The New Context of Global Capitalism

The ideal of equality for the sake of fraternity that socialism promised resonated better with the values that religion promoted than the liberty of acquisitiveness and competition that characterizes capitalism. No religion, however, has seen fit to condemn capitalism as intrinsically evil. Instead, religion has aimed its guidance and admonition to the reform of the institutions of the market economy and of the personal lives involved in it.

With the end of "really existing socialism" in the former Soviet Union and China, the question assumed to have been answered is: Has capitalism triumphed? This is not only the end of socialism, it is proclaimed, it is the end of history. The historical process as a struggle of ideologies has reached its end state in capitalist liberal democracy.

A more nuanced answer is given by John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, issued in 1991 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The answer is a qualified "yes," if by capitalism is meant a "business economy" in which the principles of subsidiarity and of solidarity are operative. The principle of subsidiarity calls for the efficiency and productivity of market operations in economic activities, while the principle of solidarity justifies the intervention of the government for the sake of the poor and marginalized. In other words, it is not just any kind of capitalism. It is not the minimal state and rampant individualism of liberal capitalism -- not the alliance of government and business in state capitalism, but social capitalism in which the cruelties and inequalities of the market are mitigated.

No other religious body or theological movement, especially of the liberal stripe, has confronted the question and given a direct answer. Latin American liberation theology, for example, has addressed the virtues of democracy, but not of the market, preferring instead to delve into more "theological" and "spiritual" topics. It would seem that progressives are still reeling from the loss of the horizon of utopia and prophecy that socialism provided.

The empirical question, however, is: What is "really existing capitalism?" What are the contours of the capitalism that is sweeping across the globe and catching everyone in its grip. The five books under review are indispensable in understanding what is emerging as "really existing capitalism" at the end of the cold war.

William Greider has written a most compelling account of the global capitalism that is making countries into one borderless market whether we are ready or not. He compares it to a huge machine, wondrous in its efficiency and productivity, that is reaping enormous benefits for its beneficiaries, but is wreaking havoc in the lives of many as well. After an introductory chapter in which he points out that the ghost of Karl Marx continues to hover over the global capitalist revolution, Greider divides his narrative into three parts.

In the first, he recounts the race of desperate enterprises to the top for profits and to the bottom for wages, in the process oftentimes devastating lives and communities. The second is devoted to finance capital, "the Robespierre of this revolution," whose mobility and price manifest most clearly the manic logic of global capitalism. The third part deals with the social costs of the global industrial revolution, exemplified by the reappearance of "dark satanic mills" that were condemned two centuries ago. Greider enlivens his discussion by populating his book with actual laborers and employers, corporate CEOs and government officials in specific industries and countries. Thus, he shows that the dynamics of global capitalism play out as a human drama in which nations and peoples, rich and poor alike, face a multiplicity of challenges and dangers. Some win; more lose.

Lester Thurow, professor of economics at MIT, is emphatic that "the market, and the market alone, rules. . . 'Survival of the fittest' capitalism stands alone." The world is in a period of punctuated equilibrium which is being caused by the simultaneous movements of five economic tectonic plates: the end of communism; a technological shift to an era dominated by man-made brainpower industries; a demography never before seen; a global economy; and an era where there is no dominant economic, political, or military power.

As the world's economic topography alters, new games, new rules, and new strategies emerge, primarily driven by the ideology of an unfettered market. This is the new economic fundamentalism sweeping across the globe, creating instability and insecurity everywhere, steamrolling indigenous cultures and communities into homogenized consumerism, igniting social volcanoes of religious fundamentalism and ethnic separatism, and even posing threats to democracy. The ideology of laissez-faire capitalism has destroyed the implicit post-World War II social contract in the United States, has started to undermine the welfare state in Western Europe, and will make untenable the state capitalism of East Asia. The banner program of this revived Social Darwinism is the Republican Party's Contract with America.

Against the background of a coalescing cultural hegemony exercised by an unfettered market ideology and its belief systems of individualism and consumerism, the magisterial work of Robert Kuttner on the virtues and limits of markets is most welcome. The free market has proven itself to be the most efficient and productive mechanism to run a successful economy. But an unfettered market ideology is dangerous because it would commodify and commercialize human life itself. Kuttner makes a powerful case for the mixed economy in such areas as labor, health and medicine, innovation and economic prosperity, the human environment, and politics. The bottom line is that values integral to human identity and community like justice, freedom, worship, leisure, family, and love are not for sale. It is a message that must be preached especially from American rooftops, because the ideas of libertarian politics and of laissez-faire economics have found their global center in the United States.

The most deleterious effect of the global capitalist economy is the growing inequality that cuts across nations, both developed and underdeveloped. The distribution of the world's income which the United Nations Development Program depicted in the shape of a champagne glass has by now become familiar. It will only become dramatically worse in the near future. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, explains that in the global economy a country's standard of living no longer depends on the competitiveness of its corporations or its industries, but on the competitiveness of its labor force. Put simply, your real competitive position in the world depends on the job you perform in it.

According to Reich, there are three broad categories of work emerging in the global economy. They are "routine production services" which entail repetitive tasks, like the traditional blue-collar jobs and routine supervisory work; "in-person services" which also entail simple and repetitive tasks, but are provided person-to-person, like the traditional service jobs of retail sales workers, hospital attendants, taxi drivers, and security guards; and "symbolic-analytic services" which involve problem-identifying, problem-solving, and strategic-brokering activities, like those done by software engineers, biotechnology scientists, design engineers, and investment bankers. Symbolic analysts hold a dominant position in the new world economy, while the other two categories are losing ground. The question is: Do we simply leave this global problem of widening disparity in wages between skilled and unskilled workers to the inexorability of the market?

One concomitant of the ascendancy of the unfettered market ideology is the popularity of belief systems that blame the aberrant, irresponsible, and immoral behavior of the poor for their poverty. Thus, we have the spectacle of economic conservatives calling for the dismantling of the state to unleash more freely the magic of the market, while cultural conservatives decry moral decay, family breakdown, pornography, and the dependency of the poor, and want the government to impose standards and to penalize violators. Twenty years ago, Daniel Bell called attention to capitalism culturally subverting itself. In an afterword to a reissue of his book, he confirms that the instant gratification promoted by capitalism has undermined the work ethic that brought it about, that the tension between bourgeois society and modernism has been overtaken by the vulgarity of postmodernism, and that the separation of law and morality has been completed with the market becoming the arbiter of all economic and social relations. In other words, "family values" cannot be detached from the structural context of society and a world being devastated by a global market ideology.

Finally, from George Soros, one of the world's most prominent because successful financiers, comes the surprising warning that "the untrammeled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society." With the destruction of nonmarket value systems, societies lose their social anchor and eventually their economic stability. Without social justice as the guiding principle of civilized life, life becomes a Social Darwinian survival of the fittest. Unless nonmarket institutions and mechanisms are put into place, the open global society that prevails at present is likely to prove a temporary but disastrous phenomenon. These are sobering thoughts from a capitalist who has made a fortune in the financial markets, capitalism's purest market.

Over the past decades, there has been a significant shift in the religious ethical approach to and reflection on social issues. This methodological shift has been away from a deductive, natural-law approach to an inductive approach of social analysis and scriptural-theological reflection. In other words, an understanding and analysis of social context is a prerequisite in shaping theological reflection and ethical response. This context is dramatically changing before our eyes, a context in which global capitalism is exacting wrenching changes in lives, communities, and societies.

However, as the sociology of knowledge teaches, there is no neutral vantage point from which to view the global context. The contours of the one world coming into being will be defined according to one's interests and expectations, according to whether one benefits and wins from the globalizing process or one falls victim to and loses in the structural transformation. The preferential option for the poor, brought to prominence by Latin American liberation theology and since then accepted as a theological principle, demands that social reality and social structures be studied and evaluated in terms of how they impact the lives of the disadvantaged and marginalized. What does the global economy do for people, especially the poor? What does global capitalism do to people, particularly the poor?

These readings are a good place to start in critically and ethically engaging the human consequences of global capitalism.

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Saints and Revisionists: Refashioning the American Religious Narrative

It isn't that everything that historians have previously said about America's religious past is altogether wrong. Few scholars, least of all Thomas Tweed of the University of North Carolina, would argue as much, nor would many of the colleagues included in his collection, Retelling U.S. Religious History. It is only that the earlier historians, according to Tweed and his contributors, have left out so very much of the story. The older versions have omitted key events, neglected important constituents, and failed to consider a diversity of points of view. They have, in short, given us a narrative that is truncated and short-sighted, dominated by a Protestant elite, and riddled with prejudice.

Retelling U.S. Religious History attempts to broaden the narrower view and balance the unbalanced accounts. It is a revisionist challenge to the existing paradigms, a bold attempt to set the record straight. Tweed met with leading scholars in the field at conferences and meetings over the space of several years to discuss and debate American religious history and to organize the structure of this book. Its eight essays and the spirited introduction by the editor himself consider dimensions of America's religious past that have been largely untouched by former historians. Ann Taves, for instance, discusses sexuality as an important aspect of America's religious history, arguing that from the beginning sex and gender issues have had a substantial bearing on American religious life. In "Women's History is American Religious History," Ann Braude analyzes the ways in which women have been marginalized in past accounts of church and religious life, even though they have constituted in every era and almost every context the majority of those involved in America's churches and synagogues.

With respect to other religious traditions that earlier historians considered outside the mainstream of American religious life, Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp talks about the experience of Asians and Pacific islanders as they encountered the traditional European-American westward expansion. Her "Eastern Ho, American Religion from the Perspective of the Pacific Rim" tries to suggest ways in which scholars can now begin to better understand the interplay between Christianity, Eastern, and indigenous religions along the West Coast and Pacific Islands. In "Indians, Contact, and Colonialism in the Deep South: Themes for a Postcolonial History of American Religion," Joel Martin discusses the Muskoggee Creek Indians in present-day Alabama and Georgia from before and after their exposure to Europeans. In doing so, Martin attempts to chart in broad strokes the outlines for a "full-fledged postcolonial narrative" -- one that treats Native American spirituality seriously and not as a primitive and ultimately supplanted religion.

In all these collaborating articles -- including the contributions of Tamar Frankiel, Catherine L. Albanese, William Westfall, and Roger Finke, which consider issues as diverse as ritual sites in American religious narratives, the question of exchange among conflicting religious expressions, and the importance of the Canadian border in American religious history -- there is a healthy attention to issues that have largely been ignored. But although Retelling U.S. Religious History has gone a long way to redress some of the older lapses in historical imagination and areas of egregious scholarly neglect, its broad-ranging approach has drawbacks. Consider Henry K. Rowe's The History of Religion in the United States (1924) or the more contemporary rendering of the religious past in George Marsden's Religion and American Culture (1990). Such traditional approaches were far from perfect; they didn't include everyone in the story. Notwithstanding their limitations, however, they achieved a measure of cohesion. The narratives carried clear themes. The histories reflected solid structure. The accounts had, in a sense, a straightforward purpose. The historians knew what they were about and why.

In Retelling U.S. Religious History the old-fashioned certainties that accompanied such notions as "Revealed Religion" or the inevitability of progress have been cast aside. It is as if the revisions have discarded the reigning paradigms and not gotten around to putting anything in their place. To be sure, there is a greater diversity of voices and a richer texture of narrative in this collection's wonderful assembly of articles than the traditional historians have ever let us see. But there can be no mistaking the suspicion that something valuable has been lost in the process. There is quite frankly little cohesion in their efforts and an overwhelming lack of structure in their approach. Tweed may be right when he claims that at times "Diversity threatens to overcome all narrators who are sensitive to it." It may be that this is what has happened here.

Retelling U.S. Religious History is a fascinating attempt to begin to reconstruct America's religious past along new and different lines. The editor and his colleagues are to be commended in their efforts and recognized for their pains. If their collected attempt lacks a sure sense of direction, it may be simply part of the cost of revision -- part of the price of retelling the story of American religious history in the light of modern scholarship and in the wake of current sensibilities.


From Conflict to Cooperation

Richardson and Wildman's collection of essays is a state-of-the-art survey of the integrative, interdisciplinary field of religion and science. This impressive anthology includes leading scientists, philosophers, and theologians representative of the field and organizes their contributions in a format designed for the religion-science classroom at the advanced undergraduate or graduate level. The instructive value of the text is enhanced by the editors' skillful, analytical introductions to the volume and each of the parts on history, method, and dialogue, and by an appendix sporting a bibliography that provides further readings on topics covered in the volume and outside the scope of the text.

Part I of Religion and Science surveys the history of theology-science from the Enlightenment. John Hedley Brooke's and Claude Welch's essays reflect upon the complex history of the intersections of science and theology from the Enlightenment through the nineteenth century, dispelling easy models of conflict between science and religion. Wildman analyzes contemporary history of theology and science, a difficult assignment, in terms of cultural tension between spiritual and critical tendencies in human rationality. Perhaps Holmes Rolston III undertakes the most difficult task in his essay, projecting future trends and projects for the science-religion field.

Part II quite usefully represents a range of methodological approaches to the integration of science and religion, since our discipline-bound curricula are usually least competent with interdisciplinary method. Agreeing with Nicholas Wolterstorff's essay in rejecting foundationalism, Nancey Murphy's postmodern approach to method teases out several ways of understanding the relations of science and religion including both simple and complex patterns. Mary Gerhart and Allan Melvin Russell interpret epistemology in terms of knowledge-in-process, focusing on the process relations between mathematics and natural science and analogously between natural science and Christian theology. Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp, in a well-reasoned essay, examine Christian religious self-conceptions as a tertium quid between scientific hypotheses and individual values as a prior consideration to discussion of science and religion. The section on method is rich not simply because of the four diverse approaches to method, but because of a concluding series of three essays which articulate their similarities and disagreement. The methodology section does not advocate a single approach appropriate to the field, but with integrity acknowledges a number of interdisciplinary standpoints.

Openness to diversity and debate within theology-science scholarship is characteristic of Part III, which engages scientists, philosophers, and theologians in dialogue about case studies in contemporary science. While the dialogical format is not identical throughout, each case study provides an introduction to a scientific field of theory and debate, one or more theological applications or implications arising from science-religion integration, and some representation of relevant issues and contentions appropriate to the science-religion dialogue. The case studies explore cosmology, chaos theory, quantum complementarity, information theory, molecular biology, and social genetics in relation to theological formulations of creation, divine action, christology, human agency, free will, and religious ethics.

William R. Stoeger and Robert John Russell discuss physics and cosmology in the first case study. Stoeger's lucid survey of the physical sciences concludes with mention of three theological implications -- divine continuous creation, spirit-matter interconnection, and modes of divine action, while Russell gives rigorous attention to creatio ex nihilo and t=0 in Big Bang cosmology, constructing a sophisticated bridge between these concepts. In the second case study, Karl Young, in scientific detail, and John Polkinghorne, in relation to theological reflections, explain deterministic chaos theory and quantum chaology in accessible language. In light of flexibilities in chaotic systems, Polkinghorne proposes that divine action is interaction with creation, rather than intervention in nature or over-ruling nature, in concert with the laws of nature. The third case study engages Edward MacKinnon, James E. Loder and W. Jim Neidhardt, and Christopher B. Kaiser in discussion of quantum complementarity. MacKinnon examines similarities in Neils Bohr's complementarity and Immanuel Kant's antinomies in light of issues of language and logic. Loder and Neidhardt describe connections between Karl Barth's theological dialectic and Bohr's complementarity through a common source in Kierkegaard's qualitative dialectic. Kaiser's response is an analysis of similarities and differences in the two essays with suggestions for further research. The theological discussion is particularly fruitful in consideration of the Chalcedonian two natures of Christ. Case study IV includes John C. Puddefoot and Arthur Peacocke in dialogue about information theory and divine revelation. Whereas Puddefoot's essay explains information theory, Peacocke's is primarily theological, proposing how Jesus is divine revelation or self-expressive word of God. Puddefoot's essay concludes with an alternative christological interpretation in response to Peacocke's christology. R. David Cole and W. Mark Richardson explore molecular biology, neurobiology, genetic determinism, and learning in light of human agency and theological understanding of human free will. Cole's and Richardson's essays are rich in current scientific, philosophical, and theological scholarship that implies the consonance of biological and theological concepts of the human person. The last case study engages William Irons and Philip Hefner in intense dialogue about social genetics, human evolution, and sociobiology in relation to the evolution of morality, religious ethics, religious community, cultural commitments, and Christian doctrines (God-ideas, Jesus and ethics, sin and grace, and creation's fulfillment).

While experts may quibble with particular points (as I do when process metaphysics is described as pantheistic rather than panentheistic or when definitions of religion and theology shift from essay to essay), Religion and Science is an exemplary book truly representative of the state of science-religion scholarship. Reflecting the rigor and creativity characteristic of the field, its gifted editing gives diverse perspectives a coherent and instructive format. As a representative of the state-of-the-art in science-religion scholarship, the text is nevertheless liable to criticisms that plague the field itself: particularly that science-religion scholarship is narrowly concerned with post-Enlightenment Western science and Christian theology to the exclusion of ethnosciences, religious pluralism, and other models of science-religion integration.

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Sexual Theology in Progress

This collection of articles represents a new approach to an old topic. Instead of presenting a theology that discusses what scripture and tradition have to say about sexuality, the editors have assembled a body of contemporary writing that deals with sexual theology, drawing on the experience of sexual human beings to address a variety of topics bearing on the Christian life. This approach not only allows for the inclusion of a wider range of perspectives on sexuality; it reveals how contemporary theology is being transformed by a new starting point of embodied existence.

In "Reuniting Sexuality and Spirituality," James Nelson, whose distinction between a theology of sexuality and a sexual theology sets the tone of this book, presents seven signs of the paradigm shift in religious perceptions of sexuality. He maintains that the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s prepared the ground for the present period in which Christians are reinterpreting both sexuality and spirituality to incorporate their mutual influence. Michael Hester discusses the crisis of intimacy, especially for men, indicating possibilities for growth through the discovery of relational models. James Ashbrook, on the other hand, argues that since the brains of men and women are organized differently, complementarity makes up the full image of God in the human species. The section entitled "Sexuality and Gender," in which these articles are found, offers sufficient diversity to generate healthy differences of opinion, and includes Astri Hauge's "Feminist Theology as Critique and Renewal of Theology," Carter Heyward's "Is a Self-Respecting Christian Woman an Oxymoron: Reflections on a Feminist Spirituality for Justice," and Roland Martinson's "Androgyny and Beyond."

In a section on lesbian and gay sexuality, Robert Williams explores the meaning of marriage as "a lifelong union of two persons in heart, body, and mind," and defends the possibility and value of homosexual marriages. Alison Webster's "Revisioning Christian Sexual Ethics: A Feminist Perspective" presents a challenge to Christian teaching that suggests homosexual relationships as a possible model to correct the inequalities in heterosexual marriages.

Stephen Barton considers the enormous symbolic potential of the family, while acknowledging the diversity of ways it can be lived out and the danger of sentimentalizing it. Susan Barton responds to his essay, calling attention to the insights of feminism and indicating the need to recognize the social construction of family and the power imbalances that come from gender roles.

One of the most insightful articles in the collection is Karen Lebacq's "Appropriate Vulnerability: A Sexual Ethic for Singles." Lebacq goes beyond customary discussions of the morality of sexual behavior which focus on procreation and union. In proposing vulnerability as a third purpose of sexuality, God-given like the other two, she adds an important criterion for evaluating sexual responsibility both in and out of marriage. Vulnerability, essential to honest sexual relationships, addresses not only traditional topics in sexuality, but also the morality of rape, seduction, prostitution, and promiscuity.

The editors, who offer a brief introduction to each section and occasionally differ with an author's interpretation, have assembled a collection of articles that can effectively stimulate personal reflection and discussion. Their book exemplifies as well the transformation of theology from a unified view to a work in progress.

Two Cents for Bosnia

The war in the former Yugoslavia has spawned dozens of books. One of the most provocative and disturbing is The Bridge Betrayed by Michael A. Sells, who chairs the religion department at Haverford. Sells is not a dispassionate observer. As he tells us in his preface, his mother's family is Serbian American and his relatives in Bosnia and Krajina are among the hundreds of thousands who have suffered in the war. But he is unsparing in his criticism of the leaders of Serbia and assigns to them the principal responsibility for the slaughter in Bosnia. The Croats, who contributed their share to the savagery, began persecuting Bosnian Muslims, he argues, after they discovered that "Serb army aggression and atrocities were not being punished but were being rewarded by international peace negotiators."

Sells's purpose, however, is not so much to blame as to explain. He maintains that the war in Bosnia was not merely a war for territory. It was genocide. As the Serbs, and subsequently the Croats, "ethnically cleansed" the regions they conquered, as they destroyed the architectural and intellectual monuments of Islamic civilization in Bosnia, "their goal was the eradication of a people and all evidence of that people's culture and existence."

Furthermore, he argues, the genocide of Bosnian Muslims was not the result of ancient religious quarrels. The Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim faithful had lived more in peace than in conflict for centuries -- Bosnia was a bridge between cultures before it was a battleground. The violence was the product of a religious mythology of relatively recent vintage. Sells traces the enmity between south Slavic Christians and Muslims to the works of the greatest figures of nineteenth-century Serbian literature, Vuk Karadzic and Petar II Petrovic Njegos, who transformed Lazar, the Serbian prince defeated in the fourteenth-century battle of Kosovo, into a Christ figure, and the Muslims who defeated him into Christ killers. In the new mythology, Christianity became the identifying characteristic of true Slavs -- Christoslavism, Sells calls it -- while Slavs who converted to Islam became race traitors to be despised and eliminated. The mythology was reiterated in the works of Yugoslavia's twentieth-century Nobel Prize winning author, Ivo Andric, and in the sermons and pamphlets of Orthodox clergy.

Some scholars may disagree with Sells' account of the provenance of religious extremism in Serbian culture, but his evidence of the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in contributing to genocide against the Bosnian Muslims is persuasive. The Catholic clergy of Herzegovina likewise played a "troubling role," although Sells acknowledges that the Catholic hierarchy in Bosnia and Croatia "specifically and courageously condemned the crimes of Croat religious nationalists." He associates, unsuccessfully in my view, the phenomenon of Medjugorje and those who travel to that site of alleged Marian apparitions with the carnage in the nearby concentration camps. "Did those busloads of pilgrims, filled with inner light and joy, hear the screams from the other side of the Medjugorje hills?" His bitter sarcasm in this instance is unworthy of his otherwise serious message.

In his final chapters Sells deals with the Western response to the war in Bosnia. The West refused to stop the genocide and by promoting an arms embargo prevented the Muslims from effectively defending themselves. Sells sees Western inaction as part of a pattern: "Since the First Crusade in 1096, non-Christian communities in Europe have been subject to annihilation." In his view the leaders of the West "engaged in a form of passive violence" in which the perpetrators of genocide "were protected by a policy designed by the policy makers of a Western world that is culturally dominated by Christianity."

Anti-Balkan and anti-Muslim stereotypes surely played a role in the reluctance of Western leaders to intervene in the war in Bosnia. And the long history of Western intolerance toward Jews and Muslims merits no defense. But there are more mundane, less sinister explanations for Western inaction. The war in Bosnia was not the first war in the disintegration of Yugoslavia but the third: Slovenia and Croatia were the first victims. The West did not intervene when Serbian shells were annihilating the Croatian city of Vukovar, not because of a Christian Anti-Muslim bias -- there were few Muslims in Vukovar -- but because European leaders were deeply divided and intervention carried no advantage in American domestic politics. Sells quotes Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in 1995: "I don't give two cents about Bosnia." It was not only Muslims that Friedman did not care about. As poll after poll of public opinion indicated, Americans were slow to care for the fate of any of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, Christian or Muslim. When the West belatedly did intervene, it acted more forcefully in support of the Bosnian Muslims than it had ever done in defense of Croatian or Serbian victims of the war.

Nor was the arms embargo, surely one of the most misguided of Western actions, aimed primarily at the Bosnian Muslims, although they were its chief victims. It was initially intended to limit the struggle in Croatia, and while the Croatians were less isolated and could get around the embargo more easily, it is not entirely fair to argue that "the embargo thus only really harmed the Bosnians." Sells concludes that the NATO policy makers had "a moral and legal duty" under the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention to prevent and punish genocide and to allow the beleaguered Bosnian Muslims to defend themselves. True enough, but unfortunately international law rarely triumphs over the narrower perceptions of national interest, and "moral duty" is even more rarely a compelling argument for defense of the besieged.

Totalists, Tribalists, and an American Vision

The One and the Many: America's Struggle for the Common Good is Martin Marty's welcome contribution to the growing body of literature concerned with questions of national identity and purpose. As Marty notes, the problematic of the one and the many in American life no longer refers to the relation between the nation and the states; it has come to designate the conflict between those accentuating the unity of American life and those accentuating its diversity. Marty contends that the American experiment is threatened by the failure to accommodate both the one and the many, a failure reflected in polarized camps and a paucity of civil discourse. This book is an extended effort to help rectify this failure. Critical of both camps in the so-called culture wars, Marty contends that each is a one-sided extreme. Moreover, despite their dominance of the national airwaves, the camps do not represent the majority of the population. He addresses his book to this vast audience that in recent years has been largely overlooked.

Marty brings to this endeavor his extensive knowledge of American religious history, as well as a perspective informed by a series of recent projects on global developments in religion and culture. Though this is not a book on global developments in comparative perspective, by analyzing the contentious disputes over American identity against their more extreme global versions, Marty widens and sharpens our picture of the forces at work in the American context. He proposes that we frame the dispute between the one and the many in American life in terms of two competing global movements, the "totalists" and the "tribalists." The totalists subscribe to "the idea that a nation-state can and should be organized around a single and easily definable ideology or creed" (10). This view, which reflects a "craving for wholeness," legitimates state-enforced conformity, and has been responsible for some of the most lethal forms of totalitarianism in this century. Tribalists, on the other hand, reject the totalist position, insisting that "only the groups to which one naturally belongs, or chooses to belong" can provide adequate identity and coherence (11). The tribalist prefers tightly knit groups with sharp boundaries. Much of the world is embroiled in conflicts, often violent, between these competing visions. Although the American republic has been spared the most virulent forms of these global trajectories, Marty discerns milder versions operative in the contentious, often paralyzing conflicts in contemporary American life.

A recurring theme is the importance of stories in the formation of personal and collective identity. The American version of the conflict between totalists and tribalists can be discerned, Marty argues, in the stories they tell, especially those of origins and destiny as a people. The totalists "seek a single American plot" while the tribalists "stress subplots of the contending groups" (43). The totalists presume that a flourishing nation depends upon a single story which generates common beliefs and values. The tribalists point to the oppressive nature of single stories which seek to forge a shared vision at the expense of the vision, voices, and values of the diverse subgroups, whether based on ethnicity, gender or religion.

Marty seeks to illuminate and mediate the paralyzing conflict between the tribalists and totalists through historical reconstruction of the tension between the one and the many in our nation's past. He recounts a variety of ways in which sameness and unity have been championed at the expense of minority racial, ethnic, and religious groups, ranging from the views of such prominent individuals as Jay or Jefferson, to such institutions as the public schools and legal rulings. Advocates of religious pluralism and, somewhat later, multiculturalism and identity politics have played a crucial role in exposing and countering the myriad ways in which homogeneity and unity have worked to legitimate the power and interests of a subset of Americans, initially limited to those of Protestant, Anglo descent. Despite endorsing their critique of the totalists, Marty is equally critical of the tribalist move toward multiple stories which make no effort to speak of a common life or common good. Rejecting the Manichean cast of the tribalist stance, Marty suggests that it fails to capture the actual lives of most Americans. It tends to reflect the rhetorical purity and rigidity of the political leadership of the subgroups, not the blurred identities of individuals who typically belong to multiple groups.

Totalists and tribalists are engaged in an escalating conflict, and "advocates of each tempt partisans to choose and make a total commitment to one or the other" (95). Calling for Americans to resist such a choice, Marty seeks to carve out a middle ground that does justice to the particular stories of Americans without abandoning concern for a shared life and common identity. His strategy largely entails imaginative exploration of the nature and degree of unity that is desirable and necessary in a pluralist republic. Drawing upon a wide array of thinkers -- Madison, de Tocqueville, Oakeshott, and Jeffrey Stout, among others -- Marty tries to show that the nation, and the subgroups within it, should be construed as forms of civil association, not as communities. "True community is too intimate, too thick, too rich, and too demanding to be realized in something as public, broad, thin, and undifferentiated as a free and complex republic" (119). As an association of associations, the nation is a "company of strangers" who seek some common purposes but do not share a rich conception of the good or a single creed or myth. Although recognizing the importance of a common national identity, Marty insists that the "ties of cohesive sentiment" must remain relatively loose and voluntary.

This associational model of social life correlates with a particular form of personal identity. The purity and homogeneity of personal and collective identity that inspires both the tribalists and totalists gives way, Marty suggests, to a differentiated, even conflictual, identity that reflects plural belonging. Continuing the multiple conversations within and across these varied associations, he concludes, holds out the most promise for moving past the current impasse and making adequate room for both the one and the many in our collective life.

Marty has made a highly informative, engrossing, and readable contribution to the national discussion of identity and the common good. Clearly addressed to a wide audience, it reflects an informal style, a somewhat eclectic use of illustrations and thinkers, and the use of broad strokes to identity major alternatives competing for our allegiance. In my judgment, Marty provides both a judicious treatment of the limitations of the opposing camps, and helpful clues regarding how to stake out a middle ground that is attentive to both our diversity and that which is shared. He is very much on target, I think, in challenging the yearning for community that infects the search for collective identity among both tribalists and totalists, the most important theme in the book. But I found myself puzzling over certain questions posed by Marty's treatment of the issues. Does his mapping of the cultural landscape as a polarization between tribalist and totalists inadvertently obscure other movements reflecting a more universal impulse? What is the status of his fundamental commitments to the very American mix of pluralism, pragmatism, freedom, and ongoing conversation? I suspect that Marty's fairly narrow and conventional construal of the category of religion plays an important role in his insistence that the unifying aspects of America are not rooted in a common religion. Notwithstanding these lingering questions, Marty's contribution to the extensive public conversation over national identity merits a wide reading.

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Making a God Who Needs No Justifying

"There is no document of civilization," said Walter Benjamin, "which is not at the same time a document of barbarism." It is no news that in Christian history -- so long the history of political power in Europe -- the Bible has served as a document of barbarism. In Jewish history, so long a history of political powerlessness, it is recent and distressing news, as the state of Israel has employed its own share of barbaric methods to establish and maintain itself. Marc Ellis has examined both histories with an intense and demanding scrutiny to show how each religion has used the Bible as warrant for atrocity. His recommendations for change are tentative -- as befits a theologian who prefers "less a militant assertion than a humble probing" -- but his indictment of militant assertions is severe.

It feels too soon in Jewish history for the universal shock of the Shoah to be supplanted by a new and profoundly conflicted understanding of the Jewish position in the world; the Shoah needs centuries of slow pain to comprehend, and still never ceases to be a shock. But the very exigency of the need for a Jewish refuge from Europe gave rise to a new set of conditions immediately after the war. "The sad irony," Ellis writes, "is that Israel has made others homeless and disinherited in order to survive, whereas for two millennia the dignity of the Jew was bound to the inability to make any other human being as disinherited as the Jews themselves." As long as Israel was (in Steiner's word) extraterritorial, it was innocent of other nations' political crimes. The trouble is that one lives, by necessity, on territory -- if not on one's own then on someone else's. Our lives are contingent upon being in a place. The need to maintain ourselves erodes our innocence as we humble either ourselves or others to ensure our survival. Holocaust theology at its best has recognized the precariousness of innocence even in the wartime ghettoes and the camps, as in Lawrence Langer's concept of "choiceless choice," whereby Jews were given chances to save themselves at the knowing expense of other Jewish lives. The builders of the newly territorial Israel doubtless felt that it was better to sacrifice one's innocence on one's own terms than to have it thus violated. The cost was participation in political crimes. "All schoolchildren learn," Auden once wrote, "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return." Hebrew -- the lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue -- has now been used to legitimate torture: not quite as German was used by the Nazis, but not quite far enough from it. The uprooted Palestinians, as a political group, have themselves been far from innocent, but Ellis is not concerned to trace the theological roots of their atrocities; he is taking a prophetic stand against those of the Israeli government.

Ellis's work is, as might be expected, extremely controversial among Jews. To publish a book critical of Israel (though his is hardly the first) is, to some readers, an act of plain disloyalty; to publish it with a Christian press is worse, a risk and a betrayal, an exposure of private quarrels to an extremely public and unforgiving eye. Ellis is cognizant of the risk; indeed one of his fears is that Israeli policy may alienate Christians, and that the fragile détente at which Christians and Jews have arrived in the wake of the Shoah may degenerate once more into mutual distrust. As Christians recognize and try to atone for the triumphalist anti-Judaism that laid the foundations for Nazi anti-Semitism, they have, Ellis says, become as dependent theologically on Jewish innocence as they previously were on Jewish guilt. Evidence that Jews with political sovereignty can make serious errors of policy -- which is, at another level, evidence that Jews are still unconcerned with the coherence of the Christian narrative -- may result in disillusionment and a return of suspicion. "Have not the Jews always and everywhere disappointed Christians?" Ellis asks. There is no need to spell out the consequences. In the long run, he suggests, the policies of the Jewish refuge may not be good for the Jews.

The habit of disappointment may be less ingrained in the current generation of Christians than Ellis fears; the Shoah, by being so desperately a Jewish event, is more than a Jewish event, and overshadows both Christians and post-Christians with the knowledge that humans will subject other humans to absolutely any torment. Against this sober fact, for thoughtful people, no triumphalist theology stands a chance. Within Christian theology -- even within Christian escape fiction -- sympathetic attention to the Jewish condition is widely present, as writers and readers struggle to invent themselves as people who could not allow the event to happen. Still, sympathetic attention is not always comprehension; there is always a tension for Christians (and disquietingly often for post-Christians) between Jews they know and "the Jews" of the Gospels -- between the natural and the supernatural Jew, in Arthur Cohen's illuminating phrase. What is for the Jews merely the most painful irony of the exile, that the return should be no less precarious, may for those Christians still entangled with the image of the supernatural Jew be a supernatural event. Certainly the widespread expectation among Christian fundamentalists (including, from time to time, highly placed U.S. Government officials) that the "ingathering of the Jews" will lead to the Second Coming is evidence of supernatural thinking.

Among fundamentalist Jews the return to Israel is supernatural in another sense -- which is the force behind the settlers' tenacity, the schemes to rebuild the Temple, the treatment of any territorial boundary mentioned in the Torah as a nonnegotiable question. For Ellis, this fundamentalist zeal -- which produced Baruch Goldstein's massacre at Hebron and Yigal Amir's assassination of Yitzhak Rabin -- is so repugnant as to be comparable to the sanguinary Christian conquest of the Americas, and he discusses in detail the religious justification of both brands of zeal. He stresses that the zealous do not see themselves as the radical fringe but as the real Jews or Christians -- which compels their victims to see them in the same light, and to fear even the softer versions of those same religions. Thus Ellis arrives at the central question of his book: can religious language that has once been used to oppress ever be used again to liberate?

He is not sure it can: the record of liberation theology, the most widespread conscious effort so far to turn the oppressor's religion to the people's redemptive use, is equivocal. Liberation theologians have made remarkable efforts to recover Christianity for the poor (particularly striking as a flash of imaginative possibility is Zambian bishop Emmanuel Milingo's attempt at a trustworthy syncretism, "marrying Jesus to the ancestors"); they have thought deeply on the relations between the indigenous and the universal. Unhappily, all that their efforts have served to prove thus far is that a new Christology is of little use against an established pattern of oppression. The existing power relations (including that between the Catholic theologian and the Catholic hierarchy, as the disciplining of Gustavo Gutiérrez shows) remain intractable. Just as neither Goethe nor the gospel was sufficiently civilizing to prevent Nazi domination (I disagree with Ellis that the failure of the gospel was more shocking, since European humanism was in a sense an antidote to previous failures of the gospel), the gospel of solidarity with the poor has been no match for the existing political order (and disorder) in Latin America and Africa, or in the United States. The question remains whether any religious language originally imposed by force can subvert the workings of force, or whether the liberating elements of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are themselves permanently subverted by having been so imposed.

Ellis suspects that they are. He is deeply in doubt of all efforts to rehabilitate the God of tradition, so far as those efforts are made by theologians whose habit is to soften painful truths in order to make life endurable. "Is it the task of theology always to come after," he asks, "to collect, order, and articulate -- and therefore transform -- that which threatens to overwhelm human sensibility, including our sense of continuity and meaning?" If it is the task of the artist never to avert his eyes, is it the task of the theologian always to avert them? Is theology always at some subtle level the enemy of truth? Ellis does not trust theological meanings constructed for the consolation of a humankind that cannot bear too much reality. By challenging the paternalistic habit of professional theology, he not only questions its integrity but sounds the knell of its obsolescence: why should the flock need theologians to lie to them when they have television?

Ellis sides, finally, with Etty Hillesum, for whom the aim and definition of genuinely religious behavior was simply the restoration of the ordinary in exigent conditions. He would throw over the whole project of justifying God's ways to man and bring into existence through acts of justice a God who needs no justifying. From Joan Casañas he takes the idea (which resonates profoundly with certain currents in Jewish thought) that "the human project [is] the task of making God exist." From Martin Buber he takes the principle that no act of cruelty is inevitable, that we must always proceed as if negotiation could yield results (as Buber wished to do not only with the Palestinians but with the Nazis), because whether or not God is present we must always be present to each other. Perhaps Ellis follows too uncritically the current feeling in theological circles that God's violence is a sort of incitement to copycat crime; there is no theoretical reason that humans cannot be humane even if God is abusive, and some practical evidence that God's oversights spur us to repair. One of the effects, if not one of the intentions, of the image of the violent God is to make us excruciatingly aware of the vulnerability of persons; indeed it demonstrates as graphically as possible Ellis's own point, that we need not wait to have a justifiable God to pursue justice.

Ellis's painful question, "By claiming or even arguing with the traditional God, do we delay the coming of God's existence?" is profoundly the right question; but by retaining the word God for our own future deeds of justice, does he perhaps mislead for the sake of theological meaning, even avert his eyes? It is we who "restore the ordinary" for each other; we do not need the word God except for what is beyond our control. The world hangs on our own will and capacity for civilization or barbarism. It is by no means clear what difference theism or theology makes in this equation. We can corrupt the best of theologies and bring unexpected mercy out of the worst; our choices in moments of crisis are the determinants. Probably it helps, as Ellis suggests, to have access to both a "concentric" tradition of religious text and commentary and an (ec-centric?) tradition of disinterested inquiry -- to have the documents of two civilizations, which may prevent each other from becoming barbarous. Beyond that it is difficult to predict. Decision itself is too near to us -- in our mouths and in our hearts -- to be surely known before it happens.

Secular Dream/Religious Reality

Regardless of one's religious and political loyalties or affiliations, one can hardly fail to be alternately intrigued, horrified, and astonished by the last century of developments in the history of the Jewish people. In the hundred years since Theodor Herzl unveiled his plan for a Jewish state and the first Zionist Congress met in Basel, Switzerland, there has been a radical transformation of not only the existential situation of Jews throughout the world but also their self-understanding of the meaning of being Jewish. The continued presence of Jews in a predominantly non-Jewish world had produced the "Jewish Question" to which both antisemitism and Zionism offered radical solutions. The extent to which Zionism and the actual creation of the state of Israel resolved or reframed this "question" is the fascinating topic of this book.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft's engrossing account attempts to capture both the intellectual and ideological tensions and controversies that have persisted in Zionist and anti-Zionist thinking and the unpredictable historical events that have moved the Zionist experiment along. Although Wheatcroft offers a highly readable narrative of historical developments, his deeper concern is with unraveling "the debates which were provoked by the Jewish question and Zionism, and of the way in which the Jewish national movement and the creation of a Jewish state have affected Jews everywhere" (xii). The development of Zionism in response to European antisemitism as well as its impact on Jews and non-Jews (especially the non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel) is a minefield for any interpreter trying to remain balanced. Wheatcroft (who is neither Jewish, Israeli, nor Zionist) characterizes his point of view as "neutral" or "agnostic" about his subject matter. I take this to be less a defensible theory of historiography than a statement about the highly partisan nature of many other books about Zionism and Israel, in relationship to which this book is admirably balanced and fair-minded.

For Jews today, it is hard to imagine or remember a world without Zionism or a Jewish state. What comes across most strongly in this book is the messy, unpredictable nature of history and the ironic, paradoxical, and unexpected ways in which ideas and ideals become translated into reality. The author highlights moments when Zionist and other figures were both uncannily prescient about possible problems that later developed as well as times when they totally failed to anticipate what seem to be obvious problems in retrospect. It is intriguing to contemplate what it was like for early Zionists to propose the creation of a Jewish state at a time when this was little more than a crazy dream.

To follow the early debates over Zionism makes it clear that any present-day consensus among Jews about the importance and legitimacy of the state of Israel obscures the deep ambivalence and even hostility with which the Zionist plan was first greeted by both religious and assimilated Jews, who saw it as both impractical and ill-advised. What is later packaged as the fruition of Jewish cultural and religious history was actually for Herzl an abandonment of Jewish tradition. The premise of the Zionism he conceived in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair in France was the inevitability of antisemitism and the ultimate failure of assimilation, conversion, or intermarriage. Writing at the height of European colonialism, when the whole world was being annexed by European powers, Herzl envisioned the normalization of Jewish existence through the creation of a Jewish nation state. For Herzl, being Jewish was less an existential statement of religious faith or cultural allegiance than a recognition of the judgements of the non-Jewish world. His notion of Jewish nationalism was by no means obvious and had to be constructed as a new form of Jewish identity.

For all its democratic appeal and aspirations, Wheatcroft emphasizes, Zionism and the state of Israel that eventually emerges from it are products of nineteenth-century European nationalism. These roots would later leave Zionism vulnerable to criticism of its colonialist roots, especially at a time when European colonialism was being abandoned and atoned for. From the vantage of the present, it is hard to understand the obliviousness of many early Zionists to the problem of the non-Jewish inhabitants of the land they hoped to settle. As Wheatcroft shows, Zionists resolved the tension between the Jewish moral sensitivity to issues of justice and the urgent Jewish need for a home in different ways. Some, like Weizmann, naively envisioned peaceful coexistence with Arabs, while others, like Jabotinsky, were more straightforward about the problem posed by the Arabs, and the need to use force when necessary to achieve Zionist ends. The legitimate desire for a homeland often blinded early well-meaning Zionists to the costs that a Jewish state would exact on other peoples in the region. This is one of the hardest issues to understand dispassionately, and Wheatcroft handles the basic issues well. Jews and Israelis often become defensive when these issues are raised, and only recently has the history of Zionism been reexamined by Israelis from the point of view of its impact on Palestinian Arabs.

Wheatcroft does a fine job of comparing the Zionist solution to the Jewish question with other recent episodes of ethnic conflict, massive migration, and uprooting of native populations. It is illuminating to consider the Jewish case in relation to the situation among the Irish, Italians, Germans, Turks/ Greeks, Bosnians, South Africans, etc. Such comparisons are always risky, but Wheatcroft seems able to distinguish illegitimate polemical comparisons (such as the one that compares Israelis with Nazis) and hypocritical double standards (such as condemning Israel while worse abuses in African and Arab countries go unmentioned) from valid comparisons with other contemporary tensions and conflicts.

Despite the almost miraculous success of the state of Israel, the underlying paradoxes of the Zionist program are also examined here. Zionism ultimately became an idea supported by the majority of Jews despite the fact that diaspora Jews have overwhelmingly rejected its fundamental premise -- the benefits of living in a Jewish state. Diaspora Jews maintain a strong emotional identification with Israel all the while their feet remain firmly planted elsewhere. Zionism is born in despair about the possibility of safety and comfort for Jews in non-Jewish countries, but the success and acceptance of the American Jewish community offers a fundamental challenge to Zionist analysis of diaspora Jews as perpetually endangered outsiders in gentile society.

This raises the question of the meaning and impact of Zionism for Jews who choose not to go to Israel. Wheatcroft analyzes the benefits of Zionism and Israel for those who live in diaspora. Liberal Judaism, which had initially rejected a tribal or nationalistic definition of Jewishness, learned to make an increasingly uneasy accommodation between universalistic, liberal democratic views and the unique, particularistic nature of a Jewish state where Jews, if not self-consciously a race, still maintain a hybrid system of classification that includes biological as well as religious requirements. Wheatcroft explains some of the ways that Jews who choose not to go to Israel have derived enhanced prestige and self-esteem from the successes of the Jewish state, a factor particularly valuable in healing the trauma of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry.

For Wheatcroft, the greatest paradox of Zionism is that its success did not rescue Jews from diaspora but, on the contrary, made it easier for diaspora Jews to assimilate Western culture. Israel has provided an anchor and focus for Jewish identity that makes life in America more comfortable and secure. Israel's dramatic victory over its enemies in the Six Day War of 1967 briefly united together Jews everywhere with intense pride in Israel. Nonetheless, as both the American Jewish community and Israeli society have developed in their own directions, the Jewish question is being raised in new ways as Israeli and diaspora Jews become increasingly aware of their differing cultural assumptions, political principles, and ways of being Jewish. Wheatcroft's story necessarily becomes more fragmented as it comes closer to the present, where it encounters new fragmentation and divisiveness in the Jewish community itself and where it becomes impossible to predict the further ironic or paradoxical developments that may lie ahead for Jews inside and outside of Israel.


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