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Saturday, February 28


A reader sends a link to an article on the merchandizing of The Passion, with his comments:

I'm sending along a link to an article in my local paper (you may have to register to read it, but they haven't sent me any spam). It's about the enormous commercial potential of The Passion-related merchandising. I am especially disappointed to learn that the film itself has officially licensed merchandise.

I can't help but recall that when the wonderful Prince of Egypt was released a few years ago, the producers refrained from such activities. There were no "Moses happy meals." Instead, the film opened with a note to the viewer that if they wanted more, they should read the book of Exodus. I find myself wishing Icon Pictures, or whoever the merchandising arm is, showed similar restraint.

Here's the link:
I must admit feeling a sinking feeling when I first read about this. But as I thought about it more, I realized that the propriety of the merchandizing depends on the value and use of the things they're selling.

People might want to hear the music from the movie or put pictures from it on their walls or read the script, for religious reasons. The only item the story actually mentions is "a pendant with a single pewter nail," which someone might well want to wear as a reminder of the price our Lord paid for him, as many people wear a crucifix or a cross. These are all things a devout and un-materialistic Christian might want to have, which means that they are perfectly legitimate things for someone to make and sell. (For a fair price, etc., of course.)

And for all I know, Gibson approved of the sales (I'm assuming he did) when he had no idea whether anyone would see the movie and wanted to cover some part of the $25 million of his own money he put into it. Prince of Egypt had a major studio behind it.

All that said, I must admit to still feeling uneasy about the merchandizers, but I'm not sure if I'm being a snob — "officially licensed merchandise" of any sort is just tacky — or if the enterprise comes too close to money-changing in the Temple.

1:30 PM


Cheering news: Bush Ejects Two From Bioethics Council from today's Washington Post. It begins:

President Bush yesterday dismissed two members of his handpicked Council on Bioethics -- a scientist and a moral philosopher who had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells.

In their places he appointed three new members, including a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the "threats of biotechnology."

The turnover immediately renewed a recent string of accusations by scientists and others that Bush is increasingly allowing politics to trump science as he seeks advice on ethically contentious issues.
The three new members are:

Benjamin Carson, the high-profile director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University; Diana Schaub, chairman of the department of political science at Loyola College in Maryland; and Peter Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College in Georgia. All are respected members of their fields. And their writings suggest their tenures will be less contentious than their predecessors'.

When not performing some of the most difficult surgeries in the world, Carson is a motivational speaker who often invokes religion and the Bible and has lamented that "we live in a nation where we can't talk about God in public."

Schaub has effusively praised Kass and his work. In a 2002 public forum discussing the council's cloning report, she talked about research in which embryos are destroyed as "the evil of the willful destruction of innocent human life."

In a book review in the conservative Weekly Standard in late 2002, Lawler warned that if the United States does not soon "become clear as a nation that abortion is wrong," then women will eventually be compelled to abort genetically defective babies.
Dr. Lawler is Catholic and the son of one of the editors of the Ancient Christian Classics series and nephew of the late Fr. Ronald Lawler, the Franciscan theologian. Dr. Carson is obviously a Christian and I suspect Dr. Schaub is as well.

Of note is the way the article presents "science" and scientists as a moral authority. In this case, scientists are assumed to be moral thinkers and more to the point, "science" is taken to argue for the morality of some degree of experimentation and some activities traditional morality represented by other members of the committee rejects. Most of us have seen this assumption expressed in such articles many times.

The question one immediately asks, however, is why we should take seriously a scientist's views of morality? All the scientist has done is master a discipline and its methods, which does not of itself give him any moral insight whatsoever. Dr. Falk invented the polio vaccine and Dr. Mengele experimented upon Jews.

A scientist may be a good moral philosopher or a bad one or not think about the matter at all, but his being a scientist has no bearing on his worth as a moral thinker. That a very intelligent, highly trained man has learned how to clone human beings does not in any way suggest that he knows whether or not he ought to do so.

I think the article's treatment of "Science" can be explained as a subtle bias toward moral innovation, in other words, the finding that some actions once thought wrong are right, or sort of right. In a secular society in which science is understood merely as a method of undertanding and a naturalistic one at that, scientists as a whole will tend to favor the moral innovations to which their research leads.

Because, understandably enough, scientists tend to want to do what can be done, and therefore to find that what can be done can be done morally. That is the temptation to which their calling subjects them. (Just as investors are tempted to greed and politicians to lie.) They will, being human, tend to be caught up in the intoxicating pleasures of the chase, the joy of discovery, the thrill of making something work that has never worked before — unless they are restrained by a conscious faithfulness to a moral tradition like Christianity.

And so when a secular journalist on a newspaper like The Washington Post tries to claim the authority of "science" for moral innovations like cloning human beings, one wants to ask what special or unique insights "science" and scientists offer into the moral questions.

1:08 PM

Friday, February 27


"The film misses this point," he wrote. "In Orthodox Christianity, we are asked to identify with his victory, not with his suffering alone." So wrote a Greek Orthodox priest of the Chicago Archdiocese about The Passion.

There has been a great deal said about the differences between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity in commentary about The Passion. Indeed, it seems that the film has perhaps served as an excuse to point out and emphasize the differences. But I have yet to have read anything about the actual content of the film itself that forces one to read it as preaching a particularly “Western” view of the passion. It is unfair to read more into the film than is actually there.

The film doesn’t even address the issue of whether it's the Resurrection that saves us or the Cross or both or the Sufferings and the Death and the Resurrection. Hence, the critique above —aimed at the film-- about Orthodox Christians not identifying with the sufferings alone but with the victory is off the mark.

The film is not the whole story. The film is called The Passion for a reason: it’s about The Sufferings, which is what passion means. It’s not about the Resurrection. It’s not about the Virgin Birth. It’s not about the miracles, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Transfiguration. Indeed, Gibson could surely make another 2-hour (or longer!) film on the Resurrection. But he made “The Passion.”

Further, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I have to say that I am surprised at some of the claims being made about what Orthodox Christians don’t think about. We do think about our Lord's sufferings, and I have done so precisely because of the hymns of the Orthodox worship. Perhaps others don't, but I think that is a grave mistake.

In order to give a fuller picture, here are several liturgical texts from our various church services for just the first week of Lent (there are many similar texts from the same section of the liturgical book not included here; also, there are other texts from Holy Week, the Feast of the Holy Cross, and the regular weekly cycle that I am not even considering here):

On the saving nature of the sufferings [Passion] of Christ:
“Through Thy Passion, loving Lord, Thou hast given to all men freedom from the passions, putting to death the passions of my flesh by Thy Cross. Count me worthy, then, to see Thy divine Passion:…”

“Thou has put to death the passion of my flesh by Thy divine Cross, and by Thy Passion Thou hast given all men freedom from the passions. Count me worthy also, Lord, to see Thy holy Resurrection, that I may receive Thy great and abundant mercy.”

“O ye faithful, let us glorify and sing the praises of our Savior and Redeemer, who accepted Crucifixion with His own foreknowledge and consent. He has nailed the sins of mortal men upon His Cross, delivering us from error and granting us the Kingdom.”

On the specific sufferings of Christ:
“Knowing that Thy power is infinite and Thy Crucifixion voluntary, the hosts of angels were amazed. How wast Thou, upon whom none may look, scourged in the flesh, in Thy desire to redeem man from corruption? Therefore we cry unto Thee as Giver of Life: Glory to Thy Kingdom, O Christ.”

“Bidding farewell to the world and all that is in it, let us now be crucified with Christ; let us endure outrage, mockery and other sufferings, that we may be glorified with Him.”

“Crowned with thorns, O Christ, and clothed in a scarlet robe, Thou hast shown with glory and surpassed in beauty all the sons of men.”

“Thou hast drunk gall and vinegar, and from Thy divine side Thou pourest out a double stream of life and incorruption, unto those who praise and glorify Thee in faith forever.”

On the Blood:
“Thou art a deep well, O Master: make springs gush forth for me from Thy pure veins, that like the woman of Samaria I drink and thirst no more; for from Thee flow the streams of life.”

Hateful thoughts have covered my soul as leprosy: cleanse it, Word of God, with the sprinkling of Thy blood, O Christ, who for my sake hast suffered shameful Crucifixion, make me a partaker in Thy glory.”

“I am bowed down to the earth, O Christ, by the burden of my sinful acts, and in dark discouragement I cry to Thee who lovest man: By Thy precious blood heal the incurable wounds of my soul, that I may sing the praises of Thy Godhead.”

“Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the law by Thy precious Blood; nailed to the Cross and pierced by the spear, Thou hast poured forth immortality upon mankind. O our Savior, glory by to Thee.”

Remember how the disciples, just before the Last Supper, were disputing with one another who was the greatest? It is ironic that Christians would debate our Lord’s very Passion in a way to highlight (exaggerate, I think) our differences. We really are bad, aren't we? I can only cite Isaiah for all Christians: “By his stripes we were healed.”

5:22 PM


A Catholic priest sends the link to a review of The Passion by the Canadian writer Michael Coren, who among other things has written a biography of Chesterton: Hideous, stupid and barbaric. The priest writes:

I went to see "The Passion" yesterday. There was much in it I found well-done and powerfully rendered. Still, the review below by Michael Coren highlights those very features that most disturbed me about this film. I think Coren may overstate his case (as I said, I have mixed — not negative — feelings about it), but I think he makes some necessary critical points.
Coren's review begins:

Last week, I wrote a preamble column about Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion of the Christ. I said that I was extraordinarily optimistic. In fact, I have never before wanted to enjoy a movie so much.

But I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I was.

I love God and Jesus with all my heart, but for the life of me I cannot
embrace this film.

Forgive me if I cause offence, but I have to be honest.

This is some pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic blood cult. It is populated with medieval-type caricatures, screaming out of context, laughing at suffering.

2:27 PM


Another Orthodox priest responds to the Orthodox Diocese of Chicago's criticism of The Passion, quoted in yesterday's "Unpassionate Greeks":

I understand Fr. Demetri's objection, but he doesn't really understand why he objects in the way that he does. Orthodox sensibility, it's iconic tradition, simply doesn't focus on the suffering of Christ with the same graphic intensity that Gibson's traditional Catholicism does. These are hard images for Orthodox believers familiar with their liturgical tradition to place in any coherent frame of reference.

Where Fr. Demetri errors, is assuming that the emphasis on the crucifixion in the movie is all the makes up Catholic traditionalism. In his criticism of that tradition, he compounds the error by masking the centrality of the cross in the Christian gospel. If he understood both Catholicism and Orthodoxy better than he does, he would see that he confuses a Christian sensibility, an approach of worship and piety, with doctrinal issues.

One other point. Fr. Demetri is worried that "this is the only Gospel that people will hear" in a letter to the Greek Orthodox faithful in the Chicago Diocese. Don't they hear in Church?
As a Catholic, I appreciate this and the other two responses from Orthodox readers. My own experience is, as the writer quoted below in "A more passionate Greek" said, that many "Orthodox clergy and spokespersons seem compelled to negatively respond to almost anything that doesn't originate from the Orthodox Church." Some will use almost anything to make a debating point and throw down the weakest argument as if they were slapping a royal flush down on the poker table and raking in all the chips.

Converts are by far the worst at doing this, as you would guess. I can understand their joy in sharing what they've found in Orthodoxy, and I can even understand their wanting to make clear its superiority (speaking from their point of view) to the alternatives, but I do find it trying that they give Western Christianity the back of their hand, as if it's too absurd or defective to bother with. Their arguments are often embarassingly inept and (or) ignorant.

I think this treatment of other Christians often a sin against charity, but at the very least, it is an intellectual mistake. It is a mistake from their point of view. If they want to make the best argument for Orthodoxy, they have to deal seriously with the best arguments for the alternatives. If they don't, they are in fact tacitly accepting the superiority of the alternatives' arguments and claims. They are like an invading army ignoring the other country's forces and instead attacking a bunch of boys playing soldiers down the road, and declaring they'd conquered the country when they'd only defeated boys armed with water pistols and tree branches.

The benefit of taking the others seriously is a degree of greater unity rather than greater division. True ecumenism grows in part from the serious encounter with the best representatives and the best arguments other Christians offer, in doing which you discover that you disagree not only with a massive and serious tradition but with very learned and holy people. You will continue thinking that on some crucial matters your Church is right and theirs is wrong, but you will understand better how they can hold their errors with integrity and with a love of the Lord and his Church as great as yours.

2:05 PM


Our contributing editor Dr. William Tighe (he teaches history at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania) writes in response to yesterday's "A Dubious Distinction":

If one goes to the web site of the "Midwest Conservative Journal" ( and goes back to the (only) entry for 2/18/2004 "Slippery Slope," one will find a vast exchange about this article, including several contributions from Lindsay Ashford himself.

It turns out that Mr. Ashford is an Episcopalian, and seems to regard himself as a Christian, and he delivers himself at some length of the usual sort of pseudo-Scriptural arguments in favor of his "orientation" (on which he claims never to have acted) that liberal revisionist religionists of all sorts use to defend homosexualism and doctrinal revisionists of all sorts.

2:02 PM


Another response to yesterday's "Unpassionate Greeks," this one from our contributing editor the Rev'd Robert Hart, a priest of the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake:

Having a younger brother who is a very accomplished Orthodox theologian, and having read many an e-mail from Patrick Henry Reardon over the years, I can safely conclude that the Chicago Greek Orthodox bishop was not truly representing the theology of the Orthodox Church by warning parishes against Mel Gibson's movie.

Having seen the movie this evening, and having been quite unable to do so without tears, I believe that The Passion of the Christ is a film that is needed, and very badly needed right now as a corrective to a crossless Christianity. People who confuse their own "sprituality" with faithfulness, who see the subject of ordination as tied to a concept of "rights" or power, who believe that the meaning of the Gospel is to be found in the popular preaching of "faith and prosperity" doctrines, who water down the message of Christ in "seeker sensitive churches", need to ask what St. Paul was warning against by speaking of "enemies of the cross of Christ." He did not say that they were enemies of Christ, but of His cross; they could speak well of Jesus, but they could never follow Him, or aid anyone else to do so.

Especially, I believe that all of the ladies, of both sexes, who have been selling or buying "Precious Moments" Bibles and other goods, should be forced to sit through this whole movie, with their eyes taped open.

12:25 PM


A Greek Orthodox priest writes in response to yesterday's "Unpassionate Greeks":

I am not surprised by the reaction in the Greek Orthodox critique of "The Passion" by Fr. Demetri Kantsavelos. After nearly 44 years as an Orthodox priest it is my observation that usually Orthodox clergy and spokespersons seem compelled to negatively respond to almost anything that doesn't originate from the Orthodox Church, in an attempt to always emphasize their difference from Catholicism and Protestantism. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the presentation, however true to the Gospels, they will always find something wrong with anything that they haven't originated.

While the "sacred Passion" in Orthodoxy stresses the triumphal voluntary passion of Christ, Who is the Lord of Glory, even in His extreme humility, there is also in the Orthodox Fathers, albeit in later centuries, a devotion centered on the Passion. To insist that there is this one and only understanding of the "atonement" is to betray an ignorance of the entire Orthodox Theological corpus through the centuries. Since the 1950's the trend, especially in the Greek Church, is to attempt to rid contemporary Orthodox Theology from "Latinizing" influences.

In my opinion, that group and many in their company fail to appreciate even the richness of our common Christian heritage, both Orthodox and Western, because of their limited perspective. Once again, I am saddened and disappointed by this.

12:21 PM


An interesting article from yesterday's Washington Post: Feminism in The 21st Century by Phyllis Chesler and Donna M. Hughes, who are, respectively, emerita professor of psychology at the City University of New York and holder of the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair in Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island. (The site requires registration, by the way.)

Though they are convinced feminists — they assert that "Feminists are right to support reproductive rights and sexual autonomy for women," by which they mean abortion and licentiousness — they do admit some of feminism's ideologically-driven failures to help women. For example:

Islamic fundamentalism threatens women all over the world. . . . Many feminists are out of touch with the realities of the war that has been declared against the secular, Judeo-Christian, modern West. They are still romanticizing and cheering for Third World anti-colonialist movements, without a realistic view of what will happen to the global status of women if the Islamists win.

The sexual revolution benefited women in some ways, but it also fueled sexual liberalism, which has resulted in the increasing normalization of prostitution. Feminists have been hampered in their response to this threat because there are divisions within feminism about the nature of prostitution: Is it a form of work that should be legalized or a human rights violation that should be abolished?
They argue that feminists should work with conservative groups on such issues, but they also manage to make an ideological argument by slandering such people. For example:

Too often feminists base their views of religious groups on outdated stereotypes. Groups that were hostile to feminism 40 years ago now take women's freedom and equality as a given. For example, faith-based groups have become international leaders in the fight against sex trafficking.
Notice how they equate taking "women's freedom and equality as a given" with opposing sex trafficking, which implies that these groups did not object to sex trafficking 40 years ago when they (supposedly) opposed "women's freedom and equality" (a phrase that would need close definition to be actually useful in this discussion). As it happens, if you had to find one group in American society that has always opposed sex trafficking and never wavered in its opposition, that group would not be feminists but these "faith-based groups."

At the end of the article, the writers assert that

Twenty-first-century feminists . . . must oppose dictatorships and totalitarian movements that crush the liberty and rights of people, especially women and girls. They would be wise to abandon multicultural relativism and instead uphold a universal standard of human rights.
Now, again, which group has steadfastly opposed "multicultural relativism" and upheld universal standards of morality? Not feminists, certainly. The group that has done so is those "faith-based groups." And further, which group has a coherent worldview that can legitimately assert universal standards? Not feminists. Again, it's those "faith-based groups."

I appreciate the authors' honesty about feminist failures and their recognition that the feminist movement needs to change. But I think they show the effects of their ideology, not just in their passing insults at moral conservatives but in the philosophical incoherence that lurks just underneath the assertions they make. Precisely what universal standards do they assert, and where do they get them? On what authority do they hold them and would impose them on others? Why, to make the point practical, is it wrong to exploit women in brothels but right to kill them in the womb?

The Christian has an answer to these questions. I rather doubt Professors Chesler and Hughes do.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
My thanks to Christianity Today's blogsite for the link.

12:18 PM

Thursday, February 26


An alarming article, though not surprising: 'I'm tired of being forced into the shadows by society' from a New Jersey newspaper, The Express Times. It begins:

After nearly three decades of failed relationships and emotional discontent, Lindsay Ashford has finally found himself. . . .

It wasn't until five years ago, at the age of 30, that Ashford realized why his brief marriage and his countless flings across the United States and Europe always ended the same.

Ashford is a pedophile.

For most of his life, he has buried his emotions and masked his long-secreted attraction. It wasn't until recently that Ashford decided to throw off the shackles of pedophilia and shed light on what he says is a misunderstood "sexual orientation." Last year, he became perhaps one of the first pedophiles in the world to put his name and face on a Web site to publicly profess his love for children.
The article goes on to describe the increasingly public movement of child-lovers, including the notorious National Man-Boy Love Association, which at least in the past marched along with the rest in "gay pride" parades but are now a p.r. problem for the homosexualists.

The assertion by pedophiles that their attraction to children is a natural sexual orientation with which they were born has done little to gain them allies. It is especially touchy for homosexuals -- who were similarly maligned in the past -- because gay advocacy groups used the same argument to win segments of social acceptance over the past two decades.

That, coupled with the notion of man/boy love, has caused gay rights groups to distance themselves from the pro-pedophilia movement to preserve their efforts for acceptance in the mainstream. . . .

"I think it can be both a disorder and an orientation," said Dr. Frederick Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

While he believes people who are sexually attracted to children should not feel ashamed of their condition, he also says they should not act on them.

"Many of these people need help in not acting on these very intense desires in the same way that a drug addict or alcoholic may need help," he said. "We don't for the most part blame someone these days for their alcoholism. We do believe that these people have a disease or a disorder, but we also recognize that in having it that it impairs their function, that it causes them suffering that they need to turn for help."
One immediately asks why this argument does not apply to homosexualists. Why is desiring children a disease and disorder and desiring someone of one's own sex not? What functions does the first impair that the second does not, and why not? One understands why the homosexualists are now so eager to distance themselves from the paedophiles, to prevent people from asking questions like these.

By the way, perhaps the article's most significant line was this one:

"We're not taking any position on NAMBLA," said Larry Frankel, legislative director for the ACLU in Pennsylvania.
No position. On paedophilia. Oh.

9:59 PM


An interesting article on The Passion by the producer of the X-Men movies and the writer of a book on the making of The Passion, which appeared on National Review Online: Passion Changes Everything: Box-office reverberations. They argue:

for the first time in history and in a manner and scale only hinted at by films like The Omega Code and Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie, a film has finally emerged that has five key ingredients: Star power, mainstream credibility, controversy, wide simultaneous release and deep resonance with traditionalist Christians.

When the dust settles after March 1, many of the rules of the filmmaking business may need revisions. For the first time, the industry will realize the profits that have been forfeited over the years by creating films that were out of sync with the interests of the citizens of the red states. In a post-Passion world, whoever figures out as Gibson apparently has, how to consistently tell stories that appeal to the heartland will be the beneficiary of the wellspring of affection Gibson's film has generated among people traditionally hostile to Hollywood.
They also suggest that instead of the $30 million opening weekend critics have predicted, the film may make $70 million. That might get Hollywood's attention.

Gibson, of course, has a great story to tell and to his eternal credit seems in telling it to have felt no need to preach. I have no idea what The Omega Code is, but I saw Jonah and though I enjoyed it, I thought a lot of it lame and to be endured till the movie got back to doing something funny. My eldest two agreed.

The preachy bits really did harm the movie and limited its appeal to those who don't mind being preached at, and preached at clumsily. So in explaining The Passion's success I would add a sixth key ingredient to the writers' five: an arresting story told without preaching. Even conservative Christians don't like being preached at but do like imaginatively entering a man's life, especially that of a man like Jesus.

4:56 PM


A very good article on the federal marriage amendment by Mary Ann Glendon, who is both a professor at Harvard Law School and a devout Christian (a Catholic): For Better or for Worse? from yesterday's Wall Street Journal. It is subtitled "The federal marriage amendment would strike a blow for freedom." She writes for the judges who have demanded Massachusetts do what they want:

Those judges are here in Massachusetts, of course, where the state is cutting back on programs to aid the elderly, the disabled, and children in poor families. Yet a four-judge majority has ruled in favor of special benefits for a group of relatively affluent households, most of which have two earners and are not raising children. What same-sex marriage advocates have tried to present as a civil rights issue is really a bid for special preferences of the type our society gives to married couples for the very good reason that most of them are raising or have raised children. Now, in the wake of the Massachusetts case, local officials in other parts of the nation have begun to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples in defiance of state law.
She then goes on to discuss the economic and cultural costs of the innovation, as well as the injustice involved in giving benefits to such couples but not to those altruistically caring for others.

4:46 PM


A Methodist pastor in San Francisco is facing a complaint for performing “gay marriages.” (The story comes from the United Methodist News Service.)

Feb. 25, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS) - A complaint has been filed against a United Methodist clergywoman for performing a series of gay wedding ceremonies after City Hall issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Rev. Karen Oliveto conducted seven ceremonies at San Francisco City Hall and an eighth in the sanctuary at Bethany United Methodist Church during the Feb. 15 worship service. Oliveto, Bethany's pastor, said she was acting on requests by the eight gay or lesbian couples after City Hall announced it would issue the marriage licenses. The pastor, who knew all the couples, said she took the requests as "an opportunity to extend pastoral care" to her parishioners.

Her district superintendent, the Rev. Jane Schlager, informed her Feb. 19 that a complaint has been filed against her for "disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church." A pastoral and administrative supervisory meeting in early March with Bishop Beverly Shamana of the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference will be the next step in the complaint process.

"I am looking forward to the opportunity of discussing and sharing with the church the miracle of God moving in our midst in San Francisco and creating a new world," Oliveto said at a Feb. 22 news conference, with her congregation standing behind her.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline forbids the celebration of same-sex unions by the denomination's clergy and in its sanctuaries. The book states that homosexuals are persons of sacred worth, but it condemns the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching. . . .

Oliveto has been pastor of the diverse Bethany congregation since 1992. In 2002, she earned a doctorate in religion and society from Drew University with a dissertation on "Movements of Reform, Movements of Resistance: Homosexuality and The United Methodist Church."

Oliveto said that performing the recent same-sex ceremonies was "the most moving thing I've ever done in my ministry — to finally be able to pronounce them legally wed."
The most moving thing? She may pronounce away. It isn’t marriage. The proper way to extend pastoral care to homosexual persons is to get them to stop.

4:12 PM


For a very helpful long list of sites dealing with The Passion (pro and con), see Christianity Today's weblog. Scroll down.

3:15 PM


Another view of The Passion, this one from our contributing editor Rod Dreher, who is an editor at the Dallas Morning News: Gibson was right to shout. He writes in the middle of the column, after noting that most of us would have done as the Roman rulers and soldiers and the mob did:

That's why as Jesus, beaten to a bloody pulp, makes his way to the hill atop which he will die, you begin to understand in your bones the Christian belief that all mankind killed Jesus.

There, dragging his cross and his mangled flesh to Golgotha, goes every slave who suffered a master's lash.

There goes every Christian who perished in Josef Stalin's gulags, every Jew hounded to death on the streets of Nazi Germany.

There goes baby Tyreona Mabry, her broken body found in Dallas last week, allegedly the victim of her parents.

Neighbors didn't answer the baby girl's cries. Neighbors like you and me. We crucify Jesus every day. This relentless film forces us to confront what that means.

With Jesus in his death throes, you wonder: Was it necessary for Mel Gibson to have shown all this gore? "To the hard of hearing you shout," said Flannery O'Connor. Mr. Gibson shouts. In this barbaric world, he's right to.

3:09 PM


An Orthodox friend sent round a story on the condemnation of The Passion by the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago, which sent a letter to its parishes warning them about the movie.

"It distorts the gospel message," said the Very Rev. Demetri Kantzavelos, chancellor of the Chicago diocese, which includes 59 parishes in Illinois and five other Midwestern states. "The errors that deviate from the gospel are profound."

"My fear is that this might be the only 'gospel' that people see or read," he said.

. . . A critique of the film also released by Kantzavelos for the diocese said Gibson's interpretation of the death of Jesus "distorted the ultimate meaning of Christ's passion" and was "beyond the embrace of Orthodox Christianity."

"The Orthodox Christian tradition has never focused attention on nor explicitly promulgated an 'atonement theology' as central to church teachings," Kantzavelos wrote in the critique. "The point of Christ's death was to triumph over death and make a way for each of us who come after him to join with him.

"The film misses this point," he wrote. "In Orthodox Christianity, we are asked to identify with his victory, not with his suffering alone."
My friend sent round this note:

This morning the Greek Archdiocese of Chicago condemned Mel Gibson's movie, thus adding its own voice that of the Jews. For a biblical perspective on this most recent development, I refer you to First Corinthians 1:23.
Which reads (I am using the Orthodox Study Bible, which seems appropriate):

. . . but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.

3:04 PM


First, Phillip Johnson, one of our columnists and author of Darwin on Trial and several other books, writes to announce a new book:

Take a few minutes to read the description of Richard Weikart's book at this web site, friends. I have read the manuscript and recommend it highly. It is going to have a major effect on public discussion of Darwinism. Here's a page on Richard's forthcoming book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany:
And second, Spence Publishing announces that J. Budziszewski's What We Can't Not Know is now out in paperback. This is a book I recommend. We published a shortened and revised version of one chapter in "The Furies of Conscience" in the September issue.

2:56 PM


A very interesting comparison of The Passion of the Christ with Tom Wolfe's novel A Man in Full by Steve Garber: The Word Made Flesh: Stoicism and the Incarnation. Garber is a Fellow of the Wilberforce Forum and also teaches at Calvin College.

2:46 PM


Among the flood of reviews of The Passion of the Christ, here is Roger Ebert's review from the Chicago Sun-Times. Though he is not a believer now — "I myself am no longer religious in the sense that a long-ago altar boy thought he should be," he writes at the end — he defends the movie ably. He writes near the beginning:

As an altar boy, serving during the Stations on Friday nights in Lent, I was encouraged to meditate on Christ's suffering, and I remember the chants as the priest led the way from one station to another:

At the Cross, her station keeping ...

Stood the mournful Mother weeping ...

Close to Jesus to the last.

For we altar boys, this was not necessarily a deep spiritual experience. Christ suffered, Christ died, Christ rose again, we were redeemed, and let's hope we can get home in time to watch the Illinois basketball game on TV. What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of. That his film is superficial in terms of the surrounding message — that we get only a few passing references to the teachings of Jesus — is, I suppose, not the point. This is not a sermon or a homily, but a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it.

2:15 PM

Wednesday, February 25


David van Biema of Time recognizes the roots of The Passion in the medieval devotion to the sufferings of Christ. Fortunately we have outgrown that:

The Passion of the Christ is a one-note threnody about the Son of God being dragged to his death. That may be just the ticket for some times and for some benighted places where understanding human torment in terms of God's love is the only religious insight of any use. But in a culture as rich, as powerful, as lucky and as open-minded as ours — one might even say, as blessed — it is, or should be, a very bad fit indeed.
Woe to you rich, woe to you who laugh now, woe to you when all men speak well of you.

8:17 PM


Haiti right now is facing a violent “revolution,” with opposition forces threatening the ouster of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The rebel forces have turned down an international peace plan to share power with the president, who has appealed outside of Haiti for help in avoiding bloodshed, which seems imminent.

Aristide is no stranger to violence. On September 11, 1989, Aristide, a Silesian priest, was saying Mass at St. John Bosco Church when 100 Tonton Macoutes (former members of the secret police) attacked Sunday morning worshipers. Thirty of his parishioners were killed and Aristide narrowly escaped. He was an outspoken opponent of President-for-life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, ousted in 1986 by a popular uprising. Aristide was also critical of the new military government when the attack occurred. He was later democratically elected president, deposed in 1991 by a military coup, and reinstated in 1994 under force of American arms. Now, another bloody coup is in the making.

There seems to be no stability in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The history of Haiti is tragic, dark, full of violent revolutions and dictatorships, and one is tempted to conclude it has the bleakest of futures unless something radically changes. Is it possible that a dark shadow hangs over Haiti—voodoo?

On May 14, 1988, Jean Bertrand Aristide was interviewed by Touchstone. When asked about voodoo, he had this to say:

“I have to respect any kind of religion. In this voodoo religion I find something to love and something to throw away. Likewise, in the Catholic Church there is both bad and good. In this religion we find the roots of our culture. I’m proud to be a Haitian and I’m not ashamed of voodoo, as long as you talk about voodoo as a religion.

“[Voodoo and Christianity] are two ways to understand God. You can find contradictions, but both believe in one God. Unfortunately, those who came from Europe imposed their religion instead of respecting the African religion.”

Is there a connection between voodoo and Haiti’s history? I don’t know, but I do wonder. Aristide should know that there is only one way for the Christian to understand God: in the face of Christ upon whom the glory of God the Father shines. Haiti, and all nations, need that very Light. Desperately. Pray for Haiti.

6:49 PM


Commenting on Gibson’s The Passion is a little too much like commenting on the event itself: the proper response to both is shattered silence.

However, the film is a work of art, rather than a film of the event, and can be commented on. There are one or two false notes in the film, but it is overwhelmingly a profound meditation on the Passion, a meditation that uses but is not limited to the historical Western meditation on the passion.

Gibson has done extraordinary things.

In the patristic controversy about the divinity of Christ, even the orthodox believers tended to deemphasize Christ’s sufferings because they seemed to call into question his divinity. In art this led to depictions of Christ in which he was shown as mildly frazzled on the cross, but not in agony.

However Western art in the later Middle Ages developed a tradition of showing a tortured Christ. Those Christians whose lives were a torture, the sick, the poor, the dying could look on Jesus who shared fully in their sufferings.

Gibson has followed this tradition and made it even more profound. When he was told that no mere human being could have endured the sufferings shown in The Passion, he said that was the point: Christ’s divinity is shown not in his miracles or in the amelioration of his sufferings, but in his suffering being far greater that a human being could endure. Divinity is shown not in impassibility, but in extreme, super-human suffering. This is the ultimate kenosis, the self-emptying of the Godhead, the display of a divine power beyond all human imagining.

The film has been accused of anti-Semitism. But Jesus is shown as suffering as a Jew, as a representative of an oppressed people. The cruel Roman soldiers despise the Jews, and enjoy torturing a Jew. Jesus is Israel, suffering and oppressed throughout history, the poor man whom God will vindicate in the end. American blacks and oppressed people throughout the world identify with the extreme sufferings of Jesus. He has entered into the poverty and oppression and suffering that is their lot in life. Gibson is close to what is authentic in Liberation Theology.

The film is also profoundly Marian. Mary’s participation in the passion, briefly mentioned in the Gospel, is explored. Flesh of her flesh dies on the cross. The flashbacks to Jesus as a child and as a young man heighten the pathos almost beyond endurance. Jesus’ human love for his mother is also shown as a motive for his endurance of suffering. After the first session of the scourging, he falls, but sees her and rises with new strength to receive an even crueler scourging

The negative reviewers don’t seem to realize that they are in the film too: the shadowy figure that tempts Christ, saying that no human being can bear all the sins of the world, the negative, carping spirit that sneers at suffering.

The Catholic bishops have not shown enthusiasm for the film. I am not surprised. They too are a little too much like the pontifices of the Jews in the film, who have decided that it is well that one man should die to preserve the people. The bishops decided time and time again it was well that children should suffer sexual abuse and commit suicide rather than that the honor of the clergy be lessened.

12:42 PM


Perhaps of interest to those (like myself) who follow the debates between science and religion: Our friends at the Discovery Institute have a new book due out March 10. They have a new website for the book: Privileged Planet.

Here is a synopsis, taken from the website:

For centuries scientists and philosophers have marveled at an eerie coincidence. Mathematics, a creation of human reason, can predict the nature of the universe, a fact physicist Eugene Wigner referred to as the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences." In the last three decades astronomers and cosmologists have noticed another, seemingly unrelated, mystery. Contrary to all expectations, the laws of physics seem precisely "fine-tuned" for the existence of complex life.

Could these two wonders actually be isolated pieces of a wider pattern? Both are prerequisites for science, yet what about the process of scientific discovery itself? What are its necessary conditions? Why is it even possible? Read any book on the history of science, and you'll learn about magnificent tales of human ingenuity, persistence, and dumb luck. But that's only part of the story, and not even the most important part. Our location is much more critical to science than it is to real estate. For some reason our Earthly location is extraordinarily well suited to allow us to peer into the heavens and discover its secrets.

Elsewhere, you might learn that Earth and its local environment provide a delicate, and probably exceedingly rare, cradle for complex life. But there's another, even more startling, fact, described in The Privileged Planet: those same rare conditions that produce a habitable planet--that allow for the existence of complex observers like ourselves-also provide the best overall place for observing. What does this mean? At the least, it turns our view of the universe inside out. The universe is not "pointless" (Steven Weinberg), Earth merely "a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark," (Carl Sagan) and human existence "just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents" (Steven Weinberg). On the contrary, the evidence we can uncover from our Earthly home points to a universe that is designed for life, and designed for discovery.

I have no doubt, based on the past work of the Discovery Institute, and the endorsements (which you can find on the website) that this book will be very helpful to the discussion.

10:29 AM

Tuesday, February 24


Also perhaps of interest: some of the articles from the January/February issue are now available online.

6:42 PM


Two articles from the March issue posted on the website in advance:

— Fr. Robert Hart's The Gay Divorce, on the real problem with making Gene Robinson a bishop;

— and my The Dust of Adam, an exegesis of sorts of the Ash Wednesday liturgy.

I know posting the second may look egotistical, but I don't choose what we put up on the website. Though if I may say so, preachers may find it useful for their sermons tomorrow.

The issue should be going in the mail in the next few days.

6:40 PM


I've just finished hearing three very good lectures by Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial and other books, and contributing editor of and regular columnist for Touchstone. During the last lecture I wrote a limerick for him:

A Berkeley lawyer named Phillip,
Argued when Darwin was still hip,
That for all he had said,
His great thought was quite dead,
For of proof he had none— nill, zip.

All right, you try finding two rhymes of "Phillip."

2:55 PM


Brad Hansen, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church in Jetmore, Kansas, sends a helpful reference in response to yesterday's "Eliminate the TV":

Just by way of a cross reference to your entry cited from Salon — there is a related theme to be found in an interview which Ken Myers does with Jedediah Purdy, reviewing his book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today. For those who wish to follow up, this interview can be found on Mars Hill Audio, Volume 43, March/April 2000. I found the discussion to be quite illuminating as to our cultural atmosphere, and Purdy's comments spot on.

2:49 PM


Offering another response to Jim Kushiner's item (now two items below), Deacon Michael D. Harmon, a member of the Charismatic Episcopal Church writes:

I saw the movie last night at a preview sponsored by an interfaith forum where about half the audience was Jewish.

There was considerable comment before the movie by the forum's Jewish leaders about the dangers of anti-Semitism, with some thoughtful responses by mainline, evangelical and RC ministers to their concerns. The evangelical pastor, who was the only one there to have seen it previously (at a denominational preview), said something both inspiring and, in that group, courageous: "Only those who bring anti-Semitism to this film will find anti-Semitism in it." Then he offered copies of the Gospel of Luke to anyone who wanted one. . . .

The mainline preacher said simply, "After you've seen the movie, read the Book." And the RC priest listed a Vatican publication's comments on the film, including a condemnation of anti-Semitism, but then said, "Remember that the Gospel story only starts here, and we're living in the time of the Resurrection and what that means for humanity today.

I was kind of proud of all of them.

This morning I attended my weekly men's Bible study. As the leader today (it rotates among the group), I dumped the lesson plan and talked about the Passion. Another pastor there, who is providing guidance at a preview tonight for other people, asked what I could tell him that would be useful for nonbelievers there who had questions.

All I could say was, God only has one story to tell. It is the Gospel, in all its fullness, the whole story, without anything left out. Yes, there are Jews who did bad things. There are Gentiles who did bad things (Romans). They are not beyond redemption (the centurion's faith, Pilate's doubts, the soldiers at the crucifixion falling to their knees). There are Jews and Gentiles who do good things (Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary, Simon, other soldiers). The message is possible redemption for all of them by the sacrifice of Jesus.

To me, one of the most telling scenes (among many, many such) was Jesus praying for forgiveness for his tormentors from the Cross. Dismas calls out to the departing Caiaphas, "He's praying for YOU, priest!" It occurred to me that having the Son of God Himself praying that you be forgiven might be a very effective prayer. . . .

In the end, though, the movie is sacramental. It is about the Eucharist, about Jesus' body being broken for us, about His blood being spilled. About His blood, blood, blood, blood, blood. . . .

You are precisely correct. We must tell the story. We have no other mission on Earth.

2:44 PM


A response to Jim Kushiner's "Deluged & sober on the Passion" (next item) from the Rev. David G. Poedel, the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Tucson, Arizona. He writes:

This media phenomenon reminds me of the brief increase in Divine Service attendance I witnessed following the 9/11/01 attack. I will be interested to see if there is any change in attendance in my conservative, liturgical, inner-city, bilingual parish. I will not print a whole lot more bulletins in the next few weeks, but would love to be surprised!

As a good Lutheran who preaches the Cross in every sermon, I appreciate your comments on what changes this may bring to our brothers in the "evangelical" churches with their "10 Steps to successful whatever" sermons.

I will not go to the movie, I read and preach the original. I also trust the reviews that the scourging is grossly overdone in length, though probably realistic to the times. I would be interested in exploring the branch of Roman Catholicism that Gibson is a part of and the piety of same group. In other words, is there an emphasis on the flagellation aspects of the Passion like many groups of the past in Roman piety?

It is really challenging to watch our broadcast network and cable news readers try to interview and discuss this film. In almost all cases, they haven't a clue what they are talking about. My favorite was a Deborah Norville segment on MSNBC yesterday here she was discussing the merchandising of the movie (I confess, it IS disgusting) and how she fumbled through the merchandise and tried to describe what it meant. Their
"experts" were an owner of a typical evangelical type Christian bookstore chain and a Unitarian Pastor and a columnist who was the least clued of any of them! Painful to watch.

2:39 PM


Every day, it seems, I get something in the mail or via internet that plays off the movie that everyone (including me) is talking about that is opening tomorrow. I received a catalog yesterday for “Passion” banners and doorknob hangers and “ImpactCards(tm)” and Passion Evangelistic booklets. Today I received a DVD of a new version of the Jesus film. I truly hope this all does some good. No doubt, it will do some good for some one. After a long drought of being ignored by the media, it seems gratifying that Christianity has received at least some respectful attention.

And yet I have this worry that as with most cultural fads these days many people will get their fill of the Passion, and then move on to the next thing. For some, that may mean starting to go to church, and that we would think is a good thing. On the other hand, is it always? If we manage to get more people into pews, will that be enough? There are some churches where being in the pew may be hazardous to your spiritual health.

The content and quality of what they hear and see and do once they are there is critical. I get the impression from some pastors that Gibson’s film is opening up the Passion to them in a new way. Hence I ask, How so? And what were you preaching before this? I ask this, which I think is a fair question, because the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection is not simply first in priority, but the sine qua non of the Church’s preaching.

If it’s a matter of a greater depth and intensity, that’s one thing—we are all seeking to always go deeper in our faith, to grow in our understanding. But if it’s a shift in focus, then it means that for some time many have been wrongly focused. Dare pastors and leaders admit this? And further, come to grips with the reasons that they could stray from the central story? As an example of such straying, I would point to churches that avoid putting crosses up because they are “turn offs” for seekers.

We flatter ourselves, I think, in portraying many as true seekers. The Scriptures are clear that "no one seeks God" and all have "gone astray." If someone is a true seeker, he will not be put off by the Cross. In truth, Jesus is the only true Seeker—he came to seek and to save that which was lost, and he drew all men to himself only when he was lifted up on the cross, as it says in St. John’s Gospel.

To understand the disease of sin and death fully, we need to see what it took to cure us—the Cross. It’s not a one-time vaccination, and therefore not something that we can lay aside only to pick up now and then. The writer of Hebrews says to Christians that our sin “clings so closely” to us.

The solution to this ongoing state? Hebrews follows with: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God." (Heb. 12:1–3) There's the Cross, again. The writer goes on to write about allowing the discipline of God, sometimes "painful," that we need to stay the course.

Those who come into the pews in the wake of the Passion, how ever many or few that may be, need to be told that what they saw and that which moved them so deeply is the path set before them. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Sudan and China know by their suffering what this means. It is a serious thing to become a Christian, if we mean by that taking up the Cross. And if we don’t mean that, then what have we to do with the Gospel? We may be “spiritual,” but then again there are many spiritual entities in the universe, and not all of them are heading for glory. Salvation, which is free, is also costly. A man must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Christ, who said it. And did it.

12:10 PM

Monday, February 23


An article some of you may find interesting: An Illicit Journey Out of Egypt, Only a Few Questions Asked from today's New York Times. It tells the story of a stele stolen from an Egyptian archaeological dig and eventually bought by someone in New York City.

3:48 PM


Our contributing editor Fr. Robert Hart sends this link to Sexed-Up New Haven by Meghan Clyne, from National Review Online. It is subtitled "Yale hosts a campus-wide orgy." Bob comments:

Four things stand out from this piece about "sex week" at Yale.

1. The approval of Yale itself for the event.

2. Participation of a professor

3. A seeming new alliance between feminists and pornographers.

4. Proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.

I was able in the past to agree with feminists about pornography; but they seem not to care about it anymore. Planned Parenthood is, as always, a perfect ally for anyone who promotes fornication, as they stand to profit from "terminating" the "unwanted pregnancies" that result.

3:25 PM


My thanks to all those who responded to my request for comments about the revision or upgrade to the website. Many of you said that on your browsers you had scroll sideways back and forth to read each line.

I've forwarded all your comments to our designer and trust that he can find an answer to this problem. One difficulty he has is that the columns are on his browser the right length, so his tinkering with the programming is in a way (to switch metaphors) flying blind.

3:21 PM


In response to the string that began with Movie toilets (all right, it was a bad title, but I'm sure it got readers' attention) and continued with In defense of prudery, then The aim of art, and finally What we ought to see and hear, William Calhoun writes:

In your very interesting discussion concerning morality and the arts, you mentioned that you suspected that the nature of television and radio might be inherently different from other media.

I would bring to your attention the book: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander. The title isn't misleading. He argues that the very nature of television makes it unlike any other media (such as movies) and therefore more dangerous than we might otherwise suspect.

The editorial review from states:

"A total departure from previous writing about television, this book is the first ever to advocate that the medium is not reformable. Its problems are inherent in the technology itself and are so dangerous — to personal health and sanity, to the environment, and to democratic processes — that TV ought to be eliminated forever.

Weaving personal experiences through meticulous research, the author ranges widely over aspects of television that have rarely been examined and never before joined together, allowing an entirely new, frightening image to emerge. The idea that all technologies are "neutral," benign instruments that can be used well or badly, is thrown open to profound doubt. Speaking of TV reform is, in the words of the author, "as absurd as speaking of the reform of a technology such as guns."

You are not alone in your suspicion about the nature of the beast.

3:18 PM


There is more and more buzz, most of it good, about Mel Gibson’s Passion, due out in theatres on Ash Wednesday. Late on Saturday I watched a very surprising, and seemingly very Christian review—actually two reviews—of the film by film critics Ebert and Roeper:

EBERT: ''I was also deeply moved by 'The Passion of the Christ', which in excruciating details does follow the blood-soaked Stations of the Cross. Christianity has focused on the physical wounds of Jesus to show that he suffered, as well as died, for man's sins, and this movie makes it real.''
Both critics wholeheartedly adopted the view that the question of who really killed Jesus was not material, that we all did, “our sins” as Ebert said, were the cause. I have heard Ebert, who launched his film review career in Chicago, for quite a number of years now, and I have to say this is the most remarkable thing I have ever heard him say. He must have been “deeply moved” by the film. Perhaps others will be as well.

Lent (which begins today for Eastern Orthodox Christians) is a 40-day reminder of why Our Lord’s Passion was necessary, and a preparation to encounter His Passion liturgically in Holy Week, all of which leads to the Resurrection.

Will the Passion film do the churches any good? If people return to meditating on the Cross, it should. If it takes a film, well, why not? Some of us return to it through adversity, failure, death of a loved one, the reading of Scripture, or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. At this point in the life of our nation, I don’t think we can spend too much time thinking about the Cross. The early Christians knew the way of discipleship, and it was given to them as the Way of the Cross. Will that preach? It doesn't matter--it's the only calling we have.

11:46 AM

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