Secularization or Exodus?

For many evangelicals today, secular means something very close to godless. The termsecularization describes the impulse that drives the ACLU and other groups to expunge prayer from schools, to take down the Ten Commandments from courthouse walls, to pressure Christians to keep their beliefs private, to muzzle all religiously motivated efforts to curb abortion. And yet, some Christians and many historians and sociologists view secularization as the genius of public Christianity, especially public Protestantism… . Continue Reading »

Saint Sakyamuni

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 »

When Values Collide

The term “Modern Orthodox” is, in a sense, self-contradictory, which makes one wonder why it has been used for so long to describe a significant portion of the Jewish community. The “Orthodox” part refers to the community’s strong commitment to traditional core beliefs and practices. The “Modern” part implies a willingness to absorb practices and values from contemporary culture. Sometimes the two complement each other, but often they conflict… . Continue Reading »

The Agony of Mainline Protestantism

This summer the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) held their biennial Churchwide Assembly. As is so often the case with American Christianity, the headline grabbing issue was sex. The Assembly didn’t exactly affirm or endorse homosexuality, but, after agreeing to disagree about the moral significance of homosexual relationships, it opened up the possibility for same-sex blessings and homosexual clergy… . Continue Reading »

Israel in the Year 5770

How does it stand with the people Israel in the new year 5770? As James Kugel (a Harvard scholar of the Hebrew Bible) explained in a lecture at my synagogue earlier this year on Israel’s Independence Day, for most of Jewish historyindependence was an alien idea. Except for a few decades of the Davidic kingdom, the Jewish commonwealth always paid tribute to the surrounding powers”Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or Rome. Israel still faces an existential threat, but this should not obscure the fact that the position of the Jewish people today is at least strong as ever before. Jews who have kept the faith in Israel as well as in the Diaspora have reason to look happily toward the new year… . Continue Reading »

Texts for the Times

“What accounts for the six-fold increase in the total number of horror films released since 1999?” asks David Goldman in “Be Afraid”Be Very Afraid.” “Subgenres such as erotic horror (mainly centered on vampires) and torture (the Saw series, for example) dig deep into the vulnerabilities of the adolescent psyche. Given the success of these films over the past ten years, the number of Americans traumatizing themselves voluntarily is larger by an order of magnitude than it has ever been before.” That’s an odd fact Goldman notes, and an interesting question he poses”but it’s only one of many in the new issue of First Things… . Continue Reading »

The Toxic Card of Racism Trumps Hearts

A few months ago, during the Obama-at-Notre Dame controversy, I had a conversation with a journalist, during which I opined that the whole issue of life versus death was”and has been since the time of Moses”a contest between light and dark, and would continue to be so. The journalist said, “you just said ‘black and white,’” and teased me for being a racist. But I’d said “light and dark,” and he admitted, when he stopped laughing, that he had heard “light and dark,” but had immediately extrapolated it to “black and white” and then thought of Obama, hence the tease… . Continue Reading »

Let There Be Music

Recently Dan Cairns in the U.K. Times found listening to one of the songs from Paddy McAloon’s new album (recorded seventeen years ago but only released last week) to be a heartbreaking experience: “First, because, well, it’s so beautiful, it just is. Second, because you get such a clear sense of a supreme talent that you can’t help but mourn its subsequent concealment, and feel compassion for the concealer.” … Continue Reading »

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (and Christ)

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 »