Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 84 (June/July 1998): 57-60.
Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest. By Adrian Desmond. Addison-Wesley. 848 pp. $37.50.
Thomas Henry Huxley more than earned his reputation as "Darwin’s Bulldog," yet surprisingly he never fully accepted Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He was not convinced that Darwin’s innovative mechanism had been confirmed empirically; he felt that Darwin’s gradualist approach was a mistake; and he revolted against the implications of evolution for ethics. (He insisted that human society is from but not of the animal world, with its competition and cruelty.) Given such reservations, what made this pugnacious science popularizer such a gadfly for Darwinism? The answer is that he embraced its underlying philosophy of evolutionary naturalism as politically useful. Huxley originated the myth of a "war" between science and religion, but in reality the war he waged was against the privileges of the aristocracy and the English state church. He used naturalistic science as a battering ram to assault the genteel Anglicanism of the seminaries and universities. Yet Huxley realized that the only way to oust one religion is to replace it with another. And so, while claiming the banner of objectivity and open inquiry, he became adept at using biblical phraseology to form a new orthodoxy. He referred to his lectures as "Lay Sermons," in which he damned his "idolatrous age" for ignoring "the living God thundering from the Sinai of science . . . to worship the golden calf of tradition." He called for a "New Reformation" that would ordain scientists as the elite priesthood of a new religion, leading his contemporaries to dub him "the Apostle Paul of the new teaching" and even "Pope Huxley." The inescapable conclusion from this colorful biography is that, from the beginning, Darwinism has been championed less for its scientific merits than for its usefulness in overthrowing religion and establishing a naturalistic ideology.
— Nancy R. Pearcey
Happy Alchemy: On the Pleasures of Music and Theater. By Robertson Davies. Edited by Jennifer Surridge and Brenda Davies. Viking. 284 pp. $29.95.
Some Robertson Davies enthusiasts may pick up this collection a little hesitantly, perhaps wishing that there were more of the late great Canadian’s novels to read instead. But in fact we find ourselves savoring precisely the same passionate interests and curiosities we know already from his fiction, here in the concise and equally lively form of his talks, addresses, and reviews. As with the previous posthumous anthology, The Merry Heart (1996), Davies’ shorter pieces are the expression of a life that was essentially religious. Indeed, in one of the book’s thirty-three selections ("How to Write a Book") Davies says that to live religiously necessitates being "attentive," "careful," and able "to look at life through eyes that are as clear as one can make them"; the very opposite, in other words, of living "neglectfully." Novels became Davies’ metier only after success eluded him as a dramatist; in its focus on the theater Happy Alchemy is a return to his first love. Readers who do not know the theater especially well should not be deterred: each selection is richly introduced and illumined by comments from the editors (Davies’ wife and daughter) as well as by entries from Davies’ own diary. The passion he devoted to his themes and to engaging his varied audiences never fails him or the reader.
— David Stewart
Parochial and Plain Sermons. By John Henry Newman. Ignatius. 1,763 pp. $59.95.
All eight volumes and all 191 sermons brought together in a book handsome in its printing and binding. As for the quality of these sermons, any comment would be superfluous. Chalk this up as another distinct service rendered by that remarkable outfit, Ignatius Press.
The Virtue of Civility. By Edward Shils. Liberty Fund. 395 pp. $16 cloth, $8 paper.
Selected essays on liberalism, tradition, and civil society by one of the more humane social thinkers of this American century. Shils, who died in 1995, understood that civility is not simple niceness but a virtue difficult to cultivate at any time and especially under the conditions of modernity. These frequently elegant essays lift up an older liberalism that is today often viewed as conservative or neoconservative. Shils makes a persuasive case for calling liberalism by its right name, which, contra the collectivists, is not a position of the right.
Newman and Conversion. Edited by Ian Ker. University of Notre Dame Press. 153 pp. $18 paper.
Issuing from a 1995 conference at Oriel College, Oxford, marking the 150th anniversary of Newman’s conversion, the book contains frequently sparkling essays by, inter alia, Sheridan Gilley, Avery Dulles, John Macquarrie, and editor Ker. Required reading for Newman buffs.
Memoir on Pauperism. By Alexis de Tocqueville. Ivan R. Dee. 84 pp. $6.95 paper.
A little-known essay by Tocqueville after he visited England and tried to figure out why the most affluent society in Europe had the most paupers, while many impoverished societies apparently had none at all. The problem, he contends, is with England’s policy of public charity as a legal right. In her introduction, Gertrude Himmelfarb makes the connections with contemporary debates about poverty and welfare.
Islam: A Very Short Introduction. By Mallise Ruthven. Oxford University Press. 162 pp. $7.95 paper.
An admirable idea of Oxford’s, these short introductions to huge subjects. The present work covers very nicely, within the limits of its imposed brevity, the beliefs, history, and current state of Islam. Although he thinks more blood is likely to be spilled along the way, the author is a modern optimist in thinking that Muslims will, more or less inevitably, adapt their religion to the peaceful constraints by which the rest of us—meaning those of us who are in charge of the world—abide. It is a much more sanguine and less sanguinary view than that proposed by Samuel Huntington’s "clash of civilizations," and one may hope that Mr. Ruthven is right.
Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. Edited by Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport. University of California Press. 479 pp. $19.95 paper.
Twenty-five essays covering the wide and dramatic variations of Christian faith and life in South Africa up through the years of apartheid. The book is a welcome antidote to the exclusively political, economic, and ideological ways of telling the story of South Africa. In the past and still today, the forces driving that conflicted and hopeful land cannot be understood apart from the powerful, if often strange, Christian convictions of its peoples. Warmly recommended.
A Moral Vision for America. By Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Edited by John P. Langan. Georgetown University Press. 168 pp. $17.95 paper.
The late Cardinal Bernardin had an inestimable influence in shaping the public witness of the U.S. bishops conference, and this book brings together fifteen of his notable interventions from the 1980s until his death in 1996. Although dealing also with questions such as economics and foreign policy, the addresses focus on the "consistent ethic of life" theme that he first set forth in 1983. The book concludes with his reflection on the "Common Ground Project" that he initiated shortly before his death. In the circumstance of American Catholicism, those on the left celebrated Bernardin as the beard who provided ecclesiastical cover and made more palatable their purposes. Whether that does justice to what Bernardin thought he was doing is another matter. The addresses in this book are marked by intelligence, civility, and a manifestly sincere belief that he was advancing authentic Catholic teaching. They will be chiefly of interest as an important marker in the internal politics of the Church in the U.S.
The East German Church and the End of Communism. By John Burgess. Oxford University Press. 185 pp. $39.95.
Working from first-hand sources in East Germany, Burgess describes the heady days when the (mainly) Protestant church provided an opening for resistance to the Communist regime, leading to the liberation of 1989. He notes that the subsequent years have brought disillusionment and deep uncertainty, but ends on the note that Christians once so inspired by the teachings of such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer will surely play a constructive role when the former East Germany finds its future.
The Politician’s Guide to Assisted Suicide, Cloning, and Other Current Controversies. By George J. Marlin. Morley Books (Washington, D.C.). 230 pp. $12.95 paper.
The first fifty pages of this persuasive book from a new press connected with Crisis magazine provide a straightforward and accessible exposition of natural law, laying the foundation for the treatments of sundry controversies that follow. In a relatively short space the author packs an impressive range of authoritative sources and quotations of argumentative force. He asserts effectively his view that capital punishment is required by retributive justice, but he does not engage alternative arguments, such as that of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Nonetheless, this is a sophisticated primer for politicians who are open to thinking about their calling with moral seriousness.
The (Magic) Kingdom of God: Christianity and Global Culture Industries. By Michael Budde. Westview. 168 pp. $35.
A professor of political science at DePaul University protests the media and entertainment industries that hold our world in thrall. Salvation from Disney and its demonic company lies in the formation of small countercultural communities of radical discipleship. A familiar analysis and prescription offered from a Catholic perspective.
The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History. Edited by Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley. Michael Glazier/Liturgical Press. 1,567 pp. $79.95.
A big wonderful jumble of a book, with entries ranging from the masterful to the risible. Yet it undoubtedly fills a void with its thousands of entries on personalities, movements, and controversies that have shaped the Catholic Church in the U.S. On Catholic publications, for instance, Commonweal gets a deservedly appreciative notice, while the editors of the Wanderer and the National Catholic Reporter, at polar ends of Catholic quarrels, get to do the entries on their own publications. Mr. Matt of the Wanderer assures us that the paper has rendered an invaluable service and the condition of the Church is looking up, while Mr. Fox of the Reporter informs us that John Paul II has "resisted the Church’s renewal agenda," while his paper has often been "an isolated voice" in defending it. Monsignor Martin Hellriegel is celebrated as a pioneer of the liturgical renewal endorsed by Vatican II, but there is no mention of his vigorous criticism of the directions that renewal took after the Council. Perhaps in order to include more women, figures such as the artist Corita Kent and the agitprop journalist Penny Lernoux receive attention far beyond their influence. The entry on Humanae Vitae tells us that the self-styled orthodox have made it a "litmus test," when everybody knows that, for better and for worse, it is undeniably that. And there are no entries at all for sometimes controversial groups such as Cursillio, Opus Dei, and Focolare. On the other hand, there are numerous articles comparable to Joseph Komonchak’s admirably balanced and informative treatment of John Courtney Murray. So is it a must addition to any serious Catholic library? Not quite, but it is a welcome addition, to be used with care.
Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Edited by Gerald H. Anderson. Macmillan. 845 pp. $100.
A very impressive achievement indeed, the result of years of devoted work by the editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. The thousands of entries, which are thoroughly ecumenical and international, make clear that the history of missions is virtually the history of Christianity, an incorrigibly missionary faith. A must for seminary and religious studies libraries, and well worth considering for your local church.