Lisa Miller

Stories by Lisa Miller

  • Slave Trade

    Once there was a Christian, a man from a wealthy family. He had conservative values, and he crusaded his whole life for social justice. In the end, he changed history. His name was William Wilberforce, and in 1807 he finally succeeded in abolishing the British slave trade.It is no wonder, then, that a new movie about his life, "Amazing Grace," directed by Michael Apted and opening this week, has its biggest boosters among evangelical Christians. The movie is, by most accounts, problematical entertainment: it's a worthy but lengthy costume drama about parliamentary politics--centered on a Tory most Americans have never heard of. One executive who worked closely on the film calls it "more interesting than good." Its marketing and outreach effort, on the other hand, is inspired. It shows a deep understanding of the new life being breathed into the evangelical community by Bono, Rick Warren and others--people who are making social causes (Africa, poverty, HIV/AIDS) the centerpiece of...
  • Beliefwatch: Interfaith

    Christian pastors do it with Muslim imams. High-school seniors do it with each other. Actors and authors do it, as do comedians and combat pilots. It's interfaith dialogue, and in the world of religion, it's very much in vogue.In the modern times, "interfaith dialogue" has come to mean both negotiating the crisis in the Middle East and holding a Passover Seder at the local church, and since 9/11, such efforts have exploded. A Nexis search of the words "interfaith dialogue" in the headlines of major national newspapers and magazines came up with 173 entries since 1977; more than 100 were in the past five years alone. All of which may lead a skeptic to wonder, What good does all this well-intentioned talking do?Well, a lot. It was interfaith dialogue that led Pope John Paul II to reach out to the world's Jewish population in 1987, to condemn the Holocaust and give his support to the state of Israel, saying "the Church experiences ever more deeply her common bond with the Jewish people...
  • Beliefwatch: Surf's Up!

    There is at least one moment in every religious person's life where commitment to faith collides, inconveniently, with desire. For Zeena Altalib, that moment occurred last year at the local swimming pool. An American Muslim of Iraqi descent, Altalib wanted to take her baby son, Yusif, for a swim. But what to do about the fact that her religion requires her to wear hijab , to cover herself from head to toe? A commercially available swimsuit was out of the question--not modest enough--but the makeshift options available to her were, as she puts it, "yucky." Tights and a long T shirt? Yuck. Some kind of lightweight tracksuit? Yuckier. So Altahib decided to take matters into her own hands. Today the swimsuit she designed is available online through her company, Primo Moda. It's a strikingly unsexy two-piece: a neck-to-ankle Lycra body stocking with a loose vest that goes on top. After years of swimming in her clothes, donning an actual swimsuit, says Altalib, "was an amazing feeling....
  • Beliefwatch: Ivy League

    In your prayers tonight, you might want to thank God that no one has put you in charge of the Task Force on General Education at Harvard.The job wasn't going to be easy. Harvard has been looking at revising its core curriculum--established in 1978 to ensure that all undergraduates are educated in certain subject areas--for years. Committees were convened and disbanded, defeated by internal politics and conceptual stalemates. The most recent iteration, the aforementioned task force, is now drafting its final recommendations for a vote next month by the faculty. It will likely succeed, but not without sustaining considerable damage from the culture wars.In October, the task force issued an innocent-enough proposal. Given the prominence of religion in the world today, all students should be required to do coursework in an area called "Reason & Faith." "Religion is realpolitik , both nationally and internationally," the report said. "By providing [students] with a fuller...
  • Beliefwatch: Bookish

    When Julie Sandorf's daughter, Sarah, was 3 years old, she came home from nursery school and declared: "Mommy, I don't want to be a Jewish, I want to be a Christian." These words sent Sandorf, an assimilated Jew with almost no grounding in her own religion, running, aghast, to the first place she could think of: her local bookstore. "I decided at that moment that we were not going to repeat another generation of ignorance and semi-self-loathing," she says.Over the next 17 years, Sandorf reclaimed her Jewish identity for herself and her family by reading books. Among her favorites: "The Prophets" by Abraham Heschel and "Turbulent Souls" by Stephen Dubner. Now, with Nextbook.org, a literary-outreach effort, she hopes to inspire America's 6 million Jews to do the same. For consumers of highbrow culture, Nextbook looks familiar. Its Web site feels like a combination of Slate and Arts & Letters Daily--lively and full of essays, commentary and recommended reading. Its digest, sent...
  • Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

    By the standards of episcopal Church meetings, it was a thrilling and entirely unexpected outcome. When the governing body of the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion met in June to elect a new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, wasn't high on anybody's shortlist. There were some moderates, and a conservative or two; all were men. In the 21st century, stories of "first women" are old hat--except in the case of the Anglican Church, whose 77 million members are still divided over female ordination. The United States approved it in 1976.Schori's election comes at a difficult time for America's 2 million Episcopalians, when some conservative dioceses are threatening to split from the U.S. church over the 2003 consecration of a gay bishop. But Schori is tough, and her apparent steadiness amid conflict helped win her the job. "I will bend over backwards to build good relations with those who do not agree with me," she said after her election. A former...
  • Religion: Holy Family Values

    The world into which Jesus was born and raised has shaped morals for two millennia. How Jewish mores became Christianity's customs.
  • Beliefwatch: Sacrifice

    Let's get right to the point, shall we? About halfway through Mel Gibson's movie "Apocalypto," which opens this week, viewers are treated to a stomach-turning scene of human sacrifice, set in a Mayan city around 1500. It's not revealing too much to say that the movie's hero is captured by a gang of marauders, bound, marched through the jungle, painted blue, and forced to the top of a pyramid where heads roll.In a smaller version of the outrage and skepticism that preceded the opening of "The Passion of the Christ"--is it historically accurate? is it anti-Semitic?--scholars who study the ancient Maya are concerned that Gibson's film will distort the great civilization and demean its descendents, six million of whom still live in Central America. Yes, the Maya sacrificed humans to the gods, but these rituals were part of a complex worldview: the Maya believed that their bodies, their blood, were created by the gods and that they occasionally needed to repay this debt with human life. ...
  • Beliefwatch: Good Books

    Noah's Ark is the perfect children's tale. You have animals, a big boat, bad weather, a happy ending (good luck, though, answering the question: why did God kill all those people?). It's not difficult to find a charming, well-written, nicely illustrated Noah's-ark book for children; even Lucy Cousins, the brains behind Maisy the mouse, has done a version.Beyond Noah, though, the world of Bible stories for children has been rather dreary. There are the predictable children's Bibles published by the denominations and religious publishers. Parents who want to teach the Bible to their children but don't have a close connection to a church or synagogue community, however, have been at a loss. "We hear all the time how cheesy children's Bibles are," says Craig Walker, an executive with Scholastic Books, which recently published one with the American Bible Society. All that is changing now as profit-seeking mainstream publishers eye the $400 million to $600 million Bible market.Earlier...
  • Beliefwatch: Sacrifice

    Let's get right to the point, shall we? About halfway through Mel Gibson's movie "Apocalypto," which opens this week, viewers are treated to a stomach-turning scene of human sacrifice, set in a Mayan city around 1500. It's not revealing too much to say that the movie's hero is captured by a gang of marauders, bound, marched through the jungle, painted blue, and forced to the top of a pyramid where heads roll.In a smaller version of the outrage and skepticism that preceded the opening of "The Passion of the Christ"--is it historically accurate? is it anti-Semitic?--scholars who study the ancient Maya are concerned that Gibson's film will distort the great civilization and demean its descendents, six million of whom still live in Central America. Yes, the Maya sacrificed humans to the gods, but these rituals were part of a complex worldview: the Maya believed that their bodies, their blood, were created by the gods and that they occasionally needed to repay this debt with human life. ...
  • Beliefwatch: The Bishops' Bottom Line

    The biggest surprise to come out of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' conference in Baltimore was not the bishops' statements on birth control (against it) or homosexuality (sympathetic, but against it). The biggest surprise last week was a dry, 36-page document, titled "Strategic Plan," which the bishops approved and which amounts to the biggest overhaul of the Catholic bureaucracy in America in more than 30 years.The Roman Catholic Church has been called the oldest corporation in the world, and now, after four years of sex scandals—and soul searching and mea culpas—the U.S. division has agreed to what business analysts would call a "course correction." Over the next year, the conference will trim its 350-person staff by about 20 percent. It will reduce its budget by nearly $2 million, with individual dioceses contributing 16 percent less to the national coffers. It will eliminate redundant functions in order to focus on these priorities: marriage, faith-formation, vocations, human...
  • Beliefwatch: Is It Kosher?

    In the beginning, God told the Jews what not to eat: the camel, the coney, the rabbit and the pig; the eagle, the vulture and "all creatures in the seas ... that do not have fins and scales" (Lev. 11). Most famously, God said: "Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk" (Deut. 14:21). From these and other verses, the rabbis developed the rules of kashrut (keeping kosher) that millions of Jews observe today.What would God say about pesticides and insecticides? About farm animals cooped up in tiny spaces? About fruits and vegetables picked by laborers who don't earn a living wage? These and other related questions are coming to the fore as modern rabbis ponder a new concept called "eco-kashrut," the idea that eating kosher means paying attention not just to what you eat but to how your food gets to your table. Yes, the term leaves the rabbis open to accusations of Talmudic hairsplitting, but consider this: sales of kosher food are growing at a rate of 15 percent a year, and ...
  • An Evangelical Identity Crisis

    It was a cold Halloween in Colorado Springs--The high barely hit 27 degrees--as Dr. James Dobson went about his work last week on the sprawling Focus on the Family campus he built in the shadows of the Rockies. From the evangelical organization's lofty perch (the city sits 6,035 feet above sea level), in the spirit of a day devoted to ghosts and goblins, Dobson's radio show, which reaches 220 million people worldwide, evoked what he hoped would be dark and scary visions for his fellow evangelical Christians: a nation filled with married gay couples. With same-sex-marriage initiatives on ballots in eight states, Dobson told his flock in a taped broadcast, they could not afford to stay home on Election Day. If they did, "we could ... begin to have same-sex marriage in places all over the country."Meanwhile, in Leawood, Kans., a suburb near the Missouri border, a 42-year-old evangelical pastor named Adam Hamilton was preaching an entirely different message. He was helping his 14,000...
  • BeliefWatch: Spirit Filled

    What does it mean to speak in tongues? And who has the right, or the privilege, to do so? These questions, largely theological, have lingered at the fringes of American Protestantism. Now, as charismatic Christianity sweeps the country and the world, speaking in tongues has become as divisive as it is popular.Earlier this fall, in a sermon at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, a pastor named Wm. Dwight McKissic mentioned that he sometimes speaks in tongues while privately praying to God. "I did it this morning," he told NEWSWEEK. After that sermon, Southwestern's president, Paige Patterson, took the extraordinary step of removing the video of McKissic's speech from the seminary's Web site. Then, after a vote by the school's board, Patterson issued a controversial statement saying that Southwestern would not hire anyone who advocated the use of tongues in prayer. Although Southern Baptists have no official policy against it, speaking in tongues is...
  • Beliefwatch: The Atheist

    At lunch with Sam Harris, one is struck by how personable, how familiar he seems--a soft-spoken, thoughtful man with pleasant manners, a man who wrote two best-selling books while pursuing a degree in neuroscience. He is, in other words, an unlikely infidel.But as infidels go, Harris is an astonishingly successful one. The son of a Jewish mother and a Quaker father, he has ?written one of two books currently on The New York Times best-seller list that debunk belief in God, any belief in God, as ir-rational at best and destructive to human society at worst. This week "Letter to a Christian Nation" sits at 6 on the hard-cover nonfiction list, up from 11 from last week; the other, Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion," is number 8, up from 12. In spite of his appearance, Harris is very angry, and "Letter" is a readable, exhortatory screed, a response to all the Scripture-quoting e-mail he received from Christians who read his first book. Religion, he writes in "Letter," is "obscene"-...
  • Beliefwatch: On Purpose

    Time was, not so long ago, that no one ever said a bad word about Pastor Rick Warren. He was the genius grower of churches, the California whiz who found a magic formula for marketing Christianity to the masses, who hit the jackpot with his book "The Purpose Driven Life," by some accounts the best-selling nonfiction book ever. The newsweeklies noticed him, The New Yorker profiled him, members of Billy Graham's family lauded him and Bill Gates himself hobnobbed with him.In recent weeks he hasn't seemed so bulletproof, and one has to wonder why. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have put him on their front pages in not wholly flattering lights: the former for helping push a tax break for clergy through Congress, the latter for selling a church-revitalization strategy that some pastors say doesn't work. In her blog, syndicated Christian-radio talk-show host and producer Ingrid Schlueter has devoted herself to critiquing megachurches in general and Warren in particular; she...
  • Tradition of Suffering

    During the third century, in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, men and women fled the cities into the desert, following the example of St. Anthony. They wore simple clothes, ate simple food. They turned their backs on the temptations of urban life, on commerce and innovation—preferring to live alone or in small groups of like-minded people. Their ideal was, through discipline and restraint, to be like angels and to live as closely as possible to God.Men and women have chosen to live ascetic lives for centuries both before and since the Desert Fathers, but it wasn’t until this week, when a gunman shot 10 girls in a one-room schoolhouse, killing five, that the most visible ascetics among us gained the spotlight. The Amish are a conservative Christian sect with more than 200,000 members in the United States, 28,000 of whom live in Lancaster County, Pa., where the shooting occurred. Until this week, they were a tourist attraction, an oddity, but on Monday many were instantly struck...
  • An Awkward Outing

    In the days leading up to the High Holidays, the holiest time of the year in Judaism, a senator running for re-election and a potential Republican candidate for president, announced that, yes, his mother was born Jewish. Here’s what Sen. George Allen said: “I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line’s Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed.”Enough said. Except he couldn’t stop talking. That same day, in an interview with a Richmond, Va., paper, Allen said his Jewish ancestry was “just an interesting nuance to my background.” And then he added this: “I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops.” Being an eater of ham sandwiches and pork chops may go along with Allen’s Red State, cowboy-boot-wearing, Confederate-flag-waving image, but many observers were unnerved by the flippancy of these remarks, and pundits began to debate whether Allen’s...
  • Public Life: 'St. Jack' Examines His Conscience--And Party

    Jack Danforth once stood at the intersection of religion and politics. He was a moderate Re-publican, three-term senator, diplomat. He is also an Episcopal priest, so pious that his Senate colleagues called him "St. Jack." With his new book "Faith and Politics," in stores next week, Danforth--now 70 and retired--positions himself as an outsider. He takes his own beloved party to task for allowing itself to be hijacked by the Christian right.This conviction took hold the spring of 2005 as he watched the coverage of the Terri Schiavo case on TV. "The idea that religious groups were having rallies and that the members of Congress were considering legislation and that the president was very much involved--I remember watching that and thinking, This is just wrong," he told NEWSWEEK. Danforth quickly wrote two controversial opinion pieces for The New York Times, rebuking his party for adopting the agenda of the religious right and for using wedge issues--Schiavo, but also stem-cell...
  • A Man and His Myths

    In 1949, the year he finished writing "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," C. S. Lewis was leading at least four different lives. His reputation as a Christian apologist had already been launched with several books and a series of BBC radio speeches. He was a charismatic Oxford professor, an expert in Milton and Spenser. He was a generous host who presided over long, drunken nights of bawdy talk and badinage. And he was the head of a household that, even by today's standards, would be considered unconventional. His domestic partner for nearly three decades was a woman 25 years his senior, whom he called "my mother," but who was not, in fact, his mother. In 1949, Janie Moore was in declining health and crankier than ever. "I am," wrote Lewis at the time, "a man in chains."Biographers suggest that Lewis's foray into children's literature was an attempt to escape, to recover his own boyhood and, through myth and metaphor, dive more deeply into his faith. Whatever the impulse, his...
  • LIFE IN SOLITARY

    In the photo, Agnes Long looks drop-dead gorgeous. She's on vacation at the Jersey shore with her husband. He is tall, tan and trim; she wears a zebra-stripe bikini, a floppy hat and sunglasses. The sea breeze has blown her platinum hair across her face and she is smiling. The picture says it all. In the mid-1970s, Agnes Long was a happily married, affluent, middle-aged woman with three children and a weakness for expensive clothes.Today, Agnes Long is a Roman Catholic hermit. She lives alone in a thickly wooded section of Madeline Island, in northern Wisconsin. Her beloved husband is dead; she hasn't seen her children in years. She wakes before dawn, prays throughout the day, eats small meals, works outside, makes religious paintings, and rises in the middle of the night to pray. Although she sees people when she drives her little truck to the grocery store or to mass, she has no one you might call a friend. And though she answers her phone when it rings, she doesn't often engage...
  • GETTING FIT WITH HARRY AND CHRIS

    What can you say about a 70-year-old guy who can kick your butt in spin class? Outdoors, it's below freezing, and, though technically morning, still dark as night. But there he is, bouncing along on his stationary bike like a jack rabbit and grinning happily at his heart-rate monitor, while I, nearly 30 years younger, manage to keep up only by visualizing coffee. "Just 20 minutes till coffee, just 12 minutes till coffee..."When the class is over, he places one leg up on the bike seat as if it were a ballet barre and gracefully touches his nose to his knee. Back at his apartment, over a bowl of oatmeal and bananas, he chats nonstop about fitness. The coffee arrives quickly, thank God.Meet Chris Crowley, who, together with his doctor, Harry Lodge, is on a mission to change your life. Their fast-selling new book, "Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond," is a wisecracking but scientifically serious guide to health for middle-aged men who may be looking...
  • Revelation Revealed

    One day, sometime around A.D. 90, a man named John climbed the spiny ridge that runs across the small Aegean island of Patmos. There, as legend has it, he found a cave, crawled inside and had a vision that would change the world. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day," John wrote, signaling to his audience that he was having a sacred experience, out of time and space.John's dream became the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Christian Bible, a vision of heaven and the end of the world that is probably the most scrutinized yet inscrutable piece of literature in history. Heaven's pearly gates and gold-paved streets, found everywhere from Negro spirituals to New Yorker cartoons, have their roots in Revelation. The work, which has formed the West's understanding of the afterlife, must be read with care. Passages taken out of historical or literary context can make Christianity appear violent and vengeful, when the book is in fact rich in images of mercy and, like the Old...
  • Road Test: Earth Shoes

    "Don't hate me because my shoes are ugly." That's what I felt like telling people who leered at my Heritage 2 model Earth Shoes as I lumbered around NYC. They look like the ones I had in 1975--wide and lumpish, with that trademarked Negative Heel Technology that makes you feel like you're always walking uphill. But amid today's sleek, high-tech sport shoes, an Earth Shoe looks as stylish--and feels as comfortable--as a brick. "Are they orthopedic?" asked a friend. Earth Footwear is re-releasing the old brand for fall, hoping to capitalize on 1970s nostalgia the way VW did with the Beetle. The styles in stores are much lighter than the early pair I tested, though a rep says the shoes do "take getting used to." Kids like 'em, she adds. Maybe it's an age thing.Tip: You have to ease into Earth Shoes; break them in just a few hours at a time.To suggest a Road Test, go to Newsweek.MSNBC.com and click on Tip Sheet.
  • Why We Need Heaven

    In Troubled Times, The Afterlife Beckons With Visions Of Dark-Eyed Virgins, Gardens And Palaces, The Bliss Of God's Eternal Presence And The Joy Of Uniting With Loved Ones. How Can The Promise Of Paradise Inspire So Many To Goodness, And Few To Murder?
  • Sins Of The Father

    For Years, Boston's Cardinal Kept On Priests Who Had Been Accused Of Molesting Children. Now Catholics Across America Are Confronting Similar Scandals And Questioning The Secretive Culture Of The Church.