Monday, April 5, 2010


“This grim prognostication comes courtesy of political scientist Eric Kaufmann, a reader in politics at London’s Birkbeck College, and the author of the new book ‘Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?’ out in March from Profile Books. If, like me, you skip the six dense chapters of politico-demographic analysis, in the very last line of the book you can find his answer: ‘The religious shall inherit the earth.’ …

“What Kaufmann is arguing is that the secularisation thesis, the assumption that modernity leads inexorably to a lessening of religious belief and a day when we are all rational humanists, is wrong — at one point Kaufmann approvingly quotes Rodney Stark and Roger Finke’s view that this is ‘a failed prophecy.’ Further he is saying that there is something about our current form of liberal secularism that contains (here’s another headline) the seeds of its own destruction. Since the birth rate of individualistic secular people the world over is way below replacement level (2.1 in the West), and the birth rate of religious fundamentalists is way above (between 5 and 7.5 depending on sect), then through the sheer force of demography religious fundamentalism is going to become a much bigger force in the world and gain considerable political muscle. Literalist religious conservatism is being reborn and we secular liberals are the midwives.”

Caspar Melville, writing on “Battle of the Babies,” in the March-April issue of the New Humanist


“What bothered people about [Joseph] Pulitzer was not that he was Jewish, but that he was so bad-tempered and hard to get along with. As early as 1870, while he was a state legislator, Pulitzer became notorious for shooting a man during a political dispute (the injury turned out to be minor). At the [New York] World, he continued to rack up a long list of influential enemies, taking on corrupt politicians or simply political opponents, including Theodore Roosevelt.

“More damning, [biographer James McGrath] Morris shows, was Pulitzer’s treatment of his own staff and family. In the book’s last third, Morris draws a portrait of Pulitzer as a boss from hell — a micromanager who bombarded his employees with telegrams, even as he refused to set foot in the office. … Eventually he preferred to spend time on his specially sound-proofed yacht, literally cut off from the rest of humanity. …

“If Orson Welles had made ‘Citizen Kane’ about Pulitzer instead of [William Randolph] Hearst, it would have been just as devastating a parable. It might also have prevented Pulitzer from being so widely forgotten. The World went out of business in 1931, a casualty of the Depression, and the World building was demolished in 1955. … Today, Pulitzer’s name is remembered primarily because of the prizes he endowed, along with Columbia’s Journalism School, at the end of his life.”

Adam Kirsch, writing on “No Prize” on April 1 at the Tablet


“In both [‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and ‘The Secret of Kells’], the young hero’s father figure is an implacably stern authoritarian who seems nothing but disappointed in the hero, and who adamantly refuses to hear what the boy has to say. The boy’s pursuit of discovery causes him to defy the father figure’s wishes, first surreptitiously and finally openly, leading to a confrontation in which the father figure’s disappointment and anger reaches a crescendo. The father figure’s stubbornness endangers the whole community as he leads them into an ill-advised conflict with an enemy whose strength he underestimates. In the end the hero is vindicated, and is ultimately reconciled to the repentant father figure.

“The imperious, authoritarian father figure who doesn’t understand is nothing new to family entertainment, from ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Peter Pan’ to ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Happy Feet.’ What is striking about both ‘How to Train’ and ‘The Secret of Kells,’ though, is the one-note portrayal of the father figure throughout the entire film, right up to the end. By contrast, ‘The Sound of Music’ redeems the father figure roughly halfway through the story, while ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ separate the young protagonists from the father for most of the story.

Stephen D. Greydanus, writing on “Junior Knows Best” on March 30 at his National Catholic Register blog

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