In light of the current interest in, and common misunderstanding of, arguments from complicity in many law and religion controversies (see, for example, the discussion here, and my criticisms and disagreements here), this new book by Gregory Mellema (Calvin College), Complicity and Moral Accountability (Notre Dame Press), is a particularly welcome contribution. The publisher’s description follows.
In Complicity and Moral Accountability, Gregory Mellema presents a philosophical approach to the moral issues involved in complicity. Starting with a taxonomy of Thomas Aquinas, according to whom there are nine ways for one to become complicit in the wrongdoing of another, Mellema analyzes each kind of complicity and examines the moral status of someone complicit in each of these ways.
Mellema’s central argument is that one must perform a contributing action to qualify as an accomplice, and that it is always morally blameworthy to perform such an action. Additionally, he argues that an accomplice frequently bears moral responsibility for the outcome of the other’s wrongdoing, but he distinguishes this case from cases in which the accomplice is tainted by the wrongdoing of the principal actor. He further distinguishes between enabling, facilitating, and condoning harm, and introduces the concept of indirect complicity.
Mellema tackles issues that are clearly important to any case of collective and shared responsibility, yet rarely discussed in depth, always presenting his arguments clearly, concisely, and engagingly. His account of the nonmoral as well as moral qualities of complicity in wrongdoing—especially of the many and varied ways in which principles and accomplices can interact—is highly illuminating. Liberally sprinkled with helpful and nuanced examples,Complicity and Moral Accountability vividly illustrates the many ways in which one may be complicit in wrongdoing.
In June, the University Press of Kansas will release “God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right,” by Rebecca Barrett-Fox (Arkansas State University). The publisher’s description follows:
The congregants thanked God that they weren’t like all those hopeless people outside the church, bound for hell. So the Westboro Baptist Church’s Sunday service began, and Rebecca Barrett-Fox, a curious observer, wondered why anyone would seek spiritual sustenance through other people’s damnation. It is a question that piques many a witness to Westboro’s more visible activity—the “GOD HATES FAGS” picketing of funerals. In God Hates, sociologist Barrett-Fox takes us behind the scenes of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church. The first full ethnography of this infamous presence on America’s Religious Right, her book situates the church’s story in the context of American religious history—and reveals as much about the uneasy state of Christian practice in our day as it does about the workings of the Westboro Church and Fred Phelps, its founder.
God Hates traces WBC’s theological beliefs to a brand of hyper-Calvinist thought reaching back to the Puritans—an extreme Calvinism, emphasizing predestination, that has proven as off-putting as Westboro’s actions, even for other Baptists. And yet, in examining Westboro’s role in conservative politics and its contentious relationship with other fundamentalist activist groups, Barrett-Fox reveals how the church’s message of national doom in fact reflects beliefs at the core of much of the Religious Right’s rhetoric. Westboro’s aggressively offensive public activities actually serve to soften the anti-gay theology of more mainstream conservative religious activism. With an eye to the church’s protest at military funerals, she also considers why the public has responded so differently to these than to Westboro’s anti-LGBT picketing.
With its history of Westboro Baptist Church and its founder, and its profiles of defectors, this book offers a complex, close-up view of a phenomenon on the fringes of American Christianity—and a broader, disturbing view of the mainstream theology it at once masks and reflects.
In July, Harvard University Press will release “Churches and States: Studies on the History of Christianity in Ukraine,” edited by Halyna Hryn. The publisher’s description follows:
This book collects nine articles that originally appeared in the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies and that arose from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute’s Millennium Project, an initiative launched in the 1980s to celebrate one
thousand years of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus´. The articles cover a wide array of subjects: the ecclesiastical structure of the Christian Church in Rus´ in its earliest period (Andrzej Poppe); the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Uniate Church from 1569 to 1700 (Teresa Chynczewska-Hennel); an account of the Uniate Church and the partitions of Poland (Larry Wolff); the transformation of the Greek Catholic Church under the Austrian Empire (1848–1914) (John-Paul Himka); the Greek Catholic Church in the period between the two World Wars (Andrew Sorokowski); a rethinking of the relationship of Church and society in Galician Ukraine from 1914 to 1944 (Bohdan Budurowycz); and the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine during the interwar period (Bohdan Bociurkiw). The book concludes with a bio-bibliography of Bohdan Bociurkiw, a scholar who devoted his career to the study of Ukrainian Church history (Andrii Krawchuk). These essays provide new insights and a fresh perspective to the discipline.