But the really sad thing is that people who call themselves conservatives — Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin — should be crying out for apparatuses of the state to limit and police voluntary religious association. This is a profoundly anti-conservative view in two ways. First, it is historically myopic, as Mayor Bloomberg’s brief history of controversies about religious freedom in New York City demonstrates. It’s remarkable that people who invoke the Founders so regularly and in such tones of devotion could be utterly deaf to the Founders’ concern to ensure freedom for mistrusted minority religions. They might start by reading George Washington’s once-famous letter to the Newport synagogue, paying special attention to this sentence: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.” In Washington’s understanding, it is misbegotten even to ask the question, “Should we tolerate this?”
Moreover, the Gingrich-Palin view of the matter is as blind to the future as it is to the past. No one would make such an argument who did not anticipate that his or her own religious preferences will forever be enshrined as the socially dominant ones. Having endorsed the principle that minority religions can be policed by the state, Gingrich and Palin may well be unpopular figures to their descendants, if Christianity continues to decline as a force in American culture.
In other words, when the religious freedom of Muslims was under threat, I made precisely the same arguments that I am making today, and described the view being taken by many who call themselves religious conservatives as “an infantile grasping after a fleeting and elusive cultural dominance.”
Again, that’s just one example. So why would someone accuse me of thinking that only conservatives have religious rights? Because at this particular moment, it’s religious traditionalists whose claims to liberty are at issue. And the person who made that accusation is thinking only in terms of this particular moment — which is exactly what the internet firehose of news (and “news”) always prompts us to do. So again: let’s try to think wider, and think longer. And if we can’t easily assume the perspective of the longue durée, we at least ought to be able to cast our minds back four freakin’ years.
“Public gatherings—and most private ones, as well—made him jumpy. For years he had passed up family weddings and graduations, town meetings, dedications and book awards, cocktail bashes and boat gams and garden parties. As his literary reputation widened when he was in his forties and fifties, he did make it to a few select universities to receive honorary degrees, but despite prearranged infusions of sherry or Scotch he found the ceremonials excruciating. “So the old emptiness and dizziness and vapors seized hold of me,” he writes to my mother after his honoris causa Ph.D. appearance at Dartmouth in 1948. “Nobody who has never had my peculiar kind of disability can understand the sheer hell of such moments, but there they are.” And when the time came for the encomiums and the enrobing, there in the sunshine at Hanover, he went on, his hood—“white, quite big, and shaped like a loose-fitting horse collar”—became entangled with the honoree in the next seat, Ben Ames Williams: Andy’s worst dreams come true. “When I got seated the thing was up over my face, as in falconry,” he continues. “A fully masked Doctor of Letters, a headless poet.” After that, he stayed home, even passing up an invitation in 1963 to go to Washington and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon Johnson; the deed was consummated instead by a stand-in, Maine’s Senator Edmund Muskie, in the office of the president of Colby College. Andy also skipped his wife’s private burial in the Brooklin Cemetery, in July, 1977. None of us in the family expected otherwise or held this against him. And when his own memorial came, eight years later, I took the chance to remark, “If Andy White could be with us today he would not be with us today.””—Roger Angell on his stepfather, E. B. White
It’s well known that passionate Christian commitment drove the movement to abolish slavery first in the United Kingdom and then in America; it’s also well known that the Civil Rights movement was theological and spiritual through and through. And yet these points are too often forgotten when people associate religious freedom exclusively with what tends to get called the Religious Right here in America. That association is both local and temporary, and there is no reason to think that it will continue indefinitely. The farther we project from our own moment the harder it is to guess what political and social roles Christianity will play; and the farther we get from our own geographical territory the more peculiar (by our standards) the public role of Christianity tends to be.
What’s curious, and to me deeply saddening, is that neither the political Left or Right keeps these points in mind. I can scarcely blame liberals for linking Christianity with the Republican Party when so many conservative Christians do exactly the same thing. And yet if we’re going to think wisely and well about the value of religious freedom, it’s vital that we extend that thinking beyond our locality and our moment. Whatever conclusions you draw on these matters, please don’t rely solely on the evidence that the News puts before your eyes. Think wider; think longer.
If I am right that the liberal project is ultimately self-contradictory, culminating in the twin depletions of moral and material reservoirs upon which it has relied even without replenishing them, then we face a choice. We can pursue more local forms of self-government by choice or suffer by default an oscillation between growing anarchy and likely martial imposition of order by an increasingly desperate state.
If my analysis is fundamentally accurate, liberalism’s endgame is unsustainable in every respect: It cannot perpetually enforce order upon a collection of autonomous individuals increasingly shorn of constitutive social norms, nor can it continually provide endless material growth in a world of limits. We can either elect a future of self-limitation born of the practice and experience of self-governance in local communities, or we can back slowly but inexorably into a future in which extreme license invites extreme oppression.
“Whether or not agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the choice, once made, was made for good. With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. One analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, in terms of emissions, eating a pound of beef is the equivalent of driving forty-five miles. (Grass-fed beef—recommended by many primal enthusiasts—may produce lower emissions than corn-fed, but the evidence on this is shaky.) Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.”—How the Paleolithic Diet Got Trendy
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”—
“Some marriage experts don’t agree that polyamory’s impact on children is neutral, though. “We know that kids thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Polyamory can be like a “marriage-go-round,” Wilcox said. “When kids are exposed to a revolving carousel of spouses, that experience of instability and transition can be traumatic.” (Wilcox, who has contributed to The Atlantic, is known for having rather conservative views: He recently penned a Washington Post op-ed about how marriage ostensibly protects women, and he consulted on a much-contested study about the children of same-sex couples.)”—Several other researchers are cited in this long article on polyamory, but, oddly, none of the others have their views specified and placed on an ideological spectrum. Why might that be? Anyone have any ideas?
“A quarter of the U.S. population — and 40 percent of the population of New York, where my novel is set — self-identify as Catholic. One of the most striking features of the city is that there are churches everywhere, from one of the world’s largest cathedrals to hundreds of storefront churches. And a bit of investigation will reveal that those churches fill up every Sunday. Not to mention the fact that there are more Jews in New York than in any other city in the world. But for some reason the publishing industry in this city tends to view the introduction of religion into contemporary realist novels as a willful act that must have some strong rhetorical justification. From where I stand, the exclusion of religion is the willful act. Novelists never get asked why they don’t include religion in their books, or why the religion they do include — often just a species of madness — bears so little resemblance to religion as it is practiced by the majority of Americans. If they were asked, I suspect, most of these writers would not have a very good answer. It simply doesn’t occur to them. Whatever one’s beliefs, this seems like a basic failure of verisimilitude. Reality includes religion; realism should, too.”—Christopher Beha being interviewed by Harpers about his new novel Arts and Entertainments. (via unapologetic-book)
“It is harder to divest oneself of inner riches than of outward possessions; the rich man can sell all he has and give it to the poor. Those who find inner riches an obstruction to the growth of the spirit have the harder task of divesting the soul of all that makes it interesting and fetching to their fellows, of going away from the warm, rough world into other regions, into fire or ice or darkness.”—J. M. Cameron, in a 1977 review of Simone Pétrement’s biography of Simone Weil
“Sexual autonomy is increasingly more important to contemporary Americans than religious liberty, which was one of the founding principles of our nation. What we call “traditional Christians” in our discourse refers to what 50 years ago would have simply been called “Christians,” given that there was no dramatic dissent among the various Christian sects and churches on sexual morality. So, when we say that we are living through the transformation of traditional Christianity from majority to minority status, what we’re really saying is that the Sexual Revolution has conquered Christianity in America, and that Christians who still believe about sex more or less what nearly all Christians for over 19 centuries believed are becoming a declining population that will be seen as as reactionary weirdos.”—What Is ‘Traditional Christianity,’ Anyway?
“The takeaway message is this: no one needs churches to be nice or tasteful. If churches have a future, it’s in addressing our existential darkness: sin and death. Progressive politics is important, but it doesn’t do any deep religious work. And liberals in the church will have to rediscover this after we have won our culture wars. What other religion has such a dark image at its centre? And yet my own brand of liberal Christianity too often seeks salvation through a few gentle verses of All Things Bright and Beautiful or lots of self-important dressing up and wandering around in fancy churches. Devoted atheists are never going to be persuaded by a theology of the cross. But no one whatsoever is going to be persuaded by a theology of nice.”—Giles Fraser
“My best Beloved keeps his throne
On hills of light, in worlds unknown;
But he descends and shows his face
In the young gardens of his grace.”—Isaac Watts, from a little-known hymn that (Watts says) paraphrases Song of Songs 6. A stunning poetic sentence.
The historical blindness, moral obtuseness, and self-satisfied pomposity of this op-ed by Timothy Egan is only the most recent in a long line of New York Times pieces meant to incite hatred of religious believers. But it’s the last one I’ll read. I have canceled my subscription and will no longer read anything published in that newspaper, with the exception of columns and blog posts by my friend Ross Douthat.
If journalistic integrity, elementary fairness, and the peace of our nation mean anything to you, I would suggest that you try to find a way to protest the combination of belligerence and utter ignorance that has come to characterize almost all of the NYT’s coverage of religion, especially American religion.
Those “courageous” progressives don’t really value the opinions or affirmations of conservative evangelicalism anyway. What they really value, long for, and try to curry is the favor of “the Enlightened”—whether that’s the mainstream academy or the progressive chattering class who police our cultural mores of tolerance. Sure, these “courageous” progressives will take fire from conservative evangelicals—but that’s not a loss or sacrifice for them. Indeed, their own self-understanding is fueled by such criticism. In other words, these stands don’t take “courage” at all; they don’t stand to lose anything with those they truly value.
Similarly, “courageous” conservatives who “stand up” to the progressive academy aren’t putting much at risk because that’s not where they look for validation and it’s not where their professional identities are invested. They are usually “populists” (in a fairly technical sense of the word) whose professional lives are much more closely tethered to the church and popular opinion. And in those sectors, “standing up to” the academy isn’t a risk at all—it’s a way to win praise. When your so-called contrarian stands win favor from those you value most…well, it’s hard to see how “courage” applies.
But here’s what we don’t often see: Christian scholars who have vested their professional lives in the mainstream academy willing to take stands that would be unpopular at the MLA or APA or AAR. Conversely, we don’t see many conservative scholars willing to defend positions that would jeapordize their favored status with popular evangelicalism.
“If the ultimate aim of education in the liberal arts is to draw us out of ourselves, to teach us the language of praise and gratitude, then Jimmie attained it in worship. Education in the liberal arts — if we can still find it in our world — is one important path to finding one’s soul. But it is neither the only nor even the most suitable path for many people. Were we really to absorb this truth, we could stop pretending that the liberal arts are important frosting on the cake of an education that is in fact designed for other purposes. In so doing, we might free the liberal arts to set us free.”—Who Needs a Liberal Education?
“It seems like many people think that if you drive yourself crazy, then you can write. I’m absolutely not interested in that. It made sense to me to be as whole and well as I could be, and as happy. I wanted to see what a fortunate life would produce. What writing would come out of a mind that didn’t try to torment itself? What did I have to know? What did I have to do rather than what can I torment and bend myself into doing? What was the fruit on that tree?”—Kay Ryan (via austinkleon)
For almost four decades (yikes!) I’ve worked as a freelance writer, feeling enormously blessed to make a good living by writing about issues of faith that I would want to explore even if no one bought my books. Every year my royalties go down, though with more than 20 books in print I can still pay bills and find publishers willing to sponsor new books.
The changes in publishing, especially Christian publishing, stood out sharply to me when I stopped in at the largest annual Christian book convention in June. At one time 15,000 attended that trade show, a convention so large that only a handful of cities could accommodate it. Now less than 4,000 attend, and in Atlanta it occupied a corner of the huge convention center. A couple hundred delegates attended a luncheon in which I participated on a panel with Ravi Zacharias and Ryan Dobson; ten years ago the same luncheon would have filled a thousand-seat banquet hall. Though name authors had book signings, the only lines I saw were for two stars of Duck Dynasty.
My professional life has been framed by two very different institutions. For the first twenty-two years of my academic career, I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. In many ways, my time there was a blessing. The UW is an elite academic institution with an extraordinary faculty and world-class resources. During my time there it boasted five Nobel Prize winners, one of the largest libraries in North America, and was ranked by the Economist as one of the top twenty public universities in the world.
I also made several good friends at UW and benefited from a number of genuinely kind colleagues who took sincere interest in my well being, both personal and professional. Finally, I should acknowledge that I flourished there professionally — in certain respects. I was awarded tenure, rose in rank from assistant to associate to full professor, won the university’s distinguished teaching award, and was accorded a prestigious endowed chair in U. S. history.
And yet while I was experiencing a certain measure of professional success, my soul was always deeply divided….
For twenty-two years I accommodated my sense of calling to this secular dogma, bracketing my faith and limiting explicit Christian expressions and Christian reflections to private conversations with students who sought me out. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer writes movingly about the costs of such segmentation. Vocation is a calling to a way of life more than to a sphere of life. “Divided no more!” is Palmer’s rallying cry.
If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton four years ago, these are the words that first come to mind — divided no more. Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here. But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.
Christians have a long way to go in affirming the value of pluralism for all members of society. We might begin by recognizing its role for our gay and lesbian neighbors. When Uganda enacts a law that punishes homosexuality with death, U.S. Christians can speak out against such a law. Domestically, we need to think carefully about the kinds of legislation being pushed at the state level. Some proposed laws are undoubtedly important to protect religious institutions’ right to live in accordance with their own beliefs and traditions; others are deeply problematic. Christians in states without any antidiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians might consider supporting those laws containing exemptions for religious groups, rather than simply advocating for religious freedom on its own.
Unkind words have emerged from almost every corner of the public discourse. Christians should not be bullied or silenced by careless language. But neither should they engage in it. Advocacy for Christian witness must itself demonstrate Christian witness. In this way, our present circumstances provide new opportunities to embody tolerance, humility, and patience. And, of course, we have at our disposal not only these aspirations but also the virtues that shape our lives: faith, hope, and love.
Is our overvaluation of spontaneity not, after all, born of a deep-seated fear – the fear of missing out? If we commit to one social plan for the whole evening, we might be missing out on something cooler happening just around the corner. So the mediated-spontaneity tools of the smartphone comfort us with the idea that it is always possible to bail out in favour of something better. And this is pleasant, too, for the hipster entrepreneurs who have just launched the nearby pop-up absinthe bar or dude-food smokehouse. As Jacob Burak reports in a recent essay, the fear of missing out “occurs mostly in people with unfulfilled psychological needs in realms such as love, respect, autonomy and security”. Too overwhelming a fear of missing out – a generalised attitude of always looking over the shoulder of the person you’re talking to in case there is someone more interesting or attractive at the party – can rob the victim of the ability to take pleasure in anything.
And so it might be that those dedicated to the spontaneous lifestyle will continue to be frazzled and unhappy, however many bikini razors and pairs of Brazilian flip-flops they own – while their masters, whose plans are anything but spontaneous, look on with dark satisfaction.
“The mature practitioner (not me) will discover a steady clarity in the vision of self and world, and, in “advanced” states, an awareness of unbroken inner light, with the strong sense of an action going on within that is quite independent of your individual will – the prayer “praying itself”, not just human words but a connection between God transcendent and God present and within. Ritual anchors, ritual aligns, harmonises, relates. And what happens in the “Jesus Prayer” is just the way an individual can make real what is constantly going on in the larger-scale worship of the sacraments. The pity is that a lot of western Christianity these days finds all this increasingly alien. But I don’t think any one of us can begin to discover again what religion might mean unless we are prepared to expose ourselves to new ways of being in our bodies. But that’s a long story.”—Rowan Williams
“Is evangelical Christian morality still viable in American public life? This is the question lurking in recent debates over religious-liberty issues, from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to the Christian bakers who object to baking cakes for gay weddings. In discussions of these cases, objections to same-sex marriage and contraception are described as a retreat from “secular society.” And in some cases, evangelicals actually have retreated: Since the Boy Scouts of America decided to allow openly gay Scouts to participate, a “Christian” alternative has been created, giving Christian parents a “safe” space where they can send their kids. But these incidences of retreat have actually been rare. Ultimately, the idea that evangelical Christian morality is incompatible with modern life isn’t sustainable.”—
Just look at the title and the first and last sentences of this quotation. Together they assume that “America,” “American public life,” and “modern life” are synonyms. Which they most definitely are not.
It just doesn’t make sense to put American evangelical Christians on one side and “American society” (another phrase used here) on the other. That contrast assumes precisely the point that the cultured despisers of evangelicalism assume: that evangelicals are somehow less American than they (the despisers) are, or non-American. But American citizens who happen to be evangelical Christians are not by virtue of that commitment any less American than anyone else. Nor are they necessarily less a part of “American public life.” Last time I checked a good many of them were in Coongress, and on the radio and television, and in books and magazines.
I fear that Noble’s way of formulating the conflict — which he rightly discerns — plays into the hands of those who think that they get to decide how much of the Christian religion they are willing to tolerate. I, on the other hand, am not willing to grant them that authority. Nor is the law — at least for now.
One of the most important moments in the history of American religious freedom — now rarely remembered — is the letter that President George Washington wrote to the members of the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Those Jews had (graciously) written to thank the President for his suppprt of their religious freedom. To this Washington replied that he deserved no thanks: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.”
I’m going to give you that again: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.”
In the same way, people who happen to despise evangelical Christians cannot arrogate to themselves the decision of how much religion they’re willing to accept. They are not the arbiters of tolerance of others. We are all on an equal footing before the law, and should insist on that equality — for others more than for ourselves, but when necessary, for ourselves also.
“Moore is fond of saying that Christianity should be “freakish” or “strange” and shouldn’t fit so neatly into the culture at large. His arguments sound reminiscent of early-20th-century fundamentalists’ withdrawal from public life, after their cultural setback following the Scopes Monkey Trial.”—
The Culture Warrior in Winter - NationalJournal.com. No, they don’t. Not in any way, shape, or form. Moore’s point is simply that Christianity is not “normal,” or “common sense” — the Christian message is rather a challenge to our standard operating procedure, whoever and whatever we are. This is a point all really serious Christians make, whether they come from the right or the left or no recognizable point on the political spectrum.
Aside from its unfortunately captivity to a simplistic but very familiar narrative of American religious life in which the term “fundamentalist” does the kind of affective heavy lifting that only an ultimate bogey-word can do, this article, by Tiffany Stanley, is a good portrait of Richard Land.
The reforms never seem to work. This makes the need for reform all the more urgent. The country now spends more than $650 billion on primary and secondary education every year, far more than on our national defense, and nearly three times what it spent when Jimmy Carter decided we needed the Department of Education to encourage and guide education spending. Over the last three decades, increases in education funding have outstripped inflation by 20 percent. For many years now the United States has spent more money per-student than any other country in the world.
During that time, from what anybody can figure, there has been no overall improvement in the acquisition of skills and knowledge among American students, except among the very poor. But even at the economic bottom, where room for improvement was greatest, the numbers remain dismal: At present trends, only 9 out of 100 poor children who enter kindergarten today will grow up to hold a college degree. As a whole, the country’s educational attainments rest in the mediocre middle of international rankings—well below Canada, but above Mexico, just like on the map.
“It was said of one of the elders that he persevered in a fast of seventy weeks, eating only once a week. The elder ask God to reveal to him the meaning of a certain Scripture text, and God would not reveal it to him. So he said to himself: Look at all the work I have done without getting anywhere! I will go to one of the brothers and ask him. When he had gone out and closed the door and was starting on his way an angel of the Lord was sent to him, saying: The seventy weeks you fasted did not bring you any closer to God, but now that you have humbled yourself and set out to ask your brother, I am sent to reveal the meaning of that text. And opening to him the meaning which he sought, he went away.”—Quoted in Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert
But wait, some will object: You can’t reduce contemporary American liberalism to the illiberal outbursts of loudmouthed activists, intemperate journalists, foolish undergraduates, and reckless Ivy League professors!
To which the proper response is: True!
Still, I wonder: Where have been all the outraged liberals taking a stand against these and many other examples of dogmatism — and doing so in the name of liberalism? I’ve been doing that in my own writing. And I’ve appreciated the occasional expressions of modest support from a handful of liberal readers. But what about the rest of you?
”—Damon Linker. I’ve been wondering the same thing. How many Americans are there who, while liberal themselves, don’t think it’s a good idea to try to drive religious believers altogether out of the public sphere? If a significant number of them remain, they are very, very quiet.
“The genius of Eno is in removing the idea of genius. His work is rooted in the power of collaboration within systems: instructions, rules, and self-imposed limits. His methods are a rebuke to the assumption that a project can be powered by one person’s intent, or that intent is even worth worrying about. To this end, Eno has come up with words like “scenius,” which describes the power generated by a group of artists who gather in one place at one time. (“Genius is individual, scenius is communal,” Eno told the Guardian, in 2010.) It suggests that the quality of works produced in a certain time and place is more indebted to the friction between the people on hand than to the work of any single artist.”—Sasha Frere-Jones: Brian Eno’s Quiet Influence
“All that is necessary is that we not be hypocritical, that we recognize why we read and admire writers like Simone Weil. I cannot believe that more than a handful of the tens of thousands of readers she has won since the posthumous publication of her books and essays really share her ideas. Nor is it necessary—necessary to share Simone Weil’s anguished and unconsummated love affair with the Catholic Church, or accept her gnostic theology of divine absence, or espouse her ideals of body denial, or concur in her violently unfair hatred of Roman civilization and the Jews. Similarly, with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche; most of their modern admirers could not, and do not embrace their ideas. We read writers of such scathing originality for their personal authority, for the example of their seriousness, for their manifest willingness to sacrifice themselves for their truths, and—only piecemeal—for their “views.” As the corrupt Alcibiades followed Socrates, unable and unwilling to change his own life, but moved, enriched, and full of love; so the sensitive modern reader pays his respect to a level of spiritual reality which is not, could not, be his own.”—Susan Sontag on Simone Weil (1963)
Julie Posetti: Some journalists and editors have told me that they’re thinking of closing their Facebook accounts in the wake of this scandal - what’s your response to that reaction? Would you consider that course of action now?
Jay Rosen: Yes, I have considered it. And I may do that one day. I have 180,000 subscribers on Facebook but I barely use it. I can go for a week or two without logging in. I post photos I am proud of occasionally, and sometimes links to my own work. Last week I posted a lot on Facebook about the issues we are discussing now, using the platform to air criticism of it. But what I do every day on Twitter—curate links and comment in the area of my expertise, adding value to the system for free because I get something back—I will not do on Facebook because of the opacity of its algorithm. Facebook thinks it knows better than I do what those 180,000 subscribers should receive from me. I find that unacceptable, though I understand why they do it. I am not in a commercial situation where I have to maximize my traffic, so I can opt out. Right now my choice is to keep my account, but use it cynically.
”—Facebook Has All the Power. I’m sure Facebook is perfectly happy to have all its users “use it cynically,” as long as they stay around.
“In a slapdash reply to an article I published at Slate, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne provides just such a response. First, he pretends that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” means “How did the universe come about?” And so he has an answer: the Big Bang. I confess I find this somewhat cute, as if I had asked a child why there is money and he had answered, “Because there are ATMs.””—Michael Robbins (paywalled, I think).
“A straw man can be a very convenient property, after all. I can see why a plenteously contented, drowsily complacent, temperamentally incurious atheist might find it comforting—even a little luxurious—to imagine that belief in God is no more than belief in some magical invisible friend who lives beyond the clouds, or in some ghostly cosmic mechanic invoked to explain gaps in current scientific knowledge. But I also like to think that the truly reflective atheist would prefer not to win all his or her rhetorical victories against childish caricatures. I suppose the success of the books of the ‘new atheists’—which are nothing but lurchingly spasmodic assaults on whole armies of straw men—might go some way toward proving the opposite. Certainly, none of them is an impressive or cogent treatise, and I doubt posterity will be particularly kind to any of them once the initial convulsions of celebrity have subsided. But they have definitely sold well. I doubt that one should make much of that, though. The new atheists’ texts are manifestoes, buoyantly coarse and intentionally simplistic, meant to fortify true unbelievers in their unbelief; their appeal is broad but certainly not deep; they are supposed to induce a mood, not encourage deep reflection; and at the end of the day they are probably only a passing fad in trade publishing, directed at a new niche market.”—David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God. Reading Hart is such a … bracing thing. Sort of like knocking back a tumbler of white lightning.
“And on the other hand, the material value is apt to undermine the manly character; so that it must be our work, in the issue, to examine what evidence there is of the effect of wealth on the minds of its possessors; also, what kind of person it is who usually sets himself to obtain wealth, and succeeds in doing so; and whether the world owes more gratitude to rich or to poor men, either for their moral influence upon it, or for chief goods, discoveries, and practical advancements. I may, however, anticipate future conclusions, so far as to state that in a community regulated only by laws of demand and supply, but protected from open violence, the persons who become rich are, generally speaking, industrious, resolute, proud, covetous, prompt, methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive, and ignorant. The persons who remain poor are the entirely foolish, the entirely wise, the idle, the reckless, the humble, the thoughtful, the dull, the imaginative, the sensitive, the well-informed, the improvident, the irregularly and impulsively wicked, the clumsy knave, the open thief, and the entirely merciful, just, and godly person.”—John Ruskin, Unto This Last
“Stanley was extraordinarily logical, inclined to have everything seamless. Hollywood movies in general, nowadays especially, with the story or scriptwriters coming last in the pecking order, tend to have vast flaws in the story logic because quite often the story is still being cobbled together during shooting. But Stanley wouldn’t allow anything like that. He needed to spend years and years to have everything perfect, to have the machine, the clockwork impeccable before the shooting commenced. And then of course he would spend about two years shooting, the philosophy being that once you have everything gathered together, you might as well film the same scene 50 times over, rather than just doing it a couple of times and saying ‘wrap’. Because, if you do it 50 times, something “interesting” might happen; this basically involved the actors going so far beyond just being actors that they were either living the role by then in a Zen state of hypnosis, or they might go crazy and do something completely original, fresh and strange.”—Ian Watson on working for Stanley Kubrick
“Brazil didn’t lose 7-1 because it is a nation on the verge of hysterical collapse. Despite the impression given by the TV pictures, Brazil was never going to grind to a halt, or come weeping into the streets. The players were horribly keyed up within their sealed environment. The media were obsessed with the players being horribly keyed up. But Brazil itself? People were drinking and laughing and chatting away in the bars of São Paulo on Tuesday night. It is a patronising myth that Brazilians are dementedly obsessed with football, just as it is a ludicrous simplification to suggest the original Maracanazo created “a scar” on the “national consciousness” (there is, let’s be honest, no such thing as “a national consciousness”). People cry in the stadium when they lose, then go home and stop crying just like anywhere else, and without samba dancing on the way, or weeping about Neymar, or worshipping Pelé. Update: Brazil still not collapsing.”—Brazil World Cup humiliation by Germany should serve as a call to arms
This book is written in the fundamental conviction that no cogent answer to the contemporary Christian question of the trinitarian God can be given without charting the necessary and intrinsic entanglement of human sexuality and spirituality in such a quest: the questions of right contemplation of God, right speech about God, and right ordering of desire all hang together. They emerge in primary interaction with Scripture, become intensified and contested in early Christian tradition, and are purified in the crucible of prayer. Thus the problem of the Trinity cannot be solved without addressing the very questions that seem least to do with it, questions which press on the contemporary Christian churches with such devastating and often destructive force: questions of sexual justice, questions of the meaning and stability of gender roles, questions of the final theological significance of sexual desire…
Some of the most significant figures in the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, especially) feature large in this volume because of the fascinatingly different ways in which they relate their perceptions of intense desire for God, their often problematic feelings about sexual desire at the human level, and their newly creative understandings of God as Trinity.
”—Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’
“Thus the demand for ‘poverty’ or simplicity in the lifestyle of the Christian is inseparable from the vocation to peace-making. The beatitudes are all about ‘making a whole’ of our world of relationships, in relation to an order of balanced mutuality and growth in and with one another. So campaigning for peace is, in the long run, inseparable from resistance to what I have called ‘passive consumerism’, to the cheapening and trivializing of desire. And it is in this context, incidentally, that I believe Christian criticisms of pornography should be understood: the question we should ask about alleged pornography is not about its ‘explicitness’ but about its collusion with neurotic, self-protective and violent fantasy, the various forms of rejection of the world and of the other. Its problem is not eroticism, but that it is not erotic enough — not concerned with desire in its central human significance.”—Rowan Williams, The Truce of God