THE OTHER JOURNAL interviews Joel Shuman
Author of BODY OF COMPASSION, etc.
The Other Journal (TOJ): In the final chapter of the book you coauthored with Brian Volck, Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine, you make the explicit claim that for Christians, when it comes to death and dying, rules and principles are not the answer. You clarify that it depends, rather, on a rightly formed character through a radical participation in Christian community. Yet in the church these days there seems to be a reluctance among the clergy to engage parishioners on this level. Could you speak to some of the reasons and influences that might bring about this reluctance?
Joel Shuman (JS): One of the things that may be hindering clergy from taking this on as one of the teaching ministries of their church and talking more about issues regarding the end of life or questions that arise at the end of life is that a great deal of what clergy do is demand-driven. People in our culture don’t want to talk about death and dying, at least not in the ways that involve doing the hard work of talking openly about it and getting radically involved in one another’s lives. Now this is a broad generalization to which you would find many, many exceptions. I’ve been involved with some churches that have done extraordinary things; however, the biggest part of our Christian avoidance of this matter is that it’s frowned upon in the wider culture.
TOJ: Certainly. I’ve dealt with this firsthand with the death of a young mother here in our church. I preached at her funeral service, and it became clear to me in my preparation how hidden death has become in our culture, and the death that you do see in various forms of media seem to fictionalize death completely.
JS: That’s an excellent observation. I learned a good deal from a book that was written in the late 80s by a theologian at Fuller Seminary named Ray Anderson. He wrote a book on theology, death, and dying. He made the point early on in that book, as a matter of introducing the topic, that by the time the average American is fourteen years old, he or she will have witnessed thousands of fictionalized deaths on television or in movies and so forth. Alongside this observation, he juxtaposed the fact that the vast majority of Americans will not have firsthand experience of another person dying in their presence. The dichotomy between these two facts has always struck me as remarkable. His first observation about the fictionalization of death is truer today, insofar as electronic media has become more prevalent and we have more exposure to those kinds of things. I think about video games that are excruciatingly violent and what David Grossman says in his book On Killing, about the way video games very much train the players in the same way that the United States military trains riflemen now, which is through operant conditioning.1 This makes it a reflex action to fire a weapon at another human being. One of Grossman’s peripheral concerns in the book is that this fictionalization is creating a kind of cheapening of both life and death in the broader culture.
Read the full interview:
[ Our review of Joel’s THE BODY OF COMPASSION was featured in Issue #1.5 ]
Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine.
Joel Shuman and Brian Volck.
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2007.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
FIRST THINGS reviews Barry Harvey’s
CAN THESE BONES LIVE? http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6449
When the Vatican published Dominus Iesus late in the summer of 2000, reactions were generally hostile. I doubt its main author, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was surprised, for the document touched an exposed nerve. It seems to go without saying that neither interreligious nor ecumenical dialogue can succeed if one side presupposes that it has all the truth—yet to its critics that is exactly what Dominus Iesus seemed to be saying. It explicitly defends both the salvific uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the claim of the Catholic Church to be the one true Church—the Church that this unique and exclusive Savior intended, and none other.
Advocates of interreligious dialogue (including a large number of Catholic theologians) objected mainly to the first half of the document, dealing with the uniqueness of Christ, while participants in ecumenical dialogue demurred more at the second half, the part that claimed exclusivity for the Roman Church. Not that ecumenists were terribly fond of the first part either, since a liberal ecclesiology usually goes with a liberal Christology. One group, evangelical Protestants, did appreciate Dominus Iesus, since their whole evangelizing drive is premised on confessing Jesus as the one way to salvation. Of course, they did not much like the second half, but that did not mitigate the appreciation.
Still, the issue of ecclesiology will have to be faced, a challenge taken up by Barry Harvey’s latest and passionately felt book, Can These Bones Live? A Catholic Baptist Engagement with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory. Looking at the almost kaleidoscopic variety of ecclesial bodies in contemporary Christianity, the author cannot help but think of Ezekiel’s vision of those human skeletal remains bleached dry by the sun, when the prophet heard God asking, “Son of man, can these bones live?” to which Ezekiel could only reply, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” This, says Harvey, describes the current situation of the Christian churches: Can the dismembered Church ever be put back together again without direct divine intervention?
Read the full review:
Can These Bones Live? A Catholic Baptist Engagement
with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]
BookForum Reviews a new poetic Translation of
Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things)
At a moment in history when God is said to participate in world politics, the pungent ode to nature De rerum natura, composed by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, can provide a dose of sanity. What the atomist Epicurus called ataraxia—the tranquility of mind achieved when one is freed from the fear of occult controllers—Lucretius transformed into a prophetic materialism. His lyric treatise, published in the first century bce, predicts everything from atomic physics to the existence of DNA and casts it all in melodious hexameters.
Unlike the many prose versions of De rerum natura, David Slavitt’s new translation (University of California Press, $15) gives us six-beat English versions of the Latin original. Here’s how he renders the passage in which Lucretius acknowledges his debt to Epicurus:
It was long the case that men would grovel
upon the earth,
crushed beneath the weight of Superstition
loomed in the heavens, glaring down with her
until Epicurus of Greece dared to look up and
taking a stand against the fables and myths of
the gods . . .
Read the full review:
De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things)
David Slavitt, Translator.
Paperback: University of Calif. Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]