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Saturday, October 26


The symbols above translate to "darn," by the way. If you happen to look at the archives, you will find several months worth are suddenly missing. Our computer nerd (gnerd?) is working on this. Please check back.

10:28 PM


In Peter Steinfels' "Beliefs" column in the New York Times, a very interesting article titled The Roots of Today's Buddhism. (Look up the link now, because stories on their website stay free for only a few days.) It begins:

Nontheistic, nondogmatic, nonviolent, emphasizing individual practice rather than institutional membership or obligations, the Buddhism expounded by, say, the Dalai Lama fits nicely with a modern, largely Western world view based on science and respect for the individual. Maybe that explains why it seems to attract so many physicists and psychotherapists.

This we all knew, I think. When they get religion, secular Western intellectuals like religions that do as much damage as possible to Christianity. That's one reason they don't become Muslims, because Islam is as dogmatic as Christianity and it is dogma they are trying to avoid. But there is more to the story.

Is this modernity surprising? Not really, because this Buddhism is itself a modern creation, a late-19th-century development deeply influenced by Western ideas even while emerging as a counterweight to Western colonial domination.

The rest of the article explains this history and its significance. Very helpful.

10:20 PM

Friday, October 25


In August 2002 a committee of US Conference of Catholic Bishops, co-chaired by William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, issued a report, Reflections on Covenant and Mission. It contained some odd statements about the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, and was attacked by some Catholics. The chief offending sentence stated that "targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity" is "no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church."

Cardinal Avery Dulles in America (10-21-2002) doesn't like this sentence either. He does not see how it is consistent with statements in Paul's letters and in Hebrews.

Although Cardinal Keeler pointed out that Reflections document was unofficial, such unofficial documents have a way of being presented as official teaching. A draft of a report of a bishops' committee, All Our Children, is always trotted out as the official teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.

Three members of the Advisory Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (the committee that wrote the controversial report) responded in America to Dulles: Mary Boys, Philip Cunningham, and John Pawlikowski

Boys, Cunningham, and Pawlikowski claim that "The magisterium can explicitly contradict an idea of an individual New Testament author because the Catholic tradition is one of commentary, not of sola scriptura (Scripture alone)."

The Scriptures are a part of the tradition of the church, and must be understood within that tradition. But the doctrines propounded in the New Testament hold a special normative position within it and the tradition is not self-contradictory. Paul and the author of Hebrews are teaching doctrines closely related to the meaning of Christ; to say that the current magisterium can contradict them is to make Christianity an infinitely malleable religion. The opinion or idea in the New Testament that all salvation comes through Christ could also be contradicted by the magisterium; indeed, what idea in the New Testament could not be contradicted and an opposing idea substituted? The magisterium of the Catholic Church does not function like Mormon authority which receives fresh revelations that contradict previous ones.

The basis for the Reflections document is even more disturbing than any of the conclusions that it reaches about the evangelization of the Jews. The presence of a Cardinal on the committee lends the committee's conclusions and the arguments it uses to support them an air of respectability, and the arguments are dubious in the extreme.

7:24 AM


Religion News Service reports on the peaceful thoughts of Professor Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington D.C.

If there is an unprecedented global clash of civilizations, I have just witnessed the sweet harmony of the dialogue of civilizations. However strong the idea of a clash, those of understanding are equally powerful. In the crypt of the Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in European Christendom, I saw expressions of the human spirit and confirmation of its essential unity. It was a musical evening that brought together a Japanese Zen Buddhist flute master, the choir of the Cathedral, and Moroccan Sufi musicians accompanied by an African-American jazz pianist. To me the sight and sounds of the angelic choir singing "Jesus Walking on the Waters" and the Moroccans singing and dancing in honor of the prophet of Islam summed up the possibilities of cultural harmony in the 21st century.

6:11 AM

Thursday, October 24


When I read articles like E. J. Graff's, described in the preceding blog, it makes me feel the failure of the Catholic bishops all the more. When we need a firm moral voice, reflecting a deep and considered and principled understanding of human sexuality, the family, society, and the individual good, which speaks not only with intellectual conviction but pastoral concern, backed up by clear evidence of charity for all, even those who are being reprimanded and whose deep and understandable desires are being opposed, we get a group of men who for the most part cannot do so. They cannot blame anti-Catholic prejudice or media bias for their inability to speak convincingly. Most of them gave up the right - as such things are understood among men - to say a word when they let sexual predators free. The priests' victims are only the most obvious of the bishops' victims.

9:35 PM


In the latest issue of The American Prospect, a writer named E. J. Graff offers an insightful analysis of the success of the homosexualist movement in "How the Culture War Was Won: Lesbians and gay men defeated the right in the 1990s, but tougher battles lie ahead.".

As evidence he offers various poll results:

In 1988, according to the National Election Survey, only 47 percent of Americans supported laws protecting lesbians and gay men against job discrimination; by 2000, that had jumped to 64 percent (including 56 percent of Republicans). In 1992, the same survey found that only 26 percent supported adoption rights for lesbians and gay men; in 2002, an ABC News poll found that support had jumped to 47 percent. Even on the volatile - and central - question of marriage rights, the issue that most stands for complete equality, there's been a 20-point leap in support. In 1992, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27 percent of Americans supported civil marriage rights for same-sex pairs; in 2001, an astonishing 47 percent did.

Graff begins the article with a long and accurate description of the gains - the surprising gains - the homosexualist movement has made in the last fifteen years. He ascribes some of their success to Supreme Court decisions that drove the hitherto quiet into political action, and some to the spread of despair caused by AIDS, which also made support for homosexuals through support for AIDS research politically respectable and offered the public the sort of personal story (dying young men) it can't resist. He gives Bill Clinton a great deal of credit as well.

But he concludes, interestingly, that the gains homosexuals have made so far won't translate to other leftist causes

"Freedom" is the consumer culture's watchword, an idea propagandized constantly: the freedom to choose one's work and one's love and to enjoy (or suffer) the consequences of one's choices. Cultural acceptance of lesbians and gay men perfectly fits that American social theology, that bedrock belief in liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that freedom is literally priceless: It requires no new taxes. Tolerance asks for nothing from the public purse and threatens no industry; it requires no changes in hiring practices . . .

He noted that companies like Volkswagen and Miller realized that including appeals to homosexual men and women in their commercials would increase sales. (They apparently like Miller Lite, which is like beer, but without the taste.) Being nice to homosexuals - and thereby implicitly but effectively approving of their sexual lives,a nd through their commericials promoting them - made them money, and that is the main if not sole moral criterion for such companies.

I think this is one reason, and an important reason, for the fact that middle America has proved so open to the homosexualist movement. But it is not the only one. People only tolerate what they at some level approve.

Oddly enough, it is probably the average American's native moral sense that leads him to tolerate homosexual activities. Because he knows it to be wrong, and wrong in a peculiarly "transgressive" way (to use the jargon of academia), he knows that it breaks all the barriers, including those that restrict him. As I have written before, here I think, people who are themselves living sexually disordered lives will tend to approve of homosexuality, because if sodomy is all right anything they want to do certainly is.

9:28 PM


A reader writes in response to my entry on Rod Dreher's "Crunchy Conservative" thesis:

Mr. Mills definitely is onto something that has caught my attention. I live in a distinctly "crunchy" urban neighborhood. Not everyone buys organic food (a fair number do), but there are some definite cultural markers: concern about the environment, a liking for quirky old houses, willingness to live in a neighborhood that's more interesting than "nice", little or no TV, interest in offbeat art forms like quilting or modern dance. I feel culturally at ease with almost everyone. We have strong neighborhood associations and a strong sense of community. There is a definite sense that the residents of our area have something in common and are different from the regular folks in the boring suburban subdivisions.

What's odd is: the neighbors are about evenly split between liberal secular Democrats and conservative Christians (mostly evangelicals). Yet this division is almost never noticed.

So from my own experience I have to say there does seem to be more to this "crunchy conservative" business than the simple fact that a diversity of tastes exists among Republicans. The quest for something like "authenticity" (I'm not wild about the word but it will have to do for now) is real and seems to have definite appeal to significant numbers of conservative Christians.

3:33 PM


A mother complained to the state licensing board that a former priest (O'Donnell) who was well known for his pedophilia was working as a psychologist:

"Again he has managed to move himself in a position of trust to vulnerable youth. Again he has been given the opportunity to create the perfect setup for self-gratification without any compassion with (sic) the families and children who entrust him with their feelings, emotions and future."

A glaring red flag, you would think, and one that offered numerous possibilities for follow-up. The woman invited a phone call, including her home and work phone numbers. She said there were others the psychological board could question--for starters, the bishop. The board had a unit of trained investigators at its disposal that could look into the matter, the same unit that is now investigating O'Donnell. What the board did in 1994, though, was wait two and a half months to respond with a letter to the woman that put the onus on her to supply names, dates, and witnesses. When that and two other letters the state sent her went unanswered, the matter was dropped.

Why didn't the board at least call the woman? "I typically did not call," says Terry West, the board's former program manager, now an administrator with the nursing unit of the Department of Health. "It's real hard to second-guess so many years later."

2:55 PM


A Costa Rican priest, on the lam in New Britain, Connecticut from child abuse charges back home, was eventually terminated but still allowed to say mass. When asked, "Why?" Bishop Peter Rosazza replied

"There is a very good explanation for that, but I'm not going to give it to you."

2:47 PM


A reader gives a different interpretation of the LA Times poll on orthodoxy and gayness in the Catholic priesthood.

The Times poll simply does not support Mr. Podles's statement that
"Catholic priests are growing more orthodox, but also more gay."

The Times poll shows that more priests are orthodox, and that more priests
gay. It does not show whether there is any increase in the number of
priests who are both orthodox and gay - or even whether there are any such at all.

It is entirely possible that the priesthood is simply becoming more sharply
divided between conservative heterosexuals and liberal homosexuals. For
example, it could be that the large numbers of gay priests have created an
environment where only the most strongly committed and devout straight
people - and hence the most orthodox - are willing to go through the ordination

Certainly from my own experience I would say it is not uncommon for gay
priests to be theologically orthodox. But that's just anecdotal evidence -
the Times poll offers no information on how common the combination of those two
traits is.

The reader is correct in that it would be more accurate to say that the Catholic priesthood is growing both more orthodox and more gay. The poll does not indicate whether gayness and orthodoxy are associated.

It is possible that the two groups do not much overlap, but my experience (like the reader's) is that they sometimes overlap. How much? No one knows. The Times poll suggests but does not prove there is a connection.

Years ago I was at a meeting that included Father Fiori, who has had many run-ins with homosexual priests. He mentioned a group of especially nasty homosexuals at a parish, who he said, "oddly enough" were all orthodox. Orthodox, but not virtuous. Orthodoxy does not equal virtue, as I think everyone agrees: the demons are quite orthodox in their belief in the one God.

Some claim that homosexuals are attracted to the externals of Catholicism, vestments and flowers and candles and bells (not much of these left). In that case there might be a connection between orthodoxy (or at least liturgical orthopraxis) and homosexuality. Again, that may be a stereotype with many exceptions. Homosexual priests with whom I have had run-ins have had execrable taste in fact one conflict was about replacing Mozart with On Eagles Wings at Mass.

1:34 PM


The new joint commission of four Vatican officials and US bishops does not look promising. The new commission is supposed to revise the Dallas guidelines.

Here is what three of the Vatican officials have said (Dallas News)

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told an Italian Catholic magazine that "the demand that a bishop be obligated to contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offense of pedophilia is unfounded." He said clergymen should be free to confide in their bishops without fear of legal consequences and society "must also respect the 'professional secrecy' of priests."
Monsignor Julian Herranz, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said the U.S. church's financial settlements of abuse claims were "unwarranted." He also said bishops need report accusations to authorities and that "an emotional wave of public clamor" resulted in top U.S. church leaders giving records on errant priests to prosecutors and police.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, leader of the Congregation for the Clergy, has said the church "must also defend those priests who have erred." Cardinal Hoyos, often mentioned as a potential pope, has suggested that the problem was statistically small and a reflection of a libertine Western culture. The American media have exaggerated it, he said at a March news conference.

Bishop Doran of Rockford, Illinois has said some good things, but he revealed an unbecoming attitude at the Dallas conference:

Bishop Doran, chairman-elect of the American bishops' canon law committee, received attention at the Dallas meeting for a speech from the floor in which he said his fellow bishops would be "fools" if they voted to forward all accusations against priests to civil authorities.
"If we do this, we rat out our priests, and I'm not in favor of that," he said.

The Catholic Church often gets into conflicts with secular authorities because it insists on high moral standards: that the state should not torture suspects and should not permit abortion. But at least half of the members of the new committee seem determined to protect priests who sexually abuse children from just punishment either by the church or state. Perhaps they have learned somehing from the revelations of the past year; but they have not given any indication of it by retractions of their previous statements.

6:36 AM

Wednesday, October 23


When she read my comments on the gay wedding on New York, at which a Catholic priest, a Rev. Lefebvre presided, one reader thought I was hinting that Archbishop Lefebvre was homosexual No, I just noted the ironic coincidence.

However, orthodoxy and homosexuality are not incompatible. Catholic priests are growing more orthodox, but also more gay, if a Los Angeles Times poll can be believed.

Clerics under age 41 expressed more allegiance to the clerical hierarchy, less dissent against traditional church teachings, and more certainty about the sinfulness of homosexuality, abortion, artificial birth control and other moral issues than did their elders, the poll found.
Those attitudes place the younger priests at odds with many priests who were shaped by the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and who tend to support further changes in the church -- including women priests, optional celibacy, more lay empowerment and the direct election of bishops.

The Times poll of priests asked respondents to characterize their sexual orientation. A combined 15% identified themselves as homosexual (9%) or "somewhere in between, but more on the homosexual side" (6%).
But among younger priests -- those ordained for 20 years or less - - the figure was 23%
. (10/20)

I have also just finished skimming through (it was all I could stomach to do) Ellis Hanson's Decadence and Catholicism. He shows the connections between Catholicism and homosexuality in the French and English decadents (Oscar Wilde, Huysmans, & Co). They were a rare and rarefied group, but not unique.

My disastrous homosexual roommate in college was very orthodox he liked St Thomas and Latin and Gregorian chant; he also had a serious vice.

Anglo-Catholicism seems to attract a lot of homosexuals; perhaps the same thing is happening in the Catholic Church. Sometimes the homosexuals are chaste (or at least try to be) and sincere; sometimes the juxtaposition of the holy and the perverse increases their frisson.

The world is a complicated place, and Catholics (and others) should not assume that orthodoxy is also a sure sign of virtue.

5:24 PM


From the Episcopal News Service:
(ENS) The 143rd convention of the Diocese of Kansas narrowly
defeated a resolution opposing Bishop William Smalley's policy
of blessings for couples outside of marriage in a vote that was
characterized by people on both sides of the issue as
"prayerful" and "grace-filled."

The convention took place October 18-19 in Overland Park,

The resolution, which had been proposed by 12 priests and two
deacons, urged Smalley to reconsider his policy and would have
put the diocese on record as saying the policy "does not reflect
the mind of the diocese."

The vote was taken by orders, a procedure that in the Diocese of
Kansas usually is used for votes on major issues, most recently
in 1999 regarding apportionment rates.

The vote was: clergy in favor of the resolution, 31; clergy
against, 38; clergy abstaining, 7; lay people in favor of the
resolution, 60; lay people against, 52; lay people abstaining,
12. A majority of votes cast in both orders was required for the
resolution to be adopted.

Note that the news story says this pertains to blessing "couples outside of marriage." We all know that means homosexuals, not tennis partners before a match, of course.

What is particular chilling, yet not surprising is the sweet reasonableness that seemed to pervade the proceedings:

After the convention had concluded, Smalley noted that the
debate had been cordial and "showed the collegiality we enjoy in
this diocese." He said, "We do differ from one another but can
deal with our differences with respect and cordiality. The
entire discussion was wrapped in prayer."

Apparently in debating whether the Church should bless sodomy no one got upset, which seems to be offered here as sign of God's presence. "Grace-filled"? Wrapped in prayer? A plain brown paper bag would have been more appropiate.

3:14 PM

Tuesday, October 22


The latest issue of the quarterly The Human Life Review just arrived, and I commend it to you. It usually features six or seven essays on the range of subjects associated with human life, its preservation and protection, and ten or so shorter articles republished from other magazines. One of our senior editors, James Hitchcock, is a Contributor. The latest issue includes an expanded version of an article by David Mortimer that first appeared in Touchstone.

I was especially struck by the lead essay, "Why Abortion Isn't Important," by David Oderberg, who teaches philosophy at the University of Reading in England. He explains the provocative title by relaying his reading of an essay by the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein's who succeeded to his position at Cambridge and who (I think) he named one of his literary executors, though she was (she died last year) a devout Catholic. She

noted that it had become a serious topic of moral debate among philosophers whether it could ever be justified to kill an innocent man (e.g., to save five others). Her response was brave - brave because it went so contrary to the grain of philosophy as argument and dialectic. What she said (and here I paraphrase and interpret) was that when confronted with a person who really thinks it a live moral issue whether killing the innocent might ever be justifiable . . . the right thing to do is to walk away rather than argue; for such a person shows evidence of a corrupt mind.

He is not, he goes on to explain, saying that pro-lifers should stop being "obsessed" with life. They should become obsessed "with the whole state of Western society" and understand that something very bad went wrong a very long time ago - "long before any of us was alive," he says.

[A]ctions such as abortion can only ever become the norm in a society in which the very bonds that tie us together as human beings have been torn apart. We need to understand that the anti-life movement is a secondary cancer, a metastasis of a primary tumour that began to grow when the West began to lose its religious sensibilities, its sense of communal obligation, its norms of respect and due deference for the elderly, the wise, the experienced . . . its standards and gentility and politeness . . .

He thinks the cancer "is almost certainly terminal," but

doing and caring nothing a bout it is just not an option. It is not only one what we achieve (and we may achieve a lot in the short or medium term), but on what we defend that we will be judged.

A very good article, in a very good issue, of a very good magazine.

7:19 PM


I am late in posting this, but when it appeared I was in Bavaria thinking deep thoughts at the conference on the Christian imagination Touchstone sponsored with the International Institute for Culture. All right, I was drinking great Bavarian beer - it really is great - and eating great Bavarian sausages, but anyway, I was out of the country.

Back in July, our contributing editor Rod Dreher announced the discovery of "cruncy conservatives," in an article for National Review called Birkenstocked Burkeans: Confessions of a granola conservative. These are people of conservative conviction who live like counter-cultural lefties, eating organic vegetables and going to ethnic restaurants and living in old neighborhoods and all that.

The Granola Conservatives I know tend not to be wealthy, but labor in the creative and intellectual vineyards as writers, professors, and artists. They also tend to be religious. It's foolish to go too far in metaphysicalizing questions of taste, but a big part of it, at least for those of us who are part of older Christian traditions, comes from learning to see the world sacramentally. In the sacramental vision, which is shared by Catholics and the Orthodox, the spirit world is mediated through the material world, which is another way of saying we experience God in creation. To someone imbued with a sacramental vision, qualities inherent in things - from the food we eat to the buildings we live in - matter in profoundly spiritual ways.

They are looking for reality, a reality more real than that experienced through the normal American life. He quotes Frederica Mathewes-Green (another contributing editor, by the way), who says

"What hooked me then, and continues to hold me, and what is the underlying theme of the contemporary liberal side of this aesthetic, is authenticity," she said. "I read a piece in American Demographics a few years ago about this, that the hook for progressives is this concept of 'authenticity,' the distrust of mass-produced sentiment or materials."

These crunchy conservatives are to some extent alienated from the mainstream of American conservatism (though Rod himself is a senior writer for National Review Online). They tend to distrust the Republican Party, for one thing. For another,

We found that though the Shiite environmentalists drive us nuts, there was also something off-putting about the way many conservatives speak with caustic derision about environmental conservation.

The article started a long discussion on NRO, including a thoughtful rebuttal by his colleague Jonah Goldberg, to which he responded in his October 11th column, and a host of comments on blogs around the country by crunchy conservatives excited to be recognized at last. Rod and other NRO writers apparently kept discussing this on NRO's blogsite, The Corner, but I haven't tracked down all their comments, so I may have missed something significant.

Goldberg's basic argument is "What they eat or wear or live in isn't actuallly relevant." As he writes about the difficulty of making such judgments from such choices of food or neighborhood:

What we as conservatives should also be worried about is that the crunchy ones among us are, according to Rod, looking for "authenticity" in such superficial things as organic foods and loose-fitting casual wear (a subject I've addressed before). This points to the internal contradiction within much of this crunchy-con stuff. Rod insists that crunchy cons are different from the leftists who impose profound ideological meaning on their consumer choice because crunchy cons enjoy organic food simply because it tastes better (taste tests have never demonstrated this, by the way).

Well, if that's the case, who cares? Some conservatives, I'm sure, love French food and other conservatives prefer Thai. But we do not divide rich philosophical movements according to such criteria. Do we really want to say that there is an ideologically coherent and distinct group of conservatives who enjoy better-tasting food? If we do, what's to stop future NR cover stories about that rogue fifth column of conservatives who "actually enjoy sex"?

And, if this is not the case, if there are conservatives who are looking to find "authenticity" in what they buy and what they wear, that is serious stuff - serious in a bad way. Because, it means that these conservatives cannot find meaning in the Permanent Things after all. Rather, their search for meaning is a tale largely told in their credit-card receipts.

I think I agree with both of them, because Rod has not quite identified the thing he sees, and Goldberg responds to the problems with the picture Rod has drawn. American conservatism has long combined a near-libertarian attitude to economics with something for which there is no good word, though "traditionalism," meaning a love for the Permanent Things (a term Russell Kirk made rightly famous) and a suspicion of most things called progress, is probably the best. It's the one we're stuck with, anyway. This description is a commonplace, by the way, as is the observation that the two were long held together by their shared opposition to communism. Most conservatives are still a combination of the two, the Christian Right and the Jewish neo-conservatives alike.

As I say, I don't think Rod has quite identified the thing he sees. I don't think the "cruncy conservatives" are particularly conservative in the usual sense. The people he calls "crunchy conservatives" are people who are entirely traditionalist and not the least bit libertarian. They distrust the government, but that is not the same as libertarianism, because they distrust business as well and do not have principled objections to the government's restraint of business. They are separated from the conservative movement because it contains a libertarian stream. They are, on many economic issues, liberals. (I'm not saying, by the way, that their economic thinking is entirely coherent, only that their principles are.)

What makes them conservative as opposed to liberal is their belief in the Permanent Things, and in most cases in the Eternal Things as well. What Frederica called their desire for "authenticity" is only their desire for real, personal, organic, daily contact with the Permanent Things. They want the authentic because they know the Author.

Goldberg rightly criticizes the elevation of cultural markers to social principle. But the social markers aren't really the essence of the thing. They're only one particular style of crunchy conservatism adopted by people who grew up in the sixties and by younger yuppies. They may express a desire for authenticity, but only for authenticity in a certain mode, the mode of a certain social class. To focus on their taste for organically grown spinach and Lithuanian restaurants gives the wrong picture of a thing that really exists. Rod, I think, described the mode as if it were the essence.

This gets at the only matter on which I disagree with Rod. The class he is describing may not be wealthy, as he notes, but it does have a good bit of money and a good bit of leisure. One of the crunchy conservatives he quotes says that "Every single thing that comes into my house, down to the salt shakers, have to first pass a test of being persuasive, winsome, original, odd - 'authentic'." This is a nice ideal, but not one that every crunchy conservative can manage.

Some of us don't live the life Rod described because we don't have the time or the money. We have several children (in our case, four, ranging from four to sixteen), who are either being homeschooled or carted off to a private, probably religious, school (we have both) with all the required evenings out at parents nights, school plays, fund-raising events, soccer games, etc. (etc. and etc.) and all the time helping them learn Latin or biology or reading, and a regular job (writing for a seminary), and a vocation that has to be pursued at odd hours (writing blogs for Touchstone, for example), and the demands of church and friends and neighbors and acts of charity. Some of us sit down to read to the children at night - and think of the time it takes to read to four, especially as they alternate girl/boy/girl/boy, which rules out combinations - or bake bread for the coming week. This doesn't leave any time to pick out winsome salt shakers, much less make the money to buy them when the car needs new brake cylinders and you can get perfectly good salt shakers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society for 50 cents.

We just don't have time to find the organically grown leafy vegetable with the name not hitherto heard in America, nor the time and money to find the darling little Lithuania restaurant that is soooo authentic. We have to buy whatever the local supermarket offers to make sure the children eat something green. Our crunchiness is expressed by our willingness to give up the life Rod described to live as intimately as possible with the Permanent Things, especially the Eternal Things to whom we are married, the Eternal Things who are the fruit of that marriage, and the Eternal Things to whom we have been given as friends and neighbors and fellow parishioners.

This is what Rod's description missed, but it is the essence of the thing. Which is odd, because to a great extent it describes what Rod himself wants and does, even if at this point in life he has the time and money to look for the organic foods and the ethnic restaurants.

I was interested, by the way, to see that Rod never mentioned what seems to me the basic requirement for being a true crunchy conservative: you don't watch television, ever.

3:21 PM


I have been taken to task about my remarks about Tim Horton's (or, as some would have it Hortons. I assume that the lack of an apostrophe is a gesture to the Quebec language police).

I have gotten more response to the Tim Hortons blogs than to anything else, including my comments on the pedophilia scandals.

Among our neighbors to the north, certain subjects are too sacred to be treated with levity: preeminently hockey and doughnuts.

As to the doughnuts: I can't pronounce on them. I have reached the age at which I can no longer smile at every doughnut that comes my way. But my children like Tim Horton's, although they seem to be different from the American version.

6:22 AM


As David Mills notes, the discovery of an ossuary that reads James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus, has revived the question about Mary's perpetual virginity. Catholic scholars, as David continues, have traditionally explained the Scripture reference to Jesus' brothers by pointing out that in Aramaic the same word is used for brothers and cousins. I don't know a word of Aramaic, but I always thought it odd that it would not distinguish the two. Family-oriented societies usually carefully differentiate between relationships.

But the early church, which had the scriptures that referred to Jesus' brothers, also believed in Mary's perpetual virginity.

I offer my speculations on the subject:

Intertestamental Judaism had a growing appreciation for virginity (as in Tobit). The Essenes practiced celibacy, but they were but one of the many groups of pious Jews who were fervently awaiting the Messiah.

Perhaps (here the speculation begins) Joseph and Mary belonged to one of these groups that valued virginity. That would explain much. When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, why did she raise an objection that it was not possible. Why didn't she simply assume that she would marry and conceive in the normal course of events? Had she, as older Catholic scholars maintained, decided to be virginal?

We also know little about Jewish marriage customs of the period. Mary and Joseph were espoused, but what did that mean? Did they have the rights of marriage? Apparently: Joseph knew that the child was not his, but if he divorced Mary quietly there would be no scandal or damage to her reputation, because everyone would assume the child was his and was legitimate.

Women needed the protection of marriage, so members of a celibate group would still marry to provide the women a domestic status. As death in childbirth was alas common, such marriages would have preserved a woman from physical dangers. Such a couple would be in a good position to adopt orphans, especially children whose mothers had died in childbirth. They may even have been cousins of Jesus.

When the example of the Holy Family is held up to Catholic parents, some demur, saying that Mary only had one child, and he was perfect But if Mary raised several orphaned children, Jesus would have grown up in a large family, and known the joys and pains of siblings. Those adopted siblings would have been known as the sons of Joseph and the brothers of Jesus, and obviously have great status in the early Christian community.

Anyway, that is my speculation. I have had no private revelations on the subject, and hope that in a few years I will learn the truth of the matter from Our Lord's family itself. Whether they were adopted brothers or cousins, it is comforting to know that God himself had a large, close family - although perhaps a sometimes fractious one.

5:59 AM


The Sunday New York Times printed this in the social pages with a picture of the happy groom and groomette:

Vincent Joseph Maniscalco and Edward Gerard DeBonis celebrated their partnership yesterday at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The Rev. Raymond R. Lefebvre, a Roman Catholic priest, led a commitment ceremony.
Mr. Maniscalco is 41 and a senior information coordinator in the Manhattan office of the Democratic minority leader in the State Senate, Martin Connor, who represents Brooklyn Heights and Lower Manhattan. Mr. Maniscalco is also on the executive board of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a political group in Manhattan. He graduated from Queens College. He is the son of Frank J. Maniscalco of Flushing, Queens, and the late Marie Farengo Maniscalco.
Mr. DeBonis, 49, is the managing partner of the New York office of the Lucas Group, an executive search firm in Atlanta. He also serves on the steering committee of the New York chapter of Dignity/USA, an organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, for which Father Lefebvre leads services. Mr. DeBonis graduated from the State University at Buffalo and received a law degree from Southwestern University in Los Angeles. He is a son of Olga Lanni DeBonis and Theodore L. DeBonis of Troy, N.Y

They would have to be Catholics, although an Episcopal church provided the setting. I wonder what the status of Father Lefebvre is in the New York Archdiocese. He says mass for Dignity. When the Archdiocese of New York kicked Dignity out of its churches, Father Mychal Judge offered them his hospitality at the Franciscan church in Manhattan.

Father Judge, the priest killed at the World Trade Center, according to various articles told the New York Fire Commissioner that he was gay. No one has ever accused Father Judge of not being celibate, but many have said he was homosexually oriented and did not support Catholic teaching on homosexuality. That is, he seemed to think that he was bound by his promise to be celibate, but that homosexuals who had not made such a promise were free to have sex. This attitude is found in many other self-proclaimed gay, celibate religious and priests, which is why Rome is trying to find some way of barring them from ordination.

Ironically, the name of the witnessing priest, Lefebvre, is the same as that of Bishop Lefebvre, who stated a traditionalist schism that rejects Vatican II. As Episcopalians are well aware, high church clergy who like smells and bells are by no means immune to same sex attraction; if anything, the two tastes seem to be associated.

5:30 AM

Monday, October 21


According to a story in Christianity Today titled "Stunning New Evidence that Jesus Lived,", a first century ossuary, or stone coffin, has been found with the Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The archaeologists and scholars quoted believe this to be the James. One of their reasons for thinking it is authentic is the inclusion of "brother of," which was not done at the time and suggests that the "Jesus" mentioned was someone of great importance.

It is an interesting article, but for a paragraph and a half stuck in the middle. Prof. Ben Witherington sees in the inscription a possible challenge to a Catholic doctrine. He is a noted New Testament scholar who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary, a Wesleyan school in Kentucky. According to Christianity Today,

He also sees implications for some Catholic doctrines in this discovery, especially the perpetual virginity of Mary.

"The dominant Catholic tradition is that the brothers of Jesus are actually cousins because Mary didn't have any more children, or they were step brothers in that they were Joseph's sons by a previous marriage," he said. "This inscription could call into question that doctrine."

This ought to be explained, in the interest of ecumenical understanding, because Witherington has rather missed the point. Catholics have long pointed out that the word translated "brother" also means "cousins" and have argued that Jesus' brothers were likely to have been cousins. The Orthodox have tended to argue that the "brothers" were, as Witherington says, Joseph's sons by a previous marriage and thus step-brothers. Both are perfectly plausible arguments not the least bit challenged by the production of this ossuary.

Why he thinks they are escapes me. The Catholic claim is not called into question just because the word "brother" appears in stone rather than on paper. If the word "brothers" means "cousins" when it appears on the pages of the gospels, the word "brother" means "cousin" when it appears on the side of an ossuary. The question is what the word means, a question not settled one way or the other by its appearance on the side of a coffin.

Also, someone should tell Witherington that belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary isn't just "the dominant Catholic tradition." It is Catholic and Orthodox doctrine, and was also held firmly by . . . wait for it . . . all the major Reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli.

5:07 PM

O Canada

One of our somewhat touchy Canadian readers has taken exception to my blogs on Canada.

I like Canada; we spend 7-8 weeks a year there, visiting our children, serving on a McGill board, and vacationing. I find it charming because it is North American but not American, or even, in the case of Quebec, Anglophone.

Some of my material, alert readers will have noticed, is from the book How to Be a Canadian. From an reader's review:

You must be able to honestly look at our Canadianism, with an open mind, and a quirky, humorous attitude to peruse this book. If you think Canadian's are, just perfect, do not even open this book, as it will just upset you.
However, if like me, you love to revel in our differences, and laugh at our little idiosyncrasies, you will enjoy this, sometimes subtle, and sometimes very, in your face mock at the Canadian species.
Brothers Will and Ian Ferguson somehow get away with saying the most outrages things...
"If Canadians were porridge, Goldilocks would find us just right" In describing Canada's newest northern territory, Nunavut ..... "the world's most expensive guilt trip"
They describe the official emblem of Vancouver as an umbrella turned inside out. With an activist chained to it. Drinking a latte.
They give equal opportunity in their ridicule to all parts of the country.
They offer the "Twelve Ways to Say I'm Sorry"

As to Tim Hortons: we were told that the doughnut chain was named after a hockey player who died in an auto crash. I thought for someone else to memorialize a hockey player by naming a chain of doughnut shops after him was carrying devotion both to hockey and to doughnuts a little far. The true story is much more prosaic. Horton had simply started the chain as a business venture, named it after himself, and was later killed in an accident.

Canadianism? Canadianness? Canadianicity? la Canadicité?

4:12 PM

Sunday, October 20


THIS evening I was going through the pile of unread magazines - readers will understand - and came across the March 31st issue of The New York Times Magazine. One article, "The Talented Mr. Lerner" by David D. Kirkpatrick, told of Jimmy A. Lerner, who wrote a book about life in prison bought by Random House for $100,000 and who has since his release enjoyed some degree of celebrity, not least being interviewed by Bryant Gumbel. A movie starring Ben Stiller is in the works. (The article is available for purchase here.)

In the book Lerner describes the event that got him sent to jail for voluntary manslaughter. He was with a friend in Las Vegas, a heavily muscled, 6'3" closeted homosexual brute he calls "the Monster." One night in their motel room the drug-addled friend (this is the story's description) "fell into a psychotic rage, beating Lerner with a belt and slashing at him with a knife. Worse, he threatened to go after his [Lerner's] two teenage daughters. Lerner snapped." He put his belt around the Monster's neck and "Before he had a chance to think, the Monster was dead."

The Random House editor who bought the book, a Gerald Howard, became a friend of the author as they worked on the book, via collect telephone calls from prison. "I like the guy - a lot," he said. He thought the killing "an aberration in the overall arc of his life." He did wonder about Lerner's story, but never actually asked if the story was accurate.

If Lerner was slightly built, for example, how did he manage to strangle a large attacker armed with a belt and a knife? Howard never asked directly. He decided that a stint Lerner did in the Army explained it. "His military service helped make that scene more plausible to me," he said.

The editor had, however, to make the book work with readers who would not naturally sympathize with a killer.

The main trick of editing the book was persuading readers to identify with Lerner as much as Howard had come to, which meant finding just the right way to present the facts of his crime. . . . To set aside [I think he means "avoid"] the obvious questions, Howard helped insert near the fron of the book a short description of Lerner's reluctant manslaughter plea. (Lerner made it, he wrote, to avoid the chance of a death sentence.)

As it turns out - you probably saw this coming - Lerner's story of the killing was not entirely accurate. According to the article,

the Monster was in reality a shrimp. He was 5-foot-4 and 133 pounds, eight inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Lerner was at the time.

Lerner told the police the next day that he and his friend, named Mark Slavin, a salesman whose wife had died a few years before, got into a fight because Slavin wanted money for drugs. He kept sitting on Slavin and eventually put the belt around his neck and cut off his air for a while. He then put a plastic laundry bag over Slavin's head, tightened the belt, and kept it tight till Slavin died.

The forensic evidence suggested an even darker end. Detectives concluded that Lerner, who like Slavin had taken an assortment of cocaine and presciption drugs, had in effect tortured his friend. Slavin had been badly beaten: his eyes were swollen shut and bones protruded through his face. The shapes of a turtle and a steer's head - decorations from Slavin's belt - were imprinted on his neck. Lerner's main injuries, by contrast, were badly swollen hands. His jeans were covered in blood.

Howard was "stunned" to find this out, but "after reviewing the facts of the case, Howard stuck by his friend." With the help of Random House's lawyers, he wrote a statement that said, "Although the author took liberties in both the details of the struggle and their arrangement, the book represents the essential nature of the fight." And anyway, the book was not intended to describe Lerner's crime but the "essential quality of prison life."

Besides offering a useful lesson in the gullibility of some editors and the veracity of some publishers, the article describes a man who is very good at charming people and making them like him, when they probably would not like him the least bit did they really know him. As a warning, this is perhaps an even more useful lesson. Among other things, it helps explain why some people praise child-molesting priests, and certain politicians whose success is otherwise unexplainable.

He has a plausible reason for everything (as when he claimed to have pled guilty to voluntary [sic] manslaughter to avoid risking a death sentence) and leaves nothing unexplained (he couldn't do this if he were lying! I'd catch up out if he were lying!). He made people worry about him and think of him as an underdog or victim (Howard worried that he would get a call telling him Lerner had been knifed to death), in comparison with those around him (he must be all right or he would be on top!). He jokes about his drug abuse in a self-deprecating way (a bit of a rogue, but he's dealing with it!).

He concedes self-incriminating details and admits that he regrets his actions (he's honest about his failings!). He works at seeming to tell the truth scrupulously (he gave Howard a list of all the changes he made from the fictionalized draft he first submitted to the final, supposedly true, version), which people almost always accept at face value (look how careful he is to tell the truth!). He even turns down offers of help (Howard offered to write the parole board for him), which people take as an almost sure sign of honesty (look, he doesn't want anything from me!) And he tells a story that his listeners want to hear (his wry, ironic description of the prison and its fascinatingly weird inmates is just the sort of thing an intellectual laps up), so closely fitting their expectations and assumptions that they rarely question it (Really, he's one of us! He's too insightful to be a real bad guy!).

One can recognize these techniques in a story like this one, but they work distressingly well in practice, and not just on the naturally trusting. The persona is a key that fits the hearers' expectations so well that it unlocks their trust. Some people are especially good at reading other peoples' locks and turning themselves into the key to them.

Kirkpatrick, a skillful writer, suggests this at the beginning of the story, when he tells us that Lerner survived prison with "a management technique called Mirroring and Echoing," in which one wins an opponent's approval by aping his speech and manner, and at the end when he quotes Howard as saying that Lerner quickly learned how to handle himself on his book tour. "One senses," said Howard, "that he is beginning to refine a persona for public consumption."

It is obvious to the rest of us that he had long ago learned to refine a persona for public consumption. He had refined it so well that he heard Bryant Gumbel say on national television, "It's good seeing you, Jimmy Lerner," and made a tidy profit too.

One other thing: the name Lerner made up for "the Monster" was "Dwayne Hassleman." He read the Eastern intellectual's lock aright, for the name "Dwayne" spelled with a "w" says to the Eastern intellectual: "backwoods white moron prone to violence." A detail that perfect should have warned someone that the story deserved investigation.

10:03 PM


Four articles by Donald DeMarco, a professor of philosophy at St. Jerome's University in Ontario and one of the most thoughtful of pro-life writers, which provide short, helpful introductions to people who helped design the culture of death. They were part of a series that appeared in the National Catholic Register and the Canadian pro-life magazine Interim.

On Wilhelm Reich.

On Arthur Schopenhauer.

On Jean Paul Sartre.

On Friedrich Nietzsche.

5:37 PM

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