The Colgate Scene
January 2002

Reviews
 
The Sweet Season
By Austin Murphy '83, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2001.

Sports columnist Rick Telender has Austin Murphy pegged. "He's a smart-ass," writes Telender in the blurb that accompanies The Sweet Season, a quite wonderful account of an autumn spent on the campus of St. John's University in Minnesota to chronicle the Johnnies' Division III football team and family life after 15 years on the road for Sports Illustrated.

Telender rightfully acknowledges that Murphy, a former athlete and scribe, is funny, too. He is also the husband of Laura Hilgers '85, whose wry observations are among the book's best moments, and father of two small children, who also star.

Murphy has written a football book to be sure, but it is also an unblinking account of family life, both in the household of his youth ruled by Austin "Rex" Murphy '51 and his own home from which he is so often absent.

We are introduced to a wonderful cast of characters, dedicated (and colorful) student-athletes, the remarkably successful (and unorthodox) coach John Gagliardi and a full complement of multidimensional Benedictine monks.

The Sweet Season is aptly named. For Murphy, jaded by big-time programs and the even bigger business of professional sports, St. John's is a bracing counterpoint. As his family decompresses from life in the fast lane, he shares the travails they nonetheless encounter, usually uproariously. Murphy, of course, pokes fun at everyone -- himself, foremost. I only worry his brothers might read this book.

If you enjoy football, are curious about college life, are part of a family or just want 40 or 50 good laughs, The Sweet Season, which is never out of season, is the answer. JH


Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World
By Robert P. Kraynak, University of Notre Dame Press, South Bend, IN, 2001. 352 pp.

Those who know firsthand Bob Kraynak's penchant for framing and facing difficult ethical choices won't be surprised to learn that he has written a controversial book. The choice he has in mind is surprising, however, and his insistence that it is a choice and must be faced is largely what makes his book so controversial. Bob, professor of political science, opposes the political consensus that makes democracy out to be the self-evidently best form of government on earth and the Christian consensus that weds Christianity to the promotion of democratic values. He believes that the Christian tradition has always had good reason to resist the democratic reduction of the spiritual life and its demands to the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to the extent that modern Christianity has bought into this reduction, it has abandoned its own tradition.

Bob imagines himself facing opponents on two fronts. Secular intellectuals will dislike his appeal to religiously informed reasoning to shape a political debate, and Christian intellectuals will dislike his suggestion that Christianity is anything but friendly to the aspirations of a democratic society. His basic response to secular intellectuals is that they have no reasoned way to defend human dignity other than by invoking religious premises (such as the creation of humanity in God's image), and his basic response to Christian intellectuals is that they have no way to avoid the hierarchical implications of their Christian point of view (such as the valuing of spirit over flesh). These two responses don't fit together in any easy or obvious way. Suppose that secular intellectuals do adopt Christian premises into their reasoning; then by Bob's reasoning the result should be a hierarchy of values and not the rights-based equality that Christians have religious reasons to oppose. Nothing about this hierarchy prevents Bob from advocating a constitutional form of government, but it does set him squarely against liberalism.

I think that Bob's book is apt to be read in one of two ways, and by way of concluding this impossibly short review of his important book, let me advocate one over the other. It is possible to read him as firing another shot in the culture wars: he attacks modern liberal democracy, views the '60s as a cultural disaster, favors school prayer, disdains political correctness, embraces the monogamous, heterosexual model of marriage and family as normative, rejects the welfare state and is largely unimpressed by the fact of religious pluralism. If he is read this way, he will, I suspect, be preaching to the choir. Liberals will note his affiliations and move on. This reading, however, will completely miss the substance of his argument. I take him to be suggesting that both secular and Christian intellectuals have reason to reject the religion of rights as bad religion. But to get that suggestion is to notice how profoundly Bob questions the way we commonly make the distinction between secular and religious. He has no desire to abandon this distinction, but he does aim to redefine it in ways that go well beyond the usual polemics between liberals and conservatives.

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