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Religion and Science Bury the Hatchet


RESPONSES TO 101 QUESTIONS ON GOD AND EVOLUTION, by John F. Haught. Paulist Press. 160 pp. $12.95.

AT HOME IN THE COSMOS, by David Toolan. Orbis Books. 257 pp. $25.

Reviewed by MICHAEL D. GUINAN, O.F.M., professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, California.

SCIENCE AND RELIGION: Are they sworn enemies? Friends? Working partners?

The relationship between the two is an ambiguous and contested one. These two books shed considerable light on the issues involved and point directions for fruitful reflection.

In this area, the topic that continues to generate perhaps the most heat and controversy is that of God, creation and evolution. In the popular “Responses to 101 Questions” format, John Haught, theologian at Georgetown University, gathers questions on this topic drawn from conversations over many years with students, scientists and scholars, as well as nonscientists.

He organizes the questions into seven areas: Darwin’s Revolutionary Idea; Darwin and Theology; Creationism; Darwin and Design; Divine Providence and Natural Selection; Evolution, Suffering and Redemption; and Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead. In each instance, Haught presents first “the facts of the matter” (e.g., who was Charles Darwin and what did he actually teach? What have the popes taught on evolution?) and then proceeds to questions raised for theology and faith.

Throughout the discussion, he highlights the dangers and inadequacies of two opposite but ultimately similar positions: biblical literalism (e.g., creationism) and scientific materialism. The former’s anachronistic reading of the biblical texts reduces the biblical data to scientific information, while the latter’s superficial understanding of both the Bible and religion ends up turning scientific positions into religion.

Haught steers a middle course between them and argues that by taking the evidence of evolutionary science seriously (in accord with Pope John Paul II’s 1996 statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution), we can come to a deeper (and, in fact, more truly biblical) understanding of God as humble, self-giving and promising love.

Beginning with simple, easily accessible explanations, Haught builds up a cumulative vision of great power and beauty. This is an ideal book to consult first to appreciate the issues involved.

David Toolan, S.J., associate editor of America magazine, approaches the science and religion debate from a wider vision. Following a more historical order, he moves through five sections: The Biblical Vision of Creation, The Development of Scientific Materialism, The State of the Earth, The New Cosmology and, finally, Earth Ethics: Doing Justice to Creation. There are also two appendices.

Toolan is interested in showing just how we came to our present cultural understandings of the world, science and religion. He says we now have the opportunity to break through to a truer synthesis of science and Christian theology which leads to an inspiring and challenging ethical vision of care, responsibility and love for the cosmos, which is our home.

The 17th-century work of Rene Descartes and Roger Bacon’s earlier work, carried further by Isaac Newton, developed what has been called an “imperial ecology.” The world is “out there” (like a big machine) and we can do with it pretty much what we wish.

An alternative view, an “arcadian ecology,” maintained that we were firmly part of, rooted in and at home in nature. But it was the imperial model that has brought us to our present situation. Is our present ecological situation really that bad?

After reviewing various opinions among ecologists, Toolan shows that indeed it is. The “new cosmology,” which has developed under the influence of evolutionary findings, points to a universe that is incomplete and moving into the future (and thus is more congenial to the biblical and prophetic view of the future).

With the emergence of conscious life, we humans embody the cosmic processes now become self-reflective and we are charged with being the voice of all creation (“the voice of the hurricane”).

This has, of course, important implications for our understanding of Christ. Rooted in New Testament texts of John and Paul which affirm that “all things are created in Christ,” a theological vision (such as that of the Franciscans St. Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus) can relate us deeply to the whole universe and provide the foundation for a responsible earth ethic.

Toolan presents a powerful synthesis of biblical vision, theological reflection and scientific knowledge that is both clear for the nonspecialist and spiritually engaging. The biblical data, while adequate as far as it goes, could be developed more strongly.

In addition to the Yahwist’s view of creation as God’s garden (which he briefly treats), one could add the priestly view of the world as God’s temple, the psalmic view of the world as God’s kingdom and the wisdom view of the world as God’s playground, all of which have important ramifications in the area of behavior.

Science and theology can be related in three ways: 1) they are in conflict with each other and we have to choose between them; 2) they are two completely valid but distinct enterprises which we should keep separate; 3) they are two ways of engaging one and the same world and they should engage each other and interact on different levels.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Rooted in the conviction that the source of truth is one and cannot contradict itself, both of these works are examples of the rich and fruitful possibilities of the third approach.

You can order RESPONSES TO 101 QUESTIONS ON GOD AND EVOLUTION and AT HOME IN THE COSMOS from St. Francis Bookshop.

DOORS INTO PRAYER: An Invitation, by Emilie Griffin. Paraclete Press. 119 pp. $13.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian who currently serves on the advisory board of St. Anthony Messenger Press.

PUBLISHED IN THE PARACLETE Pocket Faith series of short, personal considerations of basic aspects of Christianity, Doors Into Prayer is like a friendly chat about communication with and from God. While Emilie Griffin does provide some general instructions and methods of procedure, the author is basically recounting some of her own experiences of prayer.

She reminds us that God is always inviting us to come closer, but we frequently resist from fear, world-weariness or lassitude. Providing succinct stories, anecdotes and experiences that others have found to overcome these barriers may also aid us.

Such topics as Prayer-Scapes, Examen, Prayer as Wrestling, Heights, Wonder and Depths are covered in “chapterlets” of three pages (maximum) and can be perused in any order, at any time and for any duration. The last 17 pages describe Exercises for Prayer, and there is an excellent Afterword of recommended readings.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapterlet entitled “Sabbath”: “But why is it difficult to refrain from work? We have to let go of our sense of control. This is the underlying issue, the Sabbath-principle. God is in charge. God is running the world. The world can run without me for at least 24 hours. I am not entirely in charge to begin with, no matter what day of the week it is. God gives me something I could never provide on my own. The point of the Sabbath is shalom, the deep and everlasting rest of God, the peace that passes all understanding.”

And another quote from the chapterlet on contemplation: “In contemplation we learn to move beyond words, to gaze at God and listen....We come to a quiet place where prayer is possible for us. We put aside our concerns about time. We become attentive, recollected, gathered in. We enter the presence of God, we become conscious of God’s presence. We allow God to speak to us, expressing love in ways that may be gentle or strong, but not a matter of polite conversation. The prayer is usually wordless. Often it is passionate.”

Emilie Griffin has had a wealth of experience as an advertising copywriter, editor, columnist for Prayer magazine, retreat leader, ecumenist and author of several other books on spiritual topics, including her conversion to the Catholic faith. She writes easily and with deceptive simplicity, but is able to convey a deep familiarity with the principles of prayer.

Griffin’s earlier work entitled Clinging: The Experience of Prayer (Harper & Row, 1984), while also a concise work of only 72 pages, is much more structured as to content and the precise identification of seven major elements of prayer life. It would provide a valuable companion volume to the current work since the basic message is the same: The way to learn to pray is in praying.

This book’s format, hardbound and 7 x 4-1/2 inches, makes it sturdy and yet convenient for carrying. I would recommend this book for all adults seeking to enrich their prayer life, but especially for recent converts and young adults feeling their way into a more mature relationship with their Maker. It would be an excellent gift as well.

You can order DOORS INTO PRAYER: An Invitation from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE INTIMATE MERTON: His Life From His Journals, edited by Patrick Hart & Jonathan Montaldo. HarperCollins. 375 pp. $16.

Reviewed by Matthew D. Kemper, the community service director at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he also taught theology classes..

“IF ALL SEVEN volumes of journals are the wood, The Intimate Merton is only a path through them and not the wood itself,” note the editors, who have chosen for this text the central themes from Thomas Merton’s seemingly endless journal reflections.

The passages span most of Merton’s adult life, from 1939 until two days before his death in December of 1968. His personal writings convey the image of a humble, gentle man searching for solitude and inner peace.

Merton processed his experience of the world through his writing. A recurring subject of deliberation is his open acknowledgment of his struggles with religious life and faith.

In November of 1941, for instance, Merton lamented the notion that his self-reliance interfered with his discerning of God’s will: “I earnestly pray to give myself entirely to God according to His will and no longer get in the way with my own stupid will—only He can help me out of my own clumsiness.” Such candor is typical of this simple yet fascinating monk, who was torn between the solitude of a hermitage and the energy of the outside world.

Throughout his journals, Merton consistently describes the settings in which he is writing. He pays such careful attention to the weather, for instance, that readers cannot help but imagine themselves walking with the author as he strolls casually among the trees on a cold autumn morning.

Merton was particularly attached to the woods of Gethsemani, Kentucky, where he spent most of his adult life and where he did a great deal of thinking; steady thoughtfulness was at the core of Merton’s nature as monk. Merton’s contemplation was not always peaceful and harmonious. Often he comes across as restless, as searching for something.

Many people are familiar with Thomas Merton from his highly regarded The Seven Storey Mountain, which is more autobiographical than this text. The Intimate Merton will appeal to anyone interested in spirituality and discernment. Its language is easy to understand and the writing is affectionate and comfortable.

Almost immediately, the reader is drawn into the author’s personal world, where Merton references his journal entries according to the feast days of the saints. One is struck by both his profound reverence for all things and his occasional witty, direct humor.

The editors were able to capture the true essence of the author because they had a personal relationship with Merton during his years at Gethsemani. As a result, Hart and Montaldo have selected journals that represent key developments at each stage of his life.

The early chapters include Merton’s accounts of his life in New York, his travels in Cuba in 1940 and his entry into monastic life. The later chapters contain his thoughts on his request to leave Gethsemani for Mexico and an intimate relationship with a nurse during the mid-1960s, which challenged his monastic vocation.

As Merton ventured willingly from the enclosed woods of Gethsemani to the West Coast and eventually Asia, it becomes evident that he was searching for something he was unable to find at the monastery in Kentucky.

Three years before his accidental death in 1968, Merton articulated his quest: “I come into solitude not to ‘attain the heights of contemplation,’ but to discover painfully for myself and for my brothers the true eschatological dimension of our calling. No easy solution is permissible. This is a hard way and a way of faith, in which I must struggle to come into the right relation of obedience to the words of God constantly present in my heart, and rest in God who moves in the ground of my being, to make me grow in Him.”

The Intimate Merton is an informative yet inspiring text. It is appealing because the author’s search for meaning is common to so many of us. Rarely is it articulated so well.

You can order THE INTIMATE MERTON: His Life From His Journals from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE GREAT ESCAPE MANUAL: A Spirituality of Liberation, by Edward Hays. Forest of Peace Publishing, Inc. 350 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, assistant managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger.

WRITTEN FOR JAILBIRDS, this book is spiritual escapism of a delightful sort. Written by a very free near-octogenarian, The Great Escape Manual is a breakthrough (a break-out?) into new ways of thinking about the ties that bind our spirit, keeping us from the glorious freedom of the children of God.

It’s just a suspicion, but I sometimes think Ed Hays has written the same book many times, in the context of a new unifying metaphor. I think he himself would own up to constant themes of freedom from negative behaviors and freedom to act on the gospel’s liberating message. And I, for one, am grateful that he repeats—in fresh and creative ways—the messages I most need to hear.

I know I’ve heard him warn about the dominance of the clock before. Few can rival the way he takes an experience like imprisonment and spins so many remedies, so many escape routes.

Ed Hays is currently a prison chaplain, an experience which has to be good for those in the Kansas state penitentiary, but also for Father Hays. He now names with new familiarity the ties that bind us all: time, impatience, fear, prejudice, religion, work, old age and death. And one just has to trust a religious author who admits the ways that religion can enslave as well as free!

I knew I’d want to share Ed Hays’s book with friends—so I tried to restrain myself from dog-earing pages. The author must know how tempted his readers become, since he provides pages in the back for inserting one’s own notes. That hospitable gesture is certainly user-friendly (although I fell into my old habits rather quickly).

Another spiritual convenience is the provision of escape tools and “unshackling reflections” at the end of each chapter.

It is liberating to recognize religious concepts shaken up, shaken down, reduced, upended and stretched to new limits. When Ed Hays spells isolation “ice-halation,” for instance, he enables me to name indifference and resentment in new ways. He frees me to rethink, re-act and re-form. Since all those words begin like resurrection, I believe I’m on a liberating path.

Do buy your own copy of The Great Escape Manual. Mine is marked up—and you’ll quickly claim your freedom to do the same.

You can order THE GREAT ESCAPE MANUAL: A Spirituality of Liberation from St. Francis Bookshop.

ARCHBISHOP FULTON J. SHEEN: A Man for All Media, by Gregory Joseph Ladd. Ignatius Press. 143 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., who works with www.OnceCatholic. org, an online outreach to inactive Catholics. He is editor of St. Anthony Messenger.

ARCHBISHOP FULTON J. SHEEN (1895-1979) was clearly the preeminent Catholic communicator in the United States during the 20th century. Through books, newspaper columns, radio and TV, he spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We can only assume that he would have capitalized on Internet evangelizing possibilities if they had existed during his heyday. One 1999 Internet poll to name the “Top 100 Catholics of the 20th Century” placed Sheen at number four, behind Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Blessed Padre Pio.

This volume, assembled by Gregory Joseph Ladd, the cofounder of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation and the president of Metanoia Production Company, presents 155 black-and-white pictures of Sheen and quotations from all phases of Sheen’s extraordinary life as a professor at The Catholic University of America, the U.S. head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, a dynamic public speaker, auxiliary bishop of New York (1951-66) and bishop of Rochester, New York (1966-69).

A Preface by Father Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., (ordained by Sheen) precedes quotations about Sheen from Rev. Robert Schuller, Cardinals John O’Connor and Francis George, as well as Archbishops John Foley and John Myers. Ten poems or quotations from Sheen’s writings, the text of Archbishop Edward O’Meara’s funeral homily for Sheen and a chronology of Sheen’s life and books complete this volume. All the photos in this book, including several pictures of the family, were provided by St. Bernard’s Institute in Rochester, New York.

Sometimes the photos are identified by place, date and occasion and sometimes not. Unfortunately, the quotations from Sheen’s writings often appear without a source and date. Even so, this book is a treasure for all those who admired Sheen or saw him as a companion on their spiritual journey.

There are several very telling photos of Sheen: at a 1973 Friars Club roast with Alan King, Milton Berle, Jack Benny and other entertainers; Sheen playing tennis; with Orthodox Church bishops; with Billy Graham; speaking in a synagogue; speaking in Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral; being interviewed by Hugh Downs; with Al Smith; on foreign trips; at a Catholic Worker house; and on the set of his TV show, Life Is Worth Living. The angels who he said erased his blackboard on that set are not shown!

Sheen inspired many Catholics through his new use of media. Ramon Estevez chose Martin Sheen as his professional name partly out of respect for Bishop Sheen. Greg Friedman, O.F.M., head of the video department at St. Anthony Messenger Press, says Sheen was one influence in his decision to explore radio, TV and video ministry.

This book is a loving tribute to an extraordinary evangelizer.

You can order ARCHBISHOP FULTON J. SHEEN: A Man for All Media from St. Francis Bookshop.

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Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop at www.StFrancisOnline.com or 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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