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Culture

Society and Culture

Excellence

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We are called to excellence in all activities of life, not least in our scholarship and ministry. Outlining virtues directly related to vocation and scholarship, Andreas Köstenberger tells us there is a way to be a better person and a better scholar — without needing to sacrifice our faith at the altar of academic respectability. Here is a call to a life of virtue lived out in excellence.

Jeremiah on Living in Exile in Another Culture

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This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Saving Leonardo

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Is secularism a positive force in the modern world? Or does it lead to fragmentation and disintegration? In Saving Leonardo, best-selling award-winning author Nancy Pearcey (Total Truth, coauthor How Now Shall We Live?) makes a compelling case that secularism is destructive and dehumanizing. Pearcey depicts the revolutionary thinkers and artists, the ideas and events, leading step by step to the unleashing of secular worldviews that undermine human dignity and liberty. She crafts a fresh approach that exposes the real-world impact of ideas in philosophy, science, art, literature, and film — voices that surround us in the classroom, in the movie theater, and in our living rooms. A former agnostic, Pearcey offers a persuasive case for historic Christianity as a holistic and humane alternative. She equips readers to counter the life-denying worldviews that are radically restructuring society and pervading our daily lives. Whether you are a devoted Christian, determined secularist, or don’t know quite where you stand, reading Saving Leonardo will unsettle established views and topple ideological idols. Includes more than 100 art reproductions and illustrations that bring the book’s themes to life.

Love & Economics

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In Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, economist Jennifer Roback Morse explains how the economy, which appears to a series of impersonal exchanges, is actually based upon love. Morse also shows how the political order — Hillary Clinton’s “village” — depends upon the prior existence of loving families. Drawing on the experience of neglected orphans, Morse argues that mothers create the basic attachments that lay the groundwork for the development of conscience. Furthermore, only the family can socialize children to use their freedom responsibly. No social program can take the place of mothers and fathers working together as a team. Unfortunately, stay-at-home mothers are often denigrated by feminists and always squeezed by the economy. Love and Economics defends the economic value of motherhood and outlines a better economic way forward.

Refractions

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Makoto Fujimura is a contemporary artist whose home and studio are near Ground Zero. Out of a response to the attacks on 9/11, he began to set aside time every Saturday to write. This was a time to process and reflect on the emotions and changes in his life and city. The result of these writings is this beautifully crafted book. In recent years, we have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between art and theology, and Fujimura offers a significant voice in that conversation. The book is a collection of essays loosely joined by the topics of faith, art, and culture, as the title suggests. While some books seem redundant after the first few chapters, the unique subject and fresh thoughts of each essay pulled me forward into every page turn. ~ J. Chandler at Amazon.com

Living at the Crossroads

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How can Christians live faithfully at the crossroads of the story of Scripture and postmodern culture? In Living at the Crossroads, authors Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew explore this question as they provide a general introduction to Christian worldview. Ideal for both students and lay readers, Living at the Crossroads lays out a brief summary of the biblical story and the most fundamental beliefs of Scripture. The book tells the story of Western culture from the classical period to postmodernity. The authors then provide an analysis of how Christians live in the tension that exists at the intersection of the biblical and cultural stories, exploring the important implications in key areas of life, such as education, scholarship, economics, politics, and church.

Culture Making

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It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture or to copy culture. Most of the time, we just consume culture. But the only way to change culture is to create culture. Andy Crouch unleashes a stirring manifesto calling Christians to be culture makers. For too long, Christians have had an insufficient view of culture and have waged misguided “culture wars.” But we must reclaim the cultural mandate to be the creative cultivators that God designed us to be. Culture is what we make of the world, both in creating cultural artifacts as well as in making sense of the world around us. By making chairs and omelets, languages and laws, we participate in the good work of culture making. Crouch unpacks the complexities of how culture works and gives us tools for cultivating and creating culture. He navigates the dynamics of cultural change and probes the role and efficacy of our various cultural gestures and postures. Keen biblical exposition demonstrates that creating culture is central to the whole scriptural narrative, the ministry of Jesus and the call to the church. He guards against naive assumptions about “changing the world,” but points us to hopeful examples from church history and contemporary society of how culture is made and shaped. Ultimately, our culture making is done in partnership with God’s own making and transforming of culture. A model of his premise, this landmark book is sure to be a rallying cry for a new generation of culturally creative Christians. Discover your calling and join the culture makers. ~ Product Description

John G. West on Science Education

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Students need to know about the current scientific consensus on a given issue, but they also need to be able to evaluate critically the evidence on which that consensus rests. They need to learn about competing interpretations of the evidence offered by scientists, as well as anomalies that aren?t well explained by existing theories. Yet in many schools today, instruction about controversial scientific issues is closer to propaganda than education. Teaching about global warming is about as nuanced as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Discussions about human sexuality recycle the junk science of biologist Alfred Kinsey and other ideologically driven researchers. And lessons about evolution present a caricature of modern evolutionary theory that papers over problems and fails to distinguish between fact and speculation. In these areas, the “scientific” view is increasingly offered to students as a neat package of dogmatic assertions that just happens to parallel the political and cultural agenda of the Left. Real science, however, is a lot more messy — and interesting — than a set of ideological talking points. Most conservatives recognize this truth already when it comes to global warming. They know that whatever consensus exists among scientists about global warming, legitimate questions remain about its future impact on the environment, its various causes, and the best policies to combat it. They realize that efforts to suppress conflicting evidence and dissenting interpretations related to global warming actually compromise the cause of good science education rather than promote it. The effort to suppress dissenting views on global warming is a part of a broader campaign to demonize any questioning of the “consensus” view on a whole range of controversial scientific issues — from embryonic stem-cell research to Darwinian evolution — and to brand such interest in healthy debate as a “war on science.”

Barack Obama on the Importance of Fathers

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Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. ¶ But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

The Persecuted Atheist?

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I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve finally gotten a chance to begin reading Dawkins’ celebrated best-seller, The God Delusion. It’s been a very engaging read so far and I’m hoping to post a number of reflections here as I stumble across provocative passages. In the first chapter, Dawkins aims to embolden beleaguered atheists who have been cowed into silence by societal and familial pressures. I second his call to transparency, to being our authentic selves in the public square. However, along the way, he paints a picture of the plight of atheists in the Western world, and in America in particular, that to me seems off. He suggests that, “the status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago.” And, it is only “slightly exaggerating” to say that “making fun of religion is as risky as burning a flag in an American Legion Hall”. Dawkins makes some good observations about the very real prejudices that atheists do face, but this second claim is absurd. I know Dawkins is a Brit, looking in from afar, but has he ever: 1) Watched The Simpsons, The Family Guy, or The Daily Show; 2) Read The Onion, a college newspaper, or a big city’s “independent” paper; 3) Hung out in the Humanities department of any major American university; 4) Opened a Bible in West Hollywood or Manhattan?1 Ironically, many Christians also complain that it is they who are persecuted and prevailed upon to keep their beliefs in the closet. And the truth is, they’re both right.

What Price Utopia?

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This volume brings together for the first time more than two dozen of Daphne PataiOs incisive and at times satirical essays dealing with the academic and intellectual orthodoxies of our time. Patai draws on her years of experience in an increasingly bizarre academic world, where a stifling politicization threatens genuine teaching and learning. Addressing the rise of feminist dogma, the domination of politics over knowledge, the shoddy thinking and moralizing that hide behind identity politics, and the degradation of scholarship, her essays offer a resounding defense of liberal values. Patai takes aim at the unctuous and also dangerous posturing that has brought us restrictive speech codes, harassment policies, and a vigilante atmosphere, while suppressing plain speaking about crucial issues. But these trenchant essays are not limited to academic life, for the ideas and practices popularized there have spread far beyond campus borders. Included are two new pieces written especially for this volume, one on the

Tim Keller on Polarization Over Religion

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There is a great gulf today between what is popularly known as liberalism and conservatism. Each side demands that you not only disagree with but disdain the other as (at best) crazy or (at worst) evil. This is particularly true when religion is the point at issue. Progressives cry out that fundamentalism is growing rapidly and nonbelief is stigmatized. They point out that politics has turned toward the right, supported by mega-churches and mobilized orthodox believers. Conservatives endlessly denounce what they see as an increasingly skeptical and relativistic society. Major universities, media companies, and elite institutions are heavily secular, they say, and they control the culture. ¶ Which is it? Is skepticism or faith on the ascendancy in the world today? The answer is Yes. The enemies are both right. Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion are growing in power and influence. But at the same time, robust, orthodox belief in the traditional faiths is growing as well. … In short, the world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time. There was once a confident belief that secular European countries were the harbingers for the rest of the world. Religion, it was thought, would thin out from its more robust, supernaturalist form or die out altogether. But the theory that technological advancements bring inevitable secularization is now being scrapped or radically rethought.

The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar

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In September 1980 Charles Malik gave a powerful talk on the need for evangelicals to reclaim the mind, and to reclaim the universities. It was published that year in a brief book called The Two Tasks. A century after his birth, a number of Christian scholars, including his son, commemorates Malik and his stirring address. Thus this book. Seven Christian thinkers, including Peter Kreeft and William Lane Craig, remind us of the crucial importance of what Charles Malik said on that September day. And it was indeed a vital message. I have pulled from my shelves that quite thin volume (a mere 37 pages) and reread that incisive message. Malik rightly said that the “greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism.” He also said that the most urgent need is “not only to win souls but to save minds”. He correctly noted that the universities are the real battle ground today, and we need to see Christ exalted there as much as anywhere else. ~ William Muehlenberg at Amazon.com

R. R. Reno on Alan Bloom’s Diagnosis of Higher Education

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The supposed idealism of the 1960s was, in fact, a new barbarism. Whatever moral and spiritual seriousness the long tradition of American pragmatism had left intact in university life, the anti-culture of the left destroyed. ¶ The result? Higher education has become, argued [Allan] Bloom, the professional training of clever and sybaritic animals, who drink, vomit, and fornicate in the dorms by night while they posture critically and ironically by day. Bloom identified moral relativism as dogma that blessed what he called “the civilized reanimalization of man.” He saw a troubling, dangerous, and soulless apathy that pleasured itself prudently with passing satisfactions (“Always use condoms!” says the sign by the dispenser in the bathroom) but was moved by no desire to know good or evil, truth or falsehood, beauty or ugliness.

Eyes Wide Open

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Grounded in Christian principles, this accessible and engaging book offers an informed and fascinating approach to popular culture. William D. Romanowski provides affectionate yet astute analysis of familiar, well-loved movies and television characters from Indiana Jones to Homer Simpson, and he speaks with historical depth and expertise on films from Casablanca to Crash and music from Bruce Springsteen to U2. Romanowski’s confessional approach affirms a role for popular culture in faithful living. Practical, analytical approaches to content, meaning, and artistic style offer the tools to participate responsibly and imaginatively in popular cultural activities. An engaging read, this new edition introduces students and thoughtful readers to popular culture — one of the most influential forces in contemporary society.

The Dialectics of Secularization

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Two of the worlds great contemporary thinkers — theologian and churchman Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and Jürgen Habermas, philosopher and Neo-Marxist social critic — discuss and debate aspects of secularization, and the role of reason and religion in a free society. These insightful essays are the result of a remarkable dialogue between the two men, sponsored by the Catholic Academy of Bavaria, a little over a year before Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope. Jürgen Habermas has surprised many observers with his call for “the secular society to acquire a new understanding of religious convictions”, as Florian Schuller, director of the Catholic Academy of Bavaria, describes it his foreword. Habermas discusses whether secular reason provides sufficient grounds for a democratic constitutional state. Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI argues for the necessity of certain moral principles for maintaining a free state, and for the importance of genuine reason and authentic religion, rather than what he calls “pathologies of reason and religion”, in order to uphold the states moral foundations. Both men insist that proponents of secular reason and religious conviction should learn from each other, even as they differ over the particular ways that mutual learning should occur. ~ Product Description

Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief

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What are the obstacles that hinder modern men, women, and children from hearing and embracing the Gospel? Are science, technology, and mass media at odds with Christianity? Are new teaching methods helping to solve the crisis in catechesis or making matters worse? How can the Church do a better job of handing on her precious patrimony to subsequent generations? To address these provocative questions, some of the great churchmen of our times, including Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI, gathered in France in 1983 for two important conferences. Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief brings together the four illuminating lectures presented at those meetings, along with commentaries by Pierre Eyt, Bernard Bro, O.P., Georges Bonnet, and Jacques Guillet, S.J. Also included is a candid interview with the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger about the pressing problems associated with teaching the faith. ~ Product Description

The Gospel According to America

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Readers of Dark’s book Everyday Apocalypse know that this high school English teacher is a passionate, articulate, absurdly well-read interpreter of popular culture. But even the forewarned may be astonished by this latest effort. Dark’s skill at probing the spiritual resonances of American culture — in forms high and low, from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville to Bob Dylan and David Lynch — is matched by his uncanny ability to select telling moments from America’s common story. Whether it’s Elvis taking a shotgun to his television sets, Dylan confessing a sense of common humanity with Lee Harvey Oswald or George Washington treating British prisoners of war with unprecedented civility, Dark excavates a series of witnesses who speak prophetically to what he sees as our media-saturated overconfidence in our own righteousness. Moreover, he offers a convincing and unsettling account of the gospel itself — the “Jewish Christian” story of forgiveness and human dignity that, Dark argues, has animated America’s ideals even as it has continually critiqued America’s practices. Dark’s Southern heritage is evident in his literary allusions (the subtitle echoes Flannery O’Connor) and in his affection for egalitarian conversation. Nearly every page has something to make readers pause, laugh, think or pray; perhaps most amazing is Dark’s skill at burying layers of meaning for the reader to discover. It’s hard to imagine a better tonic for our age than this unblinkingly honest exercise in faithful patriotism. ~ Publishers Weekly

Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible

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To many, the New Testament’s teaching on divorce and remarriage seems to be both impractical and unfair. The "plain" meaning of the texts allows for divorce only in cases of adultery or desertion, and it does not permit remarriage until the death of one’s former spouse. But are these proscriptions the final word for Christians today? Are we correctly reading the scriptures that address these issues? By looking closely at the biblical texts on divorce and remarriage in light of the first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman world, this book shows that the original audience of the New Testament heard these teachings differently. Through a careful exploration of the background literature of the Old Testament, the ancient Near East, and especially ancient Judaism, David Instone-Brewer constructs a biblical view of divorce and remarriage that is wider in scope than present-day readings. Among the important findings of the book are that both Jesus and Paul condemned divorce without valid grounds and discouraged divorce even for valid grounds; that both Jesus and Paul affirmed the Old Testament grounds for divorce; that the Old Testament allowed divorce for adultery and for neglect or abuse; and that both Jesus and Paul condemned remarriage after an invalid divorce but not after a valid divorce. Instone-Brewer shows that these principles are not only different from the traditional church interpretation of the New Testament but also directly relevant to modern relationships. Enhanced with pastoral advice on how to apply the biblical teaching in today’s context, this volume will be a valuable resource for anyone seeking serious answers about married life. ~ Publisher’s Description

M. Faraday on Family Values in Cuba

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Another woman on the block, a ranking government official, told me, “You know, the one thing we really have to thank … [here she tugged at an imaginary beard; those less kindly disposed toward El Jefe of the Long Wind massage imaginary horns but similarly do not speak his name] … for is that he relieved us of the Catholic curse, and so we have fewer sexual hang-ups than anyone in the Latin world. We use birth control like happy whores and we can divorce with the drop of a jockstrap.” Some 82 percent of married Cuban women 15 to 49 regularly use birth control, compared with 70 percent in the U.S.. Abortions are free of stigma and charge, and they are readily available and volubly defended by government officials. Divorce, my neighbor tells me, is so common in Cuba that the joke is that the child who actually lives at home with both biological parents will surely require psychotherapy.

Jonah Goldberg on Deconstructing Higher Education

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For example. If I stood up in a classroom at Brown or Harvard or Yale and declared, “Let the best man win,” the students would turn into a human sprinkler-system of deconstructing inquiry. What do you mean by “man”? What are your criteria for “best”? Why does someone have to “win” at all? Couldn’t we define the task more cooperatively? When you say “let,” who is doing the “letting”? Isn’t that just another way of saying we should “let” the patriarchal capitalist system continue to reward those already deemed “best” (and, therefore, most advantaged)? This word “the,” it seems to connote that there is only a single criterion for determining a privileged status; couldn’t there be a more pluralistic approach? Etc., yawn, etc.

Dulio, Medvic, Nelson on TV, Style, and Substance

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The problems include limited access to mass media outlets afforded to some voices in our political process; “sound bite” journalism that covers campaign strategy more than policy pronouncements and emphasizes conflict over consensus; and overreliance on the medium of television, the logic of which makes politics “an activity of style over substance, image over reality, melodrama over analysis, belief over knowing, awareness over understanding.” The primary cause of these problems, [Robert] Denton argues, lies in “contemporary news values.” As a business, the media must maintain high circulation (or ratings) in order to make a profit by selling advertising. The incentive to make the news entertaining is overwhelming. But information that is most useful in a democratic system may often be subtle and complex — boring, to some.

Richard John Neuhaus on America

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Intellectuals are inclined to think that they are certified as intellectuals by virtue of their capacity to complexify, and the messiness of history is such that any conflict provides ample opportunities to highlight evidence contrary to the general truth. In the present war and the larger story of which it is part, I continue to believe that America is — on balance and considering the alternatives — a force for good in the world. And I continue to be impressed by how many otherwise sensible people criticize that proposition as an instance of uncritical chauvinism rather than the carefully nuanced moral judgment that it is.

Brian Miller on Family

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Today, with hectic, work-centered lives, busy social calendars, and precious little free time, people feel obligated yet resentful while gathering with kin during the holidays. Granted, a nice seder or Christmas dinner isn’t in itself so unpleasant. If one could just arrive, shovel down the food as quickly as possible, then bolt for the door, such occasions would be tolerable. The problem is that for all denominations these feasts have been institutionalized in American culture; they’re compulsory, a sign of good citizenship and family values. This enforced proximity with blood relations naturally builds to a breaking point. There’s only so much you can hear about your batty aunt’s goiter. There are only so many times you can coo over the new baby or suffer small children poking action figures into your eyes. And don’t let’s start with your mother about when you’re finally going to get married! As breakfast drags on to brunch drags on to dinner, surrounded by family members, there’s this mounting revulsion that you share their same receding hairlines, their same tendency toward cellulite, their same horsy, nasal laughs, their very same DNA. That’s usually the trigger that sets you fleeing in fear and disgust.

Richard John Neuhaus on Multiculturalism and Ecumaniacs

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Admittedly, it is not so attractive when the apparent modesty disguises a self-denigration that is almost tantamount to self-hatred, as is sometimes evident in current forms of “multiculturalism.” Among Christians committed to ecumenism there is a type that is aptly described as an ecumaniac. An ecumaniac is defined as someone who loves every church but his own. So it is that multiculturalists are forever discovering superiorities in other cultures, oblivious to the fact that, in the larger human story, Western culture is singular in its eagerness to praise and learn from other cultures. One is never more distinctively Western than when criticizing what is distinctively Western. The same holds for being American. In our multiculturalism we display our superiority by demonstrating our ability to see through what others — mistakenly, we say — admire in our culture. So maybe this new and self-denigrating way of telling the American story is not so modest after all.