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Saturday, March 27


Something else from today's NYTimes you may find interesting: Harm to Fetuses Becomes Issue in Utah and Elsewhere.

1:07 PM


Another column by the New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof I commend to your attention: Will We Say 'Never Again' Yet Again?. It begins:

LONG THE CHAD-SUDAN BORDER — For decades, whenever the topic of genocide has come up, the refrain has been, "Never again."

Yet right now, the government of Sudan is engaging in genocide against three large African tribes in its Darfur region here. Some 1,000 people are being killed a week, tribeswomen are being systematically raped, 700,000 people have been driven from their homes, and Sudan's Army is even bombing the survivors.

And the world yawns.

1:01 PM


A reader responds to Contraceptive Ignorance:

On March 23, you quote a reader as follows:

"Even after marriage, after Roe v. Wade, after Francis Schaeffer's Whatever Happened to the Human Race, contraception and various forms of illicit marital sex were not discouraged in evangelicalism (or in the Christian Reformed Church, where I spent roughly 15 years)."

I don't question that the author may have never heard a clear word from the pullit in the CRC, but it's worth pointing out that the official position of the Christian Reformed Church is opposed to birth control:

"In 1936 the CRC spoke out against birth control, stating that married people should follow the biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply and therefore produce as many children as is compatible with the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the mother and the children. No subsequent synodical decision has changed this official position."

And at least some in the CRC still take this seriously.

10:39 AM

Friday, March 26


An Air Force chaplain writes in response to Wednesday's Cheerfully Grumpy:

Your statement in Wednesday's post under the "Cheerfully Grumpy" states:

For example, the real, enjoyable, invigorating fellowship men like Richard Land and Mel Gibson can have, when they admit their deep religious differences and face them like men. As opposed to the fretful, frightened friendship of the utopians whose dreams have to be protected, as if they'd invested their life's savings in a Ming vase and balanced it on the edge of a table.

This reminded me of an incident when I was in the Chaplain Apprentice Course with the Air Force. A friend of mine in the course was an Orthodox Rabbi. He and I had better fellowship than most of the other "Christian" Chaplains because we were honest and up front with one another. (In fact I would often carry his load during the Sabbath so he would not break the law.) He believed that I was in error by following Jesus, and I told him that the Messiah had come to redeem the whole world. Other than skirt the issue we were honest about that which was closest to our heart.

I greatly appreciate your magazine and website. It helps this orthodox United Methodist minister know that there are others who also believe in the truth of scripture and the traditional witness of the Christian Church. I get tired of the arrogance of my denomination that holds itself higher than 2,000 (and in some cases 4,000) years of God directed tradition and revelation.

9:45 AM


Last night while searching the web for news on Christianity in Asia, I came across the pseudononymous Spengler, a very interesting columnist for the Asia Times. (By "very interesting," I don't mean that I agree with everything he says.) Among the interesting columns I looked at last night:

Tolkien's Ring: When immortality is not enough; and

Why Europe Chooses Extinction".

9:42 AM


A surprisingly clear statement from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, lecturing on Islam: Muslim culture has contributed little for centuries, says Carey. (The site requires registration.) The story begins:

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, launched a trenchant attack on Islamic culture last night, saying it was authoritarian, inflexible and under-achieving.

In a speech that will upset sensitive relations between the faiths, he denounced moderate Muslims for failing unequivocally to condemn the "evil" of suicide bombers.

He attacked the "glaring absence" of democracy in Muslim countries, suggested that they had contributed little of major significance to world culture for centuries and criticised the Islamic faith.

9:34 AM

Thursday, March 25


Those of you interested in the development of the treatment of "traditionalists" in the Episcopal Church, the latest event in which Jim Kushiner described in yesterday's "Episcopal Kettles & Black Pots," will find a partial history in Pamela Darling's Conscience, Women's Ordination , and the Episcopal Church. As a participant in most of the traditionalists' discussions and a reporter covering the House of Bishops at five straight General Conventions, I think she has well summarized the many statements issued during that time.

The one thing I would add is that the establishment talked a lot about inclusivity but treated the traditionalists with general contempt in practice. At the 1988 General Convention, the first one I covered as a reporter, a committee of the bishops, meeting before the Convention had officially started, tossed out an irenic proposal.

The Presiding Bishop then appointed two enemies of the traditionalists to write a new one and they wrote the proposal one would expect. When asked by a bishop what he wanted done, he said, throwing his hands up a few inches, something to the effect of "I will be happy with whatever this house does." Not a ringing endorsement of pluralism or inclusivity at the point such an endorsement would have had effect.

This was typical of the events at the four Conventions following. The most accurate and extensive reporting of those General Conventions and their decisions on this matter can be found in the daily newspaper sponsored by the Evangelical and Catholic Mission, which morphed into the Episcopal Synod of America, which morphed into Forward in Faith/North America. I have no idea if the five Convention's papers are available on the web.

The latest proposal looks almost exactly like the two or three or four that have been made in the last sixteen years, since 1988. It is no more satisfactory than they were and no more likely to be honored for very long. More to the point, it requires that same offering of incense to Caesar: the acceptance of an heretical or apostate bishop's authority in exchange for his sending another bishop to act in his place — to be him in that parish for all religious purposes. The delegate will confirm in the bishop's name and persona, into the Episcopal Church of which that bishop is an elder, and he will celebrate the sacrament of communion in that bishop's name and persona, placing all those who receive communion at his hands into communion with the apostate bishop he represents.

That the diocesan bishop's delegate is personally more conservative is, theologically and spiritually, completely irrelevant. The parish might as well accept their diocesan as long as he agreed to come with fake whiskers and a false nose and hair dyed green. But the parish is happy because the problem no longer looks like a problem. It is hidden behind the delegate's smiling face.

The dishonesty dooms the enterprise. Dooms it, that is, as a Christian enterprise.

The traditionalists now hoping for "a place in the Church," as it was always put, are mostly Evangelicals who chose back then to join in the innovation in ordination (and often, I have to say, with rather embarassingly bad arguments for doing so) but now want to reject an innovation in morality. As some people said at the time (me, for one) they had plotted a course that would eventually take the Episcopal Church farther than they wanted it to go, but when it had gone too far for them it would be too far gone to stop. They didn't listen.

11:27 PM


Daniel Crandall writes with four useful links from the always useful Orthodoxy Today site:

I'm glad to see the Times give some attention to the horror in Sudan. While we're on the subject of 'ethnic cleansing' I would like to point out that Fr. Jacobse, in his Orthodoxy Today blog, has been closely covering the attacks in Kosovo against Christians. Below are several links detailing the carnage.

"Centuries of Culture Vanish in Kosovo City"

"Serbia: List of Destroyed Churches"

"Letter from Bojovic"

"Carnage in Kosovo"

Interesting that the media was so outraged when two Buddhist statues were destroyed by the Taliban, while in Kosovo Muslims are destroying churches some dating back to the 14th Century, which, as far as I know has garnered very little attention.

There's much more there, including statements from the UN describing what is happening as "Kristallnacht Is Under Way In Kosovo", but that should be enough for the moment.

10:56 PM


A couple of messages from readers:

First, in response to yesterday's Religious Boy Scouts, Secular Catholics, Roger Bennett writes:

Your post reminded me of a comment by Joseph Sobran: "I make it a maxim to look behind every double standard for an unconfessed single standard. Put briefly, the liberal is interested in suffering only insofar as it can be exploited to force `social change and produce a social order liberalism aspires to." (Sobran, "The Averted Gaze: Liberalism and Fetal Pain," Human Life Review [Spring 1984]).
Second, adding another source to yesterday's Anscombe correction, John Hench sends the link to John Dolan's obituary of Anscombe in First Things.

8:37 PM


Two articles from today's releases readers may find of interest:

How Christians can deal with Hollywood, part one of an interview with Clare Sera, who is working on the screenplay for Curious George (the stories about the monkey, I assume). She suggests, for example:

Ours is an inward journey and it takes vigilance to guard it. Hollywood is most interested in the outward journey -- status, looks and instant gratification. Its stories claim to take us on a journey of the heart, but Hollywood is most often wrong about what's true and what's good for the heart.

Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn't know any better. It thinks sex equals intimacy and that by encouraging you to make sure you "get yours" -- in regard to career, status, whatever -- that you're guarding your "self." Hollywood really doesn't know how wrong it is.

But think about it -- we do know and we can barely believe it. Sacrifice brings joy? Intimacy means vulnerability and honesty? That's tough stuff. That's why Christ was a radical -- nobody likes the "s" word. Sacrifice yourself for others who aren't even worthy of it. And of course the movies that really move us all, both nonbelievers and believers, are the ones with a message of great sacrifice. "Braveheart" springs immediately to mind.
Why the 60s went wrong; candid cardinals, an interview with Russell Shaw, a longtime observer of the Catholic Church in America. Among other things he says:

"The Catholic Church in the United States is a Church which somehow over the decades has become much too fond of money and much too fond of the little comforts which money can buy," said Shaw. "Harsh as it may sound, I would say that although I'm very, very sad that in the settlement of sex abuse cases so much money has ended up in the pockets of lawyers, on the whole I'm not at all sorry to see the money go," he said. "I think it will be a good thing for the Church in the long run to have a little less and maybe a lot less money to play around with."
He is undoubtedly right, and if I might point out, this bears on something I wrote some time ago in Bishops are bishops and touched on later in An answer to Boston's problem and CEO Shepherds.

8:27 PM


Contributing Editor Phil Johnson just sent this link to another article on human evolution from the Washington Post. It begins:

The evolutionary split between early humans and ancestral apes may have begun with a tiny mutation in a gene for jaw muscles -- a lucky break that allowed the skull to grow and make room for the enormous brain that would eventually become the hallmark of Homo sapiens. That's the controversial conclusion of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, whose discovery of the mutation, announced yesterday, has reignited the long-smoldering debate over how modern humans evolved.

The Penn team's work suggests that early primate skulls -- much like the skulls of modern gorillas and chimpanzees -- were literally muscle-bound by powerful jaw muscles and cramped by the big bony spurs that anchored them. Only when a quirk of nature produced mutants with radically smaller jaw muscles was the skull free to expand from one generation to the next. The rest, as the team says, is human history.

Well, that’s what they always say when they make these announcements. Every such “finding” gets headlines. Notice there really is a “long-smouldering debate” over how humans evolved. Not if they evolved but how. The evolution is assumed, although no one really knows how it happened, nor, for that matter, how any one species of living creatures morphed into other species.

If you take all the bits and fragments of bone fragments and discoveries about human origins announced over the past several decades and lay them end to end, you end up with no discernible pattern, no agreement or even near-consensus on which ”hominid” was ancestor to Homo sapiens. In other words, human evolution should properly be called a theory, and not assumed, at least not until the evidence adds up.

10:57 AM


Something worth reading: Ethnic Cleansing, Again by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. (The site requires registration.) It begins:

LONG THE SUDAN-CHAD BORDER — The most vicious ethnic cleansing you've never heard of is unfolding here in the southeastern fringes of the Sahara Desert. It's a campaign of murder, rape and pillage by Sudan's Arab rulers that has forced 700,000 black African Sudanese to flee their villages.

The desert is strewn with the carcasses of cattle and goats, as well as fresh refugee graves that are covered with brush so wild animals will not dig them up. Refugees crowd around overused wells, which now run dry, and they mourn loved ones whose bodies they cannot recover.

12:33 AM


Perhaps of interest: When a Catholic Institution Is Told to Pay for Contraception [ 2004, an interview with Ned Dolejsi, the executive director of the California Catholic Conference. He makes a revealing point about the judicial double-standard:

In fact there is a supreme irony at work here in the state of California. In a July 2003 decision, U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. ruled that a lease between the city of San Diego and the Boy Scouts violated the constitutional separation of church and state because there was "overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence" showing that the Boy Scouts of America is a religious organization. Yet in its March 1, 2004, decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that "Catholic Charities does not qualify as a 'religious employer' under the WCEA because it does not meet any of the [state Legislature's crafted] definition's four criteria."
Admittedly, these two decisions came from two different courts, but one does notice how religion is defined contradictorily, against the interests of the traditional organization and its traditional practices.

12:31 AM


Some readers may find this of interest: an interview with Karen Armstrong, author of the 1993 bestseller A History of God and several books since. Her main theme is summarized in this answer, I think:

Armstrong: I say that religion isn't about believing things. It's ethical alchemy. It's about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.

People have such clear ideas of what God is — you know: creator, father, personality watching over me. It's not what I believe in, even though I like to use the word sometimes. So people will ask, "Is traditional faith wrong?" And I say, "No." It doesn't really matter what you believe as long as it leads you to practical compassion. If your belief in a traditional God makes you come out imbued with a desire to feel with your fellow human beings, to make a place for them in your heart, to work to end suffering in the world, then it's good. Nobody has the last word on God, whether they're conservative or liberals.

. . . My point is that we've all got to find our own form of prayer, our own form of worship. Being dragooned into one, as I was when I was young, is not going to do any good. There are myriad forms of spirituality. You've got to find the right one for you.
Granted that some conservative or traditional believers do tend to treat doctrinal obedience as the whole of the Faith, or at least act as if they do, religion can't be defined in the way she defines it, as "not about believing things" but "about behaving in a way that . . . gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness." For the simple reason that you have to define these intimations in order to be changed in the way you ought to be changed. She may not have a clear idea, but she has an idea, and it must be clear enough.

At the very least, Armstrong herself insists on the belief being "imbued with a desire to feel with your fellow human beings" etc. is good. Is good: "is" is a credal word, a statement that the world is this way and not that way. It is a word that not only establishes a doctrine but therefore also establishes a heresy, in this case the heresy that one should not desire so to feel, that not so feeling is good.

The thing she rejects — dogma, in a word — no one can avoid, even those who reject it. The rejection is itself dogmatic, though a self-contradictory dogma. Better, I think, to see this and say what one believes, however minimal and unclear it is: state it as a belief, as a doctrine. Then we can all talk to some purpose and with some hope of understanding one another.

She ends the interview in the same way.

Dave: That everything boils down to the Golden Rule.

Armstrong: I'm convinced of it. It's in all the traditions, and it's what the world needs now more than religious certainty, more than doctrinal statements or more rules about what people can do in the bedroom and who can get married and who can be bishops or priests. All this is like fiddling while Rome burns.

All the world religions developed in violent societies like our own. All of them came from societies where civilization seemed on the point of collapsing under the weight of aggression and violence. Where old values were going out, no new ones were coming to take their place. The first impulse in many of these religions was a revulsion from violence. That's what we need now, to get back to some of that.
The revulsion from violence she praises rings not quite true. I am quite sure, though I have never read her on the subject and would be pleased to be proved wrong, that she believes in the legality and at least occasional propriety of aborting unborn children.

But whether or not that is right, she has perhaps offered the wrong answer to the world's violence, which is only the most dramatic expression of its (and our) sinfulness. Perhaps those who revolt against violence revolt by turning insistently to the doctrinal statements she dismisses, because they want peace and know how best it is to be achieved. They see a world, whether 1st century Rome or 21st century America, marred by violence because too many people do not object to hurting others, and say of those being hurt, "This man (or this unborn child) is created in the image of God. He is an end, not a means. He has rights given him by his creator. You cannot treat him that way."

Armstrong offers the Golden Rule, but as if it weren't a rule, which is to say, a doctrine, but . . . what I'm not at all sure. But if it is not a rule, based on some more comprehensive doctrine about the world, it is not much use in restraining the violent. The Golden Rule has its limits. The oppressor — whether a Roman ruler or a slum lord — usually believes in doing unto others what he would have them do to him. If he were the oppressed, he would expect to be oppressed. If he were a slave, he'd expect to be enslaved, and so as the master he expects to be obeyed and to do what he wants to the slaves. That, he would say, is the way the world is.

Of course, Christian doctrine may not affect him at all, but it has a better chance than a vague appeal to the Golden Rule. The doctrine is what makes the Golden Rule a rule and what rules out the oppressor's way of understanding it. To put it simply: it is perhaps because we see the world as it is (and ourselves as we are) and in our better moments react to it (and to ourselves) that we insist on saying the Nicene Creed.

12:17 AM

Wednesday, March 24


Something you may find of interest, circulated by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy:


Alien Tort Claims Act to Be Tested in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain

On March 30, 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether those who commit human rights violations such as genocide, torture, and political killings can be tried in U.S. courts. The Department of Justice, joined by the Legal Adviser for the Department of State, has argued that the Alien Tort Claims Act (ACTA), the law on which these cases are based, has been mistakenly applied for the past quarter century and that these lawsuits interfere with U.S. foreign policy.

Survivors who have brought these cases, diplomats who have spent their careers in the U.S. Foreign Service, religious organizations, and leading international jurists are among those who have challenged the Justice Department’s claims. Without the benefit of the Alien Tort Claims Act, Dolly Filartiga would not have been able to bring to justice the man who brutally tortured and killed her brother in Paraguay before fleeing to the United States.

Nor would Carlos Mauricio been able to hold the Salvadoran generals responsible for his torture before a U.S. court, just as Oscar Reyes would have had no recourse against the Honduran security official who oversaw his torture. The victims of the Holocaust would not have een able to seek damages from the financial institutions that were complicit in the horrors inflicted on them and their relatives.

For information about the campaign to preserve ATCA, please visit

4:33 PM


A reader just wrote to say that the link I posted earlier to G. E. M. Anscombe's Contraception and Chastity did not work. I just tried it and it's not working for me either. It worked yesterday, when it came up first on a google search. Annoying. The link above, to the always useful Orthodoxy Today site, works.

While I'm at it, I should point you to our senior editor Robert George's obituary for Dr. Anscombe, Elizabeth Anscombe, R.I.P., in which he describes her as "One of the 20th century’s most remarkable women."

4:28 PM


I can't help note the irony of bishops complaining about not following rules when they have themselves subverted 2,000 years of Christian teaching on various and sundry topics (such as homosexuality, even going so far as to consecrate a "gay" bishop). I guess it depends on whose rules you think you are breaking.

[ENS] Saying that they "repudiate and deplore the unilateral actions" of five retired U.S. bishops who conducted confirmations in Ohio without the diocesan bishop's permission, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, meeting at Camp Allen, Texas on March 24, nevertheless declined to proceed with disciplinary action against them. The vote on the resolution was unanimous, according to Bishop Suffragan Ken Price of Southern Ohio, secretary of the House of Bishops.

Retired bishops FitzSimons Allison of South Carolina, Maurice Benitez of Texas, William Cox (assisting) of Oklahoma, Alex Dickson of West Tennessee and William Wantland of Eau Claire confirmed 110 individuals from five congregations and celebrated the Eucharist on March 14 in Akron, without the knowledge and permission of the Bishop of Ohio, J. Clark Grew II. They were joined by Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti of the Diocese of Recife in northern Brazil.

The five "in so doing used the sacrament of unity in Christ as an instrument of division and defiance. Secretive in its planning, their action was discourteous, disruptive and a willful violation of our Constitution and Canons," the statement said.

The action also met with a stern rebuke from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, Bishop Grew, and Ohio bishop-elect Mark Hollingsworth Jr., and "strong disapproval" from the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice on March 16.
The House of Bishops (unanimously? really?) calls the confirmations in question "discourteous, disruptive, and a willful violation of our Constitution and Canons." And what would they call consecrating a "gay bishop"? This they approved. Some people just don't know when and where to draw lines.

3:14 PM


Glancing through today's postings, it does seem to be Grumpy Day. Perhaps I ought to say that when we are critical, we are critical in favor of an ideal, in fact in favor of a good we know exists if men have only the will and the confidence in God to pursue it.

For example, the real, enjoyable, invigorating fellowship men like Richard Land and Mel Gibson can have, when they admit their deep religious differences and face them like men. As opposed to the fretful, frightened friendship of the utopians whose dreams have to be protected, as if they'd invested their life's savings in a Ming vase and balanced it on the edge of a table. There will be no running in that house, no children playing, no screams of laughter, no barks from a playful puppy, no life of the normal home.

We prefer the life of the normal home, and sometimes have to point out what the utopians are missing, lest other people, not so alert, join them and lose so much that life offers.

11:52 AM


A response from Fr. Robert Hart to the comments of the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop that Jim Kushiner posted in yesterday's Episcopal management.

Frank Griswold, in his statement, twice mentioned the "ministry of reconciliation." Obviously, he likes this phrase as it has about it the ring of "niceness." It sounds, well, nice. Who could object? And his meaning is clear: "It is time to stop fighting and to be reconciled to me, my way of doing things, and to your new homo-bishop. C-can't we all just get along?"

But, as King Solomon tells us that a parable in the mouth of a fool just doesn't fit, neither does the use of a scriptural phrase in the mouth of a snake. The phrase comes from II Cor. 5:18. Read in context it means to repent of your sins and be reconciled to God. It also means that the ministry of reconciliation as committed to the Church, in fact to those in apostolic ministry, includes this call from Christ's ambassadors: "Repent from sin." To Griswold it means the very opposite.

11:41 AM


In response to yesterday's Contraceptive ignorance and Splendid marriage, Eric Ohlman, the Director of Communications at LIFE International, writes:

"You can't believe you heard them right," you said in today's post. Indeed. At one point during a four-week series that I recently taught on "Sex and Contraception in Marriage" to my Young Families Sunday School class, I shared about the likely abortifacient effects of "the pill" and other common forms of hormonal contraception. After class, a younger married man approached me to engage in a discussion. While many in the class were shocked to have heard this information for the first time, he and his wife had been previously warned.

"We decided," he told me, "that the risk of an early abortion was preferable to the risk of having a child." My heart sank; I couldn't believe I heard him right. But I had. I challenged him to reconsider whatever theology would define children as "risky," for such is certainly not the theology of the Christian Bible, but he wouldn't hear of it. This from a seminary-educated member of a solid, evangelical, Bible-teaching church (Protestant, undenominational).

While I know that many in that class would have been as appalled as myself at his comments, too few of them recognized their having swallowed yet another lie of our culture: that children are hindrances/impediments/obstacles to any number of loftier goals and ambitions, unless they happen to be conceived and delivered during very brief and very distinctly delineated periods of man-ordained fertility. "Then God remembered Rachel," says Genesis 29:31 (NIV). "He listened to her and opened her womb." Today's version? "Then Rachel remembered her bills. She talked to Jacob and they closed her womb" (or "took a pill" or "terminated their pregnancy" or "went under the knife").

Ditto Christian LeBlanc's comments on Humanae Vitae; it is a must-read for any Christian -- Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, married or unmarried -- on the sanctity of human marriage, life, sexuality, and children. We are image-bearers of God, given the profound power to co-create with God another image-bearer of Him.

Yet we often (statistically "usually") say "no" or "not now." "Not now"? Would we say "not now" to an offer of a new BMW? Would we say "no" to an offer of a holiday at the sea? Would we defer the blessing of, say, a $10,000 bundle of crisp new Benjamins? Doubtful to all; I sure wouldn't. Married Christians need to begin saying "Yes" to God more often in every area of their lives, including their fertility.

11:34 AM


I know I shouldn’t laugh at this, I know I shouldn’t, but, but . . . I did. An Episcopal priest sent me a link to a student discussion held at Seabury-Western seminary in Chicago, in which the poor little lambs, all preparing to work as Episcopal ministers in the real world (though the Episcopal world can be a bubble and its clergy bubble boys and girls) fret at having to hear — live and in person — someone who thinks homosexuality a sin.

This is (see following item) the talk of future totalitarians.

11:25 AM


Mel Gibson is reported to have said that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church and to be worried about the salvation of his own Anglican wife, though she is, he says, a much better person than he. According to a Religion News Service story on The Passion, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has said of Mel Gibson:

”If he wanted to be a deacon in my church, I wouldn’t let him. If he wanted to be a member of my church, I wouldn’t let him. But then again, he probably wouldn't want to be a member of my church.”
All very clear, honest, and straightforward. And exclusive. And yet, unless I miss my guess, Mr. Land and Mr. Gibson would get along with each other far better than either would get along with a liberal Christian who would never in a million say “I wouldn’t let him.”

Or better, than the liberal Christian would get along with them. When you abandon the hard edges of traditional theology (Catholic and Protestant), as the liberal does, you still have to make distinctions and judgments, and the only ground you have for making them is political. You judge other people and other ideas by whether or not they advance your hoped for future, which is of necessity something vague and abstract.

But passionately hoped for, in a “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of way which makes the passion more intense. In a word, utopian. And utopians are famously intolerant, because anyone who disagrees is not just disagreeing with their ideas but trying to rob them of their dreams.

11:21 AM

Tuesday, March 23


There really isn’t much that can be said about this stunning announcement of “another way forward” around the impasse created by the Episcopal Church’s consecration of a divorced (from a woman, perhaps we need add?) openly gay bishop in a “relationship” with another male. The announcement, from the House of Bishops, reads that “We are moving beyond winning and losing. Together we are coming to a new place of mutual discovery and trust.”

Really? When you are wrestling against sin, is it okay to move beyond winning and losing? Mutual discovery sounds an awful lot like “I’m OK you’re OK.”

Hold your breath: here’s the preamble to the deal.

Bishops propose plan for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight
[ENS] After two and a half days of intensive conversation and prayer, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has released a plan for dealing with conflict between bishops and congregations entitled “Caring For All The Churches: A Response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to an expressed need of the Church.”

The three-page document, crafted during the March 19-25 retreat of the bishops at Camp Allen, Texas, stresses what Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, president of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, called “generous accommodation” to “those in the church who find themselves in distress because of the actions of the 74th General Convention.”

It outlines a plan for what is called “Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.” The process begins with a bishop and congregation meeting together “with a consultant, if needed, to find ways to work together.” If that is not successful, the next step is to implement a plan for delegated oversight. Congregational leadership “may seek from their diocesan bishop, (or the diocesan bishop may suggest) a conference regarding the appropriateness and conditions for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight” and “the bishop may appoint another bishop to provide pastoral oversight” for the congregation. If conflict remains, “there may then be an appeal to the bishop who is president or vice-president of the ECUSA province in which the congregation is geographically located, for help in seeking a resolution.” But such an appeal cannot take place without notification of the diocesan bishop.

… Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold issued a statement praising the bishops for their work:

“I could not possibly be more proud of our bishops, who with great care and deliberation sought to articulate our shared ministry of reconciliation in ways that are generous toward those who feel themselves in some sense alienated from our common life.

“The honesty and generosity of spirit that have prevailed throughout this meeting make it clear that we as bishops, regardless of our several points of view, are deeply committed to the costly work of reconciliation, not only within the church but for the sake of the world.

“We are moving beyond winning and losing. Together we are coming to a new place of mutual discovery and trust.”

If you think a gay bishop sitting in your House of Bishops poses a problem, and you would prefer having the care of a bishop who agrees with you, hold on. There is a process now in place, approved by Bishop Griswold (and, I assume, the New Gay Bishop, who thinks that his consecration is the work of the Holy Spirit), for taking care of you.

Is this Defending the Faith, or Ecclesiastical Management 101?

5:11 PM


While we're on the subject, here is the text of Elizabeth Anscombe's Contraception and Chastity. Anscombe, who taught philosophy at Cambridge University and with her husband, the philospher Peter Geach, had either seven or nine children, is famous in secular circles for being Wittgenstein's student and executor and in Christian circles for being the philosopher who allegedly defeated C. S. Lewis. She said she didn't, but at any rate the debate led Lewis to rewrite part of his book Miracles.

2:42 PM


Christian LeBlanc puts the matter very well in response to this morning's "Contraceptive Ignorance":

I should add that examining the contraception issue by studying and reflecting on Humanae Vitae gave me an understanding of the dignity, and splendor, and joy, and wonder of marriage beyond anything I had ever heard or read before. In many ways my whole worldview of God and man and woman was transformed, like . . . like a caterpillar turned into a butterfly. What could the caterpillar have understood about the poverty of his existence until he made the transformation?

I just returned a book back to the library full of color images of the universe taken with the Hubble telescope: the wonder and beauty of creation on a scale beyond reason. How does the creative energy of the love shared between my wife and God and me, and made real by our children, compare to all that? We transcend it.
here is the text of Humanae Vitae.

2:39 PM


Michele Hagerman writings to add something to this morning's "Contraceptive Ignorance":

Something about Natural Family Planning that isn't always brought up that it is often successful in helping sub-fertile couples become conceive. The woman isn't having expensive, invasive, and morally questionablE fertility treatments, simply pinpointing the best time to have intercourse to get pregnant.

The Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha is especially interested in helping couples previously unable to conceive to have a child. NFP (a version of the mucus-only Ovulation Method) is used to also pinpoint other gynecological problems that might prevent conception. There are affiliated physicans throughout the country and they've pioneered surgical techniques that your regular OB/GYN isn't trained in.
People who now about this sort of thing have told me that groups like the Pope Paul VI Institute have equal or even much better success in treating infertility than the now traditional methods. I have no way of evaluating that claim, but it does make sense that people who try to work with the body rather than rely upon technologies may find out things the technologically-inclined miss.

2:31 PM


From the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, something worth knowing about:

Neurologist and Center Fellow Robert E. Cranston, M.D. writes about the Terri Schiavo case and outlines lessons that we all can take from this terrible situation. Check out:

The Terri Schiavo Debacle: What Have We Learned?

Dr. Cranston points out that one of the ways the Shiavo case could have been avoided was with a well-written advance directive. Check out the Center's advance directive kit for yourself and your family by visiting the Center's online catalog at

2:26 PM


A very useful article from a Southern Baptist biblical scholar: The Passion: Assessing its accuracy from the (Southern) Baptist Press.

Readers may want to go to the BP homepage and sign up for their daily mailing of news stories. Most report on Baptist events that will probably not interest anyone else, but some of the news stories will be of interest and I sometimes find helpful the two or three commentary articles included in each day's mailing, as here. They beginning of each message lists the contents so that you can decide quickly whether to read or delete.

2:24 PM


An article you may want to read from today's New York Times: David Brooks' One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom. As our columnist Phillip Johnson writes about it:

Today's NY Times column by David Brooks is timely, because the Supreme Court will hear oral argument Wednesday in the Pledge of Allegiance case. Brooks's proposal for public school education in theology is remarkably consistent with what I proposed in the final chapter of *The Right Questions.*

The phrase "under God" should be converted from a statement to a question. Is our nation truly "under God," or has God been exposed as an illusion invented by priests, and discredited by Darwin and scientific naturalism? That is an urgent question, and all students need to learn how Christians, Moslems, religious Jews, and others think about it, based on knowledge of the Bible and the Koran.

Modernist naturalistic rationalism will become merely one of the possibilities, rather than the assumed background knowledge by which the other worldviews are evaluated and implicitly dismissed as premodern superstition.

11:07 AM


Something just discovered in my files, a response to a blog from last August titled Contraception denied. The writer wrote:

In "Contraception Denied" you wrote:

“However, this is still an idea which, as I noted in “Choosing love and making life”, most modern western Christians, including the most serious, think just bizarre. I speak from experience. Most conservative Christians think you have to be married to have sex, but once you’re married, anything goes. The idea that marriage has an end, to pursue which you must not do in bed everything you want to do, is an idea the churches do not teach.”

Your experience is my experience. Your description fits me to a “T.” I’m almost 55. I was “born again” in the evangelical manner as a preschooler. I spent 14 years in twice-Sunday services in an Evangelical Covenant Church. I spent another 4 years in the dormitories of Wheaton Academy with daily chapel. I had 40 semester hours at Wheaton College with (I believe — I’m a bit vague on this) daily chapel. I spent 1.5 years at John Brown University with regular chapel. I spent 5 years of mostly-twice-Sunday services at Wheaton Bible Church.

And yet I couldn’t wait to get married so I could try out all the stuff I’d heard about (and fed my imagination with). I recall not a word to discourage that “anything goes once you’re married” attitude. I assume they didn’t share that wisdom because they didn’t have that wisdom.

Even after marriage, after Roe v. Wade, after Francis Schaeffer's Whatever Happened to the Human Race, contraception and various forms of illicit marital sex were not discouraged in evangelicalism (or in the Christian Reformed Church, where I spent roughly 15 years). It’s only through contact with Catholic pro-lifers over the last 20 years that I’ve begun to think that contraception might be a bad idea and maybe, just maybe, some other popular modern sexual practices might be downright wrong.
I know that suggesting that contraception is wrong sounds to many quite sincerely believeing Christians like hearing from someone sharing recipes that four-day-old roadkill makes a great stew. You can't believe you heard them right.

But it was the universal Christian teaching until 1930 when the Anglican bishops (typically) broke with the consensus, but even they thought they were only allowing a few rare medically necessary exceptions. And this consensus ought to give "mere Christians" of all sort pause. For those interested, I'd commend the article linked to in Contraception denied and these articles from Touchstone:

— Juli Loesch Wiley's The delightful secrets of sex;

— Patrick Reardon's The roots of Row Vs. Wade; and

— my Choosing love and making life.

For those interested, a web search will pull up a vast amount of information. I particularly recommend looking for the paper by the Cambridge University philosopher and devout Catholic Elizabeth (G. E. M.) Anscombe.

11:05 AM


A writer you may want to check out: John Mark Reynolds. He wrote an article for our "Intelligent Design" issue and is someone I hope will be writing for us much more in the future. He is Orthodox — with a name like Reynolds, I assume a convert — who directs the honors program at Biola University in Los Angeles ("Biola" stands for Bible Institute of Los Angeles).

10:48 AM


Jim Forest of the Othodox Peace Fellowship sends along some perhaps useful quotes on Hell.

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd
In one self place; for where we are is Hell,
And where Hell is, there must we ever be.

-- Christopher Marlowe
Mephistopheles, in "The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus",
act 2, sc. 1, l. 121-3 (1604).

* * *

Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

-- T.S. Eliot
"The Cocktail Party", act 1, sc. 3 (1950)

* * *

Hell is a city much like London --
A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
And there is little or no fun done;
Small justice shown, and still less pity.

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Hell," pt. 3, st. 1, Peter Bell the Third
For those of you interested in such things: in the magazine, we capitalize "Hell" and "Heaven," in contrast to the standard stylebooks. We do that because they are places — or "states," if you wish, but in any case realities — like Chicago and Peoria and Winnepeg, not metaphors.

10:44 AM


A great suggestion from the pseudononymous Diogenes on Catholic World News' blogsite "Off the Record": Aa great awakening?. He begins by noting the "asymmetry" in all Christian bodies between the believing laity and the un- or barely or partially or timidly believing elites, and then suggests:

Perhaps before long it will be opportune (and technically feasible) to summon a cyber-council that will replace reformation with realignment. Picture it this way. You get all North American Christians simultaneously on-line. You agree to pool all church property and assets. Then the webmaster posts consecutively the canons of the ecumenical councils, starting with Nicaea and working forward. For each canon a vote is taken: "I believe in one God. All in favor, click AYE. All opposed, NAY." Then the Nays who identify themselves at each juncture are allowed to hive off and form their own (doctrinally unified) churchlet, taking with them a pro rata share of church buildings, Disney stock, soiled amices, etc.

The fact of the matter is that the ecclesial and doctrinal controversies by which the post-1500 denominations defined themselves no longer correspond to the issues that vex Christians today. At our cyber-realignment, conventional "church affiliation" will have little or no predictive power in anticipating the choices made by participants. Most of the elite ecclesiocrats -- whether Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, or Anglican -- will have jumped off the chart long before we get to the Council of Ephesus and will find themselves sharing lifeboats with Starhawk, the Sisters of Loreto, Ron Hubbard, and various Hale-Bopp stay-behinds.
A few items down, in Ellwood and Friends, he takes apart ideological film-making and writing:

Emerging democracy buffs will remember Father Kieser's unintentionally hilarious Romero (1989), a propaganda film in the Soviet girl-meets-tractor tradition which, with all the subtlety of a Jack Chick comic, dishonors the memory of a murdered Salvadoran archbishop by turning him into a sanctimonious buffoon -- the Rev. Mr. Chadband with a Mexican accent.

The Jack Chick comparison is not made lightly. In their mental operations Kieser and Chick might be identical twins -- though ideologically separated at birth. In each the dominant characteristic is piety, and in each piety has taken the form of outraged indignation at the works of the ungodly. In both men this indignation acts as a kind of telephoto lens: it collapses all distance; there is no background or foreground to their world; all faults are sins and all sins are mortal. So, in Romero, the villanous U.S. soldiers not only machine-gun pregnant women, but smoke in poorly ventilated public areas!
The writers in "Off the Record" mostly address Catholic matters, but they, and especially Diogenes, cover all sorts of things interesting to Christians in general, and even the Catholic matters may illustrate and analysis for others problems in their own bodies. Alas, and alas.

10:35 AM

Monday, March 22


Our new contributing editor Anthony Esolen, a professor of English at Providence College and translator of a highly praised edition of Dante's Divine Comedy (being reviewed in the April issue), is one of the participants at a conference you may want to know about.

The conference is titled "Dante the Humanist" and will be held April 16th and 17th at Providence College in Rhode Island. The speakers incled Dr. Esolen, Robert Hollander, the professor of European Literature at Princeton, Guiseppe Mazzotta, the Dilley Professor of Italian at Yale, Robert Royal of the Faith and Reason Institute, and Dr. Esolen's collegue Bruce Graver. For more information, e-mail or call 401.865.2777.

11:53 AM


A regular reader writes in response to Friday's Victimizing Magazines:

All true, but hardly unique to women's magazines (ever looked at a "men's magazine"?) and even more true of TV than of magazines. All play the same game: make you miserable and offer to sell you a cure.
Looking at "men's magazines" ? "embarrassingly overage adolescent's magazines" would be a better name, but no one will ever adopt it ? is not something I do, except to read their covers when I survey the magazines at a bookshop or now (alas) our local grocery store, which has suddenly taken to carrying "lad's" magazines like FM (or is FHM?).

But I did glance through the lad's magazines when they first appeared, because I do try to keep up on the culture we (the magazine's writers) are writing about, and found them (the magazine's, not our writers) really boring, not even very effectively salacious. The glancing mainly inspired the snobbish question of what pathetic moron would find this stuff exciting. I don't claim that this reflects well on me, I'm just explaining my reaction. A Christian should feel more compassion for the pathetic morons whose morals or (and/or) taste is so corrupted as to find that kind of magazine exciting.

For one thing, he is missing many real pleasures and joys the creation offers him. It reminds me of the famous passage near the beginning of C. S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory," where he says:

if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum becuse he cannot image what is meant by the offer of holiday at the sea. We are far to easily pleased.
But back to the point. I think, in disagreement with our reader, that the "men's magazines" are not quite the same thing as the women's magazines the former editor of one quoted in the blog described. They include the inscurity-inducing article she described as the main type of article in women's magazines, but they seem, from my rare reading, to feature two other types: the lust-inducing article and the insider-appeal article.

The first simply stimulates drives the male has under incomplete control. We can assume the reader of this kind of magazine has them under relatively poor control, even for an American male. the lusts induced are not just for sex but for things and particularly for status, which includes confidence in his masculinity: the thing, I suspect, this kid of male may want ? crave ? most of all. He wants it and he wants it bad and therefore he buys in the confused idea that buying will somehow bring him what he wants.

The second depicts the life it proposes as perfectly normal, with an "all lads together" tone. Men fall for this sort of thing. This kind of article does not so much stimulate drives as to make the attainment of certain desires self-evidently normal, like breathing and eating. It tells the reader that this is the world he ought to live in and forms ? perverts ? his life accordingly: so instead of saving for the future, for example, he buys a sports car he does not need, or has beer-soaked Super Bowl parties with people he doesn't actually like, or (I have examples of this) takes expensive vacations at beach resorts when he would much rather have spent the money on a trip to Europe and spent the days in museums.

11:36 AM


Something I've meant to post for a while: a response from a reader to France gives in, then gives out from mid-January. The readers writes (all right, wrote):

Just wanted to send you a quick note to tell you that I think you’re right on about the situation in France.

My family has been living in France for a while, and they have mentioned observing those same things. My father says that they really don’t see the handwriting on the wall here: that even if today the French decided to retire later, work longer hours, and have more children, it would be too late. Their population is already past the point where they just need to import people to keep the country going. My Mom is quick to point out the hedonism and lack of a work-ethic in the people — they expect to have 30 hour work weeks and retire early, taking 3 month vacations every year (in fact they have massive strikes demanding such things). Life is about good wine and good food, and vacations. So to keep the country going, they bring in immigrants.

As far as which “side” I sympathize with more — the Secular French or the Fundamentalist Muslims — it’s a hard call. Certainly I am closer in ideology to the Muslims (I believe in God and in living a life given completely to him), but then again the secularists don’t want to wipe me off the face of the earth with quite the same ferocity. Then again, secularism has proved terribly effective in its battle with Christianity. It’s a hard call.

Frankly, I think that if you’re going to invite people into your country, you ought to let them wear their headscarves that they like to wear. If you don’t want that, don’t invite them in.

10:49 AM


An interesting link from the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity: the always helpful Lutheran theologian Gilbert Meilaender, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, discusses the Council’s recent publication Beyond Therapy. (His book on C. S. Lewis, A Taste for the Other I recommend, by the way.)

10:42 AM

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