Pledging Allegiance to Irreligion

Although the presidential primary candidates have barely cleared the starting blocks in their race for the nomination, the examination of their religious beliefs has already hit full stride. Numerous profiles and editorials have already implied that the Republican candidates are racing toward a theocracy. For example, in a hit piece for the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza says that the overarching thesis of his article is that Michele Bachmann holds “a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature.” But is this really true? Just how extreme can a candidate’s beliefs be before they are deemed unelectable? … Continue Reading »

In Praise of Peter Berger

At the end of his new intellectual memoir, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore (Prometheus Books), Peter L. Berger recounts a telling tale from his Viennese childhood: “… I must have been about four or five years old. For my birthday or for Christmas I was given the present of a very sophisticated electric toy train. One could control its movements through multiple tracks and tunnels across a miniature landscape. I had no interest in the mechanical wonders of this toy. Instead, I lay flat on the ground and talked with imaginary passengers on the train.” … Continue Reading »

Impeding Diplomacy with Disdain

A question is bubbling amid conservative-leaning websites, asking whether the New York Times’ executive editor Bill Keller is guilty of committing bad satire or simple bigotry. In a feature for the magazine, Keller suggested that presidential candidates, specifically Republican presidential candidates, should face “tougher questions” about the role faith plays in their lives… . Continue Reading »

As Gollum Would Say, Tricksy

The letter, with “Senator Orrin Hatch” written in large capital letters centered across the top, told me that on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee the senator was sending me my “Republican Strategy Ballot” (the name was printed in boldface in the letter). “Your immediate response is critical,” he told me, or rather the “fellow American” to whom the letter was addressed. The letter followed the standard form for conservative fundraising … Continue Reading »

A Cheer and a Half for Biblicism

“Biblicist” is a fighting word. It’s what Catholics call “bibliolatrous” Protestants, what liberal Protestants used to call Fundamentalists, and what moderate Evangelicals like to call immoderate Evangelicals. It is a word more bandied than explained. One of the strengths of Christian Smith’s recent The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Brazos, 2011) is his precision in identifying the object of his attack… . Continue Reading »

A Reply to Leithart on Biblicism

Peter Leithart’s response to my book is more reasonable than some reviews I have had the misfortune to read recently. But his response essentially dodges rather than engages my book’s central argument. The case I argue in the first half of my book is simple, consisting of four central claims and a conclusion. First, I claim that biblicism, which I define clearly, is widespread in American Evangelicalism. Biblicism is a particular theory about how the Bible ought to function as an authority in Christian life… . Continue Reading »

Creating a Catholic Ghetto

There has been some talk lately”though not nearly enough”about the new healthcare mandate authored by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This mandate, with the deceptively benign title “Guidelines for Women’s Preventive Services,” is set to go into effect in August 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act… . Continue Reading »

Does Jesus Really Love Nukes?

As I walked along the streets of Hiroshima I tried to imagine the city on fire. Fifty-six years earlier the atomic bomb “Little Boy” had set the area aflame, killing nearly a third of the population within twenty-four hours. According to the local prefectural health department estimates, of the people who perished on the day of the explosion, 60 percent died from flash or flame burns. Most of the dead were “noncombatants””innocent men, women, and children. … Continue Reading »

Among the ‘Progressed’

Thomas Merton is usually thought of as a liberal or progressive Catholic, which in many respects he was: he certainly tilted left politically, on civil rights and Vietnam; he wanted to explore new modes of monastic life, putting the Western monastic tradition in conversation with Eastern religions; he chafed under authority throughout his Trappist life; he had a strong sense of self, the twentieth-century equivalent of what the Reformation controversialists called “private judgment.” … Continue Reading »

A Love Supreme

Just about two years ago, I had occasion to make a monastic retreat that included the gift and privilege of perpetual adoration. The community of Dominican nuns kept constant vigil, one-by-one with our lord, present in the Eucharist, and they invited me to do the same in their public chapel, throughout the night, if I liked. Those hours of silent contemplation wrought a subtle but lasting change within me; at the time it did not feel subtle. It felt like dynamite applied beneath my soul: kaboom went everything I thought I knew, and I have been processing the experience, and working at restoration, ever since… . Continue Reading »