First published in The Hedgehog Review, September 2nd, 2016
The new Ben-Hur is bad. As scathing reviews have noted, this implausible remake is treacly, pietistic and rushed. Replete with gooey flashbacks and clunky transitions, it begins with the famous chariot race, just in case we didn’t think the central Ben-Hur-Messala relationship would climax there.
The clunky dialogue is dependably risible: Upon hearing Jesus preach, Judah remarks, “Love your enemies? That’s very progressive.” The male leads appear to be unaware that, despite the film’s location, they are not acting in in a nativity play. Deservedly, the film is on track to be a financial failure of epic proportions, costing a whopping $100 million but grossing a meager $11.4 million on its opening weekend.
I, too, disliked the new Ben-Hur, but not simply because it is bad. Nor can I put my objection down entirely to my man crush on the late, great Charlton Heston or my nostalgia for the 1959 masterpiece. The bigger problem is that it’s another movie made by Christians that fails to do justice to their faith. Continue reading
First published by The American Conservative, March 3, 2016
I’d only been in the U.S. for about six months when it arrived in the mail, slipping out of the Kroger coupons. I unfolded the full-page advert to find a series of amazing offers, but the one that really caught my eye was a CM15 .223 Rem AR Semi-Auto Rifle with Red Dot Sight. Awesome. Also on display was an impressive array of sub-compact semi-auto handguns. “Revenge” scopes, “defender” shotguns, speed pumps—an embarrassment of weaponry.
Fantastic, I thought. My wife Holly and I had been invited to a costume party, and now I could go as a Navy SEAL! One of these toy guns would be perfect. I’d never seen replicas like them. They were sleek, menacing, and unlike those you find in the UK, they didn’t have the annoying orange tips on the end so everyone knew they were fakes.
But then I look more closely. There was a problem. These “guns” were prohibitively expensive. At first glance I had thought the CM15 .223 Rem AR Semi-Auto Rifle was retailing at $6.99, very affordable for purposes of a costume party. But when I looked more closely, I saw that there was an additional “99” on the end. Continue reading
First published by The Spectator on-line on 20th January 2016
Given how apocalyptic the predictions were, Anglicanism’s make-or-break meeting about issues of human sexuality last week proved something of a damp squib. The Anglican Communion was supposed to be rent asunder. Upheaval was imminent. Schism was certain. Conservative African Archbishops were going to be tripping over their cassocks in the rush for the door. In the end, however, unity prevailed and the status quo was (boringly) upheld as the 36 primates gathered here together voted overwhelmingly to stick to the church’s traditional view of marriage. Nothing really changed: Anglican HQ merely recognised formally the break its American division has been boasting about for over a decade. So the summit ended not with a bang but with a whimper.
It is surprising, then, that the whimper has occasioned such a hue and cry. On Thursday the Labour shadow cabinet minister and former Anglican priest, Chris Bryant, declared he had left the Church of England for good. The Church’s decision will one day ‘seem [as] wrong as supporting slavery’ he tweeted. On Saturday the Times published a full-blown invective. The Church has no right, the editorial claimed, to maintain its traditional doctrine of marriage.
The outcry is indicative of a profound shift. Institutions founded on certain precepts to which its members are expected to subscribe shouldn’t be allowed to act on them if those precepts don’t square with a prevailing agenda. Back in 2013 advocates for same-sex marriage argued that the church’s beliefs about sexuality shouldn’t be imposed on the rest of society. That makes sense. But now the church is being told it shouldn’t hold those beliefs at all. Continue reading
First published in The Guardian online Thursday 10 September 2015
The most tragic repercussion of ageism is older people seeing themselves as a burden: a burden on their family, a burden on society, a burden on the communities they have forged or the institutions they built. In an ageist society, older people have arrived at a sense that they are a drain on resources, on family coffers, on the wealth of the state they paid into throughout their working lives.
This was the incidental but perhaps key finding of a 2011 review I led into the problems facing older age groups. Continue reading
First published in The Hedgehog Review on 2nd June 2015
As if there weren’t enough mighty causes, age-defining campaigns, momentous movements coming to a head last week. As if the public square were not already deafened by the cacophony of acrimony, war cries, whoops of delight. As if health care, gun control, and gay marriage were a light load for the news cycles, yet another issue strode into the limelight, an issue the importance of which it is impossible to overstate.
At the end of that crowded week, The Economist took its stand on euthanasia. Its front page pictured a snuffed candle. “The right to die—Why assisted suicide should be legal,” the headline read. Just a few days before, The New Yorker had run a devastating in-depth “Letter From Belgium,” which reported on the escalating number of cases of assisted suicide for people with non-terminal illnesses in that Benelux bastion of social liberalism.
What has prompted the sudden prominence of the issue? Continue reading
The Vaccines, Dream Lover
Kendrick Lamar I
Mumford & Sons, Ditmas
Imagine Dragons, Bet Your Life
Florence & The Machine, Long & Lost
Foy Vance, At Least My Heart Was Open
Sufjan Stevens, There’s A World (Neil Young cover)
Ike & Tina Turner, Too Many Tears In My Eyes
My Morning Jacket, Believe
The Maccabees, Pelican
Townes Van Sandt, Lungs
Magnetic Fields, Love Is Lighter Than Air
Bruce Springsteen, Tougher Than The Rest
First published by Standpoint magazine May 2015
In 2013 Lord Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill was giving a lecture at the Vatican. He was expecting to speak to a handful of intellectuals. Hundreds of people turned up, including, in the third row, a man wearing a white skullcap with a broad smile on his face. Speaking in Italian, Glasman outlined his signature critique of our overweening states and exploitative markets. He found himself assailed by an American free-market fundamentalist. “Interfering in managerial prerogatives and the free movement of capital,” said his interlocutor. “There’s a word for this — Communism.” Glasman, who hails from a small-business background and whose project revolves around broader access to credit and the wider distribution of profit, set about defending himself. A fierce debate ensued until the man in the third row stood up to intervene. The room fell silent. “What’s the idea?” said Pope Francis to the American, siding with Glasman. “You exploit the parents and then buy pencils for their children in school?” Continue reading
Sufjan Stevens, No Shade in the Shadow of The Cross
The New Basement Tapes, Lost on the River #20
Will Butler, Anna
Odetta and Larry, Old Cotton Fields At Home
Yo La Tengo, Pablo & Andrea
Hollow Talk, Choir of Young Believers
Bifrost Arts Psalm 90,
Bob Dylan, Every Grain of Sand
Phosphorescent, You Can Make Me Feel Bad
Emmylou Harris and Richard Thompson, How will I ever be simple again?
Whales in Cubicles, We Never Win
Beirut, After the Curtain
First published in The Spectator, 28th March 2015
I took a trip to Hollywood because I’m a budding screenwriter. ‘Budding’ in this context means ‘unsuccessful’. Here’s Tennessee Williams on being an unsuccessful writer: ‘A life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before.’
The meeting I clawed along to was at Rough Draft. This is how I got there: it started with pure nepotism. My dad knows a guy who has generous instincts and loves encouraging young people in their careers. He took me to lunch at Scott’s, where we happened to sit at a table along from a famous producer who’s made most of my favourite films. When he came over to say hi to my dad’s friend, I knew I had 30 seconds to pitch my script. Continue reading
First published by First Things
We are late for church. It’s Sunday morning in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we’re late for church. I pull up in the car park, and my wife and I get out. We rush to the entrance, and I swing wide the door and hold it open for her. And then we find ourselves in a wide vestibule area.
The carpets, weak olive. The walls, light gray. Colors no one would live with, as Updike says.
But we can’t be that late, because smiley people—blazers and bowties—are still there to thrust programs into our hands.
I lean forward and gently pull open the doors of the sanctuary. What we find inside is quite astonishing. It stuns me. It stuns Holly. It is beyond our wildest imaginations. I simply have no frame of reference for the sight that greets me. Continue reading