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Saturday, April 19

SALIENT JOURNAL:

A journal some of you may be interested in reading, the Harvard Salient, the conservative paper published by Harvard students. It was brought to our attention by one of its staff members, a faithful reader of Touchstone. To give you an idea of the magazine's mind and style, here is a short note from two of the editors, Claire Virginia McCusker and Mary Rosaleen Lawler:

The Salient staff was simultaneously flattered and worried to hear Alex S. Grodd's lament in his FM article, "Nuggets of Wisdom" that "Everyone [at Harvard] outside the Salient Editorial board is perfectly willing to transgress natural laws, but the problem is we can't find anyone to transgress them with." While we appreciate the compliment, we sincerely hope that there are more people at Harvard than just us who believe in sexual morality (not to mention Aristotelianism). For one thing, if there aren't, then we're going to have to start dating each other and that would just be awkward. Also, we're a little concerned that the rest of you are so lame . . .

And, on the Senate's passage of a bill banning partial birth abortion:

You can hardly turn around these days (is this only at Harvard?) without hearing the president's opponents mocking his use of the language of "good" and "evil." But, this is one time that I think (although I'm notoriously wrong about such things) it would be hard for even the sex toy└wielding Radcliffe Union of Students to disagree with the president's characterization of partial birth abortion as an "abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity." Basically, the procedure which the Senate's bill bans is defined by the bill as one in which the baby is, uh, terminated (consider what that would involve: think sharp instrument) once it is "past the navel . . . outside the body of the mother."

They note that perhaps 3,000 of these procedures are performed each year, most on healthy mothers and children in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy, when the baby can survive birth. They note that in "Kansas alone, the only state that records partial birth abortion separate from regular abortion, reports 128 partial birth abortions annually on fetuses in the seventh month." And then they note that:

In light of the gruesome nature of partial birth abortion and the fact that the ban includes a life of the mother exemption, perhaps the most surprising fact about the issue is that only 70% of Americans (still a substantial majority, of course) support such a ban, along with 64% of Senators and (the last time such a ban was questioned, in Stenberg v. Carhart) 5 out of 9 Supreme Court Justices. This has got to be one of those times where if people really knew what was happening - say if they had to watch a video of partial birth abortion being performed before voting on the matter - things would be completely different.

It just isn't possible that a quarter of Americans (25% according to the same Gallup poll) think it's OK to deliver a baby halfway and then (warning, Maddy Elfenbein: do not read further with grits in your mouth) kill it. I'm not trying to be inflammatory or full of "shameless gusto" using the k-word; that's just what you say when something's alive and you make it dead. And everyone, including Roe v. Wade's majority opinion, agrees that a baby is alive when it can live outside the womb. Statisticically, many of these supporters are member of the fairer sex. In this case, "[Moral] frailty, thy name is woman!"


12:08 PM


BELLOC ON PELAGIANISM:

From Hilaire Belloc's *The Four Men*, a novel publised in 1902, the "Song of Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men's Backs and the very Robust Out-thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual":

Pelagius lived in Kardanoel,
And taught a doctrine there,
How whether you went to Heaven or Hell,
It was your own affair.
How, whether you found eternal joy
Or sank forever to burn,
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own concern.

semi-chorus:
Oh, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve,
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the fall of man,
And he laughed at original sin!

chorus:
With my row-ti-ow, ti-oodly-ow,
He laughed at original sin!

Whereat the Bishop of old Auxerre
(Germanus was his name),
He tore great handfuls out of his hair,
And he called Pelagius Shame:
And then with his stout episcopal staff
So thoroughly thwacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
The rather had been hanged.

semi-chorus:
Oh, he thwacked then hard, and he banged them long,
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong,
Their orthodox persuasions!

chorus:
With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Their orthodox persua-a-a-sions!

Now the Faith is old and the Devil is bold,
Exceedingly bold indeed;
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth,
And still can drink strong ale,
Oh - let us put it away to infallible truth,
Which always shall prevail!

semi-chorus:
And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword,
And for howling heretics too;
And whatever good things
Our Christendom brings,
But especially barley brew!

chorus:
With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Especially barley brew!


11:54 AM


Friday, April 18

Jewish America:

The modern translation of the Seder that we used had sidebars that connected the history of the United States and Judaism: e g. the inscription from Isaiah on the Liberty Bell.

Many of the Founding Fathers were not orthodox Trinitarians; they are usually described as Deists. But they did not envision God as the celestial clockmaker who had wound the universe up and then left it alone. The Founding Fathers had a very lively (some claim all too lively) sense of God's providential action within history including the political history of the United States and its struggle for independence from Great Britain.

A monotheist who does not believe in the Incarnation but believes in God's intimate involvement in the affairs of nations has a great affinity to Judaism, so the comments in the Seder book are not misdirected.


2:19 PM


DISCLAIMERS ALL AROUND:

After the Holy Thursday service my family attended a Seder. The father of a Jewish family we know was unhappy about the emotions that have been ignited by the war in Iraq and invited Christians (us) and Moslems to Seder. Everyone accepted, so it was a large and cheerfully chaotic gathering with several small and very active children. The father thanked us for coming, and said that it pleased him to have all the children of Abraham sitting at table. However in the readings the father found it prudent to explain that the Egyptians against whom various imprecations were uttered had nothing to do with the people living in Egypt today.

Some decades ago a friend invited a Jewish classmate to Good Friday services. As the service went on he realized that this was a mistake. The Gospel of John sounds anti-Semitic at times. At the Baltimore Cathedral on Good Friday an explanation was read before the Passion according to John pointing out that we and our sins, not the Jews, crucified Christ, and that the actions of a coterie of Jewish leaders could not bring guilt upon the Jews of all time. Cardinal Keeler in his sermon mentioned that Moslem leaders from Maryland had come to him and asked him to combat the bad image and hostility that Moslems were getting. He said he would try but he also asked them to speak to their Moslem brothers in the Sudan and Saudi Arabia about the great blessings of religious freedom such as they had experienced in Maryland.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were all born in conflict, and bear the marks of that conflict. Their records express hostility to their enemies, whether Egyptians, Canaanites, Jews, or pagans. All sound embarrassing overheard by the supposed enemies (or their descendents). All three religions desire peace, but all three know that peace comes only through conquest └ the questions is whether the real enemies are the fellow humans who oppose us or the spiritual forces, especially our sinfulness, that oppose God.


2:12 PM


WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT?

Today is Good Friday for our Protestant and Catholic readers, and we will - barring inspiration demanding to be expressed - be signing off for these three days. We all have other things to think about.

Today, about the Crucifixion and our part in it. I was thinking in the shower this morning that we should learn something from the tradition that has called this day Good Friday. In old movies, one character will say "Good morning" to the other and the other will snarl, "What's good about it?" In the cleverer old movies, the joke is that the snarling one is right.

It's a good question to ask of today. Imagine telling a friend who knew nothing about it what Good Friday is. "Oh, it's the day we murdered the Son of God. Tortured him to death, actually. Made fun of him, too." It was not a good day. It was, as we all know, the worst day in human history - the worst day human history will ever see, even were most of the world's population to be fried to death in a nuclear war or die as their bodies melt from a virus like Ebola.

And if naming the day were left to us, with no precedent to guide us, we would name it Bad Friday or Black Friday or Crucifixion Friday. But not Good Friday. Never Good Friday. That would strike us as unbelievably self-centered. It would be as if a man about to go to jail for his debts learned that his parents had exposed themselves to a horrible disease to help others and then died from it slowly and in great pain, leaving him a huge payment from their insurance, and for the rest of his life called the day they died Liberation Day.

The better we know our sins and the more deeply we see and feel what happened this day, the more we love Jesus and feel sick at every pain he suffered, the badder the day gets. For us he died on Bad Friday. And he died because we are such worms. Of course his death was (and is) good for us, but to send a man to his death and then to get rich from it, is no reason to call the day he died good.

We feel a certain solicitude for God. We feel a certain shame at being the cause of his death. To call the day he died "Good Friday" because we made out like bandits seems like the most astonishing egotism. This is a natural feeling, and an admirable one.

And yet, the Church calls the day Good Friday. Assuming that the tradition is wiser than we are - a safe assumption - why does it do this? There is a lesson here, but my own thoughts are too jumbled to share at the moment.


1:03 PM


THE CROSS OF CHRIST

Today, for your Good Friday reading, I am blogging an excerpt from a paper given at our 2001 conference, Christian Unity and the Divisions We Must Sustain. The author of what follows is Fr. Addison Hart, Associate Pastor at Christ the Teacher University Parish and the Newman Catholic Center for Northern Illinois University (The full paper, as well as others from the conference, will be published in our July/August issue):

I am reminded of a sermon of John Henry Newman, preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, before his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. It can be found in Vol. VI of his Parochial and Plain Sermons, and its very title is worth pondering in light of the matters just enumerated: "The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World." I want to conclude by reflecting on a few lines from this sermon of Newman's, not to address issues associated with the doctrine of the cross such as the Atonement and Justification, but as a reminder to us of how the cross is our standard above all else.

Newman begins his sermon by positing that the world we inhabit is a perplexity to the human mind, requiring an interpretation-a disclosure of meaning. He then moves to what he knows to be that means by which the Christian alone is able to begin to see the truth behind "all that smiles and glitters around us" in this world:

What is given us by revelation to estimate and measure this world by? . . . [T]he crucifixion of the Son of God.

It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson how to think and how to speak of this world. His cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures; upon the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the triumphs of mortal man.


The cross, as Newman goes on to say, is that which weighs man's politics, governments, sciences, arts, and miseries: "It is their center," he claims, "and their interpretation." Furthermore-

If we will not acknowledge that this world has been made miserable by sin, from the sight of Him on whom our sins were laid, we shall experience it to be miserable by the recoil of those sins upon ourselves.

It may be granted, then, [he continues] that the doctrine of the Cross is not on the surface of the world . . . for truth is not on the surface of things, but in the depths.


The cross is both the hidden heart of the world and the revealed heart of Christianity, leading us inexorably into all truths of the faith. "[T]he sacred doctrine of Christ's Atoning Sacrifice," says Newman, "is the vital principle on which the Christian lives, and without which Christianity is not."

[The Gospel] bids us begin with the Cross of Christ . . . [which], telling us of our redemption as well as of his sufferings, wounds us indeed, but so wounds as to heal [us] also.

And thus, too, [through the Cross] all that is bright and beautiful, even on the surface of this world . . . is a figure and promise of that true joy which issues out of the Atonement . . . the true victory to come . . . the true joy which comes with Easter-Day.


Newman's sermon is an example to us both of a Western "public portrayal of Christ crucified" and how this is not an end in itself. It shows us another sort of "end," though, an end indicated by the words of Christ: "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). As "the measure of the world" it is the already accomplished endpoint of human history, and-through the resurrection-an end of evil yet to be realized. Its shadow is permanently cast over our contemporary culture wars, and all our wars and ills. Most crucial to our concerns-literally crucial for us-is that we divided Christians cannot possibly look together upon Christ crucified, and, measured by that only true standard, sustain our divisions.

-Fr. Addison Hart


11:21 AM


Thursday, April 17

IT'S QUEER:

Something for your Good Friday meditations. I found it haunting, anyway. The poem is by Dorothy Parker, famous writer and wit of the twenties, though a sad woman all the same. Most of her poems are light, witty, sometimes acid reflections on men and women, usually behaving badly, but this, as I said, is haunting.

The Maid-Servant at the Inn

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light
As plan as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright -
We've not had stars like that again!

"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening -
This new one's better than the old.

"I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed,
But she was less than me in years,
That held a son against her breast.

"I never saw a sweeter child -
The little one, the darling one! -
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You'd know he was his mother's child.

"It's queer that I should see them so -
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I've prayed that all is well with them."


8:29 PM


ASKING DASCHLE TO BE HONEST:

Very cheering: J. Bottum OF The Weekly Standard reports in Tom Daschle's Duty to Be Morally Coherent that

TOM DASCHLE may no longer call himself a Catholic. The Senate minority leader and the highest ranking Democrat in Washington has been sent a letter by his home diocese of Sioux Falls, sources in South Dakota have told The Weekly Standard, directing him to remove from his congressional biography and campaign documents all references to his standing as a member of the Catholic Church.

Daschle is, as you will have guessed, ardently pro-abortion and even (in a politically astute way) not anti-partial birth abortion, and has even raised money for the pro-abortion group NARAL. Bottum, a Catholic and the magazine's books and arts editor, argued that the bishop's action followed from the "doctrinal note" issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which said that "A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals."

The Doctrinal Note marks at least the beginning of the end of the Vatican's toleration of what the pope's biographer George Weigel has called "Cuomoism" in the American Church: the effort to finesse abortion by declaring oneself personally opposed but politically supportive of laws allowing abortion. Catholics have a "duty to be morally coherent," the Doctrinal Note declares, and the Catholic fight on the life issues - abortion, euthanasia, and cloning - is not some merely prudential question, to be decided by political give and take. The Catholic Church doesn't take political positions - except when politics intrudes into something, like the right to life, that ought to be beyond the power of politicians.

The article includes a lot of useful reporting and background, which only the copyright laws restrain me from quoting. I will quote his comment on the response of the spokesman of California's governor Gray Davis, when the bishop of Sacramento told him to stay away from communion for his support for abortion.

Russ Lopez, a spokesman for Davis, responded with the hilarious and deeply revealing complaint that Bishop Weigand was "telling the faithful how to practice their faith." In Lopez's mind--as, indeed, in the minds of many - the promise of the separation of Church and state, in which no political figure gets to tell believers how to practice their faith, has turned into a need for the separation of Church and Church, in which not even a religious figure gets to tell believers how to practice their faith.


1:20 PM


LATEST ENCYCLICAL:

I know this will be of more interest to Catholic readers than others, but worth noting: Pope John Paul II's latest encyclical letter: Ecclesia de eucharisia: On the Eucharist in its relation to the Church.


9:51 AM


A LITTLE MORE ON MALAYSIAN BIBLE-BANNING:

A little more news on the banning of a Bible and other Christian books by the Malaysian government, which we reported yesterday in Bible Banned, and More on Malaysian Bible-banning.

A story reported by Bernama (a news agency, I think) pointed out that

"While educated Iban-speaking Christians can refer to English versions of the bible, rural parishioners in the longhouses depend on their mother
tongue to understand the scriptures since most are illiterate," he [an Iban-speaking Christian] told Bernama here, Wednesday.

. . . Iban churches of various Christian denominations throughout Sarawak could not conduct church services without the Iban bible following the ban.


A Malaysian reader wrote that the recent banning of this particular translation is not the only problem.

The Bible in Malay and Indonesain remains banned and we are only allowed to use it in church and at home. All this despite the fact that the Bible was the first book printed in Malay (the first gospel was translated in 1612).

A colleague at the seminary told me this morning that Malaysia was a difficult country to read, because on the one hand the government tried to present it to the world as an advanced country with a modern economy, but on the other Muslim groups had a great deal of power. He said that churches could not have signs outside telling people what they were and that people had to enter by a side door and not the front, and that people could go to jail for "proselytizing."

This means, I think, that the pluralism we take for granted as a mark of a modern society is only partly and inconsistently valued there, and that the government would like to have a modern successful economic with the unity of religion, and the intimacy of the state and the dominant religion, of an older society. This is a pattern we may see more and more.


9:22 AM


Wednesday, April 16

WE NEED MORE OF THIS:

I would commend to your attention Reformation and Revival Ministries, an Evangelical ministry described on its website as founded "for the purpose of encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening." The founder and director, John Armstrong, is a strong Evangelical of Reformed convictions with (as Evangelicals might say) a catholic heart. He is a friend of Touchstone's.

The ministry publishes a useful quarterly, Reformation & Revival Journal (of which I'm a contributing editor, at John's invitation), and sponsors conferences around the country. Among other things, John writes a Weekly Messenger, which I have enjoyed. The latest, which doesn't seem to be posted yet, is titled "Why Are Some Reformed Christians Mean?" I found it quite helpful in understanding something I have seen, and not just among Reformed types. You can find this sort of thing among Catholics, especially some who feel called to apologetics.

John gives several more psychological and spiritual reasons for such people being mean and then finishes with a philosophical:

One final reason strikes me as very common to Reformed Christians and their tendency to be mean. By embracing a way of thinking about truth that relies heavily on modern philosophical ideas about truth and how to establish what is truth unwittingly, or otherwise, approach truth almost entirely as a set of propositions that are provable and thus established by common sense and reason.

Truth is, in this approach, compartmentalized. We talk about politics, history and religion as if they were separate categories of truth to be discovered the way mathematics is done. I have noticed, after years of studying philosophy and theology, that the apostle John approaches these matters quite differently. In the First Epistle of John we see there is a vital unbreakable connection between belief and practice. Truth must always be communalized in loving relationships or it becomes ugly and distorted.

When will we finally learn that what we do is as important as what we think? The Christian ministry is always about helping real people embody truth in day-to-day ways. Many Reformed believers, operating out of a system of epistemology (the way we think about things) that is deeply rooted in modernism fail to see how detached from the world of the Bible they really are.


To expand on this: If you think religious truth is something like a mathematical conclusion, and something that can be seen whatever the state of your heart (even the Devil can add two and two), you must also assume that those who do not see the truth (i.e., those who disagree with you) are either stupid or willfully blind. But God would not have made truth available only to the intelligent and hidden it from the stupid, so they must be willfully blind.

If the truth is so obvious but they don't see it, well, they must just be refusing to see it. You, of course, see it full and square, which you are bound to feel is a virtue.

This sort of thing, growing from a philosophical mistake (the proudly anti-modern are more modern than they realize) leads to meanness. As Chesterton said somewhere, "A bigot is not someone who thinks he is right. Every sane man thinks he is right. The bigot is someone who cannot see how the other man came to be wrong."

I am not implying that Christians cannot make good, and fairly compelling, arguments for the Christian faith, only that these arguments are obvious and unavoidable. Faith is not addition and subtraction. This is even truer of the matters that divide Christians today, as shown by the number of learned and godly men who will be found on either side of any such argument.

Anyway, I commend the ministry. I have learned from John and his writings.


8:34 PM


MORE ON MALAYSIAN BIBLE-BANNING:

A Malaysian reader has sent us news stories on the Malaysian government's banning of a Bible and other Christians books. If I understand the stories, 12 of the 35 books banned are Christian books, both Protestant and Catholic, including one Bible in the Iban language, the Bup Kudus Bible published by the Malaysian Bible Society - which has been used in churches for fifteen years. The list includes one book by J. I. Packer and two by John Stott.

The government banned the books under laws passed in 1984 and 2003, apparently because it considers them detrimental to public "health." This includes the Bible that Christians have been reading for fifteen years. The Star newspaper reports that

According to the Home Ministry's Film Censorship and Publication Control Division enforcement chief in Sarawak Elias Mat Rabi, Bup Kudus was banned because it breached the guidelines for non-Islamic religious books.

The books in the original language were not banned, however, which led one protester to suggest that the target was ethnic rather than religious.

The ban on the Iban bible and Christian literature seemed to be based on the language used rather than the content, Ngeh [the chairman of something called "DAP"] said.

He charged that the government's action in banning the Iban bible confirms the belief that the Barisan Nasional government has all along been trying to prevent the indigenous peoples like the Ibans and Orang Asli from converting to any other religion except Islam.


The ban has been protested by the Association of Churches in Sarawak. The protest was signed by the Catholic archbishop, the Anglican bishop, and the presidents of the Methodist Church, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Sidang Injil Borneo.


8:13 PM


ABORTING ALONE:

You probably knew this already, but the RU-486 "morning after" abortion pill is not all that it's advertised to be. According to a story reported by Catholic World News, the High Court of New Zealand (their supreme court) has just ruled that a woman who takes the pill does not have to stay in a clinic till her baby is expelled. This means that these women will probably abort alone, perhaps at work or in a public rest room.

And it's not all it's advertised to be. One would think from the news stories written about it that aborting one's baby is now as easy as taking aspirin to kill one's headache. But:

Dr. Rob Aitken, medical director at Lyndhurst Hospital in Christchurch, said: "It's certainly not a quick fix. I think the way it has been made out is that it will be a simple swallow of a pill, and that's it. But time-wise it will be a much lengthier process, and expense-wise it won't be much different from the surgical procedure. . . . Even after you take [the abortion pill], you can't be assured it's going to work, and a percentage of women will end up having to have the surgical, suction procedure anyway."

It has only "privacy" to recommend it, but in this case privacy is a euphemism for darkness.


4:25 PM


THE SOMETIMES GODLESS PARTY:

In today's "Washington Update" from the Family Research Council, Ken Connor comments on the meeting - the secret meeting - of Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Racicot with a group of homosexualist activists. The group is called "the Human Rights Campaign," which is great advertising for them, though even they ought to admit that it is somewhat misleading, as the only "right" they are concerned with is the "right" to free and socially approved practice of sodomy.

Connor writes:

In his pursuit of an inclusive GOP, he has jeopardized the foundational views of the Republican Platform, particularly its stance on the sanctity of marriage. Since its inception, the GOP has supported the legal union of one man and one woman. The party does not endorse the notion of same-sex marriage, does not believe in criminalizing thought in so-called hate crimes legislation, does not support transferable privileges and prerogatives of marriage to the unmarried, and asserts that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.

As such, what could possibly be gained from the chairman of the RNC secretly meeting with a homosexual activist organization that positions itself in direct opposition to the GOP views on these issues? Only the destruction of the Republican platform as we know it. The Republican party cannot stand for marriage, yet, in the name of "inclusion" seek to accommodate those who would destroy it. What may or may not have transpired at Racicot's meeting with the Human Rights Campaign is irrelevant.

What does matter is that his appearance has lent credibility and legitimacy to the leftist agenda. If the GOP recruits members of groups whose views are diametrically opposed to the party's platform, the GOP will not only lose the marriage plank - it may end up walking it.


I bring this up as we've just published an issue dedicated to exposing the Democratic Party as the godless party. You should not get the impression that we are, therefore, a Republican magazine. I don't think any of the editors, even the ones who are Republicans - and I actually don't know which ones are, but the list does not include me - trust the Republican Party or identify its progress with the advancement of the good in American society. It has, at the least, a morally libertarian strain which may well affect its life and work more than its platform.

If you haven't read the available articles from the issue, read Lee Podles' editorial (signed by all the senior editors), Voting as Christians and Rod Dreher's lead story, The Godless Party: Media Bias & Blindness - And the Big Story They Missed.


1:52 PM


BIBLE BANNED:

This arrived from Peter Toon, who said it came from a former student of his now working in Malaysia.

Dear Friends,

Last Wednesday, the Home Ministry of Malaysia announced a ban on 35 books, most of them Christian in the national language (BM), which huge chunks of East Malaysian churches pray, read & worship in.

More serious was the ban on the Iban Bible (Ibans-Christians in Sarawak). Today, key church leaders issued a challenge to the gov't to explain this ban. The statement said" . . . To find the Bup Kudus (Iban Bible) banned now has caused confusion, fear, anxiety and alarm among the Christian community in Sarawak".

The ban affects hundreds of thousands of native Christians. A 3-year jail sentence is stipulated for possession of it and a Malaysian Dollar $20,000 fine (US $ 1= 3.80).

It will be a grim Easter this year. Please pray for boldness among ethnic Christians. Pray for the Sarawak Council of Churches & other Christian bodies in Malaysia. In the 1980s the Alkitab - the Indonesian Bible was banned. It was subsequently lifted after strong protests from Church leaders.


7:47 AM


Tuesday, April 15

EFFECTIVE SANCTIONS:

Another link supplied by OpinionJournal, Baghdad looters returning swag, which begins:

Some people are surrendering the booty they took in the Dura district of Baghdad, perhaps in response to a rumored edict by a Muslim cleric forbidding Iraqi wives from having sex with looter husbands.

Well, I found this very funny. I also approve. The story continues:

One cleric said the rumor of the edict was widespread and that it would be consistent with Islamic teaching.

"A good Muslim woman would not let this man touch her, as a signal to everybody that this is not a way to behave," said Sheik Ali Jabouri, who also preached Monday morning that people must give up their loot.

"The people were destroying their civilization, their heritage; they were destroying their good Iraqi Muslim character," Jabouri said. "I think these waves of bad people, the enemies of peace, will stop. You will soon see how good the people are, how willing they are to apply the good Islam."


9:05 PM


MORE ON CNN:

I have sometimes told people who wanted to know how to read the media, "Remember, the press lies." They always think that I am being cynical, but the evidence mounts steadily that I am only being realistic. (I didn't, notice, say the press lies all the time or about everything, but you would always be wise to assume that you are getting stories at least partly slanted. Some reporters lie to get the story, and others lie because they are so ideologically driven that they do not know they're lying, but still, the press lies.)

I've reported stories on CNN's partial (to put it politely) portrayal of Hussein's regime in CNN's Silence and More on CNN's Silence. Writing in The Washington Times, a former reporter for CNN gives more revealing information on CNN's relation to Hussein's regime. In "Corruption at CNN", Peter Collins reports that in 1993 he had observed meetings between CNN's president Tom Johnson and Eason Jordan trying to get an interview with Hussein. They promised that

Saddam Hussein would have an hour's time on CNN's worldwide network; there would be no interruptions, no commercials. I was astonished. From both the tone and the content of these conversations, it seemed to me that CNN was virtually groveling for the interview.

And then:

The day after one such meeting, I was on the roof of the Ministry of Information, preparing for my first "live shot" on CNN. A producer came up and handed me a sheet of paper with handwritten notes.

"Tom Johnson wants you to read this on camera," he said. I glanced at the paper. It was an item-by-item summary of points made by Information Minister Latif Jassim in an interview that morning with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan.

The list was so long that there was no time during the live shot to provide context. I read the information minister's points verbatim. Moments later, I was downstairs in the newsroom on the first floor of the Information Ministry.

Mr. Johnson approached, having seen my performance on a TV monitor. "You were a bit flat there, Peter," he said. Again, I was astonished. The president of CNN was telling me I seemed less-than-enthusiastic reading Saddam Hussein's propaganda.


He tells other such stories. As I said, the press lies.

My thanks to OpinionJournal for the link.


9:00 PM


ABORT MY SUBSCRIPTION, PLEASE

Our April issue (The Godless Party and other articles) has brought a small number of cancellations to Touchstone. In response to a press release we sent out, we also received some e-mail messages, in which the reasoning was similar to those who cancelled, for example:

I am an evangelical Christian who reads the Bible and prays daily, attends church and wants nothing more in life than to serve God and raise her children to follow Christ. I also vote for Democratic candidates most of the time.

I am not completely comfortable with the Democratic party's stand on all issues (I am pro-life). I do sometimes vote for Republicans when I agree with them more on the issues than I do with the other candidates. However, overall I am uncomfortable voting for Republicans because they actually seem farther from Christ's teaching than the Democrats do.

For instance, the Democratic party is known as the party that has sympathy toward the poor, while the Republicans seem more concerned with protecting the wealthy. I have heard a Christian Republican argue that the Democrats should get their hands out of "his" pockets. I guess he forgot that his pockets and all that is in them belong to God. Is it Christian to do all we can for the poor? You know what Scripture says. Republicans seem to want to believe that people are poor because they are bad.

Then there's the environment. Republicans seem to see it as something to be used with no concern about tomorrow. Yet the Bible says that all creation belongs to God and that we are stewards of it. Some day we will have to answer for how we have treated this great work of art created by the Master.

Finally, I am troubled when Republicans who are Christians show exactly the bigoted spirit that you do. We need to stand on truth, but we also need to remember that Christians are characterized by love. Far too often, members of the religious right seem more like the Pharisees than like Christ. We need to remember that our character should reveal the fruits of the Spirit and qualities outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.

Again, I do not claim that the Democratic party is the right party. Frankly, I believe that neither party is right. Godlessness and sin are problems in America and are observable in both parties. Christians need to stop declaring one party holier than the other and get down to the business of following Christ together.


One hardly knows where to begin: "not completely comfortable" with the position of Democrats on abortion ("I am pro-life")? It would have been cold comfort to a Jew under the Third Reich to know the writer was "pro-Jewish," yet not completely comfortable with the Nazi Party, while voting for the Nazis because she agreed with them on other matters. Supporting abortion by supporting Democrats is not godly.

I am not a Republican. I was raised in a Democrat, blue-collar, pro-union family. What the articles show is that the Democrats have abandoned the positions that many Democratic voters espoused, and still espouse. The story is that the Democratic party has essentially become the party of secularism. If you have a fundamental Christian belief that abortion is evil, you will not rise high in the Democratic party as you will be fighting against its deepest principles. We are not the only ones to point this out, as anyone who reads our April issue will know.


12:28 PM


SECULARIZING ENGLAND:

Half Britain believes in Resurrection, reports The [London] Daily Telegraph, a fact the article declares

challenge the widespread view that an increasingly secular society sees Easter as little more than an opportunity to indulge a taste for chocolate - even though relatively few will go to church.

It quotes Peter Brierley, the director of Christian Research, said that the figures "add strength to the feeling that Britain is still a Christian country." The figures contradicted two recent polls that found only one-third of the people in England believed in the Resurrection.

The newspaper's interpretation and Dr. Brierley's declaration both strike me as a case of whistling past the graveyard, as I wrote in February in "Christian" England in response to a similar poll taken as great news by members of the Church of England's establishment. The problem isn't what people say they believe, it is what they really do believe, which in England is not, except for a very small number, the Christian story.

But in a post-Christian country with an established Church, the traces of belief will linger long, for generations perhaps. People will tell a pollster they believe things they think they ought to believe, and quite sincerely too, but what they say is not a good indicator of what they actually believe. Vaguely religious people who do not practice their faith - the typical Englishman, in other words - feel that they ought to believe in that if nothing else.

The Resurrection is also a doctrine that seems to have no downside for the believer. It looks like a story of optimism and uplift. It's no skin off your nose if Jesus rose from the dead, and it does make for a nice thing to think about, so why not believe in it? It's not like believing in Hell or chastity or unaffirming things like that.

The New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, soon to be Bishop of Durham, got at this gap between profession and real belief. He

welcomed the figures, but added that he would like to know how people understood the belief. "Some people confuse the Resurrection with life after death, but they are not the same thing," he said. "It would be interesting to know why many of these people will not attend a church over Easter."

The answer is: not many. The 1.13 million who go to church on Easter in the Church of England are about one-thirtieth of those who profess to believe in the event celebrated that day.


9:23 AM


Monday, April 14

ABORTION PROFITEERS:

According to a group called STOPP, for Stop Planned Parenthood International, being an abortionist can bring you a tidy income. PP performs 16% of the abortions performed in this country.

Last year, its national president, Gloria Feldt, received a salary of

over $350,000. The next 7 highest paid employees averaged over $185,000 and all of these figures include salary only, not fringe benefits nor expense accounts.

One suspects the benefits and expense accounts are generous. Local branches did well also. The

net profit was over $9,000,000 for PP's largest affiliate, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Inc. (PPMM), head quartered in San Jose, California. That figure included over $3,000,000 in taxpayer funds and is after PPMM's president was paid a salary of over $200,000!

I remember as a youth hearing various leftwing sources denounce "war profiteers" and assume that any company that made money from war wanted the country to go to war because it wanted to increase its profits. In the last few months, we have heard many liberal and leftwing writers claim that the United States went to war in Iraq only to get control of the country's oil.

Yet I have never the same people denounce "abortion profiteers" or suggest that those who make money from abortions might want more women to have them because they wanted to increase their profits. How seriously are we to take Gloria Feldt and her well-paid henchpersons when they talk about women's rights, when every exercise of that "right" puts a little more money into the company' s profits? Are we supposed to believe they think the normalization of abortion a bad thing and would gladlly shut down business if abortion became, as Pres. Clinton once claimed to want (ha ha), safe, legal, and rare?

By the way, it seems to be easier than you would have thought to find out what your local branch makes.

Jim Sedlak, STOPP founder, gets much of his information by analyzing IRS forms filed by the PP affiliates. Readers are encouraged to perform a similar analysis on the tax forms of their local Planned Parenthood affiliates and then publicize the results and share them with elected representatives.

He says "American taxpayers should not be forced to support an organization that kills innocent human beings and perverts children." You can obtain these 990 IRS forms for Planned Parenthood affiliates at Guidestar.comfor free download. Pay particular attention to lines 1c, 12, 18, 21, 93f and 93g.


4:14 PM


TACKY HUSSEIN"

Who would have thought Saddam Hussein would turn out to be so tacky? The Washington Post reports that "Troops Discover Lush Saddam Hideaway", the home in Baghdad of his mistress. The troops named it "Saddam's love shack." Among its features:

beanbag chairs, a garden of plastic plants, a sunken kitchen and a room for a servant, all 1960s-style. The sunken wet bar was stocked with 20-year old Italian red wines and expensive cognacs, brandies and Scotch whiskeys, the same brands found in several presidential palaces.

. . .Upstairs was a television room with bright blue, pink and yellow throw pillows. The bathroom included a whirlpool bath. The kingsize bed was fitted into an alcove with mirrors on two sides and a fantasy painting on the third.

The closets and drawers were empty except for a man's night shirt, two pairs of boxer shorts, two T-shirts and a bath robe - each item individually wrapped in plastic, just as similar items had been in the palaces.

One of the airbrushed paintings depicted a topless blonde woman, with a green demon behind her, pointing a finger at a mythic hero. From the tip of her finger came a giant serpent, which had wrapped itself around the warrior.

Another showed a buxom woman chained to a barren desert mountain ledge, with a huge dragon diving down to kill her with sharpened talons.


Of course, being the man he was, or is:

Next door, where iron sheets were welded over all the windows, they found more than 6,000 Berretta pistols, 650 Sig Sauer pistols, 248 Colt Revolvers, 160 Belgian 7.65 mm pistols, 12 cases of Sterling submachine guns and four cases of anti-tank missiles all still in the unopened original boxes. There were also tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition mortars and cases of old handguns and heavy machine guns.

Unfortunately, he's not all that funny, bedroom mirrors and misogynist paintings aside.


1:15 PM


CHASTITY IS GOOD FOR YOU, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A TEENAGER:

A useful paper from the Family Research Council: "Abstinence Until Marriage: The Best Message for Teens". Interestingly, according to the executive summary of the article,

Teens want to be taught abstinence. Nearly all (93 percent) of teenagers believe that teens should be given a strong message from society to abstain from sex until at least after high school. A 2000 poll found that 64 percent of teen girls surveyed said sexual activity is not acceptable for high-school age adolescents, even if precautions are taken to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

And sexual activity is, not surprisingly, bad for teenagers. It is bad for them leaving aside the high risk of getting pregnant and the difficulties they will face to have the baby and the emotional, and sometimes physical, trauma they will suffer if they abort him. Teenagers

have a high risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Each year 3 million teens - 25 percent of sexually active teens--are infected with an STD. About 25 percent of all new cases of STDs occur in teenagers; two-thirds of new cases occur in young people age 15-24. Teens who engage in premarital sex are likely to experience fear about pregnancy and STDs, regret, guilt, lowered self-respect, fear of commitment, and depression.

The paper provides a lot of useful statistics on this, taken from impeccable secular sources - that is, sources the sexual propagandist cannot accuse of a conservative or Christian bias. The paper itself argues (with documentation) that

Teen unwed childbearing has negative consequences for mothers, children, and society. Unwed teen mothers are likely to live in poverty and be dependent on welfare, and only about 50 percent of them are likely to finish high school while they are adolescents or young adults. Children born to teen mothers are more likely than other children to have lower grades, to leave high school without graduating, to be abused or neglected, to have a child as an unmarried teenager, and to be delinquent.

Teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $7 billion per year in social services and lost tax revenue due to government dependency. The gross annual cost to society of unwed childbearing and its consequences is $29 billion, which includes the administration of welfare and foster care programs, building and maintaining additional prisons, as well as lower education and resultant lost productivity among unwed parents.

. . . Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two of the most common curable STDs among sexually active teens. According the Centers for Disease Control, gonorrhea rates are highest among 15- to 19-year-old females and 20- to 24-year-old males, and more than five to 10 percent of teen females are currently infected with chlamydia. If these diseases are untreated, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy. Studies have found that up to 15 percent of sexually active teenage women are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), an incurable virus that is present in nearly all cervical cancers.


And as you would expect (I am quoting again from the summary),

Parents play a major role in whether or not their teen will have sex. Parents affect teens' sexual decision-making by their marital status, attitudes, supervision and involvement in their children's lives. A 1997 longitudinal health study of 12,000 adolescents found that teens were more likely to delay intercourse when they felt emotionally connected to their parents and when their parents disapproved of their being sexually active or of using contraception.


12:33 PM


AMERICA'S CONSCIENCE:

The Catholic writer Mark Shea just responded to yesterday's blog titled "On the Other Hand:

Thanks for your intelligent critique of the "We won! Therefore the war is placed beyond all moral question" crowd. I've been reluctantly pro-war (since I dislike arguing with the Pope, but believe the war necessary). But I'm simply flabbergasted by those (particularly some pro-war Catholics) who hold him in open contempt for some rather commonsense observations about the moral problems inherent in this war. Their attempt to now cast the war as "America the Messiah Nation with a Conscience vs. Perfidious and Morally Obtuse JPII" is disgusting.

We did not undertake this war to free Iraq and the Pope did not oppose it out of a love of tyrants. We undertook it for self-interest. We don't want a repeat of 9/11. A worthy goal and I'm not ashamed to say so.

Likewise, the Pope's worthy goal was the preservation of life and international order. But it stinks like a dead fish to now suddenly cast ourselves as acting out of altruism to the people we betrayed for 20 years and to lord it over JPII and accuse him of being a sycophant of barbarians. The real motto of some pro-war Catholics is: "We have no king but Caesar."


I think this is true. I heard nothing from the pope himself I would disagree with, beyond his too dovish prudential judgment about the grounds for the war, which involved a lack of clarity about when the conditions for a just war might be met. I didn't agree with his judgment but I could easily see how he could reasonably come to it. Some other Vatican officials talked rubbish, alas.

On the other hand, I was also disturbed by some of my ultramontane friends (particularly converts) who put down any attempt to think through the nature of just war in the present day because the pope said no. They're in danger of what someone called "creeping infallibilism." The Catholic Church is a more subtle and complex organism than that.

Theologically creative ideas tend to come from below, to be tested by those high and low, who may or may not get the answer exactly right, and eventually to be approved or not by the high. The Catholic is committed to the belief that the final judgment is correct, but not to the belief that every judgment before that is.


8:54 AM


Sunday, April 13

ON THE OTHER HAND:

Having been hesitantly hawkish about the Iraq war, and being as cheered as anyone by the Coalition success so far in removing a brutal regime and freeing the people he had enslaved, I have also been disturbed by how many Christians are talking as if the success of the effort - its success so far - justified the war and makes its doubters and critics look foolish.

Writing in Slate, Michael Kinsley argued that "Victory in the war is not victory in the argument about the war." This seems perfectly obvious, simply as a matter of logic, but others do not think so. Kinsley argued that

The serious case against this war was never that we might actually lose it militarily. The serious case involved questions that are still unresolved. Factual questions: Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11? Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we're not invading? Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States?

Predictive questions: What will toppling Saddam ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)? Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive? How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States, and what will they do about it?

Political questions: Should we be doing this despite the opposition of most of our traditional allies? Without the approval of the United Nations?

Moral questions: Is it justified to make "pre-emptive" war on nations that may threaten us in the future? When do internal human rights, or the lack of them, justify a war? Is there a policy about pre-emption and human rights that we are prepared to apply consistently? Does consistency matter?

Even etiquette questions: Before Bush begins trying to create a civil society in Iraq, wouldn't it be nice if he apologized to Bill Clinton and Al Gore for all the nasty, dismissive things he said about "nation-building" in the 2000 campaign?


OK, the last is unfair, but the rest are all good questions. Some, I think, have easy answers. For example the political questions, to which the answers are "Yes, because they're cynical societies acting in self-interest" and "Yes, because its members are mostly cynical societies acting in self-interest and thuggish societies defending other thugs and the legitimacy of thuggery"). Others do not have easy answers.

Yet the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal acted as if Kinsley's questions were silly questions, just because the Coalition has won (so far).

[E]ven though you'd think the quick near-victory and the jubilation in the streets of Baghdad would shake the ground under his position, in fact he's standing in exactly the same spot as a month ago.

In other words, it worked so it must have been the right thing to do. Many Christians have said the same thing. Many intelligent conservative Christians have said the same thing. I find this distressing because Christians, of all people, should know that the moral value of an action is not always proved, or even indicated, by its apparent worldly success.

I know rather a lot of people who think their fornication works just as well as the chaste marriages of their friends. They enjoy it, no one gets hurt, etc. People whose second marriage have lasted reject as impractical and unrealistic the Catholic's idea of the permanence of marriage. And so on. What the Christian knows to be sinful often looks, even to Christians, effective, successful, workable, and the alternative ineffective, unsuccessful, unworkable.

This makes me wonder, even as a patriotic Christian, how much some Christians are controlled by their nationalism, which unconsciously equates American success with divine favor. In this case, for example, when they argue with a pragmatism they reject in other matters and dismiss rational appeals to principle simply because the Coalition forces took Baghdad.


7:57 PM


UNEXPECTED EVANGELISTS:

An interesting article on Lubavitcher evangelism: '"The Rebbe's Army': God's Salesmen" from today's New York Times. It is a review of Sue Fishkoff's new book The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch (Schocken Books). The Lubavitchers

proselytize only their fellow Jews, especially the unaffiliated and less observant.

The results, as Fishkoff demonstrates, are remarkable. Some 3,800 husband-and-wife teams of Lubavitch shlichim, emissaries, had spread across 61 countries, 45 states and 41 American college campuses by the year 2000. They lead congregations, operate schools, run drug-rehabilitation clinics, build ritual baths, sponsor Passover seders, visit Jewish prison inmates. Their signal institution is a Chabad House, a kind of multipurpose center that uses the movement's name, an acronym of the Hebrew words for wisdom (chochmah), comprehension (binah) and knowledge (daat).

Just as significantly, the Lubavitchers have largely transcended the bitter divisions plaguing American Jewry. Much of the acrimony arises from the contention of ultra-Orthodox leaders that Reform and Conservative Judaism are illegitimate. The Lubavitchers have acted on the premise that any religious duty - attending synagogue, even if you drive there on Sabbath; going to a seder, even if you eat pork the rest of the year - brings the strays closer to God and thus brings the Messiah closer to earth. ''Some denominations see themselves as God's policemen,'' a Lubavitcher leader says. ''We see ourselves as God's salesmen.''


Among the reasons for their success, Fishkoff writes, are their sending out their "best and brightest" as missionaries ("schlichim") and making them fit into their new communities by having to make their own living and support the ministry after the first year. When people have to contribute to a ministry, one of their rabbis says, "they take pride and interest in your success.'' (A lesson to synagogues and churches that live on endowments and membership fees.) And:

More important, the Lubavitchers practice a kind of theological dissonance. Their personal praxis is unstintingly strict - separation of the sexes in school from the age of 3; a deep ambivalence about secular education; rules for kosher food that surpass those of other Orthodox authorities. Yet the shlichim serve Jews who adopt none of those practices. If anything, Lubavitchers are usually the only Hasidim and sometimes the only Orthodox in their communities.


1:16 PM


MORE ON AVE MARIA IN NAPLES:

The Naples News has a long article on the new Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida.

My wife gave a lecture there a few weeks ago in their adult education program. She is heartened by the strong interest locals are already showing: 60 people came for a 9 AM Monday morning lecture on How to Read a Renaissance Painting.

Some Naples residents, having been burned in the past, suspect a scam: nobody could be giving $200 million to a local school. But it is all on the up and up.

"I can tell you right now that there is nothing shady or illegal about Tom Monaghan or anything he's involved with," said longtime friend Bill Colburn, a recent Naples part-time resident from Michigan who's helping Monaghan set up a chain of founders' clubs for Ave Maria University. "Everything he does is from the heart."

Monaghan's motivation is simple:

"I want to go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can. I can't think of a better way to do it than through Catholic education."

Undergraduate classes will start in September 2003 (freshman and sophomore). The temporary campus is in a very nice development called The Vineyards (See map). Monaghan bought the Vanderbilt Commons (upper left corner), a partially completed assisted living facility which ran into problems because of the enormous increase in insurance for assisted living. My wife reports the complex is snazzy, with a fancy pool and clubhouse, complete with dining room and fully equipped health club. The former owner donated the whole clubhouse complex to Ave Maria. Monaghan manages to do things first class at bargain rates, so any donations to the university will go far.


1:01 PM


PEACE OR FREEDOM:

Pierferdinando Casini, President of the Lower House in Italy, spoke at the 40th anniversary conference for Pacem in Terris.

He thanked the Pope for his opposition to the war: These were valuable because they avoided that the conflict be intended as a tool for affirming Christian values over Islamic ones: it would have been a dramatic mistake.

However, he said that the millions of youths who opposed the war must realize that peace cannot exist without freedom:

To them we should explain that peace is not an abstract value that can be separated from freedom and the respect of human dignity.

"History bears witness to the fact that where there is no freedom, peace cannot be maintained or defended"


Casini was moved by the scenes in Baghdad that showed the rejection of tyranny and the celebration of freedom:

"The scenes of jubilation of the population in Baghdad in the last few days remain impressed in our consciences, when the oppressor regime showed, also in its symbolic elements, the first signs of its irreparable breakdown".


Casini implies or states:

The Pope by opposing the war convinced the Islamic world that Bush was not leading a crusade; the war was a secular affair. This helped the United States.

Those who see stable tyrannies as peace (i.e, many European govenments and much of the European populace) are mistaken, because peace can only be based on justice. Tyranny is a state of non-peace, of violence. Tyranny must be ended for there to be true peace.

How to end it? War? Negotiations or social pressure to make a tyrant give up power? Communism in some countries was ended with little violence; in others, such as Rumania, with a civil war. Peaceful measures are obviously better, but will they always work?


4:29 AM




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