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Saturday, March 22


I stumbled across this while looking for something else, but I recommend it: an interview from 1999 with William Dalrymple about his books The Age of Kali (1998) about religion and politics in India and From the Holy Mountain (1997) about the decline of Christianity in the Middle East.

He does accuse fundamentalist missionaries in India of "trick conversions," and blames them for the persecution other Christians are suffering. For example:

I talked to one Baptist minister who had just literally come back from the Dangs where a lot of the violence started, and he said he'd been working in the Dangs for 20 years, and he said that the people there are so simple, the tribal people, that it's a labour of days to try and explain what an aeroplane or a ship is; to understand a concept like salvation is something that would take a missionary months of hard work, and maybe at the end of that, you might get a single real conversion.

But on a recent visit to the area, the Dangs, where the trouble started, he saw Pentecostal missionaries herding, literally herding a village into a river then telling them that they were Christian. And he said that the people had no idea or concept of what Christianity was, but then the people were told to disdain Hindu gods, not to mix with their Hindu neighbours, and to keep apart from all Hindu people and Hindu practices.

And however much one strongly objects to violent terrorisation of Christians, one can understand that when missionary activity of that sort has happened with such extraordinary insensitivity, that of course you are playing with fire, and that a backlash is not surprising.

I have no way of judging whether or not he is right. Perhaps a reader who has more knowledge can write about this.

4:56 PM


If that's not too combative a title. Its meaning shall be revealed at the end. Peter Steinfels' "Beliefs" column in today's New York Times, "Religious Leaders Play a Part in Shaping Views on War", reports on a poll taken last week to find out how much effect peoples' religious institutions had on their view of the war.

According to the poll, 57% of those who went to church regularly (meaning what, I don't know, and as you know the difference between the faith of someone who goes every week and that of someone who goes every two or three weeks can be rather different) heard their minister talk about the subject, but 60% of those (the ministers) didn't take a side.

When asked what influenced their own thinking most, 41% said the media and only 10% said their religious beliefs. When asked who had "a great deal" or "some influence" on their own thinking, over half said family members and friends, 43% said political commentators, and 40% of Republicans and 35% of Democrats said political leaders. Religious leaders in fourth with 33%.

Hollywood celebrities came in last with 7%. This means that at least 7% of the American population are morons. (I know, I know, "morons" is a harsh word, but what word would you use? What do you call someone who decides what to think about the world on the basis of what Richard Gere or Barbara Streisand says?)

Anyway, Steinfels continues:

Looking only at the groups having "a great deal" of influence, 11 percent of respondents named religious leaders.

That ranked religious leaders below friends and family (14 percent), tied them with Republican leaders but placed them above political commentators and Democratic leaders (both 7 percent) and Hollywood celebrities (2 percent). On the other hand, except for the celebrities, religious leaders were also the group named most often as having had "no influence at all."

The survey's sponsors concluded that "On balance very few people say their religious beliefs are shaping their views on Iraq." As far as I can tell from Steinfels' summary, they say this because they confuse peoples' acknowledging religious leaders with their being shaped by religious views. Steinfels suggests that the sponsors' claim does

not take into account many religious traditions' moral teachings about going to war and how they shape people's consciences.

He suggests that people turn to political commentators and leaders because they need the facts on which to make a decision, but that they have their principles from their religion, at least in part. I think this is true because for many people their religion has so pervaded their thought and instincts that they do not recognize its influence, especially if they do not practice their religion intently and consistently.

But I would add one more interpretation to Steinfels': that the gap between those who say their religion matters and those who say their religious leaders matter only proves what we know from other grounds: that there is a gap between the layman and his hierarchs and that he will naturally ignore them when they speak on matters outside their obvious competence. And this is true of the serious believer as well as the lax.

4:53 PM


The Tablet has an analysis of the lack of agreement between American Catholics and the Vatican over the Iraq war.

Behind the shifting political situation it is possible to discern a far graver problem.

As Richard Major points out in this article the Vatican has been inconsistent.

Rome is being shifty. During his mission to Washington, Cardinal Laghi declared: "We have always insisted on the framework of the United Nations. Without it, I'd say war is illegal." But Americans have not forgotten their first bout of warfare with Iraq, in 1991. That conflict had fervent UN approval; Providence had apparently crafted it to meet Aquinas' standards for a just war; yet it was still condemned by the Pope and Vatican. People also remember that the UN sanctions designed since then to contain Saddam and enforce inspections have also been steadily damned by Rome.

The first Gulf War was in response to an act of aggression and was held under UN auspices. The Pope fervently denounced it. The Vatican denounces the current Gulf war because it is nit in response to an immediate act of aggression and is not conducted under UN auspices.

Supposed doctrines are being put forth as a cover for personal preferences and judgments.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarized the conditions under which the state may use capital punishment. The Pope decided he doesn't like capital punishment, so Cardinal Ratzinger announced that the catechism will be rewritten to reflect what the Pope wants,

These shifts are explained away as a development of doctrine; but bear little resemblance to what Newman described.

Instead we see the Pope and Vatican officials proclaiming that their own ideas and preferences are divine revelation, no matter what the Tradition or Scripture say.

This tendency to misuse the magisterium discredits it. The Pope and the Vatican and the whole magisterium of the Church are meant to guarantee the integrity of the revelation handed own from the apostles, not to impose a pope's or bishop's personal ideas on the faithful as if they were the very Word of God.

This tendency, like the mishandling of the sexual abuse cases, is another manifestation of clericalism. The clergy want the faithful to place their trust not in the revelation of God of which the clergy are the messengers, but the clergy itself. The clergy present their personal ideas along with revealed doctrines as a package which must be believed. Catholics sense this, and often reject not simply the personal ideas (the political judgments) but the revealed doctrines (the teachings on sexuality derived from Scripture) as simply the blatherings of clergy who are full of themselves and demanded obedience as if every word they said came from the mouth of God. Catholics, almost as much as Protestants, must use private judgment to sort the wheat from the chaff. Like Protestants, the Catholic laity are often overly influenced by their culture, and can't imagine that God says something if the secular culture says something completely different. The magisterium could supply a corrective to this tendency, but weakens its authority by misusing it in the service of a personal agenda rather than in the service of the integrity of revelation.

5:09 AM

Friday, March 21


Amusing and revealing both: British Tory M.P. (conservative Member of Parliament) Boris Johnson on being edited by The New York Times: Well, hush my mouth.

The latest issue of The Spectator also includes:

A review of a biography of Hannah More, the Evangelical social reformer, friend of William Wilberforce, etc.

An analysis by the journalist Melanie Phillips of the new anti-semitism , which is to be found on the left and among Muslims approved and whitewashed by the left.

6:29 PM


An article on the website of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) reports that a Major Scientific Study Examines Domestic Violence Among Gay Men and found that homosexual men get abused by their partners a lot more than heterosexual men and women. The report, published in the American Journal of Public Health (December 2002) found

a high rate of battering within the context of intimate homosexual partnerships, with 39% of those studied reporting at least one type of battering by a partner over the last five years.

In contrast, only about 7.7% of heterosexual men of all ages report physical or sexual partner abuse during their entire lifetimes. (Lifetime rates of abuse are generally higher than those within a five-year period.)

Figures were also compared with studies on heterosexual women who had been victims of violence within marriage or while cohabiting with men, also within five-year periods. Victimization for homosexual men (22%) was also substantially higher than for heterosexual women (11.6%).

Notice, by the way, that the researchers combined married women with cohabiting women, as if there were no relevant difference in the relationships. All sorts of studies have found that cohabiting women are abused by their partners a lot more than married women are abused by their husbands.

Almost every news story and feature article you read on the subject fails to make this distinction. The effect, which must at some level be intended, is to imply that marriage is dangerous for women, when the fact is that it is the safest relation they can have. (Which is not to say, lest some reader yowl, that some husbands are not abusive brutes.)

The story concludes:

The conclusion arrived at by the researchers, based upon these figures, is that the rate of abuse between urban homosexual men in intimate relationships "is a very serious public health problem."

I am not sure what this means, actually. The answer most conservative people will jump to is that these relationships somehow invite violence, perhaps because they are unstable or tend to pair the needy with the sadistic. But a homosexualist will argue that the lack of social approval and support for homosexuality makes the homosexual's relationships more stressful and risky and that homosexual men would be kinder to each other if more people approved of them.

There may be something to that argument. I suspect that wider social approval would make the lives of homosexual people easier and therefore less violent. Somewhat, anyway. Before you object, let me say that my opposition to the practice does not depend on the fact that it does not work well, but on the fact (as a Christian sees it) that it distorts what men and women are created to be.

Now, obviously if it distorts what men and women were created to be, it will not work well. But it may work, to all appearances, well enough. The level of violence in the relationship may not be all that much higher than in heterosexual relationships. The degree of commitment may be nearly as high. The satisfaction homosexual couples report may be nearly as great as heterosexual couples report.

Were the government and the churches to support homosexuality, particularly by letting homosexual people marry legally, we might find in our neighborhoods a lot of those faithful, monogamous, happy couples portrayed in movies like American Beauty. They might fit right in, and their problems be pretty much the same as their neighbors'.

It's possible. I'm not sure how likely it is, but it is possible. Homosexuality may seem to "work," as working is understood by most Americans. If it fails, in comparison with heterosexual relationships, they have a plausible excuse. This is the reason we should not rest our moral arguments on what homosexual people do.

Conservatives tend to do this because they want to find a ground they share with everyone else, particularly those who support the sexual innovations they oppose. They think that if they can get people who think homosexuality a good thing morally to say "It's bad for your health," they will support Christian morality in fact - in legislation, say - if denying it in theory. They may.

I think we should argue as much as we can from the realities we can prove, but it should not be the Christian's only argument, because sometimes sin may (from the human point of view) work almost as well as sanctity, and sometimes, as in this case, the sinner may have a defense we cannot disprove and our assertion fails to convince. At which point the neutral observer decides the problem is unsolvable, which means that he agrees in fact with the homosexualist who asks only for freedom to do as he wants, e.g. to marry.

Christians have to remember that they know what human life ought to be, because God has revealed Himself in human history, but that what human life ought to be may seem to everyone else to work badly, or even to fail. The only secure way of convincing people of the truth of Christian morality is to make them Christians.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By the way, NARTH's website includes a lot of useful resources, including articles and book reviews from a diversity of points of view.

6:26 PM


Being sociologically-minded, I have always thought that the liturgists' arguments quite often bad on sociological grounds. They were always telling you, implicitly or explicitly, how communities worked and generally getting it wrong. It seemed to be significant that in England several of the leading sociologists - scholars like David Martin of the London School of Economics, for example - were also members of the Prayer Book Society.

Along the same lines, readers may find of interest "Equality, Liberty, Fraternity" by the sociologist Roger Homan, published in the summer 2002 issue of Faith and Worship, one of the journals of the English Prayer Book Society. He looks at the current liturgical practice of the Catholic Church in England and asks how well it has produced the "dynamic worshipping community" the liturgical reformers promised.

The whole issue comes up as a pdf file, so that you have to scroll down to page eight to find the article.

8:48 AM


In my March 9 blog, "An Exceptional Communion?" I quote a story from the Church Times confirming rumors that Prime Minister Tony Blair, an Anglican, had received Holy Communion at the Vatican. We received the following version of the story. I don't know quite what to believe at this point, but I certainly cannot believe the Times story without more solid reporting. So for the time being, it's best to post this from a correspondent, who says that he found the story at although the story is no longer on the main page. Our correspondent notes that the prime minister was given a blessing, not Communion. The pertinent section:

The Prime Minister's wife Cherie Blair (a Catholic) fulfilled a long-held dream when she and her husband attended Mass in the Pope's private chapel last week. Amid touching scenes, Mrs. Blair and two of her children received communion while the Prime Minister and his youngest son Leo were given personal blessings by the Holy Father.

It will be interesting to see if any additional stories are run about the meeting, at least the Communion angle. I am left wondering how the rumor started in the first place and why a Jesuit in Rome confirmed the rumor, but you never know these days what some folks are really up to.

7:40 AM

Thursday, March 20


On last message about the movie Gods and Generals: read the interesting review by J. P. Zmirak, "Gods & Generals: But is it a Good Movie?". He looks at the movie as a screenwriter and suggests how it could have been improved with "a classic script-doctor's trick."

3:25 PM


The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge is sponsoring a pro-homosexual retreat led by Capuchin friar Simeon Gallagher the first weekend in April. The flyer says that the event - a public lecture on Friday followed by a retreat on Saturday - is sponsored by "DBR/Hope, a ministry of the Diocese of Baton Rouge with homosexual persons, their families and friends."

The heading of the flyer quotes a Jesuit (well, of course) named James L. Empereur (I think that's the spelling, the picture is a little blurred) who declares:

Homosexuality is one of God's most significant gifts to humanity. To be gay or lesbian is to have received a special blessing from God. All human sreceive their special graces from their creator, but God has chosen some to be gay or lesbian as a way of revealing something about God-self [sic, as you'd expect] that heterosexuals do not.

Even someone like me, who thought he had seen everything (I was an Episcopalian for 20-some years), finds himself a bit shocked at this. Most sexual liberationists try to twist Scripture and the Tradition to their ends, but Fr. Empereur and his sponsors have written as if it didn't exist at all. Or the Catechism of the Catholic Church either. Homosexuality isn't just an "alternative lifestyle" but "one of the God's most significant gifts to humanity." Oh. Right. Sure. That must have been what St. Paul was saying in Romans 1.

The Diocese Report website includes the address of the man responsible for this:

Most Reverend Robert W. Muench
P. O. Box 2028
Baton Rouge, LA 70821-2028

3:15 PM


Our enemies, from cunning or luck, have chosen the ancient and often-successful technique of sowing division among those who might oppose them. Not only are Germany, France and the United States at loggerheads, but the United States itself is divided.

My children were on the East Coast near Washington on September 11 but I was stranded in California. The attitude of Californians was sympathetic but disconcerting. The attacks could have been happening on another planet as far as they were concerned. "Its too bad what's happening to you back East," our hiking guide told us. "You? I thought we were all Americans and it was America that was under attack" I replied.

But the attitude persists, and even the New York Times finds it annoying.

As Americans braced in recent days for a war against Iraq, many Californians were feeling strangely out of it. The great expanse between the two coasts appeared ever vaster. The sense of threat, so acute in the East, was real but less immediate here.

Californians have maintained their sense of proportion as to what is really important:

During some lunchtime and office-cooler chatter there has even been longing for President Clinton, a Hollywood favorite, who, the reasoning goes, would never have allowed a war to play havoc with Oscar night, one of the state's most hallowed traditions.

The New Yorker during WWII had a cartoon series showing a chorus girl dealing with the invasion of New York, how she had to take wheelbarrows full of money to buy her cosmetics, how the bombs had put runs in her stockings, and how after the American defeat she had found a glamorous career providing for the bodily needs of the dear occupying German and Japanese forces. Show business has always attracted or created air heads

9:33 AM


Writing in National Review Online, Joseph Loconte examines "The Exhausting Pursuit of Peace", which results from a new, and unacknowledged, addition to just war thinking.

The mischief began at least 20 years ago, when the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued "The Challenge of Peace," a pastoral letter redefining the litmus test for war. Not only must military action be a last resort, they said, but "all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted." (emphasis his).

He lists the recent uses of this idea from the NCC to Jimmy Carter (sigh) to Kofi Annan, and continues:

One becomes exhausted contemplating what the "exhaustion" of peaceful options might mean. Does it involve tighter economic sanctions, a beefed-up inspections regime, an extension of the no-fly zones, the issuing of more U.N. resolutions? All of these strategies have been tried with Iraq - but not, according to war critics, to the point of exhaustion.

It is not, as stated by the likes of Carter and Annan, a very useful idea. It does not, as Loconte suggests, give a nation any way to tell that all peaceful options have been exhausted. Political theorists are responsible for articulating ideas statesmen can apply, and the Exhaustion Ideologues do not.

As Loconte argues:

Even now, disciples of the "exhaustive" school of diplomacy refuse to make a final judgment about the basic character - and predictable behavior - of a tyrannical regime. They ignore the evidence that Saddam Hussein represents an intractable evil: his state-backed megalomania, unprovoked wars of aggression, use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, the expulsion of weapons inspectors, attacks on U.S. aircraft, support for terrorist organizations, and defiance of 17 U.N. resolutions since his defeat in the Gulf War.

Saddam is prepared to subject his people to a devastating war for one purpose: to extend his power by developing and deploying the world's deadliest weapons. Only the marshalling of 250,000 American and British troops on his border has interrupted that pursuit. And only the most na´ve moralists could fail to admit its implications.

I am afraid that you see much the same idea expressed in the Pope's frequent declarations that "war is not inevitable." In one sense this is true and a needed reminder that men are not machines and may choose peace over war. Saddam, for example, does not have to be Saddam.

But in another sense, the sense that applies to those with the responsibility for their nations, it is not true. War is sometimes inevitable, when one faces an enemy who will not back down and actively intends one harm. When, for example, Saddam continues to be Saddam.

7:37 AM


Our friend Julia Duin reports in the Washington Times on a new type of Pentecostal, Bishop Peasron, who preaches the Gospel of Inclusion.

It conflicts with the traditional Christian view that salvation begins with repentance, then a conscious acceptance of Jesus as God in human flesh, followed by baptism to signify one's new life.
"We all feel we have to jump through hoops to please this intolerant and difficult-to-please God," the bishop said. "We think God is going to burn billions of people endlessly without any recourse. That sounds more like the devil than God.
"How can you say God's love is unconditional, but if I don't love Him back right, you go to hell?"

Christians, he said, "have made an idol out of Christ because Christ never pointed to himself. He was an expression of God. He was deity, but the Bible says we are all little gods. I think he intended to represent God but he didn't intend to create a religion around himself.
"Jesus came to be the door to God for everybody. I am not saying he is the only way. Muhammad has access to God. Buddha has access to God.

Muslims and other non-Christian believers are going to heaven, Bishop Pearson says. He also preaches there is no hell, all people are saved and Jesus Christ will not be returning to earth.

Pearson finds inspiration in the Main Line churches:

He takes comfort in writings by other mavericks, such as retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose book "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" rejects nearly every central Christian doctrine. Bishop Pearson calls it a "masterpiece."

Enthusiasm is no barrier to heresy. The Pietists in Germany quickly transmuted into Feuerbachians. I hope the Pentecostals don't go the same way, especially since they are the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the Third World.

4:49 AM

Wednesday, March 19


FYI: An interesting article titled Language of Jesus clings to life, about a village in Syria in which Aramaic is still spoken. But not for long, probably, given the impact of the modern world - the village's school children are taught in Arabic and the churches worship in Arabic, for example - and the age of the language:

The isolation that helped preserve Aramaic in Maalula is also proving its biggest curse. The language has failed to evolve or adapt, and its limited
vocabulary bears little relevance to those living in the modern world.

"There are lots of words for things like goat, tree and vineyard, but outside the village, it is not so useful," Rizkallah said.

In the village, Maalula, which is three-quarters Christian, 80% of the 6,000 residents speak Aramaic but only 2,000 speak it fluently. But the village

is not the only place in which this form of Aramaic has survived. An estimated 5,000 people scattered in remote communities in Turkey, Iraq and Iran speak versions of the language. But those dialects wouldn't be understood in Maalula today, or at the time of Jesus, who was born barely 200 miles away.

It is amazing to think that there are still people in the world who could have understood Jesus' speech. The article, by the way, has for the Christian an amusing opening to its second paragraph:

Aramaic, which was dominant in the region when Jesus was alive . . .

5:17 PM


Sophia Institute Press is publishing an abridged version of Fulton Sheen's The Armor of God as A Soldier's Prayer Book. I have seen the galleys - it's to be published April 1st - and think it quite good.

It begins with some thoughts on war, the soldier's calling, and the like, and then turns into a devotional. It's a little old-fashioned in style and vocabulary, being written by Sheen in the early forties, but he had a great talent for explaining things simply and convincingly. It may not appeal to the soldier addicted to MTV, but I think it will appeal to and help the soldier trying to serve the Lord in a very hard place, who asks questions and is willing to read to find the answer.s.

You can find the book to order here.

2:24 PM


The recent story about [Anglican] Tony Blair receiving Holy Communion at the Vatican apparently is true:

(Church Times) Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, an Anglican, received communion from Pope John Paul II during a recent visit to the Vatican and attended mass with his wife and three eldest children, all of whom are Roman Catholics.

A Jesuit liturgist from one of the pontifical universities confirmed the story. Reports indicate that the Vatican Secretariat of State granted a special dispensation to Blair on the grounds that there is no Anglican church for him to attend in the Vatican, although there are three Anglican places of worship in Rome itself. "It could be significant," said the Rev. Jonathan Boardman, chaplain of All Saints Church. "This little stone could start an avalanche. The granting of dispensations becomes highly charged to those of us who whom they aren't granted."

ÄAnother Anglican source in Rome warned, however, that there are too many exceptions, perhaps an indication that there is an eagerness by some in the Vatican to do the little things that can be done, rather than tackling some of the larger issues.

This is the problem: something is officially allowed as "exceptional," and everybody starts doing it because whenever we really want to do something that other people have been allowed to do, we put ourselves in the "exceptional" category. Parents with children know this game: you have a hard time telling a younger sibling something is off limits when his slightly older brother is allowed an exception to an otherwise firm rule. Or to look at it another way, engaged couples who know premarital sex is wrong but give in to the temptation anyway usually tell themselves that they are "exceptional."

2:05 PM


Recommended: Theodore Dalrymple's Why Shakespeare Is For All Time. His thesis:

four centuries before neurochemistry was even thought of, and before any of the touted advances in neurosciences that allegedly gave us a new and better understanding of ourselves, Shakespeare knew something that we are increasingly loath to acknowledge. There is no technical fix for the problems of humanity.

Those problems, he knew, are ineradicably rooted in our nature; and he atomized that nature with a characteristic genius never since equaled: which is why every time we moderns consult his works, we come away with a deeper insight into the heart of our own mystery.

1:14 PM


According to a story put out by the Episcopal News Service, which is in reality the Episcopal Church's p.r. branch, "Episcopalians join nation in bracing for war with Iraq" by James Solheim and Jan Nunley:

Bishop [sic] Carolyn Tanner Irish of Utah interrupted her sabbatical in England and returned to the diocese "on a spiritual and pastoral mission because of the war," participating in conversations with all 22 congregations.

"The British and Europeans have known war on their own soil," she said. "For them, war is not an option. Their collective security, the
European Union, depends on cooperation."

The Parliament of the United Kingdom voted 412 to 149, or 73% to 27%, to send their troops into battle. According to, the thirty nations openly supporting the United States include:

Albania, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey (at this point, semi-European), and the United Kingdom.

Presumably because war for them is not an option.

11:01 AM


I received a link to "A radical change in why U.S. fights war," by Dick Polman
from a friend. It appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and is a very good analysis of the current situation, I believe. It includes this history:

Previous postwar presidents never embraced preventive war. Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower rebuffed the military advisers who wanted to launch preventive strikes against the newly nuclear Soviet Union. At one point, Truman said, "You don't 'prevent' anything by war... except peace."

And in 1962, John F. Kennedy nixed a preventive strike on the Soviet missiles in Cuba; his brother Robert dismissed that idea, during cabinet deliberations, as "Pearl Harbor in reverse... . For 175 years, we have not been that kind of country."

For 200 years, America generally went to war only after what it believed were direct provocations: the British stole 10,000 American sailors (War of 1812); the Mexicans disputed the Texas boundaries (the Mexican War); the Spanish blew up a U.S. warship (the Spanish-American war); the Germans sank American ships in the North Atlantic (World War I); the Japanese attacked Hawaii (World War II); and communists attacked Asian allies (Korea and Vietnam).

In fact, D. Scott Bennett, coauthor of the forthcoming book The Behavioral Origins of War, can cite only three possible cases of preventive war out of 85 conflicts since 1816: Germany in 1914 (it was worried about a Russian military buildup; Israel in 1956 (worried about Egypt); and Japan in 1941.

I have been thinking for some time that the altered exigencies of geo-politics in recent years, particularly the changing nature of weapons, place greater strains on some of the assumptions on which we have operated for a very long time, both assumptions derived from classical just war theory, and certain practical political assumptions (such as the improbability of military attack from anyone but sovereign nations).

Clearly, the situation has changed profoundly, and it is one of Mr. Bush's greater merits, I believe, that he seems to know that. Where this will lead is still unknown.

9:56 AM


The statement David quotes in the next blog is very sound counsel, and, unlike recent statements of Vatican officials and American bishops, is entirely in line with the teaching in the Roman Catholic Catechism. To wit, the decision to "use the sword" lies entirely within the "grave responsibility" of the State, not the Church. The State, and the State alone, is charged by God to make this determination. Not the Church, not the Security Council of the United Nations.

This is, and has always been, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church: The State alone has the competence to determine whether or not a war is justified. The State will answer to God (and to the judgement of history) with respect to its decision, but it is in the State's competence and authority to decide.

Now, the United States government and some other governments have made the determination to go to war. It is no one else's responsibility.

Yesterday's Vatican message, therefore, is very refreshing. It should logically put to rest the various recent ecclesiastical pronouncements that "the United States does not have the authority to go to war without the sanction of the Security Council," a pronouncement we have lately been hearing ad nauseam

9:45 AM

Tuesday, March 18


The Vatican responded to President Bush's speech with a restrained and wise reminder - much more sensible than the Archbishops quoted below. According to a Zenit story:

The Holy See's first public reaction to George W. Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to the Iraqi regime was a two-line statement stressing the "grave responsibility" of this decision.

"Whoever decides that all peaceful means made available by international law have been exhausted, assumes a grave responsibility before God, his conscience and history," said Vatican spokesman Joaqu?n Navarro-Valls.

8:09 PM


FYI: An interview with our associate editor Robert P. George on Politicians and Faith. It includes the following:

Q: Some politicians say that their function is to represent the views of their electors, and that therefore they are not able to obey the Vatican or Catholic doctrine. Is this just an excuse, or is there a real conflict here?

George: I've never heard a politician express this view of his function. Rather, politicians typically acknowledge an obligation to provide statesmanlike leadership and even to take unpopular stands when conscience or the Constitution or the common good demand it.

Of course, it is comparatively rare that politicians actually take unpopular stands. Most politicians - though there are many honorable exceptions - behave as they think they need to behave in order to maximize their chances for election or re-election.

Those Catholic politicians who have exposed children in the womb to the violence of abortion certainly offer rationalizations for their behavior; but the rationalization they typically offer has nothing to do with any putative obligation to represent the views of their electors. It is, rather, the alleged obligation to respect individual freedom by refraining from imposing a putatively private religious view on fellow citizens who do not share it.

Of course, they would never say such a thing if the victims of the lethal violence they were licensing were members of a group or class for whom they had sympathy or whose members they held in favor. So their posture toward the unborn is an example of partiality and a violation of the principle of equal justice under law.

They are selling out the unborn for purposes of political advantage, then invoking high moral principle to rationalize their conduct. It is shameful.

8:05 PM


President Bush's talk last night is driving some Catholic prelates to rather extreme comments, including a letter on the war by John Michael Botean, a Roumanian Catholic archbishop and a comment by the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Renato Martino (see story number ZE03031703 in March 17th edition.

After a quick review of Catholic teaching on a just war, Abp Botean (who governs the Roumanian Catholics in America) told his people that

Because such a moment of moral crisis has arisen for us, beloved Romanian Catholics, I must now speak to you as your bishop. Please be aware that I am not speaking to you as a theologian or as a private Christian voicing his opinion, nor by any means am I speaking to you as a political partisan. I am speaking to you solely as your bishop with the authority and responsibility I, though a sinner, have been given as a successor to the apostles on your behalf.

I am speaking to you from the deepest chambers of my conscience as your bishop, appointed by Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church, to help shepherd you to sanctity and to heaven. Never before have I spoken to you in this manner, explicitly exercising the fullness of authority Jesus Christ has given his Apostles "to bind and to loose," (cf. John 20:23), but now "the love of Christ compels" me to do so (2 Corinthians 5:14). My love for you makes it a moral imperative that I not allow you, by my silence, to fall into grave evil and its incalculable temporal and eternal consequences.

After having so prepared his people, he declared:

Therefore I, by the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See Bishop of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory.

You may want to read the whole letter, but it is striking that he makes this declaration without a great deal of argument or evidence, or from all appearances a great deal of thought. As a friend remarked: "Strong rhetoric, weak logic, and remarkably free of a genuine weighing of the realities. If only I could be so certain of the clear, distinct, and unarguable moral case here, but somehow this farrago of sanctimony and weak sophistry fails to shake my incertitude." To which another friend added: "His episcopal authority aside, there is very little here in the way of indisputably 'un-spun' Catholic doctrine. A lot of overly specific interpretation of some general principles, and a declaration designed to bully consciences."

I was struck by one paragraph in particular, in which Abp Botean argues:

"The evaluation of these conditions of the just war theory for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good," states the Catechism. (2309) However, the nation-state is never the final arbiter or authority for the Catholic of what is moral or for what is good for the salvation of his or her soul. What is legal can be evil and often has been. Jesus Christ and his Church, not the state, are the ultimate informers of conscience for the Catholic.

Something slips in the argument between the first sentence and the rest. If the rest (which are near platitudes) mean what he thinks they do, what value has the first claim? If he means what he seems to mean, why would the Catechism give the responsibility of evaluating these conditions to the state and not the Church? How does the Catholic know when to listen to the Church as the ultimate informer of his conscience in a case like this, that rests upon prudential judgments?

Abp Martino, who was for sixteen years the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations (and, speaking as one who once had to read his speeches for a television show, the greatest of windbags),

said that a military intervention in Iraq would be a "crime against peace."

Archbishop Renato Martino quoted Jesus' words on Vatican Radio: "If a son asks you for bread, you do not give him a stone," and added: "To a people who for 12 years have been begging for bread, preparations are being made to drop 3,000 bombs on them!"

"It is a crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," the archbishop said. "Let us pray so that the Pharaoh's heart will not be hardened and the biblical plagues of a terrible war will not fall on humanity."

This is beyond silly. It would not be quite so morally blind did he not forget that the Iraqi people have been asking for bread for twelve years because the tyrant who rules the country refused to keep a treaty made after he lost a war he began iwthout any justification, and today refuses to let his people have the food and medicine the embargo would allow them. To call President Bush "Pharaoh" when the name fits Hussein almost perfectly is extraordinarily dim.

I wonder if these men, speaking as they do, realize what they are doing not only to their own authority but to the authority of the Church herself. (I write as a Catholic, but anyone in the mainline and Orthodox churches will have the same problem.) They are staking their authority - their practical authority, I mean, their power to influence and guide their people and the trust their people have in them - on political judgments the Catechism itself gives to the state.

And not only that, but they are staking their authority using arguments and claims that are just not . . . terribly . . . bright, that make specific judgments with the cloudiest of arguments and the least bit of evidence, that show almost no real engagement with the questions to be answered, and that often come with slanderous and mean-spirited descriptions of Americans and American interests (but rarely with equally critical descriptions of Hussein and his interests). They are simply begging their own people to blow them off.

This seems to me, as a laymen, most unwise. It is all very good to argue, as some conservatives do, that they retain their God-given authority even when they abuse it, fail to use it (as in the homosexual priest scandal), or claim to have it in areas in which they don't, but this does not change the fact that when they do any of those the average man will learn to ignore them. Or rather, they will have taught the average man to ignore them.

They are failing to be fathers to their people. I am conscious, as a father, of my failings to be to my children all a father should be. I think most fathers must feel this way. I have some idea of the barriers my own sins put between my children and their full understanding of God their Father, and their ability to trust in Him. They have free will, but they cannot be blamed completely when they fail to respond to God as they should because I have, by example, taught them badly.

This is what I think the various bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, with all their windy statements about "peace," are doing to the average Catholic. (And other religious leaders are doing to their people.) They are teaching him to ignore them, even when they speak the word of the Lord.

By speaking as they have done, they have made it harder for their sons to listen to them with the trust and confidence sons ought to have for their fathers. And so they are partly responsible when the sons do what the fathers tell them not to.

2:35 PM


In the March 2003 Atlantic, David Brooks, a "recovering secularist," writes in "Kicking the Secularist Habit: A Six-Step Program":

I now get extremely annoyed by the secular fundamentalists who are content to remain smugly ignorant of enormous shifts occurring all around them. They haven't learned anything about religion, at home or abroad. They don't know who Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are, even those two co-authors have sold 42 million copies of their books. They still don't know what makes a Pentecostal a Pentecostal (you could walk through an American newsroom and ask that question, and the only people who might be able to answer would be the secretaries and the janitorial staff). They still don't know about Michael Aflaq, the mystical Arab nationalist who served as a guru to Saddam Hussein. A great Niagara of religious fervor is cascading down around them while they stand obtuse and dry in the little cave of their own parochialism-and many of them are journalists and policy analysts, who are paid to keep up with these things.

Secularism and religion, these two forces are much in the news lately (note Newsweek's recent "Bush and God" cover story). Of course, they got it wrong in Newsweek-one short article cited Bush's use of the phrase "good and evil" in a speech as concrete evidence that he is espousing explicitly Christian views in public. Since when is a belief in good and evil exclusively Christian? But again, this was probably written by a secularist who doesn't know much about religion, period.

The April issue of Touchstone, now at the printer, will be taking a close look at secularism and public life and its influence. We expect that it will stir up some vigorous debate. Contributors include Rod Dreher, James Hitchcock, Patrick Henry Reardon, Terry Mattingly, Mark Tooley, and William Saunders. Stay tuned.

Perhaps Brooks•s comment will prove to be right: "Secularism is not the future; it is yesterday's incorrect vision of the future." I certainly hope so.

9:54 AM


In the latest issue of the newsletter of Leanne Payne's ministry, "ex-gay" leader Andy Comiskey writes about cheap grace.

It is an interesting article about the way certain healing ministries have failed, or even refused, to accept the biblical judgment - "evaluation," if you want a neutral term - of the ways of life from which people need to be healed. He recounts one disturbing story of the actions of Evangelicalism's most popular ethicist, a professor at its major seminary.

For many healers of influence, grace embraces the same-sex struggler, but is apparently unable to transform him. Certain ones have empowered this deception - like Mel White, a former Fuller professor and evangelical pastor, who now heads up Soulforce, a gay advocacy group. In his biography Stranger at the Gate, White portrays himself as a somewhat tragic figure whose gay impulses compelled him to form multiple partnerships before and after his marriage dissolved.

Friends of his, like the late ethicist Lewis Smedes of Fuller Seminary, took up White's journey into gay liberation as nearly authoritative. As a result, Dr. Smedes became profoundly distrustful of students like myself who dared to advocate for the healing of the homosexual. I would pass Smedes in the hallway; he would look me straight in the eye and ask, "How long before you fall back [into homosexuality]?"

This is really quite wicked. Even if you believed as Smedes did - he wrote a rather simple-mindedly pro-gay article two or three years ago for the Calvinist magazine Perspectives - you would not try to discourage a young man who was trying to escape the homosexual life. You would be doing him no good, and probably doing him great harm.

If I may mention this, this article, and another by Leanne Payne in the same issue titled Sentimentality and Its Relation to "Cheap Grace" (which ends with "antinomian heresy," the text after that being another article), make a point quite similar to mine in Nice Killers in the January/February issue and "Speaking of Enemies" in the March issue (not yet available on the web).

9:23 AM

Monday, March 17


From Reuters, a report on one of those studies one will have to read to judge, but which the usual suspects pick up to further their cause: "Researchers: Marriage doesn't make you happy". The story says that the study appeared in the March issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, but does not think to tell us who the researchers are.

The story is short on useful details, but it opens:

Most newlyweds experience a brief emotional bounce after their wedding, but they eventually return to the same outlook they had on life before they tied the knot, according to a study released Sunday.

And predictably, quotes someone who finds it a reason to pursue other arrangements:

Dorian Solot, co-founder of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, said the study showed marriage was not a cure-all.

"I think it reminds us that there's no magic ticket to happiness. Wedding bells might do it for some people, but true happiness is about you and your own life, not your marital status," said Solot, who also co-wrote "Unmarried to Each Other."

This will take more unpacking than I have time for now. But let me suggest one thing: marriage isn't about "happiness" at all.

7:40 PM


From The Spectator, a review of a book on the Victorian classic, Dean Farrar's Eric, or Little by Little. The story of a boy at boarding school who goes steadily to the bad, Eric, "a huge bestseller, from its publication in 1858, one year after Tom Brown's Schooldays, right up to the 1930s," seems to be what some people think everything Victorian was: moralistic, contrived, etc.

Except for the sex, at least in the early editions:

One cannot imagine P. G. Wodehouse or John Finnemore of the splendid Teddy Lester books wrestling with the problems of masturbation and homosexual affairs between schoolboys as Farrar does in only slightly veiled form in the chapter entitled •Dead Flies or Ye Shall be as Gods', with the telling subheading •In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night'.

One interesting fact which Ian Anstruther [the reviewer] points out is that Farrar's attitude to these sensitive subjects changed over the years. In the early editions he is quite open, writing passages like: •But Eric was too manly a little fellow to sink into the effeminate condition which usually grows on the young delectables who have the misfortune to be "taken up" . . .' (by older boys).

Later he toned this down, replacing •effeminate' with •dependant' and •delectables' with •foolish little boys'. He cut down on the kissing too, and also physical contact. Wildney, once to be found •quietly sitting on Eric's knee', has moved in later editions to a seat by the fire.

Life in such places - the schools of the English elite, mind you - was just as creepy as you might expect:

Farrar's concern for sexual morality seems to have arisen from the state of affairs - in every sense of the word - which he found at Harrow. A boy who was there in the 1850s, when Eric was being written, recorded in his memoirs •Every boy of good looks had a female name, and was recognised either as a public prostitute or as some bigger fellow's bitch.' •Bitch was the word in common usage to indicate a boy who yielded his person to a lover.'

The whole situation was given a dubious legitimacy by the fact that the headmaster himself was having an affair with one of the boys. Farrar veils this whole distasteful subject in a dark mist of Evangelical obscurity:

Kibroth-Hattaavah! Many a young Englishman has perished there! Very pale their shadows rise before us. May every schoolboy be warned by the waving of their wasted hands, from that burning marl of passion where they found nothing but ruin and an early grave.

This helps explain why the Victorians were sometimes so "Victorian." It is to their credit. Some fool may have wanted to hide the legs of pianos - I've read that this is a myth and that it actually happened - but people who wanted young men and women to be chaste, for the boys to be boys and not "bitches," should be admired and not derided.

The book reviewed is Ian Anstruther's Dean Farrar and •Eric' (Haggerston Press, £19.95, pp.131, ISBN:1869812190). The reviewer is Juliet Townsend.

7:30 PM


By the way, I recommend adding the English magazine The Spectator, source of the book review quoted in the following blog, to your list of favorites. It is a weekly and my favorite magazine. (I used to subscribe, but it is unbelievably expensive.)

It is a generally Tory magazine, but that sort of English conservative cannot be predicted or put into an ideological box. This for reasons good (they usually do not take positions without thought) and bad (they are sometimes anti-American in that silly English way and are rather lax on alternative sexualities, since Tories live a range of lifestyles).

One of its most attractive features is that it includes more coverage of the rest of the world than we get from American magazines. It is also well written, and sometimes very well written.

7:25 PM


Well worth reading:

A study of the Pope's rejection of the arguments of Catholic neo-conservatives like Michael Novak and his biographer George Weigel, Rome vs. Washington by Gerald Warner in The Spectator.


A story about the American airbase in Turkey, which, besides being well written, explains why even the generally hawkish Christian has some reservations about the culture our forces represent: As American as F16s. In the base bookstore the writer

counted no fewer than 26 editions of the Bible in stock, catering for all tastes, ranks and intellects, from the Early Readers' Illustrated Bible (enlisted men) to the Maxwell Leadership Bible (officers), not counting an equally large shelf of related literature. There were, I add for the sake of fairness, also two editions of the Koran, but the charming black sales girl from Alabama didn't recall anyone ever having bought one.

On the opposite rack, in the manner of Orthodox churches with depictions of Heaven and Hell facing each other on opposite walls, were Letters to Penthouse, volumes IÀXVI, and other racy literature of the •he possessed her in the most physical way possible' variety (I quote). For visual stimulation, customers must make do with People Magazine and the Victoria's Secret catalogue, apparently the most subscribed-to mail-order publication in the US military.


In Defense of Harry Potter, an interview with two professors at the University of St. Thomas. (You have to go to the Zenit home page and then find the article, alas.) The professors argue that the HP books are "Christian in two senses":

First, the books place love and truth as the objective goods at the heart of what it means to be a human, magical or otherwise.

The initial premise of the series is that the infant Harry has survived the attack of the evil wizard Voldemort through his parents' sacrificial love. And Albus Dumbledore, the wise headmaster of Hogwarts, cautions Harry repeatedly to always prize truth. Give things their proper names, is Dumbledore's advice. In other words, don't be afraid to name evil for what it is.

Second, the books are coming-of-age stories that follow the development of Harry Potter and his friends, particularly their moral development. It's important to note that nowhere in the books published thus far does Harry or any of his friends defeat the forces of evil through their own magical skills.

Instead, the characters always find victory through universal virtues such as courage in the service of honesty or friendship. Self-sacrifice, the willingness to put oneself in danger for another's sake, is one of the constant threads running through the series.

They then address the questions of the use of witchcraft in the book and their possible appeal as New Age or Wiccan tracts (rightly, I think) and then conclude with a response to those who think the books promote misbehavior:

. . . generally the complaints about the Potter books focus not on any real evil deeds, but on infractions such as breaking the school curfew; and these cases of rule-breaking are overwhelmingly attempts to block some great harm.

Even if Harry did get away with real moral mischief - which his detractors have not convincingly shown - the point of literature, even literature that has explicitly moral themes, is not to show that in every case crime, or perhaps sin, doesn't pay. Sometimes it does in the short run, but it never does in the long run.

The way one portrays moral development in literature is to make it like moral development in real life. People make choices for good or ill. Sometimes they learn lessons immediately and sometimes they don't. Mostly they grow morally in fits and starts as they reflect on long chains of events in the light of good advice. And even the good advice is not always comprehended immediately.

But with the advice that has already been given by Dumbledore regarding the duty to always seek and tell the truth, and always use one's freedom to serve that truth, we can see that the lessons Harry can and will gain are significant.

For example, Harry refrains from an act of vengeful killing at the end of the third book. The person in question set up his parents' murder and the murder of numerous others, yet Harry refuses to take this revenge himself.

He cannot articulate why, but he concludes, from reflecting on his parents' self-sacrificial lives, that such acts of vengeance are wrong. This type of moral learning is profoundly Catholic in that one watches virtuous lives and learns to do as they do, while the intellect catches up with the habit.

7:41 AM


An Evangelical friend sent me the link to a sermon by Philip Jensen, the new dean of the Anglican cathedral in Sydney, Australia, and one of conservative Anglicanism's livelier figures, on what he calls "the supernatural conflict of world evangelism": Pray that I may declare it fearlessly. He notes near the end:

[R]emember, it's not just the gospel, it's the mystery of the gospel that causes the offence. It's the inclusiveness and the consequential exclusiveness of the gospel that causes the offence. If I were to say Jesus died and rose again, people in our tolerant and carefree city would say 'well, we're glad you think so and happy that you feel free to say it.'

But when I say Jesus died and rose again as the one and only unique sacrifice for sins and the judge and ruler of all mankind, irrespective of race religion or creed, then the opposition starts. Then the illiberality of liberals commences. Then the censorious persecution opens up. Then political correctness takes over.

For Jesus to be 'the way the truth and the life' is mildly offensive, but to be 'the only way to the father' is downright rude for all people who want to live without Jesus being their king and their saviour and their God.

I and others have written about this very thing often enough, but I commend the sermon for the biblical work that proceeds the conclusion.

7:35 AM

Sunday, March 16


In The Evangelist, Bishop Hubbard of Albany talks about his favorite subject: himself.

The hard-hitting editor of the diocesan paper immediately gets to the crux of the abuse crisis:

How would you describe the past 12 months for you?
Bishop Hubbard: It's been a year of horrendous pain
Q. Last June, you removed six priests from ministry. Some were close friends of yours; all were fellow priests. What did that do to you?
Bishop Hubbard: All of them were brother priests; some were good friends, and some were colleagues I worked with on a daily basis. To have to make a decision like that -- removing them permanently from a ministry they had committed their life to -- was heart-rending and gut-wrenching.
Q. Many people have remarked that you look thin, drawn. One actual measurement of that is how much weight you have lost in recent months. How much?
Bishop Hubbard: About 25 pounds.
Q. Has there been a spiritual toll as well?
Bishop Hubbard: I mentioned the dark night of the soul. I can really identify with the suffering of Job.

To be fair, there is more in the interview, but there is an unmistakable narcissism in the interview. Hubbard's main concern about the scandals is how they have affected Hubbard.He wouldn't even considered himself self-centered if this were pointed out to him, because after all, the clergy, and especially, the bishop, is the Church. Clericalism is the culture in which narcissism flourishes. Hubbard, who has a reputation as a liberal, has a clericalist mentality, as much as any old-time Irish monsignor.

5:40 AM

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