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Saturday, December 20


A reader sends a link to a Southern Baptist review of the Rings movies.

I am still thinking through my own response to the third movie (I took our eldest two to the opening showing at midnight), but I think this reviewer generally right. I left the theatre underwhelmed, as were both of my children. I think the three movies together a good movie, but not a very good movie of the book.

3:23 PM


A reader responds to Eric Kniffin's "The propagandists of plan b", posted yesterday:

Depending on how far you want to take the ideas introduced by Eric Kniffen on casting policy positions in moral terms, this essay by the Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities, U.TX Dallas is instructive:

It explores the differences and tendencies of legal and policy mechanisms based on what is "good" in moral terms; cf. the pursuit of what is "right," that is, pragmatic for the simple, measureable, often economic common welfare. The professor posits that law constrained by the limits of the "right" is the necessary containing structure for the law of the "good" to work non-politically (render to God . . . ), a distinction essential if the demand for the "good" is not to be corrupted by coercion of human freedom.

The law of right is at its center the law of freedom, and is thus, paradoxically again, the only thing for which one can rightly resort to coercion and war. All of this is not to say that the law of good must bottle itself up within the individual and the closed community, and render itself impotent. Instead it means that the law of good must win the world the hard way, by the noncoercive means of persuasion, gifts, and the marketplace -- must win the population one by one by one. And it can only do so under the wing of the law of right. . . .

Christianity was able to internalize the law of good, as the Israelites had been forced to do two thousand years earlier, and abandon the inquisitorial attempt to enforce it externally by secular means. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's; . . . now that Caesar made no claim to a law of the good, but wanted only to enforce the right . . .

Mastering this distinction is imo useful as an aid for this-minute orthodox American Christianity to avoid falling into a triumphialist utopian ideology competing with Romantic decadence, PC, and sharia. Only the law of the "right" avoids entanglement with the tares (in the field of the world).

As I say, you may not want to sustain this particular comments meme at such length. Though I certainly hope it gets discussed somewhere, since the righteousness-adrenaline makes "our side" very susceptible to theocratic arguments, to offset the one-down position we suffer in the public especially academic sphere as a result of raging secularism.

3:10 PM


Byron Murgatroyd asks some good questions in response to yesterday's The usual usury:

Probably none of this is worth publishing (as I am not expert enough on the subject, but encourage you to find an expert), but Islam also forbids lending at interest, at least in most situations. The Saudis hold a large amount of US Government debt, so perhaps governments or infidels are excluded. A friend who worked for a large American aerospace company spent 3 years in Saudi, and he told me they work out participation agreements rather than interest.

This is also one of the areas of Christian economics I have been pondering -- how much different our capitalist system would look if things were participating rather than disinterested interest? Perhaps Christians have something to learn here.

On the down side, the Soviet Union maintained for years that the west's penchant for debt would bury it, and they refused to borrow money or allow large debt levels within their economy. We have a pretty good idea of the success of Marxist economic theories.

In ancient times, the borrowing of money basically involved enterprise risk plus the risk of non-payment even if the enterprise was successful. Today, it involves both, plus the time value of money (including the risk of fluctuations in the value of money, or inflation risk). Thus, arguably, where the interest rate reflects only the time value of money (such as lending to the US government for 3-month T-bills) it is not prohibited.

This ties into how an economy is structured. For example, most people who buy houses in the US directly or indirectly benefit from one of the quasi-governmental agencies that use US government backing to borrow money and buy mortgages; i.e. we're ultimately borrowing from the government. And in the US people deduct mortgage interest for taxes. Is encouraging people to own their own homes a proper "Christian" goal? And, it turns out the quasi-governmentals were (maybe still are) borrowing short and lending long, thus putting them and the taxpayers at risk if inflation jumped, which doesn't seem like a good thing, although perhaps not unchristian.

And let's not even begin discussing life insurance!

Finally, was the biblical prescription a "societal" law or a moral law, and if a moral law, was it superceded by the new covenant of Jesus Christ?

3:02 PM


By the way, the National Catholic Reporter, quoted in the following blog, should be distinguished from the National Catholic Register. The latter is a Catholic newspaper, the former is best described as a newspaper for Catholics who hate Catholicism. What the Reporter's editors and writers seem to want, is to turn the Catholic Church into the Episcopal Church, which would seem completely pointless, there already being an Episcopal Church which has lots of money and pretty buildings and badly needs more members.

One would think the Reporter crowd would just convert. But if they became Episcopalians they'd no longer be dissenters, and I suspect many of them cannot imagine life without that status.

As Episcopalians, they'd have nothing to get excited about, no caucuses to organize, no meetings to attend, no petitions to sign, no marches to join, no placards to wave, no slogans to chant, no Vatican at whom to get angry, no reasons (provided weekly by the National Catholic Reporter) for indignation and wrath, no feeling of being the enlightened and courageous and compassionate few fighting the powerful forces of misogyny, homophobia, and reaction.

2:56 PM


In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, the Anglican ecumenist Mary Tanner turns, as Anglican ecumenists do, to the council described in Acts 15 to explain -- i.e., justify -- Anglicanism's current moral incoherence. It is an incoherence brought about by the liberal innovators in the western Anglican churches, who are now stuck trying to explain how they can still be friends with the conservative Anglican churches of Africa and Asia, much less with the Catholic Church and with the Orthodox, all of whom they blew off when they wanted to push through their innovations.

"I'm helped when I look at Acts 15," Tanner said. "The early Christians were facing what I suppose was the first major issue, the question of gentile converts. I don't imagine that council settled the matter all at once. There was a long process of reception before the whole church accepted it. . . . In the process of discerning the mind of Christ for the church, the process of reception is critically important -- an open process, it could go either way."

"I imagine," she says, without evidence, in order to turn the Church of Acts into an Anglican body and suggest that Christians as a whole might someday come to agree with western liberal Anglicanism. Good grief.

Of course the Jersalem Council's decision might have met some resistance, human nature being what it is, but we have no evidence, and no reason to believe, that it faced "a long process of reception" or that the Apostles themselves were happy to wait until their decision was "received." One gets the impression from Acts 15 that the members of the Council expected their decision to be obeyed, which is somewhat different from "received."

And we have even less reason to believe that this "process of reception" can legitimately be applied to revising the Church's long and hitherto universally received teachings on the nature of ordination and of human sexuality. What this idea of "reception" means in practice is: "When we've gotten what we wanted, the practice is received. When we haven't, it isn't."

2:54 PM


The British church newspaper The Tablet reported on December 20 that Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace, criticized television footage of the captured Saddam Hussein released by US forces, complaining that he was "treated like a cow."

I don't know how cows are treated in Italy, but in the United States we do not make a practice of abusing them, since we regard them as valuable animals. They are properly fed, watered, housed, exercised, and receive whatever medical treatment they require for as long as they can be milked. When they are no longer productive they are humanely killed and made into dog food. All quite reasonable and according to nature.

11:41 AM

Friday, December 19


Something else useful from an interview with Fr. Augustine Di Noia, O.P. about the movie The Passion. An American (you may have see some of his articles in First Things), Fr. Di Noia is undersecretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. It begins:

: Seeing this film will be an intensely religious experience for many people. It was for me.

Stunning cinematography and consistently brilliant acting, combined with the director's profound spiritual insight into the theological meaning of the passion and death of Christ -- all contribute to a production of exquisite artistic and religious sensitivity.

Anyone seeing this film -- believer and unbeliever alike -- will be forced to confront the central mystery of Christ's passion, indeed of Christianity itself: If this is the remedy, what must the harm have been?

The Cure of Ars says somewhere that no one could have an idea or explain what Our Lord has suffered for us; to grasp this, we would have to know all the harm sin has caused him, and we won't know this until the hour of our death.

In a way that only great art can do, Mel Gibson's film helps us grasp something almost beyond our comprehension. At the outset, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the devil tempts Christ with the unavoidable question: How can anyone bear the sins of the whole world? It's too much. Christ nearly shrinks at the prospect, but then convincingly proceeds to do just that -- to take on, according to his Father's will, the sins of the whole world. It's astonishing really.

There is a powerful sense, sustained throughout the film, of the cosmic drama of which we are all a part. There is no possibility of neutrality here, and no one can remain simply an onlooker in these events. The stakes are very high indeed -- something that, apart from Christ himself, is most clearly intuited only by his mother Mary and by the ever-present devil.

Gradually the viewer joins the characters in a dawning realization about this as the action moves inexorably from the Mount of Olives to the Mount of Calvary.

Here is the website for the movie.

4:36 PM


Something a friend sent me some weeks ago, which I've just now found: from the Catholic news service, "Dalai Lama Asks West Not to Turn Buddhism Into a "Fashion". In it, the Dalai Lama, speaking to reporters in Madrid, said:

there "cannot be unification" between Christianity and Buddhism. "If you mean having a closer relation, understanding, that is happening in religions," he noted.

"For individual practitioners, having one truth, one religion, is very important. Several truths, several religions, is contradictory," he said.

"I am Buddhist," he added. "Therefore, Buddhism is the only truth for me, the only religion. To my Christian friend, Christianity is the only truth, the only religion. To my Muslim friend, Mohammedanism is the only truth, the only religion. In the meantime, I respect and admire my Christian friend and my Muslim friend. If by unifying you mean mixing, that is impossible, useless."

4:32 PM


Quite a useful site for those of you interested in the Christian's engagement with popular culture: the Wilberforce Forum's Findings Journal. The latest issue is in fact titled "Christian Engagement in a Pop Culture World" and the previous issue "Past Issues: Christians in the Arts after the End of Art."

The Wilberforce site also offers a very useful
Web Guide to resources on a wide range of subjects. It is divided by subject (e.g., "Religion," "Law," "Social sciences and psychology").

4:28 PM


Regular reader Michele Hagerman noted the letters in recent issues about usury and sent in this quotation from C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity:

There is one bit of advise given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest -- what we call investment -- is the basis of our whole system.

Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or 'ursury' as they called it), they could not forsee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private money-lender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said.

That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state were are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that t hree great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life." (HarperCollins edition, 2001, p. 85).

I don't know enough to answer Lewis' implicit question: whether the Greeks, Jews, and Christians forbid any taking of interest or only the taking of interest under certain conditions. The editors have talked about running something, perhaps a forum, on this subject.

12:44 PM


A reader sent us news of a kind article by the editor of the newspaper of the Catholic diocese of East Tennesee: In the December issue of her column, "The View from Here", Mary Weaver wrote:

I'd like to recommend two magazines that meet all my tests—and might meet yours too. Both are likely to increase readers' knowledge of Christianity and exercise their intellect, but neither provides a quick or easy read: instead, they invite one to get a cup of coffee and curl up on the couch for an hour of undisturbed reflection.

One is Touchstone, the other First Things. The first is "perhaps [the] more accessible option" (no "perhaps" about it, I would say).

Both are highly intellectual and solidly orthodox. If you find the thought attractive, you need these magazines. If the idea makes you uneasy, why not stretch your boundaries and take a look anyway? . . .

Touchstone is gutsy, often witty, and bracing to those who are trying to live the countercultural life of the Christian. Among its writers are old-line Protestants, Catholics, members of the Orthodox Church, and evangelicals. You'll find editorials that pull no punches, interviews with seminal figures, and features covering such topics as the aftereffects of abortion, the Harry Potter books, the just-war theory, intelligent design, and various aspects of Scripture.

This made my day. If you trust this editor's opinion -- and you really ought to -- you can subscribe or give gift subscriptions by clicking here.

12:36 PM


Attached at the end of the e-mail from Eric Kniffin, who sent the message posted below, was a quote from Pope John Paul II, which I rather like:

Fidelity to roots does not mean a mechanical copying of the patterns of the past. Fidelity to roots is always creative, ready to descend to the depths, open to new challenges, alert to the "signs of the times." . . . Fidelity to roots means above all the ability to create an organic synthesis of perennial values, confirmed so often in history, and the challenge of today's world: faith and culture, the Gospel and life.

-- Pope John Paul II, Krakow, Poland, June 10, 1997

11:35 AM


A regular reader, Eric Kniffin, sends this reflection on the major newspapers' treatment of "Plan B":

Almost every paper today has an editorial celebrating the recommendation of two FDA advisory committees regarding RU-487. An article in the New York Times begins: "Science and public health triumphed over ideology on Tuesday . . .". This issue and particularly this line present an excellent opportunity to pause and reflect on the importance of language. Individual words are the sites of important battles in the ongoing culture wars and we can't begin to win the war until aggressively engage liberals here.

But first, a preliminary matter: today's editorials are claiming victory before it is had. This is not because they misrepresent language but because they are misrepresenting the nature of the panel's recommendation. We should have no quarrel with the panel unless we have reason to doubt that they made an unfair assessment of the medical and scientific evidence them before them in determining that this drug is safe enough to place on pharmacy shelves.

Which brings me to my first complaint, which is minor compared to my others. It is an error for the
NY Times to cite Tuesday's decision as a triumph of science over ideology because that decision was merely a recommendation based on scientific risks associated with this particular pharmaceutical.

I note this because we should understand that the important decision--the political decision -- has not yet been made. The focus is not on those who make scientific, technical determinations, but on those who make policy decisions concerning what to do with such recommendations. The responsibility for making the decision whether to make "Plan B" more readily available -- even to teenagers -- does not rest on scientists but on administrative agencies and ultimately Congress and the President.

This is a political decision. And, as Father Neuhaus has aptly pointed out, political decisions are always moral decisions. This is because every political questions asks us, "how
ought we to order our lives together?" And ought is unavoidably a moral term. The question is not, "is this pill safe enough?" but, "ought we to make this pill widely available, now that it seems a competent panel has determined that there are insufficient medical risks to require keeping it off Walgreen's shelves?"

This is certainly a political decision. Understanding this makes it clear that it is absolutely incorrect for today's NY Times editorial to state otherwise by claiming that "Dr. McClellan should rise above any political pressure that is put on him and promptly decide to follow the committees' advice." No. Dr. McClellan should pay careful attention to political pressure and more importantly political arguments both for and against placing Plan B alongside Tylenol. That's just what democracies do.

Which points out another serious error in this same line from the
NY Times, which pits "science and public health" against "ideology." Ideology is a term that is bantered about a great deal by the left in debates over judicial nominees and also in political campaigns. As we have often noted, language is important. This word in particular is worth fighting for.

The nearest dictionary yielded the following definition for "ideology":

<< 1) The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture. 2) A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system. >>

A proper understanding of this word shines light on the absurdity of rhetoric often employed against Christians and other conservatives. In the context of the debate over Plan B, if Dr. McClellan does succumb to the political pressure laid upon him by these editors, it will most certainly not be a triumph of science over ideology. Rather, it will be the triumph of one ideology over another. The principle that government
ought not keep citizens from buying any drug that passes certain scientific tests will have triumphed over the principle that government ought to consider whether such a policy is in the public's best interests.

The idea that public health is important is an ideology. The idea that lab findings are the only relevant data in deciding whether to make certain drugs available without a prescription is also in ideology. The idea that ideologies should play no part in political decisions is a curious and incoherent ideology, but one none the less.

Likewise in the debate over judicial nominees. "Pryor is too extreme because his decisions are driven by his ideology," simply makes no sense. What we must do is force liberals to articulate what it is about this ideology that so offends them. We must get them to articulate what it is about their ideology that is so superior.

We must with our words and public arguments force a stick under these statements and turn them over, exposing their undersides to the public. We must puncture these claims about "ideology" being dangerous and line up our ideology with a secular ideology and present them side-by-side to the public. So doing will, I believe, demonstrate to a majority of Americans that it is the left that is "extreme" on so many issues.

One last complaint and I'll stop. These editorials uniformly proclaim that Plan B will help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Again we see the importance of not letting liberals succeed in slipping these claims by an unsuspecting public. In deciding whether we
ought to sell these pills over the counter we need to consider this fact: that if these pills do not end pregnancies and abort the development of a human being, they are less interesting than Altoids.

Language is so, so important. To win the culture war we must win battles over words. We must help people understand that "politics" unavoidably involves moral questions, that the only way to avoid "ideologies" is to vote tree stumps into public office, and that a woman is just as "pregnant" on day one as when she's wheeled into the delivery room.

We must fight these battles one word at a time and one mind at a time. Listen carefully for these words and use them carefully yourself. With precision and sensitivity we must engage those around us and convince them that it is important to use words carefully and to carefully scrutinize the way they are used by others. In doing so we will cast light on secularist arguments and strengthen our cause.

11:30 AM


A friend sent me this link, which the film buffs among you may enjoy: "The Fifty Best Catholic Movies of All Time", which first appeared in Crisis magazine in 1997.

11:29 AM


From Fr. Robert Hart, in response to Jim Kushiner’s "Bisexual marriages", posted yesterday:

Jim is discriminating again. And just what right does anyone have to say that three bisexual persons cannot be a happy couple?

11:25 AM


James Podles, son of our senior editor Leon Podles, writes from Canada in response to yesterday's ?Canadian Madness?:

Not that I think that sharia is an especially good legal system, but the Globe and Mail ran an article the other day on the Islamic tribunal in Etobicoke which includes more information on the tribunal's powers (e.g. that the system is (theoretically) voluntary, only applies to Ontarians, and cannot violate the Charter), and takes a somewhat less melodramatic tone than the IRRP's press release.

So don't worry, I won't be forced to pray to Mecca anytime soon.

11:24 AM

Thursday, December 18


According to a story in the Washington Times (12/18/03, "Bush marriage stance not clear"), the Democratic Party opposes a proposed amendment the U. S. Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman:

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Mr. Bush's support [for such an amendment] "has now made it clear that he and his party are indeed uninterested in demonstrating compassion towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender American families."

I am trying to picture a "bisexual" family, and I am having a little trouble sorting it all out.

Heterosexual marriage has been universally understood as something that human beings, left to the obvious implications of their own devices, have naturally embraced as part of ordering their lives. A "gay marriage," unable to be a truly one-flesh union of the sexes, isn't a real marriages. But leaving homosexual "marriage" aside, just what in the world is a bisexual marriage or family?

If a person "needs" to "have sex" with both a member of his or her own sex AND a member of the opposite sex, and those sexual relations need to be confined within a marriage, aren't they talking about threesomes? But to draw the line at "only two people (of any sex) per marriage, please"--wouldn't that be discriminating against people who have "bisexual" "orientations", depriving them of the right to happiness and bliss enjoyed by other loving couples? There is no place, logically, to draw any lines once you abandon [heterosexual] marriage for new arrangements.

2:44 PM


A response from Daniel Crandall, a reader in California, lto the Russian Orthodox bishop's statement on the future of Europe, linked to in yesterday "Multipolarity":

After reading the Russian Orthodox Bishop's statements I must say that I am not impressed by the sentiments he expresses.

What, exactly, is the Islamic legacy Europe should recognize? The history of Islam in Europe is one of imperialism and conquest, nothing more. Is that the legacy the Bishop thinks we should be embracing? If anyone should know this it should be the Orthodox who suffered as dhimmis under centuries of Ottoman Turk oppression.

BTW, the reason mosques are domed structures is because the invading Arabs simply took over existing domed Christian churches, when they didn't outright destroy them, and built 4 watch-towers, one on each corner, around the sanctuary. Hagia Sophia is the best example of this practice. When they did build their own mosques they forced into service the Christian design/builders who merely repeated the Christian design.

I suppose I should make clear that our posting a link to an article or speech or news story does not imply our agreement with its contents. All a posting means is that we think the item will be of interest to some of our readers, who are a very diverse group. I thought the bishop's statements a bit dubious myself, given the Russian Orthodox Church's vigorous attempts to suppress Catholicism in Russia even among people traditionally Catholic.

1:26 PM


An interesting article on Peter Pan and its creator J. M. Barrie, from the English newspaper The Independent: "Arrested Development". The new movie, the writer says, emphasizes the sexual elements of the story, and

One could blame all this shameless eroticising on the writer-director PJ Hogan, were it not that Peter Pan was always a pretty rum creation and the titular figure a nasty piece of work. Peter kills people. He chops off their limbs. He treats his fairy girlfriend, Tinkerbell, like a plaything, to be dismissed when he's bored. Unlike most boys of 12, he has no empathy of feeling, no interest in the needs of others (except for telling them stories). He is emotionally autistic. In Freudian terms, he has a raging id, and is a mass of primitive energies and base desires (except for sex). When did we decide that he was a loveable scamp, like William Brown only with aviation skills?

The writer, John Walsh (unidentified by the newspaper) goes on to answer the question by looking at Barrie's life.

1:20 PM


A press release from the the Institute on Religion and Public Policy :

Institute Decries Canadian Plan to Enforce Islamic Law
Washington, DC, November 28, 2003

Washington, D.C. – The Institute on Religion and Public Policy condemns the decision in Canada to allow judges to enforce Islamic law, or Sharia, in disputes between Muslims, possibly paving the way to one day administering criminal sentences, such as stoning women caught in adultery.

Muslims are required to submit to Sharia in Muslim societies but are excused in nations where they live as a minority under a non-Muslim government.

Canada, however, is preparing for its 1 million-strong Muslim minority to be under the authority of a Sharia system enforced by the Canadian court system, according to the
Canadian Law Times.

"The decision to allow civil court systems to rule on religious matters strikes violently at the heart of religious freedom and rule of law," stated Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski. "Further, this decision to pander to one religious community is an act of religious discrimination. I do not foresee the establishment of Courts of Canon Law for Catholics or Jewish synods to rule on questions within their communities."

Muslim delegates at a conference in Etobicoke, Ont., in October elected a 30-member council to establish the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice.

The institute is classified in Islamic law as a Darul-Qada, or judicial tribunal. Its bylaws are scheduled to be drafted and approved by Dec. 31.

Cases will be decided by a Muslim arbitrator, but the local secular Canadian court will be the enforcer.

"This is a tremendously dangerous move," continued Mr. Grieboski. "A secular system with respect for and equal treatment of all religious faiths under the law is a fundamental imperative of any democracy. No religious community – for its own sake – should be willing to abdicate its rights by allowing a secular court to enforce its beliefs and doctrines. To do so would devolve the fundamental rights and freedoms of all religions."

I always remember this sort of story when my Canadian friends patronize the United States, as they do with revealing frequency, like the basketball player who keeps reminding the A students that he can make a reverse layup. Mr. Grieboski has an article appearing in the March issue of Touchstone on the increase of official religious intolerance in France.

1:05 PM


You may have noticed some funny symbols where apostrophes and dashes should be. For some reason, the program we use started turning typographer's quotes (the curving quotes word processors create) into these symbols, though it never did so before. It's very annoying and I've written the company about it. I corrected the last few blogs by hand.

11:36 AM


The writer of the following blog sends a sort of p.s., quoting the journalist Marvin Olasky in World magazine's blog site.

Marvin Olasky at World Magazine has answered my recent prayer. Really. Help for the poor, it seems, is best when it is "challenging, personal, and spiritual." And is impeded by the drive for power camouflaged as altruistic concepts.

What follows is his philosophy of compassionate conservatism. What follows from that is that tax money administered by government as we now have it is probably less effective than the same monies applied by small faith-oriented groups who monitor accountability.

Here is a selection from the item included with the above, which is part of an interview with Olasky:

Q: You are the father of the idea of compassionate conservativism. Can you in a few sentences describe what is the heart of it and how it differs from governmental poverty-fighting?

A: Compassionate conservatism has lots of fathers, but here goes: Helping the poor in a way that is challenging, personal, and spiritual. Government usually provides help that enables folks to stay in poverty, when it should challenge them to come out of it. Government help is usually bureaucratic rather than personal. Government help tries to ban God from the premises, instead of realizing that a belief in God is usually central to giving poor people (as well as rich ones) a purpose in life that goes beyond the next meal.

Q: What was your personal path to these ideas? Is it based on your own experience?

A: Came to them from reading the Bible and seeing that God wants all of us to help the poor, but to help them in a way that recognizes our creation in God's image. Often we feed people today in the way we feed pets.

Q: You were a Marxist 30 years ago before you became Christian. Do you think Marxism is dead since the fall of Soviet Communism?

A: No, because the drive to centralize power and control is still with us, and it is very potent when it can be tied to a desire to help the poor: that makes power-grabbing seem high-minded. The desire to be selfish while thinking of oneself as altruistic will always be with us, until Christ returns -- and until that happens, Marxism or other ideologies similar to it will still be alive

Q: What do you see as core problems in today's world?

A: Terrorism --carrying out evil impulses in the name of altruism. Poverty -- dictators won't let people be free to pray and work for the benefit of their families. But, beyond the big items, each of us has a core problem: Sin. Each of us can receive a core solution: Christ.

11:15 AM


A reader, an attorney who regularly responds to Mere Comments, writes in response to Byron Murgatroyd's comments given in yesterday's "More on Christian taxes". It is an interesting analysis and, for what it's worth, one I agree with:

B. Mugatroyd's idea for further discussion (whether here or elsewhere) of the implications of the tax and, in general, legal systems is of interest. Political demands that take a genuinely sad case, whether the Alabama poor or Kosovo atrocities, and use it to motor up a steamroller political argument in the name of justice, is troubling for several reasons, as here:

1) There is no guarantee that the eventual taxes will be applied to what the proponents had in mind, with the effect they expect; or if it is, that the identified problems will be in any substantial way alleviated. Higher per-student expenditure on public education, for instance, is something that seems intuitively to offer advantages, yet apparently valid studies show no measurable per se benefit, except to the direct recipients of the additional funds.

Without rigorous quality control, outcome evaluation, and flexible termination of ineffectual programs, the bare fact of more tax money is a chimerical benefit. If, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, some of us want to re-examine our purchases, and perhaps exchange or return a few for refunds.

2) Anything mandated by law has the element of force, backed by power to impel, imprison, impound, and incarcerate, not far beneath the surface. Everyone in Alabama who favors higher taxes can freely contribute the equivalent to any social cause, with no fear of reprisal. But for these "more Christian than thou" policy proponents, that is not enough without forcing others to do so. Those who disagree for a variety of reasons (some of them quite simply prudential or legitimately acquisitive) must according to the argument be forced to fund a vague "Christian justice" directive.

3) One of the legal "incidents of ownership" is the ability to direct expenditure. As such, A's desire to take the money of unwilling B and give it to C verges on attempted theft. Although there is much slippage, the theory of taxation under the social contract is that tax policy expresses the priorities and public necessities of those taxed, that it is deliberate self-taxation for the agreed common good. Thus taxation without representation, without the nexus of choosing to be taxed for this purpose and for a perceived benefit, was a rallying cry for revolution.

4) Increased taxes not only deplete citizens' resources for ordinary personal/family spending, and commercial investment capital (with likely systemic-vitality reverberations); such increases diminish the funds for giving by those who are inclined to give. Would even the most generous historic saint prefer to pay more tax, rather than to give more?

5) It makes spiritually deprived those who are taxed-to-give rather than permitted to give. Giving as someone determines he is called to do so, in obedience to what we understand of the Father's heart, is more likely to provide spiritual benefit to "a joyous giver" than supine compliance to the law out of fear of punishment. And unwelcome coercion further encourages resentment of those who evade the process, whether by loopholes or the grey market, and cultivates offense, all against all.

6) Progressivity in taxes is not necessary for everyone to pay "his share." Ten or twenty percent of a fortune is far more than 10-20 percent of a few thousand. Yet everyone can participate. And, imo, for a multitude of reasons, should. The flat tax, simply administered and calculated to provide satisfactory revenue, may be more congruent with the health of the soul and with perceived fairness and equality, and thus less abrade love of neighbor both "up" and "down" the economic continuum.

7) Anything based on "soak the rich" is at root invidious, cultivating and affirming license to envy (contra the 10th Commandment) and punishing those we think better off than ourselves. Regarding "entitlements," George Herbert, in
The Country Parson, urged that alms-giving should be considered a debt by the giver, a gracious gift by the receiver. All too often, it has been the reverse.

8) And -- a petty crotchet of mine -- the Alabamians I know who oppose the current [AL] constitutional "unchristian" tax structure would, I predict, very soon complain bitterly when to meet the new tax burden the lumber interests sell sylvan land for development. Those making Bigger Government arguments never seem to extract enough to be satisfied. In spiritual terms, there is a gratitude deficiency, never Enough.

To accurately render unto Caesar I believe requires an aspect of rhetorical chastity -- a discipline of passion and action --that entails a pragmatic look at the prudence, economy, and consequences of the next step, not postures overlaid with controversial "self-evident" morality to gain the higher ground and, incidentally, the upper hand. Almost as bad as the naked public square may be the public square draped in conveniently-framed "moral" exigencies.

I would like to hear and read a far-reaching and persuasive 21st-century-relevant plan to effectuate the social justice "preferential option for the poor." One that takes into consideration, for instance, the Peruvian Hernando de Soto's research on market mechanisms and the way they empower poor and indigenous people; or the many recent studies on what social, economic, and political patterns support wide prosperity and stability.

Many discussions on these topics in the primarily Roman Catholic "St. Blogs" sites seem indistinguishable from utopian communitarianism / distributism or plain old socialist liberation theology. Which in the long run I believe tends toward depriving the poor of many and precious benefits, liberty and hope.

11:08 AM


A useful short summary of the foundations of President Bush's religious thinking: Terry Eastland's "God and Governing" from yesterday's Wall Street Journal. He makes the point that in promoting faith-based initiatives, Bush is not establishing religion but removing discrimination against it, in which he, and not his separationist critics, follows the Constitution.

Which, I might note, always seemed to me obvious from the moment in high school one of my teachers began teaching the separationist interpretation as if it were self-evident. At that point in my life I had no great interest in defending religion, but I could read, and I could see that the First Amendment said no such thing. My teacher was someone I liked and respected, but I saw that he was talking nonsense.

The lesson has stayed with me, so that whenever I now read of someone spouting off about "the separation of church and state" to justify the exclusion of religious thinking from public life or to discriminate against a religious organization, I immediately think "liar." (Or something ruder.)

11:06 AM

Wednesday, December 17


Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship sends an article from the Orthodox Europe website titled "Is the Conflict of Civilizations Unavoidable?". It is a speech Seventh Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Members of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, by Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, a Russian Orthodox bishop. He argues:

It is dangerous indeed when religious values are placed at the foundations of a forcibly imposed ideology. But none the less dangerous is the exclusion of religion from the ideological foundation of society, since most religions, including Christianity, are characterized by an unequivocal missionary imperative which assumes the right to exert influence not just on individual persons, but also on social processes. Depriving religion of this right inevitably leads to confrontation between religious and secular standards, a situation just one step away from the "conflict between civilizations".

This is why it is so important now in Europe to recognize the legacies of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, alongside with that of secular humanism, in the future Constitution as the foundations of European identity and civilization. Religious motivation and the religious understanding of values, rights, liberties, duties and responsibilities should not be excluded from the life of society. Only then will a multipolarity of civilizations be established in Europe, which the Russian Orthodox Church calls for in its official documents.

Bishp Hilarion goes on in the second half of the talk to reflect on Orthodoxy’s role in a multipolar Europe, now that "Europe" is being expanded eastward, and the place of the Russian Orthodox Church in particular.

5:54 PM


Something dense but useful by the Catholic philosopher and Oxford professor — such combinations still happen, at least with people as brilliant as this man — John Finnis: "`Shameless acts' in Colorado: Abuse of scholarship in constitutionalcases". It appeared in the journal Academic Questions.

Dr. Finnis begins by describing the abuse of scholarship — in layman's terms, making up stuff — in abortion cases and then turns to the now famous testimony of Prof. Martha Nussbaum in the "Colorado Amendment 2 Case", in which homosexualists challenged an anti-homosexualist measure passed in Colorado by referendum.

I won't try to summarize the argument here (dinner is ready), but I commend it to you for two reasons:

1) It is a very useful example of the sort of scholarship with which we are dealing in the culture wars; and
2) It includes, in his description of the abortion cases and his summary of his own testimony in the Colorado case, a lot of useful information.

I should credit someone for putting me on to this but I can't remember who did. Sorry, if you're reading this.

5:50 PM


Reader James Maclin Horton sends this in response to yesterday's "New from IHS Press":

Regarding your mention yesterday (12/16) of the book "Flee to the Fields": I thought you might be interested in this book review. The book reviewed is "Who Owns America?" which as you may know was sort of a sequel to "I'll Take My Stand." The review notes a direct and interesting connection between the Southern Agrarians and the English Distributists.

He mentions that the site "is mostly just a skeleton at the moment" and that he put up the review as something to work on as he develops the site. The review appeared a few years ago in the Mobile (Alabama) Register.

5:41 PM


From Byron Mugatroyd, responding to yesterday's "Christian Taxes":

This is the usual liberal social justice canard. A Christian tax system should support an explicitly Christian government pursuing explicitly Christian goals. My suspicion is the tax law expert wants a “progressive? tax system (which is nowhere found in the Bible) to support secularist government with secularist goals. As such, the Christian response is “give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s . . .?.

Of course, we are called to give as much as possible to the poor and needy in a way that glorifies God, which I again suspect is not what Hamill supports. (Perhaps I would support her efforts if the new tax law included something like “To honor and praise our Lord God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we offer this tax system in obedience to thine divine will.?) And, I am not endorsing Alabama’s current tax system, merely commenting on the disingenuousness of the argument.

p.s. to Editors — this is an area I have been pondering for some time, and believe it worthy of some discussion. I believe the theological and moral implications of social, economic and tax systems is a subject that has been grossly overlooked by contemporary theologians. Partly this is because many of the decisions are explicitly personal opinions, but it would be helpful to sort them out.

You could argue that in a way communism is close to a Christian orientation, yet we have seen the horrors of communism. In the US, there seems to be a thread that socialism is more Christian than capitalism.

My current thinking is that the difference is in the coercive nature of communism (and socialism) v. the voluntary nature of Christianity. As tax systems are coercive, they run the danger of departing from Christian principles, especially as they fund anti-Christian government. (Was the Boston tea party a Christian or unchristian thing to do? Or was it morally neutral, if that’s possible?) I’d be very curious to see others opinions on this area.

5:38 PM


The biggest mistake in the new Catholic liturgy was having the priest face the people. It is no where mentioned in the official documents, but quickly became a hard and fast rule.

What the liturgical reformers forgot is that we live in an entertainment culture, and that priests had to model their new role on something, and they chose the model of the MC.

Hi back there! Jake is back from the hospital.. Jake, stand up and take a bow. Everyone give Jake and the choir and the ushers and the readers and the visitors a big round of applause! Gag.

Father Augustine De Noia, an American who is an undersecretary to Cardinal Ratzinger, has the same reaction as I do (National Catholic Register, Dec 14):

I think it has been made worse by personalities who forget they are leading prayer to God, in which the celebrant becomes like a talk-show host where its all about him

There is a place for Christian entertainment (the medieval miracle plays, the oratorio, Christian sword dancers from the Philippines) but not during solemn worship

11:44 AM


I think it fair to say that Cardinal Martino, like many Europeans, is reflexively anti-American. In March he said this (courtesy of Rod Dreher)

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2003 ( The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said that a military intervention in Iraq would be a "crime against peace."

Archbishop Renato Martino quoted Jesus' words on Vatican Radio: "If a son asks you for bread, you do not give him a stone," and added: "To a people who for 12 years have been begging for bread, preparations are being made to drop 3,000 bombs on them!"

"It is a crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," the archbishop said. "Let us pray so that the Pharaoh's heart will not be hardened and the biblical plagues of a terrible war will not fall on humanity."

His current sympathy for Saddam, reveals the Vatican mindset that tolerated terrible sexual abuse of children. Diplomats (and they run the Vatican and choose bishops) cannot handle confrontation and they therefore are unable to face evil. They have lost the capacity to have righteous anger against true evil; they anger is reserved for those who face evil and deal with it, however imperfectly. In my research on my forthcoming book on the sex scandals, I have discovered circumstantial evidence that strict and rational policy of isolating the abusers was rejected by Paul VI, who either accepted fore mandated the disastrous policy of treatment and transfer. Paul VI also told bishops not to discipline proests who publicly dissented from Humanae Vitae. John XXIII rejected harsh discipline, and the result was no discipline.

8:43 AM

Tuesday, December 16


IHS Press has just announced some new books in its series on Catholic social teaching and history. IHS is a decidedly Catholic publisher but Protestant and Orthodox readers may find interesting the works on social thought. For example:

Flee to the Fields: The Catholic Land Movement

Flee to the Fields is a collection of essays by the leaders of the English Catholic Land Movement explaining the whys and wherefores of life on the land. Spearheaded by men such as Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., Commander Herbert Shove, D.S.O., R.N., Harold Robbins, and others, the Movement was a practical embodiment of the salutary truth that economic life must be rooted in the basics of agriculture, property ownership, and freedom. As a practical realization of all of those truths and more, the Catholic Land Movment stands as a model for the modern man who wishes to be radical in his re-assessment of the modern economic system, and in his efforts to get to the root of the problem. The agrarian vision is one that has stood and will stand the test of time as a pillar of civilization. This book expresses that vision in the words of some of England's greatest essayists on the subject.

I don't know anything about this group or book beyond what this blurb says, but the group seems to be an English cousin to the Southern Agrarians. Fr. McNabb was a good friend and associate of G. K. Chesterton's and influenced his thinking on social questions. IHS features books by Hilaire Belloc and from Chesterton in both his Anglican and his Catholic periods.

3:26 PM


Something some of you may want to look into: "Biblical Taxation", which appeared in Sunday's New York Times. It begins:

Sociologists of religion have long considered Alabama one of the most Christian states in the nation. Policy wonks, meanwhile, have repeatedly ranked Alabama's tax structure as one of the nation's most regressive. But no one had ever bothered to highlight the apparent incongruity of these two attributes until Susan Pace Hamill, a University of Alabama law professor, took a sabbatical at divinity school, where she wrote a paper titled ''An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics.''

In her paper, Hamill, a tax-law expert, documented the regressive nature of Alabama's antiquated tax structure. She noted, for instance, that while most states and the federal government don't tax incomes below the poverty line -- which, for a family of four, is $17,601 -- in Alabama, a four-person family earning as little as $4,600 pays state income tax. By contrast, Alabama's moneyed timber interests pay an average 95-cents-per-acre property tax; in neighboring Georgia, timberland is taxed at four times that rate.

It is a frustrating story, though typical of much journalism, in that it gives you the very general idea but no really useful and revealing details, but it introduces an interesting subject.

11:34 AM


Five of you wrote to complain about this last night and morning's excessive use of italics. (Only one of you realized that it was accidental.) Blogging programs signal italics with an "i" surrounded by a greater than and a less than sign and the end of the italics with a slash and "i" surrounded by the same symbols. (I can't show them here because the program will read them as instructions.) If you forget the slash in the second, everything after it will remain in italics.

Last night I forgot the slash. This morning Lee did. We've fixed both mistakes. Sorry.

And for you typo hunters, we often write these things fairly quickly and few people are good proofreaders of their own work, so typos creep in and words one meant to delete stay in, and even the occasional garbled thought manages to avoid detection. Think of it as part of the form, like unfinished sentences and "ahs" and "ums" in speech.

11:29 AM


The Baltimore Sun reports:

Investigators are poring over reopened patient records in two states following the arrest of a nurse with a checkered career who told police he fatally drugged up to 40 terminally ill people under his care.

Charles Cullen, 43, told authorities he administered drug overdoses to put "very sick" patients out of their misery over the last 16 years in nine hospitals and a nursing home in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

He had had serious problems at other hospitals:

Cullen had a checkered career and bounced from hospital to hospital. In August 1997, he was fired from Morristown Memorial Hospital for "poor performance," a spokeswoman for the hospital's parent company said.

Cullen worked at St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., from June 2000 to June 2002, and resigned amid allegations that he had at least twice hidden unopened heart and blood pressure medications in a safety bin for used needles, Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin said

But the personnel people were not doing their job:

Schantz said the hospital was never subsequently contacted by anyone checking Cullen's employment references. "Had we been asked, we would have recommended that he not be hired," she said.

Cullen had no record of complaints or any disciplinary actions in New Jersey since he obtained a nursing license in the state in 1987, according to Genene Morris, a spokeswoman for the Division of Consumer Affairs.

Cullen also was licensed to work in Pennsylvania since June 1994, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. His license was in good standing, officials said.

When a worked as federal investigator doing background checks, I frequently found that employers had not checked out references: they had hired someone who had been fired from previous employment for serious offenses. Sometimes this meant that children were put at risk. The failure was usually due to incompetence or laziness on the part of the personnel people. Sometimes previous employers were happy to get rid of a problem employee and would not volunteer information about his problems. One alcoholic was passed around all the prep schools in a city: no one wanted to admit he had hired an incompetent drunk, and gladly recommended him to another school.

The Roman Catholic policy of transferring abusive priests from one parish and from one diocese to another is also not without parallel in other institutions and sometimes (as in this case of the nurse) has even worse results.

7:07 AM


This historical tidbit was sent to the Touchstone editors:

(A 17th Century letter of the Zaporozhian Cossacks of the Ukraine in reply to the Sultan of Turkey)
Thou Turkish Devil,
Brother and companion to the accursed Devil, and secretary to Lucifer himself, Greetings!
What the hell kind of a noble knight art thou? Satan voids and thy army devours. Never wilt thou be fit to have the sons of Christ under thee. Thy army we fear not, and by land and by sea in our chaikas will we do battle against thee.
Thou scullion of Babylon, thou beer-brewer of Jerusalem, thou goat thief of Alexandria, thou swineherd of Egypt, both the Greater and the Lesser, thou art an Armenian pig and a Tartar goat. Thou hangman of Kamyanets, thou evildoer of Podolia, thou grandson of the Devil himself, thou great silly oaf of all the world and of the netherworld, and, before our God, a blockhead, a swines snout, a mares ass, and clown of Hades, may the Devil take thee!
This is what the Cossacks have to say to thee, thou basest of runts! Unfit art thou to be lord over true Christians!
The date we know not, for we have no calendar. The moon is in the sky, the year is in a book, and the day is the same with us as with ye over there and thou canst kiss us thou knowest where!
Koshoviy Otaman Ivan Sirko
And all the
Zaporozhian Cossack

For an illustration of this great scene in diplomatic history go to this picture by Ilya Repin.

6:53 AM


John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo terrorized the Washington area last year. They slept while parked on a street about a mile and a half from my house in Baltimore, and the police stopped them for questioning.

My brother-in-law in Cleveland reported that the eastern suburbs had a bicycle sniper: a Black Muslim who terrorized the neighborhood, but it was mostly kept out of the papers.

Here is what the Washington Times reports about Malvo:

Mr. Malvo's violent drawings and anti-American and anti-Semitic rantings show him to be every bit as bloodthirsty, hatemongering and martyr-craving as any September 11 hijacker or Palestinian suicide bomber. Among Mr. Malvo's jailhouse artwork, (online at bits.htm):
Exhibit 65-006: A self-portrait of Malvo in the cross hairs of a gun scope shouting, "Allah Akbar." The word "Salaam" scrawled vertically. A poem: "Many more will have to suffer. Many more will have to die. Don't ask me why."
Exhibit 65-013: The word "Iinshallah" above a portrait glorifying "Muammar Kaddafi" as "The Liberator" dressed in full military regalia.
Exhibit 65-016: A portrait of Saddam Hussein with the words "Inshallah" and "The Protector," surrounded by rockets labeled "chem" and "nuk" (sic).
Exhibit 65-043: Father and son portrait of Mr. Malvo and Muhammad. "We will kill them all. Jihad."
Exhibit 65-056: A self-portrait of Mr. Malvo as sniper, lying in wait, with his rifle. "JIHAD" written in bold letters.
Exhibit 65-057: A drawing of the Twin Towers burning with a plane flying toward the buildings. Captions: "Jihad Islam Unite Rise," along with "America did this" and "You were warned." Portrait of Mr. Malvo as sniper labeled "Believer" and portrait of Osama bin Laden labeled "prophet." A poem: "Our minarets are our bayonets, Our mosques are our baracks (sic), Our believers are our soldiers." The American flag and the Star of David drawn in crosshairs.
Exhibit 65-067: A suicide bomber labeled "Hamas" walking into a McDonald's restaurant. Another drawing of the Twin Towers burning captioned: "85 percent chance Zionists did this." More scrawls: "Allah Akbar," "Jihad" and "Islam will explode."
Exhibit 65-103: A lion accompanies chapter and verse from the Koran ("Sura 2:190"): "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you and slay them wherever ye catch them."
Exhibit 65-109: Portrait of Osama bin Laden, captioned "Servant of Allah."
Exhibit 65-117: The White House drawn in crosshairs, surrounded by missiles, with a warning: "Sep. 11 we will ensure will look like a picnic to you" and "you will bleed to death little by little."
Exhibit 65-133: Reference to "Islamic counterattack force ... ICAF."
Exhibit 65-114: Self-portrait of Mr. Malvo as sniper. Rant says "they all died and they all deserved it."
Exhibit 65-101: Mr. Malvo's thought for the day: "Islam the only true guidance, the way of peace."

As Tacitus said, They make a desert and call it peace.

6:45 AM

Monday, December 15


Yet more on John Rhys-Davies views. For those of you just back from an extended stay on another planet, he plays Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Near the end of the interview the whole thing is interesting he tells the writers to whom hes talking that the way journalists do not understand how precarious Western civilization is and what a jewel it is is unconscionable. He praises democracy and notes in contrast how women are treated in Islamic countries and then says:

I mean . . . the abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy. True Democracy comes form our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience. If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the world. [ellipsis in original]

And there is a demographic catastrophe happening in Europe that nobody wants to talk about, that we darent bring up because we are so cagey about not offending people racially. And rightly we should be. But there is a cultural thing as well.

After noting how the population of Europe is both dropping and becoming increasingly Muslim he notes, for example, that in less than twenty years, half those under eighteen in Holland will be Muslim he says:

There is a change happening in the very complexion of Western civilization in Europe that we should think about at least and argue about. If it just means the replacement of one genetic stock with another genetic stock, that doesnt matter too much. But if it involves the replacement of Western civilization with a different civilization with different cultural values, then it is something we really ought to discussbecause, g**dammit, I am for dead white male culture.

You do realize in this town what Ive been saying [is like] blasphemy . . .

. . . but weve got to get a bit serious. By and large our cultures and our society are resilient enough to put up with any sort of nonsense. But if Tolkiens got a message, its that Sometimes youve got to stand up and fight for what you believe in. He knew what he was fighting for in WW1.

11:47 PM


For the last few years in Evangelical circles, one movement has been pressing for what it calls Postmodern Ministry. Kevin Miller, the editor-at-large of Leadership magazine, responds to this movement which prefers to call itself a conversation in a thoughtful summary called Nomo Pomo a Postmodern Rant. His main point:

Proponents of postmodern ministry (PPMs) have made important points for the church: We live in a time of transition from one worldview to another; Christianity must not be constricted by the prevailing worldview; the Incarnation is a central doctrine of Christianity that calls us to be incarnational in our culture; we need greater mystery, beauty, and experience in our worship of God. I agree. In fact, I think I did beforehand, but PPM writings have sharpened my convictions.

On other topics, I agree to a point. PPMs have called for metaphor, narrative, and surprise in preaching; after all, Jesus taught in parables. Good reminder. But the same Testament that gives us the elliptical parables gives us the straightforward exposition of Peter in Acts 2 and the dense argumentation of Paul in Romans 9-11, not to mention the name-by-name genealogies of Matthew and the linear history of Acts. Let us recapture indirection but not canonize it.

I think this, especially the second paragraph, puts the thing nicely. The PPMs stress some aspects of Christianity that ought to be better and more thoughtfully practiced today, but they go too far in several directions.

They tend, for example, to be too anti-rationalist. They tend to ignore the rationality of biblical Christianity because they reject what they think of as the rationalism of the Enlightenment. A baby goes out with the bath.

While I think the PPMs have indeed noticed a destructive rationalism in certain forms of modern Christianity including some conservative form they ought to be criticized fairly severely for reinventing the wheel and for feeling inordinately proud of themselves for doing so. Ive read some PPMers writing on worship as if they had invented the idea of silence. And chanting. And candles.

The problem may be that their knowledge of the Christian world, past and present, is too limited. Traditional Christianity seems to them to mean mid-twentieth century American Evangelicalism. They object to the sermon sandwich type of service hymn, reading, sermon (long), prayer, hymn without seeming to realize that Christians have always offered some more (for lack of a better word) worshipful. This applies to classical Protestantism as well as Catholicism and Orthodoxy. They react against the past in the direction of creating something they seem to think new when its actually rather old.

On the other hand, however, they seem to want the past on their own terms. PPM worship adopts lots of traditional objects and methods, like candles and chanted prayers, but in a liturgy or worship experience of their own devising. They arent interested in adopting the classic orders of the Western and Eastern liturgies, of submitting themselves to ancient and highly developed traditions. This seems to me unwise.

Miller says something similar when asked In an interview,

Is there any baby that you are concerned is being thrown out with bathwater?

Evangelical conviction. In order to avoid the hubris that often comes from the evangelical church, many folks are now getting squishy on things they should not be squishy about, including the authority of Scripture, the uniqueness of Christ, and the value of the Bibles sexual ethic. If we lose those, we lose the Gospel.

It would seem to me, and I think to Miller, that the way some PPMers and Christians postmodernists in general treat the Scriptures is squishy without intending to be. By stressing the multiplicity of possible readings, and insisting so strongly on the individual readers limitations, they let go the vital truth that even when everything is conceded to the postmodern critique, on some crucial points there is only one reasonable and therefore orthodox reading.

The interview, which you will want to read if you enjoyed the article, includes the (to me) cheering comment:

Whose critique of postmodernism have you found most compelling?

G. K. Chestertons St. Thomas Aquinas showed masterfully how Aquinas rescued the church by defending the reality of nature, perception, and common sense. To retreat from that victory is, quite literally, insane.

Bravo for Miller. What Chesterton showed so brilliantly in that book is that the rigorous, disciplined, to the non-philosopher dry arguments St. Thomas offered were simply ways of addressing the problems of real life in a philosophical way. They were not mind games, to use a putdown from the sixties. He was trying to understand the world and thereby understand human life. Chesterton showed, in a literary way, what Thomas found.

I find a lot of postmodern writing very helpful I always read Stanley Fish with enjoyment, which raises eyebrows among some of my comrades though it seems to me that many of its insights John Henry Newman offered 150 years ago. See, for example, his Sermons Delivered Before the University of Oxford and some of the essays in Newman and the Word (Eerdmans), edited by Terrence Merrigan and Ian Ker.

But reading some of these young Evangelical postmodernists, I suspect they havent really understood what theyve been reading, and that to some extent postmodernism offers them a good stick with which to beat their modernist Evangelical fathers. As I said above, they like to call their movement a conversation and stress how fluid it is, but they nevertheless seem to have a settled identity as a group, if mainly a negative and political one directed against the previous generation.

Upon rereading this I realize I was harder on the PPMs than I meant to be. Much of what they write is interesting and useful and more traditional Christians ought to find themselves challenged thereby, because we inevitably make "traditional" much that is not actually of the Tradition. I think of some of my Evangelical friends who think "traditional" their form of worship, though this worship isn't the sort their spiritual fathers like John Calvin taught.

I think the PPMs offer much to think about, but ask them to please remember not only the baby in the bath, but that the bath itself was developed for a very good reason and refined over time into an instrument very hard to replace with any lasting success.

6:19 PM


From an interview with the Jesuit James Schall, about the English writer Hilaire Belloc, who had warned about Islam almost 100 years ago:

The accepted doctrine today is that Islam itself is not a problem. As such, Islam is said to have no relation to world events that result in the need for defense in the West.

There are, however, something called "terrorists" who cause all the problems. Even though they have Muslim names and claim the legitimacy of what they do to be found in their religion, their origins are said to be elsewhere -- where, no one is quite sure. Western ideology forbids it to take Islam's notion of itself seriously.

Belloc understood that Islam has a defined theological outlook and goal: Everyone should be Muslim. Force was useful in this goal. Belloc expected, if it ever acquired power again, that Islam would take up right where it left off after its last great territorial conquests.

He would not have been in the least surprised at Sept. 11. Nor would he be astonished to find out that the Christians in the West are quite unprepared to understand the zeal for religion and conquest that Islam had and has in its faith. Not a few Muslim leaders of today both desire and see possible, on a worldwide scale, the return to aggressive and active proselytism.

We plan to run some articles on the question What does Islam actually teach? We know that different religions encourage different kinds of lives, because ideas have consequences. What Islam encourages is a question hard to find answered reliably, at least in religious circles, because so many writers write as partisans of the position that Islam is, a few small doctrinal disagreements aside, the same as Judaism and Christianity.

Our senior editor Patrick Reardon is writing a review-essay on Belloc, starting with the recent biography by Joseph Pearce, Old Thunder (Ignatius) and looking at several of Bellocs own books recently republished by IHS Press.

6:14 PM


John Richardson, an English minister, has noted in an article entitled Losing the Plot the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswolds words to the primates of the Anglican Communion:

As hard as it might be for sisters and brothers in Christ in other contexts to understand and accept, please know that broadly across the Episcopal Church the New Hampshire election is thought to be the work of the Spirit.

I have little doubt that Griswold and his coreligionists are being led by the Spirit, in the sense that there is an ancient and powerful spirit they have been listening to, venerating, and obeying for many years, whom they worship as God, of whose presence they have a lively sense, and whose church they have been serving and building. It is, ironically, a spirit in whom most of them, I would guess, profess not to believe, except as a kind of personification of certain acts and impulses, but who, it would appear, lives and works among them, and speaks to them in a nearly audible way when they are about the business of reforming the Episcopal Church.

Are people like Bp. Griswold insincere? Hard question, although my guess is that if it were put to them, they would have to admit that the spirit they serve is very unlike those of their antagonists, that in fact if the latter is the Spirit of God, then they must be serving Satan, and vice versa.

Place before all things the will to be deceived. After that the question of sincerity, or anything else that has to do with truth, means very little.

9:45 AM

Sunday, December 14


In World magazine's story about the makers of the Lord of the Rings, which I mentioned the other day, appears this interesting quote from one of the screenwriters:

Ms. Walsh acknowledged that Tolkien "took from his own profound Christian beliefs" and that the filmmakers "attempted, as much as you can in film, [to] base them in the story. Certainly the values in them give you a sense of hope that [life] isn't chaos, and it isn't up a tree, and isn't without a point in the end.

"I love storytelling for those reasons; because so many things fall away as we charge forward in this new century there's so much cynicism and such a lack of ritual and a kind of bleak belief system governing things. I like stories for that, because they still offer it."

This fits one of my pet theories, which I picked up from Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton before them: that a man can't tell a good story that does not in some way reflect the Great Story, the story God has told in His creation. You can write a story about a world of moral chaos but it won't be a story anyone will really want to read. (Other than a few intellectuals who like playing with ideas they themselves don't live by.)

Without a moral order you will have no drama, no point, no movement, no significance. Things will happen but things happening outside a moral order do not make a story, they make a list.

This is, if readers will pardon a little advertising, the theme of my article on Orwell and Lewis that will be appearing in the January/February issue.

5:40 PM


From Fridays Opinion Journal, a daily review of the news published by the Wall Street Journal:

The Birds, the Bees and the Judges

An alert reader calls our attention to a footnote No. 23 in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, last month's Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision declaring the traditional definition of marriage unconstitutional:

*** QUOTE ***

It is hardly surprising that civil marriage developed historically as a means to regulate heterosexual conduct and to promote child rearing, because until very recently unassisted heterosexual relations were the only means short of adoption by which children could come into the world.

*** END QUOTE ***

OK, so they didn't mention the stork or the cabbage patch. Still, someone might want to sit down with the justices of the Supreme Judicial Court and explain to them the facts of life, such as that adopted children are already in the world!

I don't know how significant a slip this is, but it does show that the writers and all their editors and proofreaders were not actually picturing their subjects. People whose job it is to decide matters of life and death should picture their subjects, otherwise they will write about them as abstractions, and abstractions can be manipulated to fit one's ideology.

5:29 PM


Saddam has been captured.

I presume the US will turn him over to an Iraqi tribunal, who will try him for genocide and execute him

However, it might be more in the interests of the United States to spare him and to take him to Guantanamo, remembering that the Allies spared Napoleon and sent him into exile.

At Guantanamo we could let Hussein know that the more verifiable information he gave us about WMD and his dealings with the French and Russians, the more comfortable he will be.

Of course Bony was eventually poisoned, but quietly and humanely.

9:03 AM

listen up ok?

heytheres a kind of writing that seems to be common these days and its what you are seeing now. slangy, minimum of punctuationdashes and full stops only seem to be the rule. where it comes from--probably california originally--you got me but maybe has something to do with the writers consciousness that he has not been decently schooled in writing and with internet communicationhigh volume low quality--and is often done surprisingly enough by people who at least pretend to education. my guess though is that it is a way of keeping ones literary head down as if to say dont hold me in any way responsible for what i am saying or how i am saying it here because as you see i am not taking care with how I am writing it so you cant really expect good work. i am not only too humble to pretend that what i am saying is significant enough to take care with but in too much of a hurry to think and write carefully because i am important and really have better things to do than exercise the thought and labor that goes into good writing in a letter to YOU for godsake. if you actually do this you are probably a snob and a prig and maybe even have worked hard enough at the craft of writing to allow your prose to walk with its head up rather than letting it lay in the ditch like this. well we like it in the ditch. it takes a lot of work to get up out of it and it is a lot easier to say there is something wrong with people who take the pains to write well even in letters to each other than it is to learn how to write well ourselves. well i guess im done nowsee ya

7:45 AM

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