetic descent from the primate line. We are not descended from chimpanzees or gorillas but all three species share common ancestors. Scientists now have the powerful probe into the distant past provided by molecular biology, an area in which Alexander is totally at home.

The most obvious argument for this genetic continuity is that humans share much of their genetic complement of 20,000 to 25,000 genes with other species. The degree of sharing increases until, with the other primates, the differences are only a few per cent. But even more striking evidence comes not from the genes themselves but from "pseudogenes", stretches of DNA that are non-functional in humans but that retain a function in other species. At the last count, our genome contains an astonishing 19,000 pseudogenes. Each has gradually accumulated a small number of mutations that prevent it from functioning. Each testifies to a particular point of divergence in our evolutionary history. And there is a second sort of testimony: the human genome contains 23 chromosome pairs, that of apes 24. Is this a significant difference? It was until it was discovered that human chromosome 2 is, equivalently, two smaller ape chromosomes joined end-to-end, recalling a long-ago fusion after the lineages separated some six million years ago. There are hundreds of similar examples.

Mitochondrial or cellular and other forms of evidence point to the origin of Homo sapiens around 150,000 to 200,000 years ago in Africa. The genetic diversity in modern humans suggests that they could never have numbered less than a few thousand. Complex cave art and ceremonial burial of the dead, date back 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, at least. What about Adam and Eve? Alexander admits that there are too many unknowns both in the evolutionary account and in the interpretation of the biblical text to give a firm answer. But he suggests several hypothetical scenarios. The one he favours is of a single couple in a Neolithic community in the Near East around 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, to whom God chose to reveal himself: "Adam and Eve, in this view, were real people, living in a particular historical era and geographical location, chosen by God to be the representatives of his new humanity on earth, not by virtue of anything they had done, but simply by God's grace."

The population of individuals genetically similar to Adam and Eve, "made in God's image", would by then have numbered anywhere from one to 10 million, dispersed over an arc stretching from Australia in one direction to South America in the other. But only these two of that multitude were to be "saved by grace as we are". "Spiritually alive", they possessed "a personal knowledge of God". The others could have possessed the attributes of free will, language, capacity for prayer, all necessary for fellowship with God "but not sufficient, then as now". Adam and Eve were thus "the spiritual progenitors of all those who since that time have experienced God's saving grace".

For someone raised in the evangelical tradition, as Alexander was, the doctrine of the Fall will loom large in any discussion of evolution. In a chapter replete with biblical references, he concludes that the notion that physical death, disease, and suffering entered the world only with Adam's fall, finds little support in the biblical text and is flatly contradicted by a vast body of evidence. But he proposes that it was with the disobedience of Adam and Eve that sin first entered the world: for there to be sin, there had to have been a personal relationship with God. Theirs was the "first deliberate disobedience to God's commands". Furthermore, Adam was, as it were, the "federal head of humankind" so that "as Adam falls, humankind falls with him".

It is not clear why this should be the case, particularly since, according to this scenario, God had set Adam apart from his contemporaries. One clear consequence of the genetic continuity between the first humans and their primate forebears is the inheritance of unruly instincts, passions, only partially under the control of the emerging human powers of choice. In this scenario, the potential of sinfulness, of an "original selfishness", as some have called it, is genetically built into human nature itself. That it would be propagated by physical descent would therefore follow directly.

There is much to discuss here, as there is also in the author's insightful chapters on natural evil, intelligent design, and the origin of life. But perhaps enough has been said to give a flavour, at least, of this thoughtful and thought-provoking work.


Theological Interpretation of the New Testament
Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Ed.), N.T. Wright and Daniel J. Treier (Associate Eds.)

SPCK, 2008
240 pages
ISBN: 9-780-281061020

There are two questions concerning the New Testament that beset intelligent readers wanting to open its pages. The first is this: is there an impassable barrier between scripture study and theology (which might be crudely paraphrased as ‘do biblical scholars believe in God?’)? The second is like unto it: is it possible to read the New Testament in a way that is challenging, intellectually demanding, but also spiritually fulfilling? Here now is a book for those who find themselves anxious about these two questions; and the tone of it may be set for English readers by the fact that Tom Wright, the indefatigable bishop of Durham (how does he find the time to do all that he does?) is one of the editors. That is to say that the prevailing attitude will be intelligent, in touch with modern biblical scholarship, and from within the faith community (even if largely at the evangelical, white and male end of the community).

All the chapters of this book have already appeared in print, in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible; but it is none the worse for that, having brought together something on each of the 27 books of the New Testament, and combining serious biblical scholarship with a sense that God is to be encountered in the scriptures. There is, as Vanhoozer points out in his introduction, a widespread feeling that biblical scholarship has been wandering in the desert these past two centuries, without finding anything to quench the thirst of the human spirit, and anything that restores our sense of the Bible as bread (and water) of life is to be welcomed with open arms. What this book wishes to do, without undoing the advances in scripture scholarship of the last two hundred years, is to study God and the mighty acts of God. One important element in the enterprise is that the Bible’s interpretation is not the task of biblical scholars alone, but ‘the joint responsibility of all the theological disciplines and of the whole people of God’ (p.18). So this is a book for anyone seriously interested in the New Testament, who wants to read it as Scripture without surrendering his or her God-given critical intelligence.

One advantage of the book’s origin within evangelical Christianity is that the authors tend to give references and expect you either to be familiar with the text or to have a bible ready to hand. Let me recommend that you read this with a copy of the New Testament (preferably more than one version) open on your desk.

It will not be possible within the space of this review to do justice to all the contributions, but let me mention just some of the articles, to encourage you to dip into the book. Robert Gundry on Matthew is very good indeed, showing the crucial part that Matthew has played in theology for two millennia; many different, not to say mutually contradictory, theological positions have been justified from the first Gospel. One incidental benefit of this book (and of Gundry’s contribution in particular) will be, for many readers, the discovery of just how different the texts of the New Testament are from one another. Thorsten Moritz properly insists on Mark’s ‘narrative theology’, explains how and why Mark came back into fashion in the 19th century and illuminatingly suggests how the first three verses of the Gospel are the key to Mark’s enterprise. The piece on John’s Gospel, by S. A. Cummins, should be read slowly and reflectively, checking it against the text of the Gospel. Cummins helpfully reminds us, against the conventional view, that the text of John contains within it various theological approaches to the mystery of Jesus, that there was ‘widespread ecclesial ownership of John during the first half of the 2nd century’ (p. 61). He also notes recent trends that move in the direction of accepting that the Fourth Gospel preserves authentic historical memories. At the same time, however, he insists on the properly theological concerns that are so very much at the heart of John’s Gospel.

The chapter by Christopher Bryan on Romans can hardly be bettered as a statement of what that difficult letter is about. Tom Wright offers a lovely piece on Philippians, which he sees as asking the eminently contemporary question: how do you live a totally new life in the midst of a society that simply does not share your values? Chuck Wannamaker on 1 Thessalonians offers a very useful and brief summary of the history of the interpretation of Paul’s earliest letter, as well as a very fair account of the difficulties involved in seeing 2 Thessalonians as Pauline, although he is not, unlike many scholars, finally of the view that someone else wrote it. Jon C. Laansma gives a masterly account of the complexities of the difficult but haunting Letter to the Hebrews. William R. Baker is interesting, perceptive, and knowledgeable on the history of the interpretation of the Letter of James, which should be read by anyone inclined to discount that powerful letter (including Luther, of course, who thought it was ‘an epistle of straw’!). Finally, Francesca Aran Murphy contributes a helpful piece on the Book of Revelation, asking why its inclusion in the canon was so complex. She discusses some fascinating exegetical adventures in the history of interpretation of this very striking book: these include a little-known but sensitive treatment by the Venerable Bede, and the better-known, indeed very influential, work of Joachim of Fiore, and also painting (Jan van Eyck – and she might have mentioned Blake, of course), and music (Messiaen).

And so on. Read all the essays in this book; be aware that they come from only one part of the complex world that is biblical scholarship, but to say that is not to discount their message, only to point out that there are other intelligent and believing approaches. It is of immense importance that we cherish the astonishing gift we have in the New Testament (and its dialogue partner the Old Testament), which enables us to watch the attempts of the first generation of Christians to express in words that which cannot be expressed in words. It also allows us to eavesdrop on the debates within the Church as to whether and how this or that text pointed sufficiently to the mystery of Christ. Many people will find great help in this book.

The reviewer, Nicholas King SJ, is a tutor in Biblical Studies at the University of Oxford.


No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers      by Michael Novak

Book Review

Michael Novak is convinced that atheists and believers in God can and should open civil, reasoned conversations about questions important to each. Who really are we? What may we hope? How ought we to live?

    In the face of such questions, both the atheist and the theist stand in similar darkness. The atheist does not see God–but neither does the believer….

    The world of human experience is not all that different for the believer in God versus the atheist….

    Why not, then, set aside our cultures of mutual distrust and begin to converse like serious human beings?

Out of that conviction, he has written No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. It is a book for turning down the heat of debate, recognizing our shared humanness, opening our ears to hear the other side of the story. As such it is more than timely.

Novak, according to the flyleaf, has taught at Harvard and Stanford, and held academic chairs at Syracuse University and Notre Dame. He now holds the Jewett Chair in Religions, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. He was granted the Templeton Prize for progress in religion in 1994. A Roman Catholic, he presents views in this book with which Protestant believers may be almost entirely in agreement. One hopes that his call for more irenic religious debate might also be amenable to many atheists.

Peaceable discussion does not mean, however, simply nodding or shaking our heads blandly when we agree or disagree. Novak disagrees deeply and pointedly with the four famous “New Atheists,” Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. Above all, he takes exception to their dismissing religion offhand with an air of knowledge that in many cases is quite unsupported in fact or argument. Theirs is not the calm approach to reasoned debate that Novak desires; or, as he put it in his title to Chapter One, it is “Not the Way to Invite a Conversation.” All of them, he says, “think religion is so great a menace that they do not show much disposition for dialogue.” In their books,

    there is not a shred of evidence that their authors have ever had any doubts whatever about the rightness of their own atheism. Self-questioning about their own scholarly indifference to their subject; about the horrific brutalities committed in the name of “scientific atheism” during the twentieth century; about the restless and mercurial dissatisfactions in atheist and secular movements during the past hundred years…. all such questions are notable by their absence.

Of Dawkins he writes,

    Had Professor Dawkins made even a semiserious pretense of fairness, I would have thought much more carefully about his criticisms of Christian peoples…. The letter that Harris claims is intended for a Christian nation is, in fact, totally uninterested in Christianity on any level…. Dennett’s concept of reason and science is so narrow that he seems trapped in something like early-period A.J. Ayer.

It is serious dialogue he desires, not that of the sort set forth by these New Atheists. By way of demonstration and contrast, he devotes 54 pages respectfully responding to his colleague (his description) Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, who had written a short article espousing atheism in the American Conservative in August 2006. It is a back-and-forth exchange, actually, marked throughout by the sense of common humanness Novak calls us to recognize. He allows her in his book to present her case, and in a tone of genuine friendship he answers with his own. Here you get a sense of his approach:

    It is rare in American life today to conduct public argument at the depth Heather chooses. Her arguments are crucial to our national life.

    A famous Jesuit once said that to achieve real disagreement, two disputants must drink a case of brandy together. Most of what seem to be “disagreements” are a case of mutual misunderstanding. These are not so much real disagreements as false leads. What is needed, then, is a patient willingness to circle round and round together, during many long evenings, narrowing the issues….

    One of the best things about friendship is lifelong disagreement on important points, cherished in affectionate argument.

He goes on to list four topics on which believer and unbeliever are likely to be in agreement; and then moves on to state his own case.

This common humanness is evident throughout the book. The common darkness (”No One Sees God”) is in the opening and in the epilogue, but most clearly explained in a chapter on Thinking About God, where he reminds us that even Moses at the Burning Bush did not see God; all he saw was a flame; and

    as a drop is to the ocean, so compared to God is a dancing flame.

It is not all darkness: there is knowledge. Yet mystery remains.

    Brave and persistent men may come to know God exists. (I repeat, know it. Not believe it.) They can know unmistakably that God exists…. They know it by the fruits of God’s presence in their own lives and in the lives of others…. However humans cannot know, cannot possibly know, what God is. Not with God’s own self-knowledge, and not even with their own.

Elsewhere he also draws at length upon the knowledge of God to be gained through natural theology, as well as through Scripture.

Nearing the close of the book Novak speaks of the via negativa, the negative way (literally), the way of not-knowing: for all our theology and Biblical studies, there is far more about God we cannot grasp than there is that we can understand and know. This approach is more common to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions than to my own Protestant version of Christianity. It expresses a refreshing and helpful humility in one’s approach to God, and to one’s own knowledge and understanding. Yet for all that, Novak still emphasizes that we can know God’s existence, and some of what God is like, even in the midst of the mystery.

It was a difficult task he set for himself: to call for reasoned, even brotherly discourse at a time when four best-selling atheists have been spilling forth in a most unbrotherly tone. (He might also have pointed to the tone taken on many atheist Internet sites–Pharyngula, for example.) His exchange with Heather MacDonald showed that discourse of that sort is possible. I can only hope that this blog follows Novak’s example of spirited yet respectful debate; a strongly reasoned defense of Christian belief couple with an awareness that others may choose differently; and that though we may have different answers, we all share similar burdens, issues, and questions.

No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers by Michael Novak. New York: Doubleday, 2008. 336 Pages. Amazon Price (Hardcover) US$16.29.

No One Sees God : The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers
By Michael Novak

336 pages
Doubleday  (New York)
Publication Date: August 2008
ISBN: 978-0385526104
Purchase this book on Amazon.

Surveying the contemporary religious landscape, the division between atheist and believer seems stark. However, having long struggled to understand the purpose of life and the meaning of suffering, Michael Novak finds the reality of spiritual life far different from the rhetorical war presented by bestselling atheists and the defenders of the faith who oppose them.

In No One Sees God, Novak brilliantly recasts the tired debate pitting faith against reason. Both the atheist and the believer experience the same "dark night" in which God's presence seems absent, he argues, and the conflict between faith and doubt stems not from objective differences, but from divergent attitudes toward the unknown. Drawing from his lifelong passion for philosophy and his personal struggles with belief, he shows that, far from being irrational, the spiritual perspective actually provides the most satisfying answers to the eternal questions of meaning. Faith is a challenge at times, but it nonetheless offers the only fully coherent response to the human experience.

Ultimately, No One Sees God offers believers and unbelievers the opportunity to find common ground by acknowledging the complicated reality of the human struggle with doubt. Novak provides a stirring defense of the Christian worldview, while sidestepping the shrill tone that so often characterizes the discussion of faith, and given the challenges faced in the present age, all who value liberty will find hope in his new way of conversing.

Praise for No One Sees God

"This book is one of the most lyrical and moving reflections on God I have encountered. It is also remarkably generous, both to believers and nonbelievers. Most helpfully it is about how to pray, and how to suffer through the dark night in which answers, and communication, seem absent. A remarkable book by a remarkable man."

--Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist, author of John Paul the Great

"Over the years, Michael Novak has explored with great insight the relationship between religion, society, and the individual. Here he engages with the recent intellectual challenges to religion and provides the perspective of a profound believer who knows what it is like to wrestle with doubt."

--Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe

"Intensely personal and yet intellectually wide-ranging, this book shows Michael Novak at his best. No One Sees God conveys a depth, erudition, generosity of spirit, and wisdom that simply transcend anything that the new atheists have to offer."

--Dinesh D'Souza, author of What's So Great About Christianity

"This new book by Michael Novak is one of the most fascinating reflections on the God known through reason that I have ever encountered, the God whom we trust in shadow and in light, in defeat as well as in victory. Many, many readers will recognize in these pages elements of their own experience."

--Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, author of Rediscovering God in America

"Michael Novak's new book counts as both significant and moving. He deploys logic and love, emotion and erudition, to address the most enduring questions of our existence."

--Michael Medved, nationally syndicated talk-radio host, author of Right Turns

"The word 'dialogical' might have been invented to describe Michael Novak. With great patience and lucidity he engages believers, unbelievers, and those who don't know what they believe in a conversation about the things that matter most."

 --Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Editor in Chief of First Things


Henry VIII  by Lucy Wooding

Routledge, £13.99; £50
Tablet bookshop price £12.60/£45 Tel 01420 592974

23 October 2008, Review by Jonathan Wright:  Henry the brilliant young king

One hardly requires a prophet's skills to predict that, by this time next year, we will all be suffering from Henry VIII fatigue. Next year marks the five-hundredth anniversary of Henry's accession to the English throne, so we will doubtless be treated to a shelf's worth of books about this most compelling of English monarchs. It's also a safe bet that David Starkey will be appearing on our televisions screens even more than usual. This is no bad thing. Professor Starkey knows a great deal about Henry VIII and, away from the media limelight, his scholarly work on Tudor court culture has long been acclaimed. Much better, then, to have Starkey pontificating on the subject than to have the popular historical imagination infected by the misrepresentations of a risible television series like The Tudors. Better but, so far as his new book on the earlier, princely career of Henry is concerned, not quite good enough.

Henry: virtuous prince, the first instalment of a two-part biography, is perfectly entertaining. Indeed, there are vibrant accounts of, among much else, Henry's education, his religiosity, his obsession with jousting and the perilous, dynastically unstable times during which he grew up. Still, one has the sense of Starkey going through the motions, of retelling (with a few too many exclamation marks) a familiar, not particularly interesting story. The fun starts in 1509, after all, so perhaps it is best to await Starkey's account of Henry's kingly career. His current book reads more like an exercise (however well informed and well researched) in scene-setting.

Ahead of Starkey's second instalment, anyone who feels obliged to cram for all the coming discussions and debates about Henry VIII would be well advised to turn to Lucy Wooding's compact and comprehensive new volume. Wooding, lecturer in early modern history at King's College, London, is very much at one extreme of current scholarly debates about Henry. Along with George Bernard, author of a recent and much contested study of the Henrician Reformation, she is one of the great advocates of Henry's consistency and self-determination. For Bernard and Wooding there has been too much talk of the importance of faction in Henrician politics, too much talk of Henry being swayed by his wily counsellors, and not nearly enough effort to put the Henry back into Henrician scholarship. Many historians have written in appreciation of the effort (it seems to represent a necessary corrective) but have remained unconvinced by the substance of the argument. It is to Wooding's credit that, while she certainly takes the time to repeat her manifesto in these pages, she also manages to produce an even-handed overview of the reign: one that will be of use even to those for whom current scholarly squabbles seem unnecessarily overheated.

As a primer in the key developments and personalities of the period - Henry's energetic but largely unsuccessful foreign policies, the break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries, all those wives - the book works excellently. As well as providing a reliable, conventional narrative, it also recruits Henry as "a way into the mental world of the sixteenth century", and there are useful digressions into everything from Tudor food to Tudor climate. Most winningly of all, the book recognises that the central interpretative challenge for anyone writing about Henry is to explain how he mutated from a learned, attractive, doted-upon young king into someone regarded by many of his subjects - and many modern historians - as little more than a tyrant, the dispenser of judicial murders, the bloated, disease-riddled figure in that famous Holbein portrait: how he became, as Starkey puts it, "the older, greater, badder Henry". Perhaps the most sensible approach is to avoid taking all the early encomiums at face value (they were, in large part, exercises in literary flattery), and to avoid any rash conclusions when adjudicating Henry's latter years. As Wooding puts it, "the easier judgements of Henry VIII, and the ones that are most memorable, are the ones that straightforwardly condemn", but "the truth is likely to be more complex than these judgements would allow". Wise words.

Wooding's book does have its frustrations. Most seriously - and this is almost always the case with books about Henry VIII - the final seven years of his reign are rushed through at breakneck speed, perhaps because those years are the hardest to reconcile with the notion of a consistent Henry. All told, however, Wooding's book represents a coherent, enthusiastically written introduction to both the life and the times of Henry VIII and, while there is room to question her overarching interpretation of events, she is surely right to take Henry more seriously than many modern historians have done. As she explains, "the business of kingship was an intensely personal matter", and a great deal was achieved during Henry's reign. Glibly dismissing Henry as the muddle-headed tool of waxing and waning factions is beginning to look increasingly suspect and, while the case of historians like Bernard and Wooding remains unproven, it is certainly a case worth pursuing.

In fact, I hope we will hear much more about it over the coming quincentennial year: this will provide some respite from flimsy Henrician caricatures.


Was Jesus God?
Richard Swinburne
Oxford University Press, £9.99
Tablet bookshop price £9 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review, 04 September 2008   The case for God made man
Reviewed by Fergus Kerr

Some stories are so improbable that it is reasonable to believe them, according to Aristotle in the Rhetoric. "Credo quia absurdum", many Christians might agree, misquoting Tertullian, the first of the Latin Church fathers. He did not mean that we should believe because the whole thing is so absurd. On the contrary, like most theologians ever since, Tertullian wanted to balance reason and faith properly. For many people, however, including believers, Christian beliefs seem to defy all reason. Some Christians like it that way.

According to St Thomas Aquinas we can prove that there is a God, relying on purely philosophical arguments (which he thought most people could not understand). There is nothing probable about this, he thought: it is absolutely certain. On the other hand, for St Thomas, there were no other Christian beliefs that could be demonstrated by reason. Richard of St Victor, the twelfth-century Scots-born monk, heads the list of distinguished Paris theologians whom he attacks for thinking we could prove the doctrine of the Trinity. While we can look for arguments to confirm the fittingness of God's triune nature, and should do so, at least if we are intelligent enough and have the leisure, it is a mistake (St Thomas argues) to expect divinely revealed truths to be accessible by reason.

No one will be surprised to find Richard Swinburne arguing that the general character of the world makes it probable that there is a God. Emeritus Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford, he has built up over many years an impressive and much discussed case for Christian theism in terms of mainstream analytic philosophy. Significantly, his earliest work as a philosopher dealt with probability theory. Not something of much interest to most theologians, probability theory nevertheless engages with many of the most vital activities in the modern world, from statistics to quantum mechanics. In a culture where the metaphysical certainties that once underwrote faith have come to seem implausible to many people, it is certainly not out of order to offer an assessment from a probabilistic perspective of the case for Christianity.

The hypothesis that there is a God explains why there is a world at all, why there are the scientific laws that there are, and why animals and then human beings have evolved as we have. It explains why we are moral agents. It makes sense of our experience, doing so better than any other explanation - which constitutes good grounds for believing it to be true. Professor Swinburne has argued all this in earlier books.

Now, however, he takes the argument much further. If there is a God, this God probably is as the Christian Church teaches. For a start, if the existence of persons like us makes it probable that there is a God, then this God must also be a person, in however modified a sense. But a person, on any definition, needs someone to love. Quoting Richard of St Victor, as it happens, Swinburne argues that "anyone who really loves someone will seek the good of that person by finding some third person for him to love and be loved by". Thus, if there is a God who is a person, the doctrine of the Trinity is what we should expect.

The creatures that we are suffer and do much wrong. That is a fact about the world. How would God, who probably is a Trinity of persons, respond to all this suffering and wrongdoing? God would have to live a human life in order to share our suffering. God would use that human life in order to atone for our wrongdoing and, at the same time, teach us how to live good and holy lives. If we think about it, that is to say, the doctrines of the Incarnation and the atonement are just as we should expect. Moreover, there would be no point in having Jesus atone for our sins and show us how to live good lives unless there was some arrangement to make this visibly and tangibly available for all time to come.

It follows, then, that the Church is what Jesus would probably found. It is probable that the work of atonement would require something like the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. To continue the Incarnate One's teaching something like Scripture and the apostolic tradition is logical. Finally, in order to make it probable that Jesus rose from the dead we need historical evidence, in the form of the testimony of witnesses, that is substantially trustworthy, as Swinburne argues at some length. There is nevertheless a prior probability, before it occurred, that God "would put his signature on the work of Jesus", and "an event like the Resurrection" is what might be expected to occur.

Allowing that the gospels contain "stories which we may reasonably suspect of being metaphysical fables", Swinburne insists that they are "a basically reliable source of information about the life of Jesus". Of course, Jesus did not go about saying, "I am God", yet "the historical evidence of the actions as well as the words of Jesus are such as we would expect if Jesus did teach that he was divine".

Thus, Jesus was not revealed to be divine only at the Resurrection, or in the Easter experience of the disciples, as some theologians would maintain. Without quoting any of them, Swinburne obviously aligns himself with the small, though perhaps increasing, number of New Testament scholars who would conclude from the evidence that Jesus knew all along that he was divine.

Much more adventurously, in an intellectual climate in which Christian fundamentalism and militant atheism often seem the loudest voices, Richard Swinburne argues, against both, that the key doctrines about Jesus - that he was God Incarnate, atoned for our sins, rose from the dead, and founded the Church - each is at least "moderately probable", in terms of sheer logic. It is an exercise in what Catholics used to call natural theology that would have taken St Thomas' breath away.


A Daughter’s Love: Thomas and Margaret More
John Guy
Fourth Estate, £25
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 Tel 01420 592974

 Book Review, 07 August 2008 Reviewed by Lucy Wooding

Merriment, prayer and learning

Everybody lays claim to Thomas More. For Catholics, he is a saint, who made his stand against Henry VIII, understanding what so many of his contemporaries failed to realise, that the king's ambitions had the potential - later realised - to destroy Catholicism within England. For scholars of the Renaissance, he is first and foremost the author of Utopia, a writer and thinker of great subtlety and imagination, an affectionate, funny and loyal friend to Erasmus, Grocyn, Linacre and a European network of humanists. For many he is the "Man for all Seasons" of Robert Bolt's play and Oscar-winning film, a man of unparallelled integrity who stood apart from the corruption and terror of the Tudor court, and by his betrayal and execution became a symbol of resistance to authoritarianism. For zealous sixteenth-century Protestants, and many later iconoclasts, he was the persecutor of heretics, whose foul-mouthed diatribes against Tyndale reveal the dark underbelly of his principles and piety, and perhaps demonstrate the inherent folly of all hero worship.

However you see him, More is a colossus of his age, and vast quantities of ink have been expended in trying to describe and understand him, which makes it all the more remarkable that John Guy has in A Daughter's Love given us a wholly new insight into the man. Here is More not as hero, symbol or saint, but as human being, as a family man, the careful and loving steward of a large and often complicated household. Most importantly, here is More as father, thrilled to the core by the brilliance of his eldest daughter, sparring with her in letters scribbled in between the huge political dramas of Henry VIII's reign, and, at the last, holding on desperately to her love and loyalty as his world collapsed around him, as he steeled himself for a brutal and unjust death.

Guy's approach is simple and brilliant. He has broken away from the overbearing focus upon More himself and written the story of a relationship, and he has carefully pieced together every fragment of the world in which that relationship flourished, from the pictures on More's study wall, to the jewels sparkling on the organ in the church where Margaret married William Roper, to the pitiful details of Margaret's journey to retrieve her father's severed head from London Bridge. It is a superb read, giving a fresh insight into many different aspects of More's world. Erasmus here is not only the humanist scholar with an international reputation; he is the tedious house guest grumbling about his kidney stones and his lost luggage, writing In Praise of Folly to relieve the boredom of his mornings when More had disappeared to the Guildhall to work. This book also takes More's intellectual pursuits and the erudition of his circle and shows in vivid, human terms the huge excitement that this could generate, and the way in which learning could transform human experience. To see his household bubbling over with excitement as they discover Latin poetry, Greek prose, astronomy or medicine is to come one step closer to understanding what the Renaissance really meant, how it illuminated people's lives.

In particular, learning was Margaret's liberation, motivation, and the basis of an exceptionally loving relationship with her father, the kind of relationship based on a privileged insight into another person's intellect and soul. At first, when the pressure of public life became too much, and at the end, imprisoned in the Tower and struggling with his fear of death and despair, it was solely to Margaret that More opened his mind and heart, writing the extraordinary letters which helped give his convictions and emotions their necessary expression, strengthening the bond which helped him face impending martyrdom.

To be an educated woman in the sixteenth century was to occupy a liminal position. More thought it wrong for a woman to publish, writing that for a woman to "lay herself out for renown" in this way was "the sign of someone who is not only arrogant, but ridiculous and miserable". Yet Margaret, exceptionally bright and deeply devout, her scholarship equal to pointing out Erasmus' mistakes, for which he honoured her, still found her way anonymously into print. Her gender restricted her, but it also offered loopholes. Since her husband conformed to Henry VIII's wishes, her own activities preserving her father's works and memory were overlooked. Most importantly, when, out of love, she took the oath of succession her father had refused, in order that she might be allowed to see him in the Tower, she included the words "as far as will stand with the law of God". This might be held to render the oath meaningless, but she was a woman, so nobody took much notice. She thus tricked the authorities into granting her access to her father, thinking she might persuade him, when in fact father and daughter took refuge together in prayer, merriment and the skilful literary construction of an explanation of his moral stand, which would soon be broadcast around Europe.

It is hard to find much to criticise. The pictures of Henry VIII and Wolsey are too stylised, too much the tyrant and the toady, but it is a minor failing. Guy is occasionally too protective of his characters: Thomas More here is a compassionate and admirable figure, with little emphasis on the vitriol sometimes directed at his opponents. His persecution of heretics is not glossed over, however, nor is it hard to understand; this was the poison that was destroying his world, and More was prepared to die himself to defend it, not just to put others to death. As with any history of More, there are points where speculation, hagiography and historical fiction are all risks, but on the whole this is a truthful and unsentimental book. Guy gives an honest account of More's failings, his indecision, his inability to avoid joking even when it endangers his own life. It is a candid picture of the man which makes the nobility of his moral stand and the poignant moments of his own Gethsemane all the more outstanding.

A Daughter's Love is history at its absolute best. Guy has already published extensively on More, and his scholarly grasp of the subject is unquestionable, but his erudition is at no point hammered home or allowed to weigh down the narrative. Other academic writers might take note. Clear, concise notes at the back of the book offer the necessary information to those who want to look more deeply into the evidence. Meanwhile, the book is written in simple, lucid prose, telling its fascinating and tragic story with great skill, giving a balanced and sobering assessment of the human cost of the events it describes in such detail. Both Thomas More and his daughter agreed that there was little value in learning unless it could be expressed with clarity, elegance, and a profound moral message. This, then, is a book worthy of its subject.


Descent into Chaos: how the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia
Ahmed Rashid
Allen Lane, £25
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 Tel 01420 592974

Flourishing conditions for terror    Book Review, 24 July 2008
Reviewed by Simon Scott Plummer

The partition of India in 1947 created a Muslim state in awe of its giant, multiconfessional neighbour. Three wars since then, the last resulting in the loss of its eastern wing, have deepened Pakistan's sense of insecurity. To counter Indian influence, it turned east to Asia's other great power, China, which helped it acquire a nuclear arsenal. American backing for the mujahideen after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 gave it new leverage to the north. The goal of General Zia ul-Haq was to install a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul and from there proceed to islamicise central Asia, thus providing strategic depth in the confrontation with India. That policy has been maintained by subsequent governments, or rather by the military and intelligence community whose prerogative it is.

The result has been to turn Pakistan into what has been termed "the epicentre of global instability". The state is threatened by the Islamic extremism which it has nurtured for decades north of the border. The uneasy stalemate with India over Kashmir persists. And the survival of Hamid Karzai's regime in Kabul is threatened by a Taliban resurgence which prevents reconstruction and by the corrupting effect of rampant opium trafficking. The partition of India has proved the most lethal legacy of the British Empire.

To chart how Pakistan came to this pass, there could no better guide than Ahmed Rashid. Based in Lahore, he has for long reported on the region covered by Descent into Chaos for newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Washington Post. In 2000 he published a best-selling book on the Taliban. But he has also been an actor in the events he describes, offering counsel to Karzai and members of the Bush administration and, in a more formal capacity, being part of a working group which advised Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan. Rashid has lived through the events he describes and that gives weight to what he has to say. I am thinking in particular of his bursting into tears at the sight of people patiently queuing to vote in the Afghan presidential election of 2004. "After 25 years of covering the bloodshed and chaos of Afghanistan's wars, it was the most moving and memorable day of my life," he writes. "I felt as if a vast black blanket of despair that had covered the country and the people had suddenly been lifted and sunlight was pouring through."

The title of his latest book is a measure of how those hopes have been dashed. The principal actors in that tragedy have been President Pervez Musharraf and his security services, members of Nato, President Karzai and the combined forces of the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Rashid portrays Musharraf as a duplicitous character who presents a bluff, moderate face to the outside world but, in his sympathy for militants in Kashmir and the Taliban in Afghanistan, is in fact deeply reactionary. His dictatorship boosted the electoral fortunes of the Islamic parties, whose success in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan facilitated the revival of the Taliban and al-Qaida. The notorious Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), over which Musharraf presides, has promoted the revival of the Taliban by supplying them with arms and money, and granting asylum to their leaders, whether in the province of Balochistan or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); the latter have succeeded Iraq as the headquarters of global Islamic terrorism. These bolt-holes make well-nigh impossible the attempt by Nato to pacify the southern provinces so that reconstruction can take place.

The alliance itself, and notably its most powerful member, the United States, has made grave mistakes. The goal of the invasion in 2001, to oust the Taliban government with the help of the Northern Alliance, was soon accomplished. But, as in Iraq two years later, military success was not complemented by a coherent, long-term plan for the creation of a stable, democratic state. In their preoccupation with Saddam Hussein, the Americans took their eyes off Afghanistan, where, in the vacuum created by the fall of a savagely repressive regime, no one figure had the authority to impose his will on the country. Indeed, Washington compounded the problem by supporting the warlords, thus undermining Karzai's democratic mandate.

The Afghan president is the most sympathetic member of Rashid's cast. His return to fight the Taliban was courageous, and he comes over as a decent man trying in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to hold Afghanistan together. Rashid is less indulgent, however. He takes Karzai to task for a tendency to dither, tolerance of warlords and a refusal to form a political party which could transcend the old tribal alliances.

Nearly seven years after the invasion of Afghanistan, Nato finds itself fighting an unwinnable campaign which is threatening its very existence. Pakistan may have resuscitated the Taliban, its favourite lever against Indian influence north of the border, but that has not stopped New Delhi from investing more than US$750 million in the country. Much more serious for Islamabad, the ISI's nurturing of the Afghan Taliban has created a home-grown version of the movement which is now threatening the Pakistani state. The revival of extremism has supplied the water in which the al-Qaida fish can again swim, joined by other jihadis from central Asia, where corrupt, authoritarian rule is fostering Islamic militancy.

The key to reversing what Rashid describes as a descent into chaos lies in peace between India and Pakistan. The author acknowledges this without going into details of how it might come about. As a journalist rather than policymaker, he sees his task as tracing what has gone wrong in the past seven years, in the hope that this knowledge will help to put it right. In this, given the dangerous country in which he lives, he has shown considerable courage.


Catholics in the Movies
Edited by Colleen McDannell

Oxford University Press, 2008
384 pages
ISBN: 978-0195306576

Baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet: the stereotypical quintessence of America. Yet to this list must surely be added the silver screen, as Americans have had an enduring love affair with the movies. From the early years of silent films to the modern era of slick computer-generated characters and places, we cannot seem to get enough of this escapist form of entertainment. Movies make us laugh with their inanity, shock us with their brutality and impress us with their ability to transport us to another time and place. They also, as Catholics in the Movies seeks to demonstrate, can serve as historic signposts that mark the shifting religious lines and understandings within a country like the United States. This excellent selection of essays provides a unique and creative chronological glimpse into the American attitude towards Catholicism over the past 100 years, moving past the normal, scholarly explorations of celluloid salvation. In what reads as part film review, part social criticism, and part historical text, this resource unpacks a wide range of films (including The Song of Bernadette, The Exorcist and Santitos) to trace American viewpoints of Catholicism over the past century.

At a time when interest in the role of faith in America continues to grow, the films explored in this collection illuminate the development of what is today the largest single denomination in the United States and reflect on the changing relationship between Protestants and Catholics. The early years of movies coincided with waves of (primarily Catholic) immigrants arriving on American shores, as well as with a time of social reform movements. Progress was still seen to be the domain of Protestants, and disagreements about the causes of poverty remained. For Protestants in America, the poor simply lacked moral strength, while Catholics viewed poverty as a wider, systemic problem rooted in the home environment and other factors. The Catholic director of Regeneration (1915) strove to find some middle ground between the two. “The implied Protestantism of the settlement house offers literacy, order, and love” (51) while miraculous interventions and an emphasis on the social causes of poverty marked the film as having Catholic roots. According to Judith Weisenfeld, “the success of Regeneration portended the possibility of silent movies serving as a useful arena of discussion and encounter between Catholics and Protestants in America” (53), even at a time when anti-immigrant sentiments were rising.

What one discovers in the remaining essays, which are seamlessly woven together to paint a coherent picture, is the way in which films, even those claiming to be ‘historic’ or ‘biographical’, often describe the prevalent attitudes and cultural norms of the time when they were made, rather than those of the era they seek to depict. In Seven Cities of Gold (1955), a rosy view is shown of a dedicated Fr Juniper Serra and the Spanish Conquistadors bringing Christianity to the Aztecs. While far from historically accurate, the film provides “a rich portrait of the religious world of Cold War America” (146). By the 1950s, the spread of Communism led Catholics to push for greater missionary work to combat this growing threat. In much the same way, Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996) tells very little about the real Dorothy Day, but speaks volumes about the shift in Catholicism in the 1990s towards an emphasis on personal morals, over faith and social justice. The back-to-back analysis of Dogma (1999) and The Passion of the Christ (2004) was of particular interest, highlighting the wider societal divide and debate about the nature and role of Catholicism (and religiosity in general) in today’s world. Who, after all, can claim, “I’m Catholic”? And what does that mean in the twenty-first century?

Many of the films discussed in this collection are not movie ‘classics’, and some, according to the authors, are downright awful! Those that are well known and loved have often been explored as allegories or have had interpretations fitted to them. However, all demonstrate shifts in both external and internal views of Catholicism in America. Each subsequent chapter of this book builds upon the previous, and leaves the reader longing for more. Whether the primary interest is religion, Catholicism, history, American society/culture, or simply an interest in the behind-the-scenes world of these films, no one should be left wanting with Catholics in the Movies. All that is needed now is the companion collection of DVDs.

The reviewer, Elizabeth Paulhus, is the Global Young Leaders Scholar and Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Faith in Society at the Von Hugel Institute, University of Cambridge.


The Duty of Delight: the diaries of Dorothy Day
Robert Ellsberg
Marquette University Press, ££21.99
Tablet bookshop price ££19.79 Tel 01420 592974

Ever attentive to grace:   Book Review, 17 July 2008
Reviewed by James Martin

Dorothy Day, the American-born founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, has long been idolised by many of her fellow believers. But even they will be astonished by the revelations in The Duty of Delight, the first edition of her previously unpublished diaries. This is a volume that is full of surprises and bound to become a classic of Christian literature.

At her death in 1980, Dorothy Day was called by the church historian David O'Brien "the most influential, interesting and significant person" in the history of American Catholicism. Almost three decades later, most American Catholics still know the general outline of her life. Born in 1897 in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago, she studied at the University of Illinois before moving to New York. There she found work with a socialist newspaper, began advocating for the poor, and took up with the Greenwich Village intelligentsia, including, most famously, the playwright Eugene O'Neill, to whom she was romantically attached.

She lived a rather dissolute life, at one point undergoing an abortion (something she omitted in her published autobiographical work). Eventually she shared a beachfront cottage with her common-law husband, Forster Batterham, and gave birth to a child, Tamar. Her daughter's birth sets in motion her conversion, in 1927, to Catholicism - as well as Forster's departure. Her concern for the poor, her newfound faith, and her friendship with the French layman Peter Maurin led to the founding of the Catholic Worker Movement. In short order, she opens up "houses of hospitality" for the poor, starts a series of communal farms, and begins her efforts on behalf of peace and nonviolence, which continue through the Vietnam era.

Most of this is detailed in her autobiography The Long Loneliness, first published in 1952. The journals, however, show a new side of Dorothy, as friends and admirers called her. For one thing, her struggles in the Catholic Worker Movement are reported much more openly. With the indigent and often mentally unstable people living in the Worker house in New York come frequent journal entries detailing outbursts, threats and violent behaviour. And, as in any human organisation, arguments among her co-workers threaten to sap her energy. "If you are discouraged," she writes in a poignant entry in 1935, "people would relapse into a state of discouragement and anger at circumstances and everybody else. And if you are not discouraged everyone tries to make you be and are angry because you are not." It's easy to imagine the founder of any religious order, or any great venture, having similar thoughts.

The diaries also trace her constant quest for sanctity, her frequent examinations of conscience and her almost total devotion to the Christian path. On scores of days she scolds herself for impatience or tart remarks. Yet these entries are not morbid, but hopeful: she sees herself en route to God, and is ever attentive to grace. As late as 1975, at age 78, she notes that she complains too much. "More silence in my life," she writes. "I must decrease, others increase ... Will I never learn?"

Until now, the standard portrait of Dorothy Day included her handing over her daughter to the care of others, while she attends to the Catholic Worker Movement. Those familiar with this picture will be astonished by how much time Dorothy spends with Tamar and her grandchildren. The book includes a litany of trips to her daughter's house in Vermont, where she delights in the family atmosphere. "We woke this morning and the roads were so icy that the schools were closed and all the children home," she writes in 1959. "Eric had a few good rides on his sled. Stanley and David are working on the wood ... Even little Hilaire, seventeen months old, tries to carry wood as they load it into the cellar." She could be any grandmother writing about her family.

A few months later, Dorothy received a message from Nanette, the companion of Dorothy's former partner, Forster. Suffering from cancer, Nanette asks if Dorothy would care for her. In response, with a gesture that she never wrote about publicly, Dorothy would care for Nanette in her last months and support the frequently distraught Forster. It was a heroic work of mercy. "It is inexpressibly painful to hear her despairing," she writes of Nanette. "And Forster keeps running away. He would like to go into a coma and escape it all." Before dying Nanette asks to be baptised.

The diaries also show Dorothy doing what she is best remembered for: managing the Catholic Worker Movement, writing her monthly column "On Pilgrimage", protesting for peace, reading voraciously and speaking across the United States. She makes two trips to Rome during the Second Vatican Council; during one she sends a message to Pope John XXIII asking for a stronger condemnation of war. All along she strives to fulfil the "duty of delight", in a favourite phrase from John Ruskin. She dilates on the theme often. "I was thinking", she writes in 1961, "how as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on the earth, the suffering of the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy that goes with loving."

The book is unobtrusively edited by Robert Ellsberg, who as a young man worked with Dorothy, taking a five-year break from his undergraduate studies at Harvard. In addition to introductions for each decade, Ellsberg introduces new characters not only with thumbnail biographies in the footnotes, but also with carefully chosen descriptions by Dorothy from her other publications. And what characters! Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Daniel Berrigan SJ, Pope Paul VI, Joan Baez, among them. As she ages her comments about them are truncated, which leads to a favourite entry from 1975 that reads in full: "Mother Teresa and Eileen [Egan] visited."

Today Dorothy Day, named a Servant of God by John Paul II in 2000, is on the road to canonisation. The Duty of Delight can take its place among the great autobiographies of the saints, not simply because of the writer's unwavering faith, but because of her unflinching honesty about her own life. Most saintly autobiographies, after all, were written with an eye to publication. St Augustine wrote for a wide audience, as did St Teresa of Avila. St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote for her convent, and Thomas Merton suspected that his journals would see the light of day. Dorothy did not. In 1958 she writes, "Since this is not for publication ..." before permitting herself a
complaint. Indeed, the last year of entries was discovered by Ellsberg only in 2006, as he was preparing this book: it was found in her bedside table, untouched.

Yet even in her private moments, as she struggles with her work, her family and her friends, she is joyful, finding God in every moment, praising the blessings of life. These
diaries are a reminder that holiness always makes its home in humanity, and they show how rewarding can be a life dedicated to the Gospels. The Duty of Delight enables the reader to feel closer to a remarkable woman, closer to the poor and, in the end, closer to God.


A Secular Age

Charles Taylor | "A Secular Age" | Cambridge, Mass | Harvard U Press | 2007 | 896 pages
ISBN: 0674026764

Randal Marlin | Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Why has contemporary Western society abandoned God and religion? A Canadian philosopher traces the history of unbelief.

A Secular Age is a huge and hugely interesting work by Charles Taylor, a Canadian who has been called " the most interesting and important philosopher writing in English today".  It deals with some of the most important issues of our time. What place is there for the contribution of religious ideas, notably belief in God and God’s word, to our public discourse about social policy? It is a feature of contemporary existence that arguments based on biblical sources or pronouncements from the Vatican tend to be treated today as more or less inadmissible in serious academic discussion. They may be used for adornment, but not as proper authority standing alone; serious work has to be couched in secular language.

I have certainly found in a lifetime spent in academic philosophy that professional manners require that while faith can serve as inspiration, whatever it inspires has to pass through a secularising filter before it can be acceptable as a contribution to philosophy. So, for example, arguments about ethics and social policies relating to abortion cannot, in serious discussion, rest on religious authority.

But is it right that this should be so?

Charles Taylor’s book does not, as far as I can tell, give a direct negative answer to this question, but in a magisterial tracing of the many currents of thought that have led to our "secular age" he does retrieve the sense that this might be an open question. The central aim of his book, as he himself expresses it, is "to study the fate in the modern West of religious faith in the strong sense… the belief in transcendent reality, on the one hand, and the connected aspiration to a transformation which goes beyond ordinary human flourishing on the other."

Books attacking belief in God are best-sellers, and religious belief and practice have been on the defensive for many decades. What Taylor argues well is that the current impulses toward the marginalising of religion stem from a distorted idea of the respective roles of religion and science in the development of our current mind-set, or more particularly, our "social imaginary", which he defines as the set of shared ideas that tell us how to relate to others and what things are possible to be accomplished.

According to the simplistic narrative he attacks, science has been responsible for all that is good and progressive in the modern world, while religion has offered a series of superstitions and roadblocks in the way of science. Opposition to Copernicus and Darwin are only two of the more conspicuous examples.

This narrative obscures many vital pieces of a more complicated, but more accurate, story of the roles of religion and science in the path from an age of faith to that of secularised reason. The fuller narrative, Taylor argues, needs to take account of the way in which religious belief inspired the search for scientific truth, and the way in which both religious and atheistic thinking produced internal struggles, strands of which impacted on the other group.

Fundamentalist Christianity has its counterpart in fundamentalist atheism, each side convinced of its own truth and closed off from admitting any possibility of truth on the part of the other view. Yet when their truth claims are put under the microscope neither side is entitled to the certainty it professes.

Taylor gives many examples of atheistic dogmatism from French and Russian revolutionaries, but I’ll add to his collection the brouhaha over the famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial (to which Taylor alludes, though without developing the example) in which a biology teacher in Tennessee was prosecuted (successfully) for violating a statute against the teaching of evolution. Secular thinkers cheered the defeat accorded fundamentalist Christianity in the court of public opinion. But few of the cheerers know that the book at the centre of the debate, A Civic Biology was gravely defective in treating as scientific fact the superiority of the Caucasian race and promoting eugenic views based on bad science.

Among the especially valuable concepts Taylor employs, I would highlight his expression "exclusive humanism". All too often, we accept the term "humanism" to mean ethics without God, and since one can have a highly laudable ethical set of views while not including belief in God, this acceptance seems reasonable.

But Taylor rightly notes that for the most part what is laudable in humanism is also compatible with belief in God. Moreover, belief in God gives a special incentive to love and make sacrifices for our neighbour. So we need to distinguish a humanism that includes belief in God from one that doesn’t, instead of freighting theism with all the bad things that have come out of it, while according it none of the good.Once we focus on the question: "What is it that disbelief in God makes possible that belief will not allow?" we may find that the humanism in question becomes less appealing. Using the word "humanism" to describe beliefs that more accurately warrant the term "exclusive humanism," gives an unwarranted advantage to the unbeliever.

Throughout the book, Taylor produces arguments to show that ethical advances have been generated by religious believers and are not simply the result of atheistic materialism.

We moderns are able to think about our individuality and our autonomy differently from the world before Rene Descartes and the rise of rationalism. Hence God is often viewed as subject to laws perceived as necessary by the rational self. The God of Abraham yields to scientific necessity, and Deism results. The world is created like clockwork. It’s not a great step from there to wondering why God is needed at all, if science can tell us all we need to know.

Taylor traces many strands of thinking that result in our contemporary outlook. He is particularly interested in how it came to be that debatable matters came to be one-sidedly settled, not only in the minds of the intellectual elite, but also in the thinking of the masses. Those with a Christian training will recognise the old phenomenon of believing what one wants to believe, captured in Luther’s notorious saying, "reason is a whore." Popular culture extols the kinds of things and way of life that Christianity treats as turning us away from God.

Atheism leaves us with a bleak world when we contemplate our death. Scientific materialism gives us a disenchanted world, along with the benefits of removing superstitions. Some poets sought refuge in nature and beauty. The French writer Albert Camus gives us one outlook in the stubborn refusal to accept the comforts that belief in transcendence provides. Taylor looks at many of the different responses to both theism and atheism in a sympathetic way, but always with sufficient appreciation for the attendant difficulties so that no final answer to the meaning of life emerges.

A recent visit to St Petersburg and the wealth of inspired art in the basilicas, particularly the Church of the Saviour of Spilt Blood, has reinforced my impression that Taylor has his finger on the pulse of our times. Russia has lived through an atheistic Communist phase and has rediscovered its inspirational roots with a new reverence for the treasures of its Orthodox past. Reverting to the name St Petersburg is one indication of this. But the Russian Museum also emphasises religious themes. It acknowledges the oppression of the serfs, but avoids any sense that the Revolution brought a new lasting vision. The invasion of capitalism has not succeeded any better, and one senses a search for a new vision, combined with an openness not seen for a long time.

This is a magnificent, very important study. It has its drawbacks, such as untranslated words, repetition, presumptions about the reader’s background knowledge, etc. The length is daunting but there is an excellent index, and Google can help a lot with the rest. There are so many sources enriching this work that it may be idiosyncratic to suggest some absences, but I did feel the book would have profited from a glance or two at Kierkegaard, Levinas and Jacques Ellul. There’s also a letter by Nietzsche in which he confesses to admiration of Christianity but finds it too difficult. These other sources would reinforce Taylor's history of our social imaginary. The upshot is that this social imaginary needs to be examined and re-examined in the light of how it came to be what it is and where it is.

Randal Marlin teaches philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa.


Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism
George Weigel  | Doubleday | 208 pages
ISBN: 0385523785

George Weigel is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington DC and the author of many books exploring the relationship between faith and culture. Here he brings his voice to the urgent debate that has arisen since September 11, 2001 and the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, asking: what are the right tools for winning the war against terror? In this thought-provoking brief survey he examines the history of jihadism and the weaknesses and strengths of the West in facing it. In this he leans heavily on the work of two scholars of modern Islam, Lawrence Wright and Bernard Lewis. His book is divided into three parts: understanding the enemy, rethinking realism and deserving victory. It should be read by, among others, all thoughtful atheists (not an oxymoron).

The war against jihadism itself reflects a more fundamental war: the war between a faith, Islam, followed by over a billion people around the world, that is usually seen as impervious to reason, and the West, which increasingly trumpets a reason divorced from faith. It is Weigel’’s contention that the West cannot win the war against terror unless and until it resolves its own internal metaphysical conflicts. This is a battle of ideas as much as one of conventional weaponry. Here the author’’s potent analogy is the West’’s approach to Communism after 1945: we believed it was a bankrupt political system compared to ours and we believed that ordinary people behind the Iron Curtain would eventually come to know this if they did not do so already. Confidence, patience and diplomacy were to prove us right.

Critics of this analogy will state that a religion, especially one as ancient and formidable as Islam, cannot be approached like a political system. No, but important lessons can be learnt. At first we need to understand and respect it, which is difficult when the US Government is dominated, as Weigel says, by a “genteel secularity”. In the UK it is less genteel than aggressive; both are inadequate in facing the problem. “Islam has given meaning and purpose to hundreds of millions of lives that have been nobly and decently lived”, he states. What ideas of nobility and decency can we offer to Muslims when our Western societies seem increasingly dominated by secularism, consumerism and moral relativism and when we “do not take religious ideas seriously as a dynamic force in the world’s history”? Where we see “progress”, they are inclined to see decadence –– and perhaps they are not entirely wrong.

On a personal note here, I take several Muslim pupils for private English tutoring. During Lent I happened to have my Bible open on my desk. My pupils all remarked on this with interest and approval; they were clearly comfortable in the company of a fellow believer in a transcendental view of life, although recognising the huge differences between Christianity and Islam.

Pope Benedict XVI, in what has come to be seen notoriously as his “Regensburg Address” but which, not insignificantly, was actually a lecture on “Faith, Reason and the University” pointedly remarked that “a reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering the dialogue of cultures.” It is not widely known that, after the immediate and immoderate reaction to his lecture in some Muslim quarters, the Pope received an “Open Letter” in response to his challenge to dialogue, signed by 38 prominent Islamic leaders around the globe, in which they distanced themselves from jihadism. Western diplomacy, contends Weigel, needs to follow the Pope’s lead.

To do this with confidence we need, as the author says, to “reclaim the history of the West”. We have allowed this history to be hijacked by vehement and articulate atheists who dominate the media and who have persuaded the uninformed both that the 18th century Enlightenment was the herald of all the modern democratic freedoms we take for granted and that it was preceded by a long “dark ages” of Christian superstition, religious bigotry and persecution. This is bias on a big scale. Freedom actually began with the coming of Christianity and its emphasis on the intrinsic worth and dignity of every human being. Enlightenment thinkers built on the foundations of Christianity even as they and their progeny were kicking away these foundations.

To appeal to Muslim moderates, of whom there are millions behind the 38 who wrote to the Pope, we have to demonstrate to them that the greatest achievements of the West are not merely technological or scientific, important though these are. They are, as Professor Roger Scruton says, “works of spiritual grace and high culture”. Some of them, such as the magnificent Gothic cathedrals dotted around Europe, are detailed in the late Kenneth Clarke’s fine TV series, Civilisation. What Weigel describes as our “self-imposed dhimmitude”, that is, our self-abasement towards Muslims and our acquiescence to Muslim pressure, such that in the UK we have financed mosques and madrassas that preach contempt for our way of life, must be seen for what it is, moral cowardice, and rejected; we have to believe our culture worth preserving –– or, as Churchill so pugnaciously put it during the last War, we have to “deserve” victory.

Weigel wryly observes that we are not going to “convert 1.2 billion Muslims into good secular liberals.” As should be obvious by now in Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot also impose our own democratic systems on people who have never known them and who, at least in Afghanistan, are essentially tribal. What we can and must focus on is respect for pluralism and religious tolerance, respect for the rule of law and commitment to persuasion, not coercion. In Islam the fusion of temporal and religious authority –– the theocratic state –– is an obstacle; there is no mention in the Qur’an of “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and rendering unto God that which is God’s” which led in the West, albeit slowly, to an understanding of the distinctive roles of church and state.

And yet the jihadist tradition in Islam, the desire to compel worldwide submission to Allah, an impersonal God of absolute will, is not the only tradition. After 9/11 I was reminded by friends of Islam’’s one-time intellectual creativity, openness to rational enquiry and to the influence of Greek philosophy. I would remind them that Avicenna and Averroes died over 800 years ago; and Weigel reminds us in these pages that a pitifully few Western books have been translated into Arabic in the last 1000 years; indeed, that the Renaissance, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment all passed without effect in the Islamic world. Nonetheless, he cites Bernard Lewis who points to a different Muslim history that existed before Arab authoritarianism developed momentum in the 18th century, hardening into jihad in the 20th: a tradition that allowed consultation, limited responsible authority and government under law.

Weigel’’s book raises the possibility of the jihadists obtaining nuclear power; this alone makes the requirement of dialogue imperative. Commentators such as Alasdair Palmer, reviewing Philip Bobbit’s book, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century, take a depressingly conventional view of this subject: death, for jihadists, is the point of the struggle; their obtaining nuclear power within a decade is a terrifying certainty rather than a terrifying possibility; and therefore America and her allies must fight violence with (pre-emptive) violence. This book, though supporting the US invasion of Iraq (if not its chaotic, unthought out aftermath) describes an alternative strategy: to fight flawed and distorted ideas with stronger and more convincing ideas, ideas that do not separate reason from faith and that do not debase the proclamation “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” of the founding fathers of America into life for some but not others, moral licence and the pursuit of hedonism.
Francis Phillips writes from Bucks, in the UK.


Knowledge of God
Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley
Blackwell Publishing, ££19.99
Tablet bookshop price ££18 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review, 19 June 2008
Reviewed by John Cottingham

Arguments against naturalism

The tradition of "great debates" about the existence of God is by now well established (a famous early example was the discussion between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston, broadcast in 1948 on the Third Programme of the BBC). The present volume, by two heavyweight analytic philosophers, is rather different from the usual pattern, in that it does not plough through the various standard arguments for God's existence. Instead, Alvin Plantinga, America's foremost philosopher of religion, puts the other side into bat, and opens the bowling with a formidable attack on the atheist world view.

His target is "naturalism", which has a good claim to be the dominant ideology among most philosophers and scientists working today. Naturalism is the denial of any supernatural (often pejoratively called "spooky") entities, including principally God, but also things like immaterial souls. The naturalist programme, which now occupies considerable numbers of philosophers, is the attempt to explain everything there is (including consciousness, language, knowledge, meaning, and morality) without recourse to the supernatural.

Plantinga has three arguments which purport to show that naturalism is unacceptable.

First, he claims that it cannot give an account of the idea of proper function, which is basic to our understanding of the biological world. Proper function is something that applies to an organism that is healthy, sound, and whose parts are in good working order. But naturalistic explanations of the biological world (such as those based on random mutation and natural selection) cannot, Plantinga thinks, justify such notions. "The notion of proper function really applies only to things that have been designed by purposeful, intelligent agents."

The argument is developed in great detail, which there is no space to explore here. But unfortunately it appears open to objections. Aristotle, in his biological and philosophical writings, provides what seems a perfectly satisfactory account of function without invoking the idea of intelligent design. It is, however, true that his account is what philosophers now call normative; it involves evaluative notions such as what is good for something. And it is not clear that naturalists can explain how the notion of the normative arises in a purely material cosmos.

Plantinga's second argument focuses on the philosophy of knowledge, as much of his work elsewhere has done. He suggests that naturalism leads to a virulent form of scepticism, since it gives us no reason for supposing that our belief-forming mechanisms are likely to be reliable. His third and final argument insists that naturalism, or at least materialism, cannot even account for the existence of beliefs in the first place. For a belief is always about something, and so has a certain content. Yet drawing on an argument first presented by Leibniz in the eighteenth century, Plantinga argues that on the materialist supposition that beliefs are purely material and mechanical (e.g. neurological events of some kind), it is impossible to see "how a group of material objects firing away has a content".

Michael Tooley (who has some very powerful objections to raise against all three of Plantinga's arguments) opens his own innings, on behalf of the atheist, by deploying that most ancient of obstacles to theism, the problem of evil. Tooley's position is that although the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good creator might be very "desirable", unfortunately, given the long list of the preventable pain, misery and suffering that the world contains, it is exceedingly unlikely that such a being exists. This basic line of thought is a straightforward and quite familiar one, although, like much contemporary analytic philosophy, the detail is worked out in a very intricate way (including technical calculations of inductive probabilities) that non-specialists will find indigestible.

Plantinga's response to Tooley is interesting because it shows the extent to which the current debate over the so-called "probabilistic" version of the problem of evil referred to above has become a stand-off: no one is about to change their minds. A believer, argues Plantinga, is one whose faith is firmly grounded in a sensus divinitatis, a sense of the presence of God in the world. Such a person may be appalled at the horrifying evils the world contains, deeply perplexed at God's role in permitting them, perhaps even angry and resentful; but "needn't entertain for a moment the belief that there is no such person as God".

There is an implicit and important lesson here about the limits of philosophical argument. When God appears to Job out of the whirlwind, "the point is not really to convince him that God has his reasons, but to quiet him, to still the storm in his soul ... [so that] the doubts and turmoil abate and once more Job loves and trusts the Lord". It is a paradox, but a pleasing one, that a volume premised on the value of meticulous philosophical debate ends by indicating where rational discussion must end.


Is God to Blame? The Problem of Evil Revisited   
Gerard J Hughes SJ
Veritas Publications, 2007
128 pages
ISBN: 978-1-84730-029-4  
From space, the Earth looks peaceful, offering a “glimpse of divinity”, as the American astronaut Edgar Mitchell once said. Yet historical texts, the evening news and our own life experiences reveal a place of much misfortune and suffering. Ongoing conflict in Darfur, thousands killed by an earthquake in China, a man murdered while standing in a supermarket queue. How can we begin to understand such senselessness? We often cry out, why has God done this to me? How can these be the actions of a good God? For critics of religion, the sheer scale of suffering and tragedy disproves the existence of God. In response, Hughes attempts to articulate an argument for why the world, despite these tragedies, is still “the loving expression of a good God” (7).

In a post-Enlightenment world that has witnessed the Battle of the Somme in which 19,000 soldiers died in one day, the horrific genocide of tens of millions of lives committed by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others, and the rapid spread of AIDS, the simple assurances of Thomas Aquinas that God “permits evil to exist –– from this he brings forth good” (20) are no longer convincing. A modern theist must grapple with The Problem of Evil in new ways, and Hughes proposes a rational design for understanding why evil exists, based on considering God as a moral agent. In order for God to be blameworthy, all five of the following conditions must be met. 1) The world is a bad world all things considered, 2) God created the world, 3) God knew how the world would work out, 4) God could have created a better world than this, and 5) God knew he could have created a better world than this.

Although the discussion around these conditions raises valid points, readers seeking some solace or a profound answer will be disappointed. For example, consider condition no. 4: God could have created a better world than this. Hughes quotes Leibniz, saying “the infinite goodness of God makes it inevitable that God will always do the best possible action” (41), namely create the best possible world. The difficulty with arguments about possibility is that they are grounded in our finite human understanding. To argue that the whole world would go haywire if the fixed rules of nature as we know them did not exist will strike many as far-fetched and unconvincing. Such critics, drawing on Hume’s outlook that “any world is a possible world for God”, view the Earth as “faulty and imperfect…… only the first rude essay of some infant deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his performance” (52). The argument that God could not have created a better world than this may be theologically accurate and acceptable to believers, yet it likely is simply unsettling (and unhelpful) to anyone who has suffered from some senseless action.

This book seems to struggle within itself to answer deeply challenging and provocative theological questions, focussing on how to convince critics like Hume while searching for clear and meaningful responses that move believers past the traditional theodicies, or justifications of God’’s actions. The former task, as Hughes says, is a formidable one indeed, and I believe it requires deeper delving into questions of God’’s omniscience, amongst others. The latter task of addressing theodicies and searching for appropriate answers for believers succeeds fairly well in Part II.

Amazingly, the language used in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to justify God’s actions is much the same as today. Many people still take a fatalistic view of the world. Some see suffering (i.e. floods, AIDS) as divine punishment for our wickedness, either individual or collective. Others believe that “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”, as though God were a pedagogue teaching us a lesson through suffering. Still others speak of being “fallen people in a fallen world”, while many honestly believe that God sends trials to test our faith. All of these arguments are riddled with illogic and poor theology, as Hughes points out; furthermore, they do not truly provide any comfort to one who is suffering. We rather should strengthen our belief and trust in the goodness of God.

Is God to Blame? forces one to think seriously about The Problem of Evil, a problem that we often prefer to ignore rather than confront. Hughes’s rational, legalistic approach to confronting The Problem presents arguments to exonerate God that are convincing to those who already believe in the goodness of God, but I fear that sceptics like Hume will remain largely unconvinced.

The most powerful lessons come near the end of the book in “Warnings and Excesses”. Hughes, like Job, tries to demonstrate through different Biblical examples that we do not have to show why God does everything. As God reminds Job, many things are beyond human understanding.

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size; do you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid the cornerstone? (Job 38:4-6)
In the end, we must simply maintain our faith in the goodness of God and in the belief that God’s created world is indeed “very good”, despite the limitations imposed by our finite human intelligence. This faith gives us that “glimpse of divinity”, even while our feet remain firmly on the ground.

Elizabeth Paulhus


The Kingdom of Infinite Space: a fantastical journey around your head
Raymond Tallis
Atlantic Books, ££19.99
Tablet bookshop price ££18 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review, 22 May 2008    Reviewed by Anthony Daniels
Man is more than his neurology

A large number of popular books have been published recently, more scientistic in spirit than scientific, suggesting that a combination of Darwinian theory and neuroscience is on the verge - give or take a detail or two - of completing Man's self-understanding. After two millennia and a half of philosophical effort and reflection, we are now trembling on the edge of a complete explanation of ourselves. With just a little more technological sophistication, which as everyone knows is increasing exponentially, we shall soon have unravelled the mystery of our own inner space.

Raymond Tallis will have none of this hubristic nonsense. He is far from being an obscurantist who denies all the claims of science: he is an eminent geriatrician, now retired, with a long list of scientific publications to his credit. But a certain human modesty is in order; the wise man acknowledges just how much he does not know, and what remains deeply mysterious.

In this book of reflections on the human head, from which, thank goodness, the idea of the brain as a computer is completely absent except in the dismissal, Professor Tallis takes us on a philosophical tour of aspects of this rather important appendage. He takes phenomena such as blushing, yawning and vomiting as the occasion of philosophical meditation. If he believed in God, he would read almost like a modern equivalent of the divines of the seventeenth century, who likewise took familiar things and made them the occasion of philosophical (and, of course, theological) meditation.

As well as being an eminent geriatrician, Professor Tallis is a philosopher - not of the armchair or saloon-bar variety but of the kind taken seriously by professional philosophers. He is also the foremost British critic of literary theory - that horrible indiscipline that has all but destroyed literary studies in our universities, a Dutch elm disease of genuine scholarship. From this brief description, it will come as no surprise that his range of cultural reference is enormous, and that he seems to have read (and remembered) everything, or at least everything worth reading and remembering.

Although his book, a tour d'horizon of the head, is a little idiosyncratic - one minute we are learning about the physiological and cultural meanings of mucus, the next about laughter and blushing - Professor Tallis keeps certain important targets in view. He is anxious to lay to rest the idea that man is an animal not so very different after all from the rest of zoological creation. He also wants to demonstrate that there is more to man's consciousness than neurology, or for that matter neurochemistry.

Over and over again, he reminds us that mankind lives in a universe of meaning, and not just of brute events. Attempts to demonstrate that man is a jumped-up chimpanzee, and that anything a man can do, a chimpanzee can do, except a little less well, are fundamentally wrong-headed. Language is the decisive difference between man and the rest of creation: it permits an essential distinction between the world in which we live and propositions about the world in which we live. Professor Tallis expresses it thus: animals live their lives, humans lead theirs. Only humans, he says, have an explicit concept or idea of the past, the present and the future: which is both a tremendous advantage and a terrible burden. Only man knows that he will die, and death is actually the ground of all our being, even if, as La Rochefoucauld says, we cannot stare at it long, just as we cannot stare long at the sun. It is the limitation imposed by time that gives meaning to all our projects, and therefore to our lives. If the literary editor of this journal had said to me, please read and review Professor Tallis' book some time within the next 17,000 years, do you suppose that you would be reading my review now, this week? But 17,000 years is a trifle to set against eternity. Eternal life, at least eternal sublunary life, would mean eternal procrastination. (On the other hand, Professor Tallis would never have written this book, so the question of reviewing it would not have arisen.)

Man's consciousness is more than neurochemistry, more than brainwaves, more even than pink and blue patches on fabulously sophisticated brain scans, for two reasons: first because the consciousness of man, who is embedded in a world that is partly given, partly of his own creation, is dependent on things outside the brain, and therefore cannot be wholly described by brain events; and second because (in any case) the means by which neurophysiological events are translated into subjective experience is radically mysterious and likely to remain so for purely metaphysical reasons. In other words, man not only cannot now explain himself to himself any better than Shakespeare did 400 years ago, but it is very unlikely (for which read impossible) that he ever will be able to do so. This is good news for literary types such as myself, who want subjective experience always to remain an important part of human knowledge, and also for those who fear that infinite knowledge means infinite power, and therefore abuse of power.

Professor Tallis is pessimistic about our capacity for complete self-understanding, but does not therefore conclude that man is nothing but a beast driven to behave badly by biological imperatives. He is not at all religious - in fact, I suspect that he is hostile to religion - but, oddly enough, the religious will find much in his book to reassure and console them.


On Aquinas
Herbert McCabe OP
Burns & Oates, £12.99
Tablet bookshop price £11.70 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review, 08 May 2008
Reviewed by Timothy McDermott

Living in the material world

Since his death in 2001 we have had four highly acclaimed books from the estate of the Dominican philosopher and theologian Herbert McCabe, edited by his confrère Brian Davies. This fifth volume, as fine as the others, is a lightly edited series of talks given by McCabe at Oxford a few years before he died. As Sir Anthony Kenny says in his foreword: "The book is not a treatise about Aquinas, it is an exercise in philosophy with Aquinas."

It redeems a promise McCabe made to himself over 50 years ago. When he came up to Blackfriars, Oxford, after three years of study of Aquinas in the Dominican house of philosophy at Hawkesyard, he proposed to fellow students Cornelius Ernst and me a book on Aquinas to be sold to Penguin. His first chapter was to be entitled "Words", my second "Things", and Cornelius' third "Deeds". Days later he came to us with a brow like thunder, saying he had just heard "a Jesuit" (Fr Frederick Copleston) announcing Penguin had commissioned a book on Aquinas from him. That book, when it came out, was a highly successful "treatise about Aquinas". Now, 50 years later, McCabe has written a book on words, things and deeds, making good his student promise to himself and to us.

Because it is an exercise in philosophy, and started as talks, it is quite a difficult book to read well. As talk, there is of course an easy level at which it can be "heard": what talk of McCabe's was ever not easy and charming and stimulating to listen to? But the thought behind the talk is deep and requires committed attention. Indeed the book is a river of thought, and two things go on in any river. At its banks it is continually spilling over, exploring new ground, dallying a little and moving on; but the main thrust - sometimes on the surface, sometimes below - is one strong true current relentlessly pursuing its journey to the sea. The serious reader must pay attention to frequent paragraphs in which McCabe rallies his listeners, apologises for a little dalliance here and there, and launches into his main argument again. Otherwise that reader will suffer continual fits of giddiness.

Consider, for instance, the pages on prudentia - the virtue of good decision-making. In quick succession, McCabe heralds "two major problems", but then spends two pages on a third minor one: the fact that the English "prudence" doesn't properly translate the Latin prudentia. When he comes back to the two main problems, he digresses first on the fact that Aristotelian prudentia is replaced by New Testament caritas in Aquinas' theology, then  on "the rather curious structure" of part two of Aquinas' Summa Theologiae (punctuating the digression with the remarks that he "mustn't get carried away by all this"), before the river of his thought returns to the first of his major problems. At the actual talks, all sorts of McCabian mannerisms would have warned us when to relax and when to come to attention again, but now we must do all that for ourselves. (If I may myself digress: it would have been helpful to know what sort of expertise the original listeners had: McCabe talks of "reminding them" of the Summa's rather curious structure and seems to assume some familiarity with Aquinas' Latin.)

The analogy of a river throws some light on Fr Davies' chapter headings. Rightly, I think, he has not imposed his own view of the book's structure, contenting himself, so to speak, with chronicling the pools along the banks that McCabe's river visits. But this means that the chapter headings suggest that certain pools are visited more than once on separate occasions. The references to "Individuals" in the heading to chapter 4 and "Change" in the heading to chapter 5 refer to a digression on "Matter and Form" straddling the two chapters. This excursus interrupts a single discussion of "Language" which carries forward the genuine current of McCabe's thought, disappearing in chapter 4 and resurfacing only in chapter 5.

McCabe starts from the notion of life as self-movement: auto-mobility of a sort that our engineered automobiles only pretend to have and which belongs in reality only to natural living things. That self-movement is expounded first in relation to animals - which respond to their environment with behavioural "tendencies" laid down by their genetically determined neural structures, and then expanded to human animals - inventing their reactions to their environment in accordance with communally determined "linguistic" structures.

The second part of the book takes a required step back from the word "linguistic". Our behaviour is not primarily determined by the linguistic structures of articulate law, but by the "as-though" linguistic structures generated by practising living with others in a linguistic community and pursuing friendship - namely, the moral virtues, with a foreshadowed extension of the notion of friendship to the divine friendship of caritas. From the word "movement" through the word "tendencies" to the word "virtues", McCabe's current is, in Aristotelian style, tracing our kinship with all the material world.

I think there is one exaggerated emphasis in the book. McCabe ignores Aquinas' explicit teaching on the morality - the goodness and badness - of human actions in 1a2ae 18-21. He deals with what he calls Aquinas' psychology of human actions (1a2ae 12-17), noting that this is not a treatment of their morality. But instead of going on to Aquinas' treatment he finds goodness and badness in virtuous and vicious dispositions of the agent rather than in what he calls "episodic" good and bad acts. He is led to this by a hostility to legalism, to Kant, and to the bugbear of scholastic Thomism. But I don't believe you can define the goodness or badness of an act by saying it's the sort of act a good or bad person would do. You've got to get closer in to the act itself.

I commend this fine work to both light and serious readers. It is the sort of work that Aquinas himself pioneered with Summa Contra Gentiles, and the sort of work one continues to hope for from Dominican theologians: a bold, bridging work not content to meditate on spiritual matters behind the walls of faith, but to step out into the secular and scientific and material world in which we all live.


How Jesus Became Christian:
The early Christians and the transformation of a Jewish teacher into the Son of God      
by Barrie Wilson    Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20   Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

 Book Review, 01 May 2008    Reviewed by Gerald O’Collins

Flawed analysis of the Jesus of History

In re-examining the birth of Christianity, this book purports to be "based on real historical evidence" and to show "how the early Christians hijacked a Jewish Jesus" and turned him into "the Christ" and a Gentile "God". In so doing, Paul and Luke (the two main villains) "sowed the seeds for centuries of Christian anti-Semitism". For several decades in Jerusalem, James, a relative of Jesus, kept the Jesus movement (based on the Torah) going, but eventually Paul's Christ movement prevailed. According to Barrie Wilson, a professor of religious studies at York University, Toronto, Paul was "totally indifferent to the Jesus of history", and fashioned a "brand-new religion entirely". The new religion "ceased being in any sense Jewish".

In maintaining such positions, Wilson never drops a hint that his thesis of Paul creating a new religion by turning the Jewish Jesus of history into the Gentile Christ of faith has often been tried and has often been found wanting. With his experience of Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul entered a community that already professed faith in a more-than-human Jesus. They did so on the basis of the resurrection (something almost completely ignored by Wilson), the gift of the Holy

Spirit (also ignored by Wilson), and their memory of what Jesus had claimed about himself during his earthly ministry.

No mere Jewish teacher who assumed a political role by seeking the throne of Israel (so Wilson argues), Jesus made claims (about such matters as forgiving sins and changing the divine law) that put him on a par with God, to whom he related as the beloved Son. There is plenty of evidence that such high claims troubled some religious authorities, and led them to accuse him of blasphemy. Wilson makes the bold assertion that for Jesus "the basis for salvation" was not faith in him. To establish this, Wilson would need to expunge what Jesus repeatedly said about abandoning normal family ties to follow him and about confessing him in this life being decisive for one's situation before God in the next.

Wilson should read Rabbi Jacob Neusner's book on Jesus, in which Neusner recognises that "only God can demand of me what Jesus is asking". Neusner politely turns away, but he has the admirable honesty to acknowledge the claims to divine authority made by Jesus. The consciousness that Jesus disclosed of his personal, divine status was the historical starting point for centuries of Christian reflection that led to the classical creeds and their profession of him as the incarnate Son of God. Wilson dismisses all this development as "cantankerous disputes" and "power-struggles" among early Christians.

As for Paul, his allegedly "total indifference" to the history of Jesus does not tally with the evidence. The apostle reports that Jesus was born a Jew and was a descendant of King David and exercised a ministry to the people of Israel, which included teaching about marriage and divorce. Before his death by crucifixion, he celebrated the Last Supper and instituted the lasting rite of the Eucharist for his followers. After his resurrection he appeared to Peter and to "the Twelve" - evidently a group created by Jesus during his lifetime - and to further groups and individuals, including "James", seemingly the same James who was the leader of the Jerusalem Church (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Others at the time of Paul's ministry, above all the eyewitnesses of the public life of Jesus, were handing on much more about what Jesus said and did, and the Apostle could rely on them to do so.

In Wilson's slanted picture, there is no evidence "that Paul thought of himself as Jewish in any sense"; "it is highly unlikely that he [Paul] considered himself Jewish by the time he was writing his letters"; he even wanted to "deny Judaism its heritage and validity". Based on a distorted reading of Galatians, these are perverse untruths about Paul's presentation of his own Jewishness in Philippians and in Romans. Wilson should read Romans 9-11 (which he never mentions) and what Paul writes about God's calling and gifts to Israel being irrevocable. Far from dismissing Judaism and its Ten Commandments, Paul sums up those commandments in terms of love (Romans 13:8-10). Moreover, Wilson passes over in silence the enormous importance for Paul of raising funds through a collection for the needy Christians in Jerusalem. So much for Paul's hostility towards the mother church, headed by James.

According to Wilson, Luke composed the Acts of Apostles some time early in the second century, a date that only a few, maverick "experts" would accept. Acts has to be dated late, since its "fictitious history" was responsible for a final, dreadful "cover-up". After Paul's new religion had replaced the true religion of Jesus and his original followers, Luke wanted to falsify and repackage history, so as to conceal cleverly what Paul and his associates had achieved.

Wilson completes his reconstruction with the startling claim that mainstream Christianity "ceased being in any sense Jewish". Has he never noticed the Ten Commandments reproduced in churches and elsewhere, or how the majority of the books in the Christian Bible are of Jewish origin, or that the Book of the Psalms became the Christian prayer book? On the jacket of Wilson's book the shameless claim is made that "it is beyond doubt one of the most significant works on early Christianity to appear in decades". So much then for the great contributions made in recent years by leading scholars - from Richard Bauckham to Bishop Tom Wright.

This is a book written for credulous readers. Yet even they might have some doubts when they see that Wilson's bibliography opens with Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code notoriety) and those pseudo-experts Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, whose fabrications about the Priory of Sion were exposed at the end of the last century.


The mind and heart of Benedict XVI: Two books

Mark Shea has an excellent little column over at that expands a bit on something he has posted about a few times, namely, "Shea's Iron Law of Media-Reported Benedictine Growth." He writes:

    The MSM has had a template since the day Benedict donned the papal mitre and it has never occurred to most of the people who type or talk about him in the MSM to vary from it. They simply school together like guppies and tell each other (and us) that the rigid, hardline, inflexible, dominating and ruthless enforcer’s archaic, medieval, intolerant and backward thought, words and deeds are what you’d expect from a former Hitler Youth. Apparently, the man has spent every minute of every day cracking down on everything with a pulse over a million times. To hear the MSM tell it, the guy just hates rational thought and freedom.

As regular readers of this blog know, this is an issue I fixate on from time to time (sometimes for days on end). But Shea makes an additional point that is just as important: it isn't just many journalists who don't "get" Pope Benedict XVI, it is also Christian scholars and theologians who really should know better. Shea highlights a review of Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth; it was penned back in May 2007 by Bruce Chilton, a fairly well-known Episcopalian theologian who has garnered a number of academic awards. Chilton's review is bewilderingly clueless, as just one sentence, out of many possible examples, demonstrates:

    Benedict emphatically sets aside the view that faith amounts to a form of law, and insists that the relationship of the believer to God through Christ defines Christian belief.

Say...what?! Does Chilton really mean to suggest that prior to writing his book on Christ, Benedict failed to understand or articulate that faith was about a relationship with God through Christ? It seems so. As Shea wonders: "One is left paralyzed facing the sheer Himalayas of ignorance that lie behind such a concatenation of words. One wonders if the man who types such things has ever discovered the epistle to the Romans is in the Catholic Bible, much less read it."

Which brings me to the positive part of this post. I recently received copies of two books that further increase the substantial pile of excellent work by and about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. The first is The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God (Ignatius, 2008), by Joseph Ratzinger, a collection of sermons and meditations given by then-Father Ratzinger in the early 1970s (1972-75). Here are a few quotes from that collection:

    The Church makes a man a Christian by pronouncing the name of the triune God. In this way, she has expressed since the very beginning what she considers the most decisive element of the Christian existence, namely, faith in the triune God. This disappoints us. It is so far removed from our life. It is so useless and so incomprehensible. If some brief formula must be used, then we expect something attractive and exciting, something that immediately strikes us as important for man and for his life. And yet the essential point is precisely what is stated here: the primary concern in Christianity is, not the Church or man, but God. Christianity is not oriented to our own hopes, fears, and needs, but to God, to his sovereignty and power. The first proposition of the Christian faith and the fundamental orientation of Christian conversion is: "God is." (pp 26-27)

    Let us return to my earlier point: in Jesus' prayer, the Father becomes visible and Jesus makes himself known as the Son. The unity that this reveals is the Trinity. Accordingly, becoming a Christian means sharing in Jesus' prayer, entering into the model provided by his life, that is, the model of his prayer. Becoming a  Christian means saying "Father" with Jesus and, thus, becoming a child, God's son—God–in the unity of the Spirit who allows us into the unity of God. Being a Christian means looking at the world from this central point , which gives us freedom, hope, decisiveness, and consolation. (p 35)

And, later, in reflecting on the Holy Spirit:

    Paul and John agree essentially on yet another point. John calls the Spirit "Paraclete", that is, advocate, helper, defender, comforter. He is thus the adversary of the diabolos, the "prosecutor", the slanderer, "who accuses our brethren day and night before our God" (Rev 12:10). The Spirit is the Yes, just as Christ is the Yes. Correspondingly, Paul emphasizes joy very strongly. We must say that the Spirit is the Spirit of joy and of the Gospel. One of the basic rules for the discernment of spirits could be formulated as follows: Where joylessness rules and humor dies, we may be certain that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, is not present. Furthermore, joy is a sign of grace. One who is serene from the bottom of his heart, one who has suffered without losing joy, is not far from the God of the Gospel, from the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of eternal joy. (p 113)

That provides a perfect introduction to the second book, Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI (Ignatius, 2008), by Monsignor Joseph Murphy, a former student of Ratzinger who currently works as an official of the Secretariat of State at the Vatican (he was also Chaplain to Pope John Paul II near the end of JP2's pontificate). In the introduction, Monsignor Murphy writes:

    "Joy" is a word seldom far from the lips of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Frequently repeated in his homilies and addresses, it has emerged as one of the key themes of his pontificate. The notion of joy is an attractive one, for it is something we all seek. By evoking joy and associating it intimately with the life of faith, Pope Benedict invites us to ponder on what it really means to be Christian and on the effects that the Christian faith should produce in our lives. Joy is characteristic of the Christian, for it flows from the very heart of what Christianity is about: the merciful love of God the Father, made known to us through the saving work of the Son and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of love in the Church and in our souls. (p 1).

Further on in the Introduction there is a very helpful listing of ten characteristics of the theological work of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, including the qualities of being "solidly scriptural" (#1), "characterized above all by a search for truth" (#3), "profoundly ecclesial" (#4), very much about dialogue that is "sensitive to contemporary questions" (#7), and filled with a "sheer joy in the faith" (#10). I've yet to read the entire book, but it looks like another excellent addition to a body of fine works about the thought of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. In the words of Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P.:

    The author has immersed himself in Pope Benedict's writings, many of which are occasional or fragmentary, and has made of them a coherent whole. What a surprise for many less perceptive critics to find that the motif of joy - of all things - could well be considered the master-theme of Joseph Ratzinger's work. 

There are, of course, a plenitude of "less perceptive critics" when it comes to the Holy Father. Not only is it easy to be a critic, it is far too easy to be a bad, clueless, cliché-dependent critic. A far more worthy goal is to be a perceptive and thoughtful reader of Benedict's many writings.


• Vatican II and the Ecclesiology of Joseph Ratzinger | Maximilian Heinrich Heim | Introduction to Joseph Ratzinger: Life in the Church and Living Theology.

• The Courage To Be Imperfect | Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. | The Introduction to Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age

•The Theological Genius of Joseph Ratzinger | An Interview with Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.

• God Made Visible: On the Foreword to Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

• Benedict and the Eucharist: On the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis | Carl E. Olson


Ireland: the politics of enmity 1789-2006
Paul Bew
Oxford University Press, £35
Tablet bookshop price £31.50 Tel 01420 592974

Road to a precarious peace - Book Review, 13 March 2008
Reviewed by David Goodall

  That the Irish have a strong sense of the past, as Harold Nicolson once remarked, is untrue: "it is just that for the Irish, the present begins in 1170". The British, on the other hand, have only the sketchiest awareness of Irish history and of the often malign part Britain has played in it. It is a feature of the asymmetry between the two countries that Ireland tends to fade from the collective British consciousness as soon as the latest spasm of trouble seems to have subsided. Few people in Britain who are neither Irish nor professional historians could describe the background to the 1916 Rising or the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, let alone the 1798 Rebellion or the Land War. Even the furore over Irish neutrality in the Second World War is largely forgotten today. Now that peace appears to have broken out again in Northern Ireland, even the origins of the current "peace process" are beginning, as Lord Moyne said of the origins of the Guinness family, to be "lost in the mists of the recent past".

The mutual incomprehension resulting from this British amnesia about Ireland has contributed significantly to the animosity which has plagued the Anglo-Irish political relationship for so long. Lord Bew, who as well as being a distinguished political historian has been closely involved in the peace process, has therefore done students of Anglo-Irish relations an important service in producing a narrative account of the relationship over the past 200 years which is detailed, coherent and digestible, demonstrating how relentlessly each successive crisis has created the conditions for the next: from the 1798 Rebellion to the Union; from the delay over Catholic Emancipation to the Famine, the Land War and the frustrated demand for Home Rule; from the 1916 Rising to the Treaty and Partition; from Partition to the recent Troubles.

A fully comprehensive history of the "politics of enmity" would indeed have to start in 1170, when the Anglo-Normans defeated the Men of Waterford at Baginbun and "Ireland was lost and never won." It would include the Elizabethan Wars, the Rising of 1641 and its suppression, the Cromwellian Settlement, the Plantations of Ulster and Munster and the Penal Laws against Catholics. Paul Bew begins his narrative with the French Revolution, because, as he explains, its impact changed the terms of the political debate within Ireland, led directly to the formation of the United Irishmen and the 1798 Rebellion; and thence to the Act of Union. In one form or another, pressure for the repeal of the Union dominated Irish politics from 1801 until 1921; and Sinn Fein and the IRA can be regarded as lineal descendants of the radical wing of the United Irishmen.

As Bew tells us in his preface, he has concentrated on achieving factual accuracy and his account comes as close to being objective as the highly charged nature of his subject permits. He has a detectable sympathy (shared by this reviewer) for Burke at the end of the eighteenth century and for Redmond at the turn of the nineteenth, but on the whole eschews condemnation or commendation and allows readers to make their own judgements. His examination of the pros and cons of Irish neutrality in the Second World War is even- handed, describing Churchill's offer in 1940 (rejected by de Valera) of an end to Partition in return for the Republic's entry into the war as well as the ways in which the Irish Government, despite the anti-British character of much southern Irish opinion, covertly helped the Allied cause in ways which, in Garret FitzGerald's words, were "scarcely compa-

tible with the concept of neutrality in international law". At the same time Bew emphasises the damaging consequences for Britain of the Irish refusal to allow British use of the Treaty Ports, adding mildly that "it has to be acknowledged that the self-referential culture of Irish nationalism was ill-equipped to rise to the moral challenges of world war".

Closer to the present, we learn of Harold Wilson's interest in the possibility of British withdrawal from Northern Ireland (no hint there of Mrs Thatcher's "Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley") and also of the Irish Government's dismay at the prospect. The relative advantages of a continued British presence in the North were so great, the Taoiseach was told in 1975 by his Cabinet secretary, "that we should do everything possible to bring it about". (The Irish Government could neither afford to match Britain's economic subvention to the North nor face the prospect of an armed confrontation with militant unionism.)

Bew's account of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is predictably dense and does not make for easy reading. But he would appear to endorse the view that the Agreement was essentially "Sunningdale for slow learners" and is inclined to discount the earlier 1985 Agreement as no more than "direct rule with a green tinge", important for involving the Republic irreversibly in a share of responsibility (albeit only "consultative") for the North, but having a "poisonous impact on community relations". Arguably, however, it was the durability of that unpalatable Agreement which brought the unionists to the negotiating table in 1998.

The narrative ends just before the peace process reached its consummation in the improbable partnership between Dr Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein, and it leaves open the question of whether this latest settlement, like its predecessors, contains the seeds of a further breakdown. Without underestimating the other contributory factors, Bew sees the most important obstacles to Unionist acceptance of Irish unity in recent years as having been the narrowly sectarian character of the southern state and its relative economic backwardness. Given the economic transformation of the Republic into today's Celtic Tiger and the decline in the influence of the Catholic Church in the South, these obstacles would seem to have gone.

But historic antipathies die hard, the betrayals and tergiversations of the peace process have left scars, and for many in the North the pull of the United Kingdom will always be as strong as the pull of Dublin for nationalists. As this impressive study of the uniquely close and uniquely troubled relationship between the two islands makes clear, no foreseeable settlement of "the Irish Question" is likely to be other than precarious.


Milton: poet, pamphleteer and patriot
Anna Beer
Bloomsbury, £20
Tablet bookshop price £18 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review, 07 February 2008 by Robert Nye

To justify the ways of God to man

T.S. Eliot, in his mischief, was not beyond the inventing of delicious critical phrases, phrases not exactly misleading but so memorable that they come to stand between the reader and the work discussed. One such that I recall - though this never achieved currency in a book, only in a review contributed to a magazine - was his likening of the processes of Tennyson's thinking to the regular tick-tock of a grandfather clock. Another, so notorious that he felt obliged to recant it in later life, was his attack on what he called the "Chinese wall" of Milton's verse.

What he meant was that Milton had been a bad influence on subsequent poets in that he wrote as if English were a dead language. Eliot and Pound seem to have seen Milton, indeed, as almost the archetype of the enemy so far as their own early poetry was concerned. The resonant, the Latinate, the mandarin, these Miltonic qualities were to be decried because they placed poetry at several removes from a certain directness and flexibility only to be achieved by bringing it back within earshot of current speech rhythms. By linking blindness and bookishness, Eliot even managed to make Milton's affliction sound like a character defect.

Eliot is not the only modern poet to have gone for Milton below the belt. Robert Graves, in his novel Wife to Mr Milton (1943), gave voice to a strong personal dislike of the man, and in critical pieces afterwards repeated with relish Dr Johnson's strictures on Lycidas. Nor, of course, is it only the moderns who have felt and said such things. There is the story of  Keats abandoning his ambitious, sub-Miltonic experiment Hyperion with the comment "English must be kept up".

None of these opinions gets an accredited airing in Anna Beer's Milton, which is a pity because some of them chime with what Beer thinks herself. Of course it would be eccentric to expect discussion of later critical views of Milton if this book were merely what it purports to be: a biography. But I think it is more than that. True, Beer makes a better fist of tracing her subject's career than any other recent biographer has done, but her Milton really excels in its lively readings of the poet's works.

A case in point is her treatment of Milton's verse in Latin. What she suggests here is mildly scandalous - namely that Milton had recourse to Latin because he felt he could say things in that language which he could not say in English, and that what he had to say concerned the possibly homoerotic nature of his friendship with Charles Diodati. Beer goes a deal further than A.N. Wilson or any previous Milton biographer in pursuit of this. I find her arguments convincing, and it is at least interesting that they pick up on some of the gossip current about Milton in his lifetime.

This is to isolate the most sensational element in a fine book. But then Milton presents problems to biographers. We know from his own writings his opinions regarding most matters concerning religion and literature and politics but little of what he thought or did regarding those closest to him, his wives and daughters. There is even doubt as to which of his wives is being remembered in the sonnet which begins "Methought I saw my late espoused saint", generally supposed to be about the second wife, though it was the first, Mary Powell, who died in childbirth as that poem posits. Most of the key events in Milton's life, and not just in his emotional life, are shrouded in mystery. Where, for instance, did he hide in the early days of the Restoration, when he was a wanted man or an apologist for regicide? And how did he escape any real punishment for his secretarial work for Cromwell? Even his authorship of some of the more polemical works attributed to him is disputed. Did he really write what Beer calls "the profoundly heterodox" De Doctrina Christiana, which questions the doctrine of the Trinity, and defends polygamy?

This year of the fourth centenary of his birth will see the publication of a new study of the evidence for this from Oxford University Press. Meanwhile, we have Anna Beer's biography to kick off that year, and a truly splendid book it is, neither debunking nor idolatrous, but judicious and intelligent in what it has to say about the life and work of one who once described himself as a "true wayfaring Christian", and who in Paradise Lost sought by his own reckoning to "justify the ways of God to men". Both claims, of course, could be found somewhat lacking in humility, but then humility is not the stuff that epic poetry is made on. No doubt this is in part what William Blake was driving at when he observed that Milton was "of the devil's party without knowing it", a remark usually taken to refer to the fact that the most memorable lines in Paradise Lost are given to Satan, or concerned with things seen through Satan's eyes. The seriousness of Beer's book, and its status as something beyond the common run of literary biography, could not be better exemplified than by her remark that for all the truth of this, "Milton could also write paradise; he could make the reader understand, to feel, what Satan was drawn to destroy."

It will be recalled that Satan's most famous question in Paradise Lost is "Which way shall I fly?", which Beer sees as echoing Milton's own unhappiness as a young man. Satan's answer to himself is the completely despairing: "Which way I fly is hell; my self am hell." Again, Beer's triumph in this book can be indicated by her final praise of her subject in showing where he differs from his Satan: "Milton's writings and his life answer the question in other ways, never disowning or ignoring the despair, but offering also celebrations of friendship and love, of religious toleration and intellectual openness and, above all, of political ‘liberty'." While placing Milton firmly in his own time, this is very much a Milton for our own.

John Stuart Mill: Victorian firebrand
Richard Reeves
Atlantic books, £30

Book Review, 31 January 2008  by John Cottingham
Austere man of action and intellect

Unquestionably one of the most important thinkers of the nineteenth century, J.S. Mill achieved huge eminence in his own lifetime, and now has an assured place in the "canon" of great authors whom every philosophy student is expected to have read. It was his mammoth System of Logic which secured his reputation on its appearance in 1843, though the volume ("so very dry a book", as his partner Harriet Taylor called it) is now not widely read except by specialists in the theory of meaning or the philosophy of science. But two of his shorter works, Utilitarianism (1861) and On Liberty (1859), remain indispensable items on the reading list for those studying moral philosophy and political theory, while The Subjection of Women (1869) has become a foundational text of modern feminism.

The prevailing image of Mill is that of an austere Victorian intellectual. In a letter written from the south of France in 1861, he observed that the life he was then living was "in truth too self-indulgent for any one to allow himself whose duties lie among his fellow-

beings, unless, as is fortunately the case with me, they are mostly such as can better be fulfilled at a distance from society than in the midst of it." Both the tone, ponderous and slightly prissy, and the implied self-image, of a thinker working at a distance from the "midst of society", hardly bespeak the activist. Richard Reeves, in this substantial biography, aims to show, however, that Mill was in truth a "passionate man of action".

In our own contemporary culture, the word "passionate" is frequently over-used: one can hardly buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee without being assured that the manufacturer cares "passionately" about the product - as if this somehow added to the quality. There seems to be something vaguely patronising about assuming that readers of a biography of a famous intellectual need to be wooed by the assurance that its subject was no mere fuddy-duddy purveyor of ideas. Although Mill was involved in championing several public causes, most notably the equality of women, it is his philosophical ideas that surely represent his claim to fame; he himself declared that the "inculcation and diffusion" of those ideas was the "principal outward purpose" of his life.

The ideas in question had been significantly shaped, from Mill's early years, by the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, based on the creed of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Benthamite utilitarianism is described by Reeves as the "best-known moral theory of all time". If that means that Bentham's theories are better known than those of Aristotle or Kant, that is surely doubtful; and if it means that the notion of happiness as the foundation of morality has gained wider currency than ideas of duty, obligation or virtue, then that too seems questionable.

What is true is that utilitarianism, in its modern guise, known as "consequentialism", has become extremely, not to say alarmingly, influential. If all that matters is the balance of good produced by an action, then fundamental prohibitions, for example against lying, or killing the innocent, lose their entrenched status: all is in principle permitted, provided there is some counterbalancing advantage for enough people. Mill was aware of the sinister features of the Benthamite calculus, but devoted his utmost ingenuity to attempting to mitigate them. He tried, for example, to show that moral rules like those of veracity or justice could serve as useful "direction posts", indicating classes of action likely in general to secure happiness. But the whole point, of course, is that morality consists in respecting fundamental human values even when they do not promote a balance of welfare. Our contemporary British political culture, with its steady pressure, in the name of "security", against fundamental rights like trial by jury and habeas corpus, shows the dire implications of a moral framework in which the only ultimate standard is the balance of benefit for society as a whole. Utilitarian approaches to the allocation of medical resources provide another example of the risk of individuals being "sacrificed to the aggregate". Mill himself may have been concerned about the protection of individuals, but in so far as his advocacy of utilitarianism paved the way for such consequentialist developments, its influence can plausibly be seen as malign. Reeves seems blithely unaware of any of these complications when he resoundingly declares that "the world Mill left" was, and still is, "unquestionably better for his efforts".

Reeves' rosy view of Mill is better supported when he comes to discuss On Liberty, in which Mill enunciated his famous "harm principle''- that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised society against his will is to prevent harm to others". The "muscular simplicity" of Mill's concept, Reeves argues, has "given it an unequalled position and permanence in intellectual and political life". Certainly Mill's principle, one of the most widely quoted dicta of any philosopher, has become one of the bulwarks of the liberal outlook; though its very "simplicity" means that it is far too schematic an instrument for deciding how far we should go in restricting those who, for example, try to harm themselves or those who, while not actually harming others, deeply offend them by insulting their beliefs or way of life.

Some of the more interesting parts of Reeves' book concern Mill's attitudes to religion. Known in his time as the "Saint of Rationalism", Mill is often seen as an apostle of secularism; but Reeves argues that he was more sceptic or agnostic than atheist. Never quite happy with the radically anti-religious views he had imbibed in early life from his father and from Jeremy Bentham, Mill connected the religious impulse with the poetic impulse, regarding both as supplying "ideal conceptions grander and more beautiful than we see realised in the prose of human life". Sometimes this appears to be a merely utilitarian or instrumental conception of religion, namely that it can be "a source of personal satisfaction and elevated feelings", and hence, as Mill put it, "morally useful without being intellectually sustainable". Towards the end of his life, though, he reflected that the evidence from "adaptations in Nature" might support the idea of creation by intelligence.

Verging at times on hagiography (Mill's life was "the finest example of thought in action of the last two centuries"), this fluently written biography presents a well-researched picture of Mill's achievements. Mill may or may not have been a passionate "firebrand", but he remains one of Britain's most influential intellectuals.


Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion

Francisco J. Ayala
National Academies Press, £$24.95
Tablet bookshop price £15.30 Tel 01420 592974

Book Review, 24 January 2008   Reviewed by Ernan McMullin

The seeds of genesis and creation

Francisco Ayala is a former Dominican and one of the most distinguished evolutionary biologists of his generation, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Both the AAAS and the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS) take as part of their responsibilities the furtherance of the public understanding of science; both organisations acknowledge the importance to that understanding of a realisation of the limits of the sciences. A recent statement from the NAS expresses one of those limits thus: "Religion and science answer different questions about the world. Whether there is a purpose to the universe or a purpose for human existence are not questions for science."

Ayala agrees. What challenged him to write this book is the widespread uneasiness with the Darwinian theory of evolution among evangelical Christians in the United States and their consequent support for the intelligent-design hypothesis. Ayala takes apart the intelligent-design theories one by one to show that they are groundless and that the ID hypothesis itself can be undermined by focusing on the many examples of imperfect design in organic structures that are directly traceable to the vagaries of evolutionary history. Since the attack on evolution is prompted in large part by religious considerations, Ayala goes on to propose in rebuttal a sharp (perhaps slightly too sharp) separation between scientific knowledge and religious belief, using terms reminiscent of Stephen Jay Gould's famous principle that "they cannot be in contradiction because [they] concern non-overlapping realms of knowledge".

Ayala's exposition is admirably clear. He fills out Darwin's own evidences for evolution from comparative anatomy, palaeontology and biogeography with new data. But he devotes his main attention to genetics - his own area of expertise. Just as the finite speed of light has allowed us to explore the distant past of the galactic universe, the string of millions of nucleotides that constitute the DNA distinctive of the individual organism allows us to look equally deeply into that organism's past ancestry, tracing a path from the complex animals of today right back to the primitive organisms of the primeval seas. It has given altogether convincing evidence of the thesis of common ancestry, allowing one to determine not only what the stages were in the evolution leading to a particular kind of organism but, roughly at least, even when the forking in the branches of the family tree occurred. All in all, Ayala can conclude, to my mind quite reasonably, that "there is probably no other notion in any field of science that has been so extensively tested and corroborated as the evolutionary origin of living organisms".

But what about evolution's "gift" to religion, according to the book's title? The only one Ayala mentions is in the area of theodicy: the cruelties of the living world that so troubled Darwin "are difficult to explain if they are the outcome of God's design", but follow naturally if they are an inevitable part of evolutionary process. (An objector might ask whether or not that process is itself the Creator's choice ... this would need further discussion.) Although he fences off religion from issues about the natural world and its history, he does allow that "scientific knowledge may provide a basis for theological insights". He does not elaborate. Still, prompted by his choice of book-title, one might well inquire whether evolutionary theory does, in fact, offer any further such gifts.

And the answer comes loud and clear. The success of the theory itself allows the recovery of an insight from the early and medieval Christian Church that was almost entirely lost from view in the unfortunate turn to biblical literalism in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, a shift that has, sadly, proved long-lasting in some quarters. Inspired by the exegetical practice of the earlier Greek fathers, St Augustine took it as obvious that the first two chapters of Genesis were not to be interpreted literally, not least because to do so would make them mutually inconsistent. Furthermore, his own soaring account of the Creation made it seem antecedently unlikely that a transcendent Creator would have to keep adding to his work day after day. Surely an all-powerful and all-wise Creator would have got it right from the beginning? Augustine proposed that the potentialities of all the living kinds that would come after were implanted in the new creation from the beginning, each to make its appearance, he says (drawing on texts from Scripture), when the conditions of earth and water are right. He admits that to know how those "seeds", as he called them, were to bring this about would call for a degree of insight into natural process that he did not possess. That would have to wait for Darwin. That Augustine would regard Darwin's validation of his own theologically inspired insight into the origin of living kinds as a welcome gift can hardly be doubted.

Further Darwinian contributions could be more far-reaching in their theological implications. Catholic theology has traditionally understood the Genesis story of the Fall as being about two historical individuals in an original state of innocence, later lost by their sinful disobedience, with terrible consequences for their descendants. But thanks to Darwin's theory and the convergence of multiple lines of evidence, it is now generally accepted (as John Paul II allowed in a 1996 address) that the human body is of evolutionary origin. It would follow that the first humans were necessarily the inheritors of animal instincts and urges that would have been morally innocent in their unreflecting predecessors but were now potentially transformed into human sin in the light of newly awakened moral sensibilities. This conflict between body and spirit would have extended to all humans, affirmed, this time on genetic grounds, to constitute a single species. And it would be transmitted by physical generation.

Furthermore, in a much-quoted address to the AAAS in 1995, Ayala himself argued from an analysis of DNA evidence that the (genetically) human population could never have been smaller than several thousand breeding individuals. It could not have gone through a bottleneck of only a single pair, which would have left an unmistakable restriction of present genomic diversity.

It would seem that, on the face of it, these further gifts from Darwinian hands call for a reinterpretation of the Genesis story of human origins at least as dramatic as the one Augustine had already given the Genesis account of the origins of the living kinds. Although theologians are unaccustomed to taking a lead from the natural sciences, some have already been sketching the outlines of what such a reinterpretation might look like. However, caution seems to be the order of the day. There is clearly quite a lot at stake.

Ayala has shown in the past that he is well aware of the theological ramifications of these Darwinian implications. But he has prudently decided to pass them over in silence.

To many of the Christian critics of evolution for whom this book is intended, these implications might well not appear as gifts!


Faith, Reason and the War on Jihad
George Weigel's Call to Action
Review by Rev. Thomas V. Berg

Faith, Reason and the War on Jihadism. Clear thinking on complex moral and cultural issues is a scarce commodity these days.  George Weigel, Catholic theologian and one of America's foremost commentators on issues of religion and public life, has for years been responding to that paucity with a consistent output of robust, penetrating and cogent thought.

Last September 11th, I dedicated this column (9/11, Jihadism and Reason) to highlighting some of Weigel's reflections on the occasion of the 6th anniversary of the attacks. Those thoughts were an excerpt from the sixth William E. Simon lecture which Weigel had delivered for the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington in January 2007. Happily, the elements of that lecture have now taken the form of a new book entitled Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism.

The book is, quite simply, a must-read for persons who are trying to be thoughtful, realistic and objective about the complex issues posed by Muslim jihadists to western civilization as we know it. If you think my posing the situation in such stark terms is hyperbole, then you will likely find Weigel's blunt assessment of things hyperbolic as well.  "The challenge of global jihadism cannot be avoided," writes Weigel. "The war that has been declared against us-and by "us" I mean the West, not simply the Unites States-must be engaged, and through a variety of instruments, many of them not military."

The fact that many might discover hyperbole in such declarations takes us to the very heart of Weigel's message:  it has taken far too long for the U.S. and other western democracies to understand the situation we are in.

Over the weekend, I interviewed George on a number of issues the book raises, and probed him for his take on the future of the conflict between Jihadism and the West. 

FTB: You note that "Christians have taken an aggressive and bloody-minded posture toward Islam on many occasions over the past fourteen hundred years, an aggressiveness that has left deep resentments in the Islamic world..." (p. 21). Is this one of the root causes of Jihad?

George WeigelWeigel:  Resentment of Western success ("the Great Satan" and all that) is certainly part of the motivational mix among jihadists today, although the endless references to "Zionist Crusaders" nicely mix 20th century hatreds with 12th century hatreds. But the basic point to be stressed is that jihadists have their own motivations: i.e., if "jihadism" is the religiously inspired ideology that teaches that it is the moral duty of all Muslims to employ all means necessary to compel the world's submission to Islam, that in itself is motivation enough.

FTB: We grew accustomed to Pope John Paul II reiterating the need to get at the "roots" of terrorism, which he identified as various forms of injustice. For instance:

History, in fact, shows that the recruitment of terrorists is more easily achieved in areas where human rights are trampled upon and where injustice is a part of daily life. This is not to say that the inequalities and abuses existing in the world excuse acts of terrorism: there can never, of course, be any justification for violence and disregard for human life. However, the international community can no longer overlook the underlying causes that lead young people especially to despair of humanity, of life itself and of the future, and to fall prey to the temptations of violence, hatred, and a desire for revenge at any cost (Address to new British ambassador, Sept. 2002).

Do you find in this notion-particularly as it is insisted on today-at all naïve or misguided?

Weigel:  The jihadists of 9/11 were not the wretched of the earth; they were college-educated, middle-class people. The command structure of al-Qaeda is not composed of peasants or the Arab lumpenproletariat, but of rich men and professional men. This follows the established pattern of modern terrorism (which began in 19th century Europe with well-to-do anarchists).  That authoritarian politics plus corruption, and a lack of economic opportunity creates a fertile field for jihadist recruitment in populations with a large "surplus" of unemployed young men, I don't doubt; the young men heading for terrorist training camps in Waziristan probably fit this profile. So yes, changed political and economic conditions in the Arab Islamic world are going to be a necessary part of winning the war against jihadism. But to repeat it again: the jihadists have their own motivations, and if we don't understand that, we won't understand the depth and breadth of the problem.

FTB: Is the problem Islam itself-the religion (understanding that "Islam" contains "many worlds" as you put it)?

Weigel:  That the great majority of the world's Muslims do not accept the jihadists' definition of a faithful Muslim's responsibilities suggests that the jihadist "answer" to the problem of Islam-confronts-modernity is not inevitable. Still, a frank inter-religious dialogue would recognize that certain core themes in Islamic self-understanding - its supersessionism (i.e., its claim that the revelation to Muhammad effectively cancels the revelatory "value" of the revelations of the God of  Abraham to the people of Israel and in Jesus Christ), its concept of a dictated sacred text, its tendency to detach faith and reason (due in part to its lack of a notion of God as "Logos") do, under certain historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions, tend to produce a very aggressive notion of Islam's relationship to "the rest."

FTB: Has Benedict taken a "hard line" with Muslims? How would you describe his approach to the problem of jihadism?

Weigel: The immediate problem, as Pope Benedict XVI has suggested on numerous occasions, lies in Islam's difficult encounter with the Enlightenment political heritage, especially with the idea of religious freedom as a human right than can be known by reason and with the idea of the separation of religious and political authority in a just state. Those are the areas where the dialogue should focus today, for those are the issues that tend to create what Samuel Huntington called "Islam's bloody borders."

FTB:   Do you envision a future in which some modernized form of Islam-liberated from the jihadist element-will have accomplished a fruitful "encounter with modernity" (p. 33) and will be able to subsist at peace with the 'rest'?

Weigel:   I think you can find places where the effort to broker a more fruitful engagement between Islam and modernity is underway: Indonesia, for example, or Bosnia. One of the great difficulties in all this is the inordinate influence of Wahhabism, the radical Islamist ideology that has been exported from Saudi Arabia throughout the Islamic world. Add the passions of Middle Eastern politics to the effects of Wahhabist radicalism, and you get the kind of problems that we've seen, not only throughout the Levant, central Asia, and southwest Asia; you get the kind of problems we see in France, Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere - like in American prisons.

FTB:  Will it take another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil to provoke a broader understanding of "who the enemy is" and acceptance of the fact that we are at war?

Weigel:  I hope not. That's one reason I wrote the book. But there does seem to be an odd, almost Victorian, reticence to name the unpleasant thing that's staring us in the face. If we don't learn to name it - and if we don't understand that this is fundamentally a war of ideas, ideas about human goods and the human future - we 're going to be surprised again and again.  As for immediate dangers, anyone who doesn't think that al-Qaeda is working 24/7 to pull off, during our current election cycle, something similar to the attack on Madrid prior to the Spanish elections a few years ago simply isn't paying attention.

FTB: What would you respond to critics who would call your book "myopic," an "exaggeration," "neo-con war-mongering hype", and so on?

Weigel:  I would invite anyone inclined to think I am exaggerating to read the book. The case is made there with evidence, calmly, and in a spirit that looks toward both a revitalized inter-religious dialogue and a renewal of American culture.

Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C., Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.


God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s religious crisis
Philip Jenkins
Oxford University Press, £16.99
Tablet bookshop price £15.30 Tel 01420 592974

 New battle for the soul of Europe
Reviewed by Christian W. Troll 14 December 2007

The Moor's last sigh" marks the site near Granada where the last Muslim king of Spain is said to have wept as he contemplated the ruin of a once great civilisation, overwhelmed by the Christian Reconquista. Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal in 2004 suggested that we might yet live to hear "the Moor's last laugh", as Muslims again hold sway over large tracts of Europe.

Philip Jenkins' remarkable book addresses precisely this situation, marked by a "sense of doom" on the European Christian side and a growing conviction among many Muslims that, after the expulsion of Islam from Spain in the fifteenth century and two failed attempts to conquer Vienna, the time has now finally arrived for Islam to secure a permanent, powerful foothold in Europe. The critical question at the back of the minds of Europeans is indeed "whether the Muslim presence can be absorbed into societies that were traditionally Christian or secular, and how that interaction will transform both sides".

This is a brilliant book by the Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies, Penn State University. It offers, clear, vivid, comprehensive and detailed information about the cultural and religious revolution taking place in present-day Europe, relating and analysing with great accuracy the discussions and debates in the various parts of the continent. Familiar with both the secular and religious past of the West, Jenkins is able soberly to assess the dramatic demographic and cultural-religious revolution of European societies. Looking at Europe from his vantage in the United States, he has the whole continent in view and can compare the particular majority-minority constellations in each European country and region. The long-established Muslim communities in the European successor states of the former Soviet Union and the Balkan countries are shown in all their difference from the much younger Muslim communities that have developed in western Europe from the mid-twentieth century.

Jenkins rightly pays close attention to internal tensions among Muslims in Europe, describing them as a "battle for the soul of Islam". He points to the struggle in progress for the control of religious structures in European Islam. He demonstrates convincingly that the pressure on Muslims in the new European environment to decide Islamically on countless issues, in counter-distinction to the European mainstream, favours orthodox mentalities and pan-Islamic identities. Thus, elements of puritanism, as well as the confounding of religion and politics, are not confined just to Wahhabism and Salafism but increasingly are found in most other groupings of Muslims in Europe. And yet, simultaneously, the same forces that foster extremism - the new media, wider access to news and information, travel and communications, exploration of alternative ideas - also foster the rise of Muslim reformers, critical scholarship and new thinking on questions of religious - as against national - identity and loyalty. The overall situation emerges as complex. "While radicals and militants flourish, their opponents are numerous and significant, and so are the historical forces working against extremism."

Jenkins also makes us aware of the tensions between the generations, the aspirations of the young, the mental revolutions of millions of immigrant Africans and Asians, called to shift in an instant from traditional-minded societies dominated by Islam to European societies that differ from them in virtually every basic assumption. Jenkins shows how, despite everything, there exists a convergence of values and beliefs. He does not minimise, however, the threat of Muslim terrorist violence. It does exist. But any long-term solution must come from within European nations themselves, by reducing tensions between ethnic communities and Europe's mainstream societies. Among the best means of integrating newer ethnic groups into Europe he counts economic factors, coupled with a willingness to accommodate religious needs and interests that until very recently would have seemed very strange to European policy-makers. New policies are demanded which depart significantly from the political assumptions of late-twentieth-century European societies.

Equally illuminating is the author's analysis of the role of cultural values and core beliefs in facilitating (or not) pluralism. The Rushdie affair cast doubt on the presumed equality of religions; the Danish cartoons affair convinced Europeans that Islam was after all the core issue of the cultural divide and that the Umma - the universal brotherhood of Muslims - was a tangible reality. Muslim challenges to artistic freedom do suggest deep hostility to cherished modern European values.

For Jenkins, the nub of the matter is that Muslims claim for themselves a new privileged role for their faith. This is explosive, since Christianity and Islam project their views into wider society in radically different ways. Christianity emphasises the conversion of individuals while Islam's traditions are communal and collective, and so is the act of conversion. If a society conforms itself to Muslim legal and social norms, it is already on the way to conversion. In this light, the recent EU guidelines urging member states to eschew the term "Islamic terrorists", preferring "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam", gains added significance.

Jenkins observes that Europeans feel the need now to define their own beliefs far more explicitly. They are beginning, furthermore, to specify the core values which newcomers should accept - values such as free speech and tolerance, gender equality and sexual freedom.

What is Jenkins' answer to the anxious twin question stated at the outset, namely, whether the Muslim presence can be absorbed and how the new interaction between Muslims and Christians will transform Europe? For some time, Jenkins answers, intellectual and spiritual turmoil will contribute to tensions and political extremism, but long-term pressure on Muslims is likely to create an ever more adaptable form of Islam that can cope with social change without compromising basic beliefs. The advent of Islam, he concludes, perhaps somewhat optimistically, "will drive more Europeans to take renewed interest in their Christian roots, to rediscover what so many seemed to have consigned to oblivion".

Jenkins is confident that European Christianity will not be reduced to insignificance. Nothing drives activists and reformers more powerfully, he suggests, than a sense that their faith is about to perish in their homelands. Death and resurrection are more than fundamental doctrines of Christianity: they represent "a historical model of the religion's structure and development".


The Golden Compass
Tim Golden | November 2007: Light and dark in The Golden Compass

An upcoming children's film, The Golden Compass, is based on a trilogy which is highly critical of Christianity.

Around London at the moment you can see double-decker buses carrying what we in the trade call a "superside" (a poster along the nearside of the top deck of the bus) advertising the upcoming film The Golden Compass. For reasons unexplained -- and which Philip Pullman on his site says he lacked the clout to resist at the time it happened -- this was the title which an American editor gave to the first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials, a book known in the original English as Northern Lights. Since the film version was made in Hollywood, the reprinted British editions of the book are clumsily trying to include both titles on the front cover to tie in with the film.

For the purposes of international readership, I shall use the name Golden Compass throughout this article, although I'm aware that, for example, in Spain the title is Las Luces del Norte while in Latin America it is La Brújula de Oro!

The three books in question: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass have won prestigious awards, including the Whitbread and Carnegie and recently even the Carnegie of Carnegies. In a nationwide survey here in Britain under the banner "The Big Read", Pullman's work came in third out of hundreds of books voted for by the public, falling behind only those titans of popular literature Pride and Prejudice and The Lord of the Rings, and coming in several places ahead of the highest-rated Harry Potter book. There has even been a seven-hour long production at the National Theatre.

    The books are heavily coloured by the author's avowed disdain for organised religion. If you share his distaste, you'll think the books are well worth reading and that the powers of evil might as well be the Church as anyone else. If, on the other hand, you think the author is one-sidedly portraying the institution of the Church and religious people in general as self-serving or naive, deceived or deceiving, then you'll probably admire the books' epic scope but ultimately find them flawed and bitter.

The books are undeniably popular, then, which suggests that they reach out to something deep-seated in readers young and old. (The Whitbread Prize was in the overall category, the first time this category has been won by an ostensibly children's book). But concerns have been expressed by Christians in particular about the fact that the books are anti-Christian and anti-religious in general, as well as fostering a somewhat precocious relationship among two just-adolescents. So what is there in the books to get excited about? And is there anything for parents and educators to worry about?

In a moment we'll attempt the almost impossible task of summarising in just one paragraph the plot and significant characters of the 1250 pages in the trilogy. But first, a précis of what I'm going to say below: the three books provide a tremendously imaginative epic, very human despite some of the fantasy-inspired creatures within. They touch on issues close to people's hearts: the fate of the world, the origins of man, what happens after death, and the love between men and women. They uphold and encourage a range of virtues, although perhaps they overemphasise the role of physical love.

But they are heavily coloured by the author's avowed disdain for organised religion, and in particular for the Catholic Church. If you share his distaste, or are indifferent, I imagine you'll think the books are well worth reading and that the powers of evil might as well be the Church as anyone else. If, on the other hand, you think the author is one-sidedly portraying the institution of the Church and religious people in general as self-serving or naive, deceived or deceiving, then you'll probably admire the books' epic scope but ultimately find them flawed and bitter.

Two youngsters in multiple worlds

For those who know nothing whatsoever of the books, the important thing is that the overarching story is written on a grand scale, bridging multiple worlds. It involves two young protagonists who alone can save everything. They're aided and thwarted by realistic and fantastical characters alike, including Lyra's own parents, the most morally complex characters in the books. The youngsters have to grow in skill and in stature and virtue as they move towards their goal, even though they're not really sure what it is. At this level, and for many people I imagine the book simply operates at this level, it's not at all hard to see what appeals.

So what's all the fuss about? Why are Christians concerned? And why isn't anyone else? Well, in the overview above, the thing I've not spelt out is this. There is a thick black line down the middle of the book. On one side of this line are characters who are sympathetic, virtuous, loyal, cheerful, brave, heroic, faithful. On the other side are self-serving, power-seeking, conniving, deceptive rogues. There's nothing terribly new in that: "Harry Potter" arguably takes much the same approach, as does "The Lord of the Rings". It's the stuff of the mytho-epic story. The difference here is that, without exception, those on the side of darkness are agents of the Church or of what passes for God in Pullman's universe. And conversely there is not one single person of a religious bent, who displays any virtue, any sign of goodness whatsoever.

A chilling view of God

Is this a surprise? Not really. Pullman himself on his site, says: "I don't know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it's perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don't know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away." Well, that is an honest statement of a position: let us call it a fundamental agnosticism. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm sure Mr Pullman will have engaged in discussions with non-agnostic friends over the validity of his position.

But he doesn't stop there. "Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them." And now we've moved out of the arena where people who hold different views on the question of God can engage in healthy debate and into a battle of words. Pullman's not anti-God, as such. He just thinks that anyone who's pro-God has got it wrong and is doing the wrong thing.

This is a view endorsed or echoed by most of the sympathetic characters in the books. John Parry, to take one example, has been lost in Lyra's world for 10 years, hasn't seen his wife in all that time, yet has remained faithful to her in spite of the powerful advances of a witch. He's just braved a snowstorm in a hot air balloon and fought off a troop of mercenaries to reach the owner of the Subtle Knife, who turns out to be the son he's hardly met. You could hardly imagine more of a hero. The advice he gives: "We've had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history. It's time we started again..." as he encourages Will to take the knife to Lord Asriel in his fight to destroy The Authority and build the Republic of Heaven here on Earth.

In an interview reproduced on YouTube, Pullman is asked what his agenda is, and what he expects young people to get from his book. And his answer sounds reasonable enough. He's "telling a story", hoping that people will "think about things" after reading the book. The books celebrate "qualities such as kindness, and love, and courage, and courtesy too, and intellectual curiosity" and attacks "cold-heartedness, tyranny, closed-mindedness, cruelty". Can't really argue with that, can you? Except that it's not so simple. In the course of that particular interview, he very carefully skirts round exactly whom he finds responsible for the qualities we are to attack. But the book makes it clear that it's the religious institutions who are responsible for all these things. And for nothing good.

Reviving hoary prejudices

So the combined effect of 2,000 years of Christianity (there's absolutely no reference to any other world religion in any of the books) is nothing but scheming cardinals with torture chambers, ready to send out a priest-assassin having absolved him pre-emptively of the sin he is about to commit? No question of art, culture, philosophy? No mention of the centuries of self-giving by religious orders caring and educating? (The only religious in the book is a former nun who has rejected her vocation and her faith). No word on the social work the Church has undertaken the world over? "If the cap fits..." some critics might say. But does the cap fit? Most readers will never know, because they'll implicitly believe what the noble and attractive characters tell them, and despise the position represented by the rest.

Of course, you could argue that the Church of Lyra's world is not the Catholic Church of ours, although it's clearly intended to present itself as such in the grotesque caricature which English Protestantism has spent so many years nurturing. Furthermore, the "Authority" it worships is no God but an aged and infirm angel, lost in the final battle when its angel carriers drop the litter in which it is being carried. The reality of a Creator God is left quietly to one side by the closest thing to a morally neutral character: King Ogunwe, an African commander allied to Lord Asriel. In the course of an explanation about the Angels, he says "It shocked some of us to learn that The Authority is not the creator. There may or may not be a creator: we don't know." Instead, it's the Dust of Lyra's world, the elementary particles of Dark Matter, which constitute the self-aware basis for all sentient life. Where they come from is never explained, but their role is a central plot device.

What might have been

There are other aspects which might be of concern to parents, especially Christians. You can read my own notes on the series at I doubt that anyone would claim that the books are flawless, and certainly not Pullman himself, but they're certainly very attractive. In the course of preparing this article, I reread all three books, read through the material on his own and other websites, and heard recordings from interviews he's given. And I find myself firmly in agreement with a lot of what he says. He gives the impression of a down-to-earth modesty and encourages reading and a broadness of spirit. He's keen to tell a story which will leave his readers thinking about the deeper things of life, about what's right and what's wrong, and about virtue. And I can't argue with that.

The saddest thing is that this could have been a different series and just as attractive. I believe that many of the people complaining about the books would find themselves in total agreement with much of what Pullman himself believes. Or, at least, would be willing to consider an honest and open debate on the issue. But his sincerely-held, and I'm afraid to say bitterly-held, belief seems to be that the institutions of the Church which some hold to be the arbiters and promoters of truth and justice here on Earth are exactly the opposite. And that is the story he's telling.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He also is the editor of the Good-to-Read website.


Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith
    Author:     Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

ISBN:     1586172123 
Length:     184 pages
Edition:     Hardcover
Code:     CHAPUR-H
Your Price:     $19.95
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s article on evolution and creation in The New York Times launched an international controversy. Critics charged him with biblical literalism and “creationism”.

In this book, Cardinal Schönborn responds to his critics by tackling the hard questions with a carefully reasoned "theology of creation". Can we still speak intelligently of the world as “creation” and affirm the existence of the Creator, or is God a “delusion”? How should an informed believer read Genesis? If God exists, why is there so much injustice and suffering? Are human beings a part of nature or elevated above it? What is man's destiny? Is everything a matter of chance or can we discern purpose in human existence?

In his treatment of evolution, Cardinal Schönborn distinguishes the biological theory from “evolutionism”, the ideology that tries to reduce all of reality to mindless, meaningless processes. He argues that science and a rationally grounded faith are not at odds and that what many people represent as “science” is really a set of philosophical positions that will not withstand critical scrutiny.

Chance or Purpose? directly raises the philosophical and theological issues many scientists today overlook or ignore. The result is a vigorous, frank dialogue that acknowledges the respective insights of the philosopher, the theologian and the scientist, but which calls on them to listen and to learn from each another.

"Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn's 2005 essay in the New York Times, which seemingly condemned Darwin's scientific theory of evolution, ignited a firestorm of controversy. Yet the hasty responses did not look deeply enough into the Cardinal's words. Rather than the science of Darwin, it is the philosophical claims made in its name that the prelate upbraided. Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority. In Chance or Purpose? the Cardinal shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world."
—Michael Behe Author, Darwin’s Black Box

“Cardinal Schoenborn writes with masterful simplicity on profound theological issues. I, as a scientist and Christian outside the Catholic tradition, welcome his wisdom. He argues effectively that there aremultiple approaches to reality, and he states clearly that whileintelligent design is worthy of human reflection, from a scientific perspective the evolutionary model is the true story.”
—Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science, Harvard University. Author of God's Universe

“Intellectual curiosity is here joined with precision of reason and vibrancy of faith. The result is a wondrously instructive guide to one of the most controverted questions of our time by one of the most influential leaders of the Church.”
—Richard John Neuhaus Editor, First Things

“Anyone reading this sentence knows that eyes are meant for seeing. Yet in today's debates over evolution, the question of meaning ranks among the most controversial (even if obvious) features of our world. In the din of this muddled debate, Cardinal Schoenborn speaks as a true teacher of the Catholic faith, unafraid to apply the core wisdom of the Bible to the two Top Questions that haunt us all: where do we come from and where are we headed? Any attempt to answer these two tormenting mysteries will either begin here or never find their resolution.”
—Edward T. Oakes, S.J., University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein, Illinois.

Copyright © 2004 by Ignatius Press


These brief selections from Chance or Purpose? address some of the main themes of Cardinal Schönborn's new book: faith, science, creation and "creationism", "Darwinism," and evolution.

A blind faith that simply demanded of us a leap into what was completely uncertain and unknown would not be a human faith. If belief in a Creator were completely devoid of all insight, with no way of knowing what believing in a Creator actually means, then such a belief would be inhuman. The Church has always quite rightly rejected that kind of "fideism", of blind faith.

Believing without knowledge, without the possibilty of coming to know anything about the Creator, of our reason being able to comprehend anything about him, would not be Christian belief. The biblical and Judeo-Christian faith has always been convinced, not only that we can and should believe in a Creator, but also that we are able to understand a great deal about the Creator with our human reason.

It is one of the more tenacious "myths" of our epoch--indeed, I would say, one of the well-established prejudices--that relations between faith and science exist, from ages past, in a kind of persistent conflict. The Church is regarded as the great brake on progress, and science as the courageous liberator. Above all, the "case of Galileo", in the popular version, is depicted in that way, with the researcher as the victim of the dark Inquisition. A great deal of that, however, is legenda negra, a "black legend", drawn in sharp contrasts during th e Enlightenment, but not entirely doing justice to the historical truth.

God's act of creation occurs without any movement. He does not shape something that already exists. According to most creation myths, the gods create the world by re-shaping what is already there. They are "demiurges", giving form to the chaos, to what is already there, to primal material. Only God, as we meet Him in the Bible, is a Creator. ... God creates "out of nothing" That does not mean that "nothing", "the non-existent", is something he makes things out of; it means rather that God's act of creation is a sovereign constituting of things. God spoke, an it was! Everything that is, has been called into existence by him. That is what is wonderful and unique about the biblical belief in creation.

How has this strange "sacralization" of a scientific theory come about? How is it that this theory is the only one, so far as I know, that has become an "-ism"? There is no "Einsteinism" corresponding to Einstein's theory of relativity, nor is there any "Newtonism" or "Heisenbergism". Why is there "Darwinism"? American philosopher and historian of science Stanley L. Jaki has said that freeing Darwin's theory of evolution, and its further developments in neo-darwinism, "from what is not science there", so that it does not become ideology, but remains science, is a most imporant task.

Anyone makes a "battle of beliefs" out of the question of evolution is certainly not serving science. The fact that questions concerning evolution have been made into "weapons of war" to use against belief in creation has little to do with science, just as Marxism's "dialectical materialism", with its "scientific" atheism, has very little indeed to do with genuine science.

Is everyone who believes "a God created them" just a blind fanatic? Or is our deep pleasure in Haydn's "The Creation" just a romantic surge of the spirit? Can a rational person believe in a Creator at all? On this point, I just want to listen, without polemics, to what faith and reason say about it. In reaction to my article in the New York Times, a scientist wrote to me that he would like to believe, but he simply could not "believe in a Creator God, an old man with a long white beard". I replied to him that no one actually expected him to believe such a thing. On the contrary, that kind of conception of the Creator--perhaps child-like, but certainly childish--is a long way from what the Bible says about the Creator, and what the clause in the Creed "I believe in God, the Father, maker of heaven and earth", means. In my letter to him, I responded that it would be a good thing if his scientific knowledge and his religious knowledge were a little more nearly on the same level, and that his high level of knowledge as a scientist were not accompanied by a religious knowledge was still that of a child.

At this point we should also mention another frequent misunderstanding. It concerns so-called "creationism". Often nowadays in polemics, belief in creation is lumped together with "creationism". Yet believing in God the Creator is not identical with the way that, in some Christian circles, people try to understand the six days of creation spoken of in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis as if this had been literally reported, as six chronological days, and try by all possible arguments, even scientific ones, to prove that the earth is about six thousand years old. Attempts like that to take the Bible literally, as if it were making scientific statements at this point, are what is called "fundamentalism". To be more exact, in American Protestantism this view of the Christian faith has called itself "fundamentalism" from the start. Starting from a belief that every word of the Bible was directly inspired by God--that is, starting from an understanding of literal inspiration--the six days of the creation are also taken to mean what they say, word for word. It is understandable that many people in the U.S.A. are energetically opposed to this view--even so far as going to court and taking legal action against such things being taught in schools. There is, of course, also the legitimate concern with critical questions about teaching "Darwinism"--but that is a different matter.

order the bookThe Catholic position on "creationism" is clear. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that one should "not try to defend the Christian faith with arguments that make it ridiculous, because they are in obvious contradiction with reason". It is nonsense to maintain that the world is only six thousand years old. An attempt to prove such a notion scientifically means provoking what Saint Thomas calls the irrisio infidelium, the mockery of unbelievers. Exposing the faith to mockery with false arguments of this kind is not right; indeed, it is explicitly to be rejected. Let that be enough on the subject of "creationism" and "fundamentalism".

Strictly scientific research into evolution, which can report its progress step-by-step so that others can do the same, is a most respectable area of research. However, the extended application of evolution to all spheres of reality under the motto, "everything is evolution", no longer has any scientific basis. Here we enter into the realm of a worldview, if not of an ideology. The "Darwinian version" of things influences not only the way we conceive the origin of life and its development. It has also influenced our life in society and attitudes to the main moral questions in bioethics, in education, and in science--and continues to do so.


Prince of the Church: Patrick Francis Moran, 1830-1911       
        Philip Ayres      The Miegunyah Press, 2007
James Baxter reviews a recent biography of Australia's first cardinal.
    20 September 2007
Australia’s record of biography is unbalanced and unimpressive. Many biographies have been written of the robber and murderer, Ned Kelly. Three were written of Mark Latham in 2004 and two have already been written of Kevin Rudd, yet scores of public figures who are noteworthy in Australia’s history have been ignored by biographers.

Philip Ayres is an author quietly going about fixing this. He has written biographies of Malcolm Fraser and Douglas Mawson. His biography of Sir Owen Dixon – still considered Australia’s most influential and revered judge – was published in 2003. Ayres was then commissioned by the Archdiocese of Sydney to write the biography of Cardinal Moran, the Archbishop of Sydney from 1884 to his death in 1911 at the age of eighty. Prince of the Church is the result.

Moran’s importance as a national figure and biographical subject can be summed up in this passage from the book:  

    “Sydney’s archdiocese would not have another civic leader worth the description for almost a century – civic in the sense of speaking out on contentious issues across the board from private morality to national politics, courageously debating the secularists, exploiting the print medium, participating in the politics of the constitution … and voicing orthodoxy at the risk of unpopularity.” 

Portents of Moran’s later achievements were seen early on. Born in Ireland, he was taken to Rome as a 12 year old orphan by his uncle, Fr Paul Cullen, who was then Rector of the Irish College in Rome and had offered to take care of his upbringing. By the age of fifteen, Moran was fluent in Latin and Italian (he would go on to be fluent in French, German, Irish, Greek and Hebrew). He was ordained a priest at 22 with a papal dispensation on account of his youth. He soon established himself as a scholar, winning his doctorate at 22 by acclamation and then becoming a professor of Hebrew and scripture at Propaganda College. As a young priest he eliminated scholarly errors and sloppiness from the draft of the bull Ineffabilis Deus, in which Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It is also possible that Moran was responsible behind the scenes for the definition settled upon by the First Vatican Council for the dogma of papal infallibility in 1870. This, however, is the account of Fr Denis O’Haran, who, as Ayres frequently warns his readers, is sometimes an unreliable source. 

It was not as a scholar, though, that Moran made his deepest mark. Ayres narrates Moran’s rise from private secretary to Cullen (who was by then Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin) to Bishop of Ossory, Archbishop of Sydney and the College of Cardinals. Along the way, Moran always maintained a high profile and was never afraid of a fight, content to be hated by his opponents. He was influential during important historical periods, including the fevered Irish land wars and the campaign for Federation in Australia.

He maintained close relations with politicians in Ireland, England and Australia, always seeking to deepen the influence of the Church. It is interesting to note Moran’s excitement at some of Prime Minister Gladstone’s appointments to his Ministry in 1868, including Edward Sullivan as Attorney-General for Ireland, which pleased Moran since Sullivan was married to a Catholic. Moran possibly never knew that Sullivan’s seven year old son, John, raised a Protestant, converted to the faith at 35 and became a saintly Jesuit priest, astounding for his humility and asceticism. His cause for canonisation is open.

One person who certainly does not fare well in the book is Moran’s secretary, Fr O’Haran, described by Ayres as an “immensely vain” man, who became the co-respondent in an ugly and high profile divorce suit. Ayres tells the extraordinary tale of conspiracies, intercepted letters, forgeries, peeved priests, code names and Presbyterian fighting funds. 

The reader receives little insight into Moran’s spiritual life other than his deep gratitude for his vocation and devotions to the Blessed Mother and the spirituality of St Francis de Sales, though from the available materials there were probably few insights for a biographer to gain.

Prince of the Church is a welcome addition to Australian biography. It is to be hoped that many more such works about genuinely important Australians will follow.


Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Anti-religious and anti-Catholic novel

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Oxford and elsewhere in this and parallel Earths

Genres: Friendship, Fantasy, Adventure


    * Lyra Belacqua: along with Will Parry, the most important figure in the trilogy. She appears to us first as a wildcat Oxford urchin who is alternately taken in and repelled by the glamour of Mrs Coulter who she learns is her mother. She has the gift (referred to as "grace" by the angel Xaphania in AS 520) of understanding the aletheiometer which gift she loses when she grows up. She lies her way out of anything. A very passionate character, fierce in all her emotions. She is said to be "the new Eve", according to a prophecy by the witches in SK 328.
    * Will Parry: the other major player alongside Lyra Belacqua. His mother seems to have lost her mind following her explorer husband's disappearance and Will looks after her. He dislikes fighting, altho' his father was a soldier, but against his will becomes the bearer of the Subtle Knife which is "the one weapon in the all the universes that could defeat the tyrant. The Authority. God." (SK 334)
    * Mary Malone, a former nun turned physicist who befriends the children. She rejected God outright after attending a physics conference while a nun and being reminded of a certain youthful experience of love. The retailing of this story to the children evokes the first stirrings on womanhood in Lyra. (AS 464-469)
    * Iorek Byrnison, king of the armoured bears. A noble character who is loyal to Lyra and who turns up all over the place to defend her. Much pseudo-philosophy about bears acting like men. (NL 353)
    * Lee Scoresby, shrewd and courteous western American and hot-air balloonist from Lyra's world. Friend of Iorek Byrnison whom he has rescued at least once.
    * Gyptians are the Gypsies of Lyra's world inhabiting mostly barges and viewing the Fens as their home. They hide Lyra when she runs from Mrs Coulter and travel to the Arctic to reclaim their stolen children. Very clannish and fierce fighters.
    * Serafina Pekkala, queen of the witch clans. Another of the protectors of Lyra and Will. Like all witches she mates with any man who attracts her but does not stay with him because she will have many times his lifespan. (NL 314: "men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies, creatures of a brief season.")
    * Lord Asriel, Lyra's father and one of the two most complex characters in the trilogy. He is essentially out for power. After an adulterous affair with Mrs Coulter produced Lyra, he killed her husband in a duel, deposited Lyra with Jordan College and went on expeditions to find out about Dust and its properties. His stated aim is to cross into the world from which Dust is flowing into his to destroy the source of original sin and consequently Death. (NL 377) His real aim is to challenge the might of The Authority, greatest of the angels, and he will use anything to achieve that. (SK 48)
    * Mrs Coulter, Lyra's mother and the other most complex character. The ultimate schemer, whose daemon significantly is a vicious golden monkey, she has very maternal feelings towards Lyra, rescuing her on several occasions, but always has her own ends in mind. Tremendous glamour over men and women alike.


Lyra Belacqua a 12-year-old girl believes herself to be an orphan and is brought up in Jordan College, Oxford, in some recognisable but different England. She becomes caught up in a scheme headed by her true mother Mrs Coulter to kidnap children and to separate them from their daemons using the consequent release of energy to harness the Dust which has recently been discovered in the Arctic. She travels north with the Gyptians and Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison and thwarts most of the plans but inadvertently delivers her friend Roger to Lord Asriel, her true father, who kills him to create a bridge between worlds. Lyra crosses the bridge ahead of her father.

In modern-day Winchester Will Parry whose father disappeared in the Arctic leaves his bewildered mother with a friend for safekeeping and inadvertently steps through a doorway into Cígazze and meets Lyra who has just entered this world. Cígazze is terrorised by spectres which leave any adult as a zombie. By chance Will gets The Subtle Knife which will cut anything and can create doorways between worlds. They use it to escape into the present-day Oxford of our world where they meet Mary Malone, a researcher who is investigating Dust under another name. They return to Cígazze but the local children blame them for the loss of one of their number and they are saved by the Witches who have a prophecy concerning Lyra and Will and the Subtle Knife. Lee Scoresby has teamed up with Will's father John Parry who came into Lyra's world by accident and they travel to meet Will, Lee dying in an ambush and John dying, just as he meets Will, at the hand of a witch whose love he had rejected since he was still married to Will's mother.

Mrs Coulter captures Lyra. Will teams up with Iorek Byrnison and rescues her. About four different parties get involved in the struggle to find, capture, use or kill Will and Lyra whose fates seem to be bound up with those of the worlds. The children, accompanied unwillingly by a pair of dragonfly-riding spies and occasionally a lower-order angel, travel to the Land of the Dead to find Roger. To do this they must evade all the attempts to capture or kill them. Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel are at the twisted centre of a convoluted series of alliances and betrayals, most concerning institutions of the Church. Meanwhile Mary Malone has escaped to another world where she teams up with the peaceful Mulefa who can see Dust and she creates the Amber Spyglass which enables her to do the same. Will and Lyra return to the land of the living amid war involving angels, witches, bears and humans. They free the ghosts of the dead and search for their own daemons which had had to be left behind. They find them in the world of the mulefa where the fates of the worlds are decided when the children fall in love with each other and then have to separate for ever.


General: For a while, scientists have posited the existence of something called Dark Matter: an invisible unknown substance which makes up a large percentage of the universe and which causes cosmic equations to balance. Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials takes this idea a step further, and reaches the conclusion that there is nothing truly immaterial in the universe: all beings, including the angels, are formed from this Dark Matter or Dust, which therefore ties everything together. This includes the highest angel, which men call God and who is, in Pullman's creation, a tyrant and oppressor.

The first book in this trilogy is called Northern Lights, the second is The Subtle Knife, and the third The Amber Spyglass. One set of characters inhabits all three books, with occasional additions and each book segues into the next.

The plot of the books traces the journeys of two children, Lyra and Will. Will is from our own world, Lyra from a parallel one which seems to repreent the author's conception of a modern - although Victorianesque - world in which church, state and science are entangled. There is a power struggle driven from Lyra's world which culminates in a Miltonesque battle between very human angels and men representing the Church or themselves. At the same time, and somewhat mysteriously bound up with it all, Will and Lyra trace their own path from childhood into adolescence.

Individually and as a series the books are very attractively written. The concepts of a parallel world are always enticing, as one recognises in the canal-travelling Gyptians of Lyra's world the caravan-travelling Gypsies of our own, etc. The characters, especially those outlined below, have depth and purpose although the plot is perhaps a little too all-embracing and elaborate to sustain itself. The third book was published some years after the first two and at a time when a certain other very popular children's series had produced its fourth, fuelling an appetite for bulky, attractively-packaged fantasy books for young people. Naturally enough, people who'd read the first two books wanted to read the third, and those who hadn't were drawn into the series by the appearance of the culminating part of a trilogy.

The Amber Spyglass (and by association the other two) was voted Best Children's Book of the Year and won the overall Whitbread Prize. Of over 140 reviews on at the time of writing, only a handful expressed less than overwhelming support and only two any concern about the content.

In a literary sense one can see why the series is so popular: a dramatic and broadsweeping plot; the love of two children juxtaposed with the hatred between warring adults; friendly and unfriendly angels, witches, bears, daemons and other beings; the discovery of the secret substance behind everything in all the parallel worlds; and the heartbreaking dA(Šnouement.

From the moral point of view, there is much in the books that is uplifting and praiseworthy. Friendships are a strong and important part of the series, and especially that between Lyra and Will. The fidelity of John Parry, separated for years from his wife, is exemplary. The fortitude and self-sacrifice of many of the characters is truly edifying. These are not books which run to smut or to gratuitous and glorified violence. For that reason, many people, many parents and teachers, will read them or learn about them and see nothing to worry about.

My concern with the series lies principally in the author's caricatured portrayal of the institution of the Church in Lyra's world (and his dismissal of it in ours on the lips of a former nun) plus the content of The Amber Spyglass, involving rebel angels, sentient all-pervading dust, power-mad churchmen, the land of the dead, pre-emptive absolution, and everything except a real & provident God. Ultimately, Pullman seems determined to turn the true relationship between Mankind and God on its head: rather than a loving God who is to be obeyed, Lyra and Will are taught of an evil God who is to be fought, and their arrival at adulthood makes them the new Adam and Eve whose intimate love for each other will break the bond that has tied the world to the tyrant God and will set everything right.

How much does this matter? Clearly it matters that the author has such apparent bitterness. But how much will this affect susceptible readers? Will someone carried along by the pleasure of the author's invented worlds accept or reject or be indifferent to his sideswipes at ours? My feeling is that anyone well-balanced and well-informed will be upset but not influenced by all this. But to someone whose views are being formed all the time this story will represent a wholly distorted view of things made to seem very upright by the fictional but attractive characters who support it.

Daemons: in Lyra's world everyone has a daemon in the form of an intelligent animal. This seems roughly equivalent to a soul, but Lyra says in AS that she can think about her daemon and about herself so there must be something else and Mary Malone quotes St Paul re spirit and soul and body (AS 463). Before adolescence daemons change shape at will but afterwards remain fixed in a shape which gives a good indication of the kind of person, eg a servant might have a dog; a sailor a seagull; someone wily a fox; someone timid a mouse or a rabbit. The bond between human and daemon is extremely strong. With only a few exceptions (cf witches) they can't separate by more than a short distance (NL 194) and it is completely taboo to touch someone else's daemon (NL 276), nor will one person's daemon usually talk to or touch another. (NL 146; SK 191)

Witches: somewhat recursively defined as those girls born to mothers who are witches, they live for up to a thousand years (NL 314), have bird-daemons who can fly a long distance apart from them (NL 164), and have certain powers, including that of being able to fly on any branch of cloud-broom.

Dust: this is the name in Lyra's world for what Mary Malone, our modern-day point-of-view adult, calls Dark Matter or Shadows and the Mulefa she befriends call sraf. It connects together daemons, the aletheiometer, the doors between the worlds, the spectres and just about everything else. It is described as aware particles which congregate around conscious beings, altho' only adults. In SK 259-262 Mary Malone has a conversation with it where it claims to be Angels out for vengeance against the rebel angels.

Aletheiometer: a truth-telling compass, somehow worked by Dust, usually requiring years of study and many reference books. It enables the user by holding questions in his or her mind at different levels to determine a present state of affairs anywhere. Lyra has a natural ability to work it, which the angel Xaphania attributes to grace (AS 520).

Angels: These angels are very human-like beings, with higher and lower orders, loves and hates (including one pair who talk very much like the typical depiction of male lovers), and relatively few powers besides that of flight with traditional wings and the ability to assume other forms. The Authority is taken by the Church in Lyra's world to be the Creator God but is nothing of the sort, rather simply the first angel, condensed like all the others out of dust. (AS 33) The existence or otherwise of a provident creator God is left to one side (AS 221). Some angels were men before they became angels (AS 18) and all can be wrestled by men (AS 30) since they do not have "true flesh" (AS 30).

The World of the Dead: In AS 35, Baruch says "the churches tell their believers they'll live in Heaven, but that's a lie." Then from AS 249 onwards for many chapters, Will & Lyra journey in the land of the dead, first in the Suburbs of the Dead (!) and then into the Land of the Dead while their daemons stay on the living side. They meet the daemonless ghosts of their friends and many others and eventually Will cuts a door into another world where they can leave this underworld and become "part of everything" (AS 335).

Suicides / Mercy Killings: The old bearer of the Subtle Knife poisons himself rather than be taken by the Spectres which will leave him a Zombie (SK 197). Serafina Pekkala knifes another witch who has been tortured almost to death (SK 41). Juta Kameinen, another witch, stabs herself and dies after she has killed John Parry, Will's father, who rejected her love out of fidelity to his wife (SK 338).

Sex / Love / Marriage: The earlier two books are written from the viewpoints of Will and Lyra when slightly younger while the later one turns to an extent on their entry into adolescence. In a way the whole series is tied up with the importance of adolescence: your daemon becomes fixed; you see spectres and they can trap you; dust is attracted to you more than before; and, foretold in a prophecy, the advent of Will and Lyra's adulthood is crucial to the Dust which is causing upheaval in the world. (AS 506) In a fairly commonplace way, Mrs Coulter is represented as having several lovers, in marriage and in widowhood. In particular her love with Lord Asriel gives birth to Lyra, while later we see her in a relationship with Lord Boreal whom she eventually kills. The witches (qv) do not countenance monogamy and indeed have different Gods. At first neither Will nor (a little surprisingly) Lyra have any inkling of the meanings behind phrases referring to adult relationships although they do display a certain modesty on the occasions when they undress near each other. See below for John Parry's fidelity to his wife, Will's mother. Will and Lyra, having had a child's love for each other throughout the books, ultimately experience the more intense yet still innocent sensation of adult love. This proposes to represent the love of Adam & Eve and therefore to give humanity a fresh start. While the text itself treads delicately enough ("So, wondering whether any lovers before them had made the same blissful discovery, they lay together " AS 528) the passages leading up to the one quoted are quite sensual in nature including the handling of each other's daemons (daemons always play their own visible part in sensual feelings between two humans).

Attitude to the Church: The Church in Lyra's world is a caricature combination of mediaeval scholasticism and nineteenth century science. Science is called experimental theology, church and state are pretty much the same thing, and power-hungry factions dominate the Hierarchy. At first this seems merely a literary device to give the reader the familiar-yet-unknown feel of an alternative world. However in AS, we are treated to Miltonesque angels (AS 11), an assassin priest who has been pre-emptively absolved (AS 75ff), Ecclesiastical departments with torture chambers (AS 74) and which compete against each other (AS 72), including sending armed ("Swiss Guards") contingents (AS 156) to get hold Lyra and Will whom they know from the witches' prophecies and from their Aletheiometer to be at the centre of the fates of the worlds.

God & Creation: This is mostly covered in paragraphs above, but in summary: everything comes from the Dark Matter or Dust, including the angels, of whom the first and most powerful is known as The Authority or God. It is Will & Lyra's new-found love, human love, for each other which - literally - sets this Dust on its right course, away from God's creation and towards Man's.

"There are two great powers and they've been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit. And now those two powers are lining up for battle. And each of them wants that knife."


John Henry Newman in His Time |
 edited by Philippe Lefebvre and Colin Mason | Family Publications | 2007 | 272 pages | £11. 95

ISBN: 1871217695

Reviewed by Francis Phillips |  11 October 2007
An eminent Victorian
More than a hundred years after his death, the figure of John Henry Newman continues to fascinate.

When we think of giants of the Victorian era we can muster the names of Gladstone, Disraeli, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, Matthew Arnold and Charles Dickens among others. In this roll of honour John Henry Newman should surely have a place. Although first and foremost a churchman who made a decisive contribution to theology, in particular the development of Christian doctrine, he also contributed in a more subtle way to the elevation of the moral and spiritual tone of his age.

In our own time, too, we have need of his energetic, confident and original mind, most especially in the religious/scientific debate. How Newman would have deplored the contemporary polarisation of this debate, with creationists rejecting scientific evidence as blasphemous on the one hand and neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins, dismissing religious enquiry as mere opinion on the other.

For Newman was not perturbed by The Origin of Species, published in 1859; indeed, he was open to the possibilities of natural evolution. His own two lectures on the relationship between science and religion had been published in 1858 and in them he had made it clear that both were branches of knowledge, the one knowledge of nature and the other knowledge of God. He firmly believed the latter knowledge was as intellectually legitimate as the former. He had the prescience to recognise that if these two distinct disciplines overstepped their boundaries they would stray into territory which they were not equipped to understand – just as is the case today.

This book is the first of a two-volume project and presents Newman in relation to the long era in which he lived, while the second will explore aspects of his theological writing in greater detail. As such, it is aimed at a general readership rather than a scholarly one. Newman would have rejoiced at this, not because he cared for fame for its own sake but because, unusually for his times, when lay people were perceived as subordinate within a dominant clerical culture, he recognised the pressing need for an educated, informed, confident and articulate Catholic laity.

Twelve writers have contributed chapters that discuss both the places that are associated with Newman – Oxford, Littlemore, Rome, Birmingham and Dublin - and the different facets of his richly varied and productive life. For those who know something of Newman’s place within the Oxford or Tractarian movement and his celebrated conversion in 1845 which shook the Anglican establishment to its core, but who are not familiar with the latter half of his life, it will provide an excellent introduction to a fascinating and attractive figure.

For Newman comes alive in these chapters, most especially, it seems to me, as a pastor and a poet. By pastor I mean that behind all his activities and his writings lay one overriding concern: his zeal for souls; by poet I mean not so much his actual writing of verse but the beauty, rhythm and musicality that touched his pen when he wrote in prose and which so forcibly struck his listeners when he preached.

As a young tutor at Oriel College, Oxford, Newman recognised that the tutorial office "possessed an inherent moral, spiritual and pastoral dimension". This was almost a revolutionary idea at a time when the university still allowed ‘gentlemen commoners’ – the sons of the rich and titled – to treat their colleges as worldly finishing schools. It was Newman’s gentle but determined influence, and that of his friends, such as John Keble, within the Oxford movement, that gradually brought about both the reform of the tutor/student relationship and the raising of academic standards, for which Oxford and Cambridge have been justly famous among universities.

Unusually for a cleric and distinguished academic of those times, he also took his responsibilities for his small, poor and entirely undistinguished parish of Littlemore, a village outside Oxford, with great seriousness, believing "I have the responsibility of souls on me". He visited his parish, either on horseback on in a fly, two or three times a week, despite his other onerous duties and was greatly loved by his parishioners. Years later, the parish clerk of Littlemore visited the celebrated Oratorian priest in Birmingham, to be greeted warmly with "Come in, come in and tell me about my dear people."

Leaving Littlemore in 1846 was a painful but necessary parting. Newman, a man of great sensibility, evidenced by the motto he chose as cardinal, "Heart speaks to heart", kissed the bed and mantelpiece of the place that had given him refuge and where he had been received, without pomp or ceremony, into the Church.

Why the Oratorian Order – and, a greater curiosity, why Birmingham? Newman had thought of joining other Orders but when he finally encountered the charism of St Philip Neri it was decisive: "An Oratory is a family and a home; a domestic circle", he wrote. As St Philip resided in Rome, so Newman resided in Birmingham. For Newman, the great city at the heart of the industrial revolution was where providence had placed him; some years later he was to issue a stern rebuke to Mgr George Talbot who had wanted him to come and preach in Rome: "Birmingham people have souls." Thousands responded to this loyalty by lining the streets to pay their last respects as his funeral procession passed by.

A chapter on Newman the preacher gives the reader a glimpse of the magnetic effect the man had on those privileged to listen to him. Preaching was not considered an important part of university life when Newman started out; but from the time when he instituted a 4 o’clock sermon on Sunday afternoons at St Mary’s university church in Oxford to a congregation which swelled from a few people to nearly 600 as his fame spread, to the sermons he preached later in the Oratory church and to the boys of the Oratory School in Edgbaston, all the recorded reminiscences of his listeners echo the same response.

Matthew Arnold’s description of "that spiritual apparition, gliding in the dim afternoon light" bears eloquent testimony, but there are many less well-known people who recorded similarly moving impressions of the musicality, the poetry, timbre of voice, aura and intensity of the preacher. Newman used vivid, concrete illustrations; he was steeped in Scripture and possessed acute psychological insights; above all he had the gift of seeming to address each listener personally as if he understood their inner travail.

For his times Newman’s ideas on education were highly original. In Dublin and later at the Oratory School which he founded, Newman emphasised trust, friendship, pastoral care, a close rapport between staff and parents and the need for relaxation as well as academic work. The boys referred to him affectionately as "Old Jack" and he, in turn, interested himself in every aspect of their school life, directing the Latin plays and sometimes playing second violin in the school orchestra. He believed in educating laymen, "fit for this world while it trained them for another", in contrast to the junior seminaries and to the great Anglican public schools of the period. Lord Salisbury, the Anglican prime minister, was loath to send his own sons to Eton because of the brutality of the milieu. Newman, who had enjoyed unusually happy schooldays at Ealing School, intended to create a different model of schoolboy life than that which was on offer during the period for the sons of gentlemen.

Such a brief summary cannot do justice to what this book manages to achieve: without introducing new material it brings together so much of what made Newman the exceptional person he was. His life – 1801 to 1890 – had spanned almost the whole of the 19th century, from before the Battle of Trafalgar to almost the advent of the motor car, and he had exercised a huge influence on the spiritual and serious life of the Victorian era. He was also a deeply lovable human being.

Perhaps the most moving tribute to his memory I have met with and one which shows most clearly the universality of his appeal comes from a devout, working-class family from the Oratory parish in Birmingham. The proud parents of 14 children, one of their sons was born with Down’s syndrome. What did they choose to christen him? John Henry.

Francis Phillips writes from Bucks in the UK.


A Secular Age
Charles Taylor
Harvard University Press, £25.95
Tablet bookshop price £22.40 Tel 01420 592974

20 September 2007
Reviewed by Fergus Kerr

Charles Taylor is among the half-dozen leading philosophers in the English-speaking world. Raised in Montreal, associated with McGill University for most of his career, he studied at Oxford with Isaiah Berlin and Elizabeth Anscombe, returning later as professor of social and political theory.

He ran for the Canadian federal parliament three times, famously losing in 1965 to Pierre Trudeau. Unusually for such an eminent philosopher, he is a Catholic. He was awarded the 2007 Templeton Prize (US$1.5 million) for Progress towards Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. A Secular Age emerges from the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh, which he delivered in 1999, expanded to constitute a volume of 850 pages. In Sources of the Self: the making of modern identity (1989), his previous big book, Professor Taylor argued that liberal theorists of personal identity, from Hobbes and Locke to John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, neglect the individual's ties with others in community life. Life choices come to seem entirely up to the individual, equal in value, or simply arbitrary. Taylor makes a strong case for the presence in ordinary moral life of something like Plato's idea of the Good, however little acknowledged. A person's identity is defined by the bonds that constitute the context within which one tries to determine from case to case what is good: "To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand."

A Secular Age carries the story further, into the question of the role of religion in constituting a person's identity. Since we live in a supposedly "secular" culture, the first thing is to see what that means. Accordingly, the book retells the story of "secularisation" in the modern West. It is a familiar story: "disenchantment" of the world that contained "relics and wood sprites"; withdrawal of religious belief into the individual's head at the Reformation; the advance of deism at the Enlightenment; and the disappearance of God in the course of nineteenth-century doubt and agnosticism.

Taylor, however, differs from the well-known sociological theories, to which he often alludes, in that he does not accept, as they usually do, that "the human aspiration to religion" is inevitably dying out. A "secular" society is one in which one can engage fully in politics, for example, without encountering God: a "few moments of vestigial ritual or prayer barely constitute such an encounter today". Church and State are now separate: the exceptions, in Britain and Scandinavia, are "so low-key and undemanding as not really to constitute exceptions". While he accepts that religion has gradually been expelled from the public realm, Taylor contends that there is plenty of evidence of an ineradicable desire to respond to a transcendent reality.

This contrasts, as of course Taylor is well aware, with most other societies across the globe. Nor does he have room to explore the unique case of the United States of America. Taylor wants to lay out what it takes to go on believing in God, in the absence of any equivalent to the intellectual, cultural and imaginative surroundings in which pre-modern religion was quietly embedded. This is what he calls our "social imaginary": how we collectively sense what is normal and appropriate in our dealings with one another and with the world around us. This is something deeper and more diffused than philosophical theories or thought-out positions.

There is, as he puts it, a "largely unstructured and inarticulate understanding of our whole situation, within which particular features of our world show up for us in the sense that they have". When we turn our attention to things at this level then we find traces, vestiges, anticipations, and premonitions of what may fairly be regarded as religion, at least in the sense of a yearning or reference to something "out of this world". People who have little or no explicit religious belief are moved to know of dedicated believers, such as Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII and John Paul II, so Taylor notes. His repeated references to the effects of Princess Diana's death suggest that he may give too much credence to media-generated gloss on certain personalities and events. On the other hand, the witness of holy people is a classic sign, perhaps even the only irrefutable "proof", of God's existence.

We are not necessarily as "modern" as we think we are. Taylor points to "certain moments of mass celebration which seem to take us out of the everyday". He mentions rock concerts but also "centres of pilgrimage", which "arise out of apparitions of the Virgin": listing Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje. While he inveighs against the loss of human scale in much modern urban architecture, he suggests that this perhaps motivates the "massive movement of people as tourists towards the still undamaged sites of earlier civilisations, with their temples, mosques, and cathedrals". Tourism could sometimes be an unconscious form of pilgrimage, an inarticulate longing for silence, beauty and order beyond everyday experience.

Obviously, much of the secular outlook in our society is sustained by fairly small numbers of people, in the media and academic life. Yet, as Taylor says, so many of the works that move people are connected to our religious tradition: Bach, the Missa Solemnis, Dante and Dostoevsky. He cites the account that Dom Bede Griffiths gives of a quasi-mystical experience that he had as a boy, which becomes a kind of paradigm alluded to several times later in the book. He highlights certain poets, as bearers of transcendence; Robinson Jeffers, Charles Péguy and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Our sense of life may be deepened by experience of the wild, as Hopkins reminds him ("What would the world be, once bereft/Of wet and wildness?").

Taylor writes beautifully of the birth of a child: "this sense of awe, surprise, tenderness, which moves us to much when a new human being emerges". Death is "the paramount vantage point in which life shows its meaning". Today we connect death not with the judgement to be faced by the person dying but with the end of a loving relationship, which by its nature seems to call for eternity. We have not reached the stage of putting our dead out to be collected with the garbage. Even the awkwardness and embarrassment at so many funerals raises a question, which is of course rapidly suppressed.

A heterogeneous list: in this secular age, that is to say, there are countless hints of something that transcends everyday life, however easy to deny, and difficult to accommodate within conventional religious institutions. Of course, as Taylor says, none of this can decide the issue between belief and unbelief; he is only reminding us, tactfully and optimistically, that "our modern culture is restless at the barriers of the human sphere".


The Threat to Reason
Review by Francis Phillips, 13 September 2007

The Threat to Reason: How the Enlightenment Was Hijacked and How We Can Reclaim It.
By Dan Hind. Verso (UK). 224pp.
ISBN: 1844671526

Most people, merely reading the title of this book, might conclude (not unreasonably) that it is yet another attack on religious fundamentalism. They would be wrong. Dan Hind’s achievement in this slim and spirited volume is to turn the tables on the lazy assumptions of those who put their faith in reason alone and to point out the irrational forces that fuel their beliefs. Hind, a publisher who is currently editorial director of Bodley Head, is not seeking so much to champion religious belief but to critically examine the claims of its avowed enemy, the Enlightenment.

Briefly sketching the background to the Enlightenment, Hind suggests that its supporters trustfully believe it established a blueprint for "a humane and ordered civilization". No longer were men in the power of priests or religious superstitions; they were to be governed by policies that resulted from "disinterested reason and scientific enquiry". This, the author believes, has resulted in the transfer of power to the state and the corporation which are every bit as likely to abuse it as the forces of unreason which they overthrew.

This is a brave position to hold today, in the face of the belligerent rationalists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who command a great deal of media attention. But Hind is that rare person, a stubbornly independent thinker who refuses to be blinkered by the propaganda of his own side. Like the little boy in the story of the Emperor who wore no clothes, he keeps asking the unwelcome question: is the enemy of the Enlightenment really religious fanaticism, fundamentalism and New Age mysticism or is it something much more sinister, a debased and corrupted Enlightenment that hides behind a rhetorical commitment to open debate and free enquiry?

This very question is likely to earn the scorn of those, like Polly Toynbee, an influential journalist on The Guardian, who uncritically contrasts the values of the Enlightenment with the "demented killers lining up to murder in the name of God." (This intemperate rhetoric has been pointed out recently by Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, with reference to Richard Dawkins. It is not that Dawkins challenges religious belief to give an account of itself – a proper and worthy stance in Sacks’ view – but his angry and contemptuous dismissal of every viewpoint but his own which is at fault.) Hind is wary of those who would blackmail their opponents, saying, in effect, "either you are for us, or you are against reason and progress." Citing the Scottish philosopher, David Hume, that "reason is the slave of the passions", the author states that an Enlightenment purged of the non-rational is a "chimera".

He is scathing about the "War on Terror", arguing that it has become an irrational response to an irrational threat – the "new national religion now that Communism is over". No element of the rhetoric surrounding the War on Terror can survive careful, enlightened enquiry, he concludes, making the gloomy but largely accurate point that America’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has created humanitarian disasters in both countries while ignoring the real problems of extremist violence and criminal activity in the world. I sense a somewhat anti-American bias to Hind’s argument but his point is reasonable.

Having pointed out the flaws to "the state", the author turns his attention to "the corporation". The pursuit of scientific truth is not as pure as some, who deride alternative medicines for instance, would have us believe. It is not news that the medicines people receive and the pharmaceutical companies that research and manufacture them, have a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Since the advent of new drugs to combat depression there has been a significant increase in the number of depressed people – a point also made recently by the doctor and journalist, Theodore Dalrymple. Furthermore, cancer charities – which command vast sums of money – do not pursue unprofitable lines of research, even if these may be of value. Like faith, Hind concludes, Enlightenment policies can "all too easily degenerate into a swindle".

He has a healthy disrespect for the self-conscious elitism of intellectuals, reminding the reader that Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Bernard Shaw and John Maynard Keynes all gave their support to the discredited "science" of eugenics. He also has some sympathy for those religious leaders, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who "inform and substantiate hope for peaceful progress" and approves a recent speech by Cardinal Schönborn of Austria on the co-existence of science and religion.

Where he is weak is in his suggested solutions to the ever-present problem of state and corporate misuse of power. These are too sketchy and vague. He wishes us to "become the authors of our own Enlightenment", believing that "the state and the corporation fall under our power to the extent that we are able to stand outside them". We, the public, are the only possible defenders of "enlightened progress in the long term."

But who will guard these guardians, one might ask this latter-day tribune of the people. Who will define what "enlightened progress" means? Will it include biotechnological experiments on human/animal embryos, for example? Will it endorse same-sex unions? Hind remarks that "when the Catholic Church campaigns against the use of condoms to control the spread of AIDS, we must surely resist it in the name of humanity and reasoned understanding". This sounds uncomfortably like the patronising views of those very people the author has taught us to be suspicious about. How much inhumanity has been done "in the name of humanity".

Hind’s book has merit insofar as it provides a reasoned critique of the secularist establishment. One can also sympathise with his plea that "only a world more fully understood can be transformed." Yet this beguiling statement begs for further linguistic definition. Behind his thesis lies an ancient and more haunting question: Sir Francis Bacon’s "What is truth? said jesting Pilate and did not stay for an answer."

Francis Phillips writes from Bucks in the UK.


I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You
Posted Sep. 6, 2007 || by Dr. Jeff Mirus || category Review

This is the title of the engaging memoir of Notre Dame philosopher Ralph McInerny, who is famous for just about everything, including his deep commitment to the Catholic Faith. The title comes from the book of Job, where various servants report a sequence of utter catastrophes to Job, each concluding with “I alone have escaped to tell you.”

It is a fitting title for McInerny’s autobiography (subtitled “My Life and Pastimes”) because the author really is one of relatively few academics who have survived the intellectual upheavals of the past half-century with both their Faith and reason intact, and so lived to explain clearly and honestly how things went. His concluding chapter is significantly titled “On the Banks of the Mainstream”.

Ralph McInerny is a Renaissance man. In addition to being a distinguished professor at Notre Dame for nearly his entire academic career, he has served as the director of both the Medieval Institute and the Maritain Center there. As a scholar he is known for such works as Thomas Aquinas and Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers. He was the founder of two magazines, Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and of the International Catholic University, in conjunction with EWTN.

But as an author McInerny is known for far more than his first-rate philosophical work. He has written several novels, both serious and humorous. Perhaps the most widely acclaimed is Priest, a best-seller which explores the life of a young priest assigned to teach moral theology just as the Church was hit with post-Vatican II factionalism. McInerny is also the author of the well-known Father Dowling mysteries, both books and short stories, some of which have been made into a television series. He has written many other fictional works and mysteries under various pseudonyms.

As if all this were not enough (and Ralph would definitely assert that it wasn’t), he and his wife Connie had seven children, the first of whom sadly died of illness at age three, and the rest of whom went on to graduate from Notre Dame, marry wisely and generally continue what their parents began. Connie herself died in their fiftieth year of marriage and, at age 78, Ralph has now survived his wonderful wife by five years.

At the suggestions of friends, McInerny published I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You earlier this year. It is at once a gentle, warm, poignant and telling reflection on both the life he has lived and the cultural shift he has survived, and it is well worth reading. But then so are all of his books and, amazingly, you can select from Ralph McInerny whatever suits your literary taste.

[Ralph McInerny, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life and Pastimes. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN. 2007. 167 pp. Hardback. $25 on Amazon.]


Is There a Vocation to Business?
Posted Aug. 7, 2007 1:39 PM || by Dr. Jeff Mirus || category Information

All those who think about economics, especially businessmen, wonder at one time or another about the great rules of production and exchange. Which economic systems are capable of producing prosperity? Do such systems operate according to fixed laws or are they culturally conditioned?

These questions lead to others: In what sense can or should business contribute to values which go beyond mere material wealth? Do sound business practices benefit or suffer from their exposure to sound morality? Can business contribute to overall cultural health, or is it doomed to generate a materialism and consumerism which must be checked by other forces?

To answer all these questions, John Médaille has written a most interesting book, The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace. Médaille, a successful businessman who teaches in the Business Leadership program at the University of Dallas, traces the history and development of economic theory, examines the contribution of the Catholic social encyclicals, explains and critiques the evolution of contemporary capitalism, and provides both the theoretical underpinning and concrete examples for the successful “practice of justice in the modern business world.”

Approaching this book with a fairly good understanding of the social teachings of the Church and almost no understanding of economic theory, I found the text both informative and fascinating. I think the same would be true with the opposite competence or no competence at all in the subjects covered. The author has a great gift for exposing the intersection of economic theory and human values. He demonstrates again and again the unfortunate consequences of theories which depend on the wrong values, or which deny (naively) that they depend on any values at all.

Médaille ultimately demonstrates that some form of distributism (remember Chesterton and Belloc?) is essential for the proper operation of free enterprise in such a way that it actually expands prosperity, rather than progressively constricting it to a smaller and smaller group. In fact, he argues persuasively that an initial widespread distribution of ownership is necessary for capitalism to work at all. He adduces a long history and clear economic analysis to prove that the pursuit of equity in economic affairs leads directly to economic equilibrium, which is critical for human flourishing, and so should be a preeminent goal for any culture.

Students of economics should read this book as a corrective to the false claims of many theories to be scientific, immutable, and value-free. Businessmen should read it for both a better understanding of their calling and the inspiration to make important contributions to the larger culture precisely through their business activity. Professors of economics and business may well wish to make the book required reading. In fact, anyone who wonders about production, exchange and modern economic inequities will find in this book a highly intelligent treatment of how we got where we are, and what the way forward should be.

Even in the United States, the sphere of prosperity is steadily shrinking, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and the purchasing power of most citizens is artificially sustained by borrowing heavily against the future. For these reasons alone, it is none too soon to read The Vocation of Business.

[John Médaille, The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace, Continuum, New York, 2007, 359 pp. Amazon prices are $59.85 hardback and $23.07 paperback.]


Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy    By Samuel Gregg

"The greatest poverty-reducing machine in history is the market economy." So said former Melbourne philosopher and economist Samuel Gregg, now a high-flyer with the Acton Institute, a free-market think tank in the United States, last week.

Dr Gregg, back in Melbourne on holiday, launched a new book, Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy, at the Institute of Public Affairs on Friday and got in some solid blows against both the economic teaching of Catholic bishops and the interventionist welfare state.

It seems counter-intuitive to me to consider market-theorist heroes such as Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan friends of the poor, but I am no economist. It's an unusual topic for this blog, but I want to lay before you what Gregg said.

Gregg criticised Catholic bishops - and other church leaders - as unbalanced and naive, taking a soft-left approach to economics characterised by ignorance and an over-reliance on governments. He argued that the modern welfare state has not helped the poor. All the social problems it was meant to solve are still entrenched (though we no longer send the poor to the workhouse, which is surely an improvement).

As I understand it, the theory follows the ancient proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Gregg says many Christians misunderstand government welfare. "There's a certain naivety about what happens when you extend the state. In Britain in the 19th century almost all the charitable work was done by churches. With the modern welfare state most of these charitable institutions just disappeared. But the welfare state hasn't solved all these problems. Christians bring a wholistic view to poverty; they don't see the poor just as mouths to be fed, as bureaucrats do."

He says Christians tend to conflate the market economy with secularism, which is also associated with militant atheism. That, too, is naive, he says - the most militant secularists of the 20th century were communists, and they were also some of the most materialistic societies because goods were so scarce they gave a higher value to them.

"Christian leaders are about 20 years behind contemporary thinking about economic issues,'' Gregg says. "Because there's no recognition that things have changed, their statements don't sound relevant. It's often people working in justice and peace bureaucracies who are fundamentally out of touch - bishops should not rely on lay bureaucrats to churn out this kind of stuff for them.

"What you get from bishops is a soft-left approach characterised by ignorance of basic economics - such as the relationship between supply and demand and how prices work - and a tendency to look to the state as first resort."

Gregg notes that the church thought through many issues of capitalism long before Adam Smith. Most people think capitalism began with Smith and his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations, but everything in it had been said before, much of it by Jesuits in 16th century Spain confronted with the explosion of commerce from the New World, he says.

"Merchants were asking theologians, 'can I charge interest?' 'How do I judge what's a fair price?' Capitalism began in the medieval period in northern Italy, Flanders and parts of Spain. That's when Western civilisation really took off.''

Gregg says most Christian leaders of all persuasions know little of this history. So the book is designed to teach that history and present an alternative view of economic theory, to start a conversation where the church at present is engaged in a monologue.

He suggests that there is considerable room for difference about economic theory within Christianity. Some think the best way to help the poor is a large welfare state, others argue for a minimal safety net with the rest done by civil institutions such as the church and trade unions. "When we think about morality and economic questions, we can't ignore the evidence of economic science. The greatest poverty-reducing machine in history is the market economy.''

This is uncharted territory for me. My economic understanding, you'll be amazed to learn, is not deep. I can see that capitalism and the market economy have seen off all rivals - but it seems to me that a sensible society still insists on a degree of regulation (as Australia does). Still, ignorance never got in the way of bloggers - me, or perhaps you - so here are some questions.

Is Dr Gregg right? Is a market economy the primary tool for addressing poverty, are other economic approaches better, or are there still-deeper issues that underlie the economic? And what about the churches? Vatican teaching on economics in the past century has been socially liberal, endorsing the right to trade unions for example. The churches still play a leading role in welfare, usually with some government funding. (Often this dissatisfies Christians, who think the agencies become hostage to government policy, and non-believers, who feel the churches are an anachronism who should have no role.) Is this partnership a problem? Should the churches do less - or more? Do other faiths have a better approach? What is the morality of welfare, and how does it apply? Should the old notion of the deserving poor regain some purchase or is welfare simply an obligation of a civilised society, as part of which we accept that some people will take unfair advantage? Is poverty an institutional or a personal responsibility - what do you do to help?

(Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy, edited by Philip Booth, is available in Australia from Connor Court Publishing.)
Posted by Barney Zwartz
August 6, 2007 1:41 PM

LATEST COMMENTS on the above

Here we go again, another neoliberal evangelist spreading the good news of the divine Market. Repent of your soft-left ways! Come, follow the invisible hand of the market, and ye shall be free!

I agree that the free market is important, but it has its limitations. I suggest a book by John Wright, "The Ethics of Economic Rationalism" for an explanation of why neoliberal economics may make *economic* sense, but is not supported by rigorous *ethical* analysis. And it's the ethics that Christians should be concerned about.

    * Posted by: David on August 6, 2007 2:18 PM

Absolute rubbish if you compare the proportion of people living below the poverty line in countries with minimal or non-existant welfare systems (the US) with places like Sweden or Australia the argument is ridiculous.
England during the industrial revolution was a market economy with very little government regulation or church welfare and poverty was extremely prevelant.

    * Posted by: Deebee on August 6, 2007 2:24 PM

There's nothing unusual about people of different religious views having opinions about economics or politics that range across the spectrum, although linking the two in print might be. Given the influence of the Catholic Church, not only economically but in areas of social policy across the world, its activities are certainly deserving of scrutiny. Without either endorsing or critiquing Dr Gregg's thesis, there are other religious traditions whose influence may be interpreted as contradicting their message. It has long been a source of bemusement to me that America should give rise to the most "Darwinian" of economic systems, in the midst of virulent anti-Darwinian Christian fundamentalism.

    * Posted by: Guy van Enst on August 6, 2007 3:43 PM

Barney, you shouldn't be concerned that you don't have in-depth knowledge of this stuff. Genuine bona-fide economists and economic historians disagree about the best way to handle poverty. I think that means that the rest of us have carte blanche to say whatever we like, because there is bound to be an expert who agrees with whatever perspective we take.

The issue, I think, comes down to a difference in paradigm: the big-government people believe in setting up governments to protect the weakest members of society, whereas the small-government people believe in setting up governments to champion the strong, and the weak will - by extension - have their conditions improved by a generally strong economy.

Having been to both the U.S. and Cuba and seen the extremes, my completely non-expert opinion is that neither way is perfect. In fact, I'll make the big claim that there has not been a model throughout history that has been perfect in the way it treats the weakest members of society (controversial statement...not!).

What that means is that we will continue to sling mud around and point out the imperfections of different systems. In the end, I tihnk every member of an economy needs to consider its impact on and its contribution to the weakest members. But how? And it what proportion? I'm wussing out on that. When I come up with the right answer, I'll be sure to let you know.

    * Posted by: Jo the First on August 6, 2007 4:24 PM

Barry, I know you're trying your hardest to coin 'militant atheism' as a catchphrase, and I've heard your justification for it, but I must continue to protest against it. Please: evangelical, yes, but militant? No.

Barney says: This time it's a direct quote. I'm not trying to coin it as a catchphrase if by that you mean I want others to use it. But if you've seen my justification you know I will continue to use it, and you will continue to protest, and I will continue to publish your protests. It's not that I want to offend; I just think it's accurate. And other non-believers hate the term evangelical.

    * Posted by: gus on August 6, 2007 4:29 PM

I'm in several minds about this - it is in the market's interest that some people be poor, that way they get cheap labour. On the other hand, it's also in their interest that as many people as possible are wealthy, so they will all have cash to spend.

The market place CAN be a great thing to help people out of tough times, but it can also CAUSE the tough times in the first place.

The market place - those who work in it - need to practice ethics and have morals.

    * Posted by: kim on August 6, 2007 4:41 PM

It should never be a matter of black and white. To talk of the market economy does not mean, and never did, complete unfettered exploitation. And the choice is never between assisting those in need or a complete free market. Those are naive and extremist arguments.

What we know without doubt is that there are less people in poverty now than 20 years ago. Why? Because India and China began using market mechanisms. Neither country has a welfare system, both countries have a huge percentage of their population who will try and work their way out of poverty if there is a chance they can. Decades of government intervention did nothing, a market where people are free to work and trade (subject to all the usual restrictions that keep people happy) has worked wonders. Is there still poverty there? Well, duh yes. But in the last 10 years alone the middle class in China has exploded from 20 million to over 200 million people. Many (most?) of these were once poor.

I have spent a lot of time working in places like India, China and Russia. It is easy to find bad news stories, but the changes of the last 20 years in these 3 countries are mind bogglingly positive when comparing "then and now". (Strangely, journalists from The Age seem unable to find these good news stories, or maybe the readers don't want them?)

Teach a person to fish and they feed themselves is a beautiful message, and it has worked for centuries. Governments have not helped the poor as much as they claim they have this last century, and Australia's poor have benefited from freeing up our markets more and more.

When government money is used it is subject to lots of important and necessary restraints to ensure accountability by the public. When churches intervene, they do so with money given to it by people who know, accept and trust the judgments of those churches, thus removing a huge level of accounting and checking. This money goes to the people who need it. Government intervention is tested and so widespread as to be diluted and often wasted. Churches can act faster and with more precision, again a useful way to increase the actual money going to those in need.

There is nothing funnier than a politician promising $x million dollars for some noble cause without ever giving the precise amount that gets to those in need. The amount spent spending that money is obscenely larger than that spent by a church. This is another layer of costs that remove money from those to whom it was intended. Politicians, and those groups benefiting from a sloppy government bucket will of course always argue this point, but the truth remains that when 20% to 40% of money allocated to the poor gets spent in spending the money, the poor can hardly be said to have benefited.

I have not read Dr Gregg's book, but I certainly believe that the least it could do is trigger some debate as to the best way we should spend this money. That can't hurt, even though the initial reactions might be to pour scorn on the market. That is a reflexive response borne out of years of ideology. The church and the market can work together better, more efficiently, more honestly and more productively than any government can. Let's hear from Dr Gregg.

Barney says: I don't think you are quite fair about The Age. Certainly we have reported China's economic advances, in many ways and in many different parts of the paper. Re teach a man to fish, I have been hugely impressed by microcredit organisations like Opportunity International, which have led to vast improvements in the lives of many Third World poor.

    * Posted by: Rick Blain on August 6, 2007 4:44 PM

And while I'm no fan of religion, when the churches were more powerful, people (as far as I can see) had a much stronger sense of community and belonging and were rarely isolated from the lives of others. They supported each other.
(Or were all poor and/or homeless together, as it were)

What does the market promote now? Nothing like this - it's all just spend, spend, spend, bugger everyone else, be an individual and heaven help you if you fail, 'cos everyone else is ignoring you as much as you are ignoring them.

    * Posted by: kim on August 6, 2007 4:48 PM

There's a documentary called "Free to Choose" which will enlighten you on this subject greatly. Author, I challenge you to watch this and not be convinced that the free market is indeed, the finest tool for elimination of poverty ever created (so far).

    * Posted by: 100% Capitalist on August 6, 2007 4:49 PM

I think the problem with this approach is that it assumes the existence of a "level playing field", with all economic "players" being able to participate in the market to an equal extent. If such a thing existed, perhaps it really would be a force to address poverty. Unfortunately, the real world is vastly different and those who are in poverty are likely to NEVER have the opportunity to participate in the so-called "free" market or see any of its benefits. It is also worth looking at how the major economic players accumulated such vast amounts of capital to begin with. More often than not it was through some degree of exploitation of other less economically advantaged people and of the planet's natural resources. Exploitation is surely the antithesis of the Christian concept of charity.

The economic approaches that appear to have some lasting benefits to the poor are those take economic control out of the hands of large corporations and bring it back to the community. My knowledge of this is limited, but I'm thinking of some of the "micro-credit" schemes that have been set up in India.

I don't think there is such a thing as "undeserving" poor. All people should have the opportunity to develop their full potential. Having said that, I don't think purely material aid is necessarily beneficial in the long-term, although it may be absolutely necessary in the short term. Long-term skills-sharing community development projects that aim for community and individual self-determination will have the greatest impact on poverty.

Barney says: I have read, and it's probably true, that the protection the US gives its farmers is more than than the aid it gives to the Third World. In this case, the best thing it could do would be to allow the market to work properly, which would benefit Africans, for example, enormously. I for one feared the consequences when Australia ended tariff protection for textiles, but it seems to have been a huge success. Undeserving poor? It's a fact we just have to accept that there will always be some who are willing and able to rort the system, or not try to work. I'm willing to accept that to keep protecting those who really need the help. I hope the rorters get caught, but I suspect there's vastly fewer of them than the Federal Government has been known to suggest.

    * Posted by: Rebecca D on August 6, 2007 4:51 PM


THAILAND     Catholics Mark Release Of Book On Christian History In The Kingdom

NAKHON PATHOM, Thailand (UCAN) -- Thailand's Catholic Book Fair 2007 has celebrated the publication of the first full-length Thai-language book on the history of Christianity in the Thai kingdom.

During the fair, the Theology Institute of Saengtham College and Thailand's 10 largest Catholic publishers conducted a seminar on Christianity's history in Thailand and also used the occasion to release the new book.

A History of Christian Proclamation in Siam and Laos, the 725-page volume published by Assumption Printing Press in Bangkok, is a translation of a book in French by Father Robert Costet of the Paris Foreign Mission Society.

The book launch was on July 19 at Saengtham College, also known as Lux Mundi (Light of the World) National Seminary in Samphran, west of Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom province. Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima, director of the Center for Cultural and Religious Research at Saengtham, presided.

Among the 500 priests, nuns and Catholic laypeople present were Saengtham students and special guests from Bangkok Christian College, as well as a few Buddhists. The launch was part of Thailand's annual Catholic Book Fair, which this year featured 10 booths selling Catholic books.

Father Wircach Narinrak, the organizer, told the attendees that the seminar was a celebration because more than 400 years of "Christian proclamation in Thailand" finally was recorded in the book Father Costet wrote. "It was very hard to collect most of this evidence," he said, and the effort was "a very good occasion to educate people on the history" of the Christian community.

The first of the two-part seminar presented an overview of Christian history in Thailand by Father Peter Theeraphol Koobwitayakul and Oblate Father Bruno Arens, a Belgian missioner, both of them Church history experts.

Father Theeraphol, a Church history instructor at Saengtham, sketched how the faith was introduced to the Buddhist-majority region from the first documented date, 1567, when the first Dominican missioners reportedly arrived.

Father Arens, pastor of St. Raphael Church (Thabom) in Loei province, noted that Christianity in Thailand is an important subject that should interest all Thais. When one reads about the history of mission in Thailand, he explained, "we only hear about the foreigners," but the first and most important figures were many Thais who played more important roles.

"We must remember," he emphasized, "that the history of Christians in Thailand belongs to Christians in Thailand, not the Church or Westerners."

One presenter in the seminar's second session, which introduced the book, was Father Vorayuth Kitbumrung of Bangkok archdiocese's social communications department. He is in charge of printing Catholic publications.

Orasa Chaowchin, who translated the book from French, spoke about her two-year effort. Despite the difficulties involved, she said, she was happy to have had the opportunity to do the translation.

The speakers said the book covers more than 400 years of Christianity in Thailand and adjacent Laos, a common mission territory. They stressed the hardships and the good work of foreign missioners who served the local people.

Today, about 95 percent of Thailand's 64 million people are Buddhists, 3.8 percent are Muslims, and 0.5 percent are Christians.

Wasan Wasinprasert, a 22-year-old Saengtham student, told UCA News the seminar helped him understand more of the history of Christianity in Thailand. He said he had learned that "since Christianity's first days here, there have been many difficulties, but Christianity's strength is in its faith."

Fellow student Kamonwan Suwanprasert, 19, said he came "to understand more about Thai Church history and see many good books," especially the new one.

Author Wikit Suksamran, 55, said he decided to take part "because I wanted to learn about possibilities to develop Catholic books in Thailand."

Wikit noted that 10 Catholic printing presses now produce many good books, a situation vastly different from the past. "These days, we apply many new technologies in pastoral work, but we have very few books about the history of Christianity in Thailand," he said.


(Accompanying photos available with the UCAN Photo Service. Use story code TH02995.1455 or a person's name to search for related photos.)


Young Stalin
 By Simon Sebag Montefiore
 Weidenfeld &Nicolson | London | 2007 | £25 | 496 pages  ISBN: 0297850687

Francis Phillips | 20 June 2007
Mystery of malignity
A brilliant exploration of one of the great monsters of history.

Simon Sebag Montefiore has already distinguished himself as a Russian scholar with his biography of Prince Potemkin and his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, a study of the years of power following the Russian Revolution. This book, a “prequel” to the earlier one, traces the childhood, youth and early manhood of the dictator until the Revolution began in October 1917. It bears the hallmarks of the author’s style; written with gusto and reading like a novel, its narrative pace is underpinned by a massive amount of local research in several countries, which includes an interview with his “most exciting witness”, Mariam Svanidze, aged 109, a relative of Stalin’s first wife who “still remembers her death in 1907.” The post-Communist atmosphere of glasnost has meant that a great deal of new material has been made available from the famously secretive Soviet archives. Sebag Montefiore deploys these findings very effectively, so that Stalin is indeed seen afresh. This does not, obviously, call for an historical reappraisal of the man who dominated Russia for over 30 years so much as a more intense reflection on the significance of early formation.

The author asks: “What missing empathy in Stalin’s upbringing allowed him to kill so easily?” Lacking a theology of good and evil, he does not answer this question – but it is one, nonetheless, that we all ask when confronted by those men of malign stature, such as Hitler, Chairman Mao – and Stalin, the “man of steel.” This was a bleakly accurate adoptive name, as the book demonstrates, for there appear to have been no soft, more human elements in his personality. Even his supposed grief at the early deaths of his two wives (brought about by his neglect and ill-treatment of them) seems largely compounded of moroseness that death interfered with his plans, rather than sorrow or remorse.

While the broad outlines of Stalin’s early life (he was born in Gori, Georgia, in 1878 and christened Josef Djugashvili) are known, the author provides the reader with a compelling, detailed portrait of the “gangster, godfather, audacious bank robber, killer, pirate and arsonist” that were Stalin’s chosen activities in his young adult life. His father was a cobbler and a drunk, who beat him and deserted his family; his mother, who believed in her gifted, undisciplined only surviving child, was herself a harsh disciplinarian and as tough as the boots that her husband crafted. Although her son wrote to her dutifully until her death in 1937 during the Great Terror, he kept his distance from her and did not attend her funeral. A school friend later wrote that “it was through his father that [Stalin] learned to hate people”, but this is too simplistic. Whatever the mysterious fashion in which his character was formed, aged ten there was something “unchildish” about him, an exceptional capacity to mask his feelings, command loyalty and challenge authority. Although he was the best scholar in school, he led a Jekyll and Hyde existence, singing in the choir, then organising street fights and gangs.

In 1893 Stalin passed the exams to Tiflis seminary. He had no vocation --  at the age of 13 he had read The Origin of Species and lost whatever belief in God he might have had -- but as with other poor but clever men such as Talleyrand, the Church was the means of education and advancement. Sebag Montefiore conjures up a picture of a brutal, repressive seminary regime, not unlike a Victorian public school. Ironically, the seminary had the “singular achievement of supplying the Russian Revolution with some of its most ruthless radicals… no secular school produced as many atheists as the Tiflis seminary.” Although at first he excelled academically, the young Djugashvili started to read forbidden books such as novels and revolutionary literature. He gradually became rebellious, rude, irreverent and disobedient and to his mother’s distress – she had sacrificed herself to send him there – he was expelled in 1899, aged 21. According to the author, seminary life taught the future dictator the importance of “surveillance, spying, invasion of the inner life…”

From now on, Stalin’s course was set: that of a professional revolutionary. He read Lenin and entered the murky netherworld of “Konspiratsia” where all his formidable energies were dedicated to the overthrow of established order through bombings, arson, strikes and terror. Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, which is set in London,gives some idea of the mindset of those gripped by a fanatical ideology. In Tsarist Russia, so different from the bourgeois stability of Edwardian England, it took a more violently effective form. Stalin, his biographer says, was turning into a “devout Marxist of semi-Islamic fervour”.

In 1905 he first met Lenin, his intellectual mentor and evil genius. It was the year of abortive revolution in which for the first time he commanded men and tasted power. His Georgian methods of terror and gangsterism were slowly enjoying a wider application, in which the “command, harnessing and provocation of turmoil were his gifts”. By 1907 he was cultivating a persona of many disguises and aliases: 36 nicknames and by-lines are listed in the book before “Stalin” was settled on in 1913, evidence of an obsessive need for secrecy and altered identity. “The Loper” and “The Man in Grey” perhaps characterise him best, a lone grey wolf, detached from the pack, pursuing his own, ruthless agenda and making use of others only as they served his own, pathologically suspicious purpose. He never forgot and he never forgave.

There were several episodes of imprisonment and exile during those years. As Sebag Montefiore points out, exile under the Tsars was “more like a dull reading holiday than the living hell of Stalin’s murderous Gulags”. Stalin spent these periods of enforced political inactivity in affairs – including the seduction of a 13-year-old – reading, plotting with and against other political exiles, and hunting. His biographer suggests that he brought “the self-reliance, vigilance, frigidity and solitude of the Siberian hunter to the Kremlin.” Perhaps it would be truer to say that he brought these qualities, honed in his Georgian youth, to his experience of exile where they became reflexive aspects of his anti-social personality.

It is often noted of tyrants, that the peculiar circumstances of their times fatefully interweaves with their psychopathic traits in bringing them to power over ordinary lives. The prelude to the Russian Revolution allowed Stalin to lead an abnormal life; in a “normal” life, as the author comments, “his peculiarities would have been intolerable.” The book shows, more comprehensively than any thesis, how little Communism had to do with any real concern for the poor or a wish to improve their lives. Lenin and Trotsky, the other members of the “troika”, enter these pages as fellow zealots, pursuing power at any cost; although from different backgrounds – Lenin was from the minor gentry and Trotsky a freethinking Jew – they were united with Stalin in hatred of their fellow men. Lenin approved of firing squads, Stalin thought concentration camps an “excellent idea” and Trotsky was contemptuous of “the sanctity of human life”. Like John Reed’s classic account of the Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, the author’s recreation of the days, indeed the hours, leading to the Bolshevik overthrow of the government, are utterly absorbing, showing how the lives of millions of people for decades to come hung in the balance as these thugs and scoundrels plotted through the night in foetid, smoke-filled rooms.

The book is divided into five parts, each of which is preceded by a poem written by Stalin during his Georgian period. These are of significance because of their authorship; but they also show intrinsic merit. Despite the problems of poetic translation, they reveal a passionate, yearning side to Stalin that he chose not to display elsewhere in his career: “…Then I too, find the mist of sadness / breaks and lifts and instantly recedes / and hopes for the good life / unfold in my unhappy heart!” They provide the reader with a glimpse of the magnetism – not simply fear – which won Stalin the devotion of his amoral and unprincipled associates and of the ignorant masses. Molotov, when he first met him, commented that “he possesses internal revolutionary beauty”, the perverse “beauty” – not unlike St Just during the French Revolution – of one who has dedicated all his gifts to one supreme and terrible end. A Stalinist friend, on hearing what I was reading, commented to me that he enjoyed reading Sebag Montefiore’s “historical fiction”. But this fine book is not fiction; it has the ineluctable ring of truth about it, in its searching and brilliant portrayal of this man of most unhappy heart.

Francis Phillips writes from Bucks in the UK.


Edith Stein’s intellectual pilgrimage
A distinguished philosopher unravels the thought of one of the 20th century's great women.
Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-1922 | By Alasdair MacIntyre | Rowman & Littlefield | 2005 | 208 pages
ISBN: 074254995X

In her novel To The Lighthouse Virginia Woolf employs a beguilingly simple simile to describe the mind of the philosopher, Mr Ramsay. She writes: "If thought…like the alphabet is ranged in 26 letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q… Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q." By this reckoning I think I have probably reached the letter B. Thus, even though Alasdair MacIntyre, currently senior research professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, says he is addressing the "educated common reader", I will prescind from discussing the technical philosophic points he raises in this excellent introduction to Edith Stein’s intellectual development before her conversion.

Unlike most academic philosophers and in marked contrast to her contemporary, Martin Heidegger, Stein did not separate her philosophy from her life. In 1913, having rejected her Jewish faith, she went to Gottingen University to study under Husserl, along with a group of other young, gifted philosophers such as Adolf Reinach, who became a close friend. Husserl’s phenomenological standpoint saw philosophy as a cooperative project rather than a matter for solitary effort or the dominance of a great name. This resonated with Stein; it was a period of potent intellectual fellowship for her, only interrupted by the War, in which she volunteered as a nurse in a Red Cross hospital. Her relationships with her patients, with whom she could often only communicate in a non-verbal way, deeply influenced her doctoral thesis: to identify the essential characteristics of empathetic awareness, awareness of the thoughts and feelings of others. It was accepted summa cum laude in 1916 and Stein became Husserl’s assistant.

Not the least of the strengths of this short book is MacIntyre’s discussion of the nature of conversion. To put Stein’s conversion into perspective (she was received into the Catholic Church in 1922) he analyses the conversions of three of her contemporaries, all sons of Jewish families: Reinach, who died in the War and whose widow, Anna’s, capacity to console her friends made a lasting impression on Stein – "the power of the Cross" – became a Christian; Franz Rosenzweig chose to revert to Judaism; Georg Lucacks turned to Bolshevism. The author also refutes the commonly held notion that to move from unbelief to belief is irrational; the "leap of faith" does not mean taking leave of reason but transcending it. The story of the impact of the autobiography of Teresa of Avila on Stein is widely known. Macintyre identifies and analyses the four features of this work that she would have understood; the life of prayer, the obstacles arising from strong human attachments, Teresa’s rejection of a false spirituality and her awareness of the possibilities of delusion and illusion.

As a very distinguished philosopher and fellow convert to Catholicism, MacIntyre is uniquely placed to examine the thinking of this extraordinary woman who moved from unbelief to a Carmelite convent and eventually perished in Auschwitz because she was Jewish. Pope John Paul II canonised her as St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. His lucid, careful study places Edith Stein within the context of the German philosophic world she inhabited, as well as showing how Husserl’s thought was itself a radical departure from the sterile, arid school of 19th century neo-Kantianism. The author concludes: "Stein needed to go beyond phenomenology. It was a providential accident that she encountered the thought of Aquinas when she did and so became able to open up just those questions that needed to be asked about the relationship of Thomistic philosophy to phenomenology. And here it is Stein’s questions that I am praising rather than her answers." I warmly recommend it to those educated common readers who have reached the letter E.

Francis Phillips | Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Francis Phillips writes from Bucks in the UK.