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Saturday, March 8


As someone who has, on various trips to Canada, endured Canadian condescension, I rather enjoyed The Sickness of Canadian Anti-Americanism by a Canadian scholar, Jaimie Glazov. Referring to a column by a Mark Kingwell titled "What distinguishes us from Americans" in the National Post, he wrote:

Kingwell defends the reality that much of Canadian identity has been built on Canada defining itself in opposition to the United States. He writes, "I have never understood why this is considered inadequate or feeble. If you were the only dissenter in a room holding a dozen people, standing up and saying `I'm not the same as you' would be a clear mark of moral courage."

Dr. Glazov calls this a "psychic illness . . founded on Canada's desperate desire to be 'different' than the Americans," and gives as an example of one of its more pernicious products the view of the Cold War - America is evil and wants to rule the world + Stalin Who? - common among Canadian scholars and political leaders.

As a Russian ¹migr¹, I am not humoured by Kingwell's assault on historical memory; I am not humoured by Gulag denial just as a Jewish person wouldn't be humoured by Holocaust denial.

While I was engaged in my doctoral studies in history at York University in Toronto, I would confront many of my colleagues about this issue. Why, I asked them, were they reluctant to face the errors of Canadian nationalists vis-à-vis the Cold War? Were they not aware of how the documents from the former Soviet archives were discrediting almost everything Canadian nationalists had said about the Cold War?

My colleagues' favourite response was to shrug their shoulders and to dismiss my arguments as being too "hung up" on "the past." The Cold War "was over," they told me, and it was silly to chase down "old ghosts". My "obsession" with the Soviet archives, they patiently explained to me, was analogous to "necrophilia." And these were historians.

He writes near the end of the article:

Kingwell refers to how little Americans know about us. He explains that "American ignorance is a staple of our richly ironic strain of humour." Really? I never found anything slightly "rich" in this humour at all. Growing up in Canada, I was always greatly entertained by the endless and smug complaining about how "stupid" Americans are because of their ignorance about Canada. Let's be serious: why would Americans in Los Angeles and New York City need to know anything about Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, or about anything else Canadian?

I have always thought this, when Canadians went on about Americans not knowing anything about Canada, but never thought it wise to say so out loud. But it has never occurred to me to think a Canadian ignorant or amusing because he did not know the difference between Kentucky and Missisippi (however it's spelled) or could not list the original thirteen colonies. Dr. Glazov continues:

Kingwell ends his essay by saying that Canadians sometimes wish the U.S. "had a little more of what makes us great." Uh, sorry, but a little bit more of what exactly? Perhaps, instead, it would be wiser for us to focus on giving up on clinging to the ingredients of our "moral courage", which includes the joke of bilingualism À English Canada's last pretence of possessing any unique characteristics whatsoever.

Let's admit it, without bilingualism, English Canadians would no longer be able to say, "We're not like those Americans," without someone else rejoining: "Oh? And how is that?" And there will be no answer, because there will be nothing to say.

I think this overstated, but am hard-pressed to say why. I like Canada a great deal, though I have spent almost all my time in the Maritimes and cannot claim to know the rest of the country. The culture is a more European one, not in being less materialistic, but in being less vigorously or aggressively materialistic. There is something to be said for people who (generalization coming) spend their money on food and drink and travel rather than larger cars and more elaborate gadgets.

8:56 PM


A reader sends a link to another article on the Assyrian Christians, in addition to Thursday's "Our Assyrian Brothers," "Christians for Saddam?", a description by an Orthodox writer of the Christian Iraqis and the effect a war will have on them, including their survival. It appears on the site, which describes itself as "The premier anti-state/pro-market site on the net" and is obviously libertarian and isolationist.

The site includes another article of possible interest to readers, "Christian Enthusiasm for War", written by a Presbyterian minister in New Zealand. The core of the writer's argument seems to be these paragraphs:

Military force cannot deal with evil in Iraq, because it is unable to deal with these spiritual powers. Even if an invasion is successful and Saddam Hussein is deposed, the same spiritual forces will remain in control of the nation. The United States may be able conquer Iraq with overwhelming military force, but it will not be able change the spiritual atmosphere. War cannot remove evil from Iraq. This is why I am surprised at Christians making the case for war against Iraq.

. . . Christians praying in the West can influence the spiritual forces working in Iraq, but they do not have the spiritual authority to remove them. There will always be people with spiritual authority in Iraq inviting them back. Real change will only come, when people in Iraq with spiritual authority choose to stand in the power of the Holy Spirit against these evil spiritual forces and force them out of the nation.

This is really rather spooky, at least as a political philosophy. (And not a point of view I expected to find on a libertarian website.) Because the United States cannot by military force remove certain "spiritual powers" in Iraq, it ought not by military force to remove nuclear bombs, offensive rockets, killer viruses and bacteria, and murderous chemicals. Oh, right, yes, well. It's a weird kind of utopianism, only one supported not by a dream of the future but by an appeal to "the Gospel" and "the Holy Spirit."

The writer does, a few paragraphs later, admit that "The civil government has the 'power of the sword' to place a restraint on evil (Rom 13:1À6)" and that "Political leaders have responsibility to defend their nation from evil attack," but then dissolves again into not very helpful declarations that we must be "realistic" about the limits of the state's ability to end evil, in which the utopian appeal is repeated.

9:25 AM


From Thursday's release, "Mel Gibson's Great Passion: Christ's Agony as You've Never Seen It", an interesting interview with him about his movie on the Passion. (The story's number is ZE03030621, but annoyingly, Zenit's website doesn't seem to let you link to particular articles. You have to go to the homepage, find "Daily Dispatch," and click on March 6.)

After asking Gibson why he wanted to make such a movie, to which Gibson, a Catholic, responded by describing his growth in faith, the interviewer asked him why he was making yet another movie on the life of Jesus.

Gibson: I don't think other films have tapped into the real force of this story. I mean, have you seen any of the others? They are either inaccurate in their history, or they suffer from bad music or bad hair. This film will show the passion of Jesus Christ just the way it happened. It's like traveling back in time and watching the events unfold exactly as they occurred.

. . . I'm telling the story as the Bible tells it. I think the story, as it really happened, speaks for itself. The Gospel is a complete script, and that's what we're filming.

He is telling the story of a hero, he continues, and

There is no greater hero story than this one - about the greatest love one can have, which is to lay down one's life for someone. The Passion is the biggest adventure story of all time. I think it's the biggest love-story of all time; God becoming man and men killing God - if that's not action, nothing is.

The interviewer then asks if the film will offend non-Christians (a softball question, I'm sure) and gives as an example the "role of the Jewish leaders in Jesus' death." Gibson replies:

This isn't a story about Jews vs. Christians. Jesus himself was a Jew, his mother was a Jew, and so were his Twelve Apostles. It's true that, as the Bible says, "He came unto his own and his own received him not"; I can't hide that.

But that doesn't mean that the sins of the past were any worse than the sins of the present. Christ paid the price for all our sins.

The struggle between good and evil, and the overwhelming power of love go beyond race and culture. This film is about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. These are things that the world could use more of, particularly in these turbulent times. This film is meant to inspire, not to offend.

He also points that he didn't invent the story. When asked about the violence in the story, Gibson admits that some people may find it offensive,

but, hey, that's the way it was. There is no gratuitous violence in this film. I don't think anyone under 12 should go see it - unless they're a very mature 12-year-old. It's pretty heavy.

I think we have gotten too used to seeing pretty crucifixes on the wall and we forget what really happened. I mean, we know that Jesus was scourged, that he carried his cross, that he had nails put through his hands and feet, but we rarely think about what this means.

Growing up I didn't realize what was involved in this. I didn't realize how hard it was. The full horror of what Jesus suffered for our redemption didn't really strike me. Understanding what he went through, even on a human level, makes me feel not only compassion, but also a debt: I want to repay him for the enormity of his sacrifice.

The film is being made in the original languages, Aramaic and Latin, and will not have subtitles. Gibson thinks people will understand it anyway - it is a famous story, after all - and that the movie will affect people more by being spoken in strange languages.

Caravaggio's paintings don't have subtitles, but people get the message. The Nutcracker Ballet doesn't have subtitles, but people get the message. I think that the image will overcome the language barrier. That's my hope.

I'm just trying to be as real as possible. There is something kind of startling about watching it in the original languages. The reality comes out and hits you. Full-contact. I know we are only re-creating, but we are doing the best we can to simulate an experience of really being there.

And I think it's almost counterproductive to say some of these things in a modern language. It makes you want to stand up and shout out the next line, like when you hear "To be or not to be" and you instinctively say to yourself, "That is the question."

But if you hear the words spoken as they were spoken at the time, it can kind of stun you. I've seen that happen when we're working. It gets a clarity to it through the acting, through the nuances of the characters, the movement of the camera - it's the movement, it's the timing, it's everything. All of a sudden it's very, very clear to me. That's when I cut and move on.

8:13 AM


Many European governments and their people oppose a war against Iraq. Germany has already announced that it doesn't care what the inspectors find; in no circumstances (including discovery of plans to plant nuclear bombs in a dozen US cities?) will ever approve war against Iraq, much less participate in one. No information that the United States supplies could possibly persuade Europeans to support a war against Iraq; such evidence as Powell presented has often been dismissed as CIA fabrications. Even an Iraq-sponsored terrorist attack would probably lead to comments like the Pope made after the 9-11 attack, that he hoped that the United States would not start a war.

It is therefore difficult to take the objections of Europeans seriously. They have not been massively attacked by terrorists, we have been. They did very little to assist us after the attack. Canada would not even tighten its laws that allow terrorists safe harbor in Canada, and easy access to the United States. France has continued to sell weapons to Iraq.

Is war justified? I do not know. President Bush has the most information.

He has hard data about Iraqi capabilities. They almost without doubt have biological and chemical weapons.

He knows that Hussein has used such weapons against his own people.

Hussein has weapons that could inflict massive damage on the United States. He is the type of man who would use them. He has a delivery system in the form of terrorists who may dislike him but who hate the United States even more.

The crucial question is intention. Is there any evidence that Hussein indeed intends to use these weapons against the United States?

Intelligence about intentions is extremely difficult to obtain. It relies upon electronic intercepts and moles. Someone close to Hussein is the only reliable source of information about Hussein's intentions.

Do we have such a source? If we do, we cannot reveal it, or he will immediately be killed.

If we have such a source, is the information he is feeding us reliable? Does he really know Hussein's intentions, or is he lying to us in an attempt to destroy Hussein and replace him?

Evaluating intelligence calls for wisdom beyond that of Solomon's.

I pray that Bush reaches the correct conclusions. He has more information than anyone else, he has people skilled in evaluating intelligence, he has the authority (granted by Congress) and the responsibility to make decisions

Can he err? Yes, alas. No one in the world is infallible, and American intelligence has had grievous failures.

Since he cannot be 100% certain, should he therefore do nothing until an attack occurs? But such an attack might leads hundreds of thousands, or even tens of millions, of Americans dead. How would the Untied Sates respond to a massive biological attack if it felt it had been betrayed by its allies and persuaded to do nothing while Hussein used terrorists to poison the United States? Do the Europeans really want the world's most powerful nation wounded with millions of its citizens dying, and feeling betrayed by its allies and almost the whole world?

The United States has behaved with enormous restraint, but war brutalizes. We destroyed German and Japanese cities in our fury at being dragged into the war, even though our own civilian population was untouched. How would we respond with 20 million Americans dead? The rest of the world should contemplate that, and decide whether it wants to leave Hussein in power.

5:12 AM

Friday, March 7


A friend just sent me an article on the new Archbishop of Canterbury from something called the LICC, an English group which has the slogan "Connecting with Culture - Recapturing the Imagination." He asked if their view of Dr. Rowan Williams was "too optimistic."

Well, of course it's too optimistic, I replied. If they weren't optimistic, Anglicans (establishment ones, I mean) would have to face reality. Herewith most of the article (in italics) and my response.

simply by taking his seat on Augustine's throne, the new Archbishop becomes spiritual leader not only for loyal Anglican church-goers but for the nation as a whole.

This is an example of the unreality they won't face. There are more Catholics and I think more Muslims worshipping weekly in England than in the Church of England, and I suspect the former and I am certain the latter are younger as well.

The Archbishop isn't these peoples' spiritual leader, if anything rather the opposite. And he's not the spiritual leader of the majority of the English population who don't care about religion at all, even if they tell pollsters they're "CofE." The simple test is: if he leads, do they follow? And the answer: no.

But other reasons have more to do with the man himself. Ever since the announcement of his appointment last summer, it is remarkable how effective he has been in generating intelligent public debate about leading issues of the day, such as globalization, marketing aimed at children, asylum seekers and the proposed war on Iraq.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this. All the archbishop has to do is speak, and newspapers write articles, though whether the articles constitute "public debate" is a question. On top of which, some of the most interesting articles have been rather critical ones, the generating of which is not a virtue. He has spoken more interestingly than did George Carey, but then that's like Michael Jordan succeeding my son on the seventh grade basketball team.

Williams is, by the way, pro-life, but he has not tried to generate intelligent public debate on that issue. He would find the media not nearly so ready to respond, but he could force the issue, if he wanted and was willing to give up the status among the secular-minded (including the secular-minded in the CofE) he now has. This silence is a better test of how "remarkable" his effect on public discourse has been.

Some have raised questions as to whether his cultural engagement proceeds from a sufficiently •Biblical' perspective. That's a perfectly legitimate concern, though oddly it is expressed mainly in relation to an issue about which the Archbishop has not sought to generate public debate: homosexuality.

Notice that "oddly" and the implicit claim that he shouldn't be judged for his views on matters "about which [he] has not sought to generate public debate." Homosexuality is an excellent test issue, because it raises the particular hermeneutical and exegetical questions that show what a man really thinks about the Bible, no matter what he says about Scripture in general. I addressed this in my St. Paul the Eccentric.

The question of women and eldership is another good test issue, and another that Williams flunks, as judged by the traditional view (and the present and future view of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches). The nature of sexual difference is quite a crucial one in the living out of the Christian faith, which does not allow the division to be lost or blurred, but which in this matter Williams has abandoned whole-heartedly.

Dr Williams's commitment to the Bible should be considered in the light of what he actually says, rather than what we may have been led to believe by others:

"I believe that the Bible tells us what we could not otherwise know: it tells us that God, the maker of the world, is committed to that world, and desires with all his being to save it from disaster and the imprisonment of sin; that he does this by calling a people to witness to him by their prayers and their actions, in obedience to what he shows them of his will through the Law; that he brings this work to completion when God the eternal Son, the eternal Word, becomes human as Jesus of Nazareth, and offers his life to destroy or to •soak up', as you might say, the terrible consequences of our sin; and that Jesus is raised from the tomb to call a new people together in the power of the Spirit, who will show what kind of God God is in the quality of their life together and their relation with him. This is revealed in the acts of God in history, and it is once and for all set out in the Bible. There is no going round this or behind it."

That kind of commitment to scriptural truth, combined with such a sensitivity to cultural trends, his keen intellect, poetic heart and prophetic vision give us hope that this may indeed be a spiritual leader who can help the Church to recapture the imagination of our culture.

This all sounds very good, but it is not all Williams has said about Scripture (one alternative quote appears in Gerald Bray's View in the March issue, as a matter of fact). It is infinitely better than the shallow skepticism about Scripture held by his predecessor but one, Robert Runcie, but why should an Archbishop of Canterbury be praised just for believing Christian basics?

Williams articulates the Christian Story well, but we are still left with the question of what he does, not with the Story, but with the words of Scripture. Scripture does not just tell a Story but gives some fairly explicit directions about how that Story is to be lived, with how a man is to play his part. It is like the script of a play: it does not just contain a title page, a list of the characters, and an outline of the plot, it contains every word the characters say, through which they come to life and tell the story. It's not really a story without all the dialogue. It's the difference between reading the Cliff Notes version of Hamlet and the play itself.

It is there that the problem comes in cases like Williams'. He may tell people that the eternal Son of God soaked up sin - an interesting metaphor - but what does he tell them to do when their sins have been soaked up? Where a man should he put his willy, for example? What does he do if he has helped produce a baby he doesn't want? This is where Williams' understanding of the authority of the words of Scripture comes in, and where he seems, from a traditionally orthodox point of view, to be rather weak.

And where he is likely to be dangerous to Christianity in England, precisely because he articulates the Story so well but has several peculiar views of how we are to play our part in it. He is at best an ambiguous figure, capable of leading people to a deeper understanding of the Story while misleading them as they try to adjust their own story to it.

I quite liked his enthronement sermon, btw.

4:47 PM


This story is several weeks old, but still relevant because Iraq is still a story and because the National Council of Churches in this story claim to be representing you. You might want to know what they said.


French Language Report from French Protestant Federation

February 12, 2003, PARIS, France - American church leaders in Paris apparently caught many in the French public by surprise this week when they spoke out in opposition to U.S.-led military action against Iraq. People had gotten the idea that the U.S. churches all supported the proposed war, the church leaders said.

The five-member delegation from the (U.S.) National Council of Churches met with French churches Feb. 10-11 as part of a search for peaceful solutions to the Iraq crisis.

"We are here representing the official position of the National Council of Churches - with 50 million members in 36 denominations - and the Roman Catholic Church, with nearly 64 million U.S. members," said the Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director of the International Council of Community Churches, an NCC-member denomination. "Large portions of the American population don't support this war."

"That's news here," commented John Briscoe, providing NCC staff support to the delegation, speaking by phone from Paris. He described the delegation's Monday news conference, and said, "The general impression in France is that the churches are all behind Bush."

Well, it's also news in this country that such self-appointed representatives are speaking officially for (do the math:) 64 million Roman Catholics and 50 million other Christians, for a grand total of 114 million American Christians. It is not surprising that the NCC firmly opposes any war with Iraq. But they speak officially for all Roman Catholics in the U.S. on this issue? And, as many have pointed out, they hardly speak for the lay members of the churches that belong to the NCC. It is well-known that the laity of mainline churches are more conservative that their denominational leaders and the NCC as a whole.

The NCC spokesman in this story, if not lying, is giving a very definite misimpression. And it seems to have worked on his French audience, at least according to Briscoe:

President Bush is a member of the United Methodist Church, which is one of the NCC's member churches. Said Mr. Briscoe, "Many of the questions kept circling back to, •Bush is a member of a church that's a member of the NCC. The United Methodists and the NCC are opposed to going to war against Iraq. Yet Bush is pushing ahead. How is that possible?'"

It's possible, folks, because few members of NCC churches pay any attention to what the NCC says about much of anything. Just don't tell the French. Why add to their confusion? If they only knew the NCC the way most Christians in this country do, they wouldn't have been surprised by anything the NCC "reps" told them.

1:53 PM


In "Bishops sacrifice accommodations, privileges and rights: everyone suffers" (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 2002, not yet on line), Father Michael Orsi forthrightly defends "clerical privilege" (p. 68)because the "clergy represents, at least theoretically, the best and most virtuous members of a community" (p. 69). By turning over accusations of child molestation to the state, "the bishops have encouraged the state to further degrade society by diminishing its regard for religion since the Church is often identified by its clergy" (p. 69, emphasis added). Orsi disagrees with exemptions from the statute of limitations (although such statutes often serve to protect criminals who victimize children) and condemns Megan's Law (upheld by the US Supreme Court.)

Orsi claims that "it has always been accepted that certain crimes should be addressed internally by the Church." Orsi claims that "efforts at reformation" with suspension and laicization as final penalties usually satisfied everyone (p. 68).

Orsi thinks that bishops should have refused to hand over the names of accused priests and "risked jail" (p. 70).

What is Orsi defending? This is the sort of behavior that bishops find tolerable, and leads only to a transfer from one parish to another. Father Pete Keegan became close to Terry McAteer after McAteer's father died when he was running for mayor of San Francisco.

Keegan took Terry to Disneyland. Terry reports

"He was a big man, 6 feet tall and about 230 pounds," said McAteer. "I was what, 70 pounds? He used his weight to force me. If I resisted doing what he wanted, he would lay on top of me and push my face into the pillow."

And all the time, McAteer said, Keegan is saying, "Father loves you," and "Your mother is fine with this."

Imagine a 10-year-old boy trying to understand why the person you trust the most, had deep admiration for, your family priest who was taking care of your mother now, was doing this to him. "I was 10; it was 1967. At 10, you are so naive."

Afterward, the priest cooed to him, "Let this be our secret, just between you and me."

The next day, going from ride to ride at Disneyland, he said, Keegan watched him like a hawk, not allowing him to phone home. "I think I was one of the first boys he molested. He was still scared of being exposed."

That night, exhausted from the busy day, Terry fell asleep quickly. But at 5 a.m., the priest crept back into his bed. And this time he was much more violent, more brutal.

"I was fighting to get away. There was blood all over the sheets. I'm in excruciating pain. My pajamas got ripped. Finally, I ran into the bathroom and locked the door"

McAtter was only 10, and didn't report this to the bishop until he was an adult (after the statute of limitations that Orsi thinks so sacred) and read that Keegan had been accused of molesting other boys.

"I came home in the afternoon, and Liz handed me the Chronicle and said, 'You'd better sit down and read this.' I can remember her words. I picked up the front page, and there was a suit filed by three Santa Rosa kids claiming that they had been molested by Peter Keegan. And the story said the diocese of Santa Rosa and the archdiocese of San Francisco denied any prior knowledge of any wrongdoing by Peter Keegan.
"Looking up at Liz, my first words were, 'They're lying.' She said, 'I know.'"

In 1977, as a 20-year-old history student at the University of California at Berkeley, Terry McAteer had taken a huge step. He says

"I finally realized the severity of what had happened to me. I put two and two together and understood why Father Keegan had been transferred from parish to parish. From St. Cecelia's to St. Vincent de Paul, to Epiphany, to Mary's Help Hospital. And so I went to the church."

Until then, he had never told a soul about what Father Pete Keegan did to him - not even his mother.

McAteer asked Vincent Ring, his high school history teacher at St. Ignatius and now a close and respected friend - as well as a priest - to help him approach the Archdiocese of San Francisco. There, they spoke to the No. 2 man in charge, Father Patrick McGrath.

"I bared my soul," said McAteer. "It was a pretty emotional day. It wasn't so much that I needed to get it off my chest, but that I just knew other boys were involved."

McGrath promised to talk to Archbishop John Quinn and get back to McAteer. Two weeks later came a letter saying that Keegan had just been transferred to a parish in Santa Rosa.

"He wrote that while they were sorry about what had happened to me, they had no other knowledge of this and were taking no other action," said McAteer. "It was so unfair. I thought that they would do something about Father Keegan."

But of course the bishop did nothing and in fact lied to McAteer.

McAteer said that he since has learned that the church knew about Keegan's sexually abusive behavior long before McAteer told them.

"There had been multiple complaints. There was a police report in 1971. A parent had gone to the police. But in those days you didn't go and haul a priest into jail! The police would say, 'We'll let the Archdiocese deal with this.' The church had huge power in San Francisco."

This is the way that Orsi wants to see molesting priests treated: not subjected to the indignities of the criminal justice system as if they were mere laity.

McAteer warned Keegan's new bishop, who again lied to him:

McAteer wasn't deterred, however. He sent a letter to the bishop in Santa Rosa, warning him about his new priest.

"And Bishop Hurley wrote me saying, 'thank you, but he's not in a parish where he'll have contact with children.' Of course, now we know that many, many of the boys he molested were in Santa Rosa."

Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco recommended Keegan for a job at an orphanage in Mexico, were Keegan would be safe from American justice.

Keegan was asked about the charges by Terry McAteer. The priest said Terry was a nice Catholic boy from a nice family, but he hadn't seen him for 30 years, and none of what he said was true.
And they taped him during the day. "They showed him walking down the street, hand in hand with two little boys," said McAteer. "It was as repulsive as can be."
But Father Pete could afford to be arrogant. He knew that in a civil action, he was out of the hands of the law in Mexico. And with a six-year statute of limitations in criminal cases, the priest may have thought he was protected from extradition.

Orsi wants such cases to be handled within the church, because if the state handles them, and priests are actually jailed, everyone loses À except the kids, who do not have their anuses torn by priest-molesters À- but such is the price we must pay to preserve clerical privilege.

10:49 AM


As Lent begins, and I gear up for the traditional period of fasting, I find this story in my in-box today:

Amsterdam, 6 March (ENI) - A new range of ice-cream bars named after the seven deadly sins has drawn the ire of a Christian group in the Netherlands.

Under the premium brand name Magnum, the ice-cream bars come in seven new flavors: vanity, jealousy, gluttony, lust, revenge, greed and sloth. Devil horns and a forked tail have been added to the M of the word Magnum on the wrapper.

Lust offers creamy vanilla ice cream covered in pink strawberry chocolate while gluttony features rich chocolate ice cream smothered by a white chocolate coating.

This is all seems silly, except I can't quite let it go without making the observation that were we to choose to "innocently" enjoy ice cream called "greed," we would be taking a step in making the sin palatable (no pun intended?). Within the realm of the imagination words and names we use to call things have the power to either enlighten or corrupt us.

The ice-cream makers were right to put the devil on the wrapper. It's the devil's work to so corrupt language and destroy meanings that white can be called black and black white. I am not surprised by this little news item, actually. After all, this is from the Netherlands, the same country that has embraced euthanasia, the "good death." Like I said, black is white-and Lust is vanilla.

9:57 AM


The following, from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, will be of more direct interest to Catholic readers, but I suspect almost everyone will find it amusing, in a sad sort of way. To think that these two people, who are deeply shallow, have such influence in our society.

The February 24 edition of "Donahue" (MSNBC) featured an interview of Rosie O'Donnell by host Phil Donahue. The segment ended with an extended conversation on Catholicism. In discussing the sex abuse scandal in the Church, O'Donnell said: "And you know what? It needs to be out in the forefront. I really hope that the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the pope's Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, you know, frankly, the whole tenet of Christianity, of being pious, of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism, I believe."

Catholic League president William Donohue replied as follows:

"Well, you know, there is something about two aging and embittered Irish Catholics that is so, well, you know, embarrassing.

"We learned a lot from Rosie last night and none of it was endearing. Here is a grown woman crediting Oprah Winfrey with •teaching America how to have feelings and how to grieve.' Prior to Oprah we just sulked. Now we all bleed. Then there was the exchange she had with Phil laughing heartily about those times of yesteryear when their parents scrubbed the house before the Monsignor popped by for a visit. Now their houses are a filthy mess as not even a deacon will drop by.

"To hear Rosie proclaim that the Church should not be exempt •from the laws of nature and God' was quite a treat, especially given that her ideas on the subject strike some as being intrinsically disordered these days. Equally perverse is her comment on the gold toilets in the Vatican: she must be thinking about where she last sat when visiting her grieving friends in Hollywood."

"Well, you know, it's a shame that this close to St. Patrick's Day two deracinated Irish Catholics should find the need to vent on national television. Talk about reality TV-these two are not to be believed."

6:21 AM

Thursday, March 6


A useful article from The Japan Times, "Persecuted for centuries, Iraq's Assyrian Christians once again wary of their future". It begins:

London -- Iraq's 1.2 million Assyrian Christians - remnants of the Assyrian empire and the only people who still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ - are once again the victims of circumstances beyond their control. Unlike the Kurds, the Assyrians are all but ignored in discussions over Iraq's future.

Over the centuries the Assyrians have been oppressed by the Persians, Mongols, Turks, Kurds and Arabs. In World War I, they lost nearly two-thirds of their population, including their archbishop.

. . . Currently Iraq's Assyrian Christians are in an extremely precarious situation. Unlike the Kurds of northern Iraq, who receive U.N. aid, and unlike the
Turkoman minority, who are supported by Turkey, the Assyrians have received no outside support.

It also mentions that under Hussein

Although they are not Arabs, they have been forced by the government to sign forms that require them to renounce their ethnic identity, religion and to declare themselves to be Arabs under a program aimed at "Arabizing" all citizens. Hania Mufti of Human Rights Watch has called this "a form of ethnic cleansing."

8:58 AM

Wednesday, March 5


Father Robert Hart, our sometime contributor, responds to the person whose response I posted in "A Southerner's Dissent" below.

This is a comment on the anonymous reply that David posted on Tuesday, specifically this remark:

"As to slavery: Antebellum Southerners could find nothing in the Bible, Old Testament or New, specifically condemning the practice of slavery..."

Well, I can find it, in the Book of Deuteronomy:

"Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant who has escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it is good for him. Thou shalt not oppress him (Deut. 23:15)."

The anonymous writer can seek to make abolitionism a Unitarian idea all he wants, but it was mostly northern Evangelicals, and of course quite a few Quakers, who took this verse to heart. I have Quaker ancestors who ran the Underground Railroad through part of Maryland (as well as slave owners who educated and then freed slaves as their method for trying to do good). Whereas I cannot agree with many Quaker religious ideas, I consider their actions to have been heroic, and scriptural.

The practice of slavery in America was to make property of men; this cannot be reconciled to the Law from Deuteronomy, for if the servant is his master's property why did Moses command that he be protected from being treated as such? Service was more akin to our idea of a contract; the servant could escape when the master was not living up to his end. The Law gave the servant complete benefit of the doubt, giving the master no right of appeal, which means that the servant was not the master's property.

The idea of calling servants "slaves" in such Bible translations as the NIV is simply wrong. The idea of human property is not a part of the Hebrew word translated as "servant" in the King James Bible (ebed). Such slavery as was practiced in early America is condemned by the Bible. My criticisms of the Southerners of that period includes the fact that they defied scripture to both push through and enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, a law that was the Southern attack upon State's Rights long before any Northern Aggression took place.

I will balance my remarks, however, by pointing out the silliness of the pretence that the Northerners were fighting for the purpose of freeing the slaves, as well as the completely wrong notion that slavery was ended by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was a strategic move that had no effect upon the slaves in Maryland, who had no freedom until the 13th Amendment was ratified.

In fact, when I look at history I try to be instructed by the example of how the Bible records history; that is, to try and see what was the work of God in correcting a given generation. In that light, it seems that the Civil War was a judgment on the whole nation, as its leaders were deprived of reason and sanity for a time.

2:21 PM


According to the Associated Press, in "Group Protests N.Y. Peace T-Shirt Arrest",

Stephen Downs, 61, of Selkirk, was arrested Monday on a trespassing charge after wearing a T-shirt saying "Peace on Earth" and "Give Peace a Chance" in Crossgates Mall. He and his 31-year-old son, Roger, had T-shirts with anti-war messages made at a mall store and wore them while they shopped.

The mall is in Guilderland, New York, a suburb of Albany, in case you'd like to avoid it. The thing I want you to notice is that the two men were arrested for wearing t-shirts they'd bought at one of the mall's stores. If the mall's owners don't like the sentiments, why don't they forbid the stores from selling the shirts? Oh, right, that degree of principle would eat into profits.

11:34 AM


Of possible interest: the 2003 Alexander Schemann Lecture, "Orthodox Christianity and American Culture: Conflict or Transformation", delivered by Fr. Albert J. Raboteau. In the lecture, he said,

I want to identify three overarching themes that express basic aspects of American culture on this deeper level: Encounter, Freedom, and Community. These three, while not exhaustive, have preoccupied the imagination of Americans of diverse origins as they sought to give meaning to their experiences of becoming and being American. Within these themes let us see if we may find points of congruence as well as conflict with Orthodox Christianity.

Fr. Raboteau includes a quote from the 2nd century Epistle to Diognetus, which is a good reading for Ash Wednesday:

Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do.

Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike...and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land...They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

10:58 AM

Tuesday, March 4


My blog on the movie Gods and Generals got one of the biggest responses of anything I've posted, including one fascinating e-mail string among the Touchstone circle. The following I received this morning, from someone who allowed me to post it but asked to remain anonymous. I do not agree with it, at all, as readers will have guessed, but offer it as an alternative view.

Noting the "Mere Comments" of yourself and others on Gods & Generals, I will begin by saying that secession was not treason, and this was eventually admitted - though tacitly - by the Northern powers.

Albert Taylor Bledsoe published a book in 1866 called, "Is Davis A Traitor" - still available in a reprint of the 1907 edition at click here- which defended Davis against the treason charges for which the former Confederate president was then imprisoned at Fortress Monroe. Such was the power of Bledsoe's argument that it convinced a number of leading men of the North that Davis was wrongly charged. Davis was freed on bail.

There was never any treason trial for Davis, for the simple reason that federal authorities were unsure that Davis could be convicted, and it was feared that the constitutional issues raised at the trial might have negative political consequences, especially if Davis were acquitted. I invite you to research the aforesaid matters. If even Davis was not tried for treason, how can such a charge be leveled at the South in general?

As to slavery: Antebellum Southerners could find nothing in the Bible, Old Testament or New, specifically condemning the practice of slavery. Nothing in the Constitution condemned it. If, then, the practice was prohibited by neither the Bible nor the Constitution, on what basis would an orthodox American Christian condemn the institution?

Or why would an Orthodox Jew condemn it, for that matter? Thus, Rabbi David Ilowy preached in Baltimore on Jan. 4, 1861:

"Who can blame our brethren of the South for seceding from a society whose government can not, or will not, protect the property rights and privileges of a great portion of the Union against the encroachments of a majority misguided by some influential, ambitious aspirants and selfish politicians who, under the color of religion and the disguise of philanthropy, have thrown the country into a general state of confusion, and millions into want and poverty?

"If these magnanimous philanthropists do not pretend to be more philanthropic than Moses was, let me ask them, •Why did not Moses, who, as it is to be seen from his code, was not in favor of slavery, command the judges in Israel to interfere with the institutions of those nations who lived under their jurisdiction, and make their slaves free, or to take forcibly away a slave from a master as soon as he treads the free soil of their country?

"Why did he not, when he made a law that no Israelite can become a slave, also prohibit the buying and selling of slaves from and to other nations? Where was ever a greater philanthropist than Abraham, and why did he not set free the slaves which the king of Egypt made him a present of?"

What is at issue is the question of moral agency. If slavery was a sin, then the slaveowner was the sinner, and it was the sinner's obligation to right the wrong. The abolitionists sought to deny the moral agency of the individual, and instead substitute a political - or as it turned out, military - power in its place. As a principle, this was, has been, and remains still the grounds of much mischief and misery in the world.

Finally, there is the question of faith. There are Christian scholars, among them Joe Morecraft and Steve Wilkins, who have traced the origins of the Civil War to the rise of Unitarianism in New England in the early 1800s. I think it is not a coincidence that the same "heaven on earth" utopian impulse that inspired the abolitionists led many of the same individuals to the support of feminism, free love and socialism, among other secular utopian movements.

As Rabbi Ilowy correctly saw it, men like Garrett, Phillips and Beecher thought themselves the moral superiors not only of their Southern countrymen, but even morally superior to the patriarchs Abraham and Moses! Should such moralistic hubris be admired?

It cannot be denied that Union victory was according to God's will. But by the same token, the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Babylonian captivity of Judah were both according to God's will, without signifying any divine favor toward heathen Assyria or Babylon. As a Southerner, I deeply resent the Yankee claim of innate moral superiority, a heretical doctrine I call "boreal supremacy."

7:41 PM


Today I observed an exchange about Gods and Generals in which one man praised it and another criticized it for the same reasons. The first wrote:

Gods and Generals is about the Civil War and is unique in many ways. The violence is not graphic. There is no profanity. There is no nudity. The
Scripture is quoted on numerous occasions. Characters are often shown in prayer.

The second answered:

In the Civil War there was real gore, there was real cursing, there was real tobacco smoking, chewing, spitting. And there was real praying on both sides. To allow Hollywood to sanitize the horror is to legitimize the Hollywood enterprise over history telling - the great bane of American culture. Something as important as the Civil War deserves better. . . . Ken Burns has given us that.

Respectfully, I have seen Gods and Generals twice, and I would be hard pressed to justify "sanitize" as a description of it.

The longest battle scene, by far, was the Battle of Fredricksburg, and I cannot imagine any battle scenes more graphic than that. There was far more gore and violence than what is actually visible in Ken Burns's noble effort. I am thinking, not only of the constant fall of bodies all over the battlefield, but of scenes such as that in which a Union soldier, whose arm has just been shot off, comes up and asks Adelbert Ames for permission to return to the rear. Death and gore were everywhere; one thinks of the very graphic scenes in makeshift hospitals. There was one scene in which a table in the background was stacked with amputated limbs.

Indeed, there is no profanity in Gods and Generals, but nearly all the dialogue in the movie is between individuals who would never have used profanity anyway: Lee, Blair, Jackson, Chamberlain, Longstreet, Stuart, and certain female characters. From reading biographies of these characters, I cannot imagine any of them using profanity.

The only time tobacco is mentioned in the movie is in a conversation between Stuart and Jackson, where each man confesses that he does not use the product. Jackson's reason: "I find that I am too fond of it." For the rest, there was no attempt to hide Longstreet's cigars or the smoking of the other soldiers. Indeed, there is one scene (historically documented in the sources) where a Confederate soldier shares his pipe with a Union soldier in exchange for a cup of coffee.

Respectfully, I found Gods and Generals in every sense a satisfactory film, completely out of character from what we usually expect from Hollywood. I don't know that I have ever seen a film more faithful to the historical sources which I have read.

1:55 PM


In response to my noting a typo from Newsweek ("alter" for "altar"), a reader reminded me of Evelyn Waugh,

who once said that, now that they no longer defrock priests for sexual perversities, one can no longer get any decent proofreading. What Waugh meant, of course, was that there were no longer people around with both the learning and the intellectual conscience to get such small but crucial details as proofreading absolutely correct.

Waugh was speaking of the Church of England, and if I remember rightly he included public schoolmasters upon the trades depleted thereby. I take the quote from an essay from The American Scholar, Decline & Blumenthal, by "Aristides" (Joseph Epstein, the then editor), which I found with a Google search.

It is an enjoyable and stimulating - as it would be, as Joseph Epstein wrote it - reflection on the common feeling that things are going downhill.

Reading David Cannadine's study of G. M. Trevelyan, one discovers that Trevelyan himself had fairly early got into the decline-and-fall mood. Trevelyan's dates are 1876-1962, but as early as the end of World War I, not yet fifty, the historian writes: "I don't understand the world we live in, and what I understand I don't like." In his British History in the Nineteenth Century, Trevelyan, getting into the swing of things, noted: "In the seventeenth century, Members of Parliament quoted from the Bible; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the classics; in the twentieth century from nothing at all." In the late twentieth century, it probably wouldn't surprise Trevelyan to learn, most politicians not only have ceased quoting but have had others, alas, compose most of their written and spoken utterances.

Though the evidence is ambiguous, he argues that "decline is something one feels in one's bones." Among the many insights in the essay is the idea that our feeling may have more to do with the loss of mid-twentieth century American optimism - this is my gloss on his argument - which brings us to face facts other ages knew.

The omnipresence of crime and social sadness has had a good deal to do with this feeling. Big-city life now brings with it the distinct prospect of random death, and if that doesn't get you down, nothing much will. We may, in Daniel Patrick Moynihan's phrase, have "defined deviancy down," but we cannot convince ourselves that it is not a dreary part of all our lives.

The daily press, the nightly news, our own eyes are there to remind us that we are living with major social problems from which perhaps protection but no real hiding is possible. In the past, people such as I believed that all was rectifiable by better education, social patience, and goodwill all around. It is becoming harder and harder to believe this and easier and easier to believe that we shall eventually be swamped by our ghastly social problems-it is becoming easier and easier, in other words, to believe we are living in a period of staggering decline.

There is much more in the essay, which I commend.

12:23 PM


Even as I was watching Gods and Generals, which I am going back to see again tonight (and as often as I can during the brief time it will be in the theaters [remember, we Senior Citizens get in for just $5]), I was reflecting on the rather limited attention given to slavery in the film.

The only slave scenes that I recall were at Fredricksburg and involved a family of domestic slaves. From everything that I have read, it seems to me that the relatively benign atmosphere in those few scenes was true to historical fact. In such settings, genuine love and concern between masters and slaves was common. Black women raised white children, for heaven's sake, and in such settings love can break out anywhere.

By the time of the Civil War, however, there is every reason to believe that such settings were the exception rather than the rule. After the invention of the cotton gin, the slave institution became as commercialized as the rest of life. With Andrew Jackson's opening of the new cotton territories that became the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and the rest, slaves were bought and sold like cattle; families were broken up; there was immense barbarism and cruelty. And it was getting worse, as slavery moved further west.

That is to say, the South was not all of one piece. Indeed, what had South Carolina in common with Texas, except what meager common interest that the Abolitionists forced them to contrive? (For that matter, what had Wisconsin to do with Massachusetts, except that both of them took exception to that little incident at Fort Sumter?)

Anyone who has actually lived very long in the South (and I have) knows that the South is most certainly not of one piece even today. There is darned little resemblance between rural Virginia and rural Arkansas. Jacksonville is really the only Southern city in Florida, and it bears not the slightest resemblance to Tennessee or Louisiana (or Loosiana, as we called it in Kentucky; its most famous city is "Narlins").

By the way, there is no such thing as a Southern accent. The various dialects across the Southern states are vastly different. Give me five minutes of conversation with anyone from the South, and I can tell you what state he was raised in. I am seldom fooled on this matter.

(Just as there is no such thing as a "French" accent. I lived in several parts of France, and the dialects are vastly different. The word "oui," for instance, has nearly three syllables down near the French Alps, sort of the way the word "swell" has two syllables and a half in some parts of Kentucky.)

7:30 AM

Monday, March 3


This week's Newsweek (a magazine I never, ever, read, life being short, but a friend sent me the link) features an article on George Bush's religion, Bush and His God. You may find it of interest, but I include it for one sentence near the beginning, coming after a description of Bush's reading Oswald Chambers' classic My Utmost for His Highest as his morning devotional reading:

In his view, the chances of success [in Iraq] were better than good. (After all, at the National Prayer Breakfast a few days before, he'd declared that "behind all of life and all history there is a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God." If that's so, America couldn't fail.)

It's the last sentence to which I'm referring. Notice the stupidity of thinking that a man who believes in Providence must believe in his and his nation's success, and that belief in God equals belief in God's favor. It's a cheap shot, one the writer probably couldn't resist, but one that shows a debilitating, and for a writer on the subject disqualifying, ignorance of basic Christian theology.

The Faith is a subtler thing than the belief that "God is on our side." You may lose everything, or seem to lose everything, even when you are doing the right thing. Jesus was tortured to death, after all. A man who believes in Providence believes that nevertheless, in the long run, God is directing events to His purposes and that at the End "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," as Blessed Julian of Norwich famously said. All we have to do is do our duty as best we see it, even if it seems suicidal. Jesus lost everything, and then was raised three days later, and gained everything.

For the writer to miss this because he does not know Christian theology is to miss something rather important about the man he is writing about, and attempting (or pretending) to explain. It is to miss the fact that he may believe himself called to do something that to all appearances will not work, because he believes that if he is faithful in doing his duty it will indeed work out all right in the End. I would think this sort of man would worry them far more than the simple-minded believer that God Blesses America the aside suggests.

This helps explain why the characters in Gods and Generals are so foreign to these people. Note to Newsweek's editors: if you want your writers to understand George Bush, make them watch Gods and Generals till they know how those men thought and felt.

By the way, one of the captions from the article reads:

The Bush family attends church in Houston in 1964; George Sr. once taught Sunday school and George W. was an alter [sic] boy.

How many people do they pay to proofread?

2:04 PM


Something interesting from yesterday's New York Times Magazine, Bring Back the Sabbath by Judith Shulevitz. In it she argues

on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.

on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day. As the Cat in the Hat says, ''It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.''

This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional, requiring extensive advance preparation -- at the very least a scrubbed house, a full larder and a bath. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.

The Sabbath, she argues a little later in the essay, is a very good thing, with benefits we do not see.

So counterintuitive is the idea of organized nonproductivity, given the force and universality of the human urge to make things, that you can't believe anyone ever managed to lift his head from his workbench or plow long enough to think of it. To the first-century Stoic philosopher Seneca, the Sabbath was absurd, a way for Rome's backward Jewish subjects to waste ''almost a seventh of their life in inactivity.''

But when (or if), perhaps a millennium earlier, the Jews took over an old Mesopotamian day of taboo and transformed it into one of holy rest, they brought into the world not just the Sabbath but something just as precious, and surprisingly closely linked. They invented the idea of social equality.

The Israelite Sabbath institutionalized an astonishing, hitherto undreamed-of notion: that every single creature has the right to rest, not just the rich and the privileged. Covered under the Fourth Commandment are women, slaves, strangers and, improbably, animals. The verse in Deuteronomy that elaborates on this aspect of the Sabbath repeats, twice, that slaves were not to work, as if to drive home what must have been very hard to understand in the ancient world. The Jews were meant to perceive the Sabbath not only as a way to honor God but also as the central vehicle of their liberation theology, a weekly reminder of their escape from their servitude in Egypt.

It is an essay well worth reading. And living by.

12:22 PM


Something interesting from Rod Dreher (a contributing editor): Sound Familiar? Understanding Islamic End-Times beliefs.. It is an interview with Rice University's Prof. David Cook, an expert on Islamic apocalypticism.

8:52 AM


My friend Fr. Addison Hart (one of the magazine's contributing editors as well) responded to my thoughts on the movie Gods and Generals, posted yesterday. He accuses me of being a neo-conservative, which I think is not entirely complimentary.

Not too bad, friend, coming from a Yankee.

Obviously, I think the Neo-Con use of "treason" for what Southerners were defending is an anachronism, saying more about a perspective rooted in what "America" became than what it was then. Nor should one forget that the American Revolution was likewise "treason" in the eyes of the British. As for slavery, it was indeed indefensible, and the Confederate government was foolish to try to defend it.

But, it was also - I would say, equally - indefensible for an American president to raise an army to invade free states, or for the Union Army to sack Fredericksburg (the first time an American city had been sacked since 1812), or for Sherman and his arsonist thugs to perpetrate savage ruination on cities and civilians throughout the South (ludicrously defended as "retaliation" for the war itself). In naming Sherman, I don't wish to overlook Grant's reducing of Jackson, Mississippi to a smoking heap, which his own men then called "chimney town".

I sincerely doubt, as Richard Weaver points out in his
Southern Essays, that a northerner will ever appreciate the Southern experience. There is a very different understanding of "patriotism" at work deep in one's make-up if he hails from below the Mason-Dixon Line, even if (as I do) he happens to come from Maryland.

It involves having acquired a conscience which is not entirely or comfortably "at home" with contemporary Americanism. I grew up only forty miles or so from Washington DC, and in my youth the outspoken and distrustful attitude of those in my family and county was that that city was a rather alien place, representing something to be tolerated rather than loved.

I've never lost that sense; it's practically in my genes. (By the way, though a native Marylander, I have in my possession my Confederate ancestor's sword. He fell at Antietam. I mention this, because - like most Marylanders - I most surely have Confederates in my closet.)

Having said all that, I agree with you that the film is admirably un-PC.

7:51 AM


Something floating around the internet, a Cockney version of the Lord's Prayer:

Hello Dad, up there in good ol' heaven.
Your name is well great and holy, and we respect you, Guv.
We hope we can all 'ave a butcher's at heaven and be there as soon as
possible; and we want to make you happy Guv,
and do what you want 'ere on earth just like what you do in heaven.
Guv, please give us some Uncle Fred, and enough grub and stuff to
keep us going today,
and we hope you'll forgive us when we cock things up, just like we're
supposed to forgive all them who annoy us and do dodgy stuff to us.
And there's a lot of dodgy people around, Guv, please don't let us
get tempted to do bad things. Help keep us away from all the nasty
evil stuff, and keep that dodgy Satan away from us, 'cos you're much
stronger than 'im.
You're the Boss, God, and will be for ever, innit?
Cheers, Amen.

For those of you not acquainted with Cockney, it uses a rhyming slang, so that "toil and strife" means "wife." Unfortunately for the non-native speaker, it sometimes uses the first word of the pair rather than the one that rhymes. Although in this prayer "Uncle Fred" is used for "bread."

7:45 AM


In response to David's "Gods and Generals" - a post I loved - a friend responded:

I think the Confederate argument is indefensible (I agree with Lincoln that secession was fundamentally undemocratic) and would argue that the rebellion violated NT teaching re. deference to state authority.

The Southerner would answer, of course, that the "state" was . . . . well, the state, not the Union of free and sovereign states. And, in saying this, the Southerner could quote the Declaration of Independence, which says exactly the same thing, that these colonies "are and ought to be free and independent states."

As Shelby Foote demonstrates in his history of the question, literally no one in the South ever imagined that the "state" did not have the right to leave the union, even those Southerners who opposed secession. Indeed, there would never have been a union, except on the understanding that the states were free to leave it.

Even in the North many folks in the early 19th century would not have quibbled with the notion that the "states" were free to leave the union if they wanted. Certainly many folks in New England would not have quibbled with that idea, and, indeed, leaving the union was seriously discussed in New England as a real possibility.

The contrary idea (namely, that the states could have no independent existence apart from the Union) came to the fore, it appears to me, onlyas the country added new states, states which, in fact, had never had an existence independent of the Union. In his later years, when he was making the case for the Union cause during the War, Chamberlain made a big point of this.

If I may: Another little gem I picked up in the first volume of Morris's life of Theodore Roosevelt. When TR asked for volunteers to join his rough riders, two of his first applicants were the son of General Sherman and the grandson of General Jackson.

7:36 AM

Sunday, March 2


In Friday's issue of The Daily Hampshire Gazette (my town's daily newspaper when I was growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts, by the way, just in case you're interested), a cloning expert rejects "therapeutic" and reproductive cloning of humans. In a talk given at Mt. Holyoke College, James Robl, a former professor at the University of Massachusetts now the president and chief scientific officer of Hematech in South Dakota, "who made international headlines in 1998 when his team cloned the calves George and Charlie," said

"Most people would agree. Forget human cloning. We aren't going to do it" . . . [therapeutic cloning for medical purposes] "is a great idea that just won't work."

Ethical issues are overwhelming, including the rights of the embryo and the rights of the cloned individual. "There is a repugnance factor about human cloning," he said.

Hematech has a contract from the federal government to create antitoxins for the botulinum neurotoxin, anthrax and smallpox.

His company is working on a process to bypass cloning with controversial embryonic stem cells, opposed by President George W. Bush, to create human antibodies from a patient's own tissue. "Human embryonic stem cells are a mess to work with anyway," Robl said.

8:10 PM


Our second child (a boy, 14) and I went to see Gods and Generals last night, before its length and the critics drove it from theatres. We saw it in one of the few places it was playing in the Pittsburgh area - the only place in which it was playing to the north or west of the city, anyway - and there it was playing only twice a day in only one theatre of the sixteen.

About sixty people came that night, almost all married couples in their fifties or sixties. Many of the husbands, judging from the conversations during intermission and at the end, knew something about the Civil War. (The wives all said "Isn't that interesting" or "I didn't know that" or "Oh.") My son was the only child in the theatre, and there were only a few people who looked as if they were eighteen to thirty.

Before I tell you what I thought of the movie, I should say that I watched it as a New Englander, and felt myself cheering the North in the battle scenes. I understand the appeal of the South to a conservative-minded man - an organic, orderly, hierarchical society, living by precedent and prejudice (in Edmund Burke's sense), marked by a love of land and family, threatened by a commercial, urban, apparently rootless, dynamic society - but think that this image does leave out, or whitewash, the real evil upon which that organic, orderly society depended.

Southern partisans then and now may argue that the South was fighting for its freedom, but that freedom included the freedom to keep slaves. Which is to say, the freedom to deprive other men of theirs. I have a few times been appalled at conservatives talking about how good were most slaves' lives and how kind were most slavemasters to their slaves, these romantics being people who would themselves not tolerate being slaves for a second. They seem to put themselves back into those days as slave-owners, not slaves.

I say this as a prelude to saying that the movie was a much better one than you would think from reading most of the reviews. Many of these, I suspect, were written either from ignorance or bigotry, or the combination of the two that is modern middle-brow liberalism.

Many critics seem to have dismissed Gods and Generals as propaganda for the south, and at times it felt that way to a northerner, but as far as I can tell this was the inevitable result of trying to tell the truth about the people it portrayed, particularly the southern hero General "Stonewall" Jackson. I don't think the Southerners' arguments for treason convincing, but they were honorable, morally serious men doing what they thought right and Godly - more honorable and morally serious men than we today are likely to find writing movie reviews, certainly.

I will say that some of the common criticisms were half or one-quarter right. The pace is sometimes uneven and slow, especially in the first half of the movie. The acting is sometimes a little wooden and the dialogue delivered in a little too formal a style (these men were trained in rhetoric, after all, including delivery). A few scenes were too sentimental and staged. And the music was sometimes hopelessly clich¹d (as in the soaring wordless angelic music in the death scenes) though otherwise quite good. But none of these was nearly as bad as many critics claimed.

Those who sneered at the dialogue seem not to have known that intelligent men once talked like this. They seem not to have known that such men as Chamberlain and Jackson would have known much of Scripture and classical literature by heart, and not only known it, but known it as a guide and a comfort. What the critics thought staged was mostly simple realism.

Having said that, I think there is much more to be said for the content of the movie itself, which, unless I miss my guess badly, offended the critical critics more than any of the problems just listed. The movie's faults, one suspects, simply gave the critics something apparently objective by which to attack the movie. I say this in part because so many of these critics have praised movies far worse.

Critics wanted and indeed expected, I think, to find at the beginning the obligatory slave-being-abused-scene, which tells the audience Slavery Is Bad. They wanted the director, Ron Maxwell, to flag his submission to the PC Credo, even if it meant adding an artistic clich¹ and banality to the movie. (You see the same expectation when someone speaks on sex differences to a bunch of social workers, psychologists, and the like. They will listen, but only if the speaker has abjectly declared that of course he knows that these differences do not suggest that the sexes may have different roles, etc.) The director, who I am almost sure knew what he would be expected to do, decided not to, and for that he deserves praise.

The critics also miss what seems to me the obvious lesson Maxwell put into the movie (or the lesson the director obviously put into the movie). Most notably the slave's (or ex-slave's, I'm not sure which) appeal for her freedom at the end of the first half, which is the climactic speech of that part of the movie - a movie's way of saying "Pay attention to this!" A clumsier director would have put that scene at the end of the movie - the critics would have liked the movie more if Maxwell had done so, I'm sure - but he wisely put it at the end of the first half, where it made the point without being so manipulative and propagandistic.

The idea is reinforced at least two other times. First, in the scene in which Jackson's cook Jim asks God why some Southerners can tolerate slavery, a prayer in which Jackson joins (mostly). Second, in the scene in which Colonel Chamberlain explains to his brother that although the war had started as a fight to preserve the union, it had become a fight over slavery. These are not so marked as the slave's speech, but placed where they are, with the attention and time they are given, and knowing the audience's expectations, I think these were intended to tell something of the director's thinking.

The critics were, I and lots of others suspect, also put off by the movie's realism - not the realism of the battle scenes, which was relatively muted, as compared with movies like The Patriot and Saving Private Ryan, but its realism about the characters' minds and particularly their faith. They do not think or talk like the modern secular American, Christian and not, and this makes the modern secular American uncomfortable.

It sounds weird, and most people, critics included, do not go to movies to feel weird. I do not think we should underestimate the sunlight-upon-vampire effect of the movie's religious honesty upon the critics.

I wonder, in fact, if such people are especially put off because these weird-thinking people are their own ancestors. To have these men praying to God as if He existed, talking so confidently of His care, and expecting to arrive in His presence as soon as they died, is to the secular American like having a mad grandfather whose madness may have been congenital. Though historical, perhaps it hits too close to home.

"Historical," after all, is a word whose meaning when applied to entertainment is "done in funny outfits by people who ride horses and talk in funny accents (though usually in modern diction, idiom, and slang) but are otherwise just like us, especially in their sex lives, their politics, and their religion, such as it is." Very few popular historical works force the viewer or reader to meet the past something like as it really was. That would feel judgmental, and most people, critics included, do not go to movies to feel judged.

At any rate, Jackson in particular is a man of his time and not ours. He shows us a world of which even Christians and conservatives have only stray bits and pieces. He is, if you will, a realist and we are not.

Jackson is realistic about God and what He means for our lives. He lives out a belief in Providence most of us approve in theory but simply do not practice. (I speak of myself as much as anyone else.) When, after his brigade's first battle, a soldier asks how he could be so brave, he says that God has already assigned him his time to die and that if everyone believed that, everyone would be brave. Later in the movie, he says - I don't remember his words - that having decided to do their duty, the Southern soldiers had to fight and leave the consequences, not least the men they were killing and maiming, to God.

In both cases, there is nothing more to be said. But most of us would want to say something else, something qualifying and moderating such faith.

Jackson is also realistic about man and what must be done because man is the creature he is. In one striking scene, one of Jackson's aides says that he does not know what to do with the Union forces. Jackson, who is leaving the tent, snaps around and says something like "Kill him, sir, every last man." It seems savage and brutal. It shocks.

And yet Jackson is only saying the obvious. He is fighting a war, and a war he feels waged by an aggressor who has invaded his home, and the only way to drive back the aggressor and protect his home and his people and their freedom is to keep killing the enemy until he leaves. He says this without the hesitation and the furrowed brow and the hand-wringing we expect. It was an age when the gentleman did not feel the need to tell the world the obvious.

The General Jackson of Gods and Generals seems to be the one who died 141 years ago. He is not a man of 2003, not a man the average secular American wants to know. The movie sinned - in many critics' eyes, I mean - by making him a hero and ending with his death, treated as the death of an honorable man. The movie does not end according to the PC Credo, but rejects it in favor of something less tidy but much truer.

There is a certain irony in the ending, at least for a northerner. It is an irony implicit in the history itself, seen without the attitudes one is supposed to bring to it.

If I may put it this way, if I may use Jackson's kind of language, one is not sorry when he dies, because the South has been deprived of one of its greatest and most effective leaders. Jackson himself would not have expected his enemies to wish him to survive and fight again. But having seen and heard him, even for the short time the movie runs, and learned something about him, one also sheds a tear when he dies, and wishes he had not fought for the cause he did, though saluting him for doing so.

6:35 PM

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