Touchstone Magazine HomeHome
Touchstone's Editors on news & events of the day.with Patrick Henry ReardonOrder our publications...Speakers bureau, Chicago Lecture Series, and more...Browse back issues...All the information you need



Touchstone's editors on news and events of the day.

E-mail your comments

Saturday, August 9

DAY CARE DAZE:

Today's un-p.c. recommendation: "Bring back the stay-at-home mom" by Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. In it, he describes a new book, Brian C. Robertson's Day Care Deception, which

marshals the overwhelming evidence about the risks of day care and explains why much of academia and the media try to cover it up. Any negative information about the effects of day care is considered out of bounds because it will upset one of liberalism's most sainted groups: working mothers, whom feminists adore as the vanguard of their assault on the "patriarchy."

The drumroll of day care's negative effects on kids includes higher rates of illness, including acute respiratory illness, ear infections and diarrhea; insecure attachment to their mothers; more aggressive behavior; and in the case of children of well-educated mothers placed in poor-quality care, slowed cognitive development.


I am sure this is true, and other studies in the past have made the same claims. Children are supposed to grow up with their families around all day, and particularly with their mothers. This is something every other culture but ours (modern western society and its imitators) seems to know.

This is a dangerous thing to note, however, even in conservative Christian circles, because so many women work outside the home when they really don't need to. You can get your head snapped off by making the mildest of critical remarks about daycare from women you would have expected to cheer you on. And their husbands. The intensity of the reaction suggests guilt.

That said, we cannot let fathers off the hook. They may need to be away during the day, but they ought not to be too far away if they can help it, and when they are home they must be fully home, the office forgotten and all their attention focused on their wife and children. If they expect their wife to give up the pleasures of the business world they ought to be willing to give them up themselves - to remain a middle-level administrator if becoming a vice-president would keep them away from their families.

Of course this would leave the upper levels of business manned by single people and negligent fathers, but I don't know what to do about that.


5:08 PM


"ORTHODOX" HIRELINGS:

It has long been my theory that just as housing subdivisions are customarily named for what was destroyed to build them (Whispering Woods, Otter Creek, and the like), so churches often name themselves either by what they are not, or by where they have gone wrong. My friend Steve Westfall, an Episcopalian layman from Naperville, Illinois, offers this corroborating view on the last General Convention of the Episcopal Church:

Amid all the uproar about the recent actions of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in confirming the election of a non-celibate homosexual to become bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, and to allow local-option decisions about the blessing of same-sex unions, let's not lose sight of the real cause of the problem. While the anger of traditionalists has rightly been directed at those who are foisting these departures from the apostolic faith onto the church, the greatest responsibility must be assigned not to the liberal leaders who are, after all, merely following the wisdom of contemporary culture and their own lights about what they believe to be just and right, but to those conservative, "orthodox" bishops who, over the last century, repeatedly failed to take steps to maintain apostolic faith and practice within that part of the church over which they had been made shepherds.

Bishop James Pike of California was not the first heretic in the Episcopal Church, but he raised it to greater visibility than any of his predecessors, scandalizing the church in the 1950s and 1960s with his denial of central Christian doctrines, including the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Virgin Birth of Christ, and turning eventually to spiritism and séances. (Ideas have consequences.) The House of Bishops, while censuring him, allowed him to continue in his position of influence.

When some Episcopal bishops in the 1970s began ordaining women even before this innovation had been approved by the church's governing body, the inaction of the remaining bishops demonstrated to all that no discipline would be exercised by the shepherds of the church against those who offend its faith and order.

When some bishops began ordaining as priests people who were known to engage in homosexual relations, the House of Bishops passed a resolution declaring such ordinations inappropriate, but it failed to discipline the bishops involved.

By the time Bishop John Spong of the diocese of Newark began churning out his publications in the 1980s and 1990s denying most features of the apostolic faith, it was far too late to close the barn door. The horses had already escaped. Liberals far outnumber conservatives now in the House of Bishops. More anecdotes could be cited, but by now everyone concerned is familiar with the long history of inaction on the part of the bishops of the Episcopal Church.

Which leads me to wonder whether it's really appropriate to use the term "orthodox," as I did earlier, to describe these bishops. Yes, they continued to affirm, unlike Pike and Spong, the historic creeds and did not support the innovations. But Holy Scripture clearly teaches that immorality, unrepented of, has spiritual consequences: It will condemn one to hell. Bishops are charged with teaching that. But these bishops failed to restrain and counter those who overturn the teaching of scripture about what is moral and what is not, and the result of bad teaching is behavior that causes people not to inherit the Kingdom of God. (Ideas have consequences.)

So, yes, I'm angry about the suicide of my denomination, by its decision to depart from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church. But most of my anger is reserved for those who could have done something to prevent it and didn't. May God grant them the grace to repent of their sin.


5:06 PM


MORE ON "THE PASSION":

Another interesting Jewish contribution to the debate on Mel Gibson's movie The Passion, this one by the National Review editor Jonah Goldberg: "Gibson's film ignites passion, irony". He knows that some Christians have used the argument that Jews killed Jesus to justify brutalizing them, but asks

what if it's true that some Jews were culpable in Jesus' crucifixion? It seems pretty obvious that some Jews were, in fact, in on it. And, it's equally obvious that some Jews weren't (Jesus, after all, was Jewish). That's why I insist on putting quotation marks around "the Jews," because such a collectivity only exists in the minds of those who cannot see Jews as individuals.

To blame Jewish people for Jesus' death is a stupid and an un-Christian idea, he notes, and continues:

Of course, fear of hypocrisy didn't stop some Christians at different times and places from making the lives of Jews miserable. Some Christians persecuted Jews out of a misguided effort to save their souls. More often the persecution was based in a desire for vengeance or simply out of hatred. And that hatred endures. In fact, it will endure regardless of what this movie says.

. . . Even if there is zero anti-Semitism in Gibson's heart or in his movie, that won't change the fact that "The Passion" will probably stir up Jew-hatred among some folks who are so inclined. I don't see why that fact should keep Gibson from making his movie. And as to whether it is worth making the movie in the first place, well, we can't answer that question until we see the film.


For other comments on the movie, see the blog with David Horowitz's comments and the one with Barbara Nicolosi's comments.


5:00 PM


SEXUAL COMMUNION:

One more thing on the Episcopal Church you may enjoy, an article by one of my favorite writers, Mark Steyn, writing in the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Among other insights in "Anglicans seem to take a sacrament as whatever turns you on", he offers this one, which I think right bang on:

The peculiar obsession of the dying Anglican churches of Britain, America and Canada with homosexuality is a kind of transformation. Having lost the masses, the Church has found a niche demographic and it's desperately trying to re-package its old inventory. And, if in their need to endow their gay fetish with spiritual purpose, they sound a little loopy, bear with 'em. The Bishop of Maryland, for example, made a painful attempt to square the awkward Biblical strictures on homosexuality with Bishop Robinson's vigorous sex life. His line is that God isn't against gay sex per se, just gay sex practised by heterosexual men. Really.

He quotes Bishop-elect Gene Robinson's defense of his life, which consisted mainly of saying having sex with his boyfriend let him express "the deep love that's in my heart." In his boyfriend's "unfailing and unquestioning love of me," Robinson told the General Convention, "I experience just a little bit of the kind of never-ending, never-failing love that God has for me. So it's sacramental for me."

Steyn then concludes, rightly, that:

The bishop would seem to be comparing gay sex not with anything so footling as the Sacrament of Marriage, but with the Anglican Church's two "Sacraments ordained of Christ" - that's to say, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, through which one experiences "God's good will towards us" and "by which He doth work invisibly in us".

If Bishop Robinson feels God working invisibly in him during gay sex, good luck to him. In older times, he and his partner would have set up their own church founded on the principle thereof. But back then the Anglican Church still understood itself to be part of the Kingdom of God, not a federation of self-esteeming cantons where a sacrament is whatever turns you on. Bishop Robinson got the Church to endorse not just his gayness but his narcissism.


11:12 AM


HIROSHIMA TRANSFIGURED:

Three days late, but an interesting reminder of a world-historical event that happened on the Feast of the Transfiguration 48 years ago: an article from the August 6th, 1945 issue of The New York Times on the bombing of Hiroshima.

My thanks for the link to Jim Forest of the In Communion.


11:01 AM


Friday, August 8

RECOMMENDED READING:

Appearing in the August issue of Imprimis is "Freedom and Its Counterfeit", Robert George's commencement address to the graduates of Hillsdale College this spring. Robby is an associate editor of McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. After his introductory remarks, it begins:

True freedom consists in the liberation of the human person from the shackles of ignorance, oppression and vice. Thus it was that one hundred and fifty years ago this July 4, Edmund B. Fairfield, president of Hillsdale, speaking at a ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of a new college building, declared that education, by lifting a man out of ignorance, "disqualifies him from being a slave." What overcomes ignorance is knowledge, and the object of knowledge is truth - empirical, moral, spiritual. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

True freedom, the freedom that liberates, is grounded in truth and ordered to truth and, therefore, to virtue. A free person is enslaved neither to the sheer will of another nor to his own appetites and passions. A free person lives uprightly, fulfilling his obligations to family, community, nation and God. By contrast, a person given over to his appetites and passions, a person who scoffs at truth and chooses to live, whether openly or secretly, in defiance of the moral law is not free. He is simply a different kind of slave.


1:52 PM


A REPORT FROM HELL:

In "I was in Hell", Huw Raphael tells of his life as a homosexual man in an Episcopal parish in San Francisco and his gradual discovery of the hope he found in the Gospel and the sexual life it requires, one that God makes it possible to live. Highly recommended.


12:40 PM


TAKE ME!

An interesting comment on bishop-elect Gene Robinson from Edward Bridle, writing from Australia:

I notice from the coverage of the debacle at General Convention that Gene Robinson's supporters and friends were congratulating him as though he had won a prize - and he himself was visibly elated. What happened to the principle nolo episcopari?

When St Anselm was made Archbishop of Canterbury, he was decoyed unwittingly to court, not knowing what was planned for him, and then had to be held down bodily while they pried open his clenched fists to put the episcopal staff into his hand and the ring on his finger. When St Chad was told he had not been properly consecrated to the episcopate, he humbly replied that he had never wanted to be a bishop in the first place, and would, if allowed, happily return to the obscurity of his monastery.

What a contrast with this man, who has grasped - not once, but twice - at a bishopric, not only with eagerness but, it appears, with a complete lack of shame.


As an Episcopal layman I always felt slightly embarrassed by the eagerness with which even good men pursued the episcopate, and many times felt deeply ashamed of men who abandoned their principles - and, to my shock, privately admitted doing so - to increase their chances to become bishops. The Episcopal Church would have more principled clergy did it choose its bishops by lottery. But I suppose this is true of every other body as well.

St. Paul said that he who wants to be a bishop wants a good thing, but he did not say the desire itself is good. By the way, nolo episcopari can be roughly translated "Not me, Jack."


7:55 AM


EXPANDING SEXUALITY'S BOUNDARIES:

An academic friend, not an Episcopalian, asked last night:

What argument is advanced against blessing polyamorous unions by those Episcopalians who favor the blessing of same-sex sexual unions? Or do they pull the trigger and say that the blessing of same-sex unions is only the beginning?

I wrote back to say that this is a trigger the homosexualists will not yet pull, because even today, though they hold so much political power in the Episcopal Church, their getting the votes they need for such measures as homosexual marriages depends upon the myth of the homosexual couple who are in every respect except for sexual difference just like the ideal heterosexual couples. This is what the "moderates" (i.e. timid liberals) believe in. They simply want Adam and Steve to join Adam and Eve.

The leading sodomitical propagandists still speak as if monogamy were their present practice and future goal, which only needs to be given official sanction as a matter of justice and inclusivity. If some of their peers are promiscuous, and promote promiscuity, they claim that they sleep around because they have not the social supports heterosexual people have and because heterosexual people hate them and teach them to hate themselves.

They will, however, try to expand the boundaries when no one is looking. Roughly twenty years ago the propagandists began to speak of the "lesgay" movement, which about five to ten years ago became the "lesbigay" movment. (And shortly after that it became the "lesbigaytrans" or "lbgt" movement when they added the "transgendered.")

The change from "lesgay" to "lesbigay" meant something more than merely adding another oppressed group to the movement. You will notice that, as bisexuals by definition cannot be monogamous if they are to be true to their "nature" ( or "the way God made me"), as the homosexualists assume they must be, the propagandists have approved promiscuity without exactly admitting it. The bisexual being true to his nature has to sleep with at least two people, one man and one woman, without settling on one or the other.

The "moderates" ignore this evidence that their homosexualist allies intend more than life-long unions. I think they ignore it for two reasons - I am judging from twenty years of observing them closely: 1) some of them are really more liberal in these matters than they want to be seen as in public; and 2) those who are not more liberal know that if they object to bisexuality they will have to object to homosexuality, as all the reasons for approving the second justify the first as well.

My own view is that many homosexualists really do want monogamy, of a sort. What they want is the serial monogamy now the standard among even conservative congregations, where remarriage after divorce is not thought in any way a problem - even, and I am not making this up, when a man leaves his wife and children for a much younger, shapelier woman. All they want is a series with more entries or episodes packed into a much shorter amount of time. But they have the same idea of sex and commitment as many conservatives, only they have changed the time-span and the limit.

On top of which, the homosexualists are only asking the Episcopal Church to do with Scripture and Tradition and the rest of the Anglican Communion what it did in 1976 in approving the ordination of women - which 85% of the conservatives approve wholeheartedly. They (the innovators) are, I think, genuinely surprised that the conservatives continue to condemn one and cheer the other. They are, after all, the theological products of the church the conservatives helped create, sustain, and nurture.

By the way, my "Choosing love and making life" from the January/February issue includes a few comments on "polyamory," for those who are interested.


7:46 AM


TWO REACTIONS:

Two articles from BeliefNet on the latest division in the Episcopal Church:

- one by a Deborah Caldwell (unidentified), Why conservatives won't schism [sic]; and

- one by Diane Knippers of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and a conservative Episcopal leader, What has changed.

I think Caldwell's analysis generally right and Diane's response close to whistling past the graveyard.


7:43 AM


PAINED CONSERVATIVES:

Heavens, what a great amount of hand-wringing there is over the schisms, possible and actual, that may or may not be caused by the latest apostasy of the Episcopal Church. The predictably pained, but essentially submissive, reactions of conservative Episcopalians I have read this morning, a few days after the confirmation of New Hampshire's Bp. Robinson, I would call risible, if they weren't so pitiful. If money, property, and status weren't considerations, how many would remain?

Of course this church, and many others, will divide, either formally, as among Protestants, or in unofficial ways, as among those who for theological reasons must keep up the appearance of unity. This, if I understand St. Paul on the subject, is both inevitable and necessary, for it is, and always has been, one of the principal ways the churches are tested. It is the duty of Christians to flee apostate churches and cleave to apostolic ones, and this they will always do as their own faith is tested. (This, I must say, seems to be clearer to people who have children than those who do not. I suggest they are our mine-canaries. A church a Christian does not wish to see his own children raised in is in all probability a church he should leave.)

On the other side of each division is a re-formation--and there can be no re-formation apart from division--for in the beginning, middle, and the end, there is only One Church, and only two kinds of people. I suggest the sign that a person has tarried too long in the Unchurch is that these things are no longer clear to him. He speaks, for example, of God's nature as essentially inclusive, forgetting, for the cause of his moment, that it is the inclusivity of a consuming fire.


7:15 AM


Thursday, August 7

NEW BOOK:

An announcement of her newest book from our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green, with a tantalizing sample.

It's here! My new book has been published. The title is The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer. It's from Paraclete Press, which published The Illumined Heart, and it is likewise a small-format, pocket-sized book. It includes reproductions of 12 of the world's most significant icons, with an essay on each one.

There are so many excellent books about icons out there that I wanted to make mine fill a gap somehow, so I invented an imaginary church and describe where each of these icons appears inside the church, and what the prayers and hyms are on the day that pertains to the Scriptural person or event the icon shows. We make twelve visits to this imaginary church over the course of a year, and see the icons "at work."

I was thrilled to get a very good review in Publisher's Weekly, the publication that is to books what Variety is to entertainment.
The Open Door even got a star by the review, which means it is specially recommended. This is the first time I've gotten a PW star, so the family celebrated in the traditional way, with a bottle of the cheapest champagne. I have such a poor sense of smell/taste that anything more expensive is wasted, so I always say, "Expense is of no concern, bring me the cheapest." Garcon, encore de Roget!

Here is the opening section of the book, which leads up to a discussion of the first icon, the Christ of Sinai (circa 550 AD). I am grateful to St Isaac of Syria Skete for supplying the images; you can buy copies of all the icons in the book, and many more, from their website.

***************

Come in. I want you to see these icons.

We've come into this church around noon on Sunday. The service has recently ended, and the once-feathery wisps of incense are settling into a diffuse pale-gray cloud. It smells like smoke and roses. A few bulletins and worship books are scattered about, and a child's white cardigan lies forgotten under a chair. The church is empty; the congregation has gone downstairs to coffee hour and we can faintly hear the hubbub of their voices. Up here, though, it's quiet.

Walk up to the center of the church with me and take a look around. There's a lot to take in. The church looks surprisingly complicated inside, compared to how it looked when we coming up the sidewalk. From the outside it looked like a simple cube. But in here much of the walls and even ceiling have been covered with paintings of people and scenes from the Bible and church history. It's initially bewildering to the eye, with so many stories and scenes going on at once.

But if you imagine the room painted solid white you can see that it's still a cube, with a single large dome centered overhead. If you look toward the back wall, behind the altar, you'll see that it is topped with a half-dome, what architects call an *apse*. This altar area is separated from the main body of the church by a wooden screen, the *iconostasis*. And that's it, actually. There aren't even pews, only a few short rows of chairs against the walls. During worship, most of the congregation stands clustered on the oriental rugs in the center.

Unlike the familiar kind of pointy church that sends a steeple soaring toward the heavens, this dome covers worshippers as with a bowl. It conveys a feeling of God joining us in the Incarnation and rounding us into one Body.

When the congregation first moved into this building the walls were bare white, and they have been saving up to add made-to-order icons a few at a time, as they can afford to have them painted. Some of the prime spots in the church don't yet have hand-painted icons. In those places the congregation is using reproductions of classic icons that have been laminated onto wooden panels. All the icons we will be looking at in this book fall into that category of historic reproduction. (I am grateful to St. Isaac of Syria Skete of Boscobel, Wisconsin, www.skete.com, for supplying these images.)

Let's look at the wooden screen before the altar. It is called an *iconostasis*, a Greek word meaning "icon-stand," and on it is set a series of large, almost life-size icons. Fold out the color panels from the front and back covers of the book and you'll see two icons on each side. In the middle, where the pages of this book are (and not depicted-you'll have to use your imagination here), there is an elaborate double door which opens to the altar. On the doors there is an icon of the Angel Gabriel announcing the birth of the Christ Child to the Virgin Mary. Beyond these doors is the altar, and behind the altar, on the back wall of the church, is the apse we noticed earlier. The apse is filled with a very large icon of the Virgin Mary standing with her hands raised in prayer. On her torso there is a starry disk, and in it we see the Christ Child blessing us.

To the right of those double doors (to the right of these pages) is the imposing icon of Christ we see reproduced here. He is holding a jeweled book in one hand and blessing with the other. His face, and particularly his eyes, are powerfully attractive, compelling, yet also somehow disturbing. They make us feel confused or self-conscious, as if they are asking a question we don't understand.

To the left of the double doors we recognize the Virgin Mary, who is embracing the Christ child. She traditionally holds this place on an iconostasis, to Christ's right, recalling the scripture, "At your right hand stands the queen" (Psalm 45:9). In front of each of these icons is a brass stand holding clusters of beeswax candles, which are now more than half-melted and running with honey-scented streaks. The candles cast flickering light on the figures. These images of Christ and the Virgin are two of the best-known and most beloved icons in the world. We'll be looking at them in this chapter and the next, and learning more of the "what" and "why" of icons.

In the third chapter we will turn to the icon to the left of the Virgin, which shows Christ pulling an old man out of a tomb, while other figures stand behind him in a rocky landscape. The old man is our forefather Adam, and this icon represents the events of Holy Saturday, when Christ went into the realm of Death and set the captives free. This spot on an iconostasis is usually reserved for the saint or feast for whom a church is named, so now we know that this church is called Holy Resurrection.

On the far right side of the iconostasis we see a man looking toward Christ and lifting his hands in imploring prayer. We could guess from his disheveled appearance that this is St. John the Baptist, even if we didn't know that this is his usual spot on an iconostasis. We'll get to know him further in the fourth chapter.

If you turn around, you'll see something going on everywhere you look. There are brass candlestands, hanging oil lamps, a box of sand forested with leaning candle nubs. Toward the front there is a bulky wooden bookstand, for the chanters; in the back, there are a dozen music stands for the choir. Near the iconostasis there is a large baptismal font shaped like a silver chalice. On the far edges of the iconostasis, beyond the Resurrection and St. John, angels stand guard on doors leading back to the altar. If we look up at the ceiling we're startled to see Christ gazing directly down on us from the dome centered over the nave. Though the congregation has gone downstairs, the church retains a hum of bustling energy. Something vigorous has been going on here, and the high smoky room still reverberates.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I know the subject of icons is one of those that divide otherwise unified Christians. Some Christians think them idolatrous, or too close to idolatrous for safety. Other Christians can't imagine praying without them. I think, judging from the sample and from Frederica's writing, that those of you in the first group may find the book quite useful in understanding your friends in the second group.

Frederica's shorter articles are also being published in a series of books by an Orthodox publisher, Conciliar Press, starting with Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism. Her latest article for Touchstone is the insightful "Why they hated Pinnochio".


8:14 PM


HERE'S TO YOU, BISHOP ROBINSON:

As you would have expected, had you thought about it, someone has written Simon and Garfunkel's song "Mrs. Robinson" to fit the new bishop-elect. Click here for Catholic psychologist Greg Popchak's version.

My thanks to CANN's GenCon news site for the link.


7:34 AM


THE CHURCH TODAY:

Some comments on the confirmation of Canon Gene Robinson's election as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, despite the irregularity of his moral life. From David Gustafson:

According to the Washington Post, Episcopalian bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson admits that "his opponents were right that the decision [confirming his election as Bishop] was contrary to the church's traditional teaching against homosexuality." But not to worry. Robinson goes on to explain: "Just simply to say that it goes against tradition and the teaching of the church and Scripture does not necessarily make it wrong."

I find it is impossible to parody this.


From George Langberg, the ACA Bishop of the Northeast:

Harvey Drinker, described by those who know him as "gentle and understanding", lives just outside Concord, New Hampshire. His wife and family left him several years ago when they all faced the fact that he was suffering from severe alcoholism, but refused to perceive it as a problem. Harvey explained, as he refilled his glass, that he is only happy when he drinks.

He admits that losing his family was "a little difficult", but he now lives alone and doesn't drive because he knows that his blood alcohol level is always above the legal limit for drivers. He thus sees his chosen lifestyle as something which endangers only himself, but as far as he's concerned, that's his business and no one else's.

Alcoholics Anonymous announced today that Mr. Drinker has been chosen as AA's Regional Director for New England. "This is a new and wonderful day, not only for AA, but for drinkers everywhere," he proclaimed. (The above is just a fable. AA is not ECUSA!)


From Fr. Robert Hart:

The issue of the Gene Robinson affair is not that he will be a bishop. The issue is that his church body did not unfrock him, and excommunicate him for immorality long ago.

Bishops who lack this genuine form of charity for sinners, and also lack a sense of pastoral responsibility for the people who will be harmed by this kind of priest, are indeed nothing more than CEOs in the religion business. They cannot be shepherds, but only the worst kind of hirelings. They not only run from the wolf, they assist him.

Having once been an Episcopalian, before converting to Anglicanism (I just don't know how else to say it), I have tried not to think about what was happening. I realize now that the reason was simply the pain of watching self-destructive behavior. I see enough of that when I have to work with drug addicts, and when I tire from the emotional pain of being helpless against stubbornness unto death. Watching a group of Right Reverend idiots damning themselves to hell, and trying to take others along, is beyond anything that reasonable men should be asked to endure.


And from William Markley:

In case you haven't seen it yet, the excerpt below is from the Washington Times website. To me, the comment by V. Gene Robinson upon his election as bishop suggests egotism to a shocking degree. I guess though that we shouldn't be too surprised at that, since it is from a man who would advance his own cause against Scripture and centuries of orthodoxy:

<< "God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday," Mr. Robinson said after the votes were tabulated, his daughter Ella and his partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew, standing nearby. >>


I see the point, but I suppose moral innovators like Canon Robinson don't think of themselves as egotistical, since they believe themselves to be merely soldiers in the battle for liberation. They don't mind being promoted to general, of course.


7:30 AM


Wednesday, August 6

THE SMARMY GRISWOLD AND CHRISTIAN HOPE:

With the approval of Canon Gene Robinson's election as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, a lot of you, Episcopalians or not, will be wondering what will happen. The best source for the news is CANN's General Convention page. (CANN stands for Canadian Anglican News Net.)

The page includes a report by Christianity Today's Doug LeBlanc titled "Darkness in the Afternoon". He reports that before voting on Canon Robinson, the bishops spent fifteen minutes giving reasons not to confirm the election and fifteen more minutes giving reasons to do so.

Many bishops looked on intently or took notes as a tablemate spoke. When they finished the exercise, Griswold [the body's presiding bishop, the strongly pro-gay Frank Griswold] encouraged the bishop to take mental note of which reasons were based in fear and which were based in hope and confidence.

Even those of you not familiar with the Episcopal Church will recognize the smarminess of the tactic, the way he implicitly changes a theological difference into a difference of character and personality. Some of the bishops are fearful and some are hopeful, and you know exactly who he means to put in which category.

I would find this very annoying, were I a bishop pointing out the practical consequences of denying a Christian teaching held by most of one's Anglican brethren around the world. The question is not whether an argument is "based in fear" but whether the event it predicts is one to be feared. Griswold would not attack the FDA for warning that eating a basket of cheese fries every day will do really, really bad things to your heart.

And more to the point, asserting the Christian teaching is, after all, a fundamentally hopeful thing to do: to assert that the world has a moral order and that this order can be known, and that we have divine aid in living by it and (if we repent) divine forgiveness when we fail to do so. It is to say that despite appearances, not least the sexual drives that seem so compelling (and this is true of straight people as much as of homosexuals), men and women can deny these drives and live a moral life.

The moral innovators believe that their innovations are "based in hope and confidence," particularly the hope that the Holy Spirit is leading them into the liberation of hitherto marginalized and oppressed peoples. They are confident that they will not go wrong and that the losses they incur will be worth the gain.

And they can say all this with some reason, given the success of the earlier innovation of ordaining women, which did not divide the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. Indeed, most of the men now opposing them accepted that innovation with cheers and hosannas, and the innovators can be reasonably confident that the dissenters or their successors will eventually accommodate themselves to the newest change, as they accommodated themselves to the first one. (I pray they won't, and it is possible they won't, but I would not put money on it.)

The Episcopal Church is - despite Griswold's McCarthy-ite tactics - fighting a battle between hopes. There is no way to adjudicate such a battle - especially in the Episcopal system, which has no higher earthly authority than the General Convention - save to fight it out.


10:19 AM


O.K., DON'T LOVE YOUR ENEMY:

Interesting quotes in the March/April issue of the new magazine Seed, from James Watson, the Watson of Watson and Crick, discoverers fifty years ago of DNA.

Watson enjoys a healthy give-and-take, is bored by the pedantic, and loathes piety in all its forms. . . .

If there is one dogma Watson truly despises it's that of the Catholic Church. He likes to say that the two stupidest sentences in the English language are "love thy enemy" and "the meek shall inherit the earth." The latter, he says, is just not true. "And in the human world, if you don't have enemies you aren't doing any good." Whenever he needs cheering up he tunes into Jay Leno, he says, "because he tells at least one joke about the Catholic Church every night."


He appears from the interview to have been all his career a very difficult person, fond of insulting people he disagrees with. With some reason, I suppose. And fond of trying to upset people. The article ends with him pointing out to the reporter, as they leave his office,

the door, where a large pin-up calendar is still open to Miss December. . . . A gift from my son," he says proudly. "I suspect this is the only prestigious academic office in the United States with one on the wall."

He does recognize the dangers of the liberal mind when applied to science and social matters- "Largely left-wing people have seized control of the humanities and social sciences, and partially even the sciences, and it's creepy," he says - though his response seems to be - the article is not very clear about what he does believe in - some form of social Darwinism.


10:17 AM


Tuesday, August 5

O CANADA, OH:

A friend who has just returned from a vacation in the Maritimes (translation for Americans: Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, etc.) has written an extra verse to the Canadian national anthem to commemorate their government's approval of homosexual marriages:

O Canada!
You've chucked your way of life,
Blessing in law
The troth of wife and wife.
But society
Has evolved to see
A fairy-fingered dawn;
Tout le monde est gay
Sou le grand Premier
Cretin - non Chretien!

O Canada,
You're here to stay,
Big, rich, and dumb
Just like the U - S - A (crescendo) -
O Canada,
You're like the U - S - A!


8:01 PM


ORTHODOX MISSIONS:

Something else some of you may be interested in: the 2003 Orthodox Conference on Missions and Evangelism. It features Fr. Thomas Hopko, the recently retired dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary outside New York City and the dean also of Orthodox theologians in North America.

It is being held at Antiochian Village, a retreat center about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh and perhaps two hours from the Pittsburgh airport, and about four hours (I am guessing) from Philadelphia and three from Washington, D.C.


7:56 PM


FOR YOUR CALENDARS:

Two events those of you anywhere near Chicago will want to put in your calendars:

Touchstone's executive editor Jim Kushiner on Terror and Tradition: September 11 and the way of the Cross. On September 11th, 2001, Jim was on a pilgrimage to the ancient monastic site of Iona, founded in the sixth century by the great Irish saint, Columba. When the news came of the attacks against his homeland, he discovered a new power in tradition through the ancient prayers of the Church prayed in a place of martyrs and saints.

September 9, 2003
Christ Church, 625 Hillside Avenue, Glen Ellyn, IL

Wheaton College's Professor Lyle Dorsett on Spiritual Formation in the life and letters of C. S. Lewis. Though Lewis's pilgrimage from atheism to Christianity is well documented in his own book Surprised by Joy and many biographies, the published record reveals little about his gradual growth into a robust Christian maturity. Relying on hundreds of unpublished letters, nearly fifty oral history interviews, and untapped evidence from Lewis's personal library, Dr. Dorsett will explore Lewis's spiritual formation and growth. This lecture is sponsored with the Marion E. Wade Center at the college.

November 13, 2003
Barrows Auditorium, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

For information about either lecture, please call 773.481.1090.


4:38 PM


PRO-LIFE INFLUENCE:

According to a columnist named Matt Towery, in an article titled "Inside the numbers: back to the future",

abortion - once the hot-button issue for politicians across America - has faded as a major motivating factor for voters. State and federal officeholders who have time and again run on pro-choice or pro-life platforms have found few opportunities to significantly impact [sic] the overall effects of Roe v. Wade. Most Americans now expect little to change on abortion policy, either from lawmaking bodies or the courts.

He argues that the Democratic senators continued blocking of pro-life judges will do them no political good, because the people they please would vote Democratic anyway.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party may be drifting further from the mainstream of American political thought. That's not to say most Americans are pro-life; indeed, most polls reveal that one of the biggest blocs of pro-choice votes comes from moderate GOP women. What it does say is that many hard-core Democrats believe that opposing pro-life judicial nominees is worth all the fuss, regardless of the consequences.

. . . One would think that names like McCarthy and labels like pro-choice or pro-life would be irrelevant to politics in the 21st century.


I don't know what Towery thinks about abortion. He was a campaign manager for Newt Gringrich, which is not a very good sign. A certain type of Republican seems to want the issue, and all the related cultural and moral issues, to fade away, because they interfere with building a wider coalition for the economic policies they favor, and which are, alas, more important to them than the defense of the life of the unborn.

At any rate, whatever position he takes, I think he takes too pessimistic a view of the effect of pro-life activism and pro-life politicians upon the nation's life, and his claim that the debate is politically marginal is wrong-headed.

Admittedly, pro-life presidents have failed to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. President Reagan had the chance to do so and chose to make a political statement instead, appointing the not terribly useful Sandra Day O'Connor. The first President Bush decided to play it safe and appointed David Souter, who is even worse. Had the two presidents made better choices, we would have had for many years past a five vote majority against Roe v. Wade, and against various other noxious decisions, like the recent Lawrence. On the other hand, Reagan also appointed Rehnquist the chief justice and appointed Antonin Scalia to the Court, and Bush appointed Clarence Thomas.

But that said, would we have the laws we do, and the possibility of slowly expanding the protection of the unborn, if we did not have pro-life politicians and a movement still committed - and known to be committed - to electing more of them? Would so many people still take the "moderate" position on abortion - the misty "I don't like it but I don't think it should illegal" position - if they were not exposed to the witness of those who believe absolutely in the right to life? I think not.

If it is true that most Americans "expect little to change on abortion policy," they may be wrong. And even if they are right, they may be right because the pro-life movement and the politicians it has helped elect have held a line that would have been crossed long ago without their influence, and will be crossed if they stop working.

Perhaps the pro-life movement is less like one team in a tug of war trying to pull the other team over to its side than a dike holding back a raging sea. Certainly the culture seems to be one in which abortion ought to flourish, because it is the necessary option of last resort for a sexualized culture in which people want to have sex without having babies. That "moderate Republican women" are so pro-choice does suggest that the many of the affluent value convenience and do not value the unborn for themselves.

Towery is obviously right about the commitment of "hard-core Democrats" to the legality of abortion. I as sure many of them are personally committed to the cause and the rest ideologically committed. It symbolizes and concentrates the ideology of those who do not believe in God nor the moral order he created. The right to kill your own child is the ultimate assertion that you are God. It is the fruit the serpent offers to the Adam and Eves of our day.

I don't think they are as politically unwise to do so as Towery seems to. They won't lose any votes, but they will keep a certain portion of their natural supporters very happy, with what is after all a very small investment of time and power. On top of which, blocking the appointment of pro-life judges lets them keep Republican appointments out of office while claiming a principled, not political, reason for doing so.

Why he thinks such a debate ought to be "irrelevant to politics in the 21st century" escapes me. I don't think he means "irrelevant because America is solidly pro-life," but "irrelevant because everyone lets everyone else do what they want." At least it's not the sort of thing a pro-lifer would say.


12:00 PM


Monday, August 4

GIVING TO BISHOPS

A helpful response from Ken Neill of Fort Worth, Texas to my "Bishops are bishops", posted on Friday:

An interesting and generally cogent take on the problems. One comment:

I believe there is a theological reason for not making askings voluntary. The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth is the local Church. Not St.Peter the Apostle Parish, not St. Mary the Virgin Parish - it is the diocese which is the Body. Making the bishop dependent on the good will of the parish priests could weaken his ministry.

Actually, I believe our diocese does use a voluntary system ("Sharing in Ministry"), but it is a direct appeal through the parishes, not dependant on parish budget contingencies. A very nice blog, overall. I have been enjoying Mere Comments in general. Thank you.


He is most welcome. I can see that making contributions voluntary might cause as many problems as it solved, but I'm still not sure that there is a specifically theological reason for requiring parishes to give money to the diocese, rather than asking the parishes and people to give and living on what they give.

I could well be missing something, but I don't see that the diocese being the body requires that it be fed in one way rather than the other. The model of giving in Acts seems to have been voluntary, though not voluntary in the sense of optional. I would appreciate more responses.


6:43 PM


Sunday, August 3

THE MATRIX REVEALED:

A short but interesting article for the movie buffs among you: "The Matrix: Reloaded - An Ancient Myth Revisited" by Paul van der Bijl, a staff member of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. He argues that the movie's philosophy is gnosticism.

I've only seen the first movie, but I suspect he is right. If we assume that like so many contemporary productions its philosophy is of the confused, jumble sale sort: an idea from this pile, a name from that pile, a phrase from that table over there, a symbol from this table here. This is not "postmodern" so much as messy - in the same way some "postmodern" buildings throw together features from many other styles and wind up with something that is not so much a creative interplay of traditions as an ugly building.

The advantage of putting this sort of thinking into a movie is that magazines, newspapers, radio shows, websites, study groups, and bloggers need excuses to talk, and the more confused a grab bag of ideas you offer them, the longer they can talk and argue. In fact you will given them a personal interest in finding the movie's real meaning, which is to say in proving that it makes sense. If you make it sound intellectual as well, you'll keep them talking for a long time. And if you combine the philosophical grab bag with real skill in making a movie, you may well have created a modern classic. And if it's violent to boot, you'll make a lot of money.

Though you may be philosophically confused, your movie may still express a fairly coherent philosophy, because you view the world through that philosophy. If Mr. van der Bijl is right, the Matrix movies are gnostic.

the plight of all humans in The Matrix is that they are enslaved by machines unbeknownst to them. Even though the god is different-machine instead of deity-the message in the context of Gnosticism is still the same. Life is illusory, brief, and inconsequential and through special knowledge alone can be overcome.

You may call one character, one of the good guys, Trinity, and mean whatever you happen to mean by that, and the story still be a gnostic one. I am, however, willing to be convinced that the trilogy is a more serious and thoughtful creation than it now appears.


5:22 PM


HEADS UP:

I suppose I should start labelling some blogs "Lunatic Watch." The latest weekly news digest of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, includes links to several significant and disturbing stories. Among them:

- an article from the Los Angeles Times on the next generation of contraception reporting that (in the digest's summary):

Using technological advances from the fields of molecular biology, genetics and genomics, researchers are identifying targets unique to reproductive cells. They hope to then block or manipulate the ones responsible for sperm and egg development, the fusion of eggs and sperm and the implantation of fertilized eggs in the uterine lining.

- a Canadian story on confused parents who are suing to have themselves recorded as the biological parents of a child born of a surrogate mother.

- another story on a modern Dr. Frankenstein explaining why he created a human fetus who was both male and female.

The stories are not always gloomy. Some report on medical breakthroughs and promising research, and others report on people who have done something admirable, as in "Palestinian Boy's Organs Give Life to Four Israeli Children".


3:23 PM


Canada's Two (or More?) Persons:

Canada is changing is definition of marriage from the union of a man and woman to

"the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others".


But why two? Isn't two just as arbitrary as man and woman?

Many cultures recognize polygamy. In fact probably more cultures accept polygamy in at least some cases (the chieftain, usually) than demand strict monogamy for everyone. Polygamy is sanctioned and practiced in Islam. Strict monogamy comes mainly from late Judaism and Christianity, just as does the condemnation of homosexual unions.

If a Moslem family in Canada wants to be polygamous, or if an existing polygamous family wants to move to Canada, why are they forbidden to practice a relationship that their religion allows. The additional wives (and their children) have legal protections that are denied to an extra-legal mistress and her illegitimate children.

Also, if not allowing homosexuals to marry violates their human rights, why doesn't denying bisexuals to marry both a man and woman deny their rights? A foursome would be necessary if a male bisexual and a female bisexual wanted to marry.

And why "to the exclusion of all others"? Various groups, such as the Oneida commune, practiced open marriage, in which all members of the group were considered married to all members of the group. Why should such people be denied a form of marriage in conformity with their beliefs?


11:28 AM




For previous blogs, click here.


Home - Mere Comments - Daily Reflections - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?