- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2008

Incurably Orthodox

“Perhaps one of the deepest mysteries of our own times is not that Darwinian atheists, whom [Archbishop Rowan] Williams takes to task in his opening pages, have emerged from the milk-and-water post-Enlightenment religious traditions of England to mock simple-minded American-style Evangelicalism.

“It is that the Russian Orthodox faith, which [Fyodor] Dostoevsky was right to see as something different in kind from the religion of other nations, has survived nearly a century of Marxist atheism, with civil war, massacre, starvation and a relentless attempt to eradicate it from the Russian soul by persecution and by [programs] of materialist education. Whether a Western intellectual believes in it, or feels at home in it, is an irrelevance.

“No sooner had the Soviet Union imploded than there reappeared, in full view, the Church of Fr. Zosima and Bishop Tikhon, seemingly strengthened by its torments - just as in Dostoevsky’s novels murders and drunkenness, child-molestations, suicides and blasphemies actually quicken the faith of indelibly drawn, mired but redeemed characters.”

- A. N. Wilson, writing on “The Archbishop’s Dostoevsky” in the Oct. 8 issue of the Times Literary Supplement

Secular god

“In small hunter-gatherer bands or subsistence farming villages, it’s pretty easy to keep track of just how cooperative your neighbors are. But when groups grow to encompass thousands and eventually millions of strangers, a Big-Brother-in-the-Sky can watch how your fellow citizens behave when you can’t. And even better, Sky Big Brother can punish them with eternal damnation if they swindle you. …

“[Social psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim F. Shariff] note that while religion remains a powerful facilitator of pro-sociality in large groups, modern societies have devised secular replacements for Sky Big Brother, including courts, police, and other contract-enforcing institutions.

“Also, the modern world is headed toward a transparent society in which social monitoring will be nearly as omnipresent as that of a hunter-gatherer band. Increasingly sophisticated information and communication technologies will enable anyone to assess your reputation for pro-sociality with a few mouse clicks. Sky Big Brother is being outsourced to the Web.”

- Ronald Bailey, writing on “Does Religion Make People Nicer?” on Oct. 7 at Reason magazine

Celluloid miracle

“Hollywood veterans will tell you that if a low-budget movie makes it into theaters, it’s a miracle.

“But when Alex and Stephen Kendrick say that, they mean it literally. The Kendrick brothers, ministers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., are the writers, producers and directors of the surprise hit ‘Fireproof.’ Shot on a $500,000 budget with an all-volunteer cast and donated sets and locations, their drama about a fire captain trying to rekindle his marriage made $6.8 million in its opening weekend at the box office, coming in fourth overall, between a Samuel L. Jackson thriller and a Coen brothers farce.

“On Oct. 10, Fireproof’s distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films [was to] add another 200 theaters to the movie’s initial 850-theater run. A relationship drama with no spectacular special effects or A-list stars, ‘Fireproof’ has succeeded by speaking to an audience that has often eluded studios - devout Christians. The subject - saving a marriage - is universal, but the film’s themes are decidedly theological.”

- Rebecca Winters Keegan, “Fireproof: When Filmmakers Believe in Miracles,” on Oct. 3 at Time

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