Category archives for Logos/Ethos

Attorney General Barr speaks on religion and social dysfunction in America

    Attorney General William Barr spoke on religious liberty in America this fall at the University of Notre Dame. He said, “In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the [...]

When the center cannot hold, things fall apart

Dec. 4, 2019 Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. [...]

China vs. the NBA: Values on display for the world to see

Written in 1835 when America was in its infancy, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America may still be the most insightful analysis of American values ever written. His observations on the behaviors and aspirations of the broad spectrum of Americans is remarkably precise. So much so, that we can use his observations about America circa [...]

Museums and cemeteries in an age of narcissism

In 1979 cultural historian Christopher Lasch wrote an important book entitled “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations”. As I recall, it was a difficult read for me back then because I lacked the perception necessary to appreciate his nuanced observations and warnings. Forty years later I’m bit more perceptive, [...]

Thirty-five years later we’re still amusing ourselves to death

September 4, 2019 Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room recently, I couldn’t ignore the TV tuned to a game show. Witnessing the loud tawdriness of it all, I was struck by the possibility that this was part of my doctor’s master plan. Instead of having his patients stand by in a state of low-level anxiety, [...]

A night at the movies: finding the common ground of art and religion

August 7, 2019 An article appeared last December in New York Magazine which created a stir in the marketplace of ideas. Its author is Andrew Sullivan and it’s called “America’s New Religions”.  In it, Sullivan defines religion as “a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot be defended without recourse to some [...]

The 4th of July: The Enlightenment gives birth to a new nation

   July 3, 2019                          The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins with the most consequential single sentence in American history and perhaps in all the world’s democracies.                  We hold these truths to be self-evident, [...]

The life of leisure; everybody wants it but what is it?

It’s interesting how one word can conjure radically different meanings. One of those words is leisure. We may think the word is universally understood, but at least two famous thinkers had entirely different views of it. Prior to the 20th Century, leisure was nothing more than a fantasy for most people. It was a condition [...]

The prisoner’s right to vote: Bernie has a bad day

 May 1, 2019  With his claim last week that prisoners have the right to vote, Bernie Sanders is guilty of one of two things: either he has demonstrated a stunning ignorance of rights and their origins, or he has made a cynical calculation to skew a fundamental ethical principle to separate himself from his progressive [...]

The college admissions scandal and the search for a good life

This hasn’t been a good year for colleges. Small private schools are dropping like flies, unable to find enough applicants to sustain themselves. Elite universities are thriving, with an applicant pool so deep that wealthy parents are paying millions for illicit life jackets to float their children safely to the top. In between are universities [...]

Super Bowl champions: Looking for lessons in unexpected places

March, 2019 It’s been a month since the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory and not much has happened. Oh well, except for THAT … Notwithstanding the owner’s personal transgressions, I’d like to return to the team’s on-field achievement if I may, because I think it may be instructive. The sustained excellence of the New England Patriots [...]

“Toxic masculinity” is giving Stoicism a bad name

February, 2019 The pop psychology flavor of the month appears to be “toxic masculinity”. If you haven’t come across it in your readings, you haven’t been paying attention. As you can tell, the phrase doesn’t appear very flattering to men, of which I am one. The term is meant to describe what experts believe are [...]

Is the notion of American values a delusion?

Dec. 2018 I’ve been focusing my reading lately on the issue of American character and trying to understand why our people seem so divided. Political candidates make much of “restoring fundamental American values”, but what exactly are they? Do Mainers, Alabamans, and Oregonians actually value the same things?             Colin Woodard, author of American Nations, [...]

Educate for Democracy First, Jobs Second

Nov. 2018 It doesn’t matter which side of the political divide we’re on, we can all agree we’re in an era of extreme political and social tribalism. We’re living in an age of hyper-partisanship and democracy is being tested. The foundation of democracy is faith, not in a god, but in human nature. Democracy rises [...]

Truth, Reality, Perception and “Alternative Facts”

The Trump presidency didn’t introduce the post-truth era. America has had a problem with truth for a long time. Long before Kellyanne Conway introduced “alternative facts” into the national lexicon, Americans have been entertaining some rather magical thinking about what constitutes truth and reality. Identifying the first signs of our problem could take us back [...]

Message to NFL Fans: Let It Go

The NFL season is upon us this weekend and that means only one thing. It’s time once again to debate flags and anthems and our proper response to them.  It’s a fresh new season of talk-radio harangues and Thanksgiving dinner eruptions by our hammered Uncle Arnie.  Here’s a different angle to take: It’s widely accepted [...]

Newark, 1968

                The convergence of two events, one past and one future, has preoccupied my mind this week.             We are only a few days from the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Half a century used to strike me as a long time; no more. [...]

Myth and a Nation in Turmoil

America is a fabric woven out of myth, narratives that serve as moral guides, directing both individuals and nations toward meaningful, purposeful lives. As writer and social critic Neil Postman said, “(narratives have) an aura of sacredness about them … they are a fixed figure or image to direct one’s mind to an idea, a [...]

Fleeting Grace

October, 2017 I may be biased, but it seems to me the Golden Age of Catholic education was post-war America. Having won the war because we were on God’s side and possessed a thermonuclear weapon, millions of returning vets and their wives entrusted their children’s education to another army, division upon division of stern, dedicated [...]

On Being a Hero

November, 2017 It shouldn’t be a surprise to any observer of American culture over the past 40 years that we have fallen under the intoxicating spell of “language inflation”. What was originally the linguistic product of the youth culture of the 60’s and ‘70’s has been sent into the stratosphere by hyper-politization and the social [...]

American High School

  Several years after my retirement from full-time teaching, I decided to join that most ridiculed of all American professions. I became a substitute teacher. It didn’t take me long to discover that there are no educational expectations associated with this position. Since the absent teacher was responsible for the lesson plan (and that is [...]

The Deep State and Me

How do you begin to write an essay about a subject that you can barely understand? I did it for years in college, but it seems harder now. Maybe it’s my age. And anyway, the stakes seem different now. This time, I’m not pretending to have knowledge. I am readily admitting that I don’t have [...]

In the Beginning was the Word

           There’s a federally- funded public opinion poll called the General Social Survey (GSS) and it has been in existence since 1972. It’s designed to “take the pulse of America”. (For those inclined to distrust anything originating in the federal government, the GSS is the product of the University of Chicago. If you doubt the integrity [...]

From STEM to STEAM

I find the Times editorial, “Innovative arts” (Nov. 14), thoughtful and relevant but limited in an ironic fashion.   The editorial reviews the current popularity and influence of STEM curriculums, an attempt to “rejuvenate academic vigor” in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.  STEM is a national initiative aimed at “reclaiming the top [...]

William Inge and Me

I keep bumping into William Inge in my life, not that we travel in the same circles. Inge was a great playwright, now dead; and I am an unexceptional one, but currently alive.   My Inge encounters began when I was 11 and saw the film adaptation of his play Picnic.  It featured William Holden, [...]