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

Stewardship of the Reader's Eyes

The central paradox of censorship, according to the historian Paul S. Boyer, is that however sane and fair-minded your set of standards might be, the people who end up doing the censoring will always be the last ones you’d trust with the responsibility. Considered in the abstract, Boyer’s rule makes sense. Continue Reading »

Stephen Colbert and the Southern Catholic Charism

Forgive us if we pack the streets around Ed Sullivan Theatre next spring, searching the sky for plumes of white smoke. True, the transition from David Letterman to Stephen Colbert hardly calls for a conclave, and the future of the Late Show has little to do with the life of the Church worldwide. Even so, it feels like a momentous occasion for Catholics, who despite constituting the largest religious body in the country, usually search in vain for signs of communion in popular culture (that second-largest religious body—lapsed Catholics—offers a more populous field of celebrity ambassadors). Continue Reading »

Grateful Hearts

During the 1970s Paul Williams’s talents as a singer, songwriter, composer and actor were in high demand. His song, “Evergreen”— sung by Barbara Streisand for the film A Star is Born—won an Academy Award and reached number one on the pop charts. He produced similar hits for the Carpenters, Helen Reddy, and David Bowie. He wrote the celebrated score for Bugsy Malone, and appeared in numerous films himself—stealing the show as a wisecracking bootlegger in Smokey and the Bandit. On television, Williams became a ubiquitous presence, co-hosting the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows, and appearing on the Tonight Show an astonishing forty-eight times. In 1979, Williams became even more famous when he wrote The Rainbow Connection, the theme for Jim Henson’s Muppet Movie. Continue Reading »


Television industry insiders have a term for poignant segments of sitcoms that offer a brief, feel good, serious life lesson: “moment of sh-t,” or MOS. These MOSes are usually relatively lighthearted. But sitcoms with a social agenda, like Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcoms of the 1970s, often had heavier messages—some admirable, others not so much. Archie Bunker learns at his friend’s funeral that his friend with whom he shared anti-Semitic jokes for years was actually h Continue Reading »

Social Liberal Hubris

Mark Udall’s senatorial defeat might have been the sweetest victory for social conservatism on Tuesday. He organized his campaign around the theme that Republicans were hostile to women, and that his opponents would ban contraception—and all of this with a side order of abortion extremism. Udall’s defeat by Cory Gardner (and the mockery Udall has received across the political spectrum) might indicate that the Democratic “war on women” campaign tactic has outlived its usefulness. Maybe it has, but social conservatives should be careful to distinguish between Mark Udall’s war on women campaign, and the more effective (though still overrated) war on women campaign run by Barack Obama in 2012. Continue Reading »

The Way God Conducts Us

At an academic conference not too long ago, I delivered a paper on St. Paul’s view of marriage and celibacy. In my paper, I took Paul’s side, extolling his vision of marriage and celibacy as interlocking, mutually reinforcing Christian vocations. On the one hand, I said, marriage can be a melody hummed by any pedestrian Christian couple that still calls to mind the full grandeur of the symphony of Christ’s love for the Church. Likewise, the Christian celibate can bear witness to that same love. By giving up the solace of an earthly spouse and the prospect of birthing heirs, the celibate gestures with her very body to a future time when “they neither marry nor are given in marriage . . . because they are equal to angels” (Luke 20:35, 36). Continue Reading »

Bessie’s House

Five years ago, Mike Low started Bessie’s House in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood, where unemployment is at 16 percent and median household income is $25,000. An average resident has a one-in-twelve chance of being the victim of a violent crime. Any way you measure it, the place is stuck in poverty. But Low sees something different. Continue Reading »

Exploded into Being by Divine Love

I’ve long been fascinated by cosmology, although my deficiencies as a mathematician preclude my really following the arguments of astrophysicists, high-energy particle physicists, and others exploring the origins of the universe. Yet the fascination remains and it was kindled anew by a May 12 article in the Boston Globe Magazine about Alan Guth, a key figure in current explorations of what happened in the Big Bang, the orthodox explanation for How Things Started. Continue Reading »



Filter Web Exclusive Articles