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Saturday, March 13


The Passion of the Christ is just a film, and can be criticized. But many object to it because it reminds us of the passion. DAVID WATERS of the Scripps Howard News Service writes (this is not a parody):

The Crucifixion is found in 43 of the 3,779 verses of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John didn't dwell on the Crucifixion. Why should the church? Why should any of us?
And why should any child dwell on Gibson's interpretation of a 19th-century nun's vision of a Dark Ages' version of Latin and Greek translations of Hebrew and Aramaic stories of a brutal event witnessed by a few thousand ancients, if that many?
The Gospels aren't a tragedy. They're a love story.

6:58 PM

Friday, March 12


I am posting here a link to a press release on “gay marriage” from the Association for Church Renewal. If you go to the IRD home page (,) you will see a button: • Sign a Statement of Support for the Marriage Amendment.

Go there and sign the petition. The activists are turning up the heat. They want the name of marriage to be applied to what they do. It is not, and cannot be, ever. A list of signatories will be delivered to the White House. Spread the word.

The statement itself:

A Statement of Support for the Defense of Marriage Amendment


We are members of churches in the United States. We are saddened that some U.S. church leaders have offered public statements and teachings that undermine rather than strengthen marriage and family in our society. Our commitments to marriage are rooted in God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. But we also affirm the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith reality of marriage showing that marriage is rooted in creation, God’s law written on the human heart. Please join us is signing the following statement. The statement and signatures will be given to the President of the United States and to leaders of the U.S. Congress.


Marriage is the primary, essential institution of civil society. It has come under increasing attack from those who would remake marriage into the image of shifting cultural trends rather than affirm the unchanging design given to us at creation - a design recognized across cultures and history. We also acknowledge the unambiguous sociological evidence that children are best off with a mother and a father. It is becoming increasingly clear that legal measures to protect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman are necessary to preserve the place of marriage in our society. We support measures protecting the definition of marriage, including the prompt adoption of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as necessary to safeguard this fundamental social institution from unwarranted and destructive revision.

Again, spread the word and take a stand. Send it to everyone that you know. Today. Some think it is already too late. Perhaps; God only knows. But we must speak regardless.

3:31 PM


This is a fascinating report on what seems to be a small victory at the UN for pro-family forces. Three cheers to the courageous people speaking in defense of traditional views. They have their work cut out for them. The liberal pro-abortion, pro-sexual liberation, and (thus) pro-gay activists may lose a round here, but they will not give up.

FRIDAY FAX March 12, 2004 Volume 7, Number 12

After sustained pressure from the United States delegation, the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is on the verge of removing controversial language relating to reproductive and sexual rights for boys, girls and women from a document now being negotiated at UN headquarters. The compromise, which appears highly likely to succeed at press time, represents a profound victory for the US, the Holy See, Muslim countries and some African countries, and a rebuke for the European Union, which had attempted to establish children’s reproductive rights as a centerpiece of the CSW outcome document, which is intended to address “the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.”

The compromise came in a closed door meeting held last night after a day of prolonged and at times contentious debate. The European Union had sought the inclusion of language “to respect the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls to prevent unwanted pregnancies,” which raised serious concerns in many delegations, most importantly the fear that such language might indirectly endorse a right to abortion. Some delegations wondered what “sexual rights” would include, since it is a new phrase without definition in earlier UN documents, and some worried that mentioning any such rights for girls, without reference to parent’s rights and authority, would constitute an extremely dangerous precedent.

It now appears likely that the entire line about women and girls will be struck from the document, as will “young men’s” access to reproductive and sexual health services.
There also seems to be growing concern over what constitutes “gender stereotyping.” Yesterday, the Holy See mentioned that motherhood and fatherhood, themselves, could be considered “gender stereotypes,” and therefore condemned by the language in the document. When the head of the US delegation, Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, elaborated on this point, she was roundly jeered by other delegations, and the Canadian diplomat chairing the meeting responded with exasperation that she did not want to debate the issue. But by late afternoon, other delegations were voicing the same concern as Sauerbrey. When the female delegate from Sudan asked for a definition of gender stereotyping in school books, the chairwoman responded by saying that “we can’t portray all boys as soccer players and all girls as playing with dolls.” To great laughter, the Sudanese delegate said, “But girls do play with dolls, we can’t change that. I’m still playing with my dolls.”

Now, it appears likely that “gender stereotyping” will be removed from the document, or at least defined so as not to include motherhood and fatherhood.

Other controversial language has already been struck from the document, including an effort by Canada to have the world community address the fact that homemakers do not receive salaries, what Canada calls “unremunerated work associated with women, including domestic and caregiving work.”

Copyright ˆ C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute). Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required. [The Friday Fax is reported and written by C-FAM Vice President Douglas A. Sylva.]

Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 427 New York, New York 10017 Phone: (212) 754-5948 Fax: (212) 754-9291 E-mail: Website:

11:52 AM

Thursday, March 11


Another interesting story on The Passion of the Christ, this one from the entertainment newspaper Variety (which explains the prose style): . (This is the link but it may not work for it. It didn't for me. I had to go to and search for "The Passion".)

The story reports that the movie has attracted a "bifurcated" crowd, including younger people (who see a lot of movies) and older people (who don't) -- like, as it happens, the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The audience is older than usual because of the R-rating.

"It looks surprisingly like the audience for a lot of our films," said Rick King of AMC, nation's second-largest chain. He said the heaviest demographic for "Passion" shows was ages 18-30.

. . . "The Latino response has been particularly strong," Berney [of the distributor Newmarket] said. "It has been the strongest group that has said they were going to see it a second time or more."

On opening weekend, he said women outnumbered men in the audience by about 60% to 40%, but that as the pic has played, the aud is now evenly divided between male and female.
I know, by the way, that some readers are less interested in this subject than I am, but it seems to me a culturally significant story. However, the extraordinary and unpredicted response to the movie may not be the great sign of hope and revival many Christians think it is. We have to give this much more thought. Remember how many Christian leaders announced that the country was returning to God because church attendance rose the two Sundays after 9/11.

9:21 PM


A mother writes in response to the string on Christian students going to secular colleges:

It's fine for your reader to recommend InterVarsity for college students, and many students join Campus Crusade for Christ.  Both groups, however, do tend to be very Protestant in their approach.  My daughters (formerly Episcopalian, now Anglican) were uncomfortable in both groups, Campus Crusade being the more fundamentalist of the two.  The style of study and prayer is typical of a non-denominational Protestant church, and is sometimes anti-Catholic.

That's not to say these are not valuable organizations; they're just not places where students from the liturgical churches easily fit in.

9:12 PM


Addison Hart sent round this article with the comment "Example 5,674 of something no one could ever parody . . .": Purr Box Goes to Communion At St. Francis Episcopal; A Group 'Bark Mitzvah'. It begins:

For the first time in 10 years, Mary Wilkinson went to church one Sunday in January. She sat in a back pew at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., flipping through a prayer book and listening intently to the priest's sermon.

What drew Ms. Wilkinson back into the fold was a new monthly program the church introduced -- Holy Communion for pets. As part of the service, the 59-year-old retired portfolio manager carried her 17-year-old tiger cat to the altar, waited in line behind three panting dogs to receive the host and had a special benediction performed for her cat, Purr Box Jr. "I like that the other parishioners are animal people," Ms. Wilkinson says.

With pews hard to fill, a small number of otherwise-traditional clergy are welcoming animals into the flock. Some are creating pet-friendly worship services, while others have started making house calls for sick animals. Some are starting to accompany pet owners to the vet when they euthanize a beloved pet. Occasionally, clergy are even officiating at pet funerals and group "bark mitzvahs." Congregants at temple Beth Shir Sholom, in Santa Monica, Calif., have an animal prayer sung to the tune of "Sabbath Prayer," a song from "Fiddler on the Roof": "May our God protect and defend you. May God always shield you from fleas."
His brother Robert (both brothers are contributing editors, by the way) responded by quoting Charles Bridges, a minister of the Church of England in the 19th century:
"The moment we permit ourselves to think lightly of the Christian ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility and relaxation remains."
Now, I like the blessing of the animals on St. Francis' feast day and I think the old engravings of farmers in country churches in England sitting in the pews with their old dog curled at their feet charming, but this kind of thing leaves me snickering rudely. I suppose what I find objectionable is the cutesiness of it, the treating of Christian worship -- which should be a solemn (a word that in this case includes real joy) encounter with the One who created the cosmos and redeemed your soul -- as a kind of theme party.

None of these people would expect to take their pets to a nice dinner party or a good restaurant or a job interview, something they took seriously, something for which they wanted real solmenity. It's only church, which they must not take seriously, to which they want to take their pets.

We are not animalphobes, by the way. Our home now contains one dog, half beagle and half (we think) golden retriever, whom we got as a puppy from the Humane Society (named Ben for reasons I can't remember), two rabbits, one guinea pig (being reddish, named Ron for the red-headed boy in the Harry Potter books), and two blue rats (named Numero, with the accent on the second syllable, and Fred, the latter being our fifteen-year-old's choice, fifteen being a smart-alecky age). We would have a cat but two of the children are terribly allergic.

8:49 PM

Wednesday, March 10


Ken Tanner, our marketing director, forwarded a message from a friend with a paragraph from USA Today his friend said was not posted online:

Passion finds favor -- The Passion of the Christ is just getting rolling at the box office, according to a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll. The poll shows that 11% of Americans have seen the film, another 34% plan to see it in theaters, and 31% plan to see it when it comes out on video. The poll, conducted by telephone from March 5-7 with 1005 adults, found that only 23% don't plan to see the film, while 1% had no opinion. Of those who have seen the movie, 78% said Passion strengthened their religious faith, while 64% said it gave them a new understanding of their faith. Only 13% of those polled said the R-rated film's graphic violence was unnecessary, while the rest found it appropriate for the portrayal of Jesus' last 12 hours.

12:42 PM


Daniel Lanterman sends responses to two recent items. First, he responds to the two blogs giving links to critiques of The DaVinci Code:

I greatly appreciated you piece "Gnosticism Lives, a Danger for the
Vulnerable."  I read Dan Brown's novel last weekend in hopes that I might be able to have fruitful conversations about with my roommate and a coworker who have read it earlier (I might add, these are both Ph.D. candidates in physics at a major research university).

While I was basically familiar with plot and the book's claims beforehand, I was glad that I read it for myself.  In many ways this novel struck me as double edged sword, making explicit attacks against the Faith, which then serve the distract the audience while more implicit attacks go unnoticed.

While my roommate is smart enough to realize that the evidence that Christ married Mary Magdalene is small to none, and that Constantine didn't "invent" the deity of Christ in 325, I do worry about how the novel constantly portrays the liberalization of Christianity as inevitable (such as the new liberal pope), how a distinctively American version of Christianity is portrayed as the worldwide norm, how "fundamentalism" is always leading to violence, how the church is constantly portrayed as sexist, and how not having female priests is prima facie evidence of this.

While many well written reviews, such as the ones you've linked to (my favorite is the two part series in Envoy, &, address the more explicit claims of the novel, and are probably needed by some misguided souls, I fear that these claims are not the most threatening aspect of this work.  After all, the obsession with Mary Magdalene is a fad, which will eventually pass.  (That said I fear other aspects of neo-gnosticism will become entrenched in our culture for a longer haul if they haven't already.  It may be of note that sales of Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels have increased seven-fold over the last year.)

One other element of the book that shocked me was the emphasis it gave to certain fertility rites.  Given that this novel is supposedly aimed at women (women buy most of fiction purchased in the US), I might think that it would have been more effective to focus on goddess worship while being a little less sexually explicit.  I may be wrong.
Second, he responds to Monday's item from an uncle worried about his nephew going to Yale, which some readers responded to last night:

Regarding the readers nephew who was recently accepted to Yale, the best piece of advice that I can give him would be to try to find a Christian roommate (I realize that this may be very difficult).  This is particularly important if he is living on campus, which is likely required.  It is extremely common for those living in the dorms for one roommate to kick the other one out while they invite their girlfriend/boyfriend over.  Sometimes they even force their roommates to stay at a friend's room for the night.  Given the amount a college student
spends on room and board, it gets VERY frustrating when it seems like one can hardly spend time in his own room.  At both my undergraduate school (Michigan Technological University), and what I hear from others at my graduate school (University of Maryland) this can be quite common, and viewed by many resident assistants as the norm (i.e. not grounds for getting a new roommate).

The other advice would be to attempt to find a good Christian student organization.  I had a wonderful experience with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Michigan Tech. While it should go without saying that these groups shouldn't take the place of a church (although every once in a while one them seems to start attempting to be one) they can be invaluable in finding Christian friends for support. Depending on the group, it may also provide the useful sort of trans-denominational interaction that Touchstone also fosters.

Lastly, I would like to agree with the reader who already responded that Christians are needed at places such as Yale. While not every campus may be bold enough to have its own "Sex Week," that doesn't mean its student's behavior is any different. The only way that I see to avoid it would be to go to one of a handful of conservative Christian schools, and I don't think that forcing ourselves into our own ghetto is the answer.

12:33 PM


I've been working through my inbox (grossly overfilled like almost everyone's) and found something a reader sent in for me to share, which I didn't do at the time, but do now: Dennis Prager's Why Young Women are Exposing Themselves. (Some editor had fun the day he got to name that column.)

One hears very little about modesty, these days. No one seems to believe in it as a defensive measure. I've found that if you argue, even among conservative Christians, that people should dress and act modestly so as not to lead others into temptation, you will usually get a rude noise in response. People, Christians as well as non-Christians, insist that if men tend to lust after partly-dressed women, it is the men's fault and the women need do nothing about it.

Of course the sinner is at fault for his sin, and slobbering Bob can't complain to the recording angel that Miss Cupcake wore her skirt too short, but the Christian does not leave it at that. He must care for his brother -- she must care for her brother -- in the ways that he needs to be cared for. One will try to avoid tempting a brother in Christ, or any other man (generic use, let me point out), especially if the temptation is as predictable as male lust.

You don't serve wine at a dinner when one of the guests is an alcoholic struggling not to drink just because you offer him water instead, you don't badger a compulsive gambler into a game of penny-ante poker just because the stake is small, you don't drag a depressed friend to a Bergmann film festival just because you think he ought to like better movies than he does. You give up some pleasure, some freedom, for the good of another.

Women do that in what I called defensive modesty: give up the pleasure (if it is that) of revealing clothing for the good of another. Of course there are limits to what women can be expected to do for their brothers. Burkhas, for example, are out. But charity seems to require more clothing than many (mostly young) women wear. They don't need to expose their belly button or outline their torso, after all.

And if no one seems to believe in modesty as a defensive measure, no one seems to believe in it as an erotic measure either. One guards some things from public sight in order to make sharing them in the private, exposing them in private, all the more powerful — to make the experience unique, a secret only two people share, which they hold against the whole world. The more modest are a man and wife in public, the more exciting, the more intimate, the more bonding (to coin a word), will be their private immodesty (if that's the right word). Modesty offers a great profit for what is after all a small investment.

This strikes me as obvious. One would think a people always searching for the newest sex tips (judging from the covers of the magazines sold at the checkout counter of the grocery store down the hill) would have hit upon this one. It is obvious, at least, even to a pop feminist like Naomi Wolf, some of whose insights can be found in the article linked to in this blog. As the article concluded:

I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend who had become an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. When I saw her again, she had abandoned her jeans and T-shirts for long skirts and a head scarf. I could not get over it. Ilana has waist-length, wild and curly golden-blonde hair. "Can't I even see your hair?" I asked, trying to find my old friend in there. "No," she demurred quietly. "Only my husband," she said with a calm sexual confidence, "ever gets to see my hair."

When she showed me her little house in a settlement on a hill, and I saw the bedroom, draped in Middle Eastern embroideries, that she shares only with her husband — the kids are not allowed — the sexual intensity in the air was archaic, overwhelming. It was private. It was a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West. And I thought: Our husbands see naked women all day — in Times Square if not on the Net. Her husband never even sees another woman's hair.

She must feel, I thought, so hot.

Compare that steaminess with a conversation I had at Northwestern, after I had talked about the effect of porn on relationships. "Why have sex right away?" a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. "Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone," he said. "I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it's going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension."

"?Isn't the tension kind of fun?" I asked. "Doesn't that also get rid of the mystery?"

"Mystery?" He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: "I don't know what you're talking about. Sex has no mystery."

12:09 AM

Tuesday, March 9


Patrick O'Hannigan sends a link to an interesting article by The New York Times' David BrookS titled Hooked on Heaven Lite. (I think the site requires you to register if you haven't before.) It begins:

Who worries you most, Mel Gibson or Mitch Albom? Do you fear Gibson, the religious zealot, the man accused of narrow sectarianism and anti-Semitism, or Albom, the guy who writes sweet best sellers like "Tuesdays With Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven?"

I worry about Albom more, because while religious dogmatism is always a danger, it is less of a problem for us today than the soft-core spirituality that is its opposite. As any tour around the TV dial will make abundantly clear, we do not live in Mel Gibson's fire-and-brimstone universe. Instead, we live in a psychobabble nation. We've got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it.

11:31 PM


Three have (so far) readers responded to our correspondent's request in yesterday's "What advice?". First, Bill Reichert writes:

My daughter was graduated from UCLA last summer and is spending a post-graduate year in the Christian classics at the Trinity Forum Academy, just outside Easton, Maryland (home of one of your editors, Fr. Robert Hart). The academy was founded by Dr. Os Guinness, the noted evangelical author.

Guinness came to the Academy last fall to introduce his own high school mentor, Donald J. Drew of England. Drew just published a book, Letters To A Student: Encouraging Words From A Christian Mentor (Christian Focus, 2003). Guinness wrote the Foreword. It addresses your reader's concerns from the perspective of an English evangelical, but the lessons are easily applicable to all English-speaking Christians. The target audience is the high school senior headed off to a secular college who is worried about how a Christian student should cope with the academy. I cannot recommend it too highly.
This reminds me to recommend J. Budziszewski's How to Stay Christian in College, which is also very good.

Second, Peter Erickson writes:

I followed the link in your Sex Week at Yale blog a couple weeks and decided, after reading the article, that none of my three children would go to an Ivy League college. (Obviously this was not the first such article I had read. This was simply the final straw.) I printed the article and filed it away for the time when I'll have to explain to my parents why their grandchildren will not be attending certain elite institutions.

If the young man in question were my son, I'd strongly advise him to leave for another institution. But the question is which one? Yale is not at all atypical.

Our oldest will be a senior in high school next year. We are considering Hillsdale College because it has bravely resisted the PC plague and has maintained standards of basic decency. We are also considering several southern colleges and universities because the student bodies appear to be more conservative, even if the administrations are looking to the Ivies as models.

If you or any of your readers can provide us anxious parents (I was a graduate student just seven years ago, so I know what my kids are facing) some advice on selecting a college, I would be most grateful.
Third, a student at Harvard, Paul Schultz, writes:

What I have to say to the perspective Christian student at Yale, assuming the "Christian in pagan culture?" is the one question necessary for making your decision: Yale needs you. Yes, for the most part the place is totally adrift with the likes of Sex Week at Yale and Natalie Krinsky's Yale Daily News sex column.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go there. The place is obviously a mission field. Yale needs young Christians to stand in the gap and make the truth known, even if very, very few will listen.

Will it be dang hard your first couple of years? Yes. Until you find your peer group you may be incredibly lonely. Will you always be frustrated by the "official" campus ministry? probably. But, I know that there is almost always a remnant here at Harvard, a critical mass that can flavor the campus (if perhaps not leaven it), and I imagine there is one at Yale as well. And the forces of good will be one more foot soldier strong if you go.

You are an acceptee at Yale. "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

11:26 PM


Some readers have asked if we are going to publish anything on "Open Theism," a new movement among Evangelicals. The editors are trying to decide whether to publish something on the subject. The problem for a magazine like ours is what it can and should do on subjects other magazines and websites have already covered so extensively.

I've just been doing a websearch for the subject to get a better idea what has been done on it and found a couple of things readers might find helpful:

— a Select Bibliography on Open Theism; and

— David Wells' The Rejection of the Classical Doctrine of God and What It Says About the State of the Evangelical Movement (Wells is a senior statesman of conservative Evangelicalism and a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary).

I found a great deal more but Wells' article is the only one I had a chance to skim, so the only one I feel comfortable passing on here.

12:26 PM


Another article on marriage you might want to read is Maggie Gallagher's Can government strengthen marriage? (it's a pdf file). The Marriage Debate site includes much useful material from the social sciences, including Do fathers and mothers matter? and Social science and gay parenting.

11:09 AM


Two quite useful articles from Stanley Kurtz, The End of Marriage in Scandinavia and Slipping Toward Scandinavia: Contra Andrew Sullivan. The second will interest those of you interested in rhetoric because he nicely shows how Andrew Sullivan's arguments change — even reverse themselves — in his attempt to justify homosexual "marriage." Kurtz's basic argument, simplified, is that when marriage is publicly downgraded, either by the invention of "registered partnerships" or the like or by homosexual "marriages," marriage as we have known it disappears.

10:58 AM


Two announcements of conferences readers may like to attend. The first comes from a professor at Biola College in Los Angeles and comes with Phillip Johnson's recommendation.

Biola University's new Master s program in Science and Religion is hosting a conference from April 22-24, 2004 that will feature virtually a who's who in Inteligent Design roster of speakers. This conference is open to the public and will even feature some famous ID detractors (Michael Ruse and Will Provine) just to keep things interesting.

Today we set up the web site: with enough materials posted to give you a feel for the big events and to get your registration in (more details will be posted in the next day or two).
The second comes from Stratford Caldecott, one of our writers and director of the Chesterton Institute in England:

The Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture and Seton Hall University
First Oxford Conference: 12 to 15 August 2004

Fantasy, Children’s Literature and the Spiritual Role of the Imagination
at Christ Church, Oxford and the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy

FEES: £350 ($650 US) residential, including £25 ($50 US) per day registration and all meals; 3-day reduced non-residential fee £70 ($130 US)

At the beginning of the new millennium, the future of Christian culture passes by way of the imagination
The popularity of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter speaks for itself. Fantasy literature (and by extension film) has become a vital cultural force shaping an uncertain future. Without their being aware of it, the rising generation is receiving its metaphysical and moral formation through the imaginative exploration of ‘other worlds’. In the historic setting of Oxford’s largest college, we set out to analyse and discuss the various trends in fantasy and children’s literature, a genre deeply rooted in British culture. Now fantasy attracts a growing adult audience, hungry for the type of questions that other modern literary forms have ceased to address.

‘I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since’ — G. K. Chesterton

Speakers include Léonie Caldecott on Spiritual Combat in Popular Culture, Stratford Caldecott on Tolkien’s Elvish England, Owen Dudley Edwards on the Celtic Fairy-World, Vigen Guroian on Peter Pan and Mowgli, Tom Howard on Towers and Wardrobes, Sarah Johnson on Pullman and the Anti-Inklings, Dwight Longenecker on the Way of the Hero, Francesca Murphy on Christian Storytelling, Theodore J. Sherman on Mythopoeia and Harry Potter, Carol Zaleski on Faith Seeking Understanding through Fantasy. Banquet in Christ Church Great Hall with special guest, Dr Barbara Reynolds. Inklings Tour of Oxford with Walter Hooper

Details on For schedule and registration, please write to Conference Information, Chesterton Institute, 6a King Street, Oxford OX2 6DF (tel. 01875 552 154 and ) or contact Danute M. Nourse at Seton Hall University, NJ, on .

10:49 AM


I know that heresies from Episcopal priests and bishops long ago lost any shock value they may have had, but a reader sent it a link to one such production and I post it for readers with a taste for such things. Here is 'The Passion' will prove a fiction like the Gospels by the Rev'd Harry Cook, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Clawson, Michigan, a place we can be quite sure the gospel is never preached. As he is announces in the third paragraph:

The death, birth and miracle narratives about Jesus of Nazareth are almost certainly confections that emerged from the collective imagination of late first-century C.E. communities of Jews and Gentiles, which had found common ground in a devotion to the ethical teachings of an itinerant street preacher from Galilee. It was apparently the radically countercultural nature of that teaching — as in “love your enemy” — that set Jesus apart from the countless other street preachers of the time, who may have been something like the first-century version of today’s pundits and talk-show hosts.

It is likewise apparent that the earliest examples of literature that would come to define Christianity were collections of sayings attributed to Jesus, a stylized form of which can be found, for example, in the section of The Gospel according to Matthew known as “the Sermon on the Mount.”
He goes on in the same way, repeating all the old theories of skeptical critics till he has pretty much proved (to his own way of thinking) that there is no actual value to "the Jesus myth."

I am not being flippant, but I really do have no idea why anyone would bother with the sort of religion Fr. Cook offers. If Christianity isn't substantially true, and if God has not actually for us men and our salvation come down from Heaven and been made man, it's a slightly ridiculous enterprise. You might as well try to feel reverance for Mithras or awe of Thor.

12:25 AM


A reader wrote, a couple of weeks ago I'm afraid, in response to Unplanning Parenthood:

Having followed the link posted on Mere Comments regarding Sex Week at Yale, I wonder whether the editors (or anyone in the community) has advice which I could share with my nephew who was just admitted to Yale. He's attended Park Community Church in Chicago and Christ Church of Oak Brook in Illinois, and I'm concerned about the spiritual mis-direction which is evident in New Haven.
The writer, and I, would be interested to know what readers would say to a young man off to such an institution. If you have any ideas, please use the "E-mail your comments" link at the top of the column to the left.

12:11 AM

Monday, March 8


A reader, Patrick O'Hannigan, writes in response to yesterday's "Gnosticism Lives," giving links to critiques of Dan Brown's pernicious book The DaVinci Code:

I enjoy "Mere Comments." Re Dan Brown's novel, don't miss Sandra Miesel's cover story in Crisis magazine:

Also, Amy Welborn has written a pamphlet debunking Brown's book:
Another reader wrote to say that Amy Wellborn had a book on the subject appearing soon from the Catholic publisher Our Sunday Visitor. I have not read her pamphlet, so can't speak about it, but I have read and would much commend Sandra Meisel's article. (She gave a very good paper at our conference last fall, by the way.)

7:44 PM


An Episcopal friend — one of the bolder of the conservative resisters — wrote me with obvious sadness about the news story given in the following item:

It is truly pathetic that into a world this mixed up about sexual boundaries the Episcopal Church has chosen to be a vehicle of further blurring. The cost to children will be immense.
This is true, but some of us would argue that the Episcopal Church did this in 1976 when it approved the ordination of women and indeed that the Anglican Communion did this in 1930 when it approved contraception. Both of which conservatives endorse wholeheartedly. I have some sympathy for the pro-gay crowd, who merely proceed on lines already well-established and "mainstream," even conservative.

7:39 PM


My friend the Rev'd Kendall Harmon sends this from The New York Times:

Thanks to the "chest surgery," Luke said, "my quality of life is better." Before, if Luke entered a women's bathroom on campus, "someone might yell, `Oh my God, there's a man here' and call security," he said. "In men's bathrooms I'd have to fold my arms over my chest and hope that no one would notice." Now he and several other Brown students are pressing the university to create more single-stall bathrooms, so students who don't look clearly male or female can avoid harassment.

Luke, a 23-year-old international-relations major, is at the cutting edge of a new kind of campus activism: transgender students and their allies who are convincing colleges to meet needs that include private bathrooms and showers, specialized housing and sports teams on which students who don't identify themselves as either male or female can play. In the last year, transgender students have won accommodations from four East Coast colleges, including Wesleyan, Sarah Lawrence and Smith. . . .

The Wesleyan campus health services clinic no longer requires students to check off "M" or "F" when coming in for a "wellness and sexual health visit." Instead, they are asked on a form to "describe your gender identity history." And this year, the former women's rugby team eliminated "women's" from its name, so that Zachary and several other transgender students would feel comfortable playing. "We don't want people yelling, `Go, girls!' " from the sidelines, Zachary explained.

3:08 PM


Besides its native interest, The Passion of the Christ has provided us with a great deal of evidence for an understanding of American culture, particularly the "elite" culture of the major newspapers and magazines and their film critics. That is a service by itself. What these critics' reactions have demonstrated is that many of them hate real Christianity, which the discerning Christian will keep in mind when reading their reviews of any movie whatsoever.

A friend sent me the link to L. Brent Bozell's Flustered Film Critics and “The Passion”, in which Bozell revealing compares various critics' attacks on The Passion with their praise for Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, whose

Christ figure fantasized about fornicating with Mary Magdalene; claimed he was not divine and sinless; even said he was a bit satanic, had “Lucifer inside him”; and as a carpenter, he callously constructed crosses for the Romans so they could crucify Jews with them.
For example:

Time critic Richard Corliss’s review carried the offensive (and trite) headline “The Goriest Story Ever Told.” (Compared to what? The remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?) Corliss, who received exclusive looks at the film before its debut, mildly honored Gibson’s passion and artistry, but advised Time readers to avoid the theatre, suggesting it’s only for “true believers with cast-iron stomachs; people who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified.”

But in 1988, Corliss lauded Scorsese’s “masterpiece” on Lucifer Christ. Scorsese’s screen violence “is emetic, not exploitative. The crowning with thorns, the scourging at the pillar, the agonized trudge up Calvary show what Jesus suffered and why. [Willem] Dafoe's spiky, ferocious, nearly heroic performance is a perfect servant to the role. He finds sense in Jesus' agonies; he finds passion in the parables.”
Those of you interested in the subject will want to read the review for the other examples he gives.

3:07 PM


FYI: A journal I particularly enjoy, which I commend to your attention: the monthly The New Criterion. The latest issue has an interesting-looking article by David Hart, brilliant brother of two of our contributing editors, who has kindly agreed to start writing for us as well. Unfortunately the article is not available online. The magazing also has its own blogsite.

12:57 PM


As the result of a correspondence, Christian LeBlanc sent me the following message on his family's giving up television for Lent seven years ago and their having refused to take it back since. He also very kindly said I could include his e-mail address for anyone who had questions. It is:

Even now, two weeks into Lent, it Is not too late to adopt this discipline. It is one of the most truly life-changing things you can do.

My wife and I both grew up with TV. Watching one thing or another was part of our life together, as well as for our children. Nonetheless, we both became increasingly distressed with the sex, violence, crassness, materialism, vulgarity, etc., on the tube but didn't think there was anything to be done except to "be careful of what we and the kids watch." Of course it was an ongoing problem to monitor what we all watched, and the rude commercials were pretty much the same regardless of the show. So we both felt "somebody should do something about television," but that somebody wasn't us.

Then seven years ago, our priest suggested from the pulpit that everyone consider giving up TV for Lent. We were already in the habit of making Lenten sacrifices, but nothing so dreadful, so . . . inconceivable. Deep down I didn't think we would stick with any sacrifice so awful as no TV, but it seemed like it was worth a try, especially since we worried so much about its influence on the kids.

So, the next day I disconnected the cable box. We told the kids we were giving TV up for Lent, but it would be back after Easter. None of us knew what to expect, we just all knew it would be terrible. Well, the first two days were terrible, simply because our lifelong habits were frustrated. I knew it wasn't going to work. But by the third day, we were all getting used to no TV. By the end of the week, we forgot about it. By Easter, my wife and I agreed we liked life better without TV. We told the kids, they didn't much care either.

I took the cable box back to the company. The clerk asked me if I was moving, I said no, we just quit watching TV. She said that had never heard of anyone doing that, and people in the line behind me were amazed, but also very supportive.
So it's seven years now. The benefits of being TV-free are many and unexpected. The kids (12, 12, 14 & 15) are well-adjusted, we sit around alot in the evenings talking, and the house is quiet and peaceful- a refuge. They don't want much of anything at Christmas or birthdays. They draw, ride bikes, read, play with the dogs, or play musical instruments for fun. We all sit down together for dinner every night. My wife and I talk to each other all the time when we aren't talking with the kids. Well, you get the picture.

And the great thing is, we don't feel burdened by not having TV, we feel liberated, which of course, is a major point of Lenten sacrifice. I remember marveling at this, thinking, "How did the Church know that I'd feel this way?," because I'm sure the Church, in its accumulated wisdom, did indeed know just that. So yet another benefit of this Lenten discovery is my heightened respect for the Church and its ways of doing things.

When I was a teenager, my father told me the most important decisions I had left to make were whom I would marry, and what I would do for a living. He was right, and I'd add to that short list the decision to humbly try to do something the Church's way, and see what the results would be. Like the other two decisions, this last one continues to pay off in spades.

12:54 PM


A reader sends a link to a Chicago Tribune story on an interfaith panel that decided people should not see The Passion: `Passion' stirs emotions. (The site requires registration.) The story includes this:

Rev. Mark Lund of Zion Lutheran Church in Deerfield, another panelist, criticized the film's origins, faithfulness to Scripture and anti-Semitic overtones.

. . . Lund especially criticized the movie's final resurrection scene, which he said was accompanied by a cadence resembling a battle march.

"With a new hardness not seen before, Jesus jumps up to seek revenge on those who killed him," Lund said. "In Gibson's version, that can only be one group of people. The [first] two hours and five minutes of the film make it clear just who is going to be in trouble now."
I think that is the most imbecilic comment on the movie I have read yet.

12:52 PM

Sunday, March 7


Our new contributing editor Fr. Robert Hart sends the link to his sermon for the second Sunday of Lent, which some of you may enjoy. He is a priest of the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake, which uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, if you wonder about the quotes he makes from the liturgy. I don't think he sent it for me to post (he's not an egotist) but I thought it worth posting anyway.

I suggest this with some hesitation, given the possibility for boring readers or hurting pastors' feelings, but those of you who are pastors may send in the links to your sermons. I can't promise always to post them, time being short sometimes, and, to be honest, I can't promise always to think them worth posting, but I would like to share such things as we have. We spend a lot of time with controversial issues and it would be good to have more edifying things to post.

10:45 PM


Yesterday I got a letter from a pastor about a parishioner of his who had lost her faith, she said, after reading The Da Vinci Code and another message from a friend forwarding — perhaps providentially — a message with links to good articles on the book. I have heard other, similar stories, and am not surprised. Vulnerable people who are struggling with their faith may be looking for reasons to give it up, and even a pop novel everyone knows is rubbish may give them a reason. I am sometimes surprised at how many people still think that an idea that appears in a book must be true.

So in case some of you know someone so affected, here is one of the links from the message: an amusing review of The daVinci Code by Mark Lawson, from the English newspaper The Guardian. He argues that the book is "450 pages of irritatingly gripping tosh, [which] offers terrified and vengeful Americans a hidden pattern in the world's confusions." It may not be all that helpful, but it's funny.

The message also included the website of the Catholic organization Opus Dei, which the book portrays as an enormous and wicked secret society, which understandably annoys the members. Their website includes a page on the book with good links. Some of the links therefrom:

— from the London Times: Holy Humbug;

— from Christianity Today: Breaking The Da Vinci Code; and

— from The Weekly Standard, Cynthia Grenier's review, Novel Gods: A pair of bestsellers roll their own religion, which also includes a review of the bestseller The Lovely Bones.

The Opus Dei site included a link to a review in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz which I was told argued that the book was anti-semitic, but the link just led to the Times article instead. Annoying.

10:34 PM


I got this report of an English trial and appeal second or third hand, and am afraid I don't know the any of the details beyond those contained in the report, but it is a revealing report of the status of public speech in England.

Appeal by way of case stated against the decision of Wimbourne Magistrates' court on 24 April 2002 to convict the appellant (H) of displaying a sign that was insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress within the meaning in s 5 Public Order Act 1986. H was an evangelical Christian preaching in public in Bournemouth. He held a sign bearing the words "Stop immorality", "Stop Homosexuality" and "Stop Lesbianism". A crowd of 30 to 40 people gathered, some of whom were hostile and water was poured over H's head.

The police attended and H was arrested and charged. The magistrates found as a matter of fact that the sign was insulting within the meaning of the Act and that H had been aware of that fact as he had had an adverse reaction to its prior display. They also held that the restriction on H 's freedom of expression under Art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was prescribed by law, had the legitimate aim of preventing social disorder and that there was a pressing social need for such a restriction. In the circumstances there was no defence open to H of reasonable conduct under s 5(3)(c) of the Act.

(1) Whether a conviction under s 5 Public Order Act 1986 was, in the circumstances, a justifiable interference with the appellant's human rights under Art 9 and Art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

(2) Whether it had been perverse for Wimbourne Magistrates court to hold that the words used on a sign in public were insulting within the meaning of s 5 Public Order Act 1986

(3) Whether the appellant had a defence of reasonable conduct.

(Appeal dismissed)

(1) The magistrates had not erred in holding that the interference with H's human rights was justified for the reason that they had given.

(2) The court had not found it easy to decide whether the magistrates' finding that the words used were insulting was perverse, however, the sign equated homosexuality and lesbianism with immorality and on balance it had been open to the magistrates to reach the conclusion that it was insulting.

(3) Further, the magistrates had been entitled to conclude on the facts that the offence was made out and in all the circumstances there could be no defence under s 5(3)(c) of the Act.

Mr Hammond was in fact fined (£300) and made to pay something towards the costs of the case (about £395) and had died in the interim.

3:07 PM


Some of the many articles and blog entries on The Passion of the Christ that I've seen, which you may find of interest.

First, John O'Sullivan on The Passion, explaining well why many reviewers mistakenly but revealingly thought Pilate a sympathetic character.

For what the critics miss is that [Gibson's] account makes Pilate a far worse villain than Caiaphas. After all, Caiaphas believed that Christ had committed the ultimate sin of blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God. As a leading representative of religious laws that condemned adulterers to death by stoning, he was almost bound to call for his execution. Caiaphas is making a terrible mistake. He may also have corrupt political motives for his actions. But he is plainly sincere in believing that he has the law of God on his side.
He goes on to argue that modern man finds Pilate's political dilemma sympathetic, but that for a much less admirable reason

the modern world finds Pilate sympathetic. He is the patron saint of doubt and thus attractive to an age that regards doubt itself as a virtue — or at least as a mark of sophistication in the face of certainties with which we happen to disagree, whether they are the certainties of the religious right, or of fundamentalist Islamists, or of political ideologies. Many intellectuals, academics and (generally liberal) politicians have come to see doubt in these modestly heroic terms.
Second, in Gibson's Blood Libel the normally sensible Charles Krauthammer comes unglued in arguing that the movie is "a singular act of interreligious aggression" that, "using every possible technique of cinematic exaggeration, gives us the pre-Vatican II story of the villainous Jews." He does point out some aspects of the movie that could be taken as attacking the Jews, if, I think, one read the movie without remembering the all the good guys in the movie, with the exception of Pilate's wife, were Jews, not least our Lord himself.

Third, from the English Catholic magazine, The Tablet, a review I thought insightful which included an interesting comparison with lapsed Catholic Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ, A remarkable Passion by John McDade, a Jesuit who is principal of Heythrop College at the University of London. Of The Last Temptation, he writes:

Scorsese’s film gives us a psychotic Christ, lonely and internally conflicted, driven by disconnected impulses, a passive-obsessive forced to find his identity through the Cross. “I make crosses so that God will hate me,” Christ says as a working carpenter. What is wrong with Scorsese’s film is not its suggestion of a sexual dimension in Christ’s personality. (Here the critics of the film got it wrong: a proper doctrine of Incarnation means that Christ is fully sexed.)

The real problem is its portrayal of Christ as the prototypical man — the masculine is important here — whose strength of will in overcoming temptation signals the achievement of human existence at its pitch, the exemplification of the Nietzschean Übermensch. The male will is defined by its distance from all that impairs its loneliness. For Scorsese and his fictional source in Kazantzakis’s novel, Christ (a male archetype on the “mean streets” of Jerusalem) overcomes the psychological hell of self-alienation by detaching himself from everything that infringes on his autonomy, finally knowing and healing himself through the Cross.
He has some real insights into The Passion as well.

Fourth, last week I posted comments from three Orthodox priests (and senior priests too) who were rather cross with certain Orthodox writers who were using the movie to make partisan points. I've since gotten many more messages of the same sort, which I haven't posted, since they pretty much repeated what the three priests had written. (Though I am thankful for the writers for sending them.) One Orthodox writer (a layman, I think) I will quote wrote to report that

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver recently reserved two showings for its faithful. (My wife and I will attend the second one scheduled 3/11. I have seen the movie once.) Tonight after Presanctified Liturgy at one of the Greek parishes in town, I talked to a few parishioners who attended the first one. All had pretty much the same reaction as the vast majority of people who have seen it seem to be having: the movie was phenomenal, beautifully done, profoundly moving, but hard to watch. (With the added comment, of course, that "Orthodox don't place as much emphasis on the suffering of Christ as the West does.") And so, if things go in the Metropolis of Chicago as they seem to be going in the Metropolis of Denver, I think the former’s pastoral letter is likely to fall on many deaf ears.
Anyway, Fr. Johannes Jacobse offers in Reflecting on "The Passion of the Christ" an Orthodox interpretation that seems to me to get the matter right.

These stark images are foreign to Orthodox viewers and makes them uneasy at first. It is difficult to reference this brutal depiction of the crucifixion to any familiar standard. There simply are no pegs on which to hang these pictures.

The Orthodox iconographic tradition depicts the crucifixion with much less blood and anguish. The idea is that the quieter style makes the voluntary nature of Christ's sacrifice more evident. For example, the main icon of the crucified Christ doesn't show the blood and bruises but instead expresses the humility Christ displayed in accepting a death that was underserved and unjust. The point is to show that Christ entered death voluntarily, in order to destroy death altogether and thereby reconcile man to God.

It's a mistake to conclude however, that because the iconographic styles between Catholic traditionalism and Orthodoxy are different, Orthodox viewers should avoid the film. The different styles represent a different sensibility, not a difference in core doctrines. What Gibson depicted is accurate and correct.

Unfortunately some Orthodox commentators jumped to the wrong conclusion. They assumed that a difference in iconographic sensibilities meant that the movie was teaching a false gospel. They zeroed in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement (also called forensic justification) that teaches that Jesus substitutes Himself in the place of all sinners to placate the wrath of an angry God.

There is no question that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement ruled the roost for many years, especially in conservative Protestant circles. From an Orthodox perspective the exclusive reliance on this doctrine alone distorts the God of scripture. It is not true however, that forensic language has no warrant in scripture or that Orthodox theology has no doctrine of atonement. These differences are real, but they are not evident in the film.
The website from which this comes, Orthodoxy Today, is one I commend. The homepage includes several other Orthodox views of the movie, most of which disagree with Fr. Jacobse, and links to several very useful articles on a range of current subjects, as it always does.

Fifth, a light but humorous and accurate reflection on the movie's alleged threat to increase anti-semitism, The misreading of Mel Gibson, by Mark Steyn, one of my favorite of contemporary writers. His own website, SteynOnline I obviously commend as well.

Sixth, from National Review Online, The Jews Who Cried Wolf by Julia Gorin, which argues with some heat that

Despite building careers on six million dead, the professional defenders have shied away from the harder fights. So along comes Mel to give them some relevance and put them back in business.

. . . Networks and newspapers are dutifully up in arms over whether a movie will be offensive to Jews, and they give front-page space to recovered paintings stolen from Jews by Nazis, but whom have they let know that the Palestinian Authority televises sermons with titles like "Blessings to Whomever Saved a Bullet to Stick in a Jew's Head"? Or that Mein Kampf hit No. 6 on the Palestinian bestseller list a few years ago? Or that Palestinians brew terror plots against Americans? By the same token, did any reporters take to task antiwar protesters who held up placards comparing Israelis to Nazis? Only the likes of Pat Robertson's 700 Club exposes what the Jew killers are up to week to week.

The elites and their media are using Mel to wash their hands of the Jewish blood they accumulated when their sympathies enabled the violence to escalate from brick-throwing at Israeli soldiers to the first suicide bombing against Israeli civilians in 1994 — and all the bombings since.
It is a provocative article, whose author does not avoid taking on at least one secular saint.

Seventh, the syndicated columnist William Murchison, a friend of the magazine and of mine, wrote on the movie for his latest column, The Passion about The Passion.

And finally, our own James Hitchcock addresses the controversy in his latest column, Critics of Film Reveal Passions. I would also commend to your attention the archives of his bi-weekly column.

2:59 PM


Here is Francis Beckwith's short comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Locke v. Davey: Unsafe Sects: When Equal Protection is not Equitable. Dr. Beckwith, who teaches at Baylor, wrote for the January/February issue the analysis of the "new rhetorical strategy" some pro-lifers have adopted, titled Choice Words. (Frederica Mathewes-Green, Terry Schlossberg, and I all responded and the responses can be found here.)

It appears in the blogsite (clever), which seems to be written by lawyers which (or but, depending on your point of view) includes some very useful material.

2:49 PM

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