FAITH Magazine July-August 2007
Wonder and Wisdom: Conversations in Science, Spirituality and Theology by Celia Deane-Drummond,
DLT, 191pp, £12.95
The current dialogue between religion and science seems to be dominated by the intelligent design (ID) controversy. Although most mainstream scientists see it as Creationism by any other name, it is entirely possible that ID will soon find its way into school curricula. Schoenborn’s famous New York Times article on the subject only served to intensify a debate that already occupied countless inches of column space; even Faith magazine has not been immune. How refreshing, then, to read a book that makes an original contribution to the religion/science debate. The result of a sabbatical grant from the Templeton Foundation to Celia Deane- Drummond, Professor of Theology and Biological Sciences at Chester University, Wonder and Wisdom takes several steps back from the rather narrow philosophyof ID to examine the relationship between these two ancient concepts. A major issue in the religion/science debate is that few commentators can boast formal training in both disciplines. Deane-Drummond, however, can do just that, and is thus ideally positioned to author such a commentary.
As an algae biologist I was initially struck by the cover graphic: a stained glass window made of diatoms, the tiny planktonic creatures whose exquisite outer shells are visible only through the electron microscope. There are few better examples of how man’s technology has revealed the wonders of the hidden world. Wonder is perhaps the easier of the two concepts to define, but the less enduring. Medieval writers saw a clear dichotomy of wonder as a humbling realisation of ignorance in the face of God’s creation and curiosity as a rather more negative and aimless desire to uncover the secrets of nature. The development of the experimental method during the Enlightenment era meant that curiosity became associated with specific scientific endeavours, justified as seeking knowledge for itsown sake. Wonder, on the other hand, slowly became ‘the ruling passion of the vulgar mob, rather than that of the philosophical elite’.
In defining the complex notion of wisdom, Deane-Drummond introduces the concept of wisdom as an understanding of different facets of reality, a contemplative ‘way of knowing’ lost by modern science with its focus on specific discoveries. The concept of natural wisdom – order, complexity and fecundity of the natural world as a reflection of the wisdom of God – has been pondered by theologians since the dawn of Christianity. Contemporary concepts such as convergent evolution also point towards wisdom in nature. Convergent evolution, a concept expounded by Simon Conway- Morris in these pages last year, is the observation that highly similar traits have evolved independently in unrelated lineages. Convergent evolution cannot by definition be explained by genetic heritage, but is a result ofthe response of evolution to common and unifying physical laws.
Since the early 20th century, sociologists have sometimes tried to explain human behaviour in terms of Darwinian theory. However, such an approach does not adequately take into account human wisdom: although one may argue that an individual of superior wisdom may engender respect and thus attain reproductive success, says Deane- Drummond, the fact that many of those who were thought to have wisdom were celibate makes this explanation unlikely. True individual human wisdom, then, could be seen a further layer to the natural wisdom of the human race with respect to cultural practices, in modifying practices that are counter-productive to survival.
As I mentioned earlier, reading this book made for a refreshing break from the ID controversy. The last few pages, however, present a new challenge to ID that few commentators seem to have mentioned. In a designed universe, what are we to make of suffering? The destruction of millions of species through extinction – what Deane-Drummond calls ‘amoral suffering’ – cannot be merely ascribed to the Fall of Man since much of it predates man’s existence, and continues to occur independently of man’s activity. The implication that suffering is an attribute of creation designed-in by God seems incompatible with the Crucifixion as being brought about by God’s desire for reconciliation with Man. Rather, we should see suffering as an attribute of creation itself, rationalised not by a designer Godbut by Christ as Wisdom whose crucifixion realised the potential of suffering for redemption of humankind.
Since Deane-Drummond writes thematically, it is possible to follow this book even if it is read in a series of short sittings. The only possible downside to this style is that I found I kept forgetting where to find certain discussions in the text, as many concepts get revisited several times in different chapters. But the book is certainly not heavy-going and is very approachable for both the non-biologist and non-theologian.
The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pius XII rescued Jews from the Nazis
by Rabbi David G Dalin,
Regnery Publishing, Inc, 209pp, available through Amazon
Right now an extraordinary controversy is raging in American academia. The New York Timeswebsite reported on 12 April 2007 on the public battle between two American Jewish scholars over the Holocaust. Professor Norman Finkelstein is currently seeking tenure at DePaul University in Chicago. Amazingly, his fellow-Jew Alan Dershowitz, a law professor at Harvard and a prominent defender of Israel, has been emailing faculty and administrators at DePaul with accusations of “shoddy scholarship, lying, and anti-semitism”. The reason why Dershowitz has got so hot under the collar? Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry. Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish suffering(London/New York: Verso, 2000). Finkelstein is himself the child of holocaust survivors but is also a strong critic of Israel.According to the publishers’ blurb, he claims that “the Holocaust industry has become an outright extortion racket”. Having recently edited a collaborative Encyclopedia of World Fascism, in which I myself wrote the entry of Antisemitism, I was fascinated to buy Finkelstein’s book. It reveals a world that really is unknown to us in the UK. One passage that struck me with particular force was where Finkelstein,with savage irony, describes Elie Wiesel touring around speaking on the Holocaust: “The Holocaust’s mystery”, Wiesel avows, is “noncommunicable”; “we cannot even talk about it.” Thus, for his standard fee of $25,000 (plus chauffered limousine), Wiesel lectures that the “secret” of Auschwitz’s “truth lies in silence.”
The fact that this particular battle can go on publicly speaks volumes about the very different culture of the US. It has still to hit the headlines over here, but then it is almost unimaginable in our polite, watery, and vacuous public culture. But reading about it immediately rang bells with me because I had just read Rabbi David G Dalin’s astonishing and beautiful work The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. This powerful book is a refutation not just of John Cornwell’s suave demolition of the reputation of Pius XII in Hitler’s Pope, it is a defence of the record of all of the popesin regard to their treatment of Jews. One of the most hardhitting things Rabbi Dalin has to say is that Cornwell’s book is actually a part of a culture war in which liberal Catholics are deliberately trying to underminetraditional Catholicism. They too are using the Holocaust, but for another set of purposes entirely. They dislike the modern papacy because it has stood for a set of moral values – many of them held in common with traditional Judaism – which they reject. “Very few of the recent books about Pius XII and the Holocaust (writes Rabbi Dalin) are actually about Pius XII and the Holocaust. The liberal bestselling attacks on the pope and the Catholic Church are really an intra-Catholic argument about the direction of the Church today. The Holocaust is simply the biggest club available for liberal Catholics to use against traditional Catholic teaching – especially on issues relating to sexuality, including abortion, contraception, celibacy, and the role of women in the Church”. Dalin notes thatsome of the most hostile attacks on Pius XII (James Carroll, Garry Wills, as well as John Cornwell himself) have come from vitriolic critics of John Paul II. He contends that the liberalising agenda promoted by such writers is itself part of the wider campaign of “an increasingly left-wing intellectual class” to denigrate Catholicism and indeed Christianity itself.
It is very tiresome to have to refute books like those of Cornwell because, as Rabbi Dalin states right at the beginning of his book, a number of well-documented studies have patiently answered individually with supporting evidence the slanders of Pius XII’s enemies; but of course these books are simply ignored by the media and are usually published by small presses, so that they are not easy to find. At the end of the day it is as well to remember that John Cornwell is not a historian. Dalin quotes Newsweek columnist Kenneth L Woodward as stating that Cornwell’s book is “a classic example of what happens when an ill-equipped journalist assumes the air of sober scholarship … Errors of fact and ignorance of context appear on every page”. But this itself is a reminder that just a few yearsafter Pius XII had been feted by prominent Jews all over the world at his death in 1958 as a great friend and ally who had been responsible for saving many Jews during the War, an attack was launched on him by an equally unqualified person – a playwright, Hochhuth, author of The Representative. This hugely successful play which triggered a tidal wave of controversy now appears to have been a part of a slander campaign originating in the Soviet block against a pope who was a determined enemy of communism in the West.
The Holocaust, then, has been in the thick of the culture wars since the 1960s. But there are positive sides to all this for the Christian believer. First, the astonishing continuing centrality of the Jewish people in world history right down to the present day is a confirmation of the bible story: they are indeed God’s chosen people and they continue at the heart of history. But at the same time, when we ask why so much attention has been paid and continues to be paid to the Jews, we must concede that the fundamental reason is their relation to the Christian faith. If the Christian faith had not grown into the global faith of Europe and much of the world beyond, then surely the Jewish people would simply never have attracted so much attention. It is because Christian claims begin withthe divine election of the Jews that the Jews are so important in world history. And if we ask for the real motive why the Jews were targeted by the Nazis with such hatred, it is hard to resist the belief that it was because the Nazis, who hated Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular, knew that the Jews were integral to the Christian story – something that many Christians have themselves been all too ready to overlook. The readiness to begin an assault on the Church by rubbishing the Jews goes back at least as far as Voltaire.
The second thing is the beautiful historical truth that Rabbi Dalin brings out: all down history, the popes have been the defenders of the Jews. A final quote from Dalin’s truly inspirational work: drawing on the writing of Thomas Madden, he records
“Throughout the Middle Ages, Rome and the papal states were the only places in (western) Europe where the Jews were at all times free from attacks or expulsions. The Jews were expelled from Crimea in 1016, Paris in 1182, England in 1290, France in 1306, Switzerland in 1348, Lithuania in 1495, and Portugal in 1497. In Italy, however, the Jewish community was under papal protection and was never expelled. Indeed, by the beginning of the fifteenth century, “the only safe place in Europe to be a Jew was in the lands of the pope”.
Catholic Student Guide edited by Peter Kahn,
Family Publications, 112pp, £4.95
Arriving at university for the first time is always one of the most daunting moments of a young Catholic’s life. Upon being ‘dumped’ by your parents at your new home, surrounded by strange people, in an alien city in which you don’t know anyone, there is a part of which wants to run after your parents’ departing car.
The first week or so can be difficult. You have to adapt to a new way of life and get on with people, even if they intensely irritate you. Within days you become exposed to the secular, amoral culture which, if you are not careful, can suck you in.
For many young Catholics it’s imperative that you find the Catholic chaplaincy. There you can meet like minded people, make use of the pastoral services of the chaplain, get useful advice from older students, and above all, be completely at home during the Mass amidst the uncertainty of student life.
Perhaps the most useful element of the Catholic Student Guideis the extensive information about Catholic chaplaincies and societies up and down the country as well as details about faith organisations which are of interest to students. But the guide is much more than that. Its target audience actually appears to be 6th Form students who are contemplating their study options.
Fr Jeremy Fairhead, Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford, provides an extremely useful and sensitive reflection about making decisions, particularly focused on resisting pressures and discerning what is right for the individual. He goes back to basics, reassuring the reader they are under no obligation to jump on the ‘teenage- student bandwagon’ with friends. He talks about the fruits of a gap year, something which is picked up later by Susan Holloway and several other contributors who provide personal accounts of the development of their faith during year’s out.
Fr Fairhead writes: “As Christians, we believe that God has given us the gift of freedom; we have the freedom to make our own choices, good and bad, but we also have the responsibility to make them after adequate thought.”
Another useful reflection – this time on study – by Fr Joseph Evans, chaplain to Netherhall House in London, highlights the importance of developing talents and areas of expertise for the betterment of society. He challenges students to offer their study to God, making work a form of prayer. Working well will do much more to re-Christianise society than by “any amount of distributing leaflets or organising meetings”, he argues.
Three vitally important aspects to a Catholic student’s life apart from their degree are developing their spiritual life, witness to faith and sport/leisure. All are addressed to some extent in the guide. Particularly impressive is an account by Kabron Henry, a postgraduate at the University of Manchester, who tells of the success of pro-life activism in defeating a pro-choice motion in the student’s union. Recent graduate James Leatherland writes on how he and a small group of students set up a Catholic Society when realising there was no official Catholic presence at the University of Luton.
Then there is the moving piece by an anonymous student, telling the story of her abortion experience and the emotional trauma it caused after she learnt about the humanity of the unborn child. “Your decision to have sex can affect you for the rest of your life,” her powerful conclusion reads.
Despite these excellent contributions, the Guide does go a little over the top with no less than 11 personal accounts from students and recent graduates on top of the eight chapters. Some are quite lengthy and have a repetitive ‘this is what I did’ feel about them.
It also falls miserably short of exploring the pros and cons of chaplaincies. It fails to address the imbalance and distinct differences of pastoral provision at universities nationwide. Whilst some chaplaincies are strong, orthodox and excellently cater for varying spiritual appetites, others are less than inclusive, dominated by one form of worship. In several instances, Catholic students quite understandably prefer to attend a local parish rather than be isolated in a sometimes-cliquey chaplaincy environment.
Nevertheless, the Guide is a useful handbook for someone not familiar with Catholic student life. As Joanna Bogle comments on the back cover, it’s an ideal leaving present for Catholic schools to give departing Sixth Formers.
John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan Translated from the Latin by Fr Philip Caraman SJ and with an introduction by Michael Hodgetts,
Family Publications, 296pp, £14.95
The Catholic community in Britain emerged from the Second World War more self-confident and determined to learn more of its own origins in the period following the Protestant Reformation. The scholarship of men such as Dom David Knowles, Mgr Ronnie Knox and even of laymen such as Evelyn Waugh had whetted the appetite of British Catholics for their history; publishers such as Frank Sheed, at Sheed and Ward, and Count de la Bedoyere at The Catholic Herald saw meeting this demand as their apostolate, a true vocation. It would be fair to say that with their passing and with the growth of ecumenical sensibilities in response to the Second Vatican Council, popular Catholic interest in the story of Catholicism’s struggle for survival waned and the output of publishers in this area all but driedup.
In the last ten years or so, it would appear that the soi-disant JP2 Generation have rediscovered an interest in this area and coupled with their demand for books of theology faithful to the Magisterium, this has enabled a new generation of Catholic publishers to produce each year an increasing number of titles. Family Publications are one such and their list is testament to this movement: without doubt they are deserving of our gratitude, and never more so than for their re-publication of John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan.
I first encountered this story as a fifteen year old in a long-unborrowed Fontana Paperback on a shelf in a state school library. This was the 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence) popular edition of Fr Philip Caraman SJ’s 1951 translation of Gerard’s Latin text and it awakened in me a lasting fascination with recusant history. I was asked to review this beautifully produced 2006 edition at precisely the moment that I just finished rereading Caraman’s biography of a later English Jesuit, the martyr St Henry Morse. His heroic ministry in the plague ridden London of the 1640s had been inspired by the stories of an earlier generation, Gerard’s surely amongst them. It is hardly necessary to say that I leapt at the chance to review Gerard.
Gerard’s story, written in 1609 after he had escaped to the continent following the Gunpowder Plot (in which he was not involved), tells the story of an Englishman who was both English and Catholic to his very core. Born in Lancashire in the 1560s Gerard was educated at Oxford, Rheims and Paris before returning to England where he had his first experience of imprisonment for the Faith as a layman. Set at liberty he returned to France, went to Rome to finish his priestly studies and joined the Jesuits. He took the missionary oath (the promise to return to England despite the capital risk) before being ordained priest and returned to England in the same year as the Armada sailed. For nearly two decades, Gerard led a life of extraordinary risk and supernatural fruitfulness. To tell more ofthe story would risk spoiling what the eminent Tudor historian, Stanley Bindoff accurately described as, “an adventure story (that) ranks with the best of our own or any other age.” Suffice it to say that there are few quotidian moments in Gerard’s account of a life and an apostolate lived for nearly twenty years against the background of the real risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture and horrible, but longed for, martyrdom.
This edition of Gerard’s autobiography comes with a very useful introduction by Michael Hodgetts, known to many readers of Faith Magazine for his work as an educator at the Maryvale Institute, as historical director at Harvington Hall and as editor of both Recusant History and of the Volumes of the Catholic Record Society. Hodgett’s own first foray into writing came at the instigation of Caraman and his introduction to this edition shows that he retains that familiarity with the detail and lightness of touch that marks the gentle Jesuit’s own work. Detailed notes, ten appendices and a very workmanlike index complete what is not only a great adventure history but also, as the introduction itself concludes, “an inspiring record of heroism and self-sacrifice and an essential source” forthose interested in English Catholic History.