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Saturday, May 24


The poor monsignor is still being blamed for the erratic things he said under the influence of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Drunkenness, it has been observed, leads to erratic behavior, and therefore should be avoided. Drugs, even the legal type, also do strange things.

One woman I know had general anesthetic and, when she came out of it, had forgotten the last 8 years meeting her husband, getting married, having children. The surgeons called on her mother for help; they were very worried. Fortunately her brain started working again after several hours of anxiety among all concerned, or there would have been serious complications.

I've had general anesthetic a few times. Once the first words I was conscious of saying were "beautiful ladies without my pants on" to a group of nurses who had gathered round and were laughing uproariously. They refused to tell me what I had been saying.

The last time I came out of anesthetic I heard the surgeon saying "Sing louder!" I was giving a spirited rendition of "It's Springtime for Hitler." My wife knew that something was up when the nurse came out and said "Are you Mrs. Leon Podles, also known as Mary Elizabeth Smith Podles, also known as Maidie Podles, daughter of the well known Mary Elizabeth Rutter of New York, friend of Piglet, and so on." She rushed back to see what I was up to.

There is a part of the brain that controls inhibitions, and when drugs, alcohol, or an accident knocks it out of commission, absolutely anything can come out of the poor person's mouth. In such a way we are taught not to take ourselves with too much seriousness, because it takes very little to make us a spectacle to angels and men.

7:41 PM


Some blogs have picked up a news story of an arrest of a Byzantine Catholic priest on morals charges. I am not going to link to the more entertaining ones (I suspect the police report posted on the internet was obtained illegally) ) but by the mysterious workings of Divine Providence I happened to run into a priest who was present at this incident.

The bishop of a Byzantine diocese in Ohio called one of his clergy conferences, which are not popular among all his clergy, because priests are busy and some think these conferences a waste of time.

An elderly Byzantine monsignor was on various medications, and his doctor had just changed his medications at the end of April. The elderly monsignor cannot see fine print very well and did not read the caution about not drinking while taking his new medication. At dinner on the way to the conference he fortified himself by drinking his normal one or two martinis, but that was enough to make him totally blotto and non compos mentis.

The monsignor was stopped by the police for driving erratically, but the other priests who were in the car with him got him to the conference hotel and put him to bed. In the middle of the night the monsignor woke up and had to go to the bathroom. He went out the room door by mistake, and the door locked behind him. He had a card in his nightshirt pocket, but it was his credit card rather than the room card. He tried and failed to open the door, and in his fumbling around managed to set off the fire alarm which was right next to his door.

The police and the fire department came and were not amused. The monsignor was still totally blotto, and like many men under the deep influence perhaps was imprudent in his language and not properly respectful to the female assistant police chief (whose bosom was sufficiently large to cause comments among bystanders). The chancellor and bishop were roused, and had to deal with this situation. They tried to wake another priest to help, but he was sleeping the sleep of the just (even through the fire alarm) and they pounded on his door for half an hour while they heard him snoring inside. The monsignor faces misdemeanor charges.

The monsignor has a reputation for being a pious and respectable clergyman, and I suspect this incident was engineered by P. G. Wodehouse from his perch among the angels.

It was a slow news day in Ohio, and the contretemps made the front page of the local newspaper, and even made the evening TV news in Cleveland. Ohio is a quiet place.

The monsignor took his retirement four months early, and the clergy who dislike clergy conferences have more ammunition when they try to persuade the bishop not to hold them.

2:36 AM

Wednesday, May 21


I've just realized that some regular readers of Mere Comments may not look at the magazine's home page. So, to tell you what has recently been posted:

We have two articles from the latest (May) issue:

- A Farewell to Hamra: Beirut 2001: The Year in Pixel by R. Joseph Hoffmann; and

- The Trouble with Weddings: Symbols & Substance by Roberto Rivera.

And some articles from the last (April) issue on the theme of "the Godless Party" just posted:

- The editorial, Voting as Christians, written by Leon Podles for the editors;

- The lead feature article, The Godless Party: Media Bias & Blindness - And the Big Story They Missed by Rod Dreher;

- Another feature on the same subject, Political Orphans: How the Democratic Party Left Traditional Believers Behind by James Hitchcock; and

- A more philosophical reflection on political activity, The Not-So-Good Samaritans: Aristotle, the Preservation of Families & the Duties of the State by Patrick Henry Reardon.


- The Problem of War: C. S. Lewis on Pacifism, War & the Christian Warrior by Darrell Cole;

- When Jesus Says the Wrong Thing by me;

- Why They Hated Pinocchio by Frederica Mathewes-Green;

- Requiem for the Comic Book by Gillis Harp.

And finally, one book review:

- Lewis in Wartime: A review of C. S. Lewis at the BBC: Messages of Hope in the Darkness of War by Justin Phillips by Dale Nelson.

And one special report:

- An Honored Prophet: Stanley Hauerwas: "America's Best Theologian" by Mark Tooley.

4:52 PM


According to Fr. Carlo Torriani, a missionary serving in India, many girls in India are aborted or killed at birth because their families want sons but do not want daughters. As reports:

In India, 43 out of every 1,818 newborn girls are eliminated at birth every year, according to data provided by MISNA agency and other missionary and local government sources.

The custom of the dowry is among the principal reasons for this action. A laborer who daily earns the equivalent of half a Euro (close to $.58 in dollars) must give the sum of at least 970 Euros ($1,140 U.S. dollars) for his daughter's marriage.

According to the sources quoted above, newborn girls are buried alive or killed by other methods, such as asphyxiation.

Not surprisingly,

The only state of India in which there is virtual equivalence between men and women is, in fact, Kerala, "where there is a very high presence of the Catholic and Christian minority," Father Torriani explained.

10:18 AM


In response to the report our reader sent in (next blog), Steve Hutchens remarked:

With this sort of thing we begin to see how the philosophy of permissive child-rearing is, at bottom, genocidal.

8:32 AM


A reader writes to report that

This morning, ABC's "Good Morning America" featured a foreign public service commercial (I don't remember which nationality) intended as a brief interjection of humor. The ad depicted a bedraggled young father pushing a shopping cart through the aisles of a grocery store, with a young boy of about five in tow. The child seizes upon a bag of candy, which the father insists he may not have.

To the father's consternation and embarrassment, the child proceeds to throw an enormous and very public fit, which occupies the great majority of the commercial's time. Showing a final look of exasperation on the father's face, the ad closes with the "public service" message/punch line, in large block letters across the screen: WEAR A CONDOM.

The contraception and abortion debates are so often couched in terms of "preventing unwanted pregnancies." Until now, however, I had never seen that phrase so vividly - and unashamedly - extended to its logical conclusion: "prevent unwanted human beings." I found this rather horrifying, but the Good Morning America personalities all seemed to have a good laugh.

The reader asks for comment, but she has said all that needs to be said in her last paragraph. "Humanists" don't like humanity as such. They only like humans who do something for them: children they want, for example, but not children as children. They like children as a chosen life style accessory, accepted on their own schedule and as much as possible to their own specifications, but they do not accept them as gifts from God and blessings in themselves (as blessings however they act in grocery stores).

I think this sort of thing quite revealing. Only a deeply corrupted mind could think a father with a momentarily annoying son would be better off without him. Only a deeply corrupted heart could feel the absence of a child already born would be a good thing. (Try, for a second, to imagine one of your children not existing. Can't do it, can you? Good.)

Everything in the normal human heart rebels against that commercial's closing line. People who laugh at "Wear a condom" are inhumane - as inhumane, and inhuman, as those who club baby seals to death. But no one would ever make a commercial showing a baby seal being troublesome and ending with the line "Wear a fur coat." Baby seals are cute.

The fact that such people host a popular morning television show and laugh gaily at such things just gives yet another example of Hannah Arendt's famous insight into the banality of evil. True inhumanity is just as likely to be promoted by a cute, perky, perfectly groomed talkshow hostess as the spokesman for Saddam Hussein.

The difference between killing humans who already exist and wishing many humans won't come to exist is not all that great. Both grow from the belief that people are only good if they are useful to you. As in our society a mother can believe that she has the right to dispose of a child she cannot use, so in places like Iraq a ruler can believe that he has the right to dispose of people he cannot use. The philosophy is the same in both cases.

8:11 AM

Tuesday, May 20


This is one of those articles that strike me as really funny, although it profiles the worrisome superstitions of a powerful man and his wife: "Ev'rybody must get stones about "the New Age crankiness" of Tony and Cherie Blair. It appeared in the English newspaper The Observer on December 8th, but a friend just brought it to my attention. (To explain a couple of allusions in the parts I'm quoting: as the prime minister of England, Blair has led what is called "New Labour" which has proposed a "Third Way" between capitalism and socialism.)

Mrs Blair visits a medium named Sylvia Chaplin who can, according to a former client,

'bring the light down' and open channels with the dead. Mrs Blair regularly visits the mystic's 500,000 house in a gated park in Dorking. . . . 'There was a particularly active period in the summer when Sylvia was channelling for Cherie over two or three times a week, with almost daily contact between them,' the Mail reported. 'There were times when Cherie's faxes ran to 10 pages.'

You may think that this is silly but a private vice, but the article reveals that

New Age Labour has spilled out of Downing Street and blighted public policy. In January 1999, for instance, the Government recruited a feng shui consultant, Renuka Wickmaratne, to discover a magical way to improve inner-city estates without raising taxes.

'Red and orange flowers would reduce crime,' she concluded, 'and introducing a water feature would reduce poverty. I was brought up with this ancient knowledge.'

Three years later the Government announced that, for the first time since the creation of the NHS, 'alternative' remedies could be granted the same status as conventional treatments, despite the absence of evidence that they might cure the sick. According to the Sunday Times, 'The inclusion of Indian ayurvedic medicine, a preventative approach to healing using diet, yoga and meditation, is thought to have been influenced by Cherie Blair's interest in alternative therapy.'

Mrs. Blair

wears a 'magic pendant' known as the BioElectric Shield, which is filled with 'a matrix of specially cut quartz crystals' that surround the wearer with 'a cocoon of energy' and ward off evil forces

which was given to her by (you won't be surprised)

Hillary Clinton, another political spouse who combines the characteristic Third Way vices of sharp practice and bone-headedness.)

Both Mrs. Blair and Mrs. Clinton are lawyers, by the way.

Do read the whole article. The writer includes a silly comment about Christian belief being as absurd as the Blair/Clinton New Age wackiness, but still, he does amuse.

6:38 PM


A very, very useful lecture: "Sacred Vows, Public Purposes" by Dr. Bradford Wilcox, a member of the sociology department at the University of Virginia. In contrast to those, like Minnesota's governor Jesse Ventura (that giant of political thinking), who have argued that marriage is a purely private matter, he argues that the American founding fathers "saw marriage as a bulwark of social order and a 'seedbed of virtue' that the new republic could not do without," and that contemporary social science has proven them right.

Marriage promotes social order by regulating sexual and romantic relations, providing a long-term vehicle for the accumulation of property, and - most importantly - fostering a strong, lifelong bond between men and women that confers considerable social, economic, and spiritual benefits on any children that they have. Marriage is a seedbed of virtue insofar as its attendant virtues - fidelity, obligation, trust, and sacrifice - are modeled by parents to their children.

Likewise, marriage plays a unique role in turning single men away from the selfish and dangerous pursuits that often occupy them and toward the needs of their families, as evidenced by increases in hard work, sobriety, and law-abiding behavior among newly married men. More generally, studies suggest that the virtues cultivated between men and women in marriage radiate outward into civil society, furnishing married men and women with stronger habits of devotion to civic life than their unmarried peers.

He goes on to show that, as you would guess, the contemporary

dramatic departures from the norm of lifelong marriage in the United States since the 1960s - evidenced by increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock births - have had equally dramatic effects on the polity and the welfare of our citizens, especially children. Increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock births account for a substantial portion of the rise in crime, welfare expenditures, and court costs since the 1960s. One Brookings study found that the growth in single-parent families between 1970 and 1996 increased welfare expenditures by $229 billion.

Thus, the state has borne a heavy financial burden because of recent declines in the stability, prevalence, and quality of marriage. But children have been forced to bear an even heavier burden. By the time they reach adulthood, approximately 50 percent of the nation's children will spend some time outside of an intact, married family. Studies indicate that these children are significantly more likely than their peers in intact families to experience poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, psychological problems, and child abuse. Clearly, then, marriage is not a "private affair" without public consequence.

Dr. Wilcox then notes that

The Founders did not give the federal government the power to directly cultivate virtue because they believed that American civic institutions, especially religious institutions, were best equipped to take primary responsibility for the moral formation of citizens that was essential for the success of the nation

and asks whether, given the state of marriages today, these civic institutions can do what they are supposed to be doing. He includes an interesting discussion of the refusal of Christians involved in the "marriage movement" to speak as Christians in the public world. This leaves them making utilitarian arguments for marriage, which cannot explain or justify the sort of marriage public policy should support, and thus they turn to "therapeutic" arguments (marriage is good for you), which is a mistake:

The therapeutic approach's focus on marital satisfaction, as well as its use of health talk, can undercut the vocabulary and practice of marital virtue. Virtues like sacrifice, fidelity, and charity lose out to therapeutic terms like boundary-setting, feelings, and good communication.

To be sure, marriage advocates do attempt to integrate this therapeutic approach with some attention to the place of commitment and children in marriage. But children and commitment stand in an uneasy relation to a therapeutic model of marriage that privileges the expressive and emotional quality of the couple relationship.

He concludes with a thoughtful discussion of the problem of promoting marriage in a pluralistic society and the need for civic institutions to do what they ought. "Sacred Vows, Public Purposes" is a rich lecture worth a careful reading. It appears on the website of he Witherspoon Fellowship.

6:21 PM

Monday, May 19


An historian writes in response to "Military Christianity" (two blogs below):

The ending of your remarks put me in mind of something that the late Sir Geoffrey Elton of Cambridge University wrote some 23+ years ago in his article "The Real Thomas More?", published in Psychological Medicine (10 [1980], 611-617). The article is well worth reading (the fact that Elton was a totally lapsed atheist/agnostic Jew gives added "street cred" to his observations, as well as the fact that he was mildly anti-Catholic and basically didn't like More).

The quote from Elton runs:

If it is objected that the More I am describing - the deep pessimist about man and his nature - cannot be reconciled with the More we have heard so much about (a man full of human kindness and friendship), I reply that on the contrary this supposed contradiction supports my interpretation. Anyone so deeply conscious of the unhappy state of mankind in the mass is always likely to do what he can for particular specimens of it.

Believing that man has cast away grace does not necessarily make the believer into a misanthrope; and in his courteous and considerate behavious towards all and sundry More was only testifying to the compassion of his conservative instincts. Genuine conservatives despair of humanity but cherish individuals, even as true radicals, believing in man's capacity to better himself unaided, love mankind and express that love in hatred of particular individuals. I had better add that most of us oscillate between those extremes most of the time. More was more consistent.

12:57 PM


A curious story from today's Daily Telegraph: "Bullied George Orwell 'killed' Eton boy using black magic". It begins:

George Orwell spent his life believing that he had killed a fellow pupil at Eton using voodoo, according to a new biography.

The late Sir Steven Runciman, the medieval historian, revealed in a letter written shortly before his death that he and Orwell practised black magic on a wax effigy of Philip Yorke, an older boy who had been threatening and offensive.

They were horrified, however, when Yorke first broke his leg and then, months later, developed leukaemia and died.

10:15 AM


Perhaps of interest: an article from Saturday's Boston Glob: "A Christian community falters" on the collapse of a fundamentalist sect called the International Churches of Christ. It was founded by a Thomas "Kip" McKean, who

constructed a new kind of church based on a hierarchy some have likened to an Amway sales pyramid and others have compared to the military. Every church member has a superior called a ''discipler'' to hold him or her accountable for sins. Known as the Boston Church of Christ or the ''Boston Movement,'' the church attracted tens of thousands of members from all backgrounds, who later moved on to form the Manhattan Church of Christ, the Chicago Church of Christ, and hundreds of other churches, spreading to London, Sydney, Moscow, Nairobi, and other cities. . . .

But the system had a dark side: Those who failed to give 10 percent of their income or who couldn't recruit enough new members were publicly humiliated, according to former members. Those who questioned authority were shunned or kicked out.

The article reports that McKean was not an easy man to follow, for example expecting members to repent if they did not fight their way through a crowd to greet him and judging their spiritual worth by the members and money they brought in. But pride goeth before a fall, and he had declared to a meeting in 2000 that

"when a teen falls away [from the church] . . . there are some sinful dynamics in that family, and that family, that mom and dad, need to repent.''

Which was fine until his eldest child left the church. To his credit - assuming he was sincere, which the reader has no way of judging - McKean resigned and said in his resignation letter that

''I am very, very sorry. . . . 'My most significant sin is arrogance - thinking I am always right. . . . I take full responsibility for how my sins have spiritually weakened and embittered many in our churches. I also take full responsibility for the spiritual condition of my family.''

I have no idea whether McKean's group was a serious Christian enterprise gone badly wrong or a cult, as some accused it of being. But I have noticed that this sort of thing always seems to happen when some Christian leader tries to reinvent the wheel. I suppose that it is psychologically only a small step from the belief that you have the true Christianity that you must bring to the world to being a dominating and abusive leader.

Such, at least, was the lesson of Paul Johnson's very entertaining book Intellectuals, which revealed how ghastly were so many of the modern world's self-appointed prophets. They all loved mankind but not their wives or children or neighbors or creditors.

8:50 AM


If you are interested in church architecture, you may find of interest "A Machine for Believing", an article from today's New York Times Magazine on a new church in Munich, the Herz Jesu Kirche (roughly, Church of the Sacred Heart).

It is a very modern church but apparently simple and orderly. It looks - the article includes three pictures - infinitely better than most modern Catholic churches I have seen, which were designed by people with no taste and apparently no sense of what their religion requires. However, I must admit that such simplicity makes me nervous, because it is offered so often in the service of iconoclasm, by people (including Catholic liturgists and architects) who want so to "spiritualize" the Faith that it becomes a great and blowsy abstraction. Simple church buildings began blank convases upon which they can paint whatever picture they want.

But on the other hand I have been in some very old Catholic churches that seemed puritan in their simplicity, and were as emotionally affecting in their own way as the greatest Romanesque and Gothic churches are in theirs. I suppose one's response depends on the context and what one thinks is actually going on there, a meeting of the faithful with the Holy Trinity or a meeting of the (temporarily) gathered community to celebrate each other.

In better times, simplicity will be a good thing, but such simplicity as the Herz Jesu Kirche offers may be a problem in an age in which the culture strips out all signs and signals of the transcendent. Most of us need as many visual reminders as we can get.

8:33 AM

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