Thursday, July 18, 2013, 11:25 AM
R.R. Reno reviews The Beauty of the Infinite, by David B. Hart
Some decades ago the novelist Malcolm Cowley observed that literary culture tends to shift and change in thirty-year, generational stages, an insight that surely applies beyond the realm of literature. One need not be a brilliant social critic to observe that the last three decades have been relentlessly and homogeneously “post-sixties.”
Gore Vidal still writes diatribes. David Horowitz still inveighs against tenured radicals. Undergraduates still read Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Book catalogues burst with new titles, but the assumptions, themes, and rhetoric are anything but new. By a thirty-year reckoning, American intellectual life is creakingly old—perhaps even dead and worm-ridden.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 10:25 AM
by Lance Nixon
An odd thing happens to Samwise Gamgee on the journey toward Mordor. Defending his wounded master, Frodo, from the attack of the giant spider Shelob, Sam is all but certain that he is going to die. Then a thought comes to him “as if some remote voice had spoken,” and Sam takes up the Phial of Galadriel, the gift of the elf queen, and speaks her name out loud. J. R. R. Tolkien goes on to say inThe Two Towers:
And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know:
“A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon sí di’nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!”
Saturday, July 13, 2013, 9:19 AM
by Leon J. Podles
Jews have for millennia felt the temptation to be like other peoples, to be like the nations, to have gods they can see and touch, to have a king, not to stand out and be despised by the Gentiles. It is a temptation, because God has chosen them to be set apart from all other nations, to be his holy people, for his own mysterious purposes, until the time comes when the Messiah shall unite the Gentiles and the Jews in their historical reality. Until that time, assimilation is a temptation—and a temptation that will lead to the disappearance of the Jews who want to become like Gentiles.
Over the past two centuries, some Jews have been tempted to imitate liberal Protestantism in abandoning the unique role of the male, especially of the father. Liberal Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist) has succeeded in doing this, and thus, like liberal Protestantism, liberal Judaism is disappearing.
Friday, July 12, 2013, 10:49 AM
by Anthony Esolen
Mars Hill, about A.D. 51. You’re a raffish Jew from the outback, one Paul of Tarsus, by way of Palestine, Antioch, and all the cowtowns of Asia Minor. You’re going to preach the Good News to well-heeled Athenians who have long lost any vibrant belief in the gods, or any real devotion to their country; though they probably still practice gymnastics, and a couple of them may recite Homer.
You’re no great orator, and you don’t have much of a body, but that’s all right. The Athenians will be polite enough to listen to you anyway. What else do they have to do? Not a lot, as your friend Luke will remark.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 11:30 AM
by Randall B. Smith
Let me say first off that the idea of a “last lecture” series—in which the speaker is expected to answer the question, “What would you say if this were the last lecture you would give in your life?”—is a good one; indeed, it has had a long and noble tradition within philosophy. Yet when I was first invited to give a “last lecture,” I demurred, for two reasons.
First, I associate such lectures with death. And although I’m getting a bit creaky in the joints, I’m not ready to pack it in just yet. But then, upon reflection, I realized that death can come to anyone at any time. So perhaps all of us—including me—ought to be ready to deliver our “last lecture” at any moment if called upon to do so.
The other, more important reason I was uncomfortable with the thought of delivering a “last lecture” is that I have always assumed that such a talk should be delivered by someone wise. And sadly, I am not. But then I realized that, although I am not especially wise, I know some people who are. So I decided that, instead of giving my own “last lecture,” I should talk about the last lectures of two particularly wise and important men: Socrates and Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 AM
review by Peter J. Scaer
Many of my conservative friends, pastors who stand squarely within the Church’s Great Tradition, no longer pay much attention to Biblical Scholarship. Some feel it is too esoteric. Others complain about its clinical, too technical nature. Still others feel as if they have been burned too often by its liberalism. As if the Jesus of scholarship is so far removed from the biblical Jesus as to be unrecognizable.
Rudolf Bultmann taught us that the real Jesus was irretrievably buried beneath layers of history, and that the Resurrection was an unknowable event. TheJesus Seminartook skepticism about our knowledge of Jesus to new heights (or depths), even as folks like Bart Ehrmann, who appears to take pleasure in enumerating perceived biblical errors, seem to get all the press.
Yet, perhaps, it’s time for another look. This past decade has witnessed an insurgency. Some of biblical scholarship’s most talked about books have been written by scholars who have largely supported, using the tools of their discipline, the accuracy of the Gospel accounts.
Monday, July 1, 2013, 4:45 PM
review by Hunter Baker
His name is Odd. Not Todd. Odd. When you look into the origins of his name, they aren’t clear. Maybe it was some strange kind of family name. Perhaps it was a mistake on the birth certificate. The young man’s parents aren’t sure themselves. It is as if the Lord wanted to express the metaphysical truth of this exceptional individual and so arranged to have him legally proclaimed Odd.
Odd is a saint, a short order cook, a man of sorrows, a gentle spirit who sometimes has to be violent, a person in possession of immediate and personal proof of the afterlife, and, therefore, a natural enemy of nihilism because he knows that everything counts. Odd frequently finds himself surrounded by the darkest darkness. It is sometimes literally chilling, but the ultimate effect is to make his goodness shine more brilliantly.
The creator of Odd Thomas is a man who is probably the single best-selling Christian author on the planet. He has sold over 450,000,000 books, a number that grows by an estimated 17,000,000 each year. And his name is not Rick Warren, Jerry Jenkins, or Bruce Wilkinson. Those who pass by the paperback racks on their way through the supermarket line will recognize the name of Dean Koontz. His work has successfully spanned changes in the book business from the time of Waldenbooks, through the era of Barnes and Noble, all the way to Amazon and the oncoming dominance of ebooks. He has been cranking out bestsellers dwelling on the great clash between good and evil for decades.
“But a Christian author?” you ask. Indeed he is. And while he admits to having lapsed as a Catholic in the past, the spiritual depth and urgency of his work only increases with time. With his novel The Taking(2004), one could begin to see that he was an author with explicit Christian concerns. At the outset, The Taking appears to be a story about aliens abducting human beings, but it turns out to be a highly original tale of the Rapture. But if you really want to discover Koontz’s Abbey Road when it comes to things of the spirit, you have to get to know Odd.
Monday, July 1, 2013, 2:00 PM
by C.R. Wiley
When it comes to the opinion of the people who matter, the Shakers are hip. They had all the correct views: They practiced sustainable agriculture, they had gender equality, and they even reduced their carbon footprint to almost zero. (At this writing, there are said to be only three Shakers left in North America—that’s what celibacy will do for you if you don’t watch out.)
Today, Shaker villages appear to be populated mostly by supporters of National Public Radio. Amish communities do not seem to have the same appeal. A superficial assessment might lead you to believe that, if you love one, you should love the other: long dresses, straw hats, cows, the simple life, community—both have them. But there are differences in the ways the two sects relate the individual to the common life, and the common life to the natural order, that I think correspond to differences between the thought patterns of several identifiably different castes. If you like Fox News, you probably like the Amish; if you prefer the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, you likely favor the Shakers.
So why is that? On the one hand, it comes down to sex. If you are the sort who sees a telos in sex—namely, children—then you should like the Amish. But if you’re the sort who thinks sex should serve personal goals—if you see children as an avoidable and even unfortunate consequence of sex—then you probably like the Shakers.
Monday, July 1, 2013, 11:46 AM
by Patrick Henry Reardon
Nearly half-a-century ago, when I was a student in Italy, I loved to spend the summers in France. Memory, I confess, returns readily to that period. Indeed, one of those golden days comes forcefully to mind as I compose this page.
It was a bright and beautiful morning, as I hiked along a country road down in the Savoy region. Coming around a corner on a hill, I thought I discerned a conversation in Italian somewhere up ahead; it was, in fact, a group of workers resurfacing the road. Hearing Italian in that region would not be too surprising, given that Savoy once belonged to the Kingdom of Sardinia, and for centuries that melodious southern tongue was not unknown in the western Alps.
Friday, June 28, 2013, 3:40 PM
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by Bradley W. Anderson
When the Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at long last decided to allow his reclusive privacy in Vermont to be invaded by theNew York Timesfor a 1980 interview, he did so under one condition: he would speak only to one man at theTimes: Hilton Kramer, their chief art critic. It was an unusual request, since there were any number of literary or foreign-affairs experts who would have been more logical choices from the perspective of theTimes. Solzhenitsyn was perhaps the most famous and unapologetic Russian Orthodox Christian in the world, and yet he chose, as the one man he trusted at theNew York Times, a not particularly religious man.
What mattered was that Kramer’s reputation for honesty had preceded him, making him someone Solzhenitsyn could depend on to tell the truth—something Solzhenitsyn, too, valued above all other qualities. Sealing the deal was perhaps Kramer’s review ofThe Gulag Archipelagoin theTimesa couple of years prior. From that essay alone, Solzhenitsyn would have known that Kramer believed what was told in theGulag—a story of systematic and decades-long terror in the Soviet Union going back to the earliest days of the Bolshevik revolution.
Perhaps just as importantly, Solzhenitsyn knew from Kramer’s other writings on art and culture that he was no jingoistic booster of whatever America and the West happened to be up to at the moment. Kramer rather shared the Russian author’s skeptical view of where Western culture was headed—deep into a world of nihilism, unbelief, and cultural decadence. While each was coming from a different vantage point—Solzhenitsyn from without, Kramer from within—both were observing the phenomenon and critiquing it with tools fashioned from the flotsam and jetsam of a disintegrating culture
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