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Friday, February 28


My friend and colleague Fr. Lou Tarsitano protests my description of Thomas Cranmer as "flexible" in "Put not thy trust in Africa, Part II." Lou is a priest of the Anglican Church in America.

I think the use of "flexible" for Thomas Cranmer pushes the matter a bit, along the lines of an undistributed middle term. I would be disinclined to call a man who holds his hand in the fire "flexible" in general, but allowing for differences of theological opinion and historiography, it still strikes me that the way modern revisionists use the word "flexible" is very different, indeed, from the sort of flexibility that one might attribute to Cranmer.

Whatever his failings, I doubt that the old Archbishop would have countenanced the sort of nonsense that separates faith from "mission" or "communion." The African bishop advising orthodox Anglicans in the West to shut up or give up seems to have taken as his motto, "Ex Oriente, lux."

10:08 AM


A fascinating article on Stalin's assault on Christianity in the Soviet Union, which was at times more subtle than you'd expect, "The Church in Stalin's web" by Michael Bordeaux of the Keston Institute.

The Keston Institute "monitors freedom of religion and researches religious affairs in communist and post-communist countries," according to their homepage. It is run by Fr. Bordeaux, an Anglican priest. The Institute publishes a journal, Religion, State and Society and a magazine, Frontier.

8:06 AM


In response to yesterday's blog with that title, a friend sent me an article from the most recent issue of the Church of England Newspaper, Anglicans urged to live with diversity of belief, in which a Tanzanian bishop urges Anglicans to ignore their theological and moral differences with the excuse that they should be united in "mission." (CEN is the semi-Evangelical and semi-conservative alternative to the Church Times, which though officially independent is the establishment paper.)

Bishop Simon Chiwanga, who recently served as the chairman [sic!] of the Anglican Consultative Council, and therefore a man who has spent a lot of time in the West with Western Anglicans,

said that the Anglican Communion was emerging from its conflicts on Bible and theology. "Not that we have solved those conflicts in interpretations of Scriptures and our theological convictions, declaring a victor and a vanquished and divided the spoils of that war. Rather, I see us Anglicans as engaging together in mission without needing first to 'solve' hot button issues as such". He said that the church emerged from such conflicts stronger.

He said that the Anglican Communion was learning to live with difference on certain issues by placing a priority on mission. He urged Anglicans to hold unity and diversity in constructive tension. "In the Third World I see another healthy development: the way the Church there approaches these international hot button issues. I see more and more efforts to move away from our doctrinal myopia, the inability to work with others who see things differently than we do."

To justify this idea of an a-doctrinal Anglicanism, an idea that would have left even the flexible Thomas Cranmer banging his head on his desk, he invokes "mission." But the "mission" he defines has nothing to do with religion at all, and could be pursued with Buddhists, atheists, Masons, Orthodox Jews, marxists, and nearly anyone else. Substitute "the Incarnation" for "human sexuality" and the sentence works just as well.

Mission, he argued, was about solidarity across borders of language. "More and more of us are realising that we don't have to agree on human sexuality in order to advocate for persecuted Christians; we don't need to have the same churchmanship to combat poverty; we don't need to agree on our theology before working for peace and safety in Sudan," he declared.

All true, of course, but having nothing to do with the question of with whom you may be in the most intimate fellowship of communion, and what to do with those who reject the historic teaching of your church. I must admit that I find this sort of talk - the logic of men who will remain Anglicans no matter how badly they have to corrupt its theology - unutterably wearying. It just . . . male bovine excretions. It is not godly.

7:09 AM


Another view of the movie Gods and Generals, this one from one of our editors of northern origin, Fr. Louis Tarsitano. The two who commented a few days ago grew up in border states with southern sympathies, Fr. Reardon in Kentucky and Fr. Hart in Maryland.

My middle boy and I went to see the film last night. We had both read Ebert's review that morning in the local paper, and his take was more or less as a friend described it ("Unless the Southerners are depicted as eating black babies and proclaiming their cause to be that of 'keeping the blacks in their place,' the mainstream press will call it a 'whitewash'").

One of the elements that I especially liked was the depiction of old-fashioned, full-bore Southern spirituality before its treacly modern sentimentilization. I suspect that that's exactly the sort of thing that sounded phony to a guy like Ebert, who I doubt has ever been exposed much to genuine piety of any sort.

Jackson's religion had a great deal more in common with the immediate and intimate faith of the daily 6:00 a.m. Mass crowd that I grew to love as an altar boy in Chicago in the early '60s than with the abstract philosophizing of today's clerical gas bags, North or South.

6:50 AM

Thursday, February 27


As the Psalmist might have said, were he listening to romantic American conservatives hoping that they will be rescued frm Western liberals by reliably conservative African and Asian Christians. Dr. Ian Doublas's interesting review of Philip Jenkins' new book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity deals with this. Jenkins, notes Douglas,

has become the harbinger of the next wave of "the West verses the rest" ideology sweeping post September 11 United States. For Jenkins, the emergence of Christianity that he characterizes as "traditionist, orthodox, and supernatural" in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is all too often overlooked by those of us in the West caught in the fault lines of the current "clash of civilizations." The author concludes that the rise of Christianity in the Third World will exacerbate the confrontations between "jihad" and "crusade" around the world while drastically challenging the presuppositions, power, and politics of declining liberal churches in the West.

I think this is a fair summary, and Douglas, a missiologist from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts (which is everything you'd expect from the address) goes on to describe the book well. In the last third of the review, he criticizes the book for simplifying the nature of Christianity outside the West and seeing it as uniformly opposed to Western moral innovations (my word, not his).

I need to say that I find Jenkins' descriptions and conclusions to be too overdrawn and simplistic. To wash together Latin American Pentecostalism and AICs [African Indigenous Churches] as being uniformly charismatic and fundamentalist does not give due credence to the many and various ways that the Holy Spirit is working. As difficult as Christian and Islamic relations are (and this is not to minimize the killings of Christians and Muslims by adherents of both religions), to say that these two great Abrahamic faiths cannot coexist is to overlook profound efforts, often exercised at the grass roots and in unseen and unacknowledged ways, toward reconciliation. And to say that there is a normative Third World Christianity that speaks with a unified conservative voice committed to chastising the errant West over issues of human sexuality does not give full credit to the many diverse voices in this new Christianity.

. . . Yet conservatives in the West, adroitly capitalizing on the ignorance of North Americans, have promulgated the position that Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are uniformly of one conservative voice in matters of morality and human sexuality. Jenkins is not immune from these efforts to use selected voices to advance a particular set of political and ecclesiological ends in the West.

As he points out, the Anglican archbishops in South Africa and Brazil do not share the conservative views of their brethren in Singapore and Rwanda. I think this is half right. (I leave out the revealing "minimize the killings of Christians and Muslims by adherents of both religions," as if Christians were as guilty of persecution as Muslims).

On the one hand, Douglas is taking as his evidence the leaders of the most Westernized of Anglican Churches in the two-thirds world, and the Anglican Churches are themselves perhaps the most Westernized of all churches in those countries. The statements of their archbishops are not very strong evidence for his criticism of Jenkins. It is something like taking the opinion of a professor at the University of Vermont as evidence for the American attitude to college football.

But on the other hand, he is right that the two-thirds world churches are not so monolithically nor permanently conservative. It is quite possible that they - especially those tied to worldwide bodies like the Anglican (semi-)Communion - will follow the lead of the Western churches as their societies modernize. More and more African Anglican churches are ordaining women to the priesthood, no more easily defensible from the Bible than affirming homosexuality. I do not see any reason to think that they will stop with that innovation, if other innovations become attractive.

Douglas then presents an interesting argument against Jenkins' way of reading the matter:

Why is it that policymakers, pundits, and politicians (both inside and outside of the Church) latch on to the ideas of such thinkers as Huntington and Jenkins? Could it be that their theories fit the worldviews of those who rely upon the oppositional constructs and dualistic thinking of the modern mind?

Life is so much more secure when we know who the bad guy is. Whether it be the "evil empire" or the "war on terrorism," modern man (and I use this nongender-inclusive description deliberately) needs to objectify the other, the different, as some kind of normative and unified problematic to be subdued, overcome, terminated. To see the other, or more appropriately "the others," as a whole constellation of multivoiced, multicultural, pluralistic realities undermines the project of modernity.

The emerging postcolonial, postmodern world thus challenges those of us in the West who have historically relied upon the security and limits of modernity, inviting us to move into a place of unknowingness and uncontrolled openness. Thus if there is a crisis in world Christianity, it is not between an old Christendom of the West and a new Christendom of the South but rather between an hegemonic, monocultural expression of Western Christianity and an emerging, multicultural global Christian community embodying radical differences.

I think there is much to be said for this, though I would not include serious theological differences and the support for legitimizing sodomy among those "radical differences," as Douglas seems to. What we see in the "emerging, multicultural global Christian community" is a body united in faith and morals - and united despite all their cultural differences, I suspect, precisely because they share that faith and morality.

1:23 PM


We are pleased to announce the publication of the first volume of collected Touchstone essays, Creed & Culture: A Touchstone Reader. We have selected what we think are the best essays from our first ten years, when we were a quarterly journal. The result is a new 224-page volume from ISI Books, with 21 essays from writers such as Thomas Howard, Russell Kirk, Vigen Guroian, James Edwards, Huston Smith, Philip G. Davis, Steven Faulkner, and James Sauer, in addition to articles by Touchstone senior editors James Hitchcock, S. M. Hutchens, David Mills, Leon J. Podles, and Patrick Henry Reardon.

It is likely that many of our readers haven't seen these classic Touchstone articles from our quarterly issues prior to 1998. Available in both hardcover and paperback, Creed & Culture: A Touchstone Reader may be ordered from ISI books at 1-800-621-2736 (M-F, 8-5 CST) or 773-568-1550 or at

While we're on the subject of Touchstone books, let me remind readers that Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design (Brazos Press, 2001) is still in print. Edited by William Dembski and me, it is an expanded version of our July/August 1999 issue on the topic and continues to be used in college classes, I am told. If you are aware of the growing controversy over Darwinism and evolution in the public schools and wonder what the new intelligent design school of thought is all about, this is the book for you. Some of your children will certainly need to know about this as well. It's a very good primer for those who would like to read about this viable and compelling counterargument.

9:13 AM


Another response to yesterday's "Process Matters," this one from E. R. Brett of Vancouver.

I don't mean to bog (blog?) you down in anti-war/pro-war rhetoric. I must disagree with your eloquent correspondent, however.

Even granting the importance of correct process, one can argue that the UN has, by virtue of ignoring it's own processes, abandoned the "vision" upon which it was founded. In this light, American "unilateralism" is not the result of an intention to ignore "proper" process, but a mere recognition that the UN is not an adequate avenue for that process.

Interestingly, the President and his staff have chosen to make their case before the UN, attempting to legitimize the institutional processes beloved by your correspondent. The UN has, through a number of security council resolutions, explicitly acknowledged the American case, and the inspections soap opera reflect a tacit agreement. The unwillingness to enforce these resolutions, however, indicate a break-down in the UN's own processes, a breakdown that cannot be properly laid at the feet of the United States. The end result frames the fundamental weakness of the UN: it's processes will only work when the goals of the process are the same.

To suggest that the US is motivated by a desire for dominance while those seeking to use UN processes are not is to assign to the latter group a righteousness wholly undeserved. I don't mean to suggest that the US is motivated by little children and butterflies and happy thoughts; I'm under no illusions as to the strong pull of power for anyone, regardless of the skill of their speechwriters.

Those nations that pontificate about respect for the UN are no more immune to that pull than the US, but see in the UN a forum to "punch above their weight." I doubt that any present permanent member of the security council is willing to dilute their current power by the addition of new permanent members, however deserving (India comes to mind, by virtue of both population and weaponry).

One more comment: if the goal of the UN was indeed to prevent another world war, then it is possible that the UN did precisely that in its last 58 years. Of course, that same stability may be attributed to the presence of two opposed super-powers, the technology of new weapons, and the exhaustion of Europe (or a combination thereof). The UN has done little in bringing peace to - or even condemning - areas of despotism, oppression and tribalism, though Western nations may indeed have benefited from its munificence.

8:56 AM


Peter Toon has put me on to a new press publishing Anglican classics, Lancelot Andrewes Press. It is run by a Western-Rite parish in Antiochian Orthodox Church ("western rite" meaning mostly the original form of The Book of Common Prayer, I think). They are offering J. M. Neale's commentary on the Psalms and the St. Dunstan's Psalter.

7:29 AM


A response from one of our readers, Bob Mulle, to yesterday's "Process Matters":

The writer makes some sound and thoughtful points. It is refreshing to hear such rational and informed arguments from what is too often a very shrill crowd. Nevertheless, you must balance his arguments against several not inconsiderable points.

1. Congress has passed a resolution authorizing the president to proceed.

2. The U.N. has failed to act decisively over a period of more then a decade and continues to waiver in a moral morass of political paralysis.

3. It is not just the U.S. acting alone, but a large coalition of concerned nations, including the United Kingdom and many of the newly free nations of Eastern Europe.

4. The United States is not acting in a rash manner, but on a deliberate, careful course based on a reasoned assessment of the national interest.

I would welcome a good, hearty debate based on the sound arguments found on both sides of this important issue.

7:24 AM

Wednesday, February 26


And I think the rest of us as well. offers A Reading List for Every Young Woman. Among the diverse contributors are Jean Bethke Elshtain, Nat Hentoff, Time's Roger Rosenblatt, Camille Paglia, The New Criterion's Roger Kimball, and Wellsley's Mary Lefkowitz. Jane Austen seems to win.

7:44 PM


More evidence for the limitations of "pluralism" and "multiculturalism" as they are defined by our cultural elites, taken from Mark Steyn's latest column in the Canadian National Post, "Can good Muslims be good multiculturalists?":

1. Last month, Judge Beaumont, the Common Serjeant of London, ruled that, in the case of a Muslim cleric accused of inciting the murders of Jews and Hindus, no Jews or Hindus or the spouses thereof could serve on the jury.

2. On January 21st, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported that the Court of Appeals in Eidsivating had acquitted a Middle Eastern immigrant of raping a retarded woman on the grounds that he had only lived 12 years in Norway and so could not be expected to understand her condition.

The man was 22 years old. Thus, he had lived virtually his entire conscious life in Norway. But the court ruled that his insufficient understanding of the language was a mitigating factor. He was a cab driver and the woman was his customer. She paid for the ride with a "TT" card - a form of transport subsidy for the handicapped, which he evidently recognized because he accepted it. Nonetheless, because of his "cultural background," an adult who'd lived in Norway since he was 10 years old could not be expected to know that this woman was mentally incapacitated and that he should not assault her.

In a related blog, the blog Dean's World quoted (I think from an earlier column of Steyn's) a professor from the University of Oslo commenting on the raping of students by Muslim immigrants:

"Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes" because their manner of dress would be regarded by Muslim men as inappropriate. "Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it."

"They asked for it," in other words. Sheesh. Anyway, Steyn goes on to tell of a play glorifying and at the same time distorting the story of a Palestinian suicide bomber, which a theatre in Cincinnati pulled after Muslims complained. As he notes:

What normally happens with "controversial" art? I'm thinking of such cultural landmarks of recent years as Andres Serrano's Piss Christ - a crucifix sunk in the artist's urine - or Terrence McNally's Broadway play Corpus Christi, in which a gay Jesus is liberated by the joys of anal sex with Judas. When, say, Catholic groups complain about these abominations, the arts world says you squares need to get with the beat: A healthy society has to have "artists" with the "courage" to "explore" "transgressive" "ideas," etc.

Yet with this play, faced with Muslim objections, the big courageous transgressive arts guys fold like a Bedouin tent. And, unlike your Piss Christs, where every liberal commentator wants to chip in his two-bits on artistic freedom, pretty much everyone's given a wide berth to this one.

I have never understood, even in the marxist days of my youth, why so many people could not understand that a belief in tolerance depended upon certain assumptions that some other people did not hold. Which means that a tolerant society would find some people taking advantage of its tolerance to the point of sedition or crime, and in fact intend the destruction of that tolerant society. What is most disturbing about the kind of story Steyn tells is that the tolerance for the enemies within is so thoughtless and so suicidal.

1:19 PM


A reader sent the following in response to my blogs on Blair and Berry. I agree with his concerns about the process by which the United States is going to war, though not with his view of the U.N.

Thank you for finally giving some space in MereComments to an antiwar point of view. But I'm not sure that you have yet quite gotten the point made by Berry or many other war opponents, including the churches and bishops, and that point is that process does matter, that how we make the decision to go to war may be more important and have more lasting consequences than the war itself.

The United States of America has in its history made two major commitments about the process it will follow in going to war. First, in the ratification of the Constitution, the nation made the commitment that only Congress could "declare war." The implication, I believe, is that the decision to go to war must be made as the result of an open, informed, democratic debate.

The second major commitment was the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945. In signing this charter we agreed not to go to war except under one of two conditions: either with the approval of the UN Security Council, or in self defense in the face of imminent danger. This was a voluntary abdication of a small degree of national sovereignty which we made in the belief that the world would be better off if all nations made that commitment.

It is true that we have not always lived up to these commitments: the invasions of Grenada and Panama stand out as notable recent exceptions to both principles. And it is true that the United Nations has not always lived up to all our hopes for it. But I am one of many people who is not ready to abandon the vision that led to the founding of the UN, which is the hope that some degree of international law can at least stop the outbreak of major large scale wars.

For all the faults of the UN, I believe this has actually worked pretty well over the last fifty-eight years. But this vision has no chance of working if the most powerful nation in the world abandons it. And that is precisely what President Bush seems to be doing.

Ever since last summer, the President has made it obvious that he intends to go to war with Iraq. Despite all of the speeches and diplomatic activity at the UN and elsewhere, I don't think anyone really doubts that his mind is made up, and that the 100,000 or so troops he has moved to Kuwait are not going to go home until Baghdad is overrun and Saddam Hussein is dead or deposed.

The principle here seems to be that the President of the United States has the moral and legal right to take the nation to full-scale war with any other nation anywhere in the world, without the advice or consent of anyone, including the U.S. Congress and the U.N. Security Council. If this principle is accepted it will mean the end of the United Nations, and the end of all efforts at establishing international law - at least until the day when our nation finally dies of hubris. The message this world will send to the world is that once again the nations should recognize no rule except the rule of raw power, that they should fear and obey the United States not because we are good or right, but because we happen to have the strongest military.

I believe that the greatest moment in the presidency of George H. W. Bush was the moment when he refused to let our troops go beyond the mandate of the UN and pulled them out of Iraq. It was a great moment in the way that the greatest moment of George Washington's presidency was the day he voluntarily left office. Both men recognized the importance of subjecting their personal power and ambition to the rule of law. It is a shame that the son is now squandering the legacy of the father.

I believe that we will win this war, and I won't be sorry to see Saddam gone. But I believe it will be won at a tremendous cost to the future stability of world. The war may or may not be a mistake, but the way the decision was made was a disaster whose results I dread to see.

And this I believe is at the root of a great deal of anti-war protest. Although some protesters are truly opposed to all war, I believe many, especially in Europe, are so outraged by Bush's arrogance that they feel they have no choice but to oppose him now even if he might be right. They perceive correctly that any international endorsement of the war that might emerge now will obviously have been bought (or extorted) by the U.S., and the only outlet for opposing the principle of the U.S. as world overlord it to oppose even this war.

8:19 AM

Monday, February 24


Called to Account, published by a conservative think tank called Social Affairs Unit and edited by the Rev'd Peter Mullen and the sociologist Digby Anderson, is yet another report charting the decline of the Church of England, but interesting for the inclusion of includes criticism of the liberalization of the church by the novelist Fay Weldon, not a writer you'd expect to object to liberalism.

Ms Weldon, author of The Life and Loves of a She Devil, is a recent convert to Anglicanism, having previously been a critic of its refusal to ordain women as priests, a policy it reversed in the 1990s.

In her contribution, she said the Church appears "bent on self destruction" with those who run it apparently engaged in "an actual plot to bring it to its knees".

She said the Prince of Wales now seemed so pro-Islam "that the Church might well wish to disestablish itself in order to keep its distance".

The rise of "militant gay clergy, male and female" was attacked and she added: "The more it [the Church] courts popularity, the less moral ascendancy it has."

The Church of England's spokesman dismissed the report by saying "I haven't read it yet but it remains to be seen whether anything remains when the axe-grinding and invective are taken out." After observing these people for a while, you begin to wonder if anything will make them admit their church is in trouble. Besides their getting laid off, that is.

2:03 PM


An interesting article on Tony Blair's thinking about war, "The Pope's disapproval worries Blair more than marchers", by Matthew D'Ancona in The Daily Telegraph. According to the writer, the Prime Minister has seriously wrestled with the theological questions and, as the title indicates, is far more concerned with what the Pope thinks than the rantings and slogans of the anti-war crowd.

He comments on the Pope's opposition to the war, which has struck many of his greatest admirers as unfortunate, but understandable.

The Pope was, it should not be forgotten, strongly opposed to the last Gulf War in 1991, which he foretold would have "certainly disastrous consequences". George Weigel, his most authoritative biographer, observes diplomatically that "the Vatican's performance in the Gulf War crisis between August 1990 and March 1991 did not meet the high standards set in the previous twelve years of the pontificate." Indeed not.

Yet the Pope, a veteran of the Polish wartime resistance and a lionhearted enemy of Communism, is no weak-willed peacenik. Quite the opposite, in fact: he knows better than any of the West's current crop of political leaders what war really entails. I imagine that the soft-spoken opposition of this towering figure troubles Mr Blair much more deeply than the hostility of the million or so voters who marched through London eight days ago: this weekend, there is only one Pole he is worrying about.

The writer makes the same point I've been making, about the low level of thought most religious leaders have shown when speaking on the matter:

What is so depressing about this debate is its intellectual poverty. Those churchmen attacking Mr Blair over Iraq seem to do so primarily on procedural grounds. Echoing the archbishops' joint statement, Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, said on the BBC's Today programme on Thursday that the Prime Minister had not made a "morally persuasive case". The bishop went on to say, however, that if the UN passed a second resolution,"people like myself and the churches and the archbishops have to think seriously again".

So let's be clear: does this mean that what the Security Council says is somehow intrinsically "morally persuasive"? And that - in practice - Jacques Chirac now gets to decide what is a "just war", and what isn't? This is the topsy turvy logic employed by churchmen in this country, who seem to be abdicating their own responsibility to make moral decisions, expecting the Security Council to pronounce on ethical questions as the Holy See used to on behalf of all Christendom.

The story also includes an encouraging note:

visitors to his [Blair's] study have been startled on occasion to see a well-thumbed copy of Paul VI's bull on human reproduction, Humanae Vitae.

A year or two ago, Blair's wife Cherie had another child, at an advanced age, which does suggest the prime minister and his wife (a Catholic) may be living by the Church's teaching. It would be cheering to think so. It is cheering to think what a lesson her having the baby - she is a successful and busy barrister - gave the British people.

10:09 AM


A clever little verse on Darwinist dogmatism, "The Galapagos Sting", and another on the pro-choicers' refusal of rights to the unborn, ""Ode to NARAL and NOW", both by Tom Graffagnino.

9:24 AM

Sunday, February 23


My wife Denise ordered the book Gods and Generals for us today, and we shall see the movie as soon as I can find a free evening. I append a note from Father Addison Hart, who earlier gave the movie a good review to his friends on an e-mail list.

I recall, on my first and second readings of the historical novel Gettysburg (on which the movie was based) that the dialogue in the novel was weak by the absence of religious references. The author, one recalls, admitted that he deliberately left out such references, because they would seem unreal to more modern Americans.

That is to say, even an author completely familiar with the primary literature on the Civil War, the journals and letters of its participants, felt that he could not permit them to speak with the religious voice that was their native tongue. As a result, the men who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg in that novel and movie, were really fictional characters. They bore scant resemblance to the profoundly religious men who really fought at Gettysburg. To remove the "God reference" from Lee, Chamberlain, Jackson, Lincoln, and the others is to create entirely new characters.

Apparently this new film, God and the Generals, does not make this mistake. I look forward to it.

From Fr. Addison:

The reviews, not just Ebert's, are almost universally "thumbs down." The predictable reasons cited are:

(A) it's either "too historical" or else its history is "whitewashed" (take your pick -- in short, it's just not PC);
(B) there is too much sentimentalism in it (i.e., people in the 1860s didn't act like the moronic narcissists and perverts we usually see in the movies);
(C) too many quotes from the Bible, too religious (i.e., it's not believable to secularists of the 21st Century);
(D) Southerners are portrayed sympathetically, not like the evil Nazis we all know they really were (ah, the voice of the demonizers - the sort who will want to banish Southern accents next);
(E) the action is too slow and not bloody enough (in other words, it doesn't fulfill today's addictive taste for graphic bloodletting).

See it before the critics kill it.

8:53 PM


Among the more thoughtful articles I have read on America's involvement in Iraq is one by Wendell Berry, titled "Writing Ourselves a Global License to Kill". It is an abridged version of an essay appearing in the March/April issue of a magazine called Orion.

He is concerned about the dangerous expansion of government power and about the failure of Americans to reflect upon our own sins and failings, and in this he is right. It is a useful reminder.

A government, committing its nation to "rid the world of evil," is assuming necessarily that it and its nation are good. But the proposition that anything so multiple and large as a nation can be "good" is an insult to common sense. It precludes any attempt at self-criticism or self-correction and it leads us far indeed from the traditions of religion and democracy.

. . . Curtailment of civil rights, defiance of laws, and resort to overwhelming force - the ready products of fear and hasty thought - cannot protect us against the destruction of our own land by ourselves. They cannot protect us against the selfishness, wastefulness and greed that we have legitimized here as economic virtues, and have taught to the world. They cannot protect us against our government's longstanding disdain for any form of self-sufficiency or thrift, or against the consequent dependence on foreign supplies, such as oil from the Middle East

I would not put it quite like this, and think that one should not write "us" when one means "them," but he is reminding us of something it is distressingly easy to forget, when the passions of war are aroused.

On the other hand, Berry slips from that insight into the usual clichés of the anti-war agrarian, and these are very far from helpful. For example:

This document affirms peace as the justification of war and war as the means of peace, perpetuating a hallowed absurdity.

I much admire Berry and his writing, and have found myself challenged by him as by few other contemporary writers, but this, I am afraid, is just stupid. War is not a perfect means of peace, of course, but few people have ever said it is.

The Christian just war tradition is aware of how ambiguous and dangerous an exercise is waging war, even in the best and most obviously justified of causes. It is not the product of war-mongers or moral naifs. And it also knows something the high-minded pacifist never seems to see at all: that honorable man can fight honorably, can do what they have to do without enjoying it, and do no more than they have to do.

But for Berry this is all "a hallowed absurdity." War is, however, and obviously, sometimes the only means by which such peace as is to be had can be attained. The peace, for example, that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany. One may say that victory in that war made America arrogant and gave the country a taste for military intervention in which it confused its desires and interests with altruistic concern for other nations, but yet . . . France is now free, and Belgium, and the Netherlands, and Denmark, and Norway, and Germany itself, and among us live people descended from those freed from Auschwitz and Treblinka and Dachau.

That is a peace, and a peace achieved through war. If the nation had accepted Berry's idea that achieving peace through war is a "hallowed absurdity," most (if not all) of Western Europe would live under the totalitarian government of the German National Socialists, and quite likely Eastern Europe would still live under the totalitarian government of the Soviet national socialists. And very few Jewish people would be left.

Berry also argues that

A government, committing its nation to "rid the world of evil," is assuming necessarily that it and its nation are good. But the proposition that anything so multiple and large as a nation can be "good" is an insult to common sense. It precludes any attempt at self-criticism or self-correction and it leads us far indeed from the traditions of religion and democracy.

To which our contributing editor Fr. Addison Hart responded:

Berry has a point, and the simple-minded "good guys vs. bad guys" rhetoric of Bush and his Administration has probably weakened what should have been presented as the seriously more complicated and overdue moral argument it is for our taking action against Hussein. (This would have required, however, a frank admission of U.S. culpability where Iraq is concerned, stretching back at least a couple of decades.)

Still, there is some naiveté in Berry's assertion that: "This document affirms peace as the justification of war and war as the means of peace, perpetuating a hallowed absurdity." This is the sort of apparent "wisdom" which confuses "peace" with passivity in the face of evil, and then blames war for disturbing that illusion of peace. Peace in the affairs of this fallen world has never been anything but a restraining of the encroaching chaos, nor has it ever been purchased without the use or threat of force. The peace of the New Jerusalem is ultimately reserved for the age to come.

Furthermore, just to short-circuit the Christian pacifists' favorite false assumption: "Turning the other cheek" has everything to do with one person's humble strength in the face of being shamed, and nothing to do with defending one's family, city, or society.

I recommend reading Berry's article, and everything else he has written. But I do not endorse the utopian strain one finds in this article, and I wish he - and those who think like him - would see that the problem of Iraq can be understood in quite a different way than his, a way that he might think wrong, and dangerously wrong, but one that is not so self-evidently "absurd."

8:40 PM

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