A Lottery for Barbarians

the_lotteryFrom time to time in my unorthodox career, I’ve found myself teaching a class—be it in ethics or literature or law—which includes a reading of Shirley Jackson’s horror story, The Lottery, first introduced in eighth grade English (or it was back in the day) and having the singular distinction of being the one story most retain memory of—even those who despise fiction.

I can’t possibly spoil the story by telling the ending, as everyone must’ve read it. So it is only memory that I prod when I relate that the denouement involves a contemporary American village’s annual custom of stoning a lottery winner—this time, a housewife and mother—all in order to make the corn crop grow. At least that’s the implied reason, as the purpose is left vague. The power of the story lies in the chilling nonchalance with which the ordinary townspeople conduct this yearly slaughter.

My students react with predictable disgust at the characters’ ignorance—“doing something for which they have no good reason,” it is often expressed.

But surely those are the wrong objections, I say.

“You’re faulting them because they’re illogical? Because there’s no real correlation between human sacrifice and corn growth?”

If so, what if there was a “good” reason? What if blood spill were actually to make corn grow, and science said that it did. Would that make the townspeople right? What if hunger could be eliminated, lives saved, etc., with the shedding of this particular character’s plasma? [Read more...]

What Is a Christian?

5602081913_30b82fc2e8_mAccording to recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the number of U.S. adults who identify themselves as Christians has declined—a lot—since the last such survey Pew did in 2007. This information comes out just as I’m in the middle of reading Rachel Held Evans’s latest book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, a book about Evans’s own frustrations with and hopes for the church and what it means to be or identify as “Christian.”

Though Evans is mostly known as a voice for the generation often referred to as the Millennials, and I am solidly Gen-X, I’ve found myself much in sympathy with her experiences and opinions. Like her, I grew up in an evangelical setting, and in adulthood have struggled with how to categorize, prioritize, and examine (or surrender) my doubts. In a passage that describes almost exactly a process I’ve been through myself, Evans writes:

Evangelicalism gave me many gifts, but the ability to distinguish between foundational, orthodox beliefs and peripheral ones was not among them, so as I conducted this massive inventory of my faith, tearing every doctrine from the cupboard and turning each one over in my hand, the Nicene Creed was subjected to the same scrutiny as Young Earth creationism and Republican politics, for all had been presented to me as essential components to a biblical world view. [Read more...]

What Will Pass for Mercy

By Brian Volck

2986260634_9a443c432e_m“Do not say God is just. Justice has not been evident in God’s dealings with you.”
—Isaac of Syria

Among the habits I’ve lately tried living without are reading online comment boxes (Good Letters being an exception) and making predictions. I bypass comments because I encounter enough wrath, ridicule, and unreason without wallowing in still more online. As for prophecy, my ability to predict the future isn’t what it used to be.

Parents routinely ask me, a pediatrician, what’s in store for their children. I offer probabilities and guesses. Harder still to predict “the fate of the nation.” I don’t know where the United States, with an armada of oncoming problems and a conspicuous dearth of creative proposals in response, is heading.

Maybe it’s just a passing foul mood, a temporary crisis of confidence, but decline—perhaps precipitous—in America’s global economic and political influence seems likely. Who knows what shape that may take? [Read more...]

Never Again: Netanyahu’s Holocaust Cliché

16072485443_38e6ec0e06_oIn the air, on the air, tunneling through cables, conquering newsrooms, occupying the mouths of pundits, settling in the vacuous chambers of the minds of senators and congressmen, securing and challenging the border of church and state, opening the addled heart and vault of Las Vegas: Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.


I could tell you how uncomfortable—appalled, sickened—I was as I watched the short man enter the once hallowed halls of Congress and inch his way, from handshake to handshake, down the aisle to take his stand where democracy should stand, where truth should stand. But I won’t.


As I write this, it’s been two weeks since the speech, which, in the temporal context of news, is an eternity. As I write this, it’s election day in Israel. You already know, if you follow Israeli politics, the outcome. [Read more...]

The Courage of Men

By Suzanne M. Wolfe

Twenty one men dressed in orange jump-suits are kneeling in a line on a beach. The ocean is at their backs like eternity waiting. Behind each one stands the angel of death. Not one of them weeps, not one begs. Some lower their heads as if in prayer; most are looking at something far away or something impossibly near, as near perhaps as the knowledge that this, of all moments, is their final one, that all their acts—some good, some bad—have led to this one last moment here on this beach with the sea at their backs and the wind in their faces. [Read more...]