Gen X Faith and Culture: A Conversation With Bill McGarvey

I met Bill McGarvey at an Institute for American Values event where Fordham University professor and public intellectual Peter Steinfels and I discussed whether liberals will support marriage without the word "gay" in front of it. Spoiler alert: We said yes! After the show I met Bill and discovered his passion for thinking about Generation X, Catholicism, and finding God in the arts. I had to learn more.


Listen to the podcast here.

In our podcast interview, Bill and I discuss faith, the arts, and Generation X. I quickly saw that his work as a writer and musician focuses on ways to find beauty and strength through life's transitions. Bill looks for ways to honor those moments between faith and doubt, the now and the not-yet, despair and hope. He shies away from offering answers to life's big questions but finds meaning in being a question maker, someone who thinks constructively with hope.

In our conversation we trace his faith and artistry back to his childhood and walk through the professional choices he's made in life. As is true for many musicians, his love for music goes back to the beginning. Growing up in a Catholic household and attending Jesuit schools gave him a religious vocabulary he then brought to deep questions. His discovery of music became a search for truth. Over time he learned that art is not truth but points to truth, and "finding God in a song only works if you have a language for God in the first place."

As he journeyed forward in life as a musician, Bill remained connected to his faith in part thanks to the inspiration of the Jesuits and the ways that they encouraged a thriving life of the mind as a companion to the life of faith. Guided by his belief that everyone carries a God-shaped hole in their lives, he became an editor at the site He and his collaborators created space for religious seekers to explore faith language and practice. The site aims to provide hospitality to all and states, "Nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."

In his work writing for America Magazine, Bill finds opportunity to reflect on current Catholic belief and practice. We discussed his reflections on Pope Francis, his style of leadership, and how both reflect the ways that faith is a tone of life grounded in integrity and not a transaction. He ultimately concludes that "lives of faith trump ideas every time." In a recent piece on the Beatles, he writes in ways that echo this belief:

There is a crucial last sentence that is always left out of the reports of John Lennon's claim that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, "Jesus was all right" he said "but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." Perhaps in Francis the church has stumbled upon a revolutionary moment -- a profound untwisted simplicity -- all its own.

Lives trump ideas every time.

To learn more about Bill McGarvey, visit

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