Lisa Miller

Stories by Lisa Miller

  • It’s Not Her. It’s That Marriage.

    I tried to watch John McCain as he made his victory speech last week, but really, I couldn't take my eyes off his wife. So thin, so blond, so beautiful in her swept-up hairdo—my husband, slouched on the couch next to me, muttered something along the lines of, "She is not ugly." I had to agree. Also, she played her part beautifully. She knew when to step out of the frame and give the stage over to her husband. "I think the American people truly still want a traditional family in the White House," she told The Arizona Republic last year. Cindy McCain is a grown-up woman who has suffered her share of personal and marital setbacks—including an addiction to prescription painkillers that she hid from her husband—but she knows that what America wants in a First Marriage is something more mythic than real. Like my 4-year-old daughter, deep into the second year of her infatuation with the Disney princesses, people want to believe that "husband" and "prince" are synonyms.Hillary suffers at...
  • BeliefWatch: Stop Your Sobbing

    When he climbs into his pulpit on Sundays, Bowen shouts 'God is good!' and the people shout back, in unison, 'All the time!'
  • Q&A: Chuck Colson on Faith

    Recent popular books by atheist authors have spawned a new generation of Christian apologists. The latest rebuttal is "The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It and Why It Matters," by Chuck Colson, the convicted Watergate felon turned prison reformer. Colson was Nixon's special counsel, a man so ruthless that, according to legend, he once said he'd kill his own grandmother for his boss; now he argues on behalf of Jesus. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Lisa Miller. ...
  • In Defense of Secularism

    'It's red meat for pundits,' concedes Harvard chaplain Greg Epstein, who prefers the word 'humanist.'
  • The Smart Shepherd

    A New York pastor who says he thinks too much wants to bring his Christian message to the world.
  • 4 Sale: Bones of the Saints

    On eBay last week, you could buy strands of hair from the head of Saint Thérèse. Bids started at $40.
  • Can Catholics Root for Rudy?

    Rudy Giuliani has a Catholic problem and it's not, strangely enough, that he was raised as a Roman Catholic, considered becoming a priest, then dumped his second of three wives on television and has been photographed in a dress. Rudy's Catholic problem is this: he is pro-choice, and 63 percent of white Catholics who go to mass weekly are not. This is a small activist group, yet they are determined, it seems, to see the former mayor fail. Before the Iowa straw poll in August, Fidelis—a Chicago-based conservative Catholic group—ran anti-Giuliani ads in Iowa pointing to the candidate's longstanding pro-choice record. A month earlier, the group's president, Joe Cella, stepped down to go work for Giuliani opponent Fred Thompson. Thomas Melady, former ambassador to the Vatican, recently announced that he'll support Mitt Romney. The bottom line: "In the primary election, Catholics cannot vote for Giuliani," says Fidelis treasurer Brian Burch.Can these orthodox Catholics really sink Rudy?...
  • The Authenticity Test

    Just 40% of Americans go to church weekly, but 70% want a president with strong religious faith.
  • "Scandalous": Gomes on God

    Discussing his new book, the Harvard minister calls for modesty in religious debate and decries the domestication of the Christian God.
  • On ‘Perfecting’ the Jews

    Nobody is perfect, least of all Ann Coulter—and I'm not going to worry about what she thinks about me.
  • Evangelicals: New Notions on Gays

    He is the nicest right-wing evangelical powerhouse you've never heard of. Jim Daly grew up the last of five children in what anyone would call a broken home. His mother died when he was 10 and he lived with, in turn, a stepfather, a foster family, his own alcoholic father and his divorced brother. He came to Jesus in high school, under the guidance of a football coach. His recent memoir, "Finding Home," has barely made a dent on the best-seller lists. Nevertheless, in 2005, Daly got the job of president and CEO of Focus on the Family, and although he denies this, it's clear that he was picked to be the yin to James Dobson's yang. While Dobson continues to threaten in the press, Daly chats amiably with a reporter about the fall weather. He sticks to the hard line on policy issues—gay marriage is bad for families, he says—but his presentation is all soft edges. "I'm sure there are wonderful gay parents out there; there's a poster child for everything." If one of his boys turned out to...
  • Beliefwatch: Heavenly

    It isn't every day that a Christian book--that is, a book written by a Christian author for a Christian audience and marketed by a Christian publisher--crosses over into the secular market and makes any kind of appearance on best-seller lists or gets noticed by the mainstream press. Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life" had been on The New York Times list for almost a year before The Economist discovered him with its November 2003 profile.A few months ago a thin book that has been in print for nearly three years arrived in the top 10 of The New York Times paperback nonfiction list. Last week it rested at No. 6. "90 Minutes in Heaven" is an extraordinary story. Written by a Southern Baptist minister named Don Piper and a coauthor, "90 Minutes" is a firsthand account of Piper's devastating 1989 car wreck (his red Escort was, essentially, run over by an 18-wheeler), his trip to heaven--and his miraculous return to earth and life, thanks to the prayers of a fellow pastor. The trip to...
  • Beliefwatch: Slaughter

    The ancient Jews did it. So did the Romans and the Aztecs. Sacrificing an animal to please or placate God or the gods has been commonplace for many thousands of years. Still, it's a little bit shocking when we see the practice in our own backyards.Last spring a Texan named Jose Merced, who also happens to be a Santeria priest, was at home preparing to kill a chicken as part of a religious ritual when the cops came to the door. According to a complaint filed in federal district court last month, the cops told Merced he couldn't sacrifice the chicken without permission from the city of Euless, a suburb near the Dallas airport; city officials, according to the complaint, later denied him a permit. Merced is suing the city for violating his First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, saying that blood sacrifice is essential to his religious expression. "There is ... no substitute for the spiritual energy contained in blood," he says in an affidavit. "Without animal sacrifice as taught...
  • Beliefwatch: Profane

    Some stories are best told straight. On Sept. 8, Kathy Griffin, a bawdy, foulmouthed comedian, accepted an Emmy Award for her reality show, "My Life on the D-List," and in her acceptance speech she explained that while other actors might thank Jesus for such an honor, she wouldn't consider it. "Suck it, Jesus," she exuberantly added, waving her statuette in the air. "This award is my God, now."Outrage from Christian groups predictably followed, led (also predictably) by William Donohue of the Catholic League, who went on CNN to complain that "Hollywood laughs when she says 'Suck it, Jesus,' but if she'd said 'Suck it, Jews,' or 'Suck it, Muhammad' … they wouldn't be laughing, would they?" Then, newspapers reported that E! Television would scrub the speech before airing it the following weekend, which triggered an equal and opposite outcry from liberal groups accusing E! of censorship. Around that same time, a group of college students in Hawaii, sitting around voraciously reading...
  • BeliefWatch: Fasting

    Now two things devour my life," wrote the poet William Butler Yeats. "The things that most of all I hate:/Fasting and prayers." This week, the world's billion Muslims and 12 million Jews will be fasting and praying in honor of Ramadan and Yom Kippur. Fasting is common to nearly every major religion; mystics fast to induce divine visions, and the rest of us fast to remind ourselves periodically that worldly pleasure is fleeting. Fasting is, in one respect, an exercise in discipline. "It's analogous to taking a vow of celibacy," says the atheist Sam Harris, who is interested in meditation. "It's not so much the direct effect of not having sex that is being sought, necessarily, but the freedom from all the related entanglements, hopes, cravings, etc."Yes, but fasting, unlike celibacy, has immediate physical effects—stomach pangs, lightheadedness, fatigue—and one wonders whether the ancients, in their wisdom, understood the physiological interplay between starvation and feelings of...
  • Namasté

    A decade ago, book publishers discovered a fertile market in the growing number of liberal-minded Jews interested in Buddhist meditation—the publishers called them "JewBus." Rodger Kamenetz started the craze with a book called "The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India," and soon Jewish meditation centers were open all over the West Coast. Meditation, the JewBus argued, did not detract from their Jewishness; rather, their identity was enhanced by the practice, by silent reflection and a mental reaching out toward God.Fast forward. Janine Turner, formerly of the television show "Northern Exposure," has just come out with a DVD called "Christoga: Yoga Filled Body … Christ Filled Soul." The DVD promises that a regular Christian yoga practice will "improve your ability to perform activities of daily living." In Alabama, a woman named Susan Bordenkircher teaches thrice-weekly yoga classes at her Methodist church—classes that are sometimes filled with...
  • Beliefwatch: Memoirs

    Some experiences just inspire people to pick up a pen. Convinced that what they saw, felt or heard was profound and unique, these writers are moved to share. Jury duty is one such experience. Parenthood is another. Religious conversion, or an intense spiritual awakening, is a third. Publishers are increasingly giving those in the last camp a voice, hoping to discover at last the next Anne Lamott or Kathleen Norris—and praying, so to speak, for strong sales. This week three spiritual memoirs top The New York Times nonfiction lists. One is by the wife of a country singer. One is by a divorcée who traveled the world in search of transcendence. One is by a preacher who says he was hit by a truck, saw heaven and came back to life.As a genre, the spiritual memoir has been around since at least 397, when St. Augustine wrote his “Confessions,” the first real autobiography in Western history. In an astonishingly modern way, Augustine describes his early life and his conversion in terms that...
  • Ever After

    No group is more emphatically and publicly opposed to the practice of polygamy than the Latter-day Saints. The topic is, however, irresistible and perennial. While the Mormon Church banned plural marriage more than 100 years ago and promises excommunication to those who practice it, its spokespeople find themselves having to explain polygamy’s legacy over and over to reporters who watch “Big Love” or are curious about Mitt Romney’s ancestry. “I wish to state categorically that this church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy,” said LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley more than a decade ago.Much less clear is the church’s position on polygamy in the eternal hereafter. When a Mormon man and woman are married in the Temple, they are “sealed,” which means they and their children will be bound together forever in heaven—what Mormons call the celestial kingdom. If a Mormon man becomes a widower, or if he is divorced, he can remarry in the Temple—and thus be sealed to...
  • Campus Crusaders

    Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville, Va., is the kind of place that would make most coastal liberals run screaming. A tiny college with about 500 students, its stated goal is to “prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture.” Its dorms are filled mostly with kids who have been home-schooled all their lives by Bible-believing Christian parents and who were taught that homosexuality is an abomination and that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. They aim for White House internships, Supreme Court clerkships and positions with lobbying groups. The minority of Patrick Henry students who don’t have Washington in their sights dream of directing Christian movies or, in the case of many of the women there, raising (and home-schooling) families of Christian children.The challenge for any responsible journalist approaching this subject, then, is twofold. She must approach with compassion, avoiding the stereotyping that so often...
  • BeliefWatch: Banned?

    Moshe Milstein, a religious Jew who is incarcerated at the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., wants his Maimonides back. Officials at the Otisville prison recently removed hundreds of books from the chapel library there—including, Milstein charges in court documents, works by the great 12th-century rabbi and physician Maimonides as well as the Zohar, the ancient text upon which the mystical practice of Kabbalah is based. The books were removed, Bureau of Prisons officials explain, to comply with new rules set earlier this year. To reduce the risk that prisoners will find hateful or radicalizing (read: terrorist) materials in chapel libraries, the BOP has developed lists of 150 approved books per religion for 20 religions, including Bahai, Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses. In all of the bureau's 114 prisons, chaplains are in the midst of dramatic reorganizations, removing from shelves any book not on one of the BOP's lists. "It was a huge undertaking," says Traci Billingsley, a BOP...
  • BeliefWatch: Is 'Harry Potter' a Christian Story?

    Have you finished reading? What do you think? Is Harry Potter a Christian story after all? Harry has made news, ever since his arrival on the scene in 1998, for provoking the ire of some right-wing Christians who believe his magical powers and wizardly aspirations—not to mention his boarding school peopled with eccentric friends and demonic villains—promote occultism and Satan worship.These enemies of young Potter arm themselves with this quotation from Deuteronomy: "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead." Conservative Christian leaders continue to make public statements against the book. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, reiterated last week in a statement that he has "spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products," and Chuck Colson,...
  • BeliefWatch: Mormons & Politics

    As a rule, Mormons tend to be white, conservative and Republican—and as obedient to established authority as any group out there—but a close look reveals cracks in that glossy surface. There's Harry Reid, of course, the Mormon convert and vocal leader of the Senate Democrats. And there's Orrin Hatch, conservative, Republican and Mormon to the core—except that he supports embryonic-stem-cell research, an issue upon which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official stance but which President George W. Bush opposes. Finally, there's Rocky Anderson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City. A lapsed Mormon—he grew up in an LDS family—Anderson has had to walk a fine line. In Salt Lake, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saints, he has had to be moderate enough attract 20 percent of the LDS vote to win and keep his job. Now, it seems, he's had enough of the high-wire act. This spring, Anderson began calling for the impeachment of President Bush, and more recently he...