On Not Following the Christian Blogosphere (a plea)


I pride myself on thinking that a large percentage of the readers of this blog have no idea of this odd subculture/alternate universe that is the “Christian blogosphere”. So for those that don’t know: there is a very large labyrinth of (largely evangelical) blogs and conferences and podcasts and websites that are dedicated to talking about “the” “Christian view” on any manner of things that (1) really don’t affect much of people’s real lives or (2) seem kind of weird to have a “Christian view” of.

It’s not simply talking about things from a Christian perspective (like this blog), but rather doing so with a particular reactive, evangelical, tribal “flavor”. I’m sure I fall into that at times here, but I’m not proud of it and I try to act against it.

the dangers of the Christian blogosphere

There are two primary things about the nature of these sites that more easily lend themselves to human weakness, I feel.
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Ross Douthat on Reza Aslan & the “Historical Jesus” [QUOTE]

jesus-suffering-pmaHappy Lord’s Day!

Speaking of the Lord, I wanted to point you all to Ross Douthat’s new column in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I really like Douthat, and this piece is a good example of why. He is responding to Reza Aslan’s new #1 New York Times Bestseller, Zealot: The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

As Douthat points out, Aslan’s books is just the newest shot in the two-century long war for the “Historical Jesus“, a series of “quests” in which the assumption is that the Jesus of history is entirely different than the Jesus represented of the Bible. (I’ve recently defended some of my own thoughts on this here and here).

Now some have effectively critiqued much of Aslan’s scholarship, and even his academic credentials to write such a book (it doesn’t seem he’s ever written a peer-reviewed piece on anything in the New Testament!). But Douthat, in usual style, zooms out to the 50,000-foot level and speaks to the bigger context in which these sorts of books seem to always be written. It’s fantastic, and you should read it. Here are the money quotes: Continue reading

Advent & the Connecticut Shooting: Ross Douthat’s “The Loss of the Innocents”


In the same spirit as today’s earlier post by Austin Ricketts, I wanted to share with everyone this incredible piece by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (one of my favorite writers), entitled “The Loss of the Innocents”. It’s a beautiful and haunting reflection on the human condition and the theological senselessness inherent in events like last week’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut. He then concludes with these beautiful words of Advent hope in the midst of such darkness:

In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.

That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

In the leafless hills of western Connecticut, this is the only Christmas spirit that could possibly matter now.

Read the full piece here.

The Heretical Liturgy of American Nationalism [QUOTE]

I’m suggesting that [Nationalism] constitutes a liturgy because it is a material ritual of ultimate concern: through a multisensory display, the ritual both powerfully and subtly moves us, and in so doing implants within us a certain reverence and awe, a learned deference to an ideal that might one day call for our “sacrifice”…. Over time, these rituals have a cumulative, albeit covert, effect on our imaginary. And together, I’m arguing, these constitute liturgies of ultimate concern: the ideal of national unity and commitment to it’s ideals is willing to make room for additional loyalties, but it is not willing to entertain trumping loyalties. (Just try to remain seated at the next playing of the national anthem.) The fact that there seems to be little tension between Christianity and American Nationalism is not a function of the generosity (let alone “Christianness”) of the America ideal but rather a sign of a Christianity they has accommodated itself to these military ideals of battle, military sacrifice (which is very different from the Christian ideal of martyrdom), individual (negative) freedom, and prosperity through property.

Implicit in the liturgies of American nationalism is a particular vision of human flourishing as material prosperity and ownership, as well as a particular take on intersubjectivity, beginning from a negative notion of liberty and thus fostering a generally libertarian view of human relationships that stresses noninterference. Related to this is a sense that competition and even violence is basically inscribed into the nature of the world, which thus valorizes competition and even violence, seeing war as the most intense opportunity to demonstrate these ideals. The vision of a kingdom implicit in this liturgy is antithetical to the vision of the kingdom implicit in Christian worship. I think the liturgical take on American nationalism can help us to see why so few Christians experience a tension here; it can also help to diagnose the cause of the church’s complacency and complicity: many Christians experience no tension between the gospel according to America and the gospel of Jesus Christ because, subtly and unwittingly, the liturgies of American nationalism have so significantly shaped our imagination that they have, in many ways, trumped other litutgies. Thus we now see and hear and read the gospel through the liturgical lenses of the “American Gospel”….

The republic claims to have an identity and unity about it, and even claims to have acieved the goal of shalom–to already be a nation “with” liberty and justice for all…. No hint of eschatological deferral; no sense of “not yet” failure to measure up; but a confident claim of justice here and now, secured by the republic….

And as I’ve tried to sketch above, I think there are good reasons to worry that the ideals of the republic are antithetical to some of the defining ideals of the people of God, called to imitate a suffering Savior, who was executed at the hands of military power. What’s explicit in the [Christian] Creed, if we tease it out, is in significant tension with what’s explicit in the Pledge [of Allegiance].

James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, & Cultural Formation

Read my thoughts on Christian Patriotism, and a related quote from Ross Douthat in Bad Religion.

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In Defense of Douthat: a response to Patrol Magazine

Last night I had the privilege of going to a book talk and signing by Ross Douthat (a new hero of mine), promoting his new book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. It was, more or less, a summary of the book’s primary lines of argumentation, followed by a Q&A.

The book itself (which I am only half-way through) lays out some pretty provocative ideas that are sure to ruffle the sentiments of most anyone that finds themselves securely in allegiance with either of the left-right poles of society. I have yet to find someone who sits in ambivalence concerning this book. It evokes. It calls out. It leads to introspection and reaction. You either love it, or you hate it.

This is further complicated by the times we live in. In a world of blogs, podcasts, comment boxes, and the online immediacy of opinion, there is an unspoken and unrealistic expectation of comprehensiveness in any person’s expression of thought. There was a time where an author would write a book, others would write whole books in response, and then the original author would respond with a follow-up book. This process then moved on to newspapers and magazines (the Federalist Papers come to mind).

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Ross Douthat: a new hero of mine

Look at that face. If I saw him walking down the street, I would think he was just another guy; I’d have no idea the kindred spirit that lay in this man’s mind.

Ross Douthat (don’t ask how to say his last name), like myself, seems to be a man that life has continually thrown from one-extreme to the other: born in San Francisco, and then transplanted to New Haven, Connecticut; attended Harvard and then turned around three years later and wrote a book denouncing the Privileged culture there; started out as a Pentecostal, then converted to Catholicism; wrote for his college newspaper and is now the youngest-ever Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times.

These extremes seem to have helped him settle in nicely with a well-informed and balanced view, able to to comfortably exist, engage, and critique in a world of poly-everything.

Over the past year or so, I’ve seen (and been sent), a few of his articles and blog posts, but I think I was missing something. All I knew of him was that he was a Catholic writer with a sharp mind, and I didn’t pay him much proactive attention.

And this was to my great detriment.

Somehow I stumbled upon this set of exchanges on Slate, where Will Saletan, one of the most thoughtful secular liberals I’ve ever read, engages Douthat on some issues raised in Douthat’s newest book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. This exchange cemented Douthat’s stature in my mind, as well as his place in my reading repertoire. It’s great. You all need to read it.

I’ve started to read the book, and it’s definitely going to be a personal classic for me and a turning point in my development as a solidly religious person firmly engaged in the body politic. I also have the privilege of attending a book talk/signing with him next week here in Philly.

I have much more I could say and commend about him (including the fact that he’s a Catholic who fully-embraces praying in tongues–kindred spirit indeed!), but to do so would steal precious time from you, the gracious reader of this blog post, that could be spent reading Douthat’s work itself. Here’s a representative piece to get you started.

Oh. And you’re welcome.

An Amazingly Thoughtful Discussion on Gay Marriage

Thanks to David Sessions, the editor of Patrol Magazine for bringing this all to our attention.

Now, I have remained in the closet for much of this discussion (forgive the pun), though I have spoken of this in-person with others, with varying reactions. For a myriad of reasons, it’s generally wiser to controvert into a half-empty coffee cup or beer pint than it is to do so on the web. But nevertheless, this is a charged issue that demands response, both public and private, from those that have (hopefully) given it deep and communal thought, allowing both time and others to help refine and nuance one’s opinions. I hope I may be so bold as to include myself in those numbers.


For now, I’m still figuring it out, and discussions like the one I want to bring to your attention today both clarify and confuse the issue for me.  I find myself agreeing with each article you will find below; a similar reaction Sessions has eloquently articulated in his Patrol article.  I appreciate his public candor and can easily relate.

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