Seeking Mystery in a Secular World

Church_versus_StateThe topic, at the Eighth Day Institute symposium in Wichita, Kansas, was how to regain our sense of wonder in a secular age. It might have been a discussion—and in some ways it was—about restoring any number of treasures in the face of an advancing secularism.

Secularism, which many of us have come to equate with a state of widespread unbelief, but which philosopher Charles Taylor argues, in A Secular Age, is more a state of many beliefs, undergirded by the conviction that all is open to doubt.

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It’s Time to Derail the Gravy Train

gravy trainEarlier this week we saw yet again what happens when thousands of the unemployed, living off subsidies from taxpayers, decide to take their grievances to the streets. This latest assault on decency and order happened in Columbus, Ohio, but the list of cities victimized in this way is long and growing. It’s often peaceful towns that are targeted—communities filled with law-abiding people who work for a living, who follow the rules, and who deserve better protection from law enforcement.

The thugs who prey on these neighborhoods wreak havoc, often with impunity. Responsible for neither jobs nor children, living off the earnings of others, these welfare kings and queens strut the streets at night, swilling alcohol, fornicating with abandon, and all too often, inciting violence against property and persons.

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Where Is the Light in Our Darkness?

12308890573_c2c6bf5eb0_zFor most kids I knew, Christmas was a time of anticipation. Even if you hadn’t yet figured out what was happening, you knew it was something. The music changed. Stores overflowed. Things began to sparkle.

Even once you knew what was happening, there remained a sense of delightful oddness. I think it was the lights, which cast everything in bright color or strange shadow. Or perhaps the eyes and hearts of people, likewise lit or darkened.

Christmas brings out the best and worst in mankind. In we small children, it brought forth a good and childlike thing, which is the belief that the world is covered over with magic, and all you need, in order to see it, is a different kind of light.

The world soon obscures that childlike vision. Many of us learned to see Christmas as a time of plunder. For some, it became a season of annoyance, even bitterness. For nearly all it became a gaudy carousel operated by madmen, and we all grabbing hold and clinging, because how can you let go? How can you disappoint those who await presents? How can you not hang the decorations you’ve accumulated in the attic? [Read more...]

Madonna and Child

8225469451_2d84cc2eb2_zThe entrance makes all the difference.

I recently watched the opening of a Madonna concert, mostly for the same reason that I struggle not to crane my neck when driving past an accident. It was her MDNA tour, which is a clever title when you think about it, because MDMA is an acronym for the drug known as ecstasy, while MDNA evokes the sacred genetic strands that constitute the entertainer known as Madonna.

Her clever set designers put those letters to further use by stationing them around the intersection of a large cross, where once might have gone the letters INRI, signifying the Latin for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Madonna of Bay City is herself a kind of royalty, perhaps not equal in circumstance to the deity with whose trappings she adorns herself, but certainly surpassing him in pomp.

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Back off, Man, I’m a Scientist

bill_murrayMy friend in graduate school used to groan as the holidays approached. His father was a surgeon whose every dinner table pronouncement about medicine was taken as authoritative. His sister was a lawyer, and her proclamations about whatever legal conflicts happened to be in the news were likewise greeted with unquestioning acceptance.

My friend lamented that our impending PhDs in political science garnered no such deference. Your uncle holds forth on the need to start a third political party, and is not dissuaded when you explain that America’s system of plurality elections and congressional districting is mathematically geared toward sustaining only two parties. Your brother, the avid talk-radio listener, exclaims that voters are going to punish Party X for bottlenecking legislation in the Senate Finance Committee, and rolls his eyes when you mention polling evidence that voters know little about congressional activity.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We were dealing in facts, my friend and I, but our opinions were considered no more reliable than anyone else’s. This is why a part of me cheers that moment in Ghostbusters when Bill Murray’s character, a researcher named Peter Venkman, says to someone questioning his methods: “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

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