If you’re seeking a respite from the news, stop by our website, where we’re currently featuring a lot of new material.
William Galston looks at Brian Leiter’s Why Tolerate Religion:
In the broadest sense … we must understand the U.S. Constitution as positive law. Rational analysis might lead us to conclude that there is nothing special about religion—that religion is a specific instance within a more general category of belief or commitment. But a philosophical question is not just the same as a constitutional question. The Constitution might explicitly affirm, or implicitly reflect, propositions that philosophical reflection would reject.
Leiter’s main concerns are philosophical, not jurisprudential. He begins with what he calls the “central puzzle in this book”—why the state “should have to tolerate exemptions from generally valid laws when they conflict with religious obligations but not with any other equally serious obligations of conscience.” A satisfactory answer would have to show, first, that there is a distinction between religious and nonreligious conscience, and, second, that this difference is such as to warrant disparate state treatment.
Leiter’s point of departure is the proposition that “if there is something morally important about religious belief and practice that demands legal solicitude, it is connected to the demands of conscience that religion imposes upon believers.” Other scholars are not so sure that this is the only such feature of religion, and neither am I. But that it is at least one such feature seems clear.
Paul Moses writes on Lucky Guy, a play by Nora Ephron starring Tom Hanks as New York City tabloid columnist Mike McAlary:
I worked with McAlary at New York Newsday, the setting for early scenes of Lucky Guy. Reviewers, publicists, and Ephron herself, before her death last June, portrayed the play as a love letter to the journalism of a bygone era. But beneath its nostalgic surface—the foul-mouthed newsroom repartee, wafting cigarette smoke, and late nights at the bar—the play poses serious moral questions about journalism and its place in the quest for celebrity.
McAlary was self-effacing, quietly funny, and ever helpful when we worked together in the paper’s Queens and City Hall bureaus. He was also ambitious—as we all were. Most of the reporters New York Newsday hired after it opened in the early 1980s were in their late twenties, so the staff was naturally imbued with youthful energy. McAlary had two assets that set him apart. He knew how to get cops to talk, a crucial skill that eluded nearly all of us but which our tabloid competitors excelled at. And he was an especially good writer.
Rand Richards Cooper reviews the documentaries The Gatekeepers and The House I Live In, one outlining the history of Israeli security agency Shin Bet since the 1967 Six-Day War, the other examining “our nation’s inaptly named corrections industry.”
On The Gatekeepers:
This film will surprise Americans on several fronts. First and foremost is the candor of these men: their willingness to reflect on the moral ambiguity of their work and of Israeli policies; their frank assessment of the brutal—and brutalizing—nature of political violence; and most of all their capacity for self-scrutiny and doubt. It is impossible to imagine such candor and moral perspicacity—such wisdom, really—issuing from an equivalent collection of CIA and FBI directors. As for their assessment of Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza, the six chart a position well to the left of, say, Barack Obama. Referring to the Palestinian intifada, one ex-chief asserts that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” while another remarks that “Israel has lost touch with how to coexist with the Palestinians,” and states, simply, “We’ve become cruel.”
Also, the editors comment on the sabotaging of financial reform and whether President Obama will be able “to protect and fortify the still-fragile legacy of his first term.” And, if you haven’t gotten to it yet, see Michael W. Higgins’s piece on G. K. Chesterton.
Finally, make sure to visit the website on Monday, when we’ll be posting stories from our Spring Books issue.