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Saturday, January 4


Napoleon said of the Bourbons, "They had learned nothing and forgot nothing." The English said of the French exiles from the Revolution, "Once you talk to them you know why they are here."

Father Wysocki is the only priest at a 3,000-member Polish parish in New Britain. For decades he has asked bishops in Poland to send him priests at Christmas and Easter to help with mass and confessions.

Father Roman Kramek took a leave of absence from his position in Poland and showed up in New Britain, presenting himself to Father Wysocki, offering to help. Father Wysocki got the required letter of recommendation from Poland and gave it to Bishop Cronin, who granted Kramek permission to help out at the Polish parish. But his superiors in Poland say that Kramek was not given permission to work in New Britain and the American diocese says that the letter of recommendation is confidential and cannot be made public.

A 17-year-old parishioner was raped in a taxicab. Her counselor asked Kramek to give her spiritual counseling.

Kramek had his own ideas of what counseling meant.

The Hartford Currant reports (see also here and here) and here:

The girl said Kramek fondled and kissed her and then had intercourse with her Dec. 18 in her home while he was supposed to be helping her deal with severe emotional problems triggered by her rape, court records state.

Kramek described the act of sexual intercourse as a form of counseling intended to show the girl - who speaks Polish - that sex with men does not have to be bad, police said.

When the girl reported this to her original counselor, the counselor went to the police, who arrested Kramek on Christmas Eve.

Father Wysocki is furious -- at the girl: "She's a tramp."

"I believe there's something behind this whole thing, some plan. We just got involved," Wysocki said.


"People are looking for money. I think that's behind it," Wysocki said.

"(Kramek) could have been put up to this," the priest said, refusing to elaborate on what he termed "conjecture."


Church officials could not say what their next step would be. Wysocki said he has not spoken to officials in Poland and has no plans to do so.

Diocesan figures think Wysocki's remarks are "inappropriate."

However, they are very revealing, and show why victims were so reluctant to report abuse to Church authorities. Even after a year of scandals, some priests still instinctively blame the victims. Clericalism reigns unrebuked.

4:44 PM

Friday, January 3


An interesting response from Greg DeLassus to "The Population Squib":

I must preface this by saying that I think "overpopulation" is a bogey-man invented by Planned Parenthood and its ilk, just as you describe it. In other words, I agree with your ultimate conclusion. That having been said, it seems to me that the post on Jan. 2nd can never be expected to convince someone who does not already agree with this sentiment.

The "population bomb" folks phrased their arguments as "if-then" propositions. If abortion is not legalized and contraceptives made more widely available, then the world will face massive famines and plagues. Well, you point out, the world has not faced massive famines and plagues (at least not the WHOLE world). This, however, ignores the "population bomb" faction's argument. Abortion was legalized and contraceptives were made available. As such, nothing about their predictions were really disproven.

It seems to me that the really important question to ask is why are famines and plagues so important as to be worth killing people to prevent. The really horrible thing about famines and plagues is that they kill people. Killing people in order to prevent things that kill people is rather like dumping your car in the river in order to ensure that it will not be stolen. If a baby is born in an "overpopulated" world he may die a painful and premature death. If he is aborted he will most surely die a painful and premature death. It is hard to see what has been gained from the "population bomb" theorists preventative measures.

11:45 AM

Thursday, January 2


A good summary of the facts of the alleged overpopulation of the earth by the Hudson Institute's Michael Fumento, published in Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, "The Myth of Too Many". Fears of overpopulation have long been the excuse for abortion profiteers like Planned Parenthood and many other anti-humanists to advocate the elimination of lots and lots of people, but the facts, admitted even by the U.N., are otherwise:

While world population has more than doubled since 1950 to the current 6.3 billion, according to the United Nations, the population will top out between 2050 and 2075. Demographer and American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt says it's likely to come on the earlier end of that estimate, when the world hits 8 billion by 2050. "I think it's perfectly plausible that world population could peak by 2050 or even sooner and perhaps at a level below 8 billion," says Eberstadt . . . .

According to U.N. Population Division Director Joseph Chamie, current population projections assume the earth is moving toward an average fertility level of 1.85 children per woman. Considering that a 2.1 level is needed to sustain a population, the planet's population would peak at 7.5 billion by 2050 and fall to 5.3 billion by 2150.

After explaining the difference between over-crowding and over-population, Fumento examines the claims that the world does not have enough food for all its people, claims made by Paul Ehrlich, author of the best-selling and hopelessly mistaken book The Population Bomb, and Lester Brown - both, Fumento tartly observes, recipients of Macarthur Foundation "genius" grants. He offers several examples, among them:

The Population Bomb initially focused on the prospect of famine, with Ehrlich predicting, "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines . . . [and] hundreds of millions of people [including Americans] are going to starve to death." As it happened, he was off by, oh, hundreds of millions.

In Ehrlich's 1990 sequel, The Population Explosion, he claimed that world grain production peaked in 1986. Wrong. In 1986 about 1.8 million metric tons of cereals (the most important grain) were produced, an increase over previous years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation. By 2001, that number had increased to 20.7 million metric tons.

The article is well worth reading as a handy and short summary of the case. (Fumento does not deny, by the way, that food is unevenly distributed, and that getting food to the poor is a problem we must solve. But we do not need to prevent them from being born.)

The population-bombers wring their hands about all the people who will supposedly starve if the population continues to increase, but I do wonder, having read them for years and known many people of the sort, how much they simply do not like people. The simple test is whether they respond to the news that a friend or a child has had a third or fourth child with joy and pleasure or with anger, annoyance, disgust, contempt, or dismissal. In my observation, a lot of people, a lot of average every-day religious Americans, fail this test.

9:31 PM


Rightwing Catholicism is really a very strange world, with what does seem to be an unsteady grasp of Catholic doctrine. The editor of Envoy, a magazine of Catholic apologetics, criticized Pat Buchanan's "An index of catholicism's decline". Buchanan offers a list of figures documenting the problems of American Catholicism - as far as I know perfectly accurate - and suggests that the Second Vatican Council caused them, but then he does not bother to prove the point. The extent of his argument is that these problems arose after the Council, therefore the Council was "a blunder of historic dimensions" through which "all the poisonous vapors of modernity entered, along with the Devil himself."

Anyway, Carl criticized Buchanan in a blog titled "Did the Holy Spirit bring about an 'unrelieved disaster'?" and infuriated lots of very conservative Catholics. He wrote two amusing responses: "Protestants with smells and bells" and "The top ten empty zingers".

Conservative writers of all traditions who have had to deal with people to their right will have some sympathy. I got the same sort of mail when, as an Episcopal activist, I questioned some simple-minded conservative piety. I was amazed, at first, at how quickly these people would write you off when you disagreed with them on the most minor of points, but especially when you questioned one of their favorite ideas, particularly if that idea involved hatred of the Episcopal Church.

11:45 AM


Paul Dinter, a priest who resigned to marry, reflects in the New York Times upon the disasters the Catholic Church in the United States has brought upon itself. He laments clerical and episcopal arrogance (lots of that still in evidence).

Dinter seems to agree with George Weigel that the Catholic reaction to the 1968 encyclical on contraception, Humanae Vitae, may have been one cause of the disasters:

The seeds of the present crisis were really sown in 1968, the year of the papal encyclical known as Humane Vitae, which began the undoing of Vatican II. The encyclical reasserted the church's opposition to artificial contraception and to the principle that church teaching grows and develops. Catholics were not to decide for themselves, as a matter of conscience, whether to use contraception.

After the encyclical, thousands of priests remained silent about this teaching on birth control - one that was out of sync with the life the faithful lived. Many decided (as the laity had begun to do) that the church's teaching was no real guide for their own sexual lives. Many resigned and sou happiness elsewhere. Others stayed but made their own decisions about licit and illicit sexual relationships - and were silent about it.

Is it possible that this silence - combined with a culture that already valued suppression - fostered the idea among some bad priests that they could get away with predatory behavior?

I think it did, but I am not sure of Dinter's point.

My pastor in 1968, Msgr. O'Dwyer of St Matthew's Church in Baltimore, signed a statement against Humanae Vitae (without bothering to read the encyclical). The next Sunday he announced his opposition to the encyclical from the pulpit, and added, "Of course, everything else in Catholic sexual morality still holds."

But why? The Pope had simply repeated Catholic doctrine on contraception that went back to patristic times, and had deep roots in Judaism. If the Pope and the tradition were wrong about that, couldn't they be wrong about other sexual matters too? Pre-marital sex among heterosexuals and sexual activity with teenage boys among homosexual clergy became fairly common.

Is Dinter saying that the clergy were remiss in not preaching the continued validity of Catholic doctrine on contraception? I think so, but does Dinter? "Making your own decisions" about which moral teachings are to be followed is a recipe for disaster. Posing our wisdom against divine revelation, or assuming that a doctrine can't be part of divine revelation because it conflicts with our desires or intuitions, is not logical. The heart of man is desperately wicked, and Christians have over the centuries tied to justify all sorts of misbehavior (sexual and otherwise) even when God explicitly forbids it.

5:48 AM

Wednesday, January 1


The Hollywood Jesus website described below in "The Evil Tolkien" turns out to be a good example of the American Evangelical "instrumentalizing" of art I described at the end of the blog. Its review of the newest Star Wars movie offers a good example. Remember that the website promises a "spiritual point of view."

The reviewer keeps finding connections between the movie and Christianity, but he has to shoehorn them in, unconvincingly. Here, he jumps from the membership of the Jedi knights to the membership of the Kingdom of God.

In this episode, Lucas gives us a view of the Jedi as multicultural. They come in all kinds of shapes and colors. Everyone is included. Spiritually, God's kingdom is inclusive too. All are included. God is "not a respecter of persons."

One does not know whether the reviewer thinks that in the movie the Jedi somehow represent the Kingdom of God, as he's suggested nothing of the sort, or is just desperately trying to tack on to the movie some spiritual meaning. I suspect the latter. But in that case, he is not offering a "spiritual point of view" of the movie because he is telling you nothing about the movie itself: what the movie is trying to say or even what it says in spite of itself. And the comparison with the Jedi tells you nothing about the Kingdom of God either.

Let me put it this way. The same point could be made about any heterogeneous group in any movie - the galley slaves in Ben Hur, say, but one would not naturally think of the slaves as a parable of the Kingdom of God. A connection so easily and widely made is nearly useless. That the movie depicts such a group does not tell you anything about what the movie means by depicting such a group, if it means anything. You might as well say "Anakin Skywalker has two legs. Jesus has two legs too. God thinks walking is great."

The reviewer also makes some peculiar judgments, again apparently in a desperate attempt to Christianize the movie. Writing of the Jedi's giving up worldly possessions, he announces that

The idea of certain spiritual leaders not having possessions goes back to Jesus who commissioned 70 men to go out from city to city on a special spiritual mission.

I would have thought the idea goes back at least to the Buddha, who some 500 years before Jesus gave up his possessions (including his family) when he began his spiritual search. This is a bad habit of this sort of Evangelical, trying to claim for Christianity credit for nearly everything good. I think, judging from such people I've known, that they do not like the idea that Christianity is in many ways just like everything else, which to the rest of us is a natural result of God's creating the world to be a certain sort of thing and to work a certain sort of way. For example, they do not like the idea that stripping oneself of everything that binds one to the world in order to better seek the truth is a natural thing for the seriously religious man to do, and thus they make it specially Christian. And write silly things like the above.

This is an example of the sort of thing I described in the previous blog. To be taken seriously as "spiritual" (I think in this case a code word for "Christian") enough parts of the movie must have a direct analogue in something Christian. The reviewer has to fill in the equation "A in the movie = B in the Christian Faith." The story can't stand on its own as a story.

Oh, and one other thing: the reviewer keeps asking readers how they "feel" about this or that question. He never asks them what they think.

6:07 PM


I was looking on the web for reviews of The Two Towers, and came across the Hollywood Jesus website. It reviews movies from an Evangelical point of view, subtitling itself "Pop culture from a spiritual point of view."

The "spiritual" analysis in the one review I looked at was banal, of the sort that tells you that a character's sinning illustrates St. Paul's note that what he wants to do he does not do, and what he does not want to do, he does. Well, yeah. The site is nevertheless helpful, as the reviewer did explain how the movie makes its points as a movie, and as it included links to trailers, other reviews, and the like.

The site also offered a set of links to Tolkieniana, including an essay on the Lord of the Rings as a religious work. I will quote only two paragraphs from the end. Be sure to sit down before you start and do not try to swallow anything while you are reading.

If Tolkien's Christianity informs his work, then, it is an impoverished Christianity. It is a Modernist Christianity, dominated by rationality, empiricism and pragmatism. It is an ethical, non-spiritual Christianity. The T-mythology posits, in fact, a post-Christian world: one that envisions the Ascension as God's withdrawal from the world; one that envisions Satan and his servants as thrown down, and men as the only remaining agents of evil, or good; one that denies the miraculous, and emasculates the Holy Spirit. Where is Grace, or the need for grace? Where is forgiveness? Where is prayer? What we are left with is an Age in which Man is simply left to
master himself.


Tolkien's work may, indeed, express a yearning for our more spiritual past. And while we may find that admirable or attractive, we must remember that, for Tolkien, our spiritual past does not primarily lie in Christian models but in a more Universalist embrace; that the Christian mythology inadequately accounts for the world as we know it; and that contemporary religious practice can only pay lip service to the supernatural. How can we be transformed by the renewing of our mind, when it is our mind that tells us supernatural renewal is beyond our experience? The real danger of Tolkien's fantasy lies not in seduction to the dark side of spirituality, but in the conviction that all spirituality is metaphysically barren!

I told you to sit down. It may take you a moment or two to get over the shock. Or to stop laughing. This is the point in old movies when someone stumbles to the liquor cabinet, either to pour himself a drink or force it into the friend passed out on the floor. I'll wait.

Back? As far as I can tell, the author - advertised as a pastor and pictured in open-necked shirt and smile - did not read Tolkien's Letters or make any other attempt to find out what Tolkien was trying to do. He has come up with this quite extraordinary conclusion - even Tolkien's most hostile critics have always attacked him as an anti-modernist reactionary - from his own reading.

I think this peculiar reading of Tolkien and his great book reflects what is, I am afraid, the traditional approach of American Evangelicals to these things: that stories are not really good or safe unless they are clearly propaganda in the old sense of the word, unless they are really illustrated sermons whose lessons can be put in propositions. This is the only sort of story they think "Christian."

They are happy with The Narnia Chronicles because they can say "Aslan equals Jesus." They are less happy with The Lord of the Rings because they cannot find nearly so obvious a Christ figure. You do find them saying "Frodo equals Jesus! Wait, I mean Gandalf equals Jesus! And Aragorn equals Jesus too!" but the range of possibilities usually defeats them. And Tolkien's book does not give them any of the keys or hints that the book has an obvious and directly applicable Christian meaning they look for.

I have met intelligent Evangelicals, including some college professors, who distrusted all literature except Pilgrim's Progress and its knock offs, because they could not easily find a "Christian" meaning in anything else. I have read and heard some tortured efforts by English profs at Evangelical colleges to prove that literature was good in itself, and they always wound up, in desperation perhaps, arguing for literature as an instrument, as a way of growing in knowledge in a fairly obvious way. This meant that if you had acquired the knowledge in another way, you did not need stories at all.

This does not include Evangelicals like Wheaton's Alan Jacobs, whose collection of essays A Visit to Vanity Fair (Brazos) I much enjoyed, and recommend. I hope he represents a newer style of Evangelicalism, that can let stories be stories, and work upon their readers as stories do.

2:37 PM


Lake Superior State University has performed its annual (and alas mostly ceremonial) defense of the Queen's English from the barbarian hordes in the media. It asked for nominations of words and phrases that have infested the English language like maggots in cheese in the past year. This year's list:


MATERIAL BREACH -- "Suggests an obstetrical complication that pulls a physician off the golf course," says a nominator from Washington, D.C. Sounds like contract lawyer-speak rather than the world-worn parlance of war planners and diplomats. At one time, UN resolutions were violated. Violators were held in contempt. How long until treaties are ripped up in the presence of attorneys?

MUST-SEE TV -- "Must find remote. Must change channel," laments Nan Heflin from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Television once pitched entertainment. Apparently now it's taken on a greater imperative. Assumes herd mentality over program taste.

UNTIMELY DEATH -- Balky attempt to make some deaths more tragic than others. "Has anyone yet died a timely death?" asks Donald Burgess of South Pasadena, California.

BLACK ICE -- From the weather and news reports. Ice is ice. Watch your step.
"Ice is usually clear and shiny when you see the black pavement through it." Robert Irving, Tahoe City, California.

ON THE GROUND -- Media hip-speak and frivolous dramatization. David Cheng of Rockville, Maryland, points out that humans live on the ground, "not suspended 100 feet in the air or 100 fathoms beneath the ocean."
"Especially annoying during the presidential election recount, but still shows up in major news stories," Robert Prince, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"Where else would you be?" Ken Finkel, Dundas, Ontario.
"Only in a few situations is it necessary," Andrew Makepeace, Vancouver, British Columbia.

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION -- Used more and more (and just too much according to James of Canberra, Australia) as a card that trumps all forms of aggression. In danger of becoming a push-button buzzword. Many nominators point out that any weapon, used effectively, does a lot of destruction. "A few thousand machetes in the hands of an army in Africa can lead to mass genocide," writes Howard Stacy of Atlanta, Georgia.
Jack Newman of Cypress, Texas, often hears the hybrid, "wepuhmadistricshun."
"Over-used, over-wrought." Michelle Gill, Chicago, Illinois.

MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT Ë Nominated by many, including Angela Wood of Anchorage, Alaska, for over-use since the 2000 election.
"Generally used instead of ¥don't underestimate' or ¥understand,'" says John O'Connell of San Jose, California. Are listeners really going to mistake what the questioner is saying?
"Who's mistaken, anyway?" asks Barb Keller of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

HOMELAND SECURITY Ë A new and improved buzzword. With billions of dollars at stake, perhaps "national security" is just plain blasé.
"What happened to the Department of Defense?" asks Rick Miller of Champaign, Illinois.


EXTREME -- This over-used word in advertising and marketing drew the ire of citizens throughout North America, from coast to coast.
Al Slang of Duncan, British Columbia, said "It's used 24/7 (we banished that in 2000, Al) on everything from store sales to deodorant ads."
"Extreme sports, extreme cars, extreme soft drinks€I'm tired of hearing it." Doug Hagen, Newton, North Carolina.
Razors aren't extreme. Neither are deodorants or cheeseburgers." Cliff of Pensacola, Florida.
"I saw a church billboard advertising ¥Extreme Adventures' at their vacation bible school. What the heck does that mean?" Cheril Lin D. Abeel, Detroit, Michigan.

NOW, MORE THAN EVER -- Many, including Valli Irvine of Austin, Texas, thought this should have been included on the 2002 list. Matthew Lowe of Kew Gardens, New Jersey, summed it up for the many who nominated this tiresome phrase: "It has become over-used since the terrorist attacks€from warnings to be safe, to stores having sales€It has to go!"
Lowe's neighbor, Mike Bowers of Lebanon, New Jersey, agrees: "What's next? ¥Now, more than ever, Americans need 50% more raisins in their cereal?'"
"This precious way of saying, ¥Now that we've had a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, we have a duty to recognize the important things in life' seems to be the recent darling of advertisers and politicians€What simpering balderdash!" Josh Mandel, Colonie, New York.

BRANDING -- "This word, once properly associated with marking livestock to prove ownership, has been co-opted by the MBA crowd and now seems to refer to any activity that supports a company's desire to clearly define its products and/or services. Can't we just say ¥Promotions and PR?' Nancy Hicks, Fairfax, Virginia. MISCELLANEOUS

HAVING SAID THAT and THAT SAID -- Nominated by many for over-use, especially in the news media, according to Kay J. Jauch, Edmonton, Alberta, and William Hamlin of Wappingers Falls, New York.
"I heard you the first time," said David Patrick of Lafayette, Indiana.
"Annoying useless filler," said Sadie Campbell of Scarborough, Ontario.
"It seems like the intellectual form of ¥ya know.'" Shelley Gaskin, Scottsdale, Arizona.

PEEL-AND-EAT SHRIMP -- "Do they think that, if the name did not contain instructions, we would peel-and-throw-on-floor?" Miguel McCormick, Orlando, Florida.

CHALLENGE -- "No one has problems anymore, they only face ¥challenges.' Sonia Jaffe Robbins, New York, New York.
"I think it's a weasel word. ¥Challenges' only have to be met. Problems require solutions!" Ray Lucas, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

IT'S A GOOD THING -- "This phrase is ¥ramped up' (banished in 2002) for over-use," says Mark Dobias of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. "The question is: good for whom? For example, insider trading may be a good thing, but only if one does not get caught. Then it is a bad thing."

AS PER -- "As per a conversation I had with a co-worker and ¥as per' common decency to your fellow human beings, please substitute ¥according to.' If I hear ¥as per' ever again, I will need to take some ¥asperin.'" Greg Gibson, Tucson, Arizona.

REVERSE DISCRIMINATION -- "Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of who is being discriminated against." Kristen of St. Paul, Minnesota.


THERE IS NO SCORE -- "It is inaccurate and misleading. There IS a score. It is 0-0." Paul Jertson, Christmas Valley, Oregon.

GOT GAME -- "I hear this phrase used by sportscasters trying to be hip: ¥He's got game tonight!' They mean he's playing well." Scott Tolentino, Garden City, Utah.

MENTAL MISTAKE -- "Used often in the sporting world," says Paul DeCarlo of Helena, Alabama. "What mistake is not mental?"


IN COLOR - "As opposed to green in size," quips Janet Litherland of Thomasville, Georgia. Lends an empty air of precision.

FROZEN TUNDRA Ë "Tundra means a frozen land," points out Michael Pittman of Cincinnati, Ohio. Usually used by sportscasters to describe the home field of the Green Bay Packers.

UNDISCLOSED, SECRET LOCATION Ë Redundant stacking of adjectives often used to describe Vice President Cheney's whereabouts. "If it's a secret, it's pretty undisclosed, and if it's undisclosed, it's a secret," says Bill Lodholz of Davis, California.

Repeat after me:

I hereby resolve to abstain from all such phrases, circumlocutions, redundancies, and general blights on the English language in the year of salvation two thousand and three.

Ein gl™ckliches neues Jahr!

6:37 AM

Tuesday, December 31


I can't think of a title to match the previous blog's for interest, but I've found two articles on Christianity Today's website readers interested in Tolkien and the movie version of The Two Towers may find of interest:

o An exchange on Tolkien between Bradley Birzer, author of J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth and Mark Eddy Smith, author of Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues. Once you get beyond their praising each other's books, they say some interesting things about the books (which is not to say I agree completely with them).

o A long review of The Two Towers by movie reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet. He makes many of the same criticisms I did in my blog "The Two Towers" on December 20th, but sees the movie as more clearly one of moral decisions than I did (or do, despite two enraged responses to my blog).

12:08 PM

Monday, December 30


Canadians found Nazi-saluting, swastika-wearing pandas in their Christmas crackers. Are Santa's elves right-wing subversives?

Or has the Montreal Gazette come up with the true explanation?

A cross-cultural misunderstanding about one of the world's oldest religious symbols might be at the heart of a mystery that had "Nazi pandas" popping out of Christmas crackers.
On Friday, a Lachine manufacturer was horrified to learn some Albertans had found plastic pandas with swastikas on their caps in his firm's party crackers.
In the Western world, the swastika is indelibly linked to Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany and the horrors practiced by that regime.

This reminds me of a newspaper reference to Pontius Pilate, "the Roman offcial who condemned Jesus."

In China, where Walperts' crackers are put together, the swastika has become an icon and denotes prosperity, among other things.

I wonder about the salute, however, and the swastika is on a Germanb officer's cap. Do Buddhist monks (or pandas) wear German war surplus?

Walpert is still a little suspicious:

"What they saw was a panda bear and a (positive) symbol. That's the innocence of it," said Walpert, who thinks - and hopes - no more than 10 pandas with swastikas got into the mix.
Nonetheless, Walpert intends to get to the bottom of the matter and to make certain it doesn't happen again.

Such intolarance. You would think that the Chinese workers had let a Christmas scene get into the Holiday crackers. That would have really upset the Canadian thought police.

12:36 PM


An interesting column, The Atheist Christmas Challenge: Can you prove God doesn't exist?, published in's "Egghead" collumn, written by Jim Holt. Though he does not believe in God - to be exact, he believes that "the universe is presided over by a being that is 100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective (which explains pretty much everything)" - he requires more of atheists than mere assertion. Speaking of four intellectual atheists who have recently announced their lack of belief in public, he writes:

Hitchens and Vidal have trumpeted their atheism in print; ditto for the columnist Katha Pollitt and the science writer Natalie Angier. Since these four are intellectuals, we might expect from them some powerful arguments for the nonexistence of God, arguments that would shake the faith of a reasonable believer. But a look at their public statements makes it doubtful whether they have even earned the honorific "atheist."

An interesting article, worth reading. It lays out the positions quite nicely.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By the way, Holt refers to the Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne, who is a Christian, as a "cosmic deist," I assume because he takes some of Swinburne's arguments as declaring the whole of his faith. This tends to happen to apologists and philosophers who write carefully to one point, and find readers assuming they know what they (the writers) would say on others.

9:07 AM


A reader, Ralph Grabowski, sends the cheering news that Advent is going the way of Christmas:

The Advent calendar is being stripped of its Christmas anticipation. A local grocery store offered Spiderman and Barbie Advent calendars that run 32 days - to anticipate the New Year.

Similarly, the Web site, which is popular with pre-teen and teen girls, has a Advent calendar. My daughters were surprised when it continued past December 24th. I suspect it too will go to 1 Jan.

I must say this is one of the weirder examples of secularizing Christian symbols I have come across. I would not have thought that Advent had enough cultural importance to be worth secularizing - which is to say, worth stealing and perverting. Christians in non-liturgical churches don't observe it, and relatively few Christians even in liturgical churches pay much attention to it.

8:38 AM


In response to my "Signs of the Culture of Death" (posted last Saturday), my colleague Steven Hutchens wrote:

Child care: one of the greatest Christian missionary opportunities of our time, especially in pagan Europe: We take care of the children for a price the parents can afford on the condition that we be allowed to evangelize, discipline, and nurture them in the Faith.

8:35 AM

Sunday, December 29


In his latest column for City Journal, The Peoples' Princess, Theodore Dalrymple describes the late Princess Diana in unflattering but surely accurate terms, and asks why such an empty person should have become so beloved? His answer is that

the very qualities that would once have damned her in popular estimation are precisely those that have raised her in it in our own age. Her cult was that of vacuity worshipping, and also justifying, itself: people "loved," "admired," and "esteemed" her precisely because she was so banal in her tastes, emotions, and responses to the world. Apart from the fact that she was icily pretty and moved in high circles, she was just like us: this gave us hope that people of no accomplishment might accede to a glamorous, rich, sex-suffused world, and reassuringly demonstrated that there was nothing inherently limiting about our own mediocrity. Her appeal goes to the heart of the modern cult of celebrity. It represents the total triumph of the banal.

This has always struck me as obvious. I remember looking at the local (Pittsburgh) paper the day after her death, and seeing a picture of people lined up for blocks to sign some sort of book of condolences, and all I could think of was how many fools must have taken long lunches that day. The world is filled with real heros, but they don't get such adulation. I don't remember the local paper featuring such a picture the day after Mother Theresa died.

6:06 PM


A friend has just forwarded to me an old story but one worth passign on. In Multiculti Museums - Or Else, Theodore Dalrymple reports on the Blair governments' order that museums keep track of the ethnic composition of their visitors, and lose their (considerable) subsidies if they do not attract enough. He calls the policy "vandalism by other means" and describes it as

the prelude to, and . . . the pretext for, the dismantling of the cultural infrastructure of the entire country, an infrastructure it has taken centuries to build: a sotto voce Maoist Cultural Revolution.

By its directive, the government is effectively declaring that the value of the displays in institutions such as the British Museum or the National Gallery flows solely from the ethnic composition of the public they attract. If the terra cottas of Della Robbia don't interest, say, Sikhs, then-intrinsic artistic value being an empty notion-no reason remains for the government to continue to subsidize their display in the V & A [the Victoria and Albert Museum]: down they must come and out they must go. From now on, ethnic quota is the measure of all things.

This development represents a striking loss of faith in the value of the culture and civilization that had attracted the ethnic minorities to Britain in the first place, and to which many might make a valuable contribution if encouraged to do so. Significantly, no demand for the ethnic monitoring of cultural institutions has ever emanated from a group claiming to speak for an ethnic minority.

This is what happens when you have no faith in any absolutes, and therefore fear saying "This is good" because such a statement tells someone whose culture does not value the good thing "Your culture is missing something." If you do not have settled criteria for making firm judgments about art and such matters, all you have left is politics. The governmetn has to decide where to send the money it has taken in, and counting visitors by skin color, or any other obvious distinguishing mark, is about the only way to judge such things as museums, if you have no idea what museums are for, other than pleasing people. Relativists have to live by such silly rulings because they don't have anything else to do.

What I do wonder about, however, is whether such groups as the British Labour Party - Dalrymple refers to "Tony Blair's velvet fascism" - are not only forced to such silliness by their relativism, but driven to it by some real hatred of the English, and the Western, heritage. I have known enough such people to suspect that they are happy to force museums to pander to ethnic groups, not because they greatly care about the people in these groups, but because it gives them a righteous-sounding excuse for bringing down things whose excellence they reject and the idea of excellence itself, dependent as it is on a belief in absolutes.

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The same page, from the Summer 2000 City Journal's section of short pieces called Soundings, includes a good short article on the homosexualist vendetta against Dr. Laura, "The New Blacklist" by Stefan Kanfer, which forced her very popular radio show off the air.

5:53 PM

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