Dolores L. CHRISTIE. Moral Choice: A Christian View of Ethics. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. pp. 260. $35.00 pb. ISBN 9780800698027. Reviewed by James T. BRETZKE, S.J., Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
The book comes out of several decades of undergraduate teaching at John Carroll University and Ursuline College. Seven chapters cover (albeit rather selectively) Catholic heritage, narrative theology, moral reasoning, law, moral norms, conscience, and the two concluding chapters cover a process for moral decision-making with some brief illustrative application examples from sexual and social ethics. Christie is much-indebted in her basic approach to her earlier doctoral work on the personalism of Louis Janssens, and she would be representative of that generation of moral theologians who gained popularity in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Writing a textbook for undergraduates is always a risky undertaking. It has to be simple enough for the uninitiated to grasp, and yet needs to avoid superficiality and/or over-simplification. Often points worthy of more in-depth treatment find themselves regrettably on the cutting room floor. Christie’s book would be suitable, with some definite caveats, as a basic introductory theology text for freshmen or sophomores who have had little exposure to Catholicism or theology, but who might come from “culturally Catholic” backgrounds. It could also be used in upper-division Catholic high schools in courses on moral problems. For other audiences, such as upper-division college undergraduates or graduate programs this text probably would not replace those already well-established in those fields. Because of some significant over-simplifications I would not recommend this RCIA programs or adult-education ministry programs.
The caveats: in walking the difficult line between being “complete” and “easily understandable” I believe Christie adopts the latter at the expense of the former. This means that at definite times her readers will possibly misunderstand the actual positions being articulated. Authorial bias also enters in here as well, especially in her tendency to reduce “nature” to “physicalism” and to make some mildly eye-brow raising statements about motivations governing positions taken by some parts of the Magisterium, whether in regards to women’s ordination or Bishop Olmsted’s notorious treatment of Sr. McBride in the controverted Phoenix “abortion” case. While she acknowledges the role Thomas Aquinas has played in moral theology, she is clearly rather skeptical of his continued influence and a Thomistic natural law theory. This is regrettable and might have been remedied if more attention had been paid to important scholarship in the field, such as that of Jean Porter and Cristina Traina and others.
Appendices include a glossary of moral terms, a selective outline of Church documents, some brief cases, and a list of movies that illustrate various moral themes. A last lament involves some editorial miscues. Presumably a Catholic editor would have caught more of the inevitable errors that crop out in Magisterial documents and dates (e.g. 1993 [not 1973] as publication for Veritatis splendor and Centesimus annus [not anno] cf. p.73 & p. 221 and helped arrive at a more accurate Latin rendering of some terms (e.g., Alter Christi [sic]. Any editor, though, should have corrected Christie’s assertion that “none of the three current female justices has children” (p. 94): news that would be quite surprising to Jane and James Ginsburg as well as their mother!