Religion

I’ve gotten tired of writing about Chas Freeman, but since he withdrew his candidacy--willingly or otherwise--he’s been busy providing inadvertent justification to his critics. Since Freeman is doing so in the course of lashing out at his critics, myself included, it’s worth pointing out just how off-base he is. I’m one of the people who published excerpts of an emailed commentary Freeman made about the Tiananmen Square massacre.

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You know that proposal in Connecticut, now tabled, that would have forced the Roman Catholic Church to turn over its governance in the state to boards of Catholic laypeople? As Walter Olson points out, some theocons have (surprise surprise!) been using the controversy over the bill to rally the troops:  Many traditionalist Catholic commentators, like Kathryn Lopez at National Review, have promoted the view that the bill somehow constitutes “retribution” for the Catholic Church’s Culture War stands, specifically its promotion of Proposition 8 in California.

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Over the past few days, Chas Freeman's liberal defenders have been arguing that it would be valuable to have a contrarian voice in the administration. Jon Chait responded by noting that Freeman seemed less like a temperamental contrarian and more like someone with a worldview--dogmatic realism--that was simply unpopular. I mostly agree with Jon, but I would offer a caveat: Some elements of Freeman's worldview aren't contrarian or unpopular at all; in fact, they are deeply conventional.

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According to a new survey by Trinity College in Connecticut, significantly fewer Americans are identifying themselves as Christian than did in 1990 (down to 76% from 86%). Also striking, 15% of Americans now say they have no religion at all, vs. only 8 percent in 1990.  Ironically, one of the factors suspected of feeding this trend is the rise of evangelical Christianity. (Currently one in three Americans ID themselves as evangelical).

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We can take it from some pieces posting by David Frum and Andrew Sullivan that conservatives are in deep trouble if Rush Limbaugh is their leading intellectual light. But dissing Rush as a thinker is all too easy. The difficult question is which conservatives deserve to be called the breakthrough thinkers that the man from talk radio clearly is not. One reader of Sullivan's blog nominates some candidates.

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Right-wing Catholic intellectuals like to claim that the Vatican's absolute opposition to abortion (and homosexuality, and contraception) is grounded in something called "natural law," a body of moral principles that are accessible to all human beings through both reason and conscience. Because these principles can be known by all of us, regardless of our theological convictions, they are supposed to be binding on all of us.

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James Fallows' case for Chas Freeman is much better than the "anything that's bad for the Israel lobby must be good" rationales I've seen. Yet it still leaves me unconvinced. Fallows argues that Freeman, while not the kind of person you'd want running U.S. foreign policy, is a useful "contrarian" to have around. But Freeman isn't a contrarian so much as a man with extremely rigid views that run contrary to what most people believe.

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Over at NRO's The Corner, Jonah "Liberals Were Fascists Before They Were Socialists" Goldberg joins with the conservative movement's house comedian Mark Steyn in ridiculing a book he hasn't read -- Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism:  Mark - James Piereson reviews Wolfe's book in the latest issue of Commentary (which, readers may like to know, has a fantastic essay by none other than Mark Steyn in it). I can't get behind the firewall, even though I'm a print subscriber, but Piereson's review is sober and contemptuous at the same time.

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The Media Blows It

Two distinct conversations on race have dominated this February, the first black history month with a black American president. One consisted of a steady stream of outrage over publication of a cartoon in the New York Post depicting a chimpanzee being shot to death. The other concerned a blunt and, some say, accusatory speech by Attorney General Eric Holder, in which he calls America "a nation of cowards" when it comes to race. Both instances have been almost laughably mistreated by the press. The Post controversy quickly morphed into a maudlin shouting match.

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New York Timesman Roger Cohen was to come to my house for dinner on Tuesday night. But, alas, at the last moment, he found himself amidst one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Diaspora. But if he'd come I would have started a discussion with him about his op-ed piece, "What Iran's Jews Say," that was published in Monday's Times. Other guests would certainly have joined in. This is Cambridge, remember: more of our dinner guests would have agreed with him than with me, on the premise that Israel is responsible for all the discomfort Jews feel anywhere.

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