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Showing posts from March, 2018

Defining fundamentalism

What makes a fundamentalist? It seems to me that there are only two workable definitions, one historical and one a sort of substantive shorthand. The first refers to actual self-identified fundamentalists from the early and mid-twentieth centuries, and to their (similarly defined) heirs today. The second refers to those Christian individuals or groups who, as it is often said, "lack a hermeneutic," that is, do not admit that hermeneutics is both unavoidable and necessary, and that therefore their interpretation of the Bible is not the only possible one for any rational literate person (or believer).

In my experience, both in print and in conversation, these definitions are very rarely operative. Colloquially, "fundamentalist" often means simply "bad," "conservative," or "to the right of me." I take it for granted that this usage is unjustified and to be avoided by any Christian, scholarly or otherwise; it is not only imprecise, it is l…

The thing about Phantom Thread

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is that it's one of three things, none satisfactory. Either:

1. It's a profound meditation on the nature of love, on something intrinsic to love between men and women, a kind of unavoidable, even beautiful, crack in the surface of what is usually presented as seamless, without defect: in which case the film is false, self-deluded, and self-serious. Or:

2. It's a cheeky close-up, not on love in general, but on this particular couple's "love," doomed to dysfunction, an eternal power-play, in which the would-be submissive learns how to gain the upper hand, and the otherwise dominant, now dominated, accepts this kink in the relationship with a wry ardor: in which case the film is vile, an unserious exercise in sadomasochism either metaphorized or taken to an absurd extreme. Or:

3. It's nothing more than funny (and it is very funny), using the trappings of prestige film and high fashion and world-class acting and audience expectations as a Trojan horse for av…

C. S. Lewis on the fumie

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room, something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic. “We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all. At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that his own training by the Macrobes had, at one point, suggested the same odd idea to himself. But he had no choice. Whether h…

Just published: a review essay of Patrick Deneen and James K. A. Smith in the LA Review of Books

I've got a review essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books of Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed and James K. A. Smith's Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. It's called "Holy Ambivalence." Go check it out.