Good Letters

A Glass Darkly


We’re all astronauts, encapsulated voyagers peering out through windshields at the vast, perilous universe beyond. From these places inside our heads, we steer our ships, sending out probes as necessary. The command center seems far away from the engines and manifolds, a mind/body dissociation that’s long been a philosophical quandary—the proverbial “ghost in the machine.”…

Hunger for the World


Patricia Hampl notes that successful memoir evidences a “hunger for the world,” yearning which “expands beyond its subject…into the endless and tragic recollection that is history.” Not long before her recent, untimely death, the memoirist Nuala O’Faolain referred to this hunger in an interview published in Ireland’s The Independent. Devastated by a terminal cancer diagnosis…

Why Battlestar Galactica is So Frakking Great


One of the perils of editing a journal of high culture (and publicly lamenting the dumbing down of the culture generally) is that people assume I’m an art snob. Few seem willing to say this directly to my face, but a couple of the more candid folks out there have told me they imagine me…

The Greatest of These


Any project done in collaboration with twenty-one people is almost certain to be abysmal. Joint efforts are hard to manage, unless they’re in name only: a de facto leader and a troop of “partners” who can be told to shut up and get to it. Purpose, focus, execution—all rebel at too much participation, making “consensus…

Who Would Jesus Deport?


Synchronicity is not a word I often associate with the random glut of prime-time television. But when a glancing look at the Tuesday night schedule last week revealed a Frontline special on immigration at the same hour as a History Channel segment on Noah’s Flood, I could sense a coincidence too good to pass up.…

Performing Art


I’m told music, dance and theater are performing arts, distinguished from “plastic arts” in that the medium of expression is the (frequently augmented) human body moving in time, the realization inseparable from interpretation. While such distinctions continue to die the death of a thousand qualifications, I can’t help but wonder at what point the categories…

Cheaper, Greener…More Chic


Growing up, thriftiness was next to godliness. My sisters and I were never in want, but our eternal case of low-grade covetousness was stoked by an odd egotism: we were too good to eat out, shop anywhere but secondhand, or upgrade from a muffler-less Aerostar to something that didn’t belch smoke. We were too good…

The Fall of Declinism


Is everything going to hell in a handbasket? Down the tubes? Into the crapper? Or is life getting better every day in every way? Do you believe in progress or regress? What, exactly, does your handbasket look like? The older I get the more interested I am in people’s convictions about the directionality of culture.…

Do Dictators Have Anything to Fear from Musicians?


Last December, I wrote a speculative piece for First Things Online, regarding the upcoming visit of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to the People’s Republic of North Korea. I was responding to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by the critic Terry Teachout, who thought that such a visit would constitute a serenade for Kim Jong-Il,…

The Evil That Men Do


Among oxymorons in common usage, one of the most popular is “victimless crime.” It would seem that if an act is criminal in nature, it must have a victim. If there is no victim, then the act cannot be a crime in any real sense. When the phrase is used, a larger point is being…

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For the humanists of the Renaissance, literature mattered because it was concrete and experiential—it grounded ideas in people’s lives. Their name for this kind of writing was bonae litterae, a phrase we’ve borrowed as the title for our blog. Every weekday, one of the gifted writers on our blogging team will offer a personal essay that makes a fresh connection between the world of faith and the world of daily life, spanning the gap between theology and experience and giving language a human shape.

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