11 December 2017

Stocking Stuffers Part 2

Image result for brauch flawed perfection

(Part 1 here)

Another book I can recommend is "Flawed Perfection: What It Means to be Human and Why It Matters for Culture, Politics, and Law." Written by friend and former colleague Jeff Brauch, "Flawed Perfection" addresses the "Who cares?" and "What is it?" of human nature. Arguing that there is a thing such as human nature falls outside the mainstream of post-modern identify politics but satisfying pomo critics isn't Brauch's concern. Rather, he takes a straightforward position with frequent reference to Scripture that human nature can be described with five factors, four of which are capabilities (reasoning, creativity, dominion, and relationality) and the fifth, a status (sharing God's moral image). Even here, however, Brauch explains that status in terms of the capability of volition plus the qualities of conscience and possession of "moral law written on the heart." Human dignity, a terms that bears much weight in "Flawed Perfection," ultimately finds its justification in human capabilities but capabilities underwritten by their origin in a transcendent God.

I have elaborated on Brauch's introductory chapters to indicate that those interested in subtle theological distinctions will not find them addressed in "Flawed Perfection." Brauch is content to take and apply Evangelical commonplaces to the topic of human nature and its entailment, human dignity. In other words, you won't find a consideration of other interpretations of human dignity as, for example, Nicholas Wolterstorff's use of analytic philosophy to ground human dignity in God's love of attachment (here) or Gilbert Meilaender's neo-Aristotelian approach (here). None of this should be taken as a criticism of Brauch's book. It is, after all, his book to write. It is only to suggest that the audience for "Flawed Perfection" is not the legal or theological academy.

Enough quibbling. Whatever the justification of human dignity, how does Brauch apply it? The the next seven chapter reveal Brauch at his best: clear and engaging writing about the relationship of human nature to topics ranging from human trafficking and biotechnology to the rule of law and criminal punishment. Brauch eschews certain risky topics such as systemic racism, consumer capitalism and the growing dominance of multi-national enterprises in subverting the very rule of law he praises, climate change, and rampant militarism. Even though Brauch picked on softer targets, I was pleased to note that in the final chapter he addresses the risk of "Christian Utopianism." Just as disregarding human nature leads to systemic human degradation, over-ambitious efforts at legal reform of (im)moral behavior often backfire and cause other sorts of harm.

Earlier I remarked that the academy was not audience for "Flawed Perfection." But who is? What individuals or groups would benefit from reading this book? Coming in at over 260 pages, I suspect its length makes it a daunting read for church study groups. It would, however, make an excellent addition to a church library where it could be a resource to those who want to begin to explore the implications of the Christian faith across a range of social ills. High-school age homeschoolers and teachers at Christian schools might also find it to be a good resource for students (especially politically conservative American students) who are beginning to see the systemic effects of sin and want more than a set of proof-texts to guide their entrance into the world of public policy.

In the end, "Flawed Perfection" is a good introduction to the topics it addresses and I recommend it to those interested in some implications of a robust notion of human nature for a number of the world's current ills.

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