Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
YET MORE ON VEGGIE TALES:
Two more responses to our Veggie Tales string, which began with A Hollywood Revival and continued with Veggie Tales Defended and More on Veggie Tales. The first comes from Marc Dvoracek, who had written at the beginning but whose response I missed in my inbox:
One of the people that Tolkien criticized for writing fiction in which the Christian themes were too simplistic and obvious was CS Lewis. This was true especially in the Chronicles of Narnia, less so in his other works such as his space trilogy. Of course, in Lewis' day the Christian view of the world was still part of the worldview of many authors and artists so other authors were there to provide fiction with more subtle Christian themes. The problem today is not that movies with simplistic Christian themes, like Veggie tales, exist. The problem is that they are all that exist and that very little exists for adults.
By perpetuating this imbalance, Christian film makers are perpetuating the myth that religion is not a subject for adults or serious people. How much damage is done to evangelization when the secular world sees the Da Vinci Code and Left Behind as the foremost examples of mature Christian thought?
We do need to keep making films with more obvious Christian themes, but we need to start making movies in which the plot and characters are based on the Christian worldview in a more subtle way. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a good start. Hopefully, we will see more of this.
The second comes from the first writer in "Veggie Tales Defended":
You ask whether "the story with the obvious moral is the best story to teach [kids] morals." I would agree with Jessica Snell that both obvious and subtle stories are desirable. Rich, complex, subtle stories engage the imagination and enable us to see ourselves in situations of moral conflict and work out the consequences of different choices. They are probably most effective in shaping actual behavior. But simpler stories with easily stated morals have a different function: they introduce us to moral reasoning, and to the idea that a story can have a moral.
Being a mature adult requires not just that one act morally but that one be able to explain one's choices to others, explain the moral implications of choices, and persuade others to act morally. And it requires the ability to look at a story and discern whether the moral messages it teaches are healthy ones or not, especially (but not exclusively) if one is a parent.
Stories like Aesop's fables or the better Veggie Tales videos introduce children to the idea that they can ask the question "what does this teach" about any story. They plant a seed that will take a long time to grow but whose fruits are well worth having. If we had not started learning this skill early on with simple stories, how would we even think to ask a question like whether Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings preserves the moral essence of Tolkien's, much less answer it?
Of course if I had to choose between raising a child who behaves morally without understanding why and raising one who is skilled at stating moral syllogisms but behaves like a monster I would choose the former without hesitation. But I think this is a false choice, unless I take my family to live on a desert island or maybe an Amish farm. With the enormous variety of conflicting messages and stories one is exposed to in the modern world, moral behavior without critical thinking skills is just a fantasy.
MODERN DE TOCQUEVILLES:
An interesting quote from Mary Ann Glendon's University Students Today: Portrait of a Generation Searching:
Countless young men and women today have had an experience in the university comparable to that which caused the great social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville to lose his faith 200 years ago at the height of the Enlightenment. All through his childhood, Tocqueville had been tutored by a pious old priest who had been trained in a simpler era.
Then, at the age of 16, he came upon the works of Descartes, Rousseau and Voltaire. Here is how he described that encounter in a letter to a friend many years later:
"I don't know if I've ever told you about an incident in my youth that marked me deeply for the rest of my life; how I was prey to an insatiable curiosity whose only available satisfaction was a large library of books. ... Until that time my life had passed enveloped in a faith that hadn't even allowed doubt to enter. ... Then doubt ... hurt led in with an incredible violence. ...
"All of a sudden I experienced the sensation people talk about who have been through an earthquake when the ground shakes under their feet, as do the walls around them, the ceilings over their heads, the furniture beneath their hand, all of nature before their eyes. I was seized by the blackest melancholy and then by an extreme disgust with life, though I knew nothing of life. And I was almost prostrated by agitation and terror at the sight of the road that remained for me to travel in this world."
What drew him out of that state, he told his friend, were worldly pleasures to which he abandoned himself for a time. But his letters testify to a lifelong sadness at his incapacity for belief. How many young Catholics have fallen into those same pitfalls when they had to make the difficult transition from their childhood faith to a mature Christianity. Tocqueville at least was confounded by some of the greatest minds in the Western tradition.
But many of our contemporaries are not even equipped to deal with simplistic versions of relativism and skepticism! Some young men and women, like Tocqueville, may spend their whole lives in a kind of melancholy yearning. Others may start to keep their spiritual lives completely private, in a separate compartment sealed off from the rest of their lives. Still others imitate the chameleon, that little lizard who changes his color to blend in with his surroundings. When parts of their Christian heritage don't fit with the spirit of the age, the chameleon just erases them.
PRAYING IN PUBLIC:
An article some of you may find interesting, as it has to do with public prayers: Pastor's prayer in Jesus' name prompts Fla. politician's apology from the (Southern) Baptist Press. I found of interest the guidelines for such prayers:
According to a copy of the letter from Secretary of the Senate Faye W. Blanton to Cloer obtained by the Florida Baptist Witness, the guidelines -- drawn from the National Conference for Community and Justice -- call for prayer that:
-- seeks the highest common denominator without compromise of conscience;
-- calls upon God on behalf of the group as a whole and avoids individual petitions;
-- uses forms and vocabulary that allow persons of different faiths to give assent to what is said;
-- uses universal, inclusive terms for the deity rather than proper names for divine manifestations. Some opening ascriptions are "Mighty God," "Our Maker," "Source of All Being," or "Creator and Sustainer." Possible closing words include "Hear Our prayer," "In Thy Name" or simply "Amen"; and
-- remains faithful to the purposes of acknowledging divine presence and seeking blessing; not preaching, arguing or testifying.
I would be interested to know what readers think of these guidelines. It seems to me that a Christian could not pray by them, because they ensure that the god he is praying to is a generic god, one so generic that anyone listening, other than the rare real atheist, can understand him/her/it as he pleases.
The person praying may be a Christian, and may give all these generic words their Christian meaning, but in context — the context set by the occasion and the rules — he is not praying to God but to something else: whatever or whoever it is that is left when praying a prayer acceptable to all and sundry.
FIXED LINK TO MARRIAGE DEBATE:
I fixed the link in the following item. As I've mentioned before, if you paste into the blogging software the link and forget the "http://" prefix, which is its default setting, it inserts the Touchstone address instead. This makes no sense to me. If the software is going to paste in something when the user forgets to, it ought to paste in its own default setting.
BRADLEY VS. SULLIVAN:
Something you might find of interest or use: a debate on homosexual marriage between Notre Dame's Gerald Bradley, a faithful Catholic, and the journalist Andrew Sullivan, a selective Catholic. As described by the summary in the Pew Forum's press release:
Sullivan focused some of his comments on the issue of equal rights. “I believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, and, as citizens, deserve the same treatment from their own government that every other citizen demands and assumes,” he said. “I don’t believe in setting up fake or euphemistic institutions like civil unions or domestic partnership that somehow demand fewer responsibilities and fewer rights than traditional marriage.” Sullivan characterized this as the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
While some conservatives consider procreation a defining characteristic of marriage, Sullivan pointed out that many married couples never have children. “Of course, as every court that’s had to deal with this has recognized, the minute you bring this up in a civil context, you find that the state already does give marriage licenses willy-nilly to people who cannot procreate, do not wish to procreate, have never procreated and are not interested in procreating.”
But Bradley drew a distinction between actual “procreation,” which, he said, is not a necessary component of marriage, and “a procreative orientation,” which implies an openness to children and presupposes that marriage is between two heterosexuals. The latter, he argued, is a necessary component of marriage.
For Bradley, the issue is a matter of the legal definition of marriage matching the reality. “It’s central to the law’s success that the law hold onto the defining features of marriage and what marriage in truth is. So the question is ... what are the real or true, sound or valid features of marriage, if indeed marriage is the kind of thing that exists as a moral reality at all? Now, it is my view that marriage involves necessarily or essentially persons of the opposite sex or gender.”
Bradley, who is the president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, is one of the people who drafted the Federal Marriage Amendment. And he's just submitted an article to Touchstone
DAVID REARDON ON ABORTION:
John Keck sends the link to an interesting article David Reardon: A Godspy Interview. Reardon runs the Elliott Institute, which studies the effects of abortion on women.
We explored the strategy or technique he proposes in the forum that appeared in the January/February issue. I have some concerns about his strategy, as I suggested in my contribution to the forum, because the "women are victims" approach is in some cases true, but in a lot of cases not and to eliminate their complicity (and the complicity of their boyfriends and husbands) distorts their action in a way that makes healing it harder, not, as people like Reardon hope, easier.
WHAT TO DO WITH PRO-CHOICE POLITICIANS:
Those of you interested in the question of the status of Catholic politicians who vote against life will want to see Catholics and Political Responsibility, which collects the various official statements on the matter and related articles. It is offered by Women for Faith and Family, a group that provides lots of useful information and is run by Helen Hull Hitchcock, once a contributing editor of Touchstone and then and now the wife of our senior editor James Hitchcock.
MORE ON VEGGIE TALES:
Three more responses to yesterday's A Hollywood Revival and Veggie tales defended. First, from Susan Meckel, who sent the useful link given in the next item:
My five-year-old son may be a bit unusual, but he really enjoys the Visual Bible's "Matthew," a dramatization of the Gospel of Matthew, word-for-word from the NIV. He has watched it repeatedly, and thus is increasingly familiar with passages of scripture (the other night at bedtime he asked me to read him the "Seven Woes.") For more information, see Visual Bible.
Next, from Jackson Moore:
Do not ignore the “obvious” in your criticism of Veggie Tales. Veggie Tales are “Unmistakably Obvious To Everyone” because they are cartoons. Non-Christian cartoons (consider Toy Story, Bugs Bunny, Micky Mouse, Popeye, Scooby Doo, and all of Disney) share this quality.
And from Joe Long:
I am deeply thankful for Veggie Tales simply because they are young-child productions whose songs are witty, not maddening, even after numerous exposures . . . surely a test of art, at some level! It would be difficult to find a secular production for the same age level which rivals the VT's in wit and in depth, actually.
If you want real examples of patronizingly trite and obvious, watch the cartoons on PBS, like "Dragon Tales". In fact we became VT fans perhaps as much for their intellectual superiority to "ordinary" childrens' fare as for their "lessons"; our kids learn actual Bible stories from us, after all. (Which has the additional advantage of clarifying any confusion over whether, say, King Darious was actual a talking asparagus.)
Of course my tolerance for blatant moralism is pretty high - I hunt for the old cowboy shows (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and their kin) and find them excellent kids' entertainment. (For early-home-schoolers, that is, not really preschoolers . . .) They are "over the heads" of the children, enough that the kids are stretching themselves a bit to follow along - but they have galloping horses and popping sixguns enough to hold attention. (Of course if you object to a bit of highly sanitized gunplay this recommendation won't help much - and indeed if the subjugation of the equine species pains you, I suppose that presents a problem too...!)
A meaner writer would have put a quotation mark at the end of that title. At any rate: Susan Meckel sends a link to Decent proposal: Fashion goes modest with the comment:
I thought this article was encouraging. With two daughters, ages 6 and 8, I have to work to find modest and appropriate clothing. I've been hoping that the fashion trends would change before they move into teen sizes. I'm not sure about the "sexy librarian" look to which the article refers, but at least it's a move in the right direction.
From the newspaper Il Giornale in Milan, an intresting and in parts convicting article: Enemy Islam, an Interview with the Bishop of Rumbek in southern Sudan. Much of the anti-Americanism is fairly silly, though the criticisms are not completely to be dismissed, but he has much to say about Islam and the life of Christians under persecution. For example, about Islam:
Q. – Is it exaggerated when people talk about a clash of civilizations, as between the West and Islam?
A. – “No. This is just the beginning. The Church has defeated communism, but is just starting to understand its next challenge – Islamism, which is much worse. The Holy Father has not been able to take up this challenge due to his old age. But the next pope will find himself having to face it. The answer does not lie in thinking ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’. We boast about a Christian tradition which in actual fact we don’t live out. Yet Muslims are constant in practicing their faith, having a way of proselytizing superior to our own. When they teach you to say ‘sukran’ (thank you), for them this is missionary activity, since Arab is the language of the Koran.”
Q. – And yet some of your fellow bishops in Italy have allowed chapels to be used as mosques.
A. – “It will be the Muslims who convert us, not the other way around. Wherever they settle down, sooner or later they end up becoming a leading political force. The Italians are intent on welcoming them in an easy-going manner. But soon they’ll realize that the Muslims have taken advantage of their good-natured spirit, allowing ten times more to arrive than what was originally permitted. They are much more clever than we are. They knock my schools down and you leave your church doors wide open for them. If someone is a thief, you don’t give them a room in your apartment, because sooner or later you’ll find all your furniture gone.”
Q. – Recent statistics say that only 20% of Muslims in Italy respect the Koran’s teachings, just as only 20% of Catholics go to Mass every Sunday. Hence they are Muslims, but in name only.
A. – “But their Islamic culture remains. Religion is only a part of their civilization. No one can erase their belonging to the umma, the community of Muslim believers.”
Last Friday I passed on a notice about a show on National Public Radio that was going to include a critic of Darwinism (and two supporters, naturally), that NPR cancelled at the last minute. Here is a press release from the Discovery Institute on that and related matters.
NPR Criticized for Evolution Misinformation and “AWOL” Ombudsman
SEATTLE, JUNE 2 — Discovery Institute today criticized National Public Radio (NPR) for mounting a campaign of misinformation about the teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools. The Institute also questioned whether NPR’s “ombudsman” who is supposed to investigate listener complaints really exists.
Culminating with the cancellation of a guest critical of Darwinian evolution last week, NPR has aired a series of recent reports about the controversy over teaching evolution that were factually inaccurate, misrepresented key issues, or unbalanced.
“This is nothing short of a campaign to misinform the public about how evolution is presented in classrooms across the country,” said Robert Crowther, director communications at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. Crowther listed five recent stories that misrepresented the debate over evolution in states such as Montana, Ohio and Texas:
• On February 6, NPR’s “Science Friday” aired a program about challenges to teaching evolution, but the program only featured guests opposed to teaching criticisms of evolution. “The program was a monologue, not a debate,” commented Crowther.
• On April 21, NPR’s “Day to Day” show aired a report that falsely led listeners to believe that Ohio has adopted a model lesson plan that includes intelligent design, which it does not. In reality, Ohio’s lesson plan only deals with scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory, not with alternative theories like intelligent design.
• On May 2, NPR’s “Weekend Edition” ran a false story about a purported effort to introduce intelligent design into the Darby School District in Montana. In fact, the actual policy proposed in Darby does not deal with intelligent design; its words are taken almost verbatim from the Montana state science standards, and it only deals with the critical analysis of evolutionary theory.
• On May 9, NPR aired an “update” of its earlier Darby story, falsely claiming that there is an effort in Darby to include “intelligent design” in the local school district curriculum, and that “two proponents of this intelligent design curriculum” lost a recent election.
• On May 21, NPR’s “Science Friday” aired a discussion of the history of evolution presenting only one side of the debate after canceling Roger DeHart’s appearance at the last minute. DeHart is a biology teacher critical of Darwinian evolution. The pro-evolution biology teacher who still appeared on the show used the occasion to misrepresent Discovery Institute’s position in Texas’ recent debate over biology textbooks. The teacher asserted that “there was an active campaign on the part of the Discovery Institute and their several intelligent design proponents to weaken the coverage of evolution in the books, is how they put it.” “Wrong,” responded Crowther. “Far from trying to weaken the coverage of evolution in textbooks, Discovery has always advocated strengthening the teaching of evolution by teaching more about the theory, including some of the peer-reviewed scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinism.”
According to Crowther, Discovery Institute has submitted detailed complaints about inaccurate stories to NPR’s “ombudsman” Jeffrey Dvorkin, but as of today Dvorkin has not responded, except to claim in a brief e-mail that he believed the one limited response from an NPR producer was adequate.
“We’re beginning to wonder whether Mr. Dvorkin even exists,” joked Crowther. “We certainly wonder what he does during the day. He seems to be AWOL when it comes to listener complaints.”
Crowther added that on NPR’s website Dvorkin is quoted as saying: “NPR is committed to the presentation of fair, accurate and comprehensive information and selected cultural expressions for the benefit of, and at the service of our democracy. NPR is pledged to abide scrupulously by the highest artistic, editorial, and journalistic standards and practices of broadcast programming.”
“It’s time for NPR to actually live up to these standards,” said Crowther.
Click here to access Discovery Institute's complete documentation of its claims about NPR’s biased reporting. Copies of the documentation also can be requested by e-mailing Rob Crowther at email@example.com.
PHIL JOHNSON ON ABORTION & KERRY
Phil Johnson wrote this in response to a news story in The Washington Post about the problem John Kerry has in facing the issue of abortion (“personally opposed,” etc.)
Senator Kerry's dilemma reminds me of the day several years ago (see p. 158-9 of The Right Questions), when I reluctantly agreed to speak to a meeting on abortion at the University of California's Hastings Law School in downtown San Francisco. The other speakers were all pro-choice liberals, and the audience was mostly feminist law students.
As I surveyed the grim faces in the rows of seats in front of me, I knew it would be futile to argue that there should be any legal restrictions on "a woman's right to choose." So I put the question another way. "Let's assume that a pregnant woman has and will continue to have an unlimited legal right to choose abortion, I began. Granted that premise, in what circumstances would it be immoral or wrongful for her to choose abortion over childbirth? Are there any moral limits on abortion, even if there is no legal compulsion?
The law students squirmed and equivocated to avoid confronting my question. When pressed to the wall, their answer was, as it had to be, that the "woman's right to choose" was the last word on the moral issue as well as on the legal issue. They recognized that if they once conceded the moral principle, even in extreme cases (e.g., late abortion for frivolous reasons), their legal position would eventually become untenable.
That is how I would pursue this subject with Senator Kerry, if I had a chance. I would not start with the subject of law or coercion, but with the moral issue.
"You say you personally oppose abortion. Is that true, or are you just unwilling to admit that you do not oppose abortion? Show me that your opposition is serious. Why do you oppose abortion? What is wrong with abortion that leads you to oppose it? Under what circumstances would a woman's choice of abortion be wrongful? Can you specify any?"
"You say that one has to leave the question of abortion between a woman and her conscience and her doctor. Very well. When consulting her conscience, what factors should the woman take into account? Under what circumstances should her conscience tell her that an abortion, although convenient, would be wrongful?
Finally, what about the doctor's conscience? "Under what circumstances may or should a doctor refuse to participate in an abortion? Does the doctor play a role other than performing the abortion in furtherance of the patient's possibly unreflective choice? Does the doctor at least have an ethical obligation to be certain that the patient understands the moral dimensions of her choice, and that her conscience may trouble her afterward if she chooses to terminate the pregnancy?"
My strategy is always to pursue the right questions in the right order, to set the logical train in motion. For abortion, the question of morality and conscience is prior to the question of legal compulsion. If in the public debate those questions can be pursued in the right order, a breakthrough may yet be possible.
--Phillip E. Johnson
A VOICE FOR NOT JUST CATHOLICS
Apparently Catholic bishops have no business telling politicians they may not receive Communion. From a story from Religion News Service:
In a May 10 letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, 48 Democratic House members who are Catholic said efforts to ban them from Communion are "deeply hurtful" and "counter-productive."
"As Catholics, we do not believe it is our role to legislate the teachings of the Catholic Church," said the letter, whose signers included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
The lawmakers told McCarrick they must "at times, separate our public actions from our personal beliefs."
"We would remind those who would deny us participation in the sacrament of the Eucharist that we are sworn to represent all Americans, not just Catholics."
Well, that last statement is true. Not just Catholics are pro-life. A few Lutherans, Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, Hindus, are pro-life as well. Go ahead, represent them too. They won’t mind.
And while you’re at it, maybe you could be a voice for the voiceless, to use a favorite claim of certain politicians. I can think of no group more voiceless than the unborn.
VEGGIE TALES DEFENDED:
Here are two responses taking me to task for my criticism of the Veggie Tales movies in this morning's A Hollywood Revival. They may be right. The first comes from a regular reader from Canada:
Your children must be over five years old. My son is four years old and quite bright (if I may so myself, and in this forum I have no choice) but it is clear that the moral messages of Veggie Tales often go straight over his head.
If anything they are too subtle for their target audience, not too obvious. For example he recently told me that Rack, Shack and Benny (VT's version of the youths from Daniel) were "bad" because they wouldn't bow down and sing the Bunny Song. But on the whole I think Veggie Tales are wonderful for their target audience of three to five year olds, and I have always enjoyed watching them together with my son (at the least the first time), though I would certainly never watch one by myself.
You ask "if the culture that consumes Veggie Tales and the like is one that demands clear signs that the work is a Christian one." I think I know the sort of people you are talking about (who will also insist on having a Christian dentist, a Christian auto mechanic, and a Christian hairdresser).
But the parents I know who buy a lot of VT are not in that camp. My wife and I don't buy any other "Christian" consumer products besides Veggie Tales, and we know a lot of families that are similar. In fact I would guess that the more insular Christian consumer you describe is more apt to be suspicious of Veggie Tales for being too flippant — judging by negative reviews of the Jonah movie on one website attacking it for being insufficiently faithful to the Bible(!).
To a critic of Veggie Tales I would have to ask, assuming you are going to purchase video entertainment for a preschooler (and I grant this is a big IF) what would you recommend that is better? Some of the older Disney movies are probably good, but beyond that?
Actually, our youngest is six, and he doesn't enjoy the movies nearly as much as our two eldest, who are 18 (and graduating from high school tonight) and 15. And me, for that matter. I love "Silly Songs with Larry."
The second response comes from Jessica Snell:
I have to agree that usually bad Christian art is worse than bad secular art. (It reminds me of Lewis' remark that you make demons out of bad archangels, not bad mice; you need something great to work with in order to make a REALLY big mess, and what greater than Christian dogma?) However, I think Veggie Tales might be a bad one to pick on only because of its intended audience: children.
Young children are concrete in their thinking. They can't perform abstract thinking like adults can and I believe that it's appropriate to tell them stories where the meaning is really obvious, because at certain developmental stages, that's what their brains are mature enough to understand.
I don't think that's all that you should tell them; I'm glad my parents read me stories, like Lewis' Narnia chronicles, that I wasn't quite old enough to understand. I got to grow into them and understand more and more each time I heard them. I loved them for the story first, and for the meaning later. But I'm also glad that they told me stories with basic morals like, "Sharing with your sister is good," because I needed those too. Veggie Tales are those kinds of stories, I think, and they seem to also have a place when it comes to the very young, who need things spelled out for them.
They both may be right, I think, in defending Veggie Tales as productions for small children, but as the first suggests, it really isn't clear from watching the episodes that they are for small children. Not just the jokes but the morals work better with older children and adults with a childlike spirit. (That last phrase was brought to you by our friends at the greeting card companies.)
And I'm not sure if even for small children — three to five, say — the story with the obvious moral is the best story to teach them morals. I suspect, though I have not thought this out, that the best kind of story for them is the best kind of story for adults: the story in which reality is revealed (at a level the hearer can understand) and good and evil allowed to play themselves out as they do in life, and in good stories.
I'd be grateful for readers' ideas, and also for their answers to the first writer's closing question.
WE NEED TO APOLOGIZE:
An article of some religious interest: Apology Hot Line Offers Chance to Confess from last Friday's New York Times. (I think they only keep articles on the site for free for one week.)
It shows that a lot of people feel the need to apologize and confess, and that doing so aloud makes them feel better, which is all to the good — except that they apparently can't bring themselves actually to apologize to the people they've wronged. The question is whether this kind of thing keeps them from apologizing truly as they should or helps them face their sins in a way that will lead them to making true apologies. The people quoted in the story suggest both.
I suspect the first, but in any case, the story suggests the pastoral power of the Christian faith. In Christian confession, however made, we have to confess to the One we have wronged, for even when we sin against Sam or Sarah, we sin first against our Creator and theirs. If He will forgive us, as he promises to do, we are truly forgiven — even if Sam or Sarah won't forgive us, or can't.
A HOLLYWOOD REVIVAL:
An interesting take on the spiritual leanings of Hollywood: Why Hollywood Needs a Spirituality of Its Own, a talk given by Barbara Nicolosi, founder of Act One, at the Catholic University of Valencia. She sees
a positive sea-change that is sweeping through the American baby-boomer generation in general, and the Hollywood entertainment industry in particular.
After 40 years of being ravaged by the license of the Sexual Revolution, and just as many years rejecting any and all connection to any authority -- whether it was the Church, state, or just the simple wisdom of the ages -- there is a growing exodus in search of rest. They are exhausted with unbelief and its ideological stepchildren: hedonism, cynicism, alienation, isolation.
This exhaustion is being manifest on the sound stages and in the executive offices of Hollywood as a new openness to spiritual themes.
However, she warns, and quite rightly too:
There is a warning for us religious filmmakers in this moment. While this new openness to spiritual truths is an exciting opportunity, it also carries a huge creative challenge.
The fact is, movies about transcendent realities, that are not really great works of art, tend to be really, really terrible. Movies about faith and spirituality that are not haunting and profound, tend to be insulting over-simplifications. Movies about the conflict between good and evil that are not intense and grueling, tend to be sickeningly sentimental and easy. Movies about the search for meaning that are not probing and insightful tend to be laughable and pretentious.
I hate to criticize a conservative cultural icon, but this applies to the Veggie Tales episodes and the movie. The preachy stories are really quite lame, despite the clever and funny bits in them, because their creators make the meaning Unmistakably Obvious To Everyone. The stories would be much better, and much more effective evangelistically, if the lesson were buried a little more subtly in the story. Tolkien wrote a good bit about this.
I wonder if the culture that consumes Veggie Tales and the like is one that demands clear signs that the work is a Christian one. (I have met people — I'm not making this up — who after hearing a piece of classical music they liked will ask if the composer was a Christian and if he wasn't, will lose interest in it entirely.) Their interest is not artistic but ideological: they want something of their own, something that marks out them and their allies from the rest of the world, even if that marking ruins it as a artistic creation.
This seems to me to cost them the pleasures, joys, and indeed edification to be gained from a vast number of works created by people who were nominally or not at all Christian, but who saw something true and conveyed it well.
A blogsite you will want to check out: the blogsite of our contributing editor Peter Leithart.
THIS EXPLAINS THOSE REJECTION SLIPS:
An interesting article for those of you interested in writing and publishing, from today's New York Times: New Yorker Fiction, by the Numbers, about a Princeton student who used mathematical studies to figure out why The New Yorker ran the short stories it did.
The study was long on statistics and short on epiphanies: one main conclusion was that male editors generally publish male authors who write about male characters who are supported by female characters.
Her main subject was the effect of the change in editors in 1995 from Charles McGrath to Bill Buford (Buford left in 2002).
According to Ms. Milkman, the number of male authors rose to 70 percent under Mr. Buford, compared with 57 percent under Mr. McGrath. . . . The study also found that the first-person voice rose mightily under Mr. Buford, which may reflect the growth of memoir in the 90's more than anything else.
Under both editors the fiction in the magazine took as its major preoccupations sex, relationships, death, family and travel. Mr. Buford was relatively more interested in sex, a topic in 47 percent of the stories he published as opposed to 35 percent under Mr. McGrath. Mr. McGrath's authors tended to deal with one of the occasional consequences of that act, children, more frequently than Mr. Buford's writers: 36 percent under Mr. McGrath, 26 percent under Mr. Buford. (History, homosexuality and politics all tied for the attentions of Mr. Buford at a lowly 4 percent.)
"As a fiction editor, you are really on the receiving end of other people's agenda," Mr. Buford said. "You choose from what you are sent."
JOURNALISM BIAS AND MORALS
An interesting article, Media Bias? What Media Bias? by Adam Sparks, cites the findings of a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
Liberals can think of conservative publications, but they can't come up with any liberal ones. This failure could be because the liberal outlets, like The New York Times, simply appear moderate to a liberal reader. One of the survey questions was, "Can you think of any news organizations that are especially liberal?" Among national journalists, 62 percent said no, they couldn't. But 82 percent said they could identify a news organization that is "especially conservative."
The gap is even larger when analyzing only the liberal journalists' response: Among them, 79 percent could think of a conservative organization, and only 24 percent could come up with a liberal one. Jeez, let me guess: I wonder whether they were thinking of either the Fox News Network or The Wall Street Journal when they identified conservative media outlets? There are no others. And why can't liberal journalists identify liberal media? Like a fish in a fishbowl, they can't see the water they're swimming in. But to conservatives, the balance of the media is liberal, and this poll supports their intuition.
In many instances, according to the poll, the general public is more conservative than conservative journalists are. For example, one of the questions asked in the survey was whether a "belief in God was necessary to be moral." Among Americans in general, 58 percent agreed, whereas only 26 percent of conservative journalists concurred -- but more startling is that a mere 3 percent of liberal journalists accepted the statement.
Gaps were even greater in the hot social issues of our day: Among the general public, 42 percent believe homosexuality should be discouraged, but just 8 percent of the moderate journalists and only 2 percents of the liberal journalists thought so.
I am afraid that the question about whether one must believe in God in order to be moral really boils to asking a liberal journalist if one must believe in God to be like…the journalist. Who really thinks they are, basically, immoral?
PLEASE GOD, O MAN:
A European reader sent the following, his response to one blogsite’s string responding to Steven Hutchens’ short article from the May issue. Please Me, O Lord.
I came here following a link on Touchstone’s blog site, and find your discussion very interesting. I found Hutchens article pretty thought-provoking, although also (as was already said by someone) rather polemical.
One thing I noticed in your discussion is the assumption I perceive that “worship” and “evangelism” must happen concurrently, i.e. that our worship music must appeal to and be meaningful to the people of the world who may be visiting our services. That is of course also the thrust of the current “seeker-sensitive” movement.
I am afraid that in many churches which follow this model there is never a time when believers can worship in ways which express their unique relationship with God beyond a level comprehensible to unbelievers, and that this eventually will lead to spiritual impoverishment (unless all of the believers in such a church are so disciplined as to feed themselves from the Word and prayer in their personal devotional times, which in my experience is pretty unlikely).
I believe very strongly that in our churches we need to have “upper room gatherings”, where “all who believe” get together to encounter Christ in worship – and while I would not physically exclude visitors, I feel strongly that the “program” of such a gathering should not be tailored to their limited understanding.
It is not for nothing that in the early church the catechumens or seekers left after the preaching of the Word, and the celebration of the Eucharist was limited to the faithful. In a similar fashion, when I first encountered the Church of England almost thirty years ago in many parishes on Sunday morning they had the service of “Morning Prayer”, and following that the Communion service, for which only those who were “communicant members” stayed. It was kept short, so non-communicant family members simply waited around, and that is not an ideal situation, but it makes clear that while the preaching of the Word of God is for everyone, the Worship of God is only for those who are in a relationship with him.
On the subject of sexually suggestive words and performance:
I do believe that the main problem with this is the performance and not primarily the “lover” imagery of the words; if we point back to Donne and Teresa of Avila we also need to acknowledge that until a few years ago such words were not presented in church by scantily-clad pretty girls. Like Hutchens, I am very willing to admit that my thoughts are affected by what I see, and that sexually attractive females can affect me strongly, and not in a spiritually beneficial way. Of course you guys can say that this is not so with you, and you gals can say that this is my problem (and Hutchens’), and that we shouldn’t blame you for it; but the rate of divorce and remarriage, and unwed motherhood, in the evangelical community in the US as well as in my part of the world (Western Europe) suggests that you guys are either the exception or are deceiving yourselves, and that you gals are ignoring the Christian responsibility you have to not be a stumbling block to your brothers (if indeed you argue the way I indicated above).
And we further should not forget that Donne and Avila wrote specifically for Christians, and not for a situation where their material would be read or performed for non-believers in a seeker-sensitive setting; let us be realistic: non-believers who usually feed on contemporary pop music and television cannot but interpret much of this sort of imagery in a blatantly sexual way – they have no other frame of reference for it.
So while Hutchens’ article does not make me throw out all contemporary worship practice it does make me re-evaluate some of the things we do in church, and that is a useful thing.
His comments on the sexually suggestive words and performance reminded me of something I wrote on modesty a couple of months ago, which readers may find of interest (or not): PRAGER ON THE SIGHTS
VAPOR GOING UP IN SMOKE:
An amusing reflection on the recent fire in London that destroyed a number of contemporary art works: A Bonfire of the Vanities from the Wall Street Journal's "De Gustibus" column. My only disagreement with the writer is that he hedges his bets by saying that such works as the fire destroyed — for example, a tent on which the creator had put the names of her previous sex-partners (the article includes a picture of this one) — had not yet passed the test of time.
It's just that the work of these artists--as of all contemporary artists--is too new and untested to have acquired the cultural heft that makes it seem an indispensable part of one's existence. I regret the fire happened, but I can't quite see it as a body blow to civilization.
We all know that important people condemned artwork we — educated westerners in general — approve and enjoy, and that we now read their words with a grimmace, but I think we are safe in saying right away that certain works — for example, a tent on which the creator had put the names of her previous sex-partners — really are not very good and will not pass the test of time, whatever may be said for the technical skill involved in creating them. It's the fatuousness of the idea that gives them away.
HOLLYWOOD'S REAL ENEMY:
Something on the mind of Hollywood worth reading, linked from the Midwest Conservative Journal. I'm afraid it's something else to depress you.
ISRAEL, UNDERAGE SEX, AND INSULTED JESUITS:
Five links you may find of interest:
— For those of you with an interest in Israel: The Vatican Explores Israel, and Discovers Its Own Faithful from the Italian newspaper L’Expresso. The article argues that the Vatican’s appointment of a new custodian for the Christian holy sites
is the confirmation of a shift that is taking place. The Vatican is trying to cool the pro-Palestinian ardor of the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem, directed by Michel Sabbah, an Arab, and is looking with growing interest to the other side, to Israel.
The shift has religious motives: John Paul II’s strong desire to make peace with the Jews, which he repeated in a message on May 23 for the hundredth anniversary of the synagogue of Rome.
But it also has demographic motives: the number of Arab Christians in the Holy Land is continually dwindling, and there are only a few tens of thousands of them in the Territories; while the non-Arab Christians who live in Israel are ever more numerous. During the 1990’s, more than 200,000 of them came from Russia, Ukraine, and other Slavic countries. Their origins are Jewish, but they are baptized. Many of them were born into Orthodoxy, but easily become Catholic. The Church of Rome sees in them the future of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
— Something to depress you: Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall
, an article on “underage sex” from yesterday’s New York Times
magazine. It begins by telling about the junior high and high school culture in which students “hook up” — “The term itself is vague — covering everything from kissing to intercourse — though it is sometimes a euphemism for oral sex, performed by a girl on a boy.” — rather than date.
It’s not that teenagers have given up on love altogether. Most of the high-school students I spent time with said they expected to meet the right person, fall in love and marry — eventually.
It’s just that high school, many insist, isn’t the place to worry about that. High school is about keeping your options open. Relationships are about closing them. As these teenagers see it, marriage and monogamy will seamlessly replace their youthful hookup careers sometime in their mid- to late 20’s — or, as one high-school boy from Rhode Island told me online, when "we turn 30 and no one hot wants us anymore."
Brian, a 16-year-old friend of Jesse’s, put it this way: “Being in a real relationship just complicates everything. You feel obligated to be all, like, couply. And that gets really boring after a while. When you’re friends with benefits, you go over, hook up, then play video games or something. It rocks.”
It goes on with this story, and offers a lot of useful information and insights, the effect of which is to say that American teenagers do not know the point of sex and are therefore making themselves either unhappy now or making sure that they will be unhappy when they’re grown.
— From Frank Beckwith, who wrote Choice Words
in the January/February issue: Creeds, Jesuits, and Bears, Oh My!
, a response to a colleague at Baylor who demands that the university abandon “theological correctness” based on an argument depending on his own version of theological correctness, and including, of all things, a slur against the Jesuits.
— From the Midwest Conservative Journal
, a report of the Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania (= Philadelphia and environs) forcing his visit upon one of his conservative parishes, the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli. The item, titled Divine Right
, gives a report from the parish's rector, Greg Brewer (a friend and former colleague of mine, by the way).
The bishop is, I think it safe to say, a thug, and not even a very competent thug, and I admire the pastors and parishes who resist him, but in reading such reports I always want to point out that the bishop is simply doing his job. He's legally bound to visit each of his parishes every three years.
This is the way the Episcopal system works, and he should not be blamed for insisting on doing the job the system gives him, especially as even his opponents have long ago pledged their allegiance to that system. It's not his fault they lost control of it. In places like the Episcopal Diocese of Pennyslvania, the apostates won by rules everyone, including the conservatives, accepted.
The bishop can send a deputy, even a deputy more to the parish's taste — which this parish wants — but this makes no theological difference whatsover, since the deputy, even were he the most rightwing bishop in Anglicanism, would be acting in the person of the apostate Bishop of Pennyslvania. Legally, sacramentally, and in every other way. Conservative parishes should not participate in such a charade, and it is probably good for them that the bishop won't let them.
— Those of you interested in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada, now in the midst of its General Synod, in which it's taking up the matter of how much favor it should show to the practice of homosexuality, should look at CaNNet's special reports
. The site includes links to lots of stories on Anglican affairs, and other religious news as well.