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358 BOOK REVIEWS New Perspectives on Old-Time Religion. By GEORGE N. SCHLESINGER. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Pp. 196. George Schlesinger ends one of the chapters of his hook by saying: In the last two hundred years or so, theism has mostly been on the defensive and in retreat. It is important to show that the believer can offer a rational justification for his position that is at least as respectable as his opponent's. And it is also important to show that he can do this without having to reinterpret radically, demythologize, or dilute traditional religious doctrines; without having to take shelter in impenetrably opaque metaphors and mystifications; and without claiming immunity from the testimonies of empirical evidence and logical argument by in· voking the special, ineffable status of his beliefs (148) . That is precisely what Schlesinger attempts to do in this hook. What we have, as a result, is a philosophically original, vigorously argued, literate, and even at times entertaining defense of religious belief cov· ering a wide range of topics which are seen to he interrelated in deep and sometimes surprising ways. After a brief introduction offering an over-view of what is to come, Schlesinger addresses in his first chapter the crucial topic of the concept of God. In it he argues the superiority of St. Anselm's conception of God as a greatest possible, or absolutely perfect, being. With the single idea of divine perfection as the governing constraint on any detailed elaboration of distinct divine attributes, Schlesinger suggests that many well known arguments against the coherence of theism can he answered very simply. In this intriguing chapter, he even goes so far as to suggest that " upon gaining a basic understanding of the nature of Divine attributes all problems disappear " (14) . He illustrates his approach by examining difficulties that have been alleged to attend the theistic claim that God is both omniscient and immutable and the claim that God is omnipotent. Along the way, all sorts of interesting problems are touched upon, from the proper understanding of time to the nature of petitionary prayer. Chapter two tackles what is considered by many people to he the major obstacle to theism, the problem of evil. Schlesinger begins by arguing that it is an inadequate response for theists to suggest that God is justified in allowing the evils of our world because they are necessary , or their allowance is necessary, for the existence of a great good, namely, morally significant free will along God's creatures. Schlesinger contends that a simple free will theodicy has no way of explaining why God does not act in subtle ways so as to curtail the scope of wicked- BOOK REVIEWS 359 ness in the world. If we agree that it would be morally incumbent upon any person capable of restraining a Hitler to attempt to do so in fact, we find it hard to see on what grounds God might diverge from our judgment. Does He view each of Hitler's acts of free will to be of such value as exercises of freedom that it is better to allow them than to prevent the \more horrendous of them? After his discussion of the free will solution, Schlesinger goes on to develop a line of thought that he has pursued in other writings, but which here is given most detailed elaboration. He begins by sketching the main lines of what is often called the virtuous response theodicy, or the soul-making theodicy. This is fundamentally the claims that (l) there are certain virtues which could not be had in a world bereft of suffering, (2) a world containing creatures with these virtues is superior to one devoid of suffering and thus of these virtues as well, and that (3) God is justified in choosing to create and sustain a world which allows of such virtues, that is to say, a world containing suffering. Of the many objections raised against standard explications of this sort of theodicy, one is especially difficult to overcome, an objection often known as the absurd morality complaint. It goes like this: It is an absurd morality which allows us to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 358-361
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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