Book reviews

American Catholic Social Teaching (Vol 1 CD, Vol 2 print), Thomas Massaro & Thomas Shannon (eds). Michael Glazier–Liturgical Press, 2002. isbn 0 8146 5105 4

We have in recent years seen the United States Bishops at their worst as court testimonies reveal the way in which some have dealt with sexual abuse within the church. In their attitude to the war on Iraq, we have seen them at their best, resisting their government’s predilection for violence.

The bishops’ criticism of an unjust war initiated by their own nation draws on a strong episcopal tradition of moral reflection on United States public life. The collection of articles edited by Massaro and Shannon, accompanied by a CD containing bishops’ statements on social issues, is a rich resource. The statements stretch over two centuries, and cover a broad range of topics. The printed articles offer reflection contemporaneous with the statements. They give some idea of the perplexities and passions which form the context for the writing of the documents. Among the articles, I was delighted to see such disparate treasures as John Ireland’s reflections on being American and Catholic, the manifesto of the Catholic Worker movement, and Elizabeth Johnson’s analysis of the strains imposed today on one who wishes to be both woman and Catholic.  

Andrew Hamilton sj

War on Iraq: What Team Bush doesn’t want you to know, Scott Ritter (former UN Weapons Inspector) & William Pitt. Allen & Unwin, 2002. isbn 1 74114 063 3, rrp $9.95

September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives, Susan Hawthorne & Bronwyn Winter (eds). Spinifex Press, 2002. isbn 1 876756 27 6, rrp $32.95

Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, Rohan Gunaratna. Scribe Publications, 2002. isbn 0 9080 1195 4, rrp $29.95

The debate about war with Iraq is difficult to make much of because its currency has been increasingly strident assertion rather than argument. It is more helpful to read about its various contexts than to spend much time on defences of war.

Scott Ritter offers some landmarks in the jungle of weapons of mass destruction. In a short and simply spoken interview, he proposes and discusses the central questions: whether under the present public scrutiny, Iraq could develop and produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons without detection; whether any chemical and biological weapons that were manufactured before the Gulf War could survive
undegraded; whether it is morally conceivable that the secularist Iraq would support Islamic terrorist movements; and whether a war on Iraq would hurt and not further terrorism. Ritter offers reasons for his negative answers to each question. I have not seen his arguments met by proponents of war.

The collection of articles edited by Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter provides a useful chronological and thematic record of responses to the events of September 11. Although its contributors are all women, the merit of the book lies less in any specifically feminist character than in the quality of the writing and the compassion of its perspectives. The writers consistently resist the nationalist and aggressive response that is embodied in the movement to war on Afghanistan and Iraq. I found Barbara Kingsolver’s comments particularly enlightening.

Rohan Gunaratna describes well the relationships that form al Qaeda. His account, which relies heavily on CIA documentation, is thought-provoking, because it illustrates the way in which a focus on terrorist organisations distracts attention from the motivations and contexts which nurture terrorism. Terrorism comes to be located in a malignant cell that can be isolated and eradicated, and not as embodied in a subtle pattern of historical, political, economic and cultural relationships. The colonial exploitation of the Middle East, and the use of terrorist organisations both by the United States and by military in Pakistan and Indonesia, do not receive due attention. It is notable that, even with his narrow focus, Gunaratna believes that to attack Iraq would help rather than hinder the cause of al Qaeda.  

A.H.

Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions, Michael Lawler. Michael Glazier–Liturgical Press, 2002. isbn 0 8146 5116 X, rrp $69.95

Any Catholic writer on marriage deserves some sympathy. Catholic teaching on marriage and family is seen popularly (including by many Catholics) at once as unremittingly negative and unrealistic
and as morally defective in its treatment of divorce and annulment. Michael Lawler recognises this crisis. But he sees that the Catholic tradition has much to offer a society in which marriage itself is in crisis, as well as much to learn from this society.

He argues for a broad understanding of the Catholic tradition, drawing upon his historical knowledge of the variety of practices and approaches throughout Christian history. His writing is properly exploratory, outlining difficulties both in society and in Catholic teaching. He treats honestly such diverse questions as premarital relationships, the acceptance of divorced and remarried people into the Eucharistic community and the reach of Christian marriage—arguing that Christian faith and tradition have much more to offer than a simple rule which closes discussion. For readers who have not given up on the church as a source of illumination, moral insight and hope about marriage, this book will be enriching and stimulating.             

A.H.

 

 

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