Religion
George R.R. Martin on Space Inquisitions and Relativism

George R.R. Martin on Space Inquisitions and Relativism

It’s true. The second I heard that acclaimed Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin had penned this passage, my joy was inexpressible:

As a senior in the Knights Inquisitor, I command my own starship, which it pleases me to call the Truth of Christ. Before the craft was assigned to me, it was named the Saint Thomas, after the apostle, but I did not consider a saint notorious for doubting to be an appropriate patron for a ship enlisted in the fight against heresy…

Peter, the first Pope and ever his enemy, spread far and wide the tale of how Judas…

Read More »

These Are a Few of My Favorite Atheists: Albert Camus

These Are a Few of My Favorite Atheists: Albert Camus

Michael W. Nicholson, author of the Tides of God blog and theology Ph.D., contributes this worthy series on his favorite atheists. We start off with Albert Camus:

“Negative space” is a concept in the visual arts, particularly in drawing, painting, and photography. A common example is the well-known Rubin vase, which can alternately be seen as a vase or two profiles of a man in silhouette. This is useful, but a bit misleading, because in fine art negative space is not about ambiguity or optical illusion. Negative space in a picture is where other things are not present; it is the…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

1. Part and parcel of the juvenilization we touched on earlier this week is the phenomenon UPenn bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel (best name ever?!) describes as “the American immortal”, that not-so-peculiar species that devotes so much of its time/energy to prolonging life that it kills them (often before they die). Surprise surprise–underneath the aversion to growing up may lurk a denial of human limitation which is ultimately a denial of death. In the latest bit of watercooler bait from The Atlantic, “Why I Hope To Die at 75″, Emanuel challenges the notion of “compression of morbidity”, the widespread presumption that the…

Read More »

Evolutionary Psychology and the Allure of Pseudoscience

Evolutionary Psychology and the Allure of Pseudoscience

A review of ‘Survival of the Sexiest’, The Nation.

Why do religions exist? One common, if slightly anti-religious, explanatory scenario runs like this: imagine you’re a prehistoric person without any understanding of gravity, meteorology, or other concepts which explain natural phenomena. You may be led to ask the question, “why does the river move?” The only things we know of that move by themselves are humans and animals, so there must be something ‘living’ in the river. Or what causes the wind? Something living, a spirit, akin to the breath of a human. Part of what lends this explanation its appeal is…

Read More »

Vertical and Horizontal Love in 1 John

After Jim McNeely’s brilliant Romance of Grace, I wasn’t surprised to find his latest work, Grace in Community, bristling with insight and comfort. 1 John is a difficult and sometimes-neglected book, but McNeely sifts through it with responsibility, originality, and a down-to-earth approach. Below, he treats the tricky subject of “vertical” and “horizontal” love – love for God and neighbor, with his trademark honesty about the Law’s demands, leading directly to God’s grace:

Notice  John  unifies  “vertical” love  and  “horizontal”  love.  He  says,  “In  this  is  love,  not  that  we  love  God,  but  that  God  loves  us.”  He  is  talking  about  a  vertical  relationship here,  our  love  for  God.  Yet  he  goes  on  at  length  talking  about  horizontal relationships.  It  is  all  mixed  up.  When  we  have  horizontal  love,  God  is  in  it.  The  moralist  wants  to  split  these  up.  The moralist  wants  to  take the  two  laws  as  separate:  love  God,  love  your  neighbor.  John  bridges  that  gap  with  the  gospel  of  Christ  and  Him  crucified.  God  is  love,  and love  operates  in  community.  He  is  saying,  if  you  separate  these  two,  you  cannot  succeed  at  the  one  and  fail  at  the  other.  The  old  commandment to  love  presses  upon  us  the  obligation  to  love  God  and  neighbor.  You cannot  claim  success  if  you  only  do  one  or  the  other;  you  must  succeed at  both.  Jesus  loved  and  forgave  His  own  murderers  and  obeyed  His  Father  to  the  death.  Either  we  succeed  at  both  or  we  fail  at  both.  It  is  a unity  under  the  old  covenant  as  well  as  under  the  new  covenant.  The  old  covenant  presses  upon  you  the  obligation  to  do  both  and  makes  you  the  source  of  power  for  compliance.  The  new opens  the  door  to  the possibility  to  love,  and  empowers  love  through  the  grace  and  forgiveness and  mercy  which  come  to  us  through  Christ’ʹs  blood.  In  Christ,  we  do not  boast  that  we  know  and  love  God;  we  boast  that  we  cannot  know  and  love  Him,  but  He  knows and  loves  us.  We  do  not  trust  in  ourselves or  our  perfection,  but  in  Him  and  His  perfection.  His  perfection  is  that  though  we  slay  Him,  He  resurrects  to  love  us  still.  His  love  abides,  it  persists.  This  is  the  love  that  He  has  for  us,  and  it  is  the  love  that  is  at  the  heart  of  the  love  that  we  have  for  each  other.

Virtual Reality and the Attempt at Limitlessness

Virtual Reality and the Attempt at Limitlessness

If you have yet to see it, The Verge has a phenomenal (and gorgeous!) article on virtual reality that is really worth your time. With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR earlier this year and Sony’s attempt to bring virtual gaming to PlayStation, dubbed “Project Morpheus”, we might begin to see virtual reality making headway into the mainstream—and I have a feeling it might be a bit more sophisticated than the Virtual Boy I had growing up. In any case, Matthew Schnipper has some comments that are on point in the introduction. He writes,

The promise of virtual reality has always been enormous….

Read More »

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

There I was, reclining in the waiting room while my son met with his speech therapist, as I do every week. Computer on my lap—heaven forbid I sit there unoccupied—I was reading A.O. Scott’s new treatise for The Times on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” I like Scott’s writing, so I ignored the instinct to roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another think-piece about stunted millennials; I had time to kill, after all. It opens with some bold claims:

Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

1. The New Yorker weighs in on “bucket lists“, ht DH:

Whence the appeal of the bucket list? To stop and think about the things one hopes to do, the person one hopes to be, is a useful and worthwhile exercise; to do so with a consciousness of one’s own unpredictable mortality can be a sobering reckoning, as theologians and philosophers recognized long before Workman Publishing got in on the act…

As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a…

Read More »

The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians – Christian Wiman

Good news! Yesterday saw the release of Christian Wiman’s new book of poetry, Once in the West. While my copy is still in mail, I couldn’t resist sharing the opening portion of what Dwight Garner in the NY Times has already called a “major performance” and “near-masterpiece”, one that Wiman was kind enough to preview for us when he was here in 2013, “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians”. It’s biting and uncomfortable but also extremely funny, a veritable catalog of churchy tropes, both inane and indicting. Given its tone, the ending, which you’ll have to buy the book to read, may surprise you.

 

9780374227012_p0_v2_s260x420I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,

don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself

toward whatever Hell your Heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake

to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.

Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn

we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
three score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.

You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.

I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep

sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:

boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
making a kind of masonry in faces at once specific and generic,

and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.

 

Anyone interested in Wiman would do well to read Matthew Sitman’s excellent new essay for The Deep Dish, “Finding the Words for Faith”, in which he dubs CW “America’s most important Christian writer.”

When Everyone Loved U2

When Everyone Loved U2

In honor of the surprise release of the new (free!) U2 record, Songs of Innocence, we bring you a reflection on the band from Andrew Barber:

Weird Al Yankovic made me a U2 fan. I’m not proud of it. But it is true.

Every now and then our local library would sell some of their less popular stuff for cheap. On a whim, my dad picked up a cassette for one dollar. You know, one of those small square things you sometimes had to wind with your finger. A single track of the orchestral score from the 1995 movie Batman Forever was…

Read More »

On TV: The Leftovers, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

On TV: The Leftovers, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

In Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, a young man named Severian works as a torturer, and in one scene, he helps administer the torturers’ most mysterious and sacred device: the revolutionary. After having gone through it, the victim says, “I thought I saw my worst enemy, a kind of demon. And it was me…” She will spend the rest of her life – about a month – vying with the long-dormant specter of evil, newly-awakened within her, wrestling it as it slowly takes control of her body. Wolfe’s brutal justice is reminiscent of Dante: the source of her tormenting punishment is…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Biblical Counseling, Jennifer Lawrence, God Help the Girl, Volunteer Pallbearers, Sly Stone and The Nobodies

Another Week Ends: Biblical Counseling, Jennifer Lawrence, God Help the Girl, Volunteer Pallbearers, Sly Stone and The Nobodies

1. Over at The Pacific Standard, Kathryn Joyce provides a remarkably thorough look at “The Rise of Biblical Counseling”. It’s a crash course in both the history of conflicted Christian attitudes toward psychotherapy, and, unintentionally perhaps, how those attitudes are perceived by secular elites (i.e. with disdain and/or condescension). She surveys a field which runs the gamut from hardliners who would chalk nearly all mental illness up to sinful behavior (and do untold damage in the process) and more moderate, medication-endorsing voices who have the gall to insist that there may be a spiritual and–gasp!–moral component to certain afflictions, or at least, that we ignore such…

Read More »

Personalizing Law and the Awkwardness of Kissing Albertine

Personalizing Law and the Awkwardness of Kissing Albertine

Many pastors feel they’re losing credibility. A greater attention to the Law in human experience could help regain it.

Along with preaching the Gospel, which overwhelms and effaces our faults, there is still, in Luther’s thought at least, the need to preach God’s Law, which – in addition to making sense of the world around us – lets us know how we stand before God, which is always as those who are spiritually impoverished in themselves and in need of continual mercy. As grace comes into focus only when we know we have done wrong, so the Gospel comes into focus only when…

Searching Our ‘Spirits’ In The Boss

Searching Our ‘Spirits’ In The Boss

This wonderful reflection on desire and Bruce Springsteen comes to us from Ben Self:

“It’s… that rush moment that you live for. It never lasts, but that’s what you live for.”

– Bruce Springsteen, Time Magazine, 1975

I’ve always loved the use of the term “spirits” as a synonym for hard liquors. It speaks to what is most alluring in booze and any number of other mind-altering substances and pleasures—that feeling of being transported to another higher, perhaps lighter, warmer, state of consciousness by forces within us that are beyond our control. It’s a kind of ravishing and unhinging of the mind and…

Read More »

The Gaslight Anthem Got Hurt

The Gaslight Anthem Got Hurt

In the trend of recent conversation pieces, Blake (B.I.C.) and I bring you a discussion of The Gaslight Anthem’s newest album Get Hurt.

Carl: First off, how do you feel about “break-up” albums? Intense emotional pain and torment have produced classic albums like Blood on the Tracks, but more often than not I find “break-up” records to be less interesting than others. Get Hurt is certainly a “break-up” record, and while that adds an emotional rawness missing from Gaslight Anthem’s earlier work, I felt as if Fallon’s lyrics lost some of the universality they have on Handwritten and The ’59 Sound.

Blake: As far as…

Read More »