CS Lewis

Sky-high journalism: A new look at old, old story of whether we're alone in the universe?

Sky-high journalism: A new look at old, old story of whether we're alone in the universe?

Are there other intelligent beings somewhere out there in the cosmos? Forget science fiction. Recent news said level-headed U.S. Navy pilots reported seeing what seemed like UFOs, so classified military protocol deals with how to handle such incidents. Meanwhile, scientists, aided by new technology, have spent decades seeking to contact alien life.

Nonetheless, “perhaps humanity is truly alone,” contends Ethan Siegel, an astrophysics theorist and college teacher turned science writer, in a cover story for the June Commentary magazine. This old, old story is ever new, and perhaps it’s time for journalists to run it past some quotable theologians for an off-the-news if not off-the-wall feature.

Siegel himself offers no insights on the obvious religious implications. That’s not surprising, since he’s an atheist, albeit a Jewish one, who preaches that “everything that has ever happened in this universe requires nothing more than the laws of nature to explain them.”

Still, the questions nag. Did God, or intelligent design's Designer, create beings like us on Earth and nowhere else?

If so, why? Or, if there is intelligent life in other realms, what is God’s purpose with mere earthlings? Are those extraterrestrials “sinful” and “fallen” like us? What would this mean for Christianity’s belief that God was uniquely incarnated on Earth in Jesus Christ? And so forth.

Darwin’s theory of evolution becomes probable when vast stretches of time allow vast accumulations of genetic mutations that can undergo vast selection to yield the origin of vast species. (The Guy, no science whiz, senses that the sudden emergence of countless advanced life forms during the “Cambrian Explosion” half a billion years ago is hard to fully comprehend in such simple terms).

Probabilities also seem to tell us there just have to be many forms of intelligent life beyond those on Earth.

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Testifying in The New Yorker: Jia Tolentino on her childhood inside Houston's 'Repentagon'

Testifying in The New Yorker: Jia Tolentino on her childhood inside Houston's 'Repentagon'

Gothic first-person accounts of growing up in a Christian subculture have become modern Americans’ equivalent of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. They serve as a vast collection of subjective narratives, often focused on the horrors of authority figures who encourage virginity, offer awkward alternatives to pop music (or welcome it uncritically), favor novels about the Apocalypse and otherwise fill the cavernous spaces of megachurches with conformists.

It’s difficult to read such accounts without wishing for more details. In “Ecstasy,” which appears in the May 27 edition of The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino writes this about her life in a Houston megachurch she calls the Repentagon. Here’s a sample:

“Three girls were electrocuted when a light blew out in the pool where they’d been swimming, and this tragedy was deemed the will of the Lord.”

Sensible journalism questions should be obvious: Who deemed it the will of the Lord? Was this declaration from the pulpit? Did it come from one of those boorish pew-dwellers who think it’s comforting to say the Lord must have needed a few new angels in heaven? Was it someone who speaks only of God’s sovereignty but never of living in a fallen world where random deaths are happenstance? Did this assertion represent even a plurality among members of the Repentagon, which Tolentino, for reasons she does not specify, never identifies as Second Baptist Church, one of the Bible Belt’s best known megachurches?

Tolentino’s account stands out because it is not solely a story of deprivation and unresolved anger. This paragraph leaps off the page:

I have been walking away from institutional religion for half my life now, fifteen years dismantling what the first fifteen built. But I’ve always been glad that I grew up the way that I did. The Repentagon trained me to feel at ease in odd, insular, extreme environments, and Christianity formed my deepest instincts. It gave me a leftist world view — a desire to follow leaders who feel themselves inseparable from the hungry, the imprisoned, and the sick. Years of auditing my own conduct in prayer gave me an obsession with everyday morality.

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Thinking, with Andy Crouch, about the stunning power of celebrities in religion and ...

Thinking, with Andy Crouch, about the stunning power of celebrities in religion and ...

This is an unusual think piece, because its contents is primarily theological -- as opposed to journalistic.

However, the whole "think piece" concept is this: We're talking about articles that will be of interest to anyone who is interested in trends in religion in the news or the process of covering them in the mainstream press.

In this case, there are all kinds of links between Andy Crouch's subject in this recent post at The Gospel Coalition -- "It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power" -- and the news. He even states that in the overture.

What Crouch has not done, however, is write out the names.

It was not a great week. In three separate cases in my immediate circles, a person with significant power at the top of an organization, each one a subject of flattering major media exposure during their career, was confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct and related misdeeds. In one case, the person resigned from his role and board memberships, accompanied by a direct and remorseful confession. In the second, the person resigned, but not without posting a defiant denial of all allegations against her. In the third, the person likewise denied all allegations in the strongest terms -- at one point with physical force, banging on a table -- and, as I write, remains in his position.
All three were, or at least had once been, seen as among the most exemplary Christian leaders of their generation, including by many who worked closely with them. While I wasn’t personally close to any of the three, I have experienced and benefited from their exceptional gifts in leadership and ministry, as have thousands or millions of others.

This was one of the pieces that I was thinking about this past week when, in my post about the "Crossroads" podcast, I listed the five "Big Idea" takeaways from my 30 years writing my national "On Religion" columns.

To be specific, note No. 5:

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Historian George Marsden revisits C.S. Lewis’s remarkable case for 'Mere Christianity'

Historian George Marsden revisits C.S. Lewis’s remarkable case for 'Mere Christianity'

The latest offering in Princeton University Press’s splendid “Lives of Great Religious Books” series is “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” by front-rank historian George Marsden.

Without debate, Lewis’s classic has been the most popular explanation and defense of the Christian faith the past six decades, and Marsden is just about the perfect guy to analyze this remarkable book.

“Mere” had modest sales upon its 1952 release but eventually developed quite astonishing popularity(3.5 million copies sold in English since the 21st Century began, available in at least 36 other languages). That’s a good story that many media have treated. If yours hasn’t, then the Princeton event offers the perfect peg.

This theme was so familiar that The Religion Guy’s news expectations were slim when he idly scanned a review copy. Then Marsden magic and readability kicked in and The Guy couldn’t put it down. After all, Marsden’s award-winning “Jonathan Edwards: A Life,” somehow managed to make the great Colonial theologian’s prolix writings understandable, and as intriguing as his life story.

Lewis “does not simply present arguments; rather, he acts more like a friendly companion on a journey,” Marsden says. He “points his audiences toward seeing Christianity not as a set of abstract teachings but rather as something that can be seen, experienced, and enjoyed as the most beautiful and illuminating of all realities.” 

What underlies the stunningly wide impact of “Mere Christianity”?

Marsden describes: (1) timeless truths not limited by culture, (2) common human nature that reaches readers, (3) reason put in the context of experience and affections, (4) poetic imagination, (5) the “mere” aspect, focusing on what all Christian branches believe, (6) no “cheap grace” and (7) “the luminosity of the Gospel message itself.”

“Mere” originated not as a book but brief BBC Radio talks to Britons in the pit of World War Two that were then issued as three small books.

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