1. If there’s a must-read article this week, it’s the profile of director Martin Scorsese that Paul Elie produced for The NY Times Magazine. Elie is always a joy to read and “The Passion of Martin Scorsese” is no exception. Most of it centers around Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, a ridiculously Christocentric project that he’s been working on for 27 years. The article is not short, but you’ll kick yourself if you skim over the anecdotes Martin relays from childhood. Basically, he had the polar opposite experience of the Roman Catholic Church than you normally hear about in such accounts. Far from oppressive or traumatizing, the Church provided young Martin with an alternative to “the closed, hidden, frightened, tough world I grew up in”, one that opened up not just his moral imagination but his aesthetic one as well. A breath of fresh air, emphasis on breath:

72dpi_goonies_1024x1024“I think fast, I move fast, and I think it has something to do with the medication I was given for asthma,” Scorsese said. “It affected the way I breathe, the way I think. I needed to pull back. Film did that for me, and so did the church. They slowed me down. They allowed me to meditate. They gave me a different sense of time.”…

The article really gets cooking, though, when it gets into the thematics of the book in question (click here to read Ethan’s wonderful series on it from a few years ago), which tells the story of a pair of Jesuit missionaries who go searching for their lost/fallen mentor in hostile 17th century Japan:

As the two Jesuits set out for Japan, they find a translator named Kichijiro in a seedy neighborhood and drag him into their mission. He resists. He drinks himself sick. He lies. He bemoans his fate. A convert, he apostatized and was allowed to live, while the shogunate killed his brothers and sisters. Rodrigues decides that he is Kichijiro’s keeper and grimly bears up as Kichijiro apostatizes again and again and finally betrays him to the shogunate.

But as Rodrigues is racked by doubts, the peasant becomes the priest’s keeper, a man whose faith is rooted in his recognition of his own weakness. Who is more Christlike: the person who is strong in faith or the one who is weak, who is humiliated? “Humiliation: That’s the key,” Scorsese told me…

Egg Shen 6 Demon Bag- Orlando Arocea- vectoart 2016Like the novel, the picture interrogates the very idea of Christian martyrdom, by proposing that there are instances when martyrdom — the believer holding fast to Christ to the bitter end — is not holy or even right… that a seeming act of profanation can be an act of devotion if done out of an underlying faith.

At a dramatic moment in the novel, Rodrigues hears the cries of Christians who are being tortured outside his cell. He has been told that he can save their lives if he will step on the fumie [a copper image of Christ]. He agonizes. He prays. He feels the offer as a temptation. Weary, hungry, surrounded by suffering and death, he hears a voice he takes to be Jesus: “Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.”

The article also quotes artist and author Makoto Fujimura, who Scott Jones had the privilege of speaking with on The Mockingcast this week. Makoto’s new book is the not unrelated Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering.

2. In the life-imitates-art *sigh* department, party officials in Beijing are clearly all caught up on Black Mirror. Too bad the satirical elements got lost in translation… Not sure how else to explain why the Chinese government has decided to implement a new social program in which its citizens are given what the Wall Street Journal calls a “credit rating for everything”. The plan is, by 2020, to assign everyone “a score based on behavior such as spending habits, turnstile violations and filial piety, which can blacklist citizens from loans, jobs, air travel”. Apparently Internet activity will also be factored in eventually. Oy vey. While I’m as eager to see trolls get reigned in as anyone, and as irritated by how brazenly the word “Orwellian” gets thrown around these days, this strikes me as a case where it actually applies:

The national social-credit system’s aim, according to a slogan repeated in planning documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”


3. Speaking of strong-arm tactics masquerading as benevolence, over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf penned a lengthy column parsing the (incriminating) reaction to Bernie Sanders’ recent comments on the limits of identity politics on the national stage. While it’s nothing we haven’t tried to articulate elsewhere–e.g., in relation to ‘concept creep’–Friedersdorf is ever the pro, providing a helpful encapsulation of some of the forces shaping our political moment. The headline reads “Too Much Stigma, Not Enough Persuasion”, and you could almost sub in law and grace:

Insofar as the definition of “white supremacist” includes Bernie Sanders, the term is not going to retain significant stigma, or even be understood by most of America. Insofar as attempts to point that out are met, by academics on social media or opinion journalists at left-of-center outlets, with the most uncharitable, dubiously accurate construals possible, followed by disparaging insults and performative stigmatization––well, if you’re a progressive who is incapable of constructively engaging with a Mother Jones staffer, what possible hope do you have of reaching the swing voters who will decide the outcome of the 2018 midterms?

On social media, there are often greater incentives for stigmatizing others as insufficiently enlightened than for earnest efforts at constructive, nuanced engagement…

The coalition that opposes Trump needs to get better at persuading its fellow citizens and winning converts, rather than leaning so heavily on stigmatizing those who disagree with them. Among other problems with wielding stigma, it doesn’t work.

Along similar lines, Michael Ward’s piece on “C.S. Lewis and the Art of Disagreement” in The Intercollegiate Review is timely.


4. In humor, Spotify’s new ad campaign should put a smile on your face (for example, the billboard above). “Man Magically Transforms Into Music Historian While Talking to Women” over at The Hard Times hits painfully close to home. The Onion gave us a gem with “Reason Man Turning To Religion Later In Life Must Be Horrifying” and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’m really going to miss their Biden jokes, the latest example being “Biden Forges President’s Signature On Executive Order To Make December Dokken History Month”.

5. Social Science Study of the Week comes to us from Science of Us: “A Psychological Explanation for Why Angry Atheists Are So Annoying”. It all comes down to something called “moralized rationality”, which is a fancy term for the Captain Obvious-ism that “rationality taken to an extreme itself turns into ideology.” Well well well:

People high in moralized rationality [MR], the researchers say, consider it a virtue to form and evaluate beliefs based on reasoning and evidence, and a vice to rely on “less rational processes.” The key thing about MR is realizing that even the committed empiricists among us may be bringing moral commitments to the conversation, rather than playing things coolly neutral.

Needless to say, J. Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory makes an appearance.

6. Ruth Whippman is on a bit of a tear these days, following the release of her highly recommended new book America the Anxious. This time, she’s going after mindfulness in a NY Times column entitled  “Actually, Let’s Not Be In the Moment”. While I may not be entirely sympathetic, there are a couple paragraphs in there that are too trenchant to omit:

Perhaps the single philosophical consensus of our time is that the key to contentment lies in living fully mentally in the present. The idea that we should be constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract and back to whatever is happening right now has gained traction with spiritual leaders and investment bankers, armchair philosophers and government bureaucrats and human resources departments.

The advice to be more mindful often contains a hefty scoop of moralizing smugness, a kind of “moment-shaming” for the distractible, like a stern teacher scolding us for failing to concentrate in class. The implication is that by neglecting to live in the moment we are ungrateful and unspontaneous, we are wasting our lives, and therefore if we are unhappy, we really have only ourselves to blame. This judgmental tone is part of a long history of self-help-based cultural thought policing.

The irony here is, I don’t know any practitioners of mindfulness who would describe it as policing one’s thoughts (more as the exact opposite!). But the core observation stands.

7. Finally, in line with our featured image this week, the editors at Commonweal reflected on “The ‘Madness’ of Mercy”, AKA the central theme of Francis’s papacy. It makes for some stirring Advent reading:

72dpi_james_gilleard-iron_giants_1024x1024We shouldn’t be surprised that such an emphasis on mercy has been misunderstood, willfully or otherwise, and left more than one of the church’s factions dissatisfied. Against a stringent conservatism, dwelling on mercy appears as a kind of antinomianism: a breakdown of rules and order in favor of freewheeling forgiveness, a weakening of morals and a soft-peddling of ethical demands. Against the more thinned-out versions of religious liberalism, it can seem too “existential,” too focused on the darker currents of our lives—the “wounds” we suffer from, which need to be healed. And while mercy should be joined to hope, it is neither naïvely optimistic nor ideologically progressive. It is costly love in the midst of pain and grief, not false cheer…

In a world that “leaves so many men and women behind as it races on, breathlessly and aimlessly,” he recently said, “we need the oxygen of this gratuitous and life-giving love. We thirst for mercy and no technology can quench that thirst. We seek a love that endures beyond momentary pleasures, a safe harbor where we can end our restless wanderings, an infinite embrace that forgives and reconciles.”

The jubilee may be over now, but the need for mercy never ends. Neither does God’s offer of it.

Amen to that. And amen to this (x 1 billion trillion):


  • The man behind the Big Mac, Michael James Delligatti, died this week at age 98. “All I got was a plaque”, he told reporters back in 2007. Ooof.
  • I’m counting the seconds until I get to see Manchester By The Sea. Casey Affleck isn’t the only cast member getting raves. Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Theorem) has also been praised to the heavens. Very cool to read in Vanity Fair that the key to his understanding the script came when he saw it as a “narrative of grace”. Goodie gumdrops.
  • For more fake sequel poster goodness, click here.
  • In preparation for the Westworld finale, viewers *may* want to check out Vulture’s Simple Guide to the Show’s […] Timelines”. Potential spoilers.
  • Our brand-new lectionary podcast, Same Old Song, should be up in iTunes next week – we’ll post an announcement as soon as it’s available. For now, click here or here.
  • Last but not least, next week we’re sending out both the Mbird Christmas card (with special deals on publications) and our annual appeal/newsletter. To make sure you receive them, sign up for our mailing list.