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Saturday, March 29


The Catholic writer Garry Wills has an essay in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine, "With God on His Side", talking about the invocation of God in wartime by our leaders. He goes after our contributing editor Rod Dreher for the story on military chaplains he wrote for National Review, for which he's a senior writer. (The story, which appeared in the March 20th issue, is on the NR website, butyou have to pay for it.)

The relevant part of Wills' essay:

The afflatus of becoming visible saints is intoxicating. It allows one to have great disdain for the manifest sinners who oppose our saintly will. This applies not only to outright enemies but to those (like the French) who do not join our crusade and even to those who dare criticize it. Rod Dreher, a senior writer at National Review, says that clergymen who oppose the war are spiritually disarming us and that military chaplains supporting the war should be heeded, not ''bishops in well-appointed chanceries and pastors sitting in suburban middle-class comfort.'' Dreher, a Catholic convert, must think the pope is one of those cushy bishops, as opposed to the hard-bitten military chaplains who know what God and the devil are up to. We should learn from the ''moral realism'' of soldier-priests, who are ''warriors for justice,'' and not heed ''the effete sentimentality you find among so many clergymen today.'' The priests who do not bow to the War God are, in a chaplain's words that Dreher quotes with approval, reinforcers of the notion that ''religion is for wimps, for prissy-pants, for frilly-suited morons.'' This is what used to be called ''muscular Christianity,'' and Dreher thinks it is the only authentic form of his faith:

''As men and women of faith deliberate the morality of war with Iraq, it is a travesty that more of them haven't had the perspective of military chaplains, that virtually the only religious voices heard in the public square are coming from the antiwar corner. The divide between military and civilian clergy over the Iraq war is philosophically very deep. It cuts to the core of one's belief in evil. . . . Some of the chaplains say the failure of contemporary American society to grasp the true nature of the evil we face means the country is spiritually unprepared for war and its sacrifices.''

Dreher has a view of military chaplains as moral mentors that is quite different from that of Madison, who wrote: ''Look thro' the armies and navies of the world, and say whether, in the appointment of their ministers of religion, the spiritual interests of the flocks or the temporal interests of the shepherds be most in view.'' Madison was aware that most nations have made an instrumental use of God (as the endorser of secular policy) and that this dishonors God rather than honors him. It recruits him to secular purpose and literally ''takes the Lord's name in vain.'' Madison would allow men in danger of death to have chaplains of their own denominations near them if financed by their own denominations. But that is different from putting ministers in government uniform, under government discipline. Dreher tells us, with approval, that the military controls the chaplains and must remove any who show doubt about the war as a danger to ''morale.'' Religion is harnessed to political purpose and is not freely exercised if it does not serve that purpose. That is just the ''cognizance'' of religion Madison called a usurpation by the state.

One gets the uneasy feeling, listening to the president, that the role military chaplains play in Dreher's life is provided for Bush by his evangelical counselors and consolers. Many have wondered how the president can so readily tear down whole structures of international cooperation at a time when, in the fight against terrorism, we need them most. His calm assurance that most of the world and much of his nation is wrong comes from an apparent certainty that is hard to justify in terms of geopolitical calculus. It helps, in making that leap, to be assured that God is on your side. One of the psychological benefits of this is that it makes one oppose with an easy conscience those who are not with us, therefore not on God's side. They are not mistaken, miscalculating, misguided or even just malevolent. They are evil. And all our opponents can be conflated under the heading of this same evil, since the devil is an equal opportunity employer of his agents.

Bush has been very good at fooling the American people into thinking that Saddam Hussein was behind the attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington and that he is an ally and supplier of Al Qaeda, that eliminating him is the best way to keep terrorism from our shores. Whatever good reason there may be for ousting Saddam, those are not among them. The conviction that we might benefit by removing Saddam is not the same as believing that God wills it -- except in George Bush's mind. Those who oppose him are not, in his frame of thought, just making a political mistake. They are, as Ron Dreher's military chaplains believe, cutting ''to the core of one's belief in evil.'' Question the policy, and you no longer believe in evil - which is the same, in this context, as not believing in God. That is the religious test on which our president is grading us.

To which Rod responded - off the top of his head, by the way, so he does not say everything that might be said in response to Wills:

1. Shame on the copy editors at the Times: "Ron" for "Rod."

2. Has Bush ever said that those who question his policy disbelieve in evil? Has he ever said that those who question him don't believe in God? This is unfair.

3. I agree that we must be *very* careful to avoid the sin of presumption re: the idea that God is on our side. That said (and to repeat my statement from before), Wills makes it impossible for anyone ever to go to war with the assurance that they're doing as God would have them do. Ultimately, this does go back to one's view of evil, and the responsibility a righteous man has to fight it.

I don't think it
necessarily follows that one who opposes the U.S. government's policy of this or any war disbelieves in evil, much less in God. But you look at the persistence among the antiwar side - when confronted by bone-chilling evidence of the Saddam regime's brutality, its grotesque torture of its own people, and the hideous weapons they've built - of an inability to come up with any practical way of dealing with it, and you wonder if they have any idea what evil is about, or if it even exists.

I mean, I'm so tired of hearing "we should work with our allies" or "let the inspectors work" or (my favorite, from an antiwar friend) "there's got to be a better way than war." They have a sentimental view of evil, I think. So many of these folks don't believe in Hell, they believe in Heck (and even then they're not so sure).

12:24 PM


Those interested in the life of the university may find of interest an exchange on the question The University Is Not a Political Party, Or Is It?. It features the literary critic Stanley Fish, Stephen H. Balch, the President of the conservative National Association of Scholars, the leftist cultural critic Stanley Aronowitz, and David Horowitz, reformed leftist turned conservative activist. They begin by discussing Fish's essay "A University is Not a Political Party", which appeared a couple of months ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education (of all places).

Though one of the favorite bad guys of the mass-mailing conservatives, Fish is a genuinely interesting thinker. I think he is some ways a secular Newman, but I have yet been able to articulate this.

10:31 AM


This Touchstone blog in general (and my comments in particular) are being attacked as neo-conservative war-mongering. I don't know how anyone in his right mind can be in favor if war; but sometimes war a dreadful necessity, and I mean full of dread. Its horror is supernatural.

The aphorism is that truth is the first casualty of war; I think reason goes well before truth. Does anyone remember these facts?

Bush is a member of the non-interventionist wing of the Republican party. He dislikes international entanglements, including treaties. He has a distaste for nation building; He is not a statist, and has tried to reduce the size of the federal government. War is the health of the state, and has to be avoided by anyone dedicated to smaller government and lower taxes. Such a person is not likely to enter into a war unless forced to do so.

The attack of September 11 demonstrated that there is a large and effective network of state, quasi-state, and non-state organizations that are capable and willing of inflicting vast damage on the United States. The Chinese articulated the theory of asymmetrical warfare to deal with the overwhelming might of the United States. No country can attack the United States directly and survive; but the attacks can be done through shadowy agents: terrorists.

Hussein is an inhumane tyrant who definitely had and probably still has chemical and biological weapons. The only reason he does not have nuclear weapons is because the Israelis in a pre-emptive strike destroyed his French-built reactor. He has started several wars. He hates the United States and was one of the few national leaders who did not condemn the September 11 attacks. In fact a military HQ has a mural of it.

Bush has the best intelligence available to anyone (including the Pope) about the capabilities and intentions of Iraq.

These are facts which I think no rational person can controvert. They in themselves do not demonstrate the necessity of war. The key questions are: what is our intelligence telling us, and how reliable is the intelligence.

I do not have access to the intelligence; nor does the Pope, nor do the anti-war demonstrators.

What are the demonstrators saying?

That Bush is seeking any excuse for war? But this is contrary to his character and overall policies

That Huissein is such a nice guy that he couldn't possibly intend any harm to the United Stales? This does not require an answer.
That Iraq no longer possesses the chemical and biological capabilities of harming the United States? But why did Hussein refuse to cooperate with the UN inspectors? He expelled them, and then let them back in only after a US army had begun moving toward Iraq.

That Hussein may have the capabilities and be a tyrant, but he is not insane, and would not give weapons to terrorist to be used against the US? This is the crucial point. From the intelligence that Bush has, he has decided that Iraq under the control of Hussein is an imminent treat to the US.

The French et al disagree. They have access to good intelligence, but they are also not the objects of the intended attack. Many of the demonstrators are not saying the US is making a mistake (entirely possible; Bush may have misjudged, our intelligence is always inadequate) but that the situation is such that no rational person of good will could see Hussein as a threat. Such a position is irrational, and demonstrates a visceral anti-Americanism or a disconnect from reality that I detect in some statements emanating from the episcopate and the Vatican, not to mention the demonstrators.

I was opposed to the first Gulf War, in part because of the good things I had heard from Iraqi Catholics about Hussein. But Catholics can be politically compromised, and I am afraid the Iraqi Catholics have been outsmarted and find themselves involved in a reprehensible regime (not the first time this has happened). I was asked to sign a statement in support of this war, but I declined. It is beyond my competence.

I cannot say that this war is justified; it could be, but I must rely upon the President's judgment. He has the best information and he has the responsibility of making the decision. He is not the sort of person who has been looking for an excuse for war; war would make it difficult for him to accomplish his domestic goals of a smaller government and lower taxes. I see no alternative to trusting his judgment; I certainly have little confidence in French or German judgment about military affairs, and military science is not a branch of theology, so the opinions of bishops or even the Pope is not much more valuable than mine in these matters, and are less valuable than the President's.

5:13 AM

Friday, March 28


A little more from AP on Hussein's relationship with the Catholic Church:

Saddam's bond with Detroit started in 1979, when the Rev. Jacob Yasso of Chaldean Sacred Heart congratulated Saddam on his presidency. In return, Yasso said, his church received $250,000.

"He was very kind person, very generous, very cooperative with the West. Lately, what's happened, I don't know," Yasso, 70, said Wednesday. "Money and power changed the person."

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Yasso said that at the time, Saddam made donations to Chaldean churches around the world. "He's very kind to Christians," Yasso said. Chaldeans are a Catholic group in predominantly Muslim Iraq. Among prominent Chaldeans is Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz.

A year later, Yasso traveled with about two dozen people to Baghdad as a guest of the Iraqi government, and they were invited to Saddam's palace. "We were received on the red carpet," Yasso said. Yasso said he presented Saddam with the key to the city, courtesy of then-Mayor Coleman Young. Then, Yasso said, he got a surprise.

"He said, `I heard there was a debt on your church. How much is it?'" Yasso said.

Saddam donated another $200,000.

Of course the Americans were playing footsie with Hussein at the same time.

7:12 PM


From the Globe and Mail:

Two Iraqi soldiers surrendered Friday to CBC reporter Paul Workman and the Globe and Mail's Geoffrey York.
"We were standing in front of a big statue of Saddam Hussein having our pictures taken . . . and all of a sudden a couple of guys came up to us with their hands over their heads," Mr. Workman said of the incident in the port city of Umm Qasr.
Workman said they thought the two men were locals at first but "Geoff York from the Globe and Mail talked to these two guys and it turned out that they were soldiers out of uniform who had been hiding for a week."
"They saw us, thought in fact that we were military and came to us to surrender," Mr. Workman said.
"We put them in our vehicle and took them off to a British regiment that was running a POW camp and we turned them over to them."
The two soldiers were brothers, Mr. Workman said, "barely 20 years old, conscripts who said they'd been given four days of training then forced into the southern part of the country."

And we were afraid the Canadians wouldn't help us. (BTW, we're doomed. The French are threatening to help us).

4:57 PM


The National Catholic Register (March 30) has an interview (not online) with Bishop Bawai Soro of the Assyrian Church of the East. Unlike the Pope and the Catholic bishops, he is in favor of the US action in Iraq. He knows that war is an evil; it is his countrymen who are dying. But "this evil of war must be accepted when a greater evil of injustice, oppression and inhumanity can be stopped by an act of war."\

There has been some speculation on various blogs about the motives behind the Vatican's denunciation of American actions and its reticence about Hussein's actions. The Chaldean Catholics in Iraq may have been compromised by their cooperation with Hussein, and fear retaliation if he falls.

In 1991 I conducted a governmental interview with an Iraqi (which is obviously confidential). After the interview I shut my notebook and said I wanted to talk to him as a private citizen and a fellow Catholic about the situation of the Church in Iraq. He said it was basically good, that Hussein did not persecute Christians, and in fact he used Catholics in high positions in his government (e.g. Tareq Aziz), because he knew they would not plot with Islamic fundamentalists.

Patriarch Bidawid says in L'espresso
"Christians here are privileged. Saddam gives us what we want, listens to us and protects us. Regarding Islamic extremists: "They have infiltrated the veins of religious power and are trying to steer it in their direction. But the government keeps them in check. Saddam is capable; he fools them into being more open in order to uncover them. He will get them."

Hussein has offered a measure of protection to Catholics. He has been mostly a secular socialist, but has allowed Catholics to practice their religion and even favored them. But I suspect that little by little they got drawn into carrying out odious policies that would make them the objects of vengeance if Hussein ever fell. The Shiites have been slaughtered and oppressed by Hussein. The Chaldean bishops know this, and may fear a massacre of Catholics, or a fundamentalist Islamic state that would drive them out of the country. Bidawid continues:

"A new conflict would trigger an awful clash within the Muslim world between Sunnis and Shiites."
Implication: If Saddam goes, anarchy will break loose in Iraq, and without him as a shield, it will be the end for Christians.

He who sups with the devil must have a long spoon, and I am afraid the one the Catholic Chaldeans have used is not long enough.

4:35 PM


Recommended, Iconography: The Use of Art in Christian Worship, the 23rd annual Atlantic Theological Conference. It will be held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (a beautiful city) from Wednesday, June 25th to Friday, June 27th. The conferences are sponsored by a group of conservative Anglicans in the Maritimes.

I have been to several of these conferences and always found them very helpful and enjoyable. This one would also give you a good excuse to vacation on Prince Edward Island. If you have any early teenage daughters, you can visit Green Gables.

7:46 AM

Thursday, March 27


Worth reading: Nation's antiwar left remains clueless from The Seattle Times. America, the author says,

needs, desperately, a rational, attractive, compelling left.

Don't expect it anytime soon. For the antiwar left is a movement that speaks almost entirely to, for, and about itself. It is so mired in worn-out tactics (in Hans Kung's apt phrase, "So many provocations that no longer provoke"), in odious self-righteousness, and in the arrogance of the impotent, that they make the Bushies and the neo-cons seem positively reasonable by comparison.

. . . Clearly, today's antiwar movement orients inward, on itself. Blocking traffic, screaming obscenities, reducing complex issues to silly slogans, flaunting their righteousness, exulting in their vitriol, obsessing over the body counts (how many demonstrated, got arrested, etc.), sneering off the rest of us, have never been winning strategies. So why does it go on?

America won't get this rational, attractive, compelling left, the author argues, because

Back in 1984, sociologist Peter Clecak published a book titled, "America's Quest for the Ideal Self." Clecak's contention was that, for much of the left, protest had become less an effective political tool than a means of personal growth and self-fulfillment. What you protested about mattered less than that you did it.

. . . Since Vietnam, far too much of the antiwar movement, and of the left in general, has oriented inwards. The psychological payoff, the feeling, devoid of sacrifice or accomplishment or respect for others, has become the goal.

Mr. Gold, the author, is from Seattle, a city which knows a lot about the subject under discussion. Riots are common in Seattle, unless I have completely misunderstood the TV news over the past couple of years. Much of the anti-war activity in this country is as contrived as the pro-Saddam rallies in Baghdad, and it shows.

This morning, for instance, about 60 protesters lay down in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan during rush hour. It virtually closed down the center of the city for a long time. If these folks had wanted to create a whole new bunch of converts to the pro-war cause, they could not have chosen a more effective way to do it.

These peace-activists in Manhattan, if they were not protesting the war, would have been protesting something else. Indeed, there is a whole industry of folks who simply travel around from place to place protesting something or other having to do with the government, the international monetary fund, the Republican Party, NATO, and heaven knows what else. This is not going to stop when the war is over. Who is funding all this activity?

1:03 PM


From The Washington Post, a story announcing that a "Woman to Head Reform Rabbis". The next president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Janet Ross Marder, was ordained a rabbi in 1979 and was "a leader in another break from tradition" by becoming the rabbi of the first Reform synagogue to "focus on gay congregants." It's in Los Angeles.

It's a hohum sort of story, but the last two paragraphs are significant:

Marder said women are playing key roles in revising the Reform prayer book to allow more "truly participatory worship" by reducing rote responsive readings and emphasizing meditative prayer and singing.

"The 19th- and 20th-century style of worship was you experienced awe by sitting in a room with a high ceiling and hearing a choir or someone with a soaring voice. You felt very small, and that's how you experienced God," she said. "The contemporary style is you try to create community, make people feel connected to those around them, break down the divide between congregation and pulpit, and help people feel the real and living presence of God."

This has been said in various ways by hundreds of liturgical revisers over the last several decades. Much could be said about it, but I will note only that she feels "small" when moved by awe-inspiring architecture and music, when it seems to me that what one ought to feel, and what most people do feel, is the greatness of God. If people don't manage that, at least they feel the greatness of beauty.

When you feel moved by some intimation of the glory and majesty of God, or by true beauty, you don't think about yourself at all. If anything, you feel expanded, as if the greater thing (God or beauty) you'd seen had helped you grow to be a little more like it. This is what people mean when they say "I am so happy my heart could burst." This is the reason mystical experiences are "ecstatic" and why sexual union is called "ecstatic" as well.

I am actually not opposed to her ideals, though I would define them rather differently than she. I am opposed to her motive. If you feel small, you are paying too much attention to yourself.

12:37 PM


When I hear someone refer to the Salem witch trials as an example of religious hysteria, by which most mean to suggest that religion is usually hysterical, I reply that we are no better off. Modern America has its own irrationalities, conducted in the same evidence-be-damned spirit. Not least among these irrationalities is the child abuse hysteria of the last two or three decades. (Which is not to say, before some less than thoughtful reader squeals, that children are not abused.)

In today's Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz offers an Epilogue to a Hysteria analyzing the prosecutorial drive to convict people of accused of child abuse no matter how implausible the charges. The subtitle is "Did prosecutors really believe their phony child-abuse charges?," but she is concerned with the cultural frenzy to believe the wildest charges, which means to punish the innocent.

Rabinowitz describes what might be called the methodology of hysteria, referring to the Kelly Michaels trial in Los Angeles in 1988:

And there was the fact that the children had given specific descriptions of their abuse. How such claims came to be made the jurors did not know. In the course of their pretrial interrogations, the children in Kelly Michaels' case were given knives and forks and anatomically correct dolls. They were then asked to show where their teacher had hurt them. Confused, but obedient, the preschooler poked at the doll's head, or neck, or arms, all locations obviously unsatisfactory to the interviewer, who kept asking, "Where else?"

Finally the child would touch the doll's sex organs - the moment for which the interviewer had been waiting, for which the entire exercise had been designed. Here all urgings to say "where else" ended. The interviewer now wrote up notes attesting to the child's disclosure, and saying that the victim had described how he or she had been penetrated. This would be the testimony presented to the jurors.

It would seem to me that this sort of interrogation (the right word, certainly) is itself a form of child abuse. The interrogators, driven to find evidence of a crime they were apparently sure had been committed, introduced these children to the idea of sexual sadism, not to mention the probably quite stressful and abusive nature of the interrogation itself.

I remember reading some years ago of the reaction of the children when an alleged abuser's conviction was overturned because the judges realized he (or it may have been she) was innocent. The poor children, who had been brainwashed into thinking themselves as the victims of horrible abuse, were according to the reporter devastated. Not only was an important part of their self-identity ripped away, they saw that they could not trust their memories. I can think of few things more psychologically distabilizing than that.

Rabinowitz also noted that when asked by a reporter if they believed the children's wilder charges - that the accused had inserted knives into the children's ears, for example - one prosecutor said "no" and the other "oh, absolutely." Which does led one to think that one is a knave and the other a fool. It also leads one to think that the innocent are not safe from the prosecutor's office in Los Angeles.

For those who realized that the charges were absurd, the prosecutors offered an argument impossible to refute:

The state's expert witnesses, the psychologists and the abuse specialists, offered an explanation: The children had been traumatized and tortured and, as a result, had had to construct all sorts of fantasies to defend themselves. Jurors were little inclined to doubt the experts.

The process, once started, developed a life of its own. With the parents, for example,

Tortured as [they] were by the thought of the outrages committed against their children, they found, in the society of others they saw as victims like themselves, a powerful bond - and in the case itself, a drama that utterly absorbed them. They lived their lives with a focus and intensity previously unknown to them as they prepared for the trials and consulted with prosecutors and therapists. Of the principals in these cases, none were to believe the charges more immediately or more everlastingly than the parents.

The article, by the way, is adapted from the epilogue to Rabinowitz's new book, No Crueller Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times.

7:49 AM

Wednesday, March 26


A new blog some readers may find of interest, by a friend of mine and an old student of Father Patrick Reardon's, the Rev'd Dr. Kendall Harmon, called TitusOneNine. Kendall is an Episcopal priest serving a parish in South Carolina and editing a bi-monthly called The Anglican Digest.

9:08 AM


Passed along by a friend who watches television (the reference in the second paragraph is to the movie director Roman Polanski:

Last night Jay Leno said he was driving around listening to an L.A. radio talk show host going on about Mel Gibson building his own church, saying that Mel must have lost his mind.

"Don't you love this town?" Jay said. "You drug an underage girl, you rape her, you flee the country, you get an Oscar. You build a church, and it's 'What are you, nuts?!"

9:02 AM


A reader responds to yesterday's blog on

There's another angle: in Engrish classes in Japan, they often disapprove of Westerners trying to interfere with their heavily accented and idosyncratic pronunciation of words, and use of grammar. It turns out that they like and prefer their version of engrish better than what passes for english elsewhere.

Thus my wife worked at a Japanese Bank in Toronto - wonderful people, but some of them, despite years and years of Engrish classes, and tremendous abilities in banking, etc., couldn't function in the language, or figure out what people were saying, until they took proper ESL classes here. Only then could they make the mental switch to be better business people in the Western world.

Some of them never made the switch, and were sent to the dreaded limbo of "middle management" back in Japan, never to see the West again in their career.

8:59 AM


In an article on the magazine's website, Pious Denunciations: An Episcopal bishop sounds more like Martin Sheen than Fulton Sheen, The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes examines the anti-war rhetoric of the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop Frank Griswold. Barnes, an adult convert to Christianity, is an Episcopalian and attends The Falls Church in suburban northern Virginia.

Griswold had attacked America and President Bush in the usual ways (he thought calling Iraq etc. an "axis of evil" "language so unwisely, so intemperately, so thoughtlessly" that it alienated the rest of the world), and ended with "I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for being from the United States." Barnes responds:

My reaction to Bishop Griswold is pretty simple. I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for belonging to a church whose leader says such embarrassing things. I'd like to hear the bishop speak about saving souls through faith in Jesus Christ instead of presenting his political views as if they grow out of Christian teaching. I'd like the bishop to sound more like Billy Graham than Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, more like Fulton Sheen than Martin Sheen.

Not much chance of that. Barnes continues:

"Instead of waging war, our faith calls us to wage reconciliation," he declared last week. It does? With a tyrant like Saddam Hussein? This recalls the silly advice of Mahatma Gandhi to confront Hitler with civil disobedience. I'm glad David didn't try this approach against Goliath.

Bishop Griswold's idea of waging reconciliation consists of "the demanding and difficult challenge of loving our enemies and embracing policies of generosity of spirit that build up the global community." Whatever that means, it's not going to drive Saddam from power and liberate the 24 million Iraqi people. Loving our enemies shouldn't require surrendering to them.

Many of Bishop Griswold's thoughts are presented as part of the church's Peace and Justice Ministries. But seeking justice for the Iraqi people doesn't seem to be part of those ministries. "God's care surrounds both our men and women in the military, now in southwest Asia, and the people of Iraq as they face ominous possibilities." In truth, the Iraqis face the glorious possibility of freedom and democracy. But Bishop Griswold treats them solely as potential civilian casualties in war.

You can find something of value in Griswold's warning about our own life and the effects it has on others. War helps us forget our own sins and feel a righteousness we do not have. We fallen men always need a truly prophetic voice reminding us of who we are - "Remember O man, that thou art dust, and to dust that shalt return," to use the seasonally appropriate reminder - but the prophet shouldn't ruin the effect by going on to talk nonsense, and politically predictable nonsense at that.

7:56 AM

Tuesday, March 25


Thomas Howard has out a new book, The Secret of New York Revealed. It is a book he wrote in the seventies, but which was not published then, apparently because the publishers of the time were dim. Fortunately, a student had kept the manuscript all these years and Ignatius Press has succeeded where all its predecessors failed.

Before telling you about the book, I should say that the author is a good friend. I say this not to name-drop, but because I am about to tell you that it is a very good book, which the sort of people who read Touchstone will certainly enjoy and in most cases ought to read. I've only started it, but this is a judgment I make with confidence.

He slides with enviable grace (I say this as a writer) from a story that seems as plain as potatoes - shopping or sitting through a black out - to an insight into the glories and horrors that plain story really reveals. While telling an entertaining story of his life in New York while a newly-wed working on his doctorate at NYU (he wrote his dissertation on Charles Williams), he brings out, or draws out, the deeper meanings of things, a meaning hidden from most of us coarse, inattentive, self-centered people. To use one of his images, he pulls back the veil and shows what is really going on.

By the way, we will be publishing an article of Tom's on male vanity in the View department of an upcoming issue. It is very good, though the male reader may find that it hits close, very close, uncomfortably close, to home.

2:02 PM


From our contributing editor Rod Dreher, a website documenting the use of English in other countries, particularly Japan: For an example of their findings, click here.

The site's FAQ page answers the question "Why do the Japanese try to use so much English if they can't do it right?" by saying:

Most of the Engrish found on is not an attempt to communicate - English is used as a design element in Japanese products and advertising to give them a modern look and feel (or just to "look cool"). There is often no attempt to try to get it right, nor do the vast majority of the Japanese population (= consumers) ever attempt to read the English design element in question. . . . There is therefore less emphasis on spell checking and grammatical accuracy (note: the same can be said for the addition of Japanese or Chinese characters to hats, shirts and tattoos found in the US or Europe).

Quite often it is easier to come up with English names than Japanese for a particular product. New products are brought to the marketplace in Japan more than anywhere else in the world and Japanese words and slogans quickly get used up. Japanese graphic designers will often tell you that English is widespread because the Japanese writing script (or scripts) limits their creativity - there are only so many ways to display their language, and only so many different types of fonts to use.

That said, in most instances Japanese companies do get it right and quite often consult a native English speaker for corrections.

11:41 AM


From the Jesuit magazine America (May 15, 1999), an article on Peacemaking and the Use of Force: Behind the Pope's Stringent Just-War Teaching.

A Catholic must wrestle with the teaching, and any other Christian should, but I think it suffers from a degree of abstraction, particularly in the repeated assertion that force solves nothing. This practical judgment turns a subtle understanding of war and just war thinking too far toward effective pacifism.

My thanks to Amy Wellborn's blogsite In Between Naps for the link. If you go to the site and scroll down to Sunday, where the link appeared, you may find some of the comments thereon interesting.

7:09 AM

Monday, March 24


At a meeting yesterday in Minneapolis lamenting the two party system, reported by Yahoo News, Eugene McCarthy

compared President Bush to the Romans, who, he said, attacked northern Africa because they needed something to do.

He is also alleged to have said ""This is a faith-based war. The worst thing is faith-based religion." (McCarthy is, or was, a Catholic.) But I want to consider his comments on Rome and Carthage, because the example proves relevant to the current case, but in the opposite sense from McCarthy's.

Chesterton described the war between Rome and Carthage in chapter seven of his great book The Everlasting Man. (This is a long post, but it's almost all Chesterton, who is worth as much time as you can give him.) In chapter six he mentions the

queer habit among the English of always siding against the Europeans, and representing the rival civilisation, in Swinburne's phrase, as sinless; when its sins were obviously crying or rather screaming to heaven. For Carthage also was a high civilisation, indeed a much more highly civilised civilisation. And Carthage also founded that civilisation on a religion of fear, sending up everywhere the smoke of human sacrifice.

The relevance may already be clear. In chapter seven, after descibring the people of Carthage as "practical" and "efficient" and describing the sort of religion this encourages, he continues:

There was a tendency in those hungry for practical results, apart from poetical results, to call upon spirits of terror and compulsion; to move Acheron in despair of bending the Gods. There is always a sort of dim idea that these darker powers will really do things, with no nonsense about it. In the interior psychology of the Punic peoples this strange sort of pessimistic practicality had grown to great proportions.

In the New Town, which the Romans called Carthage, as in the parent cities of Phoenicia, the god who got things done bore the name of Moloch, who was perhaps identical with the other deity whom we know as Baal, the Lord. The Romans did not at first quite know what to call him or what to make of him; they had to go back to the grossest myth of Greek or Roman origins and compare him to Saturn devouring his children.

But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilisation, abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilised than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth.

These highly civilised people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realise the combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with chimney-pot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday at eleven o'clock to see a baby roasted alive.

The Romans, Chesterton continued, were losing, had indeed almost lost. Hannibal had marched almost all the way to Rome destrying the countryside as he went. The Romans augurs and scribes saw omens of "unnatural things," not because Rome was losing but because in

a very solemn sense, it [Hannibal's invasion of Italy] was Hell let loose. The war of the gods and demons seemed already to have ended; and the gods were dead. The eagles were lost, the legions were broken; and in Rome nothing remained but honour and the cold courage of despair.

But Carthage was undone by its own "practicality." It lost the war, according to Chesterton, because its commercial mind did not understand what it needed to do. Here I am skipping the historical argument and jumping to the conclusion of the chapter, on the assumption that you may want to read the whole chapter - and I hope the whole book - for yourself.

Why do men entertain this queer idea that what is sordid must always overthrow what is magnanimous; that there is some dim connection between brains and brutality, or that it does not matter if a man is dull so long as he is also mean? Why do they vaguely think of all chivalry as sentiment and all sentiment as weakness? They do it because they are, like all men, primarily inspired by religion. For them, as for all men, the first fact is their notion of the nature of things; their idea about what world they are living in.

And it is their faith that the only ultimate thing is fear and therefore that the very heart of the world is evil. They believe that death is stronger than life, and therefore dead things must be stronger than living things; whether those dead things are gold and iron and machinery or rocks and rivers and forces of nature.

It may sound fanciful to say that men we meet at tea-tables or talk to at garden-parties are secretly worshippers of Baal or Moloch. But this sort of commercial mind has its own cosmic vision and it is the vision of Carthage. It has in it the brutal blunder that was the ruin of Carthage.

The Punic power fell because there is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes to disbelieving in the mind. Being too practical to be moral, it denies what every practical soldier calls the moral of an army. It fancies that money will fight when men will no longer fight. So it was with the Punic merchant princes. Their religion was a religion of despair, even when their practical fortunes were hopeful.

How could they understand that the Romans could hope even when their fortunes were hopeless? Their religion was a religion of force and fear; how could they understand that men can still despise fear even when they submit to force? Their philosophy of the world had weariness in its very heart; above all they were weary of warfare; how should they understand those who still wage war even when they are weary of it? In a word, how should they understand the mind of Man, who had so long bowed down before mindless things, money and brute force and gods who had the hearts of beasts?

They awoke suddenly to the news that the embers they had disdained too much even to tread out were again breaking everywhere into flames; that Hasdrubal was defeated, that Hannibal was outnumbered, that Scipio had carried the war into Spain; that he had carried it into Africa. Before the very gates of the golden city Hannibal fought his last fight for it and lost; and Carthage fell as nothing has fallen since Satan. The name of the New City remains only as a name. There is no stone of it left upon the sand.

Another war was indeed waged before the final destruction: but the destruction was final. Only men digging in its deep foundation centuries after found a heap of hundreds of little skeletons, the holy relics of that religion. For Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten his children.

In Rome's victory

The gods had risen again, and the demons had been defeated after all. But they had been defeated by the defeated, and almost defeated by the dead. Nobody understands the romance of Rome, and why she rose afterwards to a representative leadership that seemed almost fated and fundamentally natural. . . . After that all men knew in their hearts that she had been representative of mankind, even when she was rejected of men.

And there fell on her the shadow from a shining and as yet invisible light and the burden of things to be. It is not for us to guess in what manner or moment the mercy of God might in any case have rescued the world; but it is certain that the struggle which established Christendom would have been very different if there had been an empire of Carthage instead of an empire of Rome. We have to thank the patience of the Punic wars if, in after ages, divine things descended at least upon human things and not inhuman.

Europe evolved into its own vices and its own impotence, as will be suggested on another page; but the worst into which it evolved was not like what it had escaped. Can any man in his senses compare the great wooden doll, whom the children expected to eat a little bit of the dinner, with the great idol who would have been expected to eat the children ? That is the measure of how far the world went astray, compared with how far it might have gone astray.

If the Romans were ruthless, it was in a true sense to an enemy, and certainly not merely a rival. They remembered not trade routes and regulations, but the faces of sneering men; and hated the hateful soul of Carthage. And we owe them something if we never needed to cut down the groves of Venus exactly as men cut down the groves of Baal. We owe it partly to their harshness that our thoughts of our human past are not wholly harsh.

If the passage from heathenry to Christianity was a bridge as well as a breach, we owe it to those who kept that heathenry human. If, after all these ages, we are in some sense at peace with paganism, and can think more kindly of our fathers, it is well to remember the things that were and the things that might have been.

McCarthy erred, if Chesterton is right, in thinking that the Romans fought with Carthage because they had nothing else to do. Perhaps he does not see that a man may fight, even a bad man may fight, not because he has anything to gain but because he sees and hates evil. In the current war, I think Americans may well think of themselves as the Romans and Hussein's regime (though not the Iraqi people) as the Carthagians.

Americans have a certain rough and ready moral sensibility that rebels against the power of such regimes, who serve Moloch in their own way. We feel - unlike the allegedly sophisticated Old Europeans, who are happy to sell such men arms - that these things should not be and sometimes this often latent or dormant rises to action. Those on the left and right who speak as if the war was being waged only from the basest of motives have misunderstood something about the American character. Certainly militarists and bigots and "chickenhawk" romantics want the war for the wrong reasons, but they are not the only people in favor, and their motives may not be unmixed.

But there is also, in this passage from The Everlasting Man, a great irony, because we must think of America as Carthage as well as Rome. And indeed the parallel is even more obvious in our case than in Hussein's. We have our own public worship of Moloch, and in this country his rites take almost the same form as they once did in Carthage.

In America, over one million children are murdered before birth each year, and to do so is legal, and has been legal for thirty years. A majority of the nation's elected political leaders and of its highest court have consistently held that the murder of the unborn is a public good. One of the country's two main political parties is dedicated to defending this in all circumstances, and most of its members and almost all of its leaders will defend the murder of the baby even when he is almost born. The other party is officially opposed but its practice is sometimes equivocal.

A large industry has grown up to provide and support this "service," and a huge industry has grown up to provide the sexual stimulation that renders the "service" necessary. This murder of the unborn has, one can be sure, the tacit support of many others who find children a drag upon efficiency and profits and their occasional elimination an aid to business. The vast majority of these murders are committed for convenience, which is to say, so that the woman (and her husband or partner, and her employer, too) can be "practical" and "efficient."

Once you realize what an abortion really is, it is hard not to see it as Molochian. And the society in which it flourishes as it does in our society as equally Molochian.

I suppose this explains why, at the end of the day, Christians like me feel so ambiguous about our country. I despise the leftists and rightists who talk in hysterical terms about America as if it were actively malign and who seem to live fundamentally alienated from the nation, while enjoying all its benefits, such as the freedom to live in such alienation and encourage it in others.

They are at best simple-minded and ungrateful, and at worst blinded by their alienation and what seems in many cases to be hatred. I speak, I must admit, from experience, having felt this in my youth, but having eventually realized how childish and self-indulgent and, to the extent I cultivated the feelings of hatred (which one much enjoys), wicked.

But on the other hand, I cannot look at the number of abortions in this country and its legal protection, and feel unalienated myself. Patriotism is a good thing, and indeed as Chesterton argues elsewhere a godly thing, but not an easy thing for the Christian who loves his country not only because she is his country but for what she is and aspires to be, but must judge her by a higher standard and knows how badly she fails. And knows, in fact, how much she repudiates that standard.

What keeps me from feeling the alienation that others do is the knowledge that the religion of Moloch may be at least partly defeated, even after thirty years of legal establishment. No country can be considered lost to Moloch that has such a large pro-life movement, and that finds his religion defeated even in Congress and perhaps, someday, in the Supreme Court. I would not bet on it, but it may happen.

3:05 PM


For those interested in the Shroud of Turn, an article announcing that Shroud of Turn reveals images of two crowns of thorns from the Religion News Service. (Which describes itself as "The only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethis - exclusively. The emphasis is theirs. "Unbiased" is, as you might guess, unearned, given how much of their coverage reflects a secular understanding of things.)

Anyway, the story begins:

March 2003 -- A new discovery on the Shroud of Turin by Alan and Mary Whanger, major researchers on the Shroud since 1979, shows the image of a second Crown of Thorns, one of the most famous objects in history.

In 1987 they identified the image of a large bonnet-style Crown of Thorns over the right shoulder of the Man of the Shroud. The recently identified second Crown is a circlet which matches the size and shape of the traditional and well-known Crown of Thorns in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which is a woven band of rushes with no thorns.

And says later:

The Whangers conclude that the recently identified Crown is the "King's Crown" of the Scriptures which had thorns and thistles stuck into a woven band worn over the back of the head like the Roman Emperor.

In pondering why there was a second Crown of Thorns, they finally concluded that the Roman soldiers put it together to mock the multi-tiered bonnet-like crown of the Jewish High Priest.

7:47 AM

Sunday, March 23


From The New York Times, an amusing review of a book titled Rational Mysticism: Dispatches From the Border Between Science and Spirituality. The book, written by a former writer for Scientific American named John Horgan, interviews all sorts of seers and mystics, most of them, apparently, peculiar.

For example, Ken Wilber, the leading exponent of "transpersonal psychology," who

is so enlightened that he struck his sick wife because her breast cancer interrupted his spiritual growth. Wilber claims that his big satori happened in a German pub, while he was dancing the polka with a bunch of elderly men.


A German anthropologist, Christian Ratsch, [who] says we don't have to meditate or even polka to attain enlightenment. It requires only ''the right molecule to hit your brain.'' Faster than you can say ''methylenedioxymethylamphetamine,'' one swallow and you are at one with the universe. (Though, inexplicably, to paraphrase Woody Allen, American Express will continue to bill you separately.)

The first chapter of the book appears here.

1:57 PM


In entering Iraq, we have left Western rationality. The NYT reports on an incident in the surrender:

When a platoon of marines drove up the Baghdad Highway this morning, they found three Iraqi soldiers waiting to surrender. The men had been living under a bridge, surviving on a diet of tomatoes.

By midmorning, the three Iraqi soldiers were sitting on blankets and picking from the bright yellow food packets provided by the Americans. They seemed ashamed to be prisoners, but made clear that a greater dread was life in the Iraqi Army. "We are not cowards, but what is the point?" said Ahmed Ghobashi, an Iraqi colonel from Baghdad. "I've got a rifle from World War II. What can I do against American airplanes?"

Colonel Ghobashi talked on for a while, detailing his participation in the disastrous wars begun by Mr. Hussein in Iran and Kuwait. He was a professional soldier, he said, and he did not sign up to engage in fanciful adventures. As he talked on, his tone grew bitter, until he concluded that Mr. Hussein must have a secret agenda.

"He doesn't give us enough to eat, and he doesn't pay us," the colonel said. "And then he starts this thing with the Americans and then tells us to defend the country against the invasion."

Colonel Ghobashi pursed his lips in contemplation and rendered his final opinion on Mr. Hussein.

"I believe he is an American agent," he said.

My wife (an X-Files fan) says that in one of them Hussein is identified as an American agent. Perhaps the Iraqis think the X-Files are documentaries.

Hussein was defeated in the 1991 war. He reduced his army by two-thirds, didn't pay it, and didn't even feed it. He kicked the UN inspectors out, and when he was forced to let them back in, was highly uncooperative, giving the US a casus belli (which he knew it was looking for). If he doesn't have biochemical weapons stashed around Iraq, perhaps Colonel Ghobashi is on to something.

6:01 AM

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