The Dawkins Evolution

From the January 2010 Print Edition

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins Free Press, 480 pages, $30 The first lesson to be learned from Richard Dawkins’ new book is a purely practical maxim: One should always do what one does best, while scrupulously avoiding those tasks for which neither nature . . . . Continue Reading »

Imprisoned

From Web Exclusives

This is, in a sense, a footnote or an addendum to a column I wrote a few months ago for First Things Online called “The Gnostic Turn.” For my sins, I suppose, I subjected myself last week to all six hours (counting commercials) of the AMC/ITV attempted remake of the late 1960s television series The Prisoner. To persons d’un certain âge there should be little need to explain what the original series was. Somewhat dated in some of its features now, perhaps, and not to everyone’s taste, it was probably”at its best”the most perfectly realized fantasy ever to appear within the deadening confines of episodic television drama… . Continue Reading »

Soul Sisters

From Web Exclusives

The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of crisis for Christian belief. In part, this was simply the result of a long process of secularization”political, social, and intellectual”and in perhaps larger part the result of new theories and new discoveries in the sciences… . Continue Reading »

The Secret Commonwealth

From Web Exclusives

As the feast of All Souls nears, spare a piteous thought, if you will, for the poor Rev. Robert Kirk, who lived from 1644 to 1692, and whose mortal remains rest”or do they?”in his parish kirkyard in Aberfoyle, a Scottish village lying near the Laggan River and at the foot of Craigmore. The great slab of his gravestone is in much the same condition as most of the other funerary markers that survive from the seventeenth century in those latitudes… Continue Reading »

Obama and the Lama

From Web Exclusives

The received wisdom has it that only Nixon could have gone to China, and I imagine that in this case the received wisdom is right. By the same token, though, I hope it will one day be recognized that only Barack Obama could go to China by stabbing the Dalai Lama in the back. That day will be long in coming, no doubt… . Continue Reading »

Origin of the Specious

From the October 2009 Print Edition

I suppose it would sound somewhat bigoted of me to say that readers should be suspicious of journalists with an appetite for Large Ideas, but I intend no insult. The journalist’s chief vocation is to elucidate, simplify, and synopsize”to reduce a story to its most elementary logic. All . . . . Continue Reading »

The Music of Eternity

From Web Exclusives

A famously cultured friend of mine, now sadly deceased, used to express polite amazement at my ability to enjoy the music of Richard Wagner, despite my almost idolatrous devotion to Bach; apparently this struck him as a combination of tastes as improbable as a successful alloy of fire and water. And, on the one occasion that I touched upon the topic of Anton Bruckner in his presence, he merely arched an eyebrow and directed me to the table where the drinks were being served. Consequently, I never quite learned his opinion of the old Austrian schoolmaster, but I suspect it fell somewhat short of rapt veneration… . Continue Reading »

Saint Sakyamuni

From Web Exclusives

In 1571, the Doge of Venice presented King Sebastian of Portugal with certain relics of St Josaphat of India (including, if memory serves, a fragment of his spine). This was a lavish gift, to say the least. No legend of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period was more famous throughout the entire Christian world than the tale of Barlaam and Josaphat, nor were there very many saints more beloved than its eponymous protagonists… . Continue Reading »

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (and Christ)

From Web Exclusives

I have had this experience three times now, on three different occasions, in admittedly similar circumstances, but not similar enough to explain the coincidence: I am speaking from a podium to a fairly large audience on the topics of—to put it broadly—evil, suffering, and God; I have been talking for several minutes about Ivan Karamazov, and about things I have written on Dostoevsky, to what seems general approbation; then, for some reason or other, I happen to remark that, considered purely as an artist, Dostoevsky is immeasurably inferior to Tolstoy; at this, a single pained gasp of incredulity breaks out … Continue Reading »

On Butterflies and Being

From Web Exclusives

We are living this year in a cottage in the forest, halfway up the slope and under the slightly furrowed brow of a green mountain whose ridge forms our western horizon, and over which the brief twilight rises in the evening as a pale gold thinly fringed with dark amethyst. The days are filled with the incessant clamor of stridulating and timbalating insects, to which at night”undiminished”is added the mighty song of the Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum, for those with a taste for taxonomic Latin) and the sweet belling of the Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis). Earlier in the summer, the woods were full of fireflies, but they are gone now… Continue Reading »