Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Heart’s Longings

Jenna Silber Storey and Benjamin Storey’s article “Insight at First Sight” (May 2023) was perceptive and timely. I have experienced the negative attitude toward love-at-first-sight and happily-ever-after stories while studying English in college. Students often resort to thinking of these stories as impractical and naive. The Storeys cite fear of being misled by appearances and impulsive feelings as a reason for this thinking, and I would further add that students are afraid of believing in a lie. They think that classic love stories could cause them to harbor unrealistic expectations about what love should be like. So, they put up their defenses against these stories to protect themselves from being deceived. To them, this is true strength and resistance to the weakness they perceive in the characters in love-at-first-sight stories.

The Storeys’ perspective that it is actually the most capable and intelligent characters who have successful love-at-first-sight encounters was refreshing. The Storeys write that students “trust the data more than they trust their eyes.” To believe that love stories teach ­unrealistic expectations is to miss what they are actually teaching. They are teaching how to interpret and use the data that comes through the eyes. Rosalind demonstrates this by acting off of her initial attraction to Orlando; she further tests and observes him to see if he is worthy of her affection. “The depth in the surface” is what the eyes of the intelligent would-be lovers look for. I am grateful to the Storeys for their positive treatment of this subject, as it has encouraged me to not be afraid to let my heart have its own reasons, albeit intelligently.

Skylar Combs
lagrange, ohio

Jenna Silber Storey and Benjamin Storey reply:

Many thanks to Skylar Combs for the thoughtful appreciation of our essay. Combs is exactly right to observe that many of the best love-at-first-sight stories “are teaching [readers] how to interpret and use the data that comes through the eyes,” and that “intelligent would-be lovers” learn to read “the depth in the surface.”

We are also struck by Combs’s observation that young people often prevent themselves from perceiving the power of the old love stories because they are “afraid of believing in a lie”—they don’t want to have “unrealistic expectations” for romantic life. That prompted some thoughts on the relation of the fantastic hopes a beautiful person can provoke to what one can realistically hope for from love and marriage.

As is beautifully illustrated in the scene from Shakespeare’s Tempest in which Miranda and ­Ferdinand meet, lovers can move very quickly from fantasizing that their beloveds are goddesses, who might solve all their problems with the wave of a hand, to realizing that loving another person entails work. Shakespeare depicts this by having Miranda’s father, Prospero, feign anger at ­­Ferdinand’s protestations of love and require him to carry an enormous pile of logs by armfuls into his cell. The intention of this “punishment” is to prepare ­Ferdinand to understand that love isn’t just about the premonitions of delight that spring to mind when one sees a pretty face. Visions of happiness faithfully followed often involve one in the effort to bear often heavy burdens.

Surprisingly, the reader finds that Ferdinand gladly takes up this task, which would have seemed a disgrace just moments before, entirely unworthy of his station. And when Prospero’s back is turned, ­Miranda tries to take the logs from Ferdinand and carry them herself. In a touchingly comic scene, they fight over who should carry the wood. (“I’ll change the diaper, dear.” “No, sweetheart, let me do it!”) What seems ludicrous to anyone outside their little world makes perfect sense to the two within it—for the prospect of building a life together gives the tedious work an exalted purpose.

Realistically, the effort to intertwine your life with another’s always entails difficult, self-­transforming labor. But that work can look decisively different if, when we come across someone beautiful, we ask ourselves what our heart’s longing for beauty truly longs for.

Ukraine

George Weigel’s profound defense of Ukraine (“What Ukraine Means,” May 2023) is sure to provoke objections from some Catholics, conservatives, and the “realist” school of foreign affairs. Two stand out.

The first objection is political. U.S. aid to Ukraine, some believe, is little more than a cover for American imperialism, which has turned Ukraine’s defensive struggle into an American proxy war. If Russia is defeated, the result would be a perpetuation and extension of U.S. global hegemony. A multipolar world is preferable.

There are three answers to this objection. First, it is unfair to condemn Ukraine’s just struggle for survival as someone else’s unjust war. It is the Ukrainians, not the Americans, who are fighting and dying. It is their survival, not ours, that is at stake. What advantages we may gain from our aid is a marginal consideration. Second, Ukraine has no long-term interest in American hegemony. At least since the 2014 Maidan Revolution, Ukraine has gravitated toward Europe, not the U.S. Third, a Ukrainian victory would hardly establish the United States as the undisputed global hegemon. More likely, it would simply confirm its role in an increasingly multipolar world. It would rightly eliminate a rogue Russia from that club, but it would leave China, ­India, and Brazil in place.

The second objection is cultural and religious. As Vladimir Putin and his Russian Orthodox puppets repeatedly allege, U.S. support of Ukraine could result in an extension of current U.S. and Western European socio-cultural norms into Eastern Europe—including such phenomena as gender ideology, moral relativism, and secularism. But this is mere speculation. Certainly such trends, fashions, and ideologies have found their supporters in Ukraine, as they would in any country. But on the whole, Ukrainians remain quite conservative, as is typical of traditionally agricultural peoples. In 2014, when they opted for Europe, it was not so much that they identified with the European Union’s shallow platitudes of tolerance and diversity, but rather that they were drawn to the European tradition, with its Christian and classical foundations, and its emphasis on democracy and the rule of law. Moreover, Ukraine remains a highly religious society, with a solid majority of Christian believers—and with far greater religious participation than, for example, Russia. U.S. and EU support is not likely to change this. In fact, reports suggest that resistance to aggression has strengthened young Ukrainians’ character in a way that American and European youth may find difficult to understand. More likely, it is Ukraine that, as a future EU member, would project a moral and religious influence on the West, particularly through its Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This is all the more reason to support a Ukrainian victory.

Ukraine is not some arbitrary construct hatched from the break-up of the Soviet Union. It is a thousand-­year-old Christian nation with a traditionally democratic political culture antithetical to Muscovite autocracy. George Weigel is right in advocating our support.

Andrew Sorokowski
san francisco, california

Congratulations are due to George Weigel for his sober and well-reasoned article, “What Ukraine Means”—a topic that has of late generated little temperate or charitable conversation. Mr. Weigel is correct to identify this war as a pivotal trial for the United States, an examination of our moral steadfastness, a time to prove whether our proudly espoused principles have purchase beyond word and print. More, it is a test of fortitude and sound geopolitical thinking. Does America, in the throes of wasting decadence, have the wherewithal and prescience to recognize its own strategic interests in the war’s outcome? Balefully, there are reasons to doubt.

I have been at turns disheartened and repulsed by the state of political discourse on the war. In those very corners of the country that have long lamented the ambivalence of relativistic dithering, obfuscation now runs rampant. Skepticism about American support for Ukraine is presently infected by scornful what­aboutism: Because Ukraine is not perfect, because not all hands are everywhere clean, because the country is here troubled or there corrupt, the ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians can (or must) be whitewashed. Somehow, it has become foolhardy or ­naive to react to genocide with either moral outrage or substantive action. On this point also, Mr. Weigel must be thanked: He is forthright in proclaiming those moral dimensions of the conflict in terms unequivocal and unembarrassed. In a culture where conspiratorial cynicism masquerades as wisdom, such candor is indispensable.

More troubling than these equivocators, however, are those of a professedly religious background who harken to Putin as the scourge of Western decadence—the excited whispers of certain twitterati have snowballed into regurgitative drudgery, as they cheerlead anyone who presents himself as an antagonist to first-world secularism. For those who remain to be convinced where true witness lies in this conflict, look no further than the ­contrasted persons of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak.

To head off a common complaint, none of this entails boundless escalation or bloody-minded warmongering. Mr. Weigel makes as much perfectly clear. Nonetheless, for reminding us what precisely is imperiled in this conflict, and how those dangers directly implicate Americans, Mr. Weigel has this reader’s thanks.

Patrick Kearney
chicago, illinois

I am a reader of First Things of Greek Orthodox faith under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. I found certain parts of George Weigel’s “What Ukraine Means” objectionable. Mr. Weigel refers to the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate.” That is like referring to the Ecumenical Patriarchate as being affiliated with Turkey, or to the Roman Catholic Church being affiliated with Italy. The implication that a church whose spiritual authority resides in a particular country is somehow to be ­associated with that country’s politics is highly questionable.

Being of Greek ancestry, I have absolutely no sympathy for the Turkish government, despite the fact that the See of Constantinople is located in Turkey. It is most regrettable that political interests have been exerting influence over the Orthodox Church. This began in 2018, when Patriarch ­Bartholomew of Constantinople, in a blatant power grab, seized the territory of Ukraine from the Russian ­Orthodox Church with the support of the American government. Since then, a schism in the Orthodox Church has been gradually widening. This schism has led to a division that has made it impossible for the Orthodox Church to take a common position against the invasion of Ukraine.

To be clear, the position of ­Patriarch Kirill on the war in Ukraine conflicts with the traditional Orthodox understanding of war. In the Orthodox Church, there is no tradition of holy war, crusades, or just wars. On the other hand, much of the criticism of the Russian Church is without merit. The Ukrainian Orthodox Synod of Metropolitan Onufriy (which has condemned the Russian invasion) is the one legitimate church according to Orthodox ecclesiology and canon law. It is now proven beyond doubt that the Zelensky government and politicians in Ukraine have been supporting the repression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church through the forcible seizure of churches, arrests of bishops, and persecution of ordinary faithful.

In a democratic society, individuals are free to attend whatever churches they like. In Greece for example, there are various Old Calendar traditionalist churches. An individual is free to attend one of those churches or the official Greek Orthodox Church. Attempts by the Ukrainian government to outlaw the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are immoral and reprehensible, and promote sectarianism and hatred. To his credit, Mr. Weigel in the article states that the Ukrainian Church should not be banned.

His reasoning that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would become a martyr-church is disturbing. How about the morality of subjecting an entire community to repression and brutality on the basis of collective guilt? Should an entire community consisting of millions of Ukrainian citizens be outlawed? Is this moral? Is this consistent with modern democratic norms?

Theodore Karakostas
boston, massachusetts

There is much I could say about Mr. Weigel’s article, “What Ukraine Means,” but I will just mention two things. First, Mr. Weigel is quick with the classic interventionist’s syllogism: the World War II analogy. However, when it comes to American involvement in Ukraine, I believe there is a far more relevant precedent: Athens’s Sicilian Expedition. At the height of the Peloponnesian War, overly ambitious Athenian leaders made the fateful decision to send the cream of ­Athens’s military to Sicily to achieve indeterminate policy objectives in the war with Sparta. After two years of fighting, Athenian arms and ships were critically depleted, and a mere fraction of the original expedition returned home to Attica. Ultimately, Athens would lose the war, and historians from Thucydides onward placed much of the blame on the misadventure in Sicily. American policymakers should take note of Athens’s fate and avoid hubristically stumbling toward their own Sicily.

Finally, Mr. Weigel (and Senator Cotton, whom he quotes) is quite certain that “America’s interests are deeply implicated in the outcome of the war in Ukraine,” but I am not convinced. I do not think my lack of conviction for this proposition is trivial, either. I am a veteran of the ill-advised “War on Terror,” and I have already witnessed the death, disfigurement, and alienation inflicted on a subset of my generation for the supposedly “deeply implicated” American ­interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, Ukraine implicates ­direct confrontation with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal; but ­other than that, how is it different? I would genuinely like to hear Mr. Weigel, or anyone else, explain the American interests in Ukraine that would justify losing American lives and creating an imminent risk of nuclear war. Preferably, he should do so without a tired World War II analogy.

Daniel Bryce
tulsa, oklahoma

George Weigel replies:

I thank Andrew Sorokowski for his thoughtful and positive response to “What Ukraine Means,” and would only underscore a particularly salient point he makes: that there is no necessary slippery slope by which a victorious, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine dissolves into the tar pits of “gender ideology, moral relativism, and secularism.” In fact, there are many reasons to think that the process of morally grounded national renewal that Ukrainians have undertaken since the Maidan Revolution of Dignity in 2013–2014 will have been strengthened by the experience of defending their national survival against a brutal aggressor.

Thanks, too, to Patrick Kearney for his kind letter. I would only add that, while the estimable Metropolitan Borys Gudziak surely stands in sharpest contrast to the blasphemous Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, so does the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, heroic ­Major-Archbishop ­Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych. (Readers interested in the striking relationship between Gudziak and Shevchuk, a model for twenty-first century churchmanship, may wish to read my column from February 22, 2023, “Churchmen of the Year,” available on the First Things website.)

I cannot agree with ­Theodore Karakostas that describing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as affiliated with the Moscow ­Patriarchate is analogous to describing the Catholic Church as affiliated with Italy or the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as affiliated with Turkey. The Russian Orthodox Church is led by the “Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’.” That is the ROC’s self-definition, not mine. As I indicated in my article, serious Church–state issues remain to be sorted out in Ukraine; until that happens in a post-war Ukraine, I would insist, with Major-­Archbishop Shevchuk, that the focus of Ukrainian governmental attention should be on individuals in Ukraine who are de facto agents of the Russian aggressor, rather than on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as an institution.

Finally, two points in response to Daniel Bryce.

First, the “World War II analogy” is only “tired” if it’s completely wrong. “Analogous” does not mean “identical,” and there are obvious differences between the European situation in the late 1930s and the dangers posed by Russian aggression throughout the former Soviet space. What does seem a hard but necessary lesson from the earlier period is that ideologically driven dictators with imperial ambitions and historic grievances cannot be stopped by either appeasement or “dialogue,” but only by deterrence beforehand and, if appeasement fails, countervailing military force.

Second, while I thank Mr. Bryce and honor him for his service, I cannot agree with the suggestion that the “War on Terror” was entirely ill-advised. There has been no 9/11-type attack on the American homeland in almost twenty-­two years—an outcome that no one foresaw on September 12, 2001. That is surely to the credit of the “War on Terror”—just as the hellhole that Afghanistan has again become is surely the result of an American scuttle in 2021 that was truly ill-advised. 

Reading Raspail

I suspect that I am not the only reader of First Things who had never heard of, much less read, Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints before Nathan Pinkoski reviewed it so well (“Spiritual Death of the West,” May 2023). Thank you so much! I would have hated to miss its timely characterization of the West’s decline. The novel compels us to ask “Why?” Why is the Western world increasingly drawn toward its own destruction? Where does this impulse to self-­immolation come from? ­Raspail explicitly evokes the issue with his several varied chapter endings: “Could that be one explanation . . .” and “Perhaps that is one explanation . . .”

The question led me back again to James Burnham’s 1964 volume, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of LiberalismBurnham historically and analytically engages the liberal/­progressive worldview that ­Raspail captures and caricatures so brilliantly in his novel. But, as helpful as philosophical genealogy is, it does not finally satisfy the soul’s questions. Raspail, on the other hand, captures the spiritual underpinnings better with his references to “the monster” and “the beast,” imagery that, like the title of the book, evokes the Revelation of St. John.

Most importantly, what is the antidote? As Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, as well as Herman Bavinck at the beginning of the twentieth century, insisted: evangelization, or, better, ­re-evangelization of the West. What Raspail could not have foreseen is the emergence of a vital Christianity from the very group of peoples that are the subject of Europe’s invasion in The Camp of the Saints. Barring a Holy Spirit–led revival in the West, our greatest hope for the gospel creating a new cultural synthesis comparable to the civilization of the West will likely come from the Christian churches in Africa and Asia sending their missionaries to us. God’s providence, which ­Raspail explicitly notes did not prevent the death of Europe in his story, is not without its ironies. Thankfully, it is also merciful, far beyond our ­deserving.

John Bolt
grand rapids, michigan

Is The Turner Diaries next? ­Nathan Pinkoski’s effort to move The Camp of the Saints from its current position on the white supremacist fringes and back into the mainstream of cultural discussion is deeply troubling. Linda Chavez once called the book “shockingly racist,” and with good reason. Pinkoski trumpets author Jean ­Raspail’s accolades to argue that he was not really a racist. Yet Raspail clearly wrote some racist things. See his description of the nameless “brown and black” immigrants playing the foil—the sort of thing Pinkoski waves away as “excessive, but . . . not gratuitous”:

And everywhere, a mass of hands and mouths, of phalluses and rumps. . . . Everywhere, rivers of sperm. Streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers. Bodies together, not in twos, but in threes, in fours, whole families of flesh gripped in gentle frenzies and subtle raptures.

A key character, a defiant French professor, describes how the generations after him went wrong: “That scorn of a people for other races, the knowledge that one’s own is best, the triumphant joy at feeling oneself to be part of ­humanity’s finest—none of that had ever filled these youngsters’ addled brains.”

Pinkoski contends that Raspail’s fictional French resistance is meant to show “how not to act.” That interpretation seems dubious, and Pinkoski does little to defend it despite noting that those taking a more conventional view “are legion.” Members of that legion sing the book’s praises at racist outlets like American Renaissance. But why is this magazine amplifying it? This follows pieces like “­Rancher Rebels” (August/­September 2021)—a glowing treatment of the racist Cliven Bundy—and comes amid a pattern of strategic silence ­regarding the January 6 riot. With new friends like these, the exodus of old friends who fondly remember Richard John Neuhaus will ­only grow.

John Murdock
bloomburg, texas

Birth Dearth

Scott Yenor has demonstrated genuine perspicacity in linking a materialist worldview to anti-­natal public policy initiatives (“Anti-­Natal Engineering,” May 2023). At first glance, abortion, homosexuality, gender reassignment, divorce, cohabitation, sterilization, and a tolerance for pornography seem to be unrelated phenomena, but they are in fact facets of a larger plan to delay and ultimately defeat human reproduction. The next step will be to see how other progressive initiatives, such as defunding police, gain-of-function research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, legalized recreational drugs, and end-of-life counseling for Medicare recipients collectively constitute a similar drive to increase death rates. As the philosophical children of Charles Darwin, materialists are persuaded that humans are just another species in the biome, and one that has overreached and must be curtailed. Isaiah 45 tells us: “For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.” As Jesus said, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

Rev. Robert McLeod
little rock, arkansas

Scott Yenor replies:

Modernity’s birth dearth is a providential fact, in being mostly universal and enduring, and seeming to escape human power to affect. South Korea squeezed its birth rates down with propaganda serving the national interest. The United States has done the same via contraception and praising independence. The Chinese have accomplished it through tyranny. Such a singular, universal tendency makes one reflect on the deepest questions of the human being: Are the peoples of the world free within universal movements? Centuries ago, David Hume traced the decline in the populousness of nations to a lack of hope and faith in the future. Rev. McLeod’s note suggests ­materialism, with its humbling reduction of the human to matter in motion, as a common thread in birth declines. Maybe.

Conversely, I am inclined to think that the belief that we can overcome our creatureliness is what is at the root of our too ambitious attempts to conquer nature; that the human quest for autonomy—to be free from unchosen bonds and slavish bodies—encourages people to eschew parenthood; that human hope has been directed away from future generations and toward today’s temptation that we shall be like gods. Only those humbly submitting to the goodness of being created are reproducing at high enough rates. Not all have this baleful view in its deepest sense, of course, but it is part of our being modern people.

Shape-Shifting

Angela Franks’s essay on ­Judith Butler is a brilliant analysis of postmodern sexual metaphysics (“Judith Butler’s Trouble,” May 2023). She suggests that Butler’s nihilistic ontology has religious roots. When she rejected transcendence in her childhood Judaism, she lost hope in, as she put it, “final redemption.” This meant permanent diaspora, the end of any possibility of ever finding home, either nationally (as in Zionism) or personally (as in a sustained identity).

This explains the melancholy which Franks notes is the tone of Butler’s life and work. It is ­philosophical despair that should not surprise religious Jews and Christians who know that redemption remains, both among the people of God now and in the world to come.

Franks’s depiction of Butler’s tortured journey helps us understand today’s nihilism, the endless shape-shifting with neither form nor substance—only unending becoming without sustained being. This should warn us that any theological metaphysics which trades being for endless becoming (such as Barth’s, despite his claims not to do metaphysics) risks succumbing to sexual confusion.

Gerald McDermott
charlottesville, virginia

Tim Keller, RIP

Thank you for Kevin DeYoung’s review of the book Timothy Keller by Collin Hansen (“An American Evangelist,” May 2023). Kevin is a bit younger than I am (I am fifty-two), but his mature reflections are right where I and many of my friends and colleagues in ministry are in trying to make current sense of Dr. Keller’s place in our world. I needed to hear the positive encouragement toward Dr. Keller, but I also think Kevin’s gentle but clear disagreements are well-said—and necessary. Thank you for an honest and rich review of this book and of its presentation of Dr. Keller.

Rev. Joseph Carmichael
tuscaloosa, alabama

Kevin DeYoung replies:

I am grateful to Rev. ­Carmichael for his kind words regarding my review of Collin Hansen’s book on Tim Keller. Being close to both Collin and Tim, I wanted to highlight Tim’s wonderful ministry and Collin’s fine exploration of that ministry, while at the same time raising what I think are legitimate questions of theology and methodology. Sadly, yet triumphantly, since the publication of my essay, Tim finished his race and made it safely into the Celestial City. I hope that in the months and years ahead, other biographies—as well as articles, monographs, and ­dissertations—will be written, reflecting on Tim Keller as a man of ideas and a minister of the gospel. I’m sure Tim would want nothing less than a robust interaction with his life and legacy, especially if such discussion leads people to consider for themselves Christ’s death and resurrection and the reason for God.

Image by sferrario1968 licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift