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Issue Date:  February 8, 2008

From the Editor's Desk

New knowledge, changing ways

This week’s lead editorial promotes intellectual imagination, pastoral experimentation and creative thought as ways in which Catholic identity must evolve to meet the challenges of a changing world. Whether discussing new leadership among the Jesuits (see story) or the mystery of consciousness and the brain in our cover story, one thing is certain: The Catholic intellectual tradition is as important as ever for interpreting our faith in response to new knowledge and changing cultural circumstances.

In this issue, we emphasize books and publishers and the contribution they make to our dialogue with the modern world. Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books, and Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, are highlighted as examples of Catholics committed to the long tradition of faith seeking understanding in the fields of history, literature, art, science, philosophy and, of course, theology. Their work calls to our attention the reality that the Catholic intellectual tradition is not an artifact for safekeeping. Rather, it forms the foundation for a living, vibrant community engaged with the issues of the day. Never a choice between classical voices and today’s contemporary authors, the best of Catholic thought is a nexus of old and new, past and present, seeking an authentic Christian response to the complexities that surround us. If the past has nothing to say, then surely we are lost. And if the present has nothing to offer, then surely we have no hope.

Intellectual rigor, whether in the form of books, podcasts, DVDs or Internet alternatives, is a distinctive feature of the Catholic intellectual tradition. At its core is the belief that knowledge achieved through reason and knowledge attained by faith are equally valid and ultimately compatible.

With this issue of NCR, we are introducing our latest addition to the and Web sites -- the NCR Book Club, which will be managed by Dennis Coday, our Web coordinator. Book reviews have always formed an important part of the newspaper’s landscape. Yet, as with many things, there is never enough room in the paper to print everything worth noting.

NCR receives about 700 books every year, not counting the numerous books our editors have spotted that would be of interest to our readers. In addition to reviews, we will also highlight author interviews and recommendations from our staff and welcome your participation through our Web comment feature. If you wish, we can send you an e-mail alert every time an item is added. Sign up at If you already receive an e-mail alert for another NCR column or feature, update your profile to include NCR Book Club. We look forward to having lively conversations about important books.

Also in this week’s issue is a story coming out of Kenya (see story), a country suffering from intertribal turmoil following last month’s disputed presidential election. It tells of new challenges facing Catholic priests and members of religious congregations who are choosing to rise above ethnic identities for the sake of religious and national unity. The story is not separate from Catholic intellectual life. The horrors of ethnic cleansing show clearly the need to understand history, culture and social complexities if an authentic Christian response to fear and hatred is to be achieved. The intellectual tradition must never be lost in abstract thoughts and ivory towers; the tradition’s credibility rests in its ability to respond effectively to the challenges of a global society. Moses Atito, a Marianist brother who is also a member of the Luo tribe, says it well: “It’s our responsibility now as individuals to show that we can live together. We have to see each other as Kenyans, not as Kikuyu or Luo, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

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-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2008

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