From the Archives: Stirred by Shakers
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.

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From the Archives: An Inconvenient Task
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.

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From the Current Issue: Kramer’s Criteria
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
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Media Watch: Motherhood
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.

The Esolen
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.”

. . .

Continue reading.

Statement by Religious Leaders on Boy Scouts
Monday, May 20, 2013, 5:17 PM

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.

(Titles are for identification only.)

Give a Gift Subscription
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 2:41 PM

Recently I was asked to give a short talk for a young couple at a bridal shower. As I prepared my remarks, I found that next to the Scriptures, I most relied upon past issues of Touchstone Magazine. I spent three days surveying the archives and my own hard copies for suitable commentary on the joy of marriage and the importance of recognizing the holiness of the covenant we make with each other and Christ. Each issue with which I reacquainted myself offered an article from which much Biblically inspired wisdom could be mined. I realized how very thankful I am for the wealth of Christian thought I have had access to over the last fifteen years. Touchstone Magazine has strengthened my convictions and sharpened my ability to defend my faith. This realization has prompted me to begin a tradition of giving Touchstone Magazine as wedding gift to young couples.

In Christ,
Gina M. Danaher

Give a subscription to Touchstone!

And here is a selection of articles on Christian marriage:

A Rite for the Uncommitted: Samuel Pascoe on “Shacking Up”

Five Rings & a Wedding: Marriage & the Concentric Communities That Surround It by Allan Carlson

Sexes United–A review of Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese reviewed by Anne Hendershott

Meaningful Intercourse: The Rise & Fall of the Sexual Constitution of Christian Civilization by Allan Carlson

One Flesh of Purest Gold: John Chrysostom’s Discovery of the Blessings & Mysteries of Marriage by Mike Aquilina

Jonathan V. Last on Faith, Hope & the Coming Population Implosion
Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 9:29 AM

From the new issue of Touchstone:

cover 26 03 Jonathan V. Last on Faith, Hope & the Coming Population Implosion

May/June 2013

INTERVIEW by Les Sillars

Whispers of Doom

The overall U.S. birthrate fell in 2011 to its lowest point since the government started tracking it in 1920. It now sits at about 63 births per 1,000 women in the prime childbearing ages of 15–44, according to a Pew Research Center study released late last year.

That’s a bad sign of a problem that goes far beyond the United States, according to Weekly Standard writer Jonathan V. Last, author of the recently released What to Expect When No One’s Expecting (Encounter Books, 2013).

Les Sillars (LS): The subtitle of your book is America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, yet you emphasize that it’s hard to say what will happen, and some even speculate about positive effects of a “population implosion.”

Jonathan Last (JL): You don’t want to run around yelling, “We’re doomed! We’re doomed!” So I tried not to do that. Yet I do kind of think that we’re doomed. So I try to walk around whispering, “We’re doomed.”

LS: How soon until we’re doomed?

JL: Probably the 2050s, which is when you see the global population weaken and begin its contraction. Nothing will collapse in the next ten years. And in the very long term, as my demographer friend likes to say, everything will be fine, because birthrates are not constant across populations. In America, for instance, women who attend church weekly have a very healthy fertility rate of 2.5 or 2.6 children each. For secular women, it’s very low, something like 1.5. So in the very long run, the orthodox will literally inherit the earth [laughs].

We’re not going to breed ourselves into extinction. What worries me is, what will they inherit? Will we have a world in which social structures have collapsed? We like to think of Western civilization as being very stable. I’m of the view that it’s probably not; it’s something that needs to be protected and treasured.

“The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor” reviewed by Ralph C. Wood
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 10:33 AM

From the new issue of Touchstone.

A Fierce Holiness

The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor
by Jonathan Rogers

reviewed by Ralph C. Wood

In 1922 G. K. Chesterton famously described the United States as “a nation with the soul of a church.” Unlike virtually all European countries of his time, America had no established state church. Yet it was still founded on a creed—namely, on a set of stated Enlightenment principles that overtly acknowledged God while refusing to enforce religious tests. Though Chesterton was far from convinced that Americans had created a sure remedy against tyranny, he might have noticed what was strange about his attraction to the obstreperous and boundary-bending Walt Whitman.

It was strange because Whitman’s heterodoxy is in thorough accord with the other major nineteenth-century American authors: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Twain, Melville, Dickinson. Like Faulkner and Frost and Stevens in the twentieth century, they all had deeply religious concerns, but none of them was animated by a confessionally Christian vision. On the contrary, they found themselves ill at ease with a Christianity that closely tracked the nation’s political life, such that being American and being Christian were virtually synonymous. The worship and witness of the churches offered them a challenge insufficiently distinctive for their embrace as imaginative writers.

Not until the middle years of the twentieth century did such a writer appear on the American scene, a woman who came from the margins rather than the center of the nation’s churchly “soul.” Flannery O’Connor was an outsider in almost every sense. She grew up in Milledgeville, a small city in middle Georgia. She was a devout Roman Catholic in an overwhelmingly Protestant region. And she created a fiction marked by such physical violence and religious vehemence that many readers find it uncongenial. Yet therein lies her revolutionary importance: her fiction goes against the grain of American moral and religious life.

Endorsement and Academic Freedom by John Garvey
Thursday, April 11, 2013, 9:59 AM

Debates About Commencement Speakers & Student Groups Reveal a Double Standard

This is the time of year when we begin to argue about commencement speakers. Every spring Catholic colleges attract attention for inviting (or disinviting) speakers whose messages are at odds with the teaching of the Catholic Church. This matter of honoring commencement speakers is a lot like another issue we wrestle with throughout the academic year—giving official recognition to student groups. Both issues touch on an institution’s expression of its own identity. I’d like to offer some thoughts relevant to this year’s inevitable round of debates.

In spring 2012 there was a flap over Georgetown University’s choice of Kathleen Sebelius to speak at the commencement of its Public Policy Institute. The Department of Health and Human Services, which Sebelius heads, had just announced that it would force Catholic colleges and universities to cover surgical sterilizations and prescription contraceptives, including some that may cause early-stage abortions, in the healthcare plans they offer to students and employees. The archbishop of Washington protested the invitation of Sebelius, as did some 27,000 people who signed a petition.

It was like the dispute in 2009 when Notre Dame invited President Obama to give its commencement speech and awarded him an honorary degree. Let me focus my attention on that one, because the facts are better known. The president is a strong supporter of abortion. As a state senator in Illinois, he opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, intended to prevent the killing of infants who survived an abortion attempt. As a presidential candidate, he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. He wasn’t in office as president for three days before he lifted restrictions on government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad.

Giving the president an honorary degree seemed to be a tacit endorsement of these views by the university. Fr. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, disowned this meaning in his speech to the graduates. When he introduced Obama he said, “We are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose [the president’s] policies on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.” But that did little to still the controversy. Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne–South Bend decided not to attend the graduation rather than suggest his approval of the president’s policies, and 82 other bishops joined him in condemning Notre Dame for its action.

Who was in the right there?

Continue reading. . . .
(with responses by Russell D. Moore, Patrick Henry Reardon, Hunter Baker, and Gregory L. Jao)

This article is from the upcoming May/June 2013 issue of Touchstone.

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