That Was The Week That Was


• After debuting the new look of this website, the first post in the new format was one I’d been researching all summer: how to teach history to five-year olds!

• I’d still welcome nominations for the best history-related podcasts.

• Not mine, of course: it’s more about religion and education than history. And anyway, it just wrapped up its first season and will be taking a well-deserved break until later in the year.

• Ordinarily, I don’t write posts at 10pm about politics. But there’s nothing ordinary about Bernie Sanders accepting an invitation to speak at Liberty University.

…There and Everywhere

• It was a busy night in American politics on Thursday. First, the GOP debate(s) turned out to be surprisingly popular television. I didn’t watch, but the consensus seemed to be that former History major Carly Fiorina won the rather odd “undercard” debate and that the Fox News moderators were surprisingly rigorous in their treatment of the frontrunners.

(As usual, Elizabeth Bruenig found insight that others missed — namely, that Mike Huckabee’s response on social security and John Kasich’s on Medicaid pointed to a subtle but fundamental religious-political divide: “For those hoping to enact an authentically Christian politics, does it make more sense to try to stop or punish people who are behaving immorally (ostensibly for the benefit of people who are behaving morally) or to try to help or heal people who are behaving immorally into people who behave morally, with at least a partial focus on their own benefit?”)

• Then Jon Stewart ended his sixteen-year run on The Daily Show.

While we share an alma mater and I’ve laughed at my fair share of Daily Shows, I’m not a huge fan of Stewart’s — for precisely the reason that Natasha Lennard pointed out: “I will miss the talented host and comedian, but I happily bid farewell to our most notable liberal reactionary. This is not Stewart’s fault. Satire is by its nature reactionary; the target sets the fulcrum. But the richest satire makes the chuckling audience challenge their own positions, not just that of the chosen target of ridicule. All too often, Stewart’s comedy — and Stephen Colbert’s — has suggested to a liberal audience that, to be on the correct political plain, it is enough to laugh along.”

• A much more important comedian, to my way of thinking, is Louis C.K. Though I’d never thought to compare him to St. Augustine before…

• In about three weeks I’ll be giving the convocation address at Bethel’s year-opening chapel. I hope I come up with something half as terrific as what fellow historian David Swartz told Asbury University students about the role of mystery in a Christian liberal arts education: “It means letting the mystery of God command us more than commanding God into our tidy theological constructs. It means recognizing that community does not follow an easy formula. It means reveling in classrooms that hum with energy and intellectual curiosity. And realizing that what makes community in the first place is often serendipitous and unimaginably complex.”

Worship at the 2015 Mennonite World Conference
Worship at the 2015 Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA – John Eby

• Also check out David’s report from the Mennonite World Conference, which happens every six years and rotates around five continents. I was especially interested in the ambivalence Indonesian Mennonites have for history: “Grateful for the gospel, they nonetheless want to forget many aspects of the past, and they certainly don’t want to rely solely on the archives of the Dutch imperialists. But writers hoped that this historical project might help them to somehow square an Indonesian identity and a Mennonite identity that sometimes seemed at odds with each other.”

• With a new book out and a prime role at the recent Send 2015 conference, it was Russell Moore week in evangelicalism. I think Jonathan Merritt’s comparison of the Southern Baptist theologian with Pope Francis is a reach, but Emma Green’s profile was completely convincing: “The assumption that evangelicals own American culture and politics has ended. This is good for minority groups, for other Christians, and for those who are still searching. But the radicalness of Moore, who by right of inheritance should be America’s Culture Warrior in Chief, is that he thinks it’s good for evangelicals, too.”

• Green offered Moore’s version of cultural engagement as an alternative to Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.” Meanwhile, John Hawthorne offered another (much better, I think) option inspired by late antiquity.

• Eerdmans asked two of its authors to respond to same-sex marriage: historian D.G. Hart found it confirming the “sense of pessimism” that he thinks is inherent to both political and theological conservatism; theologian William Stacy Johnson appreciated that Obergefell moved Christians “beyond the either/or logic of the culture wars” and opened new opportunities for Christianity.

• In any event, an IRS commissioner told a Senate committee that faith-based colleges and other nonprofits wouldn’t be losing their tax-exempt status over opposition to same-sex marriage — and least, not anytime soon.

• Tal Howard looked to the history of snake-handling churches for some insight “on the permissible boundaries of religious freedom and the relationship of this liberal good to other ones.”

Bushman's biography of Joseph Smith Only a literature professor like my colleague Mark Bruce would find a way to connect Macbeth to Christianity and yoga, and end with this insight: “At the end of the day, it’s not the yoga–the other, the immigrant, the LGBT person, the foreigner–that is evil. It’s our own ability to project evil on to such innocent targets and destroy them rather than to face and to take responsibility for the demons of fear that already live within us.”

• I was less interested in finally seeing the “seer stone” that Joseph Smith claimed to have used to translate the Book of Mormon than in reading the response of Mormon scholars like Richard Bushman, who appreciated such artifacts as being “part of Mormon materiality” even as he worried that the stone “crosses a boundary we had held on to between religion and superstition.”

• It’s now been seventy years since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Here’s the story of the Japanese decision to surrender in August 1945, and here’s what it would look like if a similar device detonated over your city.

• RIP Robert Conquest, the British historian who (in the words of his New York Times obit) “offered the definitive account of the crimes of the Stalin era.” Read Anne Applebaum’s tribute to better understand the magnitude for and context of his achievements as a scholar.

• Allison Miller thought we need to read To Kill a Mockingbird less as a work of anti-racism than as “part of a well-worn curriculum designed to impart the lessons of Cold War liberalism.”


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