Out of the Depths:
The Daily Telegraph Meditations
Continuum, London, 2001, £9.99
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed May 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
Edward Norman is one of those writers who is both a first-class academic and a popular journalist. This collection of 130 meditations which first appeared in the Daily Telegraph is an example of his skill in the latter rôle.
These are short pieces covering a wide range of topics and written unashamedly from an orthodox standpoint. In fact they are almost evangelical in tone and substance. He shares a rather low opinion of human character and bemoans the lack of emphasis in contemporary preaching on ‘the dreadful reality of human sin’. Social justice and ecological responsibility do not rate highly in his scale of priorities. He is dismissive of the modern tendency to turn Christianity into a form of therapy. Hand in hand with this goes ‘a strong tendency ... for individuals to fashion religion for themselves (so that) it becomes a dimension of the pursuit of personal fulfilment’. All in all, religion in Britain is in a bad way and – it seems to Norman – the churches bear a heavy responsibility for this state of affairs.
So what is Norman’s antidote? One of the common themes running through this collection is that only a return to authentic Christianity in the realms of both belief and practice can reverse the slide into moral chaos. There is something of John Henry Newman in his insistence that ‘the religion of Jesus is about dogmatic truth’.
If you are a fan of Edward Norman, you will appreciate this collection. For clergy there is much sermon material here and many an acute observation on the human predicament. What I missed was any sense that God loves this troubled and confused world and that the seeds of redemption are there for those with eyes to see.
Howard Bigg, Cambridge
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