BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD: Essays Catholic and Contemporary, by John Haldane
, May 24, 2008
Christianity and the modern worldTHE CHURCH AND THE WORLD:
Essays Catholic and Contemporary
by John Haldane
Paperback: 222 pages
Rec. price: $30.00John Haldane is one of the most respected thinkers in Great Britain today, having written and edited around 20 books. Additionally, he has contributed numerous articles on subjects as diverse as art, current affairs, education, literature, philosophy and religion, and participated in telecasts in the UK and the United States over many years.
As professor of philosophy and director of the Centre for Philosophy and Public Affairs in the University of St Andrews, Scotland, he is also a prominent academic, and will be visiting Australia later this year.The Church and the World
is a collection of essays which cover Professor Haldane's abiding interest in the intersection of religion with contemporary society, and is based on articles he contributed to various religious publications over recent years.
John Haldane's particular focus is on Catholic Christianity, because that reflects his own background and interest, and also, he tells us, "my religious and intellectual positions are mutually supportive, and in a time of social crisis, neutrality is a stance we cannot afford...".
However, the issues he examines are of universal concern, so this book will be of equal interest to other Christians, and indeed, to people of other faiths or no faith.
This collection of 25 short essays persuasively examines a whole range of issues which appear at the interface of religious belief and a largely post-Christian culture.
His first essay, somewhat ironically titled "Waiting in hope", is a very profound analysis of the crisis of belief and loss of confidence which have prevailed in the English church, as it has throughout the Western world.
Yet Haldane is not pessimistic, nor does he yearn for a by-gone era of certainties. He writes, "Feelings of uncertainty and some confusion about the religious leadership of the Church are paralleled on the cognitive side by doubts about the rational credentials of the faith.... Just as there is a feeling of uncertainty in relation to the future of the institutional Church, so there is a sense of awaiting a renewal of Catholic apologetics and cultural creativity.
"In neither case is the mood of expectation accompanied by optimism; but neither, save among the disaffected traditionalist and progressive fringes, is it marked by despair.
"From the point of view of the Catholic understanding of providence, that is probably the right demeanour, since the proper response to doubt about the present is not human optimism but religious hope."
Professor Haldane also makes a powerful case for people of faith to stand by their principles in a time of moral uncertainty and confusion, and to give to society the benefits of the insights which Christianity has developed over two millennia.
The book is divided into several sections: the Church and the world, church leaders (including recent popes and the late Cardinal Thomas Winning of Scotland), faith and reason; sexual ethics; and beauty, art and education.
In all these areas, John Haldane's approach is thoughtful, and easy to read and understand.
Its short essays invite the reader to dip into a single piece, and then to return later to reflect on the ideas put forward.
This is a treasure, and will be deeply appreciated by all of us who live simultaneously in the church and in the world.