Archive for month: September, 2014

True Paradox Signing at Harvard Coop: Saturday Sept 27 at 4pm

24 Sep
September 24, 2014
A picture from the last event ...

A picture from the last event …

For those who happen to be in the Boston/Cambridge area, and are perhaps looking for a family outing, I’ll be doing a book event at the Harvard Coop on Saturday.





Christianity in Iraq

23 Sep
September 23, 2014

I have a little op-ed in the paper this morning about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  Although the news is nearly all bad, history suggests that Christianity will one day return to places like Iraq.

The Family Dollar Battle

23 Sep
September 23, 2014

In my most recent “Money” column for World Magazine, I wrote about the takeover battle for Family Dollar, which is still very much unresolved.

Is Religion Irrational?

15 Sep
September 15, 2014

In Why Tolerate Religion?, the book that provided the theme for my Veritas Forum conversation with Brian Leiter last week, Brian defines religion (which is notoriously difficult to define for the purposes of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom) as consisting of 1) categorical demands on a believer; 2) insulation from the evidence of science and common sense; and 3) a source of existential consolation.  The first and third components strike me as accurate; the second doesn’t.

Defining religious belief as irrational seems to suggest that materialists—those who believe that the physical, material world is the only reality—reach their conclusions about the nature of our existence based on an assessment of evidence, whereas religious believers simply make a leap of faith. In reality, each of us weighs the best evidence we can find about the nature of our existence, and we draw our conclusions based on good but incomplete information.  Materialists and Christians weigh evidence differently– Christians find the evidence of Jesus’s resurrection compelling, for instance, whereas materialists do not– but both weigh evidence and draw the best conclusions they can.

In describing religious belief as insulated from evidence, I think Brian may be thinking about religious doctrine, rather than religious belief. Religious doctrine may have components that are not based on ordinary evidence, or cannot be assessed based on ordinary evidence.  But when a religious believer concludes (either initially, or after a period of doubt) that a set of beliefs is true, he or she is assessing evidence, just as a materialist is.

Brian’s book is quite provocative (and frustrating at times for a Christian reader) but well worth reading. In our conversation, we concluded that we actually agreed on the underlying legal issues 84% of the time.

Why Tolerate Religion? (Veritas Forum)

11 Sep
September 11, 2014

For those who happen to be in Chicago, the University of Chicago philosophy and law professor Brian Leiter and I will be doing a Veritas Forum  on the question “Why Tolerate Religion?” at Northwestern’s law school at 6pm Central/7pm Eastern tonight.  For those who aren’t in the neighborhood, the Forum will be livestreamed here.  We’ll be discussing the question whether religion should continue to be given special protection in American law.  Brian is much more skeptical of the special treatment for religion than I am, so it should be an interesting conversation.

Meaninglessness and the Accidental Uzi Shooting

01 Sep
September 1, 2014

The poet Gregory Orr had an arresting article in the New York Times yesterday about the young New Jersey girl who lost control of a submachine gun and killed her gun instructor.  When Orr was twelve, he accidentally shot and killed his brother while they were hunting.  I took a poetry workshop with Orr at the University of Virginia nearly thirty years ago.  He never mentioned the accident, but it and the familial estrangement that followed is everywhere in his poetry.  I have carried some of the poems around in my mind ever since, including “Child’s Song,” which concludes: “Even I,/who am not wanted, was once/borne up through deep waters/by the invisible arms of desire.”

Orr does not try to explain horrible events like these.  He insists that they cannot be explained.  “In my experience,” Orr writes, “people in a family are often willing to take on responsibility and guilt rather than admit something even scarier: that accidents happen; that even the most ordinary among us live in a world of risk and randomness that we don’t control.”

I think Orr is profoundly right about this.  In the chapter of True Paradox on suffering, I talk about and endorse my late friend Bill Stuntz’s belief that, contrary to what many Christians well-meaningly suggest, horrible suffering often is, in a very real sense, meaningless.  God does not intend it.  Rather, he allows it and promises to redeem it.  As Bill was dying of colon cancer, he often thought and wrote about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and ended up as a result in Egypt, where he rose to prominence and was later in a position to save his family from starvation.  Commenting on Joseph’s statement to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,” Bill wrote in an essay on his own suffering: “That doesn’t mean that slavery and unjust imprisonment are good; rather the point is that they produced good, and the good they produced was larger than the wickedness that was visited upon Joseph.”

The twentieth century mystic Simon Weil said something similar.  She insisted that the joy in our lives cannot remove the effects of suffering, but it can sometimes transform them.  This of course is the central promise of Christianity, that because of Jesus’s own suffering, “each one of us” (as Bill put it in the same essay) “has the opportunity to share in death’s defeat.”