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In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

Once upon a time, there was this era in American life called the Sixties. As the old saying goes, if you remember the Sixties, then you really weren't part of them -- which kind of implies that the only people who remember the Sixties were Baptists, or something like that.

Anyway, lots of things in the Sixties were "cool." Some things were even "groovy," although I thought -- at the time -- that no one who was actually "cool" would have fallen so low as to use the word "groovy." 

Whatever the word "cool" meant, journalist Tom Wolfe was "cool," while at the same time being "hot." If you dreamed of being a journalist in the late Sixties and early 1970s, then you knew about Wolfe and you looked at his writing and thought to yourself, "How does he DO that? That is so cool."

Revolutionaries were "cool" and traditionalists were "not cool."

So with that in mind (and as an introduction to the content of this week's "Crossroads" podcast), please read the following quotation from a 1980 Rolling Stone interview with Wolfe. The key is to understand why, at one point, he calls himself a "heretic." This is long, but essential:

RS: I believe it was in the New Republic that Mitch Tuchman wrote that the reason you turned against liberals is that you were rejected by the white-shoe crowd at Yale.

WOLFE: Wait a minute! Is that one by Tuchman? Yeah, oh, that was great.

RS: He talked about your doctoral dissertation. 

WOLFE: Yeah, he wrote that after The Painted Word. It went further than that. It was called "The Manchurian Candidate," and it said in all seriousness that I had some-how been prepared by the establishment, which he obviously thought existed at Yale, to be this kind of kamikaze like Laurence Harvey -- I think that's who was in The Manchurian Candidate, wasn't it? -- to go out and assassinate liberal culture. I loved that.

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Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

I was a journalism major in the first half of the 1970s, an era in which -- even at Baylor University -- everyone who wanted to be a journalist was reading Tom Wolfe. I even dreamed that Wolfe would venture down to Waco and write the definite magazine piece on just how crazy things really were in Jerusalem on the Brazos.

Even in the Bible Belt, Wolfe was the essence of hip, cutting edge journalism. Of course, everyone assumed this also meant "liberal," whatever that word meant back then.

As you would expect, his writings returned to my radar during my graduate work in 1981-82 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Then there was a lull until the explosion of criticism of his reporting/fiction in "A Man in Full" and "I Am Charlotte Simmons." 

As I read press reactions to those novels, something hit me: Some of the gatekeepers in elite American media were truly afraid that Wolfe might, well, have a moral and cultural point of view that was guiding his sniper-like attacks on American culture.

Oh. My. God. Might the man in the white suits be some kind of "conservative"? Should these books be read while listening to Bob Dylan's acidic, countercultural work on "Infidels"? Was Wolfe a heretic? Hold that thought.

My task here is not to criticize or even to summarize the many, many Wolfe obituaries and tributes that are -- with good cause -- being published right now. I recognize that it takes genuine chutzpah to try to write about Wolfe, or even to write about other people writing about Wolfe. The subject is just too big, too colorful and too complex.

So right now, I would simply like to make a few observations about the articles in The New York Times and New York magazine. After all, everything begins and ends with Wolfe (a transplanted Southerner, of course) and the city that he stalked for half a century, decked out in the white suits that he called "Neo-pretentious" and “a harmless form of aggression.”

Let's start with a symbolic fact about Wolfe's life. The Times noted:

He enrolled at Yale University in the American studies program and received his Ph.D. in 1957. After sending out job applications to more than 100 newspapers and receiving three responses, two of them “no,” he went to work as a general-assignment reporter at The Springfield Union in Springfield, Mass., and later joined the staff of The Washington Post.

How many people finish a Yale doctorate and then head straight into an entry-level job on a newspaper city desk?

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God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

So who is that Jordan Peterson guy and why is he so popular with some people and so controversial for others?

Yes, after weeks of getting emails from people asking when I was going to write something about Peterson, the other day I took a look at a very God-haunted Washington Post Style piece that ran with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide." Now, readers can click here and check out the "Crossroads" podcast that digs into some of this.

The cultural divide is easy to spot and to explore. On one side you have people -- millions of them -- who follow Peterson's every move in the digital marketplace of ideas. Some see him as the next C.S. Lewis (or a perfect example of trends that Lewis opposed). Some see him as the new William F. Buckley.

Some like his calm, blunt take on political correctness -- including issues related to free speech, gender wars, etc. It' this old logic: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

On the other side there are those who use similar logic, only they assume that when someone endorses one thing or the other that Peterson has said, that then links the University of Toronto clinical psychologist to that cause, whatever that may be. For example, see this take at The Forward:

Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, many who admire Peterson see him as a kind of anti-Donald Trump, a person who is making a case for a culturally conservative approach to life using logic, education and discipline as opposed to, well, America's Tweeter In Chief.

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Generic God brings 'miracle' boy to life, after medical authorities called him a goner

Generic God brings 'miracle' boy to life, after medical authorities called him a goner

Doctors were ready to pull the plug.

The 13-year-old Alabama boy's parents had already signed a set of organ-donation papers. They braced themselves for the worst.

Then something happened that the medical team could not explain, the kind of thing that parents -- yes -- pray for in these circumstances.

As it turned out, the medical experts didn't know everything. For some unknown reason, this boy's brain woke up. Here is the top of the USA Today report:

Jennifer Nicole Reindl has a simple explanation for her young son's recovery from the brink of death due to severe brain injuries.

"It's a miracle," Reindl tells USA TODAY, citing her belief that the hand of God is behind it all.

As you can see, this story is going to have a religion angle -- a strong one. The problem is that there is zero evidence in this story -- which combined aggregation with new reporting -- that reporters or editors asked a single question about the details of this family's faith.

This is, as your GetReligionistas call it, a "generic" God story. Let's continue reading:

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Latest Bible battle: Three evangelical experts carefully go revisionist on Noah's flood

Latest Bible battle: Three evangelical experts carefully go revisionist on Noah's flood

For Protestants who interpret the early chapters of the biblical Book of Genesis literally, Noah’s flood is a major test of faith.

Witness Kentucky’s Ark Encounter with its 170-yard-long watercraft on display. Witness Hollywood explorations of the topic that fold in bizarre non-biblical myths or multiplex-level humor. Such popular interest commends news coverage when something flood-wise erupts.

Something just has.

Journalists will find story potential in reactions to the eyebrow-raising book “The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate” (InterVarsity Press). The co-authors are evangelical Old Testament Professors Tremper Longman III of Westmont College and John H. Walton of Wheaton College (Illinois).

They contend that the narrative in Genesis: Chapters 6–9 is not a fable or “myth” but stems from some actual catastrophe during primeval human history. However, they dismantle the literal interpretation.

That's interesting, in terms of academics. Note that Wheaton faculty members affirm that all the Bible’s books “are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing.” Moody Bible Institute, where Walton previously taught for two decades, believes the biblical texts “were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Longman’s Westmont proclaims the Bible to be “God-breathed and true, without error in all that it teaches.”

In the book, Longman and Walton say “the Bible is indeed inerrant in all that it intends to teach,” but analysis of intent allows room for their flood revisionism.

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'Pearly has taught me the beauty of being weak': A 5-year-old odds-defier's must-read obituary

'Pearly has taught me the beauty of being weak': A 5-year-old odds-defier's must-read obituary

Grab a tissue.

You'll need it before reading this heartwarming — and heartwrenching — obituary.

On its front page today, The Tennessean reported on the death of 5-year-old Pearl Joy Brown.

The Nashville newspaper notes that the little girl "defied the hardships of a rare medical condition and survived past birth."

And the story absolutely nails the crucial religion angle (not for the first time). Forgive me for this longer-than-usual blockquote:

"Pearly never spoke, she never got up, she never did anything with her body," her father, Eric Brown, said. "Yet somehow God did more through her than anyone I know is able to do."
Doctors diagnosed Pearl with Alobar holoprosencephaly at her mother's 20-week ultrasound. The rare genetic condition is almost always fatal, and a specialist advised her parents to end the pregnancy.
But having seen the heartbeat, Pearl's parents, Eric and Ruth Brown, persevered — prepared for the reality that they may not bring her home from the hospital.
Pearl, a tiny 4 pounds, 3 ounces, was born in the early hours of July 27, 2012. 
Her brain development had stalled the first weeks in the womb. The genetic disorder created a cleft in her upper lip. She had seizures and respiratory issues, and she had an inverted nose and, as her father remembers, a beautiful three-lipped smile.
She also had brilliant blue eyes and a bright burst of red hair.
Pearl was the third child of Eric and Ruth Brown, and her parents believed everything about their daughter was part of God's plan.
"When it seemed as though God was wanting Pearly to thrive, we supported her," Eric Brown said Monday, just a few days after his younger daughter's death.
"And when it came time to send Pearl home, we had to support that, as well."

Wow, what faith!

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Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

So here is the question of the day: Does it matter that famed physicist Stephen Hawking was -- as best one can tell from his complex and even impish way of expressing himself -- an atheist who still had moments when he could hint at doubts?

Does it matter that the mind that probed the far corners of the universe couldn't handle the mysteries of the human heart and that this pained him? After all, in an empty, random universe, there are no moral laws to explain the physics of love and attachment.

If you pay close attention to the major obituaries, it's also clear that Hawking's giant reputation and celebrity was the black hole that sucked some thoughtful coverage into nothingness.

On one level, I thought that some of the best material on Hawking's faith questions was found in a compact, logical sequence in The New York Times. As always, things begin with the book that made him a global phenomenon:

In “A Brief History of Time,” Dr. Hawking concluded that “if we do discover a complete theory” of the universe, “it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.” He added, “Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.”
“If we find the answer to that,” he continued, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we would know the mind of God.”

But Hawking kept writing and, as always, his opinions grew more provocative.

Nothing raised as much furor, however, as his increasingly scathing remarks about religion. ...
In “A Brief History of Time,” he had referred to the “mind of God,” but in “The Grand Design,” a 2011 book he wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, he was more bleak about religion. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper,” he wrote, referring to the British term for a firecracker fuse, “and set the universe going.”
He went further in an interview that year in The Guardian, saying: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

So what is missing from that version of Hawking? What did the Times skip over in its main obituary?

The answer can be found over at The Washington Post, where the main obituary wrestled -- briefly -- with a faith angle in the other part of Hawking's life that produced headlines.

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What’s ahead for 'young earth creationism,' so lamented by many evangelicals?

What’s ahead for 'young earth creationism,' so lamented by many evangelicals?

Weeks ago, The Religion Guy observed that “creationism” is alive and well within sectors of Islam and Mormonism. Meanwhile, there are the continuing, familiar debates among evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants (on which the late Billy Graham was carefully noncommittal).

Journalists will want to note several upcoming events that reporters could employ for updates. 

Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis (AiG), is the star platform personality among “young earth creationists” who reject evolution and believe planet Earth has only existed for 6,000 years or so, with God directly creating all the species in six literal days. Most conservative evangelical educators today adhere to the vast eons in standard geological science and reject that chronology as an embarrassment to those who question other aspects of the evolutionary cause.  

Ham is the entrepreneur famed for Kentucky’s Creation Museum and nearby Ark Encounter, a 510-foot model designed from a literal reading of the Bible’s flood account. (Their aggressive promotion of that viewpoint is quite in contrast with D.C.’s new and high-toned Museum of the Bible, which shuns controversy.)

Reporters can catch Ham in action during six conventions held by a like-minded organization for homeschoolers, Teach Them Diligently. One may occur in your area. The first occurs March 8-10 in Nashville, followed by Rogers, Ark. (March 22-24), Atlanta (April 5-7), Mobile (May 3-5), Myrtle Beach (May 17-19) and Columbus, Ohio (June 7-9). The events are promoted by five conservative universities (Bob Jones, Cedarville, Liberty, Ohio Christian and Truett-McConnell).

Ham’s very popularity presents a big problem inside his movement, according to Joel Duff, a biology professor at the University of Akron, with a doctorate in evolution (University of Tennessee) who is also a Presbyterian Church in America layman. The Guy confesses he missed Duff’s important analysis of this when posted a year ago.

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Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists have vigorously debated when to date the origin of planet Earth and of the human species, whether God as Creator employed Darwin-type evolution and, more recently, whether the Bible requires belief in a literal Adam and Eve.

Reporters should be acquainted with Ken Ham’s strict “young earth”  creationists, Hugh Ross’s “old earth” creationists, pro-evolution evangelicals at BioLogos (founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and world-class geneticist), the Intelligent Design researchers at the Discovery Institute and discussions within the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Bible-believing  professionals in science.

Though conservative Protestants have dominated news coverage, there’s a good  story angle in other religious groups that likewise struggle over evolution. In recent weeks, both Islam and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. LDS or Mormon) have won some media attention on themes other writers could explore in further depth.

Islam’s creation account in the Koran parallels the longer version in the Jewish and Christian Bible. On scriptural grounds, Muslim authorities insist on a literal Adam and Eve (the latter is unnamed in the Koran but cited in recognized Hadith texts).

More broadly, “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam,” edited by Georgetown University expert John Esposito, states that evolution “is denounced by most Muslim scholars” as “a refutation of Koranic theories of creation.” Evolutionary ideas are excluded from school textbooks in nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. However, a recent beliefnet.com column by Stephanie Hertzenberg sketches a more complicated, three-sided debate.  

First, many Muslims do believe any form of evolution is incompatible with their faith, a la Protestant creationists. Hertzenberg notes that in such traditional  interpretations of the Quran, Adam “had no parents and was a fully formed human being” when created, and other species also stem from the “sudden creation of complete modern organisms” without evolution. A prominent exponent of this stance is Turkish neurosurgeon Oktar Babuna, who has taught at three U.S. universities.

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