The Heart is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Heart is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality

  1. Review

    William Sloane Coffin served for eighteen years as Chaplain of Yale University. During those years he became nationally known for his active opposition to the Vietnam War, his arrest and incarceration as a civil rights "Freedom Rider" and his indictment by the federal government in the Benjamin Spock conspiracy trial. He was a prime organizer and is now president emeritus of the Sane/Freeze: Campaign for Global Security. He attained "popular immortality" as Reverend Sloan in the Doonsberry comic strip. Some years ago, he retired as senior minister of Riverside Church, New York City.

    His small book is a collection of five speeches and two sermons given, for the most part, to university audiences. It is his hope that they might provoke further discussion of the topics covered by the chapters: The Spiritual and the Secular: Can They Meet?; The Politics of Compassion; Homophobia: The Last ‘Respectable’ Prejudice; The Authority of the Bible; The Dangers of Self-Righteousness; The Warhorse; and Civility, Democracy, and Multiculturalism. Underlying and illuminating the chapters is the Biblical ,7ision that the "core value" of the Christian life is love. However, Coffin is clear that there are "two kinds of love: one lies on this side of justice, the other on the far side. " On this side of justice, love is a personal attribute, which expresses itself in charity that seeks, for example, to alleviate the effects of poverty. Love on the far side of justice, is a "communal" attribute which expresses itself as public policy seeking, for example, to eliminate the causes of poverty. He points out, in contrast to the "’theological individualism of the religious right" that "public good doesn’t automatically follow from private virtue." He writes: "A person’s mortal character, sterling though it may be, is insufficient to serve the cause of justice, which is to challenge the status quo, to try to make what’s legal more moral, and to take personal or concerted action against evil, whether in personal or systemic form."

    Here is a spirited and heartening call to incarnate in our lives and in our society the vision of love and justice, which Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

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