R. J. Snell

R. J. Snell directs the Center on the University and Intellectual Life at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a senior fellow at the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. He is the author (with Steve Cone) of Authentic Cosmopolitanism: Love, Sin, and Grace in the Christian University. His latest books are Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire and The Perspective of Love.

recent articles

The Tragedy of Commonplace Church Scandals

Despite curbing my online reading, scarcely a day passes without noting some new scandal caused by a theologian, priest, or bishop. It’s true, of course, that small stories from faraway places achieve an immediacy impossible without the web, but, still, the outrages are all too real. I suspect stories come readily to mind: commemorations of … Read more

What Real Church Reform Looks Like

During my first tentative explorations into Catholicism, some Protestant friends pointed out examples of “bad Catholics” in their attempts to dissuade me from swimming the Tiber. The type is well-represented in literature, of course, including the “here comes everybody” of James Joyce, the Flyte’s of Brideshead Revisited or Crouchback’s of Sword of Honor, and many … Read more

Teach the Faith, Please

While I generally find the profusion and milling-around of lay ministers of the Eucharist distracting and unnecessary, I found myself offering prayers of thanksgiving for one this past Sunday. We’ve recently moved and were attending a new and unfamiliar parish with a bewildering process for going forward to receive, including multiple lines of Eucharistic ministers … Read more

Despair in the Face of Cultural Decline

In the last months, particularly after the Supreme Court decision on homosexual marriage in late June, I’ve noticed a pronounced malaise in many of my friends and family. For some, this looks awfully close to despair, for others a scornful anger, with a kind of dazed escapism haunting yet others hoping they are in a … Read more

Why Same-Sex “Marriage” Arguments are So Terrible

On April 28, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether same-sex “marriage” should be legal in every state. As articulated by Justice Kennedy, gay and lesbians have a powerful motivation for their claim, namely, human dignity: “Same-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We know we can’t … Read more

A Proposal from Milan: Making Space for Religion

Christendom may have begun with an edict from Milan; now, in the waning days of Christendom, another voice from Milan, Angelo Cardinal Scola, in his little book Let’s Not Forget God: Freedom of Faith, Culture, and Politics, “brings back to our attention the issue, more relevant than ever, of religious freedom.” Initially a speech celebrating … Read more

The Beauty of Catholic Order

We didn’t dance. It was an ironclad rule of the schools and religious communities of my youth that dancing was forbidden, a prohibition enforced with the same rigor as the edict to not “drink, smoke, or chew. Or go with girls who do.” Consequently, I first danced during my graduate school days at Boston College, … Read more

Ruthless Ideology and the End of Debate

Some days ago, Josh Barro of the New York Times tweeted the following message: “Anti-LGBT attitudes are terrible for people in all sorts of communities. They linger and oppress, and we need to stamp them out, ruthlessly.” It’s quite a statement for a public figure to make—for anyone to make—but especially one supposedly devoted to … Read more

The Problem with Bill Gates

With almost $40 billion in assets, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation possesses incredible influence, and is unafraid to use it. As one staffer put it, the foundation’s greatest strength is “setting agendas, framing debates, advocating the foundation’s point of view and taking action … an unchecked way of getting things done,” although some might … Read more

Blind Resentment: The Origins of Anti-Catholicism Today

In a US News and World Report essay that has been widely denounced as incoherent, poorly researched, and bigoted, Jamie Stiehm recently reproached Justice Sonia Sotomayor for her “clear religious bias” in dropping “the ball on American women and girls” as she “undermined the new Affordable Care Act’s sensible policy on contraception.” The Justice did … Read more

Those Intolerable Catholics – In Locke’s Time and Ours

Often touted as a landmark text in the history of religious freedom, John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) is remarkable in wisely limiting the power of “the magistrate … to do or meddle with nothing but barely in order to securing the civil peace and properties of his subjects,” and thus of granting “an absolute … Read more

Catholic Sexual Ethics: An Unknown Treasure

Every other year I teach a course on Christian sexual ethics. Turns out, 19-year olds are interested in the subject matter, and despite the early-morning schedule the course suffers from remarkably low rates of truancy—and not because of some innate skill of mine, I wager. The class is always enlivening, with arguments crackling back and … Read more

Keeping the Feast: The Unity of Faith & Life

My friend Jeremiah sent me a link to the music video for the song “Dégénération,” by the French-Canadian band Mes Aïeux. In the video, an elderly Québécois farmer shovels dirt from a pile into a wheelbarrow before trudging deliberately down the furrows of a field to meet a slightly younger woman who scoops some into … Read more

How Catholics Can Save Our Dying Civilization

In a recent address, Archbishop Chaput articulated how much we depend on the residual religious capital of earlier times, but once the capital is spent, “we may not like the results, because the more we delete God from our public life and our private behavior, the more we remove the moral vocabulary that gives our … Read more

Advice to College Students from Lumen Fidei

I know, I know, it’s only the beginning of August, and the very last thing on a college student’s mind is the upcoming semester. Unless they’re rising freshmen, in which case the upcoming semester is very much on their mind, but mainly about leaving home and meeting their new roommate, not necessarily the purpose and … Read more

How Catholics Can Still Achieve Great Things

I gratefully rely on Arts & Letters Daily to winnow through the dross to find genuinely interesting pieces from journals, blogs, and zines for which I have neither time nor inclination to search. Yet, I must admit I would have been happier for the site to not inform me about the so-called “Bling Ring” and … Read more

Evangelizing the Evangelicals

In his new book, George Weigel explicates the historical development of Evangelical Catholicism, a reform begun by Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), developed by the renewals of the early twentieth-century, formalized by Vatican II, and authoritatively interpreted by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and now expressed with particular aplomb by Pope Francis. It’s a stunning … Read more

The Modern Sexual “Martyr”

According to Christianity, we are made for communion. Created in the image of a God who is Divine Communion, we are made to give ourselves to and for others. Without Eve, for instance, Adam could not enter into the communio personarum and so was not fully able to bear the image of God. A recent … Read more

Multitudes Before the Throne: Hope for a Pilgrim Church

… I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…. (Rev. 7:9) As a candidate who will enter the Church on Palm Sunday, I participated this last week in the Rite of Election and … Read more

Temper, Temper: Salon’s Abortion Tantrum

Every parent has experienced a child caught in the act, perhaps even with evidence of melted chocolate still on the corner of her lip, who resolutely denied the obvious. “What? Who me? Couldn’t be!” A good many parents have also encountered the icy indifference of a bolder child, one who does not care if he’s … Read more

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