This is the introductory letter that ran with our inaugural print edition, which reached subscribers last week. Subscribe now to receive future issues. In order to maximize our reach in these early days of the print edition, I will be releasing everything from the first issue for free on the website. We will be implementing a paywall of some kind in the future, but for now the print content will be available for free on our website.
The late John Webster once remarked that we do not have the luxury of speaking about God as if he is not listening. This simple acknowledgement can protect us from two dangers. First, it guards against dead religiosity, which professes all the right beliefs with none of the real-world fruit that should follow. Recognizing that all that we do is lived before the eyes of God can and should jolt us out of our lethargy. The prophets as well as Our Lord himself have much to say about this. But neither should we accept a pious do-goodism, an indifference to questions of truth and principle. Webster’s words remind us that the way we speak of God makes us more or less fit to behold him, indeed more or less able to behold him. A know-nothing piety will wither and die unless it is anchored to a keen desire to speak and think God’s thoughts after him, to whatever degree our admittedly great limitations allow us.
And so we begin the first print issue of Mere Orthodoxy with this simple concern: We desire to speak the truth in pursuit of knowing Truth Himself. We believe that God’s world is worth knowing and worth loving. It is that desire to know reality truly and to know the God who is responsible for it that animates our work.
Perhaps it sounds banal to suggest that a magazine’s core purpose is simply to say true things about God and his works in a loud, distracted, and ideological era. I understand that impulse, but it is mistaken. A professor once suggested to a friend of mine that discerning truth “is not as difficult as you think. It is far more difficult than that.”
He was right. The reasons why are legion. Ordinary human finitude is one, of course, along with human sinfulness, which turns even our good desires toward perverse ends. Further obstacles are unique to our day. The seemingly infinite demands on our attention, and the culture of distraction this produces, is a great threat. And, of course, there is the fact of our current political and cultural climate, a climate in which many of our neighbors and virtually all of our leaders have long since lost interest in truth, lusting instead for power and control.
We need truth, however, for the simple reason that no person can live without love and love requires truth;love’s life is drawn from the life of God and to know God we must know truth. “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived,” wrote Benedict XVI in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” Without truth, love languishes. Benedict went on to say that, “without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love.”
Our hope for this inaugural issue is that it would bear witness to the truth.. Kirsten Sanders reminds us in her essay that because time belongs to God (and not to us) it is God’s to spend, not ours. Through a careful consideration of God himself she leads us to the truth that a felt sense of urgency, either to reach back toward a lost golden age or forward into progress realized, is itself a sort of idol, a God-substitute. As such, it will always thwart our good ambitions. Our work and public advocacy will only become effective when we rest confidently in the benevolence of God.
Oliver O’Donovan helps us to better understand what we do when we reason over questions of morality and specifically applies the discipline to that central question in the Christian story: how can sinful people like you and I be made fit for union with God? Matthew Lee Anderson then considers a similar question, asking how the idea of orthodoxy applies to questions concerning sexuality and gender and whether we can speak of such a thing as “moral orthodoxy.” Tara Ann Thieke, meanwhile, draws our attention to the tangible and concrete world of sense and sensibility, a world that feels ever more distant as we become more immersed in smartphones and other technology.
Christian Schmidt asks the simple question “what does love have to do with citizenship?” and answers it by profiling an unknown couple in a remote Alaskan town whose love has helped sustain the town through many trials. Onsi A. Kamel confronts the hard question of what it means to suffer one’s children and how we make sense of things when our emotional life is out of step with what we know to be true.
We also consider a variety of recent books on topics ranging from boredom to parenting to America’s political realignment.
I don’t yet know if there is a large enough market for what we do, but I do know that this issue is representative of what we do well. I hope that this inaugural issue of Mere Orthodoxy will help you to slow down your mind, to practice what one friend of mine calls “a Sabbath of the soul,” and to consider both God and his works with a reverent joy that you cannot help but carry into your day long after you have set the magazine down. Christianity has always been a religion of words and so it is with hope that we offer you the words our contributors have written for our first foray into print. Thank you for reading.