Why THE WITCH is One of the Greatest Historical Films Ever Made

I am several months late on this topic, but bear with me. Robert Eggers’s film The Witch is now available on DVD, and I finally got the chance to see it. It is one of the truly great horror films, no argument, but it is also an astonishing piece of historical reconstruction. The Witch is [Read More…]

Which Old Testament?

I am presently writing something that draws heavily on the Old Testament sources. I am also struggling mightily with exactly how to refer to that book. Jews call it the Bible, while Christians speak of the Old Testament. Jews, naturally and reasonably, dislike the latter term because it suggests that their scriptures are outmoded or [Read More…]

Earthly Passions and Celestial Parts

“How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul dismissed skeptics of the bodily resurrection as fools, but the topic remained thorny among Christians for centuries. What was the difference between what Paul termed “celestial bodies” and “bodies terrestrial?” Paul made some clear [Read More…]

How Evangelicals Turned from a Born-Again Christian to a Divorced Hollywood Actor

Many evangelicals became deeply disillusioned with Carter’s presidency. The sharp decline in ticket-splitting from 1976 to 1980—that is, voting for Carter at the top of the ticket and then for Republicans elsewhere on their ballots—suggested that support for Carter in 1976 was in fact an anomaly rooted in evangelical identity. What happened between 1976 and [Read More…]

Martin Luther King and the History of Religious Extremism

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” would make it on my list of must-reads for American cultural literacy. Written as he awaited release from a Birmingham, Alabama jail in 1963, King explained why the non-violent protests couldn’t “wait” any longer, as some moderate white Christians asked him to do. “When you are harried [Read More…]

New Thought

In my last column, I mentioned the New Thought movement of the early twentieth century, less for its own intrinsic significance, than for the astonishing importance that observers attached to it. Many educated people saw it as the coming world religion, most notably William James. Today, there is a more basic question: what on earth [Read More…]

Banning the Bible: Did It Really Happen in the Medieval World?

Yes, it did. But not the way you were taught in Sunday School. Let me explain. Last week I stood under the Tudor arch of St. Bartholomew the Great in London (unfortunately still marred by scaffolding). If it had been the 16th century, I would have looked out over an open grassy field just outside the [Read More…]

Reassessing the Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was the most provocative Patriot action before the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775. Most Americans vaguely know that the Tea Partiers pitched tea into Boston Harbor, because they were angry about taxes. But what actually provoked the Tea Party? The key instigator was Samuel Adams, a devout [Read More…]

Calvin, Calvinism, and the Institutes

“The whole of sacred doctrine consists of two parts,” wrote John Calvin at the outset of his 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, “knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Likewise, in his expanded 1559 edition of the Institutes, Calvin repeated that human wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of [Read More…]

Which Spiritual Unrest?

I wrote last time about the failings of prophecy in predicting religious futures. Here is a case-study. In his day, Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) was an enormously respected writer and journalist, and a highly intelligent observer of American life. He was a mainstay of the muckraking movement and a leading Progressive, who was close to [Read More…]


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