Jacob L. Goodson
In 2009, the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning published a special issue entitled “Reason, Scripture, and War” (Vol. 8, No. 1, [January 2009]), which featured John Kelsay’s “Qur’an 4:75 and 8:1, 41 in the Context of Muslim Discussions of War” and offered a variety of responses to Kelsay’s reflections on Qur’an 4:75 and 8. The publication of this special issue generated some controversy and, more promisingly, several enquiries about continuing some of the themes introduced in the January 2009 publication. The current issue is, in large part, the result of those enquiries and responses. The current issue, however, extends the discussion beyond Islamic ethics of warfare to broader questions concerning Christian and Jewish ethics of warfare, political philosophy and theology, and philosophical and theological reflections on current events.
The first section, “Peace and War,” gives readers two different approaches to questions concerning peace and war within Christian and Jewish ethics. In his essay, “A Jewish Perspective on War, Scripture, and Moral Accounting,” Geoffrey Claussen seeks wisdom from medieval Jewish theologians (and other parts of the Jewish intellectual tradition) for considerations of “moral accounting” and practical reasoning for making judgments relating to jus ad bellum. According to Claussen, Scripture continues to provide the foundational narratives for thinking about war within Jewish ethics; these narratives, however, remain difficult and unclear to interpret for purposes of moral and practical reasoning. Claussen argues that a virtue-centered approach to moral and practical reasoning serves as the best way to negotiate the difficult and unclear passages about war within Scripture, without leaving those narratives behind. Myles Werntz turns readers’ attention to the 20th century Roman Catholic activist and writer, Dorothy Day, for thinking about the possibility and promise of peace within Christian ethics. In his essay, “Many Roots, One Tree: Dorothy Day on The Mystical Body of Christ, Judaism, and War,” Werntz assumes continuity between Scripture and “the mystical body of Christ” for explaining what kind of peacefulness is embodied within Day’s Christian ethics. Werntz demonstrates how Day’s pacifism relates to her often-neglected advocacy for the Jews in the middle part of the 20th century.
In the second section, called “Love and Politics,” Hasana Sharp and Mark Ryan offer two provocative essays on political philosophy and political theology. Hasana Sharp’s “‘The Whole Law Consists Only in Loving One’s Neighbor’: Spinoza on What the Bible Commands of All Mortals” invites readers into an in-depth understanding of Benedict de Spinoza’s biblical hermeneutics, moral reasoning, and political philosophy. In his essay entitled “Interreligious Dialogue in a Secular Age,” Mark Ryan grapples with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which leads his thinking on a journey from Martin Kavka’s criticisms of Taylor’s book through Maimonides’ and Thomas Aquinas’ legal philosophies, and back to Charles Taylor’s political theology and its impact on the practices of inter-religious dialogue. Whereas Sharp’s essay reveals how much Leviticus 19 impacts Spinoza’s political philosophy, Ryan’s essay comes to the conclusion that Taylor’s political theology is completely void of liturgical sources and scriptural texts. Confessional Christian and Jewish scholars often make the judgment that Spinoza’s political philosophy is not “traditional” enough, while several confessional Christian scholars have boldly claimed more recently that Taylor’s philosophy – and what is now labeled as his political theology – passes all of the necessary tests for what it means to meet the demands of legitimate Christian scholarship. The relationship between Ryan’s and Sharp’s essays, therefore, concerns how being attentive to philosophers interpreting Scripture (or not engaging at all with Scripture) leads to surprising conclusions – perhaps ones that are completely against the stream of contemporary scholarship.
Academic journals tend to shy away from making judgments on so-called “current events.” In this issue of the JSR, however, we are proud to publish three essays reflecting on three problems usually left to the mainstream news media: division within the American political system, racism in South Africa, and representations of the Prophet Muhammad. Jason Byassee reflects on the vicious divisions within U.S. politics and how Stanley Hauerwas’s Christian pacifism and the practice of Scriptural Reasoning repair these divisions. Georgina Jardim reflects upon the vicious divisions found in South Africa and how Muslim women have attempted to repair these divisions based on the convictions and logic of the Muslim faith. Carole Baker reflects on the aesthetic and moral problems of the cartoons that depict the Prophet Muhammed and how ordinary language philosophy helps us to think more clearly about claiming “freedom of speech” yet failing to honor the internal logics of religious traditions. Notice the pattern here: identifying problematic and/or vicious divisions and naming the actual (Jardim’s approach) or potential (Byassee’s and Baker’s approaches) ways of repairing these divisions. This pattern arises in our thinking and writing when we are disciplined by and through the practice of Scriptural Reasoning. The editors of the JSR invite more submissions addressing and reflecting upon “current events” that provide alternative ways to think about these events in relation to the cynicism and reductionism of the mainstream news media.
The final two sections are comprised of book reviews. Because of the substantive relevance to Scriptural Reasoning found within Mike Higton’s and Rachel Muers’s The Text in Play: Experiments in Reading Scripture, we have provided two reviews – one “critical” and one “appreciative” (although the “critical” review is also deeply “appreciative” of Higton’s and Muers’s book!) – along with Higton’s response to the “critical” review written by Mark Randall James. I authored the “appreciative” review in the spirit of celebrating Higton’s and Muers’s book as an answer to a question that I – as the General Editor of the JSR – receive on more occasions than I can count: “What should I read to learn about Scriptural Reasoning?”
We continue to receive and review some of the most important and interesting academic books being published in the areas of philosophy, religious studies, and theology. In this issue, we offer four reviews that relate to the issue’s themes of current events, politics, and Scripture. Adam Hollowell’s review of Robert Eisen’s The Peace and Violence of Judaism continues the discussion on questions and themes found within Geoffrey Claussen’s “A Jewish Perspective on War, Scripture, and Moral Accounting.” Barry Harvey frames his review of Tom Greggs’s Theology Against Religion in terms of what Christian theology can accomplish after “the bloodiest and most violent [century] in human history.” Phil Kuehnert’s review of Stanley Hauerwas’s Approaching the End continues the discussion on questions and themes found within Myles Werntz’s “Dorothy Day, the Mystical Body of Christ, and Peace in Roman Catholicism” (though Day’s and Hauerwas’s ecclesiologies and versions of pacifism differ in important respects). Lastly, Faisal al-Alamy’s review of Law and Tradition in Classical Islamic Thought celebrates the career of the Princeton professor Hossein Modarressi, who has spent his impressive teaching and writing career helping his own students and readers come to better understandings of “current events” involving Islamic law and tradition.