Saturday, September 7, 2013

Overweight? Start Your Own Religion: Reflections on T.M. Luhrmann's Recent Essay in the New York Times

Postmodernism is in the saddle now, with its own jargon.

                                                                                            Tony Hillerman
                                                                                            Hunting Badger

T.M. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropology professor, published another vapid essay in the Times recently.  This one starts with a story about Sigfried Gold, an atheist who created a false god to help him lose weight.  As described by Professor Luhrmann, Mr. Gold's god is "a large African-American
T.M. Luhrmann
Photo credit:
lesbian with an Afro that reach[s] the edges of the universe." Every day, for some period of time, Mr. Gold "dropped to his knees to pray, and every day he spent 30 minutes in meditative quiet time."  Apparently, this regimen worked as a weight-loss strategy, because today Mr. Gold only weighs 150 pounds.

Why does the New York Times print this drivel? I suspect it is because the Times' editorial board disdains religious faith or is afraid of it.  The Times would like Americans to see religion as a  psychological phenomenon that is useful only as a way of promoting a sense of well-being--something like yoga, Xanax, or exercising with a trainer. Indeed, Frank Bruni, in one of his recent op ed essays for the Times, compared personal exercise trainers to priests.

In other words, religion is supposed to be a sort of harmless hobby, like collecting stamps.  And a lot of people have adopted the Times' point of view--the Episcopalians come to mind.

I have commented on several of Professor Luhlmann's New York Times essays. But after the reading the one she wrote in early August, I realized that I simply don't understand what she is talking about.

 I'll just quote the last paragraph of her August 4th essay, which I found completely incoherent:
The imagination is a double-edged sword. It is, from a secular perspective, at the heart of what makes Mr. Gold's god sufficiently real that he treats it as more than himself. But the capacity to make something real is not the same as the capacity to make it good or useful. That's a caveat to bear in mind for any kind of prayerful life.
Whether she knows it or not, Professor Luhrmann is promoting a religion that comports with a postmodern worldview--an understanding of human existence based on atheism, selfish individualism, and relativism.  After all, a man who consciously creates a false god in order to lose weight is essentially a postmodernist.

Of course, as Catholics, we live in a different world from the postmodernists, and we speak a different language. From the time of the early Church Fathers to the present day, the best Catholic expression has been reasonable, coherent, and balanced. Catholic writing is accessible to anyone of common understanding, as we see in the writings of Chesterton, Belloc, Christopher Dawson, Dorothy Day, Saint Teresa of Avila, and St. Catherine of Siena.

It is true that Catholics are a mystical people. We believe in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, the constant intercession of our saints, and the motherhood of Mary.  But we can discuss these mysteries in ways that people of even the meanest understanding can comprehend.

St. Catherine of Siena
And so when we get discouraged by the meaningless chatter of our postmodern world, let us turn for solace to our Catholic writers--people who wrote of serenity, grace, and beauty.  G.K. Chesterton is a good antidote for Frank Bruni, Dorothy Day is a good remedy for Maureen Dowd, and St. Theresa of Avila is a soothing salve after reading T. M. Luhrmann.

And thus I will conclude with a beautiful quote from St.Theresa of Avila, who wrote with simplicity and serenity:
Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God lacks for nothing. God alone suffices.

Frank Bruni. Our Pulchritudinous Priesthood. New York Times, July 27, 2013. Accessible at:

T.M. Luhrmann. Addicted to Prayer. New York Times, August 4, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p.

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