Orthodox Churches Give Way to Mosques

From the Interpreter:

Staunton, January 26 – The Russian Orthodox metropolitanate of Stavropol and Nevinnomyssk says that over the last 20 years, some 6,000 mosques have been built in that region for its six million Muslims while only 600 churches have been erected for its three million Russian speakers.

That means there is now one mosque for every 1000 Muslim residents but only one for every 5,000 Russian ones, an imbalance that is increasing as a result of Russian flight, the growth of the Muslim population, and both financial and personnel problems, and a trend that gives every sign of continuing and even increasing in the future.

Svetlana Bolotnikova of “Kavkazskaya politika” cites this report at the beginning of her report on relations between the two communities, pointedly noting that mosques are growing “like mushrooms” after a spring rain but that Orthodox churches are rising “only slowly like oaks” over many years.

In many places, there are no problems, but in others, there are and on both sides. Many Cossacks are unhappy with the fact that in places where before 1917, there were Orthodox churches for them, there are no such churches now, even though there are often mosques for each ethnic group; and neither Moscow nor republic officials have been prepared to help build them.

Postmodernism, Vodka, and Catholic Letters

From Ethika Politika:

Artur Rosman: There is clearly no lack of high quality Catholic and Christian literature being published these days. What then is the debate about the state of Catholic literature really about?

Gregory Wolfe: Ideology. And the blinders that ideology imposes. What I find fascinating is that the two most prominent critics articulating the “decline and fall of Catholic literature” argument—Dana Gioia and Paul Elie—emerge, respectively, from political right and left. You’d rarely find them agreeing about public policy, but they’re certain it’s all been downhill since Flannery O’Connor.

Ideology thrives on what I’ve called “declinism,” the notion that things are not only bad but well-nigh apocalyptic. That’s because the bad guys are at fault and we good guys are the only solution.

For one, the “bad guys” are “the 60s and the post-Vatican II mess,” while for the other it’s repressive papacies and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Okay, perhaps that’s a little extreme, but caricatures are based on real features. I have great respect for both men and count them as friends, but this is my challenge to them: Take off the blinders and look around. There’s a lot of good work out there that needs your critical engagement and thus support. Writers are starving in garrets. Let’s give them a meal.

Nationalism Without a Nation

From the Interpreter:

Staunton, January 22 — “Post-Soviet Russian nationalism has been fatally flawed from the outset because it arose not from the word ‘nation’ but from the word ‘nationality,’” a reflection of the fact that a Russian “nation” in the normal of sense that term does not yet exist in Russia, according to Vadim Shtepa.

In a commentary on Delfi.lt, the Russian regionalist notes that the invocation of the term “Russian world” to “justify territorial expansion and annexation of the regions of other countries” has led ever more people to discuss Russian nationalism and to ask whether a Russian nation exists.

That is at the heart of discussions about the similarities and differences between “an ethnic Russian [“russkaya”] nation and a non-ethnic [“rossisskaya”] one, he says.

This Cold House

Ken Ilgunas:

DENVER — OVER the summer, I moved into a house in rural Nebraska where, for the first time ever, I had full control of the thermostat. It was a drafty 4,000-square-foot palace of cold-to-the touch cinder-blocks that had long stood empty. As fall approached, I started to think about heating. Keeping that whole place at 70 degrees with natural gas, for just one person, seemed like a waste. I wondered: How cold could I let my house get, while remaining comfortable?

Home temperatures appear to be slowly rising. The average nighttime bedroom in the United States is around 68 degrees, and the average living room is more than 70, according to a 2011 study on obesity and indoor temperatures. A study published that same year in the journal Building and Environment found that home heating and cooling were responsible for 9 percent of the country’s energy consumption.

Reducing household energy use by lowering the thermostat would be a boon for the environment and our checking accounts. The agency forecasts that American households will pay an average of $621 for natural gas, $943 for electrical heating systems or $1,586 for heating oil this winter.

The Sacred Heart in “Calvary”

From Through a Glass Brightly:

Fiona, Fr. James’s daughter, notices that he has no photographs in his bedroom. But he does have two images on opposite walls from one another: a crucifix with a prie dieu beneath it and a painting of the Sacred Heart. These are the two depictions of Christ that he wakes to, prays with, and sees before sleeping. And they are the two main themes of the film. The crucifix is more obvious, given that the title of the movie comes from the hill on which the Crucifixion took place. It also typifies the penultimate scene, the hero’s willing self-sacrifice and the murder of a man in persona Christi. The Sacred Heart is more subtle. It is signaled briefly that fateful Sunday morning as Fr. James kneels at his prie dieu, making his peace with God. The camera is pointed at the opposite wall, and we see the painting. The priest’s head moves up, eclipsing the image—becoming the image. He will carry it with him to his death.

To the Office, with Love

From New York:

One October day, I sat in on a seminar at the Freelancers Union called “Building a Foundation for Your Freelance Life.” The woman who led it, Michelle Ward, wore bright-red pants and a headband sprouting an enormous plastic flower. Ward is a career coach and the founder of When I Grow Up, which in 2013 made Forbes’s “Top 100” career websites. 

“Raise your hand if you consider yourself a creative freelancer,” she said at the start of her presentation. A number of hands went up. “Great! And what about a techie freelancer?” Also a number of hands. “Great. And what about a healing freelancer?” Nothing. “No one? Hm. Anyone I missed?”

A woman tentatively raised her hand.

“May I put you on the spot?”

The Harmful Divisiveness of Obama’s Tax Plan


In his State of the Union address, President Obama unveiled a tax plan. With a Republican-controlled Congress, it almost certainly won’t pass. It is purely a bit of politics — but that’s what makes it interesting. It is less a policy agenda than a statement by the most progressive president in a generation about what the good society looks like. And it is telling indeed.

The plan includes some provisions to help families, particularly low-income families, raise children. Smart conservatives have been calling for action on this front for a while now, and so it is to be applauded. But the best way to do this is for families get a simple refundable child tax credit. That way, in some families, both parents can decide to work full-time and use the money to pay for childcare; in other families, one parent can decide to work less and spend more time with the kids.

Instead, Obama’s proposal mostly takes the form of an expanded child care tax credit, and of a new “second-earner credit” for families in which both parents work. While the double income trap is real, its root causes won’t be fixed by a tax credit.

The Pitfalls of Private Faith

From TCI:

In Chapter 15 of My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass describes the ultimate incoherency of the notion of a fully privatized faith, which can lead a man to act with love at one time and utter malice at another while seemingly feeling no cognitive dissonance from it.

In this specific instance, he has just told of the merciless beatings he would receive from Mr. Covey, a man to whom he was sent for “breaking” as a horse or mule is broken. Mr. Covey believed that fear was the only motivator to compel slaves to labor. As Douglass himself remarks, there was “no earthly inducement” (note the modifier; emph. mine) to extract such behavior, so he would practice deception and spy on his slaves in order to get it. Covey taught his chattels with the whip that his presence should be feared and was never far away, even when he, a dominus absconditus, was not visible to them.

The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur

From the Atlantic:

Pronounce the word artist, to conjure up the image of a solitary genius. A sacred aura still attaches to the word, a sense of one in contact with the numinous. “He’s an artist,” we’ll say in tones of reverence about an actor or musician or director. “A true artist,” we’ll solemnly proclaim our favorite singer or photographer, meaning someone who appears to dwell upon a higher plane. Vision, inspiration, mysterious gifts as from above: such are some of the associations that continue to adorn the word.

Yet the notion of the artist as a solitary genius—so potent a cultural force, so determinative, still, of the way we think of creativity in general—is decades out of date. So out of date, in fact, that the model that replaced it is itself already out of date. A new paradigm is emerging, and has been since about the turn of the millennium, one that’s in the process of reshaping what artists are: how they work, train, trade, collaborate, think of themselves and are thought of—even what art is—just as the solitary-genius model did two centuries ago. The new paradigm may finally destroy the very notion of “art” as such—that sacred spiritual substance—which the older one created.

A Younger Generation Returns to Agriculture

From NPR:

America’s heartland is graying. The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 58.3 — and that number has been steadily ticking upward for more than 30 years.

Overall, fewer young people are choosing a life on the land. But in some places around the country, like Maine, that trend is reversing. Small agriculture may be getting big again — and there’s new crop of farmers to thank for it.

Fulfilling Work, Noble Work

On a windy hillside just a few miles from Maine’s rocky mid-coast, it’s 10 degrees; snow is crunching underfoot. Hairy highland cattle munch on flakes of hay and native Katahdin sheep are mustered in a white pool just outside the fence. Not far away, heritage chickens scuttle about a mobile poultry house that looks a bit like a Conestoga wagon.