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Friday, February 14

MORE ON SUDAN:

For a good short overview of the situation in Sudan, see the website of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, sponsored by the Institute for Religion and Democracy. The website of Vitrade (link below) has a lot more information - and, I should warn you, some horrifying pictures.

If you would like to do something about the murder of Christians and others in southern Sudan, an act abetted by a number of American corporations, including BP/Amoco, go to the Institute for Religion and Democracy. After offering ways to learn more about Sudan, the IRD suggest:

4.If you're ready for some heavy-duty activismÄ

Plan a Sudan vigil or demonstration (contact us for ideas, help, etc.)

Organize a boycott of BP Amoco (enabled Petrochina, the Chinese-government owned oil company partnering in Sudan, to enlist on the NYSE). Let BP Amoco know that you will not purchase their gasoline until they sell all their shares of stock in Petrochina.

BP Amoco 200 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago, IL 60601, 312-856-6111, CallenKC@bp.com

Sponsor a divestment campaign from the current collaborators with Khartoum:

Talisman Energy, Petrochina, Sinopec, Fidelity Investments, and Goldman-Sachs

(More and current information on the state of the Divestment Campaign can be obtained from www.vitrade.com [ViTrade: Global Financial Risk Analysis] or from Professor Eric Reeves, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063. Request to be added to Professor Reeves' email list at ereeves@smith.edu.)

Make immediate, concerted efforts to pressure the largest American shareholding position in Talisman, Fidelity Investments and send them the signal, "Until you have become Talisman-free, we will own no shares of any Fidelity mutual funds." (Mr. Edward Johnson, III, CEO, Fidelity Investments, 82 Devonshire Street, Boston, MA 02109, fax 617-476-4164).

Express your outrage at Talisman's involvement in financing genocide (Talisman Energy, Inc., 2400, 855-2 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4J9, tlm@talisman-energy.com.)

Become an abolitionist. Join with U.S. Representatives Donald Payne, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus to fight against the enslavement of Southern Sudanese (see www.iabolish.com for more information).


12:37 PM


JESUS THE PSYCHIC:

Hugh Montefiore, a retired bishop in the Church of England and the scion of one of England's great Jewish families - he converted to Christianity in his teens, after a visit from Jesus, he says - has written a book about the paranormal, The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates (Up Front Publishing). Judging from an interview in the English magazine The Spectator, "Who's Hugh?", he thinks that such things as ghosts and apparitions are evidence against materialism (philosophical materialism, I mean), though the article does not say what he thinks they are evidence for.

Referring to Oxford's famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins, he says:

If Dawkins would just ask around, according to Montefiore, he'd find that other-worldly experiences, especially of God, are more common than we imagine. •I'm sure that about 50 per cent of people have religious experiences,' he says. •Nearly everyone has had a psychic experience. But how they interpret it depends on their presuppositions.'

Montefiore is a biblical scholar, and thinks the paranormal explains the miraculous stories in the New Testament, at least some of them:

•There are times in the New Testament when Jesus knows what's going on in people's minds,' he says. •I think these are examples of telepathy. Remember the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus came down from the mountain shining white? That's not miraculous, it's paranormal. If you think about it, Jesus also sees into the future. Look at the time that He told Peter he would deny Him three times.'

But if Jesus is His son, surely God wouldn't begrudge Him a few super powers?

•I think that is a rather naive view,' says Montefiore. •It was because Jesus was fully human that He had psychic gifts, not because He was the Son of God.'

But, I try again, if you attribute all the magic stuff in the Bible to man's natural psychic abilities, what evidence is there that Jesus was the Son of God? •But, but, but,' says Montefiore, smiling. •The descriptions of paranormal activity in the Bible are not evidence for or against God or Jesus being His son. The reason I know Jesus is the Son of God is because when I am with Him I feel that I am in the presence of God, which is more powerful than anything else.'


12:24 PM


OUR MURDERED BROTHERS:

The Islamic government of Sudan continues its murderous campaign against the people - mostly Christian and animist - in the southern part of the country. For a report of the latest atrocity, see "Islamists leave 'killing field'
of civilians"
. It begins:

The bones of scores of villagers litter a "killing field" left in the wake of an unprovoked attack by Sudan's militant Islamic regime in which as many as 3,000 unarmed civilians died, according to a team of fact-finders.

Dennis Bennett of the relief group Servant's Heart recently returned from Upper Nile Province where he and his colleagues heard local survivors tell of a massive attack they believe killed between one-third and one-half of the 6,000 people who lived in the villages of Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji and Yawaji.


It continues:

In the April 2002 attack, heavily-armed government forces reportedly struck in the early morning as the villagers slept, launching a rampage of killing, looting and burning down houses. Residents said the attackers were armed with 60 millimeter mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, 12.7 millimeter heavy machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles.

In a videotaped interview, villager Tunya Jok said he witnessed his 4-year -old daughter being shot and killed as she fled from the soldiers.

Later, his 6-year-old son was captured and beheaded by the soldiers. The boy's body was thrown into a burning hut and his head planted upright, facing away from the dwelling.

Awtio, subchief of the village of Liang, said a young girl named Yata was captured by the soldiers and thrown into a fire.


9:20 AM


CRYPTO-PACIFISM:

For those interested in the subject, an interesting article by Keith Pavlischek on "Just and Unjust War in the Terrorist Age", published recently in The Intercollegiate Review. Among other things, he analyzes what he calls "crypto-pacifism," the position of the "presumption-against-war thinkers" who try to split the difference between real, principled pacifism and real, principled just war thinking. And fail, he thinks.


7:51 AM


Thursday, February 13

"CHRISTIAN" ENGLAND:

England's Office of National Statistics has released a study of religious identification in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It found that 72% of the population identify themselves as "Christian." 2.7% claimed to be Muslim, the next largest group.

The Diocese of Lichfield issued a press release, which began:

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Keith Sutton, welcomed the figures, saying: "These figures prove as a lie claims by the National Secular Society and others that England is no longer a Christian country. Clergy in my diocese baptise some 23 per cent of all babiesbefore they are one year old. The Christian faith is still relevant to many, many people.

Now, Bishop Sutton is a) a bishop and b) a bishop of the Church of England, and c) therefore not someone from whom we expect an engagement with reality. According to the Christian Leadership World website:

Church membership figures for the UK show 6.7 million church members in 1990, 17.3% of the Christian population, with 4.4 million church attenders. In 1995, the number of church members had declined to 6.4 million (16.8% of the Christian population), with 4.0 million attenders. Projections for the year 2000 give 5.9 million members (15.6% of the Christian population) with 3.8 million attenders. (Source : World Churches Handbook / Christian Research)

Other studies and reports I found on various websites gave at most 8% as the percentage of people in the U.K. who attended church, and from what I can tell even this figure did not mean "attended every week unless prevented." Their self-identification does not mean much if they do not go to church. It does not even suggest a real openness to a real Christian commitment.

They are "Christian" because they are English or Scottish or Northern Irish or Welsh - to put it another way, because they are not Muslim or Hindu but they feel they ought to be something. This kind of "Christianity" may be more an innoculation against the Faith than a susceptibility to it.

The poor bishop does not see this:

"There is a two-fold challenge. For the churches, it is a challenge to find ways of being relevant to the communities we seek to serve, that people will find a warm welcome in our churches and find ways of working out their faith. And for society - the majority of that 72 per cent who don't come to church - there is a challenge to act out their faith.

Self-identification equals faith, he thinks. Gosh. I would have thought Jesus' warnings to the Pharisees and others would have taught the man that this is not true, but apparently not. Surely he's known men who thought they were the life of the party when they were really drunken boors. Is it wise for a pastor, who should have the most realistic view of human nature, to put such trust in what people say about themselves?

I don't bring this up to single out Bishop Sutton, but his words do represent an episcopal inability to see the real trouble the churches are in. Christians of all sorts will recognize the problem. I do not think we can rely on our leaders for leadership.


1:09 PM


THE SECULARIZING ILLUSION:

The journalist Serge Trifkovic asks the West for "Realism About Turkey". Western political leaders, academics, and journalists seem (iwth exceptions) fixed on the idea that modernization in the Middle East will create modern, pluralistic states - that is, states that will trade with us and not help those who fly airplanes into buildings. This does not seem to be working as expected.

Just as enormous oil revenues could not resolve the problem in Iran, there is no reason to believe that the proposed massive injections of foreign aid and support, of whatever kind, will do the trick in Turkey. The Kemalist dream of strict secularism has never penetrated beyond the military and a relatively narrow stratum of urban elite centered in Istanbul.

The lack of cultural rootedness of Turkey's political elites remains as serious a problem today as it was in Ataturk's times, and in many minds the question about the dormant Islamic volcano is not if, but when. The narrow stratum of the Kemalist ruling class rules Turkey by the grace of the West and the will of the Army, period. The same dynamics that have swept it away in Teheran may apply in Ankara in the next decade.

The parallel with Iran is alarming. Backed by the United States, both the Shah and the Turkish generals have pursued a policy of militarization as a means of solving the tension between modernization dictated from above and religiously expressed resistance from below. Repression and militarism have provided fertile ground for Islam.


Some people argue that the stresses of modernization produce Islamic fundamentalism, and that when these countries make their way through modernization and create a substantial middle-class - a secularized, materialistic middle class, is what they mean - religion will become as ineffective there as it is in Western Europe and (to a lesser extent) in the United States.

This may be true, but then again it may not be. Recent history does suggest that it is not a basket in which the West should put its eggs. We may find that the people of these countries prove more religious than we expected, and that they will hold to their religion even if you offer them more things, and may hold to it all the more fiercely when they see the things offered. They are coming to Western society somewhat cold, and when we say "freedom" they see obscene books.

Which is not, by the way, to say that they do not oppose Western freedoms because such freedoms would destroy certain social structures that ought to go. The Taliban's treatment of women and the Saudi's brutal oppression of non-Muslims being two notorious examples.


12:18 PM


Tuesday, February 11

WIESELTIER ON MENAND ON ORWELL:

In the latest issue of The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier defends George Orwell against an attack by Louis Menand in The New Yorker. (Wieseltier is the magazine's literary editor.) To give you a taste of the attack and the defense:

"In what sense," Louis Menand demanded, "can writings that have been taken to mean so many incompatible things be called 'clear'? And what, exactly, was Orwell right about?" About Stalinism, one starts to say - but Menand is not impressed. "Orwell was against imperialism, fascism, and Stalinism. Excellent. Many people were against them in Orwell's time, and a great many more people have been against them since." The condescension in that remark is disgusting. As it happens, a great many people were not at all against Stalinism in the years in which Orwell wrote, and if many more people have been against Stalinism since, it is in part owing to the genuinely valiant refusal of Orwell and others to desist from their denunciations of it.

Menand, it turns out, believes that certainty, of any sort, about anything, is bad. He attacks Orwell's most famous terms - "Big Brother" and "doublethink," for example - as "conversatoin-stoppers." But why, writes Wieseltier,

should some conversations not be stopped, not concluded with the demonstration that a man who was called a liar actually lied? Or is stopping the conversation in this way like stopping the conversation in the totalitarian way? John Brown in Pottawatomie and Mohammed Atta in Manhattan acted in a similar spirit, but it is significant that the former dreamed of freeing enslaved people and the latter dreamed of enslaving free people.

The notion that the hatred of slavery was an excess of hatred, and perhaps that the Civil War was not quite a war worth fighting, is bizarre. With their metaphysics, Menand writes, the world of the abolitionists and the world of the slave-owners "seem to have more in common with each other than either does with our own." There speaks the pragmatist: fascinating at a dinner, useless in a struggle.


In the rest of the article - the two quotes come from the beginning and the end - Wieseltier examines not only Menand's aggressively mistaken view of Orwell but Menand's "perspectivism" and the errors that result therefrom.


10:01 PM


WARMING UP THE LITURGY:

For those of you who collect liturgical horrors, the report from the "Thirty Days" department of the February issue of the English magazine New Directions on a recent innovation in the Church of England, approved by the bishop:

Tired of boring old Communion services? Unimaginative Masses where people pray, confess, adore, give thanks, receive, glorify? Want to add a new dimension to those sad samey Sundays ? The church of St Leonard's, Butleigh is just the place for you.

The Bishop of Taunton, Andy Radford, has praised •the new style, less formal' service devised by twin vicars, Brian and Christine, and said he wished other churches would follow their example. As the parish magazine notes, 'Praise indeed!'

What is this exciting innovation, you cry? It is a 'split' communion service. It is 'open', 'friendly' and 'allows for a greater feeling of fellowship'. How does it achieve this Holy Grail of modern liturgy? Quite simple. There is a coffee interval in the middle of the service 'before we all receive communion together'!

The parish magazine encourages the doubtful to 'give this improved form of service a try'.


New Directions is the monthly magazine of Forward in Faith, the largest group in the traditional wing of the Church of England. It is a very good magazine and of interest to non-Englishman and to non-Anglicans, because it covers the culture rather well and because its analysis of the Church of England can be carried over to most other bodies as well. The beleaguered Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, adn Catholic will find a lot of the news familiar and the analysis helpful. And it has some quite talented writers.


9:18 AM


A CIRCLE OF HELL:

The Grand Jury Report.

Dante would have been necessary to do the situation in the Diocese of Rockville Center full justice.


4:33 AM


Monday, February 10

"V-Monologues"

From our contributing editor Helen Hull Hitchock, a notice that two articles on the dismaying popularity of the play The Vagina Monologues on Catholic campuses:

"The Vagina Monologues on Catholic Campuses: Why won't they just say NO?" and another on the colleges that produce it, Vagina Monologues" 2003: 43 Catholic Colleges & Universities".

I've noticed that even the video section of the grocery store down the hill carries a copy of the filmed version, and this in a relatively conservative area. I have not seen it, but I suspect it is one of those ideological works that gain popularity because they give public, or "artistic," sanction to a group's prejudices and resentments. It may well be very funny as well, from what I've been told, though in these cases different people will find it more or less funny than others. I suppose I should rent the video just to know what the fuss is about.


7:24 PM


POSTMODERN CRECHES

From the Sarasota Herald Tribune, "Cathedral becomes an embarrassment in postmodern France" a report on the crúche at Chartres cathedral, one of the glories of Christian architecture. The crúche seems designed to suggest, in a postmodern sort of way, that the events that first Christmas morning were not exactly real:

The creche consists of glass panels suspended in air. The manger appears and disappears in anemic pastels. Joseph and Mary don't seem to know what they're doing. The wise men have quite forgotten why they bothered to come.

No one pays even glancing attention to the holy baby, who must wonder who are these people and why is he here. The figures float in isolation, abstracted not only from the viewer but, remarkably, each other. Their eyes are blank, their faces empty. Except for the ox, who's sullen, and the donkey, who beholds and smirks.


The writer saw the same smirk later in the day, in a television show which showed

A smirking woman . . . doing a sultry kick-dance. She was nude, except for spike heels and a choker. From the choker hung a huge black cross.

That's France, all right. The writer uses this example to analyze France's claims to superior virtue, and finds the creche a symbol of the French embarassment at the Christian claim. I am not sure I would read as much into the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't crúche. It may not have been installed to make any sort of comment on the Christmas story at all. I suspect some artsy, um, artist thought it would be really cool to do it this way, and the clergy in charge agreed with him because it was, well, artsy. An artist said so.

But of course a theologically better grounded artist and clergy would have realized right away that the medium distorted or corrupted the message. The Son of God made man was (and is) more real than anything in this fallen world, indeed more real than the stones and stained glass of Chartres cathedral. People who knew that would not have tried to picture His birth in panels that appear and disappear.


7:14 PM


DEBILITATING POLITENESS:

A reader wrote in response to one of my blogs on the religious leaders' response to the possible (or probable) war in Iraq, of what Thomas Reeves in The Empty Church called "debilitating politeness." What Prof. Reeves meant was the way many well-meaning religious people speak, in which they do not say anything that might discomfort the person they're talking to, or about.

Unless, that is, that person is a more orthodox Christian than they are, in which case he is a "fundamentalist," or a political or economic conservative, in which case he is a heartless selfish war-mongering right-winger. In both cases he is therefore a legitimate target for scorn and insult. "Christian conservatives" get this a lot. It is funny that people who will excuse a rapist or murderer because he grew up poor in the inner city will not excuse a conservative because he grew up poor in the rural south.

Anyway, this sort of thing - debilitating politeness - intellectually disables otherwise sensible people. I have never understood why so many orthodox Christians feel that they can't make simple statements of fact (e.g. "X is a heresy and Jones is a heretic for believing it") as if they were . . . simple statements of fact (e.g. like "the speed limit is 65 and Jones is speeding because he's going 75").

In saying that Jones is a heretic, they wouldn't be saying they hated him or thought him wicked, just that he has taken a particular position with regard to particular claims. If Christianity insists on A, we need a word to describe the person who who says that it should not insist on A. The word "heretic" is no more impolite than the words "conservative" or "liberal" before "Republican" to define a Republican with a particular position on his party's stated beliefs.


10:13 AM


Sunday, February 9

NEUTERED OFFICES:

As an fyi: from our contributing editor Peter Toon, now a vicar in the Church of England, a resolution to be voted on by their General Synod at their meeting later this month:

804 'That this Synod, noting that gender neutral language was one of the guiding principles in devising Common Worship, request

(a) that legislation be introduced to amend

(i) the Synodical Government Measure 1969;
(ii) the Pastoral Measure 1983
(iii) the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991; and
(iv) any other legislation specifying title of offices which may be held by lay people or by either male or female clergy, so that gender specific titles embedded in the legislation (most particularly that of Chairman) are removed in favour of gender neutral language (such as Chair); and

(b) Bishops' Councils to ensure that the titles of officers in the Boards and Committees of the Dioceses whose title is not governed by legislation
and which is gender specific, be revised to gender neutral form at the earliest opportunity.'


Common Worship is the CofE's new major prayer book, which offers lots of possible rites (some theologically incompatible with others) almost all of which offer lots of lots of options. It is not, by conscious design, a book of common prayer. The old Book of Common Prayer is still a legal rite, but rarely used. The modern style of "worship resource" seems to be used because the designers are making, or trying to make, a virtue of necessity.

The modern Church of England is a theologically incoherent body, ranging from people who are pretty much Anabaptists to people who are pretty much Roman Catholics, and all of them are members - and often clergy - in good standing. So why not pretend that this incoherence is a good thing - call it "diversity," for example - and make up a prayer book equally incoherent - or "diverse."


10:57 AM


COURAGE AND FEARFULNESS:

Aristotle defined courage as the mean between timorousness and rashness. The timorous main is afraid of everything, the rash men ignores danger. The courageous man demonstrates fortitude. He sees the situation clearly, and is willing to suffer and inflict pain when it is his duty.

The Catholic hierarchy, led by the Pope, has come out against the war in Iraq. The US President has decided that a war is almost certainly necessary to defend the United States. In the past who has demonstrated courage?

Immediately after the attack, Pope John Paul II said that he hoped the United States would not start a war. He said this as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still burning, and the White House or Capitol had escaped obliteration only because of the courage of a small group of American men who overwhelmed the hijackers.

In the past, the Pope was repeatedly given evidence that priests were raping young boys and that bishops refused to do anything to stop it. The Pope did nothing.

After the attack on the Unites States, an attack which was designed to decapitate its government and disrupt its economy, President Bush assembled a coalition, assembled military forces, and struck at the country that had harbored the terrorists. He did not obliterate a dozen Arab cities in vengeance, nor did he sit in his bunker and do nothing (as the Pope would have liked him to do).

Therefore whose judgment should we trust? Who has demonstrated courage, and who has demonstrated timorousness?


6:29 AM




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