Volume 51

Guests on Volume 51: Nigel Cameron, on the challenges of bioethics and how Christians ignore them; David Blankenhorn, on the public meaning of marriage and the private sector and the family; Robert Wuthnow, on creativity and faith; Mortimer Adler, on philosophical theism and How to Think about God; Roger Lundin, on the vision of William Blake; Dana Gioia, on the place of poetry and the way words work; Mary Midgley, on the ways science explains reality; and Ted Libbey, on the life and music of Edmund Rubbra.

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Part 1

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    Nigel Cameron on the challenges of bioethics and how Christians ignore them

    The ability to re-invent our understanding of what it means to be human is currently being discussed more candidly than at any point in history, claims theologian Nigel Cameron. While past eras were thoroughly versed in the ethics of taking human life, our era has the distinction of contemplating the making of life in our image. But common attitudes toward both taking and making human life are merely symptoms of a larger disease concerning the understanding of the nature of being human. Commodification of the individual, along with the belief that we are not bought with a price but belong to ourselves, has led to this crisis about what it means to be human.

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    David Blankenhorn on the public meaning of marriage and the private sector and the family

    The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions (Eerdmans, 2001)

    In today's generation, marriage is defined on a couple-by-couple basis, oftentimes with couples even writing their own wedding vows. In contrast, past generations held that marriage was "bigger than the couple." David Blankenhorn, founder of the Council on Families in America, asserts that in order to restore a "marriage culture" in which marriage has authority as an institution, the ecosystem that supports marriage must sustain the idea that it is a social relationship and a sacred promise, and not merely the private possession of couples.

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    Robert Wuthnow on creativity and faith

    Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Spirit (University of California Press, 2001)

    In his most recent work, Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist, sociologist Robert Wuthnow undertakes a study of the current configuration of religious life in America. In order to understand better the relationship between creativity and the sacred, the book features interviews with 100 artists from four geographical regions in the United States whose creative work is linked to their understanding of spiritual meaning.

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    Mortimer Adler on philosophical theism and How to Think about God

    How to Think about God: A Guide for Modern Pagans (1980)

    Mortimer J. Adler, who died on June 28, 2001, at 98 years of age, spent his life defending truth, goodness, and beauty as absolute and unchanging. The featured discussion with Adler dates back to Ken Myers's tenure at NPR when he had the opportunity to interview Adler about the 1980 publication of his book How to Think about God: A Guide for Modern Pagans. In this book Adler tried to demonstrate the reasonableness of God's existence while still counting himself a pagan. The book argues that religious belief is not about faith alone because reason is also involved.

Part 2

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    Roger Lundin on the vision of William Blake

    William Blake (1757-1827)

    The Clyde S. Kilby professor of English at Wheaton College, Roger Lundin maintains that William Blake's creative insight places him in the center of thinking about truth and God. Everything in Blake's work comes back to the relationship of the individual to the world outside of him, and the hope that he portrays comes from the hope of the individual overcoming his alienation from God and the world. Blake (1757-1827), by setting the stage for spirit and nature dichotomies, is a forerunner of the late 19th- and 20th-century movements that put theology and religious practice over against the natural world instead of trying to synchronize the two.

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    Dana Gioia on the place of poetry and the way words work

    Interrogations at Noon (Graywolf, 2001)

    Poetry, the art that refines and perfects expression with words, remains the single most powerful, concise, and memorable way to use words to describe our existence to others and to ourselves, states poet and critic Dana Gioia. Belonging to the poets known as New Formalists, Gioia sees two main faults with contemporary poetry: it's either obscure, or it deals with big themes and ideas but has no verbal music or imaginative complexity. In contrast to much contemporary poetry, the best poetry satisfies our playful desires while feeding our souls. It creates sounds, resonances, rhythms, evocations, and tunes while exploring the mysteries of our existence. This interview was conducted shortly after the publication of Gioia's collection of poems Interrogations at Noon.

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    Mary Midgley on the ways science explains reality

    Science and Poetry (Routledge, 2001)

    Before her retirement in 1980, Mary Midgley was senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of New Castle on Tyne in England. Midgley has written several books of moral philosophy, her most recent being Science and Poetry in which she examines the connections between scientific analysis of the world and imagination, generally, and poetry, specifically. While some claim that poetry is trivial and science omni-competent, Midgley points out that poetic metaphors describe the world and stir the imagination to scientific undertakings. Science relies heavily on metaphors, which shape scientific doctrine.

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    Ted Libbey on the life and music of Edmund Rubbra

    Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)

    English composer Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) wrote several symphonies, numerous chamber works, motets, masses, madrigals, and anthems during his lifetime but has been largely ignored, states music critic Ted Libbey, because his music held little "surface appeal." Rubbra's works are linear in nature with new themes flowing out of previous themes. He avoided big splashes and nostalgia to follow his own sense of what music should be. This not only discourages dipping into the middle of a piece in search of great moments, but it also links Rubbra's work to the music of the Renaissance, which, because it disregarded elements of showiness, had a sustained and subdued feeling to it.

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    Bonus Track: Nigel Cameron on “Bioethics II”