A Liberal Protestant Looks for the Roots of America’s Spiritual Crisis

March 6 2018

In her recent collection of essays What Are We Doing Here?, the Calvinist novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson explores the spiritual condition of the modern U.S. and asks what can be learned from its Puritan forebears. Micah Meadowcroft finds much to praise in the volume, but argues that Robinson seems unable to grasp the implications of her own insights:

I find Robinson’s apologia for [the 14th-century English theologian] John Wycliffe and [the 17th-century English revolutionary] Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans and Great Awakenings, and the literati and radicals of the 19th century to be familiar and comforting. But I also find Robinson’s apparent conclusions perplexing. Materialist science and cultural atheism, forgetting God and in doing so forgetting what a piece of work is man, surely is, [as Robinson believes], sufficient explanation for nearly all this mess around us now. But shouldn’t we ask how that happened? . . . For Robinson, what does responding to our current situation demand?

Most concretely, [she claims], it demands more funding and support for America’s public universities, apparently. They are indeed great treasures of our more learned past, when the liberal arts—an education fit for free men—were extended to farmers. They and the private institutions founded throughout the colonial period and first half of the 19th century are the best of that thicket of democratic institutions we call Tocquevillian. “In the West,” [Robinson writes], “it was theology and its consequences that built these great institutions, and the ebbing away of theology that has made them seem to many to be anomalies, anachronisms, and burdens as well.”

Seemingly unsure whom to blame for these schools’ transformation from their religious and popular origins into the ideological certification systems they are today, Robinson tells for them a story of shortsighted, Benthamite lawmakers sacking these cities of learning, and gives no notice to the [sometime perverse] incentives created by federal funding and oversight or to the sources of the atheism and relativism she decries. This typifies the weakness of many of her essays collected here; there is a complicated past and a complicated present, [yet] the relationship between the two [seems to Robinson to be] so simple as not to require speculation or explanation.

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More about: American Religion, Protestantism, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, University

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times