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Saturday, October 5

ISLAM AND LIBERALISM:

A priest I know wrote in response to my article in the October issue of Touchstone (not yet posted on the website, which is a way of saying: subscribe):

I finished your essay on the separation of Paul from Jesus, and I am stimulated to ponder the spiritual affinity between liberal Christians and conservative Muslims. This, after all, is a common apologetic stance of Muslims: That Jesus was an authentic prophet of Islam, that Islamic teaching is reasonably (albeit imperfectly) evident in Jesus' recorded preaching, and that confusion about Jesus' death and divinity was introduced only a generation later, by St. Paul and his disciples. Thus (the uncrucified) Jesus is honored as a prophet, while Paul, who preached "Christ and him crucified" is reviled as the corrupter of Christianity.

At first glance, this has nothing to do with liberal American Christianity, but a second glance may suggest otherwise. Islam, a religion of conquest (spiritual or otherwise), was never able to overcome the scandal of Jesus' cross: "God would never allow his prophet to suffer such disgrace." Likewise, liberals are unwilling to face the full reality of "sin and righteousness and judgment," which conviction is so closely linked to the cross (Dominum et Vivificantem, 27ff).


8:51 AM


Thursday, October 3

WHAT TO SAY ABOUT HERETICS:

Though it is not yet on the web, readers interested in an article on how we should speak of and to heretics may find of interest my "The Art of Christian Polemics" in the October issue of the New Oxford Review. It is adapted from a chapter in my Knowing the Real Jesus (available here, if I may say so) and uses the Church Fathers' admirably honest speech as a model for our own. The magazine's mailing address is 1069 Kains Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94706. They ask $3.50 for a single copy.


8:30 PM


ACCESSORIES TO THE CRIME:

Fr. Matthew Lamb, a professor of theology at Boston College, says in Theological Malpractice: The roots of scandal, an article just posted on National Review Online, that one of the "contributory causes" of the sexual scandal is the infidelity of Catholic theologians.

To what extent, for example, have we been responsible for students losing or weakening their Catholic faith and moral, virtuous practice? Our society does not force one to belong to a particular religion. When theologians claim to be Catholic, while dissenting from important Church teachings, they are living a lie. They hold theological positions that might be espoused in another Christian denomination, but instead of honestly joining that denomination, they claim they are still Catholic.

I think this is true, but though I'm happy to blame "dissenting" theologians - "disobedient" is a much better word than "dissenting," by the way - they are not entirely to blame, or not solely to blame, even for their errors. The theologian is supposed to explain the revelation and reflect upon its implications, which sometimes means pushing at the boundaries, as St. Thomas did when he proposed using Aristotle to better understand the Faith. He ought to do this carefully, prayerfully, with fear and trembling, and due obedience to authority. But still, he does sometimes need to push.

The genius of the Catholic system is that the bishop is supposed to push back, not just to make sure the theologian does not go too far but to find, in pushing against the theologian who is pushing against him, exactly where the line lies. Whether, and how far, for example, we can use Aristotle. Because there are lots of theologians and they are always pushing, the bishop must be sure to push back as often as necessary, even when pushing back costs him. And he must be willing not only to push, but sometimes to push the theologian to the ground or order him to retire from the field entirely.

Unfortunately, the bishops have not - with a few exceptions - pushed back for a very long time. (I wonder how many fear pushing back too hard and being labeled a reactionary, a fundamentalist, or an enemy of progress.) Anyone could have predicted the result. Good men pushed harder and farther than they intended, precisely because they assumed the bishops would be doing their job, and therefore they could push safely. Lesser men pushed harder and farther than they would have done had the bishop pushed back, because they knew they can get away with it. And bad men never stopped pushing, because the knew they could go as far as they wished, and they wished to go very far. The practice of Catholic theology was deformed by this mixture of the passive with the incautious, the mischievous, and the wicked. Thus "dissent" became a norm and a standard, and the "dissenter" felt, understandably enough, no need to do what Fr. Lamb says he should have done.

I can only half blame the man who says that he must be doing his job (though he is not doing the job as described in the job description) because the man responsible for him lets him do it and never objects to anything he does or says, as I could only half blame my children for swearing (though they have been taught not to) if when they swore in front of me I never corrected them. The other half of the blame lies with the man responsible for him, who never made him do his job and never corrected him when he did it badly. The man who walks into the bank vault, takes the money he finds there, and walks out of the bank is a thief, but the manager who left the vault open and sat at his desk watching the man walk in and out, not pressing the button that would have brought the police, is an accessory to the crime.

The bishops were supposed to push back against the theologians whenever necessary, and they have not (again, with a few exceptions) done so. They have not pushed back, and thereby helped create the dissenting theologians who have done so much damage to the Church and hurt so many souls.


8:26 PM


THE NEXT ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY:

Dr. Gerald Bray, an Anglican minister, editor of the quarterly Churchman, and professor at Beeson Divinity School, has called Evangelical Anglicans to resist the next Archbishop of Canterbury and the movement he represents - and will forward as Archbishop, if only by not disciplining his allies who do things, like ordain practising homosexual men and women, official policy does not yet allow. (Our contributing editor Gillis Harp is a member of the board of Churchman, by the way.)

Dr. Bray is a very convinced Evangelical of the sort Cranmer or Calvin would have recognized, which means that other Anglicans, including even other Evangelicals, will call him "right wing" and the like. He has written at least one quite badly argued editorial against Catholicism, which I thought suggested a certain degree of unhelpful prejudice (and addressed in an essay to be published in the November issue of the New Oxford Review), but I do admire his courage and his clarity, especially as such clarity is the quality that gets one dismissed as "right wing" and the like.

The editorial is not yet on the journal's website, but it begins with a description of the "highly organised campaign" to get Abp Williams appointed, which "would stop at nothing to get its man elected." Dr. Bray comments that Abp Williams could have spoken out against the campaign, but didn't.

In the heart of the editorial, he notes that "the main opposition to Dr Williams" will come from the convinced Evangelicals, and describes the conflict to come.

Between Evangelicals and Dr Williams there is a great gulf fixed, which will not be bridged by any conciliatory remarks on his part (none of which have been forthcoming so far, incidentally), nor even by the usual wobbling on the left wing of the Evangelical constituency, which has already manifested itself in some quarters. The nature of this gulf is theological, but it is also intellectual, psychological, temperamental and cultural. However one looks at it, there is almost no point of contact between Dr Williams and the Evangelical world, and he shows no sign of any desire to establish the kinds of links which would be needed to gain Evangelical trust and support.

I think this is right, and have myself been struck by the absence of the usual "I will be the bishop of all the people" language, always produced by men appointed to the episcopal office, which absence is especially striking in one who habitually speaks in the "inclusive" mode of modern liberalism. Dr. Bray continues:

When interviewed recently in the Times (shortly before the official announcement of his appointment), Dr Williams described Evangelicals as people who bang tambourines and sing Blessed assurance, and let it be known that every once in a while he too feels the urge to join in! One would like to know precisely when he last felt that urge, and even more, where he went to satisfy it, since there are precious few Evangelical churches which match his description of them, but the tone of thinly-veiled contempt which lies behind such remarks comes across loud and clear.

Evangelicals who may have been dismayed by Dr Williams' remarks to the press need to realise that they were mild indeed, compared to what he has published elsewhere. Those who want to familiarise themselves with his overall theological outlook need go no further than the collection of essays which he recently published under the title
On Christian theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000). There it emerges that Dr Williams' chief guide to things Evangelical is none other than James Barr, whose notoriously inaccurate and bitter [book] Fundamentalism, Dr Williams seems to take as an obvious statement of fact.

Had the Evangelical letter-writers mentioned above read this collection of essays beforehand, they would have found Dr Williams' reply to their approach clearly stated on p. 58: '...so far from the literal or historical sense [of Scripture] being a resource of problem-solving clarity, as it might appear to be for the fundamentalist, an area of simple truthfulness over against the dangerously sophisticated pluralism of a disobedient Church, it may rather encourage us to take historical responsibility for arguing and exploring how the gospel is going to be heard in our day.' In other words, what the Bible says is not authoritative for us today.

Rather, what the ancient text does is provide a locus of theological conversation, a challenge to our minds to work out how we can and should experience the divine in our own historical context.

Readers familiar with the development of academic theology since the Enlightenment will see that this is a clear, indeed forceful, statement of the most deeply secular theology imaginable. In traditionalist terms, it is justified on the basis of the incarnation of Christ, a belief which states that the divine is fully involved with, and revealed in, the everyday life of the world. Of course it is necessary now, as it was then, to penetrate beyond superficial details and discover the essential heart of the mystery.

Those who call themselves Christians continue to believe that Jesus is the most helpful guide in this respect - the fullest expression (so far at least) of what it means to be truly human. Nevertheless, Christians must always be open to hear the voice of those who are unable to find the deepest meaning of life in the person and work of Jesus, and to proclaim their solidarity with all who are trying to make sense of their universe, as long as they display the appropriate degree of intellectual maturity and integrity in doing so. From this perspective, Iris Murdoch and John Hick are fellow travellers in search of the meaning of life, while John Stott or Jim Packer are not even on the radar screen.

In Dr Williams' world, Evangelicals simply do not measure up to his criteria of what a theologian is. They are not mature, because they turn the Bible into an idol and worship it, instead of using its resources to plumb the spiritual depths of the human heart. They are not intellectual, because they are always trying to simplify things for general consumption, instead of creating sentences of labyrinthine complexity which tread a fine line between subtlety and obfuscation, and which may (in the end) not say anything at all. Worse still, Evangelicals lack integrity, because although they have been fully exposed to the bright lights of modern social, psychological and philosophical theories, they have chosen to ignore them.

Opinions which were acceptable for an Athanasius or a Thomas Aquinas, who lived before the age of Enlightenment, are impossible for a modern person, and Evangelicals who persist in thinking otherwise are flying in the face of known facts - proof (if any were needed) of their lack of integrity. A community which thinks of John Stott and Jim Packer as spiritual guides, while ignoring or disparaging the likes of Iris Murdoch and John Hick, is not a fellowship in which Dr Williams is likely to feel at home, and we must not be surprised if he stays away from it as much as possible.


Dr. Bray concludes the editorial with his analysis of the political challenges Abp Williams presents to Evangelicals like himself, as opposed to the "open" Evangelicals like Bishop Gavin Reid, who just two days after Williams' appointment "was writing to the Times saying that Dr Williams' move to Canterbury may be a sign that it is time for us to rethink our position on homosexual practice!" I read Bishop Reid's letter, and it was the sort of thinking that makes one bang one's head against the wall. Dr. Bray, not being a disciple of Neville Chamberlain, calls his comrades to resist as strongly as they can, for the sake of the future of the Church of England.

I think Dr. Bray is right in his analysis of Abp Williams' theology and his predictions of the effect of Abp William's primacy, but right in a way that will win him few friends except in the small band of convinced Anglican Evangelicals like himself, and among those well-wishers and fellow travellers not of his own communion, who yet admire a man who tries to live by and for the truth.


2:11 PM


CHILDREN & WOMEN FIRST

My response to the last two blogs, by David Mills, on advertising to children and "disillusioned dreamer."

This is all pretty touchy stuff, David. The truth is that our womenfolk have been messed with by various ideologues, many of them women, of course, and when you mess with the heart of the family, the family withers.
The nature of feminist inhumanity shows the real motives underneath: power, not love, acquisition not nurture, and self-centered demands not self-giving. It's bad enough when men lose virtue, but when this all departs from the women of a culture, the love of many grows cold, for who is left to teach real love to the little ones?
Put this alongside of Rod's comments on television ads for children, and what you have is a recipe for the corruption of a society from top to bottom. We are turning ourselves and our children into consumers first, men second, which is to say, men whose god is their belly. St. Paul saw all this: love grown cold in the midst of an economy stoked by the fires of appetite. Waking up from the consumerist dream will be every bit as hard.


1:58 PM


Wednesday, October 2

TV IS BAD FOR CHILDREN:

Our contributing editor Rod Dreher started an interesting debate on National Review Online's The Corner with a message attacking advertising aimed at children:

COMMERCIALS TARGETING CHILDREN: [Rod Dreher] This should start a kerfuffle in The Corner. A reader who is a frequent antagonist writes: "I also hate TV marketing to kids. The ads pit the worst impulses of Madison Ave. against the minds of young children. An unfair fight and an example of market capitalism at its most seedy. I don't know if your aware of this but most of the Scandinavian nations ban marketing to children. I know you will be loath to admit that those socialist folks from the North have done something right but I dare you to watch a two hour block of Nick Jr. and not accept that an all out ban is a great idea." Well, I do admit that the Scando-socialists are right about this. I find commercials aimed at adults annoying, and mute the TV when they come on. But that's free speech. What about marketing to children, who lack the maturity to watch advertisements in a discerning fashion? I think it stinks. Those readers who aren't parents of small children now may be surprised to learn that there are now storybooks for toddlers that incorporate Cheerios and other branded products into the text -- or even base the book around the product! No child is too young to be a target market, it seems.

After another writer mentioned his memory of some jingle from some commercial, Rod added:

RE: ACTUALLY: [Rod Dreher] Oh God! "Pretty sneaky, sis!" You've awakened the mummy, Jonah. My head is full of crap like that. I can sing the Lite Brite theme song. I know what Gnip-Gnop is. "You sank my battleship!" And for that matter: "It's tough to put a Muriel down." Etc. I thought it was all funny, that it makes for fun inane party chat ... until I had a kid of my own, and we were in a hotel room in Los Angeles, and he was just learning how to talk, and he saw a logo and said, "Time Warner Cable keeps getting better." That was one of the boy's first full sentences -- and we don't watch much TV in our house. But that slogan stuck with him. Now, if we don't want him to have his brain marinated in advertising, we shouldn't watch any (adult) TV while he's in the room. That's our responsibility. But commercial speech directed toward children is something else.


7:44 PM


DISILLUSIONED DREAMER:

My mother had a wonderful way of summing up small truths with bang-on accuracy. It was she, the mother of three boys and two girls, who noted simply that "boys are boys, and girls are manipulators."

That girls and women can be petty, mean, backstabbing, vindictive, and jealous is not news to any female who has survived the seventh grade. But it seems to be big news in the popular culture (really, don't baby boomers discover everything?) where the subject of "Mean Girls" has recently been the focus of lengthy articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the stuff of tabloid talk shows.


So begins one article on shethinks.org, the campus project of the Independent Women's Forum. In "Mean Like Me," , syndicated columnist Betsy Hart examines a recent book, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman by feminist writer Phyllis Chesler, and concludes:

It comes down to this, a disillusioned Chesler seems to lament: In spite of all the wonderful, generous goodness which "should" inherently be found in the Sisterhood - as opposed to the brutish "brotherhood of man" - the fact is women can be real bitches.

. . . Throughout the book, Chesler maintains an air of sad incredulity that women can be, in their own duplicitous, manipulative way, really nasty - just like men. Remember Lord of the Flies?

Sigh. Weren't we supposed to be so much better than "them"?


In the rest of the article Hart relays Chesler's quite extraordinary whining about how awful women are to each other - and how awful lots of women have been to her - she seems to have had really bad judgment in friends - and explains the fact that poor Chesler seems never to have understood.

But of course we aren't "better." Women are different from men, and different from each other. We're also fully human, which makes us just as capable of sin in all its amazing manifestations as our brutish brothers.

Chesler appears conflicted about this truth, to which she grudgingly pays lip service, while looking for other "reasons" for women's inhumanity to women. Maybe it's that we live under an oppressive male culture, so we've learned to oppress others. Maybe it's that there are only a few "top" spots for women, whether in the workplace or in a culture that values youth and beauty too much, so we're always looking to knock off or knock down the competition. But maybe it really is just that women are real people after all.

. . . After all, doesn't being fully human, and capable of sin, mean being capable of goodness too? Which really is the inescapable, greatest weakness of Woman's Inhumanity to Woman. Having suddenly discovered what the rest of us have always known - that women can in fact be superbly nasty to each other - Chesler then seems determined to put virtually every woman into the fully evil, conniving stepsister category. Which in turn may say a lot more about her world than the world the rest of us inhabit.


My own impression, from my own youth and from recent experiences as the father of boys and girls who have had to deal with other children, is that Hart's mother was right. Boys, even very bright boys, may be morons and brutes, but they are usually obvious about it. Girls can be deceptive and manipulative to an extent the average male finds astonishing.

But Ms. Chesler's reaction does not surprise me. The ideologue who dreams up a perfect world and then tries to live in it, always comes to a bad end (if she is not one of those unfortunate few protected from reality by an wealthy husband, an academic post, celebrity, or an uncontrollable ego). If she survives the encounter with reality, she finds that the real world is not like the world she dreamed up, and that she can never remake it. She feels that she has been tricked and feels, perhaps, that she has tricked herself.

She can respond in two ways. She can face reality, admit she was a fool, and move on. To do this she has to give up her dream, and such dreams are harder to give up than heroin. If she does not want to face reality, she will rage with anger against all those who would not let her live out her dream, who have kept her from the promised land.

It is by no means a satisfactory response, even from the dreamer's point of view. But it is the way dreamers react, when they find their dream an illusion and a snare, but cannot simply say, "I was wrong."


5:27 PM


UNFOCUSED ON THE FAMILY:

Sometimes you realize with a start that you are a lot more modern than you thought. I had this insight while reading "Living Intentionally: How to Have it All" by Sara Butler, a junior at the University of Chicago, on the shethinks.org site. She was discussing Sylvia Ann Hewlett's new book Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, which recommends that women think through what they want in life and what they can reasonably expect, and plan accordingly, lest they be caught childless, and noted

We are all career focused, men and women, and it doesn't start in college. Even in my rather conservative household, we talked about what my sister and I wanted to be when we grew up, much more than how many children we wanted to have. We've spent so much time in SAT prep courses, summer internships and professors' offices that we've paid little attention to the qualities we want in a spouse - never mind actually looking for one. We just assume that a family will come naturally, that at some point the time will be just right to get married and start having kids. It's not hard to see the beginning of the "creeping nonchoice."

I gulped when I read this, because she describes our rather conservative household as well. We do talk to our children about their marriage and what sort of husbands or wives they should marry, but we plan for careers. Our eldest is now a junior in high school and we think most about her grades, helping her with her two AP courses, about preparing for the SATs and developing her other interests so a good college will notice. We assume that she will find a husband and have a family and pursue a career or not as she wishes then.

We haven't talked to her as we should about being equally intent on finding a good husband and raising a family. It's startling to find how modern you are, but in this, we shall try hard to stop.


5:23 PM


Tuesday, October 1

OFFICER, HE SAID HE WAS 18!

One priest's defense of his escapades:

But is every case "sexual abuse"?
For example, suppose - just suppose - someone (who was, let's say, hitchhiking and picked up by the driver) lies to the driver and tells them that they are over 18 (though they really are 17). Then suppose - just suppose - that they make sexual advances and even begin to inappropriately touch the driver - suppose - just suppose - that this adult gives in to weakness - and inappropriately touches the one who initiated (and lied about age). Then suppose - just suppose - these are pulled over by the cops for a traffic violation. Suppose - just suppose - the initiator lies to the cops and says that the other has a gun and was making sexual advances on them. Suppose - just suppose - that the cops know the party and know they are involved in a profession older than the clergy (!) - and find there is no gun. But because the accusation was made and an admission of some inappropriate behavior by the driver, misdemeanor charges were entered. Suppose - just suppose - these charges were dropped since the initiator did not even show at court and the reputation of the "minor" was well known by the police, and was put in the STET docket. And suppose - just suppose - that after a few years the entire police record and court record were expunged so there was no public record anymore (though there were files kept by the Church which apparantly doesn't know how to expunge anything anymore but rather whose representatives post them in public for all to gape and gasp and perhaps jump to rash conclusions).....
Would this be "sexual abuse of a minor?"


OFFICER, HE WAS 18 AFTER ALL, SO THERE!

Why another priest escaped suspension:

Arsensault described the relationship as a "series of liaisons" that occurred at Cote's summer house in Newport.
"He told me he was over 18 when it began. I know that's different than what he represented in the original complaint to civil authorities," Arsenault said.
Before filing his Right-to-Know petition, Hutchins said he was assured that the man claimed he was a minor at the time of the abuse. The case couldn't be prosecuted because it was unclear whether the teenager was 15 or 16 at the time, he added.
But Cote claims the relationship began in 1985. If that is the case, then the complainant - who is now 35 and whose identity is being withheld at his request - would have had to have been either 17 or 18 at that time.
The youth's age is significant because church officials said they do not consider an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor credible if the complainant is not a minor, or under 18 years old.


Sigh.


5:56 AM


QUIS CUSTODIET CUSTODES?

The sad story of the decades' long corruption at St John's Abbey can be read by those who have a strong stomach. It reads like one of the more sordid anti-Catholic polemics from the Reformation. At times the abbot and novice master were involved in sexual abuse.

The article also makes clear that pedophilia and homosexuality at the abbey were the same phenomenon. Those who seduced novices also went after children. The corruption did not make fine distinctions about before and after 18.

The corruption went on for so long and was so pervasive because no one, until the current abbot Klassen, was willing to do anything about itt. Some superiors were themselves corrupt; but all were inept

It seemed, thought Brother Timothy Pembroke, that there was nobody in charge who was willing to confront the behavior.

This was also the pattern in the failure of the bishops. Almost never were they willing to confront the problem head on. Those who knew the bishops (such as the one in Lafayette) said they had a pathological fear of confrontation, or a psychological inability to enter into confrontations.

The Vatican has for decades appointed bishops who are unifiers, who will not cause a fight, and will not provoke a schism (wish seems to be be Rome's greatest horror, far greater than a horror of corruption). The diplomat-Popes appointed diplomat-bishops. But diplomacy fails when it has to deal with deep, ingrained, manipulative evil


5:38 AM


Monday, September 30

A useful article I've just come across:

The Methodist scholar Michael Gorman's Why is the New Testament Silent About Abortion?, first published in Christianity Today in 1993. In it Gorman reviews the arguments that because the New Testament does not mention abortion, Christians should support "reproductive rights." He then explains why the New Testament does not mention abortion even though our Lord and the writers of the New Testament books undoubtedly believed it to be - knew it to be - an abomination.

It's worth having this article in your files.


7:53 PM


IT'S THE RELIGION, STUPID:

"Policy makers, diplomats, journalists and scholars, writes the defense expert Edward Luttwak, are ready to "dissect social differentiations" and "minutely categorize political affiliations," but they regularly disregard "the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics."

So writes Paul Marshall in an article for Friday's Wall Street Journal titled Motive for Massacre: It's not about "the West." It's about religious beliefs. Marshall is the author of Their blood cries out : the untold story of persecution against Christians in the modern world and the recent Islam at the Crossroad. He gives a number of examples of this weird blindness to the religious nature of religious conflicts, and continues:

The people believed to be behind the attacks, though, have made their motives plain. Members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the terrorist group claiming responsibility for an October 2001 massacre in a Christian church, said that "they planned to kill Christians" in revenge for Muslim deaths in Afghanistan. The men who claimed responsibility for attacking the school in August announced that they "killed the nonbelievers." Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped in Pakistan in January, was killed not only because he was a Westerner but also because he was Jewish, as his murderers made explicit.

But no matter what the terrorists themselves say,

[i]nstead of taking religion seriously, we redefine it as "ethnic," coining the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe, say, the murder of Muslims in the Balkans. Or we use "fundamentalist" and "right-wing" as vague, catch-all terms to characterize militant groups who are actually defined by very particular beliefs. After all, pious, nonmilitant Sufi Muslims are "fundamentalist," and the designations "left" and "right" have nothing to do with abhorring "infidel" Western troops in Saudi Arabia or resisting attempts to build a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque in northern India.


12:19 PM




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