My New Tattoo

I never expected to get a tattoo. Until two months ago, I fully expected to go to my grave ink-free.Then, as my wife and I were planning our just-completed vacation to Israel, I came upon a [R1] about a Christian Palestinian family in Jerusalem that for hundreds of years has been tattooing Orthodox Christians as a permanent commemoration of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I showed the story to my wife, and she voiced the thought that had popped into my head: “You should do it!” Continue Reading »

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Evangelicalism

Sometime in the mid-1990s, sickened by what I perceived as the shallowness of evangelical culture in suburban Wheaton, Illinois, I launched into the post-hippie, proto-hipster nightlife of Chicago. I roamed not yet fully gentrified streets with dropouts and homeless people, under the L-tracks and along the wind-battered shores of the third coast. The counter-culture then radiated from Belmont Avenue, which I imagined to be something like what Haight-Ashbury (since colonized by Ben & Jerry’s) must have been in 1969.Following one such night of seeking suburban Wheaton’s opposite, I experienced a moment of transfixing beauty. I wandered into Lincoln Park Zoo at dawn and had it all to myself—a solitary Adam among the animals. Then, as I watched sea lions frolic in the shallows of their tank I braced myself for a return to Wheaton College where I would reluctantly (and barely) finish my undergraduate degree. In my arrogance, I may have even thought to myself that I was returning to splash in the shallows with evangelicals like the animals before me. Continue Reading »

The Mantle of Elijah

Many think of Modern Orthodoxy as a tepid compromise, Orthodoxy Lite, an accommodation with the values of bourgeois culture, satisfied with mediocrity in the study of Torah and half-hearted about the demand for single-minded commitment to God and His commandments. From the 1930s through the 1980s Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik represented the alternative: an Orthodoxy centered on the service of God even while engaged with and concerned for the rest of humanity, deeply, almost obsessively devoted to the traditional study of Torah even while confronting and learning from the liberal arts. Until this week his son-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, was the most prominent exponent of that ideology in Israel, where he was Dean of Har-Etzion Yeshiva, and in the United States, where he frequently lectured and exercised influence via his many disciples. For all his admiration and faithfulness to his masters, R. Aharon fashioned his own distinctive intellectual agenda, while conducting his life with rigorous piety and an ethical sensitivity that had to be seen to be believed. I was a student of both, and now they are both gone. (Link: http://haretzion.org/about-us/rav-aharon-lichtenstein-ztl) Continue Reading »

Conservatives and Low-Skilled Workers

People in the Republican establishment have been suggesting that conservatives can either try to appeal to working-class whites by supporting limits to future immigration levels, or they can try to appeal to Hispanics by seeking to increase future immigration levels. The truth is that conservatives have never had to make this choice. In 2012, Republicans chose to alienate both working-class whites and Hispanics. In the future, conservatives should try to appeal to both groups by focusing on the economic priorities of those groups rather than ethnic gamesmanship.In the 2012 campaign, Romney's combination of economic priorities and immigration messaging proved especially toxic. On immigration, Romney advocated no amnesty and hoped that current unauthorized immigrants would self-deport. For Hispanics (and possibly even for Asians—among whom Romney did even worse than among Hispanics), the message was that Romney’s love for business owners was exceeded only by contempt for immigrants (legal and illegal). Continue Reading »

Remembering Number 84

He scored forty times in an eight-year NFL career, best known, now, for the touchdown he didn’t score, as the sun set over Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958. His wife of fifty-nine years, Joan, said that Jim Mutscheller, who died on April 10, wanted to be known as a man “who had led a good life,” for he was “quiet, humble, and so conservative that he’d eat crabs with a suit and tie on.”And therein lies a tale—and a yardstick by which to measure pro sports then and now. Continue Reading »

What the White House's Opposition to “Conversion Therapy” Means

In early April, the Obama administration responded to an online petition calling for a “Leelah’s Law” that would ban “conversion” therapies. The petition, launched in response to the suicide of a child born a boy and given the name Joshua Ryan Alcorn who felt himself to be a girl and called himself Leelah, conflated therapeutic practices aimed at treating gender dysphoria and those aimed at sexual orientation change. In response to the petition, the White House added its voice to a growing chorus of opposition to such therapies while doing little to clarify the petition’s confusion: “We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth,” wrote Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.” Continue Reading »

Hartford: A Reminiscence

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1975 “Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation.” Some of us who were signers have been quietly reminiscing about the project. One of my fellow participants wrote me about it recently, referring to “the ‘historic’(?) Hartford conclave.” Putting the “historic” in quotes with a parenthetical question mark rightly distanced the Appeal from any status as a major ecclesiastical document. The Appeal may show up in an occasional footnote these days, but its actual theological content is seldom recalled. Continue Reading »

Rethinking Theology and Matter with Ibn Gabirol

Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021–1058) was the first Jewish philosopher in Spain, but medieval Christians knew him only by his Latinized name, Avicebron, and they assumed that he was either a Christian or a Muslim. Most scholastics also thought he was a deeply misguided thinker. Gabirol was identified with the doctrine of universal hylomorphism—the idea that everything God creates is composed of form and matter—and treated as a precursor of the nominalist emphasis on the absolute freedom (and thus inscrutability) of God’s will. Some of his poetry remains in liturgical use in Judaism to this day, but his philosophy was all but forgotten. Even experts in medieval theology typically treat him as little more than a footnote to scholastic debates about how angels can be individuated without being embodied. Continue Reading »

When We Cared

Today, we mark the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. On April 24th, 1915, the nationalist Young Turks attempted to wipe out the Armenians, the oldest Christian nation, which adopted Christianity twelve years before the Edict of Milan. On this solemn anniversary, it is worth recalling the great aid European and American Christians and Jews gave the Armenians. This legacy should lead us to not remain silent in the face of today’s extermination of Middle Eastern Christians and fight the politically convenient yet disturbing tendency to deny that what happened in the Ottoman Empire a century ago was genocide.For centuries, the Armenians lived in relative peace in the Ottoman Empire. The Koran’s stance towards non-Christians is inconsistent. At some points, it advocates the persecution of all non-Muslims (kaffirs), but in others it advocates tolerance for Christians and Jews, as they are “peoples of the Book.” The Ottomans applied the latter passages with regards to the followers of Abrahamic religions in its millet system, which gave religious minorities self-rule. Continue Reading »

Confession and the Armenian Genocide

My grandmother often talked about her father’s crucifixion to my mother and my aunt. Today my aunt still vividly remembers her lamenting the atrocities of the Armenian massacres that spread throughout the Ottoman Empire one hundred years ago.The family called my great grandfather Haji Dede. He was a beloved low level cleric of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the village of Tomarza in the Kayseri region of central Turkey. In 1915, the killers came to Tomarza. They put Haji Dede up on some crossbeams, and turned him upside down like Saint Peter. I have no further narrative or details of what else they did to him before he died. Other sources have noted that a pre-killing ritual of men, especially clergy, often involved pulling out their beards. Victims could undergo other barbaric humiliations and tortures, beheading, or be burned alive. The Armenians who neither survived nor were butchered outright, died on death marches. Continue Reading »