Freeing Protestantism from Liberalism

Once upon a time, everyone followed a simple, relaxed, guilt-free religion, uncluttered by rites and dogmas. Along came the greedy priests, who complicated and corrupted everything. They added ceremonies and demanded payment for their performance, elaborated precise doctrines, and persecuted deviants, and in all this perverted the God-and-me immediacy of true religion. It’s as predictable as gravity: From the beginning, every religion devolves from primitive purity to decadent ritualism… . Continue Reading »

Humor in Defense of Virtue

Hrosvitha of Gandersheim wrote her six short comedies in a German convent. An educated woman, she constructed the theatre pieces in response to the “licentious” women depicted in the plays of the Roman playwright Terence. By her own admission she imitated his style… . Continue Reading »

Learning from the Virgin Mary

I love the Feast of the Assumption. The readings for today include a dragon ready to devour the son of the sun-clothed Queen of Heaven. And then there is the magnificat, the Virgin Mary’s hymn of thanksgiving and praise: “My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior”… . Continue Reading »

Trayvon Martin and Divine Justice

The week after the Travon Martin case was decided, we Jews found ourselves reading the early parts of Deuteronomy: “Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising; That the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live.” The manslaughterer was to remain in such a city for several years, until the death of the high priest. If he stepped outside the city, the relatives of the dead could take their vengeance… . Continue Reading »

All Happy Families are Unalike

Ah, the winsome sounds of a grandson in meltdown sweep up to my study and inspire this reflection. I did not find it quite so irritating, I do not think, when the child that became his mother was doing the same thing at age four. In any case, he is learning: The sufferings of life begin early… . Continue Reading »

What I Learned From Robert Bellah

I learned much from the late Robert Bellah. His widely discussed (and widely criticized) 1967 essay on civil religion chastened me for my habit of issuing unnuanced condemnations of civil religion as such. And Habits of the Heart, written by team of scholars led by Bellah and published in 1985, has been a continuing resource for me on a variety of subjects”especially worship… . Continue Reading »

On Really Not Getting It

In the wake of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnells homicide convictions this past May, several state legislatures began crafting laws that would protect unborn life at earlier stages of gestation while shutting down horror houses like Gosnell’s Philadelphia “clinic.” Whether these laws will stand constitutional scrutiny remains to be seen; what is worth noting now is the degree to which deeply-entrenched supporters of the unrestricted abortion license created by the Supreme Court in 1973 still don’t get it … Continue Reading »

In Defense of Dylan’s Voice

If you have been following Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, online or in person, you’ll notice that a lot of people, even some who are self-professed Dylanologists, have been complaining about the roughness of his voice. To these critics I say: Complaining about Dylan’s voice is like complaining that your scotch tastes too peaty. If you want something sweet, get a colorless spirit that easily surrenders to the overwhelming invasion of fruit juice. Otherwise, let his voice burn your ears just as it sounds like it is blistering his throat when he sings… . Continue Reading »

Is Jesus a Baptist?

Catholic theologians speak of a “hierarchy of truths”, a phrase found in Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio, 11). This concept does not mean that some truths are truer than others, or that the Catholic faithful are free to pick and choose among the teachings of their church as they please… . Continue Reading »

Personal Great Books

Some books are great: Middlemarch by George Eliot, for example, or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. They’re historically important, influential, and seminal. But the monuments of Western culture are not the same as personal touchstones. It’s not just the intrinsic value of certain books”their “greatness””that makes them existentially arresting; it’s also the time and place when they happen to fall into our hands… . Continue Reading »