Another month, another issue of First Things . Just a typical production of the magazine¯this and that, jammed together randomly in the vain hope that some lucky synergy will make it all work. I’m fairly sure none of it is worth your time.
Well, except maybe for R.R. Reno’s essay, " Theology After the Revolution ." You should read that one. It’s an account of what he dubs the "Heroic Generation," the great theologians of the twentieth century who crossed the bridge from the neoscholastic tradition to the modern world¯and burned the bridges behind them. The trouble is that the fire spread, and the theological landscape they left us looks something like Atlanta after Sherman came to town. A great measure of the gains and the losses of the century.
But the rest of this month’s issue you can skip¯or, rather, everything else besides Ross Douthat’s " Lost and Saved on TV ." You kinda have to read that. It’s the pattern of Reno’s essay, turned upside down: The awful decline of popular culture into a world of "anything goes" has surprisingly opened up a little space for some of that anything to be theologically and philosophically interesting. From The Sopranos to Battlestar Galactica , there are television shows these days that keep a few sparks alive.
Oh, and Richard John Neuhaus not only burns through his usual conflagration of The Public Square , the most popular feature of First Things , but also contributes a full-length essay on Europe (this month’s free article, accessible by nonsubscribers). Taking up Philip Jenkins’ presentation of Europe in God’s Continent Fr. Neuhaus explores the ways the old countries are worse, and better, than most people suppose. You pretty much have to read that.
Meanwhile, the Australian pastor Adam Cooper, a new contributor, adds " Redeeming Flesh ," an argument about the necessity for flesh and blood in the body of human thought. You can’t really skip that, since you’d be missing a telling and convincing account of what goes wrong when thinkers forget the flesh.
But the three Opinions we have in First Things this month¯now those you can pass right over. I mean, who wants to read Dr. Ashley Fernandes’ " Saving India’s Girls ," a report on new orphanages that take in the children a male-obsessed culture would throw away? Or Peter Meilaender on immigration ? Or Brad Wilcox on the tight statistical relation between family stability and churchgoing ?
Um, actually, those are probably bad examples of things that First Things ’ subscribers wouldn’t want to read. But the Reviews this month¯here, at least, are the real failures. Except for law professor Richard Garnett’s review of a new book about religious freedom , which you have to examine. And, all right, Books & Culture editor John Wilson on the mystery novels of Alexander McCall Smith . Romanus Cessario on Ralph McInerny . Edward B. Davis on the godly science of Owen Gingerich . But nothing else.
But that’s really it. The rest of the issue just didn’t come together, and you should give it a miss.