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Friday, February 20


In the conclusion to a review of a new French movie on the leftist website, Charles Taylor makes an interesting observation about reviewers, which applies to many others as well. (I am fairly sure he over-praises the movie itself.) He writes, in Secret Things:

Sometimes reading film critics now, I feel like I'm reading a bunch of high-school kids determined not to do anything to embarrass themselves in front of the cool clique. They seem to live in terror of someone asking them, "You took that seriously?"
He goes on to say that this fear explains the “belittling tone” some reviewers apply to more serious movies and the fact that they praise “the stultified prestige filmmaking of ‘Cold Mountain’ and ‘House of Sand and Fog’ (isn't that title enough to warn anyone off?).” I think the book House of Sand and Fog was an Oprah selection, which says enough. Taylor concludes:

What this means, I think, is that allegedly sophisticated audiences have come to distrust emotion, and are unable to distinguish between artists who use it fearlessly and the Hollywood schlockmeisters who manipulate it crassly. And it's not just emotion that isn't trusted but ambition. Maybe some audiences don't find ambition and daring appropriate to an age of diminished expectations. But diminished expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy when everything is expected to remain small-scale, ironic, hip and distanced.

God knows it's hard for any filmmaker, here or abroad, to break out of the strictures that the studios want to impose. But it would be wrong to claim that those strictures are coming from the moneymen alone. If greatness and emotion and daring are foreign concepts in movies right now, part of the problem has to be that critics and audiences have made it so.
"Everything is expected to remain small-scale, ironic, hip and distanced" puts it nicely, I think. People being "cool" miss so much.

11:34 PM


As readers will remember, we ran three articles on Malcolm Muggeridge in the December issue, two of them papers from the centenary conference we helped sponsor at Wheaton College in the spring. As I mentioned in the Quodlibet department of that issue, I would like to think of Touchstone as (with the qualifications I noted) the most Muggeridgean of journals.

In that connection, I'd like to mention that the Malcolm Muggeridge Society has been launched and published the first issue of its journal The Gargoyle. The membership is 10 pounds or $18 a year. You will find more information on their website. I commend it to you.

9:51 PM


As you will have (should have) noticed, this site has been revised a little. Our designer, has tweaked it a little in response to various requests. The font is bigger, for one thing, and the column to the left thinner and the pictures made with a different file format that should load faster. Comments appreciated.

9:44 PM


The Evangelical theologian and contributing editor Peter Toon has sent round a selection from St. Vincent of Lerins’ A Commonitory, which contains the famous definition of the Faith as “faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” It comes from volume 11 of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace in the last century. I thought you might want to have it.

Chapter II. A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity

[4.] I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

[5.] But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason, — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.

For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

[6.] Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

Chapter III. What is to be done if one or more dissent from the rest.

[7.] What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

[8.] But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few.

But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two or these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation.

1:01 PM


Two articles from today's Wall Street Journal you may find of interest:

— from Mark Steyn, one of my favorite writers, Severe Winter Storm. It is subtitled "Conan O'Brien finds Anglophone Canadians can't take a joke about Francophone ones."

— from their weekly "Houses of Worship" column, Different, Banned by Ahmad M. Khan. It is subtitled "Muslims suffer religious persecution at the hands of other Muslims."

10:14 AM


Here is a further exchange to a string that began with my Movie toilets (a name I think I now regret using, but I hate writing titles). Frequent contributor David Gustafson responded to me in In defense of prudery and frequent contributor Justin Barnard responded to both of us in The aim of art.

Then Mr. Gustafson responded to Dr. Barnard who then responded to him. Here is Mr. Gustafson’s response:

Dear Dr. Barnard:

I appreciated your remarks posted on the Touchstone blog. You may be right in what you say — that is, that evaluating true artistic merit requires attention to the criteria you cite — but it really addresses something different from what I was saying.

Let’s assume that, speaking from a well-informed and well-ordered Christian point of view, TV programs can constitute truly excellent art even if they include (or maybe BECAUSE they include) things of which a prude would disapprove on mere reflexive and poorly considered grounds — whether toilets or other evidence of human excretion, or partial nudity or immodesty, or profane or vulgar speech (or even blasphemy), or whatever else.

That is, we assume that one has produced television shows that include these problematic elements but that are excellent art, because these elements are included not gratuitously but, rather, in order to genuinely promote the Truth in some way. If we could be sure that TV included only such shows, then we could pooh-pooh the prudes and enjoy excellent TV, with its realistic and well-ordered inclusion of potentially objectionable elements.

The problem, however, is that we can’t assume that popular culture will be managed and governed only by those with well-ordered and well-informed Christian sensibilities. Rather, the Barbarians are in charge of the production companies and the advertising companies and the TV stations. (Maybe it’s inevitable that the entertainment industry will attract people with deficiencies of reason and will, and with excesses of the passions.) Once the high-minded TV program is allowed to include the naughty word or the racy image, then the low-brow will never be far behind. (“Hooray! Now we can say [rude word] on TV! Now we can show love-making! Now we can break wind!”)

We make up rules not primarily to govern the strong and good people but mostly to govern the weak and the bad. If the rule were that “TV programs will show nudity only if and to the extent that the showing is well-ordered toward Truth and godliness”, then this rule would be completely unmanageable and ineffective, since Aaron Spelling and his progeny would be the ones implementing and applying the rule. If, however, the rule were simply that “TV programs will show no nudity”, then this rule may be manageable.

Taboos exist for a reason: they are administrable, and they work.
To this Dr. Barnard responded:

Dear Mr. Gustafson,

Thank you for your insightful reply to my comments. One of the reasons I enjoy following the dialogue on “Mere Comments” is precisely because its content is generated by such reflective persons as yourself, Mr. Mills, and others. I count it a privilege to have a few of my meager musings posted from time to time.

I think that you’re right in suggesting that my thoughts about the grounds on which we ought to evaluate artistic merit do not bear directly on the issue you intended to address. However, I do think that there is a connection — possibly one that can accommodate the points that both of us wish to make.

Your concern, as I understand it, is practical. You are not merely concerned with the theoretical issue of what sorts of rules would be conducive toward the common good of a “well-ordered” (or ideal) society. Rather you are concerned with what sorts of rules would be conducive toward the common good of the society in which we, in fact, live (on that is not-very-well-ordered to put it mildly). Thus, you suggest that the “no nudity” rule satisfies the latter concern because it “works.”

Confession: As a philosopher, I’m always struggling to get my head out of the clouds. At the same time, I’m frustrated by the fact that often the vision of those thinking about and making public policy (or even those criticizing it) does not extend beyond the immediate (i.e., what kind of public policy will get us the “results” that we want). I’m not suggesting that your “no nudity” rule falls in this latter category (in fact, I don’t think that it does — more on this below), but there is a danger, especially upon the part of some Christian constituencies, in viewing rules such as the one you suggest AS the ideal. Think of my comments as a corrective for this tendency.

In any case, it seems entirely reasonable to view the workable rule that you suggest in relation to my own proposal as follows. The “no nudity” rule is contingent. Thus, it does not rise to the level of a necessarily true moral principle (an ideal). It is contingent upon the natures of those who constitute the society to which the rule applies. In our case, society is constituted by “the weak and the bad” on a good day, the “Barbarians” on a bad one.

Thus, we need such a rule. But the rule is not an end in itself — as I take it that (in some sense) ideal moral principles would be. Rather the rule is conducive toward the ideal, GIVEN that we are the kind of creatures that we are. This way of viewing the matter seems to preserve both your point and mine.

One more thought: if we’re thinking about contingent rules, it occurs to me that the medium of television itself (and perhaps the radio and the internet) are of a different order than other forms of media through which artistic endeavors are communicated by virtue of their capacity for an overwhelming presence in public space. Thus, it seems arguable (though I won’t argue this here) that by virtue of being the kind of medium that it is, television incurs a special set of constraints that other outlets of artistic expression (e.g., movies, painting and sculpture galleries) do not. My point here is that there is room to satisfy your practical concern in a pointed way on principled grounds.

P.S. to David: You’re right that you did not say that toilets themselves are an offense against truth (which sounds rather amusing when I put it that way). I apologize for suggesting this — a rhetorical oversight on my part.

10:08 AM


Fr. Robert Hart, a priest of the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake (if that's the right spelling), writes a nineteenth response to the string that began on Monday with Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors:

As I read the 18th response on Thursday, it occurred to me that more than one thing has been discussed under one heading. So, I wish to clarify that my comments were based upon the idea of mentoring with regular private meetings, undertaken for some end of what is called "spirituality."

Certain movements do exist which feature this sort of thing; I am aware of one case where a woman ended up leaving her husband, marrying the Roman Catholic priest who had been her mentor or "spiritual director," and along with him entering the Episcopal Church. He (no surprise here) ended up getting licensed to function as a priest in ECUSA, and was given his own parish. Of course, that is the church that ought to sing "Anything Goes" as a hymn.

The example, brought up in the "18th Response," of Jesus teaching while Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus) sat at his feet- along with everyone else in the room I must point out- does not fit this pattern of regular sessions with a mentor or spiritual director; neither does His conversation with the woman at the well (also mentioned). These two examples have nothing to do with this pattern.

The teaching of Christ, carried on by the Apostles and by the Church, is very public matter; it has always been done by declaration. But, anyone, man or woman, who needs a point of doctrine to be clarified should ask an appropriate authority for a right answer. This does not contradict what St. Paul meant by "let her ask her husband at home." Here too, I believe that Protestants of the Sola Scriptura school (or, as I will concede for present purposes, that school as it is often currently abused) have the most difficult problems to solve; Tradition as a necessary guide to interpretation of scripture, and Traditional teaching that settles in advance every conceivable moral issue and ethical dilemma, eliminates the need for a lot of questions.

For most people the model of "spiritual director" is probably not a very practical or useful tool. Frankly, I have seen a lot of silliness over the years, especially among people who cannot accept Church Tradition in any form, and who are always re-inventing the wheel in various shapes. I have seen people waste time feeding something, ego or vanity, all in the name of being "spiritual." And, more than a few times the results have been quite disgraceful.

The subject of spiritual direction by Christian mystics and saints has been brought up; and yet, what do we know of this sort of direction? We know that it was always centered upon helping individuals on the subject of prayer and knowing God. Also, what we know of it is because it was done by correspondence, as letters were sent back and forth, or as directions were sent in writing. We do not see private "counseling sessions" taking place.

Jesus was the Rabbi and Shepherd of His disciples, but never do we read of Him engaging in "spiritual counseling" sessions. He spoke directly and without mincing words when speaking to individuals; When He taught, He did so to crowds, or to the disciples as a group. Furthermore, He was not teaching them to be "spiritual" as much as to be faithful and obedient, like Himself, unto death. So it is that my first comments were in favor of following His example, and contrasting it against the concept of "spiritual direction" by which a woman goes to someone other than her husband, trying to find some sort of satisfaction, and imagining that this must be good because it is "spiritual."

The devil, by the way, is very spiritual.

9:57 AM


Yesterday I posted an item putting you on to a new blogsite worth looking at:, written by the religion columnist Terry Mattingly and Christianity Today's Douglas LeBlanc. They plan to cover the media's coverage of religion. I made a mistake in posting the link — one the software should correct automatically but it automatically changes it to something useless, for some reason — and I've corrected that one but also wanted to post it again for those who wouldn't check the old item.

9:52 AM

Thursday, February 19


Those of you in the Fort Worth area — which, knowing how Texans like to drive, may include half the state — may want to know about a series of lectures being given this weekend by Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial and father of the Intelligent Design movement. And regular columnist for Touchstone. He is giving three lectures in the St. Andrew's Lecture Series sponsored by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in downtown Fort Worth.

The first lecture he gives on Saturday night at the Modern Art Museum. It follows a banquet there and I do not know if the lecture is open to non-banqueters. He is giving the second lecture on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 at St. Andrew's Church, with a reception following, and the third at 10:30 on Monday morning with a free lunch following.

The parish's newsletter, from which I got this (the rector is a good friend), says to cal the parish office for details. The number is 817.332.3191. The parish's address is 917 Lamar Street, Fort Worth, 76102.

St. Andrew's is an Evangelical parish that uses the old Book of Common Prayer. I mention this for those of you who may associate other theologies and behaviors with "Episcopal." A traditional believer of whatever sort should feel at home there.

4:43 PM


While I'm at it, I ought to commend Dr. Mohler's daily weblog (essentially a daily column), and not because he spoke so kindly of Touchstone. It is a reliable source of important news and insightful comment thereon, and on a perhaps surprising range of subjects. If you scroll down from the top, for example, you will find columns on:

— The media specter of "The Religious Right":

— San Francisco's latest social experiment;

— Cloning; and (here is an example of the unexpected),

— Two columns on the danger of lust, one quoting a Christian writer and the other a secular (and somewhat pro-lust) writer.

I commend the weblog. Those of you who haven't seen Touchstone or only recently subscribed might want to read his paper from our 2002 conference, Standing Together, Standing Apart and my response, Standing with Christ. We found, I think, across some fairly serious disagreements, a shared way of looking at the problems, including a shared willingness to say the hard word (politely and charitably), which is not all that common today.

3:40 PM


I am very pleased to commend today's column by Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In The Strongest Argument Against Abortion — the Fetus, he describes the Pro-Life Forum that appeared in the January/February issue — he agrees with Frank Beckwith, Terry Schlossberg, and me — and adds this note at the end:

Touchstone magazine is one of the most consistently thoughtful periodicals in the Christian world and is a feast for the thinking Christian.
You will see why I am so pleased. Those of you who trust Dr. Mohler's judgment may want to subscribe, which you can do by clicking here.

3:26 PM


Here is, for those of you who have been forced to face your limitations, a moving and encouraging reflection by the Dominican theologian A. G. Sertillanges, from his book The Intellectual Life. It comes at the end of the chapter titled “The Field of Work.”

From that it follows that we are obliged at a given moment to accept necessary sacrifices. It is a painful thing to say to oneself: by choosing one road I am turning my back on a thousand others. Everything is interesting; everything might be useful; everything attracts and charms a noble mind; but death is before us; mind and matter make their demands; willy-nilly we must submit and rest content as to the things that time and wisdom deny us, with a glance of sympathy which is another act of homage to the truth.

Do not be ashamed not to know what you could only know at the cost of scattering your attention. Be humble abut it, yes, for its shows our limitations; but to accept our limitations is a part of virtue and gives us a great dignity, that of the man who lives according to his law and plays his part. We are not much, but we are part of a whole and we have the honor of being a part. What we do not do, we do all the same; God does it, our brethren do it, and we are with them in the unity of love.

. . . The half-informed man is not the man who knows only the half of things, but the man who only half knows things. Know what you have resolved to know; cast a glance at the rest. Leave to God, who will look after it, what does not belong to your proper vocation. Do not be a deserter from yourself, through wanting to substitute yourself for all others.
I thought of sharing it here because I'd read it to the writing class I teach at the local seminary and they, overwhelmed by work as they are, seemed to find it reassuring. The book is quite good, a mixture of wisdom like the above and practical instruction in the work of the mind, I recommend it to those of you who write or teach for a living.

3:20 PM


A new blogsite to check out:, written by the religion columnist Terry Mattingly and Christianity Today's Douglas LeBlanc. They plan to cover the media's coverage of religion.

9:26 AM


Here is the latest response to the string that began on Monday with Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors, this one from a woman, otherwise unidentified:

On the subject of male spiritual advisors and female advisees: has anyone noticed that Jesus spoke of spiritual matters with Mary, while Martha set the table? Or, that he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well of the state of her soul? And what about saintly pairs, such as Jerome and Paula, Benedict and his sister Scholastica, Francis and Clare, and Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal?

9:23 AM


A response from Justin Barnard of Messiah College to Movie toilets and In defense of prudery. I'd just remark that I didn't say that toilets were an offense against truth (see his second paragraph) but that the excessive and apparently pointless prudery of the 50s was.

In reviewing the exchange between David Mills and David Gustafson about "Movie Toilets" and prudery, it strikes me that the heart of the issue is a more basic philosophical one: what is (good) art?

Mills's suggestion that toilets, like inappropriately exposed body parts, constitute an "offense against truth" is suggestive of an answer, but it (admittedly, "pending more thought") does not clearly articulate one. This leaves Mills wondering aloud whether Gustafson's slippery slope argument "may well be right."

Here's what seems missing. Movies and television shows (as with all works of art — though I hesitate in using that phrase of either) ought to be evaluated on three grounds: the ends toward which they aim, the means by which those ends are achieved, and their relative effectiveness in achieving those ends. For the Christian, whether any piece of art is good or beautiful is not a function of whether it is sufficiently "realist" (i.e., truthful) per se.

Rather it is function of whether the internal aims of the piece of art itself and means by which those ends are achieved are in some way reflective of (and consistent with) the One End in which all other ends are rooted and toward which they ought to be directed, i.e., God. Realism in art is a means; it is not an end in itself. And when "realism" is treated as an end in itself it typically results in art with ends and means that are inconsistent with the End toward which it ought to be directed.

My hunch is that the unrealistic prudery of 50's era TV and the softcore obscenity of the Super Bowl halftime show fail in the category of artistic merit more for reasons having to do with teleology than with truth (realism). But articulating this hunch would require a book.

9:20 AM

Wednesday, February 18


Here, from a woman of no known address (meaning not known by me) is the seventeenth response to the string on marriage and spiritual direction. I must admit to having been surprised and pleased by the number of interesting and helpful responses the first writer's question has received.

It is the sort of subject most places wouldn't engage because the subject of husbands and wives (or men and wives, to use the term from the old marriage rite) starts so many people snarling. Some people snarl because the subject reminds them of pains they have suffered or are suffering now, and others snarl because the subject threatens ideological commitments to which they've pledged themselves. I have seen men and women even in conservative congregations go from somnolent to enraged in a few seconds when the preacher barely touches upon St. Paul's teaching about men and women.

Anyway, the latest response:

This has been a most curious and excellent string of thoughts regarding “WIVES, HUSBANDS, AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTORS.” If I may be so brash as to add my own to those fine ones already posted, please see below.

In reading the original post, I asked myself, what does “spiritual counsel” mean? Off to the dictionary I went. “Spiritual” is defined as “of or pertaining to God, or to the soul as acted upon by the Holy Spirit; holy; pure.” “Counsel” is defined as “advice given as the result of consultation; opinion on what to do; guidance: to give counsel.” So if one considers these definitions, then the original poster asked is it “inappropriate for a wife to go to a man (other than her husband) for advice or guidance on issues that are pertaining to God, or to the soul.”

What was curious to me is that most people leapt to the issue that the woman would go to another man (or priest) to complain or “devolve into gossip” about their husbands (as the first responder from RI stated). One must beg the question, why this attitude was the first response? Is the female population known for its tendency to gossip, slander, complain about their husbands, etc? If so, then this is definitely a spiritual issue to be dealt with! And quickly! It seems that, at a quick glance, every responder thereafter posted their thoughts, not in response to the original post, but to the subsequent responses.

Thus I returned to the original question. It would seem that yes, a woman could go to a man not her husband for spiritual counsel and that person ought to be wiser than she. While I don’t know statistics, the primary gender in the role as pastor and priest are male, it is there that a woman should go for spiritual guidance. As “spiritual” deals with things pertaining to God, the counselor should be asking questions of the woman that relate to the spiritual life. If she “devolves” to gossip about her husband, the counselor ought to turn her attention to her attitude, no matter the issue, whether the husband is Christian or not. Gossip is a sin that needs to be dealt with, no matter what the complaint is.

All we do as Christian brothers and sisters ought to be about glorifying God. If it doesn’t do that, then we ought not be engaged in it.

6:21 PM


I'd written my e-mail friend from the Bruderhof in England about his response to the "Wives, etc." string and mentioned that I'd just been discussing, with a friend I met in the grocery store, the difficulty of teaching modesty to one's children in a culture that did not recognize the idea at all, much less the need. He wrote back:

Wow! Teaching modesty: I have spent most of the morning turning this around in my head (there’s plenty of room in there!). Here is the easy answer; we publish an ebook entitled Sex, God & Marriage. It is available on our site complete and free, and this is one of its chapters, published as a separate article: The book has been used by many Catholic Diocese’ for marriage preparation. A Call to Purity is an article about the joint statement signed by the Bruderhof & the Archdiocese of New York last August:

The hard bit — we don’t ‘teach’ modesty — we try to live it. I did not grow up in the community and miss this a great deal. I have often been on trips with brothers who were appalled at some public advertising that I had ‘missed’. I can only assume that I am completely hardened to the filth that is around us.

That is why it is important to bring up children right from birth with a different and consistent message. We have worked very hard over recent years – right down to running our own high school now. I sometimes feel that we are retreating behind walls that must be built ever higher to keep out a perverted society. This is sad and I wish it were different, but it ‘aint.

I remember meeting a man at a Franciscan CFR friary in London (Father Benedict Groeschel [currently in hospital] is the founder of the order). This man who I had never met before, said ‘I love the purity of your young people’ This still brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it. It really does show through at age 18! Eberhard Arnold valued this ‘child like’ state highly and we grieve when a child loses this child-likeness through sin.

As I write there is a group of our Kindergarten children playing outside. Its a very refreshing sight. At Christmas we put on a performance of The Shepherds Pipe for our local junior school — I was with an older brother that afternoon so got to ‘sit in’. The children walked from the local school in a long crocodile and neatly sat on the floor of our dining room — how well behaved they were I thought — so quiet and obedient (very different from our children!).

As I watched however I was struck by the difference between these children and ours. They looked ‘grown up’ if you follow me — their faces were watchful and alert in a very adult way. Most of them were meticulously dressed often in ‘adult’ clothes. I spoke to a sister afterwards and she had noticed the same. This is a filthy outrage — who stole the childhood from these children? Better that a millstone. . . .
I remember, about ten years ago now, listening to the girls we'd invited to our eldest child's birthday party. They were all girls from a Christian school, most of them from families at a local and very Evangelical Episcopal parish.

What startled me, though not my wife, was how knowing the other girls were: talking about friends' parents divorces, popular television shows and movies, current fashions, and the like. They were having conversations — mixed, thankfully, with more childlike talk and squeals — that would not have been particularly edifying for adults to have, and more distressingly without that care and concern such subjects would have raised in a Christian adult. "Jennifer's parents are getting a divorce" was said in the same bright but uninflected tone as "Please pass the chocolate syrup."

And these were girls from what might be called aggressively Christian families. One feels, at these points, the weight of the world, and wonders what a father can do to lift that weight from his children.

12:46 PM


Here are two more responses to "Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors." The first (fifteenth overall) comes from a frequent respondent, who writes from I know not where. He writes:

I had intended to let this discussion pass without comment from me, but as it goes on, I think that I might have something of value to contribute after all. I am a Catholic, and also a member of an ecumenical, charismatic, intentional community. We are committed to caring pastorally for our members, at least insofar as it pertains to living the common Christian life of our community.

The basic supposition (the "default setting", if you will) is that married women are best cared for pastorally by their husbands. Even so, wives often need pastoral input from a source other than their husband, and we have a group of "older women" ("older" in the sense of "wise" or "experienced", not chronological age, although the two are not unrelated) to provide such care. It would be foolish and dangerous to send a married woman to a man who isn't her husband, to help her sort her way through, say, a dispute with her husband.

Even another woman has to be extremely careful in order not to be disruptive of the marriage. These "older women" are not really "spiritual directors"; more like "elder sisters".

There is also the question of how to care for married women whose husbands are not members, or are ineffective (at least spiritually) as leaders of their families, and again, our experience is that such care is best provided by women. Again, great sensitivity is required so as not to even seem to be subversive of the marriage. We would not see ourselves as filling a role that is properly the husband's, but only of helping the wife to live the Christian life as best she can, and to be as constructive as we can be of her marriage. Such an approach has occasionally resulted in the successful evangelization of the husband.

Single women are also pastorally cared for by women. The "older women" exercise their pastoral care under the oversight of the community leaders, who are men, in accordance with what we believe is the scriptural model.

Because of the kind of community we are, our leaders are not "ordained" as such, so we can't speak, from our experience, to the sacramental role of a priest, which would include things beyond "mere" pastoral care. We do not give absolution, for example, but it would not be unusual for a pastoral worker to encourage a member to avail himself of his church's sacraments.

Now, I realize that the "pastoral care" I am describing here is not really the same thing as "spiritual direction", but I offer it in hopes of clarifying some of the issues involved. Caring for our members, and supporting them in living the Christian life, will sometimes require us to work outside of the "default settings", but doing so requires sensitivity.
The other response (sixteenth overall), comes from a woman writing from a west coast Christian college:

When it comes to a spiritual problem that the husband doesn't have the resources to solve, I believe that one option has been overlooked. Why shouldn't the husband and wife go and seek the counsel of their priest together? It is often done in pre-marital counseling, and is very helpful and edifying.

I don't see why such an option should be neglected post-marriage. It keeps the wife in the proper place to her husband, and the husband in the proper place to church authority, if done correctly. And I'd imagine there would be much less trouble concerning an adulterous emotional connection between the wife and the priest if the husband was sitting right beside her and holding her hand.
By the way, when dealing with subjects like this — subjects about which people feel passionately and sometimes write emotively — I generally don't identify the writers unless I know them from previous correspondence. A lot of people are shy about expressing their thoughts in public, for various reasons, and many worry about getting the sort of abuse some people hurl at ideas they dislike.

Those of us who write for a living are (mostly) used to getting stupid and vicious responses, but those who aren't can find the abuse very upsetting, even when they recognize the responses as stupid and vicious. They'd rather be screened a bit, and if their message is a good one and does not attack anyone else, I'm happy to screen them by describing them as "a man from Kansas" or "a Presbyterian woman from the south."

12:28 PM


Fr. Robert Hart, who sent in one response yesterday, today responds to a previous respondent.

This is in response to “a Catholic man from Virginia,” who wrote:

In point of fact, most of what they talk about is their frustration over matters of the mundane and everyday, alongside their husbands’ deficiencies in “relationship skills.” (Given that, by nature, women are far more attuned to the cultivation of relationships than are men, this stands to reason.) The spiritual issues that concern them are most usually those that bear relevance to their difficult relationship with their husbands.

Having not liked the 70s when it was the 70s, I groan at using such a term as “relationship skills.” But, it is only fair to point out that many women have bad “relationship skills” themselves. This is why the most unhappy man in the Bible was King Solomon; the poor man had 700 mothers in law.

I do not know that “women are far more attuned to the cultivation of relationships” at all, especially when I hear women complaining about the slights and torments inflicted upon them by each other — none of which make any sense to me. And that is the real issue. Men and women are different by nature. Yes, a man should be advised to speak from his heart, and tell his wife of his love for her, and to learn to listen to what she needs to tell him.

But, a wife should be advised not to waste the poor man’s time with mundane and trivial tales of woe, gossip, and endless complaints about her fellow women. He simply cannot sympathize with many things which she has taken to heart as grievous insults (from other women) today, but that she will forget about tomorrow. In other words, if she wants him to care about what she says, what she says ought to be worth a care.

I cannot help but think that what some women want is a husband who feels and thinks and emotes and reacts like a woman. Of course, some men go about like Henry Higgins, who said “why can’t a woman be more like a man?” It would help both sorts to learn to enjoy the very real difference between men and women. On male terms, no woman will have good “relationship skills,” and, on female terms, no man will have good “relationship skills.” The people who are happy in their marriages are the ones who know this to be the case, and have learned what a joy it truly is.

12:09 PM


I’m sorry for the uninspired titles, but plain titles let readers track the string more easily. Here are the twelfth and thirteenth responses to Monday’s “Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors.” If you want to read the string in order, scroll down to Monday and then scroll up.

Here is the twelfth response, this one from a woman in Ohio who wrote with it, “Not sure why I’m getting so worked up about this; I guess the topic’s near and dear to my understanding of who I am and who I hope to be.” She wrote:

In regard to the sixth respondent, I sense that he’s seeking a religious loophole, and yet still claim the validity of the Bible. By saying, since the unmarried women (and don’t forget the widows) do not have any husband and are not explicitly mentioned, they are left to float directionless through the Christian community. And worse, dear Paul, your teachings are totally unraveled if one little thread is left untied.

Can we recognize this as a spirit of the age rather than a way for God’s people to come to grips with the twenty-first century?

Unmarried Christian women, I hope, would be able to go to their Christian fathers and receive counsel. “Aha!” (or “Puh-leeze!”) say those who disagree. “What about dads who aren’t Christian or won’t give Godly counsel? You can’t say you don’t know many dads like that.” But unmarried women are not left without any other avenues. And, surprise! they might look a lot like the avenues the married women should take. How about older and wiser mom? Or is there a Christian brother? Go to him. It will honor and stretch him.

Of course, then there’s those “older women” who seem to be getting the back of our hand. Why is it so terribly important that women have the option to go to a man for counsel?* What does this really say about our respect for women?

For me personally, I would much rather listen to a man preach on Sunday. However, I would prefer to talk to a woman on personal matters. *If* they are wise, they are much better at cutting through the layers of feminine spin than men and these women are able to touch on the heart of the matter within minutes. Of course, some women don’t like this.

Note on Ephesians 5:26: It might not mention teaching one’s wife in this verse, but jump up to verse 24 and it covers, well, “everything” (according to KJV, NKJV, NIV and the Amplified Bible).

* Okay, I’m not Catholic (raised Lutheran, joined non-denominational churches as an adult), so I have my quibbles with the role of the priest — but let’s consider what Paul has put before us in Scripture. And just maybe there’s an 80-year-old-plus priest somewhere out there who could use the break.
And here is the thirteenth response, this one from an academic in the northeast.

I admire the response of the gentleman (#10 I think) who says that we men need to do a better job making ourselves into the sorts of spiritual heads from whom wives will not seek to swerve. I admire it, because it shows a worthy gallantry towards women, and a healthy willingness to consider the sins to which the writer himself, as a man, might be prone.

Yet he is wrong when he assumes that “better relationship skills” would enable men to satisfy their wives and keep them from seeking spiritual counseling elsewhere. Sorry, won’t happen. Some men become lechers because their wives are prudes; most lechers are lechers because they like lechery. Some women are as insatiable for emotional highs as some men are insatiable for sexual thrills; sometimes it’s because they’re married to lugs, but far more often it’s because they are emotional lechers.

I don’t believe in “relationship skills” because, first, I don’t believe in “relationships” — an ugly word for a dumb idea. My wife and I have a marriage, not a relationship. The groundrules for a halfway decent marriage are really pretty simple: be kind. Do the dishes. Make lunch. Take out the garbage. Pick out some flowers. Buy a pizza. Get over your stupid and never to be satisfied lusts -- bodily lusts or emotional lusts. Grow up.

I assumed in my original response that we’re dealing with a woman whose husband is a decent Christian. If he’s indifferent or if he’s hostile to Christianity, that’s a completely different ballgame. But in either case, “counseling”, if it has to do with the emotional details of the marriage (and I do not think women go to a spiritual advisor to talk about Chalcedon; they go to talk about marriage and children), will necessarily involve her in some form of detraction. That is a problem. There’s an element of betrayal about it, and, unless the marriage is on the brink of breaking up, what is to be gained?

11:28 AM


In Specter of cloning may prove a mirage from yesterday's New York Times, several scientists offer what seems to them (and the writer) an answer to the moral objections to "therapeutic cloning": create a clone that has not chance of survival and experiment on it. Cloned embryos

may not be genetically equivalent to normal embryos. Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch, an expert on the genetics of animal cloning at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., has published studies showing that cloned mice are riddled with genetic abnormalities. Those glitches suggest that a cloned embryo would have "little if any potential to ever develop into a normal human being."

. . . Dr. Jaenisch also made a distinction between cloned embryos and the kind of blastocysts formed during normal reproduction, including embryos fertilized in vitro. "When you really think about an I.V.F. embryo that rests in a deep freeze, it only has three fates," he said. "It can be destroyed, it can be implanted into a woman or it can be converted into embryonic stem cells. When you make embryonic stem cells, you do destroy an embryo, and that is an ethical issue.

"Cloned embryos also have three fates. "They can be destroyed, they can be used to make normal embryonic stem cells tailored to the needs of patients, but they cannot make a normal baby. In my opinion, the destruction of a cloned embryo to make embryonic stem cells poses less ethical problems than the destruction of frozen embryos in the I.V.F. clinic."

. . . In fact, the biological distinction between cloned embryos and normal embryos came up for discussion two years ago at the President's Council on Bioethics. Dr. Paul McHugh, the former head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, floated the notion that a cloned embryo was distinct — in creation, composition and reproductive intent — from a normally formed embryo. He coined the word "clonote" to distinguish it from "zygote," the single-celled embryo that results from fertilization.

"If you take the point that the clonote is something different, it's something manufactured rather than begotten, then you would want to study, use its best potentials for humankind and not let its potentials for error and slavery appear," he said at the time.
"Something manufactured." Some human manufactured. Something human manufactured to be killed for someone else's ends.

"In Casablanca," said the odious Col. Strasser to the vulnerable Ilsa Lund, "human life is cheap." When Casablanca was made in the early forties, the screenwriters could count on the audience gasping at this in horror. Now heads of departments at major medical schools say almost the same thing and his words appear approvingly in the country's major newspaper.

11:26 AM


Father John Minkler of the Albany diocese, a friend of Father George Rutler of New York who preached at the silver anniversary of his ordination, had apparently been trying to expose homosexual activity in the diocese of Albany for years. He seems to have been the author of a 1995 letter (leaked to an Albany lawyer) to Cardinal O’Connor of New York about these allegations. O’Connor showed some interest, and tried to get the Vatican to do something, but the Vatican showed no inclination to investigate the situation.

Minkler was put into the position in which he felt he had to deny writing the letter. He was then found dead at his home.

My guess is that the tension and anxiety of dealing with this situation gave him a coronary.

An independent investigator may be able to determine whether Bishop Hubbard has been involved in homosexual activity. There are at least three allegations: Minkler’s, the brother of a suicide victim who said he went to Hubbard for counseling and was seduced by him, and a man who is now married and an evangelical Christian who said that before his conversion he was a teenage male prostitute and that Hubbard was one of his customers.

Hubbard has for years been conducting pro-homosexual propaganda (which has made him the target of The Wanderer and of Stephen Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful) and was one of the few bishops to come out against a zero-tolerance policy for child abuse.

9:40 AM

Tuesday, February 17


Responses 10 and 11 to “Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors” (note to self: use shorter titles). Number ten comes from a woman in Iowa:

I do not agree with the assertion that a woman cannot have a man as her spiritual director. First, my husband is studying to be a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. Wives are required to participate in the formation process. The diocese requires that we both have spiritual directors chosen from an approved list. I am much more comfortable having a Priest ( a faithful orthodox one) as a spiritual director.

However, I limit my sessions to spiritual matters only and not personal problems. I go to spiritual direction to help me become holy. That said, my husband of thirty years is the best spiritual director I will ever have; but it doesn’t hurt to have outside (objective) advice.
Number eleven comes from “a Catholic man from Virginia” (his description):

Speaking as someone who has experience interacting with more than one dissatisfied wife this way (I was a seminarian for some years but am just a bachelor now), I suspect there’s more to this issue than what has been so far presented. Consider the first — and what should be the most obvious — fact about this kind of scenario: the woman who is looking for spiritual direction from a man other than her husband does so because she is not getting it from her husband! I have observed that women are not apt to share their personal issues (of any type, spiritual or otherwise) with other men when they are satisfied that their husbands are addressing them.

[Please understand that in what follows, I am referring to people oriented to Christian orthodoxy here; obviously where one or both parties are liberals, other dynamics will become involved.]

When wives do reach out to someone else, they are weighed down by more than just spiritual issues. In point of fact, most of what they talk about is their frustration over matters of the mundane and everyday, alongside their husbands’ deficiencies in “relationship skills.” (Given that, by nature, women are far more attuned to the cultivation of relationships than are men, this stands to reason.) The spiritual issues that concern them are most usually those that bear relevance to their difficult relationship with their husbands.

Since it is usually the case in difficult marriages that the greater share of the blame for the situation does objectively fall on the husband, it is unsurprising to see that such a man’s spiritual perspective is skewed in critical ways. And yet we are going to force a troubled wife to have no other recourse than such a man — or, to compound the problem (and I have seen this for myself), seek counseling from priests who are biased in favor of the man’s perspective, making excuses for his ego while yet telling her that she’s the one who’s causing the problems and needs to make changes?

As dedicated to Catholic orthodoxy and tradition as I am, I nevertheless am convinced that some of the “old ways” of better times were really problematic — a key reason why the feminists have been able to so effectively forge a radical revisioning of the male, the female, and the relations between the two. In these circles I do not see a sufficient amount of challenging us men to overcome our own pride and self-indulgence to remedy our own spiritual shortfalls and understand that the greater part of caring about our wives lies not in a paycheck, but in a real and genuine interest in their concerns and the willingness to learn “relationship skills” to the sufficient extent that these women need not look any further for holy and competent direction (aside from that only which a priest can give, at any rate).

Likewise, while being mindful of the potentially serious risks involved in a man availing himself as an extramarital counselor or friend, I am nonetheless convinced that sometimes an obligation in Christian charity to “bear one another’s burdens” can be even more compelling than those risks, particularly when the troubled wife needs a more cerebral and theoretically-based guidance than the intuitive wisdom more typical of the “wise old lady.” (That is no excuse to neglect taking certain precautions, obviously.) Yes, the husband is normatively the resource for this kind of cerebral guidance, but that’s the point here: he’s not providing it, or else what he does offer is terribly skewed!

The man involved in extramarital guidance must not shrink from challenging the woman on her own contributions to the malaise as well: the proportion of blame is never 100%-0%, no matter how deeply she believes it’s all his fault. He also must take care not to appear too “sensitive” or “caring” — for that is the way the woman ends up falling for him instead! And should the husband come to resent his wife having such recourse, he should allow himself to be critically examined for whatever in his own attitudes and behavior influenced his wife in that direction before he casts blame on her for “infidelity” or her friend for intruding upon his “territory.”

I am sufficently convinced that, in most cases, when dissatisfied wives see that their husbands are honestly trying (vs. merely making a show of it) to reform themselves, they will gladly accommodate themselves thereto.

I will be most interested in reading attempts at a compelling counterargument to any of the foregoing.

6:26 PM


A Friend of Touchstone writes:

I wanted to share with you what our parish of St Matthias' in Dallas in doing in regard to this movie. Our Evangelism Commission decided to make the movie an event for our parishioners and those whom they would like to invite who may not have a church home. We planned the event for Friday evening, February 27, a 7:00 p.m. showing at a local movie theater, followed with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament back at the church.

Our Associate Rector stood in line this past Friday for quite some time to buy a block of tickets, but all shows from Ash Wednesday through Friday night were already sold out. We moved our event to Saturday evening, same time, same format, and bought a block of 100 tickets. All those tickets were snapped up this Sunday in the parish hall within minutes. We have a list of at least 40 more who want to go if we can get the tickets.

Discussion of the movie, even before it arrives, has proved to be a great evangelistic opportunity in our offices and with friends and acquaintances who might not have been as open in the past to our desire to share the Gospel with them.

Your message wilI be a great help to me, and I intend to relay your thoughts to our people in hopes that they can seize this moment for Our Lord and His Kingdom.
The writer is referring to comments I made in my most recent monthly letter that I send out to those supporting Touchstone on a monthly basis (we do need such support!). I share some of it here, in case others may find it helpful:

A few weeks ago I was privileged to attend a screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is stunning work of art, a haunting and intense cinematic reminder of Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, the pivotal event of human history.

Gibson has said as much in interviews, that without Christ there would be no hope in the world. Gibson has also drawn fire for daring to make a movie that faithfully records the basic Gospel story. That fire is fueled by a perennial question, boldly placed on the current cover of Newsweek: “Who Killed Jesus?” The text inside says, “Mel Gibson’s powerful but troubling new movie . . . is reviving one of the most explosive questions ever.” (If interested, you can check out

There are three things that occur to me about this question, the first historical, the second theological, and the third spiritual. On the historical level, many answers may be given. The soldiers who crucified Jesus killed him. Pilate who ordered them to do so killed him. Caiaphas and other members of the Sanhedrin who brought him to Pilate succeeded in having him killed, as was their intention. Judas betrayed him and set all things in motion. Those who paid Judas the money helped to kill him.

On a more theological level, however, we should consider Jesus’ role, what he did and did not do. He knew what Judas was up to and told him to do it “quickly.” Jesus later said to Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” His disciples didn’t fight because Jesus told them to put away their swords. He also said to Peter at that time, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall at once give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” Later, when Pilate urged Jesus to say something in his defense lest he have him crucified, Jesus replied, “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, unless it were given thee from above.” Jesus could have avoided the Passion and been delivered from it, but he chose to “drink this cup.”

My final point is that “Who Killed Jesus” is, in fact, the wrong question. Worse, it is a diabolical question because it distracts the readers of Newsweek and many others in society today from the significant spiritual issues they need to face. Asking who killed Christ doesn’t take us very far. Caiaphas, Judas, Pilate, the Romans, the Jews, the Gentiles—we all played a part, killing him by our sins. Rather, the world should be asking, Who is Jesus? Why did he choose to die?

If Gibson’s film merely fuels the debate about whether the Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death or someone else is, a very great spiritual opportunity will have been lost. The only question that should matter to Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike is “What think ye of the Christ? Whose Son is he?” Who killed him in history doesn’t matter for us, because they actually failed: He is not dead, he is risen. His death became our salvation, his Resurrection our rebirth unto eternal life.

5:10 PM


Here are the eighth and ninth responses I've gotten to the string on "Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors" (see previous items today and yesterday). The next item includes a link to the message that started it.

The first (i.e., number eight) comes from Fr. Robert Hart, a priest of the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeke and a new contributing editor of Touchstone.

Not to sound like the odd man out, but I am not sure what is meant these days by "spiritual counsel." As a priest, I hear confessions, and say appropriately pastoral things when it seems right; I can’t imagine that developing into "intimacy."

Also, when I look at what the scriptures say about Jesus — and His apostles as well — I don’t see any counseling sessions taking place. After all, who wants to have a counseling session with someone known to cut through the baloney, and say things as direct as, "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off . . ." or "go, and sin no more," etc.? I hear too much narcissism in some of the stuff about "spiritual counseling."

The only caveat I would give to the man who brought this up is that a husband cannot take the priest’s place; he cannot absolve his wife’s sins as a confessor, nor should he want to hear the things that she confesses (and I ask Protestants who have no such thing as confessors to bear with me on this; I know it is strange to you). But, the man is the head of his wife, and ought to set the spiritual tone, in fact the religious agenda, of the family. If, therefore, his wife has some sort of "spiritual director" or "spiritual counselor" guiding her prayer life, the husband should tell this fellow (or this woman for that matter) to cut it out. He ought to be enough of a Christian to lead his wife in daily prayer himself.

Which brings me to the one bit of advice I give to all Christian couples. Pray together, and let the husband lead. It is not enough to have your own individual times of prayer. Each family should see itself, in the old traditional Catholic sense, as a religious community with a regular Rule of daily prayer. If you have no idea what to use, I strongly suggest getting a Book of Common Prayer (1928 or older is best) and learning to use Morning and Evening Prayer, or Family Prayers. But, whatever Regula you go by, pray together at least once a day (and pray even more often than what you can do together).

And, by no means should any Christian husband tolerate having his wife going off and getting "spiritual counseling" in order to feed her quest for self-affirmation. Nor should he tolerate himself being such a zero that she would want to.
The next (number nine) comes from a member of a Bruderhof community in England:

Maybe some of your readers would like this article about marriage and purity. Like a lot of our recent articles it does not shrink back from what we think about marriage: Time for Another Revolution?.
The article doesn't really address the subject at hand, but it is related and useful too. This writer also noted, in response to an earlier string on public modesty:

Regarding nudity, going topless etc – a lot of our US brethren say that they feel that Europe is ‘looser’ than the States, in this area. I would rather not guess, myself, but we do live fairly close to the coast and summers can be a trial sometimes! It's often difficult to find a beach area near here where we can take our school groups etc. We tend to go mid-week, out of season if possible. Our modestly designed swimsuits for sisters also get comments!

I guess a lot of folk would regard us as prudes! Never mind!

4:02 PM


Here is the sixth and seventh responses to Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors. (See yesterday's "Initial responses" and today's "Today's first responses" for the first five.) This one comes from a man in Canada:

I'll take a stab. I disagree with your writer.

There are two preliminary questions to look at here. First, is it okay for any woman (married or not) to have a man for a spiritual director? Second, is it okay for a married woman receive spiritual direction from any person (male or female) other than her husband? If the answer to both questions is "yes," then it's a short step, though still a step, to concluding that a married woman may seek spiritual direction from a man not her husband.

Let's dispatch the second question first: may a married woman seek spiritual direction from a person other than her husband? The answer is yes, based on Titus 2:3-5, which your writer cites.

Now to the first question: in general may a woman seek spiritual direction from a man? I say yes. I'm not aware of any scripture against this, and none of the scriptures cited by your writer really applies. And the catholic tradition (East and West) has long required all Christians, male and female to make confession to a male priest, who is expected to give spiritual guidance. The only argument against this practice is the possibility that a relationship of spiritual guidance may become sexualized. This is certainly a real hazard, but I don't see that it's grounds for a blanket prohibition on such relationships.

So if an unmarried woman may receive spiritual guidance from man, and an married woman may receive spiritual guidance from a woman, why may not a married woman receive guidance from a man other than her husband? As to the hazard of an inappropriate sexual relationship developing, this is no more of a hazard for a married woman than an unmarried one, and probably less. As to the claim that spiritual guidance is exclusively the domain of the husband, this is refuted by Titus 2:3-5, as already noted.

Most of the scriptures cited by your writer deal with male headship, but do not identify headship with teaching. (I am puzzle by the item "3. The husband is supposed to teach and sanctify his wife. (Eph. 5:26.)," since that verse only mentions sanctifying, not teaching (at least in the RSV).

That leaves 1 Cor 14:35 as the only passage connecting a husband's headship with teaching responsibility. But there are two problems with using it as your writer does. One is that the passage does not deal with unmarried women, and consequently it seems hard to give that passage the character of a universal Law. The main point of the passage is the behavior of women in church. Rather than asking questions in church, they should get their questions answered afterwards. Paul here thinks of the typical woman as married, and assumes that the person she would most naturally ask would be her husband. But if Paul had been attempting to lay down a program for the religious education of women, he would have addressed the needs of unmarried women as well.

The second problem with this passage is that it deals specifically questions that were being raised publicly in church. I would assume that these were not the sort of personal and even intimate issues that come up in spiritual direction. The context suggests questions about doctrine and scripture, not "I'm trying to pray for the pastor but I keep having lustful thoughts about him, what should I do?"

Which brings me to the final point: for every argument one can bring against a woman consulting a man not her husband about spiritual issues, one could raise an objection against her getting advice from her husband. Ideally a husband and wife should be in perfect harmony in their prayer lives and everywhere, but in reality we know it is never so. No wife could be 100% honest all the time when consulting her husband on spiritual matters, nor could any husband ever be adequately objective all the time.

I vote No. Thank you for raising an interesting question.
The seventh response comes from a woman in America:

I think if the problem is a woman's personal one, it would be best for her to get her counsel from another woman. If it is one that involves her marriage or considered marriage, counsel for her and her husband may be appropriate, and both may not be present at all times. Ideally, a couple can be counseled separately or together by another married couple but this isn't always feasible.

For example, our church requires premarital counseling in the effort to prevent divorces. I had one discussion with a pastor before my (now husband) and I came in for premarital counseling as a couple. (I wasn't technically a wife at this time, but close enough that the principle applies.) The premarital counseling we had with our (male) pastor was of far less value to me than the advice I was given by the wife of our mentor couple. Thus, in my experience, the counsel of a woman is often better for another woman.

I think the case of abuse is a probable exception to the general rule though this may lie outside your definition of spiritual counsel, as well as your assumption that the husband can provide leadership. Perhaps only another man is in a position to confront the abuser, if necessary, or to protect the wife in such a discussion.

In summary, if both husband and wife are receiving guidance, counsel by a man is adviseable.
Those of you who want to add to this quite interesting exchange, please do.

12:03 PM


An article from a mid-January issue of The Daily Telegraph, which may be of interest: Police ban on marriage questions — for fear of hurting gays. It begins:

Police officers have been warned not to ask people if they are married in case it causes offence to homosexuals, it was disclosed yesterday.

The directive is included in new guidelines, which also instruct officers not to call elderly people "old", use the term "homosexual" or refer to women as "pet", "love" or "dear".

The Lothian and Borders Police guide advises officers against using the word homosexual because it is derogatory and stems from a 19th century notion that homosexuality was an illness that required a scientific label.

. . . Tom Wood, the Lothian and Borders deputy chief constable, said: "We live in very dangerous and sensitive times in terms of language and attitudes. People are very quick to take offence."
The article included the expected protests (this is "politically correct madness," said one woman quoted), but I don't think these instructions quite so ridiculous as the writer, and the friend sent round the article, expect one to think. I think old people who don't like being called "old" are silly, or pathetic, because they are in fact old and should not be ashamed of their age, but a charitable man will not call an old man old if he (the old man) doesn't like it. And he will use something a bit more respectful than "pet" or "love" when dealing with people, unless he is quite sure the subject will appreciate it.

Sometimes it seems that the p.c. police are trying to make up for the loss of something valuable, but doing it badly. This may be a case. We once had a way of speaking to each other that remained charitable and respectful by remaining formal, till people decided they didn't like formality — and not irrationally, either. But when they gave up formality they gave up its benefits as well, among which was a way of speaking to others that the others could accept.

Today most people, even in supposedly staid and repressed Britain, seem to value "spontaneity" as the ideal mode of relations between people, and therefore to value speech that is casual and personal and much closer to spontaneous conversations between friends than formal exchanges between people with a formal relation to each other (police officer and burglary victim, for example, or police officer and stop sign runner). Formality preserves both charity and respect, without being neurotically sensitive or deceitfully politically correct (deceitful because speaking as to say something not true). It preserves the objectivity needed in many situations (like the two just mentioned) and the dignity of those involved.

When people began to speak informally and spontaneously, they began to speak out of their prejudices, biases, tastes, etc., conscious and unconscious, some of which were bound to offend some of the people to whom they speak. The answer to this is to return to a more formal way of speaking, but those who see the problem generally answer it by suggesting more politically correct ways of speaking. In other words, they extend their concern for courtesy and respect only to their politically favored groups. Which is not real courtesy, but politics.

According to the article, by the way, the term "nitty-gritty" (to which someone seems, absurdly, to have objected)

was used by slave traders to describe the women or the remains at the bottom of transport ships that were covered in lice [nits] or grit.

10:45 AM


I should include a follow-up message from the man who sent in Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors:

It's an interesting question because we tend to answer it by looking at the hard cases (what about the woman who's married to a non-Christian, etc.) and thereby avoid the implications for (what should be) normal Christian life.

10:37 AM


Three more responses to yesterday's Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors. The first two responses appeard in Initial responses, posted a few hours later. The first response comes from an Orthodox man in northern (I think) California:

I think the position presented by your writer is hogwash. Where could one possibly get the idea that a woman should get spiritual direction only from her husband and not from a priest? I believe there is a story in the bible about a woman who was urged, by St. Paul, to stay with her husband despite the fact that the husband was not a follower of Christ, because she may have a positive influence on him. Was she supposed to rely only upon his spiritual direction?
The second comes from a woman, whose church and home I don't know:

I have to agree with the writer of "Wives, Husbands, and Spiritual Directors." If you can put scripture to it, I have a hard time disagreeing with it.

But as a woman, I can see -- okay, have experienced -- how easy it is place one's affections on another man who are in postions of authority (of all kinds). The best analogy I can think of is male lust. It is a sin that is continually knocking at our door and a Christian's best defense is to avoid situations that encourage it.

I also clearly sense it would be disloyal to a husband to seek out another man in these matters. And although it might scream "incompetence" about the husband's spiritual authority (which is bad enough), I would be more inclined to wonder where the wife's own spiritual barometer was.

The writer brings up another good point. This kind of questioning stretches a husband. And heaven knows, husbands get better with stretching. (That's why the best men are all married. Take note single women.) It should not be expected that a husband will have all the answers when asked. You get better answers anyway when questions are ruminated over. And, if it's necessary, let him go to the "spiritual director" himself to get the answers.

I know. People inevitably think, "Wow. Now there's a woman who can't think for herself. Has to be told what to think. What a waste." Well, gosh, I can read the Bible myself, and gee, lots of other stuff, too. And if there are some really tuff questions, I can pray. Besides, who said my questions were stupid ones?

Of course, this brings up lots of objections. What about women in the workplace with a male boss? Can a woman have a casual conversation with a man about doctrine? What if the man's lazy or a lout? (Short answer: The Christian life is not an easy one. It requires faith and obedience. Not to mention prayer.)

Some might say, well isn't disrespectful to go to an "older woman"? I suppose it depends on how wise (discreet) the older woman is. I've been in a great bible study with one such woman. On the other hand, if a young wife complains bitterly about her husband, a truly wise woman will encourage that young wife to reconsider her own role in the situation. Going to the church gossip for "counsel" makes me wonder about the wife's barometric pressure as well.

But this chain of authority, if properly respected and adhered to, offers a lot of emotional protection for the wife and ultimately the family. And, it helps support the husband's spiritual journey with growth and respect. And husbands get precious little respect these days.
And the third from a man, whose church and home I also don't know:

In response to "Wives, Husbands and Spiritual Directors," I have a friend (not a young woman herself) who is a recent convert to the Catholic Church. Her spiritual advisor is an elderly priest in his eighties. No one thinks there is anything meretricious about their relationship.

Her husband is a nominal Protestant who has not belonged to a church for over thirty years and has attended church services perhaps a half-dozen times in the same period (not counting weddings and funerals). Like many contemporaries he believes that religion is divisive and intolerant and a private matter that is not open for discussion. I can't imagine how my friend would cast her husband in the role of a spiritual advisor.

As to the reader who commented that "men don't go to women for spiritual counsel," I suggest he recall Catherine of Siena.
A few more arrived during the night, which I will be posting when I can format them.

10:35 AM

Monday, February 16


In The Five Sisters, New York Times columnist William Safire issues a needed warning about the concentration of the major media in a very few hands.

The media giant known as Viacom-CBS-MTV just showed us how it controls both content and communication of the sexiest Super Bowl. The five other big sisters that now bestride the world are (1) Murdoch-FoxTV-HarperCollins-WeeklyStandard-NewYorkPost-LondonTimes-DirecTV; (2) G.E.-NBC-Universal-Vivendi; (3) Time-Warner-CNN-AOL; (4) Disney-ABC-ESPN; and (5) the biggest cable company, Comcast.

As predicted here in an "Office Pool" over two years ago, Comcast has just bid to take over Disney (Ed Bleier, then of Warner Bros., was my prescient source). If the $50 billion deal is successful, the six giants would shrink to five, with Disney-Comcast becoming the biggest.

Would Rupert Murdoch stand for being merely No. 2? Not on your life. He would take over a competitor, perhaps the Time-Warner-CNN-AOL combine, making him biggest again. Meanwhile, cash-rich Microsoft — which already owns 7 percent of Comcast and is a partner of G.E.'s MSNBC — would swallow both Disney-ABC and G.E.-NBC. Then there would be three, on the way to one.
He goes on to argue that the current head of the FCC, Michael Powell, "never met a merger he didn't like" and despite recently huffing and puffing before Congress about the latest outrage, will do nothing to stop the enormous corporations that are "always willing to agree to cosmetic 'restrictions' on their way to amalgamation" and "chuckled at the notion of a 'ruthless Mike'."

I was struck by his column in part because on Saturday night my wife and I watched the satirical movie Simone, about a director (well played by Al Pacino) who used a computer to invent an actress who became a huge star. It is very funny, especially when it is satirizing famous and powerful people and treating them as frauds and poseurs. I have known enough really powerful people not to trust them. They tend to be as vain, venal, petty, lustful, ruthless, etc., as anyone else, if not rather moreso.

The kind of people who rise to the top of corporations are not the sort of people you want to trust to control the media. In this case, the more the better. Small is not necessarily beautiful, but small is certainly safer.

But the concentration of the media in too few corporations is yet another of those issues on which the Church should speak, but doesn't.

10:56 PM


A very interesting response to the item I posted earlier today, "Movie Toilets," from one of our regular correspondents, David Gustafson. The title is his. He may well be right.

In your entry “Movie Toilets”, you assure us persuasively that you are

"as disgusted as anyone by the sort of softcore obscenity often featured on television”; but you say that you’re “not all that comfortable with the absurd prudery of fifties television and movies. Toilets couldn’t be seen, married couples had to sleep in separate beds, the word ‘pregnant’ couldn’t be said, etc. It wasn’t modest so much as unreal and — I think, pending more thought — . . . [an] offense against truth.

I, too, prefer literature that includes some measure of the mundane, earthy realities of human life. I, too, feel that the 50s’-era TV mores seem absurd. However, the recent and increasingly rapid devolution of popular media makes me wonder: On the spectrum between toiletless movies on the one end and potty mouth vulgarity on the other end, is there really some stable, defensible point where a culture can draw AND HOLD the line; or is it perhaps true instead that, once you start showing the toilet in “Psycho”, within 30 years you’ll inevitably have flatulence humor in Super Bowl ads?

Likewise, on the long slide from the laughable twin beds in Rob and Laura Petri’s bedroom on the early “Dick Van Dyke Show” on one end of the spectrum, to the place, at the other end, where one sees simulated sex acts in the SuperBowl’s half-time show, is there really a definable place where the culture can find a toehold and stop sliding? My attitude to date (like the one you express) has assumed that there must have been such a place well removed from prudery, but if you and I were each to try to describe that place, we would probably disagree about where it was, and many of our brethren would think we had drawn it much too conservatively (and others would think we were being careless).

Your point about “truth” has something to it, but the outright pornographer always has a “truth” argument at the ready: “This is what (some) people do; and this is how it looks when they do; this is true,” he says. Our objection to his product is NOT simply that it is unrealistic or untrue (even though in SOME ways it is), but that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Eph. 5:12) — much more to broadcast it to the world — even if it’s really true that they do it. If, over the past 50 years, TV had kept up the fiction that humans never need to use the toilet, it would have been rather odd, but just how much truth would we have lost? I’d say we could have gotten along without it.

If there was some sort of meeting circa 1960 where the twin-marital-beds-on-TV issue was debated and decided, we can imagine the Prude on one side of the debate, sounding like chicken little, and warning that if we let a pajama-clad married couple be seen in bed together on TV, why, the next thing you know, TV shows will be showing women in bra and panties — or less! — and smooching with men they’re not even married to. And all the smart and sophisticated people at the meeting would have smiled and rolled their eyes and insisted that of course that could NEVER happen. Put yourself back in that meeting room, and try to figure out whose side to vote on.

It turns out that it would have been surprisingly difficult, circa 1960, to overshoot the mark in predicting how badly things might get in our culture once our silly taboos were put aside. The prudes who made broad, sweeping predictions of a parade of horribles that would be unleashed turn out to have been right. Were they just lucky, or is it possible that they were wise?

10:30 PM


"Wives, husbands, and spiritual directors" (two items below) got two responses before I'd signed off the internet, one from a woman in Alaska and the other from a man in Rhode Island. First the response of the woman in Alaska:

It looks like the reader's bottom line is: If the husband leads his wife to perdition, oh well, that's the price of marriage. I don't think the wife will be allowed to point her finger at her husband at the Last Judgment to justify herself.
I forwarded this to the man who wrote the message I'd posted and he responded:

Here's how I would have reply: Maybe a clarification is in order here. No husband should keep
his wife from the ordinary means of grace — Sunday worship, regular sacraments, etc. — which are more than sufficient to salvation. Perhaps I didn't make it clear that the question is one of emotional intimacy, that is, a man and a woman speaking in private about private things.

A friend clarified the type of "spiritual counsel" in view in this way . . . "the application of scripture to very specific, personal issues that even a man you know reasonably well wouldn't know about unless you told him." The issue is meant to address the sort of conversation that you wouldn't like to have in the quiet corner of a room.
His is a charitable response. I must admit to feeling rather narked that serious questions like his often get such snippy responses. After all, he didn't make up the quotes from St. Paul nor is the problem he suggested unreal. John Updike got a bestseller (A Month of Sundays) out of it. (I once met a college professor who assigned the book as a reading in his sexual ethics class, which didn't seem to me wise, given the likely effect of the racy bits on the feelings of his testosterone-poisoned his male students.)

The man from Rhode Island wrote:

On the subject of the romance of spiritual direction:

I am in perfect agreement with your correspondent, with one qualification, which I'll note below. It seems to me that women often commit a kind of emotional cheating, looking in an adolescent way for that perfect boy, one who will make everything all right by making her feel good about herself, who will sympathize with and admire her spiritual struggles (which often, by no means always, but often, partake of a hearty measure of hypochondria and idleness), and shower upon her the sort of love that Barbie dreams of having from Ken, who lacks the, ahem, accoutrements ever to make Barbie's life other than Barbie's life.

Men don't do this. If a man seeks out a woman with whom he can talk about how lonely he is, how unappreciated by his wife, and all that rot, he is seeking a bedmate, period. In any case, men don't go to women for spiritual counsel.

It doesn't help much if the man to whom the woman goes is her non-celibate pastor. Many years ago we had tenants in a house we could not sell, upstanding Christian folks down on their luck, moving out of the Rust Belt to turn their financial fortune around. All went well for about two years; then the rent started arriving late. Mrs. Upstanding had always been after her husband for not being more ambitious and assertive (read: for not making more money, and, perhaps as a consequence, for not fulfilling her other more earthy desires).

Now the marriage was in trouble; but there would be no problem about the rent, I was assured, because Mrs. Upstanding had been seeing the very Reverend Mainmast about it all, and of course the Lord would work things out. Naturally, it wasn't too long before we were out several months' rent, and I received a call from Mr. Upstanding, informing us that the Mrs. and the very Reverend Mainmast had run off with each other. But, Mr. Upstanding assured me, he would pay us back in money and by doing repairs. We never saw the money, and we never saw the repairs. Maybe when she ran off she took his tools with her.

So I agree — and would note also that the spiritual direction of a married woman by a marriageable or run-off-able man will inevitably devolve into gossip about the husband, and thus makes of the woman a detractor, at the least. It doesn't pass the queasiness test. Dickens I believe pounces all over these female spirit-mongers and clerical worms.

The only exception: a truly manly priest, a Father. A woman can go to her Father (not to Daddy), without compromising her husband. But this requires a real man, a real Father — one who, like Ward Bond in the Quiet Man, would fairly blow up at her if need be and say, "Woman! It may be a poor country we have, but in Ireland a married man sleeps in his own bed!" But that's less spiritual counsel than a verbal swat across the rear — a medicinal measure as effective as it is quick, and applicable to both sexes.

So I agree . . . .

6:11 PM


A few days ago I offered as a trivia question: when was a toilet first seen and flushed in a mainstream Hollywood movie? The answer, which I, um, forgot to post, is: in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, produced in 1960. (I got this from a documentary included on the movie dvd, so cannot swear that it is the right answer.)

The movie's writer said that he wanted to show a toilet, I think to make the movie a little more realistic. Hitchcock approved. He (the writer) got round the censors' squeamishness by having the main character tear up a note she'd written and then flush it away, so that other characters could later find a scrap, which provided them with an important clue.

Though as disgusted as anyone by the sort of softcore obscenity often featured on television, recently and famously at the Super Bowl halftime show, I'm not all that comfortable with the absurd prudery of fifties television and movies. Toilets couldn't be seen, married couples had to sleep in separate beds, the word "pregnant" couldn't be said, etc. It wasn't modest so much as unreal and — I think, pending more thought — the same sort of offense against truth as Miss Jackson's and Mr. Timberlake's softcore obscenity. Obviously preferable, but of the same sort.

6:02 PM


A reader writes with today's provocative question:

I'm curious if anyone would be able to comment on this. I have a deep suspicion that it's inappropriate for a wife to go to a man (other than her husband) for spiritual counsel. I say this because I believe there is an intimacy in that kind of counsel that is only appropriate in marriage — which is why this kind of situation often leads to adultery. (So I'm told.) But even in cases where there's no fear of adultery or romantic attachment, I believe it takes something that is supposed to be part of the marriage relationship and outsources it.

I think the following scriptural teachings are relevant.

1. The husband being the head of the home, and of the wife, implies his spiritual direction.

2. The wife is to submit to the husband as to Christ. (Eph. 5:24.)

3. The husband is supposed to teach and sanctify his wife. (Eph. 5:26.)

4. Paul explicitly says that women who were asking questions in church should ask their husbands at home. (1 Cor. 14:35.) It's not just a matter of asking at another time (i.e., not during the worship service), but to whom they address the question.

Of course this is not to say that women should not receive spiritual counsel outside the home. They should receive such counsel /from older women./ (Tit. 2:3-5.) But I would say that when a woman receives counsel from a man (not her husband) she is damaging her relationship to her husband.

I'm very interested in what you guys think of this. I'd love to hear more arguments for this position as well as any arguments against it.

One argument that will come up right away is "What if the man isn't competent to give spiritual counsel?" — the underlying principle being that if a woman isn't getting what she needs from her husband, she's entitled to look for it elsewhere. Obviously we have to say yes and no to that.

There are things that are legitimately sought outside — e.g., if the husband can't fix the car, go to a mechanic -- and there are other things that are not legitimately sought outside — e.g., sex. The question is whether spiritual counsel belongs in the former or the latter category. I'm saying it belongs in the latter, so the question of whether the husband is competent isn't really relevant. He needs to learn to be competent, just as he needs to learn to do other things. And, I might add, if women start seeking this sort of thing outside the marriage, it will take away from the husband's need to develop that expertise.

Please fire away. Also, I'd be interested in anyone can provide links to good articles on this subject.
You are invited to reply. Use the button to the left.

2:08 PM


An interesting short article on Leszek Kolakowski, the Polish philosopher and first winner of the W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences (which came with a $1 million award), for those of you interested in the subject, from yesterday's New York Times: When philosophy makes a difference by Sarah Lyall. The philosopher grew from "a doctrinaire marxist" in his youth, to a man whose encounter with Communism in practice led to doubts that cost him his membership in the Party in 1966 and his position at the University of Warsaw in 1968, to . . . well, actually the article doesn't really explain what he believes now, though it suggests he is now a sort of genial but skeptical humanist.

Dr. Kolakowski also stands out for his disarming frankness in admitting that even unanswerable questions are worth asking. In "Metaphysical Horror" (1988), for instance, he writes playfully of people's fear of "impossible questions" and sends up his life's work, in a sense, in the book's first sentence.

"A modern philosopher who has never experienced the feeling of being a charlatan is such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading," he writes. Asked about this assertion, he laughed and allowed that sometimes he feels like a charlatan but that he doesn't mind because his charlatanish thoughts are counterbalanced by "the feeling that even a charlatan can can fulfill a useful role."

Engaging with fundamental issues, Dr. Kolakowski said, is fundamental to experience, no matter how fruitless it seems at times.

"There is a mental compulsion to ask metaphysical, epistemological and ethical questions," he said. "It is not that one is happy in thinking about it, but these questions are difficult to get rid of."

He added: "There are no definitive answers, but there are ways of approaching questions which give you the feeling that you are on the right track, even though you won't reach the expected goal."

"Nevertheless," he said, "this position is not dramatic. It is not terrible. One can live with it."
His name, by the way, is pronounced "LESH-ehk ko-wah-KUHV-skee."

1:37 PM

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