There’s a genre of writing that I find particularly annoying: the intellectual (often atheist) patting his inferiors on the head and telling them what good little boys and girls they are. Another is the medicinal (now “noble” apparently is preferred) lie: “It is good that hoi polloi should believe this because it makes them tractable.”
So, in sum: Reza Aslan’s book is an educated amateur’s summary and synthesis of a particularly skeptical but quite long-established line of New Testament scholarship, presented to us as simple fact. If you like that kind of thing, Zealot will be the kind of thing you like.
An MD warned that “study after study has discovered that multi-tasking degrades the experience of learning,” and noted a “continuous increase in overall mental illness, both in diagnosis and severity.” “No one is social anymore,” he flatly stated.
When his talk was over he sat down next to me and checked his phone.
I went to hear Baylor’s Ralph Wood bring John Henry Newman into the mix. The room was packed, so I sat down in an overflow area beside it as the session was getting underway. Soon after, four more conferees joined me, three students and a middle-aged professor. As Wood was recalling Newman’s nineteenth-century prophecy of a coming time of “ceaseless sensate entertainment” they each very smartly checked their phones.
I checked out. It was the end of the third afternoon, and the conference was, I could feel by then, starting to impede my own quest for human flourishing. Or was it the partially attentive conferees that were getting to me? I had come in hope of collective sharpness, but the net effect was getting fuzzier by the session. “What’s missing at this conference,” Max at some point opined, “is a constituency. It’s for everyone, and so it’s for no one.” Despite the fact that the accumulating message appeared to me bleak, there was little sense of collective reckoning, of common urgency …
If Patrick Deneen is right, this fuzzy focus, this slack posture, of our common life is more or less the way we Americans usually want it, and have wanted it for a very long time. Deneen, a Notre Dame political philosopher, had opened the conference by noting the looming, oppressive sense of inevitability that hovers over our lives as the techno-juggernaut rolls on. It’s an inevitability that may occasionally leave us uneasy but is, he thinks, our nationally preferred state of being: we are at bottom a constituency of selves, we Americans, freed by our mutual pact, ironically, to pursue life on our own. Our “political technology,” Deneen suggested, is our “operating system,” from which our morally and structurally individuated society has emerged. He quoted the novelist Stephen Marche in his recent Atlantic essay on Facebook, who confesses, baldly, that “We are lonely because we want to be lonely.”
My wife (a Christian School librarian, by the way) and I don’t talk politics much, but for several years leading up to last Fall’s elections, it became clear that she detested then-Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. I paid some attention and concluded she was right, voting for Glenda Ritz instead. (Ritz won.)
I didn’t know the half of it. Bennett was not only an idiot (thinking that second graders should have two-hour silent reading blocks for instance) but a … what? Snake oil salesman? Let’s wait and see, but I’m having a little trouble seeing how he’ll explain away some of what’s been unearthed.
You can have him, Florida.
I occasionally – well, maybe too frequently, now that you mention it – make invidious comparisons between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Christian traditions. Usually, it’s clear that Orthodoxy is better.
But I suspect that Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, who is not in fact an old curmudgeon like me, will be seen as curmudgeonly by many in this “why I could never be Roman Catholic” piece.
In terms of what passes for worship, Roman Catholicism in large swaths of the world today looks more like charismatic Protestantism than traditional Christian liturgy (including the Catholic Mass before Vatican II). It seems that they’ve got a thesaurus equating “worship” and “boogie down, now!”
The Anglican Cat in the Chasuble would be just as depressing if I were so foolish as to expect even a simulacrum of Orthodoxy in North American Episcopalianism/Anglicanism.
This sort of thing is not worship. It’s attempted spectacle, and usually attempted very badly. If you like that kind of thing, Orthodoxy will not be the kind of thing you like.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)