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Saturday, November 23

ANOTHER COMMENT ON PRO-LIFE TACTICS:

An Anglican priest wrote in response to my "Pro-life foolishness":

Another sinister dimension to the way that the snipers have been treated in the press is that a certain amount of cynical triumph takes place, and does so with great irony. The pro-abortion crowd seems happy to have the occasional martyr for their cause, for it gives them the opportunity to make bold their charge against the whole pro-life movement.

I would have to see its parallel as being the scandal that has been caused by pedophile priests (and, of course the facts about the real issue being homosexuality is one that we know well enough). Some place exists for statements that remind the public that pedophiles and other sexual predators are the exception to the rule, and most priests are not guilty of such a thing. On the other hand, I do not think that I need to wear a sign under my clerical collar that says "straight, and non-predatory." Nor, do I think that I need to wear a sign beneath that one that says, "non-murdering pro-lifer."

It seems to me that the answer is to make positive statements about who we are, and what we believe, knowing that we will honored to be called Beelzebub for Christ's sake only if we are true. I also think the other side is not really fooled by its own slanders.


10:47 AM


Friday, November 22

SWEDISH THREAT CLARIFIED

As a follow up to yesterday's blog on St. Paul in Sweden and the blog from Nov. 16, I post this from a correspondent: "An editorial today (Nov 21) in the Swedish Christian publication, Nya Dagen (The New Day) welcomes the government's assurances of religious freedom despite the new law prohibiting disrespect of homosexuals, but cautions Christians not to be lulled into false security. My translation is as follows:"

In yesterday's Nya Dagen Justice Minister Thomas Bodstr?m promised both that religious organizations will be able to decide for whom they will conduct marriages and that neither preaching nor publication of the Bible will be threatened by the new anti-defamation law. In the former case, he has reeled in Mona Sahlin's trial balloon, in the latter he repeats earlier promises.

Few should hesitate to buy a used car from Thomas Bodstr?m. He is a person who inspires confidence, and his efforts thus far as Justice Minister inspire respect. When he steps forth as the government's insurance agent and, in order to calm reactions, guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech there is naturally reason to note this with satisfaction. But at the same time it must be stated that it is not possible to rely upon a pleasant fellow in a good-looking suit to determine the law's (future) interpretation, even if he is Justice Minister. Not only ministers, but entire governments come and go, but the law remains. The anti-defamation law has been enacted, and if the currents of opinion change, there is still great risk that Mona Sahlin's notion about the right to perform marriages will gradually emerge as a proposed law. Therefore it is important that the debate about freedom of religion and of speech not quiet down just because the current Justice Minister is a pleasant insurance agent."


Correspondent and translator Chris Barnekov writes:

My interpretation is that the reaction to Sahlin's clumsy attempt to bully churches into performing gay weddings (which heightened discomfort over the dangerous new law) was so intense (this is almost unprecedented boldness for Swedish conservatives) that Bodstr?m felt compelled to rebuke Sahlin openly and provide these assurances. I think the editorial strikes a precisely accurate note of caution as to just how much reliance should be placed on the long-term reliability of any justice minister's assurances (and, like America, Sweden's courts have their share of judicial activists who aren't bound by Bodstr?m's promises). Faced with strong opposition, the Enemy typically bides his time until a more opportune moment (cf. Lk 4.13)


11:55 AM


THE ARCHIVES ARE BACK ONLINE:

We are pleased to report that the Mere Comments archives (going back to our launch in May of this year) are available once again online. We thank our readers for their patience during a prolonged technical snafu and hope that new and veteran MC readers will venture back into our provocative collection. Though most of the editor's blogs are written in response to "news and events of the day" we think you will find that previous "Mere Comments" are as relevant today as they were weeks or even months ago. Also, if you have been enjoying the daily comments here, we hope you will consider a subscription to our monthly journal, Touchstone.


9:57 AM


Thursday, November 21

MR. DREHER RESPONDS:

Our contributing editor Rod Dreher also responded to "Pro-life foolishness," and has kindly let me post his response. He speaks from his experience as a pro-life Christian who has worked for fifteen years in the national media.

I have to disagree with you, David. I think it's essential for pro-life groups to condemn these things, even though it's insulting to them, for the reasons you mention.

Think about what the Muslims are going through now. Every time a Muslim commits a violent act against non-Muslims in the name of Islam, it reinforces the perception among many of us that Islam is a violent religion. If you are a Muslim activist, you will want to do everything in your power to counter the negative impression people will take about you and your religion from the news. You might say to yourself, "Why do I have to march out there and issue a statement every time some Wahhabist fool blows up a busload of Israelis? Why should I cater to the prejudices of people who believe my faith is inherently violent? Why should I play by their rules?" The answer is this: you want to change their minds.

Re: the pro-life movement, it's hard to overestimate the hostility we face among the media, and among the left. Not long ago, I was having a conversation with two strangers in Starbucks here in New York. We were talking about Islamic terrorism, and the religious justification for it. One of my interlocutors said, "Well, Christians support it too. Look at the way they kill abortion doctors." I patiently explained to them that a) killing abortion doctors was contrary to Christian teaching; b) that very, very few abortion doctors or clinic workers had been killed in this country, certainly nothing comparable to the number of Americans and others who have died at the hands of Islamists; and 3) that Christian leaders had publicly and forcefully condemned this kind of violence, and worked to stop it. There was really nothing they could say when I had finished. They had just assumed that all of Christianity was behind James Kopp.

Now, I could have (and wanted to) blow them off, but that would have only reinforced their negative stereotype. In an ideal world, everyone would understand that the kinds of Christians who shoot abortion doctors are from the far fringe, and they wouldn't hold Cardinal O'Connor responsible for these murders. But it helps tremendously that Cardinal O'Connor spoke forcefully against violence aimed at abortionists. As an orthodox Christian, you can't take anything for granted in this media environment.


9:09 PM


MODIFYING THE THEORY:

I HAVE gotten several interesting responses to my blog "Pro-life foolishness" below, including the editor's "Pro-lifers' defense." I see that that my original argument may well have over-stated the matter and not allowed enough room for those who have to deal with the cultural prejudice against the pro-life movement. I did try to make clear I thought there might often be tactical reasons for speaking that way and that what worries me, from my own experience in the pro-life movement, is this impulse to answer a charge no one has any right to make. But certainly the pro-life spokesman has to answer even a slanderous question when it's put to him and religious leaders have to declare to their own people what the Christian teaching is, lest they forget.

I wrote Jim in response to his comments:

You may well be right, but remember I said that the pro-life spokesmen probably had to say something of the sort if asked directly by the media, but they should not offer such statements unbidden, as they do. It always reminds me of one of my children saying, upon my entry into the room, "I'm not doing anything," which meant that he was doing something he had reason to think he ought not to be doing. (When talking to a reporter, I think the spokesman should say something simple like "Oh course we condemn murder" and also challenge the reporter's bias by asking him why he asked such a question.)

I was reflecting in part my experience in the pro-life movement. Whenever anything of this sort happened, the director and most of a board I served on wanted to put out a statement right away, before anyone even asked what we thought and although they (we) had made the statement several times already. To be so quick to answer a charge no one has a right to make seems to me unwise, for the reasons I gave in the blog. Ironically, the statements generally don't make the newspapers anyway, and wind up in the groups' magazines and websites, where they have the effect of telling the reader - esp. the supporter whose mind the group wants to form - that the accusation is a plausible one.

There is a serious question, though, of whether being slandered by the major media is really so bad. It deserves serious thought. What does the pro-life movement actually lose from the slander, compared with what they lose by agreeing that the charge might be true? If the reason they make such statements is to try to hold at least the good will of the uncommitted, the "moderates" or "centrists" - this was at least the reason my colleagues on the board gave - do the statements actually work? Or do they instead raise the uncommitted's suspicions? If they work, do they work well enough to justify the implication whose plausibility they grant? Would the slander in fact increase the sympathy of the uncommitted, meaning the uncommitted who are genuinely open to persuasion? (I make the latter distinction bec. others among the formally uncommitted will support abortion as a practical matter when it is desired by themselves or someone they know, and are not really likely to convert to an openly pro-life position.)

The deeper danger, I think, is that of Christians using and thereby not only entering into but tacitly approving an alien mind. It is the question of how much one can grant in order to be heard, before one stops speaking in one's own voice. (Sorry, I'll work on the metaphor later.) There is a real tension between the apologetic drive and calling to translate the Christian speech into terms the worldly can understand and the essential, final untranslatability of the Christian speech into worldly terms. At some point in any talk with the worldling, all one can say to him is "Thus saith the Lord," but the worldling usually either goes away sorrowing or yells "crucify him!"

Hence, I think, even in rhetorical and political affairs, and no matter how tactically sophisticated one is, the near inevitability of ending in a cross. And the near inevitability, if one tries to avoid the cross by insisting on the complete translatability of the Christian speech into the world's speech, of ending up like Arius, Schleiermacher, or Tillich.

I understand the situation the pro-life spokesman faces, but tend to think the usual answer mistaken and actually dangerous, bec. it grants too much in order to win a hearing and avoid slander. In this case, the spokesmen let the debate be shifted onto the enemy's grounds. They might need to fight there, and might be able to win there, but they need to think about this before they accept the need for this strategy. I believe in rhetorical and political strategies, mind you, but think they must be used very carefully and with the understanding that they can hurt the cause very badly if used without care and discretion, in order to "win a hearing." There is some practical wisdom in the old saying, "Never apologize, never explain."


9:01 PM


WHAT WOULD JESUS DRIVE?

From the Episcopal News Service today:
Religious leaders a driving force behind campaign for fuel-efficient cars
by Jan Nunley

Full of post-modern irony and a touch of Madison Avenue sass, the "What would Jesus drive?" campaign launched in November by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) has already captured the attention of the media--and a broad coalition of religious leaders hopes they can capture the attention of the U.S. auto industry at the same time.

Leaders of an umbrella group known as the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign (ICEC), carrying an open letter from over 100 heads of denominations and senior religious leaders from 21 states, met with Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler executives and leadership at the United Auto Workers in Detroit on November 20 to ask the U.S. automobile industry to build more fuel-efficient cars.

Among the signers, who spanned the theological and denominational spectrum, was Presiding Bishop Frank T.
Griswold of the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America.


While I am no fan of SUVs, I also don't know what Jesus would drive, and neither do they. Rather than tell car manufacturers what to build, why don't religious leaders tell their parishioners what not to buy (i.e., gas-guzzling SUVs)? Ford and the others will pay attention to what sells and doesn't sell, right? But maybe the leaders know that they can't really lead; they have no followers, but only their positions, which they can use to pay for trips to meet with auto-makers. They should have stayed home and at least saved the gas.


1:48 PM


PRO-LIFERS' DEFENSE

I write in response to David Mills concerning his blog yesterday on "Pro-Life Foolishness," particularly his point that pro-life groups needn't take the step of condemning violence against abortionists unless they are asked to comment by the media:

I wonder if it isn't more complex than this. You only should deny what you think others have a reason to believe, true. But in this case the pro-lifers believe that the media has already successfully linked them generally with an anti-abortion activist who guns down an abortionist. The link is too easy to make: the shooter is pro-life; he is anti-abortion; he thinks, like the pro-lifers, that abortion is murder. I don't think it hard to suggest somewhat convincingly that there might be a connection between an anti-abortion activist who shoots someone committing murder and those who agree with the shooter on every point but the shooting itself. One could expect that from the ranks of those who believe "murdering doctors" are on the loose might arise someone who will shoot one of them.

The complication is that media of course is nearly identical with "the pro-choice" movement, so their portrayal of the pro-life movement as they want it to be is the one that reigns.

Conservative commentators will sometimes say, well why don't homosexual activists condemn man-boy abuse? I think if they felt the media were relentlessly linking them in the way the media have successfully portrayed pro-lifers as "hateful," they would feel compelled to come out and condemn something. The fact that they don't proves your principle in a sense--they keep quiet because, well, why give people the idea that there is a link in the first place? In the case of the pro-lifers I think the media has already painted them into a corner. It's not an easy situation to deal with. And perhaps a better reply about the violence could be used--it seems that they simply assume the linkage, but only deny it. Perhaps there is a better way, but I am not a PR person. And of course what they said about respecting the abortionist was foolish or worse. They missed an opportunity to focus on the real issue. They could say that violence begets violence.


11:39 AM


IS ST. PAUL A CRIMINAL IN SWEDEN OR NOT?

On November 16, I posted a blog from a reader about a new law in Sweden prohibiting public criticism of homosexuality. Here is an update on the situation:

In the latest development after a storm of protest against [cabinet minister] Mona Sahlin's recent proposal to force churches to conduct homosexual weddings, Nya Dagen reports today (November 20) that Justice Minister Thomas Bodstr?m distanced himself from Sahlin and reprimanded her. He said that the civil courts did not have enough capacity to handle all weddings, and that churches should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether to conduct same-sex marriages. Bodstr?m also said that pastors would remain free to express their views on homosexuality [this is contrary to the prime minister's recent statement] , unless they did so with "criminal intent" and that there was no question of banning the printing of the Bible as a result of the law adopted last week. On the other hand, Bodstr?m said activists could not be prevented from reporting offending pastors to the police, but that he believed these cases would not be prosecuted.

This is a very brief summary of a very long article available (in Swedish) at http://www.dagen.com/nyheter/artikel.asp?ID=27295


9:23 AM


Wednesday, November 20

HOW NOT TO SURVIVE:

The United Jewish Communities has postponed releasing the latest version of their every ten year study of the Jewish population in the United States, because they suffer "missing data," as reported by Douglas Russkoff, a professor of communications at New York University, in Judging Judaism by the Numbers in today's New York Times. He thinks this a good idea, because it is discouraging to read decade after decade about the shrinking number of Jews (so many Jewish Americans keep intermarrying and giving up everything that marks them as distinctively Jewish).

He thinks the problem is that this kind of study identifies Jews as members of a race.

[O]ur great mistake has been to forget that we are the descendants of a loose amalgamation of peoples united around a new idea, and to replace this history with the view, advanced by our enemies, that we are a race. Zionism, perhaps unintentionally, gave this race a nation to defend; Israel's hostile neighbors kept alive real and pressing questions of survival.

The inevitably discouraging findings worry people into supporting Jewish causes which, he suggests, is the reason Jewish groups like this kind of study. But at any rate, Jewishness needs to be a religious identity, because

As Judaism focuses on its imminent demise, it grows less attractive to those looking for a living connection to something greater than the self. Many people turn to religion as a way of shifting their inward focus, not amplifying it.

I think he is right, but then the religion he offers is about the most obvious dead end I can think of.

As I have come to understand it, Judaism was built around the contention that human beings can make the world a better, more just place. It was a novel idea in its time.

. . . Judaism will dwindle unless its leaders begin to acknowledge that every generation will reinvent Judaism for itself. Instead of lamenting the withering flower that is institutional Judaism, they must learn to rejoice in the dissemination of its seeds. In short, they must reverse their orientation and acknowledge that the ongoing conversation that is Judaism can happen anywhere, between anyone.

The Jewish people are not a race, to be preserved. Judaism is a set of ideas to be shared. Its universal tenets should not be surrendered to the seemingly more pressing threat of tribal dissolution - particularly not right now. Judaism is founded in iconoclasm, a principle especially relevant to a world so hypnotized by its many false idols. Judaism finds its expression in radical pluralism, an assertion that there is no name for God - at least none that any human being could conceive. And because it puts human needs above anyone's notion of deity, Judaism is ultimately enacted through the very real work of social justice.


Oh yeah, iconoclasm and social justice, that'll keep them checking off "Jewish" on the census forms and filling in their pledge cards for Jewish charities and forking out thousands of dollars to send their children to Jewish schools and giving up the good-looking gentile they've fallen in love with to marry another Jew. Enacting social justice, just like the Methodists and the Catholics and the Episcopalians and the agnostics and the atheists, only their marching in the protest march is somehow distinctively Jewish, even though to the person on the sidewalk a Jew marching looks exactly like an Episcopalian marching.

A basic rule of religious sociology, which should be remembered by all people wondering why groups like Reform Judaism and the Protestant mainline churches are evaporating is: if you don't have anything to offer, no one is going to buy it from you.

(My thanks to Mark Shea's blog for the link.)


8:48 PM


PRO-LIFE FOOLISHNESS:

The Catholic news service
7:34 PM


Tuesday, November 19

SPACE AND PLACE

I am posting this interesting article by our contributing editor, the distinguished Anglican theologian Peter Toon. Readers interested in his thought and work may want to check the website of the Prayer Book Society in America, the website of the Prayer Book Society in England, and the website of Dr. Toon's parish in Staffordshire in England, Christ Church, Biddulph Moor.

* * * * * * * *

ONE way of stating the needs of the baptized believer attending worship, or the needs of the searching soul also entering the house of worship, is to say that they are needing both "a place of recognition & acceptance" and "a space for privacy before God." If they are provided with both then "blessed are they."

The late Canon W. H. Vanstone wrote: "If a parish church is to provide adequately for the ferment of private and personal life in the parish, it must provide in its worship both a place' and a space' for each person who comes to worship. One has one's place to the extent that one is individually known and that one's particular needs and aspirations are recognized and met: one has also one's space to the extent that one retains one's privacy and is addressed and treated in worship simply as a creature in the presence of the Creator or as a child of God in the Father's house."

Let us reflect for a moment on "place." If one is warmly greeted at the door, if one's particular prayer requests are addressed, if one is invited to this or that event/meeting, if one is warmly hugged in the passing of the peace, if one is asked to do something in the worship service, if one's children are well catered for, and if one is generally noticed, it may be said that one is experiencing "place" that is there is a real place for one in this assembly and in this congregation and in this house of worship.

Now let us reflect on "space." If one is allowed to find a pew, given liberty to pray quietly & meditate in silence, to kneel or stand as one wishes, not be invaded by a hug or tight handshake, not be cajoled into singing loudly, and permitted to leave with minimum fuss then it may be said that one is experiencing "space" that is one's privacy is being respected and one is being given room to worship according to one's own convictions, without hurting another.

In terms of Anglican worship, we may say that "space" is usually much available at traditional services be they of Holy Communion at 8.a.m. or of Choral Mattins at 10.00.a.m. on Sundays. Here there is no "passing of the peace" and people are usually allowed to come and go with minimal attempts to ascertain by the resident clergy or sidesmen who they are, from where they are and how they are.

Further, we may say that "place" is usually much available in popular, evangelical and charismatic services. The visitor is identified, watched over and gently interrogated. The regulars are noted and celebrated and their particular needs explained and prayed for. All seek to establish the self-worth of each person through such means as fellowship through laid-back singing, the greetings in the "peace," and the jokes in the notices.

It seems to me that it is easier to make provision for "place" in the traditional service where "space" is usually primary, than it is to make provision for "space" in the modern service where "place" is primary.

In traditional congregations, it is possible by restrained but gracious welcomes and goodbyes, by careful naming of needy persons in the intercessions, by measured, attractive and short notices, by appropriate follow-up visiting, by edifying mid-week meetings/services and by a general sense of warmth, to cater for "place" as one provides "space." Of course, the sense of place will never be as overt as with the modern type of services.

To create "space" in modern services where one's "place" is so prominent, exalted and celebrated is a tremendous and difficult task. I confess that I do not know what to suggest in terms of providing it!

In closing let me say that to talk of "place" and "space" is related to but very different from talking of the "horizontal" and "vertical" dimensions of worship. There is the relation to God the Father through Christ the Lord by the Holy Ghost and there is the relation in Christ and by the Holy Ghost one with another in the Body of Christ in fellowship & communion.

The provision of "space" does not eliminate the "horizontal" dimension for the unity in the Spirit can be/is present as much as when the people of God are all joined in silence as when engaged in speaking to and touching one another.

Father, we ask thee to fill this place with thy Spirit.
Here may the strong renew their strength and seek for their working lives a noble consecration.
Here may the poor find succor and the friendless friendship.
Here may the tempted find power, the sorrowing comfort and the bereaved find the truth that death hath no dominion over the beloved.
Here let the fearing find a new courage and the doubting have their faith and hope confirmed.
Here man the careless be awakened and all that are oppressed freed.
Here may many be drawn by thy love and go hence, their doubts resolved and their faith renewed, their fears at rest, their courage high, their purpose firm, their sins forgiven and their hearts aflame with love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


7:32 PM


NEUHAUS'S REACTION TO SCANDALS

Father Richard Neuhaus, editor of First Things, continues to criticize a zero tolerance policy about priests who have been sexually involved with minors. (This month's issue of First Things will be available online next month.) Basically, Neuhaus says that to remove a priest because of a past offence of which the priest has repented is to deny the reality of grace and forgiveness, and therefore to contradict the central message of Christianity.

But why? One can forgive a person, but still not think he is fit to hold a position of trust. If a doctor had murdered a patient years ago, by injecting poison under pretense of treating him, and the doctor had repented, should he be allowed to practice medicine? I think not. No one could ever trust him again, and trust is essential for the doctor-patient relationship. One should forgive him, but forgiveness does not mean he can hold a position of trust. He is forgiven member of a community of sinners; but he is not qualified to hold a position of trust in that community. All are sinners, but some sinners are of good character and can be trusted not to commit certain types of sins (paradoxical but true).

I believe that under canon law there are some things that a laymen can do (such as impersonating a priest) which forever bar him from ordination. Why shouldn't an abuse of priestly office to seduce a minor forever bar a man from functioning as a priest?

Neuhaus is also angry at an unnamed bishop (that is, William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore) for releasing the names of all priests against whom there were credible accusations. Neuhaus sees this as vengeful and unforgiving. But the release of the names had a clear purpose: to aid the victims. Boys are very reluctant to admit homosexual involvement, and instead engage in self-destructive behavior, including suicide.

A parent or relative who had noticed such a pattern and who knew that as a boy the person had been associated with one of the named priests could now ask the person whether there had been any incidents. Some families I know in the parish in which I grow up and which had a named abuser are now exploring the causes for the sudden self-destructive behavior some boys in that parish engaged in. This could not be done unless the priests were named. While a repentant priest might feel punished by this, he could hardly claim it was unjust or unnecessary. Neuhaus focuses upon the priests, forgetting tat the victims are still hurt and endangered even decades after the act of abuse.

Father Neuhaus, as a priest, feels betrayed by the bishops. Although the bishops' toleration of pedophiles has been attributed to clericalism, I do not think that is the full answer. Bishops don't seem to be very close to their priests; they acted in the way they did not so much to protect criminal priests so as to avoid embarrassment to themselves, even though both victims and criminals were hurt, the criminals because they were not called to account and were allowed to continue sinning with only mild inconvenience.

Neuhaus also claims the laity have forgotten the scandals already. I also have great faith in the short memory of the American people, but in this case the disappointment in the Church hierarchy was reinforced by disappointment in the government's failing to protect us from terrorists and in executives for stealing our money. It will be hard for the bishops to get anyone to take their moral pronouncement seriously even when the bishops are 100% right. Spectacular bad judgment tends to discredit a person, even when he is right.


1:34 PM


PHIL JOHNSON ON STRETCHING OUR GENES

Touchstone's regular columnist Phillip E. Johnson sent this link for a review of the latest book by "evolutionary psychologist" Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate. Along with the link, Dr. Johnson also commented:

"These left-wing Darwinists are setting Darwinism up for a hard fall by embracing evo/psycho so eagerly. Gould and Lewontin knew that the "genes govern behavior" paradigm would inevitably lead to political trouble, with feminists, for a start. More important, they knew that the field was stuck at the "just-so story" level. The evo/psychos "postulate " genes for behavior," but those genes are never identified, nor is the mechanism by which they supposedly influence specific behaviors. In other words, there is no science to the field beyond stating hypotheses. Lewontin lliked to illustrate this point by remarking that "we don't even know of a gene for noses" [let alone genes for more subtle characteristics]. The truth is that the genetic paradigm has been so overhyped that geneticists now dominate science, but on the basis of promises rather than performance. They are like hedonists who have lived lives of luxury on credit cards, never thinking that the day would come when the bill must be paid.

"Of course there really is such a thing as human nature, and we have long known that behavioral traits do seem to be passed down in family lines regardless of nurture. How this happens is a mystery, and merely postulating genes does nothing to solve it."


Phil Johnson writes a regular column for Touchstone called "The Leading Edge." In the January issue he will address the recent decision of the Ohio state school board to allow the teaching of the controversies surrounding Darwinism.


7:46 AM


Monday, November 18

BEWITCHING THE KIDS:

If one of us had said this about the homosexual influence on television, people would howl. In an article on the show Sex in the City, the writer explains:

Now, a part of the reason for the show's portrayal of women seeking sex for sex's sake is that the series' two creators, Darren Star and Michael Patrick King, are gay. On this level, Sex and the City is part of a long imaginative streak in popular art, a trend that includes Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart and George Cukor and Rock Hudson and most of the writers of the 1970s series Bewitched and many other gay figures whose portrayals of heterosexual life brilliantly subverted heterosexual conventions even as they were providing models for (unwitting) straight boys and girls.

Running through Sex and the City is a subtext that amounts to a manifesto for a certain kind of raw, rough, promiscuous, anonymous gay male sex. Star and King sounded the call to arms in one of the very first episodes, when they had Stanford Blatch, Carrie's loyal gay friend, declare that "the only place where you can find love is the gay community. It's straight love that's closeted."


The quote comes from an article in The New Republic. The writer complains that the show is misogynist and homophobic. I have never seen the show (we don't watch television) but I can well believe it. I don't know if the writer meant this, but it reveals its misogyny in part by making women into men, and particularly into homosexual men:

In its caricature of women who talk about sex like men, and, like men, have orgasms every time they have sex, the show represents a kind of counterattack on women's biology.

And not just on their biology, either, but on their souls. It is a fascinating article on a world that (I hope) few of us know.

My thanks again to Amy Wellborn's In Between Naps for the link.


10:01 PM


MUSLIMS KILLING CHRISTIANS:

Well worth reading: in Jewish World Report, the sociologist Amitai Etzioni reports on Killing Christians: The underreported story of Islamist violence around the world. He surveys the many conflicts of the last few years that were essentially religious wars waged against Christians but never reported as such by the major media, and concludes:

We must face the fact, however, that while the prophet has many moderate followers, the terrorists command great sympathy in the Islamic world not only because Islamic populations are anti-American or anti-Western, but also because the terrorists are attacking infidels. . . .

It is true that other religions have passed through violent and intolerant phases. And it is possible that moderate interpretations of Islam may again come to predominate. But we shall be unable to recognize and foster that development if we refuse to acknowledge that the violence currently erupting in many parts of the Islamic world is aimed not simply at the political and economic leadership of the West but also at its Judeo-Christian tradition.


My thanks to Amy Wellborn's blog, In Between Naps, for the link.


8:32 PM


NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME:

On the Catholic news service Zenit, a Spanish sociologist describes the challenges secularization presents in a story titled "Credulity Is Seen Rising in the Wake of Secularization." To read it, click here and look for the title or story number ZE02111805. In the world of the modern West, says José Mar?a Mardones of the Institute of Philosophy of the Higher Council of Scientific Research of Madrid,

"conventional" or sociological Christianity is threatened with ruin. It cannot be sustained.

That being the case, for the individual believer,

Nothing will ever be the same. The believer feels himself challenged to believe differently. He is left exposed. He needs a greater personalization of his faith, of the inner experience, of the support of companions with whom to share and nourish his faith. . . .

The temptation the Church has is to want to sustain a form of belief that already has little future. This helps to understand the entrenchments and institutional ghettos, but they are condemned to have a precarious life.

Instead, a pastoral endeavor of reinforcement of the life of faith of believers would be preferable, of solid and critical formation to know how to discern the evangelical from the anti-evangelical in this society and culture, and of formation of faith groups that will help and support the believer in this cold and hard situation.


He calls our society "post-secularized or de-secularized," but one in which nevertheless "a hard nucleus of secularization persists." Thus,

Today there is a return of currents with a thirst for mystery. Around herbalists, gymnasiums, etc., there is preaching of inner harmony, balance, opening to "energy" -- forms of new spirituality that are great mixes of very varied things and of superstition. At the same time, they express the thirst of the man of our day.


6:35 PM


YW . . . A:

According to a story by CNSNews.com, "Christianity No Longer the Focus of Christian Group", the Young Women's Christian Association now associates itself with less than Christian activities.

Even though the initials YWCA stand for the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), a spokeswoman said it's been a "very, very long time" since the organization focused on promoting Christian values.

"Now, the focus is on empowering women and their families," Crystal McNeal, a spokesperson for the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee, Wis., said Monday. That empowerment, she said, includes dispensing birth control bills and condoms to girls and women.


"Empowerment" also means, as you probably guessed, support for legal abortion under all circumstances.

[A]ccording to its statements, the group does support a woman's "right to choose in the matter of abortion based on her own religious and ethical beliefs and her physician's guidance."

. . . the YWCA of the USA has lobbied for "the repeal of all laws restricting or prohibiting abortions performed by a duly licensed physician and supports public funding for abortions and pre and post-abortion counseling."


6:25 PM


ANOTHER VIEW OF HARRY POTTER:

In response to yesterday's blog offering a link to an article defending the Harry Potter stories, a reader sent me the link to a very interesting and more critical article, Harry Potter vs. Gandalf. It is subtitled "An in-depth analysis of the literary use of magic in the works of J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis."

The author, a Steven Greydanus, explores the difference between Lewis and Tolkien's use of magic and Rowling's. He finds that the first two included seven "hedges" against the misunderstanding or misuse of magic that Rowling does not include. He offers a close and fair reading of all the books and comes to a balanced conclusion about the Harry Potter stories.

It is a very helpful article, though I disagree with it on several small points (he thinks The Three Musqueteers harmless, for example, while I think its amorality appalling). I disagree with the writer on two main points. One is in his view of magic itself. In the Harry Potter stories magic is simply a technology, a way of getting things done, and not any sort of occult manipulation or necromancy. I don't think the problem is as great as he makes it. Like any technology, it may be used well or badly, but it really is not really a problem in itself.

The other is that, although he is right that Rowling blends the real world and the fictional magic world in a way that Lewis and Tolkien did not, children themselves can distinguish fiction from reality. They provide their own hedge, if you will. Their parents ought to have formed them well, of course, so that they instinctively draw the line where it should go, but what to do about Christian children whose parents did not form them well is another discussion.

For what it's worth, I think that the Harry Potter stories assume a sort of natural morality, the sort of basic goodness people raised in the still somewhat Christian cultures of the West assume, but without offering in any obvious way the transcendent elements the Christian knows. They offer loyalty and courage as virtues, but not (as Greydanus notes also) obvious examples of meekness or humility.

Now, having said this, I think I would argue that they include even these, though in a mode appropriate to a story set in a world without Christianity, if less exactly realized than a Christian would require. Rowling offers a picture of the moral order, but one that goes in and out of focus. Harry, for example, is a normal boy with sound moral instincts, but without quite the clarity about good and evil in the small matters a hero ought to have.

But the characters do learn and exhibit humility, to take one of the virtues Greydanus thinks the books do not teach well. Harry has to learn humility, which despite the abuse he suffered from the vile Dursleys he has not got, and learns it over the course of the first four books in which he triumphs, but barely, and realizes that he has risked disaster in part because he did not trust the headmaster Dumbledore.

His friends Ron and Hermione are humble, not least in being friends with someone they know will always outshine them. In the last section of the first book, Hermione deflects Harry's praise by admitting that she is only clever with books, while he has the gifts to be a great wizard. She is a very good example of humility indeed.
* * *
By the way, Greydanus' website, Decent Films, looks very useful. The site also includes an interesting article titled "Faith and Fantasy" on the effect of Tolkien's religion on (and in) The Lord of the Rings.


1:58 PM


Sunday, November 17

MORE ON POTTER

I should say, having just put readers on to an interesting article about the Harry Potter stories, that Touchstone will be running several articles some time next year on the Harry Potter stories and Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. One of the latter will be the paper I gave at last summer's conference on "Christianity and the Creative Imagination," sponsored by Touchstone and the International Institute for Culture, in which I describe Pullman's philosophy and then explore the question of whether he can write a successful fantasy with that philosophy.


7:39 PM


THE CHRISTIAN HARRY POTTER:

Having just returned from taking our eldest three to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - which we all enjoyed and thought better than the first movie - I thought I should mention to readers an interesting interpretation of the book, by a John Granger, titled "Harry Potter and the Inklings: The Christian Meaning of Chamber of Secrets".

It is an excerpt from his upcoming book, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter Novels. He argues that "The secret of Harry Potter " is "that it is Christian fiction." He thinks the attacks upon the books "as satanic and gateways to the occult because of their magical milieu" is a "wrong headed interpretation, almost exactly 180 degrees off' . . .".

I think he effectively disproves the critics' case but somewhat overstates the case for the books as Christian fiction - though he may be right. He does bring out much in the structure and allusions in the book to show how much the book has been formed by a Christian and classical understanding of things. He also has an amusing theory about the real source of the ghastly Gilderoy Lockehart.

By the way, I have read a good bit of the Christian articles criticizing the books, and I must say not only were they almost always disappointing as arguments, a great number of them were simply dishonest. Many quoted the villains, without telling the reader that the characters they were quoting were the book's bad guys, and then claim that this is what J. K. Rowling is teaching.

For example, one of the nice touches of the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, is the villain's speech at the end, in which he reveals himself to be a postmodernist. In describing his own corruption, he says, "A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it." Given the state he has got himself into, this is clearly a bad idea, and I think Rowling is also suggesting how seductive a one it is. His accepting this idea led him to put himself under the total power of another and so he is now losing his very personality (and apparently will eventually lose his life). He is not gaining the power he wanted, but losing what power he had. I think the point is rather clear in the book.

Nevertheless, many of the books critics have quoted the third sentence as if it were Rowling's point. They are either liars or idiots. They do their own cause no good, and only encourage reasonable people to believe that there is no reasonable Christian critique of such things.


7:20 PM




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