Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Pope, God, and the Church

The ever-dependable Peter Steinfels wrote a very interesting and suggestive column about Benedict XVI's theological teachings, to coincide with his first visit to New York. As Steinfels reads Benedict, this Pope emphasizes the Church's foundation in God even more than he emphasizes the Church--unusual for a Roman Catholic. Here's the link:

(A few days ago while the Pope was here, it was fun to see the yellow and white papal flag flying for three days at the archdiocesan residence behind St. Patrick's. That's a flag that hasn't exactly gotten dirty from use.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New book about Founding Fathers

Did you know that Sam Adams was the most devout Christian among the American Founders? Neither did I. Patrick Henry was an orthodox believer too, according to a new book called Founding Faith by Steven Waldman, which sounds quite interesting. It takes a middle position between the Christian Right and the "nouvelle atheists" (writes Richard Brookhiser), rightly so, since the pious notion that most of the Founders were traditional Christians is not accurate--certainly not in the case of the "Big Five" (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison).

The most unusual feature of this new book is that it has a chapter on George Whitefield, surely a first among the recent Founders books. Sam Adams heard Whitefield preach. (Parenthetically and unrelatedly, Dr. Samuel Johnson--a devout believer--dragged James Boswell to hear John Wesley.)

Click on the Brookhiser review:

Dick Cavett on General Petraeus

Somebody out there cares about the English language--this blog by Dick Cavett, rating General Petraeus' and Ambassador Crocker's testimony before Congress, is the most-emailed item this weekend. I was wondering why I found the televised hearings so boring. Now I know.

Click here:

Monday, April 07, 2008

George Kennan on torture

A letter to The New York Times today reminds us of the great diplomat George Kennan's famous "long telegram" of the Cold War era, with its caution that we Americans must "have the courage and conviction to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet Communism is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping."

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Who is the best interpreter of American evangelicalism?

An article that I find thrilling has just appeared in The New York Review of Books. It is an essay-review by the estimable Andrew Delbanco (author of The Death of Satan, a book I admire) of Garry Wills' new book Head and Heart: American Christianities. Wills' book is sure to find a large audience, but Delbanco is quite critical of it for reasons that should please liberal-evangelical Christian believers.

It is a fact that sometimes a sympathetic nonbeliever can give a better account of Christianity than a believer (Delbanco is a Sephardic Jew, probably nonobservant). The great Harvard historian Perry Miller, who was an unbeliever, was a dazzlingly insightful interpreter of the Puritans of New England (and a superlative literary stylist to boot). Miller did not get everything right, but he is a joy to read and he tapped into something enormously important about Christianity in early America. If you think you don't like the Puritans, read Miller (a good place to begin is Errand Into the Wilderness). Another non-practicing nonbeliever (well, sort of) is Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, who defends evangelicals every chance he gets.

Delbanco's essay-review takes Garry Wills to task for being " anger" against anything he deems to be anti-Enlightenment. He thinks Wills has a narrow view of the Puritans and of the early evangelicals, so that his conclusions about subsequent developments are wrong too.

Here is an excerpt from the Delbanco essay:
[Wills' book] sometimes gives the impression that everything admirable in American history is the fruit of the Enlightenment, and everything coarse and stupid is the legacy of evangelical Christianity. Of course, as Wills well knows, evangelicals played a large the antebellum abolitionist movement and in later reform movements...Evangelicals have taken part in social reform from the Great Awakening to the civil rights era....

The New York Review of Books charges a pretty penny for access to its online edition, so I don't know if this link will work for you or not. Delbanco's essay-review is in the April 3, 2008 issue.