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.)


Saturday, December 6


Cheering news from France, as reported by the English newspaper The Guardian, the most leftwing of the country's major papers. The article, "French row over rights for unborn", begins:

French feminists, doctors and the leftwing opposition reacted furiously after the conservative majority in parliament passed a bill making it a crime to cause a pregnant woman to miscarry against her will.

A Socialist MP, Jean-Yves Le Bouillon, said the bill was "the first step towards calling into question a woman's right to abortion, because it gives the foetus a legal status".

The bill would make it an offence to cause the end of a pregnancy "by clumsiness, inattentiveness, negligence or failure to observe safety regulations" . . . .

It says te French senate is "almost certain" to reject it, alas.

My thanks to the weekly newsletter of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity for the link. Readers in the southeast may want to know about their upcoming conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on January 24th.

8:40 PM


A reader, Jeremiah Davis, a graduate student in the classics division of the University of Kentucky, sends another view of the new movie The Last Samurai:

Today I read Steven Vincent’s review of the movie “The Last Samurai”, which was linked to by Mere Comments. The primary intent of the review is to show that the movie is bad because it “sends the wrong message in our current conflicts against the forces of anti-modernism throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.” More broadly, the incompatibility of the reactionary ethos of the samurai with Western bourgeois liberalism troubles Mr. Vincent.

“Warriors dedicated to resisting the modernization of their country” who “follow a patriarchal code of martial valor and spirituality,” remind Mr. Vincent especially of the Taliban and Iraqi mujahedeen. One could of course argue that the anti-modernism of the Taliban and Iraqi mujahedeen should not be conflated with that of the late 19th century samurai. Furthermore, one might question whether there is more than superficial similarity between “the patriarchal codes of martial valor and spirituality” of Islam and Zen Buddhism.

But why quibble over such details? The real point of Mr. Vincent’s review is that any group of people (of whatever culture or religion) that has ever resisted the natural progression of history toward modernism, democracy, industrialism, equality, and reform must have been wrongheaded, if not evil. Mr. Vincent’s is a partisan, Whiggish view of history (as, indeed, the Whiggish view of history always is). For the past two centuries, the reactionaries of whom he speaks have been the same people who resist the United States Army and/or Yankee cultural and political hegemony.

To portray any such group in an unequivocally heroic light is to “view despotisms through rose colored glasses.” Once we accept this fact, we like Mr. Vincent can put Japanese Samurai, Iraqi mujahedeen, the Taliban, Nazis, Cuban Communists, and Confederate Americans into the same boat. If nothing else can be said for this point of view, it is certainly much easier than carefully considering the ideas and fruits of individual groups or movement.

My wife and I enjoyed the movie. Far from “politically correct,” I thought it an excellent portrayal of loyalty to the genius of one’s culture and genuine patriotism in the face of false “progress.” Of course, Mr. Vincent would no doubt see me as an un-American ultra-conservative, as I do not anathematize anti-modern, traditionalist, isolationist, and specifically regionalist political views. I hope “The Last Samurai” will one day sit on my shelf of movies alongside “Braveheart,” “Gods and Generals,” and “The Patriot.”

8:35 PM


Frederick L. Marriott, the great organist and carilloneur, observing the fad of installing pipsqueak baroque pipe organs in the seventies during the “original instruments” craze, used to sniff at them and say that if J.S. Bach were alive, he would seek out the largest and most powerful instrument he could find and pull out all the stops.

Sir Thomas Beecham was known for similar sentiments, and so produced the most wonderful recording of Handel’s Messiah that I know. This 1959 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus performance with Jennifer Vyvyan, Monica Sinclair, John Vickers, and Georgio Tozzi, is a rich and heavy arrangement that pulls out all the stops, using full brass and percussion. It’s still in print and available. I strongly recommend it for those who like their Handel full strength. Adulterated? Well, perhaps, but it’s an indulgence I allow myself at Christmas.

3:47 PM


Our contributing editor and columnist Philip Johnson has been named World magazine’s “Daniel of the Year”. The article gives a good description of Johnson’s life as an anti-darwinian and his arguments against darwinism. The magazine’s summary of the article reads:

Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson has been in the lion’s den since 1991, when he horrified the “mandarins of science” by publicly challenging Darwinism. Now in his 60s and despite suffering the effects of a stroke, WORLD’s Daniel of the Year continues to befriend the lions even as he declaws them intellectually.

We congratulate him for receiving this honor. His column can be found here.

1:08 PM


A reader, Clark Wilson, writes, following up the November 11 blog “English Tolerance”. He sends the link to an article on a similar event in France titled “Muslim veils too aggressive, says Chirac” and comments:

I have not been following closely the French headscarf controversy or Mere Comments, so I may well have missed important items or perspectives. But if I were to write a speculative novel about thecoming persecution along the lines you laid out, I could well use this news item as an epigraph or part of an opening montage of news and pseudo news:

<< “Jacques Chirac hinted strongly yesterday that France will soon introduce legislation banning Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to school, saying most French people saw ‘something aggressive’ in the veil and that the secular state could not tolerate ‘ostentatious signs of religious proselytism.’“ >>

The article ends:

<< “... a clear majority of both the public and MPs favour a ban, believing it the only effective way to defend France’s secular republic from the demands of militant Islam.” >>

To have the president of France — not a fringe-party candidate from the Spuriously Democratic Infinitesimal Republic of Northern South, but the *president* of *France* — say that the political order cannot tolerate “ostentatious” signs of “religious proselytism” literally chills me.

As it happens, just yesterday I finished editing and sent off to the writer an article on this subject, written by Dr. Joseph Grieboski, the director of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. It is scheduled for the March issue.

1:05 PM


A reader writes in response to the review of The Last Samurai, the link to which was posted yesterday (it's in the next blog):

That “Last Samurai” review is a sharp contrast to a major paper review I just read, which praises the movie as “a modern and very emotional lament about the encroachments of technology and the dangers of American hegemony.” The review comes from . . . have a seat, you’ll be astonished... San Francisco.

The review says nothing at all about why technology is bad or why “American hegemony” is a dangerous lamentable thing, but just assumes the reader will understand. Yes, this is just what we need post-9/11, a bunch of glorification of people who think America is an evil empire that needs to be taken down a peg or two through the violent actions of a few “heroes.” The mind boggles.

He added:

p.s. haven’t seen the film and won’t. Saw the trailer with “Master and Commander” (which was wonderful) and thought Cruise looked ridiculous.

This made me laugh, as I had the same experience. I took our eldest two to see M&C, which I’d already seen and liked very much — I thought it the best movie I have seen in a long time — and spent the whole time the long trailer was running thinking “This isn’t a part for Tom Cruise.” He’s good at playing male adolescents of any age, but not a warrior.

12:58 PM

Friday, December 5


The site mentioned in the following blog also offers an interesting review of Tom Cruise' new movie, "The Last Samurai".

2:05 PM


Relating to the following blog is an article on, The Art of Religious War by Lowell Ponte. It begins:

"RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION MUST DISAPPEAR FROM THE SCHOOLS . . .. The man who is tied to the dogmas of the Churches need look for nothing from us in the future.”

Thus declared the Nazi inspector of Munich city schools in Germany, June 1939. . . .

“Implementation of this objective started with the curtailment of religious instruction in the primary and secondary schools,” the OSS (forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency) document continues, “with the squeezing of the religious periods into inconvenient hours, with Nazi propaganda among the teachers in order to induce them to refuse the teaching of religion, with vetoing of…religious text books, and finally with substituting Nazi Weltanschauung and ‘German Faith’ for Christian religious denominational instruction.

The writer is quoting a study from the American Office of Strategic Services on "The Nazi Master Plan," published in July of 1945. Among other things, it shows that Naziism was a religious crusade:

[R]evealed clearly in this OSS document, was Hitler’s master plan to destroy Christianity and replace it with his own “German Faith” concocted from a mixture of occultism, pre-Christian paganism, racism and National Socialism (whose German words for his political party contracted into “Nazi”).

Hitler’s regime was bent on “eliminating all political organizations other than the Nazi party,” the OSS analysis says. It was a jealous religion that allowed no other gods but Hitler and no rival institution that might explicitly or implicitly challenge its totalitarian authority.

Ponte then explains what Thomas Jefferson really meant by "the separation of church and state" and what the present alternative religion holds. He paints the latter with a somewhat broad brush, but the picture is nevertheless accurate.

1:56 PM


A friend sent me the link to 125 Reasons Not To Send Your Children To Government Schools, which gives links to news stories on the abuse, mostly but entirely sexual, of children in public schools.

When the Catholic sex scandal was getting so much attention, some Catholics argued that at least priests abused children less than did school teachers and that schools covered up their teachers’ abuse a lot. This seems to be true, and not the least bit surprising.

It was not a very effective argument — “My guy’s a monster but at least he’s not as bad as your monster” does not make one despise the monster any the less — but it should have forced people to realize that in a fallen world some adults will want to hurt children and that these adults will be attracted to some professions more than others. A man who wants to have sex with children will want to spend a lot of time with them, especially if he has in a position they tend to trust.

The news about predatory priests should have encouraged national reflection on this problem. The newspapers which ran so many stories about the “epidemic” of priestly abuse should have run stories about the “epidemic” of teacherly abuse. (For one thing, a lot of the stories about priests they ran described events that happened some time ago, whereas the teacher stories were, or would have been had they run them, current.)

If, that is, the editors and writers were genuinely concerned for children.

But of course they didn’t run these stories. They didn’t because the public schools have an irreplaceable ideological function in a secularizing society, and therefore a privileged status. The public schools are the main place in which the society’s philosophy is indoctrinated into its children.

Public school teachers are, if you will, this society’s priests. They are those responsible for “traditioning” or passing on the society’s lore and forming the minds and hearts of its people. The administrators who regularly covered up their teachers’ deeds are its bishops, deciding that for the good of the church some stories should be hidden from the people, who will only misunderstand.

And the newspapers’ editors and writers accepted the authority of these bishops and ignored the wickedness of these priests, because those in the public schools are the hierarchs of a religion they believe in. And therefore one whose sins they covered up.

12:37 PM


The Pope and others have argued that the death penalty is no longer necessary for society to protect itself. Life long imprisonment accomplishes the same purpose.

Not having served in law enforcement, the clerics are not aware of the reality of the situation. Prisons do not prevent criminals from murdering again. Not only can they murder guards and other prisoners (John Geoghan), they can use their contacts to murder law enforcement officials and witnesses,

In Baltimore a federal prosecutor was just murdered (Sun). He was prosecuting rap artists who dealt in heroin. They were in custody. He, the father of two small children, is dead.

In the past drug dealers in federal prison ordered the murder of witnesses. The employees of the Pikesville Hilton in Baltimore had witnessed the deal; the dealers were arrested, and from prison directed an operation: contract killers raked the lobby with gunfire, killing the wrong employees. The real witness was off that day, and she had to go into a witness protection program.

Prisons do not always protect society from criminals. Criminals can strike directly at the criminal justice system, at judges, policemen, prosecutors, witnesses, even when they are in prison. The death penalty is essential to protect society from criminal anarchy.

6:55 AM

Thursday, December 4


“In Master Hsu’s Way, market prices should all be the same. He claims that would end deceit, that even if children were sent to market, no one would cheat them. Cloth of the same length would bring the same price, whether it was cotton or silk. Bundled fiber of the same weight would bring the same price, whether it was hemp or silk. The five grains would bring the same price for the same measure, and shoes would all bring the same price for the same size.

But inequality is the very nature of things. One thing may be two or five times as valuable as another, or perhaps ten or a hundred times, or even a thousand or ten thousand times. If you tried to make everything equal in value, confusion would reign in all beneath Heaven. If elegant shoes and workaday shoes brought the same price, who would bother to make elegant shoes? If we follow the way of Master Hsu, we’ll lead each other into utter deceit. How could a nation be governed this way?”

Mencius V, iv., (4th cent. B.C.) trans. David Hinton [Counterpoint, 1998]

4:51 PM


In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof defends homosexual marriage because homosexual people are Lovers Under the Skin. His column begins:

Recently I wrote a column arguing that there is growing evidence that homosexuality has a biological basis, and that this is one more reason not to discriminate against people on the basis of whom they love.

He then tosses out two of the most tired of pro-homosexual clichés: the parts of the Old Testament law we don’t observe today (at the beginning) and the racist use of the Bible to justify legal discrimination (in his conclusion). A writer at this level really should try to find out what Christians think about these things.

In the body of the article he discusses some theories of the genetic origins of homosexuality, which I thought interesting. For all I know one of them may be true.

He does not mention how controversial is this idea among the experts who are by no means moral conservatives, which failure to describe the actual status of the theories gives his claims more weight than they deserve. This presenting a politically useful theory as if it were established fact is another of the pro-homosexual clichés. You will still hear some journalists claiming that one-tenth of the population is homosexual — exaggerating the number three to five times — when that claim has long been exposed as untrue.

But I want to comment on Kristof’s conclusion. He concludes:

The bottom line is that same-sex love is a mystery far more subtle than just a matter of Biblical injunction . . . .

No force is more divine than love, and if some people are encoded to love others of the same sex, how can that be unholy? To me, the blasphemy is not in those who want to share their lives with others of the same sex, but rather in anyone presumptuous enough to vilify that love.

Homosexuality is “encoded,” therefore holy, therefore moral conservatives are actually blaspheming God when they oppose its public approval. This is his argument. It is not a very good one. Actually, it’s a very bad one.

The possible “encoding” of homosexuality is an interesting theory, but even if true morally irrelevant. Some people seem to be “encoded” for alcoholism. Does Kristof think alcoholism “a subtle mystery” and a holy thing? Would he think someone “blasphemous” for vilifying drunkenness? No, of course not.

If some theories of human behavior are right, people are encoded for all sorts of behaviors, a lot of which we all — you, me, and Kristof — disapprove. The Christian would say the Fall of Man corrupted our genes as well as everything else, but the secular man ought to say that in an imperfect world we can’t treat our genes as infallible moral guides.

This is common sense, meaning a sense held in common. Even if you think homosexuality a good thing, you think alcoholism a bad thing. Using this example, an example everyone accepts, you must admit that a genetic disposition may incline someone to do something good or to do something bad. The disposition itself tells us nothing about whether the action to which it disposes us is good or bad.

This elementary point of moral philosophy Kristof either does not see or refuses to see. This basic failure makes one less inclined to trust his judgment.

3:00 PM


A reader sends a very interesting response to yesterday’s Christians and witches.

It had puzzled me for years that e.g. in Colonial American midwives were so often suspected witches. This may not mean they were abortionists; but in that era they were the ones who could effect that measure, based on specialist knowledge of herbs to hasten labor, the mechanics of anatomy, private access to the newborn, etc. The very nature of the undertaking is a sort of liminally exceptionalist experience that is almost palpable among midwives, and is conducive to a far more immediately pragmatic than rule-bound state of mind, even among the most impeccably ethical.

It seems to me this opens up very subtle territory. Abortion is despicable and perverted, and I certainly oppose it as particularly horrible murder. However, it inhabits a complex web of forces, in a way that, say, murder for hire or insurance or out of rage and offense, don't.

My impression is that in almost every case in the remaining conventional world an erring woman is thought worse, and more easily punished, than an oat-sowing man, and that society's way of sanctioning out-of-marriage sex (other than self-abuse, pornography, and homosexuality) was by not allowing illicit pregnancies to be concealed. The cause-effect shame-link was required to be sustained. Rather than focusing on the love in the Divine thou shalt not, the reasons for and the reward of virtue, a winsome attractive Christian life — there was instead something that reminds me of modern bureaucracy, a wish to organize life so that enforcement is never impeded, for the epistemological ease of the punishers.

Thus the extra suspicion of midwives (I have wonderfully competent professional colleagues among that group today, and the sense of the dynamics of suspicion, in other terms, remains) seems to have its roots in the fear of the Monstrous Regiment of Women, unanswerable to male control, in this realm that excludes the generalist male. It may be an insoluble conundrum, for uncontrolled women seem skewed in the long run, but controlling males without real spiritual stature are miserable, damaging forces as well.

I think the most subtle issue here, which I find missing from modern "prophetic" utterances including Touchstone's, is some conscientious grappling with the parameters of the Second Parable of the Kingdom, the wheat and the tares, and the prohibition on uprooting the tares in this intermediate existence because of the fatal danger to the wheat (Mt. 13). The fascination for the delineating of evil also seems to run afoul of Paul's "think on these things" (Phil. 4). At the same time, evil that masquerades as Good or Necessity requires unmasking, and who better than the clear thinkers at Touchstone and First Things. . .

What would a Christian community be like when others' evil was the business of no one except those particularly authorized to keep order? No busybodies need apply, everyone cultivating faith in the power of fierce prayer and the armor of God, and a sincere curiosity about how God is working it out. Not quietism, or collaboration, but a tending my own garden as an example of Eden. Which may mean a courteous distance from the unedifying.

This is a matter I believe of great urgency to the Church, how to stand firm without becoming licentious busybodies and full of
schadenfreude. I have seen no one address it, and the current controversies make doing so almost impossible without seeming to apologize or fudge for apostasy. Bad cases, as they say . . .

If we don't get a handle on this, once the homosexualist revisionists are marginalized (and it can't be too soon for my taste), then the danger is we will turn on each other and devour ourselves. THEN, to offset the obvious horror of that, we will reinstall "tolerance." And so on.

So, midwives would be exposed to suspicion, and sometimes guilty. The world is more complex than the codifiers want to make it, and this is what I sense in the NT Jesus. Dealing with the wretched unrighteous, he ended on the accurate melodious tonic major chord, but didn't sing it to the legalists' tune.

I have been mulling this over since getting this last night. My only immediate comment is that the parable and the wheat and tares doesn't apply to the sort of "prophetic" writing (the writer's term) we do. For one thing, the parable speaks of the life of the Church, that is, of many individuals of mixed morals and the danger of trying to remove some from the Church. It doesn't speak of the discernment of spirits (which include ideas and ideologies), which the New Testament tells us we must do.

For another, the parable does not tell us not to distinguish the wheat from the tares. It assumes that we can tell the difference between the two and point out the difference to anyone who needs to know. I suppose, to extend the metaphor, in our more "prophetic" writing we try to distinguish the wheat and the tares, which Christians need to do to prevent the tares from being ground with the wheat into the flour from which our bread will be made.

But that particular objection aside, it is a stimulating response worth thinking about, especially if you have some sort of "ministry of propaganda" or try to write (in her term) prophetically.

10:18 AM

Wednesday, December 3


Not long ago I read of some cynical chap saying that a person’s use of computers stood in inverse proportion to his ability to think. At first it struck me as silly, for I was able to think, and I used computers. But then I held back a bit, remembering that I learned to think before the advent of the personal computer age. The cynical dictum might be worth considering, for, for many of us who meet that description, the computer came to us, and is still used, principally as a writing and communication tool. Our minds were fairly well set in their uses before the computers became more than helping machines—before they became something very much like a New World, an interface of the virtual reality, which is to say, the unreality, into which so many younger people seem to have been absorbed, and in which the mind is less something that lifts and carries by means of thought as something lifted and carried in the direction of impulse.

Still, computers have their temptations for the likes of us, one of which is that of spending too much time with them. We are not attracted so much, I think, by the electronic gee-whizzery of the whole business, or the endless sea of vanity held out to us here, as by the sheer ease of communication, and the pleasures that come with it to those who love the exchange and interchange of words and thoughts. At some point we must stop and ask ourselves “to what end is this done?” and, “is this the best use of my time?” For although we can now go to and fro on this ground with incredible speed, our temporal allotment on this earth has not increased, and we must be careful not to deceive ourselves into thinking that simply because what we are writing is true and well-executed, time spent writing it is time spent wisely. I have come to the place where I am finding ways to cut down on the amount of it spent before the screen.

All this by way of introduction to the real subject of this little piece. Our Touchstone blogsite, Mere Comments, provides a link for readers of these blogs to respond to what they read here, and I have been reading and sometimes responding to the excellent comments many thoughtful readers have sent. It is usually a pleasure to do so, for people who read these pages are generally of a superior sort, and nearly always have something good to say. In the future, however, I shall neither read these comments nor respond to them, for it has become “too much.” I shall continue to write to the site, as I have time and inspiration, and shall leave it to staff members with writing privileges who intercept this mail to post comments and respond if they will, but I shall not. Readers of Touchstone caliber will understand.

11:19 PM


Armin Meiwes advertised on the internet for someone who wanted to be killed and eaten. He found Bernd Jurgen B., who agreed to this arrangement. Meies killed and ate him, recording everything on a video.

The Globe and Mail reports:

Prosecutors say the killing was sexually motivated.

Der Spiegel has Meiwes’ explanation:

He wanted to have a beloved man forever in himself, a true friend, who could never leave him.

The prosecutors have a problem: German law says no punishment without a crime, and no one ever thought to make voluntary cannibalism illegal. Euthanasia has provided a precedent for Miewes: in much of Europe a person can give someone else permission to kill him. It happens all the time in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Sometimes the reason is that the person is just tired of life. Such “mercy killings” are accepted and not punished in many countries. Meiwes (whom Der Spiegel shows smiling with a bottle of white wine, showing his bad taste. White wine does not go with red meat) will however probably not get off, because Germany still has not accepted euthanasia. Memories of the Nazis are too strong, and the European Union has not gotten around to decreeing that euthanasia is a human right.

Der Spiegel quotes Leo Strauss, who said to a society that put all values in question, “Cannibalism is only a question of taste.” Different strokes for different folks.

10:07 PM


My friend Brian McDonald sends this response to my recent ECUSA ATTEMPTS TO CONSOLIDATE RECENT GAINS:

In regard to the removal of The Rev'd Donald Wilson: it will be
interesting to see if the same Episcopalian conservatives who have
tolerated (albeit with grumbling) the steady pile-up of doctrinal
aberrations of the last 20 years will be exhibit the same grumblng
passivity in the face of the persecution of their fellow conservatives
like The Rev'd Wilson (and the others who will be coming). I suspect so.
And yet perhaps the more conscious among them may experience a chill at
the thought of moving from passive collaboration in heresy to passive
collaboration in persecution. Even in Dante's Inferno there is a vast drop
off from the fire of the heretics to the ice of the betrayers.

Similarly, in the hell which is the current Episcopal Church, a deep vertical gulf
separates the realm of aberrant doctrine from that of active persecution
of the brethren. Surely the steep drop from the fire to the ice will jar
some people awake? It is one thing to remain in communion with heretics.
It is another to commune with those who are persecuting fellow Christians.

The tragedy in all of this is that the dilemma was so unecessary.
With anything like a minimum of courage and will, a few honest bishops
could have broken communion with the ECUSA and entered into communion with
some Anglican body in Africa. It would be possible to remain both
Anglican and Christian. Why, why, was there not even ONE courageous
American bishop to initiate such action?

5:02 PM


Of possible interest to those of you in the eastern United States: the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity is having a conference on Genetics, Biotechnology and the Future in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on January 24th. We have a report appearing in our January/February issue from somene who attended their recent conference in Chicago, which he found very helpful.

3:43 PM


The Institute for Religion and Democracy has just sent a press release announcing that hte newest issues of their newsletters are online. The addresses are:

Faith and Freedom;

Episcopal Action Briefing; and

UM Action Briefing (UM stands for United Methodist).

Our correspondent Mark Tooley, a Methodist, works for IRD and writes regularly for the first and third.

3:37 PM


In cheering news, an English pastor has won the right to sue the police for not prosecuting an abortionist who had aborted a 24-week-old child with a cleft palate. (I got the story from the Catholic World News site, but it appeared in the subscribers only section.) English law only allows children of that age to be aborted if they have a “serious handicap.”

The pastor, the Rev’d Joanna Jepson, wants the law changed so children are not aborted for “trivial reasons,” which include their suffering from disabilities. “I just find it reprehensible to think that we could lose our lives for something which is only about physical perfection,” she said.

Precisely. Good for her. I hope her suit succeeds.

3:32 PM


In the Boston Globe, an article on the growth of Evangelicalism at Harvard and MIT. According to the article:

There are 15 evangelical Christian fellowship groups at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology alone. This is a pretty stunning development for a university where science has always been god, where efficiency and rationality are embedded in the DNA of the cold granite campus. Hundreds of MIT students are involved in these fellowships — blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians, especially Asians.

Some of the groups are associated with powerhouse national evangelical organizations, like Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Others are more home-grown. Either way, the ranks are multiplying. . . .

It’s the same on campuses across the Boston area. At Harvard University, “there are probably more evangelicals than at any time since the 17th century,” says the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, religious historian and minister of the university's Memorial Church, who arrived on campus in 1970. "And I don't think I have ever seen a wider range of Christian fellowship activity.”

3:32 PM


Of interest: Chuck Colson’s latest column, titled >Hunting Witches — Clearing the Record. Using the sociologist Rodney Stark’s latest book, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, Colson explains how the conventual wisdom describing Christianity as killing lots of women thought to be witches, is wrong.

It is not only wrong as a matter of fact — for one thing, one-third of those executed for witchcraft were men — it is wrong in the people to whom it assigns blame. The alleged witches'

accusers weren’t fanatical clerics, seeking to suppress heresy. On the contrary, in Spain, home of the infamous Spanish Inquisition, there were far fewer trials for witchcraft than there were by secular officials in the rest of Europe. And those brought to trial were far less likely to be executed. In fact, the Spanish Inquisition sometimes brought charges against the accusers instead. . . .

What Stark calls the period of “frantic” witch-hunting took place during the late Renaissance and the Enlightenment, periods when Christian influence over European culture began to wane. While Christians tried to protect the accused, anti-Christian Enlightenment figures like Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin supported the prosecution and execution of so-called witches.

There is another reason for the treatment of witches that Colson does not mention (I don't know whether Stark does). I have read, and been told by a couple of historians, that women accused of being witches were often abortionists. Whether they were accused of witchcraft because they were abortionists or performing abortions was part of their witchcraft (or whatever you want to call their religion or status) I don't know.

If this is true, it would explain the treatment many of them received. They were killers in an age which punished murderers by executing them. And there is something particularly depraved about the killing of the unborn, which a society of that sort would recognize.

12:32 PM


Well worth reading, David Hart's "Christ and Nothing" from the last issue of First Things. To give you an example:

[A]t the end of modernity, each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.

Dr. Hart, an Orthodox theologian, is the brother of our contributing editor Addison Hart and frequent contributor Robert Hart. My thanks to the Acton Institute for the link.

12:22 PM

Tuesday, December 2


A useful site for those of you concerned with youth and their religion: the site of the National Study of Youth and Religion. A lot of what the Study reports we all know, but it's nice to have the data.

For example, Sociologists Find that Religious Teens Are More Positive About Life . This news story begins:

Sociologists with the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have found that religious 12th graders in the United States have significantly higher self-esteem and hold more positive attitudes about life in general than their less religious peers. The findings were released in the report Religion and the Life Attitudes and Self-Images of American Adolescents.

According to Christian Smith, principal investigator of the NSYR, "Regular religious service attendance, high subjective importance of faith and years spent in religious youth groups are associated with higher self-esteem and more positive self-attitudes even when statistical procedures control for the influences of numerous demographic and socio-economic factors."

But on the other hand, reports another story, Significant numbers of religiously active teenagers are involved in serious risk behaviors:

While research indicates that religiously active teens are significantly less likely than non-religious teens to engage in risk behaviors, significant numbers — between 20 percent and 40 percent — of religiously active teenagers are involved in serious risk behaviors involving alcohol and drugs. Religion in the lives of youth does mitigate such negative outcomes, but by no means does it eliminate them. . . .

When it comes to drugs, nearly 39 percent of U.S. 12th graders who attend religious services weekly or more had used illegal drugs in the previous year, 31 percent had smoked marijuana in the previous year and 20 percent had used hard drugs in the previous year. For those who said their faith was "very important" in their lives, nearly 40 percent had used illegal drugs, 32 percent had smoked marijuana and 21 percent had used hard drugs in the previous year.

Furthermore, 11 percent of 12th graders who attend religious services weekly or more and roughly 13 percent of those who say religious faith is "very important" in their lives had tried marijuana or hashish by the ninth grade.

6:08 PM


A few weeks ago I wrote about the mainline church’s official news services and the way they propagandize while pretending just to provide the news. I’ve just read a particularly amusing example, this one also from the Anglican Communion News Service.

It is a story titled “Freemasons and the Anglican Church.” The first six (short) paragraphs and 138 words describe a vote at the diocesan synod of the very Evangelical Diocese of Sydney (Australia) declaring Freemasonry “contrary to biblical Christianity” and telling Christians who are Masons to resign from their Lodge.

It’s a fair, if brief, report. It doesn’t tell us what the final vote was, which seems a mistake, so I assume the vote was rather heavily for the resolution. But so far, so more or less good.

Then the next paragraph, of 83 words, quotes the resolution’s critics. Still so far, so good.

The following two paragraphs, of 63 words, quote a supporter of the resolution. And still so far, so good.

And then . . . the story closes with eight paragraphs of 296 words quoting a statement by the bishop of another diocese — the Archbishop of Sydney is never quoted — criticizing the statement. He offers the usual, um, blather: these things are a matter of opinion, I’ve known lots of Masons and they’re awfully good chaps, in fact better than most, Anglicanism’s great strength is its diversity, some Christians (he means those in Sydney) aren’t very nice to others, this sort of political statement doesn’t mean anything anyway, and let’s be sure to talk nicely to our friends the Masons, and oh yes, just in case, you Christian Masons ought to be alert to any problems Masonry might cause you.

Most of you will recognize the drill. Such men are born to clichés as the sparks fly upward, as the psalmist might have said were he stuck in a press conference with a lot of bishops.

But back to my subject. Notice, when you add up the figures, you have a story on a decision by the Diocese of Sydney that gives the diocese 201 words — much of which are the sort of details the story had to include — and its critics 379, and indeed gives the last third of the story to the entire statement of one of the resolution's critics.

The message of the story is not "This is what happened in the Sydney diocean synod" but "The Diocese of Sydney is wrong, really, really wrong." No one can be perfectly objective in his reporting, but this guy didn't even try.

This is the sort of thing you get with the official press services. This happens to be a more than usually blatant example, but only in extent, not form.

6:05 PM


FYI, the statement of Massacusetts' Catholic bishops on the Supreme Judicial Court's invention of homosexual "marriages," which was to be read at all masses this past weekend. Here is the substantive part of it:

The recent ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which radically redefines marriage is a national tragedy. By their action the justices who have decreed this have set the stage to erode even further the institution of marriage as a human reality which the State should protect and strengthen for the good of society.

We hope that all citizens will come to recognize what is at stake and work to ensure that marriage as the fundamental institution of society will be safeguarded. The misguided decision has also served to promote divisions in society by villainizing as bigotry the legitimate defense of thousands of years of tradition.

It is not the intention of the Catholic community to infringe on the civil rights of homosexuals or anyone else. Our opposition to a redefinition of marriage is to safeguard the institution of marriage for future generations. Marriage is a gift of God which in its natural order allows for the growth of the human family and society. It is not just one life-style choice among many. The generations to come are the ones whose rights are being violated by the Court. Changing the definition of marriage in the long run will seriously harm family life. The deleterious effects of the court’s ruling are compounded by the directive to implement its decision in 180 days. This time frame is a sure formula for chaos. It denies the citizens of Massachusetts any real opportunity to respond reasonably. Every effort must be made to extend the stay beyond the 180 days mandated by the court.

Ultimately, we advocate a constitutional amendment that reaffirms marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Thirty-seven states have already enacted legislation to protect the definition of marriage. We ask everyone to contact the Governor and their state legislators to urge them to find a way to give our citizens more time to deal with this issue.

10:20 AM


While I’m at it, here are some recent blogs from Catholic World News that will be of ecumenical interest:

Newspeak, on the New York Times rhetorical dishonesty when speaking about partial birth abortion;

First steps in pastoral reorientation, on what a bishop (or any church’s hierarch, for that matter) can do about a bad pastor;

Touching a Nerve, giving Norman Podhoretz’s view of homosexual “marriage” and the response he received; and

At the name of Jesus on connection between moral change and liturgical “reform” (or, on why the bad guys want to change the liturgy).

10:13 AM


On the Dallas Morning News editors' blogsite, the editors have been discussing the Catholic Church and politics. Our contributing editor Rod Dreher is a member of that group, and has made several interesting contributions to a revealing exchange. The DMN blog doesn't let one link to specific items, so you have go to the site and scroll down to December 1st.

I think Rod makes the most sense, simply judged by his logic. The debate illustrates one of the aspects of Christianity that attracted me as a youth: I kept finding that Christians argued from principle when their non-Christian peers argued from prejudice, which is to say, with principles that changed, and radically, as needed.

With exceptions, I realize (so please don’t write me letters listing loony fundamentalists or thoughtful liberals), but as a rule if I found a Christian and a non-Christian debating almost any public question, the Christian would be the one seeking a principle on which to decide the question. The non-Christian would be the one choosing a principle to make the point he wanted to make at the moment, though it was not a principle he would apply in other cases when it would not serve his need.

I remember the same subject the DMN editors are debating being debated by my teachers and in the newspapers and magazines I read, with the same distinction: non-Christians would invoke “the separation of church and state” against religious groups that advocated policies they disliked and then praise religious groups that advocated policies they liked. Martin Luther King was great, always, the Catholic bishops great when they opposed nuclear weapons but not when they opposed abortion.

But I never, ever, heard objections to King or the bishops in their pacifist mode denounced for violating the separation of church and state. Never.

The non-Christian would switch in the twinkling in an eye with no idea whatever that their idea of separation, which they had used against the religious people they disliked, ought to apply to the religious people they liked. They offered 100% certainty for contradictory principles, sometimes literally within seconds. The Christian would be asking what principle applied to the question and then trying to invoke it evenhandedly, but (usually) his non-Christian opponent would not listen.

As I said, there are exceptions, but it may mean something that the exceptions stand out among their peers: an Orwell, for example, or a Christopher Hitchens. You may disagree with them, but you know you are arguing with someone who has tried to find a principle and apply it consistently.

10:12 AM

Monday, December 1


I recommend Robert Bork’s books to those who may not even be interested in his subjects, for nowhere will one find weight and explanatory power better combined with elegance and economy of expression. Here are some examples from the Introduction to his recently published Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges [AEI Press]:

"Intellectuals characteristically display a strong desire for meaning in life, and for them meaning requires transcendent principles and universalistic ideals. These qualities were once conferred by religion, but religion is not an option for intellectuals; the only alternative is the utopian outlook of the Left . . . . As a political and cultural philosophy or impulse, conservatism or traditionalism offers no comparable transcendentalism, no prospect of utopia. Conservatism is infrequently an option for the intelligentsia; the New Class despises the few conservatives to be found in its ranks more than it does those whom it regards as the retrograde “unwashed”—the general public. Conservative pragmatism, especially its concern with particularity—respect for difference, circumstance, tradition, history, and the irreducible complexity of human beings and human societies—does not qualify as a universal principle, but competes with and holds absurd the idea of a utopia achievable in this world.” [pp.3-4]

“ ‘Nonjudgmentalism’ is the first step toward a harsh judgmentalism in the service of a different morality.” [p. 7]

11:13 PM


Many of the things that are happening these days to conservative Episcopalians trapped in the Episcopal Church are, to be sure, very sad, but do the mental pictures conjured by this event, reported in the November, 2003 issue of Forward in Faith’s Forward Now under the rubric “Meanwhile, Persecution Continues . . . “ strike anyone else as, well, funny?

“New Hampshire—Any hint of disapproval over the consecration of V. Gene Robinson is met with swift action. The interim priest, the Rev’d Donald Wilson, was removed after he told Robinson that he could not submit to his authority. Half of the parish walked out in protest while a woman priest shouted at them and tried to forcibly restrain them.”

“You’re late, Dear. How was church?”

“Lots of fun today. The bishop sent some priestess to tell us why Fr. Wilson had been sacked, and when we tried to leave she ran screaming to the narthex and beat us back with the processional cross. Bloodied up old Throckmorton pretty well, but we picked him up and managed to get out through the sacristy.”

11:05 PM


Wolf Paul writes from Austria about yesterday's "Evangelical Successes":

it is of course also telling that Prof Braskamp obviously views HIS school as integrated into the mainstream of society,
perhaps including both the science and the sex, and that he has no problem with that fact.

Is that entirely in keeping with "Ex Corde Ecclesiae"?

It is a pity that it is for the most part only Evangelical colleges these days which expect their faculty to be believers.

Prof. Braskamp teaches at Loyola in Chicago, which is a Jesuit school, which no longer necessarily means a Catholic school. Ex Corde Ecclesiae is the pope's statement on what Catholic education means, which most of the Catholic colleges in this country seem to have tried to avoid implementing. I think it a good and sensible study of the relation of doctrinal commitment to intellectual inquiry and the place of both in the education of young people.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae treats doctrinal commitment and intellectual inquiry as two forms of knowledge which, pursued vigorously enough, will be found compatible because they both come from the same Source. The always asserted "conflict of science and religion" is a myth, offered mainly by those who want science to be a sort of religion, at least to the extent it can judge and dismiss the claims of religion.

Judging from everything I have read and heard, and a few personal encounters, it seems that a lot of Catholics in Catholic schools do not understand the relation of doctrine to inquiry with the pope's subtlety and insight. They think Christian doctrine will "stifle" their thinking. (And, I'm afraid, judging from the personal encounters, some really are desperately afraid their secular peers will look down upon them for being faithful Christians. They fear God more than man, which is just as bad for one's scholarship as for one's soul.)

Admittedly, in practice the two relate well sometimes and badly sometimes. What we know from revelation will sometimes seem to conflict with what we discover in experiment and inquiry. And some Christians themselves will exaggerate the differences in defense of their own self-chosen identity as Christians separated from "the world" of scholarship.

But that is only to say that we don't know everything, that — news flash — we see as in a mirror darkly. As C. S. Lewis pointed out decades ago, scientists were happy to admit that sometimes light acts like a particle and sometimes like a wave, and hold the two truths together in the assumption that some day they might be able to figure out why — which is to say, in the hope that someday they will know what greater truth encompasses the two truths they can observe at the moment.

Christian scholars should be able to perform the same mental operation. It's not hard to do. All you need do is learn to say, "I don't know."

1:59 PM


A very useful site: that of Freedom House. The home page describes the group this way:

Freedom House, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization, is a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world. Through a vast array of international programs and publications, Freedom House is working to advance the remarkable worldwide expansion of political and economic freedom.

Among its divisions is the Center for Religious Freedom. The Center, according to the homepage,

defends against religious persecution of all groups throughout the world. It insists that U.S. foreign policy defend Christians and Jews, Muslim dissidents and minorities, and other religious minorities in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran and Sudan. It is fighting the imposition of harsh Islamic law in the new Iraq and Afghanistan and opposes blasphemy laws in Muslim countries that suppress more tolerant and pro-American Muslim thought.

The Center's site includes links to stories like:

Misunderstanding Al Qaeda by one of the Center's fellows, Paul Marshall;

Radical Islam's Move on Africa;

World Silence Over Slain Muslims ">World silence over slain Muslims; and

Vietnam Intensifies Religious Persecution Against Hmong Christians.

The Center also publishes several important studies, the latest being The Rise of Hindu Extremism and the Repression of Christian and Muslim Minorities in India. The others are advertised on the Center's homepage.

1:23 PM


An Episcopalian writes in response to Steven Hutchens' blogs of the last few days on the responsibility of believing Christians within the Episcopal Church:

On Leaving the Episcopal Church

For my Evangelical brothers, the notion of shaking the dust of one's feet and heading out the door is a heroic tradition that asks not "if" but rather "when." For those of us in the Episcopal Church whose faith is formed within the catholic tradition — the vision of heading out of the church imagining ourselves on the way to the promised land is a bit hard to conjure.

We take seriously Christ's ecumenical imperative that we all be one. In the lives of St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Benedict, St. Dominic and many more, we recognize that the Church experienced many life giving reforms before the tragic shipwreck of the Reformation. Would Catherine of Siena have been more virtuous to leave the Roman Church?

Admittedly, Anglo-Catholics appear to be at a disadvantage in this struggle. Evangelicals can divide and call it virtue. Revisionists can sieze the reigns of power and call it prophetic. Anglo-Catholics are fearful of contributing further to the division of Christ's body (removing the Evangelical option), and distrust the tools of power (removing the revisionst strategies). In the end we are left with prayer and the sacraments.

I agree with the liberal critique that many conservatives within the Episcopal Church are social conservatives rather than orthodox Christians. They have been happy to abandon Scripture and Tradition on issues such as divorce and are only now being fussy because of personal prejudice. However, for those of us for who genuinely adhere to the faith and tradition as we have received, them a quick swim across the Bosporus or the Tiber will not solve our problems.

As any "orthodox" minded Christian knows, the divisions between the apostolic churches are meaningful and cannot be overcome as a mere reaction to a local heresy. Thankfully the Anglican Communion is bigger than the heresy of the Episcopal Church. I guess the question for me is WWCoSD?

1:16 PM

Sunday, November 30


A Canadian reader responds to Leon Podles' "Miss Manners and Church Matters" (two blogs down):

I think one footnote, at least, needs to be added to the prohibition on applause in church. I currently attend a "low" Anglican church that is charismatic in style, and outbursts of applause are not uncommon. It is most emphatically not the musicians who are being applauded, however. It is simply a punctuation mark of enthusiasm, akin to shouts of Amen! or
Hallelujah! or Praise the Lord!

Being from a high church Anglican background I found this quite disconcerting at first. But I came to understand that the seemingly undirected applause is in fact just another kind of worship.

So I would say: applause directed at worship leaders is unconditionally wrong. But that is not the only kind of applause.

3:13 PM


FYI, an article from the Los Angeles Times titled ”Evangelical Colleges Make Marks in a Secular World”. The schools have "3.1% of students in four-year colleges in California and 2.2% nationally" and their organzation, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, claims that their enrollment rose 26.6% from 1997 to 2002, to 215,593 students.

The writers, Stuart Silverstein and Andy Olsen, argue that

In California and nationally, evangelical colleges and universities are gaining broader acceptance and moving closer to the academic mainstream.

This they attribute "in part" to the

growing attention to diversity in academia, which opened the door, not just to ethnic and racial minorities but also to evangelical thinkers.

I think there is some truth to that, but not much. And as you expected, the existence of these schools worries the keepers of the keys to the secular kingdom:

But many academics remain concerned that the schools bend their instruction to conform with religious doctrine, stifling intellectual inquiry. They note that the colleges commonly require faculty members to make faith pledges attesting to their Christian religious beliefs and refuse to hire homosexuals.

"Sex and science are difficult issues for them to deal with in terms of mainstream educational thought," said Martin D. Snyder, director of planning and development for the American Assn. of University Professors.

. . . While he admires the way evangelical schools try to develop students' character and spirituality, Larry Braskamp, a professor of education at Loyola University in Chicago, said, "They're not as integrated into the mainstream of society, and they don't mix a lot with other backgrounds, so sometimes I think they carry stereotypes with them."

I must admit that I find it hard to take seriously anyone introduced as a professor of education, but even setting aside that prejudice — not, I stress, an unreasonable one — when I read such comments I always feel I've just watched a mugging. The problem is in part just the simple untruths, like Prof. Braskamp's claim — though not stated, undoubtedly what he meant — that these students "carry stereotypes with them" and the students at secular schools don't. And it is in part the attempt to stifle dissent by privileging (to use current academic jargon) what they define as "the mainstream."

Besides giving the usual critics their space, the writers suggest that the main attraction of such schools is, as they put it at the very end, as "a haven."

For those of you interested in such things, this is almost pure example of the standard journalistic treatment of conservative Christians. It begins with the facts of their success, often reported fairly and then finds "experts" who treat the Christians as eccentrics who put their religious dogma ahead of scientific realities, while implying here and there that the Christians are hiding from the real world.

This article interested me in part because it expanded the issues on which the Christians were alleged to be reality-denying dogmatists — in other words, irrational people — to include sex. This is a change from the traditional religion vs. science theme, adding Christian morality to the list of things out of the mainstream.

3:10 PM


In my role as arbiter morum, I have commented in this blog on the very bad American custom of applauding in church. It has too much of the air of the Pharisees and his trumpet, of praying (and song is a prayer) for public approval rather than of the glory of God.

Miss Manners concurs. From her Guide for the Turn of the Millennium

It is a misplaced effort at politeness to applaud the national anthem or music at religious services under the mistaken notion that these things are being offered up for the listeners' pleasure and judgment. On expects those who do this to next offer God a special television award for outstanding effort in a creative field.

Too many priests function as mc’s at nightclubs or host of variety shows.

A similar plague has Las Vega-ized many wedding receptions I have attended – (drum roll) “Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the new Mr. and Mrs. ….”

For that blight that Miss Manners blames

The show business mentality of issuing programs with cast lists and applauding the ceremony, which came into vogue when society decided that the highest and most important form of activity it could imagine was entertainment.

7:45 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?