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Cool-Headed Talk Of Things Human And Divine

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Edited by Gregory Wolfe

The Free Press

306 pp., $25

For those claiming conscientious-objector status in the culture wars of the late 20th century, "The New Religious Humanists: A Reader" is a comforting, commendable collection of essays on matters religious and spiritual. While intellectually rigorous, it gracefully transcends angry fundamentalism on the one hand, and situational relativism on the other.

The anthology provides a substantive look at some of the next generation of religious thinkers. It offers ways of thinking about things human and things divine that have "flourished within the Jewish, Islamic, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions" for centuries. It rests on the premise that: "Humanity cannot be understood without reference to God; and neither God nor God's revelation can be understood except through the lens of thought and experience."

Religious humanism presents a new/old system of ideas by which individuals might interpret the divine in human affairs, says editor Gregory Wolfe. Humane and religious thinkers have built, or more aptly, shored up, successive cultural foundations and world views at times when social disintegration seemed to threaten civilization itself, he writes.

Addressing a generation with a television memory, Wolfe backs up this position in a historical tour de force: At the end of the Roman Empire between 350 and 450 BC, St. Augustine's "The City of God" laid the foundation for the medieval world order. As Copernicus turned that world order on its head by proving that the sun, not the earth was the center of the universe, 16th-century Christian scholars grafted the empirically friendly philosophy of Aristotle onto the religious traditions being challenged. This prepared the way for the Enlightenment.


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