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
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
Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 3:36 PM
by Marcia Segelstein
As a former producer for CBS News, perhaps I’m especially sensitive to the often subtle bias (to say nothing of the obvious kind) that pervades the media. It’s a bias found in questions asked and unasked, in conclusions drawn and not drawn, and in stories covered and not covered.
In Sunday’s New York Times, for example, Philip Galanes interviewed Pat Loud, matriarch of the California family followed around by PBS cameras in the early 1970’s. “An American Family,” which aired in 1973, was famous (or infamous) for many things, among them the fact that Pat Loud divorced her husband and left her family while Americans watched with fascination from their living rooms. In the Times interview, Loud says that she came to New York in 1974 and became a literary agent. Galanes asks what she thinks her life would be today if they hadn’t done the TV show. “I’ve often tried to figure that out. I would have been up in that house, and my kids would have all gone, and I would have the empty-nest syndrome. So I beat them to it. I got out of there before they did.” Carole Radziwill, a current reality TV star being interviewed along with Loud, responds with this: “In a way, the show probably allowed you to live your more authentic life.” “Absolutely,” Loud responds. Really? She isn’t asked if she has any regrets about divorcing her husband and leaving her kids, especially given what we now know about the negative effects of divorce on children. Instead she gets a pat on the back for her “authenticity.” It’s also interesting to note that Loud and her ex-husband reunited several years later (without remarrying) while taking care of one of their sons who was dying of AIDS.
Meanwhile, the Times Magazine section had a piece called “Unintentional Motherhood” about a study conducted on women who were unable to have abortions for various reasons, mostly because they left it too late. The piece starts with the story of “S,” not one of the women studied, but one who fits the profile. “The pregnancy had crept up on S. She was a strong believer in birth control – in high school she was selected to help teach sex education. But having been celibate for months and strapped for cash, she stopped taking the pill. Then an ex-boyfriend came around.” Unable to have an abortion and unwilling to consider adoption, she had the baby and moved in with her extended family. “S. now says that Baby S. is the best thing that ever happened to her.” She told the reporter, “She is more than my best friend, more than the love of my life…She is just my whole world.” It turns out that S’s experience is consistent with the study, conducted by Diana Greene Foster, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. According to Foster “about 5 percent of the women, after they have had the baby, still wish they hadn’t. And the rest of them adjust.” The piece continues, emphasizing the point: “[W]omen rarely regret having a child, even one they thought they didn’t want.” There’s real news here, but it’s never even stated. If only 5% of the women studied still wish they’d had an abortion, that means that 95% don’t. Now there’s a headline.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 4:50 PM
I hope you enjoy this as much as we did here at the Touchstone office. From Randall Smith for The Catholic Thing.
The Mystery of Esolen: Who Are They?
By Randall Smith
Thursday, 09 May 2013
I had a bet going with a friend of mine, a priest who spends a lot of time reading Catholic magazines and web sites, who is convinced that “Anthony Esolen” isn’t just one person. It’s the pen name of a group of writers, feverishly working simultaneously, who all send out their stuff under the same name.
“Look,” said my friend, “here’s ‘Esolen’ on The Catholic Thing today. ‘Esolen’ had another piece on Crisis yesterday, and I saw three pieces by ‘Esolen’ in Touchstone last week. In the past week alone, this so-called ‘Esolen’ has pieces in Public Discourse, First Things, and the Catholic World Report. You can’t open up a Catholic blog without seeing ‘Esolen’ these days. And this same guy has supposedly translated all of Dante’s Commedia, written The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child? And then, while I’m reading my copy of Magnificat daily, I regularly see reflections by the same guy? Don’t tell me that’s all one person.”
I had to admit he had a point.
“Anthony Esolen is probably just some coded acronym that stands for something,” my friend insisted.
“Like what?” I asked, still somewhat doubtful.
“Well, Anthony suggests oneness, like the hermit St. Anthony of the Desert. And then the name Esolen probably stands for the six different writers who produce all this stuff in concert with one another, like Edward, Simon, Oscar, Luke, Earnest, and Nigel, or something like that.”
. . .
Monday, May 20, 2013, 5:17 PM
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We strongly support the Boy Scouts of America current prohibition on open homosexuality and retaining it without revision. Nearly 70 percent of BSA troops are hosted by churches and religious institutions. Upholding traditional morality is vital for sustaining this partnership, for protecting Scout members, and for ensuring BSA has a strong future. A proposal from the BSA board to prohibit “discrimination” based on “sexual orientation or preference” for BSA members potentially would open the Scouts to a wide range of open sexual expressions. In our current culture, it is more important than ever for our churches to protect and provide moral nurture for young people and for the Scouts. We implore members of the upcoming BSA Council to affirm the BSA’s present policy, which the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed, and which has served BSA well.
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