Tag: Religion

This week on The Learning Curve, cohosts Cara and Gerard and guest host Patrick Wolf, distinguished professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas, mark National Catholic Schools Week with George Weigel, author of the international bestselling, two-volume biography of Pope St. John Paul II. They explore how Karol Wojtyła’s education, deep faith, and experiences during World War II shaped his life as a spiritual leader and led him to play a pivotal role in the fall of Communism in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe. Pope John Paul II’s popularity among the world’s youth, Weigel explains, was grounded in a spirituality that defied contemporary culture and challenged young people to seek the “greatness that the grace of God makes possible in your life.” The interview concludes with Mr. Weigel reading from his biography of Pope St. John Paul II.

Stories of the Week

To Protect Religious Students’ Feelings, Hamline University Jettisons Academic Freedom


I’ve spent nearly 15 years advocating for free speech in higher education and defending the rights of students and faculty to do the same. That’s to say that hopefully the following statement carries a bit of weight: In defending the non-renewal of an art history instructor’s contract for showing a 14th-century painting depicting the Prophet Muhammed, Hamline University president Fayneese Miller made one of the worst pronouncements on academic freedom I’ve ever seen a university president make – maybe the very worst. 

The instructor in question showed the painting – in a class session on Islamic art, it can’t be stressed enough – as part of an optional exercise, one students were given the opportunity to opt out of, and which was preceded with a warning about its content. In spite of the exit ramp offered by the instructor, a Muslim student in the class complained about the display, and the administration took swift action. David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice president for inclusive excellence, denounced the classroom exercise “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic.” Days later, he announced that the instructor would be “no longer part of the Hamline community.”

Quote of the Day: Tapping into Our Own Wisdom


Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
— Moses, Deut. 30, 11-14

When I first read this Bible portion, I was deeply moved and encouraged. Even a novice like me, who was still getting her feet wet in the Jewish tradition, could count on exploring and understanding the Bible. A book that had always seemed unapproachable and difficult to parse was intended to be accessible! I didn’t have to be an observant Jew (although what I do observe helps me), a Hebrew or Biblical scholar. I simply had to be willing to dive deep with my Torah study friends to see what G-d wanted to teach me and desired for me to know. Grasping that truth has been very gratifying.

But in addition to realizing how I could pursue understanding the Torah, I realized that, in truth, it was a guideline for living my life, not just in a general sense, but in every moment of my life. And I don’t mean just applying the laws of Torah to my concerns and decisions, but to believe that life, in the best sense of the word, offers me the opportunity to learn and grow in so many ways.

Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony (’86) discusses the Enlightenment, the American Founding, his latest book: Conservatism: A Rediscovery, and Conservatism’s past and future.

Dr. Hazony is the the President of the Herzl Institute, based in Jerusalem, and the chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, a public affairs institute based in Washington D.C., which recently hosted the popular National Conservatism Conference in Miami, FL.

Religion and Sociology


Sociology is perverted when it becomes a positive religious science. This happens when we get “missional” syllogisms. Here’s a contemporary one: If people have stopped going to church because they are more at ease with screens than people, then we need to offer them church on a screen. The idea is that if we get our sociology right, we can adapt—and then they will believe! Or, at least, “then we will have new church members.” In this way, unhelpful ­arguments unfold: if we speak in this language (and not that); if we offer these services; if we re-arrange these relationships; if we refashion this or that institutional context; if we talk about this and not about that—then unbelief will turn to faith. Or then at least unbelief will shed its filthy clothing and reveal itself as hidden religiosity.

I cringe as I think of the many clergy conferences, “missionary” workshops, and seminary faculty meetings I have attended where this line of argument has been superordinate. But the underlying assumption is false: Unbelief has no socially distinctive causation. “They will listen and not hear” (Jer. 6:10).

Quote of the Day: God and Communism


“One thing I knew: I was no longer a Communist. I had broken involuntarily with Communism at the moment when I first said to myself: ‘It is just as evil to kill the Tsar and his family and throw their bodies down a mine shaft as it is to starve two million peasants or slave laborers to death. More bodies are involved in one case than the other. But one is just as evil as the other, not more evil, not less evil.’

“I do not know at just what point I said this. I did not even know that with that thought I had rejected the right of the mind to justify evil in the name of history, reason or progress, because I had asserted that there is something greater than the mind, history or progress. I did not know that this Something is God.”

Whittaker Chambers

Quote of the Day: Are Good People Only Happier in Fiction? (Great Plays and Philosophy, Part 1)


Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde:

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

I have often failed to find this line funny because I find it so easy to think of it as just a straightforward statement of how fiction should be written. Plato’s Republic suggests exactly this, and Oscar Wilde was too smart to not know it.

Ayaan speaks with Megan Phelps-Roper about leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. They discuss how we can bridge the divide and have empathetic conversations across ideological lines.

Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka, Kansas church known internationally for its daily public protests against members of the LGBTQ community, Jews, other Christians, the military, and countless others. As a child, teenager and early 20-something, she participated in the picketing almost daily and spearheaded the use of social media in the church.

Group Writing: Seriously?!


Would you be my partner in this project?

 Those were the words that @iwe expressed in an email he sent to me almost three years ago, inviting me to co-write a book about Judaism. To say I was shocked, thrilled, and terrified at the prospect of working on this kind of project would be an understatement. In all fairness to you, the reader, I have to give you some background.

Several years ago, I decided to completely leave Zen Buddhism, which I had practiced for 20 years. I’d remained a Jew, but had never been religious, and never felt a strong affinity for my faith. Ironically, the more I meditated within the Zen framework, the more I felt a deep connection with G-d. (Zen doesn’t address G-d in its practice.)

A Critique of Stephen Meyer’s ‘Return of the God Hypothesis’


I have struggled with writing a review of Stephen Meyer’s book, Return of the God Hypothesis, since I finished it a few weeks ago. Every time I pick it up to reread portions of it I find myself wanting to approach the work from a different perspective. The book is neither a straight popularization of science nor an attempt to frame a clear scientific argument. Rather, it’s a well-crafted work of reporting and speculation at the frothy margins of scientific theory that, combined with a few leaps of logic, is harnessed in support of a foreordained conclusion.

I suspect that the science in this book – and there’s quite a lot of it – will, despite being well-presented by an eloquent and talented author, largely elude most readers. Perhaps more importantly, the context from which the science is drawn will likely be unfamiliar to most readers, who will have little familiarity with physics and cosmology beyond what is presented in this book. If this book were merely a popularization of the science of cosmology, that would be fine: people would gain a feel for the state of the field, for its complexity and nuance, and for the remarkable accomplishments that have been made in recent years. But that’s not what this book is. Rather, it’s an attempt to support a metaphysical argument by portraying science as inadequate both in practice and in principle, and so leave no plausible alternative but the eponymous God Hypothesis. To frame that argument responsibly would require considerably more scope and rigor than this already science-heavy book offers. To do it convincingly, on the other hand, requires much less effort, particularly if the reader is inclined to be generous and knows little of physics.

It has been said of Stephen Hawking’s bestselling book A Brief History of Time that it was purchased by many and read by few. I suspect the same is likely true of Return of the God Hypothesis: for many, it will be a tough read. Yet it is an impressive book, and it has lent a great deal of talk-circuit credibility to its author and his premise. The fact that Mr. Meyer is an eloquent speaker and a clever and charming guest undoubtedly adds to that credibility, and it’s understandable why he and his book have received as much praise as they have. Nonetheless, as I will attempt to explain in this review, I think his arguments are weak and his conclusions unsupported.

Member Post


Simon Kuper, writing in the UK publication Financial Times, had an article the other day with the title “Why the US is becoming more European”…a rather smug article, in my view.  He asserts that for decades, influential Americans looking at other countries used to ask “When will they become more like us?”…and argues that this […]

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Pew Forum Survey of India: Religion in India, Tolerance and Segregation


Pew conducted what seems like an exhaustive survey of India.  They:

Surveyed 29,999 Indian adults (including 22,975 who identify as Hindu, 3,336 who identify as Muslim, 1,782 who identify as Sikh, 1,011 who identify as Christian, 719 who identify as Buddhist, 109 who identify as Jain and 67 who identify as belonging to another religion or as religiously unaffiliated). Interviews for this nationally representative survey were conducted face-to-face under the direction of RTI International from Nov. 17, 2019, to March 23, 2020.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Naomi Schaefer Riley, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of several books, including Be the Parent, Please. They discuss findings from her book on how excessive technology use negatively impacts children’s intellectual, social, and moral development – which was even more of a challenge with the wide usage of remote learning during COVID-19. The conversation turns to Riley’s extensive commentary on the relationship between religion and education in American society, and lessons K-12 education policymakers should learn from higher education’s handling of faith on campus. She delves into why religion and church-state issues remain such a stark fault line across American K-12 education. They also talk about the development of anti-intellectual efforts on college campuses, and in the larger society, to use speech codes, political correctness, wokeness, and now cancel culture to shut down the free exchange of ideas, and why such campaigns to undermine the fundamentals of democracy persist.

Stories of the Week: EducationWeek reports that over 1.3 million American students did not return to school this year due to the pandemic-related closures. School districts are scrambling to lure them back, but will it work? Juneteenth, which honors the 1865 ending of slavery in this country, has officially become a U.S. federal holiday.

Selecting Customers


One reason American culture is in such a sorry state today is because the customer is always right.

I have explained on Ricochet before why this aphorism is actually a bad business model. It encourages misbehavior among customers and thereby increases expenses (in turn, increasing prices) while making both customers and employees miserable.

Jim Geraghty is Joined by Radio America’s Rich McFadden for today’s martinis. The Good: As consensus among public health authorities has declined, PolitiFact issues a correction to their “PANTS ON FIRE” rating regarding the claim that the “the coronavirus was derived from a lab.”

The Bad: Some straight-up Jew-targeting violence on the streets of LA and NYC. As Noam Blum observes, once you’re attacking people and throwing firecrackers at people, you’re not really a “protester” anymore.

Ayaan talks with Michael Shermer about his journey in and out of religion, the ten commandments of freedom of speech, and the concept of moral politics.

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

Member Post


On today’s Ricochet podcast, Peter and James interview guests Niall Ferguson and Stephen Meyer. I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing Mr. Meyer and the idea he puts forth in his latest book, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe. I recently wrote about an Uncommon […]

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