Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
STORIES FOR PREACHERS:
For the preachers among you, something I just found in a book of religious anecdotes called Oh, Come On, All Ye Faithful by a Derek Nimmo:
The Reverend Robert Hall once explained to a questioner who asked him how many sermons a preacher could prepare in a week, "If he is a man of prominent ability, one; if he is a man of ordinary ability, two; if he is an ass, six."
An amusing story from a page later, about
the Reverend Mr Houston, a Presbyterian minister who was also summoned at short notice to officiate at the kirk at Craithie during one of the good queen's [he means Victoria] soujourns at Balmoral. Quite overcome by the occasion he reached his highest flights of oratory in a prayer for the Queen herself, in which he entreated the ord, "Grant that as she grows to be an old woman, she may be made a new man, and stand before Thee as a pure virgin, bringing forth sons and daughters to Thy glory; and that in all peaceful causes she may go forth before her people like a he-goat on the mountains."
All fine images by themselves, but a wiser preacher would not have put them together in quite the same way, especially when preaching to such a notoriously peevish audience (of one). It is, by the way, a peculiarity of the Church of England that the church of which she is head does not mind that she becomes a Presbyterian when in Scotland — though the establishment would object were she to take up French citizenship every time she crossed the English Channel.
Going back to the first anecdote, I have found that most people who don't write think it easier to compose short pieces than long pieces, for the commonsensical reason that long is long and short is short. All they can think of is all those blank pages of paper to be filled, as if writing were like ditch-digging.
It is hard to get them to see that a short piece may be a work of real craft and a long piece a work of incompetence or sloth, and that a good writer can often knock off a 5,000 word paper faster than he can write a 650-word column for the local newspaper on the same subject. Writers find this frustrating — good writers, I mean.
LOOKING AHEAD TO JULY:
The blog I just posted reminds me: for those of you interested in the subject, we are dedicating the July/August issue to the subject. See An ID July for details. The issue will be fatter than usual.
AN INTREPID SOUL:
Our contributing editor Phillip Johnson passed on the following about Roger DeHart, "the intrepid high school biology teacher who got in trouble in Washington State for teaching the controversy. His story is featured in our video of 'Icons of Evolution'." The message came originally from someone else:
Roger DeHart will be featured on NPR's Science Friday May 21 beginning at
>3:30 Eastern time. The topic is "Should ID, the latest incarnation of creationist theory, be taught in science class." The program will feature Edward Larson, Roger DeHart and a Biology teacher from Houston Texas, Robert Dennison.
This ought to be an interesting discussion, given the producer's reluctance to produce it because of her professed atheistic bias. During Roger's part of the program it is likely to be a 2 against 1 scenario, so we will all need to be in Roger's corner in thought and mind.
You will notice that attempt to dismiss ID theory as "creationism," which is to say, "Religion, not science." Even accounting for PBS's bias, this verges on simple dishonesty, after all the work the ID movement has done to make a scientific case.
An interesting article for parents and cultural critics alike: Young Kids and TV: Parents Tune In to Study from The Washington Post, about "a study published last month in the scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics that linked young children's TV watching with the eventual development of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder."
There's certainly been no shortage of studies linking television with violence, obesity and poor performance in school. But this latest hit home in a new way. "ADD and ADHD are the current panic acronyms in the parental landscape," says Marjorie Kaplan, executive vice president and general manager of the Discovery Kids cable channel. "There are so many kids who are diagnosed and parents wondering if their kids have it."
Led by Seattle Children's Hospital pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, the study concluded that for preschoolers, every hour of daily television viewing increases their chances by about 10 percent of developing attention problems later. It also backs up a 1999 recommendation by the AAP that children younger than 2 should not be exposed to television at all.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, nearly 60 percent of children younger than 2 watch television on a typical day and about a quarter have a TV in their bedrooms.
One-quarter? Of children under two? What is with these parents?
The television executives quoted disputed the study, but then they would. The executives of cigarette companies deny that smoking causes cancer. As a rule, one should be suspicious of people whose work and profits depend upon exploiting your children.
The liberal English Catholic magazine The Tablet now offers an e-mail newsletter, which some readers may want to get. The magazine offers useful news of Christian, and not just Catholic, life around the world, and a very mixed bag of feature articles and book reviews.
MODERN REFORMATION AGAIN:
My apologies for the dead line on Tuesday to Modern Reformation magazine. For some reason, if you forgot to include the "htp://" in the address, the software inserts the Touchstone address in front of the address you've entered, instead of inserting "http://", which would make a great deal more sense.
MORE ON MASSACHUSETTS:
From Maclin Horton's blogsite Light on Dark Water, a blog on the nature of the Christian response to Massachusetts' court-forced marriage of homosexual couples, writing on the same lines as my Steyn on the latest from Tuesday.
THE BISHOPS AND THE POLITICIANS:
My friend and sometime contributor to Touchstone Juli Loesch Wiley (See her The delightful secrets of sex from the January/February issue) writes, in exasperation, I suspect:
If some politician favored a law which authorized the beheading and dismemberment of a very moderate number of Catholic bishops ~ annually ~ would the bishops say ". . . but where does he stand on tax reform"?"
Today's New York Times
carries a Timesian article reporting Democrats Criticize Denial of Communion by Bishops
. Women for Faith and the Family offers a set of resources on this matter, Catholics and Political Responsibility
. WFF is run by Helen Hull Hitchcock, a former contributing editor of Touchstone
and wife of our senior editor James Hitchcock.
REPORT FROM A FRIEND:
Dr. Janice Crouse of the Beverly LaHaye Institute posted on their website a report on our dinner, which we held in Washington on May 3rd, during our spring editors' meeting. You will find on the site — the Institute is part of Concerned Women for America — a lot of useful information and commentary, and the chance to subscribe to their "FemFacts" and "Dot.commentary."
The site includes, to give three examples of useful articles:
— an interesting report on America's Evangelicals;
— a "data digest" on marriage reporting that Fewer women [are] tying the knot (this is a pdf file); and
— a disturbing report on The foster care revolving door.
IT WAS CANADA'S FAULT:
An interesting article a reader sent in: Scientist links Lake Agassiz to Noah's flood. It begins:
Sunday, May 9, 2004 - ONE of the country's top scientists believes the abrupt drainage of a super-sized glacial lake in Canada 8,000 years ago may have triggered the ancient Middle Eastern flood that inspired the story of Noah's Ark. University of Manitoba geologist Jim Teller has spent much of his career studying the 4,000-year life history of Lake Agassiz, a mammoth fresh-water basin formed as the melting Laurentide glacier retreated northward at the end of the last ice age.
When Agassiz -- the last major remnant of which is Lake Winnipeg -- was at its widest around 6000 BC, it spanned 2,000 kilometres from present-day Saskatchewan to northwestern Quebec. It contained 30 per cent more water than is held by all of the lakes on Earth today, and seven times more than the combined volume of the five Great Lakes.
Teller has published several studies demonstrating that as Agassiz's ice dam cracked at various places and times throughout its history, huge volumes of lake water rushed into the Atlantic, played havoc with ocean currents and produced major changes in global climate.
THE UFFL AND THE BCP:
A couple of things some of you will want to know about:
— the program for University Faculty for Life's 2004 conference; and
— the traditional eucharistic lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer.
KERRY & ETHICAL VOTES
One of the pleasures of a recent gathering we hosted in DC early this month was meeting some of the folks from the Ethics and Public Policy Center. On their website you will find George Weigel’s article, The Kerry challenge. Weigel begins:
During his campaign for the presidency, Senator John Kerry has tried in various ways to square his self-description as a "believing and practicing Catholic" with his unalloyed record of support for abortion-on-demand, including partial birth abortion. Perhaps the senator’s most succinct statement of his case came in St. Louis this past January: "What I believe personally as a Catholic as an article of faith is an article of faith...[But it is not] appropriate in the United States for a legislator to legislate personal religious beliefs for the rest of the country."
In other words, Senator Kerry believes that the Catholic Church’s pro-life position is a sectarian position, whose imposition on a pluralistic society would be constitutionally unwarranted – something like the Catholic Church trying to force all Americans to abstain from hot dogs on Fridays during Lent.
This is simply not true. For the past thirty-one years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have made public arguments that can be engaged by any serious person on behalf of the right to life. You don’t have to believe in Petrine primacy, seven sacraments, or the two natures of Christ to engage the Catholic pro-life argument; you don’t even have to believe in God. You simply have to be willing to take elementary embryology and elementary logic seriously. For the senator to suggest that the Church’s position is sectarian is either woefully ignorant or deliberately mendacious.
The EPPC site, as is the rest of the article, is worth checking out.
THE WAR AT HOME
Last night on the local news in Chicago there was (another) story about someone gunned down in an alley. This time it was two men, one about 40 and the other in his 20s. Sad to say, one gets used to such “news.”
About a month ago, on a Saturday afternoon, a car drove behind my garage and slowed down; a gun was put to the head of a teenager in the car and fired; the teenager was dumped out of the car—dead--about 60 feet from my garage.
The year before that, two teens were gunned down in a parking lot behind the closed and condemned bar at the corner. While my neighborhood is what they call “gentrifying” (the bar may eventually be turned into a Starbucks?), it still has its rough edges. There are safer neighborhoods, but houses for large families are very expensive in them.
In the past year there were more than 600 homicides in Chicago, and most of them were gang (and drug) related. What this means is that in a city like Chicago every year there are about 500 (mostly) young people slain because of a drug and gang culture, fueled in part by fatherlessness and by a permissive drug culture that began to flourish much more above ground in the 70s.
About ten years ago, dealers were selling drugs around the corner from our house. Several dozen neighbors staked out the place during the evening hours for the better part of a week, bringing along a video camera and inviting a local TV news team (they came). It was amazing to watch cars come by and slow down, then speed off when they realized the “store was closed” and they didn’t want the cameras to record their faces or license plate numbers. Most of the cars were from the suburbs.
When I drove a delivery van in Chicago part-time while supporting my work with Touchstone from 1992 to 1997, I encountered similar things. Within a particular poor neighborhood covering maybe 12 blocks total, I can point out a store where the owner had been knifed to death, another where one had been gunned down, another where a young employee had been killed by “gang bangers” just outside the door, a spot on the street where a 14 year-old girl had been killed when a stray bullet banged through the back seat of the car in which she was riding, and so on. This was only what I personally heard about on the street. It was only the tip of the iceberg. At one point, I was held at gunpoint during a robbery. That neighborhood, where my son now works as a Chicago policeman, has not improved at all.
We are rightly grieved by the deaths of American soldiers overseas. Some in the media and some in politics would use those war deaths to score political points. Would that the killing of hundreds of young American men (about whom some of the politicians claim to be concerned so much) in one American city alone, not to mention numerous murders in other cities, elicited the first degree of outrage. There are also many innocent victims of these drug and gang wars.
We do, after all, have not only a war going on abroad, but also one under our very noses. Yes, it’s dangerous in Iraq. But do you think I should allow my 13-year-old son to walk alone after dark in my American neighborhood? Even on that Saturday afternoon last month, had he been taking out the garbage, he might have witnessed the 19-year-old being shot and dumped out of a car, left to die. And who knows what the shooter would have done to a 13-year-old witness.
Another website some of you will want to know about: the site of Modern Reformation magazine. I'm thinking of it because they've just posted Steven Hutchens' article from the last issue, Please Me, O Lord, which they thought expressed their own concerns.
I find Modern Reformation a very helpful and interesting magazine. I don't always agree with its writers, of course, being on the other side of the Reformation divide, but I almost always feel that they have been both thoughtful and fair. I remember one article on Catholicism the magazine published three or four years ago that I thought strikingly good for an article on a subject on which most people would write polemically. I didn't agree with it, but I thought the writer always tried to get Catholicism right before he argued with it, and that he generally succeeded.
And oddly enough, or perhaps not oddly enough, I think the concerns and mind of the editors of Modern Reformation often come closer to those of the Catholic and Orthodox editors of Touchstone than they do to their fellow Protestants. This isn't just the result of the "centrism" C. S. Lewis described in the preface to Mere Christianity, but — this isn't the best way of putting it, but I can't think of a better at the moment — of a shared belief in necessity of the dogmatic tradition and dogmatic thinking and a suspicion of the subjectivist alternatives popular in American Christianity. Witness their asking to reprint Steve's article.
A blogsite you may want to know about: Moteworthy, which includes the occasional contribution of Baylor's Francis Beckwith. Readers may remember his Choice Words from the January/February issue. While I'm at it, I should direct you to the sites with his articles: here for articles in pdf form and here for articles in html form.
STEYN ON THE LATEST:
Recommended: Mark Steyn's Massachusetts' Marriage. He is one of my favorite writers. He’s not only insightful, he writes very well, and not just well but entertainingly.
Among other useful points he makes in this article:
Language has been an important weapon in the gay movement’s very swift advance. In the old days, there was “sodomy”: an act. In the late 19th century, the word “homosexuality” was coined: a condition. A generation ago, the accepted term became “gay”: an identity. Each formulation raises the stakes: one can object to and even criminalize an act; one is obligated to be sympathetic towards a condition; but once it’s a fully-fledged 24/7 identity, like being Hispanic or Inuit, anything less than whole-hearted acceptance gets you marked down as a bigot.
That is one reason I, like Steyn, still use the word sodomy. I am somewhat agnostic about the condition — some men and more women seem to change "conditions" more easily than they should be able to if their state were really a "condition" — and a disbeliever in the identity except as a political construction, which is to say a man who likes to commit sodomy does not equal an Inuit, that God didn't make him that way, and that he deserves no special rights or legal protection because he likes doing in bed what very few people like doing.
He may well deserve pity and he ought to have our prayers and (if he is willing) our friendship, as a fellow sinner with a particularly aggressive temptation. The rest of us have something in our own lives of similar power, for example gluttony, wrath, covetousness, envy, lust (the more usual forms thereof), sloth, or (especially) pride, or various combinations thereof.
And if Dorothy Sayers was right in thinking the “cold-hearted sins” like pride worse than the “warm-hearted sins” like lust, we may be more in need of the homosexual man’s prayers than he of ours. (See her marvelous essay “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” found in Creed or Chaos?
but not, as far as I can find, on the web.)
I started to write that nevertheless, we do not make these sins a "condition" as if one couldn't help committing them and we do not make of them an identity as if they determined who we are. We do not celebrate our lust or wrath or pride, in the way the open sodomite celebrates his sodomy.
I started to write this, when it occurred to me that we certainly do the same thing as the homosexual apologist. We've just got better rationalizations and our friends don't examine them nearly as closely.
Since a lot more people are guilty of pride than are guilty of sodomy — pride can claim close to 100% of us, I’d bet — the excuse for celebrating the sin is much more subtle and the result far less obvious to the great majority. Lots of people have been working on the excuse for a long time and they’ve produced a really god one for a huge and eager and uncritical market.
C. S. Lewis gets at this in chapter 17 of The Screwtape Letters
, in which Screwtape analyzes the gluttony of Wormwood’s patient’s mother.
She would be astonished — one day, I hope, will be — to learn that he whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed form her by the fact that he quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?
Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and serants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, “Oh, please, please . . all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeeniest bit of really crisp toast.”
You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practicing temperance.
Screwtape goes on to analyze her spiritual state and the life to which this has led her, including the way her sin has blinded her to the reality of her life and her effect of others. He suggests, or Lewis suggest through him, that she would be happier were she less a glutton. It is a sobering picture.
Now, I don’t deny that sodomy, being a perversion, is disgusting. The male organ of generation is not supposed to go into the male organ of evacuation. That is life, literally, in the sewer, as a friend who served an Episcopal parish with a large homosexual population used to say. (Female sodomy offers no equally graphic symbol but the principle is the same.)
Social and legal approval of homosexuality is a bad thing. The imperialist decision of the court in Massachusetts must be fought.
But we ought, when we see some poor people chanting in the street, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” to remember that in different ways, with different cherished sins we have so redefined that we see them as virtues, we are in effect chanting to God, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” This is the spirit with which we ought to oppose sodomite marriage and similar challenges to reality.
On Sunday evening I watched with our eleven-year-old one of my favorite movies, John Sayles The Secret of Roan Inish, and wanted to recommend it. It is set in 1946 on the western coast of Ireland and tells the story of a family forced to move off the island of Roan Inish to the mainland, the tragedy they suffered as they moved, and the life and choice it led them to.
And it ends with the idea that the word is the act or sign of re-entrance into the human community. And — get this — in the whole of the movie, nothing blows up.
Another interesting item found while looking for something else: C. S. Lewis's list of the ten books that most influenced him. You will note that, rather surprisingly, six of the works are modern (eight if you include the 17th century as modern) and only two ancient.
A few links of interest, which I found while researching our upcoming issue on the Intelligent Design movement (July/August):
— Philip Johnson reviews Daniel C. Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, a book subtitled "Evolution and the Meanings of Life." The review begins:
Daniel Dennett's fertile imagination is captivated by the very dangerous idea that the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution should become the basis for what amounts to an established state religion of scientific materialism. Dennett takes the scientific part of his thesis from the inner circle of contemporary Darwinian theorists: William Hamilton, John Maynard Smith, George C. Williams, and the brilliant popularizer Richard Dawkins.
When Dennett describes the big idea emanating from this circle as dangerous, he does not mean that it is dangerous only to religious fundamentalists. The persons whom he accuses of flinching when faced with the full implications of Darwinism are scientists and philosophers of the highest standing: Noam Chomsky, Roger Penrose, Jerry Fodor, John Searle, and especially Stephen Jay Gould.
Each one of these very secular thinkers supposedly tries, as the simple religious folk do, to limit the all-embracing logic of Darwinism. Dennett describes Darwinism as a "universal acid; it eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view." One thinker after another has tried unsuccessfully to find some way to contain this universal acid, to protect something from its corrosive power.
— Richard Weikart's essay Killing Them Kindly: Lessons from the Euthanasia Movement
. It 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.
— A second article by Dr. Weikart: Father of Eugenics
, on the once famed and honored Francis Galton. Among other things,
By framing the debate over human nature as “nature vs. nurture,” Galton relegated traditional religious conceptions of human nature and psychology to the “superstitious past.” He was intensely anti-religious, claiming in Hereditary Genius that religious leaders usually have “wretched constitutions” and are not eminent and talented individuals. Indeed, Galton believed that a “pious disposition is decidedly hereditary,” and I suspect this was one of the traits he hoped would disappear as a result of his eugenics program, along with idiocy and other defects. The principles of eugenics, he declared, must “be introduced into the national conscience, like a new religion.”
Dr. Weikart, I might note, is the author of the new book From Darwin to Hitler
, a chapter of which (adapted for our purposes) will be appearing in the July/August issue.
Everyone knows, of course, that Massachusetts has officially become the first state to grant marriage licenses to “gay couples.” The news is a-buzz with the story.
Aside from the obvious fact that gays cannot really be married, I do have a few questions about these new “unions”:
Do we use Mr. and Mrs.? Mr. and Mr. could apply to two single men, of course.
Should we invent something else? Mr./Mr. could work, or Ms/Ms.
Do they keep their same last names, choose one over the other, or always hyphenate? (Mr/Mr N. Jones and N. Smith)
If a gay married man decides he is bisexual and has sex with a woman, is it adultery? If so, is it grounds for divorce? Or, if the woman agrees, and the man’s gay “marriage partner” agrees, can she marry the first man (or both?) and become part of a bi-sexual marriage? If not, why not? (Take it to court. Sue.)
For those denominations approving of such arrangements, should they update Scriptural translations to relate to modern “people”? I mean, in the case of V. Gene Robinson of Episcopal notoriety, should the qualifications for a bishop in the New Testament be translated “the spouse of one spouse”? (Even so, VGR misses the mark.)
If we still talk about “bi-racial marriages,” can we now refer to “mixed-sexed marriages”?
And finally, now that we have same-sex c”marriages”, can we please at least go back to using husband and wife to distinguish a male spouse from a female spouse?
Just asking so as to keep things straight.
MORE TRAVAILS AT BAYLOR:
Baylor University and its besieged president Robert Sloan were once again in the news last Friday, when the dissidents tried to remove the president by bringing in a big donor who threatened not to give the university any more money and to demand that the money he'd already given be given back to him if they didn't. At least that seems to have been his purpose, since in his talk he never had the courtesy, or decency, really, to say exactly what it was he wanted.
The man's talk to the regents can be found here, on the website of the Committee to Restore Integrity to Baylor. The previously very supportive board voted 18-17 to keep him.
The talk is not an admirable piece of work. I'll leave out the overwrought metaphor with which it begins and the bloated prose, of the sort businessmen tend to write when they get on their high horses. (My apology to those of you in business who don't.)
Besides never saying out right "Fire the president!", it makes lots of serious charges without being manly enough to make one specific charge the subject could dispute. It also appeals to several windy principles, most too vague and abstract to let his subject discuss them and defend his own understanding. Most notable is his appeal to
the University the founders intended, one open to scholarly inquiry and teaching within a Christian environment, devoid of pious religiosity and committed to mutual trust, respect and even reasonable parsimony.
The president, the reader is led to understand, has somehow violated these, but what they actually mean is anyone's guess.
I've only followed Baylor's affairs as the controversies have made the news, but as far as I can tell, many of President Sloan's opponents, while appealing to such things as "teaching within a Christian environment" — not at all the same, let me just note, as teaching as a Christian — object to what mainstream Christians would think of as Christian teaching. The traditional Baptist emphasis on what they (wrongly) thought of as "the separation of church and state" — remember it was to Baptists that in 1960 President Kennedy made his famous declaration that he wouldn't govern from his principles, and they approved — seems in this crowd to be paralleled by an emphasis on the separation of faith and scholarship.
If this seems a harsh judgment, readers may remember the news story we ran in the November issue, in which the former president Herbert Reynolds, a favorite of the dissidents, is quoted revealingly:
Baylor faculty are "not there to engage in religiosity<' former president Herber Reynolds told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "They're there to teach algebra, political science, the best way they know how, which to me is the Christian way to do it." His administration did not ask candidates for faculty positions about their religious beliefs. "We'd say something like, 'Tell us about your Christian pilgrimage,' and we talked in general terms. We didn't get them to express themselves in theological and profound terms. We wanted them to follow their own volition."
I think this tells the rest of us what we need to know about Baylor's dissidents: their model is a man who was quite happy to let people teach as secularists as long as they had a reasonably pious "Christian pilgrimage," which they would discuss "in general terms" (as if they wanted to know if the applicant liked walking, but not exactly where he was walking to).
GODLESS PARTY GUY:
Jerry Springer has been named Democrat of the Year by the State of Ohio and has been chosen to represent the state as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Boston this July according to the New York Times. Yes, that Jerry Springer – the prince of raunchy television. In case you are interested, this week’s lineup in the Jerry Springer Show includes: Bizarre Stores! Moms vs. Daughters! Torrid Tales! Wild Secrets! and Jilted! (That’s right, every show’s title ends in an exclamation point!) Sounds like appropriate preparation for a convention of the Godless party.