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Saturday, September 6


For the students at the University of Virginia, where I did my graduate work, Thomas Jefferson (or Mr. Jefferson as everyone referred to him) was still a living presence.

His religion was clearly not orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, but nor was it deism as commonly understood ú the Divine Watchmaker who set the clock running and then did not interfere in the natural order of things. Jefferson expurgated the miracles from his New Testament (as many Catholic biblical scholars do today) but he had a strong sense of God's workings in history, especially in the establishment of the American republic. His religion had much in common with classical stoicism and also with Old Testament Judaism in its sense of the divine government both of the natural word and of history.

Jefferson could not understand that there were real changes in natural history. He instructed Lewis and Clark to bring back woolly mammoths from the west. Extinction was a concept foreign to him.

10:00 AM

Friday, September 5


As if things weren't bad enough, the New York Times reports that "The Skin Wars Start Earlier and Earlier".

A lot of what passes for pop culture at the moment seems specifically oriented toward the gaze and delight of hormonally surging 17-year-old boys.

"The `whore wars' are a big issue," said Donna Cristen, who was shopping for back-to-school clothing on Thursday with her daughter, Tess, 13. Ms. Cristen's reference was to a term that arose on the Internet, where commentators like Betsy Hart of CNN complained that stores as mainstream as J. C. Penney, Target and the Limited Too were increasingly carrying clothing that could seem designed to suit the needs of women who work the Lincoln Tunnel on-ramp. (Repeated calls to representatives of those stores last week were not returned.)

J. C. Penny? That most middle American of chain stores? Gosh.

In illustration, the story includes a picture of Miss Britney Spears - who claimed to be born again, if I remember rightly - in a top barely able to contain her breasts and short, unzipped shorts, revealing her underwear. Which matches her top, which I suppose represents the product being sold.

"In marketing circles, they talk about K.G.O.Y.," an abbreviation for Kids Getting Older Younger, said Alissa Quart, the author of "Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers" (Perseus Books, 2003). "You want to get them younger, so they're full of aspiration not only to look older but to spend older."

This is just evil. But brought to you by the little greedheads at places like J. C. Penny, and not just the notorious Abercrombie and Fitch.

But what the story proves is something I don't think the writer intended. It ends, with the significance statement that feature articles like this usually include:

"You don't want to sound censorious or reactionary," Ms. Quart said. "But kids watch HBO. They see late-night TV. They see the 200 channels teeming with quasi-pornographic imagery." Trying to dam the image torrent is probably misguided and certainly Sisyphean. There is clearly no future in arguing against Britney Spears.

"Parents have to think about a life of commerce these kids are caught up in and teach them some media literacy," Ms. Quart suggested. Kimora Lee Simmons, designer of the hugely popular Baby Phat line, said they also "have to sit their kids down and take some major responsibility when they start wearing clothes that make them look like hootchie mamas, stuff that was never designed with children in mind."

Notice not only the fear of seeming "censorious or reactionary," not only the counsel of despair mixed with complicity (trying to protect your child from such images is not just impossible but bad, i.e., "misguided," whatever that means), but that the only answer these people can offer is "media literacy." Somehow explaining to little girls that their images are created by people who want to sell them lots of things is going to keep the little girls from dressing like "hootchie mamas."

The child's obvious answer is "I don't care why everyone dresses this way. I just want to dress like everyone else, and what's wrong with it, anyway?"

You read a lot of articles like this in the mainstream press, and I've commented on them from time to time. You have people, including the writers themselves, who know something is wrong but have no moral categories to use in judgement and response. The one question this entire article does not answer is "So?" We are supposed to feel that little girls dressed like tarts is a problem without having any idea why it is a problem.

The only rational answer to the question the writer and his subjects are asking is supplied by a moral mind that they would think "censorious and reactionary." (That one phrase gives the game away.) Only someone who has a coherent and definite view of the human person, of sex, and of modesty, can say to the little girl, "Sweetheart, don't show off your breasts because they're not yours to show off."

4:42 PM


I was just editing a short article by the Presbyterian writer Terry Schlossberg, which will appear in the November issue, and thought to post the links to two organizations of which she is a leader:

- Presbyterians Pro-Life, of which she is executive director; and

- Presbyterians for Faith, Family, and Ministry, on whose board she serves. PFFM pubishes a good bimonthly called Theology Matters, available at their site.

4:23 PM


A message from Thomas Fleming, editor of Chronicles magazine, expanding on the article linked to in Wednesday's "Recommended Reading":

Unlike many traditionalist Catholics, I do not regard the American founding as a conspiracy of freemasons and deists, and I have great respect for Washington, Adams, and Jefferson (to say nothing of John Dickinson, Henry Laurens, and other leaders of the revolution whose ideas influenced the Constitution). I do not believe that either the framers or the Constitution or those who drafted and ratified the First Amendment were hostile to the Christian religion.

My late friend M. E. Bradford wrote at least two volumes of essays showing the complex origins of the American republic and illustrating the difficulty of making any generalizations. To a great extent, I am persuaded by his arguments. But Bradford was about as interested in theology as he was in French literature, which (as a good Texan) he despised. In finding that many of the framers spoke highly of religion, he did not go on to ask what kind of religion it was that they practiced

I do believe, however, from reading their letters and public writings that Jefferson was a deist and certainly no trinitarian and that John Adams, by his own description, was unitarian in theology, a tendency which turned up long before the establishment of the Unitarian Church as a formal body. In one sense both Arianism (at least of the most radical kind) and Monophysitism tend toward unitarianism, in denying (or denigrating) either the divinity or the humanity of Christ. Mistaken as they were, I believe both Arians and (especially) Monophysites were seriously Christian. But the 18th century men who tended toward deism tended to reject miracles (including resurrection from the dead) and revelation. Jesus was a good man, they said, perhaps the greatest of men, but it was because his morals (when purified of superstition) represent that perennial religion which is taught by reason and nature. As freemasons, which many of them were, they professed to believe that such wisdom was passed to Moses and Plato from the Egyptians. This is a long way from the old time religion of their ancestors, and there is no doubt about what would have happened to some of them - not just the openly mocking Paine or the immoralist Franklin - if they had fallen into the hands of Calvin or the Inquisition.

These are complex matters, of course, which I would certainly have taken up more thoroughly in an essay designed for publication. Pieces for our website are scratched out in great haste.

As much as I admire 18th century England, I have been puzzling, over the past few years, about the lack of explicit Christian references in fiction and verse. There are, of course, sterling exceptions. Nonetheless, to understand some of Dr. Johnson's importance, I think we have to consider how strange a figure, really, he was in his own time, a serious Christian intellectual who had a strong streak of sincere and unaffected piety. His success, I think, lies partly in the way he appealed to the common sense of ordinary Christians (as opposed to the intellectual elite, as represented by people like Smith, Hume, and Gibbon - all of whom I admire for their accomplishments). America in those days was provincial England, and our leaders could not escape the contamination of 18th century thought. They respected Christianity, but in many cases they do not appear to have gone beyond respect.

My own object in pursuing this line of thought is to find the point at which I think the line ought to be drawn. There are good things written in the Enlightenment even by skeptics such as Hume (whom Alasdair MacIntyre once correctly described as the last Aristotelian, though he later seems to have changed his mind), but the Enlightenment per se is an important phase in the rebellion against the Church.

8:00 AM


A reader, writing in response to yesterday's "Contraception denied", sends the link to a new Orthodox group, the Orthodox Natural Family Planning Association. The site includes explanations of NFP, links to resources, and similarly useful information.

7:53 AM


For those following the apparently intensifying controversy over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion, a reader has just sent the address of a site dedicated to supporting the movie: See The Passion. It is sponsored by a group called Women Influencing the Nation, which I don't know anything about. The site includes a petition to sign in support of the movie and an archive of the stories that have appeared about it.

You can find links to two good articles on the response to the movie in the blog "Recommended Reading", posted Wednesday.

As far as one can tell, the movie simply tells the story of Jesus' death and resurrection as it is told in the gospels. With all respect to the horrific sufferings Jewish people have endured through the centuries, and granting that some of their oppressors used the New Testament as justification, one still has to say that the criticism of the movie from Jewish leaders amounts to saying that Christians should be condemned for telling their own story, and that the story is itself anti-semitic.

In this they are joined by secularists who dislike or hate the Christian story for other reasons (and dislike or hate the Jewish story, as understand by believing Jews, just as much), and who are happy to use Jewish fears to advance their own secularist ideas. The secularists include some of the Catholic theologians who have publicly attacked the movie.

There is not much a Christian can say in response to the charges, except to patiently repeat that they are not true. Nothing he can say is going to placate his critics and no changes to the movie will make them happy unless he simply changes the story told in the gospels. What Gibson must do is politely continue his work without giving in, and produce the movie.

7:49 AM

Thursday, September 4


A good and provocative article from Chronicles magazine's website: "Hating Babies, Hating God". Among other things, it discusses the book by Sam and Bethany Torode Open Embrace (Eerdmans) and the inadequate but revealing response to it in Christianity Today by a Raymond van Leeuwen. (Sam was until recently our magazine's designer.)

The writer, Aaron Wolf, is a Missouri Synod Lutheran, who is disturbed by the approval of contraception by Protestant churches, including his own. But there is a growing resistance. In the LCMS, he wrote me,

the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS just voted in convention to demand that the LCMS's Commission on Theology and Church Relations (our "Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith") formally reexamine its stance on contraception.

I've noticed the same thing. I sometimes get book catalogues from Reformed publishers and often find a whole page or two dedicated to books on the subject, that is, books quite hostile to contraception and what has been called the contraceptive mentality.

However, this is still an idea which, as I noted in "Choosing love and making life", most modern western Christians, including the most serious, think just bizarre. I speak from experience. Most conservative Christians think you have to be married to have sex, but once you're married, anything goes. The idea that marriage has an end, to pursue which you must not do in bed everything you want to do, is an idea the churches do not teach.

It is Catholic doctrine, but how often do Catholic priests explain it to their people from the pulpit and tell engaged couples what they are getting themselves into when at the altar they make their vows to each other and to God? It's an advantage that this teaching is the official teaching, but we're not helped much if it is never actually taught.

11:45 AM


A response to from Prof. William Tighe of Muhlenberg College. The most amazing thing is that I'm rather sure he wrote this off the top of his head. He is referring to several blogs in the last few days, and some e-mailed discussions.

It is true that "the Unitarians as a sect" did not exist at the time of the American Revolution or of the 1787 Constitutional Convention: formal open Unitarianism emerged in Massachusetts in 1804 as a theological battle within the established Congregationalist Order of the Bay State consequent upon the simultaneous appointment at Harvard University (then a state-supported institution that had not yet been "privatized") of "Arians" (the term used at the time of Congregationalist clergy who asserted the dogma of the Trinity to be "unScriptural" without directly denying it) as University President and Hollis Professor of Divinity.

The Congregationalist "Standing Order" was non-Creedal, without any binding Confession of Faith, a result of its origins in a strongly "experientialist" Calvinism, and a reaction against its original Calvinism had been well under weigh since the 1740s, bound up in part with opposition to the "enthusiasm" of the Great Awakening, and for 20 years after 1804 every Congregationalist parish was riven by strife over the issue, with the eventual result that all Congregationalist parishes in the western two-thirds of the state chose Trinitarianism and almost all in the eastern two-thirds Unitarianism, this, in turn, leading to the disestablishment of the Congregationalist Establishment in 1832. But since at least the 1760s the "moralist" clergy who opposed what they termed the "enthusiasm" and "fanaticism" of the Great Awakening, and of Calvinist clergy such as Jonathan Edwards, were adopting a rationalist epistemology, and moralist theology, that had made the Trinity "irrelevant" to their theological, exegetical and ethical concerns.

It is true that it was the Anglican King's Chapel that first "revised" (or "bowdlerized") the 1662 Prayer Book to remove all references to the Trinity, but this was because the Rector, Samuel Inglis, a loyalist, had fled to Nova Scotia (of which he later became the first Anglican bishop), and the Lay Reader whom the Vestry had engaged to read services in his absence, had, with the consent of the Vestry, undertaken the "reform" in order to appeal to the men of "enlarged and broad sympathies" to whom the Chapel hoped to attract; and it is an ironic fact that the retention of a drily liturgical order of services served to keep King's Chapel more generically "Christian" well into the middle of the last century, when other Massachusetts Unitarians had disavowed any such commitment.

However, the "Christianity" which men of broad sympathies, in Boston and elsewhere (such as the mildly pious John Adams, the rather less pious Benjamin Franklin and the scarcely pious Thomas Jefferson) professed was at best (in the case of Adams) Arian, and one can consider the religious outlook of all of them as at the very least proto-Unitarian.

That is one herring. The other is that all of this confused acrimony over Judge Moore reveals nothing more than it does the death of any popular consciousness of the distinctions implicit in our federalist constitutional order, and so by implication the moribund state of that order. Whatever the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment means, it was intended as a restriction on Congress, and certainly not on the actions of States, their governors, state judges, city councils, and so forth.

Who was it who decreed that the "no establishment" clause applied to every level of government in the land? It was not a Congressional statute, a Presidential proclamation, or (the only appropriate way) a Constitutional amendment. It was an arbitrary decision, or a series of arbitrary decsions, of the Federal Judicial system and of the Supreme Court from the 1920s onwards (and especially the 1947 Everton Case) that effected this. And of this I say, that this is pure judicial tyranny, an abuse of both our constitutional order and of the authority which it entrusts to them.

But certainly the blame for this extends further: to the legislative and even the executive branches for acquiescing in such perverse decisions, and even to the American people at large for their hebetude, or ignorant unconcern, in the face of these matters. I fear that it betokens the demise of that enthusiastic and aggressive "public spiritedness" that the Founders, in this respect following upon the political thought of republican antiquity, thought was essential for the survival of a democratic and federalist republican polity.

8:39 AM


Of interest: "The Natural Law Is What We Naturally Know", an interview with J. Budziszewski. The interview relates to Dr. Budziszewski's newest, and very good, book, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide (Spence).

His "The furies of conscience: denial and the wages of sin" appears is in the September issue, in the mail now. To you subscribers, if you'll pardon an indirect advertisement.

8:37 AM

Wednesday, September 3


Another response from the Rev'd Robert Hart, this one to my off-hand remark about the early Unitarians:

It is surprising indeed that the original Unitarians were theologically serious, but they were, nonetheless, intellectual cowards. The doctrine of the Trinity, the rejection of which gave name to their sect, is the greatest of all challenges to the human mind.

When we have labored hard to learn the right words with which to express this doctrine we find that what we have accomplished merely touches the greatest of all mysteries, that every answer only humbles the highest acheivement of our greatest thoughts. We cannot be intellectually proud, nor can we be intellectually lazy, unless we deny the Trinity. The Trinity is the doctrine that both challenges and humbles the mind, and the Church was willing to take seriously the work of learning and teaching this doctrine because genuine faith gave it the courage to approach God's revelation of Himself.

Besides, I agree wholeheartedly with G. K. Chesterton, when he wrote: ". . . but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone" (
Orthodoxy, p.135). The American Unitarian sect does not even have the conviction of its barbaric Muslim cousins.

4:03 PM


The question Fr. Hart's raised in the next blog is not one I am competent to answer, especially as the people who know the subject well fight over the answer. However, it reminds me of how surprised I was when I first read up on the subject to find that the early Unitarians were so theologically serious.

I had grown up seeing the Unitarian church (if that's the right word) on the main street of Amherst (which was not the Main Street of Amherst, by the way) with the inane slogan posted, a new one every week, on its message board out front. The one friend who went there never spoke about it and eventually became a Moonie. it was not a group I was ever inclined to take seriously.

Some years later, I used to listen to the Sunday morning meditation on the radio from King's Chapel in downtown Boston, which if I remember rightly was the first Unitarian church in America. The meditations were conspicuously empty of religion, but one morning the pastor starting talking to his listeners about their deaths. He went on and on, reminding everyone that they were going to die, that their families would be left befreft and mourning, that everything they had built up in their lives would be left behind, sounding just like a revivalist preacher preparing to give an altar call.

I was quite surprised. And rather convicted, too. And then he wound up the meditation with a call to . . . make your funeral arrangements ahead of time. That was the poor man's Gospel. That was all the good news he could offer.

The man - aman who taken before his God a responsibility for his people - had seen death, and clearly knew what it was and what it did, and all he could say in its face was "Make your poor family's job a little easier by picking your funeral hymns before you die."


11:57 AM


Fr. Robert Hart's response to Dr. Thomas Fleming's article, quoted in the next blog:

When Thomas Flemming says, "Most of [America's Founding Fathers] were, like their counterparts in 18th-century England, deists and Unitarians", he is as wide of the mark as the people who claim they were all devout Christians basing their ideas on the Bible. What "most" of them were is hard to say without detailed study, but the majority were in the Church of England, which would become, in America, the Episcopal Church. As for Unitarians, well, Unitarianism as an organized sect simply did not yet exist. The truth is somewhere between the two extreme images of them as a body of Deists or as a body of Christians.

11:46 AM


A reader sends the following useful links:

- A good article from the Chronicles magazine website on the attack on Mel Gibson's movie The Passion: "Gibson and his enemies" by Tom Piatak. It begins:

For years, conservatives have wondered if there was any movie Hollywood would balk at showing. Blasphemy, incessant profanity, graphic sex, obscene violence-none of these has proved an obstacle to Hollywood, and films containing some or all off these elements have enjoyed widespread critical applause.

But we have finally found out what sort of movie will make Hollywood blanch. It must be made by an Oscar-winning director and acclaimed actor. It must be made on a set where Mass was offered daily, and where the leading actor received Holy Communion every day. And it must be based on the most important books in history, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

He goes on to examine the attack on the movie, particularly the attack by the New Testament scholar (a word in this case meaning: "Someone with broad knowledge and an academic position marred by an ideological agenda") Paula Frederiksen in The New Republic.

- Another good article examining the liberal Catholic scholars (see definition above) who have attacked the movie: "Christ Crucified" from the Catholic newspaper The Remnant. He quotes the scholars often, and it is not a pretty picture.

- An interesting argument by the editor of Chronicles magazine, Thomas Fleming, on the controversy in Alabama: "Monumental decisions". He argues that

If Judge Moore would confine himself to the religious rights of the states and their citizens, all would be well. Unfortunately, he and his supporters have indulged in more fanciful lines of argument. America, they insist, was founded as a Christian country and, were it not for federal judges, it would be a publicly Christian country today. The Supreme Court, in banning religious symbols from the public square, is repeating the mistake of the judges in the Dred Scott decision.

Ultimately, they believe, our religious freedom rests upon the Declaration of Independence, a fundamental part of our constitutional law, whose references to God give Christianity a protected position within the American system. God has blessed Americans, so long as we have publicly acknowledged His laws by praying in school and by hanging up copies of the Ten Commandments, and He will withdraw that blessing if we persist in our wicked ways.

It is a pretty fiction, and one that I would like to believe. The American founding is a complex story, and there were many Christians among the leaders in the seceding states. However, neither the leaders of the Revolution nor the principal authors of the Constitution were, for the most part, devout and orthodox Christians. Most of them were, like their counterparts in 18th-century England, deists and Unitarians.

7:48 AM


For those interested in traditional Catholicism or historic buildings: Historic downtown Rockford church threatened.

I know jails have to go somewhere (though do we really need so many of them and do they have to be so big?), but they rarely need to go on top of churches or historic buildings. I suspect, from knowing such people, that many of the people who plan them don't really care about either, when they get in the way of the needs (alleged) of the state, which is to say, what they want to do.

7:26 AM

Monday, September 1


Possessed of neither a lofty mind nor a strong stomach, I confess that I have not always followed very closely the work of the WCC with respect to violence in the world. Do any of you remember any condemnations of Saddam Hussein's war against Iran (death toll about one million) by the WCC?

Right now Christians are being slaughtered by Muslims in the Sudan and Egypt. Has the WCC ever made this concern the central part of the agenda at one of its meetings? (Notice how the WCC describes the Muslim government's persecution of the Christian south in this story.)

Every single Muslim country in the world has the death penalty and uses that penalty very liberally. Why does the WCC single out the US as the big offender in this respect?

From Ecumenical News International:

29 August 2003

US to be focus of World Council of Churches anti-violence campaign

By Laurie Spurr

Geneva, 29 August (ENI)--The United States is to be the focus of an ecumenical church campaign against violence, the main governing body of the World Council of Churches has decided.

The WCC's central committee, meeting in Geneva until 2 September, approved the US as the focus of its Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) campaign for the year 2004. Its choice moves the focus from war-torn places such as the Middle East (the focus in 2001), and Sudan (the 2003 focus), to the nation viewed as the world's only super power.

Violence is a serious problem for the US at home and abroad, reporters heard on Thursday.

"If there was ever a part of the world where work for peace is important, it's in the US," said Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk, or most senior staff member, of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a member of the WCC's executive and central committees, at a press briefing.

Kirkpatrick cited the country's use of the death penalty and domestic violence, in addition to the US role in leading the war in Iraq, as examples of the violence churches in the country have been working against.

. . . In Sudan, civil war has raged since independence from Britain in 1956, except during the period of 1972 to 1982. Sudan has been the focus of the DOV campaign in 2003, and African churches have been involved in a "people-to-people" programme for peace among tribes in the southern part of the country, where most of the country's 5 per cent Christian minority live.

These have brought together traditional leaders and militias for week-long airings of grievances followed by acts of reconciliation, said Bethuel Kiplagat, a former Kenyan diplomat involved in various African peace talks.

Although the country's formal peace negotiations have been continuing since 1993, Kiplagat said, "We think it's in the last phase."

10:47 AM


A Baptist reader of our Daily Devotional Guide wrote us to ask about the sources of the weekly prayers we include, like the Mozarabic Collect. He wrote: "Us baptists do not even know what a collect is, much less a Mozarabic one." Here is my response, in case some of you find it helpful:

I gather those prayers from a variety of sources. Some of them were already in the collection of prayers that I inherited when I took over the Daily Devotional Guide about seven years ago. This sort of thing isn't exactly my own field either.

I have taken a good number of the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), the St. Andrew's Missal (Roman Catholic), and some Eastern Orthodox sources. I also borrowed a book of ancient "collects" a couple of years ago, though I have since returned it to the owner. I lifted several prayers from it.

A "collect" (accented, by the way, on the first syllable) was the closing prayer that a pastor prayed after giving the congregation a period of silent prayer. The pastor would say, "Let us pray," and then keep silence for a space, so that the congregation could turn inwardly to speak to the Lord in their own words and from their own hearts. At the end of that time, he would "collect" (colligere in Latin) their prayers in a single short prayer, called a "collectum" in Latin.

Some of these collects are very old, and they come from various regions of the Church. Those from Spain, for example, follow a format found in the traditional rite used in that region, known as the Mozarabic Liturgy. Those from Milan are called Milanese, and so forth. Those from Salisbury Cathedral in England are called Sarum, those from France are called Gallican, and so on.

As a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Louisville), I am familiar with that style, even though we did not use the word "collect." I have taken part in numerous services of worship, in which the pastor says, "Let us pray." We would all close our eyes for a minute or so to call on the Lord from our hearts, and then the pastor would say a short prayer that was usually stylized in a high degree. It would usually begin with, "O God our Father, we thank Thee . . . and we implore Thy mercy . . . and remember, Lord . . ." and so on. That is what earlier Christians called a "collect."

10:45 AM


A fascinating article a friend put me on to: "Black music from Scotland? It could be the gospel truth" from Scotland on Sunday. A professor of music at Yale, Willie Ruff, claims that

The distinctive psalm singing had not been brought to America's Deep South by African slaves but by Scottish émigrés who worked as their masters and overseers, according to his painstaking research.

Ruff, 71, a renowned jazz musician who played with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, is convinced the Florida congregation's method of praise - called ‚presenting the line', in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response - came from the Hebrides.

Ruff argues that

"We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it's more like the book for North Uist.

"We got our names from the slave masters, we got our religion from the slave masters and we got our blood from the slave masters.

. . . "I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America. I hope to inform the perception of Afro-Americans, and what a gift that is, to give people something to go on.

"One of the great tragedies of the Afro-American experience is that few can trace their families beyond the bill of sale. After that it's vague: the name of a ship and never the port of embarkation. The watery highway that those ships took leave no trace."

The rest of the article, which includes responses from Scottish scholars, is well worth reading.

10:36 AM

Sunday, August 31


Chicago in 1995 had a heat wave. It led Eric Klinberg to write Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.

In an interview, he claimed 739 Chicagoans above the norm died during the week of 14 to 20 July.

There were big differences in the death rates among ethnic groups: Blacks suffered most, then whites, and in last place Latinos.
There are far more elderly whites than elderly African Americans in Chicago, and when the Chicago Public Health Department considered the age differences, they found that the black/white mortality ratio was 1.5 to 1.
Another surprising fact that emerged is that Latinos, who represent about 25 percent of the city population and are disproportionately poor and sick, accounted for only 2 percent of the heat-related deaths
Chicago's Latinos tend to live in neighborhoods with high population density, busy commercial life in the streets, and vibrant public spaces. Most of the African American neighborhoods with high heat wave death rates had been abandoned-by employers, stores, and residents-in recent decades. The social ecology of abandonment, dispersion, and decay makes systems of social support exceedingly difficult to sustain.

The city government failed in its response to the crisis, and hundreds died.

France had a heat wave this past month. Jean-Francois Mattei France's health minister said in an interview for publication Sunday people have not stopped dying from the August heat wave that seared France and predicted the death toll will climb toward 12,000.

Doctors and nurses were on vacation. Hospitals were understaffed. Families had gone off on vacation, leaving elderly relatives at home with a full refrigerator but no air conditioning. When the elderly relatives died, some families did not even interrupt their vacations. Social bonds in France are fraying:

Mattei continued: "What is also unbearable is the brutal revelation of a social fracture, of the solitude and isolation of the aged," he was quoted saying.
"I'm revolted by these cadavers that no one is claiming."
Up to 400 bodies remained unclaimed last week in the Paris region and city officials have said they would be interred in the Square of Indigents at the Thiais Cemetery, to be reburied elsewhere if families claim them.

France has had a low birth rate for generation. Many people have no living relatives. The French (and most Europeans) are not neighborly like Americans are. They can live next door to someone for years and not even know the person's name.
So the elderly die alone, in the heat, by the thousands. To die alone is sad. I prayed that I would be by my mother when she died, and I held her hand for hours until she stopped breathing. It is hard to go into that mysterious darkness alone, but such is the fate of more and more people as children disappear or prefer to occupy themselves with the pleasures of life rather care for someone who is at the end of life.

6:46 PM


The September issue should be in the mail to those of you who subscribe - hint, hint - but we've posted two articles from the issue, which you can find here. One is a reflection by Peter Leithart on education and the other a study by Rachel MacNair of the effect of performing abortions upon the abortionists themselves.

Several articles from the July/August issue have also been posted, and you can find them here.

It includes one paper from our conference last October: Dr. Albert Mohler's Standing together, standing apart, and my response Standing with Christ. Between us, we explored what it is that brings together Christians who are deeply divided on fundamental matters (Dr. Mohler is a Southern Baptist and I am a Catholic), Christians who in years past would not have even spoken to each other but now find in each other friends and allies. The other papers explore the same question in other ways.

3:23 PM


A useful blogsite I commend to your attention: After Abortion. Besides the interesting entries by the writer, the site includes links to

- resources for healing;
- resources for information;
- research citations; and
- resources for activism.

It also includes a useful "Blogs I read" - it includes this one - which led me to several I would not have known about otherwise.

Here is an example of one recent blog that made a point I'd never, ever, thought about:

My local paper has a column today about a man who recently underwent a vasectomy. He writes, "Some doctors make you bring in your spouse and go through 'the talk' to make sure you're sure."

As regular readers of this blog know, one of my recurring subjects is the notion that women thinking about abortion ought to get plenty of counseling beforehand, so that they have informed consent about all the risks.

However, the idea of informed consent and 24-hour-waiting-periods for women considering abortion is universally denounced by reproductive rights groups. The claim always is that by the time a woman walks into the abortion clinic, she has done all the thinking she is ever going to want or need to do.

When I read about the counseling that this man got to make sure he was sure about a vasectomy, it occurred to me that reams of information probably exist on vasectomy regret, vasectomy counseling, and risk factors for vasectomy regret.

Sure enough, if you enter "vasectomy counseling" into your search engine, you'll find a wealth of information on how to make sure that a man is truly ready for that irreversible snip...even though it isn't nearly as irreversible as an abortion, one might add.

Here's one example.

I note that one of the factors that put a man at risk of suffering from vasectomy regret is coming to the decision at a time of personal stress or crisis.


3:11 PM


Michael S. Rose's Goodbye! Good Men, a book attempting to document the rejection of worthy candidates for the Catholic priesthood by modernist and homosexualist church authorities, has been subject to a great deal of criticism for being badly documented and insufficiently critical of its sources. If this is the case it is most unfortunate, but this also must be said: those of us who have encountered at first-hand the phenomenon of which he writes have no doubt whatever that the thesis of his book is correct-that orthodox candidates for the ministry are rejected in large numbers, and in many churches, precisely and exclusively because of their orthodoxy.

The reason given for their unfitness is that they are in some significant way constricted in the acceptance of persons and ideas that are supposed to be vital traits of good pastors-hence mentally and spiritually unfit for the office, in fact, not even good men. They are not, it is said, team players, or they are rigid, inflexible, dogmatic, peevish, hypercritical, haughty, narrow, closed, unloving, lacking vulnerability, misanthropic, misogynistic, or humorless.

Let us concede there are people whose general outlooks may be aptly characterized this way, and that they are as such unfit for the pastorate. But please let us also understand that this is what an orthodox Christian looks like to a liberal, and that when liberals are in charge of things, with no significant dissenting voices present, all orthodox believers who are willing to express themselves as such will bear this stigma away from examination. The Lord said it is the narrow way that leads to life and the broad that leads to destruction. Would one really expect those who boast to have chosen what is today called "inclusivity"-which includes everything except that which pertains to the narrow way-to report well of those who have chosen what both recognize to be the Other Path? What would one expect the occupants of the Broad Way, the way of easy alliance with the dominant spirit of the age, to say of those whose very different choice makes them out to be fools and apostates?

Rose's assessment of the Catholic situation matches my own experience in the Episcopal Church. During the earliest days of Frank Griswold's episcopacy in the Diocese of Chicago I entertained the thought of entering its priesthood, and accordingly undertook a BACAM (Bishop's Advisory Council for Aspirants to the Priesthood) weekend, in which my aspirations were examined by a team of lay and clergy selected by the Diocese. In the course of the sessions the convinced orthodox were quickly identified-there were two of us-and the rejection notes that were given to our parish priests contained the customary adjectives. I recall looking across his desk at our rector, who had, along with the vestry, enthusiastically recommended me, and listening to him trying to describe what had been written about my attitude in as kind a way as he could, then putting down the papers and saying, "Steve, what I really can't understand is how you could spend a whole weekend with those folks and not show them your wonderful sense of humor."

The man didn't understand, nor do I think he wanted to. I believe he wished to see the Episcopal Church as I have often heard it described, as a kind of colorful continuum between traditionalist and radical, or perhaps as a kind of patchwork quilt in which each of the diverse patterns has its part in the whole, the whole being joined by good manners and a sense of episcopal collegiality in which nobless obliges everyone. This I believe typical of willfully na*ve conservatives who refuse to recognize the church as a battleground in which sides must be chosen, and think it horrible beyond words that baptized Christians should identify each other as enemies.

This I will give the liberals who are now in complete control of that church: they are clearer-sighted on these matters than the perpetually besotted latitudinarian conservatives. They understand that if their programs are to be carried forward, they must rid themselves by any means of people like my friend and me, and where they have the power, they do it. I don't blame them. If the tables were turned, I would see to it that the same would happen to them, for it is plain to both of us that we serve different gods. When they say "God" they mean the God of Critical Scholarship, Enlightened Opinion, Evolving Being, the Personal Quest, and the I-Won't-Believe-in-Any-God-Who Criterion. When we say this Name, we mean someone else entirely.

There are comings and goings between the two sides all the time, of course, but only through acts of wholly changed loyalties, that is, conversions in which someone who was formerly a liberal becomes a Christian, or someone formerly a Christian becomes a liberal. If one doesn't find this in the Bible, then he might try the Great Divorce. Heavens, what do they teach Episcopalians in school these days?

11:50 AM

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