Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., with Dr. Robin Bernhoft and Camille E. De Blasi Ignatius Press, 2000. 347 pages, $16.95

At last, a chance to advance to “Pro-Life 102.” For three decades now, our discussions of the anti-life society in which we are ever more deeply immersed have sounded like an endless repetition of the introductory course.

The facts of fetology, of the methods of abortion, and of the alternatives available — all vital, basic material — have been continuously rehearsed, but we haven't gone much beyond them. Meanwhile, the holocaust in our country has advanced steadily past its “101” level. In spearheading this book project with his two collaborators, Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer, president of Gonzaga University, has taken a vital step to help us catch up.

Healing the Culture considers background knowledge of the anti-life situation a prerequisite to understanding — and doing something about — our present situation. Using Aristotelian as well as traditionally Catholic philosophical analyses, along with modern insights into psychology, the book delves deeper into the metaphysical assumptions fueling the abortion movement and all of its offshoots, describing the ways in which these assumptions need to be overturned if the movement is to be reversed.

“We will have to recover the reality of the intangibles,” Father Spitzer writes. “We will not only have consciously to reflect upon and correct our implicit materialism, but we will also have to correct all of the ethical and legal oversights that have arisen out of it.” His book provides a useful, thought-provoking tool for beginning this daunting but vital cultural task.

His discussion of the nature of personhood is nothing short of stirring.

Healing the Culture is intellectually challenging, as indeed any work with this broad a purpose would have to be. It is not, however, beyond the measure of the lay reader.

Father Spitzer presents penetrating insights in a user-friendly way, with engaging prose and plenty of contemporary references to help the reader feel at home in the potentially alien world of philosophy.

His discussion of the nature of personhood is nothing short of stirring, and his analysis of the “levels of happiness,” upon which the life-principles perspective hinges, is easy to grasp and provides a sure foothold for maneuvering through the rest of the material.

“Philosophers throughout the ages sought to draw their students away from the lower levels of happiness to the higher levels of happiness, appreciation of which generally requires some developmental maturity,” he writes.

“They sought to train hearts and minds to prefer those forms of happiness that are deeper and more lasting over those that are superficial and intense but short-lived. ... The level of happiness we tend to live for will determine how we view success, what we mean by ‘quality of life,’ what we think love is, how we interpret suffering, the system of ethics we live by and how we understand freedom, rights and the common good.”

Healing the Culture is one of a number of materials to come out of the Life Principles Project, an initiative of the Center for Life Principles in Redmond, Wash. Which means the book is not so much a theoretical treatise as a philosophical play book.

Yet, while commendably going beyond the merely personal, social and political aspects of the abortion problem, Healing the Culture does not stray far from the philosophical-psychological playing field. Spiritual considerations are often touched upon, but not treated as a focal point of the culture wars.

Thus, while Healing the Culture provides vital and valuable intellectual ammunition against the American holocaust, we will have to wait for “Pro-Life 103” to complete the picture.

Helen Valois writes from Irving, Texas.