In years and decades to come, we’ll remember the last two weeks. The Emanuel A.M.E. massacre, the sudden shift away from the Confederate flag, the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of the Affordable Care Act and its extension of same-sex marriage to every state. Last Friday there was an awesome funeral service for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel and one of the victims in the shooting. And all of it while once again black churches have been burning, some under suspicious circumstances.
For all of America’s secularization, actual and expected, each event was resonant with religious significations—and each prompted a wave of public theology.
Last week the Nebraska legislature abolished the state’s death penalty, overcoming the governor’s veto to do it. First Things editor Matthew Schmitz, writing in National Review, adds a salutary note of caution to the celebration that followed: viewing abolition as moral progress allows us to “overlook the countless cruelties of our criminal-justice system as we congratulate ourselves on the elimination of a relatively rare punishment.”
Yesterday flags stood at half mast to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. It was, to borrow the man’s own phrase, altogether fitting and proper that we should do this in recognition of our greatest president and his tragic end.
America’s conversation about race has, like all of our public conversations, come to consist largely of a running commentary on viral spectacles. Recent weeks have been rife with them—the Oklahoma University SAE video chant and the dreadful scene of the double shooting of police in Ferguson; the awesome images of a sitting and a former president crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, heading a massive multiracial and multigenerational crowd; the face of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, bloodied by Alcohol Board of Control officers.
With an authorization looming in Congress for our ongoing war against the so-called Islamic State, a muddled conversation has sprung up about the group’s relationship to mainstream Islam, its relationship to American and European policy in the region, and the military and political measures needed to counter it. Graeme Wood interviewed scholars and activists to shed light on what ISIS is trying to accomplish and why. His resulting story—a long tour through the theology, history, and practice of this particularly brutal offshoot of Salafist Islam—is alarming, not least to Wood himself.
“Political correctness,” the stifling culture of left-wing taboos around race, gender, and sexuality remembered from campus battles of the 1980s and 90s, “has returned.” So claims New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait in an essay that has sent the small tinderbox of progressive media into skyward sparks. According to Chait, this revival is heralded by hashtag activism, privilege-checking and calling out, strict policing of online and in-class language, “trigger warnings,” and bumptious student responses to commencement speakers. The consequences, he says, are dangerous.
Not all of Francis's critics sound like a McCarthyite version of Foghorn Leghorn. But this refrain is common: the pope is beyond his competence in matters of science and public policy, at least where the environment is concerned.
The most troubling electoral result of the year, as far as I’m concerned, was the Scottish vote on independence. Not the referendum's failure itself—few people outside the UK had much of a stake in that either way—but the fact that elite opinion elsewhere seemed relatively unshaken by the implications when 45 percent of Scots voted to dissolve the United Kingdom.
America is extraordinarily tolerant of the NFL. “Pro football, it seems, can do anything but drive us away,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal in August. He described moves the NFL has made that would ruin another business: undercut your partners, maintain a nonprofit status while paying huge executive salaries, accept unnecessary public subsidies, stay out of Los Angeles so your teams can use the prospect of moving there as leverage to keep demanding those subsidies.
And this: alienate women, who make up 45 percent of the NFL’s viewership.
“Why is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa?” asks Ronald S. Lauder. The World Jewish Congress president frames the question in a larger paint-by-numbers argument defending Israel’s assault on Gaza and criticizing the moral instincts of “beautiful celebrities,” reporters, and the U.N. who have not responded adequately to the brutality of Boko Haram and ISIS.
An argument like Lauder's is liable to predictable demands for greater American military involvement in the region. But the silence he names is real.
“We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs.”
So says Carl Trueman at First Things, making the case that the Reformed tradition will weather the “exile to cultural irrelevance” imposed by secularism and the sexual revolution better than other Christian traditions. This provocative premise touched off an online symposium on the question of which tradition is best equipped to endure this condition of exile.
The swift and unexpected political demise of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) at the hands of his own party’s primary electorate last night has already called forth endless analysis. Beaten by an economics professor who ran on a shoestring and whose major source of institutional support came from talk radio hosts, Cantor has been charged variously with focusing too much on preparing to be the next House speaker, with running an ineffective campaign that spent no money on voter contact but $200,000 on steakhouses, with being too soft on immigrants (Cantor proposed a path to legal status for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children), and with being too negative and unfair in his campaign ads. There is even speculation that Cantor was defeated by Democrats voting in Virginia’s open primary.
Whatever the mix of factors, the primary defeat of a House majority leader—something that has apparently never happened in the 115-year history of that office—indicates a politician, and a party, caught sleeping by a restless electorate.