Why George Bailey Is the American Jesus

Reflecting a Postwar Religious Revival, the Long-Suffering Hero Played by Jimmy Stewart Lives a Life of Self-Sacrifice and Resists Temptation

In the 15 years after World War II, a religious revival swept through America. Records were set for church attendance and new church construction, a succession of religious books made the best-seller list, and religious leaders like Billy Graham became prominent figures in public life. Looking back, the 1940s and 1950s resemble other great revivals or “awakenings” that have punctuated American history.

In part, this particular awakening was a response to the war and its aftermath. America’s Protestants, Catholics, and Jews had worked together to defeat Hitler in …

Our Favorite Christmas Classic Is Really a Study in American Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life Delivers a Haunting Treatise on the Religious, Legal, and Economic Implications of Taking One’s Life

Isn’t it a little odd that our most cherished Christmas film is about a man seeking to end his life by jumping off a bridge? Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful …

The Voodoo Priestess Whose Celebrity Foretold America’s Future

Marie Laveau, the Self-Invented New Orleans Prophetess, Blurred the Sacred and Profane While Presiding Over a Multiracial Following 

Any tourist who rolls into New Orleans’s French Quarter eventually finds themselves standing before a Bourbon Street botanica called Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. It’s a small shop, and …

How Jewish Was Stanley Kubrick?

The Director of 2001 and Eyes Wide Shut Had the 'Aura of a Talmudic Scholar' and Favored Plots Dealing With Cultural Outsiders

Many people are surprised to discover that legendary director Stanley Kubrick—whose masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey is 50 years old this year—was Jewish. He rarely spoke of it, his films …

The Modesto Girls are a Family Miracle

How Five Sisters (and Their Brothers) Survived Childhood and Stuck Together in Stanislaus County

California changes too fast. The new so quickly replaces the old. People come and go with a blur. I often feel like you can’t count on anything staying here anymore.

But …

The Ancient Maya Cosmology of Conservation

In Their Worldview, Humans Were Not Superior to Nature. They Were But One Element Needed to Maintain Universal Balance.

In the middle of the jungle in central Belize excavating an ancient Maya water temple, I’m at the edge of a sacred pool, praying to Chahk, the Maya rain god, …