Scott Hahn Book Seeks to Restore Religion as a Matter of Justice

BOOK PICK: ‘It Is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion’

What role does religion have, and should have, in society?
What role does religion have, and should have, in society? (photo: Emmaus Road Publishing Book Cover)

IT IS RIGHT AND JUST

WHY THE FUTURE OF CIVILIZATION DEPENDS ON TRUE RELIGION

By Scott Hahn and Brandon McGinley

Emmaus Road Publishing, 2020

185 pages, $22.95

To order: emmausroad.org or (740) 264-9535

 

“Justice” has become a rallying cry in Western societies, but how many people know that St. Thomas included the virtue of “religion” within the cardinal virtue of justice? If justice is about ensuring the other receives his due, there is no Other to whom a greater due is due than God.

Theologian Scott Hahn and co-author Brandon McGinley work out the implications of that truth, which runs very much against the grain of the modern mindset, which reduces “religion to an undifferentiated sociological phenomenon, like video games or athletics, both emerg[ing] from and contribut[ing] to the idea that religion is and must be a private matter. The idea of organizing society around ‘religious’ truths — and even the idea of religious truth itself — is therefore seen as senseless and dangerous. At best (and even this is now seriously contested) we can bring our religiously informed consciences to debates of public policy; to order society toward any particular and comprehensive view of what is good, true, and worthy of the justice of worship, however, is unthinkable.”

In 15 chapters, the authors lay out their vision of the role of religion in society, both as regards its individual members and its communal ethos. Three chapters particularly score secularism, which is a logical inconsistency because, as the authors put it, “there’s no escaping religion.” Every individual and every society will have an Ultimate in which it believes, to which all else will be subordinated. The question is not whether it has a god but which god it is: the true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or an idol. Someone or something will be the object of individual and group faith.

This book grapples with some of the increasingly unstable fault lines of modern (not just political) thought. The authors pithily capture a key insight to the secular mindset: “Moderns reject the God of the Bible as a tyrant because His government of the universe fails to replicate contemporary liberal democracies.” Readiness to base the political order on a few procedural principles while pretending to bracket out more ultimate norms, like what is a good society, is “a deceit, a slight of hand.” It’s like a preschool suddenly emptied of age-appropriate toys, “no structures, no toys, no authority. … Sooner or later, they’ll fill the void with toys (and probably some items that are definitely not toys) from elsewhere, their own kind of crackpot authority schemes, and their own notions of what is good, safe, and appropriate. Emptiness — of meaning, of purpose, of orientation toward some notion of the good — cannot last.”

A thought-provoking book, the reviewer must also admit a certain dissatisfaction about questions not wholly answered, at least for me. Between theory and practice, there seems to be some canyons. In a diverse and pluralistic society, how are we to build this common vision of the “good?” Everybody always acts according to what he deems the good, even if it is objectively not good. In a society like medieval Christendom, a certain “cultural glue” resolved that problem. But that cultural glue does not now exist. 

The reviewer would have also liked to have seen a more robust treatment of something we insufficiently invoke: natural law. The subtitle speaks of “true religion.” What does that mean in a society like ours? Is it confessional unity? Or is it a sufficiently common denominator provided by the base of human nature, elevated to God’s image and likeness but common to all people? Natural law was a foundational American principle: Shouldn’t we reaffirm it before it also becomes a suspect “discriminatory construct?”

As one can see, this book raises as many questions as it addresses. 

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