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Tuesday, January 6


From today's OpinionJournal:

Inherit the Wind

On the San Francisco Chronicle's Web site Jennifer Nelson, a young mother who lives in Oakland, Calif., reports that bigotry against "breeders" — a disparaging term for parents — is rife in the Bay Area:

*** QUOTE ***

My favorite story is this one: When I was getting physical therapy when I was six months pregnant (after falling and breaking my wrist), the therapist asked me whether I was pregnant with my first child (she had already told me that she had one child and planned to have only one). When I said, no, this was actually my third child, she immediately asked me whether I was going to have my tubes tied after the birth.

After my baby was born, the hostile looks and mutterings continued. While I was waiting in line for coffee one day with the kids in tow, one woman offered to me that she thought three children constituted a big family. When I told her it really isn't considered a large family in many other parts of the country, including the Midwest town I had recently moved from, she asked me with disdain, "Where was that, a religious community?" Then there was the woman who said to me as she pushed by my stroller, "Three? Don't you think you have enough?" It's not like I was asking her to contribute to their college fund! I was just taking my kids to the bathroom.

*** END QUOTE ***

Having four children, we have sometimes gotten similar remarks, even living outside Pittsburgh, a relatively family-friendly area. My wife has gotten them more than I have, I am sure because she looks sweet and I look like someone who might say something rude in return. My nicer response is to smile and say, "Oh, but welike children."

The less nice response is to look at the person's child and say "I can see why you wouldn't want to have more" or looking at the person and saying "It's very kind of you not to extend your genetic stock." This I have never actually said, but I've wanted to.

I did once come round the corner of the aisle in the grocery store to find some stupid woman being rude to my wife and whispered in her ear (the stupid woman's) something much ruder, which I can't repeat here. Let me say it had the desired effect.

I don't know why bigger families excite such hatred — and four is, by the way, not a big family but a big small family — but it can't be a good sign. Healthy people like children.

6:21 PM


We've posted two articles from the January/February issue, which some of you have gotten (my copy hasn't arrived but some friends' copies have):

— Juli Loesch Wiley's "The Delightful Secrets of Sex" on fertility and contraception; and

— Robert Hart's "Her Mother's Glory" on the hardest of abortion cases.

Other articles in the issue — which, let me make clear, you have to subscribe to get — are:

— A forum on pro-life strategy with Baylor's Frank Beckwith, pro-life writer Frederica Mathewes-Green, Presbyterian Pro-Life leader Terry Schlossberg, and me;

— Steven Hutchens' on the Harry Potter stories and the questions they raise for Christians;

— David Mills comparing George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World with C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength;

— William Luse on the effect cloning will have on marriage and sexuality in general;

— Sam Torode on his discouraging experiences as a new convert to Orthodoxy;

— Patrick Henry Reardon on Muslims and human rights; and

— several other interesting articles, news stories, Christian classics, etc..

To repeat what I said in the next blog, you can read all these by subscribing to Touchstone, which you can do by clicking here. To add to what I said in the next blog, for what is really not much money you can get a substantial but accessible magazine ten times a year. The cost can be broken down to, say, 25 cents an insight. Perhaps 15.

3:12 PM


With the January/February issue now out, we've posted a few more articles from the December issue:

"Ecumenical Exclusion", an article by David Mills;

"Calculating Christmas", William Tighe's explanation of how the early Christians came up with the date of December 25th to celebrate the birth of our Lord;

"Dead Kids on the Block", Robert Hart's harrowing story of the poor young women who work in Baltimore's red light district;

"Seeing Thro' the Eye", an introduction to the prophetic writing of Malcolm Muggeridge, by his first biographer;

"Years the Locusts Have Eaten", my reading of Muggeridge's autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time;

"Mothballed Science", Philip Johnson's latest "Leading Edge" column;

"Violence and the Lamb Slain", an interview with the philosopher Rene Girard; and

"Quodlibet" and "Christian Classics".

We post these as part of the magazine's work and ministry. We don't post everything from the issue because we want to encourage you to subscribe. We can only afford the website at all because people subscribe, and the more people who subscribe the more we can do.

That was an advertisement, by the way. You can subscribe by clicking here.

3:03 PM


Mr. Halton writes a follow-up to his first letter, quoted in the next blog:

I might add that your colleague David Mills's post on "Episcopalians' Dilemma" has summed up the position very well: "joining a church is the same sort of thing [as getting married]. Whatever it believes, you have to believe it all". I turned a blind eye to our new church's position on baptism (encouraged by my church's non-insistence on accepting its position as a condition of membership), and now think this may have been a mistake.

The blog he quotes turned into the December editorial, "Ecumenical Exclusion".

2:55 PM


John Halton responds from England to Steven Hutchens' "On 'Nowhere to go'", which was a response to my "Nowhere to go". Mr. Halton writes in response to Steve:

I read your comments on attending a baptist church as an escape from the ECUSApostasy.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I left our "evangelical" Anglican church in the UK, as the vicar was increasingly drifting away from anything recognisable as evangelical beliefs (having denied or questioned the trustworthiness of Scripture; the historicity of Adam, Abraham and Moses; and justification by faith . . . among other things) and are now members of an independent evangelical baptist church.

Like your church, our church 'is not liturgical, and does not consider itself sacramental, but believes and teaches the "fundamentals of the faith" (i.e., the Creed)' — not that we'd ever lower ourselves to
saying the Creed, of course :-) — 'strongly upholds Christian moral standards, and has excellent preaching'.

But I am now increasingly chafing against the baptist-ness of the church, especially following the recent birth of our second son. Our first son was baptised at our old church, and I consider it to be a basic responsibility of Christian parents to present their children for baptism; and unfair on our second son to deprive him, especially when compared with the joy of our first son's baptism. I am now racking my brains to try to find an appropriate solution to this dilemma.

So from personal experience, I can testify that fleeing to the baptists may not be a perfect solution, especially where one has children.

2:50 PM


Eric Kniffin just sent this response to "Being Salt and Light" (next blog). I think my friend who wrote "Being Salt and Light" would agree with this.

I would like to share my thoughts on “Being Salt and Light.” No doubt Christian warriors engaged in the culture wars sometimes do not show the love and compassion due to each individual who bears the Imago Deo, however distorted.

I cannot answer the question as to how much of this author’s “culture positions” are based on a wish that various factions would “just shut up and go away.” But I am confident that there are much more noble motives behind the decision made by many courageous Christians to dedicate their lives to fighting the very trends mentioned by this author in her final paragraph.

As truly today as in the days of Moses, the law has a pedagogical effect and often operates as a cultural thermostat. Many ideologically driven legal organizations understand this aspect of the law's power and have exploited it to effect changes defy and obscure the unchangeable truths revealed in the Christian religion.

Along with my colleagues in The Austin Fellowship, a society of young Christian attorneys, I hope to respond to these societal forces and to impact the American legal culture from an orthodox Christian worldview. We seek to study and thoughtfully consider what and how the law ought to instruct its citizens under our system of government and to develop and implement principled strategies to help bring about this renaissance in the American legal system towards the end of promoting a renewal of American culture.

Those of us who engage the culture war on the legal front have as our goal an American culture where God, True Religion, and virtue are not belittled and despised as they are today, but recognized as wholesome and beautiful. Our vision is not of a law that imposes any creed, let alone Christianity, on its people, but one that prepares and teaches people to appreciate the beauty of religion and virtue, cultivating a society in which the Christian Gospel will more easily resonate.

The goal remains winning souls to Christ, one at a time. But it is not unreasonable or unchristian to undertake means other than one-on-one evangelism. Every conversion is an inside job, yes. But every potential convert is affected by external stimuli, which will either illuminate or obscure gospel truths.

We ought to remember to pray for the souls of those we engage in these culture wars. But it certainly does not mean we ought not fight them.

Mr. Kniffin lives in northern Indiana and is a graduate of Notre Dame, so I assume the "Austin" in Austin Fellowship refers to St. Augustine, not the city in Texas.

2:43 PM


A friend sent me this a few days ago, and I thought I would pass it on to you. She says something most of us need to hear, being caught up in the passions of the moment as we tend to be. The world offers us so many really stupid and some really wicked ideas that it is hard not to gallop into battle and recklessly spear everyone in sight.

Addressing the question of effectiveness in the culture wars without capitulating to the warlike spirit, the National Review's blog The Corner notes article by conservative theologian John Piper, who discusses -- -- the metaphors of Christians as "salt" and "light" in society:

"The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can't, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying ‘good riddance’ to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate. . . . We don't own culture, and we don't rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy."

Piper has been called "a staunch five-point Calvinist," but I think his words will resonate with many people who don’t consider themselves Calvinist at all.

Which touches on several other continuing ruminations:

Were the angles and insights that are fruits of the Protestant Reformation essential raisins in the pudding of the Church (sorry, it's still Christmas at our house . . .)? Here Calvinist underpinnings may help moderate an unbecoming and un-winsome Triumphalist approach, unlikely to play well in a modern American public forum; and

The failure (I believe) of the Church to take seriously the parable of the Tares and the Wheat (I understand that my application of it to the entire experiential world may be hermaneutically heterodox).

As Frederica Mathewes-Green says in the gorgeous "Under the Heaventree" (ssay included in The Church in the Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives, Leonard Sweet, editor [Zondervan, 2003]):

weeds and wheat grow up together till the last day. An enemy has done this.

. . . What has the culture to do with this?

Christ has compassion on those who are harassed and helpless because they do not know their shepherd. The culture is the ever-changing weather conditions that these sheep must endure, which they try to respond to as best they can, though they are confused and wounded. Protection and rescue of individual sheep is our primary goal. It is less worthwhile to try to change the weather. We may occasionally have isolated success, but it appears that every weather pattern will have both good and bad elements, and weather itself is bound to be a perennial phenomenon.

How can we convert the culture?

A culture cannot be converted. Only individuals can be converted. God knows how to reach each individual; every conversion is an inside job. We cooperate by listening attentively for God’s directions and speaking the right word at the right moment, doing a kind deed, bearing Christ’s light and being His fragrance in the lives of people we know. This is the level where things change, one individual at a time, as one coal gives light to another. When enough people change, the culture follows--though, again, the hope of ever having a perfect culture is futile. Our effectiveness as witnesses is not tested on the public stage, but by our private daily conduct. If we are not being healed at those levels, all we do for public display will be garbage. But only acquire the Holy Spirit and you will save a thousand around you (St. Seraphim of Sarov, died 1833).

A final rumination.

How much are my culture positions based on a wish that homosexual activists, abortionists, liberals spouting intellectually sleazy ad hominem and straw man rhetoric, would just shut up and go away? And leave me to my quiet aesthetic and customary preferences? Where this is the primary motive, I believe I am in selfishness and sin, inharmonious with Jesus' love for the world. How much do I frame, or feel, my battle as against flesh and blood, rather than evil purposes hatched in realms beyond the human? Do I have compassion for all -- or any -- of these alienated and suffering souls, as I fight to keep wolves from a hostile takeover of the wool business?

This is a very helpful warning, especially for those of us in the culture wars business. I must say that I found her comments much more helpful than Piper's, who seems to me to have taken a biblical metaphor and run too far with it. Our Lord's own words and actions show that we may be required to speak and act more boldly — and divisively — than he suggests. The salt of the earth may not mock rotting meat, but Jesus said some really rude things to the Pharisees, and some the Fathers were no easier on the heretics of their day.

I tried to work out the nature of what we should say in "Recovering the art of Christian polemics", an adaption of a chapter in my book Knowing the Real Jesus that appeared in the New Oxford Review. Readers may find it useful.

12:40 PM


Something for Episcopalians this weekend: the "Claiming Our Anglican Identity" conference to be held January 8th and 9th in Charleston, SC. Among the speakers are Abp Drexel Gomez (West Indies, I think), Bp. Anthony Burton (Saskatchewan), and Drs. Philip Turner, Ephraim Radner, Peter Walker, and Christopher Seitz.

They represent the moderate conservatives, a position that thirty or forty years ago would have been considered liberal: in favor of ordaining women but opposed to approving homosexuality. The position is now called "orthodox," which does seem an abuse of the language, unless you define the word as "to the right of the pro-homosexual Episcopal mainstream," which is somewhat like defining "capitalist" as "anyone to the right of the North Korean dictator."

They are, nevertheless, a serious and learned group and worth hearing.

12:32 PM

Monday, January 5


For the movie buffs among you, a review of a new biography of Alfred Hitchcck, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan. According to the reviewer,

Hitchcock the script was ‘the second stage’. . . . The dearth of characterisation or motivation also made life difficult for his actors, whom he famously referred to as ‘cattle’. One wonders what Stanislavski would have made of Hitchcock’s advice to Gregory Peck when he was struggling to find his character’s inner life. ‘My dear boy,’ Hitchcock croaked, ‘I couldn’t care less what you were thinking. Just let your face drain of all expression.’

So the problem with most of Hitchcock’s films is that the meticulously sketched shots are adhered to, while the story is left inchoate, with illogical leaps and gaping inconsistencies. Hitchcock despised those who questioned his logic, whom he dubbed ‘the implausibles’. Film should be stronger than reason, and the willing suspension of disbelief was powerful enough that when a bomb or murderer was in the room, ‘Descartes can go boil his head’.

He revelled in the employment of ‘MacGuffins’, which were designed to advance the plot whilst providing ‘the quality of imperfection’. They became an infuriating habit, however, which made watertight plots leak profusely, merely serving to stamp the former advertiser’s brand name on his product.

This seems to me right. As much as I've enjoyed Hitchcock's movies, when I think about them afterward I keep finding holes in the stories. Most of them don't offer that satisfying "snap!" a well-constructed plot offers when everything comes together. The revelation at the end of The Sixth Sense, for example.

6:35 PM


Something else from the New York Times's Judging 2003's Ideas: The Most Overrated and Underrated. I'd criticized the attack on monotheism by Prof. Mary Lefkowitz in "Best and Worst" and so to be fair to her, I should note that she does make a perfectly sensible remark in her other entry in the article:

Metaphors have become the verbal equivalent of grade inflation. You are a goddess! Everyone is a hero! (Thanks to Joseph Campbell for that one). Gods were immortal, ageless and powerful; heroes were extraordinary. No ancient person would have made that mistake. There was only one Hercules.

On the other hand, Peter Singer, Princeton's notorious bioethicist, declares in his entry that

What Americans overrate most is — America. They imagine that they live in the most democratic nation on earth, but in the United States, to a far greater extent than in many other democracies, electorates are shamelessly gerrymandered, the voting system squeezes out minor parties, Wyoming has as many senators as California, and money gives the rich a wildly disproportionate share of power and influence.

Americans think they are the freest people on earth, but the president keeps American citizens in detention for nearly two years without even allowing them to talk to a lawyer, let alone putting them on trial. And no one in America has the freedom of the Dutch to choose how they die, should they become incurably ill.

Americans also favor "American pre-eminence" — the Hobbesian view that the United States ought to rule the world, simply because it has the military muscle to do so.

He may have a point here and there, but I would be more confident in his judgment and his understanding of democracy if he showed any evidence of understanding the reason Wyoming has as many senators as California and did not believe assisted suicide a matter of freedom.

12:19 PM


The thing I was looking for in the next blog is an article in Commonweal titled "Author of 'The Rings': Tolkien's Catholic Journey." It is not the best thing on the subject I've read, but the Tolkien fans among you may want to look at it the next time you're at a library that carries the magazine. (It's not on .the magazine's website.)

The article seems to me to suffer from the problem that afflicts almost all writing on Tolkien: that the writer begins with some general ideas and finds them illustrated in the text, rather than beginning with the text itself. I can think of many articles and even a few books from good publishers that analyze Tolkien in this way and make his work look pretty flat and thin because the writer's own stock of ideas and insight is pretty flat and thin. One can only find in Tolkien what one brings to Tolkien, and if you don't bring much, you're not going to find much.

12:13 PM


For the poetry readers among you, something I came across while looking for something else: "The Statistics of Good" by the Australian poet Les Murray. It appeared in the Catholic magazine Commonweal and I think I have read that Murray is a Christian.

12:05 PM


Something else on Candidate Dean's religion, from the Catholic World News blogsite "Off the Record". It includes a link to an article on the subject in The Washington Post in which, among other things, Dean locates the Book of Job in the New Testament.

12:04 PM


For those of you interested in preaching, public speaking, and the like — I typed "public squeaking" the first time (honest) — here is an interesting article from Saturday's New York Times, Just Like, Er, Words, Not, Um, Throwaways. The people who study these things call words, or noises, like "ah" and "um" "disfluencies." (The rate of using disfluencies is the same for men and women, by the way.)

In the 1950s, an English psychologist named Frieda Goldman-Eisler

found that 50 percent of a person's speaking time is made up of silence. She also hypothesized that a speaker planned his next words for the length of the uh or um.

Around the same time a psychiatrist at Yale, George Mahl, counted uhs and nine other speech disfluencies in order to measure a person's anxiety level, calculating that during every 4.4 seconds of spontaneous speech, on average, one disfluency occurs. Eighty-five percent were
uh and um, restarted sentences and repeated words. A slip of the tongue -- upon which Sigmund Freud practically built an intellectual career -- occurred less than 1 percent of the time.

Recently two psychologists, Stanford's Herbert Clark and the University of California/Santa Cruz's Jean Fox Tree,

determined that speakers use (and listeners understand) uh and um in distinct ways. Uh signals a forthcoming pause that will be short, while um signals a longer pause, she said. Uh and um are not acoustic accidents, but full-fledged words that signal a delay yet to come.

A psychologist at the University of California/San Diego named Nicholas Christenfeld

counted uhs among professors giving lectures and found that the humanities professors say you know and uh 4.85 times per minute, social scientists 3.84 and natural science professors 1.39 times, which, he said, suggests that humanists have more expressive options from which to choose.

12:03 PM

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