Tish Harrison Warren becomes the female Jordan Peterson. And suggest your own “rules for life”!

June 12, 2022 • 1:00 pm

Well, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren isn’t nearly as weird as Peterson, but they’re both religious and they’ve both made lists about how to improve your life and your world. Harrison’s column (click to read) is to fixing the world as a cough drop is to a cough (cough drops don’t work).

I’m starting to realize that Warren is actually not a religion columnist, though she can’t keep Jesus out of her weekly NYT columns, but rather a self-help columnist, commissioned to make people feel better about themselves and the world. She does this like a human Pez dispenser, regularly producing new bromides. There’s nothing wrong with trying to cheer people up, but crikey, can’t she think up something original?

Here’s the lead-in to her column of “solutions for a broken world”, which reminded me of Jordan Peterson’s bestselling “12 Rules for Life” (see below):


In Christian liturgical churches, today is Trinity Sunday, which kicks off a long sweep of “ordinary time.” This period — which will last till mid-November — is the longest season in the church year. Ordinary time is what we call the weeks that are not included in the major seasons of feasting or fasting in the church calendar, such as Easter and Lent.

In some circles, this span of months is referred to as “the long green growing season” because the liturgical color of the season is green, but also because it invites us to deepen our roots, to grow.

In his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Wendell Berry calls his readers to “Practice resurrection.” That’s how I think of this stretch of ordinary time. During Easter season we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and in this next season we learn to “practice resurrection” in our everyday lives. We seek those things which bring renewal and repair.

And so, here are Warren’s “eleven small ways we can help mend the world.” (Bolding is hers.)

1.)  Have more in-person conversations.

2.)  Get outside.

3.)  Eschew mobs — online and in real life.

4.)  Read books.

5.)  Give money away. 

6.)  Invest in institutions more than personal brands. (She means “invest time, money and energy into reforming broken institutions and sustaining healthy ones.)

7.)  Invest in children. 

8.)  Observe the Sabbath.

9.)  Make a steel man of others’ arguments. She means engage first with the best rather than the worst arguments of our opponents—advice Dan Dennett dispensed years ago.

10.) Practice patience.

11.)  Pray.  Her explanation, “Because prayer and work go together. And because, ultimately, true renewal requires more than we can do on our own.”  I presume she means we need to communicate with God for true renewal.

Look, this isn’t bad advice, but it’s trite advice, and I, for one, don’t need to pray or observe the Sabbath. What baffles me is why the NYT continues on this hamster wheel of cerebral pabulum.

For comparison, here’s Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life as described in the Guardian:

1 Stand up straight with your shoulders straight.

2 Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

3 Befriend people who want the best for you.

4 Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not the useless person you are today.

5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

6 Set your house in order before you criticise the world.

7 Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.

8 Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie.

9 Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t.

10 Be precise in your speech.

11 Do not bother children while they are skateboarding.

12 Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street.

Yes, some of these are also trite, like #7 and #8, but at least they make you think. And, of course. #12 itself, superb advice, trumps the totality of Warren’s rules!

Now that I’m at it, here are some Coyne Rules for Life. I’ve chosen eleven, like Warren.

1.)  Pet a cat whenever you encounter one.

2.) Button your shirt from the bottom up; that way you never mis-button.

3.) If two people tell you that you’re flawed in the same way, they’re probably right. 

4.) If you are writing an angry email or letter, go ahead and write it, but don’t send it for at least a day. Most likely you will have calmed down and can be more civil in your communication. 

5.) Discover the joys of wine; one of the world’s greatest pleasures.

6.) Read GOOD books. Life is too short to read junk. 

7.)  Never show “respect” for faith unless the situation is desperate (e.g., someone touts their faith while dying). 

8.)  Wash your hands at the times recommended by the CDC, and in the way they recommend. (I haven’t had a cold since the pandemic started.)

9.)  At the checkout counter at the grocery store, have your credit card, cash, or checkbook IN HAND so those behind you don’t have to wait. The check should be filled out as much as possible (i.e., all except the amount).

10.) If you have a lot of groceries and the person behind you has only a few, let them go ahead of you.

11.) If you are a professor and your graduate students writes a paper, do not put your name on it unless you’ve made a substantive contribution to the results (suggesting the experiment or rewriting the paper don’t count). This gratuitous co-authorship, which is spreading, takes credit away from students and gives it to them that already have (the “Matthew Effect“). 

Now you know what to do. Put down one or a few of your own Rules for Life.

What makes a good life?

September 7, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I usually avoid TED talks because they smack too much of motivational speech: like the advice of Matt Foley, who lives in a van down by the river and eats government cheese. But this one popped up when I was watching YouTube, and, listening to the introduction, I was drawn into it.

The speaker, Robert Waldinger, is director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a project that’s been going on for 75 years.  The researchers studied 724 men over that period, asking them how they were doing and what they were doing every two years until the men died. They also did personal interviews, got medical records, and even drew the subjects’ blood.

There were two groups in the original study that’s ongoing since the 1930s: Harvard sophomores and the “control” group of boys who came from troubled and disadvantaged families in poor parts of Boston.

60 of the original 724 men are still alive, and now their children are being studied as well: 2000 more. Women have been added at last.  This represents an unparalleled study of what factors make for a happy and healthy life.

The answer, which may seem anodyne to you, nevertheless contradicts the Millennial answer Waldinger describes, which is the view that having fame and money make for a good life. (“A good life” is one in which the person lives it is both healthy and happy and lives a long time.) I’ll let you listen to the video for yourself.

I think this 13-minute talk is worth hearing, both for your own well being and, perhaps, to help other people. But maybe you’ll see it as obvious and trite.

By the way, Waldinger is a psychiatrist and (disappointingly to me) a psychoanalyst and is also a Zen priest.

Big-time cognitive dissonance!

January 28, 2021 • 11:00 am

This article recently appeared in Quillette. Given its title, I naturally read it: I was the one experiencing cognitive dissonance! (Click on screen shot.)

It’s a sad story. Author Edie Wyatt was sexually abused for years by someone who lived in her house, a situation exacerbated by Wyatt’s alcoholic, ill, and dysfunctional parents and problematic siblings. Naturally, Wyatt’s life fell apart, but she got herself together sufficiently to go to college. There she became a Marxist, but Marx didn’t save her. And then Wyatt found Jesus:

Under the belief (delusional, as it turned out) that the problem was rooted in my drug and alcohol use, I gave up both. Unfortunately, without that self-medication, I found myself face to face with the underlying pain and paralysing fear. One night, I collapsed on the floor, crying and in such physical pain that I could barely move. I picked up a Bible and read a passage from 2 Corinthians 5—Awaiting the New Body—that left me completely undone.

Not long after, I walked into a suburban Baptist church, full of strange, unfashionably dressed, conservative Christians. I was a Marxist, a feminist, foul-mouthed, a chain-smoker, and desperate. The love I received in that place is the reason that I will defend the rights of fundamentalist Christians to my dying breath. They were the kindest people I’d ever known. They loved me, on principle, and in doing so saved my life.

People who advocate for a world without religion have no idea what it is like to find the relief that I found at that time. My purpose here is not to describe my “Amazing Grace” moment, but to explain why I have no patience for militant atheists. In the face of my evangelical Christianity, progressives (mostly men) have called me every unholy thing imaginable—including, of all things, a paedophile apologist.

No patience for militant atheists because she found Jesus! Do all militant atheists need Jesus? Or should we just shut up about religion?

The prudishness of Christanity also appealed to her:

. . . Objectively, I had seen that by reading the Bible, living cleanly, and changing the company I kept, my life had really improved. It was in relationship with God that I found peace, purpose, and joy. I found I could forgive, I could breathe, I could sleep, and my fear had disappeared.

Looking back, though, I do see why certain practices of evangelical Protestantism were attractive to me. Spaces in churches often are separated by sex. Physical contact between young single men and women is not encouraged. My favourite was the “Billy Graham principle”: Men in the church would not visit me alone as a single woman. The pastor would only meet me in his office with the door slightly ajar, so other staff could see in. I know that churches have been places where many people have not been safe. But the corner of Christianity I’d stumbled upon happened to be genuinely devout (to my knowledge) and serious about holiness. That’s what I liked about it. That’s what I still like about it.

What about white privilege? Well, she said that, like Marxism, it failed her:

My “white privilege” didn’t save me from childhood sexual abuse. Sexual violence almost killed me. It ruined my childhood, made me homeless, and left me with enduring scars. I can debate and theorize about politics as much as the next person. But ultimately, the politics of the modern Left is dominated by its fixation on power. And children have no power.

There’s more discussion of postmodernism and its failures, and of the biological rather than ideological basis of sex. But you can read that for yourself.

All these stances appeal to Quillette, of course, but Wyatt’s story, sad and tortuous as it is, doesn’t cohere as a political statement, which I think Quillette wanted it to be. I’m very glad that Wyatt found solace and peace in Christianity, but she wasn’t saved by God, for God doesn’t exist. He’s like “white privilege”: a phantom concocted to leverage power. She was saved by a group of people who believe in a mythical deity, and that’s fine for those who need it. But the part of evangelical Christianity that seems to be most attractive to Wyatt—the segregation of men from women and the abnegation of sexuality—may have helped her because of Wyatt’s past sexual abuse, but it’s surely not a healthy attitude in general.

What we have here is a self-help story that Quillette has adopted (and possibly helped edit) so comes off as a blow against the concept of white privilege. (And against atheism to boot!) But any white person who has a troubled life, as Wyatt did, could write an article saying that “white privilege didn’t save me.” The problem is that even the purveyors of that gutted concept don’t claim that it always gives white people a great life!

And as for the God part, well I hope that Quillette is not going soft on religion. It’s okay to write about people’s religious experiences, but not okay to claim that God can act where the tenets of social justice can’t.

The final bit:

Because of my experiences, and the newly fashionable denial of reality being promoted by progressives, I find myself sitting with the politically homeless. For now, we are all retreating to old-fashioned liberalism with unlikely new friends—an exodus to a land none of us can see.  This divergent group of progressive dissenters won’t find a land flowing with milk and honey, but we might find a place to speak the truth, to cling to those who belong to us, and protect the vulnerable. I’m not sure there is any higher purpose to politics anyway.

Nor is there a “higher purpose” to anything!