PROPHETIC DOUBLE STANDARDS:
From today's OpinionJournal, the Wall Street Journal's entertaining review of the day's news:
In the Philadelphia Daily News, Michael Smerconish http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/news/special_packages/smerconish/5864722.htm cleverly juxtaposes a series of Times quotes on the question of the responsibility of those in positions of authority. All but the last are from Times editorials:
- July 10, 2002: "[President Bush] needs to show that he understands that good men sometimes do bad things when they are entrusted with power and that it is the government's job to keep them accountable. Mr. Bush has repeatedly failed to make tough personnel decisions about people he regards as part of the team."
- Aug. 9, 2002: "CEOs will no longer be able to feign ignorance about the details of their companies' accounting."
- Nov. 1, 2002: "[William] Webster has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but even the most generous reading of his performance would disqualify him from heading a body whose mandate is to establish and police tough new auditing standards."
- Dec. 14, 2002: "It is imperative that the Vatican now use the cardinal's exit to mark a new readiness to confront not only its public relations disaster but also the underlying crisis. . . . The American church's child-abuse scandal also does not end with the Cardinal's departure. Oklahoma's governor, Frank Keating, the head of the National Review Board established to address the church's crisis, is rightly calling for the removal of all prelates who betrayed Catholics' faith by burying inquiries into misbehavior by priests."
- May 11, 2003 http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/national/11PAPE.html?pagewanted=all, Times publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, quoted in a news story: "The person who did this is Jayson Blair. Let's not begin to demonize our executives--either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher."
BABIES AND GOLDFISH:
Relevant to our reader's comments (below) on Dennis Kucinich: a line from the biography of pro-life politician David Alton, for many years a Liberal member of parliament and now a "cross-bench" (non-party) member of the House of Lords:
He announced that he would not stand again as a Liberal Democrat after the Party made abortion a party policy for the first time. Earlier in the day, at the same Conference, they had passed an animal welfare motion which included protection for goldfish on sale in amusement arcades and funfairs.
I found this on David Alton's website, which includes a lot of useful material, especially on pro-life matters and human rights. He also has reflected upon politics as a calling and ofers a useful reminder to those of inclined to be cynical that "public service" may indeed be public service, writing of a book titled The Political Animal that the author, Jeremy Paxman,
opens his account with a slightly sneering send-up of a politician who, at a school prize giving, encourages the children to get involved in politics. He reinforces the image of a duplicitous man on the make who wouldn't know what public service was if he fell over it. The real reason he is standing there in front of the children is either because he has a tendency towards megalomania or he wants the money. This is as trite as it is offensive.
"The Political Animal" is weak in its failure to analyse the people serving in local government. It has little to say about the people going into the new devolved parliaments, and few words about the MPs who get on with the job in a focused and diligent manner.
. . . In "Politics", Aristotle wrote that aidos, shame, would attach to the citizen who refused to play their part. He said that "we are not solitary pieces in a game of chequers." Presenting politics as a high calling, and reminding people of their duty to defend hard won rights, is incumbent on anyone who loves democracy. Whilst Paxman concedes that we cannot disinvent politicians he says nothing about what we can do to stimulate a new generation.
Paxman quotes Tom Paine's dictum about politics being a necessary evil.
In "Common Sense" (1776) Paine wrote that "society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness", the one cultivating and uniting our best impulses, the other restraining our vices: "the first is a patron, the last a punisher." Paine also saw the state as "a badge of lost innocence."
Surely an appreciation of the role of the politician in seeking to defend that innocence and to withstand the various forms of wickedness should be at the heart of the political call.
. . . The first question to always ask about a politician is "what are their causes?" and if they have none you know all you need to know about their motives.
A helpful source I found while looking up the subject for someone else: Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce,and Remarriage in the United States a report published in July 2002 by the Center for Disease Control. Among its findings:
What are the trends? Our data show an increase in the chances that first marriages will end (in separation or divorce)for marriages that began in the 1950s through the 1970s.From the early 1970s to the late 1980s,the rates of breakup were fairly stable. The probability of remarriage following divorce has decreased slightly, and the probability that the second marriage will break up has risen from the 1950s to the 1980s. . . .
Do the trends differ by race/ethnicity? What demographic, economic, and social factors affect the chances that marriage will succeed or fail? This report shows that a number of characteristics are closely associated with the chances that a marriage will continue or break up. For first Marriages, for example, marriages are less likely to break up, and more likely to succeed, if the wife grew up in a two-parent home, is Asian, was 20 years of age or over at marriage, did not have any children when she got married, is college-educated, has more income, or has any religious affiliation.
The report studies what it calls "marital disruption," meaning that it tried to find out not only how many people got divorced but how many separated from their spouses. This gives a more accurate, and more pessimistic, picture of the state of marriage in the United States. I would post a few more findings from the study, but the site crashed and will not come up again. More later, perhaps.
A reader writes:
Perhaps you heard the interview on NPR's Morning Edition yesterday with Ohio congressman (and presidential candidate) Dennis Kucinich. When questioned on the evolution of his position on abortion, he danced around the question, but anyone who knows Kucinich's political history knows that he changed because his old view (pro-life)was not popular among the sort of voters ("progressive" Democrats) he needed to win elections. Meanwhile, it also came out in the interview that he is a committed vegetarian, and his website touts his strong concern for animal rights.
My mother is a local Democratic elected official back in my hometown, and I can tell you that running as a Democrat involves a lot of barbecues in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The chefs at these sorts of things take great pride in their cooking, and a savvy politician knows to make a big deal about enjoying the barbecue. Not to do so can cause a real problem come election time. Apparently, however, Congressman Kucinich is willing to take that sort of an electoral hit, because he will not compromise his vegetarian/animal-rights principles.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kucinich will happily dispense with his pro-life principles when they become electorally inconvenient. What exactly are we to make of a man who can simultaneously believe that it is morally wrong to kill an animal but perfectly fine to kill a human baby? Where is the coherent world-view which holds these two ideas together?
I think that we are to make of this man that he is a moral cretin. His ideas have some coherence, but the coherence that holds them isn't philosophical, it isn't a matter of worldview, because the Kusiniches of the world are not truly rational people. They are unprincipled - they do not base their thinking on any set of coherent principles - yet they are terribly confident in their wisdom. Conversation with them would have sent Socrates to the hemlock bottle on his own.
They want to be a certain sort of person: a progressive, for lack of a better term. The coherence they seek is the coherence of an identity not marked by intellectual coherence. Why that certain sort of person combines a callousness about human life with a sentimental defensiveness about animal life, is worth pondering.
Our reader's story reminds me of a great passage from G. K. Chesterton's Autobiography, in which he compared the utterly contradictory views of the various types of religious progressive of his day, and concluded that (I quote from memory) they were drawn together "by the convention of 'not going to church'" and "the convention of unconventionality." They recognized each other "by the tie or the beard, as dogs recognize each other by the fur or the smell."
I remember, when I lived on the borders of Christianity and could have gone away from it as easily as toward it, that I kept finding the Christians made sense, even when I disliked their conclusions. They would start with A and make their way letter by letter to Z. (And if they could only get to C or H or P or V, they would admit it.)
The worldlings who attracted me never made as much sense as the Christians. They would say, for example, that it is all right to kill an unborn child but wrong to kill a newborn, because the second was a person but the first was not, though they could not explain why the child's passing through a tube a few inches long made such a difference. And often they could not see the need to explain the reason or define personhood and then apply their definition to the two cases.
I am today a Christian in part because Christians made so much sense, even when they were not talking about Christianity. To go from the writers in The Boston Globe, say, to C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton was like moving from a construction site filled with drills and jackhammers to a concert hall filled with a chamber orchestra playing a Mozart concerto.
A friend wrote to report his experience at a new church last Sunday:
On Sunday my family went to a small town out in the country to spend Mother's Day with my wife's family. Her grandmother wanted us to go to her Sunday School class with her. The class is filled with old folks who have been together in that church since forever. She wanted to show us off. It was very sweet.
The denomination is very liberal, but this particular church, being out in the country, is not. The pastor seems to be some kind of liberal, though this is something my wife discerned by listening to her family talk about his sermons.
They're more or less clueless. My family still goes to a United Methodist Church, and they haven't the slightest idea what goes on in the denomination, and are so used to trusting the pastor that he could say almost anything, as long as he did it in the right way, and they'd nod their heads.
Later my wife and I met the pastor. We introduced ourselves. He asked where we were from, and we said we'd just moved here from the northeast. Something seemed to come over him. He started putting on intellectual airs, dropping hints about theological matters of which I knew little or nothing. It quickly dawned on me that because I came from the city, he thought I must be some kind of intellectual, with whom he could have a sophisticated conversation.
I didn't know quite what to do, so I smiled and spoke in generalities. Then, for a reason I still can't figure out, he began to tell me how reading Andrew Sullivan's book "opened my mind on gays and lesbians in the church." He must have assumed that I must have been thinking I was among a bunch of hicks, and he had to demonstrate to me that he wasn't like them. I didn't want to stand there and argue with him, so I found a reason politely to excuse myself.
I thought later that morning about the people of that congregation. My wife says they're pretty conservative. They have a pastor who buys the Andrew Sullivan line on homosexuality, and who represents a denomination that is quite progressive on homosexuality (the denominational magazine available in the church foyer carries an advertisement for a group "affirming" gays and lesbians).
This man is their spiritual leader, and I doubt many of them have the faintest clue as to what he really believes about Christian sexual morality. "They're basically small-town church people to whom it wouldn't occur not to trust the pastor," my wife said. He's basically a fifth columnist who clumsily revealed his hand to someone he thought was an intellectual confederate.
This happened to me once. The interim rector at the Episcopal church we attended in Massachusetts, seeing me with shaggy hair and blue blazer, assumed I was a good liberal Episcopalian and began telling me how the bishop had sent him "to bring the parish into the diocese." What he unfolded to me was a conscious effort to destroy the parish's Evangelical identity, cloaked in talk of camaraderie and fellowship.
I felt I was talking with one of the Borgias. It was a revealing conversation.
Another friend responded to the letter that:
I think this is the case with more than half of the church-goers in America everywhere. They just show up and don't get into this kind of thing and half of them would die if they knew what their "leaders" really believed.
From long and intimate observation of the clergy, I think the even greater problem is the number of clerics who believe the basics, pretty much, but do not believe them firmly or thoughtfully. They build their houses of doctrine upon sand. Their naive people see the house and think everything's okay.
A VERY POOR CHOICE:
A few days ago I mentioned the Elliot Institute's new site, PoorChoice.org. I've just looked more closely at it and would recommend it. It includes a lot of resources on the effects (psychological and physical) of abortion on women, on healing for women who have had abortions, political and legislative strategies for combatting abortion, and so on.
You may want to look at the "Free Book" link, as the offer ends June 1st.
A friend, a Southern Baptist, recommends two articles on "postmodern," "seeker sensitive," "church growth" worship:
- "The Mad Rush to Seeker Sensitive Worship" by John Armstrong of Reformation and Revival Ministries, which appeared in Modern Reformation, the very good journal of a group called Confessing Evangelicals; and
- "The New Liberals" by Don Matzat, a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor.
Both focus not on the style of such worship but the thinking behind it, and particularly on Fuller Seminary's Donald McGavran, one of the main gurus of the movement. They argue, in a nutshell, that however laudable the aims, this movement throws the baby out with the bathwater.
THE ABSOLUTIZING OF TOLERANCE:
From Catholic World Reports' Off the Record department for May 13th, a prophetic insight from Cardinal Ratzinger.
To illustrate one aspect of this dialectic between the theoretical affirmation of human rights and their practical denial, I would like to refer to the Weimar Constitution of the first German Republic of 11 August 1919. This Constitution does indeed speak of basic rights, but puts them in a context of relativism and of indifferentism regarding values, which the legislators considered to be a necessary consequence of tolerance, and therefore obligatory.
But precisely this absolutizing of tolerance to the point of total relativism also relativized basic rights in such a way that the Nazi régime saw no reason to have to remove these articles, the foundation of which was too weak and ambiguous to offer an indisputable protection against their destruction of human rights.
Thus, by a dialectic within modernity, one passes from the affirmation of the rights of freedom, detached from any reference to a common truth, to the destruction of the very foundations of this freedom. The "enlightened despot" of the social contact theorists became the tyrannical state, in fact totalitarian, which disposes of the life of its weakest members, from an unborn baby to an elderly person, in the name of a public usefulness which is really only the interest of a few.
- Joseph Ratzinger, "Threats to Human Life Today," Report of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to the Consistory of Cardinals, June, 1991, p.8.
I would have given you a direct link but the site doesn't offer them. "Off the Record" is one of the blog sites I recommend visiting daily. Besides the entries on the life of the Catholic Church, which Catholics will find useful and others will find instructive (alas, usually), the writers frequently make points of general interest, not least for the Christian concerned with applying his faith in the world as it is.
Useful information about Planned Parenthood, provided by the Family Research Council in today's "Washington Update":
In its 2001-2002 Annual Report, the organization stated that it performed 213,026 abortion procedures in 2001. That signals an 8.1 percent increase over the year 2000. As the largest abortion provider in the U.S., Planned Parenthood is running nearly 160 clinics nationwide - which may account for its gluttonous $894 million in revenue over the last 24 years.
Apart from its monopoly on abortion facilities, the group also has the federal government to thank for two decades of success. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office, Capitol Hill has contributed a healthy sum to the abortion empire, allocating in excess of $150 million each year to Planned Parenthood alone.
Note that their income is approaching almost one billion dollars. Some of which comes from your tax dollars. The "Update" continues:
The abortion boon, however, is owed primarily to the organization's shrewd marketing. It's no secret that Planned Parenthood has preyed upon the growing demographic of poor, minority - and often teen - mothers. While other areas of the industry have declined, the vulnerable urban population has seen a spike in abortions.
The group's strategy may have worked to keep the business afloat, but it is reprehensible that anyone would target needy girls for abortion without providing information about alternatives such as adoption. In addition to taking the life of their unborn child, study after study shows, abortion hurts women. That is why FRC continues to work to pass informed consent laws at both the state and federal level.
As a society, we trust no one. We cry for "openness" and insist that everyone tell us everything. To have surgery, you must know exactly what might happen to you and sign a long legal form testifying that you know and accept the risks. No one expects you to trust your doctor.
Unless, that is, he is an abortionist. Then the same people who demand complete knowledge from the doctor who is about to work on their heart or brain or liver, happily let him (the abortionist) do what he does without explaining the risks at all.
"The truth is that abortion is simply bad medicine," says David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, interviewed by Zenit.org. They have created a website, Poor Choice, for women who may have or who have had an abortion.
Nothing good comes from it. God has intertwined the well-being of women and their children in such a way that it is impossible to kill a woman's unborn child without exposing her to grave physical, psychological and spiritual harm..
Studies published in major journals
have consistently shown that abortion is associated with higher rates of depression, substance abuse, psychiatric illness, divorce and death from all causes, including suicide.
Reardon argues that American society is becoming more pro-life, especially among the young who have seen the effects of abortion. And, interestingly, a recent survey the Institute commissioned
shows that only 16% of adults believe abortion generally makes women's lives better. Even among women who identify themselves as strongly pro-choice, less than a fourth believe abortion improves women's lives. Eighty percent believe negative reactions are common or very common and most believe that the negative emotional reactions to abortion are moderately severe to very severe.
In the rest of the interview, Reardon, author of Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation (Acorn Books, 1996), explains his way of responding to abortion. He emphasizes "our understanding, empathy and compassion toward those who have made the mistake of choosing abortion" and the effects of abortion on the women who have them. For one thing,
Many people will continue to have more concern about themselves or the pregnant women they see, than they ever will for the unborn children they can't see. Arguing about absolute moral truths with such a person will get you nowhere. Their hearts are hardened to the truth. All they care about is results.
This is why pointing out that abortion is a false solution that causes more harm than good is more effective with this group. Showing people how abortion hurts women may not lead them to their spiritual conversion, but will reduce abortions and eventually stop it completely.
This is obviously true, but the way Reardon suggests applying this insight troubles me, because he wants to treat the aborting woman entirely as a victim, which is simply untrue. And therefore, in the end, morally and pastorally unhelpful to the women who have had abortions and need not only understanding and healing but to repent. He says, for example, that
For those women who have had abortions, we [the Elliott Institute] advocate for their right to hold doctors accountable for the injuries they have suffered. . . . We must emphasize our understanding, empathy and compassion toward those who have made the mistake of choosing abortion. This love and acceptance makes it easier for post-abortive women to process their grief, to have a conversion of heart, and to become witnesses for life.
Choosing to abort your child is a mistake, but it is a great deal more than a mistake. It is a sin. It is a mortal sin, in Catholic terms: a sin that, unrepented, decisively separates you from God. The women knew what they were doing, though of course their degree of culpability will vary widely, from the poor woman driven to despair by a brutal husband to the yuppie who does not want a pregnancy to affect her waistline and vacation plans.
But they acted as free moral agents, who have no conceivable right to hold the abortionists accountable for their injuries. They have no more right than a man would have to sue General Motors for his injuries after he started driving twice the speed limit and wrecked his car.
In other words, it is a difficult thing to speak to women who have had abortions, so that they will hear what they need to hear. Yelling "baby killer" does not help them, but neither does pretending that they are merely victims and not women who chose to have someone else kill their children. The Elliott Institute seems to have gone too far in one direction, which will attract some to their programs but may well tempt others to abort their children - if, after all, it is only a "mistake."
The second half of the interview, Abortion as a poor choice, appeared yesterday.
An enjoyable short article from today's Wall Street Journal: "Ray Bradbury's Dystopia: 'Fahrenheit 451,' 50 years later" by John Miller.
It is a book often invoked by the anti-censorship crowd, who censor books all the time but cannot think clearly enough to realize it. Librarians, for example, who buy lots of liberal books and magazines but few conservative ones, or activists of various sorts who object to books with racial stereotypes yet cry "censorship" when a parent objects to a book praising witchcraft or teenage fornication. Yet, as Miller points out,
One of the often-overlooked details of "Fahrenheit 451" is that the censorship Mr. Bradbury describes was not imposed from the top by a ruthless government. Rather, it seeped up from the indifferent masses. As a villain explains: "School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. . . . No wonder books stopped selling."
In other words, Bradbury blamed the sort of schooling our liberals have advocated for many years for the book burners in his story. The only thing he missed is that books still sell, but the books that sell best tend to be television shows in print: all narrative appealing to sensation, the plot pulled along in part by a sexual tease of the "Will they go to bed?" variety, the story confirming all the readers' assumptions and prejudices, and even carrying commercials of a sort in the frequent descriptionsof the things the heros own and buy. Why would anyone burn books when so many people read Danielle Steel and similar . . . stuff.
Miller notes, by the way, that although Bradbury predicted all sorts of technological innovations (I won't say advances because they aren't alwasy), he "verges on technophobic." He
has written about space travel, but he's never driven a car. He refused to fly in a plane until his 60s. Today, he won't go near a computer. He wrote "The Fireman," the 1950 novella upon which "Fahrenheit 451" is based, on a coin-operated typewriter in the basement of the UCLA library, over the course of nine days and at a cost of 10 cents every half hour. (Call it a dime novella.) He never saw the point of updating his methods, apart from buying a typewriter of his own.
This may help explain his success. I write my first drafts of anything serious or difficult in pen, because the difficulty of writing with a pen slows me down and forces me both to think more carefully and hear what I am writing. As an editor, I can usually tell a manuscript written on a word processor, unless the writer is a pro, because the prose tends to be bloated and filled with jargon and passive voice constructions.
The Chesterton Press has just released A Hidden Presence: The Catholic Imagination of J. R. R. Tolkien. I have only had a chance to skim the book, but it looks quite good.
It includes Stratford Caldecott's "The Horns of Hope: J. R. R. Tolkien and the Heroism of Hobbits," "A Cautionary Tale" by the noted Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, and six other substantial essays, and seven short "perspectives" on Tolkien by Peter Kreeft, the C. S. Lewis biographer George Sayer (who knew Tolkien), the actor Sir Ian McKellen, and others. It also includes three articles by Chesterton on fairy stories and myth.
The book is available from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (800.546.7022). I could not find the book listed anywhere on ISI's website.. It did offer a page for subscribing to the Chesterton Review. For $38, the new subscriber will get as well as a one-year subscription.
I do recommend the journal, by the way, even if you are not a fan of Chesterton's. For one thing, one of the issues each year features a different writer or theme. Past issues have featured C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Christopher Dawson, and Charles Dickens.
LIVING IN A SUPERMARKET:
The Anglican Evangelical theologian Peter Toon (a contributing editor) has just written a short and provocative reflection on being a Christian in America's "supermarket of religions," responding to an article by Richard John Neuhaus in First Things"The Persistence of the Catholic Moment". Here is Peter's response:
The Naked Public Square & the Autonomous Self
Richard John Neuhaus has written (First Things, Feb. 2003):
"More than by recent scandals [child abuse & homosexuality, for example] Catholicism [in America] in the public square is weakened by its gradual but certain sociological accommodation to a Protestant ethos. that construes religion in terms of consumer preference, and voluntary associations in support of those preferences."
Anyone who looks at the supermarket of religions evident in Americans town, cities and suburbia sees how much consumer preference dominates not only the external advertising by the religions/churches but also the nature and content of the worship services and the related midweek activities. A competitive situation, where each group desires to keep whom it has and attract more potential members, has to pay attention to what people like and dislike, what attracts and what repels them, and what they will pay for. Of course, there are degrees of conditioning and compromise and within it all there are (by the grace of God alone) examples of genuine Christian worship, witness and work.
Fr Neuhaus also wrote: Catholicism "is weakened also by what is aptly called the totalitarian impulse of the modern state - including democratic states - to monopolize public space and consign religion to the private sphere."
For a long time sociologists have written about and assumed that a chief characteristic of American religious practice is "privatisation", the keeping of religion primarily in the domestic sphere, and not taking its morality and ethos into the workplace or schoolroom or courtroom. Fr Neuhaus has called the result of this privatisation of religion "the naked public square."
Observers from overseas often note that while the word "God" is much invoked by American Presidents and other national leaders, and while millions go to churches, the moral content of Christianity seems not to penetrate the public sphere, where secular "values" rule but are interestingly and conveniently allied to the mantra, "God bless America".
Reflecting on this situation of consumer choice and privatization as a Protestant, whose [Anglican] churches are part of the supermarket of religions, I cannot see any easy or simple way out of these gigantically real problems. Where at the local level a parish/congregation seeks to be faithful to its best reading & interpretation of the Scriptures and the Christian Tradition, it runs into serious problems: it makes demands upon members that run contrary to the expectations of the consumer society and of the privatisation of religion. Members are tempted to go elsewhere where the going is easier, or they feel obliged to seek to persuade the leadership to take it easy and go with the flow and not pursue what they see as idealism.
Fr Neuhaus (in the same essay) calls for an obedience by Catholics within Christian freedom to the Truth, who is Christ Jesus - a willing commitment to submit to the truth from Jesus Christ as taught in the Catholic Church. That is, a readiness to put aside the claims of the autonomous self (which of course is the foundation of much American talk of rights and freedoms) and to submit one's whole self to the Lord our God as he is made known to us in Christ Jesus and within his Church, which is his Body.
In Roman Catholic terms this means both outward and inward submission in freedom to the teaching and hierarchy of the Church. And Neuhaus sees the present Bishop of Rome as providing authentic teaching as to what this submission to the Truth is all about.
The autonomous self, so celebrated within European culture for so long, exists virtually unchallenged in its essential nature in the supermarket of religions, in the consumer definition of religion and in the privatisation of religion, for in a sense each of these exists in order to conform to the doctrine of the autonomous self and its supposed rights and freedoms, as defined by modern secularism.
For Roman Catholics to submit wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ within the Church in freedom is no doubt most demanding and nearly impossible in the conditions of modern America.
But for Protestants (Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and so on) it is even more difficult for there is within these traditions and jurisdictions a long-time acceptance of private judgment in the reading and interpreting of Scripture; and this private judgment is so easily married to the modern doctrine of the autonomous self (without this being recognized) in the reality of the local church and the practice of the faith outside the home and church. So pervasive is the assumption and doctrine of the autonomous self that it comes into translations of the Bible and of the Christian classics as well as being a common premise of many sermons and popular books.
To read other articles by Peter and hear some of his sermons, go to his parish's website. It includes his recordings of classic Anglican sermons from The Books of Homilies.
THE BABY IS OUTSIDE:
A reader writes a very interesting letter in response to "A Body Part. Oh." posted on Thursday, May 8th:
An apparently unspoken fact in the abortion debate is that the fetus and placenta are not "part of the mother's body." It is anatomically and embryologically outside the woman's body just as food in the intestines, air and smoke in the lungs and urine in the bladder are anatomically outside your body.
It is true that there are limited chemicals transferred across uterine, intestinal and alveolar membranes, but what is in those spaces is technically outside the body and will be expelled (issued). Bacteria and parasites in those spaces are also outside the body unless defenses breakdown. If this barrier did not exist, no fetus would survive because its DNA and other proteins are foreign and would be destroyed by an intact immune system.
The public cover-up/ignorance of this fact goes along with all the semantic and word changes that led to the fetus being just "unwanted tissue in the woman's body." This was reviewed a few years ago in Touchstone in a history of the abortion debate. (I can't find the excellent Touchstone article for reference.)
Confirm this with a medical school anatomy textbook or professor who will speak scientifically.
HOW MUCH IS MISSING:
Our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green writes in "No Plain Jane: This grandmother gets around." of Ms. Janet Juska, the aged woman who a couple of weeks ago announced her sexual exploits to an admiring New York Times. (I discussed her thoughts, with a link to the article, in "Granny is no better than she should be" on April 27th.)
My favorite lines from Frederica's article:
Juska firmly believes that her adventuring makes other women jealous. She says they ask themselves, "What have I done with my life?" She says these women "Don't want to go back and look at it. That's why they're so nuts about their grandchildren. It keeps the focus off them."
Only inhabitants of the stratospheric reaches of trendy intellectualism can believe that women play with their grandchildren in a desperate attempt to kill the bitterness they feel over not having multiple sex partners at age 70. Only very sophisticated people could fall for such a self-evidently stupid idea. Only self-congratulatingly bohemian people could have such contempt for normal, healthy family life. It's an index of how much else is missing, how much has gone wrong, in their lives.
The point, as you may know, is Orwell's, who once again proves prophetic. For Frederica's website, click here.
A friend who has knowledge of such things sent a group of his friends the address of the TM, Yoga, and Kundalini Dangers website. I don't know much about these things, being far more interested as a youth in marxism than eastern religions, which just left me cold, but people I trust say that they can be very dangerous. (I thought the spiritually-minded among my peers just dweebs. Which was often true.)
If, as the Christian believes, we are surrounded by a spiritual world of which we have varying degrees of knowledge and sensitivity, and if some of these spirits are hostile, it is likely that the hostile spirits will use paganism to do what they do, and the more apparently innocent the paganism - like yoga presented as exercise - the better. Saying so in most suburban settings, even Christian ones, will make your friends and neighbors edge away and talk about you behind your back, but then if a couple of hundred years ago you had said that little invisible animals called germs make people sick you would have been treated the same way. What you don't know, and don't see, can hurt you.
JESUS SEMINAR CONTORTIONS:
You may find entertaining a review by E. P. Sanders of Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed. Sanders is a professor at Duke and a New Testament scholar of weight, Crossan a New Testament scholar and leader of the Jesus Seminar crowd (and a ex-priest). The review is available on the NYRB's website but only for purchase ($4.00).
I enjoyed the review - our local library has started getting the magazine, bless them - because Sanders explains the twists and turns of Crossan's arguments, all apparently offered (this is my judgment, not Sanders') to prove that Jesus was only a man of his times, if an unusual one. Sanders shows how Crossan's new arguments twist and turn, making claims often either contradicting the evidence or without any evidence at all, and sometimes contradicting arguments he has made elsewhere in the book. A revealing and helpful review.
MORE ON "BAPTISTS OUT":
I've been thinking about the New York Times article I examined in yesterday's "Baptists Out" and what sort of lead one could honestly write from the information the writer seems to have had. About all that a writer could do would be something like:
"For various reasons, 43 of the 5,500 employees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board stepped down rather than sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. 20 resigned, 10 took early retirement, and 13 were fired."
Put this way, much of the story's excitement disappears. The writer tried to make it a significant protest against the Message's Pauline statements on men and women, but the information he provides later in the article - just one couple gave their opposition as a reason - do not justify it. But that's The Times for you.
A useful interesting short history of the way God is portrayed in American movies: "God is Still Ready for His Close-Up,", by Tim Appelo in today's New York Times. He concludes:
Alas, American filmgoers tend to prefer damp, vaguely reassuring ideas of God. As traditional religious faith deliquesces into sentimental mysticism, self-help spiritualism and "Star Wars" bliss-seeking, our movie Gods have entered a twilight. Instead of worshiping [Cecil B.] DeMille's Hairy Thunderer, we gum the Cosmic Muffin.
Who are the boffo Gods of post-DeMille culture? George Burns in "Oh, God!" (1977), who pulls a few chintzy miracles, kvetches about pollution and craves TV publicity. (In this, he resembles the deity in the abandoned Python script "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.") And Jessica Lange in "All That Jazz" (1979), playing a bedroom-eyed God who flatters and indulges the revolting hero - as have all the other mistreated women in his life.
Audrey Hepburn (who was spurned by DeMille for "The Ten Commandments" because she was too skinny to look good in biblical fashion) is closer to an ideal God in "Always," because as she guides Richard Dreyfuss's bratty deceased pilot away from his selfish earthly self, there's some chastening lightning in her eyes as well as muffin love. Audiences rejected this complexity, however, and embraced the all-muffin afterlife evoked in hits like "Ghost" and its many uncanny offspring.
"American religion is firmly committed to the notion of a gracious rather than a punitive God," Andrew Greeley wrote. "God in the movies is someone who supports and sustains American optimism."
That is certainly true. There is great wisdom in the rule of Christian iconography that God the Father cannot be portrayed. He is a subject we cannot capture, and even our best efforts - not generally produced by Hollywood - are even less apt than a stick-figure copy of the Mona Lisa I drew in blue crayon with my left hand. But movie directors will from time to time try to do what the great religious writers - Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Evelyn Waugh, for three - never dared.