R.R. Reno is editor of First Things.

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Gays, Non-Discrimination, and the USCCB

From First Thoughts

You gotta love the political lobbying arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Their 2009 legislative round-up provides an insight into the priorities of Catholic officialdom. One item is particularly interesting. The report sums up Barney Frank’s bill, H.R. 3685, The . . . . Continue Reading »

Defending Truth

From Web Exclusives

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877“1964), was the twentieth-century Catholic theologian whose outlook and intellectual projects epitomized the confident intransigence of the pre-Vatican II Church. Professor of theology at the Angelicum in Rome for many decades, Garrigou-Lagrange taught Aristotle and St. Thomas to many generations of seminarians. As a consultant to the Holy Office, he played an important role in the intellectual politics of mid-century Catholicism. His reputation was clear: hardnosed about truth and in favor of the use of church authority in its defense.

In recent decades, Garrigou and the Catholic sensibility he embodied has been out of style, very out of style. Richard McCormick, Roger Haight, Elizabeth Johnson, Monica Hellwig, Charles Curran, Gregory Baum, David Tracy, and other post-Vatican II theologians emerged as the standard bearers for what they hoped would be a new church, a new spirit, and a new age. They wanted to be flexible and pluralistic when it came to truth, and they were suspicious when it came to authority, especially church authority.

Time has passed. The young progressives have aged and grayed… . Continue Reading »

Further Thoughts on Localism

From First Thoughts

I’m glad Jody drew attention to Caleb Stegall’s intervention. Stegall is surely right that love is the “existential engine” of localism . Indeed, by my reckoning, love is the existential engine of any thick and substantial cultural identity. Yes, of course love is jealous. The . . . . Continue Reading »

Localism and Anti-Semitism

From First Thoughts

Yes, Jody rightly draws attention to the role of anti-Semitism in the sort of modern conservatism that sees history, tradition, and place as anchors of sanity. By my reading, however, that role is complicated and full of ironies. One irony comes from the Stalinist era. “Rootless . . . . Continue Reading »


From First Thoughts

Patriotism is the political form of love. It comes from the Latin (and Greek) for father, signaling the deep bond of loyalty to clan, the primitive sense that we owe our existence to a place, a people. As Jody points out when recalling an old post of mine that drew appreciative attention to some . . . . Continue Reading »

The Stalinist Moment In Iran

From First Thoughts

Events in Iran have been riveting. The presidential vote on June 12 was rigged to ensure the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or so most suspect. Supporters of Ahmadinejad’s main opponent, former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, have rejected the outcome, and for a few heady days they . . . . Continue Reading »

A Master of Horror

From Web Exclusives

In his Poetics, Aristotle observed that some works of art have a paradoxical effect. They represent things that make us cringe and recoil: Orestes kills Clytemnestra; Medea murders her children. Yet, even as we shrink from the brutality and avert our eyes in horror, we are nonetheless strangely attracted to and sometimes ravished by the scenes. What is ugly and brutal can exercise an aesthetic power as great as”perhaps even greater than”beauty itself.

A special centenary exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (on view until August 16, 2009) offers an ideal occasion to experience the strange aesthetic appeal of deformity, pain, and the darkness of life. Bacon famously filled his studio with images of disease from medical books and murder scenes from tabloids. The paintings that resulted are not ugly. On the contrary, many have alluring color and form. But there can be no doubt about Bacon’s genius. It was energized by the grotesque. Continue Reading »

Marilynne Robinson Stumbles

From Web Exclusives

I’ll admit it up front. I was disappointed with Home, Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel. There are some finely spun sentences and evocative passages. The final pages breathe with emotional reality, and Robinson’s rich knowledge of Christian theology produces some rewarding insights. But the novel as a whole is workmanlike.

High expectations undoubtedly contributed to my disappointment. Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, has an aching beauty. The story focuses on Ruth and Lucille, two sisters raised by their aunt in the imaginary small town of Fingerbone, Idaho. The haunting reality of memory eventually becomes more substantial then the physical structure of their house, and by the end of the novel Robinson succeeds in making the reader feel as though Ruth and Lucille are thin, spectral waifs who have left behind the solid, everyday reality of life.

If Housekeeping spiritualizes, then Gilead, her second and widely (and justly) praised novel, moves in the other direction… .Continue Reading »

Defending Life Requires Law

From Web Exclusives

My heart sank when I read the headline: “Abortion Provider Is Shot Dead.” It sank still further as I read the story. Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas was one of the few doctors willing to perform late-term abortion, even some, the newspaper reported, in the ninth month. Kansas . . . . Continue Reading »