dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

dotCommonweal Blog

At Large

Yesterday, the latest issue of Commonweal arrived at my door, and it startled me to realize that I hadn’t seen the cover before that moment. I was getting my first look at it like any other subscriber would. It was a reminder that I am now, officially and wistfully, an editor “at large.”

I’ve been working part-time in the Commonweal offices since my first child was born in 2011, and thriving on the balance of work and family I’m lucky enough to have carved out for myself thanks to a flexible employer and an extremely supportive husband (not to mention invaluable help from my in-laws and some other dedicated babysitters and friends). But—Pope Francis’s remarks about Catholics’ obligations vis-à-vis rabbits having come too late to be any help to me—I am due in a few weeks to give birth to my third child, and with three kids under four I have to admit I’ve met my match, at least for the short term.

So, I am now officially an associate editor “at large,” maintaining a foothold at the magazine I love while focusing on the family that, for now, demands the greater part of my attention and energy (and that, yes, I also love). I like the “at large” title because it makes my status sound exotic and mysterious. It suggests that I am hard to track down, when in fact on any given day I am almost certainly at home—especially these snowy, icy, late-third-trimester days—and that I am pursuing any number of exciting projects, when in reality I am most likely doing laundry. 

Read more

The 16th Annotation

In his by now notorious Christmas "spanking" of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis proposed for a salutary examination of conscience fifteen "diseases or temptations" to which members of the Curia are prey.

Perhaps not sufficiently noticed was the Pope's use of words like "our" and "us," as when he says:

They are the more common diseases in our life in the Curia. They are diseases and temptations which weaken our service to the Lord. I think a “listing” of these diseases – along the lines of the Desert Fathers who used to draw up such lists – will help us to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation, which will be a good step for all of us to take in preparing for Christmas.

And, of course, as he states, the immediate goal of the spiritual exercise was preparation for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation -- a sacrament particularly dear to Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Soon after the Pope's trip to the woodshed, a wag commented that Francis had omitted a sixteenth temptation: that of thinking the first fifteen only appllied to someone else.

But the Pope had himself supplied this 16th annotation when he said:

Brothers, these diseases and these temptations are naturally a danger for each Christian and for every curia, community, congregation, parish and ecclesial movement; and they can strike at the individual and the community levels.

Recently I've been re-reading the Pope's weekly audiences/catecheses. I'm struck by how often they contain, albeit in a kinder and gentler rhetorical mode, an examination of conscience. Here is a representative sample:

In the time of Paul, the community of Corinth found great difficulty in this sense, living, as we, too, often do, the experience of division, of envy, of misunderstanding and of exclusion. All of these things are not good because, instead of building up the Church and causing her to grow as the Body of Christ, they shatter it into many pieces, they dismember it. And this happens in our time as well. Let us consider, in Christian communities, in some parishes, let us think of how much division, how much envy, how they criticize, how much misunderstanding and exclusion there is in our neighbourhoods. And what does this lead to? It dismembers us among ourselves. It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with misunderstanding, division, envy, with this struggle with others.

Advent is long past, but Lent approaches. And the Desert Fathers and Mothers are always in season.

 

 

What's new on the website

Posted today, the February 20 interreligious issue. Anchoring it is George Hunsinger’s “What Christians Owe the Jews: A Case for Soft Supersessionism.” An excerpt:

Christianity enters into profound self-contradiction whenever it is anti-Judaic; indeed, that when Christianity does not love the Jews, it corrupts its love of Jesus Christ at the very core. In this view, loving Christ is inseparable from loving the Jews—and where the Jews are not loved, Christ himself is dishonored. What I would like to advocate is a form of philo-Semitism or Judaeophilia rooted in Christ.

Anyone proposing such an idea faces a problem—namely, that this same christocentrism requires a form of supersessionism, which traditionally held that in refusing to accept Jesus as the Messiah and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, Jews have forfeited their covenantal status as the chosen people of God…. An almost universal conviction in contemporary theology holds that supersessionism is an inevitable cause of anti-Judaism and its repellent cousin anti-Semitism, and thus that any form of supersessionism is unacceptable. And yet in my opinion the inner logic of the Christian faith necessitates supersessionism in some form. The form I will advocate is the one that David Novak, in his 2004 essay “The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought,” called “soft supersessionism.”

This approach asserts that the new covenant does not replace the old covenant, but rather fulfills, extends, supplements, and fundamentally confirms it. There is only one covenant, and thus only one people of God, and yet there are also two faiths. The presence of two faiths—in some ways diametrically opposed—represents a festering wound in the one people of God. Neither Christians nor Jews know how to heal this wound; only God does. Certainly the day is long since past when Christians might hope to heal this wound by adopting St. Paul’s strategy of “making Israel jealous.” Today any such strategy smolders in the ruins of the Shoah—for which Christian history supplied the dreadful background, if not the direct cause.

Read the whole thing here. Also featured in the February 20 issue: Julia Young on Latino Pentecostals, Tzvi Novick on Jewish universalism, and Jo McGowan on how languages reflect and reinforce social biases. See the full table of contents here. And also make sure to read the latest from E. J. Dionne Jr., who on writing about Barack Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments on the Crusades asks: Is a president allowed to have complicated views on religion?

Monday Morning Links: Feb. 9

This Wednesday, leaders from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France plan to meet in continued peace talks to face the Ukraine crisis. Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Vladimir Putin have "agreed to keep talking" after meetings last Saturday yielded no breakthrough.
As reported in The Telegraph, President Putin's spokesperson "told reporters there had been 'constructive and substantial' negotiations and work was underway on a joint document for implementing the Minsk agreement – a peace deal signed in September between the warring sides in eastern Ukraine but never fulfilled."

Elsewhere in The TelegraphUS officials compare these peace efforts to appeasing Hitler.

While the U.S. has been debating issues around assisted suicide, particularly sparked by Brittany Maynard's story, Canada's Supreme Court has gone and lifted its ban. One notable reason for this change is that borders are increasingly permeable, making it clear that similar rulings in the US and abroad have far-reaching consequences:

In the new ruling, the court . . . . said the social landscape has evolved, because assisted dying is permitted in other places such as Belgium, Switzerland, and Oregon.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot  analyzes the politics behind vaccinations. She suggests a legislative solution, moving the discussion move away from the rhetoric of "individual rights." "Until recently," Talbot notes, "vaccine refusal wasn’t a partisan issue—some objections came from anti-government types but many were from self-identified progressives."

The New Republic has two recent pieces on money and the arts. Stuart Maconie argues that pop music is saturated by artists from the privileged class, using examples in the UK that are no less familiar here in North America. While we can't directly blame the band Mumford & Sons, they might be part of the problem.

The current economic climate is returning the practice of art to what it was 300 years ago—a rich fellow’s diversion, a pleasant recreation for those who can afford it, rather than the cultural imperative it should be.

William Giraldi's review of Scott Timberg's book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class proves a great companion to Maconie's complaint. He explores how both market forces and technology are starving artists, making the middle class artist increasingly rare.

This week is Valentine's Day, so if you're feeling especially romantic and creative, the Poetry Foundation tells you How to Write Love Poems. It's an older piece, but love and good writing age well. 

Recaps of last night's Grammy awards are plentiful, so I will just leave you with a link to Beyonce singing "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," originally written by Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey.

Returning to the Gilead trilogy

Maria Bowler's excellent post below and Joseph Komonchak's post about Home have made me feel more guilty than usual that I haven't finished blogging through Marilynne Robinson's Gilead trilogy. I had planned on writing the posts in January. But I got busy with the beginning of the Winter quarter at DePaul, with two papers I had to deliver, with an (overdue) article I finally finished, with a radio appearance (?!), and with the normal craziness of life. I also read Phil Klay's Redeployment, Matthew Thomas's We Are not Ourselves, and John Williams's Stoner, and I hope to have something to say about all of them at some point soon. I do apologize for being out of touch for so long.

I have begun rereading Lila, which I first finished right before Christmas. And I think I'm now in a position to say that I'll post on the first 90 pages or so of the novel by this Friday. I'll write two more posts the following week (Deo volente) to finish the novel and finish the series of posts on the trilogy.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks.

Sullivan's Catholicism

I count myself among those who are sad to see Andrew Sullivan leave the blogosphere. Mostly this is because I will miss benefiting from the enormous amount of work he and his staff put into curating and editing the vast expanse of the World Wide Web. Most days, I would only find out about a particularly insightful piece of online opinion or news reporting because Sullivan and his team had linked to it. Now, I will be forced to comb through all of this on my own or (what is more likely) grow increasingly ignorant of the offerings, albeit of various and sometimes dubious quality, in this large marketplace of ideas, cultural ephemera, and consumer products we call "the internet." 

Secondly and, perhaps, more importantly, though, I count myself among those Dish readers, one of whom was quoted in Dominic's post, who heard in Sullivan's self-described "passionate, tortured relationship with the Catholic Church" a fellow traveler struggling to follow the thread of, what John Cavadini calls, the "love story" amidst the abuses that have all but ruined the romance since the turn of this century. Along with those of fellow English Catholic radical, Herbert McCabe, Sullivan's reflections on the life of faith and the drama of Catholic belief and practice have sustained me during those times when, as Sullivan said in his penultimate Dish post, it seemed as if "the hurt got the better of me." 

In this last week, following Paul Elie's recommendations, I have returned to a couple of Sullivan's pieces on Catholicism from the late 80s and read them alongside his most recent long essay on Pope Francis. What I find so life-giving about the faith of this conservative, gay blogger is surprisingly similar to the truth articulated by his Marxist, celibate, Dominican compatriot. It is that, in spite of all evidence sometimes to the contrary, both Sullivan and McCabe are somehow able to keep their sights trained on the stubborn light of hope that shines in the Church even when the hands of those entrusted to carry it threaten to snuff it out by clutching it too tightly. The rays of hope to which Sullivan and McCabe continually return include 1) a Thomistic trust in the ultimate commensurability of the truth of revelation and the truth arrived at through natural reason; 2) an appreciation of the fundamentals of the Gospel message centered around the importance of relationship for mediating this truth; and 3) a call to practice charity as the proper fruit of this truth not only on behalf of the institutional Church ministering to the world, but also (and often more importantly) on behalf of Christ ministering to the institutional Church.

Read more

A Brief Theory about Marilynne Robinson

“I have scoured the Internet,” a friend emailed me when Marilynne Robinson’s Lila had just been released, “and found not one critical or negative review of Marilynne Robinson.” Linda McCullough Moore's review in Books and Culture was a mild exception to that rule, while noting how rare qualms with Robinson’s work really are. With the subtitle “A Dissenting View,” the review begins, “One almost requires a handwritten invitation to take issue with the work of Marilynne Robinson.” Though it lost out on a National Book Award to Phil Kay's Redeployment, Robinson's novel was recently nominated for a National Books Critics Circle award.

Beyond her formidable literary talent (of which there is much to say, and I don't intend to detract from attention to it), I think there is another reason Robinson is so revered. In short: She refuses the categories which characterize how we publically interpret experiences, and it’s a breath of fresh air for everyone who is looking for wisdom on that score. There was a moment during the question period of Marilynne Robinson’s lecture at Yale Divinity School this winter that illustrated this well.

Robinson’s dense and subtle lecture was an argument against scientific positivism which reduces emotions and affective states to merely something you can quantify—just areas of brain activity lighting up on scans. This interest has animated her projects all long; she’s written about it in many essays, and in the pages of Commonweal. This has obvious implications for understanding how faith works, but it’s a bigger statement about relating to the self, our affective states, and our ability to see these states as distinct from other modes of understanding.

Read more

Eamon Duffy on Francis

In the new issue of the New York Review of Books, church historian and sometime Commonweal contributor Eamon Duffy has an excellent review-essay on three books about Pope Francis. I don’t think anything Duffy writes will come as news to most Commonweal readers, but he does cover a lot of territory with his usual nuanced approach to Catholic issues, in his customary elegant prose.

Duffy is perhaps best known for Saints and Sinners, a comprehensive but accessible history of the papacy. He made his academic reputation with The Stripping of the Altars, a study of pre-Reformation Catholicism in England, a book that changed our understanding of the often misunderstood upheavals of that period by documenting the popularity and vitality of traditional Catholic practice and belief. A favorite Duffy book of mine is Faith of Our Fathers: Reflections on Catholic Tradition, a collection of essays that strikes the right balance between the inevitability of change in the church and the even greater need to rely on the resources of the tradition to guide those developments. “Faithfulness to that tradition is not a matter of uncritical obedience to authority; it is a shared labor of learning, in which we work together to draw new and surprising growth from the old soil,” he wrote. Tradition is “the trace of a complex shared life, rather than a clear-cut compendium of answers.”

In his NYRB piece, Duffy emphasizes the fact that Francis is the first pope to have been ordained after the Second Vatican Council. He does not pine for some allegedly lost, golden age when the church claimed to be a perfect society. Francis’s “commitment to conciliar values is instinctive, strong, and different in kind from that of either of his immediate predecessors,” Duffy writes.

I think that gets at what is perhaps the most obvious nature of the change in tone and focus coming from the Vatican, and that instinctive commitment to the council goes hand in hand with Francis’s determination to encourage debate among the bishops and his sure-to-be-contested push to return real decision-making authority to the local church. Duffy also notes how different Francis’s idea of priesthood is from “the exalted doctrine of priesthood that has been in favor during the last two pontificates.” He cautions that, although those in the pews are cheering on these developments, many of those ordained during the past thirty-five years are likely to have a difficult time adjusting to Francis’s often blunt critique of clericalism. Divisions within the church are deep and not easily bridged.

Read more

Vatican presser on sexual-abuse commission.

Days after Pope Francis instructed the world's bishops to cooperate with the commission on sexual abuse he established last year, the seventeen-member group met for the first time in Rome. During a press conference at the Vatican this morning, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, spoke about the commission's work, which will include promoting education about child safety, suggesting best practices to dioceses, and developing methods for measuring compliance with those norms. The commission is "very concerned" with the question of accountability for bishops who fail to protect the vulnerable, O'Malley said, and would recommend consequences in time. He stopped short of suggesting what those consequences might be, but said that there must be a way of dealing with such cases "not in an open-ended way."

The commission is working on educational programs for church leaders--including seminars for members of the Roman Curia and for newly appointed bishops who visit Rome for episcopal orientation, according to O'Malley. The cardinal also said he is asking every bishops conference to name a person who will serve as a liason between the commission and the local church. In 2011, the Vatican asked dioceses to turn in their child-protection norms. At this point, about 96 percent of dioceses have complied, O'Malley said. The commission will be in touch with the rest. Very few dioceses have not yet developed such norms, according to the cardinal. But more than a few have guidelines that are too "weak."

Read more

Yes, the Crusades; Yes, the Inquisition UPDATE

Yesterday, President Obama mentioned the Crusades in his comments to the National Prayer Breakfast. OY!

All Hell has broken Loose. Those, who might otherwise mention the Crusaders, the Inquisition, etc, as a swipe at Catholics, let's just say some Protestands and Deborah Lipstadt (who might otherwise note the harsh treatment of Jews), are shocked, SHOCKED that Obama mentioned these historic travesties in light of ISIL's burning, behading, and general Islamic unruliness. Just when Catholics are coming to grips with historic wrongs and travesties (burnings, etc.) the anti-Islamisits are suggesting, we weren't THAT BAD....OY!

UPDATE: A link to President Obama's "remarks" (as they are called on the WH site). 

Ross Douthat weigns in on Obama's Niebuhrian outlook, "Obama the Theologian." I think Douthat over-reaches on this. Niebuhrians, take a look.

To God who gives joy to my youth

Altar servers are in the news once again as a priest in the neighboring Archdiocese of San Francisco has decided to eliminate female altar servers.  This follows a recent interview with Cardinal Burke where he suggested that female altar servers have contributed to a loss in priestly vocations.

While it’s possible that a decline in altar serving among young men has played a role in the decline in vocations, it is almost certainly dwarfed by other causes: widening professional opportunities for Catholic men, smaller families, a shifting sexual culture, secularism, and the rise of an active and engaged laity to name just a few. 

More fundamentally, however, Vatican II’s reform of the liturgy changed the role of the server in ways that make it harder to play the role as a seedbed for vocations that it played in the past.  In the pre-conciliar liturgy, servers actually had a fair bit to do.  They prayed certain prayers after the priest (ostensibly on behalf of “the people”), rang bells during the consecration, and held a paten under a communicant’s chin to catch fragments of the host.  Most masses--even daily Masses--had at least one server and the work of the server required fairly close collaboration with the priest throughout the Mass.

In most parishes where I’ve attended Mass during my life, however, the servers usually have a much more limited role.  They usually bear the candles (and sometimes the processional cross) during the entrance and the offertory;  hold the Missal during the collects; and assist the priest during the lavabo.   In cases where the parish still rings bells at the elevation, this is also one of the server’s duties.  Very rarely have I seen servers prepare the altar.

Read more

Bibi-Boehner Brouhaha: What Does It Mean

The editors have laid out the fundamentals of what's wrong with Majority Leader John Boehner's invitation to PM Benjaming Netanyahu to speak to Congress. And this post from January 21 links to early commentary on Why and How this happened.

Since then, there have been reams of analysis. Among the most diverting, those suggesting that there are no strategic national differences between the U.S. and Israel even if Israel wants to bomb Iran and the U.S. does not. Rather it is just personal or political or something.

Two example of that commentary:

The Bad Marriage metaphor in which the bad relations between Obama and Netanyahu are said to lie at the heart of the controversy. Here from DC and Jerusalem is that analysis by Times' reporters Peter Baker and Jodi Rudoren.

The second is an analysis arguing that the famous "bipartisan" support for Israel no longer exists. Bernard Avishai writes in the New Yorker:  In "Netanyahu and the Republicans," he argues that the Republicans and Likkud are now aligned. How will the Dems take that?

 

Immunity, Community, and Libertarianism

We seem to be going through an immunitary moment.

This is especially interesting, since some philosophers and political theorists have for more than a decade been using the language of immunity and autoimmune disorders to shed light on contemporary politics. It’s also not surprising because there are some strong echoes and resonances between the two fields: immunity, after all, is a collective response to a threat or crisis. And autoimmunity is a response that becomes reflective, aiming not only at the external “enemy” as it invades the (social or corporeal) body, but which turns and attacks the body itself. Both are excellent metaphors for what can happen in the highly divisive and excessively paranoid political world we inhabit. It may also be possible that the specific issue of immunization – or more specifically the government’s role in immunizing its citizens – can expose the conceptual bankruptcy of libertarianism.

I suggest this after reading a recent story that explores Rand Paul’s link to an anti-vaccine organization, as well as Chris Christie’s (non-libertarian, probably cynical) comments that immunization should be rendered an act with multiple options for exit and exception. This is the already shaky logic of the Hobby Lobby case applied to public health. Unlike Hobby Lobby, however, we’re talking about matters of immediate sickness and health, and potentially life and death. Immunity requires a comprehensive, truly collective response. The problem is that libertarians believe one of two things: either communities don’t exist at all (no whole is anything more than the sum of its parts), or community does exist but is made up of individuals who may opt out whenever they feel that their “freedom” is endangered.

A multiplicity of microbiological forces operate in the world around us (and in us) at all times. These forces allow us to live or even thrive, or they can cut us down. We need a collective response to manage them. This is not new information; it is wisom gleaned from much suffering and an edifice of knowledge at least two centuries old. Neoliberalism and its contemporary counterpart libertarianism have for decades attempted to privatize all forms of social security, including the protections of public health. They have done so, moreover, perhaps ironically, in the name of immunity. In other words they have mobilized one conception of immunity – that of the individual who desires to be “immune from” the state’s requirements – as an attack on another type of immunity, that of the collective which wants to be free from contagion and deadly disease. This is the insight of Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito among others.

I am concerned that what Freud called the “reality principle” will in the end decide which side wins this conceptual battle. A few of us may admire Ayn Rand’s writing on ethics, but this doesn’t make her an expert on public health. The virtue of selfishness will not and cannot stop contagion.

Pope to world's bishops: Get behind my sexual-abuse commission.

Today the Holy See released Pope Francis's February 2 letter to the world's bishops conferences and religious communities asking for their "complete cooperation" with the sexual-abuse commission he established last March. The commission's job, the pope explains, "to improve the norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults," which--everyone knows--haven't been working out so well.

In his letter Pope Francis related his own experience meeting with abuse victims. "I was deeply moved by their witness to the depth of their sufferings and the strength of their faith," he wrote. "This experience reaffirmed my conviction that everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused." Pastors and those in charge of religious communities, the pope wrote, "should be available" to meet with victims and their loved ones. "Such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness."

Because families must feel confident that the church is doing all its can to protect the vulnerable from predator priests, Francis continued, "priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal." To that end, the pope urges local bishops conferences to "fully implement" the sensible 2011 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recommending a series of abuse-response procedures. Francis also recommends that dioceses periodically review their policies--and make sure they are being followed.

That a pope has established a commission to determine the best ways to respond to allegations of clerical sexual abuse is all to the good. Francis recognizes what the Roman Curia and previous popes took far too long to grasp: the sexual-abuse scandal is a global phenomenon that requires decisive action at the highest levels of the church. Local bishops conferences will certainly benefit from the commission's policy recommendations. But it's 2015. Figuring out how dioceses should respond to abuse accusations requires careful attention, but it isn't rocket science.

The more difficult problem is what to do with bishops who--through acts of commission or omission--endanger the vulnerable under their care. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who is in charge of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, says this is one of the problems the abuse commission is "urgently" exploring. We'll see just how urgently soon enough. According to Pope Francis, they meet in just a few days.

Sullivan's Dish is done

I wasn’t sure I wanted to post on Andrew Sullivan’s announced retirement from blogging until it became clear whether the Daily Dish would go on without him. Today the answer came: It won’t. Sullivan this morning announced that Friday will be the Dish’s last day

There’s been a number of encomia to Sullivan and his blog written since last week. His announcement has also elicited critiques and rehashes of previous critiques on his writing career (going back decades) and his editorial decision-making. It’s ground worth covering but also well-covered and won’t get more coverage in this post – though there may be some who have a thing or two to say.

I came around to regular reading of Sullivan’s blog about the time he was rethinking his position on the war in Iraq. Hard to say exactly what it was that made his site the first one I checked every day, or the one I soon began to check most often. But I do recall finding his site much less shrill (believe it or not) and somewhat more reasoned than those then breaking through on the left-leaning side of the blogosphere. (I’d count Matthew Yglesias as another who at the time was reliably providing a safe place of sensible commentary.) I liked that he posted on a range of serious matters and a number of others that were less so. I liked how he said what he had to say on same-sex marriage, torture, Abu Ghraib, and Dick Cheney, Michael Moore, and the Clintons. I was willing to give him even more leeway on his obsession with the story of Trig Palin’s birth and the woman who could have been vice president. I thought he captured and in some ways reflected what at the time was being characterized as the Obama phenomenon. I was also interested in his public Catholicism, and in his public hashing out of where his pronouncements and positions might put him in opposition to its tenets or most vocal adherents, or in line with them.

Read more

Happy Birthday Facebook

On Facebook this morning I learned today is Facebook's eleventh birthday. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and his college buddies (one of whom now owns the new New Republic, which, according to Mollie is having a good, and also retrospective, week) began one of the world’s first social networking sites. The idea was to help those on their way to college see who their classmates would be before they got there. Formerly [thefacebook], it was an exclusive website: you’d only be able to apply with a .edu email address. In my high school it was a rite of passage: you got into college, you got to be “on Facebook.”  

Then in 2005, when I was 16, it opened to “non-college networks,” and those included high schools. At first it wasn’t popular to join. Only the “online nerds” did, just because they could. I remember all the girls on my cross country team decided we each wouldn't join until we got a .edu email address, to preserve the “tradition.” If someone joined before that we’d say they “sold out.” By senior year, we each had our own profile page. There are photo albums of cross country races we uploaded to share with each other still available on Facebook today.

In 2006, when anyone with a valid e-mail address could use Facebook, it was an encroachment on a private internet world populated by the curated identities of teenagers—an invasion of you and your friends. The prospect of Mom and Dad seeing the person you were “online,” the pictures you post (or pictures posted of you), the music you said you liked, the words you used in your comments...this was horrifying. The combination of Mom, Google, and Facebook…you didn’t have time to answer all of those questions. You didn’t want her “in your business”: in your journal, in your room, in your backpack, and on your Facebook.

Read more

Accidental Armaggedon

“In the event of a nuclear attack, which of these items would be the most helpful? Rank them in order of importance.”

This was one of the first worksheets I remember from elementary school. There were about twenty illustrated items. My classmates and I were perplexed. Sure, we had probably watched a filmstrip that mentioned the Geiger Counter, but none of us could remember what it did. And why would we want a broom? Would we be that concerned with the tidiness of our fallout shelter?

IT WAS ABOUT 1983. That same year, the Russians shot down a Korean civilian airliner over the Sea of Japan; the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued a lengthy warning about the buildup of nuclear weapons; and on September 26, a Soviet Lieutenant Colonel secretly saved the world from accidental Armaggedon. But more about Stanislav Petrov later.

Growing up in the early 1980’s, not far from North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) and the Air Force Academy, the Cold War was a hot topic – even for kids. Popular videos on the burgeoning MTV network, such as Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” satirized and lamented the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Dads took their sons to see “Top Gun” in theaters, and we cheered when Russian MIGs were splashed in the ocean. “Red Dawn” was always checked out of the video store. One of my favorite books, still there in my parents’ house, was titled “Great Warplanes of the 1980’s.”

KIDS TODAY don't have the same fears. They don’t know that the broom is to sweep nuclear fallout off your friends.

The globally-aware college students that I teach don’t think about nuclear annihilation. Environmental degradation? Yes. Terrorism? Yes. Economic inequality? Yes. Racial injustice? Absolutely. But if they think about nuclear weapons at all, it’s in the context of who might acquire them – namely, North Korea or Iran. The notion that the arsenals of the already nuclear-armed states should be at the center of moral concern seems outdated, like referring to music videos being shown on MTV.

The fact is, the nuclear capabilities that already exist have grown in power beyond human comprehension, and there have been enough “close calls” regarding their deployment to warrant the gravest of fears. In recent years, many influential voices have made the case that – regardless of whether nuclear weapons ever made us more safe – they certainly no longer do so.

Read more

A Short Play About Thoughtfulness

Scene: 6:15 a.m. My bedroom. I am asleep. My three-year-old child enters from the bathroom.

 

CHILD (stage whisper): Mommy!

ME: ...What?

CHILD: Know why I didn't flush?

ME: ...Why?

CHILD: So it wouldn't wake you up.

 

He goes back to bed.

Fin.

Fethullah Gülen on Islam, democracy and freedom of speech

Publishing a book in 2009 about Francis of Assisi's peaceful encounter with Egypt's Sultan Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade led me to meet a lot of people with an interest in improving interreligious relations. Among them were a number of Turkish immigrants who are followers of the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. I observed that through a network of private schools, foundations and media organizations, they have worked very hard to improve Muslim-Christian relations.

I offer that as a brief backdrop to an important op-ed piece  in The New York Times in which the reclusive Gülen, living in exile in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, speaks out forcefully against the increasingly harsh nature of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule. He writes:

Turkey’s rulers have not only alienated the West, they are also now losing credibility in the Middle East. Turkey’s ability to assert positive influence in the region depends not only on its economy but also on the health of its own democracy.

The core tenets of a functioning democracy — the rule of law, respect for individual freedoms — are also the most basic of Islamic values bestowed upon us by God. No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away ... Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation. The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred.”

It's an interesting piece in which Gülen invokes Islam in defense of free speech. That value has been under attack in Turkey, where Erdogan's government has been arresting, smearing and intimidating journalists. Gülen may not have the power of a state behind him, but he has the power of an idea.

The New Republic positions itself for the future by looking at its past

It's still hard to know where the project will end up, or how much of the old New Republic will live on in it, but it must be said that the new New Republic has been having a very good week.

First there's the excellent cover story, by Jeet Heer, in the magazine's new issue -- its first since the December 2014 conflagration that was much discussed here and elsewhere.

The initial cries of outrage over owner Chris Hughes's determination to make the storied journal over into a "vertically integrated digital media company," which took the form of mournful (and well-deserved) encomia for the best of TNR's long history and the best work of its recently departed big names, were followed by more ambivalent reactions to the apparent death of the old TNR that focused on that magazine's spotty history of opining on matters of race and foreign policy as well as its occasional dramatic journalistic lapses (Stephen Glass, Betsy McCaughey...).

Now, the magazine relaunches, so to speak, with a cover story examining "The New Republic's Legacy on Race." It's a canny bit of public-relations positioning, to be sure; it lends some after-the-fact integrity to Hughes's decision to remake the magazine root and branch (if you're willing to assume the decimation of his staff was part of the plan all along). But it's also a very good article in its own right. Heer, a historian, does not simply recall the lowlights of the Peretz era or rehash the controversy over then-editor Andrew Sullivan's decision to publish an excerpt from Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. He goes back to the magazine's founding, in 1914, to trace its successes as well as its failures over the last century. "At its best moments," he writes, "the magazine has been a beacon of fact-based reporting and a forum for rich debate over racial issues. At its worst, the magazine has fallen under the sway of racial theorizing and crackpot racial lore."

Read more