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Saturday, January 17


Another entertaining link courtesy of this one titled Cartoon physics. The first is:

Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.

Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over.

All right, not as funny as the cartoons themselves, but still amusing.

2:19 PM


Jim Kalb (Turnabout) writes in response to our reader's comment in A word for the libertarian that

Your reader's comment:

the particular approach in the US based on radical liberty in the political realm is essential to allow us the support and protection of whatever traditionalism our hearts and souls seek.

doesn't go well with his view that my essay at moves into deep and troubling waters.

On the point at issue, the value of anti-discrimination laws, the piece supports the libertarian principle of freedom of association on pretty much the grounds your reader suggests. If anyone wanted further discussion and references in support of the line of argument the first thing I'd suggest reading is Forbidden Grounds, a book by the intelligent and civilized University of Chicago libertarian Richard Epstein.

All of which no doubt extends a tangent beyond necessity. Still, isn't that what email comments are mostly for?

2:18 PM


An aid for those of you who have children who want to go to movies of which you know nothing: the weekly newsletter of new theatre and video releases offered by It offers a synopsis of the movie, some critical remarks, and an explanation of how it go its rating.

The leniency of which may surprise you. For example, here is's description of a newly released PG-13 movie:

The PG-13 rating comes from profanity (at least 1 "f" word); sexually related dialogue; purposefully titillating sights of scantily clad women (some of whom act sensuously toward other women); implied sex; violence (obvious and presumed deaths by various means as well as several brutal fight sequences; and some drug-related material (no actual use).

In my youth, one such word was enough to win a movie an R rating, as would brutal violence and women acting sensuously toward other women. This is now what the rating setters think appropriate for a 13-year-old. 13 is not very old.

2:17 PM


Here is something I just found in my inbox, from two months ago. The writer, R. Scott Pennington, is referring to a Russian Orthodox critique of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which I passed along in A Russian Analysis (to which another reader responded in ECUSA's essential attitude). Having found it (my apology to Mr. Pennington) I thought it worth running again, for those who might find the subject of interest and missed the first posting.

Regarding the Russian Church's observations on the Anglican Prayerbook: Some context might be helpful for those who read Mere Comments. Early in the last century, a Russian Orthodox bishop missionary in America, later to become Patriarch Tikhon, wondered whether there could be a valid western rite Orthodox liturgy for the use of converts from Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. He sent the Anglican BCP to the Russian Synod for their examination and comments.

Actually, out of this project developed an Orthodox Western Rite Liturgy which is currently in use among Western Rite parishes of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. It is called, appropriately, the Liturgy of St. Tikhon.

2:16 PM

Friday, January 16


I just came across in my over-crowded inbox Bill Markley's p.s. to his remarks in "Restless Retailers" below. He writes: "I should have added to my previous email that I don't blame or criticize the many persons who are forced to work on Sundays." It is an important distinction and I apologize for not including it with the original message. But my inbox . . .

5:12 PM


Something else from the Barna Research Group you might find of interest: a story from titled Survey: Only Half of Pastors Have 'Biblical' Worldview. According to the story:

In a recent survey of Protestant pastors conducted by the Barna Research Group, only half (51%) passed the test on whether they possess a biblical worldview. Of the pastors surveyed, Southern Baptists scored the highest with 71% while United Methodists finished at the bottom with just 27%.

In between were 57% of pastors of Baptist churches (other than Southern Baptist), 51% of pastors of non-denominational Protestant churches, 44% of pastors of charismatic or Pentecostal churches, 35% of pastors of black churches, and 28% of pastors of leading mainline denominations.

Not surprisingly, seminary graduates had the lowest percentage. Also not surprisingly, while 55% of male pastors held this worldview, only 15% of female pastors did. Another finding suggests that marginalization is good for the Church:

the highest proportion of pastors showing evidence of a biblical worldview were found in the area of the country inhabited by people who are considered among the most liberal. According to Barna, almost two-thirds (64%) of pastors in California, Oregon, and Washington "have such a moral and spiritual compass in place."

Though I do wonder what is the percentage for equally liberal New England and if it is substantially different, as I suspect it is, why it is so. This would be useful information.

Barna defines a biblical worldview as including

a belief in absolute moral truth as defined by scripture, as well as acceptance of six core biblical beliefs: the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize.

I don't think any traditional Christian will disagree with this, as stated, though I would want to see the questions Barna uses to find out whether someone believes them. (A lot of polls do not use simple yes or no questions, in order to get at what their subjects really believe. In this lies the possibility not only of subtlety but of bias and mischief.)

And of course the package in which these come can vary greatly, from believing Southern Baptists to believing Catholics, say. It is a useful question to ask what "a biblical world view" looks like when held by someone on either of those poles and how much they really have in common. By which — please don't write alarmed letters — I don't mean that they don't have much in common, but it is useful to figure out what they do.

5:01 PM


James Kabasky adds something to the Barna Research Group's poll described below in "Life after death":

The pollster listed two possible definitions of hell (I do not recall whether those were provided by him to the interviewees, or their answers were the source of these definitions). I would like to offer a third. More accurately, I would like to draw your readers' attention to another description held by some of the Church Fathers.

According to this, both heaven and hell are the eternal presence of God. For those who had labored to follow the narrow path that leads to salvation, heaven would be to stand in the everlasting light of His benificent Presence for all eternity. A Presence which had been the goal of those strugglers throughout their lives.

For the rest of us, hell would also be to stand in the everlasting light of His Presence for all eternity. Imagine having spent your life either ignoring the commandments, or redefining Scripture to the point where the commandments mean nothing. Such a "struggler" would find His unremitting Presence unendurable.

4:51 PM


Carrying on the string started with Wednesday's God and money, Bill Markley sends the link to an article in today's Wall Street Journal titled "Restlessness: What happens when Christian stores start selling on Sunday. The article, he writes,

shows an example, I think, of how Christians can slide down a very slippery slope when trying to making money-in this case while making various justifications for breaking the Commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.

"Restlessness" begins:

Sunday mornings remain one of the greatest differentiators in American society, between the Christian faithful who attend church and the secularists and members of other faiths who rush to Starbucks because the crowds are smaller. Thanks in part to the dismantling of "blue laws," the Sabbath has fallen victim to time-pressed modern lives and today's need to apportion every last hour to some seemingly productive activity. Thus the industries doing business on Sundays gradually expanded from religion, health care and entertainment to all sorts of ordinary retailing.

Now even the nation's largest Christian bookstore chain, Family Christian Stores, has thrown open its doors for business on Sunday afternoons. "What we're commanded to do in Matthew 28:19 doesn't say, 'Monday to Saturday, 9 to 5' — it's a 24-7 Great Commission," says David Browne, president of the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based chain, which has 325 stores in 39 states. In the passage, Jesus commands his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations." Says Mr. Browne: "Churches have their doors open on Sunday; why shouldn't we?"

12:12 PM


Our contributor Frank Beckwith (see his "Choice Words: A critique of the new pro-life rhetoric" in the Jan./Feb. issue) last year published a book titled Law, Darwinism, and Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). It has just been reviewed — and favorably — in the January 2004 issue of the Harvard Law Review.

Dr. Beckwith offers a copy of the review on his website. The review is titled "Not Your Daddy's Fundamentalism: Intelligent Design in the Classroom." After a lengthy and fair description of Beckwith's argument, the reviewer writes:

Because of the popular conception that science and religion (and, logically, philosophies of import to religion) consist of "nonoverlapping magisteria," the relationship between evolution and MN [Materialistic Naturalism] is not as intuitively obvious as the relationship between ID and non-naturalistic philosophy. But surely the ID movement's conception of evolution as commingled with naturalistic metaphysics is true in at least one respect.

. . . evolution as conceived by many of its most influential and vocal proponents clearly implicates naturalistic philosophy. Indeed, Stephen Jay Gould, who coined the phrase "nonoverlapping magisteria," seems to have momentarily ignored that evolution does not overlap religion when he quipped, "Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us." Distinguished Darwinist Richard Dawkins similarly stated, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." George Gaylord Simpson, discussing the "meaning of evolution," boldly asserted that "man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind." Clearly, statements like these by some of evolution's luminaries indicate that, at least in their minds, evolution is firmly associated with naturalistic philosophy.

The reviewer goes on to give several examples of evolutionary theorists admitting the philosophic source or implications of their evolutionism, in contradiction to the claim that evolution is merely science, upon which it is allowed to be taught in public schools and any form of creationism (a very broad word) is not. For example:

Richard Lewontin, a professor of biology at Harvard University, emphasized the impetus naturalistic philosophy has provided to evolutionary science when he stated:

We take the side of [naturalistic] science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs . . . because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to . . . produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive . . . .

Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

The reviewer's conclusion is wonderful:

legal decisionmakers should carefully consider the ID movement's claim that evolution's relationship to a nonempirical philosophy is practically, if not intrinsically, at least as strong as that of ID theory.

Yet perhaps the most ironic aspect of this debate is that Darwinists are even opposed to the inclusion of ID in the public school curriculum. If there is any fundamental tenet of Darwinism, is it not that competition leads inexorably to progress?

Consequently, apart from erosion of their philosophical proselytism, what have Darwinists to fear from a little rivalry? After all, the ideological defeat of naturalistic evolution at the hands of the ID movement would nicely illustrate "survival of the fittest" - it could be Darwinism's last vindication.

I would urge you to look up the review as it gives a good summary of Dr. Beckwith's argument and also offers a useful collection of darwinist quotes. Actually, I'd urge you to read his book and almost everything else he's written.

12:05 PM


Another response to the string on libertarianism, dubious moral nature thereof, this one from Brian Sponsler. See So's your old man and Libertarians and anarchists for the beginning of the string.

Over at Reason, (scroll down to "Manly Men"), Julian Sanchez characterizes this href="">essayon "wimps and barbarians" as "unintentionally hilarious" and dares us to keep a straight face.

In response to the essay's rather straightforward call in general praise of the smoothing of rough edges common in young men and for better character and virtue, he cites these remarks, presumably to explain why Mr. Sanchez is chortling so merrily: (scroll down to "Barbarians and Wiimps")"

"Conservatives tend to see the feminist movement and the so-called sexual revolution as perverse, willful repudiations of the sorts of regulative convention that make civilization possible. Yet here we are; civilization remains. And they fail to relate these cultural shifts to the ongoing development of capitalism, which, in other moods, they are only too eager (to) praise. The increased economic autonomy of women, of which the feminist movement is as much a response as a cause, fundamentally alters the terms of sexual and marital relations, and thereby fundamentally alters the social meaning of man- and womanhood."

But what justifies the laughter? Obviously, a civilization, broadly defined, will always exist — and just as obviously, civilizations will again fall. That hardly justifies derision of qualities deemed worthy of improvement in our civilization, nor complacency that a particular civilization will survive all slings and arrows.

But the citation does illustrate a libertarian credo — that whatever has, or will come, from capitalism is good, and to the extent we share such a credo, likely fueled by a reaction against communist and socialist evils, we who aspire to orthodoxy should examine our conscience.

I particularly recommend the essay on wimps and barbarians. That a writer from Reason thinks it hilarious says about all one needs to know about him, and perhaps about the magazine.

10:18 AM


Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship sends "an extract from The Atlantic's Primary Sources column: Hell Is for Other People:

Americans mix belief in spiritualism and reincarnation with traditional Christian teachings about the afterlife, according to a new survey from the Barna Research Group. The survey finds that nearly 20 percent of Americans (including 10 percent of "born-again Christians") believe that people are reincarnated after death, and 34 percent think that it's possible to communicate, Crossing Over-style, with the recently departed.

But doctrines of a more traditional nature still have widespread appeal: 76 percent of those polled stated that heaven exists, and nearly as many (71 percent) expressed a belief in hell. Hell isn't necessarily perceived as teeming with fire and brimstone—in fact, only 32 percent of adults called it "an actual place of torment and suffering," whereas 40 percent called it "a state of eternal separation from God's presence."

Either way, though, if Americans are right, the Inferno's population growth will be slow: 64 percent confidently predict that they themselves will find their way to paradise, whereas only .005 percent expect that they will be sent to hell.

— "Americans Describe Their Views About Life After Death," Barna Research Group

full text:

Not surprising, this. I don't know what it says about Barna's questions and his interpretation that he separates "an actual place of torment and suffering" from "a state of eternal separation from God's presence." The second will produce the first. Or do lots of people think a state of eternal separation from God's presence will be tolerable?

10:12 AM


I left out the title of the article David Gustafson recommended in yesterday's "More on Playboy," which means the link didn't appear at all. Sorry. I've fixed it.

10:07 AM

Thursday, January 15


One of our readers who reads the Swedish newspapers reports that the newspaper Kyrkans Tidning

is reporting today that Pentecostal Pastor Åke Green is being prosecuted for "hate speech against homosexuals" for a sermon he preached last summer. The local prosecutor in Kalmar, Kjell Yngvesson, says this does not involve freedom of religion:

"One may have whatever religion one wishes, but this is an attack on all fronts against homosexuals. Collecting Bible cites on this topic as he (Pastor Green) does makes this hate speech."

The article gives no details on when the case will come to trial.

To this my colleague Steven Hutchens responded:

Ah yes, the old "One-Can-Have-Any-Religion-One-Wishes-As-Long-As-It-Is-One-We-Approve Under-The-One-Can-Have-Any-Religion-One-Wishes" ploy. Easier to say, State-Approved Religions Only.

9:21 PM


Some good responses to "What is Playboy?" which I posted earlier this afternoon. First, from Fr. Robert Hart:

More than twenty years ago I tried my hand at submitting cartoons to a science magazine called Omni (to which my brother David subscribed in those days). I received a reply asking that I send more samples of my work (all of which was clean, I assure you).

The only problem was, Omni, as it turned out, was owned by Penthouse, and it was Penthouse that wanted to see more samples of my cartoons (and yes, they really were clean cartoons. One was about Leanord Nimoy getting his job to play Spock because he had the perfect ears for the role). Here it was, a chance to try for the big money.

I tore the letter up and threw it away. Even when bills have, at times, been hard to pay, I have not regretted my decision to close that door. The price seemed to be too high.

It was amusing that the woman wrote about Playboy as something liberating, bringing freedom. Most of what I know about sin has not come from studying theology, but by being quite skilled in the role of a "miserable offender." I cannot think of a faster way to lose one's freedom, to clip one's wings, than to start gazing at the the kind of pictures which appear in those publications.

And, since the desires of a man are never full, the very idea of satisfaction is elusive and impossible. It is the same as trying to satisfy thirst by drinking seawater. If freedom means an insatiable craving that empties one of life, then she may have a point. I prefer to perceive of freedom as unhindered access to God, and the ability to die right now with no problems of conscience.

And from Marc Dvoracek:

Gee, who would have thought that a girl who grew up with parents who allowed her and her sister to become familiar with Playboy magazines would someday write for a "real" pornographic magazine, like Penthouse? Could it be that the normalization of the first allowed the second? Still, Catherine Seipp might be on to something when she says that writing for Penthouse is preferable to writing for other women's magazines, though her reasons are probably not the correct ones.

When pornography is presented as it is in magazines such as Penthouse, Playboy, and Hustler it is easily recognized as exploitation of women, while most of what are called women's magazines (Cosmopolitan and other check-out line fare) are equally contemptuous of femininity, but it is not as recognizable since women are exploiting themselves.

And David Gustafson commends to readers' attention

a "very good article" titled Hugh Hefner's Hollow Victory by Read Mercer Schuchardt on the subject of Hefner and Playboy magazine's effect on our culture. Christianity Today picked it up from Re:Generation Quarterly.

9:09 PM


In "Been away, but got two prizes" I announced that we have added two new contributing editors, Daryl Charles and Anthony Esolen. I would like to announce another one, having just gotten his acceptance.

The Rev'd Robert Hart has accepted the invitation. He is the rector of St. Andrew's Church in Easton, a parish of the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake. He is also the author of two moving articles, "Her mother's glory" in the latest issue and Dead kids on the block" in the December issue. He has another article — fertility is a trait to be treasured in contributing editors — coming in the March issue and yet another in the hopper that we haven't scheduled.

We (the editors) are very pleased to have Fr. Hart on the masthead — where, by the way, he joins his older brother Fr. Addison Hart.

9:07 PM


A few days ago in "So's your old man", I noted the silly article published by National Review Online in support, in a smug, back-handed sort of way, of homosexual marriages. A friend told me that National Review had also published a partly-approving review of the anti-Christian bestseller The da Vinci Code and when looking for the article on their website found another article with unexpected content: "Living with Playboy: It ain't all bad.

You can see why I noticed it, appearing as it does on the website of the most famous of conservative magazines. Before you click on the link or read further, let me warn you that the story is a bit explicit on a subject -- a fashion trend, I assume -- you probably have never thought about.

The writer, a Catherine Seipp, is described as "a writer in California" and as the article reveals writes for Penthouse, a magazine of which she actually disapproves. About Playboy, she trots out arguments we have all read before. "There's really nothing in Playboy now that needs to be hidden in a plain brown wrapper," for example -- the earlier issues now look "antiquely demure" -- and it's not as bad as the competitors.

You get an idea of the level of moral reflection of which this writer is capable when she explains that she finds it easier to write for Penthouse than for women's magazines, and besides, they pay her $6,000.

So, you know, I can live with my prose being surrounded by close-ups of some girl's rectum. But that's Penthouse. Anyone who calls Playboy pornography at this point is being willfully naïve.

She seems to be saying that though, as she has suggested already in the article, she disapproves of Penthouse, and as she suggests here disapproves even of the pictures that surrond her own article, she is happy to write for them because the editors are easy to work with and give her a lot of money. There is a word for professionals that trade do things of which they disapprove for money. But I assume her disapproval is not really very great, and that she offers it for the same reason some men say they get the magazine for the articles.

She declares that people who believe a magazine that features pictures of naked young women with very large (and as she notes artificially inflated) breasts pornography are "being willfully naive." Not just naive, but willfully naive.

In the service of what, one wonders, does she think the will exercised here? It would be easier, for a whole host of reasons, to agree with her. One wins no brownie points in most company (including a lot of Christian company) for thinking a dirty magazine a dirty magazine. You will make yourself look prudish and unsophisticated and small-town-American and all the things the culture tells you to flee.

But what is pornography? (The writer never defines the word, usefully for her.) It is, among other things, a work designed to create sexual desires for those whom its readers or viewers should not desire. It is the willfull misdirection of sexual feelings from those (the husband or wife) to whom those feelings are owed. It is the intentional corruption, made worse by the desire to make money thereby, of a bond and commitment.

How, then, is Playboy not pornographic? Are we to believe that its creators think that they offer the pictures of all the beautiful naked young women -- and I assume a great deal of editorial content of the same sort -- for anatomists and medical students, or that their readers look at these women as one can look at an ancient statue of Venus or Michelangelo's David?

The magazine is certainly a pornographic magazine, a dirty magazine, to use an old-fashioned but descriptive term. And so is much else not nearly so flagrant: magazines, movies, and tv shows in which the women may remain clothed but whose demeanor and dress is intended to arouse male desire.

We have, we humans, a spectrum on all these matters, and perfectly rightly, so that there is a difference between the Sports Illustrated bathing suit issue to Playboy's nudes to Penthouse's pictures of people in congress (I take this from the writer's description, I hasten to say). But the Christian does not argue, as the writer does, that only things at one end are really bad.

Our Lord once explained that hatred was a form of murder, so that the sin of murder covered more of the spectrum than his listeners believed it did. So with pornography. The Christian standard rules out much that the worldly spectrum approves: the babes in bathing suits in Sports Illustrated, for example, for (the world says) after all they're clothed and you can see the like at any beach.

But the Christian standard says: We're glad they're clothed, at least partially, but what does the picture do the male looking at it (or to the lesbian, for that matter)? Does it create in him (or her) a desire for someone he ought not to desire? Does it direct his (not her) sexual feelings away from the one to whom he has committed himself to direct them? Does it thereby corrupt his bond and commitment?

Well, of course. And if this is true of babes in bathing suits, how much truer is it of babes not in bathing suits or anything else? One who does not see this, that Playboy is pornographic, is willfully naive. Or has blinded herself because the pornographic magazines pay so well.

The last paragraph of the article gives us the writer's mind about such things:

Except Playboy really does have something to do with freedom, and these days maybe that's worth remembering. A society that allows Playboy is not a society that allows women to be stoned to death for adultery. Human nature being what it is, we're probably stuck with either burkas or naked balloon breasts forever. I know which I prefer.

To this our contributing editor Addison Hart responded, and I will close with his comments because he has said all that needs to be said about the article:
There you have it in a nutshell. Americans can breathe a sigh of relief: we have "Freedom". Without "Freedom" you inevitably get burkas (remember all those damned burkas in America before Playboy and the Sexual Revolution came along?).

Hugh Hefner should take some credit for putting a stop to all those stonings of women in America, too, I guess; though I suspect he may have helped the abortion industry expand just a bit. But that's "Freedom" -- you've got to break some eggs if you want an omelet.

"Freedom" means that pornography is safe and acceptable. Somehow, though, with a logic that escapes me entirely, this writer informs us that Playboy really isn't "pornography" at all because Hustler and Penthouse are worse.

But, then, "Freedom" means that we're allowed them, too, evidently. About her own writing for Penthouse, she writes: "So, you know, I can live with my prose being surrounded by close-ups of some girl's rectum."

I think that about says it all right there, actually. Anyone who thinks that "burkas or porno" is to be regarded as a real alternative should probably have her prose always thus surrounded.

3:27 PM


In response to my explanation of why we haven't included a reader response feature on Mere Comments (see "No Comments"), Messiah College's Justin Barnard writes:

Reason (1) is rather wittily supported by an observation I came across in First Things.

"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the internet, we know this is not true."

— Robert Wilensky, "Quote . . . Unquote" Newsletter

3:19 PM


A reader responds to the reader quoted in yesterday's "Libertarians and archists"

Oh my. Chronicles/The Rockford Institute, and Jim Kalb. We're into deep and interesting waters. They could be correct, but for instance taking a stand against civil rights measures per se, as per, moves us towards a variety of sister-positions very challenging to argue even if the shared philosophy supports our proper veneration of holy and civilized tradition.

I wonder if going in this anathema-to-libertarianism direction isn't a little like the Montanists, who according to my limited understanding erred in rallying with more enthusiasm than it takes to do the job. Libertarianism as a theory can drive right into Soylent Green and "embryos — For sale".

But we do not live in theory. And the particular approach in the US based on radical liberty in the political realm is essential to allow us the support and protection of whatever traditionalism our hearts and souls seek. If we find a need to burn down every house but our own, there won't be many windbreaks. Nor many allies.

The old serpent-dove thing.

This reader may be right, but unfortunately many libertarians do live in theory. Fortunately they don't have the political power to put their theory into practice. Their theory tends to expand an idea of "liberty" far beyond anything a Christian would recognize as a public or even a private good. It seems to transmute from an understanding of the nature of freedom and the proper limits of government to a philosophy of man that is deeply individualistic and materialistic.

I have, for example, read several pro-choice libertarians but never, as far as I know, a pro-life libertarian. The pro-choice libertarians never explain why the mother should have the liberty to kill her unborn child but that unborn child not have the liberty to live, except by claiming (or assuming without claiming) that the mother is a person with liberty and the unborn child isn't.

This isn't to say that a libertarian might not be right about the proper limits of government and that a Christian cannot be a libertarian of that limited sort. I am only concerned that in practice the position seems to grow beyond such limits and, to use an old saying, turn liberty into license.

1:59 PM


Eric Kniffin sends this link: And writes:

This is a link to a remarkable story out of Switzerland which begins: "A Swiss nurse killed 24 old people in nursing homes and tried to snuff out three more lives in what he said was a bid to end their suffering and help reduce a crushing work load on staff." It is hard to think of a more perfect illustration of the Culture of Death. It takes a particularly calloused nurse to rationalize murder by complaining that the people were a hassle.

I would like to think that European policies and developments regarding euthanasia and the like have little bearing on our own domestic affairs. But thanks to Justice Kennedy and others who cite European rulings and policies as justification for their own reckless decisions, the Pond is shrinking.

And therefore we have good cause to be concerned when such reports come from abroad. That some Swiss citizens have been outraged at this logical, though ostensibly unintended, extension of established policies is little solace.

I have noticed with some bemusement such appeals to European practices from our leading liberal jurists, as if Europe were an authority in such things. I could happily live in Europe (most parts), but because of the culture that survives from the past, not the culture created by Europe's breaking with the past, particularly its massive Christian heritage.

But those are the things to which our europhile moral liberals appeal. I'm sure they love Europe (most parts) for the buildings, the food, the trains, the music, the landscape, the visible history, and the like as much as anyone, and feel that to get all these with an increasingly post-Christian culture and law is as near utopia as we can get in this world.

1:40 PM

Wednesday, January 14


Clark Wilson sends an interesting news item:

A Serbian bishop was arrested and "charged with disseminating 'national, racial and religious hatred'” in a jurisdictional dispute between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches.

The location mentioned is "Ohrid" and I fear that it is the "Ochrid" of The Prologue of Ochrid, a famous Orthodox book of saints' lives, and of its author Saint Nicholai of Ochrid/Ohrid. However, I have not taken the time to verify that they are the same place.

8:10 PM


A reader wrote to ask why we don't have the response feature many other blogsites offer, by which readers can respond to individual entries.

We (the editors) have talked a couple of times about adding this feature. It would certainly attract a lot more readers, which would be a benefit. So far, however, we've decided not to do so for two reasons: 1) having read the comments on other sites, we don't want to have on our site the sort of ranting, abuse, rudeness, deceit, etc., that such things inevitably attract; and 2) we don't want to encourage people to waste time on such things.

The latter may sound strange, but several of the editors are acutely aware of the temptation the internet offers. By this I don't mean the temptation to view pornography, but the temptation (certainly more common and probably at least as powerful) simply to be a bad steward of one's God-given time by doing time-consuming things that seem compelling ("I've gotta defend . . .") and are easy to do (click type type type). Jumping into a debate one really has no call to jump into is a great temptation and when indulged can quickly become an addiction.

This we don't want to encourage and so chose to have a simple site, posting such responses as seem helpful and substantive. Not all of them, I hasten to say, because sometimes we just don't have time, but as many as we can.

8:06 PM


From the links page of The Revealer, "A daily review of religion and the press" published by New York University's department of journalism and Center for Religion and the Media, the description of Touchstone:

Touchstone is First Things, the next generation — conservative doctrine, sharp intellect, much enamored of C.S. Lewis. Only a few articles a month appear online, but the editors — a Protestant, a Catholic, and an Orthodox believer — maintain an excellent daily commentary, "Mere Comments."

I rather like this. I wouldn't say that we're enamored of C. S. Lewis, exactly, so much as dutiful sons of a wide range of wise men, beginning with the Fathers, of whom he's one of the latest and therefore one of the most accessible and quotable.

The site does tend to describe more traditional journals as if they were hardline and more liberal journals as if they were more open and the like, as saying of the hard liberal National Catholic Reporter "Politically liberal, it offers needed nuance to he-said/she-said tone of much Catholic public discussion." I would not have used "nuance" to describe its often quite blunt and determined (that is the polite way to say "predictable and often crude") liberalism.

It's a very helpful links page and included some journals I didn't know about.

8:03 PM


A provocative article I commend to your attention: The New Mainstream: Two Worlds, Two Cultures. It begins:

Two worlds. Two cultures. Two markets. Two mainstreams. This is what has become of Christian enterprise in America: a $4.2 billion industry committed to putting out records, books and entertainment with a message that according to Bill Anderson, president of the CBA, formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association, “aligns with Scripture.”

One has to wonder, however, how all of that $4.2 billion in merchandise could possibly be scripturally sound. Is scriptural integrity the primary motivation for this market or is it something else? My limited understanding of economics is that the primary motivation for any market is usually profit. Secondarily might be the spread of the gospel or the dissemination of the word of God, but I don’t think either of these can account for $4.2 billion of success. There’s something bigger here driving this machine, and I would suggest that it is primarily the fear factor, and the resulting protection that a Christian industry provides a worried and nervous clientele.

Near the end, the writer offers a useful quote from the sociologist Alan Wolfe:

We now have two mainstreams, and I believe thinking Christians must be wary of both of them. As Alan Wolfe, professor at Boston College and author of “The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith,” concludes the New York Times article previously referred to, “Money is very powerful, and God is very powerful, and I think money usually wins. At least in this world.”

3:57 PM


We've just gotten word that our contributing editor Philip Johnson has been awarded the 2004 Wilberforce Award, presented by the Wilberforce Forum to "an individual who has made a difference in the face of formidable societal problems and injustices" and "Christian leaders who exemplify the principles and the commitment of William Wilberforce, the great English statesman who waged a forty-year campaign to end the slave trade in Britain."

Dr. Johnson's bimonthly column "The Leading Edge" can be found here. You may be interested in a related item from the Breakpoint website (the Wilberforce Forum, Breakpoint, and the Prison Fellowship are all part of the same group), a review of Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design.

3:52 PM


You may have noticed that we have started indenting quotes from others, rather than printing them in italics. A number of readers wrote to say that they could not read the italics very easily, which was especially a problem when we ran a long response from a reader.

So we're trying this. When one of our readers quotes someone else, then we'll use italics. We hope this makes Mere Comments more readable. Physically more readable, I mean.

11:09 AM


A response to yesterday's "So's your old man" from Jeremiah Davis, a graduate student in the University of Kentucky's Classics Division and a parishioner of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lexington, Kentucky. And frequent respondent to Mere Comments. He writes:

The comments of your friend at the end of the post "So's your old man" reminded me of a couple of excellent articles relating to the incompatibility of traditional conservatism and libertarianism.

"Abuse Your Illusions" by Thomas Fleming (Dr. Fleming's writings in particular have been very influential in my own "political formation.")


"Understanding Conservatism and Tradition" by James Kalb.

Regarding your comment,

"The libertarian-influenced conservatives in this country seem increasingly inclined to moral libertarianism as well. Why would a conservative organ like NR [National Review] now promote such people and such ideas unless its editors no longer recognized sexual disorder as disorder? And why would they not, unless they had given in to the libertarian side of their project?"

. . . I can only say that this turn of events is not all that surprising if you know something of the history of National Review. Though it once had a place for traditionalists and Old Right American conservatives, from its inception it was very much influenced by Frank Meyer's "fusionism"- an attempt to combine certain elements of traditional conservatism and libertarianism. Of course, the particular elements emphasized by the magazine editors have changed over the years. Several current National Review writers seem to have inherited the strongly militarist and interventionist views of some Cold War conservatives combined with the cultural liberalism of some libertarians.

All of this is not say that all libertarians are culturally libertine, or that there are no genuine conservatives who have at one time or another described themselves as libertarians, or even "anarchists." Professor Tolkien was one of the latter.

Another self-described anarchist is former National Review editor Joseph Sobran. In a recent column, "The Era of Bad Feelings", Mr. Sobran raises an interesting question regarding the same-sex "marriage" debate:

"The court found that the law may not 'discriminate against' homosexuals by refusing to recognize their unions as marriages: 'The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.

"So even defining marriage as it has always been defined is now 'discrimination against' people in unions to which that definition doesn't apply. Nonsense is constitutionally mandatory. Obviously the Massachusetts court has the Right Feelings.

"Well, what if, say, two heterosexual males want to 'marry,' on paper, so they can get job benefits, insurance, medical care, et cetera, at other people’s expense? Do they become 'second-class citizens' if they are denied marital status under the law? Would it be 'heterophobia' to refuse to accord them the same rights the court wants to extend to homosexual couples?"

I can see no (logical and consistent) objection that proponents of same-sex "marriage" could raise against such a request by two heterosexual men.

11:06 AM


A reader, Jim Wilkens, writes in response to Craig Galer's comments in Monday's "Possible alternative":

The concept brought forward by Craig Galer, the use of European-modeled Christian Democratic parties here in America, brings two near simultaneous reactions.

The first reaction: "what a great idea," is likely the result of what seems a widely-shared frustration among Christians in this country. As Mr. Galer suggested we are often despised or, worse (?), satisfied with lip service by the two leading parties. A second, and sadly more pessimistic reaction comes of the realization that if the body of Christ — ministry of the Holy Spirit not withstanding — has so far been unable to gather as one ecclesial "party," how could we accomplish it with politics expected to serve as preservative?

Bravo Touchstone for consistent and persistent effort to bring the body into union -- you have been fearless in the face of despisers and unsatisfied by mere lip service! We in the body should emulate such behavior . . .

I don't usually publish the compliments we receive, having been raised to think self-promotion rude and (worse) vulgar, but have realized that a little promotion helps the magazine. This particular compliment I thought did express what we try to do with Touchstone.

I spend a good bit of time with Christians of various sorts and am sometimes surprised, as one who has close friends all across the spectrum, how parochial even quite educated and travelled Christians can be. They know in theory that they ought to be closer to fellow Christians, but feel suspicious of most people outside their own body. We (the editors of Touchstone see a world in need of the Christian witness and a great number of witnesses who would speak more powerfully if they spoke together, and try to gather them in.

10:57 AM

Tuesday, January 13


Something I got third hand, which I pass on for readers in the Seattle area and for the NRO story, which I had not seen. (It does use some quotes that did appear in articles I included last month, though.)

Tickets are going fast!

To order yours today, please visit or call 1-866-468-7623.
For more information, and for group discounts, please contact Janet
Markwardt at 206-292-0401, x111.

John Rhys-Davies was recently featured in National Review Online at:


Join noted British actor John Rhys-Davies for a rollicking evening as he talks about the meaning and the making of The Lord of the Rings and answers audience questions about his long career in films and TV. Davies, who plays "Gimli" and supplies the voice of "Treebeard" in The Lord of the Rings, is also known for his roles in the Indiana Jones movies and in the science-fiction series "Sliders." Host for the evening will be film critic Michael Medved. Sponsored by Discovery Institute.

Saturday, January 17, 8:00 pm @ Town Hall (8th and Seneca). Tickets: $25-30 (group discounts for 10 or more). To purchase tickets, please call: 1-866-468-7623 or visit:
For group tickets of 10 or more, call Janet Markwardt at 206-292-0401, ext 111 or email

This event is co-sponsored by Taproot Theatre, Town Hall Seattle, and Theatre Puget Sound.

6:07 PM


In "Discouraged and Confused" James Redden writes:

"I find the Dems' views on abortion and gay marriage to be antithetical to my Christian faith, yet I also find the GOP's views on the economy and the environment to be just as antithetical to my faith."

The "views" are more than views. They are policies.

The Democratic Party is on record, as a matter of national policy, to favor abortion. This policy is antithetical to the Christian faith.

The Republican Party is on record in favor of certain policies with respect to the economy and the environment. I have studied these policies assiduously, and I confess that I can discover not the slightest detail in which these policies are antithetical to the Christian faith.

Mr Redden's moral dilemma would be more easily addressed if he would elucidate this point.

4:25 PM


Dr. William Tighe, author of "Calculating Christmas" in the December issue, has forwarded a link to another article on the subject. According to the friend who sent it to him, the fourth section of "Christmas" comes to a different conclusion than he did. It is an article by Cyril Martindale (whom I assume is C. C. Martindale, S.J.) from the 1911 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia.

4:23 PM


Fr. Robert Hart adds a short note to our string on the biblical sources for the Deadly Sins and Cardinal Virtues:

The list of seven virtues appears to have Biblical authority (depending upon one's Bible that is). The list of the four virtues "cardinal" virtues appears in a Deuterocanonical book; or at least it seems to be the case from the King James, or Authorized, Version of 1611.

"Temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude" are taught by wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon 8: 7). What I do not know, off hand, is if the writer of Wisdom is using the same words as Aristotle. The only Aristotle I can get a hold of immediately is an English (Penguin books) translation.

4:15 PM


Reader Jim Redden, Jr., who describes himself as "a discouraged and confused American Christian" (this is a feeling most of us will recognize), writes in response to yesterday's "The Dems' religion" that

I can empathize with your views on the Dems' religion. I would also see conservative Christianity's support of the GOP to be problematic as well. Personally, I see myself politically as a social conservative and an economic liberal. Therefore, I find the Dems' views on abortion and gay marriage to be antithetical to my Christian faith, yet I also find the GOP's views on the economy and the environment to be just as antithetical to my faith.

Since I find each party to be antithetical to my christian faith, whom do I vote for? I suppose I can just choose not to vote, but I want to be an involved citizen, yet I simply cannot vote for George Bush because I agree with him on two issues — abortion and gay marriage — and disagree with him on everything else, particularly his advocacy of the rich through deregulation of labor and environmental standards and his overly aggressive, mafioso foreign policy that is based on incredible leaps in intelligence on a particular nation's WMD capabilities.

Nevertheless, I have a hard time supporting a Democratic party that chooses to see abortion as a woman's right to choose rather than the murder of innocents, and continues to undermine the sanctity of marriage and sexuality by approving homosexual and lesbian "marriages." It's too bad that our supposedly "democratic" country allows no room for third parties. Unfortunately, both parties are equally godless, leaving Christians like me no real choice.

A lot of Christians feel like this, I'm sure, including even economic conservatives who see the Republicans being less than eager to restrain the market's baser drives and to support family-friendly policies. I would say, however, that Christians do have a sort of hierarchy of issues by which to make prudential decisions, and that the endorsement of secularism and abortion (and abortionism) puts a party off-limits, but that the other issues he lists do not.

Which is not to endorse any other party, only to say that it hasn't crossed that line that prevents the Christian for voting for it.

2:36 PM


From David Gustafson, in response to the question a reader asked in "Seven plus seven", which Patrick Reardon answered in "The number seven". Here is David's message:

Your entry entitled "Seven Plus Seven" transmitted a reader's questions about the seven deadly sins. He might be edified to learn that the Oxford University Press has undertaken a project on "the modern relevance of the seven deadly sins"; and thanks to that effort, we now know that "Lust has been wrongly branded a vice and should be 'reclaimed for humanity' as a life-affirming virtue, according to a top philosopher." See:

Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University is trying to rescue lust "from the denunciations of old men of the deserts, to deliver it from the pallid and envious confessor and the stocks and pillories of the Puritans, to drag it from the category of sin to that of virtue".

2:26 PM


National Review Online recently (January 9th) offered an article titled A Mockery of Marriage: The things heterosexuals do by Deroy Murdock, one of their contributing editors. He argued against opponents of homosexual marriage that

It would be far easier to take these claims seriously if gay-marriage critics spent as much energy denouncing irresponsible heterosexuals whose behavior undermines traditional marriage. Among prominent Americans, such misdeeds are increasingly ubiquitous.

He goes on to describe the appalling marital, non-marital, and extra-marital behavior of (respectively) Britney Spears, David Letterman, and Jerry Seinfeld, and argues that social conservatives have (supposedly) not reacted to those, so they shouldn't argue against homosexual marriage. He also gives several statistics on the parlous state of marriage, and draws the same conclusion. And then he concludes:

Gay marriage is a big idea that deserves national debate. Nonetheless, social conservatives who blow their stacks over homosexual matrimony's supposed threat to traditional marriage tomorrow should focus on the far greater damage that heterosexuals are wreaking on that venerable institution today.

James Taranto, who writes the Wall Street Journal's daily e-mail summary of the day's news, OpinionJournal, writes about this argument:

Of course, one could just as easily turn this around and ask why activists of same-sex marriage, who according to Murdock "at least hope to stay hitched," don't prove it by devoting their time to combating divorce, illegitimacy and so forth. Doesn't their eagerness to get a piece of such a deeply flawed institution as marriage is today belie their claims to be seeking stability and commitment?

Well, no, of course it doesn't. They are dealing with the world as it exists, as are social conservatives. From the latter's standpoint, same-sex marriage, which has now been imposed in one state by judicial fiat, is a clear and present danger to what sanctity marriage has left. It's entirely reasonable that they'd wage a defensive battle to maintain the traditional definition of marriage rather than expending energy on the much more difficult task of trying to undo damage already done by increasingly permissive laws and culture.

Exactly. Murdock's so's-your-old-man argument tries to justify one thing by pointing to the defects of another, which is hardly an adequate defense of the first thing.

Now, think for a minute where this article appeared. It appeared on National Review Online and was written by an "NRO Contributing Editor." One of their people. One of their officially accredited people. Writing on their own website.

The libertarian-influenced conservatives in this country seem increasingly inclined to moral libertarianism as well. Why would a conservative organ like NR now promote such people and such ideas unless its editors no longer recognized sexual disorder as disorder? And why would they not, unless they had given in to the libertarian side of their project? As a friend wrote me when I mentioned the article to him:

Conservativism of the traditional-western/"Christendom" variety cannot coexist with libertarianism of any stripe. The two "worldviews" do not share any real or substantial philosophical premise, not even a common definition of "liberty".

As an editor of another magazine that would never do such a thing, I find this both discouraging and encouraging. It is discouraging to find those who were once allies on these matters defecting. It is encouraging because it suggests that our work is increasingly important.

12:59 PM

Monday, January 12


The former Secretary of the Treasury, who was fired by President Bush, has been proclaiming, for the last several days, that the President had introduced the question of Saddam Hussein’s ouster into one of his earliest Cabinet meetings back in 2001. The President has been quoted as say, at that meeting, “Can any of you tell me how to get rid of that guy?” This was long before 9/11.

Outrage now meets this declaration, as though some great deception had been foisted on the American people.

Memories are short.

A “change of regime” in Iraq was made the official position of the United States by the Iraqi Liberation Act, passed in Congress in 1998, under President Clinton.

The Republican Party incorporated that policy into its official platform in the election of 2000. That is to say, George W. Bush ran for and won the presidential election by espousing that policy. It had nothing to do with 9/11. It never had anything to do with 9/11.

I don’t see anything new here.

4:56 PM


One of Touchstone’s recent correspondents asked for more information on the number 7 with respect to virtues and vices, particularly for more solid biblical support for that division of the subject.

Although the Bible shows a great partiality to the number 7 in many contexts, the format of seven virtues and seven vices is not particularly biblical. Nor is it universal among Christian writers. In the early fifth century, for instance, St. John Cassian listed and discoursed on eight principal vices, nor has the seven-fold listing of the virtues always included the same seven.

The reduction of eight vices to seven seems to have been made in the interest of symmetry. For example, the pairing of seven virtues with seven vices comes from an allegorical poem entitled Psychomachia, composed by the Christian poet, Prudentius (348-410?). Still, the seven virtues in that poem do not correspond to the seven found in many other sources, such as that in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.

However, there are not seven “cardinal” virtues; there are only four (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance); the list comes from Aristotle.

Christians called these four the “cardinal” virtues, because they formed the moral “hinge” (cardo) that joined the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity) to the practical moral order. In this instance the number 7 comes from joining the New Testament with Aristotle.

4:54 PM


A reader of Touchstone has just written me with a request:

In studying the 7 deadly sins and 7 cardinal virtues, I have found numerous opinions and listings explaining each, but I would really like some biblical references and background. All I found was Proverbs 2:16-19.

Can you help me find some more bible references? This is really bugging me for some reason! Thanks!

As I'm working under deadline at the moment, I don't have much time to look up this sort of thing, and I'd be grateful for any answers your have. Just use the "E-mail your comments" button to the left.

2:18 PM


A reader, Craig Galer, writes in response to "The Dems' Religion," which I posted a little while ago:

I appreciated your blog on the religious affiliations of Democrats and Republicans. I almost despair sometimes of the political options presented to me. I CAN’T vote Democrat, and yet, there’s a lot not to love about the Republican party, all the same.

I have begun to wonder whether the time might be coming for something like the various Christian Democrat parties in Europe (although you could never call it that here). The Democrats despise Christians, and the Republicans, at best, pay us lip service; I wonder how possible it would be to build a party on the foundation of Christian ideas?

Of course, you run some odd risks by even seeming to imply that such-and-such is THE “Christian” position, at least on some issues (and at least one of the European CD parties came undone over corruption; you could not allow that — the corruption, that is — to happen). But my goodness, it gets awfully frustrating under the present scenario.

Forming a consciously Christian third party is tempting, certainly, but our system is so structured that third parties have little chance of survival as a substantial enterprise, much less of political effectiveness. But I don't think the possibility should be rejected out of hand, as do a lot of Christian conservatives, who are perhaps too close to the Republican Party to see its problems.

I am not a political scientist, but it does seem possible that were believing Christians organized in a single party they might be able to sway elections and therefore have one or the other major parties give them legislation in return. Of course, on the other hand, organizing believing Christians in a single party is probably impossible.

2:16 PM


I commend to your prayers Fr. Benedict Groeschel, the famous Franciscan priest, who was hit by a car this morning. From an e-mail letter from Deal Hudson, the editor of Crisis magazine:

Details are still sketchy, but sources say that Fr. Groeschel was walking to a restaurant in Orlando when he was hit by a car near the Orlando International Airport. He's now in intensive care at the Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical but stable condition.

We spoke with Fr. Groeschel's assistant this morning who confirmed the news, saying that the situation didn't look good. "We need nothing short of a miracle," she said.

2:06 PM


A reader, Steve Westfall, sends a link to a review of a new book titled "The War Against Grammar" by David Mulroy, a professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The review is written by Jeremiah Reedy of Macalester College and appeared in The Bryn Mawr Classical Review. The review itself offers lots of useful information and judging from the review the book is very good.

This item, from the opening paragraph, surprised even me:

One bit of grammatical advice has been drilled into students before they get to college and that is "Avoid the passive voice." It now turns out, however, that many students and some of their teachers do not know what the passive voice is. A professor of English from Ball State U. reports that students think "passive is used of sentences in which the subjects do not exert themselves. Hence . . . they (and some of their teachers) end up classifying sentences that speak of experiences — e.g. 'I feel your pain' — as passive."

12:56 PM


In the article discussed in the following blog, Ann Coulter includes a funny (sarcastic) description of the Episcopal Church Mr. Howard Dean left:

The Episcopalians don't demand much in the way of actual religious belief. They have girl priests, gay priests, gay bishops, gay marriages — it's much like the New York Times editorial board. They acknowledge the Ten Commandments — or "Moses' talking points" — but hasten to add that they're not exactly "carved in stone."

I like "Moses' talking points."

12:46 PM


I have never read anything by Ann Coulter, as fara as I remember, but a mailing I get included a link to an article of hers titled "The Democrats' Forced Conversion" which is a good, though sarcastic, summary of the Democratic candidates' discovery of religion. For example:

As has been widely reported, the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council] gingerly suggests that Democrats start referring to "God's green earth."

I assume their spinmasters chose this phrase because it combines a very general and therefore unrestricting reference to religion with a hint of environmentalism. The article includes an interesting statistic:

about a month ago, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a poll showing that people who regularly attend religious services supported Bush 63 percent to 37 percent, and those who never attend religious services opposed him 62 percent to 38 percent. When you exclude blacks (as they do in Vermont), who are overwhelmingly Baptist and overwhelmingly Democratic, and rerun the numbers, basically any white person who believes in God is a Republican.

I don't know how accurate that last claim is — "basically" is not an exact word — but certainly the great majority of white people who believe in God are Republican or at least vote Republican. They do so at least in part because the Democrats are a secularist party and actively promote things believers do not believe in.

They do so also, I suspect, because so many church-goers belong to the social classes that tend to vote Republican. By that I do not mean to ascribe their voting pattern to self-interest. Religious behavior does encourage a degree of social and economic success — intact families do better than broken ones, for example — so the relation of religion, class, and voting is a complex one, and a believer's Republican vote not to be reduced to selfishness.

See our "Godless Party" issue for more details. We argued in that issue — see particularly Leon Podles' editorial, "Voting the Christians" — that the Democratic Party had in its official positions crossed a line, which the Republican Party hadn't crossed, whatever you think about its other positions.

This Republican dominance of believing Christians seems to me a problem. The country is harmed when believers are forced into alliance with one party, because that one party may be right on some crucial matters like abortion but wrong on every other. One can defend the life of the unborn child and favor economic policies that will make his life once born very hard. (Before any of you write in protest, I am not saying which economic policies will do this.)

The situation encourages the Republicans to take believing voters for granted and encourages the Democrats to write them off — though at the moment they're trying fool them, which might work. In both cases, it leaves the parties free to ignore the believers' central concerns: the Democrats to remain the godless party and the Republicans to be, as I've suggested before, the almost godless party.

This is very bad for the country. But it is, in origin, the Democratic Party's fault. No one forced them to become so secular.

12:45 PM

Sunday, January 11


Reader Clark Wilson sends a link to an article from the Evangelical Anglican weekly newspaper CEN, "Criminal record fear for opposing homosexuality". The article refers to the Christian Institute's opposition to a new law in England that makes vocal opposition to homosexuality illegal. The last paragraph of the article reads:

According to the institute, one Christian has already been found guilty of harassment — “for merely holding a sign that said ‘Jesus is Lord . . . Stop homosexuality’,” though “thankfully” the High Court has given leave to appeal against the conviction. The institute, whose patron is Baroness Cox, a deputy speaker in the Lords, declares: “It is important that Christians do not keep their heads down over this issue. Christian liberties are being stripped away because of past silence. The institute advises Christians to put their heads far above the parapet — it’s the safest place to be.

The Christian Institute was founded by the Rev'd David Holloway, an Evangelical leader and vicar of Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and — if I may brag — a good friend of mine who has stayed with us many times. The website of Jesmond Parish Church offers many of David's articles.

You may find of interest the Institute's Annual Reviews, the 2003 version of which is titled Demolishing arguments and "focuses on the need for Christians to 'demolish arguments' that set themselves up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)." (Warning: it is a big pdf file.) Their links page and publications page are also very good.

The new law represents one kind of intolerance, in which politically powerful moral innovators threaten even the articulation of the traditional moral view, by making it a "hate crime" equivalent to racism. But there is another kind we ought to remember, the kind that stigmatizes those who argue too strongly for the traditional moral view. It is a form of intolerance often expressed by conservatives and moderates.

The newspaper — a publication generally expressing the mind I once called "latitudinarian conservatism" — refers to the Institute as "a right-wing non-denominational think tank." Not traditional or conservative, but "right-wing." Extreme, in other words. Probably harsh, simplistic, divisive, polarizing, unpastoral, and unwilling to engage in dialogue. Not, you see, the thing.

Such is the intolerance some conservatives express, indirectly to be sure, of those who share their principles but embody them in action they (the conservatives) think too confrontative: too hot for those who prefer that the Christian voice on such things be moderate, temperate, neither hot nor cold.

8:55 PM


Perhaps of interest: "Why the Next Pope Needs to Be Italian" by the Italian novelist Roberto Pazzi, from today's New York Times. He offers a rather dim argument, but it may interest you as an example of the secularized mind analyzing a religious phenomenon. For example:

"What if," then, the new pope were to be Italian? We would surely have in bioethical and sexual matters a more modern and less conservative attitude, more sympathetic to the sufferings of the multitudes in Africa who are scourged by AIDS. To these victims John Paul has obstinately refused contraception, for reasons of principle that risk becoming
complicity in what could truly be a mass extermination. It was this refusal in particular that influenced the Nobel judges in Oslo in denying him the peace prize.

But the pope has revealed the same mindset in condemning common-law and gay couples, under the influence of a family model that is more Polish than Italian, and in which sexuality has a single purpose: procreation. The inflexibility of John Paul II, the Pole who forbade abortions for Catholic nuns raped by Bosnian Muslims, recalls the severe Adrian VI, the Dutchman who wanted to destroy Michelangelo's nudes in the Sistine chapel.

The claim that in the pope's thinking "sexuality has a single purpose: procreation" is stupid, but typical of that sort of mind. Only, it thinks, were the pope the product of the sophisticated and enlightened cultures of Western Europe, then he would teach with sophistication and enlightenment, which means, in practice, letting some people make themselves sterile, others use their sexual organs in perverse ways, and some rid themselves of the unwanted products of their liberated sexuality.

All specifically religious and theological questions aside, does one really want to take a dying culture — the birthrate in Italy is among the lowest in the world and well below the replacement rate, which is the pretty much infallible sign of a dying culture — as one's canon or touchstone?

Near the end of the essay, Pazzi summarizes what he thinks a sophisticated Italian pope would return the Catholic Church to doing: wisely "mediati[ng] between historical contingency and the eternal." I don't have time to examine this one, but I would say that no Christian ought to mediate between them as if they were of equal authority and truth, but that the Christian must mediate the eternal to the contingent, which is rather different.

7:18 PM


In the following blog I reported that we have asked Daryl Charles and Anthony Esolen to become contributing editors of Touchstone and they graciously agreed. We will be asking a few more people, whose names I will announce when we've heard from them.

I should explain, for those of you who are interested, that we try to restrict our list of Contributing Editors to those who substantially share the mind of the magazine and are committed to its work, which for most of them means agreeing to write two or three articles a year, promote it among their colleagues and friends, and help in other ways when asked.

We don't want to put people on the masthead just to have the names of people who are willing to have their names put on, but haven't any real interest in or commitment to the magazine. A lot of people, especially biggies, are happy to help out by loaning their names but not by actually doing anything. Some magazines include long lists of biggies who don't have anything much to do with the magazine, but this seems to us just a bit too inaccurate.

More on this later, as we hear from those we're going to invite.

7:01 PM


Mere Comments has been silent for the last few days because the editors (Jim Kushiner, the senior editors, and me) have all been at our winter editors' meeting, along with two guests. I should have posted a note about this, but forgot.

We meet every year in early January to review the magazine, plan for the future, read manuscripts, and the like. And simply to spend time together. Touchstone is a collegial enterprise and our work is helped by the sort of knowledge and comfort with one another that friends receive — it is a gift — from spending time with each other. Occasionally this helps keep us from killing each other. (Metaphorically speaking. Most of the time.)

This year we invited two guests, Daryl Charles and Anthony Esolen. We also invited them to become contributing editors to the magazine and they graciously accepted. They thanked us, even, when we thought we should be thanking them.

Daryl is a professor of religion and philosophy at Taylor University Indiana and is serving this year as a visiting fellow of Baylor University's Institute for Faith and Learning. His latest book is The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism (IVP). His last article for us was "Between Pacifism and Jihad," which appeared in November. Daryl is a Baptist.

Anthony is a professor of English at Providence College. He has recently published his translations of Dante's Interno and Purgatory in the Modern Library series (i.e., the big time) and his translation of the Paradise is coming out in August. His first article for us was "What Sports Illustrate" in the October issue, and we have two more articles of his in the hopper. Anthony is a Catholic ("Esolen" is an Ellis Island adaptation of Isolani — which I may have misspelled — Italian for "the islander.")

6:56 PM

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