What We're Reading
New book tells the story of eugenics laws in North Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century.
In an interview on Volume 70 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, Christine Rosen discusses her book Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement and the eugenics laws that some states—Virginia included—passed in the early twentieth century. The laws, she explains, were used as models for the eugenics practices the Nazis regime adopted. Now a book from the University of North Carolina Press, Choice & Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare, examines the eugenics laws of North Carolina and their lasting affect on the state and its members. [Posted March 2005, ALG]
Jonathan Edwards biographer George Marsden has received the 2005 Grawemeyer Award for religion.
Raise three cheers for University of Notre Dame professor George Marsden who has received the 2005 Grawemeyer Award for religion. The award honors Marsden for his recently published and much-heralded biography of Jonathan Edwards. Marsden discusses Jonathan Edwards: A Life on Volume 65 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.
The Grawemeyer awards pay tribute to creative works and ideas in the sciences, arts, and humanities. Charles Grawemeyer, a University of Louisville alumnus, established them in 1984. More information about the awards is available through the web pages of the Grawemeyer Foundation. [Posted December 2004, ALG]
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company has collected a number of professor Alan Jacobs's works in Shaming the Devil.
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company has collected a number of professor Alan Jacobs's works in Shaming the Devil. The subtitle of the book, Essays in Truthtelling, aptly and succinctly expresses the task of the collection, which Jacobs (a guest on several volumes of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal) describes as conducting experiments in truthtelling and the pursuit of truth. The work is divided into three parts: part one, titled "Exemplars," attends to great writers who have told the truth—and to the truths they have told—in their poems, novels, and books; part two, "Explorations," studies additional writers, along with how they have succeeded and fallen short in pursuing truth; and part three, "Experiment," discusses computer technology and whether it helps or hinders, in Jacques Ellul's phrase, "the search for justice before God." The collection of exemplars and those whose work is explored include W. H. Auden, Rebecca West, Albert Camus, and Iris Murdoch. Jacobs concludes the introduction to Shaming the Devil thus: "If what I write . . . in this book moves us an inch or so closer to general truthfulness, and thereby towards the justice of the Lord, my work will have been amply rewarded. And if it brings a discomfited blush, even for an instant, to the face of Old Slewfoot, that would be nice too." [Posted December 2004, ALG]
Just in time for Thanksgiving (or for Christmas giving), Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems 1943-2004 has been published by Harcourt. Thanksgiving is an apt moment, since Wilbur's poetry consistently bears witness to the good gifts in Creation.
Just in time for Thanksgiving (or for Christmas giving), Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems 1943-2004 has been published by Harcourt. Thanksgiving is an apt moment, since Wilbur's poetry consistently bears witness to the good gifts in Creation. In a review essay in The New Yorker (November 22, 2004), Adam Kirsch writes of Wilbur's praise of mundane joys, and writes with a bit of jaded suspicion (the article is entitled "Get Happy," with a note of disapproval; Kirsch suggests, without denying Wilbur's powerful poetic gifts, that "Wilbur's essentially hopeful temperament leaves him ill-equipped for certain kinds of moral inquiry"). Kirsch also quotes from a 1977 Paris Review essay with Wilbur: "To put it simply, I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy, that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good. I am perfectly aware that I say this in the teeth of all sorts of contrary evidence, and that I must be basing it partly on temperament and partly on faith, but that is my attitude." Thanksgiving, indeed. I am reminded of the title of Josef Pieper's book, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, in which Pieper argues that the essence of the spirit of celebration is that of saying "Yes" to God's unnecessary gift of creation. Professor Roger Lundin quotes Wilbur's celebratory poetry (particularly "Love Call Us to the Things of This World") in the article "Postmodern Gnostics." [Posted November 2004, KAM]
Professor and writer John Gray publishes book debunking the Enlightenment faith in progress.
Political philosopher John Gray spoke—on Volume 40 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal—about his 1998 book False Dawn, which delivered a soberly realistic assessment of the state of international economics (in novelist John Banville's words). Gray's most recent work, Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions, debunks the Enlightenment faith in progress that has shaped the modern era. The book is a collection of essays Gray wrote between 1990 and 2003 for the New Statesman. In the collection he explains that faith in progress—the belief that human beings become better with the growth of knowledge—is misdirected faith; human knowledge grows, he writes, but the human animal stays much the same. John Banville's review of Heresies was published on-line in the September 4, 2004, issue of The Guardian.
Some of the concerns of Gray's Heresies are addressed in An illusion with a future, published in the Summer 2004 issue of Dædalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the article, Gray writes that the idea of progress is a recent creed that has developed, and come to be believed in, in the last two centuries. Before its development thinkers never imagined that improvement in any area of life would be sustainable throughout time; while Christianity and its promise of salvation for those who would believe inspired people to hope for improvement in the human condition, after Christianity's advent people still believed that what was gained in one generation would surely be lost in another, explains Gray. Once modern science was established and started to effect dramatic improvements in the material quality of life, people transferred their hopes for a better future from religion to science and faith in progress. This transfer was misguided, however, because faith in progress cannot account for human nature and its hopes as religion can: Like older faiths, progress and the Religion of Humanity are illusions. But whereas the illusions of older faiths embody enduring human realities, the faith in progress depends on suppressing them. It represses the conflicts of human needs and denies the unalterable moral ambiguity of human knowledge. Gray, who is clearly as skeptical about religion as he is about secular progressivism, states that it may be possible to temper the modern faith in progress, but that overcoming it any time soon is not possible.
An illusion with a future is available for order on-line.