I have to confess that I don’t care much for the speeches delivered at national political conventions. Even the most modest attempts at eloquence produce moistened eyes, and even the most banal observations are invariably met with thunderous applause. I think that Bill Clinton’s speech at this year’s Democratic gathering was interrupted by rapturous ovations approximately every twenty seconds, making it fifteen minutes longer than the former President’s notoriously lengthy address at the 1988 convention. Also, the television reporters unfailingly characterize the bloviations of any nominee as “the speech of his life.” We’re an awfully long way from the Gettysburg Address, which was delivered in the course of a few minutes and met mostly with puzzlement, but managed to simultaneously be deeply rational and truly poetic. But what bothers me most about convention speakers is how they appeal to their uncritically partisan audiences precisely by caricaturing their opponents’ positions.
I first came across the term “hookup culture” in Leonard Sax’s thought provoking and disturbing 2005 book, Why Gender Matters
. But the phenomenon itself I found beautifully depicted in a novel published a year earlier: Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons
. As Sax specifies, the hookup mentality—prevalent among even some very young people but especially among university students—dictates that casual sexual encounters involving absolutely no expectation of relationship, or even psychological engagement, are perfectly acceptable. Sax, a psychiatrist specializing in family therapy, learned of the hookup world from the veritable army of young women suffering from depression and anxiety who were streaming to his office. And through the figure of Charlotte Simmons—an innocent girl from North Carolina who utterly lost her way morally and psychologically at a prestigious university where casual sex and drugs were far more important than learning—Wolfe showed the debilitating effects of this self-absorbed and hedonistic culture.
For many on the left, Paul Ryan is a menace, the very embodiment of cold, indifferent Republicanism, and for many on the right, he is a knight in shining armor, a God-fearing advocate of a principled conservatism. Mitt Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate has already triggered the worst kind of exaggerated hoo-hah on both sides of the political debate. What is most interesting, from my perspective, is that Ryan, a devout Catholic, has claimed the social doctrine of the Church as the principal inspiration for his policies. Whether you stand with “First Things” and affirm that such a claim is coherent or with “Commonweal” and affirm that it is absurd, Ryan’s assertion prompts a healthy thinking-through of Catholic social teaching in the present economic and political context.
Who would have thought that Woody Allen, who twenty years ago was separating from his longtime girlfriend to notoriously marry her adopted daughter, would emerge as a defender of what can only be called traditional morality? And yet, I find that conclusion unavoidable after viewing the writer-director’s most recent offering, “To Rome With Love.” This film is the latest in a series of Woody Allen movies—“Match Point,” Vicky Christina Barcelona,” “Midnight in Paris”—celebrating great European cities, and it shares with the last of those three a certain whimsical surrealism.
In one way or another, all religions deal with the problem of evil, both how to explain it and how to solve it. Buddhism, for example, teaches that all life is suffering and that the only way out is through the extinction of egotistic desire, that “blowing out of the candle,” designated by the Sanskrit word nirvana. All of Buddhist practice, theory and doctrine are devoted to the attainment of this blissful state. Manichaeism and Gnosticism—ancient theories still very much alive today—teach that evil is a powerful force that does battle with good down through the ages. Usually, but not always, Gnostics tend to identify the good principle with the spiritual and the evil principle with matter. A variant on the Manichaean philosophy is represented in the “Star Wars” films, which feature an ongoing struggle between the dark and light sides of the “Force.” Judaism understands evil as the result of a departure from God’s command and tends to see the solution, therefore, as a more faithful following of the divine law.