Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe

by Päivi Billie Gynther

Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe

Ever since the Russian Orthodox Church in July 2008 adopted its Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights, the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and human rights has been a popular theme in European academic publishing. Of this multitude, one stands out because of its respectful stance to varying views. Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe: A Dialogue between Theological Paradigms and Socio-Legal Pragmatics, edited by Elisabeth-Alexandra Diamantopoulou and Louis-Léon Christians (Peter Lang 2018) consists of contributions written not only by socio-political and legal scholars but also by orthodox theologians and clerics.

Evangelical and Catholic scholars open the way for a debate by introducing their views on the subject. Stefan Tobler from Lucia Blaga University, Romania, explains that for the Protestants human dignity is an unconditional concept that belongs to every human person, irrespective for her or his moral behavior. Thus, Protestants are finding it difficult to understand the Russian teaching about human dignity—not only as an absolute but also—as a moral concept. Walter Lesch from the Catholic University of Leuven, in turn, describes how human rights were gradually integrated to Catholic social thought and suggests that rights language should be seen as the Esperanto of Ethics, as a language that can be used and developed by believers and non-believers alike.

Referring to the fact that majority-Orthodox countries quite often have been judged for religious freedom violations by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), two scholars pose in Part 2 a question whether Orthodoxy as such is intolerant towards religious minorities, or whether we rather could trace historical and political causes for the multitude of litigations. Elisabeth-Alexandra Diamantopoulou analyses in a thorough way religious freedom cases that have been brought before the ECtHR against Greece. Effie Fokas presents the findings of her empirical qualitative research conducted in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Russia, and suggests that the problems of religious freedom in these countries derive primarily from the peculiar relationship between religion and national identity. The challenge that the ECtHR hereby faces is how to apply its margin of appreciation doctrine towards these states. Continue reading

Maternal Body: A Review

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

Orthodox theologian Carrie Frederick Frost has published a theological reflection titled Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East (Paulist Press, 2019), with a foreword by Catholic theologian Julie Hanlon Rubio. Frost’s book is a theological treatise on motherhood, from conception through breastfeeding and with a special emphasis on the maternal body. Drawing upon patristic, liturgical, and iconographic sources, Frost delivers a powerful and vivid contribution on the theology of maternity. In addition to her examination of select extant historical sources, Frost brings the evidence into dialogue with her own personal experience of motherhood.

Maternal Body contains five chapters of text covering conception, pregnancy, birthgiving, postpartum, and pregnancy. Frost concludes the book with an epilogue, and shares a selection of icons (printed in color) and notes to complement the text. This book is not an encyclopedic academic treatment of motherhood, and is therefore suitable for a general reading audience. The book’s preference for selectivity does not diminish Frost’s authority in analyzing the texts and presenting a theology of the maternal body. The author demonstrates her confident command of the topic throughout the book. Continue reading

The Case for Moral Courage

by William Antholis

Moral courage is, by definition, acting on principle in the face of adverse consequences. The American presidency is filled with examples of moral heroism. George Washington stepped down after two terms, despite a fear of anarchy. Teddy Roosevelt stood up to robber barons to advance a progressive agenda. Lyndon Johnson pursued the Voting Rights Act in 1965, knowing it would subvert the Democratic party for a generation.

When politics are deeply polarized, courage between and across tribes adds depth to these acts. Or, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute recently said, “Moral courage is the act of defending someone with whom you disagree politically.” A generation ago, Texas Democrat Jim Hightower said this differently: “The only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.”

Pete Wehner’s new book, the Death of Politics, is at its core a book about moral courage in both senses—obeying principles and embracing opponents. Its great accomplishment is to provide a practical, working definition of political morality that can appeal to all Americans when our politics appear broken.

The former head of Strategic Initiatives in the George W. Bush White House, and a committed Evangelical Christian, Wehner makes the case for why engaged citizenship itself must be a moral enterprise. Wehner’s vision is to weave the rights of individuals together with the needs of society, and to do so with humility, moderation and civility.

The book itself is an act of moral courage. Wehner regularly challenges a range of conservative politicians and Evangelical leaders. He regularly praises actors, thought leaders and ideas from across the aisle. He does this out of principle, not compromise or convenience. Continue reading