Without a doubt, the most thoughtful and engaging New York Times columnist is Ross Douthat. He’s one of very few people at the Times qualified to speak on the issue of religion (in that he doesn’t write faith off as a cute escapism, opiate of the masses, sociological abnormality, nor does he view religion as a potential political demographic or hate group). He’s also a good writer, to boot. Here’s what he said about Caritas in Veritate, and papal encyclicals in general, in his clever article The Audacity of the Pope:
When a pope criticizes legalized abortion, liberal Catholics nod and say that
yes, they agree, it’s a terrible tragedy … but of course they can’t impose
their religious values on a secular society. When a pope endorses the
redistribution of wealth, conservative Catholics stroke their chins and say that
yes, they agree, society needs a safety net … but of course they’re duty-bound
to oppose the tyranny of big government. And when the debate isn’t going their
way, left and right both fall back on flaccid rhetoric about how the papal
message “transcends politics,” and shouldn’t be turned to any partisan purpose.
And a controlled yet devestating critique of Dan Brown and his readers:
But the success of this message — which also shows up in the work of Brown’s many thriller-writing imitators — can’t be separated from its dishonesty. The “secret” history of Christendom that unspools in “The Da Vinci Code” is false from start to finish. The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of
Christ that Brown is peddling — they’re far, far weirder than that — nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — jealous, demanding, apocalyptic — may not be congenial to contemporary sensibilities, but he’s the only historically-plausible Jesus there is.
For millions of readers, Brown’s novels have helped smooth over the tension between ancient Christianity and modern American faith. But the tension endures. You can have Jesus or Dan Brown. But you can’t have both.
Anyways, I’ve been reading him for a while, and have been quite pleased. He usually writes on all things political (and handles that job capably), but I’ve been pleased with his periodic religious writings. Which is weird to say about a Times writer, right? Anyways, here’s his corpus for the Times, as well as his previous work for the Atlantic Monthly.