BE KIND TO YOUR FINE-FEATHERED FRIENDS
BUT NOT TO PEOPLE:
The same story from the Zenit news service quoted below offers yet another bizarre example of contemporary moral reasoning, taken from the English newspaper The Guardian. The United Kingdom's film censors approved a graphic rape scene in the upcoming movie "Irreversible," which the writer, who thinks it should be included called "a misogynistic, repulsively sensationalist, gratuitous and grotesque example of 'directionless machismo'." Their reason was that the scene "contains no explicit sexual images and is not designed to titillate."
When the film was screened during this year's Cannes Film Festival, it was so shocking that 250 people walked out, BBC reported May 26. As well, fire wardens had to administer oxygen to 20 people who fainted during the film. Some critics who walked out of the screening of "Irreversible" described it as "sick" and "gratuitous," BBC noted.
I would think it would be quite hard to shock more than ten people at the Cannes Film Festival, so this suggests something of the nature of the scene. But, continues the Zenit story:
while it deemed a violently graphic rape scene fit for moviegoers, the same British Board of Film Classification had serious qualms about animal welfare.
The Telegraph newspaper on Nov. 14 reported that the film board and lawyers had a heated argument over a scene in John Malkovich's film "The Dancer Upstairs," due to be screened at the London Film Festival.
The film is based on a novel that describes how the Shining Path guerrillas destabilized Peru during the 1980s and 1990s. The Maoist guerrillas would often attach explosives to animals, and then blow them up in crowded areas.
The board was particularly worried about two scenes in the film, showing a chicken and a dog with fake sticks of dynamite tied to them. The animals are shown walking into crowds, but the film changes scene before the explosions commence. The board said the animals were "clearly distressed," and that it would not grant a certificate unless both scenes were cut.
The Telegraph noted it was curious that the board made no complaint about other scenes in the film depicting children similarly strapped with explosives. Malkovich wondered if the censors had consulted a chicken psychiatrist before concluding that the bird was distressed. After a long debate, the board approved the film, without cuts to the animal scenes.
I suppose the Board might argue that it doesn't really make much difference what you see, as long as you are not titillated by illegal actions, and as long as the actors (human or animal) don't mind portraying it. This is at least coherent, but still does not give one much confidence in the moral insight of the Board's members.
THE ACCIDENT OF BIRTH:
The Zenit news service, in a November 30th story titled "Pet Peeves with a Beastly Bias" (number ZE02113001), reports that a Dan W. Brock said in a lecture at the University of Rhode Island that
society might be better off if it prevents the birth of blind and severely disabled children.
"It's considered a misfortune to be born blind or with a serious cognitive disability," he said. "But if it's a bad thing for a born person, then why not prevent these conditions in someone who will be born?"
In his lecture titled, "Genetic Testing and Selection: A Response to the Disability Movement's Critique," Brock said he upholds the "full and equal moral status" of disabled people. Yet, he added, "we should distinguish between preventing people from becoming disabled from preventing the existence of disabled people." Brock works for the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
He justified aborting children by saying it would result in "less suffering and loss of opportunity in the world."
It is cheery news that our tax dollars are helping to employ a moral cretin. (Rhode Island readers might note that he was speaking to the university's Honors Colloquium and that their tax dollars were probably helping pay his airfare, lodging, dining, and honorarium.) Is this really the sort of man we want in a bioethics department?
At any rate, one notices that he speaks with the linguistic evasions common to people who say such things. He asks, for example, "why not prevent these conditions in someone who will be born?" rather than "why not prevent someone with these conditions from being born?", which would have been more honest. And he speaks of "preventing the existence of disabled people" rather than "preventing disabled people from being born," which again (as they already exist) would have been more honest.
One also notices that like almost all people of this moral persuasion, he offers as justification for selective abortion criteria that will just as easily justify the abuse and even killing of all sorts of people he presumably thinks ought to be protected. He asserts the "full and equal moral status" of disabled people - I think he means by this their right not to be killed - but why should he be restrained by their moral status if all he wants is to reduce the amount of suffering and loss of opportunity in the world?
Does their moral status trump what he sees as the benefits of their not existing? And if so, why? If he thinks he can decide for the unborn disabled that their lives will not be worth living, why can he not decide for the born disabled that their lives are not worth living? In short, why does having been born give them such status, when he says (though not so directly) he would like them to have been killed before birth?
The conflict of the logic of positions like Dr. Brock's with their advocates' declarations of belief in the moral value of the disabled always makes me wonder how sincere they are in claiming to believie in the moral value of the disabled. And if they are sincere, which I do not think we should grant without question, do they realize how little value their belief in the "accident of birth" has, logically and morally? Do they realize how superstitious it must appear to someone who agrees with them about the practical effects of eliminating the disabled but does not see any real difference between the born and the unborn?
BEHIND THE CLOSED DOORS OF LUTHERAN PARSONAGES:
I don't like it when touchstones move. I had thought of the Missouri Synod Lutherans as a group that would not be found bowing to any modern fad. They may have their problems, but trendiness would not be one. And then the November Forum Letter arrived.
The Forum Letter is the entertaining and informative monthly newsletter of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, a conservative or renewal group in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the mainline Lutheran church in this country. The ALPB does not seem to post its contents on the web, alas, which does seem a real failure for a group with "publicity" in its title. It is edited by Pr. Russell Saltzman, who sometimes (not nearly often enough) writes for us. In fact, he will have an article in the View section of the January/February issue.
Anyway, this issue includes the story of a pastoral theology conference for the Missouri Synod's Kansas district, titled "Setting the Lonely in Families," given by a Judge James Sheridan. As Pr. Saltzman writes:
Reports are, after the good judge affirmed the lofty goals of strengthening pastors' families, he embarked on a detailed description of ways Missouri Synod pastors and their wives - at least those living in Kansas - might experiment with a variety of sexual antics: sex on the kitchen table, sex under the kitchen table, sex in public areas (as long as no one is watching, which sort of defeats the public part, don't you think?). Little was left to the privacy of the parsonage bedroom or the imagination. Sexual enhancement for pastors and spouses, in the judge's opinion, certainly should include whipped cream, body paint, seductive notes, scented candles, G-strings, and the like.
Noting the importance of the wife helping her clergy husband resist sexual temptation, Sheridan, as reported to us, "suggested that the daily departure of the pastor to serve his flock be immediately preceded by his wife's . . .".
I'm sorry, but we have to stop there, this blog being a PG-13 enterprise. Let me just say that the prescribed help is one version of what Mencken called "non-euclidean sex."
My world reels a bit when I read news like this. If it had been a mainline Lutheran conference, well, yeah, of course, but the Missouri Synod . . . Gosh.
BE THANKFUL THAT THE MAN IS GONE:
We rarely venture into politics, in this blogsite or the magazine, being more concerned with the culture that supports and guides our political life. But there are times something purely political deserves notice. On this Thanksgiving Day I would commend to your attention Michael Kelly's "Giving thanks for no more Clinton". Kelly is the editor of The Atlantic, which is always worth reading, more or less straight through.
He describes the time an important Clinton official explained to him the deep and subtle reasons Clinton was treating Iraq as he was, despite the appearance of complete incompetence, an incompetence that endangered the security of the United States and the rest of the world. Though the official version seemed to the official to justify the policy, Kelly says,
This was a policy accidental at its core - essentially, ad hoc reaction to, and street-corner justification of, actions that simply happened as they happened, under the management (well, more like stage-management) of a president whose only enduring belief was that nothing was true but that poll ratings made it so.
Kelly gives thanks that the man is no longer President, and I join him in doing so. I know that despising Clinton is so easy a thing to do that it has become a cliched emotion. As several writers noted at the time, when Clinton left office, suddenly liberal journalists started writing about his flaws and regretting this, that, and the other aspect of his presidency, after having been his fan club while he held power. It was a typical case of journalists having their cake and eating it too, but their choice of cake is instructive.
But the fact remains that he was despicable. He was the kind of man one doesn't let in the house. He is proof of a fact the ancients knew, pagan and Christian: that the character of the king affects the state of the realm for good and ill, and that a virtuous king encourages virtue in his people, and a wicked king encourages wickedness. Even in a republic, the leader is an icon and a model simply because he is the leader. He is the nation's life and the peoples' identity focused in one man.
I wonder what sort of national repentance is needed for the fact that the country elected such a man twice, and so many lived lives of indulgence and predation not much different from his. (Though the Republicans helped a lot by nominating as their candidate the second time the ghastly old hack Robert Dole, who offered no particular reason to vote for him other than that he was not Bill Clinton.) A nation cannot simply move on after having been led by such a man without some effects, and such effects are best countered by conscious repentance.
Having two teenagers, I have also regretted his effect on the mind and spirit of an entire generation, at least the more morally and intellectually alert among them. Their first understanding of political life was formed during his presidency, and what he taught them - with the help of an accommodating press and the majority who voted for him (twice) - is that political life is an ignoble occupation in which powerful people compete among themselves for the spoils, and that one can succeed not by being virtuous and truthful but by manipulating public sentiment and the media who affect it.
I am not one of those who thinks that political life as it is now pursued is an especially virtuous enterprise, but there are virtuous people in national life - our own junior senator Rick Santorum, for example - who try to do their work according to principle. It can be done, and it must done, for the health of the country. But Clinton's self-indulgent reign has blinded a generation to the possibility that a good man might do good even in Washington without being corrupted, and that politics can be an honorable calling. It will be hard for children this age to overcome their early experiences.
All right, one more reading recommendation: J. Budziszewski's Feeling Moral. It is a helpful analysis of what he calls the "morality of feelings," which assumes
a monstrous idol of cold deliberation has all of us in its thrall. We must break the shackles of rationality and burst the doors of thought to bask in the warm, clear light of our feelings.
He breaks down this morality into its varieties, explains their intellectual origins, and explains what happens when people try actually to live by them. It is one of those articles that takes what the rest of us knew in a vague sort of way and puts it clearly - clearly enough, that is, to be a truly useful idea.
TAKING RADICAL ISLAM SERIOUSLY:
Also on National Review Online, This War We're In: Taking extremist Islam seriously by Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom and author of Islam at the Crossroads. It begins:
Osama bin Laden's November 12 audiotape claimed that one reason for the brutal bombings in Bali last month was Australia's role in protecting East Timor and allowing it to separate from Indonesia's clutches. Typically, most analysts ignored this. The Washington Post even printed the relevant paragraph with this section missing, and with no ellipses to indicate its absence.
Another article well worth reading, for as he notes:
Yet in fighting these enemies we ignore these clear goals and filter their acts through a grid of western nostrums about alienation, economics, and the Middle East. We are told that al Qaeda's primary grievance is America, "the West," or freedom, or the plight of the Palestinians.
But though al Qaeda has made it crystal clear that, in its own view, it is attacking, inter alia, Christians, whom it calls "crusaders," as well as Jews (and Hindus and Buddhists), American analysts, inside and outside the government, insist that its agenda is not religiously based but is simply anti-American.
THE SILENCE OF THE PRESS:
In his latest column for National Review Online, our contributing editor Rod Dreher examines the media's noticeable silence when Christians, here or abroad, are the victims of hate crimes because they are Christians. In These Victims Are People, Too, he says that he believes that "many, and probably most, journalists share the unspoken assumption that Christians bring such trouble on themselves."
He offers two particularly telling examples from American news - and a particularly telling analysis from homosexual advocate Andrew Sullivan - and offers two examples just from the past week's news stories. In one,
In Nigeria, Muslims angry over a line in a newspaper article destroyed churches, beat and maimed Christians, and even murdered some of them. Yet in many of the press accounts, there was no mention of who started the violence (Muslims), and who the victims were (Christians). Typical of the nonjudgmental approach was a report I heard Monday from CNN correspondent Nancy Curnow, who mentioned "religious violence between Muslims and Christians."
He admits that "this kind of thing is an old story, and even a stale staple of conservative journalism," but nevertheless it must be pointed out. Read the article.
Byzantine Catholic monk Maximos Davies, writing on "Celibacy in Context," in the December issue of First Things, as quoted in The Washington Times:
There is something deeply tragic in the way the contemporary Church has gradually stripped itself of much of its traditional asceticism, leaving only a few craggy remnants of this vanished culture silhouetted against the sky. Of these lonely remains, surely the most incongruous is clerical celibacy. Until the Church restores the supporting superstructure of her ascetical tradition, clerical celibacy will remain a fundamentally meaningless and even dangerous relic
of a past long gone.
It is only because of the loss of this general ecclesial culture that the loss of the more specific culture is so serious.
In short, the laity cannot justly complain that their priests do not keep the law of celibacy while at the same time demanding that they themselves be subject to no ascetic discipline. Until the laity begins to accept the need to fast, to be mindful of what we wear, how we speak, how we relate to each other there is no hope that the clergy will find the strength to do so. Only a Church of mystics can realistically expect their clergy to be saints.
A couple of nights ago, I picked up a movie called Lantana at the grocery store down the hill. I picked it up because the cover said it had won seven Australian film awards, including best picture, and described it as a mystery, which I like.
The plot concerned the mysterious disappearance of one of the characters, but the movie seemed mainly to be about marriage, with the plot mainly a way to intertwine the lives of the characters. The movie followed five sexual relationships, four of them dysfunctional (and the Christian would say sinful as well): an adulterous cop and his troubled wife who starts to commit adultery but stops, a woman who separated from her husband because she didn't love him anymore and the husband who still loves her, two academics with a very troubled marriage, a homosexual man having an affair with a married man, and an ethnic couple who love each other without the complications that afflict the others.
It was an interesting movie, but do not take this as a recommendation. I don't know if it was worth seeing as a movie, though I found it interesting as a social document. For one thing, it showed what marriages must be like when the people in them have no reason external to their own feelings and self-interest to be married and to stay married when things are difficult. What struck me most about the couples was that they didn't have anything to hang on to, anywhere to stand, beyond some idea of "love."
For another, it showed what odd things people expect from life, when you don't have any eternal idea of what life is. The cop and his wife both want some feeling they think they've lost. The cop says that he's just "numb," the wife says that she wants "passion" and excitement. They both try to find this missing feeling by having sex with new people. (The wife stops short, apparently because the situation is too sordid and unromantic to overcome her scruples.)
I have never felt "numb," nor the loss of the kind of "passion" the wife describes, but I do wonder if these are the sorts of feelings one gets oneself into by not living the sort of life Christians understand marriage to be. (I am assuming the cop isn't just clinically depressed, because the movie gives you no reason to think so.) The domestic life, lived according to plan, requires a constant entering into the lives of others, spouse and children, which requires sacrifice and brings both pain and joy. It is hard to feel numb when you are so deeply involved - invested, as the jargon goes - in the lives of others for whom you are in some way, before God, responsible.
And for a third, the movie offered several rather traditional lessons:
1) It ends with the main couple reconciled.
2) The only character presented as really dislikable is the one homosexual, who is an egotist and predator.
3) It ends with him standing outside in the rain watching the man whose marriage he has tried to break up in a cafe with his wife and child, obviously happy.
4) The only healthy relationship is a) a marriage, with b) the most children of any of the couples, which c) accepts the economic hardships involved without complaint.
5) What a Christian would call an occasion for sin is treated as . . . an occasion for sin.
6) The woman who separated from her husband calls him when she finds herself in a tough spot.
7) She ends up in the movie still alone.
As I say, do not take this as a recommendation. But it is an interesting document. If we take such movies as the world's testimony to worldly marriage, it makes a sort of backwards case for Christianity's "forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live" and the life that follows from being faithful to that pledge.
THE UNIQUE CHRISTIANITY:
The following is another short article by our contributing editor Peter Toon, which readers may enjoy. (See November 19th for his thoughts on place and space in worship, traditional and "contemporary.") Peter is a priest of the Church of England serving a parish in Staffordshire, a former seminary professor, and a distinguished theologian who has written a great number of books on a great number of subjects. (He is also the godfather of our third child, if I may brag.)
Those interested in finding more of his writings will want to check the website of the Prayer Book Society in America (Peter was the president of this group for several years, before he returned to England), 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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Community relations, Theism, & the Uniqueness of Christianity:
A meditation to inspire better meditations
By Peter Toon
In Britain and elsewhere in order to achieve good community relations in cities and towns the Christian Church seems often to be ready to minimise its message and to leave out of it the distinctive content, the cutting edge.
Judaism, Christianity, & Islam agree that God's purpose for man as his Creator is:
1. That his distinctive role in the order of creation is to develop his spiritual faculties of intellect, will and love , and cause his bodily nature to reflect God's glory.
2. That his spirituality is fulfilled only in self-conscious communion with God, which is the supreme glory & final end of his existence.
3. That this communion is to be everlasting for he is created for immortality wherein alone his potentialities can be realized.
4. That his noblest activity is adoration and praise of God wherein he fulfils his own nature as being that of a creature made in the image and after the likeness of God.
To these four propositions Christians very importantly and necessarily add:
That God's purpose for every man is that he should become like Christ, by being united with Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit in the relation to God the Father.
This is to say that what distinguishes Christianity from other religions is the belief that the Creator became man in one, specific figure in history. Let us unpack this assertion.
"The one, totally new thing which Christianity brought into the world was the belief, hammered out over the first four-and-a-half centuries of its existence, that in Jesus of Nazareth the true and living God had been living a genuine human life.
Other religions had gods walk the earth incognito, or had proclaimed the divinisation of some hero or sage. Christianity alone took a historical person and said, 'Here in this human personality, with all the limitations and sufferings of our human condition, was the eternal God, the Cause and Origin of all that is.' As defined in all its classical rigour (in the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils) this is the unique feature of the Christian religion, its only valid claim to separate existence.
A God of goodness, a Creator who cares, Christianity shares with Judaism and philosophical theism. A man who truly reflects the nature of the divine is no new thing to the Hindu or the Baha'i. A divinely inspired prophet, even one miraculously born, is acceptable to Islam. The Spirit of God indwelling men and guiding and strengthening their lives is a religious commonplace. Divine food received in a sacramental meal is Zoroastrian; ritual washings and initiation rites are found universally. Islam holds fast to judgment, heaven and hell; Judaism to repentance, amendment, and God's merciful pardon.
At every point accommodation is possible save at this one: this unique claim about Jesus, with its undergirding in the doctrine of the Holy, Blessed, and Undivided Trinity. If this goes then the end of Christianity as an independent entity cannot be indefinitely delayed. No Incarnation, No Christianity."
Obviously this message has to be proclaimed graciously and set in the context of good works which glorify God. But if it is left out for fear of offending then while community relations may improve (questionably) the march of Islam especially will continue unabated for Muslims have learned how to use human rights, government subsidies and liberal and nominal Christianity to press ahead with their expansion.