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Saturday, September 28

MORE ON BISHOP HARRIES:

One of our Canadian readers, Gordon Belyea, wrote an interesting response to my blog of Friday, September 20. Harries, readers will remember, decided that Jesus' words in John 6 offended secular people when they heard them in a eucharistic liturgy, and said that the Church ought therefore to replace them. Mr. Belyea wrote:

I greatly appreciated your comments regarding Bp Harries' attempts to give the medicine of the gospel a ñspoonful of sugarî to make it go down more easily. I found in learning French, a particularly dangerous trap for anglophones lies in what is called les faux amis. These are words that sound similar to English words, and thus give us the impresssion that we know what they mean. However, their true meaning is vastly different (e.g., la figure is not one's physical proportions, but the face). We use them confidently and blindly, not knowing how in the wrong we actually are. To have remained silent would have communicated more effectively.

He added an interesting take on the bishop's attempt to replace Jesus' description of the eucharist in John 6 with the phrase "food of angels."

Similarly, to use such terms as ñfood of angelsî communicates something far different from what Christ calls us to partake of. When the psalmist states, ñMan did eat angels' foodî (Psa 78.25), he refers to manna „ the very miraculous provision to which Christ contrasts feeding on his flesh and blood by faith in John 6. In using such phraseology, the Bp of Oxford is selling people the very goods that Christ commands them to forsake for him. The shepherd has not made his sheep to lie down in green pastures, but has led them into stunted, shriveled fields.


11:21 AM


I thought MC readers would be interested in the following excerpt from a forthcoming book by Leon Kass, who heads the President's bioethics commission. It appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education this past week, which is a noteworthy fact in itself.

Sex and Transcendence

The soul-elevating power of sexuality is, at bottom, rooted in its strange connection to mortality, which it simultaneously accepts and tries to overcome. Asexual reproduction may be seen as a continuation of the activity of self-preservation. When one organism buds or divides to become two, the original being is (doubly) preserved, and nothing dies. In contrast, sexuality as such means perishability and serves replacement; the two that come together to generate one soon will die. Sexual desire, in human beings as in animals, thus serves an end that is partly hidden from, and finally at odds with, the self-serving individual. Whether we know it or not, when we are sexually active we are voting with our genitalia for our own demise. The salmon swimming upstream to spawn and die tell the universal story: Sex is bound up with death, to which it holds a partial answer in procreation.

The salmon and the other animals evince this truth blindly. Only the human being can understand what it means. As we learn so powerfully from the story of the Garden of Eden, our humanization is coincident with sexual self-consciousness, with the recognition of our sexual nakedness and all that it implies: shame at our needy incompleteness, unruly self-division, and finitude; awe before the eternal; hope in the self-transcending possibilities of children and a relationship to the divine. In the sexually self-conscious animal, sexual desire can become eros, lust can become love. Sexual desire humanly regarded is thus sublimated into erotic longing for wholeness, completion, and immortality, which drives us knowingly into the embrace and its generative fruit -- as well as into all the higher human possibilities of deed, speech, and song.

Through children, a good common to both husband and wife, male and female achieve some genuine unification (beyond the mere sexual "union" that fails to do so). The two become one through sharing generous (not needy) love for this third being as good. Flesh of their flesh, the child is the parents' own commingled being externalized, and given a separate and persisting existence. Unification is enhanced also by their commingled work of rearing. Providing an opening to the future beyond the grave, carrying not only our seed but also our names, our ways, and our hopes that they will surpass us in goodness and happiness, children are a testament to the possibility of transcendence. Gender duality and sexual desire, which first draw our love upward and outside of ourselves, finally provide for the partial overcoming of the confinement and limitation of perishable embodiment altogether.

Not by accident does Huxley's Brave New World begin with the overturning of sexual reproduction and its replacement by cloning. Not by accident are "birth" and "mother" regarded there as smutty notions. For to say "yes" to asexual reproduction and baby manufacture is to say "no" to all natural human relations, is to say "no" also to the deepest meaning of coupling, namely, human erotic longing. For human eros is the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of and competition between two contrary aspirations in a single living body: one, a self-regarding concern for one's own permanence and fulfillment, the other, a self-denying aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, and for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives. Nothing humanly fine, let alone great, will come out of a society that has crushed the source of human aspiration, the germ of which is to be found in the meaning of the sexually complementary two that seek unity, wholeness, and holiness.

Human procreation, in sum, is not simply an activity of our rational wills. It is a more complete activity precisely because it engages us bodily, erotically, and even spiritually, as well as rationally. There is wisdom in the mystery of nature that has joined the pleasure of sex, the inarticulate longing for union, the communication of the loving embrace, and the deep-seated and only partly articulate desire for children in the very activity by which we continue the chain of human existence and participate in the renewal of human possibility. Whether we know it or not -- and we are already well on the way to forgetting it -- the severing of procreation from sex, love, and intimacy is inherently dehumanizing, no matter how good the product.

-- Leon R. Kass, a professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, in Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, published this month by Encounter Books


8:40 AM


Friday, September 27

REPUTATIONS DESERVED AND UNDESERVED:

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has published on its web site a list of priests, both diocesan and religious, who have been convincingly accused of sexual involvement with a minor, or as the archdiocese explains:

Attachment A lists priests and brothers who have served in the Archdiocese and, upon a review of our existing records, have been accused of child sexual abuse. It contains some individuals who have admitted abusing children, as well as individuals who have denied any improper contact with children. A number of the allegations cannot be corroborated. In a few instances, allegations have been excluded from the list when an investigation has concluded that the facts do not indicate that sexual abuse occurred.

Some (e.g Mark Shea) have been outraged by the publication of this list, But this list gives parents a tool to help children. Did your son spend a lot of time with any of the priests on the list, and did he later behave strangely and self-destructively? Now you may know why. You can go to him and ask him: Is this what happened? and he may finally be able to open up ¿ if he is still alive, since men sometimes resolve these deep emotional conflicts by suicide. Sometimes the suicide of a victim is the first indication that something seriously wrong has happened.

A priest, active or inactive, does not have the right to an undeserved good reputation, if that reputation enables him to harm others or prevents others from discovering and helping those he has harmed. Would it be wrong to publish the name of a dentist who died of AIDS and whose patients have started dying of AIDS? (this happened several years ago). Knowing that they were treated by a dentist who seemed to have been deliberately infecting his patients would enable a patient to seek medical help, or at least avoid infecting a spouse. Does the dead dentist have the right to a good reputation? HeÍs dead, and can no longer infect anyone. Does a priest who has been proved to be a corrupter of youths (and these priests were removed or suspended in laxer times) have a right to a good reputation, if revealing his crime may help victims?

Cardinal Keeler has ignored his own review board in the past, but now they commend him for doing a difficult but right thing:

P. McEvoy Cromwell, chairman of the independent review board on sexual abuse cases, called it "the right kind of move to make at this point." He said he hoped it would encourage more victims to come forward, and would show the church is "moving toward a position of empathy and sympathy" toward victims. (Baltimore Sun)


12:47 PM


Thursday, September 26

PROF. McCLAY ON RELIGION AFTER 9/11:

Appearing in a live "Monitor Talk" for the Christian Science Monitor titled Has religion in the public square changed since 9/11? is one of our contributing editors, Wilfred McClay.

Prof. McClay is the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and an adjunct public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. A book he has edited, "Religion Returns to the Public Square" (Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press), will appear in December.

Among his comments: In response to the question "Do you think that the attack prompted people to seriously probe the questions, 'What is God?', and 'What is evil?'?" Prof. McClay responded:

One of the interesting things about the response to 9/11 is that you could argue with equal plausibility that it made religion in public life either more necessary or more dangerous; that both of those are suggested by what came out of those terrible events. I think there's been a strongly felt need to go back to our religious traditions to begin to make sense of this in a way that the fairly optimistic secular American mind has found very hard to. This plaintive question, "Why do they hate us?" seems extraordinarily naive to me, just as a reflection of a rather shallow understanding of human nature . . . . I think that events this catastrophic, this awful, inevitably raise the question of ultimate things, which we spend a lot of our lives avoiding. It seems just as likely that people can respond by turning to God or by turning against the concept of God. By and large I think the reaction has been the first and not the second. But what I think is certainly true is that it forces people to ask the questions.

Go to the site for an historian's judicious reading of the questions of religion in the public square after the terrorist attacks, including an interesting answer to the question of whether other people asked the same questions about God and religion after the Holocaust and the genocides in Africa and eastern Europe.

And while you're at, also read his last two articles in Touchstone: The God of Princes, on the political use of religion, and Mastery's Shadow, on modern medicine & the human soul. They are both wise, and the second is also rather moving.


10:32 AM


Wednesday, September 25

United Religions Initiative:

Lee Penn, who put me on to the News Watch Diversity Style Guide described below, has his own website dedicated to his articles on the United Religions Initiative, an extremely dodgy and generally syncretistic campaign led by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Francisco.


11:48 AM


PC JOURNALISM:

Brought to my attention by the writer Lee Penn, the News Watch Diversity Style Guide, the source for politically correct „ my term, not theirs „ language. They don't include "politically correct" among the many terms they define, by the way, which was probably wise.

Two examples selected by Mr. Penn will give you an idea of what the writers of the Style Guide are up to:
illegal immigrants Recommended terms are "undocumented worker" or "undocumented immigrant." "Illegal immigrant" is a term used to describe the immigration status of people who do not have the federal documentation to how they are legally entitled to work, visit or live in the United States. People who are undocumented by the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) do not have the proper visas to be in the United States legally. Many enter the country illegally, but a large number of this group initially had valid visas, but did not return to their native countries when their visas expired. Some former students fall into the latter category. Many Latinos decry usage of "illegal immigrant" because they say it criminalizes the person rather than the actual act of illegally entering or residing in the United States without federal documents. Some Latinos say such terms as "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant" can often be used pejoratively in common parlance and can pack a powerful emotional wallop for those on the receiving end. Avoid using "illegal" as a noun. See also "alien."

immigration Use neutral terms (e.g., arrival) to describe immigration. Avoid adjectives that carry negative connotations such as flood, tidal wave, horde, deluge.


These definitions are mainly instructions to lie. Illegal aliens are defined by the fact that they are aliens who are doing something illegal, but one should not say that. The phrase is only a statement of fact, and a statement of a fact that must be addressed „ but can't be intelligently addressed if no one will use the one phrase that tells what the fact is. The writers of the Style Guide tell you that you should write as if their presence in this country was as legal and proper as a citizen's, when it is no such thing. Ths is simply lying.

And in the same way, we are not to use any word that actually explains what immigrants are doing. Immigrants are defined by the fact that they are moving from one country to another, which is to say, by the fact that they are immigrating to the United States. No one would write about them otherwise. But one should write as if they were not immigrating, but only "arriving," as one arrives back from a trip to Germany. The two words do not mean the same thing. This is simply lying, too.

And what difference does it make, by the way, if the aliens stayed after their visas expired, rather than sneaking into the country illegally in the first place? The writers of the Style Guide imply that staying after your visa has expired is somehow all right, or at least not so bad, and definitely not to be stigmatized as illegal, yet those who do so have, in breaking the law, broken their word and abused the hospitality of their hosts. "Illegal aliens" is the only honest and accurate term for aliens who are in this country illegally. What to do about them „ and perhaps for them „ is a question, and one to which Christians should give some considerable thought, but it will not be well answered if we lie about them in the way the News Watch Diversity Style Guide recommends.

I don't object to all their definitions, by any means. Some of them simply offer a way to speak courteously and with some thought as to the effect of the words one uses, as using "seizure" instead of "fit" for an epileptic episode. "Fit" may be accurate enough, but it suggests the pejorative phrase "throwing a fit," while the more medical term "seizure" is likely to bring more sympathy and understanding to the victim.

For the same reason, I usually write of "homosexual people" rather than "homosexuals," because the second term defines these people by their sexuality, as if they were primarily sodomites and not people made in the image of God who have distorted that image by the practice of sodomy. Some homosexual people may think of themselves that way, as creatures whose identity is primarily sexual, but we should not encourage them.

That said, at times one has to use the words "homosexuals" and "sodomites," as when discussing their crimes one calls a man who has stolen a thief and a man who kills a murderer. But when one writes this way „ and this is the point the politically correct never get „ one writes this way only to speak most truthfully, with the hope that the truth may reach and change the man of whom it is written.


10:01 AM


MAGGIE GALLAGHER ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY:

An insightful column from Maggie Gallagher: "Religious liberty on trial", comparing the idea of religious tolerance, which tends to remove religion from public life and indeed stigmatize its public practice, and religious freedom, which tends to encourage religion in public life. (For that matter, everything she writes is insightful. See her homepage. See also her books Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution Is Killing Family, Marriage, and Sex and What We Can Do About It, The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love, and The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, written with the sociologist Linda J. Waite.)

Gallagher begins her column by telling the story of a French writer facing a prison sentence for saying that Islam is "the dumbest religion." The case

vividly exposes the difference between two conflicting visions of religion and society: religious tolerance vs. religious liberty. Most people assume that these are the same thing, when they are in fact opposites.

How can a free man in a free Western democracy end up arrested for his religious opinions? Religious tolerance, you see, is rooted in the idea that religion is essentially a private matter that should not be allowed to disrupt public affairs. Intellectually it tends toward indifferentism, the idea that all religions are basically the same anyway (one God, many paths), and so there is no legitimate reason to disturb the peace by criticizing „ or converting „ one another. The good citizen must respect all religions. In exchange for this tolerance, religions promise not to create discomfort or interfere in the public square.

Religious liberty, which is largely an American gift to the world, is based on the opposite premise. Religious expression is a basic human right, which includes the right not only to worship privately, but publicly to preach, to criticize and to seek to influence or convert. Church and state are separated, but primarily to protect religious individuals from coercion. The framers of our Constitution placed religious freedom in the very heart of the First Amendment, alongside the right to free speech and to peaceably assemble. Your right to be a Muslim in America is thus not grounded in my or anybody else's opinion of Islam. It includes the right to seek to convert as many Americans as you can, in freedom, and includes the obligation to tolerate others' opinions, even when they are sharply critical.


Americans, she points out, seem to be increasingly in favor of tolerance rather than freedom, and she mentions the recent statement by a committee of Catholic bishops on evangelizing Jewish people as an example. (For more on this statement, ñReflections on Covenant and Mission,î which suggested that some bishops had not quite grasped the New Testament, see our report of Carl Olson's critique.)

I think what Gallagher has identified is the fruit of our extraordinarily comfortable life, which religious ideals „ and all serious religions are idealistic „ will disturb. The freedom to insist that you are right is the freedom to cause a scene, and more to the point, the freedom to insist that people ought to live in a different way, a less comfortable way, and to bring that insistence to a vote.

It is better, when you are lounging on the couch watching Arnold Swarzenegger blow up things on your home entertainment center, to tolerate all religions than to give them the freedom to knock on your door or write your congressman. Tolerance seems to have worked so far, after all. Except for that World Trade Towers thing, but that only happened the one time, and it happened a whole year ago, and anyway, it proved that religion is just too dangerous when people do what it says.

That is, I think, what many Americans think, and why they are so happy to be "tolerant." Yet the world is not so made that tolerance will long work, because the world presses upon us decisions for one thing and against another, which we cannot avoid making. For example, to go to war with Iraq, and suffer the consequences, or not to go to war with Iraq, and suffer the consequences. The indecision of tolerance is itself a decision, whose consequences we will suffer.

There is a large hole in lower Manhattan that should remind Americans that "tolerance" of this sort can be suicidal, because there are many people in the world who believe in neither tolerance nor freedom.


7:48 AM


Monday, September 23

TO QUESTION IS NOT NECESSARILY TO THINK:

From a flyer from the Unitarian Universalist Community at the University of Pittsburgh:

Buddha
Jesus
Mohammed
Derek

Derek? Who's Derek?
He isn't a prophet or a god, just a member of the Unitarian Universalist Community at Pitt. You see, we draw upon many sources in our search for truth. Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism. And most importantly You [sic]. After all, you determine your own faith.


After explaining that you don't have to believe anything to be a member of their community, the flyer concludes:

It's a religious community for people who question. People who look for life's meaning. People who think. People just like you and Derek.

This is one of those things that is very funny until you think about the souls it might harm. The person who responds to this flyer is likely to be a kind of lost soul who has trouble hearing the Christian message because he confuses "questioning" „ though the people of this sort I've known do not actually question much „ with thinking, and thinks that he thinks because he does not believe.

If this sort of soul actually thought, he would eventually come to some sort of conclusion. It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from G. K. Chesterton's writings, this one from the last chapter of his early book Heretics:

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty.

Derek, he would have said, is not the ideal man the Unitarian Universalist flyer assumes he is:

When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus.

Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human.

When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.


That what the flyer offers is true thought is a particularly dangerous illusion, because it makes fallen man's natural resistance to the Gospel seem like the virtuous pursuit of truth. We know that it is an illusion because the pursuer never quite catches up with the Truth „ though she runs surprisingly slowly for the man she knows truly wants her for his own „ and one realizes that The Man Who Questions is not chasing Truth but running around here and there as he feels inclined, though he is careful never to get anywhere in particular.

It is far better for the soul to be an atheist shaking your fist at the empty heavens than one of the "People who question. People who look for life's meaning. People who think." The atheist might find that the heavens are not empty after all, because he cares more for what is not in them than he does for himself. The man who is looking up may see in the movement of the stars the work of the Creator.

But Derek will forever sit on the tattered couch in the Unitarian Universalist center Questioning. Looking for life's meaning. Thinking. And feeling very happy with himself, though he sinks slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass.


8:17 AM




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