Tolkien, Chesterton and the adventure of mission

There is a common, and I’ll admit somewhat understandable, interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that sees the great work as a celebration of the virtues of the Shire, that little town where the hobbits dwell in quiet domesticity. Neat, tidy hobbit holes, filled with comfortable furniture, delicate tea settings, and cozy fireplaces are meant, this reading has it, to evoke the charms of a “merrie old England” that existed before the rise of modernity and capitalism. As I say, there is undoubtedly something to this, for Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis and the other members of the Inklings group, did indeed have a strong distaste for the excesses of the modern world. 

The McCarrick mess

When I was going through school, the devil was presented to us as a myth, a literary device, a symbolic manner of signaling the presence of evil in the world. I will admit to internalizing this view and largely losing my sense of the devil as a real spiritual person.

A reflection on the Irish referendum

I will confess that as a person of Irish heritage on both sides of my family, I found the events in Ireland last week particularly dispiriting. Not only did the nation vote, by a two-to-one margin, for the legal prerogative to kill their children in the womb, but they also welcomed and celebrated the vote with a frankly sickening note of gleeful triumph. Will I ever forget the unnerving looks and sounds of the frenzied crowd gathered to cheer their victory in the courtyard of Dublin Castle? As the right to abortion now sweeps thoroughly across the Western world, I am put in mind of Gloria Steinem’s mocking remark from many years ago to the effect that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. I say this because abortion has indeed become a sacrament for radical feminism, the one, absolutely sacred, non-negotiable value for so-called progressive women. 

A case for priestly celibacy

There is a very bad argument for celibacy which has reared its head throughout the tradition and which is, even today, defended by some. It runs something like this: Married life is morally and spiritually suspect; priests, as religious leaders, should be spiritual athletes above reproach; therefore, priests shouldn’t be married. 

The death of an evangelical titan

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Billy Graham preach about 20 years ago in Cincinnati. At the time, Dr. Graham was around 80 years old and clearly in frail health. He came to the podium and commenced to speak, but the crowd of young people, stirred up by the Christian rock bands who had performed earlier, was restive and inattentive. Graham paused, folded his hands, and quietly said, “Let us pray.” With that, a stadium of 50,000 people fell silent. Once a spirit of reverence held sway, the preacher resumed. I remember thinking, “What an old pro!”

An evening with William Lane Craig

Ten years ago, when I was a visiting scholar at the North American College in Rome, I fell into a spirited conversation with one of the seminarians about the state of evangelization in America. We both were bemoaning the fact that the “new” atheists — Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others — were regularly attacking religion, and I commented that no Christian spokesman had managed to engage the enemies of the faith well on the public scene.

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