“What I see in modern America is something maybe a little bit different than what other folks see. I think the nation vis-à-vis its laws is far more just than it has been at virtually any point in its previous history. Racial discrimination is outlawed de jure. You have an extension of the First Amendment to all American communities. You have greater religious freedoms in a concrete way than we’ve ever enjoyed in the history of the United States. We have a lot of problems, but we’re better than we’ve been.”
Author: R.J. Snell (R.J. Snell)
Benedict XVI: Apostle of Hope
Benedict lived in a faithless time when people lost themselves and their hope. He reminded them of who they were, and who they could be—children and heirs of God. What good fortune we had to have lived at a time when a man such as this taught us.
Classic, Contemporary, and Controversy: The 2022 Public Discourse Book List
Reading recommendations from Public Discourse and the Witherspoon Institute.
The Freedom of Ghosts
For too long we’ve imagined the rights of parents, rights of conscience, and religious freedom in overly-individualistic ways, which has encouraged a privatization of these rights. But the rights of the natural family and the rights of the Church are among the most important rights. Therefore, the rights of the natural family quite easily trump the claims made by the pornographers and drag queens to access the public library.
Hang On! Faith and Sexual Ethics
North Park isn’t the only Christian university with inner turmoil about human sexuality. Not just colleges and administrations, but denominations and pastors have collapsed and caved on these teachings as well. Some of this is a lack of courage, a failure of spine in the face of cultural disdain; some of this is personal, an experience of a child or friend whose sexual appetites do not easily fit doctrine, and so doctrine must change. But it is always a loss of faith.
For the rationalist or fundamentalist character, hope cannot but seem inadequate, even corny. Such a character has a rage for order and cannot but suffer an anxious repulsion for disorder. Hope, on the other hand, is not blind, or merely optimistic, nor is hope something we churn up in ourselves as a kind of subjective attitude. Hope, rather, is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence.
When Intelligence Is Stupid
Perhaps maturity requires moderating our admiration for the intellectuals, the clerks, and the clever types. Surely a person of good judgment, stolid character, and immoveable rectitude is every bit as praiseworthy as the inventive and the quick—and in political and social life far more important.
With Charity and Firmness: On the Overturning of Roe
It is a day to praise those stalwart men and women who kept faith, for half a century kept faith, and who today might cite the words of the poet, “now the great vision which we dared believe through slow and savage years is our own.”
Theorists of the Poison Pill
For the conservative theorists of the poison pill, everything becomes about ideas. According to them, Ockham, Scotus, Bacon, Descartes, Locke—they are the important bad guys who determined the decadence of our time and the problems we should be talking about. But ideas don’t work this way; reality does not proceed with perfect logic like it so conveniently does in the textbooks.
New, Old, and Obscure: Public Discourse’s 2021 Book List
Reading recommendations from The Witherspoon Institute’s staff.
Again we keep Thanksgiving Day; again we have the chance to become grateful, and not just for this single day. Again we are able to hold those we love, to feast in body and soul, and to become attuned to the freshness deep down in all things.
Lockdowns, Mandates, and Conservatives: Remembering the Good of Government
Given the overreach of government, and perhaps especially given the failure of so many elected officials to remember that they do not rule us, it’s all too easy to slip into libertarianism by default. But government is not alien or unnatural to our condition and needs. It emerges from the community’s associations, affections, bonds, and mutual sense of self-responsibility.
Freedom’s Law: A Primer on Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism
All this week Public Discourse will be republishing select essays from "Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism," a project of the Witherspoon Institute that was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its "We the People" initiative. At a time when we have called our traditions and history into question, we provide a primer into the history of our people and our ways of properly understanding freedom and the liberal order.
Lost in the Chaos: The Danger of Total Politics
Every human lives out the drama of existence in his or her way, and with great risk: they gain or lose heaven, embrace or reject love, bring a child into being or not, form friendships and romances or sink into loneliness, become sages or fools. If we forget or forgo the primacy of the person, choosing instead the story of power and chaos, it seems likely we’ll lose the cosmos of our own souls.
God and Public Reason
Who would deny that liberalism is falling apart, that the center is not holding, or that a vindictive and evangelistic progressivism is afoot? If so, the natural law cannot but feel like feeble comfort. Still, some of us are unwilling to reject public reason or the hopefulness of John Courtney Murray, for we never assumed his optimism was naivete.
Returning to Egypt: On the Loss of Mercy
Easter reflections are supposed to be lighthearted and joyful. But I’m gravely concerned by the unkindness in the name of kindness so evident in our cultural moment. Our society appears determined to return to the mastery and enslavement of Egypt. We have become forgetful of human limits, do not stand in awe of God’s acts, and so we have become cruel. Jewish and Christian holy days remind us of the need for mercy if society is to overcome its hatreds.
Against Conservative Rationalism
Humans are frail creatures, depending on much beyond our control. Those who do not recognize this have never seen their father watch the clouds, or had livestock die, or waited as the ultrasound searches for a heartbeat that will never be heard. God is good, and he loves what he has created, but we are dust, and he allows the winds to blow.
The Road to Sexual Revolution: Carl Trueman and the Modern Self
According to Carl Trueman, focusing myopically on problems with sexual morality often results in misguided responses to the sexual revolution. Instead, we must grapple with “a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self.”
Barbaric Dogmatists and the Revolution
In the current moment, we critique and demand, but from a negation; we know—or some think they know—what they don’t want, but it is quite unclear if they know what they do want. And since they have rejected moral norms it is impossible for them to give a rational justification for their wants and dislikes. Theirs is an exercise of will, for they have exorcised the logos, and mere will—willfulness—remains.
Questions on Abortion: A Dinner Invitation to Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof addresses the debate over abortion from an external point of view, for he has not attempted to understand or imagine the pro-life position from the standpoint of someone who holds that view. If he’d like to try seeing it from within, Mr. Kristof is most welcome to join us for dinner and conversation at the Witherspoon Institute.
Ingratitude, Mob Violence, and Providence
Our culture’s deep ingratitude is the long, nihilistic outworking of the logic of modern thought itself. When human experience is reduced to only will and power struggle, there no room for gratefulness. Those of us who have not renounced cosmic order and the providence that brings that order to fulfillment, by contrast, know that all things willed or permitted by God work for good. Thus we should be grateful—profoundly grateful—for everything.
Education and the Restoration of Moral Agency
Many students today lack a real formation in moral order and agency. Few adults have taught them what a worthwhile life looks like and what they could do to achieve it. University educators must give students access to authoritative moral claims, even as they allow them to judge and decide for themselves.
Alone Together, or Just Alone? Social Conservatives Are Right
Social conservatives are not just moralizing when they reject so much of what passes for liberation in our time. It’s not that we’re against self-determination, but rather that we are for the flourishing and well-being of persons, and thus we insist on fostering the institutions that are essential to this task.
Pandemics and the Agency of Citizens
While medical experts’ job is to save lives from the coronavirus, it is the responsibility of citizens to ask and decide what makes a worthwhile life. There is more to life than mere living; our own self-respect as responsible agents, who govern ourselves under the law (human and moral), ought not be so easily jettisoned.
The Coronavirus Has Unveiled a Deeper Political Disease
A crisis like a pandemic forces citizens to confront what they hold in common. But the coronavirus has revealed that many, whether boomer or millennial, do not even see themselves as citizens—as participating in and being partially responsible for the common good.