A clarification on the NBA, China, and free speech

"Free speech" is a legal concept: whether the state in any way muzzles one's ability to speak or whether it responds punitively based on the content of one's speech.

Within civil society, an organization (for profit or not) is not a "player" in the realm of free speech. Organizations place all kinds of controls on one's speech within the workplace and, in certain respects, outside of it. These can be reasonable or unreasonable; they can fairly or unfairly applied. But they are run of the mill, and have no bearing on "free speech."

Whether or not Daryl Morey is disciplined or even fired by the NBA for his tweet in support of Hong Kong has nothing to do with free speech. This isn't a free-market point, along the lines of "the NBA is free to do whatever it likes; it's a business, and Morey is an employee." That's technically true, but not my point.

Let me put it this way. To respond to the crisis elicited by Morey's twee…

Meghan O'Gieblyn on the church's market-based failures

"Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished val…

Seven thoughts on life without Twitter

1. It's very nice. Today's day five, and while I still have the impulse to tweet, I can feel it lessening by the hour.

2. It's less cluttered. Twitter is a sinkhole for time, a place to go and get lost, even for 15 minutes. Without that reliable time-suck, I've been doing more life-giving things, or even just plain productive activities—or just letting myself be bored. That, too, is better than the infinite scroll.

3. Twitter, it turns out, is ubiquitous. I encounter disembedded—or rather, embedded—tweets in a variety of forms: through a simple Google search, through shared links, through articles, through newsletters, through news reporting, etc. It's a healthy reminder of how entangled Twitter is with our national discourse, and actually suggests that Twitter plays a more central role in folks' daily intake (however passive) than raw counts of profiles and time on the platform itself would suggest. (Though that role would have more to do with Twitter as a med…

Sorting nationalism and patriotism with John Lukacs

One of the most curious things in the last few years has been the reinvigoration of the term "nationalism" as a political signifier and "nationalist" as a self-identification. In both scholarly and popular Christian discourse, at least, this is curious especially because, so far as I can tell, "nationalism" became in the last few decades a consensus word for the extreme, blasphemous, and/or heretical corruption of the virtue of patriotism. I have books on my shelf—one for college freshmen, another for graduate students, another for the broader reading public, another for fellow academics—all of which trade on this settled usage.

Now "nationalism" is back, not just as a historical-political force but as a terminological boundary marker. Unfortunately, though, its political associations as well as its function as a football in ideological disputes have contributed to something less than clarity. So that, e.g., to be nationalist is to be for "…

A Twitter trial

I'm reconsidering my presence on Twitter. I wrote earlier this year about why, for the time being, I was still on the platform. But as I said (via tweet) yesterday, I'm not long for that website. Let me lay out, briefly, why that is, and the experiment I'm going to undertake in the coming weeks.

1. Even with the comparatively limited time I spend on Twitter, I find during working and non-online hours that it burrows too deeply into my skull. I have a thought or read a great line and think, "I should tweet that out." Or I do tweet something out, and 40 minutes later I think, "I should put down this book and see if anyone's responded." That's crazy and unhealthy. Best to be off entirely.

2. Even having removed Twitter from my phone, even blocking access to it on my laptop for long stretches using Freedom, I still open up my computer too often wanting to "check in," and more often than not I end up getting sucked in for 10 minutes instead…

An atonement typology

This post grew out of a brief handout I drew up quickly for a class I was teaching on the atonement, which I then shared on Twitter. I thought I would expand it here with some initial definition and reflections.

Let me note two things at the outset. First, I took initial inspiration from Ben Myers' lovely patristic-flavored post on atonement theories from a few years back. Second, it seems to me that atonement is a particularly resonant English word that is very nearly interchangeable with salvation. To ask what atonement consists in, it seems to me, is to ask how Jesus saves. Or at least so I have assumed in what follows. Third, atonement is not one of my pet doctrines; I haven't read widely and deeply in it the way some of my friends and colleagues have. I'm sure that, somewhere below, I have left something out or inexpertly explained this or that theory. Pardons in advance.

Without further ado, my sixfold (really, 6 x 5) typology of the atonement.


What does holiness look like?

The Protestant account of vocation smooths out the hierarchies of office (the priesthood of all believers) and of holy living (monastic life is no "better" than life working a farm). From one point of view, this is a good thing: no special religious caste; it flattens out "quality" of life: God calls each to his or her own station in life; holiness is democratized. From another point of view, this is a problem: it treats everything and everyone "the same," thus losing all differentiation; it lacks honesty, since in fact church ministry or serving the poor are, and will be treated as, more important than, say, working as a notary or drilling for oil; and worst of all, it loses the eschatological dimension of Christ's call, draining it of radical disorientation through the cross and resurrection and replacing it with the simple pleasures of local, family, and/or bourgeois life.

One way to frame the disjunction is to ask the question: Is the good life—th…

On Episode IX and J.J. Abrams

In 16 weeks, Episode IX—the conclusion to the final trilogy in the trilogy of trilogies that the Star Wars saga has become, not to mention the other stand-alone films and the new live-action TV show—will be released. The new teaser made available earlier this week generated a lot of discussion and speculation about plot lines and, above all, the direction the script will take and, ultimately, how it will wrap up the story.

Up till now I've tried to be realistic but hopeful about the possibility that J. J. Abrams might actually stick the landing, if not perfectly, than satisfactorily. What he did in VII was a combination of good and bad, but Rian Johnson took the hand he'd been dealt and did something masterful with it in VIII. Could Abrams have something equally excellent up his sleeve? Could he surprise us all by finally overcoming his worst tendencies and producing truly original, brilliant work?

The truth is that we have no reason to think so.

Consider the other films Abram…

Anonymous Americans

Perhaps someone else has made this connection before, but it seems to me that there is a secularized form of Rahner's so-called "anonymous Christians" at work in American political discourse. It has right and left variations, but the theme is the same: In principle, the world is always already America; persons from other places, citizens of other nations, are Americans in embryo: the potential merely needs to be made actual. In this way non-Americans are in fact anonymous Americans, Americans without knowing it, Americans of the heart: related to and defined by America simply in virtue of who they are and how they live. And though they may lack this knowledge, we Americans, we explicit, public Americans—we know it on their behalf.

On the right, this takes the form of speaking as if other countries are good places to live just to the extent that they approximate the American way of life; so that any person or family beyond America's borders would, if given the chance …

Political spectrums

I live deep in the heart of red state Texas, which means I regularly find myself trying to expand the political imaginations of my students. Not, that is, to switch their allegiances from one color to another, but to redraw the map they've inherited; to place a question mark next to its self-evident obviousness, which they treat as if it were the periodic table of elements (with only two to choose from!).

So I've come up with a heuristic that is meant to help students in my context. Mostly I want them to see the array of combinations, both of political first principles and concrete policy convictions, beyond lining up the GOP's national platform versus the DNC's. So, e.g., I want them to be introduced to (the concept of) Catholic Communists and Pro-Life Progressives and Democratic Socialists and Communitarian Conservatives and so on.

What follows is the set of spectrums, eight in all, that I've conjured up in order to help them in this process. I would be very inte…