The United States and the Catholic Church share some intriguing similarities: both are global in reach, exert significant influence over hundreds of millions of people, and (perhaps most interestingly) make serious teleological claims. Such claims have not necessarily clashed, for they appeal to different social and moral aspects of humanity. At their best, they can be complementary empires of promise.
Nothing outrages students in Jonathan Sheehan’s course on the history of Christianity at the University of California at Berkeley more than the writings of John Calvin. What kind of God is it who would predetermine the ultimate destiny of all humans before the creation of the world? students wonder. Reading Calvin, he says, helps students see the power of an argument and consider the consequences of their own beliefs and commitments. Sheehan wants students to wrestle with Calvin with “integrity, reason, creativity, and charity . . . intellectual virtues that we need in our modern world” (New York Times, September 12).