Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
NEW CONTRIBUTING EDITORS:
At the editors' meeting on Monday and Tuesday we voted to ask two people to join the masthead as contributing editors, and I'm pleased to say both have agreed.
— Graeme Hunter is a professor of philosophy at the University of Ottawa and a noted Pascal scholar (he contributed the article on Pascal to Blackwell's A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy). He is, I think but didn't remember to ask, an Anglican, and also home schools his children. Among the articles he's written are:
— Taming the Tempest: The Meaning of Classical Education (Touchstone;
— A review of John Colapinto's As Nature Made Him (Touchstone;
— A review of Joseph Pearce's Literary Converts (Touchstone);
— Are Ordinary Christians Ethical? (Touchstone)
— Anatomy of the exceptional mind of a criminal grandmother (Life Advocate);
— Thoughts on Discrimination (First Things)
— Thoughts on Homeschooling (Theological Digest and Outlook); and
several articles and reviews the texts of which we haven't posted on our website.
— Russell Moore is the dean of the school of theology of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He was until recently the executive director of the seminary's Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement
. His first article for us, a report on the Southern Baptist Convention's leaving the World Baptist Alliance, will be appearing in the June issue. Among the articles he's written are:
— Surprising Insights from the Uncircumcised: Is the Great Commission for Gentiles Only?;
— How to Teach Open Theism at Vacation Bible School (a pdf file);
— The Neo-Fundamentalism of the Evangelical Left: Post-Conservative Evangelical Proposals as Reversal of Evangelical Doctrinal Development (this, as the title suggests, is an academic paper); and
— The Man on the Island: Facing the Truth About those who Never Hear the Gospel.
We are grateful to Dr. Hunter and Dr. Moore for accepting the invitation — one condition of which, you should be happy to know, is that they agree to write at least three articles for us every year.
SOMMERS ON BOYS:
At dinner last night, our eldest was reflecting on the fact that at her high school (she's a senior) almost all the top students are girls. 12 (I think) of the top 15 gpa's in her class belong to girls and almost all the major student positions as well. (Sarah is editor of the school newspaper, which, if I might brag a bit, just won a national award.) This does not surprise her, because so many of the boys are slackers and goof-offs (her description is less charitable but fortunately I can't remember it).
The discussion led me to search for Christina Hoff Sommers' article on The War Against Boys from The Atlantic, which I commend. It begins:
IT'S a bad time to be a boy in America. The triumphant victory of the U.S. women's soccer team at the World Cup last summer has come to symbolize the spirit of American girls. The shooting at Columbine High last spring might be said to symbolize the spirit of American boys.
That boys are in disrepute is not accidental. For many years women's groups have complained that boys benefit from a school system that favors them and is biased against girls. "Schools shortchange girls," declares the American Association of University Women. Girls are "undergoing a kind of psychological foot-binding," two prominent educational psychologists say. A stream of books and pamphlets cite research showing not only that boys are classroom favorites but also that they are given to schoolyard violence and sexual harassment.
In the view that has prevailed in American education over the past decade, boys are resented, both as the unfairly privileged sex and as obstacles on the path to gender justice for girls. This perspective is promoted in schools of education, and many a teacher now feels that girls need and deserve special indemnifying consideration. "It is really clear that boys are Number One in this society and in most of the world," says Patricia O'Reilly, a professor of education and the director of the Gender Equity Center, at the University of Cincinnati.
The idea that schools and society grind girls down has given rise to an array of laws and policies intended to curtail the advantage boys have and to redress the harm done to girls. That girls are treated as the second sex in school and consequently suffer, that boys are accorded privileges and consequently benefit -- these are things everyone is presumed to know. But they are not true.
She goes on to make a compelling case. A compelling voice in the wilderness case, but compelling nevertheless.
As the father of two daughters and two sons, I resent the war against boys, but not particularly in defense of my boys. Them we've guarded against being treated as enemy soldiers by sending them to Christian schools that approve of boys being boys.
I resent it in defense of my girls. I want them to be able to find husbands who are not disabled veterans of a war waged upon them in twelve or more years of schooling. I want them to find a huge pool of whole men among whom to find a compatible husband. (Wholeness being only the basic qualification, compatibility requiring high character, a shared faith, a desire to have children, a love of beauty in art and literature, and the like.)
If Prof. Sommers is right, as I think she is, our public school system and the feminist scholars whose opinion public educators (I use the word loosely) have taken as authorities, have worked greatly to reduce the supply of whole men. And of the people who will suffer this, the young women on whose behalf the war was allegedly waged will suffer as much as anyone.
The need to help boys become men has been obvious to almost everyone in human history. (My colleague Leon Podles' The Church Impotent
deals with this.) Only very stupid or malicious people could have waged this war on boys.
By "stupid" I do not mean unintelligent -- though having grown up in a college town I must say that many accredited scholars are not in fact terribly bright -- but "in a stupor," a stupor induced by their indulgence of an ideology that ruined their minds as effectively as drink or drugs. And others are genuinely malicious, filled with malice, as observation of the "March for Women's Lives" will show.
A genuine feminism would promote a genuine masculinism. Those who want women to be wholly and freely women will want boys to become men. So says a father of two daughters whom he loves, anyway.
THE SACRAMENT OF NIHILISM:
A reader wrote responding to Rod Dreher’s item in the Notebook section of the April issue:
In last month's issue I read the comments about what was apparently a homosexual who killed and ate his lover. I have had thoughts parallel to the author's when I see stories in the news about a mother killing her child(ren). I always wonder why the media are so shocked by this, but not about the hundreds of other cases that same day where the only difference was whether the child(ren) had completed the birth process. If one buys into the acceptability of abortion, on what logical ground can one be shocked by murder?
He is exactly right about the illogicality of the abortionists' position. (I use “abortionist” to mean those who hold the ideological position that abortion is not the murder of a human person but a legitimate exercise of personal freedom, not those who do them.)
The illogic is explained, I think, by the simple fact that abortion must be all right and the murder of the born must be wrong if many of them are to live as they wish. They want to have sex with as few consequences as possible, and they want to be protected by the moral law from others. This cannot be had with logical consistency, so they abandon logical consistency.
In other words, they believe in choice as long as they are not the ones whose lives are at risk from someone else's choice. As a general rule, when normally intelligent people think badly, or fail to see the obvious, they do so because their will and therefore their minds have been corrupted by a sin they indulge. The logic itself is not difficult to manage, after all.
This probably explains the average abortionist, but some may well believe in abortion as a good thing because they hate life, or innocence, or motherhood, or fertility, or reality itself, and abortion is for them a sort of sacrament of nihilism. I suspect there are more such people than we would like to admit. The recent “March for Women’s Lives” seems to have included many of them (though not the ones you saw featured in the mainstream media). These do not care about logical consistency either, because logic is part of that reality they hate.
GIVE 'EM THAT OLD TIME RELIGION:
The next time you are at the library, get the May 10th issue of The New Republic and read the cover story, Yossi Klein Halevi's "Like a Prayer." (It isn't available to the public on their web site.) It is an expose, of sorts, of the Kabbalah Centre [sic] in Los Angeles and its wealthy, famous, and air-headed clientele.
Madonna, the story reports, has given the Centre $5 million, calls herself a "Kabbala-ist" [another sic], and thinks Kabbala and punk rock similar because both are ways of "thinking outside the box." Mick Jagger and Britney Spears (who is referred to at our house as "Britney Spaniel") are among its clients. According to the article:
In the traditional Kabbalistic schools that have survived for centuries, the 72 names of God form the basis for arduous meditatios and ascetic practices. Here, though, all you need to do is glance at the letters to be infused with their healing and invigorating power. In the Centre's literature, each name is endowed with a quality that can be readily accessed -- such as "defusing negative energy and stress," "dumping depression," and "the power of prosperity."
. . . A Centre official presiding over the prayers calls out one of the names of God and urges worshipers to meditate on its healing properties. His cell phone rings and he takes the call. After a leisurely phone conversation, he resumes the prayer, chanting, "The technology fo the name is going into the stem cells, stimulating the immune system, reducing cellular blockage, back to the condition of receiving light." Centre devotees close their eyes for about 20 seconds -- speed meditation.
Halevi also reports that "Everyone in the room wears a red thread around the wrist as protection against the evil eye."
A Touchstone-like publication you might want to know about: The Cresset, published by Valparaiso University. It is a Lutheran journal, but includes an ecumenical range of writers. Unfortunately, they offer very little of their content online, but the site will at least tell you whether you may want to subscribe.
A BRUDERHOF MOTHER’S DAY:
The assistant to Johann Christoph Arnold sent us this short meditation, titled “Mother’s Day Every Day,” and asked if we would post it. Arnold is a pastor, and I think the head pastor, of one of the Bruderhof communities (links at the end).
Every year Mother’s Day is anticipated by many as a chance to show their love and thanks to their wives and mothers for all they do. Fathers and children look forward to it and rush to the nearest mall to get the latest Mother’s Day gift or card.
But our mothers deserve much more than that. They are the backbone of the human family. This is a fact that we men often fail to comprehend. We think we are so smart, so much more discerning than our wives. We do not show them the respect they deserve.
It is mothers, not fathers, who carry the greatest burden in life and are much more in tune to what real life is all about. A mother thinks day and night about the well-being of her children. She is the first to praise them and to comfort them, and the first to protect them when she senses that they may be in danger. It is she who has carried them and borne the pains of pregnancy and childbirth, and who continues to carry them in her heart. There is an old Jewish saying: “God could not be everywhere at once, so he gave each child a mother.”
If only we could grasp the tremendous importance of this mystery. Appreciating and respecting their wives and mothers is the only way for men to understand their task as husbands and fathers. There is great confusion today about the role of men and women. Many women rebel, with good reason, against the oppression and lovelessness of the men around them, but in the end their resentment, understandable as it may be, achieves little.
Man and woman have been created as equals, but God has given them different roles. My wife Verena and I have been blessed with 38 years of marriage. God gave us eight children and we now have 35 grandchildren. My wife has stood by me in bad times as well as in good times. In these 38 years we have experienced many crises, but she was always steadfastly at my side, never doubting in God’s love and confident that everything would turn out all right in the end. Without an intensive prayer life and daily forgiveness, this would not have been possible.
There’s an old saying that “when a woman delivers a child she has one foot in the grave.” This is as true now as when my mother and my wife went through childbirth. In fact, only two or three decades ago we took a normal, healthy birth for granted. Of course there were exceptions; there is never a guarantee that mother and child will survive. But now, in this day and age, there are complications of one kind or another in a great proportion of births. If only for this reason, our wives and mothers deserve far more honor and respect from us men. In fact, if we were to show this love, our own lives-and the whole world-would be turned upside down.
Let’s not miss the chance to use this Mother’s Day to show much more love to our mothers and wives. If we do this, we will actually be doing ourselves a service: We might gain a better understanding of what fatherhood and marriage is all about. It is not about standing above our wives, tyrannizing and controlling them. Rather, it is about protecting, loving and caring for them. In the end we will feel a lot better about ourselves, not to mention the transforming effect on our children when they realize that Dad and Mom truly love and care for each other and for their children.
This Mother’s Day--and every day--I will do my best to show my wife my appreciation for everything she has done for me, for my children and grandchildren, and for many others as well. Because, to quote a profound saying I found printed on a napkin at a horse show: “Iff’n Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Johann Christoph Arnold is an author and pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.
Speaking of upcoming issues, the July/August issue will mark the fifth anniversary of our special issue on the Intelligent Design movement, which turned into the book Signs of Intelligence, which you can get by clicking here. We are marking the anniversary by producing another issue on the subject.
The issue will not be nearly as ambitious as that one — that is the truth in advertising disclaimer — but will cover the effect in practice of the naturalistic philosophy the ID movement (and Christians in general) opposes, in a way that first issue did not. Among the writers featured will be William Dembski, Edward Sisson, Jonathan Witt, Richard Weikart, and Phillip Johnson.
EDITORS’ MEETING AND FUTURE ISSUE:
Touchstone’s editors met for our spring meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (This will partly explain the absence of material on Mere Comments for the last week or so, given the time needed first to prepare for the meeting, having it, and then following up on it.) Readers will, I trust, be pleased to learn that several other editors have promised to write at least one original Mere Comments item a week.
I will report on the meeting when I can review my notes. One bit of news you might find of interest: we hope to have a theme issue on bioethics at the end of the year. It will introduce the subject and cover such topics as the lies the moral innovators tell (e.g., about the alleged wonders of embryonic stem cells), why the subject matters so much, and what future technological developments will present new ethical challenges.
We had at the meeting two contributing editors as well as the editorial board, which is made up of the senior editors, Jim Kushiner, and me. The historian Wilfred McClay and Kevin Offner, who works for InterVarsity among graduate students in Washington, both joined us. Dr. McClay went from our meeting to a meeting of the National Endowment of the Humanities. Both helped a lot, and we’re grateful that they took two days out of busy lives to be with us.
On Monday night we gave a dinner for Christian activists in Washington, to introduce them to the magazine and (speaking as the ever-hopeful editor) get more of them to write for us. Among the people who came were Justice Antonin Scalia, Alan Crippen and William Saunders of the Family Research Council (Bill wrote on in vitro fertilization in the March issue), Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, Joe Loconte of the Heritage Foundation, the Weekly Standard’s Joseph Bottum, Edward Whelan, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Bill Wichterman, policy advisor to Sen. Frist. Judge Robert Bork was coming but was sick, though his wife was able to come. I was particularly disappointed, because he was someone I’d much like to write for us.