Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 1:37 PM
In Tu Belleza, Tu Misericordia, Maureen Mullarkey writes of the first Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Gabriela Mistral. For readers interested in Mistral, there is an active foundation dedicated to her work, whose website includes (in Spanish) a great deal of information about her life and work as well as about the foundation’s activities.
As it happens, an American director of the foundation, Gloria Garafulich-Grabois , is also the associate director of the Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture at Seton Hall and managing editor of both the Chesterton Review (on whose board I serve) and the Lonergan Review as well as the editor of their foreign-language editions. Also worthy enterprises.
Monday, September 23, 2013, 9:43 PM
Andrew Sullivan, not surprisingly, joined the stampede of those who found in the famous interview with the pope a Francis who doesn’t actually exist, complete with readings of his predecessors that missed the point of what they’d said. It’s the old story of dissident Catholic wishful thinking or willful misreading. In the course of doing so Sullivan referred to our deputy editor Matthew Schmitz as one of the “reactionaries and legalists” against whom Sullivan believes he and the pope are now allied.
Except that they’re not. Helpfully, given the widespread insistence on this reading of Francis, the Australian newspaper The Age reports that Francis has defrocked and excommunicated a priest who holds the views Sullivan seems to think Francis holds, if in much less overt form. Very sad for the former priest, of course, who does not seem to have understood what he has lost, but a useful sign of Francis’ attitudes and beliefs.
Update: I’ve posted more on the excommunication here.
Monday, September 23, 2013, 1:20 PM
The Pentecostal theologian Dale Coulter continues his analysis of the intellectual, and anti-intellectual, heritage of American Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, described in Mark Noll Got It Wrong, Maybe. He is not happy with Mark Noll’s take on these things, which he argues wrongly separates the intellectual Evangelicals from the anti-intellectual Pentecostals.
In Noll, the Evangelical Mind, and the Elephants in the Room, Dale writes against two of the claims he thinks Noll got wrong:
Elephant #1: Populist forms of Christianity can be intellectual, just not populist forms of American evangelical Christianity
Elephant #2: Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and Holiness Christians devalued creation and developed creation science while Reformed Christians did not.
As I said before, I have no opinion on this but find the history fascinating. Even if one agrees with Mark Noll, Dale at least offers a helpful insight into the history and thought of a movement most other Christians in America tend to dismiss as rubes, fundamentalists, reactionaries, crazies (snake handling?), conmen, etc. Everyone wants someone to look down upon and for much of American Christianity, as divided as it is, at least everyone can agree that they’re not those guys.
Dale himself counters the stereotype, by the way, being among other things an expert in the work of Richard of St. Victor and twelfth century theology in general.
Friday, September 20, 2013, 4:30 PM
For those of you who like such things, an interesting and helpful list: A catalogue of the works that shape the Jewish mind in America today from The Tablet. The choices express “the collective inheritance of the Jewish people as read by Jews like us in America.” The list includes books in specifically Jewish categories like “The Jew in the world” and more general, though Jewish inflected, categories like “The appetites” and “Laughing and Complaining.”
Friday, September 20, 2013, 12:20 PM
The major media has, as per usual, made a mess of its coverage of Pope Francis’ now famous or infamous interview, published in this country in the Jesuit weekly America with the title A Big Heart Open to God. A mess, at least, from the point of view of anyone who reads the interview and knows what Francis really thinks.
With Benedict, the preferred narrative was “Reactionary pope won’t change his outdated, irrelevant, oppressive Church,” with Francis it’s “Great new guy brings the Church into step with the modern world, relaxes rules.” Neither is true but that is what everyone hears from pretty much every news source.
But there is a silver lining. The press’ presentation of Francis’ words gives parish priests a chance to speak directly to their people about what Francis really said and thereby to teach them something about the Church’s thinking, which is otherwise harder to do in a homily without its sounding like a lecture. It provides what people used to call a teaching moment.
It even provides the frame and almost all the content for the homily: the lead (“You’ve probably heard from [local newspaper, popular website, or network news] that Francis said X and Y, but he didn’t”), the body (“Here’s what he really said” with lots of quotes), and the conclusion (“Here’s what Francis is teaching us”). Nothing could be easier than preaching a homily on what Francis really said. It’s a gift for busy parish priests.
I’m hoping lots of parish priests take this chance to tell their people what Francis really said and what the Church really teaches. This would also provide their people with an implicit lesson about not trusting the major media when they write on religion.
Thursday, September 19, 2013, 3:13 PM
Mark Noll went with the flow and got it wrong, says Dale Coulter. Writing on Renewal Dynamics, the weblog of the faculty of Regent University Divinity School, he describes the development of the idea that middle American Christians were anti-intellectual, beginning with Richard Hofstadter’s famous work Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. For him
Evangelical revivalists were simply another brand of populism and therefore part of the problem rather than the solution. These revivalists were the obstacles of American pluralism with their sectarian identities and their use of apocalyptic imaginary.
This, says Dale, a member of Evangelicals and Catholics Together as well as editor of Pneuma, the Society of Pentecostal Studies’ journal, helped create “a new national myth.” Noll, perhaps the most distinguished Evangelical historian, accepted that myth but tried to prove that it didn’t really describe Evangelicals. He “utilized Hoftstadter to foist blame for the scandal of the evangelical mind upon those belonging to the Holiness-Pentecostal movement.”
I have no opinion on this debate, but it is fascinating as a study of two ways of reading the history of conservative Protestantism in the United States.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 8:15 AM
Offered as a celebration of C. S. Lewis’ work on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, C. S. Lewis: In Memoriam promises to be a very good conference. Sponsored by the New York C. S. Lewis Society and the new Sheen Center, it features Lewis biographer William Griffin, French Lewis scholar Eliane Aymard-Tixier, and Southern Baptist seminary professor Michael Travers. It is being hosted by Monsignor Michael Hall, the director of the Sheen Center, and emceed by James Como, founder of the NYCSL Society and editor of C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table.
The conference is being held on Saturday, November 23rd at the Cathedral High School at 56th and 1st. For information, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013, 4:25 PM
Advance notice for next January’s New York Encounter, a three-day conference sponsored by the Catholic group Communion and Liberation. It will be held in New York January 17th to 19th and is, very nicely, free. Among the highlights are a talk on alienated youth by Christian Smith, the Notre Dame sociologist who’s led several important studies on the spiritual life of youth, an interview with Sean Cardinal O’Malley, and a report on the work of Vaclav Havel by the president of the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation.
Several of us here went to the events last year and much enjoyed them. They are now available. Of the ones I could get to, particularly good were The Story of Shahbaz Bhatti, about the murdered Christian who served as Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs; Liberty in Modern and Contemporary Art by Francis Greene of St. Francis College in Brooklyn; and Desire, Liberty, and Satisfaction by the Irish journalist John Waters.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 12:22 AM
Here in New York the votes in the primary elections for mayor, city council, and comptroller are almost finished being counted. Christine Quinn, once thought to have a lock on the election, will not even make the Democratic runoff if there is one.
Reading the news stories brings you to interesting things. I have never heard of Lawrence O’Donnell but his interview with mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner did, as several people have noted, accomplish the very difficult task of making Anthony Weiner sympathetic.
He opens by asking Weiner “What is wrong with you?” But he’s not asking “Why do you send people pictures of your private parts even after you got caught?” which is a reasonable question to ask a man who wants public office. He asks Weiner, a politician, why he keeps running for public office.
One would have thought the answer obvious. Weiner gives the standard “Because I care” answer. (In a later online portion Weiner asks O’Donnell why he has to be on TV. O’Donnell admits that’s a fair question—always take a step back when your target throws your criticism back at you—and claims it’s a question he keep asking himself, but I’m sure he doesn’t.) Anyway, he keeps at it for ten minutes with (to me) unconvincing indignation. The whole thing feels fake.
Is that kind of thing supposed to be bold, penetrating, important? Are we supposed to think he’s forcing his subject to ’fess up? Is this supposed to be journalism? Lauren Green was pilloried for her interview with the shrewdly self-promoting Reza Aslan, and it’s only fair that O’Donnell be similarly criticised. At least she was sincere.
As I write, by the way, with 97 percent of the districts reporting, Weiner has just 4.9 percent of the primary vote, only twice that of Erick J. Salgado, a pastor no one outside New York has ever heard of who was running for public office for the first time. Weiner got just 5 out of 136 votes in the district in which he lives (in an apartment around the corner from the magazine’s office), two of those surely being his and his wife’s.
Saturday, September 7, 2013, 1:47 PM
Matthew Schmitz has already pointed readers to Books & Culture’s need for supporters to pledge a lot of money by Monday to keep publishing. Let me add my own encouragement.
Books & Culture has an important place, a place only it can fill, in the world — the shrinking world — of serious Christian magazines. It’s a substantial magazine of the old sort, which one reads for the pleasure of reading and of learning, covering subjects with no obvious immediate cash value but of great value to those who believe in humane learning — though it also dealt well with the pressing issues of the day. It’s the flagship publication of its sort in the Evangelical world and the major magazine in which Evangelicalism’s peculiar genius is applied to cultural matters.
The Christian world needs Books & Culture. I’ve pledged support and encourage you to do so. Here’s the donate button.
Thursday, August 8, 2013, 12:37 PM
“Conspiratorial theories of history are easy to create once you are prepared to ignore the realities on the ground, or regard those who do take them into account as part of the conspiracy too,” writes Ronald Radosh in a review of a new book called American Betrayal, by a conservative writer named Diana West. It is, Radosh concludes his long and careful review, a “misconceived and misleading book.”
Why did the U.S. and Britain not prevent the totalitarian USSR from taking over Eastern Europe after it had defeated the totalitarian Nazis?
It had nothing to do with the Rubik’s Cube of diplomatic and military considerations, a calculus that had to take into account the willingness of the American and British publics to continue to sacrifice and their soldiers to die. No, it was a conspiracy so immense, as West’s hero Joe McCarthy might have said, that it allowed Western policy to be dictated by a shadow army of Soviet agents.
It is unfortunate that a number of conservatives who should know better have fallen for West’s fictions. It is even more depressing that her book perpetuates the dangerous one dimensional thinking of the Wisconsin Senator and his allies in the John Birch Society which have allowed anti anti-communism to have a field day in our intellectual culture.
Radosh, for readers who don’t know him, is a distinguished historian who has specialized in the Western engagement with Communism, something he knew from the inside, himself having been a red diaper baby and for some years a strong Leftist. Here is his page at the Hudson Institute (with links to some of his recent articles) and here is his Wikipedia entry.
If he is right about the book, and he certainly seems to be — and West’s response to his review, with its revealing use of the everyone-else-is-compromised mythology and supporting abuse (her conservative critics are “commissars” and “ossified totalitarians,” for example), supports this conclusion — one has to ask why it has so appealed to some conservatives. Radosh writes:
West has evidently seduced conservatives who are justifiably appalled by the left’s rewriting of history, its denials that Communists ever posed a threat, and its claim that Communist infiltration was a destructive myth created by witch-hunters intent on suppressing dissent. For these readers, West’s credibility derives from her aggressive counter vision.
For those who have not read the important works of Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Christopher Andrew, Alexander Vassiliev, Allen Weinstein and others, what she has written may seem a revelation, as she herself claims. But for anyone familiar with the historical literature, the core of what she has written is well known and what is new is either overheated, or simply false and distorted—the sort of truculent recklessness that gives anti-communism a bad name.
The aggressiveness of the counter vision must be part of the appeal. As is, I suspect, the deep desire to believe that if things go wrong someone must be at fault, because the alternative is to accept that sometimes things go wrong because in a fallen world things just go wrong, and that we are swept along in a history we cannot redirect very much.
It is an oddly un-conservative way of thinking but one found a lot among the more ideologically-engaged (or at least most journalistic) conservatives. Fortunately we have people like Ronald Radosh around to correct the ideological products of that kind of mind.
Friday, August 2, 2013, 11:45 AM
The bishop of Northampton will open the cause for the canonization of G. K. Chesterton, the head of the American Chesterton Society has announced, according to a tweet a friend forwarded. A story on this I have not been able to find on the web. But assuming it’s true:
Here’s what his Italian biographer Paolo Gulisano told Zenit a few years ago, explaining why Chesterton might be a saint:
Many people feel there is clear evidence of Chesterton’s sanctity: Testimonies about him speak of a person of great goodness and humility, a man without enemies, who proposed the faith without compromises but also without confrontation, a defender of Truth and Charity. . . .
Faith, hope and charity: These were Chesterton’s fundamental virtues. Moreover, he was innocent, simple, profoundly humble. Though having personally experienced sorrow, he was a chorister of Christian joy. Chesterton’s work is a type of medicine for the soul, or better, it can more precisely be defined as an antidote.
His English biographer William Oddie said this:
The obvious objection to this is that Chesterton was nothing like our idea of how a saint should look or behave. He was greatly given to the pleasures of the table; he was enormously, sometimes riotously funny . . . . The late Cardinal Emmet Carter described him on the 50th anniversary of his death as one of those “holy lay persons” who “have exercised a truly prophetic role within the Church and the world”, but he did not then believe that it would be possible to introduce a Cause for his ultimate canonisation, since he did “not think that we are sufficiently emancipated from certain concepts of sanctity” – though later he change his mind.
The distinguished historian J J Scarisbrick, however, thought that his sanctity was so clear that the opening of his Cause should indeed be seriously contemplated. “We all know,” he responded, “that he was an enormously good man as well as an enormous one. My point is that he was more than that. There was a special integrity and blamelessness about him, a special devotion to the good and to justice … Above all, there was that breathtaking, intuitive (almost angelic) possession of the Truth and awareness of the supernatural which only a truly holy person can enjoy. This was the gift of heroic intelligence and understanding – and of heroic prophecy. He was a giant, spiritually as well as physically. Has there ever been anyone quite like him in Catholic history?”
Friday, August 2, 2013, 10:25 AM
Something actually useful on the papacy, or at least enjoyable, from the New York Times: a guess the quote game called “How Recent Popes Differ on Key Issues.”
If one were to quibble, that “differ” in the title is ambiguous, and I’d guess that the Times means “differs substantially” because the newspaper’s writers put a lot of energy into looking for evidence that the popes have finally come round to the truth as seen by the New York Times, when the quotes show no such thing. But maybe that’s unfair and they mean difference as in “differ in emphasis.”
My thanks to Mark Barrett for flagging this.
Thursday, August 1, 2013, 4:42 PM
The late Robert Bellah’s work, like Philip Rieff’s, “revolves around a similar premise, and a similar problem,” wrote Wilfred McClay (a longtime member of our advisory council) in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2006, on the occasion of the publication of The Robert Bellah Reader. (The article is unfortunately behind the newspaper’s paywall.)
The premise is that any culture worthy of the name is necessarily founded upon a moral order that is expressed in shared narratives, cosmologies, and interdictions. The problem is whether those moral foundations can survive the dominant outlook of modernity, an outlook characterized by what Bellah calls the “theoretic consciousness” and Rieff called “the analytic attitude.” Each man’s work began in a similar place, but arrived at very different conclusions.
Bellah’s answer was more hopeful than Rieff’s, he writes. He thought modernity “something less monolithic, and the therapeutic ethos less triumphant, precisely because they are not the whole of human experience. All the old stories, cosmologies, and interdictions still rattle about, even inside the most seemingly iron of cages. There is no escaping that mythic dimension” — particularly religion, which is “culture’s most profoundly developed form of ‘socially charged narrative’.”
Bellah challenged the mainstream insistence on the fact/value distinction and its elimination of religion from public life and discourse, which were the usual conventions of his discipline. McClay notes that the book he is reviewing even included some of Bellah’s sermons and that he insists in his introduction to the book, “I don’t have two hats,” sociological and religious.
He did miss something, though, McClay argues. “For all his breadth, Bellah seems completely innocent of conservative writers such as Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Robert A. Nisbet, and José Ortega y Gasset, who do not appear in his pages, but whose works would buttress and improve many of his insights about cultural continuity and the sources of genuine community. Bellah often strains to reinvent wheels that such writers took for granted.” Which is still, I think McClay would be quick to say now, a great point in his favor: at least he saw the wheel that was needed. And more importantly:
There is a deep and keen moral sense in his work that deserves to be celebrated, especially in an era of postmodernist moral insouciance. One wants to stand up and cheer when reading, in his essay “The True Scholar,” of an exchange with one of his best graduate students, who argued that all human action is motivated by the struggle to increase one’s power and possessions. To which Bellah offered the perfect rejoinder. “Is that true of you?” he asked. “How could I ever trust you if that were true?” How much fashionable nonsense could be disposed of by teachers willing to pose those same simple questions, and thereby reassert the moral importance of their own work.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 2:37 PM
To be commended to your regular attention is the Get Religion site, the very useful and unique site that pursues what it calls “holy ghosts”, the traces and hints of religion in mainstream news stories and analyzes the major media’s treatment (sometimes good, but often clueless or biased and sometimes very clueless or very biased, or both at once) of religion and religious people. It reviews the media’s coverage of religion through journalistic canons. The writers don’t expect journalists to advance religion but simply to cover it well and fairly, as journalists would, or should, try to cover any other subject.
Here, for example, are two recent stories of interest to our readers:
Mollie Hemingway’s Tough questions: ‘You gonna put those shoes on again?’, which looks at the media’s ardent puffery of Texas’ filibustering legislator.
Why not ask her some questions about the moral distinction between what Kermit Gosnell was convicted of and late-term abortion? Why not ask her why abortion doctors should not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of problems? Why not ask her why abortion clinics should not have the same standards of care as other ambulatory surgery centers? These aren’t gotcha questions and they’re not even tough. Certainly someone who filibustered the bill has thought through the answers but I’ll be darned if I can find a single journalist who thought to ask these questions of the media’s favorite politician this week.
And Joe Carter’s Tough questions: ‘You gonna put those shoes on again?’, which deals with an AP story of supposedly pro-homosexual marriage Evangelicals. the article, he says, is “confusing, misleading, and unfocused.” For one thing, of the two examples of such people it offered, one is a mainline Christian and the other not clearly an Evangelical. For another thing, it claims that homosexual Evangelicals who support the traditional teaching feel “demonized” without presenting any evidence at all that this is true.
The site is not entirely negative, because the writers are careful to highlight the examples of good coverage of religion. And an unexpected benefit from reading the site is the education in a subject one can get from reading criticism of bad coverage.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 2:08 PM
Or maybe more accurately a sabbath. The Sabbath is a very good thing, religious meaning aside, argues an Israeli writer in Why secular Jews need Shabbat. We need, he argues, a special day, a regular day set aside “when we do not work, do not earn a living, do not conduct business or add to our wealth[,] a day devoted to family, to community, to leisure, culture, learning, and the spirit.” A day that is for Christians what Sundays should be.
The value of such a day does not depend upon religious commitments.
Ahad Haam, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of recent centuries, and father of the cultural and spiritual school of Zionism, defined himself as an atheist, and did not follow Orthodox Jewish law. But Shabbat was very dear to him. “There is no need to be a punctilious observer of commandments,” he wrote, “in order to recognize the value of Shabbat. . . .
“It can be said without exaggeration that more than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel. Without it, which restored their souls and reinvigorated their spirits each week, the hardships of the days of creation would pull them further and further downward until they hit the lowest level of materialism and moral and mental debasement.”
Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 1:25 PM
The opening to Justice Antonin Scalia’s powerful dissent in the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor:
This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.
Here’s the decision. Skip down to page 35 to read Scalia’s dissent, in which he articulates clearly what is and is not the court’s and the Court’s role, which in this case, and many others, the Court has grossly exceeded.
Sunday, June 23, 2013, 3:44 PM
The average persons’ opinions are, as far as I can tell, generally positive on New York City’s new rent a bike program, except for those living in neighborhoods where the racks have been badly placed and those who dislike anything that makes New York look more like Europe. At least one man has found a different use for the bikes when they’re not being used: A free outdoor spin studio for homeless people. Whether this is a good idea or not I don’t know, nor whether the instructor will keep it up, but it is a cheering example of human ingenuity.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 12:42 PM
Among the rough and ready tests of character, this seems a very good one, not infallible but close to it, accounting for the occasional hard day, bad headache, annoying companions: “The way people treat restaurant staff is, I think, a kind of poker tell, revealing a person’s character in as long as it takes to say: ‘I’ll have the sea bass’.” Writing in The Guardian, Rachel Cooke continues:
A man (or woman) who is actively unpleasant to waiters is best avoided. Ditto those who patronise them. Just as bad, though, are people who treat waiters as though they’re invisible. This is not, as these cretins seem to think, a sign of metropolitan sophistication. Do this, and you might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says: “I’m an over-privileged baboon: cold, ruthless, rude and rather stupid.”
The biblically literate will recognize this as an application of “whatever you did for one of the least of these.” Least, in this case, because they have to take it.
Monday, June 17, 2013, 5:02 PM
Today’s linguistic trivia: According to the “NB” column in the Times Literary Supplement (in the May 24th issue, not available online), the phrase “I don’t give a damn” ought to be “I don’t give a dam.” The dam is an Indian copper coin with the value of one-fortieth of a rupee. This certainly makes more sense.
The writer (“J.C.”) has taken this from Hobson-Jobson, a book published in 1886 which claimed to be the “definitive glossary of British India.” Other now common words of Indian or British-Indian origin are toddy, gingham, verandah, chatting, gymkhana, loot, bungalow, pagaoda, typhoon, chintz, jungle, dinghy, and cutter.
Sunday, June 16, 2013, 1:49 PM
Which is to say, not just fathers but fathers married to the mothers of their children. Those who insist Americans should approve, or at least not worry about, the growing number of what are somewhat euphemistically called non-traditional families “conveniently ignore, or are in complete denial about, the most fundamental consequence of the American retreat from marriage: growing rates of fatherless families,” writes the sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox in Happy Fatherless Day. This is a bad thing
because marriage is the institution that binds men to their children. There is no substitute. . . . That’s in large part because, without marriage (and the economic, legal, and cultural supports that stand behind a strong marriage culture), these men [fathers not married to the mothers of their children] cannot maintain a good relationship with the mothers of their children, mothers who still, even today, serve as the primary caretakers and gatekeepers to their children.
Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia and head of the National Marriage Project, and also a friend of the magazine’s, spells out the benefits to children of having a father in The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad, published on The Atlantic‘s site. Fathers make at least four “gendered” contributions to their children’s lives, meaning contributions apparently natural to fathers but not so much to mothers. They are, for example, “more likely to encourage their children to take risks, embrace challenges, and be independent, whereas mothers are more likely to focus on their children’s safety and emotional well-being.”
In Daddy’s Home, published by Slate, Wilcox explains what being a father at home with his children and their mother does for the men themselves. They are, for one thing, less likely to be depressed and for another less likely to be poor.
This is not, of course, what the currently dominant cultural narrative tells us. But fortunately, Wilcox and his peers are here to provide the evidence against it, and to their credit, outlets like The Atlantic and Slate are willing to publish it. Readers will want to read his Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, which he edited with Kathleen Kovner Kline.
Sunday, June 9, 2013, 4:25 PM
An introduction that proves to be a deep and thought-provoking, and even convicting, introduction: Leon Kass on The Ten Commandments, with the subtitled “Why the Decalogue Matters.” For example, this summary of “Honor thy father and thy mother”:
Summing up: the injunction to honor father and mother constitutes a teaching not only about gratitude, creatureliness, and the importance of parental authority. It insists on sacred distance, respect, and reverence, precisely to produce holiness, qedushah, in that all too intimate nest of humanity that often becomes instead a den of iniquity and a seedbed of tragedy. In Sabbath observance, a correction is offered against the (especially Egyptian) penchant for human mastery and pride that culminates in despotism and slavery. In honoring father and mother, a correction is offered against the (especially Canaanite) penchant for sexual unrestraint, including incest, that washes out all distinctions and lets loose a wildness incompatible with the created order and with living under the call to be a holy people. Adherence to these two teachings offers us the best chance for vindicating the high hopes the world carries for the creature who is blessed to bear the likeness of divinity.
Friday, June 7, 2013, 12:50 PM
The fifth edition of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders “is also, frankly, a disaster for children assigned behavioural disorders,” says Northwestern professor Christopher Lane, interviewed by Spiked! Lane, the author of the much-praised Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (Yale, 2007) explains:
It sets the threshold for such disorders far too low, as it does for many other, poorly defined conditions such as generalised anxiety disorder, with which it’s now even easier to be diagnosed and thus, by extension, medicated. GAD was lowered from requiring three of six possible symptoms to needing just one of four. The severity threshold was also cut in half (from six months to three). Similar changes to thresholds were made right across the board.
He mentions other serious problems with the Manual, recognized by authorities but included anyway. When the prestigious English medical journal Lancet criticized one particularly bad description as ”dangerously simplistic” and “flawed,” Lane says,
the APA showed that it is largely impervious to even such expert medical concern.
And it’s not as if these judgments were voices in the wilderness. Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, the world’s largest funding agency for research into mental health, asserted just two weeks before DSM-5‘s publication: ‘The weakness [of DSM-5] is its lack of validity.’ You couldn’t get a blunter assessment than that, especially from an agency that had thrown its weight and considerable budget behind earlier editions. To let the APA save face, Insel walked back some of his criticism, but it was really a case of ‘more truth than the system can bear’. Suddenly, many who’d been highly critical of the manual began implying, ‘It’s all we have, people, so it’s time to mute concern about whether it’s actually reliable and what it says is actually true’.
One doesn’t want to be too cynical, but there are powerful economic forces, like the drug companies, very happy to see the range of problems for which their products will be distributed increased as much as possible. The expanded range of symptoms for which treatment can be given will also appeal to some doctors who, working under all sorts of pressures to get through as many patients as possible, will find a quick diagnosis and obvious prescription easier than dealing with the patient. And I’m sure patients demand it as well. No one wants to feel unhappy and everyone would like a pill to make those feelings go away.
But the result isn’t good. Lane describes the effects of the expanded DSM. First,
the massive expansion of mild psychiatric disorders, with ever-lower thresholds, has taken resources and attention from the truly chronic ones. Biological psychiatry is now completely dominant in American psychiatry, and has been for several decades, but the results and reliability it promised have proven mostly elusive (the current success rate stands at three per cent of all defined mental disorders).
Rather than expanding their focus, to address environment factors and patient testament, researchers are now doubling-down on the need to pursue ‘biomarkers’ even more exclusively. Drug regimens also come with a litany of side effects, many of them serious, so it matters greatly that people do not receive treatments they don’t in fact need.
That’s why the stakes are high. The DSM isn’t just an interesting map, as Simon Wessely [a professor psychiatry at the University of London] put it most inaccurately, as if it were purely descriptive, its effects broadly theoretical; it’s also a legal document facilitating the medication of millions, often after just minutes of consultation. It’s also a manual that’s highly prescriptive in its adjustment of norms and shrinking of normalcy — witness the new possibility to diagnosis depression among mourners after just 14 days.
Thursday, June 6, 2013, 3:32 PM
On Monday Brother Dominic Verner wrote of his happy discovery of the statue of Father Francis Duffy in Times Square (that part of the square is actually officially titled “Duffy Square”). Readers will want to know more about this priest and the wikipedia entry is a good place to start.
The entry mentions his helping the great Al Smith respond to an attack on his Catholicism and therefore his suitability to be president, written with the kind of unctuous concern most of us have suffered from critics veiling their antagonism, and written with all sorts of claims that “It is obvious” and “Nothing could be clearer” after which follow very dubious claims, the claims of a prosecuting attorney not entirely concerned with being fair to the prosecuted, and closing with an oleaginous declaration of his wish that Smith would prove himself innocent. The writer was a lawyer and Episcopalian, and his open letter — making arguments Smith refers to as being taken from “this limbo of defunct controversies” — was published in The Atlantic and thereby carried the weight of the authority of the WASP establishment.
Smith’s response is worth reading, as an early exercise in that question of religious faith and national loyalty that continues to be asked of Catholics, if today usually in indirect but more aggressive ways, like “How could you refuse our version of equality and justice and not provide contraceptives to your employees?” One might question details and argue that the matter is a little more complicated than he, writing in that age, saw, but he provides a spirited and helpful defense of Catholic, and by extension Christian, participation in the public square.
Sunday, June 2, 2013, 12:07 PM
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Of interest to many readers will be David Goldman’s latest, A Yeshiva Curriculum in Western Literature, published in Hakirah: the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought. “How should religious Jews approach the high culture of the West?” David wrote when he sent it round:
Outside of the observant Jewish world, it is not often understood that Judaism developed and sustained an autonomous high culture during the past two thousand years. Nor is it widely known that Jews have engaged Western cultural critically at important junctures. I argue that religious Jews can neither ignore the high culture of the Christian West, nor approach it in passive admiration. Our concepts of beauty, love and redemption differ in fundamental respects from Christian concepts. But I believe we can and must engage Western culture without vitiating our autonomous vantage point.
After discussing this, he offers his suggestions for a yeshiva curriculum:
The subject of this curriculum is not literary aesthetics, but the conflict of great ideas through the history of the West, in which Jews and Jewish thinking played a decisive, if underappreciated, role. Rather than array the sources according to period or genre, in the conventional way, I suggest three great themes: Time, Love and Evil.
I. Time: Homer vs. Tanakh
II. Love: Medieval Romance vs. La Celestina
III. Evil: Don Juan and the Paradox of Christian Salvation
This part of the essay (about three-quarters of it), in which he explains what each section will teach, is as interesting as his opening reflections on the general question. A Yeshiva Curriculum is much worth reading for Christians as well as Jews, since David’s insights into the differences are illuminating. It’s also something teachers in Christian and classical schools and homeschoolers should consider, because he helps Christians see the books they want to feature in a new way.
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