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Love at Arm’s Length: The Dark Knight Can Do Anything but Give You His Heart

Love at Arm’s Length: The Dark Knight Can Do Anything but Give You His Heart

Wenatchee the Hatchet continues his series, “Justice Has Its Price: The Exiles and Orphans of the Justice League,” with this look at the character of Batman.

Over the years the Batman given to us by Kevin Conroy, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm has done a lot of things. Batman has foiled the Joker repeatedly. He has overcome worlds of illusion to stop the Mad Hatter. He has thwarted Ra’s al Ghul’s plans to kill most of humanity. He has outsmarted the Riddler. He’s done battle with Lex Luthor. He’s battled magicians. He’s even managed to dodge Darkseid’s Omega beams. It would seem there’s…

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From the Magazine: Molly Worthen on Cultural Identity in the American Church

With the Church Issue out the door and hitting mailboxes this week, we thought it might be prudent to post a teaser edition of our amazing interview with religious historian and New York Times contributor Molly Worthen. 

If you want to order the Church Issue or subscribe, this is the place to do it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.15.30 AMIn the introduction to her 2014 book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, historian and journalist Molly Worthen sets out to reappraise the term “evangelical”—both what it has meant and what it continues to mean today. She discusses the inherent distrust of American evangelical culture in the wider public sphere, where evangelicals on the whole are typecasted as hostile or anachronistic, too blinded by an authoritarian faith to confront the discoveries of science and reason. Yet Worthen argues that this characterization misrepresents wide swaths of evangelicals, that, on the whole, evangelicals are far more thoughtful and diverse than most critics realize. Worthen argues that evangelicals have been further from ‘authoritarian’ than the intellectual spheres that so readily spurn them:

The central source of anti-intellectualism in evangelical life is the antithesis of “authoritarianism.” It is evangelicals’ ongoing crisis of authority—their struggle to reconcile reason with revelation, heart with head, and private piety with the public square—that best explains their anxiety and animosity toward intellectual life. Thinkers in the democratic West celebrate their freedom of thought but practice a certain kind of unwavering obedience—bowing to the Enlightenment before all other gods—that allows modern intellectual life to function. Evangelicals, by contrast, are torn between sovereign powers that each claim supremacy.

In a way, this tension has been the story of the Church universal, perpetually buffeted between the unique revelation of truth in Jesus Christ, and the world of independent thought that also demands their everyday consideration. The Church, for better or worse, tends to operate in tandem with these powers, which has always led to tricky (and often, precarious) outcomes.

Worthen argues that evangelicals today are still searching for firm footing. As a journalist, the current moments of discord seem of particular interest to her. Her articles in the New York Times often engage the tension between the doctrines of tolerance given us by secular liberalism, and the exclusive truth claims made by the many we would call “evangelicals.” As a Professor at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), she is also interested in how secular thought and identity politics on American campuses have tended to provoke similar kinds of exclusive truth claims on its students, though to a different end. As you will see in our interview, for Molly Worthen, evangelicals are a group of believers who have found it necessary to reconcile the constraints of the public sphere and the demands of their own personal belief.

Worthen spoke to us from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

M

Are there contemporary issues today within the Church that are simply rehashings of an old issue from centuries ago?

MW

Sure, I’m often aware of continuities, and I try to stress them to my students. I teach a course on North American religion since European contact, and one of the themes is the way Christians have always struggled with the paradoxes that define their faith. These paradoxes are what give Christianity its majesty and brilliance, but they’re also what cause great frustration among believers. It has seemed to me that, over the millennia, people who are deemed heretics by defenders of orthodoxy are Christians who sought to resolve one or more of the key paradoxes of Christianity—whether it was to try to separate Christ’s human and divine nature or to try to rationalize the mystery of the Trinity or to push apart the paradox of free will and divine sovereignty.

41-xe2IErwL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_And then there are the less Trinitarian paradoxes that continue to pop up in contemporary religion, that deal with culture—the paradox of the Christian calling to be ‘in the world but not of it’—that dilemma frames so many issues for Christians today.

The paradox whereby Paul calls Christians to be always alert to the way in which culture can become confused with the Gospel, and worldly identities blended with identity in Christ—that one is so apparent in the current presidential election. It certainly illuminates the appeal of Donald Trump’s xenophobic, nativist, essentially white supremacist language. Some evangelical leaders I’ve asked about this insist that evangelicals who support Trump are not real evangelicals because many of them don’t go to church, but the fact is that “evangelical” has become a kind of cultural identity that churches do not control.

One trend I’ve been following is the way in which more and more evangelical leaders are calling for American Christians to think of themselves as a “moral minority,” a Christian counterculture, to recognize that the ship has sailed on marriage equality and that they can no longer aspire to “take the country back.” And yet, at the same time, we have the evangelical grassroots rallying for a presidential candidate who is resurrecting the rhetoric of Jerry Falwell, speaking about how the “silent majority” is back to reclaim the country. I mean, this is what Trump says! So there’s a widening gap between the strategies and desires of many evangelical leaders, and what seem to be the sentiments of their constituents.

M

College students are certainly up against a lot, especially if they’re professing a faith that has exclusive truth claims. Your recent article in the New York Times, “Hallelujah College,” talked a little bit about that too, about the Christian student in a world of trigger warnings and what Jonathan Haidt called, “emotional coddling.” Can you share your thoughts there?

MW

I think that the general paradigm on most secular campuses is that of New Left identity politics, in which we all claim a certain set of identities based on our life experiences. We have authority to speak from those identities because of our experiences, and we must grant all respect and sovereignty to other people’s identity claims and adopt a posture of openness, but never confrontation or judgment. My students, even those who come from conservative Christian backgrounds, have been steeped in that culture for long enough that they obey its rules without really thinking about them. On one hand, pragmatically, it works. It produces a fairly civil conversation. Most of the time, it allows people with very different perspectives to coexist.

But the fact is that traditional Christianity has a different way of conceiving of human nature and truth claims than do modern secular liberals. I think that modern secular liberals have not worked through some of the inconsistencies in their own ideologies when it comes to the accommodation of traditional religions, Christian or otherwise. You know, this problem is really coming to the fore in Western Europe, as these secular European liberal democracies try to accommodate and acculturate huge numbers of conservative Muslim immigrants. For the secular liberal, it’s the old problem of, “How do you tolerate the intolerant?” What boundaries do you enforce?

It’s a conversation that liberals have been exempt from having for a long time, at least in this country, and what I find interesting is the way conservative Christian students are trying to compel that conversation. Although both sides sometimes fall prey to a sense of moral superiority, and the rigidity of their own assumptions can prevent them from totally hearing the other side, I think liberals have a lot to learn from the way religious conservatives have learned to articulate their presuppositions and understand the intellectual framework of their own worldview. I think liberals, especially at universities, where they do enjoy cultural dominance, have not always had to come to terms with the logic of their own ideas.

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Trump Semper Accusat

Trump Semper Accusat

Another from new contributor Eric Dorman:

Election season is always nasty, brutish and long. This cycle is no different, really, except that it’s worse. There are candidates running now who make some of the folks from the past few elections look like scholars and saints. Bread and circuses, indeed.

Of course, the chief offender is Donald Trump, and most of the culture hates him for it. Left, right, center, every major news outlet regularly publishes diatribes against him or exposés about him.

Some people have thought about Trump more creatively, though. For example, Paul Zahl used Trump as an instrument for identifying some of…

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Wonder Woman: Maid of Honor in a Dishonorable World

Wonder Woman: Maid of Honor in a Dishonorable World

This is the first in a multi-part study (“Justice Has Its Price: The Orphans and Exiles of the Justice League)” on the characters from the cartoon Justice League, brought to you by superhero guru, Wenatchee the Hatchet.

After the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel have had at least half a dozen movies each, you would think we would have gotten a single live action Wonder Woman film within the 20th century, too, but we didn’t. One of the recurring debates among fans of Wonder Woman has been exactly why this hasn’t happened. Different explanations have been offered as to…

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Unexpected Help from the World of Xanth

Unexpected Help from the World of Xanth

A few weeks ago, NPR’s episode of This American Life was called “Show Me the Way,” (a rerun from 2012) and it focused on stories of people in trouble who sought help in strange places. The main story was about a fifteen-year-old who, feeling antagonized by both his stepfather and his high school, walked himself eight miles to the airport and then flew off to Florida using several years’ worth of paper route money in search of Piers Anthony, his favorite author.

Xanth, the fantasy kingdom in Piers Anthony’s books, looks remarkably like Florida, and fifteen-year-old Andy used the maps in…

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Why Do We Work So Hard?

Why Do We Work So Hard?

“Why do we work so hard?” asks one of the lead articles in 1843, the new bimonthly journal from the people responsible for The Economist. The tagline only upped the ante, bait-wise, promising to trace how “our jobs have become prisons from which we don’t want to escape.” Writer Ryan Avent looks under quite a few stones in search of his answer, some flattering and some less so.

He opens with the observation that we work more than ever today, not just because our employers or the economy demand it of us, but because work has become that much more enjoyable….

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President Jesus and Holy Week, Part II

President Jesus and Holy Week, Part II

Back in 2008, the New Monastic figurehead Shane Claiborne wrote a generally well received book titled “Jesus for President,” riffing off Woody Guthrie’s folk tune “Christ for President.” In the book, Claiborne argued that American Christianity was too invested in the American political system and, as a result, ignoring a significant amount of Jesus’s moral teachings. The title seems to have stuck- “Jesus for President” – and perhaps it’s just my carefully curated Twitter feed, but the phrase seems to be making a comeback again in 2016.

It’s an understandable sentiment: many Christians are scratching their head this year regarding the…

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Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem: The Island of Me

Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem: The Island of Me

Welcome to the sixth installment of act two of author Ted Scofield’s series on everybody else’s biggest problem but your own. If you missed one or more of the previous installments, the entire series can be found here.

After establishing in Act One of this series that we as a society cannot agree on a collectively applicable definition of greed, we are now exploring a half dozen answers to the question Why.

So … once again … why can’t we define greed? Because we are living in an era of the self, only the self matters, discovering and nourishing it are paramount and accumulating…

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Richard Gossage pitching in game as New York Yankee

Goose Gossage and the MLB “Old School, New School” Collision

The New York Yankees learned yesterday to maybe be careful about which hall-of-fame ex-player they invite to Spring Training to be a guest instructor. Hall-of-fame relief pitcher Rich (Goose) Gossage was grabbed on the field by an ESPN reporter this week and asked about the “state of the game”. Uh-oh.

Here are some excerpts and my responses as a lifelong old school baseball fan who thinks Gossage is a tad bitter, kind of like me.

Gossage on “nerds who never played” running the games these days:

I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played [fantasy] baseball at Harvard or wherever the [bleep]…

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How Alexander Hamilton Got His Groove Back

How Alexander Hamilton Got His Groove Back

I’m that guy who made you watch “Lazy Sunday” two years after it aired on SNL, because he just heard it on his Weird Al Pandora station. (My gracious brother and sister-in-law have mercifully never mentioned it since.) Today, I’m the guy who heard a clip of Hamilton—after it smashed from Off-Broadway to Broadway to the Grammys—and has been obsessed ever since. Whatever, though, because I’m all in.

One of the odd features of Hamilton (a mostly hip-hop biography of Alexander Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda) fandom is that most people cannot feasibly see the play anytime soon. It’s currently playing in one New York…

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Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Paul Reubens, John Levenstein, Gray Eubank- Photo Credit: Augusta Quirk/IFC

Fearing “the Other” in November 2016

On Monday, NPR did a story on a newish vocabulary word making the rounds this election cycle, one that touches on last week’s thoughts on attempts to define an “Evangelical.” The word is “Otherize,” and if you have three minutes and want to hear more, check the story below:

Generally, to “otherize” someone is to label them as different and suggest they are against you in a zero-sum competition. Although it is a term often used to describe a method of victimization, it’s also a strategy that anyone, including victims, can employ. In the election context, “otherizing” becomes a political game…

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The Primary Definition of an Evangelical

The Primary Definition of an Evangelical

This election cycle, Donald Trump’s ascendancy to front-runner status has given religion beat writers a whole new angle of thinkpiece to write: what exactly is an Evangelical, and why are they voting for Trump. At least a half-dozen of them are produced daily, it seems, from major publications like The Washington Post and the New York Times to your friendly neighborhood religious blog. Evangelical bastions like Christianity Today magazine and Liberty University are weighing in on the discussion, and even smaller Evangelical outlets like Relevant Magazine are trying to parse the Trump phenomenon. Flummoxed political insiders aren’t the only ones left…

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