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Saturday, February 8


On Religion: Traditional churches can buck the modernist trend

Saturday, February 8, 2003

By TERRY MATTINGLY, Scripps Howard News Service

One of the Rev. Dwight Moody's favorite perks as dean of the Georgetown College chapel is that he is free to spend most Sundays exploring other churches in Lexington, Ky.

That's how the Baptist preacher ended up in St. Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church in a cloud of incense, trying to figure out what the worshippers were chanting, why they rarely sat down and when the 9 a.m. service was going to end so that the 10 a.m. service could begin.

Everything was a mystery.

"When the main service ended they just kept going and had two more. ... I couldn't figure out what was going on," said Moody. "It was the most in-your-face, retrograde old stuff you could imagine. What fascinated me was that this was the total antithesis of everything that is happening in the contemporary church."

But he looked around and realized he wasn't the only visitor in the multi-ethnic crowd. Afterwards, a cluster of ex-Methodists helped him get oriented.

Moody had toured Orthodox churches in Jerusalem and elsewhere, but had never actually attended a service.

It was while he was driving home that he had a crazy idea.

During his Sunday adventures, Moody has seen his share of megachurches offering "seeker-friendly services" for media-soaked Americans.

These are the ones with shiny auditoriums that seat 5,000 or so people, complete with rock-concert quality sound and lights. Many have been shaped by the work of consulting firms that specialize in church design and marketing.

Moody thought to himself: How would a church-growth professional critique the smells, bells and sacraments he had just witnessed?

Before long, he had written a satirical "Survival Guide" for an imaginary "St. Pachomius Byzantine Orthodox Church."

The church's name, for example, was simply not acceptable today.

Moody's imaginary consultant was blunt: "Nobody - and I mean nobody - understands any part of your name. (I actually commissioned a survey.) Most assumed you were Jewish, others thought of a travel agency and one was sure 'Byzantine' was a link to al-Qaeda.

"My recommendation: Be bold! Embrace the third millennium! Take a new name, one derived from the old but in a clever sort of way. Our people suggest you utilize the word 'box.' How about 'p-BOX'? Edgy, isn't it, but evocative and mysterious, as well. Remember how United States Steel Corporation became USX?

Brilliant: strong but subtle, distinctive and vague."

The sanctuary would need a makeover, starting with the exit of all those "painted panels of old people." Besides, the icons were taking up space that would be needed for large video screens for movie clips and pop-rock hymnody. The firm suggested replacing the incense with "some very nice potpourri planters in a selection of scents: Miracle Moonlight, Oceans of Peace and Farm Fresh Faith."

The a cappella quartet of overweight male chanters would have to go, as well.

"Modern, younger people - those you must seek to appease, I mean, attract - are drawn toward drum sets and speakers," he added. "Make them very visible, even if you actually utilize sound tracks (sample enclosed)."

And Holy Communion?

Adding a Starbucks would be a better idea. If the church insisted on serving bread and wine at the altar, "research indicates that videos shown during the lag time are well received."

The article was published in several Kentucky newspapers and then in the Christian Century, a mainline weekly.

Moody was relieved to learn that Orthodox readers had gotten the joke and were rolling in the aisles. Well, some were rolling in the aisles. Many Orthodox Christians would not have aisles in which to roll, since their sanctuaries are traditionally built without the modern amenities called pews.

Then members of other churches began to respond.

Moody hit a nerve with his backhanded tribute to a flock that was clinging to 2000 years worth of roots.

"You see, I was not making fun of the Orthodox," he said. "I was making fun of the whole contemporary church scene. ...

There are people in all kinds of traditional churches who are being told, 'If you don't change, you're going to die. If you don't buy into the latest fads, you're history.' Ministers are under incredible pressure to strip away anything that's connected to the past. Well, some people have had enough."

5:35 AM

Friday, February 7


The Catholic bishops are not alone in creating clouds of abstraction and feel-good generalities and pseuo-intelligent arguments in response to the Iraqi crisis. At a recent conference in Davos, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey said (as recorded on the United States Mission - Geneva website:

Mr. Secretary of State, at this conference, among the language that has been used has been a phrase, the difference between hard power and soft power: hard power and military power, and perhaps expressed in America as the only superpower with a grave responsibility to create and help to forward the cause of peace in the world; and then soft power, soft power which binds us all, which has something to do with values, human values and all the things that you and I passionately believe in.

Here at WEF [the World Economic Forum], we are thinking of creating a Council of 100 which includes business leaders, politicians, religious leaders - trying to cross all of the boundaries of media and so on. That may be something that you may wish to give your support to in the days ahead. But I've got two questions, if I may. The first one: Do you feel that in the present situation, and I'm following on my colleague who just spoke, and regarding Iraq but also Palestine as well, that we are doing enough in drawing upon the common values expressed by soft power in uniting what is called West and the Middle East in Islam and Christianity, in Judaism and other religions?

And would you not agree, as a very significant political figure in the United States, Colin, that America, at the present time, is in danger of relying too much upon the hard power and not enough upon building the trust from which the soft values, which of course all of our family life that actually at the bottom, when the bottom line is reached, is what makes human life valuable? (Applause.)

His definition of "soft power" is nearly useless - one feels, when watching George Carey play with ideas, the same way one feels watching a 16-year-old boy getting behind the wheel of a Porsche, that it probably has too much power for him to handle - and his first question does not make much sense. The second question makes more sense, sort of, at least the first half, but shows a nearly complete inability to see the reality.

I can understand someone worrying about the exercise of American power, and I can even understand someone thinking Iraq not enough of a threat to justify war. But I am sick to death of religious leaders babbling on in this hopelessly idealistic and utopian way. It is a betrayal of their calling to bring the Christian mind to bear upon the needs and questions of the day.

"Building trust" with Saddam Hussein? With "soft values" (whatever they are)? Give me a break. What does this actually mean? How does it help answer the question: what should the West do, if anything, with Iraq?

In these cases, men like Secretary Powell (an Episcopalian) prove to be more serious thinkers than the theologians. They have the advantage of appealing to realities, which can be examined and tested. They may be wrong, but they say something the rest of us can test. Powell responded to Carey's somewhat patronizing question by saying:

The United States believes strongly in what you call soft power, the value of democracy, the value of the free economic system, the value of making sure that each citizen is free and free to pursue their own God-given ambitions and to use the talents that they were given by God. And that is what we say to the rest of the world. That is why we participated in establishing a community of democracy within the Western Hemisphere. It's why we participate in all of these great international organizations.

There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power - and here I think you're referring to military power - then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can't deal with.

I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.

So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world. (Applause.)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Eliot Cohen includes this addition from Carey's response (the transcript on the website seems to be incomplete):

"We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years . . . and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in."

2:36 PM


In Touchstone's September issue, Fr. Joseph Wilson wrote this ("Our-Not-So-Glorious Selves," p. 19):

Our focus has changed, and I fear we are often not worshipping at all; we are celebrating ourselves. Gathered for the Eucharist, we have largely lost our focus on what God has done for us in Christ, so intent are we on celebrating each other's giftedness, not to mention our own.

A striking example of this from my own experience is the funeral Mass-specifically, the eulogy. In the course of my ministry, I have celebrated funeral Masses at which there were four separate eulogies. I have sat patiently as innumerable family members burst into tears and delivered a completely unintelligible discourse. I have listened to frequent references to the drinking, gambling, and smoking habits of the departed. I have often heard people canonized even under the most dubious circumstances ("I know he wasn't much for church or prayers or stuff like that, but he really loved people and a party, and that's what I think heaven is gonna be like," said his girlfriend. His second wife was in the congregation).

I remember the "karaoke eulogy," when the son-in-law, who by no stretch of the imagination could be described as an intelligible public speaker, started inviting other family members up to the pulpit for a series of amateur eulogies. I have heard heresies uttered in eulogies (speculation about what sort of animal Uncle Sam will come back as; a serious, solemn statement about how all religions are equally valid). I have watched as a bereaved son used his eulogy to settle scores with the rest of his family, resulting, I was told, in a fistfight at the restaurant later.

But there is one thing that I should have heard in every eulogy I have ever sat through, yet actually have heard extremely rarely: any kind of statement of faith in the merits of Jesus, in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The whole heart of our Faith, the whole reason we were in church at all, went completely unmentioned in the overwhelming majority of these eulogies, which presumably were the things each eulogist most needed to say.

Perhaps Roman Catholic Archbishop of Newark, John J. Myers, has been reading Fr. Wilson. We have this from Religion News Service:

Archbishop Bans Eulogies at Funerals
(NEWARK, N.J.) It began slowly in the 1970s and has evolved into a common and cherished feature of many Roman Catholic funerals, a few short words of remembrance delivered by a loved one from the altar at the end of the Mass.

But now, Archbishop of Newark John J. Myers has decided eulogies should not be part of the funeral Mass because some speeches have become too long and do not often address the spiritual aspect of the deceased.

In a directive sent to priests in the state's largest diocese last week, Myers recommended eulogies be delivered during the wake, at the burial site or at a side chapel before the Mass begins.

"They were beginning to creep into the funeral Mass itself and take away from the solemnity of the rite and taking away from the focus of the Mass, which is faith and the promise of new life," said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers.

According to the written directive, Myers said the measure was needed to address what he called the "growing abuse" as requests for eulogies have increased. Some of the problems cited by church officials include instances of five or six speakers during one Mass delivering eulogies lasting more than an hour or people becoming too emotional to speak.

Myers' decree reminded priests that the funeral homily or sermon should not be a mere eulogy but should focus on the message of Jesus.

Perhaps this will become a trend, the new norm. Perhaps it will even "play in Peoria." Bishop Myers would know; he used to be bishop there.

10:19 AM


In "Textbooks said to 'hide' problems with Islam", The Washington Times reports that the American Textbook Council has found that high school history textbooks present a rosy picture of Islam and an at least partly negative picture of Christianity, perhaps because they bow to the wishes of the Council on Islamic Education. The publishers deny this.

"Subjects such as jihad and the advocacy of violence among militant Islamists to attain worldly ends, the imposition of [Shariah] law, the record of Muslim enslavement, and the brutal subjection of women are glossed over," the 35-page study says.

This contrasts, the report suggested, with the candor in textbooks over such events of Western history as the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, imperialism, Christian fundamentalism and women's suffrage.

Without solid facts about Islam, the study said, "instructors fall back on themes of tolerance and apology [and] skirt the reality of international affairs and threats to world peace."

The head of the group, a former professor (where and of what, the article does not say) named Gilbert Sewell, says that teachers do not know much about Islam and therefore rely upon the textbooks for direction. As the father of a child in the local public high school, I would like to know why teachers are teaching anything of which they are ignorant, but such is the state of public education today.

The children would be better served by letting them read the Koran, but the general mode or paradigm of public education discourages such engagement with the actual texts in favor of the sort of instruction in which the teacher tells the students what it all means. Which, because these poor students have not learned - have not been taught, more to the point - nearly enough of their subject to understand it, much less to understand and evaluate any generalizations about it, leaves them with attitudes and prejudices and not ideas and insights.

In fact, my daughter's history class was covering the history of Islam the year before 9/11, and she reported, with considerable annoyance, that her teacher whitewashed Islam but reported on every possible charge against Christianity. Other people whose children attended other schools across the country have reported the same experience. It would be interesting to know why Westerners reflexively bow before Islam, and bowed before the instinct, found among so many semi-educated Americans, for placating one's enemies kicked in when an Islamic group stole four airplanes and then flew three of them into occupied buildings.

Those of us who are not uncritical of American history or current practice would not mind if our children were told of the evil as well as of the good, and if the alternatives were presented in the same way. What we resent is that American history is presented in grey or dark grey and the alternatives in (at worst) off white.

You can get a downloadable version of the entire report by clicking here.

9:05 AM

Thursday, February 6


A perversely fascinating article from The Moscow Times, "Orthodox Church Takes On Rasputin", describes the drive of some groups in Russia to canonize Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin, not men one would normally think of as saints, and the resistance of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

A group of Orthodox theologians who said the movement "undoubtedly could lead to a schism in the church," said that

the campaign was being driven by a low level of church culture and a large influx of neophytes with a dissident mentality.

"Those demanding the canonization of Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin are a small but very noisy group," said Alexander Dvorkin, the church's leading expert on sects. "This will be followed by demands to canonize Stalin - there is already some so-called research showing that he was secretly a monk. It is impossible to disprove all of these myths. Religious hysterics are the basis of this pseudo-Orthodox sect acting within our church." . . .

These beliefs could be written off if they did not represent the development of the most appealing and coherent anti-Semitic ideology within the Russian Orthodox Church today.

For example:

One prayer to Rasputin, written by a certain Nikolai Kozlov and published in a brochure, reads: "Seeing thy otherworldly struggle and labor with their carnal eyes, Oh St. Grigory, and having listened to the Jewish slander and libel, many bishops and priests were tempted and persecuted thee and thy kin. . . . Thereupon thou received bodily wounds and a ferocious death from the Jews."

I have left out some of the more astounding claims, and if you find this sort of thing of interest, please read the article.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By the way, the Moscow patriarchate seems to have learned, or be learning, a lesson Western Christians could have taught them: do not try to manage crises and lunatics:

"This is madness!" the patriarch said in his first statement on the subject in December 2001. "What believer would want to stay in a church that equally venerates murderers and martyrs, lechers and saints?"

This is good, but:

For a decade the Moscow Patriarchate has tolerated the canonization drive in order to avoid a schism at all costs. But the drive has now grown so strong that the Patriarchate is considering changing its policy. It is unclear, however, whether it would be able to muster enough strength and moral authority to overcome the canonization forces.

We in the West have seen good men in the Catholic and the mainline Protestant Churches try to manage conflicts to avoid open divisions, and could have told the Russians that trying to do the same would almost certainly encourage the people they are trying to manage, who are, by and large, not manageable. The attempt to manage them winds up letting them manage you.

2:11 PM

Wednesday, February 5


The Swiss Catholic bishops have complained that no one is debating the ethics of waging war against Iraq, according to a story in today's digest from the Zenit news service.

"For years, the Iraqi people, most especially the children, have suffered atrociously from the consequences of the international embargo against that country," they say. "Let us not martyr them still more, while all the ways of dialogue have not been exhausted and the danger that the Iraqi dictator poses has not been proved.

"Moreover, we must be aware that a war against Iraq would 'wound' many Muslims and would certainly produce the contrary of the hoped-for effect, namely, a strong rise of the terrorist menace on the part of Muslim fanatics," the bishops warn.

"We appeal to all believers of our country to redouble their prayers so that war will not break out and that common sense will triumph," the Swiss bishops conclude.

Still awake? I am afraid that this string of clichés is typical of the statements coming from the bishops of most European countries and the Vatican itself. The Catholic Church represents the voice of the Euro-weenies.

Though they remained neutral in World War II - which is not necessarily to be admired - the Swiss should remember the lessons of that war. Among them is the lesson that we must be realistic about tyrants. The bishops could have issued almost the same statement in 1935, or perhaps even later. It would have made as much sense then, and been just as wrong.

It is difficult, and probably pointless, to unpack this sort of thing, but let me try. The bishops begin with a falsehood, attributing to the embargo the suffering the regime has itself inflicted upon its people, using the embargo as an excuse. Under the terms of the embargo, the people could have everything it needs for its people, but it does not care for them.

The bishops continue with an appeal to "dialogue," a word in this case without meaning. What kind of talk does one have with a tyrant? To what end does one talk? How does one know when to stop? Why keep talking when years of talk have done nothing? What if the tyrant is using the time spent talking to prepare to do yet more evil and to make his defenses better? I am rather sure the bishops have not given these questions any thought.

Having made that inane appeal to "the ways of dialogue," the bishops declare that we do not for sure that Hussein is a danger. This at least is a plausible claim, though in context I am rather sure they would make it were it much less plausible. They might take it back were Hussein caught on tape ordering an attack on Geneva, but maybe not. If I am being unfair to them - by reading this statement in the light of the others - it would be helpful to know what they thought constituted proof. But again I am rather sure that they have not given this question much thought.

The bishops continue with the clichéd claim that fighting Iraq will only create more terrorists. A number of experts in the field have argued that it will decrease the number of terrorists by making clear the cost of terrorism and by speaking in terms Arab governments understand. This makes sense to me, though I am no expert. But then neither are the bishops, but they do not hesitate to state such things as if they were obvious.

And finally, and most amusingly, the bishops declare that "common sense" demands that the war be averted. I would like to know what they think "common sense" means. It would seem not only sensible, but sensible to the average (or common) man, that a tyrant who abuses his own people, has supported terrorists for years, invades his neighbors, fired missiles into a country not at war with his, pays young men to murder innocent men, women, and children by killing themselves with bombs, has made biological and chemical weapons and used them on his own people, a man who despises the West and wishes it ill, is a danger and a menace who ought to be removed from power if at all possible.

That is what common sense tells us to do. As Catholic bishops, the Swiss bishops may claim to offer a different way to deal with men like Saddam Hussein, but that way is not common sensical. If they have a word of God's to speak on this matter, let them speak it as if it were his. But please, bishops, do not retail the banalities of European intellectuals as if they were divine.

I would find it much easier to take the bishops seriously did they not speak in clichés, if their statement showed any evidence of thought. They owe that to their people. By speaking as they do, they both cheapen political discourse and diminish their own authority. This bishops should not do.

7:46 PM


Our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green has written a helpful short article on Lent and repentance for The Dallas Morning News: "Time to Repent - Whoopee!". Unfortunately, the newspaper requires you to register to use the site (understandable but annoying) and the article is not yet posted on her own home page, though the site is well worth visiting for all the articles already posted.

12:07 PM

Tuesday, February 4


An article from the ever enjoyable Stanley Fish from (of all places) The Chronicle of Higher Education, declaring that "A University is Not a Political Party". He argues

that it is immoral for academics or for academic institutions to proclaim moral views. . . .

The reason was given long ago by a faculty committee report submitted to the president of the University of Chicago. The report declares that the university exists "only for the limited . . . purposes of teaching and research", and reasons that "since the university is a community only for those limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness."

Of course it can and should take collective (and individual) action on those issues relevant to the educational mission - the integrity of scholarship, the evil of plagiarism, the value of a liberal education. Indeed, failure to pronounce early and often on these matters would constitute a dereliction of duty.

He goes on to illustrate the problem from several recent controversies, including that over free speech in the university. The essay is worth reading, at least for those interested in academia.

By the way, "ever enjoyable" does not mean "always right."

3:05 PM


Ave Maria Institute ready for its launch

Monday, February 3, 2003


Mother Teresa commissioned a basic catechism class for her nuns before her death in 1997.

That catechism course, now being taught worldwide, will be one of the offerings to launch Ave Maria Institute, the lifelong-learning program of Ave Maria University in Naples.

The course, and the institute itself, are paving the way for an "unabashedly Catholic" university to be built 26 miles northeast of Naples and 10 miles south of Immokalee by Tom Monaghan, Domino's Pizza founder and former Detroit Tigers baseball franchise owner.

Like the proposed Ave Maria University, the lifelong learning program also will be "unabashedly Catholic," which are Monaghan's words.

Brochures with complete descriptions, schedules, costs and directions were released recently and mailed throughout the Naples-Collier County area.

Dorothy Walker, founder of the Catholic Study Center in Longwood, near Orlando, will teach "Creed and Sacraments: Father John Hardon's Course for Mother Teresa's Nuns" on Mondays for nine sessions.

It's one of four course offerings Ave Maria Institute offers from Feb. 10 through April 9 at its Naples site in the Vineyards, northeast of Naples off Vanderbilt Beach Road.

Walker collaborated with the late Rev. John Hardon, a Jesuit priest, in the development of the catechism. Hardon was considered by many to be the most significant theologian in the English-speaking world, said Jay McNally, an Ave Maria spokesman.

In addition to the nine-session courses, AMI is offering a Monday Morning Lecture series, called "A.M. Inspiration," including 8 a.m. Mass followed by breakfast.

The courses, in addition to Mother Teresa's catechism, include "Sacred Music for the Soul," taught by Ralph Stewart, conductor and founder of the Naples Orchestra and Chorus, Musici di Napoli, and music director of St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs.

"Catholicism in Tudor England" and "Integrating Psychology and Theology of Forgiveness and Reconciliation" round out the course offerings.

"The AMI inspiration series is a combination of our faculty, some well-known speakers - like Ralph Martin from Renewal Ministries and Dr. Joseph Pearce, who is an expert on (J.R.R.) Tolkien, timely because of the Lord of the Rings (movies)," said Carole Carpenter, Ave Maria's vice president for university relations.

"We also have a local art curator (Mary Elizabeth Podles) who is doing the lecture on 'Reading the Renaissance Painting,' " Carpenter said. "The courses are being taught by local retirees who love the idea of a new university and want to support the mission of lifelong learning."

The idea for Ave Maria Institute was sparked by the Rev. Joe Fessio, the chancellor of Ave Maria University who works closely with Monaghan on the planning and consultation for the university.

Fessio, a highly popular and well-known Jesuit priest who founded Campion College and a lifelong learning institute in San Francisco, will give one of the lectures in the series: "Mission to Florida - 1558, 2003."

Lectures in the series include "Catholic Life Today: The Vision of John Paul II;" "Generation, Relationship, Compassion: An Introduction to Catholic Theology;" and "Why Ave Maria? Catholic Education in Crisis."

The cost of the nine-session courses is $50. The Monday lectures are $10 each.

For a brochure on Ave Maria Institute's winter session offerings, call 348-2501 or visit the Web site,

4:37 AM

Monday, February 3


Another answer to my question, "Why are so many liturgists mediocrities and knaves?", this one from Mr. Jim Kalb:

Because there's no such thing as an expert composer of liturgy. It would be like being an expert composer of old customs, love letters, social systems, sacred scriptures or whatever. For that reason people who claim to be professional liturgists are either idiots who have no idea what they're dealing with or frauds who want to reconstruct reality.

In a latter message, he said he hoped his comment was not too vehement, but that the issue upset him more "than others that on the face of it seem more substantive." I know what he means, and I expect that most of you do as well. A heretic only affects those who read him, but the liturgical "reformers" (ironic quotes fully deserved) hit us where it hurts.

They change what we say to God, and make it harder for most of us to talk to Him. And for no good reason.

It is as if we were told to read some great text in public, and that we would gain or lose much depending on how well we read, and on the day we were to read found that someone - an eager typographical reformer - had reprinted the text in some new font of his own design, which we could only decipher slowly and with many mistakes. When asked why he did it, he would give a lot of reasons that did not have much to do with the actual act of reading, backed up by lots of abstract and unconvincing theory. And when people complained, he would insist that they "live into" the new font and inform them that they complained only because they were ignorant and old-fashioned. And he would be completely unworried by all the people who stopped reading.

I'm not sure that image is very helpful, but at any rate, I think Mr. Kalb has got it right. No good or wise man would set himself up as the typical liturgist, who sets himself above the liturgy and makes himself the Master of the Secret Knowledge, who alone knows how people ought to worship.

Now, I distinguish "liturgists" from liturgical scholars who study the liturgical heritage with humility and devotion. The true lover of the liturgy is a kind of artist, one who must sometimes refine previous masterpieces. He knows what a treasure he has received from the past and will only carefully and after much learning, much thought, and much conversation with other artists make any changes to it.

Readers of The Lord of the Rings will remember the scene at the end of The Two Towers in which the dwarf Gimli describes what care the dwarfs would take in crafting the rock of the caves behind Helm's Deep. They might make only one tap in "a whole anxious day."

This is what the true lover does with a treasure he has been given. A small tap, carefully prepared, done to bring out more fully the beauty of the cave. The "reformer" barges into the cave with axes and dynamite because he does not see the beauty of a cave, but only a space to be re-, which is to say de-, formed.

7:53 PM


This just in from the United Methodist News Service:

TV spot features Methodist bishop questioning war on Iraq

(UMNS) United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, appearing in a 30-second commercial for cable television, asserts that an attack on Iraq "violates God's law."

As the ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Talbert's remarks questioning Iraq's war policies are aimed at U.S. policymakers. The commercial is expected to air on CNN and Fox cable news in New York and Washington and during CNN's "Larry King Live" program.

The bishop says there is no need for an attack on Iraq and that the United States has no authority to remove dictator Saddam Hussein from power. "No nation under God has that right," Talbert says. "It violates international law. It violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Sponsored by the National Council of Churches, the commercial is one in a series developed by a group of religious and civic groups questioning the need for war. "Iraq hasn't wronged us. War will only create more terrorists," Talbert said. . . . "War will result in the suffering of masses of children, among others."

Leaving aside the matter of the rightness or wrongness of war with Iraq at this point (does he really think the United States will seriously consider his comments?), it is worth noting the bishop's concern for "suffering of masses of children." The National Council of Churches is spending money (I assume that is what "sponsored" means) to tell us about children who might suffer (are they even right about this?). And how much money, may I ask, does the NCC spend to defend the innocent children who die at the hands of legal abortion in its own country? Do you hear the same people who pontificate about war in Iraq tell their own constituency, "Don't abort your children" or, "If you are considering an abortion, contact us; we will help you keep this child"?

12:50 PM


One of our regular readers and an occasional contributors to the magazine, Fr. Robert Hart, responded to the question I asked at the end of "Squirrels and Liturgists" (below). I had asked "Why do so many mediocrities and knaves become liturgists?". He answered:

Because the work of modern liturgists has been started by people who assume a need for reform, and build from there.

Liturgical reformers are much like traffic light reformers. I remember a day in 1977 when my friend John was driving in Columbia Md., a town of all sorts of reform. I was in the passenger seat, when suddenly we came across a reformed traffic light, hung not from top to bottom, but in a reformed sideways position. It is good that I was there, for my friend was color blind, and had relied upon the top to bottom method only possible with traditional and unreformed traffic lights.

He was unable to follow the lead of the spirit of reform by himself, and so I had to tell him which color light was shining to prevent an accident. Later, however, I discovered my own blindness, for on a more sunny day I could not tell which light was lit either. The reformed traffic lights were free of that old ugly viser that blocked out the pure rays of the sun.

Of course the new lights were practically useless, but this was the fault of my friend's color blindness, and of my own need for darkness rather than light, at least as a viser. My my, many of us stick in the mud traditionalists foiled the progress of traffic light reform, being too blind to see the light of the new, reformed, model.

7:12 AM

Sunday, February 2


Among today's cheery news for parents, and for civilization in general, is a story from the news service Zenit (number ZE03020102, published today) on a new wave of hyper-violent video games:

Among the new entries is Kaboom, an online game that allows players to guide a suicide bomber as he runs along a crowded street, right up until the moment of detonation. The more people killed or wounded, the higher is the score, the New York Times reported Dec. 5.

Kaboom's designers were "unapologetic," the Times noted. The Webmaster of the site, Tom Fulp, said the game had been played more than 875,000 times. Other games by the same company include a sniper adventure based on the recent attacks around Washington, D.C., and a game that mocks the killings at Columbine High School.

The story describes other games equally disgusting and inhuman. The makers of Kaboom are, it says, "unapologetic," and the odious Mr. Fulp seems to think that popularity is an excuse for barbarism. Which is not very surprising, given that this one game has already been played 875,000 times and that (according to the article) video games make $10 billion a year in this country and 145 million Americans play them regularly.

Having alarmed the reader, the writer offers two paragraphs that always appear in such articles: the first saying that people disagree on the effect of video games, the second saying that some scientists have found that they do seem to have some effect. I can't remember an article on the subject that didn't have them.

The article noted that arguments continue over whether evidence exists of a direct link between violent video games and aggression among children.

This is the traditional "direct link" dodge used by those who want to deny the effect of media upon behavior. I am not sure why so many people are so eager to deny it, since the fact seems obvious. Some media-types may deny it because it lets them justify their irresponsibility and show (and see) what they want. Others among the intellectuals may deny it because it denies their belief in the complete freedom of man.

But at any rate, the obvious answer to the "direct link" dodge is: 1) that A may cause B without there being a demonstrable direct link between them; and 2) that advertising exists because people know that images and stories conveyed by such media affect behavior.

It is not likely that millions of people whose jobs depend upon making money would spend such vast amounts on advertising, were they not sure that it would make people who would not otherwise buy their products, buy their products. This point has been made often, but the people who produce this soul-deforming rubbish keep denying it - though they advertise their own products.

As you would expect, people who have looked at the matter have found links, if not "direct links." The story continues:

Research in Japan has found that the parts of the brain that control aggressive behavior were less developed in children who played violent video games. In England, studies at Middlesex University found that children became more aggressive the longer they played violent computer games.

There is more to be said than this, and I would point readers to an excellent article by David Grossman, a military psychologist, that appeared in the August 1998 issue of Christianity Today, titled "Trained to Kill". It is not cheering reading.

As usual, the spokeshumanperson for that funny group of liberals who yet worry about such things came to a fairly unhelpful compromise. I know these people well - I grew up among them, and lived among them till being called to work at a seminary in the Midwest - and they really are afraid of looking like prudes and they really, really dislike denouncing anything "artistic" or "creative" and, more to the point, anything conservatives might denounce.

But they also cannot deny that such things as violent video games hurt people. As a result, they typically start by criticizing but immediately subvert their own criticism. (We see the same pattern in those who try to justify pornography and support feminism at the same time.) So the United Kingdom's Culture Minister (a member of the Labour Party):

Kim Howells criticized the producers of "blood-spattered" video games, the Independent reported Jan. 13. He charged that the games are spreading acceptance of violent crime.

So far, so good. But:

A father of teen-age sons, Howells added: "I don't think a child is going to be a killer or more violent as a consequence of playing those games, that is not what I'm saying. But it's the acceptance of that heartlessness that is at the center of all those kind of games, the kind of joy of shooting innocent bystanders or running them over in the car."

Not so good. Not bad, but not good either. We assume that the video games alone will not turn a child into a killer, but why should we assume he will not be more violent? What about the child who is very close to hurting or even killing someone, but held back by some remaining moral sense, or at least some moral inhibition? Might he not be led to submerge his moral sense or overcome his moral inhibitions by indulging his fantasies by killing people in a video game? The answer to this really does seem to be: yes.

And even leaving aside that (we hope rare) case, what does Minister Howells think "the acceptance of that heartlessness" will do to a child? What does he think a child is becoming who takes joy in the imaginative shooting of innocent bystanders?

How can such a child help but become more violent? If not in obvious acts - and I would not rule out the possibility that these games make many children act violently - in his words, his attitudes, his choices, in the things he values, in the hopes he holds, in the people he approves and supports?

Might they not train a child who once held the door for others into a child who pushes his way to the front of the line? Might they not turn a child who once looked with pity upon the poor into a social darwinist? And what will this child become, once set upon this trajectory, when he grows up (or grows older) and owns a business or holds public office?

For the Christian, and for the classical Greek and Roman as well, I think, the first question is not whether violent video games make the children who watch them hurt or kill people. The first question is what sort of people the games train them to be. A game like Kaboom will not help my boys become the men I want them to be. Rather the reverse.

7:49 PM

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