a podcast from MARS HILL AUDIO


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January 2007
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Audition - Program 10 (On Philip Pullman) In an interview with a Washington Post reporter in 2001, writer Philip Pullman candidly remarked, "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." The occasion for the interview was the publication of the third book in Pullman's fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials.

The first book of that trilogy, The Golden Compass, has now been made into a movie, which will open on December 7th. (It's ironic that the distributors of The Golden Compass hope their film will make more money by opening in the Season of the birth of the One who is the basis of Christian belief.) The trailers for the film suggest that Pullman’s suspicion of authority (and hence his antipathy toward the Church and her Lord) will not be abandoned as the book makes the transition to a film.

Whatever his other attributes, Philip Pullman is clearly a remarkably gifted writer. His powerful story takes place in a world similar to ours but with a significantly different history, an alternate universe with a similar cast of historical characters but a different story line. This narrative device allows Pullman a polemical platform to offer opinions about history as we know it without coming out and stating his convictions starkly.

In 2000, MARS HILL AUDIO's Ken Myers talked with literary critic Alan Jacobs about Pullman’s trilogy and the ideas it advances. In that interview, Jacobs explained exactly how Pullman pursues his project of undermining Christian belief, as well as some of the other disturbing tendencies of these creative books. Originally presented on the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, a longer version of that interview is offered in this issue of Audition.

[NOTE: To save this podcast as an MP3 file, right-click or (for Mac users) Control-click on the link below and select the saving option your browser offers.]

Direct download: MHA_Audition_010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

Arrogant fascist or humble democrat? A Time magazine article from 1996 nominated political philosopher Leo Strauss (who died in 1973) as one of the most influential and powerful figures in Washington. Strauss was regarded as the inspiration for Newt Gingrich's steamrolling political movement. He has since been cited as the ultimate source of our war in Iraq, since former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was a student of a student of Strauss's at the University of Chicago. An article by one libertarian writer labels Strauss the "fascist godfather of the neo-cons."

What, then, to make of these recent claims by Yale political philosopher Steven B. Smith (from his 2006 book Reading Leo Strauss): "Throughout his writings, Strauss remained deeply skeptical of whether political theory had any substantive advice or direction to offer statesmen. . . . The idea that political or military action can be used to eradicate evil from the human landscape is closer to the utopian and idealistic visions of Marxism and the radical Enlightenment than anything found in the writings of Strauss."

A helpful introduction to Strauss's ideas appeared last year in an article entitled "The Secret of Straussianism," by Richard Sherlock, published in the journal Modern Age. A reading of this article is the latest MARS HILL AUDIO Reprint, available as an MP3 download from the MARS HILL AUDIO website (; sorry we can't insert a clickable link here, but the server is being goofy). In addition to a survey of Strauss's method of reading classical, literary, and political-theoretical texts, Sherlock also examines his posture toward religion. Read by Ken Myers, the 36-minute reading sells for $3.

This Reprint is the tenth in a series that covers such various topics as the novels of P. D. James, the life of William Wilberforce, the penetrating insights of Leszek Kolakowski, the importance of manual labor, and the necessity of reading the classics. Audition listeners may want to expand the range of their aural fixations by downloading some of these unique Audio Reprints.

Direct download: Strauss.gif
Category:MHA MP3 -- posted at: 12:26pm EST

Camille Paglia: Only Religion Can Save the Arts Since the publication of the book that made her a celebrity intelllectual, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), Camille Paglia has been focusing attention on connections within the fabric of Western culture that are often ignored or denied. This has earned her a bundle of suspicion from across the political and ideological spectrum. So, for example, when she writes that "the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion," she will no doubt frighten leaders in the arts while flummoxing many American religious leaders, who can't imagine why we ought to bother reviving the fine arts.

Paglia's assertion launched an article in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of the journal Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics (published at Boston University). The bulk of the article is a whirlwind survey of the history of the contentious if sometimes fertile relationship between religion (mostly Christianity) and the arts in America since the Puritans, with sections on literature, the visual arts, and music. Noting that the art world and the Church world virtually ignored each other for most of the twentieth century, she then discusses the "culture wars" episodes of conflict in the 1980s and 90s (the Mapplethorpe controversy, etc.), most of which were about morality, not art or religion. . . .

Read more about this article on the MARS HILL AUDIO website.

Category:Further reading -- posted at: 4:03pm EST

Rieff Revisited Many of our listeners to the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal were intrigued about the features on volume 82 about Philip Rieff. Anyone interested in knowing more about Rieff before committing to the diffficult task of reading him will be assisted by a pithy summary of Rieff's ideas written by critic George Scialabba, which appeared in a recent issue of the Boston Review.

The occasion for Scialabba's article is the posthumous book by Rieff called Charisma: The Gift of Grace and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us. Rieff draws on (and disputes) Max Weber's idea of charisma, which was in Weber's formulation a form of authority. Rieff insists that there can be no charisma in Weber's sense apart from some sense of sacred order; "no charisma without creed" is how Rieff summarizes his view.

Philip Rieff always maintained that the point of culture was to provide authority, to set limits against which individuals could come to understand the world and their place in it. But the crisis of modernity is specifically the loss of the plausibility of any authority. . . .

Read all of this brief essay by MARS HILL AUDIO host and producer Ken Myers.

Category:Further reading -- posted at: 3:32pm EST

Audition - Program 9 (Dialogues on Justice & Judges) This issue of Audition is a free preview of a new series of programs being produced by MARS HILL AUDIO. The series, Dialogues on Justice and Judges, will look at recent and upcoming Supreme Court rulings, attending to how they represent ideas about law, justice, identity, freedom, community, and other social and cultural concepts.

In this first episode, "Jurisprudence and the Roberts Court," Ken Myers, Executive Producer of MARS HILL AUDIO, interviews four legal experts who give an initial assessment of the tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts, looking specifically at the changes in the confirmation process of justices and the tendency of the Court to take on the role of legislator, especially in cases related to civil rights. The guests on the podcast are Douglas Kmiec, Professor of Law at Pepperdine University; Michael Uhlmann, Visiting Professor of Political Science at Claremont Graduate University; Terry Eastland, Publisher of The Weekly Standard; and Ed Whelan, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The second issue of Dialogues on Justice and Judges, slated for release this Fall, will be offered for sale by MARS HILL AUDIO on CD or as an MP3 download. For more information about all of our audio products, see

Direct download: MHA_Audition_009.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:44pm EST

Audition - Program 8 (Figures in the Carpet) This special issue of Audition features interviews with five cultural historians, each reflecting on how assumptions of the meaning of "the human person" has shaped some aspect of the American experience. They are all interested in how particular understandings of human nature have influenced American history, and how the distinctive shape of American history has shaped understanding of the meaning of human nature and the contours of human flourishing.

Each of these thinkers contributed an essay to the anthology Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past (Eerdmans). In conversation with Ken Myers on this podcast, Wilfred M. McClay (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) discusses the differences between the terms "self" and "person." Eric Miller (Geneva College) recounts how Christopher Lasch's insightful books and essays exposed dehumanizing patterns in American cultural life. Eugene McCarraher (Villanova University) explains how many early 20th-centuury thinkers saw modern business corporations as proponents of a more communal shape to public life. Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn (Syracuse University) raises some probing questions about how television shapes moral understanding in children. Christopher Shannon (Christendom College) compares how medical institutions interpret the meaning of suffering with the Christian tradition's interpretation (aided by the writing of Ivan Illich).

Each of these guests has been featured on a past issue of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal; when heard together, the resonance implied among their diverse concerns become more evident.

Direct download: MHA_Audition_008.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:26pm EST

Alan Jacobs essays on MP3 In 2001, Alan Jacobs (last heard on our Journal discussing his book The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis) published a series of essays under the title A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age. The sixteen essays included in this collection covered a wide range of subjects, from the nature of essays (and essayists) to the place of poetry in preaching to the nature of friendship. There are essays on Harry Potter, C. S. Lewis, and Donald Davie. There's even an essay on the moral temptations of watching those violent nature videos, the ones very red in tooth and claw. When the book was published, we brought Alan to Virginia to record it, and then released it on cassette (just months before Apple introduced the first iPod). We've finally made an MP3 edition of this wonderful book available for sale (just $13 for the 5-1/2 hour unabridged reading). In order to encourage you to consider this purchase (which, for those of you without iPods, can easily be burned to CDs to maintain portability), we've placed the introductory essay from the book on-line here. Purchase information is here. (And if you're in a nostalgic mood, we still have a number of copies of the cassette edition, on 4 cassettes for $23.)

Category:MHA MP3 -- posted at: 2:33pm EST

Audition - Program 7 (30 April 2007) The most influential social thinkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries all believed that religion was an outdated preoccupation which maturing, progressing societies would eventually abandon. This assumption, often called the secularization hypothesis, was held by most sociologists through most of the 20th century.

One sociologist who believed early on that the story of the place of religion in modern societies was a little more complicated and variable than most of his colleagues allowed for was David Martin. Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Dr. Martin has long insisted that the fate of religion in modern societies has been dramatically different in different countries.

In 2005, a collection of essays by Martin called On Secularization: Toward a Revised General Theory was published by Ashgate Press. That book was the occasion for a conversation between David Martin and MARS HILL AUDIO host Ken Myers, much of which is presented in this issue of Audition.

A separate portion of this interview was featured on Volume 84 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, which is available for purchase in an MP3 download edition.

Other guests on the Journal who have addressed the issue of secularization include Steve Bruce, Zygmunt Bauman, Edward Norman, and Harry Blamires.

Direct download: MHA_Audition_007.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:21pm EST

Two of our MARS HILL AUDIO Anthologies, previously available on cassette, have just been released in a downloadable format. The first of these is called Manners and the Civil Society, and features readings of articles by columnist and etiquette queen Judith Martin, historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, and others. The second audio Anthology is called Place, Community, and Memory, with essays by Wendell Berry, Gilbert Meilaender, and a selection from Nobel prize-winner Ivo Andric. Informing both of these collections is the question, "How might the way we order social life honor the kinds of creatures we are, body and spirit?" The questions of the place of manners in our lives and of the manner in which we regard place both revolve around taking the form of life seriously. For information about these provocative MARS HILL AUDIO Anthologies, look here.

Category:MHA MP3 -- posted at: 9:06pm EST

Back in December, we alerted our listeners to the arrival of Children of Men in theaters, and provided listeners to our podcast some archival interviews with Ralph Wood and Alan Jacobs about the P. D. James novel on which the film was based (and about Baroness Phyllis more generally). We also produced an Audio Reprint of a Ralph Wood article about P. D. James's writing.

When it opened, the movie turned out to be a severe departure from the novel, abandoning James's thematic concerns altogether. Now that the DVD is out, Christopher Orr has a helpful review in The New Republic, summarizing how Children of Men "was simultaneously one of last year's best movies (better, I think, than any off those nominated for Best Picture) and one of its larger disappointments." Director Alfonso Cuaron has made a visually gripping film without "a composing idea to undergird the plot." Orr's review reminds us why really good stories are always more than just good stories.

Category:Further reading -- posted at: 3:07pm EST

New audiobook on the meaning of the human Is humanity -- the quality of being human -- a blessing or a curse? Do we simply put up with it, or do we embrace it? Many Christians consider their purpose in life to deny or escape their humanity. But the humanity of Christians is tied up in the humanity of Christ. If Jesus Christ is human, then his humanity is something to be learned and lived. Many Christians, however, do not really believe in the humanity of Jesus (or they don't feel comfortable with it) and consequently find it hard to affirm and live out their own humanity.

Almost 20 years ago, theologian and bioethicist Nigel Cameron wrote a book called Are Christians Human? An Exploration of True Spirituality. In the book, Cameron points out that being human as Jesus Christ is human has profound implications for daily living. It means living as embodied creatures, using the gifts of perception and intellect, feeling and responding emotionally to life, using one's discernment and will to chart a course in keeping with God's leading. "The purpose of redemption," Cameron reminds us, "is to enable man to be once more himself, restored to his right mind and his right place as a creature under God. . . . The Christian life is the life of man, male and female, made in the image of God and after his likeness. To deny this humanity and attempt to reach beyond to a 'spirituality' which somehow contradicts it, is to fall prey once more to the tempter in his shining, specious livery, who as an angel of light beckons us to reach beyond the confines of our human existence to a place where in fact we deny it and fall from its dignity."

Author Nigel Cameron is President of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future, Director of the Center on Nanotechnology and Society, Research Professor of Bioethics and Associate Dean at Chicago-Kent College of Law in the Illinois Institute of Technology. Cameron founded the journal Ethics and Medicine in 1983 and is widely recognized as a commentator on bioethics and biotech policy issues. His books include The New Medicine: Life and Death After Hippocrates and Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century (edited, forthcoming).

MARS HILL AUDIO has just released an unabridged reading of Are Christians Human? Read by Ken Myers, the 4-hour-long book is available as an MP3 download ($11), or on 4 standard CDs ($20 + shipping). Look here for ordering information.

Category:MHA MP3 -- posted at: 6:51pm EST

Audition - Program 6 (31 January 2007) The meaning of the human and the meaning of the spiritual are the big themes on this issue of Audition. First, we hear an excerpt from Yuval Levin's penetrating essay, "The Moral Challenge of Modern Science," which maintains that science is not, as many claim, just a set of neutral tools. Then part of a chapter from Nigel Cameron's provocative book Are Christians Human? An Exploration of True Spirituality is featured. The section excerpted asks the question "Was Jesus human?" and looks at ways in which Jesus' humanity is often implicitly denied even while explicitly affirmed. Finally, we hear a long section from the audio documentary Best-Selling Spirituality: American Cultural Change and the New Shape of Faith. What's behind the contemporary affirmation of "spirituality" at the expense of "religion"? Ken Myers hosts this exploration of how contemporary culture is shaping how people think about the meaning of faith.

For more information about these and other audio products, consult the MARS HILL AUDIO website.

Direct download: MHA_Audition_006.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:47pm EST