What the heck is The Lamp?

The Lamp is a bi-monthly (that is, published every other month) lay-edited journal of Catholic letters. We seek with in-depth reporting, incisive commentary, and coverage of books and the arts to bring readers a perspective that is not offered by any other generally circulated magazine in the English-speaking world—namely, that of consistent, undiluted Catholic orthodoxy.

Okay, but why?

At present there are a handful of journals whose editors are comfortable dissenting from the immutable magisterium and many others that cover, more or less ably, the horse-race of ecclesiastical politics. By contrast The Lamp is a magazine in the old-fashioned sense, witty, urbane, not pompous or shrill, full of serious reporting, insightful opinions, squibs, oblique parodies, bagatelles, and arts coverage that draws attention to those things that are true, good, and beautiful whether they belong formally to the Church or not, not a throwaway click-driven venture in chasing worthless trends or drumming up outrage. We reject the throwaway culture of endless pandemoniac noise decried so artfully by Robert Cardinal Sarah in The Power of Silence. The antidote to these ills is not another website but a retreat from the ceaseless tumult of the 24/7 news cycle and a return to the leisurely pace of print journalism, with weekly email newsletters for subscribers (think the Harper’s “Weekly Review,” but Catholic).

So whose side are you on?

Is the Church a “side”? At The Lamp we take marching orders from neither the discredited ideologies of the progressive left or the libertarian-conservative right nor from the neoliberal consensus of atomization, spoliation, rootlessness, and mindless entertainment into which both are rapidly being subsumed, but rather from the immutable teaching of the Church. We are not nostalgists harkening after a mythical “moment before” when it was supposedly possible to reconcile the Church to the world. (We aren’t wacky neo-medievalists dreaming of the Shire either!) Nor, finally, are we calling for a “retreat” from politics, an idea we consider incoherent. We are concerned with the world as it exists now and with the future that lies before us. We are attempting something at once radical and blinkeringly, even painfully, obvious: to approach questions of public import as if what the Church has consistently taught were actually true. We do not pretend to know what an authentically Catholic response to the crises of postmodern liberalism would look like. But we do know the following:

• Catholics are no longer faced, as we were during the Cold War, with a choice in world affairs between a liberal democratic capitalism that tolerates the exercise of faith and an authoritarian atheistic communism.

• Faith in the Cold War-era Western liberal consensus and its global post-1989 neoliberal successor is crumbling around the world.

• The post-war conservative movement in the United States has not turned back the clock a single minute and has succeeded only in gradually lowering marginal tax rates as same-sex marriage became law in all 50 states.

• Proceduralist arguments about freedom of expression and originalist gambits related to the Founding Fathers and the nature of the Constitution have been of no avail to social conservatives faced with a progressive opposition playing by a different set of rules.

• Major corporations have aided and abetted the decline of morals and the rise of obscenity and irreligion at every turn. This is not incidental or accidental but integral to the operation of globalized capitalism, which is oriented toward an endless cycle of innovation, disruption, destruction, and replacement.

• Neither major political party in the United States even attempts to speak to the full range of Catholic teaching on issues ranging from the just wage and the harmonious cooperation of classes to the right of the unborn and the evil of contraception.

That all sounds terrible.

We agree. Faced with these realities and with the Church’s own half-century-long internal crisis, how should orthodox Catholics respond? Naturally there will be disagreements about a great many important issues. We wish to host many of these conversations in our pages and will strive to be, so far as we are able without compromising the faith, a big tent: we hope to welcome writers associated with both the supposed right and left of the political spectrum, and indeed some with no settled political convictions. We consider all such distinctions meaningless when set beside the teaching of the popes on the pathologies of the modern world, from Mirari vos to Laudato si’, and the Light of the World Himself, whose manifold rays we hope, however meagerly, to reflect. Hence our slightly whimsical choice of name. Like Aladdin, who, upon descending into the Cave of Wonders, found that he had “never beheld things like these during his born days,” we have discovered in the Church, jewels of “every color, green and white, yellow, red, and other such brilliant hues, and the radiance flashing from these gems paled the rays of the sun in forenoon sheen.”

Unfortunately, the oil that would allow such lights to shine forth is not cheaply gotten. Magazines cost money to print; good writers deserve to be paid honorable sums for their work; serious in-depth reporting brings with it significant expenses. Creating a nonprofit organization requires legal work that does not come gratis. We have been greatly blessed by an initial outpouring of generosity from Catholics and others who believe in our vision and who know that now, more than ever, The Lamp needs to exist.

I like what I’m hearing here, but I have to wonder—why you guys?

“Because we’re here, lad,” Sergeant Bourne says in Zulu. “There’s nobody else.” If anyone else was interested in creating something like The Lamp, it would have existed already. (In point of fact, something like it did exist in the late ’60s and early ’70s: Brent Bozell’s Triumph, almost certainly the only publication in which one could have read things like the traditionalist Catholic case for Black Panther militancy.)

And who are you again?

We are:

William Borman, Publisher
Matthew Walther, Editor
Nic Rowan, Managing Editor
Sophie Palmer, Editorial Assistant

Our editor is a former national correspondent for theweek.com, the website of one of the widest circulated general-interest magazines in the English-speaking world. (His work has also appeared inthe New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Catholic Herald, First Things, the Spectator (London), National Review, the Weekly Standard, Prospect, the Daily Beast, the Millions, and all sorts of odd places.) He was previously an editor at The Washington Free Beacon, an online newspaper once described more or less accurately as “neocon Gawker,” and at the American Spectator. Our managing editor previously covered the Supreme Court for the Washington Examiner. Our publisher works in finance.

The Lamp is published by the Three Societies Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Three Rivers, Michigan, with the assistance of The Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America. Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Institute for Human Ecology or The Catholic University of America or of its officers, directors, editors, members, or staff.

What if I like the idea but can’t afford to subscribe?

Not a problem at all. If we were made of money ourselves we would not solicit donations. You can still help us by subscribing to our free newsletter here and reading the free items that appear on the “Blog” section of the website.

Do you accept submissions?

We do! Feel free to pitch us at submissions@thelampmagazine.com. But before you do, please read the magazine! You’ll notice a few things. We don’t use section headings or footnotes or parenthetical references. We write out numbers, including really long ones. We don’t allow anarthrous noun modifiers in our pages. In addition to feature essays, articles, and reviews, we have a handful of regular columns or “departments.” The best way to get a sense of what belongs in each department is—we don’t mind repeating ourselves!—to sit down with a copy of The Lamp, but here is a rough guide:

• Apologia: Some of the Church’s finest writing comes from Her converts. We are looking for personal stories of conversion (or reversion, an equally interesting but perhaps less well-defined phenomenon), preferably ordered around some discrete aspect of your life that might have led you, however indirectly, to the Faith. Intellectual matters may enter into your narrative if presented with elegance and interest (please no “It was when I read Aquinas’ famous Five Proofs that. . .”), but your piece should still be a narrative.

• Brass Rubbings: Perhaps you’ve found yourself pouring through parochial records or reading up on forgotten renovations to an old church facade. For our Brass Rubbings section, we are looking for detailed, shamelessly antiquarian pieces on all manner of local ecclesiastical history. Tell us the story of your parish through the decades or centuries: we want to hear about any significant aspect of its past (architecture, figures of communal legend, devotional practices). Make sure to provide a precise factual foundation to your piece, though it should still read briskly and have a coherent story to tell.

• The Jungle: Reportage and politics go here. We take well-observed pieces on national politics, though we are equally interested in local affairs. If you learn something meaningful about your country or your city or your town’s civil life on the street instead of on a screen, we probably want to hear about it. We do not welcome partisan writing in this section or anywhere else in the magazine. (Please note that “partisan” is not the same as “presents a forthright opinion.”)

• Nunc Dimittis: This is our back-page column, where we end the magazine with a short, light essay. There are no any strict guidelines, though readers should not be left scratching their heads and asking what that was all about.

We are not very fussy about formatting, but we do expect pitches and submissions to follow a few house rules. Some of these rules exist for our convenience as editors; others are there on the old Van Halen brown M&Ms principle:

• We do not use section headings or footnotes or parenthetical references. We write out numbers, including really long ones. We do not allow anarthrous noun modifiers in our pages.

• Please consider cleaning up your manuscript before passing it along. Times New Roman is a good font. Tabs and indents are a hassle. Quotes should be “smart,” i.e., just like that. Give us a one-sentence bio that we can use. And for heaven’s sake, no PDFs! We accept .docx, .doc, .rtf or links to Google Docs as long as they are editable. We even have a template.

• Features should be between two and five thousand words; reviews twelve to twenty-five hundred. For reasons of space, Nunc Dimittis submissions should not be longer than seven-hundred fifty words.

While all pitches and submissions are eventually read, our editorial process as a bi-monthly with a full-time staff of two is slow. Almost nothing that we publish in the magazine is time-sensitive. All of which is to say that if you write to us, we will do our best to get back to you, but in the meantime writers should not send follow-up queries about unsolicited work.

This brings us back to the question of what kinds of things we actually publish. Here are some things that do not interest us:

• “The Catholic Novel,” a.k.a., “The Catholic Literary Revival”: We are not looking for reviews, retrospectives, appraisals, reappraisals, considerations, or anything else touching upon writers such as J.F. Powers, Flannery O’Connor, Fr. Thomas Merton, and that guy who sat on Faulkner’s porch once. One reason we are not keen on these pieces is that we think this genre has been done to death. (Editors at other publications clearly do not feel this way, which is why you can always find “The Catholic Novel Revisited” or a review of the fourth volume of Merton’s Collected Telegrams to Recording Artists Signed to Elektra Records in their pages.) But another, more important one is simply that we are two-tiered Thomists, which is a fancy way of saying that we have a broad and inclusive view of what is “Catholic” in literature. We like what Saint John Henry Newman wrote: “ By ‘Catholic Literature’ is not to be understood a literature which treats exclusively or primarily of Catholic matters, of Catholic doctrine, controversy, history, persons or politics; but it includes all subjects of literature whatever treated as a Catholic would treat them and as only he can treat them.”

• Anything that could be published in an academic journal of theology—or, indeed, any other subject. Do not submit a piece with footnotes or section headings.

• “Book reports,” by which we mean tedious reviews of the kind that appear in the books sections of our national newspapers, and even, alas, in our highbrow literary magazines. Read this and do the opposite.

And finally, some things that do interest us:

• Serious reporting on pretty much anything that would be of interest to Catholic readers from people who know how to write magazine-quality features.

• Essays that make important abstract concepts—the common good, the theology of Laudato si’, the case for unilateral nuclear disarmament, corporatist political economy—accessible and interesting and, especially, enjoyable without talking down to our readers. We are especially keen on pieces that draw upon unusual or unexpected sources, such as medieval ballads

• Amusing, witty, sparkling, delightful light writing and parodies of all sorts.

• Reviews that are really more like short essays. We suggest looking at the catalogues of both major trade publishers and university presses for ideas. We have almost no interest in reviewing new fiction, but otherwise we are open to more or less anything: e.g., if there is a coffee-table book about roses, we would love for someone to write two thousand words in praise of woody perennials of the genus Rosa and refer to the actual book once in passing near the beginning or the very end of the piece (“The most beautiful book that has come out of our country in my time. One thinks of Homer”). We also welcome takedowns of very silly books, but not too many. If you want a sense of the kind of reviews that we enjoy, read Macaulay or Lytton Strachey or Hugh Trevor-Roper or A.N. Wilson or Sam Leith.

• Well-written essays on basketball or weightlifting or bass fishing or arithmetic or handwriting or airplane design or pretty much else anything else, so long as you can show us that it is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report.