About Me

I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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The war within Janet Malcolm

In a new collection, one sees the tug of democracy and snobbery deep in the soul of one of our finest journalists, Janet Malcolm. I reviewed the book for The Nation here.


If only Wooterson had been there...

It wasn’t quite Dazed and Confused, but it’s always good to be in Austin. Just wrote a piece on Vox Veniae, a Chinese Christian church that outgrew its Chinese-ness when it got very popular with white people, Latinos, etc. — and now it’s affliated with a historically Swedish denomination. Story is here, and the accompanying video, which I think is stunning, is here.


Me, anti-Christian

Earlier this month, I published a profile of the poet Christian Wiman, who is coming to teach at Yale Divinity School in the fall (disclosure: I will also be teaching there in the fall, an arrangement that did not happen until after I pitched my story about him — but also, it’s an article for an alumni magazine, so no surprise it’s an in-house article). The first paragraph reads thus:

The poet and editor Christian Wiman, who this fall joins the faculty of the Yale Divinity School and its affiliated Institute of Sacred Music, is a surprising hire. To begin, he is a poet who wants to teach at a divinity school. Although some of the greatest poets in English, like Milton and Donne, have been Christians, the relationship between poetics and piety—so obvious from biblical times through the Victorian era—now seems sundered; poets are a very secular bunch, and Wiman is that rare Christian writing good poetry.

Now come a couple Twitter followers to attack me, as in:


This strikes me as very odd. It’s totally clear from what I wrote that I wasn’t saying Christians were any worse at writing poetry than Jews or Muslims — rather, I was making the case that most top poets are secular. This is obviously true. When I have asked Christian poets, including Joseph Bottum and Christian Wiman himself, if there are Christians writing good poetry today, they can’t come up with many names. The same is true when I try to find practicing Jews (as opposed to ethnic Jews) who write good poetry. Slim pickings. Obviously, there are many ancestrally Christian — WASP, say, or ethnic Catholic — poets working, but out of respect for believing Christians that’s not whom I am referring to when I say "Christian."

Anyway, for some reason, normally civil people decided to attack me in a rather crude way for what I wrote; in return, I posed the question, on Twitter, if people could name for me some Christian poets writing good poetry. I have absolutely nothing at stake in arguing that they don’t exist; that’s just my observation. It probably has a lot to do with poetry’s move into the academy and MFA programs, very secular places. But it seems to me obviously true, and I think I stated it in an inoffensive way.

Thoughts welcome...


Shabbat Shalom, Pope Francis

I am not exactly sure why my latest New York Times Beliefs column, about Pope Francis’s take on the day of rest, has gotten me more mail than just about anything else I have written, but the emails keep coming in. People love reading about, then writing to me about, the Sabbath. Here’s the column.


Yes, pre-nups are pernicious. So are separate bank accounts.

Over at the Dish, they are discussing whether prenuptial agreements are pernicious. The answer is that of course they are, and if you don't have 100% certainty that you and your spouse would never try to screw each other over money, then don't get married. I can imagine things going wrong in my marriage — not many things, but hey, for the sake of argument — but I cannot imagine my wife and I ever getting hung up, in a divorce settlement, over money. Because she doesn't care that much about money, and neither do I. If one of us cared a lot more than the other, we'd probably be a much worse fit.

(I realize that two people who both care a LOT about money may be a good fit, but by the same token especially need a prenup, since if they ever split, money is precisely what they would fight over. To them, I can only say that I wish them only the worst, and I am not here to solve the kinds of problems they are likely to have.)

But what I am really here to talk about is the connection this bears to the great separate-bank-accounts issue, debated hotly over at Slate a couple years back. See here for an entrée to that discussion, which — lo! — is now available as an ebook for your Kindle or other hand-held word-absorption device (HHWAD, pronounced hwad). Really, they are about the same question: Can a couple make similar views of money one of those issues, like sexual compatibility or religious compatibility, that preceds their union, that is resolved from the start — perhaps with some hard work — so that they can proceed to work on the other issues that will confront them as they travel life’s unpaved, thwomply road? If you see your money as belonging to both of you, and you have similar values about how to spend it, you'll be able to save your fights for the important stuff. Like whose sofa to keep and whose to throw out.

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