The new Pope—now officially Time's person of the year—is wildly popular. Fans of change in the church should temper their optimism.
It’s a sign of how cramped the public image of the Roman Catholic Church has become over the past 34 years that Pope Francis’s comments in an extensive interview with La Civiltà Cattolica could spark such a rapturous response from progressive Catholics. Yes, Francis said the church has become “obsessed” with denouncing abortion, homosexuality, and contraception.
The battle to remake the Church
Francis versus the Vatican.
The following essay is adapted from the Epilogue of my new book, The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders. An overview of the book’s argument from the Washington Post can be read here, while an excerpt from a different section of the book—on the right’s nostalgia for a vanished consensus on sexual traditionalism—can be read here at the wonderful cultural webzine The Utopian. For the better part of the past twenty-five-hundred years, the political imagination of the Western world has been enchanted by an image of communal unity.
What is it, finally, that divides the believer from the atheist? The question comes to mind in observing renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens endure, in full public view, metastatic esophageal cancer.
My old friend (and antagonist on gay marriage) Rod Dreher has a new blog at the outstanding new web-magazine of the John Templeton Foundation, which goes by the supremely Templetonian title of Big Questions Online (BQO).
The characteristic of the American journalist consists in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices. A description of Andrew Breitbart’s consistently scummy contributions to our public discourse? A reaction to ideological strategizing among the members of the liberal listserve Journolist? Hardly. The quotation comes from the first volume of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in 1835.
Rand Paul’s touching (and temporary) display of honesty on the Rachel Maddow show last week has triggered an enormous amount of criticism. Liberals and progressives have denounced as morally offensive Paul’s constitutional concerns about certain provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Conservatives, meanwhile, have taken to ridiculing Paul as a political novice who doesn’t know when to compromise his principles for the sake of expediency.
About 2-1/2 years ago I wrote an essay for TNR in which I criticized the so-called new atheists (primarily Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens). A few months later, I followed up with a critical take on Bill Maher’s Religulous. In both cases, my focus was politics. There was, I argued, something deeply illiberal about the new atheists’ intolerant hostility to the spiritual beliefs of their fellow citizens. I still believe that, as readers of my forthcoming book will discover.