A study showing that people who grew up in religious households were less generous than those who grew up in non-religious ones turns out to be wrong: “In 2015, a paper by Jean Decety and co-authors reported that children who were brought up religiously were less generous. The paper received a great deal of attention, and was covered by over 80 media outlets . . . As it turned out, however, the paper by Decety was wrong. Another scholar, Azim Shariff, a leading expert on religion and pro-social behavior, was surprised by the results, as his own research and meta-analysis (combining evidence across studies from many authors) indicated that religious participation, in most settings, increased generosity. Shariff requested the data to try to understand more clearly what might explain the discrepancy.” The culprit? A coding error.
Are UFOs real? In 2017, footage from Navy planes showing “unexplained aerial phenomena” were leaked online. Last week, the Navy confirmed that the footage was real and unedited. But no one seems to care: “If, like me, you claim unofficial membership in the League of Enthusiastic Americans with Slightly Overactive Imaginations, the past few weeks have brought both exciting and weird news. Here’s the exciting: The United States Navy has basically admitted that UFOs are real. Here’s the weird: Very few people seem to care.”
Paul Dean reviews Jonathan Bate’s How the Classics Made Shakespeare: “Its odd title muddies the waters—What Shakespeare Made of the Classics would be more helpful. Besides some new suggestions, of a traditional kind, about Shakespeare’s sources, Bate presents ‘an extended argument about the “classical” nature of [Shakespeare’s] imagination.’ This he characterizes as ‘almost always Ovidian, more often than is usually supposed Horatian, sometimes Ciceronian, occasionally Tacitean, an interesting mix of Senecan and anti-Senecan, and . . . strikingly anti-Virgilian—insofar as Virgilian meant “epic” or “heroic.”’ It’s notable that all the named authors are Latin. The extent of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Greek literature in the original, as opposed to translation or Senecan adaptation, is still in dispute, but such literature plays a minimal role in Bate’s book, despite his title. The Greek dramatists in his index turn out to have been referenced by writers other than Shakespeare. As for Greek philosophers, their ideas could be found in a variety of sources such as Sidney or Montaigne, while Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch could supply the Greek history.”
Douglas Farrow reviews David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation: “Hart harrows ‘hell’ with panache. And do not fault him for falling carelessly into that ‘error about mercy’ that Augustine rejects, an error ‘based on human sentiment’ (Augustine’s words) that sets mercy against justice. Hart is indeed sentimental, viscerally sentimental, in embracing what Augustine rejects and rejecting what Augustine embraces, but there is nothing careless about it. He thinks it right and just to do so. On the other hand, he does not address the vital question as to whether, and how far, fallen creatures can trust their visceral feelings and instincts to guide them. Nor is he inclined to be respectful or just to his opponent. Low blows abound; holding and head-butting likewise . . . But Hart is KO’d by his own argument. For hell, that evil remainder, is eradicated only by bringing it inside the primordial ideal. Are we to be horrified by the notion that God consigns anyone finally to hell—even the father of lies, if there really is a father of lies—yet not horrified by the notion that all human suffering and sin, up to and including what we call hell, belongs to the very act of creation?”
Is farming good for morality? A new book on American farming in the eighteenth century argues it is.
Essay of the Day:
In a harrowing piece at The Los Angeles Times, Del Quentin Wilber writes about how a Texas Ranger got a serial killer to confess to killing 93 people over 40 years:
“Texas Ranger James Holland each day enters his windowless, cricket-infested office, flips on fluorescent lights and is confronted by spectral visages staring back at him.
“Holland lined the walls with dozens of haunting portraits of women, rendered from memory by their killer. The macabre gallery initially served as an investigative tool to help Holland keep straight a serial murderer’s myriad confessions.
“The women appear in vibrant colors, with unique features — a bob haircut, lush lips, narrow nose, mournful eyes. Some pictures carry inscriptions: ‘Tampa Dope Girl,’ ‘New Orleans Sarah Left in Field 1973 April,’ ‘Akron Left in Woods 1990.’
“Recently, the portraits have taken on a more haunting purpose, reminders that Holland is running out of time to put names to more of their faces.
“He’s already found justice for some. Where a string of detectives had failed to crack Samuel Little, a pugilistic California prison inmate serving a life sentence for three brutal homicides in Los Angeles, the soft-spoken Holland managed to unlock a killer’s darkest secrets. In 650 hours of interviews over 16 months, Little confided to the detective he had strangled 93 women and transgender women during a 40-year nomadic rampage from Florida to California, a tally that ranks him among the nation’s most prolific serial killers.”
Poem: Patrick McGuinness, “Leuven”
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