Addenda

What We're Reading

16 Jul

Philip Rieff

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/16/06

We had planned on doing some interviews soon about the work of sociologist and cultural theorist Philip Rieff, plans which became more appropriate with Rieff's death in early July. Prior to his death (he was 83 and had been ailing for some time), our interest was sparked by two publishing "events." . . .

We had planned on doing some interviews soon about the work of sociologist and cultural theorist Philip Rieff, plans which became more appropriate with Rieff's death in early July. Prior to his death (he was 83 and had been ailing for some time), our interest was sparked by two publishing "events." The first was the imminent republication by ISI Books of Rieff's 1966 seminal book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud. The forthcoming edition contains essays by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Wilfred McClay, and Stephen Gardner. In that book, Rieff argued that the most significant task of cultures is to communicate a set of deeply held convictions about reality to their members. Discrete and diverse cultural artifacts align the affections of cultural participants cultivating a shared understanding. As Rieff put it early in his book, "Books and parading, prayers and the sciences, music and piety toward parents: these are a few of the many instruments by which a culture may produce the saving larger self, for the control of panic and the filling up of emptiness. Superior to and encompassing the different modes in which it appears, a culture must communicate ideals, setting as internalities those distinctions between right actions and wrong that unite men and permit them the fundamental pleasure of agreement. Culture is another name for a design of motives directing the self outward, toward those communal purposes in which alone the self can be realized and satisfied."

Behind this passage is an assumption (which conforms to a Christian understanding, although Rieff was not a Christian) that human beings are created to be social, that our identity is known in relationships, not individualistically, and that membership in a society is essential for personal fulfillment.

But, as Rieff documented in his work, the crisis of modern culture is that, for a variety of reasons, "all communications of ideals come under permanent and easy suspicion."

The second reason for our current editorial interest in Rieff is the publication this past January of the first new book by him in many years. The volume is the first of four collected under the title Sacred Order/Social Order (he had completed the manuscripts some time ago), this first provocatively called My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (University of Virginia Press).

While we're preparing our interviews about Philip Rieff's work, you may want to read some recent pieces about him, some published because of the books coming out, some because of his death. Richard John Neuhaus wrote a brief appreciation of Rieff's prophetic voice on the First Things blog, in which he reminded us that "Christ never said of Western Civilization that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Last November, the Chronicle of Higher Education, anticipating the publication of My Life among the Deathworks, featured an article called "Prophet of the 'Anti-Culture'", which summarized his career and his main arguments about contemporary culture.

Stephen L. Gardner has written an essay called "Psychological Man: Eros and Ambition in Democratic Desire" which will be included in the new edition of The Triumph of the Therapeutic.

We hope to interview Dr. Gardner, as well as Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Wilfred McClay, and others about Philip Rieff's work. Stay tuned for more information. [Posted July 2006, KAM]

30 May

"Islam and the West: A Conversation with Bernard Lewis"

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 05/30/06

Professor Bernard Lewis, a guest on Volume 59 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal and Conversation 19, "The Crisis of Islam and the Crisis of the West," spoke earlier this year at an event hosted by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. . . .

Professor Bernard Lewis, a guest on Volume 59 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal and Conversation 19, "The Crisis of Islam and the Crisis of the West," spoke earlier this year at an event hosted by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In "Islam and the West: A Conversation with Bernard Lewis," Lewis discusses the reaction to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the questions it raises.

The event at which Lewis spoke was, according to the transcript, ". . . part of an ongoing Pew Forum series that brings together journalists and policy leaders to discuss timely topics at the intersection of religion and public affairs." [Posted May 2006, ALG]

30 May

Notes on Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament and Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 05/30/06

"The problems many of us feel regarding the Bible may have less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own preconceptions." Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

"Once one thinks that the scriptures are divinely inspired, then the primary project is not to assess them. . . . The church fathers sought to explain how the vast heterogeneity and diversity of scriptural data might be brought into an intellectually satisfying form. This was the basic project of interpretation, as they understood it." John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005)

John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)

"The problems many of us feel regarding the Bible may have less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own preconceptions." Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

"Once one thinks that the scriptures are divinely inspired, then the primary project is not to assess them. . . . The church fathers sought to explain how the vast heterogeneity and diversity of scriptural data might be brought into an intellectually satisfying form. This was the basic project of interpretation, as they understood it." John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible

Two guests on previous editions of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal have written recently about how to read scripture. Susan Wise Bauer, a guest on Volume 66, reviewed a book in the May/June 2006 issue of Books & Culture that attends to difficulties readers face when studying the Old Testament and trying to submit to its authority. As Bauer explains, Peter Enns's Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament discusses how the apostles read the Old Testament. R. R. Reno, a guest on Volume 67, is co-author of a book whose subject matter is also biblical exegesis, but which focuses on the methods of the early Church fathers.

In the first of these two books, Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns encourages evangelical Christians to read the Bible on its terms. He notes that biblical scholarship in the last century contains claims that are difficult to reconcile with scripture, especially if readers are clinging to modern notions of how to read the Bible while also trying to respect its authority. Enns explores how readers can account for these claims while still keeping scripture as an authority at the center of their lives. In doing so he proposes an adjusted framework for thinking about Holy Writ, writing: "[Trust in God as the author and giver of scripture] encourages us to look to the Bible not as a timeless rule book or owner's manual for the Christian life—so that we can lift verses here and there and apply them. It helps us to see that the Bible has a dynamic quality to it, for God himself is dynamic, active, and alive in our lives and in the life of his church." Enns also studies three issues from the Old Testament that are in particular need of a fresh reading. He explains that once readers understand that the Incarnate Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, issues that are difficult to understand make much more sense. "Finally," writes Enns, "with respect to the New Testament's use of the Old Testament, what is modeled for us is that Christ is the goal of the Old Testament story, meaning that he is the ultimate focus of Christian interpretation. Not every verse or passage is about him in a superficial sense. Rather, Christ is the deeper sense of the Old Testament—at times more obvious than others—in whom the Old Testament drama as a whole finds its ultimate goal or telos. It is in the person and work of Christ that Christians seek to read the Old Testament, to search out how it is in Christ that the Old Testament has integrity, how it is worthy of trust, how the parts cohere. Such coherence is not found by superficially putting isolated pieces of the Old Testament together to make them fit somehow, but by allowing the tensions to remain and asking how our fuller knowledge of God's incarnational pattern can add to our reading of Scripture."

In Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible, professors John J. O'Keefe and Reno study how the early Church fathers thought about, read, and interpreted scripture. O'Keefe and Reno distinguish pre-modern hermeneutics from modern reading methods, working to dispel the unfair biases of the latter toward the former. The professors explain that the early fathers understood scripture not as referring to something other than itself, but as the subject matter of interpretation. The early fathers focused their attention on the text itself because they believed it to be the language of God and the source of wisdom about God's order and plan and its fulfillment in the Incarnate Christ. They also believed that through pursuit and study of the text, they would be conformed to its shape. The rule of faith and the authority of the Church guided their reading, which was disciplined and focused, rigorous yet creative; they sought, in their exegesis, to illuminate both the words and the work of the Logos of God. The fathers were convinced that "[t]he sacred texts do not just provide good data; they are fragrant with the aroma of the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ."

O'Keefe and Reno arrange their book in six chapters. The first chapter, "Scriptural Meaning Modern to Ancient," outlines the modern notion of scripture as significant because it refers to something beyond itself, a notion which is different from the pre-modern understanding of scripture as significant because "it is divine revelation," not because "of its connection to an x." Chapter two, "Christ Is the End of the Law and the Prophets," discusses the "cross, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ" as "the interpretive key" of scripture. It also describes three concepts from classical rhetoric the fathers used in their study of scripture: hypothesis, economy, and recapitulation, which refer, respectively, to the gist of a work, its plan or order, and its "point" or summary statement. Chapter three, "Intensive Reading," defines lexical, dialectical, and associative methods of reading. Lexical reading involves the strategies used for assigning reliable meanings to words and elements in texts; dialectical considers two seemingly contradictory elements of a text and looks for the deeper coherence; and associative pays attention to verbal echoes across a text. In chapter four, "Typological Interpretation," O'Keefe and Reno explain that, for the fathers, Jesus Christ is the type, or pattern, that "unlocks" all the stories in scripture, Old and New Testaments both. They write: "The text tells of events in the divine economy, [and the example under discussion] in this case [is] Joshua's leadership. The import of these events is not clear until they are typologically linked to another set of events that occurs later in the divine economy. Just as importantly, the later events are themselves not fully clear until the illuminating typological link is established. More succinctly, one learns about Jesus by reading about Joshua. The typology casts light forward as well as backward." Chapter five, "Allegorical Interpretation," discusses how allegory enabled the fathers to explore the full meaning of the scriptures, the meaning embedded in both its content and form. Chapter six, "The Rule of Faith and the Holy Life," states that early exegesis was tethered to the authority of the church, and that right reading of scripture was bound to righteousness, to holy living. "The goal of patristic exegesis," write O'Keefe and Reno, "was to pass through the narrow opening that led to thoughts that participated in the unspeakable mysteries, and only a person whose vision has been refined by prayer, fasting, and self-control could hope to effect such a passage. Therefore, the fathers identified interpretive skill with the ambitious regimes of ascetic practice that defined the spiritual endeavor of the ancient church."

Sanctified Vision concludes with notes, a bibliography, and an index. Inspiration and Incarnation comprises a preface and abbreviations section, five chapters, a glossary, and two indices. The chapter titles are, respectively: "Getting Our Bearings"; "The Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Literature"; "The Old Testament and Theological Diversity"; "The Old Testament and Its Interpretation in the New Testament"; and "The Big Picture." [Posted May 2006, ALG]

14 May

C. S. Lewis: Two doses, administered aurally

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/14/06

Many people who've read Lewis's Mere Christianity know that the content of the book was originally presented as a series of talks on the radio (or "wireless" to be more in keeping with the patois of the period). It has long been assumed by people who care about such things that no recordings of those talks survived. . . .

Many people who've read Lewis's Mere Christianity know that the content of the book was originally presented as a series of talks on the radio (or "wireless" to be more in keeping with the patois of the period). It has long been assumed by people who care about such things that no recordings of those talks survived. However, the BBC has made available online a 14-minute selection of original reading of what became the third part of Mere Christianity, a section called "Beyond Personality." The audio quality from this recording, originally broadcast on March 21, 1944, is crude but entirely clear. Hearing Lewis's voice offers a feeling for his personality. But the recording is also a reminder of how much public culture in the West has changed in 60 years: try to imagine any country in which government-sponsored broadcasts could contain this kind of content. The BBC is to be commended for offering this treat even to those of us who don't pay for its upkeep.

The audio is available here, and requires Realplayer installed on your computer (the BBC's instructions for obtaining Realplayer are here).

In addition to the recording of portions of "Beyond Personality," the BBC web page referenced above also has a link to Lewis offering a 2-minute introduction to his book, The Great Divorce, comments originally broadcast in 1948. Lewis begins: "Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I've written of their divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I knew what he meant. . . ."

Other BBC resources about Lewis are available here. [Posted May 2006, KAM]

18 Apr

Guests on Volume 79

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 04/18/06

The March/April 2006 issue of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal (Volume 79) features interviews with several guests who have been interviewed for previous volumes of the Journal. Two of the several are Carson Holloway and Peter Augustine Lawler, both of whom have also had their work reviewed in the Fall 2001 issue of The Intercollegiate Review. . . .

The March/April 2006 issue of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal (Volume 79) features interviews with several guests who have been interviewed for previous volumes of the Journal. Two of the several are Carson Holloway and Peter Augustine Lawler, both of whom have also had their work reviewed in the Fall 2001 issue of The Intercollegiate Review. Carson's book, All Shook Up: Music, Passion, and Politics, was reviewed by Glenn C. Arbery while Lawler's Postmodernism Rightly Understood: The Return to Realism in American Thought was reviewed by Wilson Carey McWilliams. The reviews are available here and here.

On MHAJ's upcoming Volume 79, Holloway discusses his The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy; Lawler, meanwhile, talks about his Stuck with Virtue: The American Individual and Our Biotechnological Future. [Posted April 2006, ALG]

Pages