Roger HAIGHT. Spiritual and Religious: Explorations for Seekers. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2016. Pp. xviii + 203. $25.00 pb. ISBN: 978-1-62698-161-4. Reviewed by Moni MCINTYRE, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
The sheer brilliance of Roger Haight cannot go unnoticed in this slim volume. Serious seekers and thoughtful persons of all religions or no religion will be challenged by Haight’s grasp of issues confronting those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” Indeed, he implicitly challenges believers to examine their own views on that which they say they believe. This collection of essays touches upon such foundational concepts as spirituality, church, religion, the uniqueness of Jesus, ecumenism, ecclesial authority—and all this in a scientific age. When one wonders how a thinking person can be or become a Christian, then one may find some answers and directions in this book.
Haight defines, redefines, and describes spirituality in multiple ways throughout the book. Always he includes these ingredients: “the consistent way persons or groups lead their lives in the face of transcendence” (xiii). Unpacking each concept with his customary concise and carefully focused choice of words, the author deftly demonstrates how spirituality practically precedes theology and ecclesiology.
The author addresses such perplexing problems as the current decline of religion in the West, religion and science, and Christian claims about Jesus and the Trinity in an age of religious pluralism. Haight provides a historical overview of each area and a plausible theological response. Two areas that seemed somewhat less credible are his treatment of women and laity in the Roman Catholic Church. While sympathetic to the inequality of women in particular in the Catholic Church, Haight argued that this problem “continues to be addressed in the church in the United States” (129). His optimism might fail to resonate with the many women and men who have given up their membership in that institution.
Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Haight’s treatment of contemporary Christianity is his insistence upon the Christian as one who follows Jesus. The centrality and complexity of Jesus defy easy identification with him. Haight considers the uniqueness and particularity of the historical Jesus and considers such attributes as savior and symbol of God. Digging beneath surface and familiar conclusions, the author underscores the role of imagination in any treatment of Jesus the Christ. Haight specifically treats Jesus’ public roles of prophet, healer, and teacher. An important reminder offered by the author is that “Jesus’ teaching about God was not significantly different from what was taught before him as represented by the Jewish scriptures” (32); indeed, “there is no major difference between Judaism and Christianity within the teaching of Jesus” (33). Since Gautama and other religious leaders share characteristics that Jesus embodies, what, then, makes Jesus unique? Haight explores this in numerous sensitive and thought-provoking ways. His careful adherence to orthodox Catholicism is admirable.
Two contemporary issues addressed by Haight include liberation and ecospirituality. He treats them respectfully and provides much to consider, especially concerning what Christian faith adds to these spiritualities. He concludes that “Christian faith enhances these spiritualities and is enhanced by them” (125).
Loyal Jesuit Haight sprinkles references to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola throughout the text. The author even proposes them as a strategy to enhance ecumenism because they are devoid of specific Catholic references and they focus on the historical Jesus even as they engage the participant’s imagination. Haight makes a convincing case for the utility of the Exercises.
One concludes that the reading of this book only makes one want to read much more of Haight’s work. Because the footnotes feature references to many of his works, a variety of next steps presents several possibilities. One suggestion for subsequent editions, however, would be to include a list of references either at the end of the volume or following each essay for readers’ convenience.