A bold defense of Christianity against its most ardent critics, the New Atheists.
Besieged both by scandal and the rise of a vociferous group of critics, the Catholic Church has, in the eyes of many, failed to mount a strong defense of itself. In his first book, Gravino takes it upon himself to do precisely that. He focuses on the increasingly popular contention that celibacy, as a form of unhealthy sexual repression, caused the difficulties the church has had with pedophiles. First, the author argues that there is no clearly observed causal connection between Christian sexual morality and the transgressions of some of its priests; the connection, one often drawn by the church’s detractors, is more the expression of a cultural prejudice than an empirical inference. Also, Gravino says that a Christian moral psychology is actually the key to human flourishing and what is now generally referred to as mental health. The practice of self-control regarding one’s desires, including sexual activity, is a principal instrument of happiness as it is understood in spiritual terms. Afflictions that have plagued contemporary society—sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, obesity, etc.—are all results of a lack of self-restraint, which Gravino says is the result of spiritual decline. According to Gravino, the popularity of Freudian psychology, which looks at sexual expression as ungovernable, plays a key part in the libertinism that now presents itself as an alternative to Christian teaching. The entire study is painstakingly researched and meticulously documented as well as carefully argued. Gravino presents his case in the spirit of the natural law teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, eschewing a facile reliance upon scriptural authority in favor of an appeal to rational demonstration. “I contend that the Bible contributes genuine knowledge to the understanding of our species. And I furthermore insist,” Gravino writes, “that when science wanders into the terrain of our species and contradicts the truths of the Bible, it does so at a terrible cost, decreasing knowledge rather than increasing it.” The author’s tone can be a bit peremptory at times, undermining his philosophical and scholarly caution. However, his is a clear and principled defense of the church that is arguably superior to anything the institution has offered on its own behalf.
A worthy read for anyone interested in the modern relevance of Christian teaching.