“If the Catholic Church did what it taught, it’d be a great religion,” said the man of the middle-aged couple holding hands—itself a rare sight—shuffling along in front of me on the crowded sidewalk. But he’d decided that “Buddhism is the best religion. It’s all about the self. [A short pause.] And the environment.” The woman agreed.

They were talking loudly, and as far as I could understand him, he thought Buddhism came without all the personal and dogmatic entanglements other religions demanded and left you alone to deal with your own problems. But it also helped you merge with the cosmos, and that made you ecologically sensitive and support environmentalist laws and causes.

This conversation went on for a while, until the woman ­suddenly said, a little breathlessly, “You know why I was so excited that Abby was born during the Year of the Tiger? Because it means she’ll be  really smart . And that she’ll be a  big   success  in life. And . . . ” But there I turned the corner as they kept going straight.

• The new atheists “have not managed to convince us that humans are purely material beings, with no spiritual element,” says ­Elizabeth ­Oldfield, director of the English thinktank Theos, analyzing her group’s latest poll, and this is good news for the churches. No it’s not, says the journalist Nelson Jones, writing in the  New Statesman .

According to the survey, only 13 percent of the English believe that “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element.” Fifty-nine percent believe in some kind of ­spiritual being, and 77 percent believe that some things can’t be explained “through science or any other means.” Forty percent have tried some “new age” exercise. 

Jones notes, and he’s right, that this doesn’t mean much: “A sense that life has mysteries, that there are things—love, for example—that will always remain beyond a reductive scientific explanation, doesn’t necessarily make someone religious.” The claims of the churches don’t have much “to do with such basic questions as the existence of God or whether there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by Richard Dawkins. ‘Spirituality’ may often take a religious form or employ language that we think of as religious, but it makes more sense to think of it as being just part of the human condition—even if a minority of people are indifferent or positively hostile towards it.”

As, indeed, Theos’ own figures showed. The particular beliefs of a dogmatic Christianity did not do well. Only 13 percent believe in hell, and only twice that in heaven. Only 17 percent believe that prayer could change “the person or situation you are praying for.” About one-fourth believe in angels and about one-third in personal survival after death.

Most people feel about religion a “benign indifference,” Jones writes, borrowing a term from the anthropologist Kate Fox. The survey, he writes, offers worse news for traditional religion than for the new atheists. “The churches have shed their congregations despite the fact that atheist materialism remains a minority taste. What this suggests is that much of religion’s former success derived from social convention rather than inherent human spirituality, which can survive anything, including disbelief in God.”

• And can include belief in the Chinese cycle of years. How could someone believe, and believe not just sincerely but ­enthusiastically, that being born in a particular year will make a child  really smart  and a  big   success  in life? Has she noticed that no year has produced a notably higher number of really smart and successful people than any other? 

• In his “Evangelical Retreat?” in this issue, Russell Moore calls for ­Evangelicals to be more winsome in their promotion of Christianity, and Christians of all sorts need to hear him. Our reaction to many of Christianity’s most popular public spokesmen is: “Will you . . . just . . .   shut up .” But if they shut up, the reporters wouldn’t call and the checks wouldn’t come in, so that’s not going to ­happen.

Even without the hucksters and hysterics, we’re at a permanent rhetorical disadvantage in these debates, because the moral innovators’ appeal to those in the middle whose ­allegiance is in play is always affirming, except when it’s useful to be ­indignant and outraged. Their proposals appeal the way taking off tight shoes will always be a relief and a pleasure. (Liberate those toes.) 

We’ll often be the ones telling ­people they have to keep wearing shoes, and no matter how sweetly you say it and how reasonable your explanation, you are going to sound cruel and uncaring. (Those imprisoned toes hurt.)

• Once, says Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J., speaking on “the strange separation of the Church from blue-collar working people,” every parish had devout working-class families who produced many priests and religious, some of whom became bishops “able to speak to their spiritual needs and to work to protect them from social and political harms.” Now, even with ­immigration, the Church has far ­fewer such families.

Because of this, he said in a talk to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy that we just stumbled across, “few priests if any really depend on working people for their support. In a mixed parish, they are supported by the professionals; in a totally working class parish, they’re supported by the diocese—i.e., by professionals who live elsewhere.” As a result, “the Catholic seminary and university culture has been freed of any responsibility to explain itself to the working class, and notions of scriptural ­inspiration and sexual propriety have become progressively detached from the terms in which they would be comprehensible by ordinary people.” 

This would be true of middle-class parishes as well. The answer is, alas, not obvious, because parish priests are never again going to be ­dependent upon the working people in their ­parishes.

• As Edmund Burke said, to be loved a nation needs to be lovely. Twice as many Americans prefer dogs to cats. Ours is a lovely country. Or two-thirds of a lovely country. Or two-thirds of its people are lovely. Or something.

• Twice as many Americans think a dog than think a cat would make a better president. Let’s see: ­Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, dogs; Johnson, Carter, Obama, cats. 

• To be fair, C. S. Lewis thought differently. In a letter written in 1962, the year before he died, he wrote: “Yes, it is strange that ­anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worse offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.”

• There, in the Collegiate Network Fellows section of ISI’s booklet  Leadership Class of 2013 , was our own CN fellow, Sandra Laguerta. At the end of her entry was her answer to the question “What was your signature accomplishment in college?” Other young people who answered this question had listed things like starting campus newspapers, getting their school to offer a course on conservatism, giving a paper at a conference, or becoming editor of their campus’ conservative newspaper.

Sandra answered: “It was an honor to be chosen to give the benediction at Notre Dame’s [College of Arts and Letters’] graduation ceremony.” A prayer. This says something very good about Sandra, and we’d like to think that it says something good about  First Things .

• The benediction begins, in case you’re interested, with praise to God and thanks for all those, from faculty to parents, who helped the students graduating, and then asks for the gift of the Holy Spirit (graduation being on Pentecost last May). And then:

As we leave our beloved University, may it be written upon our hearts the words of our motto,  Vita, Dulcedo, Spes , for indeed our Mother is our life, our sweetness, and our hope. May she ever keep us under her mantle of protection, leading us always to your Son, consoling us in our sufferings, and thanking you with us in our joys. 

We humbly ask of these gifts in the name of your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Our Lady of the Lake, pray for us. Saint Joseph, pray for us. Saint André Bessette and Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us.

• “Methodologically questionable” is our writer Rabbi Edward ­Shapiro’s judgment about the recent Pew survey  A Portrait of Jewish Americans . “Some of the conclusions are ridiculous and truly unbelievable,” he wrote us. “The survey reports that 23 percent of Orthodox Jews and 24 percent of the Ultra-Orthodox handle money on the Sabbath (this is absolutely prohibited except if required to save someone’s life). Four percent of Modern Orthodox and 1 percent of Ultra-Orthodox have Christmas trees (can you imagine a couple of thousand Ultra-Orthodox Jews ­celebrating Christmas?).”

He ascribed the problem to “an obvious over-defining of Orthodoxy resulting from the discrepancy between those who are Orthodox in terms of belief and practice and those who identify as Orthodox (they might call themselves Orthodox because their parents are Orthodox and this is the synagogue they attend on the infrequent occasions when they do attend; or because they are members of an Orthodox synagogue, i.e., they pay dues, but don’t follow an Orthodox lifestyle).”

A professor emeritus of history at Seton Hall University, Rabbi Shapiro ­commented on the decline of Conservative ­Judaism in the May issue.

• Beneath Jesus’ instruction that to whom much has been given, of him much shall be required lies “the perverted Marxist notion that wealth is accumulated by ‘exploiting’ people, not by creating value,” declares a Harry Binswanger, a disciple of Ayn Rand writing on  Forbes ’ magazine’s website. He is objecting ­specifically to the “collectivist sacred cow” that the successful should give something back to the community.

The community, he writes, “never gave anyone anything. The ‘community,’ the ‘society,’ the ‘nation’ is just a number of interacting individuals, not a mystical entity floating in a cloud above them. And when some individual person—a parent, a ­teacher, a customer—‘gives’ something to someone else, it is not an act of ­charity, but a trade for value ­received in return.”

It gets better, by which I mean worse. “Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young . . . if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind.” People like Blankfein should be free of paying taxes and the most successful of them each year awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Our first response to this, or rather the second after disgust, is to pity a man who lives in a cosmos in which there is no community and no ­charity, just individuals trading value for value. 

• “Yes, that Lloyd Blankfein,” writes Jason Notte in  MSN ­Money , responding to the column: the man “who told Congress in the wake of the financial collapse that his ­company didn’t ­create the mortgage default swaps that wrecked the economy, it just created the market for them. The same guy whose firm bet against the same products Goldman was selling to investors but saw no legal or moral impetus to tell those customers it was doing so. The same Blankfein whose company set the euro teetering on the brink of collapse by helping Greece hide its crushing debt.”

Notte ends his short response with a quote from John ­Adams, the Founding Fathers having experienced Binswanger’s kind of world under the English king: “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or ­private interest of any one man, ­family, or class of men.”

The common good, the people. Not for Adams, and for the Founding Fathers, and for every civilized and humane thinker since Plato­—never mind Plato, since Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah—just a number of ­interacting individuals.

• It’s something we think about with our own writers for the website, the worker being worthy of his wages, as St. Paul (no Randian he) said. “The first time I ever heard the word ‘content’ used in its current context, I ­understood that all my artist friends and I—henceforth, ‘content providers’—were essentially extinct,” grumbled Tim Kreider in the  New York Times

The delivery system matters. The writing and illustration become ­“filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.” Businesses get away with not paying because lots of writers, especially younger ones, will work hard just to get their name in print, in the hope that someday they’ll make a living writing. Kreider wishes they’d stop.

We think about this, as I said. We don’t pay the writers for the website, because we can’t—which is something to remember, by the way, should you ever meet one of them—but we think some things need to be said and that our website is a place they ought to be said, and maybe the only major place they will be said.

• From my friend Neil Gussman: “When I went to college after serving seven years in the Army I wanted to be a writer—not a crafter of content-rich messaging.”

• Mucus, you may want to know, must be flushed out of the system because it has “a dense and sticky quality; it resonates with and attracts dense, toxic thoughts and emotions.” So explains the founder of one version of the “cleanse,” a rigorous, often three-week-long fast which sounds pretty horrible but is apparently a great fad in some circles. ­Gwyneth Paltrow endorses it.

Though the cleanse supposedly makes you healthier, its devotees pursue it for partly religious reasons. Noting that people describe these cleanses as “journeys” and that “people crave the transcendence that comes from self-deprivation,” and having read the Clean Program founder’s book  Clean , the  New ­Republic ’s science editor Judith ­Shulevitz writes that the movement is ­“theology all the way down.”

“As in many a devotional text, fasting is presented as a way to embody a purer social order . . . . Instead of fretting about a fallen world, we speak of a poisoned one . . . . Distrustful of our surroundings, we try to close ourselves off to malign ­influences and to purge them. It is no accident that  Clean  dwells obsessively on defecation and elimination.”

• While registering our youngest for a program at a New York museum, we got to the section “Applicant Self Identification,” which asked only about race and then only in very broad categories. You were allowed to decline to respond or to select “mixed” if you identified with more than one.

Among the choices were white, which specifically included “Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish,” both “Hispanic (White)” and “Hispanic (Black),” and African American. The museum used, by the way, ­“American Indian” rather than “Native ­American.”

Curious, however, was the choice “South Asian (including India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Philippines, and Vietnam).” It is impossible to imagine any meaningful relation that ties these nations together in distinction to others. Despite their peoples’ ­ancient antagonism, isn’t the Vietnamese person culturally and linguistically closer to the Chinese than to the Indian and Pakistani, for example? 

But such things have to be counted somehow and the number of practical possibilities is limited—the more categories, the more figures to add up and keep straight and the longer the reports—and so apparently someone, somewhere in the museum’s ­bureaucracy, probably someone very well paid with a title like “vice president for diversity sensitivity,” made up the group.

• His hostess at the dinner in a very fashionable part of Long Island having complained that after a divorce they saw nothing of the former wife, when everyone had liked her much better than him, Ben Widdicombe asked, “So why don’t you hang out with her instead of the husband?” Even the butler winced, he said. His hostess explained, “Well, out here, the friends go with the money.”

Some New Yorkers practice “friend shui,” which he defines as “the shameless art of arranging personal relationships for maximum benefit,” but fortunately for them, “in this city shamelessness is regarded as a kind of work ethic” and friendships are “transactional.” He mentions a professional “social fixer” who helps people get noticed in the newspapers and invited to parties, who charges from $5,000 to $25,000 a month.

• These are not just enjoyable stories from  Lifestyles of the Rich and ­Ghastly . These people live in a kind of hell, the kind described by C. S. Lewis in  The Great Divorce , where isolated individuals (the Randian ideal, now that I think of it) become, without their noticing it, they being so self-absorbed, eternally more isolated and alone (the end of the ­Randian ideal). 

And there is always the twist, which Jesus himself kept applying, that what we find deplorable in others we often practice ourselves, and even if we don’t do it ourselves all we can say is, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Most of us treat at least some of our friendships transactionally, whatever your currency happens to be, whether amusement, usefulness, cleverness, being in funds, etc. It takes a rare degree of charity—the kind you would have seen in, oh, Mother ­Teresa—to treat everyone for himself and not to some extent for what he can do for us.

• The people Widdicombe describes miss the formative experience that actually having neighbors (including friends we’re stuck with) brings. “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor,” G. K. Chesterton wrote in his early book  Heretics , and a little more cynically in an  Illustrated London News  column, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

As he explains in  Heretics , we may enjoy our duty towards humanity. “We may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. That duty may be a hobby; it may even be a dissipation. We may work in the East End because we are peculiarly fitted to work in the East End, or because we think we are; we may fight for the cause of international peace because we are very fond of fighting. The most monstrous martyrdom, the most repulsive experience, may be the result of choice or a kind of taste.”

But our neighbor, him we have to love “because he is there—a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us. Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody.”

• From our friend Joe Long, whom we’ve quoted before: “I find it ­striking how ‘change’ is viewed in the abstract as a positive. ‘I just want my children to Change the World’ is an unquestioned cliché, a bit of ­happy-talk; but I think it a far finer thing to identify things worth preserving and ­perpetuating. It’s ­harder, but it’s more of an achievement. Change, like another well-known by-product of life functions, just happens. Leave things alone and they  will  change: They will break down and rot. Ah, but to fight, sometimes even briefly to reverse, decay:  That  is a task worthy of a hero.”

• The old newspaper clipping shows two families, one descended from a white man and a black woman and the other descended from two white people, with the text, “Interesting Researches by the Carnegie Institute Disprove the Popular Notion that a ‘Pass-for-White’ Person Married to a Pure White May Have a Negro Child.” We’re not sure if the institute meant this as good news or bad.

The Carnegie and all the other ­major foundations that began modern philanthropy not only thought ­heredity important, they were, writes William Schambra in the  New Atlantis , eugenicists when eugenicism was cool. They wanted to use science to solve problems rather than treat the symptoms as traditional charities had done. Finding the source of social problems like crime, poverty, alcoholism, and “feeblemindedness” in defective genes promised a final answer.

“According to the perspective of philanthropic eugenics,” explains ­Schambra, the director of the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, “the old practice of charity—that is, simply alleviating human suffering—was not only inefficient and unenlightened; it was downright harmful and immoral. It tended to interfere with the salutary operations of the biological laws of nature, which would weed out the unfit, if only charity, reflecting the antiquated notion of the God-given dignity of each individual, wouldn’t make such a fuss about attending to the ‘least of these.’”

• The problem, Schambra argues, is that the foundations wanted to reform rather than help, to change rather than heal. Many of them are still, if not directly eugenicist, just as committed to social engineering and the reform of those they consider (though they don’t use this term anymore) defective.

For one thing, they can easily, “over time, lose sight of the fact that individuals are not just inadequately self-conscious bundles of pathologies but rather whole and worthy persons, possessed of an innate human dignity that demands respect no matter what problems they may suffer. Once philanthropists have steeled themselves sufficiently to discount the dignity of the suffering person before them in order to pursue a good that the sufferer cannot be trusted to appreciate, they may conclude that the most merciful way to alleviate suffering is to prevent anyone from becoming a sufferer in the first place—by cutting off suffering at its supposed root.”

• The Catholic teaching on marriage is “unlivable,” my friend said. ­“Unlivable” is one of those words with very elastic meanings. Even situations of martyrdom are, in the Christian sense, ­livable.

• I’ve had some very difficult conversations with people who told me that Catholic teaching was unlivable, impossible, unrealistic, etc. The problem with their position is that you can’t abandon everything “unlivable” without abandoning the faith. 

OK, so you use contraception because you can’t imagine a life without sex or with the possibility of conception, and you continue as a Catholic because the Church can’t ­possibly expect you to do anything that hard. But what happens when your husband or wife gets permanently injured in a car accident or suffers from a debilitating disease? That’s just as “unlivable.” By their logic, they should give up the faith because the Church can’t possibly expect you to do anything so hard as to remain faithful without sex.

And suppose you lose a child? Why follow God when he lets your loved one die when you can’t follow him when he says if you want to have sex you might have a child?

• Reading good literature will make you better in dealing with people, according to a new study published in  Science . The study, the  New York Times  reported, “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” Readers have to think about the people they’re reading about and “make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.”

What the study shows certainly seems intuitively obvious, but it’s hard to think that feelings of empathy for others will last long. The ego is unrelentingly demanding. 

It’s hard also not to think that if we gain in social perception and emotional intelligence we won’t turn that gain to our own advantage. Conmen undoubtedly rank very high in social perception and ­emotional intelligence. They need to know exactly what you want in order to give you the illusion they’re giving it to you.

When I think about the empathy one gains from reading, I think of the feeling of sympathy for human weakness and frailty one can feel at the end of a great tragedy, whether play or movie, and how quickly that disappears when you get out of the theater and get behind a weak, frail, but really annoying tourist who won’t get out of the way as he gawps at the buildings when all you want to do is get home, or an aggressive ­panhandler who tries to make you feel guilty, or almost anyone who’s weak and frail in the ways with which you were just so grandly empathizing.

• This is one of those matters over which nearly everyone, on right and left, furrows his brow and shakes his head while explaining how difficult it is. It isn’t, of course, but since the answer means either making or not making a lot of money (Steve Jobs’ ­biographer earned a reported $804,000 there last year), and making it requires doing something that seems at least morally and politically dubious, the issue becomes ­“complicated.” 

The matter is publishing in China, which requires accepting having the work censored, often by Communist Party members publishers have to employ, in ways that inevitably make the regime and country look better than the writer had intended to make them look.

Harvard’s Ezra Vogel and New York University’s Rebecca Karl accepted censorship. Vogel’s book, or rather the 90 percent of the book he said remained, sold 30,000 copies in this country and 650,000 in China. Hillary Clinton, Alan Greenspan, and  Financial Times  journalist James Kynge refused. “As a journalist committed to accuracy,” said the third, “I felt it would be terrifically hypocritical to waive that principle just to gain access to the Chinese marketplace.”

• Spotting liberal double standards is an easy game to play, but it is still sometimes useful to see how starkly selective some liberals can be. Imagine a Catholic priest discovered to be obsessed with pubescent female sexuality, who was undoubtedly a pedophile, who “physically transgressed a battery of ethical and legal codes,” whose “crucial” and “enduring theme” was “little girl lust.” Imagine if the Church featured and even celebrated his work in one of its major institutions.

Everyone would howl. But when such a man is a noted modern artist, he might be the subject of a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The terms in the first paragraph are taken from a favorable review in the  Village Voice , of the work of an artist it refers to as (and this does not seem to have been meant as a criticism) “painting’s most memorable crotch-shot man.” The one painting included with the review is genuinely creepy.

The trick to acceptance, apparently, is to do this cleverly. As the  Voice  put it, “modernism’s leading ­antimodernist, with a twist” painted traditional “bourgeois” portraits “with old-time fussiness,” in an ­almost Norman Rockwellish style. In other words, the ironic type of ­painting makes the subject matter all right and the painter worthy of celebration by one of the world’s leading art museums.

“There are those who would tame Balthus by saying that the subject of his paintings is not, technically, childhood sexuality, but adult restraint,” says the  Voice , and indeed Wikipedia’s one sentence on the matter blandly explains that “Many of his paintings show young girls in an erotic context. Balthus insisted that his work was not erotic but that it recognized the discomforting facts of children’s sexuality.”

But this seems at least questionable. Yes, of course art can’t be judged as simply as other human exercises and the viewer brings his own ideas to the painting. Granted. But ­paintings are still not, so to speak, blank canvases. As the  Voice  goes on to say, “the truth is that the vast majority of his work banishes such thoughtful abstractions. More immediate than obscure, Balthus’s pictures speak directly to the rotten part of the heart.”

• Note the euphemism offered even in the  Village Voice , which isn’t known for avoiding talking crudely about sex: “physically ­transgressed a battery of ethical and legal codes.”

• Funnier to those who live in a city with subway system, but we pass it on for those who do. A young man we know, finding it hard one night to get back to his home in Brooklyn, and then hearing someone who rarely takes the subway system praise it, sent his version of a typical announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, the 4 train will be running on the R line between East 124th Street and ­Canada, but will be making all stops on the O line. All stops are the last stop on this train. There will be no service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. We apologize for the ­inconvenience.”

• “Every discovery of an exoplanet brings us one step closer to finding a world just like ours!” said the bright voice on the intercom as my youngest son and I walked into the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. We were obviously supposed to find this exciting, presumably because a planet just like ours might have creatures somewhat like us, meaning we’re not alone in the universe. But as we wrote a few issues ago, if there is no God, no matter how many planets have sentient beings, we’re all still alone in the universe.

• The museum’s gallery dedicated to commercial aviation tells, says the plaque at the beginning, three “intertwined stories.” The second and third are the stories of technological development and the flying ­experience. The first (in an institution 70 percent of whose budget comes from taxes) was “how the federal government has shaped the airline industry and guided its ­development.”

A subject to note, surely, but what about the people whose risks, physical and financial, created an airline industry the government could “guide”? We would have thought the story of commercial aviation is first the story of  commercial  aviation.

• There is one thing to add to the third “Public Square” item, “Our New Elite.” The new establishment George Packer describes in  The Unwinding , of which he is very much a part, feels the same moral horror when faced with dissent that the old one did. He describes Karen Jaroch, a Tea Party activist newly engaged in­ ­politics, as applying herself “with the unflagging energy of an adherent whose worldview couldn’t be disturbed by any argument or fact.” 

Admittedly, she may listen too much to Fox News and conservative talk radio, but she’s not an idiot. Packer seems blind to the fact that, of all the people he profiles, she alone agrees with him that America is unwinding, which is why she threw herself into politics for the first time in her life. But he treats her with disdain, not bothering to enter her world to understand how the end of middle-class America is reshaping the American right just as deeply as the American left. That would have been helpful.

• Thomas Nagel, writing in the  New York Times  in response to critics of his  Mind and Cosmos , explains that his assertion that (as the subtitle puts it) “the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false” can be resisted in two ways. The first “is to deny that the mental is an irreducible aspect of ­reality,” and one way of doing that is to hold “that the mental can be identified with some aspect of the physical, such as patterns of behavior or patterns of neural activity.” That’s the standard position of our scientific atheists.

The second way, he writes, “is to deny that the mental requires a scientific explanation through some new conception of the natural order,” and one way of doing that is to believe (the contrast between “hold” and “believe” is his) “that mind has been added to the physical world in the course of evolution by divine ­intervention.”

Revealingly, for he is himself an atheist, he thinks the disagreement not entirely intellectual and that the religious believers are not the only ones with prior, even ­religious, ­commitments. “I believe the wide popularity among philosophers and scientists of the outlook of ­psychophysical reductionism, is due not only to the great prestige of the physical sciences but to the feeling that this is the best defense against the dreaded theistic ­interventionist outlook.”

• They grow up so soon. One of last year’s junior fellows, the gifted Anna Sutherland (or Anna Williams, as she then was), is now the editor of the website for the new Institute for Family Studies, recently launched. 

The IFS describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-sectarian, and not-for-profit institute” that is “dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education.” Among the writers appearing on its website will be W. Bradford Wilcox (a friend of and writer for  First Things ) and Kay Hymnowitz. Among the subjects (to take two of the first articles) “Generous Work/Family Policies Don’t Guarantee Equality” and “Life Before Marriage: Does What Happens in Vegas Stay in Vegas?”

For the website, see  ifstudies.org , for the weblog,  Family-Studies.org

 Two enterprises readers may want to know about:

For admirers of T. F. Torrance, subject of Douglas Farrow’s essay in this issue, the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship publishes an annual online journal,  Participatio  (whose editor is, in a small-world kind of way, one of my oldest friends). See  tftorrance.org .

For those concerned for religious freedom, the Berkley Center, whose Religious Freedom Project is directed by Thomas Farr, author of last month’s “Our Failed Religious Freedom ­Policy,” is completing a two-year project “to explore Christianity’s contributions to the construction and diffusion of freedom in its political, religious, and economic dimensions.” Among the scholars involved is our own ­Robert Louis Wilken. For information, see  berkleycenter.georgetown.edu  and search “Christianity and ­freedom.”

• You will remember Sandra Laguerta’s signature accomplishment. If you’d like to help a magazine of religion and public life that attracts young people like her, and where ­religion comes first, please send us the names and mailing addresses of anyone you think will want to see a copy of the magazine and we will send them one right away. We are also always grateful for financial support.

while we’re at it sources : New atheists:  newstatesman.com , October 19, 2013. Working class priests: quoted in  bellarmineforum.org , June 25, 2013. Lovely loving dogs & presidential pets:  publicpolicypolling.com , June 17, 2013. Dubious study: personal message. Rand without charity:  forbes.com , September 17, 2013. Blankfein:  money.msn.com , September 24, 2013. Bad mucus: The  New Republic , July 1, 2013. Exploited writers:  nytimes.com , October 27, 2013. Friend shui hell:  New York Observer , September 9, 2013. Eugenic foundations:  thenewatlantis.com , Summer 2013. Literary goodness:  well.blogs.nytimes.com , October 3, 2013. Compromising writers:  nytimes.com , October 19, 2013. The truth of Balthus:  villagevoice.com , October 16, 2013. Nagel contra materialism:  New York Times , August 18, 2013. IFS: Press release, September 20, 2013.

wwai tips : Chris Barnekov, Mark Barrett, Mark Berner, Madeleine Fentress, Andrzej Fister-Stoga, Micah Mattix, Christopher Mills, and Fran Presley.

Articles by David Mills

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