Marriage, Morality, and Culture

The tide is going out. Words like fornication have a musty, antiquated ring. Unwed mothers no longer suffer social stigma. Divorce has become common. The large, complicated human reality of sexual desire, mating, romance, and childrearing no longer finds itself ruled by elaborate and widely accepted social norms. And now, of course, we are in the midst of a drive toward same-sex marriage… . Continue Reading »

What Happened at Medjugorje?

In 1981, a year after the death of ex-Yugoslavia’s communist dictator, Josip Broz Tito, events in Medjugorje, a small town in Bosnia-Hercegovina, began to stir the Christian world. Six Croatian Catholic children-four girls and two boys, then aged from ten to sixteen-claimed to have experienced visions of the Virgin Mary. Even now, after twenty-eight years, three of the Medjugorje seers still report nightly visitations … Continue Reading »

Yeah, But What Was in It for Mother Teresa?

This article by Richard John Neuhaus, who passed away January 8, 2009, was published in the February 1999 issue of First Things, and is reprinted below in honor of the feast day of Mother Teresa.A couple of years ago physicist Alan Sokal published an article in Social Text arguing in the most abstruse postmodernistic jargon that gravity, among other things, is a social construct. It was a hoax, of course, and when Sokol publicly revealed the fact it caused quite a sensation, heaping embarrassment upon the editors and their academic colleagues who had long since lost the capacity to discern the difference between rational discourse and their trendy gibberish. The academy was not amused… . Continue Reading »

Free Is Not God

I need to start by acknowledging my vested interest, as a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired Magazine, in celebrating the marketing concept of “Free,” which is, in essence, about profit-making through giveaways, does not worry about the livelihood of people like me. Ideally, in his thinking, basic content will be the thing provided for free, while the delivery modes and add-ons alone”computer hardware, broadband subscriptions, advertising, and so on”bring in the actual revenue. In the tones of the hip youngsters”“Generation Free””whom he claims will drive the future in a single trajectory, he writes, “Plus, stealing a physical thing deprives someone else of it and costs real money”not so for a digital file.” Since I doubt that (as he claims) I could make up for lost royalties by appearance fees and T-shirt sales, I feel personally annoyed at Anderson’s crusade… . Continue Reading »

Religion and Violence

On January 29, 2008, the editors of First Things graciously posted an article of mine called “Atheism and Violence.” It attempted to puncture the thesis of the New Atheists that religion is an anthropological phenomenon that uniquely leads unsuspecting and otherwise super-nice human beings to unmotivated acts of pointless violence. Tied to that notion is its correlative thesis, which the New Atheists also preposterously defend: that the demise of religion and the spread of atheism will inevitably lead to a future earthly eschaton of peace and harmony”nothing to kill or die for, no religion too… . Continue Reading »

The Catholic Donnybrook; One Kennedy Legacy?

In John Ford’s classic film, The Quiet Man, John Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a quintessential American gone back to Ireland to connect with his roots. He marries Mary Kate Danaher, who warns him with a measure of pride, “I have a fearsome temper; we Danahers are a fighting people.” The highlight of the film is an epic donnybrook pitting Thornton against Mary Kate’s brother, the bellicose “Red” Will Danaher; it is a fight over cultural and moral understandings, and as the fisticuffs spill through a meadow and into the towns and pubs, the townspeople enthusiastically join in. Other communities send spectators and even the priests and bishops look on and make discreet wagers… . Continue Reading »

On Butterflies and Being

We are living this year in a cottage in the forest, halfway up the slope and under the slightly furrowed brow of a green mountain whose ridge forms our western horizon, and over which the brief twilight rises in the evening as a pale gold thinly fringed with dark amethyst. The days are filled with the incessant clamor of stridulating and timbalating insects, to which at night”undiminished”is added the mighty song of the Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum, for those with a taste for taxonomic Latin) and the sweet belling of the Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis). Earlier in the summer, the woods were full of fireflies, but they are gone now… Continue Reading »

Confessions of a Health Care Rationer

My son summarized my new situation with typical teenage irreverence: “Gee, Dad, after thirty years of providing health care, your new job is denying it.” It’s a funny line, of course, if somewhat harsh. I’ll probably let him out of his room in a few weeks. But his quip is largely untrue. Its bite comes from the fact that it’s not entirely untrue. It’s a strange turn of events, really. After all, I have always been opposed to healthcare rationing. But, then, I have always been opposed to aging, too. I have come to recognize the fundamental similarity between the two… . Continue Reading »

The Politics of Selective Indignation

The online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education for August 10, 2009 carries an article by Carlin Romano called “The Shame of Academe and Fascism, Then and Now.” I’m hoping that this essay will cause some pangs of conscience among the privileged classes of administrators, professors and students in our nation’s elite universities in regard to its eerie silence surrounding the crushing of the pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, although it probably will not… . Continue Reading »

War, Progress, and Caritas

The recent encyclical on social doctrine, Caritas in Veritatae, has raised interesting questions about international cooperation and development. I’ve certainly had some good conversations. But I’ve been struck by a fairly widespread lack of acquaintance with War, Progress, and the End of History: Three Conversations Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ by Vladimir Solovyov (1853“1900). It’s a book that is worth knowing, not the least because it bears directly on a central theme of Caritas in Veritatae: “humanity’s journey towards unity.” … Continue Reading »