• Ken Ilgunas moved into a big, drafty house in rural Nebraska. He experimented to see how low he could turn the thermostat during the cold, windy winter. He found that with many layers of clothes and fingerless gloves, and wrapped in a down sleeping bag, he could live and work with an inside temperature as low as 45 degrees. “I’m not going to say I liked living in a 45-degree house, but eventually I didn’t mind it, and it taught me that one’s sense of comfort can be redefined with a bit of grit and resourcefulness. Sitting in my sleeping bag, I began to wonder: If we all set our thermostats to our own ‘comfortable low,’ how many West Virginia mountains could we save? How many fewer wells would need to be fracked? How much less greenhouse gas would we emit?”

• I learned about Ilgunas’s experiment in cold living from the account he published as an op-ed in the New York Times. Undoubtedly the editors thought the environmental asceticism would appeal to their readers. They’re likely right. We have a natural desire for God. This desire manifests itself in our efforts to serve something higher than ourselves, often to the point of heroic sacrifice and ascetic self-denial. Which is why today’s environmentalism can so easily take on a religious character.

• Obama’s political operative Marie Harf’s remarked that we can stymie ISIS recruitment of young Muslim men by providing them with better job opportunities. Kevin Williamson’s analysis of this comment is spot on. Marie Harf thinks we can win the war on terror by ­providing potential jihadists with rewarding career paths because, for people in her social set (which includes us), career is all important. “If you are Marie Harf, there are very few problems that a good (or better) job cannot solve. And if you are ­Marie Harf, there are few catastrophes in life greater than the inability to secure a good job. We are not nearly so worried about getting into Paradise as getting into Princeton—assuming that we make the distinction at all.”

• It’s very bourgeois to focus on job and career. That’s not a criticism, at least not from me. “Bourgeois” is a compliment in my lexicon. But it’s historically and culturally ignorant not to recognize the unique, even odd, nature of bourgeois ambitions. For most of history, human beings have sought honor and feared dishonor. We’ve also been slaves to powerful desires, one of which, for men at least, is to fight. It is an alluring ­enterprise richly endowed with codes of honor. From time immemorial, men have fought and killed, not because of the lack of gainful employment, but because they have craved glory and lusted for battle.

• This is not just bloodlust, but also the desire to serve something higher than oneself. David Brooks recently took aim at the root-causism dominating our approach to Islamic terrorism. Yes, ISIS emerged out of economically and politically dysfunctional societies. But the movement is not a street gang. It’s a religiously motivated enterprise that puts forward ambitious spiritual ideals: Defeat the godless and institute divine governance. There’s a great deal of theos in its theocracy. As Brooks points out, young Muslim men don’t leave France and Germany because they can’t get a job, but because “they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation.” We need to face the deepest truth about what we’re up against: “Extremism is a spiritual phenomenon, a desire for loftiness of spirit gone perverse.”

• Over the long run, this loftiness of spirit gone wrong cannot be defeated by promises of jobs, higher income, comfort, and success. As Brooks points out, “You can’t ­counter a ­heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response. You can counter it only with a more compelling heroic vision. There will always be alienated young men fueled by spiritual ardor. Terrorism will be defeated only when they find a different fulfillment, even more bold and ­self-transcending.”

• As St. Augustine recognized, a false and perverse love can only be overcome by a true and pure love. The higher love Brooks offers is nationalism. “Young Arab men are not going to walk away from extremism because they can suddenly afford a Slurpee. They will walk away when they can devote themselves to a revived Egyptian nationalism, ­Lebanese nationalism, ­Syrian ­nationalism, some call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime.”

• Sounds good, but the “dignity and democracy” part can be elusive. Nationalism of various sorts has often been something less than a true and pure love, to say the least. Brooks allows that a devotion to nationhood has been misused. But, at its best, nationalism (I would prefer the warmer and less ideologically prone notion of patriotism) inspires us to pursue the common good, promote our national genius, and realize our common destiny. For all the destructiveness of nationalism, the positive achievements of national unity played an important role in modern European history as well. It wasn’t the case that reason and tolerance took the place of religion as the great animating principle of social solidarity in the modern era. Instead, it was the nation state. ­Patriotic ardor was the great driving force of the nineteenth century, and it did a great deal of good.

• Unfortunately, it also helped produce two cataclysmic wars in the first half of the last century. For this reason, Europe’s political class today finds it difficult to express unbridled patriotic sentiments. The European Union is a self-consciously post-nationalistic enterprise. Its two great promises are pretty bloodless: prosperity and multicultural harmony. Moreover, along with Europeans, Americans are pushing a globalized economy and globalized human-rights regime that encourage post-national loyalties.

• I doubt our post-national, post-ideological dreams of an end-of-history liberalism measure up to the heroic aspirations of the young, especially those who don’t remember the brutalities of fascism and communism or the high stakes of the Cold War. To my mind, the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism in Europe suggests that we’re facing a growing global crisis, one rooted in the innate human desire to serve something higher. The tremendous power of the West—our wealth, our technological and scientific achievements, our military muscle—is coveted by the rest of the world. But it is seen as linked to a decadent culture that offers nothing heroic. We’re increasingly post-Christian and post-patriotic, lacking even the confidence to say that we have souls.

• I can hear the response: “We’re committed to freedom and human rights. Those are great moral achievements in the West.” Well, yes, but what end do they promote? Hundreds of thousands gathered in Paris to express solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims. Rightly so. Freedom of speech must be defended. But why? What does that very important political freedom serve? What is a culture of freedom for?

• The esteemed American historian Bernard Bailyn is perhaps best known for The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968. It’s a magisterial account of what made America American. Reviewing in the Weekly Standard a recently published volume of essays by Bailyn, Gordon S. Wood observes that the sort of history Bailyn practices has fallen out of favor. “College students and many historians have become obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society. And this obsession has seriously affected the writing of American history. The inequalities of race and gender now permeate much of academic history-writing, so much so that the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.”

• Wood certainly thinks we need histories of the dispossessed, histories of those who weren’t part of the main events that shaped our nation’s history: Native Americans, slaves, and in many cases women and non-Protestants. “But a new generation of historians is no longer interested in how the United States came to be. That kind of narrative history of the nation, they say, is not only inherently triumphalist but has a teleological bias built into it. Those who write narrative histories necessarily have to choose and assign significance to events in terms of a known outcome, and that, the moral critics believe, is bound to glorify the nation.”

• We have an academic culture—and increasingly an elite culture formed by this academic culture—in which it is a sin to glorify the nation. We teach young people that what seems like a great nation is in fact built upon countless crimes and ­injustices. That makes it hard for young people to think of themselves as serving a national project worthy of their devotion. Constantly ­undermining reasons for patriotic pride makes it hard to nurture civic virtue.

• After speaking on the brutalities of radical Islam at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama continued with some remarks about the Crusades and Inquisition. Some harrumphed over Obama’s little mini-lecture to Christians about the need to be self-critical instead of rushing to judgment. I found it ­unexceptional. It’s typical of this president, who’s a man almost entirely shaped by the mental habits and prejudices of today’s academic culture. What struck me was the image he used to introduce this turn in his remarks. He spoke of the need to avoid getting “on our high horse.” It’s a secular image of high-and-mighty haughtiness that works in that context. But there’s also a ready biblical image about beams in our eyes. Perhaps Obama (or his speechwriter) doesn’t know the image. Or perhaps he does and didn’t want to make the awkward suggestion that beheading innocent people is a “speck” in the eye of ISIS as compared to the “beam” of crusades conducted nearly a thousand years ago.

• For a number of years, I’ve been mulling over the exact nature of liberal hauteur. We all have our modes of pride, of course. But different ways of thinking have different modes, or at least characteristic ones. Liberalism, for example, seeks to relate to those with whom it disagrees in an “understanding” way. This means in some way standing above and claiming to survey the human scene in a dispassionate, uncommitted way. This conceit allows liberals to describe disagreements of substance as “­really” disagreements of outlook and attitude. The liberal is open and tolerant, seeks understanding, and so forth. His adversary is the opposite. Thus, the liberal claims complete humility with respect to his particular views, demanding only that others adopt his meta-convictions about openness. “I’m perfectly happy to talk with those who disagree with me,” he says, “as long as they’re committed to dialogue.” But it turns out that those whose convictions contradict his own always turn out to be “authoritarian” or in some other way sinners against “dialogue.”

• As I said, we all have our modes of asserting our claim to proper authority. Traditional cultures divide the clean from unclean, the saved from the damned, the right from the wrong. We often get this wrong, sometimes very wrong, which is what you’d predict when one of your convictions is the doctrine of original sin. But when we make these distinctions, we’re not deceiving ­ourselves that we’re not doing so. This, I fear, is what liberalism often encourages liberals to do. They include everybody who includes everybody, which turns out to be people just like them.

• National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave a speech at the Brookings Institution. It outlined the Obama administration’s national security strategy. She began by insisting that we can be strong in the future only if “we insist on investing in the foundations of American power: education and health care; clean energy and basic research.” Basic research has an obvious long-term contribution to make to national security. I can see the case for building up the well-being of citizens. But clean energy as a foundation of American power?

• This from Matthew Milliner on Ash Wednesday: “I’m giving up for Lent.”

• Recently, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered local authorities to disregard a federal judge’s ruling that Alabama authorities must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. During a CNN interview, host Chris Cuomo challenged him with a version of the living Constitution argument. Moore responded, “Our rights contained in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution. They come from God.” Cuomo shot back, “Our laws do not come from God, your honor, and you know that. They come from man.” A minute later, Cuomo insisted with a tone of outrage at Moore’s refusal to conform to dogma, “Our rights do not come from God.”

• The confrontation brought to the fore where we stand, it seems to me. We will live in a society that serves a moral truth greater than man’s inventions. Or we will live in one defined by whatever “man” deems right and just at any particular time. Cuomo’s angry rebuttal of Moore’s view—the view held by those who signed the Declaration of Independence and one often repeated by Abraham ­Lincoln—indicates how determined we now are. Our society will not be limited by any higher power. God is a theocratic demon to be exorcised or a delusion to be dispelled.

• Theodore Dalrymple is a name ­Anthony Daniels uses when he’s feeling particularly despairing about the absurdities and self-deceptions of contemporary culture. I’ve followed him for years in the New Criterion. He’s helped me see how profoundly the supposedly enlightened and progressive moral attitudes now dominant harm the poor and vulnerable most of all.

• A now-retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, he’s especially aware of the ways in which our therapeutic age seeks to do good but in fact dehumanizes. This is the topic of his latest book, just out this spring, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality. Here’s his take: “I do not wish to deny that psychologists have done many ­intriguing and ingenious experiments. But the overall effect of psychological thought on human culture and society, I contend, has been overwhelmingly negative because it gives the false impression of greatly increased human self-understanding where none has been achieved, it encourages the evasion of responsibility by turning subjects into objects where it supposedly takes account of or interests itself in subjective experience, and it makes shallow the human character because it discourages genuine self-examination and self-knowledge.”

• Neo-Darwinism is today’s Grand Theory. Conceits such as the “selfish gene” now play the role once occupied by Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious” and other psychological theories. Dalrymple treats the work of Robert Trivers, author of The Folly of Fools: Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, as an example of how proponents of evolutionary psychology make childish intellectual mistakes. In one instance, Trivers claims to show how Bernie Madoff’s extraordinary success in deceiving investors in his Ponzi scheme manifests the same evolutionary logic as the HIV virus, which changes its biological profile so often that it “deceives” the body’s natural defense mechanisms. This use of “deceit” to describe a biological function is analogical. The molecular biologist draws upon something we understand—human beings using deceit to gain an advantage—to help us understand a biological process. Trivers reverses this. He treats the ­biological analogy of deceit as the real thing, and then proposes to us that the “deceit” of viruses and bacteria explains human instances of deceit.

• This gets things exactly backwards. The original use of deceit by molecular biologists as an analogy depends on the fact that we already ­understand deceitful human behavior, and can do so without recourse to the wisdom of neo-Darwinism. This shell game happens all the time when evolutionary ­biologists hold forth about the meaning of life.

• Why are we so susceptible to the conceits of modern psychology? Because we’re attracted to the way in which reductive and deterministic explanations of human behavior offer a paradoxical and especially attractive kind of freedom: freedom from responsibility. My childhood trauma made me do it. My bad social circumstances made me do it. My brain chemistry made me do it. My genes made me do it. We may not like to think that we are nothing but our traumas, social backgrounds, brain chemistry, or genes. But at any given moment we’re pleased to have these explanations available as escape routes from responsibility.

• Another reason is antithetical. ­Reductive and deterministic explanations promise the possibility of manipulation and control. B. F. Skinner thought human behavior could be explained by the iron laws of stimuli and responses. On that basis, he envisioned a utopia in which we will use the scientific laws of behavior to ­engineer a better world. Efforts to get at the root causes of crime and other social dysfunctions often participate in this dream of scientific leverage over the mystery of human freedom. There’s an individual dimension as well. To a great extent, Malcolm Gladwell’s success has been built on a post-Freudian hope that where ­therapy has failed, a better, more scientific psychology and brain science will help us gain a greater understanding of and mastery over our lives. Highly educated people are today as anxious about their brain chemistry as ­ancients were about their astrological destiny.

• Still another reason concerns our desire to be non-judgmental. “We need to see everyone who suffers to be a victim because only thus can we maintain our pretense to universal understanding and experience the warm glow of our own compassion, so akin to the warmth that a strong, stiff drink imparts in the cold.”

• The archdiocese of San Francisco issued a clear and well-formulated statement directed toward high-school teachers in Catholic schools. First comes a statement of principle. “As effective professionals in a Catholic School setting, we all—administrators, faculty and staff—are required and expected to avoid fostering confusion among the faithful and any dilution of the schools' primary Catholic mission. Therefore, ­administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith, are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths. To that end, further, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law. Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves ‘Catholic’ but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

• Then comes a list of theological affirmations: the Church as a divine institution, real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, obligation of Catholics to attend Mass, final judgment and the possibility of damnation, purgatory, etc. Moral affirmations follow: sanctity of life; sinfulness of masturbation, fornication, adultery, and contraception; homosexual acts as contrary to natural law; marriage as the union of one man and one woman; the grave evil of artificial means of reproduction, and so forth.

• The upshot: a clear vision of Catholic school teachers as sharing in the Church’s larger responsibility to teach and transmit the truths of the faith to the next generation. An important step in the right direction.

• Readers will not be surprised to hear that a number of Catholic groups in San Francisco reacted with outrage. How dare the Catholic Church require teachers—require anyone—to believe . . . anything! This outrage evoked a particularly powerful response from William Saletan, a columnist for Slate.com. He thinks the Catholic Church is wrong about most moral issues. But he says this about what the critics of the archdiocese and of its archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, have written:

• “It’s a mess of new-age babble. It starts with denials of morality. The protesters’ Facebook page, Support SF Teachers, declares: ‘A morality clause has no place in our schools. We want teachers to be able to be themselves.’ Christine Haider-Winnett, the coordinator of Equally Blessed, a Catholic pro-LGBT coalition, says lay Catholics will ‘make our own decisions about what is right and wrong.’ A tweet posted as part of the social media campaign against ­Cordileone advises: ‘Be who you are and don’t care who says what.’

• “The dictionary says churches are supposed to teach doctrines. But the campaign against Cordileone says they shouldn’t. Students at one Catholic school ‘are very upset’ by the new policy, says a teacher. ‘They’re afraid it’ll lead to indoctrination.’ A statement signed by more than 200 opponents of the policy says Catholic ­leaders should follow their flocks: ‘Most U.S. Catholics believe very little of what is in the Archdiocesan document and actively reject much of it. The role of the bishop is to articulate the faith of the people.’

• “In place of morality or doctrine, the archbishop’s critics preach ­acceptance, inclusiveness, tolerance, affirmation, and diversity. An online petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, says his proposed rules violate ‘Catholic values of inclusion and diversity.’ ‘By forcing morality clauses, you’re taking away all inclusivity and diversity in these schools,’ adds a supporter on Twitter. Haider-­Winnett says students need ‘affirming environments.’ The campaign’s hashtag is ‘#teachacceptance.’

• “The new taboo isn’t sex or blasphemy: It’s judgment. ‘Students need a safe space free of judgment,’ says the petition. An op-ed by two parents in the archdiocese says its schools must ‘be a place where our children are supported, honored, and free from judgment.’ The former head of San Francisco Catholic Charities accuses Cordileone of violating the ‘spirit of nonjudgmental inclusiveness.’”

• Saletan concludes, “The archbishop is wrong. His policy against contraception is disastrous. His understanding of homosexuality is shallow. His injunction against masturbation is ridiculous. Liberal Catholics are right to reject their leaders’ pronouncements on these issues. But you can’t beat something with nothing, and you can’t replace wrongheaded conservatism with empty-headed liberalism. Acceptance, inclusiveness, tolerance, affirmation, and diversity don’t tell you how to live your life. They don’t tell you which beliefs to affirm, which traditions to accept, which differences to applaud, and which threats to tolerate. They can’t run a society. They sure as hell can’t run a church.” Quite right. Moreover, we all know what the “spirit of nonjudgmental inclusiveness” means: affirmation of progressives, denunciation of conservatives. However, as I survey the current scene, there doesn’t seem to be much of an alternative to empty-headed liberalism and its self-contradictory uses of slogans like “nonjudgmental inclusiveness.” Other than “wrongheaded conservatism,” that is.

• A friend put me on to the Eye of the Tiber (think Catholic Onion), and I found this “news” item: “An SSPV drone strike has accidentally killed three and injured four other Taliban members living in the U.S. Saturday, a spokesman for the ­Society confirmed before expressing sorrow for the wayward bomb that was originally meant to put a stop to a Novus Ordo Vigil Mass in Hoboken, New Jersey.”

• The Neuhaus biography was on display Monday evening, February 23. The occasion was an evening talk here at the office. Whittaker ­Chambers biographer and former New York Times book review editor Sam Tanenhaus queried Randy ­Boyagoda about his experiences writing RJN’s biography, and they discussed what’s to be learned from Neuhaus’s remarkable life. It was a stimulating evening taped by ­C-SPAN2’s Book TV for broadcast at some point in the coming weeks.

• If you’d like advance notice of the C-SPAN broadcast, sign up for the regular First Things email newsletter. You can do that by going to firstthings.com—which should be your homepage! The newsletter will notify you of future talks and lectures, as well as provide links to some of our excellent online material.

• The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage was published in our pages last month. This important statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together is also available on firstthings.com. We want to do all we can to broadcast the truth about marriage. To that end, we’ve had the statement on marriage printed up in pamphlet form. If you’re a priest, pastor, or teacher who would like to use or distribute this important defense of marriage as a pamphlet, please get in touch. We’ll mail them to you at a minimal cost.

• We’ve closed the books on 2014. It was a good year. Thanks to ­generous support from readers like you, we ended the year in the black. Subscriptions remain strong. The website continues to attract a million or more pageviews per month. I’m confident that 2015, our twenty-fifth year, will be better still.

• In 2014, we expanded our lectures and programs. In addition to the annual Erasmus Lecture delivered by Archbishop Charles Chaput, Mary Eberstadt gave the first annual First Things lecture in Washington, D.C. Yuval Levin has agreed to give the second annual D.C. lecture on November 11, 2015. I gave a First Things lecture in Dallas and hope we can follow up with an annual series there as well. This year we’re looking to expand further. I want the First Things message to be heard as widely as possible.

•If you’d like a full picture of what and how we’re doing, please send in a request, and we’ll send you the 2014 annual report for the Institute on ­Religion and Public Life, the 501(c)(3) that publishes First Things. You can do that by writing to us at the ­editorial office or emailing ­ft@­firstthings.com.

While we’re at it sources: Rural Nebraska: nytimes.com, January 23, 2015. Marie Harf: nationalreview.com, February 19, 2015. The president’s speech: nytimes.com, February 20, 2015. Bernard Bailyn: weeklystandard.com, February 23, 2015. Susan Rice: whitehouse.gov, February 6, 2015. Justice Roy Moore interview: cnn.com, February 12, 2015. San Francisco schools: Catholic-sf.org, February 4, 2015. Don’t judge: slate.com, February 19, 2015. SSPV drone strike: eyeofthetiber.com, June 2, 2013.