Editor’s Introduction: Book Review Issue August/September 2019

[1] Summer reading is often wide-ranging.  We dip into genres outside our typical work to explore worlds beyond our everyday existence.  This book review issue honors that summertime trend as it explores ethical dimensions in literature, science, Buddhism, and Womanist Sass.

[2] Diane Yeager takes us into the world of secular literature through the eyes of the late Ronald Thiemann.  In The Humble Sublime, Thiemann’s deeply Lutheran notion of “sacramental realism” illuminates the sacred that is hidden in everyday life, including in the “darkness of the mundane.” In dialogue with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thiemann refutes Charles Taylor’s supernaturalist dualism in which transcendence requires a separate spiritual sphere. For Thiemann, the sacramental character of the reality in which we live comes alive in the literature of Langston Hughes, Anna Akhmatova, George Orwell and Albert Camus.  These authors use the lens of literature to expose oppression and make visible the lives so often hidden behind social barriers of race and class.  Emphasizing the importance of empathy in generating transformative action, Thiemann’s “politics of resistance” or “ethics of responsibility” provides a contrast to “knowledge-based” ethics. Yaeger brings an appreciative and critical eye to this work.

[3]  Silenced voices are reclaimed and celebrated in Womanist Sass and Talk Back: Social (In)justice, Intersectionality, and Biblical Interpretation by Mitzi Smith.  Surekha Nelavala’s review describes this as a book of scriptural interpretation addressing biblical texts and contemporary contexts where women find empowerment in claiming their voices.  Rejecting unjust interpretations of sacred texts, Smith raises up the personal experiences and collective knowledge of African American women as critical hermeneutical resources.  She juxtaposes biblical narratives with current cases studies of police brutality, racial stereotyping, and gender violence as she brings womanist voices to the analysis of texts.  Smith argues that claiming these voices and breaking their silence is a language of resistance.

[4] Roger Willer reviews Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer by Hummel and Woloschak.  Asking why ethicists should study a book about cancer and theology, Willer finds in this small volume, accessible scientific material that is critical to addressing thorny practical problems in medical ethics, bioethics, and biotechnology. More broadly, he argues, the book also offers a model for taking seriously the implications of well-established science qua science as it challenges and even changes the contours of fundamental ethical questions.  Willer insists that “it is crucial that ethics, like theology today, take into account the findings of science.”

[5] Science is the unique lens through which Robert Wright studies Buddhism in his Why Buddhism is True.  If the world’s religions concur in their diagnosis of the human condition, “that something within us and among us isn’t right,” Wright asks whether one tradition has the most effective analysis and approach to our predicament.   Wright argues that modern science anoints philosophical secular Buddhism as the winner.  Scientific knowledge about how our brains work coheres with Buddhist articulations of the root of human suffering and prescriptions for freeing ourselves. Will Bergkamp’s review describes key points of both Buddhism and science that undergird Wright’s argument, and then proceeds to explore some questions and implications for Christian theologians and ethicists.

Nancy Arnison

Book Review Editor

Nancy Arnison

Nancy Arnison is a lawyer, theologian and nonprofit executive and serves as the Book Review Editor for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics.