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

E-mail your comments

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

 

Friday, December 12

MAKERS OF THE RING:

Something else on the Lord of the Rings movies, from the latest issue of World magazine: "Baptized Imagination". The article — I'll warn you that it begins slowly — quotes the makers of the movie as they explain their ideas of the book's philosophy.

Which they don't agree with. Fran Walsh, one of the writers, says

"It's about our need to feel that there are universal values of good. Whether or not that's true in the real world, who can say?" suggested Ms. Walsh.

When asked to expand on these ideas further, she told WORLD, "I think that stories do offer the comfort that we live in a moral universe, whether or not [we actually do] — as I said, who can say? — because the world here seems to be quite an amoral place and not founded on a great sort of underlying decency. Sometimes you have to question that." Not quite what Tolkien would say, but perhaps not too far off either: Ms. Walsh's doubts about humanity's goodness could begin to sound an awful lot like an awareness of original sin.


Well, no, actually it doesn't sound anything like an awareness of original sin, becaues she is not doubting humanity's goodness but the goodness of the universe — which is to say, doubting the existence of God. The writer has not understood her.

He also keeps writing that the movies are faithful to the book, which I would not say without considerable qualification. It seems to me seriously marred by a Romantic dependence on feelings — all this "What does your heart tell you?" business — for which Tolkien had no time. He does sometimes use such language, but in the context of a mind and will that knew what one ought to do and whose feelings were thus a sort of trained moral intuition, not, as in modern Romanticism, a way of knowing separate from the mind and will.

One does wonder whether people so distant from Tolkien's belief could faithfully put his book into a movie, though the agnostic Labourite John Mortimer wrote a excellent screenplay for the Catholic Tory Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Another of the actors points out Tolkien's concern for ecology, one of the predictable ideas. But John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli, cheers:

What is unconscionable is that too many of your fellow journalists do not understand how precarious Western civilization is. . . . The abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy. True Democracy comes from our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience. If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the world.

"And if it just means replacement of one genetic stock with another genetic stock, I don't think that matters too much. But if it involves the replacement of Western civilization with different cultural values then it's something we really ought to discuss because . . . I am for dead white male culture! If Tolkien's got a message, it's that sometimes you've got to stand up and fight for what you believe in." [ellipses in original]


My thanks to Chris Encapera for the link.


10:50 PM


JACKSON AND MCKELLEN:

For real fans of the Lord of the Rings movies, an article from the London Daily Telegraph: "The King of Middle Earth", about the director, Peter Jackson. It didn't tell me much that I didn't know and wanted to know, but I'm not as interested in the details of movie-making as some people are. Except for:

Even after King Kong, there is still the one elusive project outstanding that started him on the whole Lord of the Rings cycle. "If New Line decides to make The Hobbit - and as far as I'm aware they haven't decided to do it and I don't think they even have the rights to do it - well, it would be strange for me if somebody else did it. It would be nice to have that continuity and complete the saga."

It also includes at the end links to other articles you may find of interest, like a profile of actor and homosexual activist Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the movies.


1:49 PM


GOOD THINGS ON THE BREAKPOINT SITE:

Also on the Breakpoint site (the source of Charles Colson's columns) is:

the Wilberforce Forum's recommended movies and Charles Colson's list of Fifty Insightful Films.

— Anne Morse's "Make 'Em Laugh" about "pre-evangelistic Christian comics.

— And columns by Roberto Rivera, a contributing editor of Touchstone, including Elf, Men in Tights" and a reflection on the death of his mother, "If We Meet Again". Older columns can be found here.


12:23 PM


Carl F. H. Henry, RIP:

Here is Charles Colson's "Rest for a warrior" about his friend, the Evangelical giant Carl F. H. Henry, who died on Sunday.


12:13 PM


CAMPUS RELIGION:

A couple of weeks ago I posted a story on the increase in religious belief at Harvard and M.I.T., in a blog titled ”Evangelical Successes”. The Christian Science Monitor has published a similar article about a similar movement at another elite university, Northwestern, titled ”Religious upsurge brings culture clash to college campuses”.

Part of the interest may be simple curiosity, particularly among students who weren't raised with a lot of religion. "They start experimenting with everything from hair, to what they're going to major in, to not wanting to be a CPA like Dad," explains Ms. Boden. Other students, she says, crave religion's structure and guidance — a desire that often leads them to more conservative practices. Those who grew up as Reform Jews, for instance, might try Orthodox Judaism.

. . . That fundamentalist groups are thriving at schools known for intellectual vigor may be surprising, but the appeal goes beyond the tenets themselves: part of the draw, students say, is fellowship, opportunities to volunteer, even the lack of denominational ties or hierarchical structures.

"People are eager to look at the Bible and study it, and aren't offended that you're inviting them" to meetings, says Terry Erickson, InterVarsity's director of evangelism. "If you invite them to church, it's a different story."

Cameron Anderson, the group's director of graduate and faculty ministries, agrees: "Spirituality is in and religion is out."


You will have noticed that the only reasons the reporter can give for this new interest in religion are practical and a bit patronizing: the kids are experimenting, as kids will, or they need structure, as kids often do, or they want fellowship, as everyone does. That they may have found the secularist life unsatisfying the reporter does not suggest, and probably does not even imagine.

And you will have noticed the reporter making clear that all this interest in spiritual things isn’t an interest in religion or in the churches. I think the reporter probably right about this, but I also suspect that the reporting fits a secularist ideological need: for the secularist, spirituality is fine but religion is dangerous and church is worse.

Spirituality of the sort popular today does not lead to anti-secularist commitments. It may not lead to any real changes of life at all. A commitment to “religion” can do so, and a commitment to the sort of church serious young people look for often does. Spirituality may even lead people away from religion and church and thereby advance secularism. Hence the benigh if wary treatment secular writers give any sign that people are becoming more "spiritual."

The same Prof. Braskamp of Loyola whose put down of Evangelical students I mentioned in the first blog is quoted here as well (suggesting this reporter read the first story and did not work very hard to find new sources):

"Faculty are understandably reluctant — they don't want to indoctrinate students,'" says Larry Braskamp, a professor of higher education at Loyola University in Chicago. "But if faculty don't engage students in helping them develop their reasoning abilities, how are they going to learn?"

. . . "It's not a matter of indoctrination," he explains. "A person's growth in faith doesn't have to be anti-intellectual."


Faculty members “don’t want to indoctrinate students”? Since when? Then why do so many schools reject qualified Christians or cultural conservatives for academic positions? Why are so many schools’ faculty’s so monochromatically secular and secularist?

Give me a break.

And never mind the silly implications of “a person’s growth in faith doesn’t have to be anti-intellectual” (emphasis added). I grew up in a New England college town and I learned in my childhood that academics can be as anti-intellectual as any stereotypal fundamentalist.

Many of them do not use the intellect to find truth but only to defend positions, status, and behaviors they have already adopted. And adopted, one suspects, for non-intellectual reasons. I think of the number of lechers who are pro-choice, and develop a view of man and of morality to justify it, to give an obvious example.

My thanks to our contributing editor Philip Johnson for both links.


12:08 PM


COMING IN JANUARY:

Here are some of the articles appearing in the January/February issue of Touchstone, which will be out in early January.

As we have done for the last several years, this issue includes several articles on life issues. Judging from the percentage of pages we dedicate to the subject, Touchstone has the greatest commitment to pro-life matters of any general religious magazine. I try to explain why in my "From the editor" section.

The issue will have two editorials:

— Patrick Henry Reardon on the nature and challenge of Islam; and
— David Mills on the pro-abortionists' misuse of the word "ideology".

In the View department:

— Sam Torode on a new convert's disconcerting experiences;
— Juli Loesch Wiley on the integrity of human sexuality and how contraception violates it;
— Robert Hart on the hardest of abortion cases;
— David Mills on mainline religious propaganda; and
— William Luse on cloning's effect on marriage (destructive).

We have columns from two columnists this month:

— Tom Buchanan's "Practical Christianity" column addresses dealing with earthly cares;
— In Patrick Henry Reardon's "As it is written" column addresses the rise and fall of David.

The features department will include three papers from the conference we co-sponsored two summers ago in Eichstaett, a village in Bavaria:

— Eric Barr on original sin in fantasy literature, particularly in Milton, Lewis, and Tolkien;
— Steven Hutchens on the nature of the imagination, with reference to the controversy over the Harry Potter stories; and
— David Mills on Orwell's 1984* and C. S. Lewis' *That Hideous Strength* as political fantasies that reflect the Great Story.

We also a Forum in the issue:

— Frank Beckwith on the "new rhetorical strategy" for responding to abortion and abortionists;
— and responses from Terry Schlossberg, David Mills, and Frederica Mathewes-Green.

And in the Report department:

— John Schroedel on a conference on biotechnology and its effect on (threat to) human dignity.

And the issue will, of course, include all the usual features: news, book reviews, a selection from the "Christian Classics" (this one from St. Symeon the New Theologian), and reports on the suffering church and the pro-life movement.

If you'll forgive an advertisement, those of you who do not get the magazine and would like to read these articles should subscribe, which you can do online by clicking here. As these things go, the magazine does not cost very much at all, especially given that you will be getting lots and lots of good, edifying, provoking, equipping, stimulating articles ten times in the next year.


12:00 PM


Thursday, December 11

OPEN ORTHODOXY:

An article those of you who are Orthodox or interested in Orthodoxy may find of interest: "Free in the Faith, Open to the World: the Work of Alexander Men" by an Orthodox priest, Fr. Michael Plekhon (whom I'm told is a convert from Lutheranism). It is a study of those Orthodox theologians and writers called by

Their opponents . . . "liberals," "innovators," "Western- contaminated," "Protestants," "ecumenists," and generally "heretics." These are Orthodox clergy and laity convinced of the enormous freedom within the Great Tradition of the Church, the scriptures, Fathers, councils, the liturgies and the whole heritage of the faith in various places and times. These Orthodox are open, even fraternally disposed, to other Christian confessions committed to the goal of healing the schisms which divide Christianity.

They point back to the undivided Church of the first millennium, and to the Great Synapte's petition for the "union of all." They also point to more recent actions such as the embrace of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I and the mutual lifting of anathemas as signs that then and now Christ and the Holy Spirit are "present everywhere, filling all things," as the New Testament and the liturgical prayer to the Spirit say.

Such openness to the rest of Christianity and to the problems of the Church in the modern world, an openness rather than suspicion, condemnation or retreat, a sense of freedom in the faith, has been the hallmark of a procession of figures who have made significant contributions to theology and to the Church in our time.


The list includes Alexander Men, Alexander Schmemann, Nicholas Afanasiev, and John Meyendorff, who the writer claims are being attacked for their "openness to the rest of Christianity," etc. I cannot judge the value of this argument, but one point gives me pause. The writer lists several people "in ascendancy" "among the conservative [critics] from within Orthodoxy,"

such as the late Father Seraphim Rose, Fathers Patrick Reardon, Alexy Young and Frank Schaeffer, perhaps the chief spokesman, and their targets: first for many, their former Protestant confessions, then Roman Catholicism and now their own Orthodox communities.

I just came home this afternoon from spending four days with Fr. Reardon and his wife Denise, while I was working at the Touchstone office. I can say with some confidence that he is a very convinced Orthodox but also that he is one who is "open to the rest of Christianity," etc. He is a senior editor of an ecumenical magazine, which makes him in practice rather more "open" to other Christians than any of the writer's subjects. He has thought and spoken of what Orthodoxy can learn from the West as well as what Orthodoxy can teach the West, in a way I don't think the writer's subjects have done. He has never spoken of the writer's subjects as "liberals" or "heretics."

Anyway, the writer's description of Fr. Reardon, greatly inaccurate as it is, does make me wonder, as an outsider to this particular debate, how accurate is his treatment and presentation.


10:39 PM


HITCHENS INTERVIEWED:

Here is an interview with one of my favorite contemporary writers, Christopher Hitchens. Which is not, please note, to say that I agree with him — not least because I am a Christian and he isn't and therefore we see some things quite differently. But he is thoughtful and interesting in a way few other journalists are, even when I think he's absolutely wrong.


10:22 PM


PRESBYTERIAN HARDBALL

In a recent news release, I have learned that my colleague, the Rev. Parker T. Williamson, a minister in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and chief executive officer of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, “has been told that a committee has recommended his ministry not be validated in the regional presbytery of Western North Carolina, where the ministry is based.”

If the measure is approved by the full presbytery Jan. 31, Williamson would lose his right to speak or vote at presbytery meetings and, unless restored to a validated ministry within three years, he would lose his credentials as an ordained minister.

The committee said it was making the recommendation “because of the character and conduct” of the ministry and its widely circulated newspaper, The Layman.

The board of directors of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, an independent renewal ministry, recently released “A Declaration of Conscience” in which it cited "a deep and irreconcilable disunion" over theological and sexual issues in the denomination and called on churches to "prayerfully consider" diverting funds from liberal denominational causes and earmarking them for Biblically-faithful missions.

That declaration on funding, according to the chairwoman of the task force that recommended the action against Williamson, "tipped the scales for us." Mary V. Atkinson said, "We felt that that was just going way too far."

Williamson, vowing to fight any effort to remove his validation, said Presbyterian church courts have repeatedly upheld the rights of sessions—congregational governing bodies—to designate where their money goes.


I have known Rev. Williamson for about 15 years. And certainly those in authority in the Presbyterian Church have known him longer, and have known his views as expressed in the Presbyterian Layman for several decades. Why threaten his credentials now? Because he has dared enter the inner sanctuary: he has dared threaten their money.

But does a denomination have a right to your money when those spending it are working against the faith? When they are no longer trustworthy of the gospel? I would think giving them money means participation in their destructive doctrines. Rev. Williamson does conscientious Christians a favor by pointing out the problem.

If you want to find out more, contact :
Craig M. Kibler, Director of Publications/Executive Editor, Presbyterian Lay Committee, 136 Tremont Park Drive, Lenoir, N.C. 28645 (828) 758-8716 (Interviews with Rev. Parker T. Williamson also may be scheduled).


3:10 PM


Wednesday, December 10

DEFENDING MS. WOLF'S DISTINCTIONS:

A reader offers another interesting comment on the string that began with "Unexpected results" and continued here and here:

I feel compelled to defend the reasonablenes of Ms. Wolf's distinction between moral reasons and health reasons for shunning pornography.

Here are three arguments one might make for why one should not watch porn:

(1) Watching porn will damage your libido and your emotional life, and make it hard for you to have relationships with real women.
(2) By watching porn you support an industry that leads many young women (and men) into drug addiction, suicide, and AIDS.
(3) The Bible says that adultery of the heart is a sin.

Arguments (2) and (3) would commonly be called "moral" arguments, while (1) typically would not. They are commonly called moral precisely because they do not appeal directly to self-interest. One is an argument that one should sacrifice something one wants for the greater good of society, while the other appeals to seemingly arbitrary rules. When people speak dismissively of morality and moralism, they are often referring to arguments of the last
type.

The critics of Wolf's comments about morals assume that she is dismissing all moral arguments as irrelevant, as if they were all about "arbitrary rules". But there is no evidence in the article that she meant that. She could just as well have meant that she was not appealing to a type (2) argument, such as the "pornography leads to an increase in rape" argument
that she is rebutting. This does not imply a rejection of moral reasons per se, just a statement that her own reasons for rejecting porn are qualitatively different from those of feminists like Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin.

I am reminded of the excellent article in this month's
Touchstone on the strip clubs of Baltimore. In it Fr. Robert Hart makes a purely moral argument against visiting strip clubs. He does not say that going to strip clubs harms one's emotional and spritual health, but I would not assume that he doesn't believe there are such hazards, just that they were not the point of his article.


9:23 PM


GROSS ON MUGGERIDGE:

Those of you who enjoyed the three articles on Malcolm Muggeridge in the December issue may enjoy John Gross' "An infinitely worldly clubman" from The New Criterion.

One of the three articles, by Muggeridge's friend and first biographer Ian Hunter, can be found here. The others are my description of his conversion to Christianity and the historian Adam Schwartz's study of his social criticism. To read these articles you have to get the magazine (this is a hint to go here).


9:14 PM


A DUMB REVIEW:

The American Spectator offers a review of Master and Commander. It is a truly dumb review.

The Jack Aubrey of the film is identical with that of the books. If he is to be regarded as an oaf, that is no valid criticism of the film. That would be like criticizing Withering Heights because Heathcliffe is an unattractive person.

He criticizes Stephen Maturin for sounding like a post-Vietnam sensitive conscience. That is, however, exactly what Stephen Maturin sometimes sounds like in the books.


9:09 PM


Tuesday, December 9

BUDZISZEWSKI ON SEX:

Byron Murgatroyd writes in response to the article by Naomi Wolf (see earlier blogs for the link):

Interested readers might want to also look at J. Budziszewski's article, "Classic Theophilus - Sex at the Edge of Night." (The Edge of Night is an eatery; Prof. Theophilus is an imaginary professor at an imaginary college.) It can be found here.

I recently reworked the article into a "play" read at my high school Sunday School class with some success (full credit was given; I hope I didn't break any copyright laws). A note: Don't use duct tape, it takes too long to actually become unsticky. We spent about 10 minutes sticking it on everything, including the carpet, and finally gave up having it actually slid off.  I suspect regular masking tape would work fine.


After you read this article, you will want to read other of his Prof. Theophilus columns. For one thing, they'll help you answer the sort of questions people of all ages, but especially younger people, are likely to ask you.


2:49 PM


THE DA VINCI CODE DISMANTLED:

Another article by Sandra Miesel (see next blog) you should find interesting and useful: from the September 2003 issue of Crisis magazine, "Dismantling the da Vinci Code". It begins:

“The Grail,” Langdon said, “is symbolic of the lost goddess. When Christianity came along, the old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric quests for the Holy Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to find the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be “searching for the chalice” were speaking in code as a way to protect themselves from a Church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned non-believers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine.” (The Da Vinci Code, pages 238-239)

The Holy Grail is a favorite metaphor for a desirable but difficult-to-attain goal, from the map of the human genome to Lord Stanley’s Cup. While the original Grail — the cup Jesus allegedly used at the Last Supper—normally inhabits the pages of Arthurian romance, Dan Brown’s recent mega–best-seller,
The Da Vinci Code, rips it away to the realm of esoteric history.

But his book is more than just the story of a quest for the Grail — he wholly reinterprets the Grail legend. In doing so, Brown inverts the insight that a woman’s body is symbolically a container and makes a container symbolically a woman’s body. And that container has a name every Christian will recognize, for Brown claims that the Holy Grail was actually Mary Magdalene. She was the vessel that held the blood of Jesus Christ in her womb while bearing his children.


2:44 PM


MORE ON MIDWIVES:

The writer Sandra Miesel offers more information on the question of midwives and witches:

Midwives singled out as witches and witchhunting as woman-hunting are indeed  feminist myths. For  views based on evidence, see Oedipus and the Devil by Lyndal Roper (New York, 1994) and Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief by Christina Larner (Oxford, 1984). Roper cites a witch-hunt in 17th c. Augsburg which centered on "lying-in maids", older women who worked as domestic help for new mothers. They, not midwives, were the object of special persecution because they had so many opportunities to harm babies.

The sex ratio among witches varies from place to place, with men predominating in northern and eastern Europe but women in southern and western regions. The larger number of
executions in western Europe brings the overall proportion of male victims down to ten per cent of the total.


Readers will want to read her Who burned the witches? from the October 2001 issue of Crisis.

She gave a paper at our conference on the "apocalyptc imagination," held in October. Her and the other papers will be appearing in the magazine some time in the next year. The other speakers included Wheaton College's Alan Jacobs, the Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian, the Southern Baptist biblical scholar Craig Blaising, and four of our editors (Podles, Hitchcock, Reardon, and Hutchens).


2:36 PM


READER ALERT:

The latest issue of Christian History is titled "The First Biblical Teachers" and includes two articles by our senior editor Patrick Henry Reardon. The longer articlle is called "Scripture Saturation" and describes the way the early monks read the Bible to be formed by its moral sense. The shorter article, which appears as a sidebar with the longer one, is called "Origen's Monastic Legacy" and describes his understanding of the right way to read Scripture.

I have only just looked at the issue, but it looks quite good. Other authors -- the issue offers an ecumenical range of writers -- include Eastern University's Christopher Hall, the Anglican Evangelical Gerald Bray, and the Jesuit Joseph T. Leinhard. It also includes a useful timeline giving "Traditions in Bible Reading."

Christian History is a very well-done magazine and a helpful one even if you know the issue's subject. The magazine's web adddress is www.christianhistory.net.


12:14 PM


THOUGHTFUL MORALISTS:

Two more responses to Sunday's "Unexpected results, these from two of my colleagues.

First, Jim Kushiner, our executive editor (= publisher) writes:

An interesting article. Wolf writes:

<< The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity. >>

My goodness, I know the utilitarian appeal in our society works in our society. But this crosses the line: "to thoughtful people," as if thoughtful people don't use moral reasoning, or needn't use it.

Translation for the ad campaign: Smart People Stay Off Pornography & Have Better Sex.


To this our contributing editor Addison Hart replied:

She also sems unaware of the fact that her argument, here and throughout the article, is by definition a moral argument. Nor is she apparently aware that the allegedly "thoughtful people" in question are likewise reasoning "morally" from certain premises related (pathetically, to be sure)
to hygiene. Such arguments may reflect a meager morality, or even sheer immorality, but they are still "moral" arguments.

Does she really believe that she operates in an amoral universe and that "morality" is merely something -- like mental flower arranging, take it or leave it -- that is applied artificially to chaotic existential conditions from without?  Well, maybe she does; but then her whole article, and even
its fine conclusion, would necessarily be an exercise in absurdity.


12:05 PM


MRS. MEADOWS-GREEN:

Something else from the Orthodox satirical website The OnionDome, this one mentioning our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green:

New Orthodox Debate Show to Air on Cable Channel 473

A new Orthodox television show featuring debates between a priest from the Church Overseas of Russian Orthodox Christians (COROC) and a priest from the Rump Orthodox Church in America (RumpO) is scheduled to begin this coming Sunday on cable channel 473. "Beard to Beard" will be prerecorded and aired every Sunday morning at 1:30 A.M. for the next 20 weeks. "Production quality is amazingly high," promises show creator, producer, and director Fyodor Fyodorovich ("Call me Ted") Fyodorov. "We will have two cameras!"

Famous Orthodox media commentator Fredricova Meadows-Green will serve as the show's moderator. The show's sponsors will include Bee Traditional Candles, Frankly Incensed Insta-Light Charcoal, and Really Real Icons. Check local guides for dates and times.


11:12 AM


MORE ON CARL’S JR.:

A reader writes with additional information about Sunday’s Bye Mr. Hefner:, about a restaurant chain called Carl’s Jr., which used Hugh Hefner in its ads:

You didn't mention, so perhaps you're not aware of, the irony of the Carl's Jr. ads. The founder of Carl's Jr., Carl Karcher, is well known as a conservative Republican and a devout Roman Catholic. This was well known enough when I was a high school student in Berkeley that I remember liberal activists working hard and successfully to keep Carl's Jr. franchises from opening in town.

If Karcher were dead he'd be rolling in his grave; I understand he's 86 years old and long since retired from the company. He can't be pleased.

Incidentally, no need for the "[sic]" after the name of the restaurant: there was originally a chain of restaurants called Carl's, and then Mr. Karcher created a miniature version of them called Carl's Jr. The new version prospered and the original died out.


Actually, the “sic” simply means “this is not a typo.” One sometimes uses it to make a point but usually, as in this case, just to tell readers that you haven’t made a mistake.


11:10 AM


SEPARATED MORALITY:

Craig Galer writes a perceptive response to the article by the feminist writer Naomi Wolf, discussed in Sunday’s ”Unexpected results”:

I linked to Naomi Wolf's article, and I found it to be exceptionally perceptive, for someone who isn't coming from a moral/religious perspective. You didn't flag it in your blog, but Wolf says, at one point,

<< "The reason to turn off the ‘dirt’ [not the word she used] might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one">>

I couldn't help thinking that the two (moral reasons and therapeutic ones) are not so neatly separable as Ms. Wolf seems to think they are. If the moral law is, at least to some extent, "built into" the universe, wouldn't the physical/emotional health benefits come along with it (again, at least to some extent)?

This very separation of the moral from any real consequences of our actions seems to me to be a large part of the problem. The idea that morality might be anything more than arbitrary rules, much less that it might have anything to do with whether one's life goes well or badly, seems not to have occurred to her.

In a fallen world, the link between morality and consequences is never as direct as one might like, but articles like Naomi Wolf's always remind me of Chesterton's man who sailed off, lost at sea, and finally, thinking he had discovered the new world, returned to his home port. My (baby-boomer) generation thought our grand-parents' wisdom outdated and oppressive, and set out to rebuild the world from scratch.

Now we find (having ruined countless lives and quite possibly the society as a whole) that our grandparents turn out to have known more than we gave them credit for.


11:09 AM


Monday, December 8

REICH GOES TO WAR:

Something that may interest you: the Jewish journalist Don Feder on "Robert Reich's War on Evangelicals":

Reich argues that America’s only hope to defeat the coming theocracy is a Democratic Party willing to stand up to the zealots. “Democrats should call all this for what it is — a clear and present danger to religious liberty in America,” Reich writes. “For more than 300 years, the liberal tradition has sought to free people from the tyranny of religious doctrines that would otherwise be imposed on them. Today’s evangelical right detests that tradition and seeks nothing short of a state-sponsored religion. But maintaining the separation of church and state is a necessary precondition of liberty.”

After describing Reich's argument in more detail and arguing against it, Feder notes that religious liberty of the sort Reich would eliminate in the name of liberty is one of the bases of liberty itself.

For more on this kind of thing, see our "Godless Party" issue.


8:08 AM


NEWS FLASH:

An Orthodox reader sends this link to a satirical Orthodox website offering a news story: "Conclusive Proof Discovered That C.S. Lewis Was Anglican". You may enjoy it.


7:55 AM


MIDWITCHES:

A reader writes in response to Thursday's "Midwives and prophecy":

That correspondent of yours has been reading too much Foucault and feminist theory.

Let me see now. We are to believe that midwives were especially singled out as witches, but where, when, and what is the evidence? I don’t think it’s implausible; but lots of things that are not implausible also happen not to be true. One of the witches in Macbeth does mention, as an ingredient in her stew, “finger of birth-strangled babe / Ditch-delivered by a drab,” but then, the whole play has to do with the violation of innocence, and the image of the baby returns, again and again, with tremendous force.

It may be that especially meddlesome women, even women who thought they could use recipes and charms to control the important events in women’s lives, became midwives; I don’t know. You mentioned that one third of the accused witches were men — thus there was by no means a preponderance of women accused of witchery, particularly when you consider that women do tend to dabble in the superstitions, from astrology to tarot cards to aromatherapy to ecofeminism to Oprahism.

If midwives were abortionists, then they surely did procure drugs, probably applied with appropriate charms and chants, to produce abortion. Well, if that is the case, it goes a long way toward exonerating our forefathers who hanged the occasional witch.

But what really bothers me is the correspondent’s insinuation that that was some sort of bureaucratic means of controlling the sexuality of women (here you can see Foucault’s ghastly shade). How’s that, now? You have people playing God, changing life into death; I imagine the reaction of the common folk, forget about officials, would be horror. Those common folk certainly included women themselves.

She also seems to suggest that it is mainly men who enforce a sexual double standard, to the disadvantage of women; and that they do so out of fear of untrammeled female sexuality. But abortion unsexes women — as Lady Macbeth is unsexed. That, I think, is the true fear: not that women will be too much the women, but that women will cease to be women, and will unman men.

The same fear underlies the myth of the Amazons: they are named “breastless” because of the self-mutilation they underwent in order to fight against men in war. When the queen of the Amazons is defeated by Theseus, he takes her in marriage, and that puts an end to that. The Amazon and, in a different way, the whore both flee from womanhood. Neither men nor women are really at ease in their company.

Certainly women who fornicated were judged more harshly than were men — by both women and men, and actually I think women themselves were the sterner police in this matter. That was quite natural. If you have a state in which almost all of the women are chaste, it does not matter how many of the men are lechers in their hearts, you will not be overrun with bastards. You will have a chance at enjoying a true society. If, however, almost all of the women are unchaste, it will not matter how many men you persuade to obey the sixth commandment: you will be overrun with bastards, and you will have chaos. This is not a cultural opinion but a plain biological and mathematical fact.

Also, until very recently — until most people did not have to endure hard labor to procure food, clothing, and shelter — a woman who gave birth to illegitimate children, children with no recognized claim on the father’s labor, if the father were even known, put an intolerable burden on herself and her own family. Thus I believe Aquinas says that when a man and a woman fornicate, both sin mortally against chastity and charity, but the woman also sins against prudence, since it is most obviously in her own self-interest not to become pregnant.

Women used to be capable of placing themselves in their brothers’ shoes. So it is true that they are judged more harshly if they are unchaste. Who is judged more harshly if he runs away from an enemy, or from injustice? Who is judged more harshly if he gives in to his desire for ease? Who is judged more harshly if he allows his own love to sway what should be an impartial judgment? Whose tears are looked upon with scorn, if they come at the wrong time? If you have a society whose women face physical danger fearlessly, but whose men run away, it will be conquered forthwith; but if the men face physical danger fearlessly, the society will be safe, regardless of what the women do. There are double standards because there are two sexes.

Finally, that sly dig at us men for (apparently foolishly) fearing the Monstrous Regiment of Women ought to be answered. Men are fools who do NOT fear it, pompous asses in fact, who underestimate the power of women and thus the destruction women can cause. You can’t have it both ways: if we are to respect women as our equals, we must believe that they are capable of destroying all that we hold dear, that they are worthy enemies, should they become our enemies.

The only question then becomes whether, given a Regiment of Women, that Regiment necessarily must become Monstrous. Scripture and nature say yes. But who needs to go to Scripture or to nature when we see Hillary Clinton, or Mary Robinson of Ireland, or the leaders of NOW, or the feminist nuns . . . Women detest men who are weaker than they are; therefore they cannot rule men. If you want a matriarchy, go to Harlem.

I hate ranting like this, but I had to sort out what she was saying and what I thought was wrong with it. My heart goes out to women, true women — they have a rough time being heard these days over the noise of the viragoes.


He wrote again with a sort of p.s.:

Meantime, my wife has told me that the "witches were really helpful midwives" notion is the subtext for Demi Moore's movie version of The Scarlet Letter. So now I think it must be feminist folklore. Gosh, I can't keep up with it.


7:51 AM


Sunday, December 7

UNEXPECTED RESULTS:

The Wall Street Journal article mentioned in the next blog led me to an article in New York magazine by the feminist writer Naomi Wolf, "The porn myth". It is an interesting article, though one, I should warn, that deserves an R-rating.

Wolf argues that living in a "pornographized" world has not made men

into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman — with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”) — possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?

. . . Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.


C. S. Lewis said the very same thing in one of his unpublished letters. (Wheaton College's Lyle Dorset quoted from it in the lecture he gave for us on Lewis' spirituality last month.) Reality can never compete with fantasy.

I have made the point before, that chastity is the best source, the best preparation, for real eroticism. Wolf does not seem to see this, but she does see that a great more restraint is needed than our world currently provides.

I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography.

It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time — to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.


8:22 PM


BYE MR. HEFNER:

A cheering story about little Thomas Aquinas College in California, "Hefner Ads Too Close for College's Comfort", about the college's letting go a trustee (I assume a wealthy trustee) because his company ran disgusting ads. The ads are for a restaurant called "Carl's [sic] Jr.":

At issue is a TV advertising campaign launched this month by Carpinteria-based CKE starring the 77-year-old Playboy founder.

In one 30-second spot that he shares with three young women, Hefner, wearing his trademark silk pajamas, flashes his Cheshire cat grin and talks about his love of variety.

"People always ask me, 'Hey, Hef, do you have favorites?' " he says, coyly. "I tell them no. It's not about that. I love them all. It just depends what I'm in the mood for."

Hefner then proceeds to devour a bacon cheeseburger, while a narrator comments, "Some guys don't like the same thing night after night."


Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. The corporation's president, and now former trustee of the college, a Andrew Puzder, explained his reason for using Hugh Hefner

in a Nov. 3 statement announcing the new campaign.

"Who better to deliver the message of variety than Hugh Hefner," Puzder said. "We're appealing to an audience of young, hungry guys who expect a quality product but want to have something different from time to time. As a pop icon, Hefner appeals to our target audience and credibly appeals to our message of variety."


There's something smarmy about this that I find far more repellent than straightforward pornography. Bravo to Thomas Aquinas College.

As it happens, the Wall Street Journal just ran a story about Mr. Hefner and his new competitors like FM, titled "You mean it has pictures, too?". The author makes some good observations about these new magazines:

But the biggest difference is that the girls in FHM and Maxim wear something, although usually very little, whereas Playboy's Miss January has forgotten her clothes altogether. Because the naughtiest bits are covered, young men feel free to carry these Playboy-lite magazines with them everywhere they go, pulling them out on the train as if they were reading Popular Mechanics.

Frankly, I'm embarrassed for them and the rest of guy-dom. At least there was a modicum of truth to the old line, "I buy Playboy for the writing." But these new mags are all about, well, stuff, and how that stuff will attract "hot babes" and enhance sexual performance.


I have seen carrying these magazines onto airplanes and wondered how they could do so without being embarassed. Now I know. Ten square inches of material makes the difference between a public and a private indulgence. I personally would be embarassed to be seen carrying either Playboy or FM but then I must be old-fashioned.

The article ends disappointingly. The author ends up treating ol' Hef' as kind of quaint and his magazine more objectionable for its leftist politics than its pornography.


7:59 PM


PLANNED PREDATORS:

A useful article, though one whose content is, alas, not the least bit surprising: "The predators of Planned Parenthood" by Michelle Malkin. The group

continues to dispense the abortion kill pills to pregnant teens -- and it continues to entice young people to its abortion clinics with a glitzy, MTV-like Web site offering "sexuality and relationship info you can trust." Called "Teenwire.com," the Planned Parenthood site is chock-full of colorful graphics, hip jargon, voluminous health advice, and lots of exclamation points:

"Check out our interactive color diagrams of female and male anatomy!"

"SEX TALK LIVE!"

"Got Lube?"

"I want both guys!"

"MASTURBATION: Go there!"


The site leads the teenagers to believe in their own final moral authority, which as everyone who has been a teenager knows, is a serious mistake. They are never so mature as they think they are: never so wise, so shrewd, so clever. The site, Malkin reports,

issues a stern note to parents who might be trying to monitor what kind of sex education propaganda their kids are reading. Planned Parenthood lectures mothers and fathers that "this Web site is for teens. This is their place. Take a look around the site if you like, but please do not register on the site."

This, the undermining of parental authority and the encouragement of teenagers to make decisions they are not ready to make, is evil. What Planned Parenthood does is make vulnerable children do things in bed which will bring them pain, psychological and spiritual, and often bring them — the girls, that is — into Planned Parenthood's abortuaries, where they will contribute to the group's profit margin, at the cost of their children and perhaps their souls.

My thanks to Fr. Robert Hart for sending it to me.


7:45 PM


ART AND AGITPROP:

For those of you interested in art and propaganda, and the relation therebetween, an article from today's New York Times: When Political Art Mattered. The art to which the title refers is homosexualist works demanding attention and money for homosexualist causes.

It is not an article I recommend, except to those of you who really are interested in examples of propaganda. The author praises as "art" what strikes me as simple agitprop and media manipulation, and goes on to claim that these works actually affected society for the good. It seems quite a dubious claim, even were the art better.

But AIDS made its debut among a very cultured group of people. Many were artists who, devastated and enraged, turned their professional skills to protest. The design collective Gran Fury was founded in 1988 after the New Museum offered Act Up a window to do with as it pleased; soon other museums nationwide were draping their paintings and scheduling protests on Dec. 1, which became the annual Day Without Art. But even those gay men who were not culture mavens by trade were knowledgeable amateurs; hiding, encoding and image management were a fundamental part of every homosexual's sentimental education. In short, the dying, and their friends, knew how to convey a message in the language of their times.

For Larry Kramer, it was that ''art'' -- the street theater, the protest graphics -- that mattered. ''It was the only thing we had, the only way we could get any attention,'' he says. The image-starved television news shows could not be bothered to cover claims that a drug company was overcharging for medications, but let a bunch of black-clad young protesters chain themselves to that drug company's headquarters, and the cameras were there en masse. How to get across the idea of governmental guilt in promoting a blood-borne disease? Bloody hands, of course, stenciled everywhere. Some of the street actions I saw in the late 80's were better produced than Off Broadway shows, complete with smartly edited scripts, disciplined chorus numbers and gorgeous accouterments. Act Up's greatest artwork -- furtively covering Jesse Helms's Virginia home in a giant custom-made condom -- made the crucial point that prejudice is as insidious a danger to society as H.I.V. But, formally speaking, it was pure Christo.


That "formally speaking" is the way in which he converts publicity stunts into art. It seems, as I said, a dubious claim.


5:02 PM


FOREST RETREAT:

The Jim Forest mentioned in the following blog also wrote to say that he is leading a retreat in January on praying with icons, information on which can be found here. The subtitle is "An Introduction to the Eastern Orthodox Tradition of Multidimensional Prayer." It will run January 22 - 24, 2004 at Kirkridge, a retreat center in Bangor, which is somewhere in northwestern Pennsylvania.


4:55 PM


MERTON REMEMBERED:

For those of you interested in Thomas Merton, here is an article from the Louisville Courier-Journal of 29 November 2003: writings still relevant, controversial after 35 years. That day was the 35th anniversary of Merton’s death.

My thanks to Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship for the link. Who, by the way, recently wrote me to say that he highly recommended a book titled Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes.

It's a cultural history of Russia. Hard to put down. It's now out in paperback from Penguin.


4:52 PM




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?