"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Christian Bioethics

Earlier I briefly mentioned the recent publication of a collection of articles treating the thought of the Orthodox bioethicist H. Tristram Engelhardt: Ana Smith Iltis and Mark Cherry, eds., At the Roots of Christian Bioethics: Critical Essays on the Thought of H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. (Scrivener, 2009), 336pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
At the Roots of Christian Bioethics explores Professor H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr.'s pursuit for the decisive ground of the meaning of human existence and knowledge of appropriate moral choice. Engelhardt has been the most influential, cogent, but critical voice within bioethics of the past several decades. The essays in this volume compass epistemological, methodological and topical contributions to bioethics, political theory, and Christian theology. Each explores Engelhardt's diagnosis of the contemporary social and cultural crisis, seeking to make sense of the decidedly post-Christian and often openly anti-Christian ethics that dominates public morality and politic policy. Each author investigates Engelhardt's personal and tireless enquiry to secure ultimate moral foundations as well as to recognize the full implications of the results of his investigations: that Christian bioethics does not originate in human reason but in the command of God. The book should be read by bioethicists, philosophers, religious scholars, public policy experts, and the Orthodox faithful.
Engelhardt is a fascinating figure, with degrees in both medicine and philosophy. He became Orthodox later in life, after publishing landmark works like The Foundations of Bioethics and then realizing his arguments would not hold up without a coherent theological metaphysic behind them. That led to the publishing, four years later, of The Foundations of Christian Bioethics.

I asked the Greek Orthodox theologian and ethicist Stanley Harakas to review At the Roots of Christian Bioethics: Critical Essays on the Thought of H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, and we will be running his review in the fall.

Harakas is a prolific fellow, having written an introductory text to Orthodoxy (Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers), a work on liturgical participation (Living the Liturgy: A Practical Guide for Participating in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church), a book on Orthodox social teaching (Let Mercy Abound: Social Concern in the Greek Orthodox Church), two on marriage (Intermarriage: Orthodox Perspectives; Guidelines for Marriage in the Orthodox Church), and numerous other works besides. But he is best known for his work on Orthodox moral theology, beginning with his Toward Transfigured Life: The Theoria of Eastern Orthodox Ethics and continuing on in other works, especially his Wholeness of Faith and Life: Orthodox Christian Ethics: Church Life Ethics. He has also addressed moral theology in several other shorter works, including  Contemporary Moral Issues Facing the Orthodox Christian, Living the Faith: The Praxis of Eastern Orthodox Ethics, and  Health and Medicine in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition.

Harakas discusses At the Roots of Christian Bioethics: Critical Essays on the Thought of H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr in compelling detail, noting, inter alia, that "any reader will be challenged and forced into reflection with the reading of these essays." The book, he says, "offers hope and lines of potential communication in coming to a more complete and satisfying understanding of the challenge of a twenty-first-century discipline of bioethics in general and Christian bioethics in particular."

To enjoy the rest of his review, which will be featured in the fall issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, subscribe here.

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