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

E-mail your comments

(Please indicate if your comments may be published with or without your name.)


Friday, September 26


I heard at the September 8 meeting with the bishops that Father Neuhaus was invited but did not come, probably because he knew it would be a waste of time. Everyone there asked the bishops why they didn’t do anything about pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Neuhaus addresses the question of why the bishops don’t confront pro-abortion politicians in "The Bishop’s Problem," in the October 2003 First Things (available on line next month).

My acquaintance with bishops is mostly through the newspapers; Neuhaus has considerable personal experience. We both have the same impression:

"“Most bishops are, first of all, managers. That’s not the way it is supposed to be, but it is the way it is. They are burdened and distracted by many things. Anyone who wants to be a bishop these days is either a saint or manifestly unqualified for the job. The latter may not prevent him from getting it. Most bishops are averse to controversy and terrified of confrontation. They see it as their job to keep everybody on board, not to rock the boat, and so forth. This is called being “pastoral,” a rich word much debased. They know that almost every nationally prominent Democratic politician who is a Catholic is also pro-choice, and the same is true o some Republicans. That recognize it is a problem, even a public scandal. They, too, have been asked this question. In many cases, they are tired of being asked it, probably because they, too, don’t have a very good answer.”

As Neuhaus goes on to point out, the Vatican is implicated in this, because the American bishops see that nothing is done about pro-abortion European Catholic politicians.

The situation is not happy; the Vatican has shown more political energy in opposing gay marriages (a bad thing) than in opposing abortion ( a horrendous thing). All is not right in the Church. While it is true that everything has never been entirely right in the Church, we still have the duty to oppose abuses, especially when the victims are the millions of aborted children and the millions who will be grown in fetal farms for spare organs, all made possible by Catholic politicians in good standing with the Church and on very friendly terns with the bishops.

8:33 AM

Wednesday, September 24


A reader writes in response to the link to Holman's new Bible translation (two blogs down):

One of the last things we need is still another translation of the Bible. It is challenging enough getting Christians to read the translations that already exist.

I just pass these things along, for those who find them helpful. He may be right, but then I've found that I can read a particular idea in several different writers till one day I finally get it, for whatever reason, and it seems (from then on) blindingly obvious. The same is probably true with translations.

Maybe putting out new translations of the Bible is like the sowing of the seed in Jesus' parable, which is by nature an apparently wasteful process. You sling the seed all over the place and some of it falls on stony ground, etc. But some of it sprouts.

4:15 PM


To give you a break from the usual, here is an encouraging story of a woman in Colombia bringing the Lord to prisoners: "A Modern Mother Teresa", by Janice Crouse of the Beverly LaHaye Institute. (It challenges those of us who spend their working hours doing things like, um, editing magazines and writing blogs.) It begins:

A quiet spoken American woman has been an integral part of a reformation mirroring the Book of Acts that is going on in Colombia, South America. Jeannine Brabon, a missionary with OMS International in Colombia, is a dynamic, but unlikely heroine. Jeannine is an academic, a professor at Seminario Biblico de Colombia (the Biblical Seminary of Colombia). A Hebrew scholar who specializes in Biblical Hebrew and exegésis, she has translated William S. LaSor’s Hebrew Grammar into Spanish. One would think that she would live a quiet academic life consisting of teaching, writing, grading papers and working with students.

She does all those things; that is her full time job. But, Jeannine’s heart has been gripped by the “culture of death” that is Colombia, where killing has become a lucrative offshoot of the drug cartel and the underworld drug culture. She says, “I teach people who have had their fathers, brothers and sons assassinated. I rarely have a class in any given year that one of my class members does not lose one of their family members to a violent death.” She adds, “Life is of little value, and no one knows who the enemy is. It’s a deadly and dangerous world. But security is not the absence of danger; it’s the presence of Jesus.”

Jeannine’s involvement began indirectly. One of Jeannine’s students asked her help in searching for her brother, who had been missing for five days. Jeannine went with her student to the city morgue. In Medellin, 25 deaths are reported on an average day and 100 on weekends. As Jeannine and her student searched through the more than one hundred bodies in the morgue that day, she couldn’t get the question out of her mind, “What can I do? What CAN I do?” She will never forget Margarita’s cry when she found her brother’s body. He had been brutally tortured to death. As Jeannine and Margarita wept together, God began providing the answer to Jeannine’s question.

4:11 PM


A very useful issue of the Regent University Law Review titled "Homosexuality: Truth Be Told". You can download any article from the issue as either a pdf or a Word file, which is quite generous of the law school.

The only article I've looked at is "Selling Homosexuality to America" by Paul Rondeau, and I recommend it. He is the university's director of develppment and speaks from his experience as a salesman and marketer. The article is heavily footnoted and draws upon the words of homosexualist strategists themselves.

For those of you who may feel snobbish about Regent University, the law school is, I'm told, as indpendent as possible from Pat Robertson. This issue of the review includes a professor of neuropsychiatry and behavioral ccience at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, a clinical professor at the University of Utah, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California School of Medicine, and the the medical director of Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare Systems in Michigan, who would, presumably, not have lent their names to an eccentric enterprise.

4:00 PM


Two websites you may find of use:, which contains the text of the new Holman Christian Standard Bible Translation, which they have put online before putting in print. The site also offers Bible reference materials. Holman is a Southern Baptist publisher.

Marriage Debate blogsite. Run by Maggie Gallagher, marriage scholar and clever writer, the blog offers a running exchange between people on both sides of the homosexual marriage question. The exchange of arguments back and forth helps even those of us sure of our position, not least to understand what the other side is thinking and how it is trying to frame the discussion (one of the pro-gay-marriage writers tries to present it as a way to save traditional marriage by increasing the number of people in traditional marriages). The site's home page offers a wide range of useful resources.

3:04 PM


Lee Penn has been tracking the United Religions Initiative since its founding by the Episcopal bishop of California (i.e. the San Francisco area) a few years ago. Amazingly, for a man who's uncovered so much useful material, he doesn't have access to a website on which to post his articles, so he has kindly let me post his latest here.


Or, Great Moments in Ecumenical Understanding, ECUSA-Style

Commentary Report By Lee Penn
The Christian Challenge (Washington, DC)
September 16, 2003

LIBERAL CALIFORNIA Episcopal Bishop William Swing hatched a plan in late 2002 to make a ten-day ecumenical pilgrimage to Canterbury, Rome, and Istanbul, in which he would be joined by (among others) San Francisco Roman Catholic Archbishop William Levada and Metropolitan Anthony, the city’s Greek Orthodox Metropolitan.

Swing described this pilgrimage, which took place in April 2003, as having several lofty-sounding ecumenical objectives. Yet it appears that he and some within his entourage did not let ecumenical sensitivity stand in the way of their efforts to promote women’s ordination during visits to the top officials of two major Churches which definitively reject the innovation.

In a rather eye-glazing explanation, Swing said he and the two other San Francisco church leaders set out on their journey “to . . . witness to the close bond of friendship that has developed over the past decades between the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican bishops in San Francisco; to build on a growing sense of unity whereby social issues have been addressed in common, ministries have been approached jointly, mutual hospitalities have been shared, and worship services have been held that included all constituencies; to demonstrate an earnest desire to become more knowledgeable and appreciative of each other’s traditions; . . . to show plainly that some religious communities are reaching out to each other; and to make our prayers at each one’s spiritual home as we yearn for the day when we will share together Holy Communion and all the blessings that accompany the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ.” The trip was to be a witness for ecumenical unity among Christians — a laudable goal, indeed.

Despite the war in Iraq, the trip occurred as planned this last April, complete with audiences for the prelates and their retinue with the Pope and with the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Holy Father gave a warm and welcoming message to the pilgrims, who in turn gave him two $50,000 checks for use in ministry to the poor. Swing wrote that the trip included a “grand reception” on the evening after the Papal audience, attended by “Cardinals and all sorts of other impressive people, [all] wanting to greet us. (Obviously Levada has a good name in this town.)”

Swing also met with British supporters of the United Religions Initiative (URI), the syncretic interfaith movement that he founded in San Francisco in 1995, and which now has 200 chapters and 15,000 members worldwide.

The bishop had posted a chatty diary of the pilgrimage on the Diocese of California web site. His meeting with the Pope and the Patriarch got equal time with his head cold, his excursions through Europe’s hotels and restaurants, and his references to “young gypsy pickpockets,” Oscar Wilde’s arrest in a British hotel room for a “homosexual liaison,” and a Turkish tour guide who called himself “Attila the honey.”

And Swing’s diary made clear that, throughout their journey, the bishop and other Episcopalians with him made repeated attempts to promote women priests:

— Archbishop Levada led a Catholic Mass at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, where the lesson was read by Beth Hansen, “[maybe] the first woman priest ever to participate in a mass at the Basilica,” Swing wrote.

— When the pilgrims met Patriarch Bartholomew, Swing said that “we covered a wide range of subjects. When we hit on women’s ordination, he had a deacon bring books on that subject to the three women in our group--Mary, Beth, and Lou. I mentioned that I have ordained more women than any other bishop in the history of the Church and would be glad to talk about my experience. He said, ‘I don’t want to know your experience.’ That was that.”

Swing also furnished 30 “footnotes and afterthoughts” at the end of his on-line diary. He regretted that church leaders have been “telling our flocks about other churches and doing so in prejudicial and unfair ways. Education founded on respectful education is needed.”

Swing then offered these profound contributions to mutual respect among Christians:

— “Cardinal Kasper said wistfully, ‘Women’s ordination is a hard issue for us.’ My reptile brain wanted to say, ‘Our women are a problem for you. And you should know that your men are a problem for us.’ Restraint prevailed.”

(But not for long: if Cardinal Kasper had gone onto the Internet, he could have read this statement from Swing’s “reptile brain” on Swing’s diocesan web site.)

— “The statement that the Pope made on women’s ordination was just one degree less than a Papal Bull. Were it a Papal Bull and thus infallible it would have closed the question of women’s ordination for 300 years into the future. At the last second, that Pope insisted on a slight bit of restraint. Therefore, it is a minor issue,” Swing concluded.

— “Beth Hansen was brave to wear her clerical collar in an audience with the Pope and an audience with the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Pope didn’t react. The Patriarch seemed slightly perturbed.”

(Another great moment in Episcopalian diplomacy and tact!)

— “Rome and Orthodoxy are very, very, very male. Also they both have high doctrines and devotion about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I find it difficult to utter the word ‘Theotokos’ in referring to Mary. Although I honor the devotion that Levada and Anthony have for Mary, I think that calling Mary the Mother of God moves close to idolatry. Jesus said, ‘Who is my mother. . . ? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven are my mother, brothers . . . .’ And if she is the Mother of God, what relationship does she have with the one whom Jesus calls Abba, Father? Popular Islamic thinking is that Christians are polytheists: God, Jesus, His Mother. I can see where their impression comes from.”

(When push comes to shove, this Anglican prelate is more at ease with Islamic views than with the Christian dogma about one woman — Mary as the Mother of God — proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and again at the Council of Constantinople in 551.)

— Swing said it is “obvious” that the Vatican and the Patriarchate “are structured so that the ‘house’ wins. I serve in the Church where the main concerns are social ministries and getting a new rector or vitalizing the youth group. . . In dealing with the Vatican and Orthodoxy, it is clear that time is on a different scale. They deal with centuries, mostly past centuries.”

— “There is no way that the Church in England could have broken away from Rome without the power of the King,” Swing wrote. “The Roman Catholic Church is power bequeathed by Roman Emperors, inherited in lands and treasures, and endlessly propagating itself. It is a big Church with big Muscle. Going through St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum gives that message. Anglicanism could only start with the big Muscle of a King.”

(Thus, Swing credited earthly kings for the establishment and maintenance of both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.)

SWING SAID THAT the “most scintillating meeting” he had at the reception on the evening after the papal audience was with Francis Cardinal Arinze. “In the past we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on interfaith matters. Now he has moved on from Interreligious to Divine Worship so our paths no longer cross,” the bishop wrote.

He was referring to the fact that Cardinal Arinze, when he was the head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, clearly rejected the URI. He told Swing in 1996 that the United Religions Initiative “would give the appearance of syncretism and. . . would water down our need to evangelize. It would force authentic religions to be on equal footing with spurious religions.”


— The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing, “2003 Ecumenical Pilgrimage to London, Canterbury, Rome, Istanbul,” accessible through as of 07/19/03. (The article had been on-line from April 2003 through July 2003, but was no longer on-line as of September 11, 2003)

— Bishop William Swing, “The United Religions Initiative,” a document issued in April 1996 (at the end of Swing’s global pilgrimage), p. 7

Permission to circulate the foregoing electronically is granted, provided that there are no changes in the headings or text, and this notice is included. To receive a sample issue of THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE magazine, please write to

10:43 AM


I received this from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. I have signed the petition involved.

At this URL there is a petition you can sign appealing to Nigeria's High Commissioner to abolish the death penalty.

The appeal has been sparked by the case of Amina Lawal, sentenced to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock. (Her appeal has been adjourned until 25 September.) Basic information about the case is attached.

* * *

Update on Amina Lawal

Amina Lawal, a 30 year-old Nigerian woman, sentenced by a Shari'ah court to death by stoning, has once again had her appeal adjourned. Amina's appeal will now be heard on 27 August 2003. According to the registrar of the Shari'ah Court of Appeal of Katsina State, the hearing could not take place because there was an inadequate number of tribunal members to hear the appeal. Two of the judges were reportedly serving on ad-hoc elections tribunals, constituted after general elections in April and May 2003.

Amina confessed to having had a child while divorced. Pregnancy outside of marriage constitutes sufficient evidence for a woman to be convicted of adultery according to the new Shari'ah-based penal code for Muslims, introduced in Katsina state.

The man named as the father of her baby girl reportedly denied having sex with her and his confession was enough for the charges against him to be discontinued. Amina did not have a lawyer during her first trial when the judgement was passed. But she has now filed an appeal against her sentence with the help of a lawyer hired by a pool of Nigerian human rights and women's rights organisations. Amina is awaiting her appeal at home.

10:35 AM

Tuesday, September 23


A reader writes in response to the Washington Post article analyzed in "Cliched propaganda" (two blogs below):

A former colleague of mine related a story about a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami who used to comment about drivel of this kind, "It has a long way to go to make it up to false!"

2:46 PM


Some recently arrived review copies, which you may want to know about.

Joseph Pearce’s C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Ignatius). Pearce, who’s written several biographies of modern Catholic writers, including Belloc, Chesterton, and Tolkien, tries to answer the question some Catholics ask of why C. S. Lewis did not become a Catholic.

It’s a question designed to set off ecumenical fireworks. The Catholic asks “Why didn’t he?” and his Protestant friend answers “Why should he?”. And their Orthodox friend dives for cover.

Given Touchstone’s interest in Lewis, it seemed a good book to review, but not a good book to review from one side or the other. We’ll be running two reviews, one by me as a Catholic and our senior editor Steven Hutchens as a Lewisian sort of Protestant.

The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy edited by Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson (Open Court). This book offers sixteen essays by professional philosophers examining the “deeper issues” raised by the books. I will be reviewing it for the magazine but haven’t yet read enough of it to give an opinion. The one writer whose name I recognized was Thomas Hibbs, who teaches at Baylor and wrote Shows about nothing: nihilism in popular culture (Spence).

Gillis Harp’s Brahmin Prophet: Phillips Brooks and the Path of Liberal Enlightenment (Rowan & Littlefield). This is the new book by one of contributing editors, on the great Episcopal clergyman of the late nineteenth century.

The writer sees Brooks as an admirable man, but one whose embrace of a mild form of 19th century religious liberalism both effected and symbolized much of the development of American religion since then, including the fate of the Evangelical movement in the Episcopal Church. Harp is a lucid and graceful writer, and those who like biographies or religious history will enjoy this book greatly, I think. Episcopalians should read it to have a better idea of how they got where they are now.

Must Christianity Be Violent? edited by Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs Baker/Brazos). This is an interesting-looking book — I’ve only skimmed it — edited by two Wheaton College professors. (Alan Jacobs, by the way, will be speaking at our The Time is Near conference in October.)

The essays, by a range of Evangelical writers, examine the violence committed by Christians through history and pursue the idea of “just peacemaking.” The argument is (I think, judging from my skimming) summarized by a paragraph in the Wheaton historian Mark Noll’s essay:

[W]holesale indictments of Christianity as a malignant force in history do not arise out of thin air. . . . the role of Christians in promoting the destruction of others, while acting self-consciously in defense of what believers openly claim as Christian principles, cannot be denied. Similarly, there are enough questionable activities taken or attitudes promoted by Christians to lend at least some plausibility to those who would link Christianity with the environmental crisis, with misogyny, and with the alienation created y unchecked capitalism.

In an appendix the book includes an interesting discussion between the provocative Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank, the founder of the “Radical Orthodoxy” school.

George C. Michalopulos and Herb Ham’s The American Orthodox Church: A history of its beginnings (Regina Orthodox Press). A history of Orthodoxy in America published by the press run by Frank Schaeffer, the convert son of the famous Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer.

In addition to giving the history, the authors argue for the unification of the various Orthodox jurisdictions in America and for a revival of Orthodox life. As they write near the end, “A fragmented church will not be able to survive individualistic and secularized modern America.”

2:42 PM


Another link sent by a reader, this one to an article from the Washington Post titled "Gay Marriage Becomes Routine for Dutch". As the reader noted, this is another act in the major media's campaign for homosexual marriage. It begins:

AMSTERDAM -- Dolf Pasker and Gert Kasteel are just like any other married couple two years on, settling into the mundane routine of daily life together. They finish each other's sentences. They laugh at each other's jokes. When one goes to make the coffee, the other playfully teases about whose job it is to work in the kitchen. The only thing that makes their marriage unusual is that they are both men.

While the United States fiercely debates the issue of allowing same-sex marriage, marriage for gay men and lesbians in the Netherlands has become so commonplace that today, two years after being legalized, it is hardly recognized as different.

As many as 8 percent of all marriages here are now between people of the same sex, according to gay activists. Gay men and lesbians advertise their marriages and host lavish parties for friends. And some of those who got married are getting divorced and paying court-ordered alimony.

I find most interesting how cliched the article is. First the cute little domestic scene with the twist at the end (the writer is assuming Americans won't realize that both names are men's names). Then the "objective" paragraph (supposedly) giving the facts. And finally the paragraph (supposedly) proving that what was once outlawed is now becoming mainstream. Even the "according to gay activists" is a cliche for this type of story, I think because a) the writers can't get the figures they want from objective, non-propagandizing sources; and b) they want to treat "gay activists" as if they were objective sources and thereby make readers begin to think of them as objective sources.

And then the cute last line, designed to show just how gosh darn normal these couples are. See? They're even getting divorced and paying alimony, just like you!


10:54 AM


A friend sent me George Will's latest column, "Hardwired to Connect", about a study of the same name sponsored by Dartmouth Medical School, the Institute for American Values (the group run by David Blankenhorn, author of the excellent Fatherless America), and the YMCA. The reason many children suffer depression, anxiety, and the like,

is a deficit of connectedness. The deficit is the difference between what the biological makeup of human beings demands and what many children's social situations supply in the way of connections to other people, and to institutions that satisfy the natural need for moral and spiritual meaning.

The brain, the study found, is designed to look for meaning and to be affected by others.

"The idea,'' says Allan N. Schore of the UCLA School of Medicine, "is that we are born to form attachments, that our brains are physically wired to develop in tandem with another's, through emotional communication, beginning before words are spoken.''

Furthermore, the report says, social environments that meet -- or defeat -- this need "affect gene transcription and the development of brain circuitry.'' And "a social environment can change the relationship between a specific gene and the behavior associated with that gene.'' A child's "relational context,'' says Schore, "imprints into the developing right brain either a resilience against or a vulnerability to later forming psychiatric disorders.'"

You will want to read the story for the rest of Will's description of the study. It suggests, among other things, that the sexual liberators have even more to answer for than we thought.

People raised in affluent, stable societies, as everyone in America over 70 or so has been, naturally assume that societies are both resilient and malleable. We assume that our society can take a good beating and that we can change it as we wish. Experimentation carries, we think, no risk. Nothing we do cannot be undone.

If this study is right, and I see no reason to doubt it, and if all the studies of the effects of divorce (e.g., Blankenhorn's) are right, and I see no reason to doubt them, our society's cheerful, energetic, optimistic rejection of the stable, permanent family and till death do us part marriages, has permanently harmed generations of children, physically as well as psychologically. And the damage cannot be undone -- and not only can it not be undone, we can't stop it being passed on to the next generation.

The illusion that we can play with society as if it were a set of lego blocks is an understandable one, when a country has been so peaceful and so wealthy for so long. But Americans had reason to know that it was an illusion, not least the massive witness of Christian teaching and, if that were not enough, the history of Germany's plunge into barbarism, which cost a lot of Americans their lives.

It is an understandable illusion, but not an innocent one. I don't think the Kinseys and Hefners of the world will have much excuse, nor the companies that exploited sex to sell their products (and is there a big company that hasn't?), nor the politicians who changed the laws to weaken marriage, nor the academics who produced studies designed to support "liberation," nor those who took advantage of what they thought was their new freedom, nor the rest of us who (if St. Augustine was right) failed in perfect chastity and perfect charity even if faithful to our wives or husbands.

10:40 AM

Monday, September 22


Nathaniel Brooks kindly sent on the link to "Of Spindles and Spirituality" from Saturday's New York Times. It begins:

They talk about painting with breast milk. They talk of knitting the vegan fox, a polyester stole that looks like fur but harms no animals in its creation. They gather on Sundays to sew, tat, crochet, paint and cut up soda cans.

And if they do it all with an unusual fervor, there is a reason: This is their religion.

The Church of Craft, a faith pieced together over the last three years like some sort of cosmic quilt, has branches — or flocks, as it calls them — in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Montreal and Stockholm, among other cities. Its do-it-yourself credo is summed up on its Web site,, in just a few sentences: "The power of creating gives us the confidence to live our lives with all the love we can. By promoting creativity, we offer access to a nondenominational spiritual practice that is self-determined and proactive."

It is a scream. This kind of story shows why Malcolm Muggeridge gave up editing the satirical magazine Punch after four years. Reality is funnier than a writer can ever be. If I had made up this story and run it in the magazine, almost every reader would say it was too far-fetched and strained to be good satire.

2:44 PM


A site I recommend: the site of the New York City C. S. Lewis Society. It is the oldest Lewis society in the world, I think, and has been meeting monthly for at least 33 years. The site includes the back issues from all those years, and a good many of the articles they've published — usually the talks they've heard — are significant contributions to "Lewis studies." Our own associate editor Kevin Offner has spoken to them twice in the last couple of years.

The editor of the newsletter, Robert Trexler, has appearing in the December issue a review of John Granger's The Hidden Key to Harry Potter. Granger himself has an article appearing in the November issue on J. K. Rowling's use of alchemical symbolism to convey Christian truths.

2:38 PM


Our correspondent William Tighe, an historian by trade, writes in response to my "What Noonan Told the Bishops" and the earlier "Bishops are bishops":

Your proposal to subdivide dioceses is simply a return to (or "repristination of") the nature of the diocese as a "unit" or "manageable community", which once prevailed all over the Catholic Mediterranean worlduntil Napoleon in southern France, various piecemeal reforms in Spain and Portugal from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and until the 1960s in Italy. (The numerous small dioceses of Italy began to be united and consolidated, as I have been informed, because such small dioceses could not support the full array of "programs" [youth apostolate, marriage apostolate, treachers' association, marriage tribunal, social apostolate etc.] that the Vatican began to insist from the very early 60s that each Italian diocese should have.) It still prevails among the Greek Orthodox, with the small and numerous Greek dioceses.

I can see whay your propoal to make the dioceses more dependent upon voluntary giving by the faithful would be more controversial, especially among clergy, but such a situation would certainly work to a degree in favor of the orthodox (and merely conservative) as opposed to modernists and liberals.

It seems to me that manageable communities are better than unmanageable communities, but it will take much for the Catholic Church to return its dioceses in this country to that state. Institutions that size don't change their shape at all easily and for quite practical reasons (think of the problems of rearranging the property, getting some people to move from the chancery [the Catholic term for diocesan office] in one city to a new office in another) as well as personal (how many of us would want to give up authority?).

I fully understand the difficulties of my suggestion, though on the other hand subdividing the now over-large dioceses would only be to apply to the Church's structure the idea of "subsidiarity" (that an action should be done by the smallest unity that can do it) she applies to social structures in general.

11:06 AM


Something that will annoy most of you but provides a good example of the secular mind faced with the religious claim to have received a revelation: the leftist literary theorist Terry Eagleton's "Pedants and partisans", published in the English newspaper The Guardian (which is like the Washington Post or the Boston Globe only moreso).

Fundamentalists are those who believe that our linguistic currency is trustworthy only if it is backed by the gold standard of the Word of Words. They see God as copperfastening human meaning. Fundamentalism means sticking strictly to the script, which in turn means being deeply fearful of the improvised, ambiguous or indeterminate.

Fundamentalists, however, fail to realise that the phrase "sacred text" is self-contradictory. Since writing is meaning that can be handled by anybody, any time, it is always profane and promiscuous. Meaning that has been written down is bound to be unhygienic. Words that could only ever mean one thing would not be words. Fundamentalism is the paranoid condition of those who do not see that roughness is not a defect of human existence, but what makes it work.

For them, it is as though we have to measure Everest down to the last millimetre if we are not to be completely stumped about how high it is. It is not surprising that fundamentalism abhors sexuality and the body, since in one sense all flesh is rough, and all sex is rough trade.

One could say a lot about this and about the charges he makes in the rest of the article, but having manuscripts awaiting me, I will resist the temptation and say only that, judging from what I have seen and read, the average "fundamentalist" has a significantly larger family than the average non- or anti-fundamentalist. These are people who so love the body that they make a lot more new bodies than anyone else.

I suspect that Eagleton, like most writers of his school, gets things exactly backwards. He sees the restrictions of chastity and thinks "hatred of the body," when any booby knows, or ought to know, that the restrictions of chastity express a love of the body. It is so valuable that its integrity must be guarded zealously.

The extensive security around the crown jewels in the Tower of London doesn't mean the English don't care about them. It means they care about them very much, and do not want to lose them. They are guarded so well so that they can be passed on to the person to whom they will belong next. And passed on whole, entire, clean, unspoiled, unbroken.

Now, I know there are some narrow, pinched lunatic fundamentalists of the sort presented in Eagleton's article and in movies. But I'm not sure, from the few I've known, that even these "abhor the body" as Eagleton and such writers claim. Their error is to insist on the rules without declaring the glory, and stressing the negative rules and forgetting the positive ones, so that others think they only care about the rules saying "No!". But I think a lot of them know the glory.

10:54 AM


An interesting article, if you're interested in the subject:"Waiting for the Messiah of Eastern Parkway", from Sunday's New York Times, on the Lubavitcher community of Hassidic Jews. Most of them believe that their dead rabbi, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the Messiah, though he died nine years ago.

For the anti-messianists, their messianic brethren present a public-relations disaster of epic proportions. They worry that their Hasidic movement, which is 300 years old and has survived pogroms, Communism and the Holocaust, will become confused with a cult. What's more, they can hardly ignore the obvious Christian overtones of messianism: what kind of Jews believe in a second coming?

This division is significant because of the group's effect on Judaism around the world:

Lubavitch is insignificant in terms of the global Jewish population, accounting for just a couple hundred thousand people, but it plays an outsize role in worldwide Jewish life. Unlike other, insular Hasidic movements, the Lubavitch credo, articulated repeatedly by Rebbe Schneerson himself, calls for encouraging secular Jews to become more observant. Between its emissaries and far-flung outposts (last year alone, Lubavitch opened 34 Jewish schools around the world), the movement has almost certainly done more to promote the growth of Judaism than any other organization.

It is this last fact that makes the dispute between messianists and anti-messianists more than a communal squabble. ''What people have not yet grasped is that this is a watershed event in the history of Judaism,'' says David Berger, a professor of Jewish history at Brooklyn College and the author of an unusually vitriolic academic book attacking Lubavitch messianism. ''People will eventually come to see this moment in apocalyptic terms.''

10:38 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?