More religious palaver from the NYT

November 1, 2021 • 10:45 am

Should an Anglican Priest get a whole column in the NYT to remind us that nobody is perfect, that everyone is a “saint and a sinner”, and that “human communities often disappoint us.” These tired old bromides are ready for the glue factory, and yet Tish Harrison Warren trots them out of her stable weekly. Not only that, but she always throws God or Jesus in—she is, after all, a priest—in a way that assumes that all of us share her belief in a Deity.

Her latest column (click on screenshot) can be summarized in one sentence, “Saints are imperfect people. . . we remember them because, like us, they were broken, selfish, and fearful [here comes God], yet God wrought beauty and light through their lives.”

There is nothing more to the piece than that deep thought, though I still don’t see myself as “broken”.

Here’s the Christian stuff at the end:

In a cultural moment where want to divide all people and institutions neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys,” those on the right side of history and those who aren’t, the righteous and the damned, this day reminds us of the checkered and complicated truth of each human heart. Martin Luther gave us the helpful phrase “simul justus et peccator” — simultaneously saint and sinner. It names how we are holy and wayward at once. It proclaims a paradox that we are redeemed yet in need of redemption.

Could she possibly mean “redemption through belief in Jesus” (i.e. “sola fide”, or salvation through faith alone—a belief of Anglicans)? What kind of redemption do I, a diehard nonbeliever, need? But she goes on asserting things for which there’s no evidence.

All Saints’ Day reminds me that God meets us, saints and sinners, despite our contradictions, and makes good out of haphazard lives. It tells me that all of us, even the best of us, are in need of unimaginable mercy and forgiveness. The church is “first and foremost, a community of forgiven sinners,” writes the theologian Gilbert Meilaender. It is not “a community that embodies the practices of perfection” but instead “a body of believers who still live ‘in the flesh,’ who are still part of the world, suffering the transformations effected by God’s grace on its pilgrim way.” Recalling the stories of saints is, in the end, a celebration not of perfection but of grace.

Look, I don’t care if Warren foists this palaver on people every week if it makes the readers feel good, even if their feelings rest on a shared delusion. What bothers me is that the NYT uses this space for her sermons rather than for something that could be more substantial and thought-provoking. Do you think they’d ever give over a column to a nonbeliever, even for just a few weeks? Don’t bet on it.

16 thoughts on “More religious palaver from the NYT

    1. I don’t recall ever reading an article in the NYT that provoked any thought beyond ,”this article is stupid”

      Possiby it was better in the previous millennium.

  1. Let us pray.
    Oh Holy Electrons, who surround us and penetrate us and binds our organic bodies together,
    help us, we pray, to not let us spontaneously combust; nor burst into flames, or collapse into a puddle of smelly ooze that is crawling with bacteria. Like that chicken we left for far too long in the back of the refrigerator. Stay in your orbitals, we beseech thee, whilst also sharing those orbitals in covalent bonds so that our molecules stay together. We pray to you to do so.

    Electrons, who we don’t think about or pray to nearly often enough, we ask thee to keep our thoughts pure and clean, and interested in learning from observations and evidence so that we don’t come to believe in really dumb things like there being a god or gods, or omniscient spaghetti colander or whatever. We mean really, believing that stuff is akin to taking hallucinogens, amIright? We now pray to you to keep us grounded in reality, but please also don’t forget about those covalent bonds.

  2. There are people who are interested in imaginary people in various stories in books, movies, and television, and those people often converse and speculate about the characters and plots with other fans. That doesn’t bother me at all, because they know those stories are imagination, and they do not expect others to be fans. What bothers me is people who do not distinguish what they can imagine from what exists and has existed, and so insist that their imagined scenarios are true for everyone else – as if “who cares about others’ fantasies – mine are real, so disregard your own and listen to me”.

    I don’t like having a column written by one of those in a subscription for which I pay without having a recourse to respond by leaving a comment. Most of the NYT opinion pieces have comment sections, while these opinion pieces on imaginary scenarios do not.

    If the authors and publishers of these religious columns are so convinced that their opinions are valuable, why do they not allow the testing of them by commenters. Are the authors and publishers so fragile that they cannot stand up to potential criticism? It seems so, and it is maddening.

  3. I don’t care if Warren foists this palaver on people every week if it makes the readers feel good

    I think it’s much worse than that. Accepting superstition leads to anti-vax and anti-mask tomfoolery which kills thousands of people. My fundamentalist sister in law was a anti-vax and then had the gall to ask everyone to pray for a COVID-sick relative. Well, then he died. Religion makes people dangerous to others.

    1. From my electronic scrapbook:

      The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them, for then it must sink back into savagery… It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies, but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbors ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat.

      ― W.H. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief, 1879

      1. Great quotation, thanks! I believe, with advent of the cruelty of the authoritarian Right and the mercilessness of the totalitarian Left, that society has already stepped back into savagery, and, like quicksand, this savagery is rapidly pulling us under, sad to say.

  4. I don’t know how you subject yourself to that column. I cannot bear to read such mush-brained nothingness.

  5. Sounds like she could easily get a gig on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. Its speakers specialise in this sort of unevidenced mush and fortune-cookie slogans; and moreover TftD is just about the only Beeb production that doesn’t allow comments or challenges.

    There is a bit of pushback, although it’s from a fairly small and select community:

  6. Is it ignorance, or is it convenient neglect, that Martin Luther himself was lot closer to a villain than a hero? He was such a rabid antisemite that even the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher said at his trial in Nuremberg, that if Luther were alive, he would be standing trial too, eight next to Streicher.

  7. Should an Anglican priest get a whole column in the NYT to say that we can value people even though they are imperfect?


    Should a clapped-out alt-right attention seeker get invited to a university to give a speech on his latest schtick that gay is bad because God?


    Let everyone have their say.

    1. What does “let everyone have their say mean?” Thse situations are not equivaent: Milo was not invited to write a weekly column in the New York Times. Should he have been? SHould they invite you are I to write a NYT weekly.

      You have no idea of what it means to say “let everyone have their say.”

    2. There’s a difference between writing a post on a web site arguing that the NYT should not publish these articles by an Anglican priest and mobbing a lecture theatre to force a legitimately invited speaker not to speak.

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