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Friday, March 19


A revealing though frustratingly incomplete article from the March 2nd issue of The New York Times, about the retired editor of Ladies Home Journal: Lobbing a Grenade at Women's Magazines. In her book, Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America (surprise!), Myrna Blyth

indicts a whole category of magazines as politically tendentious and editorially alarmist. "Deep down, most of our Spin Sisters are just good old-fashioned left-wingers, wired for a liberal response to every issue," she writes. Ms. Blyth suggests that this reflexively liberal bent stems from the conceit that women are victims. "Do we spend our days worrying whether antiperspirants cause breast cancer or wondering if a long airline ride will cause a fatal blood clot?" she writes. "Or are we just observing today's favorite media technique to paint women's lives to women audiences as a picture of accumulated woes?"

. . . Ms. Blyth contends that women's magazines use over-the-top cover headlines to compete on the newsstand and to create insecurity that makes women the willing consumers that advertisers crave. Articles about stress, a hardy perennial, are mostly conjured, she argues.

. . . Ms. Blyth finds pathology everywhere she looks in the magazine rack. To judge by the articles, she said, women
are always in danger of being hunted and killed by the opposite sex. "He is going to kill me! Is anybody listening?" read one Glamour headline. The perils are everywhere. "The Health Hazard in Your Handbag" read the headline on another article.

Much of contemporary women's magazines are built on chronic fakery, Ms. Blyth contends. She writes that quotations are
changed or invented, that celebrity profiles are sanitized, and that photos are altered at whim.
One doesn't have to be a marxist to note that pop feminism is good for business and that people who want to make money know that they can make pots of it if they "liberate" women into a world in which they do not feel safe, loved, secure, in which they do not have clear boundaries of morals and manners and no one to help them keep within the boundaries if they did. People buy things to keep the dark away, to find something to which they can hold, to find a place where they will feel safe, loved, secure.

The magazines are a bit like a protection racket that smashes your shop and beats you up a few times and then comes round to offer you protection from having your shop smashed and being beaten up, for a small fee. The morality of the articles and ads aside, to create a fear in order to sell the one you've scared things — including ideas — she would not buy otherwise is a despicable business.

10:40 PM


Subscribers will have seen Joseph Grieboski's interesting and alarming article in the March issue on the repression of religion in France. (That's a hint to those of you who don't subscribe, by the way.) I should commend to your attention the website of the institute he directs, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. some recent press releases and news stories you may find of interest:

Institute Condemns Violence in Kosovo, Targeting of Religious Sites.

Letter to Italian Ambassador regarding Draft Law on Mental Manipulation.

Arab Leaders to Discuss Rights Amid Persecution of Egyptian Christians.

10:28 PM


A column of David Brooks' from the New York Times which I meant to post a few days ago, but didn't, and now it's probably unavailable: Hooked on Heaven Lite. Brooks notes that though people are worried about Mel Gibson's form of Christianity, a greater problem is the religion represented at the moment by Mitch Albom's best-selling The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

All societies construct their own images of heaven. Most imagine a wondrous city or a verdant garden where human beings come face to face with God. But the heaven that is apparently popular with readers these days is nothing more than an excellent therapy session. In Albom's book, God, to the extent that he exists there, is sort of a genial Dr. Phil. When you go to his heaven, friends and helpers come and tell you how innately wonderful you are. They help you reach closure.

In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It's all about you.

Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the
language of trauma and recovery. There is no vice and virtue, no moral framework to locate the individual within the cosmic infinity of the universe. Instead there are just the right emotions — Do you feel good about yourself? — buttressed by an endless string of vague bromides about how special each person is, and how much we are all mystically connected in the flowing river of life.
He goes on to point out that this kind of heaven does not offer much to the poor lonely people it seems to have been provided for — it doesn't, I would say, make their lives in this world significant by giving them a grand vision of the next.

Brooks offers some not entirely coherent thoughts on The Passion of the Christ, but I think he would agree that the Story told there makes the most humanly insignificant a life a matter of the greatest drama and import. It tells him that in everything he does, he is a Roman wielding the whip or Simon carrying Jesus' cross.

10:15 PM


An article of some considerable relevance, these days: Killing Them Kindly: Lessons From the Euthanasia Movement, by Richard Weikert, which appeared in Books and Culture. Dr. Weikert is a professor of history at California State University whose book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in
— praised by Phillip Johnson — is appearing this year. The article begins:

Decades ago a prominent euthanasia proponent stated that "there is a place in humanity for murder, that is to say by killing the unfit." Another commanded, "Chloroform unfit children. Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live." One might be forgiven for thinking that these were rantings of a Nazi leader, for they do reflect the ideology underlying the Nazi euthanasia program, during which about 100,000 handicapped Germans were murdered by physicians under government direction. But alas, these statements came from prominent British and American progressives — the former from the British physician Havelock Ellis, and the latter from the controversial American lawyer Clarence Darrow.

These statements illustrate two important points stressed by Ian Dowbiggin and Nick Kemp in their recent books on the euthanasia movement in the United States and Britain, respectively. First, despite efforts by Anglo-American euthanasia advocates to distance themselves from the horrors of the Nazi euthanasia program, the euthanasia movement was not as far removed from Nazi ideology as it wanted outsiders to believe. Second, statements supporting involuntary euthanasia for the mentally handicapped were rather common in the euthanasia movement, providing ammunition for euthanasia opponents. Critics of legislation to permit voluntary euthanasia continually protested that this would begin a rapid descent down a slippery slope.

10:04 PM


Perhaps of interest from The Daily Telegraph: the discussion between Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the aggressively anti-Christian novelist Philip Pullman, author of the best-selling His Dark Materials trilogy: The Dark Materials debate. And here is an interview with Pullman published last November: The art of darkness. (These sites may require registration.)

11:16 AM


One of our regular readers is an editor of the conservative alternative newspaper at Harvard and sends the link to the latest issue of The Salient.

11:07 AM


Here is a passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr. Campion was an Englishman who became a Catholic and later a Catholic priest during the Elizabethan period, and went around England in secret serving the Catholic population till he was caught and martyred (brutally) in 1581, at the age of 41.

Campion was an enormously talented young man who could have risen to the top of the English establishment, had he not done what he did. When Queen Elizabeth I visited Oxford, he was chosen to give the speech welcoming here. But Waugh also writes of a young Fellow of Christ Church (a college) named Tobie Matthew, who spoke so well before Queen Elizabeth I when she visited Oxford that she made him her scholar. With Elizabeth’s patronage,

a splendid career lay before him. He became Canon of Christ Church four years later; in 1572, at the unusually early age of twenty-six, he was made President of St. John’s [college], where he set himself to release the college from its obligation to receive poor scholars elected from the Merchant Taylors [school]; four years later he was Dean of Christ Church, later Vice-Chancellor [of the university]; from there he turned to the greater world, become successively Dean and Bishop of Durham, and, finally, Archbishop of York. He was a talkative little man, always eager to please, always ready with a neat, parsonic witticism; the best of good fellows, everywhere, except in his own family. When, on the Council of the North, he was busy hunting down recusants [people who remained Catholics], he was full of little jokes to beguile his colleagues. He was a great preacher. . . . He married admirably, a widow of stout Protestant principles and unique place in the new clerical caste, which had sprung naturally from the system of married clergy; Frances Barlow, widow of Matthew Parker, Junior; she was notable in her generation as having a bishop for her father, an archbishop for her father-in-law, an archbishop for her husband, and four bishops for her brothers. Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628. There, but for the Grace of God, went Edmund Campion.
I know readers will disagree over the significance of Campion’s death, but I offer the passage not only because it made me laugh, but because it nicely describes the Christian calling and hammers home the point that the religious calling is, despite the way it sometimes looks, a gift from the Grace of God.

Perhaps because so many of my friends are now passing into the ends of their active careers, I know several who at the end of lives lived trying to do God’s will feel a certain regret or fretfulness when they look at their peers and see what so many of them have done in other pursuits. It’s one thing at 25 to be a very talented young person who gives up the worldly rewards your friends are pursuing, but it must be another at 60 or 70 to see where your and your friends’ different paths have taken you.

I’m not saying that becoming a missionary or a pastor is more godly than running a bank or making widgets. For one thing, the evidence doesn’t support the idea: we’ve all known some saintly bankers and some utterly wicked pastors. And for another, God’s people need well-made widgets as well — though not as much — as pastoring. (The automatic spell checker changed “pastoring” to “pasturing,” by the way.)

But I can imagine what the pastor might feel, still preparing to discuss, for the seventh time in his life, the imminent breakdown of the heating system, at the 2,000th church council meeting he’s had to lead, knowing it will conclude as always before in his having to try to find for the repairs money that isn’t there, and that the people who won’t contribute will still complain loudly if they’re cold on a Sunday morning in early January, and that others will complain that the church is always asking for money. I can imagine him thinking wistfully of his college classmates standing, at that very moment, on a fairway in Florida.

It is a splendid career, but I can see that it might not always feel like one. You might love your life and still, at times, be tempted to regret.

Waugh's comparison of Tobie Matthew and St. Edmund Campion is a reminder to be kinder to our pastors, missionaries, and others who gave up wordly success to serve the Lord. Theirs is a kind of martyrdom, too. There in their friends standing on the fairway, but for the Grace of God, go they, yes of course, but our friendship and support and praise is one of the ways God extends his grace to them.

11:02 AM

Thursday, March 18


Three messages received today. First, from Michele Hagerman:

Mother Charged.
I was astonished when I heard this on the radio and then went looking for more info . . . apparently a mother in Utah, pregnant with twins, refused a c-section because she didn't want the scar. One of the twins was stillborn and mom has been charged with murder. And NOW is defending the mother. What next?
Second, from Brad Hansen, the pastor of the United Presbyterian Church in Jetmore, Kansas:
James Kushiner's observations concerning the teaching of evolution in Ohio [in yesterday's "ACLU & Dogma"]are quite significant, and, in an indirect way, connect to another link of the day, that concerning Robert P. George and the issue of homosexuality. Having seen in Kansas the uproar when the issue was raised, I came to a quick conclusion: even if evolution is acknowoledged as "theory", a theory with no acknowledged alternative becomes a "fact"; and a "fact" (however nebulous) which is supported and protected by the state easily becomes an ideology.

And this, I believe, is what Robert George and Mary Ann Glendon have seen regarding civil unions, same-sex marriage, and the like. Ostensibly, its backers seek "toleration." But toleration, when fused with polity, can no longer be toleration. It works with coercive power to accomplish a different end, namely, obedience.
And finally, Fr. Robert Hart sends a link:
Why does Planned Parenthood continue to fool people that it is some sort of worthwhile charity that provides a service?
The answer to the question is, I'm afraid, that a) some people want to be fooled, and b) PP does provide a service, the problem is the thing they're servicing.

3:05 PM


A reader writes twice with useful news:

You might want to corroborate this, but I heard on talk radio today that a Jewish Social Policy Institute
whose name I've unfortunately forgotton, ran a poll with the following question: How has seeing the movie The Passion of the Christ changed your opinion of the culpability of Jews living today for the death of Jesus. 85% said no change, 9% said that they felt that Jews living today have less culpability for the death of Jesus, and 2% said that they felt that Jews living today had more culpability.

In other words, it appears that TPOTC has *not* fueled anti-semitism as it was once feared, which is very
good news indeed.
He wrote a little later:

Here's an update: It is the Institute for Jewish and Community Research that conducted the poll. Here's a
URL with the news feed:

9:35 AM


A reader writes with a link to yet another revealing review of The Passion of the Christ, revealing, that is, of the reviewer's own — how to put this politely ? — of the gaps in the reviewer's understanding.

In case you have any use for more really, really dumb reviews of The Passion . . .

"The anti-Christian 'Passion of the Christ'"

Among the movie's faults: Peter is too obviously Jewish. Jesus isn't obviously Jewish enough. Jesus speaks "flawless Latin." There is a literal earthquake when he dies (the horror!). The devil recognizes Jesus as divine (where DID Mel get these ideas??). And finally, worst of all, the movie portrays "violence against Jesus himself as a central concern of Christian faith"!

9:30 AM


This is only the second of Ann Coulter's articles I've ever read, but think some of you may enjoy it: WWJK: Who Would Jesus Kill?. Readers of "mere Comments" and Touchstone will know the facts already, but she presents them amusingly. Some ideas, like the claims of William Safire's she begins with, deserve public ridicule.

9:27 AM


Perhaps of interest to some of you: Peggy Noonan's transcript of James Caviezel describing his meeting with the pope.

9:17 AM


A useful revelation of media bias from the March 10th edition of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal:

A Breed Apart

From an article on same-sex marriage by Sally Jacobs of the Boston Globe:

*** QUOTE ***

Virtually all the nearly 50 studies on the children of gay and lesbian parents--who number between 6 [million] and 14 million in the United States, according to various studies--have found no significant differences between children raised by heterosexual or homosexual parents.

*** END QUOTE ***

According to a sidebar to the same article (on the left side of the screen; scroll down to “misc. material”), “The 2000 Census estimated there were about 19,000 gay couples in Mass., and about 659,000 nationwide, or less than 1 percent of households.”

If 659,000 gay couples have between six million and 14 million children, that means the average gay couple has between nine and 21 children--quite a feat for couples who are unable to engage in generative sex. The 2000 census also reports that the total number of Americans under 18 was 72.3 million, so if Jacobs is right, between 8% and 19% of all American children have gay parents.
I think I have told this story before, but in case I didn't, and anyway we have new readers: about twenty years ago, when we still lived in the Boston area before being exiled to the midwest, the Globe ran a story announcing a Harvard study that found that working mothers spent just as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers. The article announced the results and then went on at great length — thirty or forty column inches, if I remember right — quoting all sorts of people declaring that this showed how all those rightwing family values fanatics were wrong.

You may have realized, as I did, that the study's claim is absurd on its face. As Orwell famously said, only an intellectual could believe something so stupid. As it turned out, as revealed by a story a few weeks later in National Review, the study had only measured time spent with children longer than (I think) five minutes and only if the time was spent with the child alone and in ways it considered important.

In other words, the study didn't count most of the time a stay-at-home mother spent with her children. In other words, it lied. And lied, we can guess, for an ideological purpose. None of which the Globe thought to tell you, despite the journalist's famous skepticism.

And even so, I'm rather sure it was wrong about the equality of time spent with their children by the different kinds of mothers, and that the mothers at home spent more time with their children even by the study's restrictive definition.

12:24 AM


Having just recommended two articles by Albert Mohler, I should also commend his daily weblog, which is essentially a daily column on the subjects and controversies of the day.

12:12 AM


An interesting two-part series on the recent controversy at Baylor University by Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a friend of Touchstone’s (that's not name-dropping, it's advertising): Baylor in the spotlight and Baylor: a sign of the times. An editorial in Baylor's student newspaper favoring homosexual “marriage” started the controversy, though Dr. Mohler points out that the newspaper had published several editorials just as bad without (I would note) anyone — including President Robert Sloan’s administration — getting publicly upset.

President Sloan is trying to bring Baylor to a more explicit affirmation of Christianity than it has had for some time, but as Dr. Mohler points out in both articles, without a confessional stand that would make clear what that Christianity believes. As he concludes the first article:

The bottom line in this controversy is a debate over whether Christian conviction should be brought into the classroom by application of a Christian worldview to all academic disciplines. The resistance of Baylor’s older faculty indicates that, for many at least, Christianity is devoid of specific intellectual content. That would certainly go far in explaining some of the confusion on the issue of homosexuality present on the Baylor campus.

Furthermore, even under the agenda of “Baylor 2012,” the university steadfastly insists that it is not a confessional institution and faculty members are not required to sign any confession of faith. University leaders, including Provost David Lyle Jeffrey, have criticized confessional boundaries as illegitimate for an academic institution. But without a confessional statement, what is to prevent a faculty member from advocating same-sex “marriage”?

All this adds up to a bundle of confusion. President Sloan clearly — if briefly — articulated a traditional and biblical understanding of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” But where is the army of faculty behind him? Where are the faculty members willing to put themselves on the line to stand with their president in support of the biblical concept of marriage and opposed to the normalization of homosexuality? Until that question is answered, we cannot assume that this issue is settled -- not by a long shot. Is Baylor’s faculty willing to take a strong and unified stand on this vital issue of moral importance and political controversy? If not, why castigate the students as irresponsible?
Dr. Mohler quotes, but does not comment on, one of President Sloan’s comments I thought most revealing. Sloan declared in a written statement (i.e., one that he and his advisors had undoubtedly crafted carefully):

“Espousing in a Baylor publication a view that is so out of touch with traditional Christian teachings is not only unwelcome, it comes dangerously close to violating University policy as described in the Student Handbook, prohibiting the advocacy of any understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
So, according to the president of Baylor University, homosexual “marriage” is not “contrary to biblical teaching” but only “dangerously close” to it. I am sure, having observed similar operations up close, that the statement was intended to appear strong without being too final and categorical: to finesse the situation and leave some room for both sides to maneuver. But some situations cannot be finessed, and the attempt to do so, as here, leads one to say what one does not believe. I would not, were I a Baylor supporter, excuse this.

Dr. Mohler includes at the end of the second article a revealing quotation from a major secular newspaper:

The Houston Chronicle was even more direct in its denunciation of President Sloan’s statement. “It is not the school’s Christian ideals that have unnerved many of its supporters, including the Chronicle,” the paper editorialized. “It is Baylor’s increasing unwillingness to brook any challenge to its insistence that all university endeavors must be aligned with biblical precepts.” Just what does the Houston Chronicle expect of a university that claims Christian identity? Is the idea that “all university endeavors must be aligned with biblical precepts” a shocking concept for the paper? Evidently so.

Oddly, the paper also seems to think that “Christian ideals” and “biblical precepts” are contradictory realities. For the Christian — and for the Christian university — these must be one and the same.
For the newspaper's editors, "Christian ideals" almost certainly means peace and justice and fellowship and dialogue and hugs all round. "Biblical precepts" means all that nasty primitive intolerant stuff from the Old Testament and St. Paul.

12:01 AM

Wednesday, March 17


Our senior editor Robert George is interviewed by Baptist Press in Would religious freedoms be violated by same-sex ‘marriage’?. In the article he explains how the movement to allow homosexual "marriage" may — is likely to, I think he would say — turn into a movement demanding that people accept and approve it or suffer.

11:51 PM


Latvia has surpassed Spain in its low birth rate. 1.1. The Daily Telegraph reports:

Latvia is now shrinking at about 1.5 per cent a year after a mass exodus in the early 1990s as ethnic Russians returned home. The population was 2.35 million in 2002, down 310,000 over a decade. The United Nations forecasts that Latvia will lose 44 per cent of its population by 2050.

The projected collapse for Estonia is 52 per cent, Russia 30 per cent, Italy 22 per cent, Poland 15 per cent and Greece 10 per cent. Britain will grow slowly to 66 million, while France and Germany will contract gently.
Prosperity probably won’t help:

But wealth has not encouraged Spanish women, for example, to have more children. Almost 17 years after joining the EU, Spain's birth rate is now the lowest in the grouping. It has stabilised at levels far short of population survival.
Spain, like other European countries, has replaced its unborn workers with immigrant Moslems, and among these immigrants terrorists hide like fish in the sea. They now know that carefully timed terrorist acts can influence European elections and split the US from its allies. The future does not look good.

3:37 PM


The Institute on Religion and Democracy just reported that a lesbian United Methodist minister, Rev. Karen Dammann, who faces a church trial this week in Washington state, decided to get “married” to her same-sex companion. She “took advantage of a decision by Portland (OR) area official to grant wedding licenses to homosexual couples.”

The United Methodist Church forbids ordination to “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Dammann faces trial because she publicly declared herself a lesbian three years ago. Will the church court do anything in response to open rebellion against its moral teachings? We hope so.

Touchstone Correspondent Mark Tooley, a United Methodist who works at IRD, said that Dammann “and others with her convictions should for the sake of conscience resign from the United Methodist Church.”

The list of clergy and theologians who should have resigned or should resign from their respective churches would be very long indeed. But that’s not the game plan: subversion, or as they would call it, liberation from oppressive strictures of the past. Their revolution is so predictable, and boring.

11:54 AM


School boards are ever so slowly allowing questions about evolution to be discussed. The latest example comes from Ohio. This item below was sent by our regular columnist Phil Johnson.

Copley News Service March 16, 2004 Tuesday

Ohio lesson plan pleases conservatives, irks apostles of Darwin

"Why is it important for scientists to critically analyze evolution?"

That's the first question in the "student reflection" portion of a controversial 22-page section called "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which is now part of Ohio's 547-page public school science curriculum.

How could anybody object to such an innocuous question? Newspapers report a steady stream of news that scientists are questioning such dogmas as good cholesterol vs. bad cholesterol, vaccine links to autism, the causes of breast cancer, even fluoridation for children's teeth. Isn't the nature of science to question assertions and seek the proof from evidence?

On Feb. 10, the Ohio State Board of Education approved the new curriculum by a vote of 13-5 after being persuaded by 22 Ohio scientists that the lesson plan promotes academic freedom and that it is good for students in 10th grade to have an inquiring mind about evolution.

"Are we about teaching students how to think, or what to think?" asked one parent supporter of the lesson plan.

And it's optional; no teacher will be required to teach criticisms of evolution, and no students will be tested on the criticisms. So what's the big deal?

To some people, it's a very big deal. The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening a lawsuit. Case Western Reserve University lecturer Patricia Princehouse - whose academic position is philosophy, not science - led the opposition to the new lesson. "It's sad day for science in Ohio," she said.

Another nonscientist, Florida State University law professor Steven Gey, flew in to warn Ohio residents that the lesson is unconstitutional and would almost certainly be struck down if it reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Evolution is touted by many as a Fact. Yet even the Big Bang Theory is still called a theory, even though, at least it seems from my reading, the evidence for a Big Bang is more abundant than that for evolution through blind chance. Now if it were routinely called the Theory of Evolution in the textbooks and classes, that would imply that it was debatable to some extent, would it not? Yet you can’t call evolution a theory and treat it as such, weighing evidence pro and con.

And what is the ACLU doing here? Well, keeping religion out of public school science classes, they say. Defending the Constitution. But if you have scientific questions about the science of and evidence for evolution, how is that “establishing religion”? Which religion, pray tell, is being “established” by discussing the evidence for intelligent design and the flaws in Darwinism?

The ACLU really isn’t trying to protect your kids from anything; they are trying impose raw secular materialism, which is a philosophy that they are trying to establish as the official public philosophy of the country.

11:32 AM

Tuesday, March 16


And for those of you interested in advertising and the formation of popular culture, an interesting article from today's New York Times: More Gay Celebrities in Ads. This, companies think, gives them an advantage:

The use of celebrities known to be gay and lesbian comes as homosexuals grow more visible in the popular culture because of shows like "Queer Eye" and "Will & Grace," as well as the decisions by stars like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell to openly discuss their sexuality. The mainstreaming of gay and lesbian endorsers also comes after major advertisers like Ford and Procter & Gamble have sponsored campaigns aimed at the gay and lesbian market; after Martina Navratilova appeared in niche-market ads for Subaru of America, for instance, she also started appearing in the carmaker's broader campaigns.

"It makes sense for marketers to take advantage of the interest people have in people who are gay," said Michael Wilke, executive director of Commercial Closet in New York, an organization that studies the portrayals of homosexuals in mainstream advertising. "What's gay is becoming mainstream, but it still retains a bit of an edge."
In other words, homosexuality is still ever so slightly naughty and gets peoples' attention. How long it will remain (in the general public's eyes) naughty is a question. And then homosexuality loses its edge, what edge will advertisers use?

1:28 PM


A reader sends along a link with the note:

I'm sending along a link to yet another sign of the times for "sideline" Protestantism.

Personally, I find the ad for the UCC somewhat misleading. During my wanderings through the contemporary wilderness of American Christianity, I spent a few months at a UCC parish (honestly, I didn't know any better at the time). After a while it became abundantly clear that *lots* of people were unwelcome there . . . anybody who supported welfare reform or the liberation of Afghanistan (the "prophetic" issues of that time), for example.
The article he sent begins:

There's a new kind of preaching on television. But this time the preachers are seeking their own salvation.

Faced with little growth, or in some cases decades of declining membership, America's mainline denominations are set to pour hope and millions of dollars into TV advertising. A technique once regarded as distasteful self-promotion has become an accepted necessity to save aging buildings, costly pension plans, and the increasingly rare work of missionaries.

Two weeks ago, first-time commercials for the United Church of Christ (UCC) began airing in six areas from Sarasota, Fla., to Oklahoma City in a bid to boost name recognition and worship attendance before Easter. Monday, the Unitarian Universalist Association began a national campaign to buy airtime for their "Uncommon Denomination" ads, first tested in Kansas City last year.

1:10 PM


First, the Catholic response. According to, in "The Passion" Isn't Anti-Semitic, Says Vatican Aide, the English and Welsh bishops have called the movie a “positive and faithful account of the Gospels” and declared that “We do not believe that the film portrays the Jewish people as collectively responsible for Christ’s death,” the statement said. “We disagree that the violence in the film is gratuitous.”

Responding to a request from the chief rabbi of Rome, the Vatican’s spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said that

“The film is a cinematographic transcription of the Gospels. If it were anti-Semitic, the Gospels would also be so. It must not be forgotten that the film is full of ‘positive’ Jewish personages: from Jesus to Mary, from the Cyrenian to Veronica, including the moved crowd, etc. If such a story were anti-Semitic, it would pose a problem for the Judeo-Christian dialogue, because it would be like saying that the Gospels are not historical. One must realize the seriousness of these affirmations.”
If the Vatican had thought the movie anti-semitic, someone would have said so, said Navarro-Valls, referring repeatedly referred to Nostra Aetate, the declaration of the second Vatican Council on other religions that condemned anti-semitism.

He also said that Adam Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League who has been loudly proclaiming the movie to be anti-semitic, had visited Rome some months ago and been been told by Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, that “I don’t see anything in this film that can be considered as anti-Semitic.”

Second, from St. Vladimir Seminary, Fr. Thomas Hopko on movie “The Passion of the Christ”. I must admit that I don’t think his argument a very good one, but I thought I should post it for those of you who find it better than I do. It begins:

Whatever the cinematic and artistic merits of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, and however constructive the conversations it provokes, it hardly portrays the fullness and depth of the Christ in whom early orthodox Christian traditions claimed that “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by the blood of his cross.” (Paul’s letter to Colossians, 1:19-20)

It seems to me that Mel Gibson’s passion is a monotonous and misleading exaggeration of one aspect of the scriptural Christ’s suffering and death to a distorting degree. His Jesus is God’s suffering servant whose passion is virtually reduced to his being ridiculed and beaten with a sadistic brutality far beyond what the four gospels record.

The film’s relentless emphasis on Christ’s physical sufferings which, contrary to scripture, begin already in the Gethsemane garden, and the almost comic ugliness of the villains — the priests, the soldiers, Judas, Herod, Barabbas, the devil figure and its child, the faces in the crowds — capture the viewer’s attention and serve more to conceal, rather than reveal, the fullness and depth of the passion’s multiple meanings. This is to say nothing of the author’s way of linking Isaiah’s description of God’s suffering servant, which is clearly his major inspiration, with selected elements from the passion narratives of the gospels and imaginary legendary and hagiographical material. It is also to pass over the many licenses taken with scripture, history and language.
And third, what I think is a more accurate and insightful view of the movie, by another Orthodox writer, John Mark Reynolds: Gibson’s Icon. Reynolds wrote an essay for our Intelligent Design issue, which appears in the book made from the issue, Signs of Intelligence.

1:05 PM


I've just gotten an announcement for a conference some readers may want to know about: the Fourth Oxford International Newman Conference, titled "Newman and Truth." It will be held 14-18 August 2004 at Somerville College in Oxford. The speakers include Newman's biographer Fr. Ian Ker, Dr. Terrence Merrigan of the Catholic University in Leuven, Notre Dame's Katherine Tillman and Brian Daley, John Milbank, the founder of the "Radical Orthodoxy" school, and several other noted Newman scholars.

More information can be found on the conference's website or by writing

12:59 PM


A surprising, nay astonishing, article to find in the Wall Street Journal: Save Marriage? It's Too Late: The Pill made same-sex nuptials inevitable. He says what a lot of people, including me and other editors of Touchstone, have said, but he says it well and in a place you'd never think to hear it.

10:36 AM


Here, for the statistic buffs among you, is the press release for the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. It is a very interesting volume, if you (like me) like that sort of thing.


March 12, 2004, NEW YORK CITY – A fourth Pentecostal denomination has joined the U.S. "top 25" largest churches list, reflecting the continuing increase in numbers of adherents to Pentecostal traditions, reports the National Council of Churches' 2004 "Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches," just off press.

The Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), with 944,857 members, newly ranked 25th, joins The Church of God in Christ (5,499,875 – ranked 4th); the Assemblies of God (2,687,366 – ranked 10th), and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. (1,500,000 – tied for 16th along with two other church bodies).

Seven of the largest 25 denominations remain predominantly African American churches, reflective of the historic strength of the church within the U.S. African American community.

. . . The 2004 Yearbook reports on 215 U.S. church bodies with a record high total membership exceeding 161 million. The U.S. retains a higher level of church affiliation than most western industrial societies.

Leading any other single U.S. church is the Catholic Church, reporting 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16,247,736) and the United Methodist Church (8,251,042). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th (5,410,544).

In most cases, data published in the 2004 "Yearbook" reflect denominations' 2002 membership. From 2001-2002, major U.S. churches that grew included: the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Jehovah's Witnesses and Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.).

Recording membership losses were: The United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and United Church of Christ.

Here are details on some of the U.S. membership "ups and downs" reported in the 2004 "Yearbook":

— The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), an American-born church, continues to grow remarkably, remaining the fifth largest church in the nation. Among the 15 largest churches, the LDS also reports the highest rate of growth at 1.88 percent in the last year, virtually the same as its previous growth rate.

— American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. (19th, up from 20th last year, reporting a substantial 2.87 percent increase). This growth rate of nearly 3 percent exceeds that of any other Protestant church reporting. It follows reported declines in 1999 and 2000. A change in direction from loss to gain (0.41 percent) followed in 2001.

— African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (20th, down from 19th, reflecting a decline in estimated membership of 1.18 percent, a substantial contrast to its previous estimated gain of 11 percent reported in the 2003 Yearbook. "Such a decline in membership following a year of rapid increase may be explained by a small portion of those new members failing to continue their membership a second year," says Dr. Lindner, the Yearbook's editor, in "Trends and Developments 2004," one of several articles in the book.

— The Orthodox Church in America, previously ranked 25th, reported a membership decline of 100,000 (10 percent), reflecting a multi-year adjustment in estimated membership data.

— A look at patterns of growth/decline over a five-year period (1999-2002), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God have reported consistency in both direction and rate of change. This pattern continues with a modest increase in the rate of growth for the Assemblies of God. The Southern Baptist Convention, which had been reporting a slowing rate of membership gain, in the current data reports a significant increase in the rate of gain from 0.585 percent to 1.21 percent

— The 2003 Yearbook reports a similar pattern of membership losses (1999-2002) among the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent for each church. The 2004 Yearbook reports continued decline at a slightly accelerated rate for all except for the United Methodist Church, the largest church in this sample, (1.21 percent. 0.57 percent, 1.41 percent and 1.08 percent, respectively).

Other highlights in the 2004 "Yearbook" include:

— Despite a well-documented clergy shortage, notably in the Catholic Church and for small and/or rural parishes, the total number of students enrolled in theological education continues to grow and is now at a high of more than 75,000 students in member schools of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

— The nearly 30-year trend in increasing numbers of women enrolled in theological education remains stable and an be considered a permanent feature of the demography of theological students.

— The 59 U.S. churches that provided full financial data for the 2004 edition account for more than $31 billion, contributed by nearly 48 million inclusive members, in their reports – and this is but a portion of the whole of church giving. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not provide financial data but is a church in which financial giving is a prominent feature of membership.

— In those 59 churches, per capita giving increased on average by $35 (5.6 percent) per person from the previous year, to $658.63. This exceeds the official inflation figure of 2.4 percent for 2002.

— This year's 14 percent U.S. benevolence giving (funds congregations use for the well-being of others) is a new low in Yearbook reporting in at least a decade. While based on the experience of 59 specific denominations, it indicates a continuing downward trend in benevolence giving.

"The overall increase in giving to the churches, at this reporting, is occurring simultaneously with a declining posture in benevolence as a percentage," says Dr. Lindner. "The churches that seek generosity from their supporters have not, at least in this sample, matched that generosity, or even held constant, in their own patterns of giving. The practical consequences of such a decline translates in local settings to less support for church-sponsored day care, fewer soup kitchen meals, less emergency help to persons with medical problems, or reduced transportation for the elderly. Such a decline is occurring even as reports of requests for aid at shelters and soup kitchens are rising."

In contrast, the percentage of benevolence giving for Canadian churches consistently is in the 19 to 20 percent range, according to the 2004 "Yearbook."
The 2004 "Yearbook" is the 72nd published by the National Council of Churches and its predecessor Federal Council of Churches since 1916. The "Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches" is widely recognized as the most accurate and complete compilation of facts and figures on U.S. and Canadian churches and organizations.

This "chronicler of record" includes the latest data on giving, membership, personnel and congregations for hundreds of church groups. The directory of religious bodies provides concise church descriptions, ecclesiology, history, leadership and contact information. Chapters list information about cooperative organizations, Web-based resources, research institutions, ecumenical bodies, seminaries and Bible colleges, periodicals and collections of church archives.

A directory of U.S. regional and local ecumenical bodies includes an index to their work in 25 program areas. Holy days of several faiths are listed for 2004-2007.

In its 2004 theme article, "Reception: Learning the Lessons of Research on Theological Education," the Yearbook's editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, provides an overview of a century's research in theological education and argues that a broad stakeholder group, including those concerned about faith-based participation in the civil society debates, might give greater attention to recent findings.

"As critical components of the civil society, churches exercise moral authority and influence that is often derived from and expressed by the theologically trained within the various churches," Dr. Lindner explained. "The nature of the preparations of such persons ultimately has meaning for society as a whole.

"In recent years, the broader society's expressed enthusiasm for faith-based initiatives (especially in social service), whatever the motivation may be, might be better informed about the capacity and competence of church institutions by engagement with this literature." Dr. Lindner's theme piece includes "A Selected Bibliography on Theological Education."

The seven decades of record keeping represented by the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches is contained on a comprehensive Historic Archive on CD-ROM (which contains membership and financial data from 1919-1999). This CD provides a longitudinal backdrop for the analysis that follows. The Yearbook's annual trends analysis is a "snapshot" taken at a discrete moment in history, best given definition by the larger and longer context of which they are a part. To obtain the Historic Archive on CD-ROM call 888-870-3325 or visit

U.S. Membership Denominational Ranking: Largest 25 Denominations/Communions
2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches

1. The Catholic Church – 66,407,105
2. Southern Baptist Convention – 16,247,736
3. The United Methodist Church – 8,251,042
4. The Church of God in Christ – 5,499,875
5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – 5,410,544
6. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – 5,038,006
7. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. – 5,000,000
8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. – 3,500,000
9. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – 3,407,329
10. Assemblies of God – 2,687,366
11. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod – 2,512,714
12. African Methodist Episcopal Church – 2,500,000
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America – 2,500,000
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. – 2,500,000
15. The Episcopal Church – 2,333,628
16. Churches of Christ, Corsicana, Texas – 1,500,000
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – 1,500,000
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. – 1,500,000
19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. – 1,484,291
20. African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church – 1,430,795
21. United Church of Christ – 1,330,985
22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International – 1,200,000
23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Joplin, Mo. – 1,071,616
24. Jehovah's Witnesses – 1,022,397
25. Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn., – 944,857
To order a copy (it costs $50), the release says, go to” for more information or call 1-800-672-1789.

10:31 AM


Daniel Lanterman, who in DaVinci and Yale wrote about Christians in secular colleges, responds to More on Christians at Yale:

The reader quoted in "More on Christians at Yale" brings up a fair criticism of Intervarsity and similar groups, but I think it is a criticism that varies from school to school. At Michigan Tech I remember several conservative Episcopalians and Roman Catholics that were an active part of our chapter. The graduate IV group that I'm a part of now also actively attempts to involve students from liturgical churches (hardly surprising, given our staff member is Kevin Offner, an contributing editor of Touchstone). I mentioned before that many chapters provided "the useful sort of trans-denominational interaction that Touchstone also fosters."

One of the most beneficial aspects of my participation in IV has been the opportunity to interact and learn from students who are more liturgical than myself, so I desperately do want to encourage such students to give groups like IV a chance. That said, I also know of a few chapters where involvement by such students would be a waste of their time.

It is also of note that most things that I've seen done by IV staff that have caused offense by such students, particularly Catholics, was done out of an ignorance of such traditions. If Intervarsity is going to be interdenominational, as it intends, it must do a better job of training its staff to aware of such differences, as well as recruiting staff (and speakers) from such backgrounds. I do want to thank this reader for raising this valid concern.

12:04 AM

Monday, March 15


A reader writes in to recommend Homosexual "Marriage" and Civilization by Orson Scott Card. It is, he writes,

one of the best articles I've read to make the case against gay marriage without reference to religion. Card is a science fiction writer, and a Mormon. I got the link from
TitusOneNine is the blogsite of the Rev'd Kendall Harmon, an Episcopal priest and leader of the "conservative resistance" within the Episcopal Church.

11:59 PM


A press release from the Elliot Institute titled “Maternal Mortality 3X Higher After Abortion,” which you may find helpful:



Springfield, IL — A study of pregnancy-associated deaths published in the latest issue of the "American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology" (AJOG) has found that the mortality rate associated with abortion is 2.95 times higher than that associated with pregnancies carried to term. The study included the entire population of women 15 to 49 years of age in Finland between 1987 and 2000. The researchers linked birth and abortion records to death certificates.

The annual death rate of women who had abortion in the previous year was also 46% higher than that of non-pregnant women. Women who carried to term had a significantly lower death rate than non-pregnant women. Non-pregnant women had 57.0 deaths per 100,000, compared to 28.2 for women who carried to term, 51.9 for women who miscarried, and 83.1 for women who had abortions. The authors, led by Mika Gissler of Finland's National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health, concluded that pregnancy contributes to a healthy effect on women.

The study also revealed the difficulties involved in identifying direct and indirect effects of pregnancy on subsequent deaths. An examination of deaths from natural causes that were identified as "not pregnancy related" revealed that women who had abortions were significantly more likely (1.7 times) to die from natural causes that were not attributed to pregnancy on the death certificates. They were also 6.3 times more likely to die from violent causes.

This is the second record-based study to be published in the last eighteen months to show that the death rates following abortion are significantly higher than those associated with birth. The other study, published in the a "Southern Medical Journal," linked death records to Medi-Cal payments for births and abortions for approximately 173,000 low income Californian women. In that study, the researchers discovered that women who had abortions were almost twice as likely to die in the following two years and that the elevated mortality rate of aborting women persisted over at least eight years.

# # #


Gissler M, Berg C, Bouvier-Colle MH, Buekens P. Pregnancy-associated mortality after birth, spontaneous abortion or induced abortion in Finland, 1987-2000. Am J Ob Gyn 2004; 190:422-427.

Reardon DC, Ney PG, Scheuren F, Cougle J, Coleman PK, Strahan TW. Deaths associated with pregnancy outcome: a record linkage study of low income women. South Med J 2002 Aug;95(8):834-41.

11:56 PM


Some responses to Leon Podles’ Love Story vs. The Passion, posted Saturday. First, from John Stolzenbach:

At least compare apples to apples. The Gibson film starts with Gethsemane and (leaving aside the resurrection moment for a second) goes through Christ's death on the cross. How many verses using that as the cut? The gospel with the fewest verses is Mark at 81. Luke has 82, Matthew 101 and John has even more, 114.

That's a grand total of 377 verses. You have even more verses if you include all the scenes from the Holy Week period (this would start at the beginning of Chapter 11 for the 16-chapter Gospel of Mark).
Second, Wolf Paul writes from Austria, writing on the responses of Austrian religious leaders and the press to a preview showing:
[S]ince I know most of the folks interviewed by reputation at least, and some personally, I was struck by something which probably can be extended to others as well, including Mr Waters: The reaction of "Christians" to the movie depends in large part on the role which the death of Christ plays in their faith.

To the extent that theirs is a biblical faith with the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the central feature, they will generally be very positive in their comments on the movie as a whole, even if they have reservations about details. To the extent that they have abandoned the Cross as a central feature of their religion they will react extremely negatively.

I think that what is going on here is that those who have abandoned Christ's sacrifice and have convinced themselves that it's all about being nice and fair to each other by our own efforts have brought home to them the fact that man is not inherently nice and fair, and the movie also starkly reminds of what they have abandoned. They fend off the reproach of their conscience by being ultra-critical of the movie.

Where the Cross is still central to faith people are brought face to face with the depth of their own sinfulness and with the extremes God went to in order to deal with their sin. They are generally too moved by this realization to worry much about some of the details which go beyond the gospel account

My pastor reports that he (an Evangelical) found a nearby (Roman Catholic) church and spent forty minutes in prayer following his attendance. While still rejecting that Catholic piety which stresses Christ's suffering per se rather than His sacrifice (and which implies that we can contribute to Christ's salvivic work by our won suffering) he feels very strongly that Evangelicals have sanitized and cleaned up the cross and thus are tempted to take sin too lightly.

He was moved by the exchange between Pilate and Christ where Christ tells Pilate, "The decision what to do with me is out of your hands, my Father has foreordained what will happen" -- stressing that whatever one's take on the relative culpability of Jews and Romans in Christ's execution (which is one of things criticized by various folks) Christ's life was not taken from him, but freely given for all of us.

He also said that the device of using Aramaic and Latin brought home to him the fact that Christ was not a middle-class American or European but was in fact one of those foreigners which we so often view with suspicion nowadays.

11:51 PM


Democracy as we practice it might well produce some tensions in Muslim countries that are not even issues for most Westerners.

Monday 15 March 2004

The presence of a male obstetrician in a maternity hospital in Karasu in
the southern Osh region has offended the sensibilities of local Muslims.
Sadykjan Kamaluddin, head of the Kyrgyzstan International Islamic Centre,
told Forum 18 News Service that the town's population is very devout and
that Shariah law insists that only in cases of danger can men other than
the husband see a woman naked. "This provision is in all the commentaries
on Islamic law by learned theologians." Officials admitted there is no
legal mechanism for balancing the rights of the employee and religious
sensibilities. "To be honest, I simply do not know how to resolve the issue
in this particular case," the country's senior religious affairs official
told Forum 18.

From FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway

It will likely not be easy to sort this sort of thing out; it probaly wouldn't help to loan them some of our American judges, who increasingly seem confused about the meanings of words such as "marriage," and whether a child in the womb has a right to life. Then again, it might be worth a try, shipping them over there, I mean, pro bono.

11:03 AM

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