The Vaughan Monroe crowd will recall “Semper Idem” to have been the motto of the late Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, much to the predictable merriment of certain “liberal” (as contrasted with open-minded “progressive”) circles.
I am coming to the view that “Semper Idem” deserves to be the masthead motto of The New York Review of Books, once popularly known in the Bronx as The New York Review of One Another’s Books.
If the issues pile up as (let’s be honest) they tend to do, it is hard to distinguish one issue from another, and, especially, one roster of contributors from the next. At least you can tell the different New Yorkers apart by their covers.
I thus face the inevitable November choice — not Biden or Palin, but renew or cancel? While contemplating this eschatological decision, I am assisted by the reflections of Steven Weinberg in the current issue — the one that announces in barely legible script: *Fall Books*.
Weinberg’s article is portentously titled “Without God,“and pretty much lives up to its billing. Thus he writes:
It is not my purpose here to argue that the decline of religious belief is a good thing (although I think that it is), or to try to talk anyone out of their religion, as eloquent recent books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens have…Rather, I want just to offer a few opinions, on the basis of no expertise whatsoever, for those who have already lost their religious beliefs, or who may be losing them, or fear that they will lose thier beliefs, about how it is possible to live without God.
Whew! He then goes on, with the modesty to which we have grown accustomed in the pages of TNYROB, to offer reassurance.
I do not think that we have to worry that giving up religion will lead to a moral decline. There are plenty of people without religious faith who live exemplary moral lives (as for example, me), and though religion has sometimes inspired admirable ethical standards, it has also often fostered the most hideous crimes.
Weinberg concludes with an appeal to heroic virtue:
Living without God isn’t easy. But its very difficulty offers one other consolation — that there is a certain honor, or perhaps just a grim satisfaction, in facing up to our condition without despair and without wishful thinking — with good humor, but without God.
Sounds more like grim humor than good humor, but as the dour old Swiss Calvinist told me when he learned I hoped to become a priest: “chacun à son gout.”
So ghost-writing aside, I need some good ghostly counsel: to renew or not to renew?