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Saturday, February 1


I just watched with our two eldest (17 and 14) the movie K-19 The Widow Maker, now out on video. It is about a Soviet nuclear sub launched in 1961 with all sorts of problems -- the backup cooling system for the reactors not installed, for example -- and the near disaster it suffered, which the movie implies could have started World War III. (I have no idea how accurate the story is.)

It had gotten mediocre reviews, but was actually quite good. (Note to self: do remember that most movie reviewers are liberal nitwits.) It exposed the despicable Soviet regime, and the gross and grossly dangerous incompetence encouraged, while glorifying courage, duty, comradeship, and patriotism. The viewer can admire the Soviet captain and the sailers under him though they were the enemy, because they were admirable (which is not to say perfect) men. The movie is as much a character study as an action movie, and not nearly as filled with action scenes as U-571 or The Hunt for Red October but I think it is a better movie.

9:36 PM


The Catholic writer Helen Hull Hitchcock, one of our contributing editors (and wife of our senior editor James Hitchcock), sent round an old but enjoyable joke:

A small town had three churches Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist. All three had a serious problem with squirrels in the church. Each church in
its own fashion had a meeting to deal with the problem.

The Presbyterians decided that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them. The Methodists decided they should deal with the squirrels lovingly in the style of Charles Wesley. They humanely trapped them and released them in a park at the edge of town. Within 3 days, they were all back in the church.

The Baptists had the best solution. They voted the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.

She added to it:

If the same town had a Catholic church so afflicted, the parish building committee would have called the chancery to request permission to fix the roof in order to prevent the squirrel invasion. The chancery would have called in architectural and liturgical consultants, who would have decreed that the "pre-conciliar" church was irreparable would have to be replaced with a modern "worship space", which they would design. The parishioners would be forced abandon the old church to the squirrels, and construct a modest new "space" at the cost of $20,000,000.

Helen is the editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, the monthly magazine of the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. It is a Catholic publication, concerned mainly with the current state and hoped for improvement of the Catholic liturgy, but members of other liturgical churches may find it of interest, the issues and the problems being more or less the same for Lutherans or Episcopalians as for Catholics.

For example, why do so many mediocrities and knaves become liturgists? I know that may seem unkind but it is a serious question.

9:27 PM


Attacks on Jews at Concordia by Islamic students have not goner unnoticed by Jews in Montreal. La Presse reports that Ghila Sroka claims in Tribune juive:

Montreal is a "fascist and totalitarian" city where it is fashionable; to be seen as and to express oneself as an anti-Semite."

I think it is more craven fear of the Islamic students.

Skorka is ticked off by the attacks on Jews at Concordia, which gets a lot of support from Montréal Jews.

Deploring the recent "hitlerite-islamist" manifestations at Concordia University, she poses a delicate question: Should the Jews of the establishment continue to give gifts to this university in which it is not good to be a Jew?"

At Concordia Islamic students rioted and screamed Death to Jews; the university's response was to forbid any public discussion of the Middle East. Skorka's question seems fair.

However, Skorka seems to know a different Montreal than the one I am acquainted with when she deplores the rise of "a nationalism tainted with ecclesiastical fascism." Montreal is aggressively secular. There are whiffs of Catholicism, but clericalism and integrism are only remote memories, like Jacobitism in England.

4:19 PM

Friday, January 31

Always Keeping the Church Up to Date

A prominent Lutheran theologian wrote this about "American Christianity and the Church":

There are advertisements which seek to bait the public. Why should colorful billboards and psychologically designed newspaper advertisements not serve the church? There are all the organizations which are part of the modern American Church, from the kitchen to the bowling alley. Why should the church not offer what a secular club offers? And these things progressively force their way into religious life itself. Worship [Gottesdienst] has been, as we say, "developed." There must always be something new, and everything must be effective: Lighting-effect, musical-effect, an effective liturgy.

I remember a large new Baptist church. The room had only artificial lighting. For around and throughout the entire structure, were built rooms for the offices, societies and religious instruction. Next to the sanctuary there was a special control room from which the lighting was adjusted. As soon as the preacher knelt to pray, the attendant rotated the great lever on the control-board. Darkness filled the church. The desired feelings were literally "switched on."

Then there is the congregational bulletin. It has to be very interesting if it is to be read, and it is especially interesting when the reader finds his own name in it. "Wouldn't it be nice if your name were to appear here, and if possible a donation of 5 or 10 dollars after it?" Thus read the congregational bulletin of one Catholic Cathedral. The youth, of course, must be wooed. Naturally they come to Bible class, but only if sports are included. Why shouldn't the church have a flashy football club? The confession of faith of one of the most popular authors reads, "A football player with religion is a better football player than one without religion."

The writer was Dr. Herman Sasse, a German Lutheran who visited the United States and wrote about his visit in . . . 1925.

9:50 AM

Wednesday, January 29


The Washington Post, not usually a defender of old-fashioned chastity, recently ran a revealing article titled "The Buddy System". It describes at some length the allegedly widespread practice in high schools and colleges of "hooking up" - having sex of varying degrees of intimacy with people to whom you have no commitment and usually no romantic interest - and its effects upon young women.

The article, by Laura Sessions Stepp, quoted a study by some social scientists at Bowling Green State University of seventh to eleventh graders in the Toledo area, who found that:

among the teens who had engaged in intercourse - from 8 percent of 7th graders to 55 percent of 11th graders - one-third said they had had sex with someone whose attachment went no further than friendship. The proportion would have been higher if behaviors other than intercourse had been included.

"The kids make a distinction between casual sex and relationship sex," says Monica Longmore, a social psychologist on the team. "But casual sex is not a one-night stand. It's He was my boyfriend last month, I'm not dating him anymore but I was feeling kind of blue so I did it,' or I used to date him, and we broke up. But the sex is so good, we still do that'."

The story suggests that these poor kids are fooling themselves on purpose:

Since hooking up need not involve intercourse, they don't have to worry about pregnancy. Oral sex is an acceptable alternative and young women absolutely don't consider it sex.

"If we did, we'd be having sex all the time. We still have a shred of self-respect," one freshman says.

As I've written here before, this kind of thing - "Ally McBeal feminism," the writer calls it - is presented and defended as the natural expression of newly empowered young women. According to the girls interviewed:

Many girls don't have the time or the energy required for an intense relationship right now, or they can't find a guy who wants one. But they possess enormous sexual energy and believe they have every right to enjoy it in whatever form they choose, just as the Fox network's lusty lawyer did.

They want to succeed in life - meaning get advanced degrees and good jobs - and feel a serious relationship with a boy will impede them. They are more confident and willing both to ask boys out and set the limits to their activities. Their confidence is a good thing, and anyone should approve their feeling able to set sexual limits, even if some set them in the wrong place. But still, Ally McBeal Feminism has not worked out quite so well:

Conventions may have changed but feelings haven't. Women have always shouldered the emotional burden of sexual behavior - after all, they're the ones who must carry the baby, or decide to abort - and to pretend that they can ignore their emotions easily is poppycock.

The last third of the article details the problems so many of these young women face. They are trying to deny something God has built into their natures, and nature always wins. The ending of the article is rather sad, and rather moving. Read it.

4:34 PM

Tuesday, January 28


Though my New England upbringing taught me not to do this sort of thing, let me say, in case some of you are interested, that an interview with me on Tolkien appeared in last Sunday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. You may find it of interest.

Also on the PT-R site is another article on Tolkien, "Experts divided on trilogy's significance", which includes the science fiction writer William Tenn saying that

Tolkien's works are filled with interesting ideas, but they "don't leave a modern man really much to chew over."

"First, it's a quest novel, and the quest novel is essentially a medieval story, a medieval construct," he says. "Tolkien, of course, was a medievalist, and his books are a paean to medieval thinking. ... It's got color, it's got excitement, but essentially, it's a story that should be told in a castle to the lordslords and ladies while a minstrel is playing, maybe 500 to 800 years ago."

One would think, from all the evidence, that a quest is a perennial human action driven by a fundamental human need, rather than a "medieval construct." This would explain why The Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars movies, and lots else, are so popular. If the modern man does not find in Tolkien's book much to chew over, he needs new teeth.

The article does quote a professor, Michael Drout of Wheaton College (the one near Boston, not the famous one near Chicago), who is much more sensible.

7:31 PM

Monday, January 27


Father Sean Fortune abused boys for decades in Ireland. He committed suicide when he had to go to trial.

His bishop, Brendan Comiskey knew about it, as did the Vatican. They did nothing to stop it.

The BBC last year aired a program, Suing The Pope. Bishop Comiskey disappeared, and then said he had resigned.

In fact, he was fired. Another BBC program will give the details:

The programme about abuse in the diocese of Ferns, which caused a public outcry after it was first screened last March, will unveil a letter which shows Comiskey was told to go "for behaviour unbecoming of a bishop".

Tom Doyle puts his spin on the firing:

Father Tom Doyle, a former Vatican ambassador, says the decision to push Comiskey to go was taken, not because of the revelations of child abuse, but due to a 'fear of bad publicity'.
'I would venture to say that he went, not because children were hurt. The Vatican already knew that ... and it was not enough to get him fired. He went because the Catholic Church fears bad publicity.'

Many bishops in the US should be fired if they are held to the same standard as Comiskey.

Bishop Comiskey said he would write the victims. He hasn't done it. Not all of them are still alive: the Independent reports:

In the documentary, Monica Fitzpatrick, whose son Peter was one of four suicide victims in Ferns, reveals how she now believes her tragic son was abused by Fr Fortune.
Monica discovered Peter's body after he shot himself in a caravan in the family garden.

10:42 AM

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