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Saturday, July 26

A good response to my recent blog on displaying the bodies of Saddam's sons from Jennifer Kee:

Yesterday I made the effort to find the photos of Uday and Qusay Hussein's
bodies on the Internet. I dreaded it knowing that the bodies were quite
damaged and, well, I don't really like looking at intact dead bodies let
alone battle torn bodies.

But I felt a duty to look upon them as a person who had actively prayed for
their demise. Somehow, to not seek out this evidence would be saying it did
not really matter one way or another in the end.

But it does matter. I don't believe it was wrong to pray for their deaths
as a Christian. But it is a serious undertaking to ask God to condemn
others to death and so should not be done lightly. The prospect of looking
into the cold faces of Uday and Qusay Hussein is very sobering, at least
for me.

Seeing these two once-powerful men exposed in death with nothing more than
a blue sheet and a funereal makeup job between them and the world helps
bring the gravity home to us as Americans, and more importantly, as

In other words, this was not a high five moment. Although I certainly do
not begrudge any jubilation the Iraqis may feel; they have already
experienced their own, more hellish gravity.

I expect to undergo the same quiet ceremony when Sadaam similarly falls.

6:40 PM


There has been a good deal of conversation, and disagreement, among the Touchstone editors on the meaning and morality of the photographic display of the corpses of Saddam Hussein's sons. My own view is that Christians can by no means consider it evil in se to display the corpses of executed criminals, which is precisely what, I believe, was intended by U.S. authorities.

The Mosaic law and its Islamic counterpart call for execution by stoning, by which is meant not only a public execution, but an execution by a participating public, and not simply the display of a corpse, but necessarily of a bloody, beaten corpse that has been killed by stones--in a condition, one would suppose, not unlike that of the bodies of Saddam's sons. Wherever this law is carried out among Muslims who believe they are following their religious law, there is no reasonable justification for calling the public display of the executed un-Muslim.

To believe this barbaric says little about one's religion but does identify a child of western liberalism. What a modern westerner views as barbaric may indeed be a symbol of a nation's decline into cruelty, but it may also be a sign that justice and reason are prevailing. The power of the sword given over by God to the magistrate and his operatives is the power to decapitate, and one of the marks of a just magistrate is that he will do this, and display the fact that he has done it, in public.

Parenthetically, what I have been hearing in this debate from decidedly non-Lutheran sources sounds very Lutheran to me. Such a heavy line is drawn between law and gospel that the God of the Old Testament is customarily treated as very different from that of the New. One finds in their Jesus a converted God, kinder, more merciful, less tribal, and less barbaric. It is one of the reasons why Lutheran theology is at such heavy odds with Calvinism, the tendency of which runs in the opposite direction.

2:08 PM

Friday, July 25


A marvelous article by Theodore Dalrymple, "What's Wrong with Twinkling Buttocks?" from the Summer 2003 issue of the City Journal. It begins:

A crude culture makes a coarse people, and private refinement cannot long survive public excess. There is a Gresham's law of culture as well as of money: the bad drives out the good, unless the good is defended.

In no country has the process of vulgarization gone further than in Britain: in this, at least, we lead the world. A nation famed not so long ago for the restraint of its manners is now notorious for the coarseness of its appetites and its unbridled and antisocial attempts to satisfy them. . . . Britain's mass bastardy is not a sign of an increase in the authenticity of our human relations but a natural consequence of the unbridled hedonism that leads in short order to chaos and misery, especially among the poor. Take restraint away, and violent discord follows.

Curiously enough, the revolution in British manners did not come about through any volcanic eruption from below: on the contrary, it was the intellectual wing of the elite that kicked against the traces. It is still doing so, though there are very few traces left to kick against.

This fairly standard opening does not prepare you for the - what can I say? - perfect analysis that follows: it is restrained, judicious, realistic, and devastating. He relates, with proper detail and examples, the development of the culture of crudity and explains quite clearly the purpose and value of restraints. I could keep quoting him but you'd do much better to go to the site and read the article through. If you want an article to explain to an interested friend why you believe in such things as manners and morals, this is the article to giv him. Dalrymple does quote some quite rude things, I should warn you.

And while you're at it, look at his "Black-eyed Monster" from The Spectator on "the increase in sexual jealousy and the violence that follows." He is, again, right.

My thanks to D. B. Hart for the links. See "Beautiful Truth" for a description of his new book, The Beauty of the Infinite.

8:53 AM


the busy pastor and the layman exasperated by the sermons he hears on Sundays (of whom there must be millions): Fr. Francis Gardom's Sermon Salad, a selection of over 200 sermons of his sermons for nearly every occasion. The writer is an experienced priest in the Church of England with both Catholic and Evangelical sides to his thinking and preaching.

And he is - I say this in the interest of total disclosure - a friend. My praise is nevertheless genuine. When my friends do badly, I simply keep a tactful silence. (Which means that some friends reading this are suddenly thinking, "He's never mentioned me on Mere Comments . . ." and starting to cry. Sorry. Remember it may be just an oversight.)

I looked at the site when a friend forwarded Fr. Gardom's "The passing of Richard Roe". This I would recommend as a thoughtful and stimulating study of how Christians ought to relate to those who have no interest in religion whatsoever. It begins with the story of one such man, Richard Roe, then examines how the churches in his area have tried to reach him, and concludes by reflecting on what the churches ought to do, or not do, to reach him.

I skimmed through the list and read a few of the sermons, all of which I enjoyed. One I particularly liked is "Fortune", preached on I John 3:1-2 and John 10:11-18. Fr. Gardom begins by explaining how the ancients were left believing in fortune or destiny to give them some place in the universe, which of course was not very satisfactory. Then Christianity came along and answered there questions in a much better way.

So let's read again what St John wrote to his fellow-believers in answer to the questions which up till then they had been asking the seers: "Who am I really?; and "What is going to happen to me?"; and "What shall become of me?" This is what St John says in reply to these three questions: "My dear people, we are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is that when it is revealed we shall be like [Jesus Christ] because we shall see him as he really is." That, in a nutshell, sums up the Christian faith.

Because "in Christ" God has made us his children and "with Christ" we have both "died to sin" and been "raised to life eternal". We are no longer like lost orphans of the storm wondering "who are we really?" and "does anyone love us?" For God, in Christ has "begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead", as St Peter puts it.

It's true, of course, as St John points out, that we don't know all the answers about our future, those things that the seers and horoscopes claimed to tell their clients.

But that surely is a small price to pay in uncertainty for the certainty of the hope offered to us by God in Jesus Christ: for as John says, "we do know that we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is." St John was one of those who could claim to have "seen him as he really is". As Jesus beloved disciple he had witnessed not only his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension but also his transfiguration on the mountainside early one morning when the veil, so to speak, was pulled aside for a few seconds so that Peter and James and John caught a fleeting glimpse of Jesus "as he really is".

But it wasn't only about their final destiny that John wanted to tell his readers and hearers. He could tell them what they are here and now. For he had also heard and remembered the words of Jesus which he recorded in the Gospel reading this morning "I am the good shepherd . . . I know my own sheep and they know me . . . I lay down my life for the sheep . . . all those who listen to me will be one flock under one shepherd . . . I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full."

I liked this in part because it presents the gospel as the answer to questions people were actually asking then, which are of course questions they are once again asking today. I've heard I don't know how many attempts to make the gospel "relevant" by preachers who did not seem to know that it is relevant without their help.

But I don't mean to deny the importance of good preaching. It is good for a preacher to do as Fr. Gardom has done and make clear what the gospel says to people - in addition to deepening their faith, it will encourage his listeners in their faith and help them share it with others. The sermon lays things out well and the listener should leave the service having grown not only in knowledge but in confidence.

The sermon made think about preaching. We are given the gift of good preachers to help us see more clearly and deeply what is there, but I also think that people hear the good news in the gospel preached by itself - in the story retold, or shared, without setting the context, as Fr. Gardom did so ably. The more sensitive among the un- or barely churched are asking basic questions, even if they don't ask them consciously, and they hear the answer to their questions in Jesus' words, even if the words are not presented explicitly as the answer. The wise man knows he is lost, though he may well not know why or where he is lost, and he can recognize a guide when he sees one.

As John Henry Newman's personal motto puts it, heart speaks to heart, and often the heart hears what the mind does not know to listen for. This it is that gives the Word preached such power, I think.

8:44 AM

Thursday, July 24


My friend and our associate editor Louis Tarsitano writes in response to "Dating the Priesthood":

I think that this rather mindlessly depraved young woman must think that she's "too hip for the room," but the matter is simple enough: 1) Dating (as opposed to serious, sober courting) has always been a bad idea, practically and morally; 2) the Canons of 1603 would forbid her resort to public houses even if she were a man; 3) despite the lack of civil sanctions to enforce the canons in the USA, the traditional approach, except among slobs, was seemliness and good example.

I regret to say, however, that a requirement of clerical celibacy isn't the magic bullet in this case. I can remember any number of Roman Catholic priests who were quite active on the "dating scene," with the one caveat to their dates that if they stayed in the priesthood they could not marry them. This was, of course, in my salad days as a Roman, but I don't see much evidence of any real change since then - there are the good men who keep their vows and the creeps who do not. I suppose that this is true of any discipline.

Lou is a priest of the Anglican Church in America, serving Saint Andrew's Church in Savannah, Georgia.

1:56 PM


Courtesy of the June 2003 issue of Forum Letter, the excellent Lutheran newsletter that annoyingly does not have a website, a passage from Reinhold Niebuhr's Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. He is talking about his trip to southern California in 1925.

Out here on the Pacific coast, particularly in Los Angeles, one is forcibly impressed with the influence of environment upon religion. Every kind of cult seems to flourish in Los Angeles, and most of them are pantheistic. Every sorry oriental nostrum is borrowed in the vain effort to give meaning to pointless lives and to impart a thrill to vacuous existences.

The pantheism is partly due, no doubt, to the salubrious nature of the southern Californian climate. Wherever nature is unusually benignant, men tend to identify God with the natural world and to lose all moral vigor in the process. . . . But that is hardly the whole explanation.

There are too many retired people in Los Angeles. They left the communities where their personalities had some significance in order to vegetate on these pleasant shores. In this sorry and monotonous existence they try to save their self-respect by grasping for some religious faith which will not disturb their ease by any too rigorous ethical demands.

This makes sense to me, both the effect of climate and the effect of migration. I personally prefer the vigorously ethical Deism induced by New England winters, though I must admit to a deep loathing for Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's not silly and it gets things done. It's an awful thing when it goes bad - the people who were abolitionists in the nineteenth century are abortion activists now - but at least when it goes bad it doesn't get any worse, morally speaking, than southern Californian pantheism is at the beginning.

One of my dearest friends is a southern Californian, by the way, though I suppose that's not going to assuage the wrath of his peers. Rebuttals will be published.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Forum Letter - edited by Pr. Russell Saltzman, who I am very happy to say writes for us from time to time - is published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, which also publishes a theological quarterly called Lutheran Forum.

8:53 AM


An interesting memoir on an unusual subject, "So a priest walks into a bar", by Ms. Astrid Storm, a young Episcopal minister who explains how difficult it is to date when you're ordained. Unfortunately, the whole article is only available to subscribers (I don't subscribe, but a friend sent it to me).

She complains that her seminary did not prepare her for this problem - because, you guessed it, the church doesn't like talking about sex, though she belongs to a church that talks about little else. She suggests that

Maybe role-playing scenarios would have helped:

1. Your new boyfriend says it's a real turn-on to imagine what you don't have on under your Eucharistic vestments while you celebrate the Mass. How do you respond?

2. You're out of massage oil, and the only thing you can find in the house is your holy oil for anointing. Can you use it?

I think the examples an ill-judged exaggeration, and that she is not speaking from experience, as she says later that she is a "traditionalist" on the question of sex before marriage, though she also says "I would also support any priest who pushed the envelope a bit" and predicts, and seems to approve, a more relaxed policy some time in the future. So what does she do for now?

My present strategy, then, is ambiguity. I usually let my date know that we can date and that I don't have to stay celibate, vague information that lets me string them along for a while. A little mystery is always good to fan the flame of an early romance. And beside, in my case, true confessions right away probably wouldn't get me a second date. Since dates can turn into friendships (and most of us priests are desperate for those, too), why cut things off too hastily, right?

She is right that ministers dating is a sticky subject, but judging from her treatment of it the answer seems either clerical celibacy or the Eastern discipline - practiced by both Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox - that a priest must be married before he's ordained or stay celibate after. (Priests whose wives die cannot remarry, for the same reasons.) There is something about romance that detracts, and distracts, from the pastoral calling.

8:49 AM

Wednesday, July 23


Dallas Morning News editorial writer (and one of our contributing editors) Rod Dreher reports on Baylor University's attempt to become more Christian in "Baylor a beacon for intellectual Christians". The president, Dr. Robert Sloan, though slandered by the usual subjects as a "fundamentalist," is trying

an audacious and much-needed experiment in American higher education and religious life. . . . As Dr. Sloan told me, "If you're not intentional about your identity, you can't maintain it. I've never seen a school slide into Christian orthodoxy."

Echoing a scholarly Christian conviction as old as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Sloan refuses to accept the dominant post-Enlightenment view that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Baylor 2012 is his bold attempt to show how they are complementary and how a religious university can speak to the broader culture from an intellectually sound but morally distinct vantage point. The plan doesn't impose dogma on scholarly inquiry but tries, in the tradition of Christian humanism, to ask how the knowledge mined in various academic disciplines fits into the broad Christian vision - and vice versa.

The rest of the article is quite cheering. Three cheers for Dr. Sloan.

It is disheartening, in a way, that secularizing Christians are so bad at invective that all they can hurl at such a man is the bogey-word "fundamentalist." Their intellectual sloth tempts the rest of us to grow lazy.

6:41 PM


A friend sent on George Orwell's translation of the famous passage from Ecclesiastes into what he called "modern English." He sent only the quotes as they appear in another book, but the passage appears in his great essay "Politics and the English Language," and I have pulled the book off the shelf to give you the full version.

Here is the well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Here it is in modern English:

"Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must inevitably be taken into account."

This is a parody, but not a very gross one.

You can find the essay in the paperback Selected Essays and in the fourth volume of the four volume set Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (pages 127-140). The former may still be in print and can often be found in used book sellers.

I have my writing students read the essay the first week of class, because it analyses so well the way ideological commitments - which real religious commitments can easily become - corrupt one's language. I think every preacher and writer ought to read it at least every six months. The sense of being on God's side is bad for your prose, even if you are on God's side.

Let me give the six rules for writing Orwell offers at the end of the essay. These will help the writer "cut out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally." The six are:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is at all possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I tell my students to follow the first five rules without question, because few of them write well enough to know when to break them. Orwell thought too highly of his readers when he gave them the latitude the sixth rule provides.

Anyway, it is an essay I highly recommend. And if you're interested in reading more on the subject, you may want to read (pardon the egotism) my To See Truly Through a Glass Darkly: C. S. Lewis, George Orwell, and the Corruption of Language, which first appeared in the July/August issue and as a chapter in the book on Lewis I edited, The Pilgrim's Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans).

6:31 PM


Fr. Addison Hart, a Catholic priest and contributing editor to the magazine, and also brother of the Anglican Fr. Robert Hart featured in the next entry, sends the link for an article titled "Sex is increasingly more hazardous to our health". The headline writer does not really mean that inclusive "our." Or he might, but he shouldn't, since he is talking about people who do things they should not be doing, which brings with it particular risks those doing what they should be doing don't face.

Fr. Hart introduces the story by noting that:

Here's a piece that illustrates the nature of divine law. "Law" is not merely that which is codified by human institutions, but is that mysterious property intrinsic to the original goodness of all things made by the good Creator. "Law" is not "made" by man, only discovered by him and reasonably applied to concrete situations.

Where sex is concerned (the subject of this article), this simply means: "You can't go on abusing it by doing aberrant things with it and not risk suffering the consequences." There's an inbuilt "brick wall" in nature which - eventually - you will slam up against with devastating effect if you keep on ignoring it. After all, this is God's universe, not ours, and, at the end of the day, it runs according to His laws.

The article begins with the news that:

15 million Americans will contract an STD this year. Half of the women experiencing their first sexual encounter get a disease to remember it by. More than 8,000 teenagers a day get infected. Nearly one in four people over the age of 12 already has a variety of genital herpes, and experts anticipate that 50 percent of white American men will be infected in the future. . . .

These are not your mom's and dad's STDs, either, curable with a shot of penicillin. Forty years ago, gonorrhea and syphilis were the only commonly known STDs; now there are more than 50. Many are incurable. Some can kill you. One - AIDS - will kill you.

A 2002 British study concluded that a substantial majority of sexually active women now have one of the 100 strains of human papilloma virus, or HPV. There are now nearly 16,000 new cases of cervical cancers a year and 5,000 deaths, with HPV a principal risk factor. Other HPV strains can cause penile and anal cancers, so men are not safe, either.

And the most important news:

the concept of safe sex through condom use has now been seriously qualified. The National Institutes of Health convened a panel of experts to review the medical evidence of condoms' protection against disease. They do reduce the risk of contracting HIV and gonorrhea.

But the reviewed studies weren't designed well enough to produce definitive conclusions about condoms' protective abilities against the other 48 diseases. In any case, many STDs are transmitted skin to skin, which dodges condoms anyway. And oral sex, a favorite of teenagers who regard it as safe, can transmit them all.

When the "safe sex" propaganda began, a few voices pointed out the obvious limitations of condoms but were drowned out by people who, as far as one can tell, had to believe that there was a way to continue living the sexual lives they wanted without cost, and were willing to pretend that condoms were the answer even though they obviously weren't. Now, at last, people are beginning to admit this.

All this reminds me: we went to Washington last week to look at colleges with our eldest. One night abt 11 I turned on the tv in our hotel room - often interesting, sociologically, since we never watch it at home - and flipped through the channels. It was mostly news, sports, movies, and stupid games. But at HBO, I found hardcore pornography.Three stark naked women and one . . . never mind. It was viler than you might think, let me say.

I was so shocked it took me a second or two to realize what I was seeing. Here it was, for anyone to see. Children included. On an easily accessible channel. Even I was stunned.

Don't leave your children alone in the hotel room, trusting that the accessible channels will not show something objectionable. HBO was showing something as objectionable as it could possibly be, brought to you by the Holiday Inn, where children under twelve eat free! and then go back to their room to watch three stark naked women and . . .

7:24 AM


Fr. Robert Hart writes, in response to yesterday's "Hollywood Images":

Ah, careful now. The 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) provides the best summary of why, on the basis of the Incarnation, we must not confuse all images with idols. I will concede that even in the era of classic movies some actors were called idols, and perhaps treated as such in the private thoughts of weak minds practicing adoration.

But, classic movies, though I will not call them "high culture", were quite often rather good entertainment with a compelling moral message. It is very easy to dismiss a medium, especially TV, because so much garbage can be dumped into our living rooms as to leave a stench for lengthy periods. But, just as books can be trash or great literature, so can any medium be either used or abused.

Even the most immoral of actors, such as the womanizing Gary Cooper, was nonetheless made in the image of God. As he appeared in "High Noon" we see a hero, a man willing to give his life for the undeserving, willing to lose everything that matters to him because of principle.

We see the image of God, the unmistakable icon which reminds us of the ultimate hero and perfect icon, Jesus Christ. Like everything else, there are sacramental implications and theological principles that make even entertainment media a topic bigger than itself.

7:15 AM

Tuesday, July 22


Another contribution to our string on choirs and church music, which began with my "Ruined Choirs", this one from the syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly, whose columns I have frequently recommended.

On the Bare Ruined Choir theme, I would like to offer a few comments as a churchman and as a mass-media professor. I also speak as someone who has made the journey from a Southern Baptist choir loft, through renewal music and into Eastern Orthodoxy.

I was struck, and wrote a column about, by some recent stats out of the George Barna organization (click here). What is emerging in most evangelical Protestant settings is a kind of FM radio dial worship, with a long series of cultural choirs that change with the sales patterns on the Contemporary Christian Music charts. Where once printing-press era hymnals changed every few generations, the "worship music" industry now cranks out products to fit the needs of corporate stockholders and the Billboard charts. It cannot function in another way, in a culture in which the purpose of popular music is to divide us into narrowly defined niche markets of age, gender, zip code, etc.

The results are obvious to anyone trying to lead worship that creates a unified Body of believers. The marketplace is not based on unity. What most people call the "worship wars" are actually the contemporary vs. 1950s music wars.

I say all this as someone who loves a wide variety of music, from Bach to bluegrass, from unison chant to U2.

I am a guitarist who loves the old hymns of the mountains and Celtic music, as well. I find musical elitism to be disgusting. I also spent years in concert stage level choirs and my heart craves traditional chant and anthems. Forced to choose one CD for a desert island I would go nuts crazy between a collection of Bruckner motets and the Rachmaninoff "Vespers."

Yet would these classics help a congregation unite in worship? Not really. They would not promote public participation. They would not promote congregational singing.

The central question, of course, does not center on "music." It centers on "worship" and, dare I say, "Communion." In Orthodox music we sing with the choirs of heaven as well as with the generations gathered in sung prayer before the iconostasis for any given Divine Liturgy.

This is not about trends. It is about eternity.

But please consider this comment, from Bishop Basil of the Antiochian Orthodox archdiocese. I struggled with a variety of musical issues as I pondered the leap to Orthodoxy. So friends encouraged me to give him a call.

The bishop told me that it may help to remember that Christians need all kinds of music to express their faith. They need music for festivals and dances and parties, as well as for worship. Perhaps our problem today is we think that all kinds of music must be accepted into worship, in order to help us express our faith. What we need, he said, is a vital musical culture that thrives outside of worship, as well as inside worship. We need to see that there are different kinds of Christian music that can be used in different settings.

Thus struck a chord in me. We need music for folk festivals as well as formal worship. We need the stillness of the sanctuary as well as the almost frantic joy of a wedding party.

We need it all. But we need the right music, for the right place, at the right time.

If we seek this, we will be able to raise our voices in harmony with the choirs that sing outside of time.

2:44 PM


In Europe grows hostage to its Muslims, Uwe Siemon-Netto, United Press International's religion reporter, reports that

According to the German media, secret Shari'a courts appear to be meting out "justice" in Italy. In that country's north a man known to Muslims as a sex fiend recently showed up with a hand missing. It had obviously been amputated as punishment.

Italian doctors report treating Muslim women who had evidently been lashed. Consider: In France about 70,000 young women, chiefly Muslim, are being subjected to forced marriages every year, according to the country's High Council for Integration. Every year, too, 35,000 girls are either circumcised or under threat of circumcision, HCI related.

. . . there are between 12 million and 16 million Muslims living in the European Union's 15 member states, "more than in most Arab countries."

He goes on to analyze the effects of the Muslim population upon the political life and choices of these countries. One scholar, Michael Radu of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, claims that the Turkish vote kept Gerhard Schroeder chancellor of Germany, and most of us can guess at the effect of France's five or six million Muslims upon its foreign policy.

Many Muslims are not being assimilated, as the sociologists once predicted. Once people argued that modernity would prove too powerful to resist and that "sectarian" identities would disappear. This made sense when looking at secularizing Christians in Western countries, but modernity has not proved completely effective in denaturing Islam among immigrants in Western countries. (This is my summary, not the writer's.)

In France, for example, argues Dr. Radu, half the young "are almost indistinguishable from their non-Muslim contemporaries," but the other half

reject the French identity. They reject their immigrant parents' national identity. They see them selves not as Frenchmen but as Muslims."

And these young people, about 1 million, are "very vulnerable to recruitment by radicals."

And, Siemon-Netto concludes, secularized Europe - what he calls "post-post-religious" Europe - has nothing to counter the appeal of Islam. What a professor of Islamic studies at Marburg University, Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, calls "softy clerics," are of no use.

If the old insight is true that the most efficacious antidote to a bad idea can only be a good idea, then Europe's and, to some extent, America's churches are not living up to expectations.

. . . Spuler-Stegemann and others, this writer included, find an enormous spiritual quest among Europe's young. But this thirst for God is not sufficiently quenched by clerics stuck in 19th-century theological rationalism and inclined to embrace fads.

He points to the

new sprouts of faith everywhere on the Old Continent: evangelical Anglicans in England, spiritually hungry Catholics and Protestants in France, blossoming new faith communities in almost every major European city, including in Germany, which spawned theological rationalism two centuries ago.

That's where the future of a healthy dialogue with Islam lies - not in the cheap sellout of the faith that made Europe what it is, but in its rebirth.

In other words, to the problem of unassimilated and hostile Muslims in Western countries, the answer is the usual one: faithfulness and submission to God's will. I think most of us westerners, however consciously orthodox in our faith, have absorbed the Western faith in technique and technology, and are always somewhat disappointed to find that there is not technical answer to a problem. But there you are.

11:14 AM


The movie Gods and Generals is now out on video and dvd (the latter being preferable as it includes some interesting special features as well as the movie). My comments on the movie at its theatrical release started a long string of comments, which you may interesting. Here they are, more or less in chronological order:

- my review of the movie;

- Patrick Reardon's response to a friend's comment on my review;

- Addison Hart's response to my review, which begins "Not too bad, friend, coming from a Yankee";

- another comment by Patrick Reardon, reflecting on two reviewers' judgments;

- a third comment by Patrick Reardon, this one on the nature of the south;

- an anonymous dissent to my comments;

- another comment by Patrick Reardon, including a quotation from Addison Hart;

- Louis Tarsitano's comments;

- Robert Hart's criticism of the anonymous dissenter;

- a reader's response to Robert Hart; and

- a link to an interesting review.

10:03 AM


An provocative response (I mean provocative as in provoking thought, not provoking annoyance) to yesterday's "Miss Hepburn's Appeal", from a lawyer and communications consultant in Austin, Texas:

Check out also the article in the July 14-21 New Yorker on Hepburn. It makes a plausible case, unlike the rather fawning new biography, that coming from a family with strong pro-contraceptive ideals and a lot of denial, she ended up death-identified, arrested in development, and very, very sad.

Conservatives adore classic movies, it's about the only generally respected high culture we have left. At the same time (and I pooh poohed this for a long time), the split between the image and the reality in Hollywood begins to exemplify the slippery spiritual/psychological footing we are on in blithely ignoring the Second Commandment.

We are drowning in images, and it is not just a matter of their content.

9:48 AM

Monday, July 21


I was discussing with several friends the late Katherine Hepburn's movies, and it occurred to me that there is a great irony to her extraordinary appeal. As all the obituaries have made clear, she had an open affair with another woman's husband and after her failed marriage never bothered to try again. (And not for moral reasons, either.)

Much of her appeal, and the appeal of her movies, is that she played a difficult woman who finds a man to love her, presumably permanently. In The African Queen, for example. No one would have gone to see a movie about a woman like her.

2:43 PM


A site you may find of interest, dedicated to the man who seems to have invented the phrase "mere Christianity": Richard Baxter: Mere Christian. The links page includes links to many of the great Puritan writer's sermons and articles on him.

You will find, I think, a great deal of wisdom, especially pastoral and spiritual wisdom, in the great Puritan divines. I am one who tends hiss at the name "Oliver Cromwell," but leaving that unfortunate episode aside, the Puritan divines themselves knew the human heart and said much wise about it. J. I. Packer's book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life is a good introduction to their thought.

2:35 PM


For some reason, some messages appear twice for a time, and then the duplicate disappears. This must be a problem with the software. Please ignore the second message.

9:11 AM


An enjoyable article by our contributing editor Rod Dreher, The token man: the taming of the dude, from the Independent Women's Forum newsletter. It begins:

My guy pals were raising their glasses to me at our favorite saloon in Fort Lauderdale. I had flown the previous weekend to Austin, Texas, a ring in my pocket, and returned with the promise of marriage in a year's time. I was, of course, exhilarated.

But something was wrong. The bar had lost its gloss. I was jumpy, bored, restless. What was the point of sitting here, working on a hangover? My friends were great, and this was the best bar in town. So why did I feel as if I were drinking a flat Coke?

This is a story about the taming of the dude. My fiancee, Julie, was in college halfway across the country, but putting that ring on her finger had broken the spell of the pick-up bar. It had been years since I'd actually picked up someone in a bar, mind you. A conversion to Catholicism does tend to rein in the bad boy. But I still went out all the time. What else could I do? Stay home?

Hey, my True Love might turn up any night, I told myself. We might discover our joint destiny sipping bourbon, talking about God and the movies, and uttering witty imprecations against modernity. If Walker Percy were a young bachelor, wouldn't he be doing the same thing?

But the desire to go out had almost vanished since the day I met Julie in an Austin bookstore. I'd assumed I'd want to get in as much carousing as possible before I was lashed to hearth and home. But I was wrong. The e-word (emasculation) came up among my unmarried male pals. But I didn't care. Something subtle, inchoate but real was happening: I wasn't like them anymore.

The Independent Women's Forum can be found here. I think most of you will find it interesting and helpful.

9:06 AM


An interesting report from a friend, staying for a couple of weeks in a hotel near the University of London. She is reporting on a breakfast conversation with a Hindu economist:

I was somewhat surprised, when he said that those who perform or publicly advocate abortions must have done something terribly wrong in their past lives and been re-born as devils. I replied that from a Catholic viewpoint, they have unwittingly made themselves the instruments of devils but are not devils themselves. But I was glad to meet an academic who still believes in devils.

He also mentioned a guru in India who had promoted a laissez-faire morality and drawn many Westerners. I didn't catch his name.

9:04 AM

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