October 2016

The Bishops & Those Emails

Forgive me if I do not join the chorus calling for John Podesta’s resignation or—drum roll—a pro-forma apology from Hillary Clinton for derisive email comments by her staffers about Catholics. Hillary Clinton is corrupt to the marrow. She is guilty of actual crimes. But our shepherds avert their eyes from the squalor of Hillary Clinton’s behavior in office and her policy proposals. Instead, they take aim at the thought crimes of her campaign team.     Like Lewis Carroll’s Caterpillar, our bishops puff away on their—federally funded—hookahs, “taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.” Continue Reading
A Writer on Reading & Material Books

Books are the flesh of words. Not long ago I wrote that a material book will love you back, something an electronic book cannot do. Several literal-minded readers chided me, ever so gently, for making a romance out of ink on paper. The chiding was a challenge to hunt up testimony in support of my side. Let me enter into evidence Alberto Manguel’s A Reader on Reading (2010), an eloquent and enthralling excursion into books. He writes of preparing for a lengthy hospital stay. Continue Reading
The End Time Is Ever With Us

I put aside the day’s news with one thought: the end times are always with us. We do not have to wait for their approach—not tomorrow, not next year, not some distant century. They abide with us. We are forever in them. And every morning we awaken one day closer to the solitary Apocalypse that waits for each of us. It is easy to forget that the peace we are promised is eschatological, not historical. We have no guarantee of salvation in or through history. Continue Reading
Seeing Only Ourselves in the Past

One thing everybody knows about Rome is that it fell. Just why it did is still debated. Classicists can count 200-plus reasons for the dissolution—or evolution—of what was once the known world’s superpower. Fall, however, is a sexier word. It goes well with caricatures of Neronian debauchery fondly promoted in 19th century moralizing paintings or in movies like Fellini’s leering Satyricon. And it evokes that other Fall in a long-ago garden.     Taking cues from Gibbon, we graft decline onto fall and use it as a stick to beat ourselves. Continue Reading
On Agee, Debates, & Douthat

James Agee was a fierce critic. His movie reviews for Time and The Nation, written in the 1940s and early ‘50s, are among the best—no, they are the best—in the annals of American film criticism. W.H. Auden admitted to reading his reviews to spare himself having to go to the movies. Agee did not squander column space on productions he anticipated would be a waste of time. He knew the plot line, the habits of individual directors, the range of talent of the actors. Continue Reading