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Saturday, November 8


A light article by David Brooks in the New York Times on internet dating: Love, Internet Style. It begins:

If you're dating in the Age of the Hook-Up, sex is this looming possibility from the first moment you meet a prospective partner. But couples who meet through online dating services tend to exchange e-mail for weeks or months. Then they'll progress to phone conversations for a few more weeks. Only then will there be a face-to-face meeting, almost always at some public place early in the evening, and the first date will often be tentative and Dutch.

Online dating puts structure back into courtship. For generations Americans had certain courtship rituals. The boy would call the girl and ask her to the movies. He might come in and meet the father. After a few dates he might ask her to go steady. Sex would progress gradually from kissing to petting and beyond.

I don't find this very reassuring myself, though any structure in courtship is an improvement. He writes near the end of the article:

Whatever else has changed, men are more likely to be predators looking for sex, while women try to hold back. Men will ask women for more photos "from different angles." A woman, wanting to be reassured that this guy is not some rapist, will shut off anyone who calls her "hottie" or who mentions sex first. Women generally control the pace of the relationship.

I wonder if this is completely true. I can see that if the point of the exercise is sex, the woman, who controls the supply in demand, will control the market. But if the point of the exercise is intimacy and commitment, the man, who controls the supply in demand, will control the market.

1:17 PM


A perhaps interesting article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal: Silence, Please: Dictates and double standards among the Lutherans by Holly Ziegler, a Missouri Synod Lutheran. It reports that David Benke, the pastor who was suspended for praying at an interfaith event at Yankee Stadium, and whose defenders had said "charity, not charges," is threatening another pastor with charges for giving a lecture on interfaith worship.

It doesn't seem up to the newspaper's standards, I must say, since it doesn't explain the story at all well: it includes something of the what? but nothing of the why? She accuses Benke of hypocrisy but never says waht the pastor would be saying in his lecture that would upset anyone — that is, she doesn't give us any idea whether Benke might be right. I would be grateful if any LCMS reader would write to explain it.

1:13 PM


Something useful from the Wall Street Journal’s daily newsletter surveying the day’s news and comment, OpinionJournal:

Getting the Message >,1,6049971.column

The same week CBS canceled the slanderous miniseries "The Reagans," here are two more data suggesting a cultural shift is under way in the media. Don Wycliff, the Chicago Tribune's ombudsman, takes his paper to task for pro-abortion bias. At issue was a headline that read, depending on the edition of the Trib, "Anti-Choice Groups Celebrate Victories" or "Anti-Choice Victories Alarm Pro-Choice Groups":

*** QUOTE ***

In either case, the flaw was the same: The perspective of those who define the issues involved in terms of "choice" was taken as normative, and the position of those who disagree with them and define the issues differently was characterized in "choice" terms. The result was two headlines that couldn't have been more slanted if they had come directly from the public relations office of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

*** END QUOTE ***

Wycliff notes that in a letter to the editor from the head of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, the paper changed "each of his uses of 'pro-life' was changed to 'anti-abortion,' to conform to the Tribune stylebook proscription against use of the term pro-life. Happily, editor Ann Marie Lipinski has since decided that that rule need not be applied to letters to the editor."

And Wycliff scores the "absurd locution" in a headline on the passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Act: "Senate Votes to Ban Type of Abortion." The Trib stylebook counsels reporters and editors to "avoid loaded terms, such as partial-birth abortion":

*** QUOTE ***

Mitchell May, chief of the national-foreign copy desk, said writing this headline was "definitely a case where we had to stay straight down the middle."

Leaving aside whether our stylebook policy really does steer us "straight down the middle"--why, for example, is "pro-life" forbidden but "pro-choice" is not?--it merits asking whether we have become so obsessed with what we believe to be neutrality on this topic that we have become inscrutable.

*** END QUOTE ***

1:04 PM

Friday, November 7


A military reader writes:

You may have missed a great interview with Democratic-Presidential Gasbag Wesley Clark on NPR yesterday. Among other gems, Clark, in opposing the partial-birth abortion law, said that he didn't believe in "legislation for ideology" — apparently preferring legislation bereft of ideas, but why be surprised?

But his best moment had to be when asked about religion in the public sphere. Clark replied that his father was Jewish, he was raised a Baptist, but that he is now a Catholic who attends a Presbyterian church. Wow. I’m happy to see that he is slipping in the polls, but maybe he'll be telling us about his brother the Mullah next.

“Ideology,” in the usage of people like Gen. Clark, seems to mean “an idea I dislike.” They have ideas, especially new ideas, visions, principles, feelings of righteous indignation, etc. Their enemies have “ideology.”

When they talk about justice for one of their favored groups, they speak about justice, period, but when their opponents talk about justice for the unborn, they (their opponents) speak ideologically. “A woman’s right to control her own body” is for them a self-evident truth upon which public policy must be based, but “an unborn child’s right to live” is an ideological statement — oh, and a litmus test too — that should never be advanced in public debate.

There is something particularly smarmy about this. An intelligent man knows what an idea is. He can recognize two competing ideas and judge between them. He can see that the pro-choice people hold one set of ideas and the pro-life people another. He can see, if he looks, that the pro-life position has an ancient and substantial intellectual tradition behind it. This is not, as the expression goes, rocket science. We expect this of any educated man.

But being able to do this and yet trying to win the argument by slapping an insulting label on the ideas he does not like, and trying to rule them out of the debate entirely by pretending they are not ideas, is disgusting. It’s lying. It’s cheating.

4:12 PM


An item from Domenico Bettinelli, one of the editors of Catholic World Report:

Want to see a good Catholic movie that's being stifled by movie studios? No, it's not "The Passion." It's "One Man's Hero," starring Tom Berenger. It's the story of Irish Catholics in America in the 1840s who got fed up with anti-Catholicism in the US and moved to Mexico, a country that was welcoming to their Catholic faith. And they eventually became soldiers in the Mexican Army, forming the "St. Patrick Battalion," fighting against the US in the US-Mexico War (1842-1846). For that they were labeled traitors and some were tried by the US as deserters. This is a true story.

The movie was made by Orion Pictures, but when Orion was bought MGM, the new owners seemed determined not to release it in 1998. It was played in only a few theaters in the Southwest and despite critical acclaim and rave reviews during press screenings in Ireland, it was never released there at all.

Now the producers along with Catholics who want to see more family friendly, Catholic friendly fare come out of Hollywood are mounting a campaign to get MGM to sell the distribution rights and allow someone to get this movie out where it can be seen by audiences. This coming Tuesday, in fact, they will be screening the movie for the US bishops at their semi-annual meeting.

What can you do? Go to the One Man's Hero Re-Release Campaign web site for more information. And pray. With Hollywood's track record of making Catholic hostile movies, we can't sit back and ignore it when a major Catholic friendly movie is stifled.

Mr. Bettinelli was writing for a generally Catholic readership, but this looks like an ecumenical cause. Any movie portrayal of Christians acting according to principle (Christian principles, I mean) is good for all Christians. And for what it's worth, the Mexican War seems to me an almost completely unjustified act of raw imperialism. When a man does this sort of thing on his own, it's called robbery and murder.

2:25 PM


A very interesting response from Kevin Burt, responding to Philip Pullman's comments given in yesterday's blog "Pullman on Rowling and Tolkien".

Mr. Pullman stated that he lacked an interest in the LOTR characters because they displayed no psychological depth. He found the characters and story in Rowlings series slightly better, being somewhat "funny and inventive."

This strikes me as the general mood of most people today. Morality takes a back seat to psychology, usually meaning that a person who, with great striving and toil, remains faithful to his moral standards, is "dull," while those who lack the self-discipline to follow principles and therefore escape into a world of moral waffling — conveniently labeled as "real" or "interesting" or "deep" — are found to be "relative" and engaging.

As I read through the Apostolic Fathers the past few weeks, it struck me how different some men once were, and still are. They found the unwavering — such as St. Polycarp and his "psychologically shallow" insistence on allegiance to Christ — to be the real heroes: the ones to whom we should look with great interest — an interest which determines our eternal destiny. Polycarp has lived on in the mind of the Church for one reason:
his constancy in faith and praxis. Had he more "psychological depth," I doubt Pullman or anyone else would even know who he was; his legacy would have been lost.

There were giants on the earth in those days. Unfortunately, in many circles, they have been replaced with "psychologically deep" individuals. Sin has always been more pleasurable —
for a season. Methinks, however, that long after Pullman and myself are gone and forgotten, St. Polycarp will still be venerated, Tolkien will still be read, the Law will still be chanted, the Faith of the the Apostles will still be established, and the Church will still exult in grace — not in psychological depth.

I thought this very helpful. I said something related in yesterday's blog "Good and Evil".

2:15 PM


I have read perhaps a dozen reviews of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” from devout Christians of many denominations who have attended pre-release screenings. To say the consensus is uniformly positive would misrepresent the level of enthusiasm they have shown, which is hardly possible to exaggerate. I believe them—that this is not only a film of surpassing greatness, but that this greatness lies precisely in its effectiveness in portraying the sufferings of the Lord for us men and our salvation. There is little doubt that it will not only bring people to Christ, but help unite Christians at the center of their common faith and excite the most passionate hatred of his enemies, that is to say, it will faithfully re-present the passion of Christ, which is exactly what is intended.

I will not, however, view it, for this particular cinematographic portrayal of the Savior, by means of its very excellence, raises for me profound temptations to idolatry, of confusion in the mind of sign with Thing Signified that I think best, given my weaknesses, to resist. Better, for me, at any rate, words, bread, wine, and other icons that in the uniting keep them well divided. I doubt if Mr. Gibson would blame me.

1:03 PM


As we travel back and forth to visit our sons in Montreal, immigration controls are getting tighter and tighter. The United States might not be so inclined to go it alone in international affairs if our putative allies showed a little more concern for the real dangers in the world. From today’s National Post:

Ottawa protects war criminals' right to privacy
Dozens missing in Canada: Names of fugitives ordered deported will not be released

Denis Coderre, the Minister of Immigration, is refusing to publicly release the names and photographs of dozens of war criminals who have gone missing across Canada, saying he supports their right to privacy.

In a decision that puts the privacy rights of war crimes fugitives ahead of the security rights of Canadians, Mr. Coderre ordered his staff to keep the war criminals' identities a secret.

8:11 AM

Thursday, November 6


Here is a statement a reader just sent me, from the writer Philip Pullman, whom Leonie Caldecott discussed in her “Paradise Denied” in the October issue. Someone asks him what he thinks of the Harry Potter stories and The Lord of the Rings and he answers:

Um. This is one of those Archbishop of Canterbury 12-second silences. I can't really answer the question. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager and I didn't really like it. I have tried to read it since, but it doesn't really say anything to me because the characters have no psychological depth. The only interesting character is Gollum. And I've only read one Harry Potter book, the second one, and it wouldn't be fair to comment on that basis, although I thought it was funny and inventive. Neither are my particular favourites.

7:08 PM


The cover of the October/November issue of The American Enterprise declares “Things Go Better with God,” and the issue includes four articles on the observable effects of religion on public life. The only one available online is the editor’s ”Good Faith”.

The articles are all good, but I particularly commend the article by the sociologist Rodney Stark, “False Conflict.” Stark is not a Christian, but he argues from history that “the origins of science lie in Christian theology” and that “it is clear that religion and science remain quite compatible today.” The article is taken from his new book For the Glory of God (Princeton University Press).

At the end of the article, he describes the religious belief of the scientists themselves, as studied by the atheist Francis Galton in 1872, American psychologist James Leuba in 1914, and the Carnegie Commission in 1969.

Galton found, much to his surprise, that 90 of the 100 scientists who answered his question “Has the religion taught in your youth had any deterrent effect on the freedom of your researches?” said "no." Among those saying no was his cousin Charles Darwin. Leuba

wanted to show that men of science were irreligious. To his great disappointment, Leuba found that 42 percent of his sample of prominent scientists selected option one, thereby taking a position many would regard as “fundamentalist.” When Leuba’s study was exactly repeated in 1996, the results were unchanged.

Option one of the three Leuba offered his subjects read

I believe in a God to whom one may pray in the expectation of receiving an answer. By “prayer” I mean more than the subjective, psychological effect of prayer.

The Carnegie Commission’s study in 1969 found that in the hard sciences, a majority of professors thought themselves religious and over a third religiously conservative. 60% of mathematicians and 55% of those in the life sciences thought themselves religious, with 40% of the first and 36% of the second describing themselves as conservative. Less than one-third of both groups claimed no religion.

The study also found that

scientists attend church at the same level of regularity as the general population — 47 percent of mathematicians and statisticians reported attending services two or three times a month or more, as did 43 percent of physical scientists and 42 percent of professors in the life sciences.

From my own experience, some years ago, as a freelance writer working in high tech firms, I suspect the number would be the same if not in fact higher if scientists working for businesses were included. They are free of the generally irreligious or anti-religious ethos of most universities, which might have some effect.

Stark's is a very useful essay, especially since so many people insist that Christianity has repressed scientific inquiry because — the sometimes stated, but sometimes unstated, implication — real science will reveal Christianity to be a myth. This secularist argument reflects a high degree of theological incompetence, but it is such a useful argument the secular polemicist isn’t going to find out if it’s actually true. A universe in which the earth circles the sun needs a Creator just as much as one in which the sun circles the earth.

Though the two have sometimes had a difficult relationship, and religious people have sometimes used revealed truths as if they were scientific statements (though secularists cheat here by taking modern American fundamentalists as representing Christianity), the truth is that Christianity has taught the view of the world upon which science rests and encouraged the sort of thinking and inquiry by which science develops.

2:16 PM


The people at CaNN (Classical Anglican News) today sent round a very good quote from the French writer Simone Weil. She said that imaginary evil, of the sort you get in stories,

is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

I think this is right. (Weil said it, after all.) Evil in stories does often have a poisonous allure.

But Weil's observation isn't always true. From time to time I watch movies in which Hollywood tries to deal with the supernatural, and I have been struck by how cliched and lame is the picture of evil most of the movies offer. Snakes coming out of the eye holes of skulls is a common image, for example, but even in the movies made by people who know enough to avoid the hackneyed images, evil tends to be equated with, and described by, violence, often sadistic violence. That is evil, of course, but it isn't romantic and varied evil.

I suspect that there is a reason for this. Those who offer imaginative evil as entertainment, especially as they do so in order to get famous and make money, are thereby giving themselves to real evil. This in turn destroys their ability to offer the imaginative evil Weil describes, because their imaginations themselves become "gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring."

Do not, in other words, expect to see evil interestingly portrayed in movies made by people who want to portray evil. Which is not to say that they don't sometimes manage it anyway, alas.

2:10 PM

Wednesday, November 5


Some interesting items from the Catholic news service They offer a daily digest service which you may find helpful, even if you're not Catholic.

— an interview with Gerald Bradley, who teaches at Notre Dame's law school and is the president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. It includes this exchange:

Q: What specific contributions or changes can Christians realistically introduce to law in the West?

Bradley: If by "realistically" one means wholesome proposals about morally important matters such as marriage that are likely to be enacted, the news is not good.

With regard to almost all such matters the positive law of developed societies is so deeply enmeshed in lies, rationalizations and false ideologies that a "realistic" view is not an encouraging one.

Although fighting against legal recognition of "same-sex marriage," for example, may seem quixotic, we live in a privileged moment: Never before in our lifetimes has our society been so focused on the true meaning of marriage -- why marriage is possible only between a man and a woman, and what is the relation of culture and law to the effective maintenance and support of marriage.

I am not saying that the American people hunger for the truth about marriage. By and large, they do not. But many of them are prepared to give serious consideration to the truth because the question of why marriage is just for a man and a woman perplexes them.

Many Protestant evangelicals, for example, have come to see the truth of "Humanae Vitae" during the debate over same-sex unions. They see it because they see that contraception reduces the sexual acts of spouses to an exchange of affection, intimacy and pleasure which is not necessarily unavailable to two men, or to two women, in a long-term relationship.

Dr. Bradley also reflects on the nature of and the moral challenges faced in being a lawyer today.

— Another interview, this one with Fr. Francesco Bamonte, who has just written a book titled The Damages of Spiritualism. (He speaks very much as a Catholic, by the way.) Here is the last exchange:

Q: But it is not unusual to meet Christians who are somewhat superstitious. Can this tendency be corrected?

Father Bamonte: Superstition is a sin against the First Commandment. Christian faith and superstition are in open contradiction and yet not a few Christians are afraid of a black cat crossing the street, spilled oil, the numbers 13 or 17. And they wear amulets or talismans to ensure good luck or prevent ill fortune.

There are also many Christians who have a horseshoe on their front door. It is not unusual to see Catholics doing gestures with their hands to look like horns or who cross their fingers at certain times. It is also grave, especially if one is a Christian, to believe in horoscopes, to consult wizards, to have one's palm read, or to engage in spiritualism.

Superstition offends Christ because it reveals a lack of abandonment and trust in him. In evangelization, in the preaching at Mass, and in catechesis, it is necessary to proclaim that the Christian trusts Christ wholeheartedly, who frees and saves man from the forces of evil that threaten him.

Superstition, on the contrary, not only does not liberate or protect one from the forces of evil but it is a way that enslaves one forever.

— And a short article, Jewish Actress Defends Mel Gibson's Film, in which Maia Morgenstern, a child of Holocaust survivors who plays the role of the Virgin Mary in "The Passion," says that the movie is not anti-semitic.

"Yes, the villain is the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas," she said from her home in Bucharest, Romania. "But he clearly represents the regime, not the Jewish people."

"Authorities throughout history have persecuted individuals with revolutionary ideas," said Morgenstern, a daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Morgenstern says that "The Passion" opposes such oppression. "It is about letting people speak openly about what they think and believe," she adds. "It denounces the madness of violence and cruelty, which if unchecked can spread like a disease."

1:35 PM


A reader sends along one of the replies to the article quoted in the next blog, written by a man in New Jersey:

I'm afraid of the "religious right" because I don't want my daughter's body to become the property of the state the next time she becomes pregnant.

Our reader comments:

I guess he would rather his grandchild's body become the property of the state.

1:21 PM


A good article I missed when it came out: Daniel Henninger's The Nonreligious Left: Why do they fear the religious right? from the October 17th Wall Street Journal. After describing his surprise when he met people from the "religious right" at the 1992 Republican Convention, he describes a visit to the church (22,000 member) of the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. And found:

After spending some time at Prestonwood Baptist, one wondered just what it is that so vexes the critics of these evangelical Christians. Whatever their attachment to Jesus and his New Testament message, they seem more than anything to be deeply in the world. Prestonwood's many outreach ministries include prisoners and their families, troubled teens, woman-to-woman counseling, literacy, immigrant outreach, the newly unemployed, pregnant single women, Dallas's urban poor.

He concludes the article:

In an interview, Prestonwood pastor and SBC president Jack Graham said he expects evangelicals to go to the polls for Mr. Bush "in record numbers." "Our people didn't quite know George Bush in the last election, but they do now." Led through a list of voting issues for evangelicals, the Rev. Graham cites one above all: "that we have people of character in the White House."

All this calls to mind the severe criticism George Bush received early in his presidency when he proposed "faith-based initiatives." The hyper-heated reaction seemed startling at the time, but in retrospect one has to wonder if it didn't indeed reflect that for increasing numbers of the Democratic faithful, the one faith-based initiative they believe in above all today is that they don't believe.

You will want to read the responses to the article. Some are genuinely insightful and some raving reactions.

We covered this subject extensively last April in the Godless Party issue.

10:27 AM


An article from WorldNet Daily on the ABC News special "Jesus, Mary and DaVinci", a special taking seriously The DaVinci Code and its claim that Jesus married Mary Magdalen, contained this quote from the host, "raised a Catholic" Elisabeth Vargas:

For me, it's made religion more real and, ironically, much more interesting — which is what we're hoping to do for our viewers," she said, according to the BBC.

There you have it: religion has to be "interesting". Not true or false, not even useful or useless, just something to stimulate the jaded or the untutored palate. If a crackpot theory with nothing to commend it makes religion more "interesting," then we'll talk about the crackpot theory as if it were plausible.

I don't want to get too apocalyptic about this, but this sort of thing strikes me as a sign of a world so rich and so comfortable and so secure that it wants only to be stimulated and is not all that fussy how. Civilizations in which people still face the ultimate things — the possibility of dying soon and unexpectedly not least — think more about truth.

To the reasonable man of antiquity — Platro and Aristotle, say — and of the Middle Ages, an idea is only interesting if it might be true, and only interesting because it might be true. Not so Ms. Vargas and the others at ABC.

10:08 AM


Charles P. Pierce’s extremely silly article, The Crusaders, tries to expose a vast right-wing conspiracy in the Roman Catholic Church. (For a take-off on it, see Dyspeptic Mutterings).

Pierce claims:

A powerful faction of religious and political conservatives is waging a latter-day counterreformation, battling widespread efforts to liberalize the American Catholic Church. And it has the clout and the connections to succeed.

Would that it were true.

I am a friend or acquaintance of many of these conspirators – they all know one another, because there are so few of them. There are a few educational institutions that try to be assertively orthodox: Christendom College, Ave Maria, but 99% of the Catholic educational institutions in this country are controlled by those who see “Catholic” as a decorative adjective and a fund raising ploy. Pro-abortion politicians are honored and welcomed (Mikulski at Loyola in Baltimore); Catholic Cardinals are booed (Arinze at Georgetown).

The bishops almost always consider orthodox laity a pain in the derriere; they won’t answer their letters, much less publicly engage the concerns the laity raise. The bishops in Boston constantly gave the brush off to lay complaints that priests were advocating and practicing the grossest types of sexual immorality. The middle management in the church is hostile to traditional sexual morality; a Jesuit seminary professor testified for gay unions before the Massachusetts legislature.

At best the orthodox laity are carving out a niche in which a tradition of serious, orthodox Catholicism can be maintained. The Catholic Church is resembling more and more the Jewish community, with a small Orthodox group that maintains traditions in their fullness, and Conservative and Reformed groups that have more or less accommodated to the surrounding secular culture.

9:08 AM

Tuesday, November 4


In spite of reports to the contrary, no bishop of the Orthodox Church took part in the Episcopalians' Vicki-Gene Robinson travesty in any way at all. Indeed, by way of response to that tragedy, the bishops of SCOBA published a letter, once again affirming the sanctity of marriage between man and woman. You will find a copy of that letter, along with my commentary thereon, in the most recent issue of Again magazine.

They guy who showed up at the Robinson travesty in an Orthodox bishop's garb, a guy named Jessup, is a pretender. He belongs to some tiny group, of dubious origins, that is not part of the Orthodox Church. He is NOT an Orthodox bishop and has no connection at all with the Orthodox Church.

Jim Kushiner has chased him down, got an e-mail back from him, and will likely report on him in a future Touchstone article.

4:30 PM


If you want to keep up with all the news about the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, go to Anglican Crisis 2003, offered by CaNN (the Classical Anglican News Service). You may want to sign up for their e-mailed updates. Each update offers the links to the new articles and a brief description of the article. I learn a lot about what is going on just by reading through it.

The people who run this, whom I think are volunteers, should be praised for the work.

Among the links the page offers right now (as I write) is a useful summary of the situation by Jonathan Petre of The Daily Telegraph.

3:25 PM


Justin Barnard, a professor at Messiah College, sends this announcement in response to yesterday's "Open Theism":

Some readers might be interested to know that this year's Eastern Regional Meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers (Asbury College, Wilmore, KY, December 4-6, 2003) is devoted to the theme: "Open Theism and Its Critics." The conference includes a range of concurrent sessions with presentations by prominent Christian philosophers on the theme (including a presentation by John Sanders and David Woodruff of Huntington College).

Plenary Speakers include Thomas P. Flint, professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame; Michael C. Rea, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame; and William Hasker, emeritus professor of philosophy at Huntington College. The latter is arguably the leading proponent of open theism among Christian philosophers.

Interested parties may check out the details here.

1:47 PM


John Granger, the author of "The Alchemist's Tale" in the November issue, sends two links to articles on the Harry Potter books, the first one for, the second one against the books:

The Harry Potter Phenomenon and Orthodox Reactions by Bishop Auxentios of Photiki; and

Beyond and Before Hogwarts.

Another reader, who is quite critical of the books, sends along this link:

Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children's Culture.

1:44 PM


Here is a press release from the Anglican Communion News Service, written by a Dan England and a Matthew Davies, whom the release does not identify. (It is ACNS release number 3656, issued on November 1st.)

It’s of no importance in itself, even as a news story, but it does illustrate the sort of propaganda you get from official sources. The ACNS is not really a news service, because in addition to reporting news of the Anglican world, it supports a certain way of reading the news of the Anglican world.

You will not be surprised to learn that its way of reading the news supports the policies of the western Anglican churches and not the great majority of Anglican churches — the ones in Africa and Asia — who have the even greater majority of active members. I am told the office is mostly funded by Episcopalians, which would explain things. The director is an American, a very nice man who once ran the newspaper in the Diocese of Chicago, when Griswold, now the church’s presiding bishop, was bishop there.

The story begins with a good lead. Not a great lead, but I hate writing them so I’m not going to criticize.

On the eve of the consecration of Canon V Gene Robinson as Bishop-coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, a twist.

Then it explains the “twist” promised in the lead.

It seems students from the University of Durham in New Hampshire, will be protesting conservative protestors tomorrow by staging their own demonstration and calling for "a more realistic and broadminded approach" to the current stance on homosexuality in the Church. One of the students, a 21 year-old woman called Nika with a hard-to-miss silver ring in her bottom lip, told ACNS/ENS that she had never been to church, but was joining the protest. "I am very spiritual," she said, "but I'm not much for organised religion." Asked if she'd consider actually going to a church that took this kind of action, she said, "Yeah, I think I would. Yeah, I'll have to give it a try."

It turns out not to be much of a twist: the writers found a group that is: a) protesting the protesters, and b) not Christian at all. That some pro-homosexual college students are taking part of a Sunday to support a homosexual advance (I don’t know if they actually did) is not really news. The writers might as well write stories like “Local Beagle chases rabbits” and “Toddler reveals plans to play in sandbox.”

Then they offer an illustration from a young woman who considers herself “very spiritual” but against “organized religion.” (She’s almost certainly very much for “organized government,” like the one that gathers taxes to pay for her time at college, but has probably never actually thought why religion shouldn’t be organized as well.) When asked, this woman says that she would go to a church that ordained an openly homosexual bishop.

At this point, the experienced reader of such things rolls his eyes. The claim, here made implicitly (the best way for a propagandist to make the point), that the church would attract people if only it accepted this or that innovation, is one of liberalism’s old standards. That the Episcopal Church and others have accepted all sorts of innovations and continued to shrink does not stop the propagandist from offering the idea yet again. And that they might gain new people, often of marginal commitment, while losing established members who have invested themselves in the church is not a problem they ever raise, though it is not only a pastoral but a practical problem (the established members pay for things) as well.

The girl herself may be a sweet and sincere young woman, playing a new role of the sort college life encourages, but I have known so many of the sort — I grew up in a New England college town — that I cannot take very seriously her declaration of her own great spirituality or her disregard for “organized religion.” It is too much of a standard pose, and much too easy a pose to adopt. It makes you feel good about yourself and costs you absolutely nothing. You can be “spiritual” without having any effective regard for any particular spirit.

And as a Christian, I can’t see that her joining “a church that took this kind of action” would do her much good. What she would find is a religion with which she felt comfortable. It might challenge her, in some ways, but not in ways she found all that challenging. It might, for example, call her to some sort of self-discipline — of her finances or her eating, perhaps, though probably not of her sexual habits — though presented as a form of self-improvement and a way to this-worldly happiness.

In this kind of church, she might hear about Jesus for the first time, and even be told she needs a “personal relationship” with him. She will hear bits and pieces of Scripture read, and she might even hear the Creed said. She’ll find out about sacraments. She can be baptized if she wants to be and take communion even if she isn’t.

And what is wrong with this, some will ask. At least this church has gotten her in the door and given her something she didn’t have before. The problem with it is that “a church that took this kind of action” looks a lot like real Christianity but it isn’t. It’s a counterfeit. It can do the sincere inquirer more harm than good, and do a lot of harm to the seeker who is not altogether sincere.

Becoming a Robinsonian Episcopalian is like giving all your money to someone who offers you twice as much in new bills for it, bills you don’t know are counterfeit — though at some level you knew the deal was too good to be true, but being greedy didn’t stop to investigate. You may be able to spend a lot of the money before someone recognizes the fake, but as soon as someone does all you have is piles of fake money the government is going to take away from you. Now you’re broke. And you may be in jail to boot. And you deserve to be.

I don’t think I need to argue this at any length. Just think what you need to do to Scripture and the Church’s moral tradition to make sodomy a good thing and a man who sodomizes his boyfriend an elder and model. (I am sorry to have had to put it so bluntly, but it is best we be clear what the Episcopalians have done.) Then think how, in the sentimental liberal culture in which such Episcopalianism lives, and which itself helped bring Robinson to his present prominence, this distortion will play itself out.

You will have a church that talks a lot about Jesus, but not quite the Jesus presented in the New Testament and certainly not the Jesus for whom St. Paul spoke. You will have all the visual trappings of traditional Christianity, from altars to mitres to kneelers. You will have a liturgy, traditional to the untrained eye, with the traditional theology denatured, neutered, or removed.

You will have the Scriptures read, but read selectively and then explained in ways compatible with modern sentimental liberalism. And you will lots and lots of spirituality, and even lots of talk about the Holy Spirit, but the spirit invoked will be an affirming spirit, who affirms liberationism, self-actualization, legal abortion, and the domestic and foreign policy of the Democratic Party. And you will have sacraments, reinterpreted as acts of the community and without that Pauline warning about eating and drinking unworthily.

Not, actually, a bad counterfeit of real Christianity. It is good enough to fool people like the young “very spiritual” college student. But what it will not provide her is a real encounter with the living God. Whether or not she sticks with it, she may not find out that it’s counterfeit until she dies and faces God all on her own.

Having established their interpretation of the matter, the writers describe the protesters.

The American Anglican Council (AAC) will be sending two representatives to Durham, New Hampshire during this weekend's consecration. The Revd Canon Dr Kendall S. Harmon, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, and the Rt Revd David Bena, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Albany, will be providing support for New Hampshire Episcopalians grieved by the actions of their diocese and to also stand with them in opposition to the consecration.

This is perfectly fair. It reports an important fact and describes what the people are doing in the way they would put it. But then they go to advocacy.

Ever since the 74th General Convention in Minneapolis, there has been a superabundance of opinion that has turned into a struggle over the true nature of the Anglican Communion. The conservative contingency at tomorrow's consecration will be positioning themselves to contend and protest what they see as the demise of traditional scripture while others will be observing what they feel is a remarkable turning point in the history of the church. The student protesters, many of whom are without religious affiliation, go blank when asked about the view of the Bible on the question, but seem united that "it's about time" when commenting on the event.

Someone should tell the writers to avoid “there has” if they can. The phrase usually muddies one’s meaning. But still, the first sentence is clumsily written but true enough. Then the writers claim that the protesters are “positioning themselves” while the supporters are “observing . . . a remarkable turning point.” The first group is political and calculating, the second open and celebrating.

And the first group is protesting “what they see” (i.e., it’s just their opinion) “as the demise of traditional scripture” (I think the writers mean the traditional understanding of Scripture in the Episcopal Church). Here you have the conservatives’ claim relativized, even though it would seem fairly obvious to everyone that Robinson’s consecration does deny the traditional understanding of Scripture.

The writers may think it a good thing, but they ought to be honest and admit that it’s a new thing. But I have noticed in many similar stories this unwillingness of innovators, when describing the conservative reaction, to admit that they are innovating, though at other times they are happy to announce that God is doing “a new thing.”

Simple honesty should compel them to admit that the conservatives represent the old ways, but I suppose they think admitting that the conservatives have such standing is politically too much of a concession. It’s best, they think, and rightly, to present the battle as one simply of two ways of understanding Scripture and not give the conservatives the advantage of claiming the tradition. If they can relativize the conservatives’ claim to be protecting the heritage, they can then use all their own boasts of inclusiveness, pastoral concern, openness, liberation, etc., to win the public debate.

The story closes with the students with which it began. They “go blank when asked about the view of the Bible on the question” but support the Episcopalians in doing what they are doing, and in fact suggest (with “it’s about time”) that they should have done it some time ago.

Having written this sort of thing myself, I think the writers knocked out the ending without thinking too clearly about what they were saying. It expresses the mood they wanted to express. These college students, presented as authorities of a sort, at least on what the world wants (and presumably needs) from the church, are ahead of the church and just want it to catch up. Never mind those boring debates about Scripture.

The writers don’t say this directly, but imply it by the placement of the story. The students’ response is the thought they leave the reader with. Putting them at the end says “This is important” or “This is significant.” It say “This matters.”

Such, I think, is the sort of propaganda you get from most official news services, especially those of the mainline western churches. I’m sure they don’t think of themselves as propagandists, but fearless truth-tellers who are blessed to be working for a organization with which they agree. Thy wouldn’t get hired for the jobs if they weren’t.

But the rest of us ought to know what we’re getting.

1:37 PM

Monday, November 3


In response to last week's popular story that adoption agencies are increasingly happy with having their children adopted by homosexual couples, I will pass on a useful resource from the Family Research Council: Homosexual Parenting: Placing Children at Risk. As the FRC's e-mail bulletin says:

Here's what the science does tell us: Children raised in homosexual households are more likely to experiment with homosexuality, to be sexually promiscuous, and to have behavioral and many other developmental problems. Rather than worrying about a homosexual adult's desire to be a parent we should be concerning ourselves with what is in the best interest of the child.

And while I'm at it, here is another of their useful resources: FRC Resources on Pornography. However, when I try to go to this address the website keeps bouncing me to their home page, which is very annoying. I don't know why.

11:17 PM


Cafeteria religion has attained new heights. According to a poll:

Ten percent of Protestants, 21 percent of Roman Catholics, and 52 percent of Jews do NOT believe in God.

Jews are of course an ethnic group, but how can you be a Christian and not believe in God? Catholics seem to regard themselves as an ethnic group rather than a church. Belief in God is no more essential to being a Catholic than belief in the Real Presence or acceptance of the Church’s moral teachings.

Protestants (47 percent) are more likely to go to church once a month or more often than are Roman Catholics (35 percent).

The male/female differences are not surprising:

84 percent of women believe in God, compared with 73 percent of men.

Forty-one percent of women and 31 percent of men attend once a month or more

Nor are the political differences:

87 percent of Republicans believe in God, compared with 78 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Independents.

6:54 PM


Those of you who follow contemporary theological controversies may be interested in three articles by Mark Rathel, a theologian teaching at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida. In them he explains and criticizes a new movement among some Evangelicals called "open theism." As he explains it in the first article:

This growing movement affirms some aspects of the classical view of God, such as God's independence, the Trinity, creation and relational capability. Open theism, however, rejects some of the classical views of God's attributes, specifically the changelessness of God and the divine foreknowledge of human choices.

The name "open theism" derives from the affirmation that God Himself is open to new experiences, including the experience of learning the progressive events of world history as the events unfold.

. . . The leaders of open theism are articulate, well-educated evangelicals affirming the inerrancy of Scripture. The "great triumvirate" of open theism includes Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd and John Sanders. Pinnock, recently retired professor of theology at McMaster Divinity College in Ontario, Canada, is a British scholar who began his North American teaching career at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1960s. Gregory Boyd formerly taught at Bethel College, associated with the Baptist General Conference, in St. Paul, Minn. John Sanders teaches at Huntington College in Huntington, Ind., a Brethren in Christ school.

. . . Thomas Oden, professor of theology at Drew University and perhaps the leading Arminian theologian in the Methodist tradition today, strongly disagrees with the openness position. In a Feb. 9, 1998, Christianity Today article, Oden wrote, "The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds."

The three articles are:

Does God know the future?, which provides
an overview of open theism.

Why open theism is not merely an academic debate; and

Is open theism consistent with biblical Christianity?.

3:59 PM


Now posted from the October issue are:

— Patrick Reardon's editorial, written "for the editors," Homosexual Inroads;

— Anthony Esolen's View What Sports Illustrate;

— Thomas Howard's View The Wages of Reading

— A review of J. Daryl Charles' book The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism;

— Philip Johnson's column on The African Century?; and

— two departments: Quodlibet (written mostly by the editor) and Letters.

I should just note that we do not post everything from recent issues because, while we want to be as helpful as possible, we also want people to subscribe to the magazine. We won't have anything to post on the website if we don't have a magazine and we wouldn't have a magazine if people didn't subscribe. This is a hint, by the way. You can subscribe on the web by clicking here.

3:53 PM


Readers interested in the statement, “A Plea for Peace from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America,” which our senior editor Patrick Reardon discusses in “Not So Quiet on the Eastern Front” from the November issue, can find it here. The site also includes the list of people who signed it.

Jim Forest, who wrote “Rest for Our Souls” for the October issue, is one of the co-secretaries of the OPF and a member of the board that issued the statement. It was signed by four Orthodox bishops in this country as well as Bishop Kallistos Ware, who teaches at Oxford; a number of clergy and academics, including many of the faculty of St. Vladimir’s and Holy Cross seminaries; and various laymen, including our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green.

The group’s e-mail address is

3:45 PM

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