Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
An item probably of more interest to Catholic and perhaps to Orthodox readers than others: an intereview with Archimandrite Robert Taft, S.J.. Fr. Taft is both a Jesuit and a priest of an Eastern Catholic Church (a Catholic Church loyal to the papacy with an Eastern liturgy and discipline).
THE TIMES ON THE PASSION:
One last article of possible interest for those of you keeping up on media coverage of The Passion, this from The New York Times: Some Christians See 'Passion' as Evangelism Tool. I list it mainly because it is remarkably balanced, given where it appeared, though it won't tell you anything you don't know already.
DANCING TO O'CONNOR'S WORDS:
A story you probably wouldn't have expected: an interview with a choreographer, Bill T. Jones, who has created a dance based on Flannery O'Connor's story "The Artificial Nigger": The Sincerest Form of Flannery, from last Sunday's New York Times. He chose the story, he said, because
I have for so long been trying to get away from messages or obvious meaning in my work. And not to be condescending to writers, but I always think writers work with something more tangible than dancers do in terms of words and what they mean. For me, dance is free of the literal. But then I ran into a story that stopped me in my tracks because I again realized there was real power in words.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer asks him if he is cynically using the title word and he responds:
Well, I'm a little offended. That's an unfair question to ask me. You can ask that of any artist who's trying to do something that's strong. We live in a very mediocre world. It doesn't take much to shock people. And quite frankly billions are made with the tripe that Hollywood puts out.
You put a pair of well-shaped breasts on a billboard and a catchy title and you're guaranteed to make millions. I'm not doing that, now am I? This is not an easy piece to watch.
He had previously explained what he was trying to do in a way that should have avoided the stupid question. After explaining that O'Connor was doing in her story what he is doing in his dance, he said:
I am caught in an ambiguous and ambivalent place. As an artist I say I am past it. I live my life in a completely mixed world. I have the anger of a descendant of slaves. I know my grandmother watched her mother whipped. I have been called nigger. But the fact is I am moving forward. That's my job as an artist. The stage should be a place where that word, an ugly, irredeemable epithet, is tested in a particular fire, in the fire of unbridled imagination.
In a world of politicized art — which is, I suspect, what the interviewer expected and wanted — two craftsman can find an unexpected respect and an agreement in what they are trying to do.
READING NATURE TWO WAYS:
An article of the sort that offers a lot of information but doesn't actually prove anything one way or the other: from today's New York Times, Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name, a review of homosexual behavior among animals.
Homosexualists argue that this proves that homosexuality is natural. The American Psychiatric Association, for example, cited Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity [St. Martin's Press, 1999] in its "friend of the court" brief for Lawrence v. Texas. But the argument can be put in two opposite ways, though the writer tilts her description to one answer rather than the other (this is the Times, after all):
if homosexuality occurs among animals, does that necessarily mean that it is natural for humans, too? And that raises a familiar question: if homosexuality is not a choice, but a result of natural forces that cannot be controlled, can it be immoral?
The scientists doing these studies themselves are clearer about this:
Still, scientists warn about drawing conclusions about humans. "For some people, what animals do is a yardstick of what is and isn't natural," Mr. Vasey [from the University of Lethbridge] said. "They make a leap from saying if it's natural, it's morally and ethically desirable."
But he added: "Infanticide is widespread in the animal kingdom. To jump from that to say it is desirable makes no sense. We shouldn't be using animals to craft moral and social policies for the kinds of human societies we want to live in. Animals don't take care of the elderly. I don't particularly think that should be a platform for closing down nursing homes."
Mr. Bagemihl is also wary of extrapolating. "In Nazi Germany, one very common interpretation of homosexuality was that it was animalistic behavior, subhuman," he said.
Something related to the following item, this from yesterday's OpinionJournal:
An Associated Press dispatch on Mel Gibson's forthcoming "The Passion," a movie about the life of Christ, notes:
*** QUOTE ***
Gibson's movie, with dialogue in Latin and Aramaic and English subtitles, is set to open on 2,000 screens nationwide -- an unusually large release for an independent religious film made in dead languages.
*** END QUOTE ***
So how big is the usual release for independent religious films made in dead languages?
I am almost sure the AP writer was trying to be subtly rude, and it's nice to see the attempt backfiring.
For more news about The Passion, see Passion update. It includes:
— the site to find where the movie is playing;
— answers to frequently asked questions; and
— the news about the movie.
The latest message also included this announcement:
GIBSON TO APPEAR ON US's ABC PRIMETIME
For those in the US, you now have a chance to see Mel Gibson interviewed about "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson has done very little, if any, interviews regarding the film, so this should be very insightful. Diane Sawyer will interview Mel Gibson and it will air on a special edition of "Primetime," in which Mel Gibson will address the controversy surrounding the film. The interview will air on Monday, February 16 from 10:00-11:00pm ET (9:00 p.m. CT.) on the ABC Television Network. This will air only 9 days before the film is released!
An interesting website I came across while researching a book review: the website of the American Coptic Association. Most of it is written in Arabic but you can find many English-language links. The Copts are among our Christian brothers round the world suffering from Muslim persecution.
One of the few Coptic churches in the United States is about ten minutes away. I have only visited during the week, but a friend who went on a Sunday — a rather low church Evangelical friend — said that he found the worship quite moving. He was interesting also to notice in one of the pillars near the front an LED screen with changing numbers and could not figure out what it was for. At first he thought it must be a clock but if so it was broken as the numbers kept changing. It was only a couple of hours into the liturgy that he realized the numbers referred to the page numbers in the service book.
GROWING IN THE GESIMAS:
A lesson in liturgical history and a meditation for next Sunday by our contributing editor Peter Toon:
Introduction to Septuagesima
As the Church moves through the Christian Year from Epiphany to Lent she passes through three Sundays which have to modern ears strange titles. Septuagesima, Sexagesima, & Quinquagesima are in fact three Latin words and they indicate how far away we are from Easter – that is, 70, 60 & 50 days respectively. From the fifth century after Christ these Sundays emerged as a preparatory cycle for Lent in the West.
The Latin names arose by analogy with Quadragesima, the first Sunday in Lent, known as the “fortieth day” before Easter. Quinquagesima is exactly fifty days before Easter but Sexagesima (60) and Septuagesima (70) are only approximations.
In Rome and the West, Septuagesima (the 70th) day before Easter was regarded as the beginning of the preparation for Easter and thus it was natural to attract to itself the theme of The Beginning, that is the Creation of the world by the Father through the Son and with the Holy Ghost. (Thus there began the reading of Genesis on this day in the monastic Daily Offices.)
In the Church of the East in the Byzantine tradition there also emerged a cycle of preparation before Lent proper, with the last two Sundays being known as “Meatfare” and “Cheesefare” Sundays. There is partial fasting between these two Sundays and then Lent begins on the Monday which is known as “Clean Monday,” with no meat or cheese.
In the West, in the modern post 1960s Roman Catholic and Anglican Prayer Books, the “Gesimas” have been abolished. However, they remain part of the Christian Year in The Book of Common Prayer. They serve to place worshippers today in a long tradition of regarding Lent to be so important as a preparation for Easter, the Feast of Feasts, as to require for itself a preliminary preparation. So the “Gesimas” are a preparation for the Preparation.
The Collect for Septuagesima which begins the short cycle anticipates two chief ideas of Lent — the confession of our sin and its just punishment, and the prayer for forgiveness from God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Thus in these three weeks the faithful begin to turn their minds to Lent, its solemnity and how they will keep it, in joining with their Lord in his fasting, meditating, praying and resisting temptation in the wilderness.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
SEPTUAGESIMA or The Third Sunday before Lent
O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 Gospel: St Matthew 20:1-16.
This week the Church in the West has traditionally begun her initial preparation for Lent. In this period of three Sundays and eighteen days until Ash Wednesday the Church as a whole and each member in particular are given the opportunity to work out the approach to Lent and the discipline to be followed in Lent. The Gospel through a parable of Jesus declares that God is debtor to no man and that everything he gives us is of his amazing grace. In contrast the Epistle urges us to give ourselves wholly to the service of God and to dedicate ourselves totally to his kingdom.
The spiritual tone that this Collect calls for and presents is one of penitence and humility before the all-seeing, all-knowing, wholly just and yet wholly merciful God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Our sins represent disobedience to him as the Law-giver, rebellion against him as the Master, pride before him as the Holy Lord, and irreverence before him as the universal Judge.
Yet, after self-examination, with repentant hearts and penitent souls, and looking unto Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son and Mediator between God and man, we can and must place ourselves before him, casting ourselves upon his goodness and mercy, made known unto us in the same Lord Jesus Christ. This is the spirit that will be deepened and extended during Lent, as we seek to draw near to God the Father through the sole merits and meditation of his Son.
The key verb is this Petition is “delivered”, that we may be mercifully delivered or liberated from the captivity and bondage of sin, by which we are tied as with chains that we cannot break.
Happily, the emphasis upon our sinfulness is matched in this Collect by the full emphasis upon the mediation of the Son, who in the final words, we recall and recognize is truly exalted to the Father’s right hand in glory to reign there as the King of kings and to be unto us the exalted Prophet, Priest and King. In fact the Collect ends with the glorifying of the Blessed Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
For more of Peter's writings, see the website of his parish in England, Christ Church, Biddulph Moor
and the blogsite of the American Prayer Book Society
Readers near Pittsburgh may want to know about the 2004 Pittsburgh Classical Education Conference, in part it features our new contributing editor Peter Leithart. Peter will present the keynote address, "Deep Comedy: The Shape of Western Literature" (a version of which will be appearing soon in Touchstone), the closing address, "Liturgy, Laughter, and Christian Education,"and workshops on "Real Men Read Austen" and "Shakespeare as a Christian Playwright."
The conference is being held Saturday, March 6th, at a church near the intersection of I-79 and Rt 65 (just to the east of the point at which I-79 crosses the Ohio River north of Pittsburgh).
On February 2, the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, in a secret ballot voted 150 – 106 to withdraw the credentials of Rev. Parker Williamson (a colleague and friend), a Presbyterian minister (Presbyterian Church, USA) for 32 years. He is publisher of the Presbyterian Layman and director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee.
His crime? In Declaration of Conscience issued by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Presbyterian ministers, officers and members are urged to respond to "our erosion of faith and life" in the PCUSA by "prayerfully considering" redirecting their tithes and offerings away from programs and activities in the denomination that are "not demonstrably faithful to the Gospel."
Williamson was present at the meeting at which he was charged, and during his testimony, members saw and heard the following:
Holding up an offering plate, [Williamson] asked commissioners to "take a close look at this offering plate. As an act of worship, we pass it among our parishioners. Then we dedicate our gifts to the Lord Jesus Christ."
"Does anyone here think that our responsibilities end with that prayer of dedication? Please hear me, especially those of you who are elders. We have a sacred responsibility to ensure that offerings we dedicate to Jesus glorify Jesus and attest to the life that He has called us to live.
"But there is bad news: More than $500,000 from this offering annually funds a Washington lobby that advocates the unthinkable: Our offerings have blessed crushing the skulls of little children as they emerge from the womb. Is it not an abomination that the president and Congress have adopted a higher ethic than the Presbyterian Church (USA)?
"But, tragically, there's more. With these offerings we have funded speakers who ask, 'What's the big deal about Jesus;' official committees that place Jesus on a par with the goddess Sophia, Gaia the earth mother, and Buddha; and the salaries of seminary professors who deny the atonement and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"If we know that is happening--and the evidence is incontrovertible — how in God's name can we fund it with offerings that we have dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ?
The majority didn't buy his defense. The dilemma he poses, of course, can be applied to many other denominations. The powers that be do not want you to think about it. Williamson vows to fight the action of the presbytery.
TWO BOILING FROGS:
Two articles of possible interest from today's Wall Street Journal:
— Peggy Noonan's Janet Jackson and the Frog; and
— Mitt Romney's A citizen's guide to protecting marriage (Romney is the governor of Massachusetts).
SEARCHING THE TOUCHSTONE SITE:
Our marketing director Ken Tanner sends this helpful instruction for searching the Touchstone website:
Here's a very helpful Google command that our designer and I
use to search the content of our website.
1) Go to www.google.com.
2) In the search window, type: site:touchstonemag.com WORD or PHRASE.
Note: It's important a) not to put a space between "site:" and "touchstone", and b) to put the space between the end of our "touchstonemag.com" and the word or (yes) phrase you wish to search for.
This command searches everything: Touchstone articles, Mere Comments, Daily Reflections, Tables of Content, etc., etc. When our Touchstone archive is published, this same command will search that database, too.
The archive he refers to is now being developed by our designer. When finished — it
is a huge project — it will contain almost everything from the early years
of the magazine and a selection of articles from the last two years.
Developing the archive requires a considerable investment. We are doing it as a way of extending the magazine's work and ministry. We work rather hard on the articles we publish — clear writing doesn't come easily — and would like them to be as useful to as many people as possible. I might note that for this and other reasons you might consider supporting the magazine financially.
EVANGELIZING WITH (THE) PASSION:
Probably of more interest to Catholic readers than others: a new site Catholic Passion Outreach helping people use the new movie The Passion to share the Gospel with others. It is sponsored by Catholic Exchange.com and Ascension Press. The press release I got read in part:
Catholic Passion Outreach offers a turn-key program for dioceses and parishes, including free downloadable small group manuals, ready-made pulpit announcements and posters, and a flyer called "12 Ways to Share A Guide to the Passion."
The two groups have also prepared A Guide to the Passion
a 70-page book that answers 100 questions about the movie. Matthew Pinto, president of Ascension Press, calls it "the definitive Catholic resource book on the subject, adding that this low-cost book is designed to be used as a free giveaway to moviegoers. The book also has a chapter on "The Case for Christ" and the story of the founding and growth of the Catholic Church. Devotional prayers, such as the Stations of the Cross and Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, are included as appendices.
"We wanted to create a piece that offered a scene-by-scene analysis of the movie, both from an artistic and theological perspective. The book needed to be inviting, appealing to the casual moviegoer who may not be active in any faith, yet also rich in faith content," explained Pinto. "People are going to have questions as they watch the movie. This book will give them the answers."
The release included a phone number: 800-376-0520.
A reader from Minnesota writes in response to Advertising Scoundrels:
I've been mulling over your post whose title is in my subject line for a few days now, looking for the right response. The concerns expressed in Bishop Herbert's remarks remind me of nothing more than the rather odd alliance between business conservatives and cultural conservatives which has built the present Republican majority in our country.
There is a fundamental and, as far as I can see, irreconcilable difference between these two blocs; to the buisiness conservative, questions of value distill down to the bottom line, and that means following the market research wherever it may lead. If training three year olds to scream and cry for the latest doodad or breakfast cereal will please the stockholders, then that's the right thing to do.
But it's not just children. These days every possible identifier has the word "market" after it; not least of which, as has been remarked upon in Mere Comments recently, the identifier "Christian." We don't have patients, or even sick people, anymore; it's "health care consumers." And so on. There is a fundamental clash of values here; is the profit motive, the hallowed free enterprise system, the overriding value of this majority, or is there something that trumps it?
As a Christian who is neither a conservative (of either sort) nor a Republican, I'm watching to see how long it can hold together. They can't have it both ways indefinitely. They must decide what their "First Things" are. To paraphrase the Lord, you cannot be both the party of God and the party of Commerce.
EPISCOPAL GIVING DROPPING FAST:
According to the Anglican journalist David Virtue, giving to Episcopal churches is way, way down.
Funds are being withheld at record levels: They are down $1.2 million in Nth. Carolina; $900,000 in Virginia, $950,000 in D.C. and a senior warden said that the cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC is down $3 million in pledges for 2004 and so on. This takes two forms. The first is a deliberate withholding of funds to the diocese by wealthy parishes, and secondly those parishes that are not taking in enough to pay their diocesan pledge over and above their assessment. (One is mandatory the other is optional). At St. John's Cathedral, in Albuquerque, N.M., Dean Alan G. Dennis noted the cathedral had a shortfall of $300,000 to meet basic mission needs. Pledges are down $107,000 from a year ago, according to last Sunday's (January 25) bulletin. This is being repeated across the nation.
The drop doesn't always reflect dissatisfaction with the Episcopal Church's policies, as David suggests, since the parishioners at St. John the Divine in New York City -- which could be called, at times, the biggest Buddhist temple in the city -- are not likely to be theological conservatives. But some of it does.
My thanks to Classical Anglican News Network
for the link.
HOW MANY DEAD BOYS IS A BISHOP ALLOWED?
When the American bishops adopted a zero-tolerance policy a few bishops disagreed:
Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, NY said the policy is "not consistent with who we are as a faith community, which believes in forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation." He noted the bishops issued a pastoral letter a year ago on crime which "rejected one strike and you're out," and promoted restorative justice and rehabilitation.
Hubbard may have had a personal interest in the matter. According to Newsday
(see also the Troy Record)
The brother of a man who killed himself 26 years ago accused Catholic Bishop Howard Hubbard of sexual abuse on Wednesday.
Andy Zelay says his brother set himself afire in their parents' home in 1978, distraught over abuse he says occurred at the hands of Hubbard, who has been Albany's bishop since 1977. Zelay's lawyer, John Aretakis, produced two undated notes he said were written by Tom Zelay. One was handwritten and signed by "Tom" _ the other was typed and unsigned. In the notes, the writer refers to a "decadent and sinful" relationship with "Howard" and makes several references to the bishop.
The district attorney has been asked to sort out the facts (why? There is no prosecution stemming from the allegations).
The accusation could be fraudulent – but the brother could have concocted better evidence.
The abuse may never have happened, but the mentally disturbed brother who committed suicide may have had a delusion that it had happened.
Or the abuse may have happened; abusers choose emotionally vulnerable victims because they do not make convincing witnesses.
In any case, it is only one victim, and it was so long ago, and the ultra-liberal Hubbard, like Archbishop Weakland, has done such wonderful work in transforming his diocese, that his supporters will probably allow him one dead boy, even if the allegations look like they are true.
A BORING PASSION:
Here is a perversely interesting interview about The Passion with an assistant pastor at Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco, the Rev'd Mark Stanger: The Passion of Apostates" from a website called The Evangelical Outpost. Mr. Stanger thinks the movie "100% Hollywood trash" and "a great bore." And, he says,
I think a 5-year-old who has to get cancer surgery and radiation and chemotherapy suffers more than Jesus suffered; I think that a kid in the Gaza Strip who steps on a land mine and loses two limbs suffers more; I think a battered wife with no resources suffers more; I think people without medical care dying of AIDS in Africa suffer more than Jesus did that day. I mean, I don't want to take away from that, but this preoccupation with the intensity of the suffering, I think, has no theological or spiritual value.
From one point of view, the whole interview is appalling, and from another it is actually very funny. But -- and I don't mean to be sentimental about this -- from a third it is deeply saddening. What must it be like to be a man this lost, this foolish?
I really don't want to be sentimental, but along with the outrage and the amusement we feel when reading such words we should feel the need to pray for this man and to pray that his teaching will not hurt others. Not least because many of us have treated Christianity with the same contempt as he does and only by grace did we come to see. Canon Stanger is an idiot, but a lot of us -- including me -- were no less idiotic than he. That is a lesson The Passion
might teach us.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
My thanks to Titus OneNine
for the link and to the Classical Anglican News Network
for the link to Titus OneNine.
BAPTISTS PART WAYS:
An article from the Baptist Press service, a Southern Baptist organization, some of you may be interested in: The BWA: reasons for parting ways. The BWA is the Baptist World Alliance, which the Southern Baptists seem about to leave.
LESS BIBLE IN THE PASSION:
Disturbing news, if true, from today's New York Times, Gibson to Delete a Scene in 'Passion':
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 3 — Mel Gibson, responding to focus groups as much as to protests by Jewish critics, has decided to delete a controversial scene about Jews from his film, "The Passion of the Christ," a close associate said today.
A scene in the film, in which the Jewish high priest Caiaphas calls down a kind of curse on the Jewish people by declaring of the Crucifixion, "His blood be on us and on our children," will not be in the movie's final version, said the Gibson associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
This is one of those matters that leaves most of us not quite sure what to think. Anyone can understand Jewish sensitivity to this verse (Matthew 27:25) and its abuse by anti-semites for twenty centuries, but it is part of the Passion story, part of the Christian story, part of the revelation, which is to say, a verse any believing Christian believes is in the text for a reason.
We are, in other words, stuck with it. The text is not ours to change. Scripture is ours to understand and to live out, and to share with others. And one of the truths we must understand and live out is that each one of us willfully sent our Lord to die. The Christian who uses these words as an excuse to persecute Jewish people has not understood or has rejected -- for either of which he is culpable -- what the New Testament tells us so clearly about our own guilt in sending our Lord to the Cross.
You and I yell "crucify him" every time we sin. You and I say "his blood be upon me and my children" when we choose evil and forsake the good, which most of us do with alarming frequency. The men who said this that day in Jerusalem are no more villains than you or I. (No less villains, either.)
Many of the objections to the film alleged anti-semitism are in effect demands that it rewrite the story, which is to remake Christianity in a form more acceptable to others. Christians may fully deserve the demand, because so many Christians have acted treated Jews despicably. But it is a demand the Christian must nevertheless decline, because they are only stewards of the story, not its editors.
WHAT MOVIES YOUTH WATCH:
A press release that may be of interest:
According to researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion, religious tradition appears to have some relationship to the movie viewing habits of U.S. teenagers. Only 17 percent of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 who say their religious faith is extremely important in shaping how they live their daily lives report that all or most of the movies and videos they watch are R-rated. In contrast, 48 percent of teens who say that religious faith is not important at all in shaping how they live their daily lives report that all or most of the movie and videos they watch are R-rated. Less than 1 percent of teens surveyed reported watching no movies.
To read the entire story, visit our website www.youthandreligion.org. PDFs are best viewed in Acrobat 5.0.
THE POOR BISHOP:
A sensible and enjoyable item titled And now . . . idiots from the Midwestern Conservative Journal. The writer is commenting, with some obvious frustration, on a comment by the Episcopal Bishop of Missouri on the new Catholic Archbishop of St. Louis (the writer is an Episcopalian).
For those of you interested in politics: Cultural gap: Southern Democrats more conservative from the Baptist Press, reporting on the Pew Research Center's recently released study. It found, for example,
The study, released Jan. 30, finds that southern Democrats oppose the legalization of same-sex "marriage" by a margin of 65-26. That stands in contrast to non-southern Democrats, who favor legalization by a 51-42 percent margin.
In addition, Democrats in the South are more likely to say that religion plays an important role in their lives. Fifty-seven percent of southern Democrats but only 38 percent of non-southern Democrats say they frequently use their religious beliefs to make daily decisions.
An interesting article I found while looking for someone's address: Classical Childplay, about the life of children in ancient Greece, subject of a new museum exhibit created by a professor at the College of William and Mary.
Children in ancient Greece were loved: loved, nurtured and coddled. Although many scholars of historical civilizations resist such conclusions, John Oakley, chair of the College’s department of classical studies, is convinced. Kids were both adored and indulged — some, no doubt, by doting parents and ingratiating nannies far past the point of becoming spoiled brats. Oakley finds the whole scenario both delightful and reassuring.
. . . Although the fact that such scenes exist attest to the fact that the Greeks did not merely view children as miniature adults — a common approach in both ancient and more recent cultures—it does not mean that childhood in ancient Greece was idyllic. Oakley admits the charges of skeptics: there was child slavery, child molestation, the practice of abandoning children to their fates — practices which were accepted then but would be considered criminal in society today. He adds that child mortality was incredibly high — ”a third of them did not survive the first two months,” he suggests.
FYI: Our senior editor James Hitchcock has an article in the February issue of First Things examining "The Enemies of Religious Liberty." It examines the "cluster of political and legal theorists in the academy" for whom "religious liberty is a pernicious idea." The article is not yet on the magazine's website.
FYI # 2: His two volume work Religion and the Supreme Court will be published later this year by Princeton University Press. It will be, I am sure, the definitive work.
EVANGELIZING THE NECROPOLIS:
Robert Hart, pastor of a continuing Anglican parish in Maryland, writes this morning:
Steve Hutchens writes, in the Blog, HAUNTING THE NECROPOLIS:
But examine your motives for staying in, and consider whether it is good stewardship of the life you have been given to invest it in the reform of ECUSA.
When I was still in ECUSA it dawned on me, after helping to evangelize someone who had previously been completely outside of the Christian faith, that I could not, in good conscience, bring him into my own church, despite the comparatively healthy condition of my Parish. We were busy fighting heresy, struggling against the corrupt authority of the institution, and resisting the power of our bishop. Our own stand within our Diocese was one of being defensive against satanic influence from the very apostolic office which was supposed to be pastoral, and was supposed to represent Christ. This is worse than simply a waste of time.
First of all, it teaches us to see the men who are in the office of Bishop as being the representatives of Satan; but, real bishops are the successors of the apostles, in fact, are part of the company of the apostles. Is it not wrong to waste one's time struggling against an anti-pastor, one who is, in his teaching, an antichrist? Does it not teach us to be distant from what we percieve of as being the Church? In such a circumstance, are we truly living in an apostolic community of which Christ is the Head?
Secondly, as Steve Hutchens has put it, the question is whether it is good stewardship of your life. I recently heard a room full of conservative Episcopalians reacting to the Robinson episode (see the upcoming March issue, by the way) by their obvious agreement with the words of one fellow, "we have a church worth fighting for." St Jude tells us to earnestly contend for the faith, but is that the same thing as earnestly contending for an institution which has embraced apostasy?
Nathan Hale comes to mind: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Applying that to our spiritual country, I could not think it wise to waste that one life on a denomination that keeps me preoccupied with constant issues of progressively worse heresies, built upon a clearly established foundation of apostasy. Far better to live pro-actively than re-actively; to live in order to further the evangelistic mission of the Church.
Therefore, I left the Episcopal Church, and am working with a truly apostolic bishop, in a diocese that is engaged in the missionary work of trying to be a light to the world.
And, I have no hesitation in saying to Episopalians here on Maryland's Eastern Shore, about their own diocese of ECUSA, "Come out of her my people, that ye be not partaker of her sins"- or, rather, words to that effect.
RUSSELL KIRK REMEMBERED:
A reader has forwarded an announcement of a meeting for students called "Roots at the Ranch: A Russell Kirk Seminar" sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom. It will be held in Santa Barbara, California, on March 26th and 27th, 2004. I know nothing about it other than the announcement, but here is the registration page.
Kirk was an early supporter of Touchstone and a great influence upon several of the founders. We ran two articles on him in the June 2003 issue.
OUT WITH THE TV:
David Hibbs wrote twice in response to yesterday's comments on the Super Bowl and television. In the first message he argued that people should throw out the tv and in the second:
Thinking again about the comments on the Superbowl: here is a short article from one of our teenagers on TV: www.bruderhof.com/articles/teenvoices/asenath.htm.
We don't watch television and I think that one of the best decisions my wife and I made for our family. It is not without its legitimate pleasures and uses, but the effect even of moderate and controlled viewing seems to me generally bad.
The problem is not just the content most people slide into watching but the effect of the medium itself even if you watch only good shows. The control it takes of your schedule -- having to stop what you're doing at a particular time to watch a particular show -- is among the worst.
A regular reader sends this:
Memento mori, or, Last Things on the Web in Late Winter:
The eloquent Philip Larkin reading his last major poem, "Aubade"
His good friend (and a believer), the novelist Barbara Pym says through a sensible character, 'Timor mortis conturbat me'?
If we have hope in Christ only in this life, we are of all men most pitiable (1 Co 15:19).
(Larkin audio via reference Terry Teachout's ArtsJournal.
For what it's worth (i.e. if any of you care), I like Larkin's poetry a great deal, especially
the melancholic agnostic poems.
Were I not a Christian I could easily be that sort of post-Christian: unable to believe in all the religious and secular alternatives to Christianity a still religious society offers, from marxism to new age buddhism, but equally unable to abandon a taste for the ultimate and eternal and thus unable to throw myself into living for the moment, and making business and pleasure my gods. (Larkin himself lived rather more for the moment than his poetry would suggest.)
This kind of life seems to me more civilized than the alternatives, which treat Christianity as if it were a taste now outgrown, like one outgrows sugary breakfast cereals or stuffed toys. Especially as so many people never really outgrow the cereal and toys but change the forms in which they take them to more "adult" forms of pleasure: into dinners at exotic restaurants and big houses, for example, part of whose pleasure is simply in consuming and being seen to consume.
At least the melancholic agnostic realizes what we have lost, and mourns it.
Another reader, Ralph Grabowski of upFront.eZine Publishing, responds to Jim Kushiner's "Super Bowl Censorship":
A similar event occurred during the Winter Olympics, when (secular) messages/signs from the audience were "censored" by tv networks. I suspect the explanation given then, applies to the SuperBowl game:
The only written messages that CBS can transmit are those from advertisers. So, the censorship is blanket -- all signs are digitally erased before transmission to the viewer.
Advertisers pay huge amounts at the SuperBowl and the Olympics, so they demand much. As the editor of an e-newsletter that accepts advertising, I know that advertisers are picky about placement, adjacency to other advertisers, getting their message out, etc.
A LESSON FOR NON-PURITANS:
Regular reader David Gustafson responds to the item Jim Kushiner's posted this morning, "Super Bowl Censorship":
James Kushiner observes that "Nothing on television is safe for your kids anymore". Quite true. Early Sunday evening, when my 10-year-old asked if he could go next door to watch the Super Bowl with his buddy, the much-ballyhooed Super Bowl commercials were on my mind. I said yes he could go -- but only if his buddy's dad (a reliable father) was manning the remote control. I felt a little unhappy to be the prudish, over-cautious control freak, but I stuck to my guns.
My son returned soon with the report that the situation next door was unclear, so we watched about half of the game together at our own house. Because of my own busy management of the remote control, we missed most of the erectile dysfunction ads (with their side-effect warnings about four-hour priapism, a friend told me), and the ads featuring horse flatulence. Warned by the promos of the half-time show, we turned the TV off altogether for that segment (and missed both the planned "bump-and-grind" simulations of sex acts in the dirty dancing, as well as the supposedly unplanned bearing of Janet Jackson's breast).
I tucked my son into bed before the bestiality ad (a chimpanzee propositioning a pretty girl). To me, this experience vindicated my prudish, over-cautious control freak approach. But don't even the non-Puritans take a lesson from this?
By next year, won't even non-prudes be cautious? I hope so. I hope that, when deciding whether and in what circumstances to watch the Super Bowl, many parents will think that the remote control management necessary to make this event watchable for the family the event is just too demanding.
Surely the networks and their advertisers don't want us to be making decisions about whether it's safe to let our kids watch the Super Bowl.
HAUNTING THE NECROPOLIS
A reader rightly calls me on this statement, made in one of my recent blogs:
"I do not now believe that the faults of churches like this can be avoided by fleeing to others that are better, for, having spent my own time sojourning in the wilderness, I am now skeptical that the 'better church' we once sought is available on the terms we sought it. I do think that these churches, and all churches, whatever their faults, can be saved by serious self-examination and reform, doing what must be done to correct the flaws in their histories, such as the Lord calls the churches in Asia in the prologue to the Book of Revelation to do . . . . If the Lord commands these changes, they are possible, and the time to begin is now. . . ."
She asks me if I "also make these comments and endorse these words for those of us in ECUSA?"
No, I do not. My comments here can only apply to bodies that are still, strictly speaking, churches, that have not, because of their unamended transgressions, had the light of their witness removed by the Lord. The New Testament calls upon us to recognize a fundamental difference between churches that are sick and those that are dead.
In my judgment, that of a close observer of church pathology over many years in many denominations, ECUSA is one of the latter. Now, this is only a doctor's opinion, and not infallible, but in my experience no body in this state of advanced decomposition has been revived. Its seed only lives when separated and rooted elsewhere. The corpse itself simply continues to decompose, and those who stay with it usually do the same. If the Lord tells you something different, gives you a special mortuary assignment, as it were, who am I to dispute him? But examine your motives for staying in, and consider whether it is good stewardship of the life you have been given to invest it in the reform of ECUSA.
SUPER BOWL CENSORSHIP
Most of the world has heard (and many, no doubt saw) the big news about the Super Bowl yesterday. No, not the score, but the baring of pop singer Janet Jackson’s right breast at the finale of the half-time show. Of course the network, CBS, "deeply regrets the incident that occurred during the Super Bowl halftime show . . . The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended."
Pop singer Justin Timberlake, who was performing with Jackson, tore off the molded cup of Jackson’s bustier, leaving her breast exposed. He issued his own apology. "I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl," he said. "It was not intentional and is regrettable." (Wardrobe malfunction?)
Of course the whole performance was offensive, including a number of bump-and-grind moves. Nothing on television is safe for your kids anymore (and offensive, often enough, to adults).
But enough about that. CBS did in fact practice some very aggressive censorship last night, if I am not mistaken. After a while I noticed when looking at the end zones shots you always get when a team is attempting a field goal or an extra point, that some fans were holding up bright yellow poster boards that were, apparently, blank. Why in the world would someone hold up bright yellow blank poster boards? When I looked more closely at the “posters,” it was apparent that they were digitally enhanced, blocking out some lettering behind the yellow. Now these posters were situated where I normally see “John 3:16” posters at football games, including the Super Bowl.
Perhaps someone has additional information about this, such as a shot of the end zone without bright yellow digital censorship to show what the suspect posters said. I would not be surprised if they did, in fact, proclaim, John 3:16.
If true, given what was uncensored and mildly apologized for (to “those who were offended,” not that it was objectively wrong) in the halftime show, the censorship of a Bible reference only seems to prove, sadly, that certain powers truly do love the darkness.
An article on a congregation in Washington, D.C., you may find of interest: The Medium is the Messiah by Chris Lehmann, the deputy editor of The Washington Post Book World. It is subtitled "A media-savvy church embraces virtual faith" and begins:
The lights come up as the strains of U2's megahit "Beautiful Day" fade behind the testimony of Mark Batterson, leader of Washington's National Community Church: "God has strategically positioned us in the marketplace, which is right where we want to be." In fact, the market calls for Batterson, known to his congregation as "Pastor Mark," to be in two places at once: on the big screen in Cinema 1 of the Ballston Common Mall's Regal 12 Multiplex in Arlington, Virginia; and in the actual flesh, preparing to stand in front of that screen and deliver his sermon to the more than 300 souls gathered here for the September 21 launch of the church's new franchise.
This moment of interfacing personas says a lot about the NCC's ministry. For the past seven years, the church has been meeting, and flourishing, in the leased virtual spaces of the multiplex world, in what are arguably the mainstream culture's most hallowed places of icon worship and — as the NCC itself likes to point out — home to a rich vein of popular theological themes that Batterson is eager to tap.
This site, called The Revealer
is published by the department of journalism and the Center for Religion and Media at New York University and has an often interesting blogsite
— rather different in perspective from this one, I should note — and offers a useful Links page
with links to journals from nearly every religion and religious group (it calls Touchstone
, the next generation," which I rather like).
Among the items of interest on the site is Religiously Ignorant Journalists
by Christian Smith, the Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor of Sociology, which originally appeared in Books & Culture
Our contributing editor Peter Toon, an Anglican theological of some note (weight, fame, etc.) sends this from www.americananglican.org/News:
Ramifications of ECUSA's Actions
January 30, 2004
These are some of the ramifications that have been reported as of the end of December 2003. The fallout is expected to continue in 2004.
1. The following Churches have postponed or suspended dialogue with the Episcopal and/or Anglican Church:
• Roman Catholic Church
• Russian Orthodox Church
• Coptic Orthodox Church
• Syrian Orthodox Church
• Armenian Orthodox Church
2. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox have expressed solidarity with orthodox Episcopalians, as have the worldwide leaders of the Anglican Communion. The Russian Orthodox Church specifically expressed a desire to “maintain contacts and cooperation with those members of the Episcopal Church in the USA who clearly declared their loyalty to the moral teaching of the Holy Gospel and the Ancient Undivided Church.”
3. Interfaith Dialogue Meeting Between the Anglican Communion and Al Azhar Al Sharif, one of the most authoritative centers of the Islamic World, was cancelled because of Muslim outrage over the consecration.
International Anglican Communion
1. Nine provinces within the Anglican Communion (representing over 38 million Anglicans – a majority), have announced they are in some form of impaired or broken communion with ECUSA:
• South East Asia
• Central Africa
• Southern Cone (South America)
• Zambia (diocese)
ARTISTS AND POLITICIANS:
A friend sends an enjoyable quote from John Gardner's On Moral Fiction.
We need to stop excusing mediocre and downright pernicious art, stop "taking it for what it’s worth" as we take our fast foods, our overpriced cars that are no good, the overpriced houses we spend all our lives fixing, our television programs, our schools thrown up like barricades in the way of young minds, our brainless fat religions, our poisonous air, our incredible cult of sports, and our ritual of fornicating with all pretty or even horse-faced strangers. We would not put up with a debauched king, but in a democracy all of us are kings, and we praise debauchery as pluralism.
This book is of course no condemnation of pluralism; but it is true that art is in one sense fascistic: it claims, on good authority, that some things are healthy for individuals and society and some things are not. Unlike the fascist in uniform, the artist never forces anyone to anything. He merely makes his case, the strongest case possible. He lights up the darkness with a lightning flash, protects his friends, the gods — that is, values — and all humanity without exception, and then moves on.
"Fascist" is a really bad choice of metaphor for claiming "on good authority, that some things are healthy for individuals and society and some things are not," since everyone who says anything about private or public life thinks some things healthy and others not -- even if one thinks complete pluralism or anarchy healthy and authority unhealthy. Gardner has labeled pretty much everyone a fascist, which rather empties the word of any real meaning.
But otherwise, Gardner makes a good point about art, which also applies to religion. Some people who are in no way forced to participate in or agree with a particular religion or church but want to stay members anyway, insist on calling any reminder that it requires of them certain beliefs and actions "tyrannical," etc., and insist on invoking their personal freedom to take what they like from it and reject the rest.
Or rather, they insist on treating as a matter of personal freedom something that the church to which they belong does not give them freedom to treat freely. To someone more respectful of personal commitments than they, they seem like a murderer on the witness stand invoking his personal freedom to kill his neighbors when the prosecutor presents the charges. He is free, in the sense that he can do it, but he isn't free in the sense that the society of which he is a willing member lets him do it.
Take, for example, the bad Catholic politicians who want to favor abortion and continue to receive Communion in the Catholic Church. They speak as if they had a right both to be Catholics on their own terms and hold public office. (They don't tell their party that they have a right to its endorsement on their own terms, which difference suggests that they fear the loss of office in this world more than they fear loss of Heaven. Or that Democratic leaders are better at keeping order than Catholic bishops.)
They always say something like "The bishop is interfering in the political process and trying to force his values on others. I was elected to represent the views of my constituents and I will continue . . .". The problem with this is that they are free to represent the views of their constituents. No Catholic bishop has ever suggested otherwise.
What they are not free to do is promote certain acts like legal abortion and remain Catholics in good standing. The Church expects them to accept the Christian moral teaching — which in the case of abortion the Church considers a matter of natural law, not revelation (in other words, the Church notes that everyone knows killing the unborn is wrong) — and present themselves to the voters as accepting it.
The voters can vote for them, or not, as they wish. Thus is democracy is preserved, pluralism respected, etc. Thus is the individual politician's conscience kept clean (at least about that). But not, perhaps, are these politicians kept in office.
Our new contributing editor Fr. Robert Hart, a priest in the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake, has posted his sermon for the Feast of the Purification, sometimes known as Candlemas. It is one of those joyful feasts that even churches with liturgical calendars simply do not celebrate enough. I have, I've just noticed, a liturgical calendar with February 2nd marked with "Ground Hog Day" in boldface all caps and "Presentation of Jesus" in smaller upper and lower case roman type beneath it. Sigh.