Painting of books

Rocks of Ages, by Stephen Jay Gould

We could avoid all sorts of nasty fights, Stephen Jay Gould argues, if we would stop expecting science to provide validating evidence for religious dogmas or biblical events. Nor ought we to turn to religion to resolve questions of a properly scientific nature. He wants no more natural theology, no more "anthropic principle," no more attempts to find scientific confirmation for religious beliefs, and no more fundamentalist "creation science." In short, "science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven."
June 1, 1999

Extravagant Affections, by Susan A. Ross

A priest poses the question to a group of children: "How many sacraments are there?" Without missing a beat a little girl responds: "Seven for boys, and six for girls." The math may differ for different communions, with fewer sacraments distributed more equitably among the genders, but Susan A. Ross of Loyola University raises questions that no sacramental tradition can ignore. She posits a principle all traditions could embrace: all of life is potentially revelatory of the divine. Then Ross surveys all facets of her question: how can one construct a sacramental theology that takes the bodies of men and women as seriously as it takes the body of Christ?
June 1, 1999

Mysterious beginnings

What kind of book is Herman Melville's Moby Dick? Is it a book about whaling? In some ways it is—full of empirical information on the subject. Is it a novel about the perennial mystery of evil and its impact on the human spirit? It is that too.
June 1, 1999

Beyond inertia

I am busy these days, so I'd just like to be able to sit down, write a straightforward review of David Ford's book, and be done with it. But I can't. This book has already begun to interfere with my life. It may even end up costing me real money. That check for the Kosovo relief effort I am now writing in my mind keeps getting outrageously larger. I worry that I might actually put it in the mail.
May 18, 1999

What would Jesus do?

Some of my students wear bracelets bearing the legend "WWJD"—What Would Jesus Do? Sometimes in the midst of a discussion about some hard issue, I ask a student sporting such a bracelet to apply that question to the problem. The replies range from embarrassed silence and empty platitudes to wonderfully astute observations. The astute replies are usually based on the story or stories of Jesus, and exercise what William Spohn calls "the analogical imagination." 
May 18, 1999

Disciplines of listening

Barbara Brown Taylor's concise, pithy and challenging prose is evidence that she is practicing what she preaches: that Christian pastors take more care with the words they use and treat language with economy, courtesy and reverence.
May 18, 1999

Disasters and deformities

Several years have passed since I last encountered a book by Annie Dillard, but her images remain as strong in the memory as Proust's madeleine. Her gaze concentrates on the ordinary until it is transformed into the transcendent: a tree so intensely colored that it gives off light; a sky's invisible clouds revealed only in reflected images on the surface of a glassy lake; a bowl of pond water where one-celled creatures are visible to the naked eye.
May 18, 1999

Animal rights, human claims

Are vegetarians trying to save animals or are they trying to save themselves? Is vegetarianism about changing the world or escaping from it? These are questions the acclaimed novelist and critic J. M. Coetzee raises in a wonderfully inventive and inconclusive book.
May 18, 1999

Civic mission on campus

Beginning in the 17th century and extending through the 19th, establishing colleges was a primary Protestant strategy. Even groups like the Methodists and Baptists, which initially downplayed the importance of higher education, soon joined the founding frenzy.
May 18, 1999