Review: Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter: a novel.

Partway through Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks's ambitious fictional account of John Brown's adult life, our narrator, John's third son Owen, reflects that his relationship to his father is analogous to Job's relationship with God.  That is, God is, well, God, just like John Brown was John Brown, and the status entitles this looming divine presence to behave as he will, and Job or Owen must simply follow, because one does not question the divine.   As Job says, in chapter 42:I have uttered wh … [Read more...]

The Pope’s Conservative Reasons for Saying Nice Things about Atheists

 Every Wednesday morning, the pope celebrates a Mass and holds a public audience.   It is routine for popes to offer a homily at these occasions – a brief exhortation to his audience that normally follows uncontroversial and tedious paths: do good, attend Mass, or so forth.  We had little reason to suspect that Pope Francis would be all that different.  After all, he was widely reported to be a theological conservative, a “conventional choice” for the papacy, not that different from his … [Read more...]

Lev Grossman’s _The Magicians_ and the Spiritual Longing of America’s Young

The Magicians Lev Grossman Viking, 2009Yes, you get a book review of a four year old book.  But, it's free.  Spoilers.  What you need to know: the  magicians of the title are a handful of America's bright but directionless teenagers, lifted from their daily lives and transported to Brakebills, a college for magicians in upstate New York. There they fight, drink, sleep around, moan about how directionless they are in the way most of America's generation Y and millennials seem to, and eve … [Read more...]

How Not To Think About Fundamentalism

One of my earliest mentors in the historical profession was a former member of Students for a Democratic Society.  He was also a remarkably dynamic teacher who enjoyed pulling reversals in the classroom: before the break, Arthur Schlesinger was the wise and normative advocate of measured reform; after the break Arthur Schlesinger was a googly-eyed plutocrat.   This was a rather blunt way to introduce us to issues of master narratives, methodology, and historiography (in addition to Schlesinger), … [Read more...]

Tentative Notes Toward a Theory of Liberal Mormonism

In 1955, Louis Hartz published a famous and deeply influential book called The Liberal Tradition in America.  Therein he argued that American politics actually functions on an extraordinarily narrow spectrum, that the American left and American right share far more philosophical principles than they would dare admit to their own followers (or to each other).  … [Read more...]

An American Religion

In Tampa a few weeks ago twenty thousand Republicans bowed their heads and listened solemnly to the Mormon Ken Hutchins offer a prayer.  They applauded a string of Mormons who stood to bear witness to Mitt Romney’s service in his Mormon congregation.  Historically speaking, this was remarkable.  A century and a half ago, after all, this same party’s convention denounced Mormonism for being as barbaric as slavery.  … [Read more...]

What It Means to Be Christian

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:22-26And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.- Alma 46:15, The Book of Mormon Here are some ways Americans of one religious stripe … [Read more...]

A Review of the Cover of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A story of violent faith.

Under the Banner of Heaven (Doubleday, 2003)

Author’s note: Yes, I’ve read the book.Canaan Mountain is almost unbearably symbolic. … [Read more...]