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Embryos Are Persons To Be Protected


EMBRYO: A Defense of Human Life
THE SHADOW OF GOD: A Journey Through Memory, Art, and Faith
THE RIDE OF OUR LIVES: Roadside Lessons of an American Family

EMBRYO: A Defense of Human Life, by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen. Doubleday. 240 pp. $23.95, hardcover.

Reviewed by the REV. ALFRED CIOFFI, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Miami, Florida. He has a doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, and a doctorate in genetics from Purdue University in Indiana. Presently, he is a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

THIS BOOK PROVIDES very solid reasons—in accessible language—for recognizing the human embryo as a person from the moment of conception. The logical consequence of this claim is that even the pre-implanted embryo deserves full protection under the law as a member of the human family. Therefore, authors Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen argue forcibly against any manipulation or research done on the early embryo (e.g., embryonic stem-cell research) that would endanger his or her health or life.

These authors hail from Princeton University and the University of South Carolina, respectively. Their arguments come mostly from biology and philosophy. To engage today’s secular world, the authors have refrained from using theological arguments.

Certainly, this does not mean that the authors are against the inclusion of revealed truth into the equation of figuring out when human life begins. In fact, they are very amenable to the possibility that the human soul exists, and that the soul is an integral aspect of what it is to be a human being.

George and Tollefsen systematically demolish the positions of a number of contemporary writers who find it morally acceptable to experiment with human embryos.

The book also presents the current state of affairs regarding noncontroversial stem-cell sources, such as adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood, placenta, amniotic fluid, etc., and some bio-technological attempts to generate “embryonic-like” stem-cell lines without actually creating (or destroying) a human embryo.

Who should read this book? Anyone interested in the question of the current status of the human embryo or anyone who wants arguments for why we should not experiment with human embryos.

Accordingly, pro-lifers should read this book because it provides both up-to-date scientific evidence and common-sense arguments to combat abortion.

Scientists should read this book because some experiments done today are giving science a bad name, for example, the human embryonic stem-cell research and cloning fraud that was uncovered in 2006 in Korea, last year’s United Kingdom’s decision to fund experiments to create human-animal hybrids, and the continuously unfulfilled promise of cures from the destructive-embryo research in our own country.

Politicians should read this book because of mounting pressure to use billions of dollars (i.e., California’s Proposition 71) for experiments that kill live human embryos.

Philosophers, sociologists and academicians should read this book because silence assents, and life-and-death matters have lethal consequences.

All taxpayers should read this book because this has now become a public issue. There are now at least half a million human embryos frozen in the United States alone, all potential targets of destructive research and experimentation.

In the meantime, ethical sources of human cell lines—such as adult and cord-blood stem cells—are moving forward, curing real people with real injuries and diseases. Those who read only the secular press would assume that research and cures from these ethical cell line sources are practically nonexistent. But at breakthroughs in human trials using alternative sources are described.

Now, for a couple of recommendations and a critique: Throughout the book, the authors are very consistent in arguing for the humanity of the embryo from conception. And, in fairness to them, they prefer to use the more scientific term fertilization. But they get somewhat bogged down on precisely when, during fertilization, the zygote becomes a new human being: Is it as soon as the sperm penetrates the egg, or by the end of the fusion of the two pronuclei, or somewhere in between (the entire process taking up to 24 hours)?

The process of fertilization, however, is ontologically equivalent to the moment of conception. In other words, when I say, “I am having dinner,” I could be swallowing the first spoonful of soup or the last bite of dessert, or be somewhere in between. Having dinner is a time-lapse process and is understood as a single event.

When the authors mention that, generally, a new human individual begins at conception, they are accounting for the formation of identical twins. This can happen naturally up to about two weeks after fertilization.

I was totally disappointed that the authors did not condemn the practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF) as one of the most flagrant and massive attacks on the human embryo today. It’s not enough to propose, as they do in the concluding chapter, that the IVF industry be more strictly regulated by government. If human life begins at conception, and if this nascent human life deserves full protection under the law—as they have admirably argued throughout their entire book—why strictly regulate an industry that highly endangers and often kills those embryos they are attempting to create?

George and Tollefsen have forcefully and convincingly argued throughout the book that, whereas parents may well “own” their respective sex cells, the result of the union of such gametes is certainly not an extension of either parent, nor is it an attachment, or a parental possession. Parents are not the “owners” of a new human life. So why don’t the authors condemn IVF as an intrinsic moral evil?

Lastly, I found a few “technical difficulties” in the bound galley I read. Even though, overall, factual claims are well referenced, several of them slipped by unreferenced (e.g., “...with nearly one percent of all live births in the United States originating in vitro,” p. 9). Also, typos and grammatical and syntactical errors abounded. Lastly, a listing of acronyms placed up front could really help the reader.

Embryo is a must-read, especially in the United States in 2008 where many local, state and national vital issues hinge on our proper understanding of when we began to exist as individuals. This book leaves no doubt.

You can order EMBRYO: A Defense of Human Life from St. Francis Bookshop.


FINDING THE VOICE OF THE CHURCH, by George Dennis O’Brien. University of Notre Dame Press. 228 pp. $25.

Reviewed by NORMAN LANGENBRUNNER, a diocesan priest ordained in 1970, and currently pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church in Cincinnati.

GEORGE DENNIS O’BRIEN, president emeritus of the University of Rochester and of Bucknell University, loves the Church and earnestly wants it to find its voice and bring its message to the world more effectively. He recognizes that true communication depends not only on what is said but also on how it is said.

A mother’s tone of voice in saying to her child, “Stop crying,” conveys as much meaning as the words she uses. O’Brien believes that the Church has been using the wrong voice. It has been speaking in tones dictatorial, didactic, distant or demeaning. He suggests that the Church must learn to listen so that it may speak with a “forgiving voice.”

O’Brien’s critique of the Church’s voice comes from years of personal experience and reflection. He maintains that liturgy is the primary voice of the Catholic faith and affirms the tradition of lex orandi, lex credendi—the way we pray is the way we believe.

If ritual uses the wrong voice, then faith is stifled. “In my experience,” O’Brien comments, “it is rare to find a priest who in his sermon ‘opens the Scriptures’...the tendency is to ‘close the Scriptures’ either in sheer banality or in formal heresy, usually both together.”

Further, he challenges the custom of presenting theology in strict philosophical terms. Truth is to be sought not only in philosophy and science but also in art and in what O’Brien calls “signatured truth.” He suggests relating Christianity to the ways of art, and develops the analogy of God not as creator but as author, one like Shakespeare in a world-play.

Original Sin, then, is the tragedy of the actors’ refusing to follow the author’s intent, and thus leading the playwright to enter into the play itself (the Incarnation) and affirm that what he has written is to be played as a divine comedy.

No brief review of this book can do it justice. O’Brien’s intention is herculean: “to rephrase Christian doctrine in nonstandard ways,” to investigate “whether certain structures and practices in the medium of the Catholic Church subvert the faith,” to “uncover the language game of faith” and to insist that the real voice of the Church must be “the voice that forgives sin.”

In developing his argument, O’Brien presents God as a Supreme Shakespeare, warns apologists not to equate Churchtruth with anything like scientific objectivity, suggests that the Church has misapplied the notion of a patriarchal hierarchy and proposes that Catholics have misunderstood infallibility.

O’Brien is blunt: “The problem with the papal office is whether it makes sense to have an institutional father who may, alas, be anything but a holy father...when the actual papal voice is neither holy nor fatherly, we may fault the incumbent for failing his station and duties.”

From the Introduction on, O’Brien is aware that readers may judge what he says to be unorthodox. He is, after all, deliberately shying away from traditional theological language and pious tones. For example, his understanding of infallibility and that of the Church are miles apart. “My aim,” he says, “is to show that the Church cannot sustain a claim for infallibility on moral issues.”

He is especially critical of the pope and bishops for their refusal to listen to each other as well as to the people.

This book is not a theological work, but a theologizing. It is a soul-searching exploration, a challenge to the status quo, a thinking-out-loud, an invitation to reassess. It does not fulfill his hope to be “comprehensible to the nonspecialist.” His occasional excursus into philosophy will put off many a reader, and his critical attitude is likely to elicit a “Whoa!” or a “No!” at one point or another from all others.

But those who are open to the stimulation of looking at the Church in an unconventional way will be impressed with the wit and wisdom of a grandfather who loves the Church and knows it can do better.

You can order FINDING THE VOICE OF THE CHURCH from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE SHADOW OF GOD: A Journey Through Memory, Art, and Faith, by Charles Scribner III. Doubleday. 292 pp. $24.95.

THE RIDE OF OUR LIVES: Roadside Lessons of an American Family, by Mike Leonard. Ballantine Books. 230 pp. $24.95, hardcover+DVD/$13.95, paperback.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has been reviewing books for St. Anthony Messenger for 20 years.

AT FIRST GLANCE, these two books seem vastly different in tone and content. Mike Leonard has written a funny travelogue/memoir, a “warts-and-all” story about his family. Charles Scribner III has crafted a spiritual autobiography/tour of the works of art, literature and music that have touched his life. But common to both books is a Catholic life very sacramental in nature.

Charles Scribner III is the great-great-grandson of the founder of one of this country’s most notable publishing houses. He is also an expert in Baroque art with a doctoral degree in art history, who converted to Catholicism while in college. Scribner writes with great enthusiasm about the pivotal truths he has discovered in the novels of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, as well as the spiritual inspiration he has found in art, music, opera and the Bible.

Scribner represents a life of privilege, wealth and connections, but at heart is still a man on a lifelong search for truth, beauty and God. Born Episcopalian, he charts the story of his interior life and the importance of the arts in helping him choose the spiritual, emotional and intellectual paths he would follow, including conversion to Catholicism. Written in the form of a daily journal, this book reflects on a year in his life from Epiphany to Epiphany.

At the heart of his essays is the insight included in Scribner’s introductory remarks. He writes that he had long taken for granted that spirituality would generate great works of art—from Gothic cathedrals to Handel’s Messiah—yet now he realizes that it also works in reverse: Works of art nourish religious faith and spiritual growth. It’s a two-way street. Art of all kinds shapes the way that we view the world, ourselves, even God.

Scribner writes that the arts have the power to transform our very surroundings as well as ourselves. They alter our perceptions, our emotional responses, our lasting memory of time and place. He writes with equal passion about photographs as he does of the great canvases that have moved him.

One of his best lines was about music, but I believe that Scribner would apply it to all the arts. To play or to listen to music is a religious experience in the most literal sense of the word. The Latin root—religare—means “to tie together.” He writes that “[m]usic forges the ties that bind us together, the living with the dead, mortals with immortals.”

Mike Leonard, a cradle Catholic born to middle-class, Irish-Catholic parents, lived in the Midwest. He is a feature correspondent for NBC’s The Today Show, presenting his audience with people who could generously be labeled as characters. Leonard writes of his parents, his wife, his children and the people who have enriched his life and provided him with stories over the years. Here, they reminisce about their loves and losses as they travel one last lap together around the country.

Mike Leonard writes of a life so ordinary that it seems like a prototype of a generation. He celebrates the common man: Joe Blow, James Bond, Crip Cormier and Danny Wilson, to name a few of the characters in this book. Each of these stories prompts further stories about Mike Leonard, his life and his family.

The starting point for Leonard is the oil-and-water partnership of his parents. His mom, Marge, holds a Ph.D. in “stinkin’ thinkin’” while his dad, Jack, is a bundle of hope and conversation. They both come from Irish-Catholic families rooted in the same New Jersey neighborhood.

The plan is that two RVs will carry his parents, three of his children and a daughter-in-law on a trip from Arizona to Georgia, then to New Jersey and Rhode Island, before swinging westward to meet the first Leonard grandchild and great-grandchild in Chicago.

Both of these authors’ lives point to God. Whether they are led there with a Louisiana bayou resident or through a Baroque painting, God is present. That’s the richness of the Catholic faith and tradition.

You can order THE SHADOW OF GOD: A Journey Through Memory, Art, and Faith and THE RIDE OF OUR LIVES: Roadside Lessons of an American Family from St. Francis Bookshop.


INFINITE SPACE, INFINITE GOD, edited by Karina and Robert Fabian. Twilight Times Books. 288 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by JEAN M. HEIMANN, a freelance writer from Wichita, Kansas.

OVER THE YEARS, many of the great Christian science-fiction writers have been Catholics, such as Walter M. Miller, J.R.R. Tolkien, R.A. Lafferty and, more recently, Gene Wolfe and Tim Powers. Few, however, have written about the Catholic Church itself and the future role of the Church. The stories included in Infinite Space, Infinite God not only project Catholics living and working in the future, but depict the Church as very much alive, highly influential and a vital part of its members’ lives.

Infinite Space, Infinite God is an anthology of 15 Catholic science-fiction short stories, which won an EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) Award in 2007. Edited and compiled by Catholic science-fiction writers Karina and Robert Fabian, Infinite Space, Infinite God depicts Catholics and the Catholic Church of the future, with some of its members living in a world of clones and genetically altered humanoids.

Other characters are involved in time travel, interplanetary and deep-space exploration. Various science-fiction themes challenge the characters’ practice of Catholic morals and beliefs and pose interesting questions for the reader, the kind that keep catechists dreaming and theologians debating.

As with any anthology, the quality of the writing varies from story to story. It also reflects the writer’s experience. Although these variations exist in Infinite Space, Infinite God, I enjoyed all these stories and found each of them to be well-crafted, unique and entertaining. The characters in all of the stories are very imaginative and come alive in vivid detail.

Different themes and writing styles added variety and heightened my interest, as I anticipated what challenge each new story would bring. Among my favorites were “These Three” (Karina and Robert Fabian), “Understanding” (J. Sherer) and “A Cruel and Unusual Punishment” (Maya Kathryn Bohnhoff).

“These Three” introduces us to the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue, a group of religious women dedicated to rescuing others in space. It is the captivating and suspense-filled story of Peter, a goal-oriented and idealistic young man with limited skills who wants to become a spacer. During his flight, he becomes seriously injured and scrambles to stop his spaceship from colliding with a space station. In the process, Peter not only faces the challenge of a physical injury, but also struggles with an interior conflict that must be overcome if he is to save himself and others from a potential disaster.

This is where his Catholic faith enters in as he receives encouragement and spiritual advice from an unexpected source. Will he heed the advice of the mysterious stranger? Will he trust in God or in his own resources?

“Understanding” combines mystery and intrigue with science fiction in the tale of two men living in a genetically altered world–-one, Errius, a serial killer who believes he is acting in a just manner by cleansing the Catholic Church of its “misfits” when he murders four Catholic priests, and the other, Tack, a detective assigned to his case, who has lost his faith in the Church.

Both men base their actions on misperceptions and consequently suffer in many ways. How they deal with these life-and-death spiritual trials determines their fate. What is Errius’s hidden motive in murdering these priests? Will he be discovered and caught? Will either of these men repent and return to their faith?

“A Cruel and Unusual Punishment” is my favorite short story in the anthology. It is an intriguing crime story which challenges each of us in our faith. Liam Connor is an Irish-Catholic terrorist and convicted murderer. He rationalizes all his violent actions and lacks remorse, but now is presented with the option of death or a secret “psychological treatment” that turns fellow inmates into madmen. Which will he choose?

Infinite Space, Infinite God is a wonderful selection of very imaginative and colorful stories that capture the reader’s interest and attention, while also presenting a thought-provoking look at the Catholic faith in the future. These stories provide a refreshing look at Catholicism from a positive and uplifting point of view.

I highly recommend this anthology not only to science-fiction fans, but also to those who are new to this genre.

You can order INFINITE SPACE, INFINITE GOD from St. Francis Bookshop.


Pray and Sing

Among their New Year’s resolutions, most Christians include something about prayer. The Church’s premier prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, relies on the psalms, which can be sung.

THE MUNDELEIN PSALTER, edited by Douglas Martis (Hillenbrand Books/Liturgy Training Publications, 1,344 pp., $50), is a complete, one-volume edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. The University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Chicago developed this resource to facilitate communal singing of this official prayer of the Catholic Church. It’s a sturdy hardcover, complete with ribbon markers. The music is in Gregorian-based modes.

PSALMS THROUGH THE YEAR: Spiritual Exercises for Every Day, by Marshall D. Johnson (Augsburg Books, 393 pp., $14.99), considers the psalms in order through the year to pray them and reflect on them. Johnson is a Lutheran biblical scholar. His essay “A Short Introduction to the Psalms” alone is worth the price.

CHANTING THE PSALMS: A Practical Guide With Instructional CD, by Cynthia Bourgeault (New Seeds/Shambhala Publications, 265 pp., $18.95, U.S./$24.95, Canada), comes from an Episcopalian priest and musicologist. Psalmody (chanting the psalms) is an ancient practice she shows us how to recover. The accompanying CD is a how-to, with examples of Anglican, New Camaldoli, Gelineau, Taizé and Iona chants, and some hymns.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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