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Friday, April 16


An Orthodox reader commends this article by the Catholic archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, How to tell a duck from a fox. It begins:

"If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck. A fox can claim to be a duck all day long. But he's still a fox."

We've all heard that saying, or some version of it, a thousand times. The reason is simple: It's true. Our actions prove who we are. If a gulf exists between what we say, how we look and what we do, we're not living in a spirit of truth. A fox, even if he quacks, is still a fox. Sooner or later, it becomes obvious.

I remembered this last week as I read yet another news report about candidates who claim to be Catholic and then prominently ignore their own faith on matters of public policy. We've come a long way from John F. Kennedy, who merely locked his faith in the closet. Now we have Catholic senators who take pride in arguing for legislation that threatens and destroys life — and who then also take Communion.
Abp Chaput then goes on to summarize in a helpful way the Vatican's statement On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life -- a perfectly commonsensical document.

Our reader also writes:

Also, for Catholics (and others) who are interested, is nationwide Catholic talk radio. "Bridging the gap between faith and life" is their motto. I've listened at various times over the past week or two, after I saw a banner advertising it on the side of a Catholic parish building on my commute to work. There are stations across the country, AM 820 here in Chicago.

12:11 PM


Margaret Davis writes in response to yesterday's "'Saints' and Scholars":

Since I love y'all, and especially David Mills, I will pay the compliment of assuming he would want his usage corrected. In the paragraph below, the term "beg the question" (aka circular reasoning, petitio principii) is misused.

"Now, the show’s theory that Christianity grew because times got hard is plausible theory. It may well be substantially true. However, it begs a very important question: why, when times got hard, did the Irish pagans turn to Christianity from paganism? Why didn’t they try to become better pagans?"

Quoting from

"An argument that improperly assumes as true the very point the speaker is trying to argue for is said in formal logic to "beg the question." Here is an example of a question-begging argument: "This painting is trash because it is obviously worthless." The speaker is simply asserting the worthlessness of the work, not presenting any evidence to demonstrate that this is in fact the case.

Since we never use "begs" with this odd meaning ("to improperly take for granted") in any other phrase, many people mistakenly suppose the phrase implies something quite different: that the argument demands that a question about it be asked--raises the question. If you're not comfortable with formal terms of logic, it's best to stay away from this phrase, or risk embarrassing yourself."

Inquiring minds love to know. Keep up the good work.
There is a reason writers get paranoid: smart people read them. I was being sloppy.

12:05 PM

Thursday, April 15


A couple of nights ago I watched the movie Gladiator. It is a surprisingly good movie, though unnecessarily violent, about a noble pagan. At the end — it's been out so long I don't think I'm spoiling the ending for you — he gets his revenge upon the cruel ruler who'd murdered his (the ruler's) own father and then ordered his (the hero's) execution and had his family murdered, and dies.

As I watched, I realized how different was the life of the noble pagan from that our Lord, as shown in The Passion of the Christ. They lived two different visions of life. And the noble pagan's, though noble, would never have changed the world.

10:33 AM


Last night I watched with our eleven-year-old, who’s turned out to enjoy history, the second part of PBS’ three-part series, “In Search of Ancient Ireland.” Titled “Saints,” it traced the development of Christianity in Ireland in the first millennium. It wasn’t bad, besides suffering the frustrating level of generality mixed with repetition typical of such shows.

Television histories seem required to cover a great sweep of history, to make Big Points and offer Grand Insights, which means they must leave out most of the details that tell one what really happened, the sort of details the person really interested in the subject wants to know. They seem to do this even when the subject is fairly narrow. To be fair, I only see this sort of thing when the library carries the tapes, so I could have missed better examples.

But I enjoyed it and learned something from it. (Though not, of course, as much as I would have learned from spending the same amount of time reading, which made me feel a little guilty.)

It did, however, suffer that tendency to answer a question without actually answering it typical of secular studies of religious matters, especially studies of the attraction or effect of Christianity. The writers begin with the assumption that whatever happened to Christianity must happened as the result of social or cultural factors. If the Church grew, they will ask what happened at the time that drove or directed or encouraged (or seduced, for that matter) people into it.

The Christian will not deny that the environment will affect the life of the Church — the Church’s relative social status and wealth encouraging or discouraging conversions, for example. Jesus himself made this point when he spoke of the difficulty the rich man has in entering the Kingdom. We are fallen men, embodied and enculturated and exquisitely aware of our self-interest, even if likely to mistake what is our real self-interest, not pure and holy spirits making purely rational decisions.

But the Christian would also want to note that the work of the Holy Spirit is a sort of unmeasurable x factor, and that therefore the social and cultural factors do not tell the whole story, even could we know them better than we do. He will have to say that the social scientist’s and the historian’s tools cannot measure one of the things that need to be measured.

It’s like having a ruler but not a scale and trying to measure the weight of a rock as well as its volume. You should say “I can’t give you the volume, because I don’t have the right tools,” not “it doesn’t weigh anything.” Or like trying to trace the development and erosion of a few miles of coast over the last 2,000 years, accounting for normal erosion but leaving out the regular storms and the occasional tidal wave because no one kept such records until recently.

In my observation, and actually in some personal conversations I’ve had, the secular social scientist or historian will respond that he can’t measure the supernatural, which is fair enough, but then go on as if this did not in fact limit his ability to know what happened. They define the reality to be studied by by what they can study — the limits of their tools — and not by the reality itself. I wouldn’t object if the secular scholar simply said, “I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit,” but I do object to his both claiming scholarly objectivity or agnosticism on the point and yet choosing a method that denies the Spirit’s existence. It’s implicit secularism I object to.

Anyway, back to the show. The various scholars quoted ascribed the sudden growth of Christianity in Ireland in the sixth century to years of bad weather, which could have destroyed a vulnerable agricultural economy, and the spread of plague. They didn’t say, but I think the average reader would understand them to mean, that people turned to Christianity because life became hard, not because it struck them as true.

The idea that religion is a crutch for the weak is one most of us accept without realizing it, because it’s one of those cultural standards we have absorbed since childhood, especially as it is rarely articulated but (as, I suspect, in “Saints”) assumed. We pick it up from the way religion is dealt with, as in this show on Irish history.

Now, the show’s theory that Christianity grew because times got hard is plausible theory. It may well be substantially true. However, it begs a very important question: why, when times got hard, did the Irish pagans turn to Christianity from paganism? Why didn’t they try to become better pagans?

Their religion told them they had to make the gods happy or the gods would do bad things to them, or not do good things for them, which amounted to the same thing. Bad things happened to them. Logical conclusion: they hadn’t made the gods happy and they’d better do so, and fast. Illogical conclusion (for the pagan): tell the old gods to get lost and follow that new God of the Christians, which is guaranteed to seriously tick off the old gods. This would have been especially illogical because the Christians suffered the bad weather and plague like everyone else and therefore, to the pagan mind, did not seem to have access to more powerful or kinder gods.

This is the question a secular historian ought to ask. People under stress often turn to religion, granted. But the question is why those people under that stress turned to that religion. This most interesting question PBS did not think to answer.

10:26 AM


I should commend to your attention our fall conference: Praying and Staying Together, dedicated to thinking about the raising of Christian children. We have eight very good speakers, including one of Evangelicalism's superstars, Elizabeth Elliot. I think it will be a very good conference, especially for parents and would-be parents, and even for grandparents who want to reflect on their own experience and share it with the younger people there.

10:21 AM


A note to subscribers (and a hint to non-subscribers): Among the highlights of the May issue, now being sent to the printer are:

— The historian James Hitchcock explaining the development of contemporary "liberalism" as a form of Modernism, which meant leaving behind many of the classical liberal beliefs.

— Mike Aquilina, author of several popular books on the Church Fathers, explaining how Christian families helped evanelize and transform the pagan Roman empire.

— Anthony Esolen, the now noted translator of Dante's Divine Comedy, on what he calls "A geography of kind."

— Patrick Henry Reardon on the relation of Caesar and conscience (this is the editorial).

— Steven Hutchens on the eroticized worship of some Evangelical churches.

— Me on what being "a magazine of mere Christianity" means (this is the Quodlibet department).

— And a young missionary in Cambodia on why her family won't leave their home there, a homosexual man on what it was like to be affirmed in his homosexuality (it was Hell, he writes), and a report on the effective expulsion of the Polish National Catholic Church from the (Old Catholic) Union of Utrecht for being too orthodox.

— As well as the usual news, reports of the pro-life movement and the suffering church around the world, book reviews, and Chrisitan classics.

A very good issue, I think, if I may say so. If you will pardon the commercial, you can subscribe by clicking here. I mention this because, being a small magazine, we can use all the subscribers we can get, as the income from subscriptions helps pay for the enterprise, including this blogsite.

10:17 AM

Wednesday, April 14


The story below is deeply moving. Last time I was in DC I heard the personal testimony of former employee of the North Korean government. She told of horrific (and lethal) experiments on Christian prisoners, among other outrages. This comes from our friends at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (in D.C.):

Dear friends:
I would like to invite you to participate in the upcoming North Korea Freedom Day on April 28 in Washington, DC.
Last month at the annual national conference on the persecuted church in Columbia, SC, I heard the story of why North Korea’s former dictator, Kim Il Sung, declared in 1972 that he had completely eradicated Christianity from North Korea. The NK government was building a road up in a mountainous area, and discovered 29 people who had been living underground for years, hiding because they were Christians. They gave these men, women, and children an opportunity to renounce Christ and embrace the “Glorious Leader” Kim Il Sung. When these courageous Christians refused, they were made to lie on the ground, and the steamroller was used to kill them. “Brother Kim” who told us about this, told us with tears streaming down his face (and ours) that as their bones and organs were crushed and as they died, these Christians were singing, “More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee! Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee. This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee; More love to Thee, more love to Thee! . . .”
And so, Kim Il Sung thought that he wiped out the last of the Christians. But just as has always been and always will be, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church, and all over North Korea there were more believers who continued to follow Christ, and who, even today, pay the price with their lives. Brother Kim reckons that there are 60-80,000 underground Christians in North Korea. And it is estimated that approximately 75% of those who are put in prison labor camps and forced to undergo hideous biological and chemical experiments and gassing, are there because they are Christians.
We want to honor these valiant Christians in North Korea, and we want to speak out for freedom in North Korea on behalf of all the oppressed people living there.
So, please consider this invitation to take part in a day of prayer, witness, and advocacy for the people of North Korea. I am pasting the schedule for the day below, for your information, and the website for the North Korea Freedom Coalition, of which IRD is a founding member, is .

North Korea Freedom Day

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 The North Korea Freedom Coalition, a bipartisan coalition of organizations and individuals supporting freedom and human rights for the North Korean people, is organizing North Korea Freedom Day which will include a major rally on Capitol Hill in conjunction with Members of the U.S. Congress in support of the North Korea Human Rights Act. (scroll down for more) Schedule Confirmed Events:

8:30 Press Conference for North Korean Defectors Zenger Room, National Press Club, 529 14th Street, N.W. hosted by NPC Morning Newsmaker Committee especially for the press, but open to all

10:00 Demonstration by North Korean Defectors Raoul Wallenberg field (across from the Holocaust Museum) open to all

11:00 North Korea Freedom Day Rally at US Capitol (West Front - facing the Capitol Reflecting Pool and the Mall) open to all This is the day's most important event, a must attend event for everyone who cares about the suffering of the North Korean people; Registration recommended

12:30 Special Lunch for Rally Participants (closed to media) This event is especially for those traveling to Washington, DC. who will be participating in the afternoon visits to Congressional offices; Registration Required at

1:00 Hearing of the House International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific with North Korean defectors and other witnesses. open to all but limited seating.

2:00 - 4:00 Lobbying Congress by Rally Participants

3:30 - 7:00 Presentations Visit room SD-G50 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building for the following presentations:

**4 pm Special Showing of the documentary by Incite Productions of "Seoul Train" on the plight of the North Korean Refugees and those who help them with special introduction and commentary by executive producers Jim Butterworth and Lisa Sleeth
**Special Display of North Korea's Hidden Gulag: Satellite Photos and Drawings sponsored by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
**Photo exhibit by Greg Constantine entitled "A Matter of Exposure", a moving and informative exhibit of the refugees hiding in China
**Showing of the recent BBC Documentary and other documentaries on the North Korea regimes human rights abuses and the plight of North Korea refugees in China especially for Members of Congress and Congressional staff, but open to all

4:00 - 5:30 Musical Concert by North Korean Defectors Group (Upper Senate Park - across from US Capitol)

6:00 - 6:45 Inter-Faith Prayer Vigil for the North Korean People led by Rev. Dong Soo Shin of Washington Christian Church St. Peter's Catholic Church 313 2nd Street, S.E. (2 blocks from the U.S. Capitol) open to all;

Registration recommended.

Faith J. H. McDonnell
Director, Church Alliance for a New Sudan
Director, Religious Liberty Programs Institute on Religion and Democracy

5:19 PM


You can subscribe to the World Congress of Families: Family Update, Online! which provides provocative and useful information on family life. From the latest:

Family Research Abstract of the Week: Marital Benefit: Rich but Disturbed

The offspring of America's most affluent households enjoy the best of everything — clothes, computers, entertainment, automobiles. So why are so many of them mired in depression and neurosis? Pondering the psychological distress of many affluent adolescents recently led psychologist Suniya S. Luthar of Columbia University to scrutinize their problematic family lives.

Writing in the pages of Child Development, Luthar confronts the strangely elevated incidence of "adjustment disturbances" among children from affluent households. Why is it, she asks, that in recent surveys "affluent youth reported significantly higher levels of anxiety [than inner-city youth] across several domains and greater depression?" Why is it these well-off teens "also reported higher substance use than inner-city students?" Why is it that "the most affluent youth ... reported the least happiness and those in the lowest S[ocio] E[conomic] S[tatus] reported the most?" And why is it that "among suburban girls in the 10th grade, one in five reported clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms, reflecting rates 3 times as high as those among normative samples?"

After careful investigation of the social circumstances in which affluent youth develop their psychological problems, Luthar identifies two root causes of these problems: "excessive pressures to achieve and isolation from parents (both literal and emotional)."
Parents are so busy themselves “achieving” that many have forgotten the ends. Do children NEED the sort of affluent lifestyle made possible by two professional incomes? They are saying no. The problem is that once a lifestyle level is established, it is hard to “regress” to a less affluent style even for the sake of having a parent stay home to ward off the isolation children rightly feel. Being able to work out of a home office certainly seems attractive as one solution.

Better yet, young couples need to establish early on what their style of life should be. Too many wish by the time they are 30 to have a house and lifestyle not even dreamed of by their grandparents. My wife and I raised six children in a three-bedroom apartment in the city. My wife “stayed at home” 95 percent of the time. They have thanked us for a less materialistic lifestyle because they generally are content with the basics and don’t feel the need to live at an expensive level. And they aren’t afraid to have children right away because they “can’t afford it” yet.

That my wife “stayed at home” is putting it badly, but that’s the phrase our society uses, which, as I think about it, has a slightly negative connotation. Staying anywhere is bad in a culture that worships progress. She didn’t just stay at home: she built a home. And building a home isn’t a one-time deal. One can’t just get a home by buying one—a home can’t be bought. Buildings can, but not homes. Homes are built one day at a time, every day, year in and year out. Children want to belong somewhere; they want a Home. Unless someone is making the home, it can seem just like the other buildings in the neighborhood.

12:53 PM

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