The future of faith.

I've always liked how the New York Review of Books will frequently review several books in single article. By doing so, it allows the reviewer to not only compare and contrast the selected books, but to write intelligent articles on a particular subject, usually from the perspective of the featured books. Last month I read three books on the future of religion. Instead of writing a single stand alone review of each book, I think I will take the New York Review of Books approach and talk about the books in one posting.
    My favorite book of the three was John L. Allen Jr.'s The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church. Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter as well as a frequent contributor to National Public Radio does a masterful job producing a readable, comprehensive and evenhanded analysis of where the Catholic world is headed and why. While much of the debate in America regarding the Church is focused on sexual abuse scandals and the female ordination, Allen looks at larger forces that are shaping the Church on a global scale. Methodically, and with great attention to detail, Allen shows that tomorrow's Catholic Church will be a large and vibrant Church of the developing world, one shaped not by Western post-Enlightenment secularism and modernism, but social traditionalism, expressive forms of worship and probable mistrust of American foreign policy and corporate driven multinational capitalism. The Church will also need to respond to the coming advances in biotechnology, concerns over the environment, challenges presented by the growing influence of Islam, an aging global population and the rise of influential lay orders.
    I highly recommend this book. It easily made my Best of 2009 list and was a strong contender for the best book I read last year.
    Rosemary Radford Rueford's Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism was yet another one of those books that I saw languishing unread on the shelf at my public library. In her short book, scholar and activist Radford Rueford laments the loss of the Church's Vatican II inspired progressive spirit that was lost when John Paul II became pope. Contrasting Allen's global look at the Church, Radford Rueford's look might be considered to be an American/western European modernist approach.
    Lastly, Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith rounds out our three books on the future of religion. Cox has been The Man of liberal Protestant Christianity for over 40 years. Currently a Professor of Divinity at Havard, his book The Secular City has been a revered text for years. His more recent book is a readable but informative piece on the evolution of Christian belief and where things are headed. I thought his book was good, but not great. Perhaps Allen's book was a tough act to follow. Who knows.
    On a related note, both Cox's and Allen's book as well as Thomas Cahill's recent book A Saint on Death Row, all mention the progressive Catholic lay organization known as the Community of Sant' Egidio. Based in Italy, the group is known for its commitment to social justice concerns such as abolishing the death penalty and promoting interfaith understanding. It also helped broker a peace settlement between the two warring factions in Mozambique's civil war, making it the first lay managed non-governmental
organization to successfully orchestrate a major peace treaty.

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