The fault of our biblical first parents, Adam and Eve, might not have been taking a bite from the forbidden apple so much as detaching it from the tree. The tree was located in the middle of the garden, so it was prominently displayed. More importantly, the tempter suggested that picking the fruit of the tree would offer special knowledge—the kind that would empower the couple to do whatever they wished.Read More
What happens when a society reaches its peak? When the age of discovery—not just of far-off lands but of life-changing inventions—ends? This is the subject of Ross Douthat’s recent book The Decadent Society.
“Where are you, Thomas Edison?” the author implores, sadly noting the drop in meaningful patents in the last couple of decades and the failure to produce life-altering changes like the electric refrigerator, the vacuum cleaner, the horseless carriage, the jet plane, the atomic bomb, and even the moon shot. But the last on this list, the moon landing, took place in 1969. What do we have to show for ourselves since then?Read More
Bear with me, folks, but we have to go back to the 60s, when the big movement for freedom, at least in its recent incarnation, began. When those hippies, with their long hair and their outlandish dress, flourished. You might not have witnessed it yourself, but you must have seen it on the screen. Shots from the Woodstock Music Festival in 1968. Or in “Forrest Gump” during flashbacks on the life Jenny, Forrest’s girlfriend, lived when she left him.Read More
Once upon a time all the Sunday services were filled—or at least so we imagine. Where did all those former worshipers go?
Let’s go back to the 1960’s when the drop-off in church attendance began. The ‘60s was a time of social revolution when people protested on all kinds of issues: Black rights, the Vietnam War, and free speech. By the end of that decade, however, the clamor was for the freedom of the individual person from social conventions and anything else that might confine it. “Give me the freedom I deserve to become whatever I wish. Let me be me!”Read More
Year ago, when I was teaching at Xavier during my first assignment in Micronesia, my students baffled me with the response they would make to nearly all my questions. Did you understand the algebra lesson we did today? “Somewhat,” they would reply. What about the short story we read last week? Were you satisfied with the ending? “Somewhat” was the usual answer.
Well then, let’s talk about your own family break-up you were telling me about a few days ago. Do you feel that your father was to blame? “Somewhat,” was the response.Read More
Stand outside the new Guam museum and read what’s inscribed on the wall: “Before these (Spanish) people arrived, we didn’t know rats, flies, mosquitoes… and disease.” Just to underscore that point, there are the statues of the chiefs (Hurao and Aguarin) who resisted the foreigners, those despoilers of this land.
Cross the street and catch the Sunday mass at the cathedral, with its own array of statues, its spirited singing, and its faithful followers. This all started, of course, with Diego Luis de San Vitores and his companions, who came to share their faith with the people of these islands.Read More
A few years ago I wrote an autobiographical essay that I called “How My God Has Changed.” Not just my notion of God really, but my whole thinking about life as I aged. This piece, which may never be published, is a reflection on how all those sharp distinctions I learned when I was young have been blurred over time. Saints and sinners, body and soul, spiritual and secular as a starter. But also: us and them, friends and enemies, native and foreigner, and so much else in life that had been divided by rigid boundary markers.Read More
The face mask that we wear in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic is still every bit as strange to me as it was two months ago when we began wearing it.
Part of the reason is what a mask signified when I was growing up. The masked men in the old Westerns I watched were bandits–the bad guys riding into town to take what they could and run. They were the bank robbers, disguising their voices along with their faces, as they demanded all the money in the safe. Of course, there was also that other masked man, The Lone Ranger, who had other reasons for wanting to hide his identity. But most of those in disguise were up to no good, and we kids watching the old black-and-white movies knew it.Read More