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Friday, June 11

WHAT TO DO WITH CULTS:

A reader wrote last night:

From time to time, we have Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness missionaries knock on our door. My usual response is to shut the door within 10 seconds of having opened it. But after another closing of the door last evening, I began to wonder if what I do is the right Christian response. Shouldn’t I witness to them? Certainly, they wouldn’t mind listening to me if I gave them the opportunity to “witness” to me (right?). How must a Christian respond?
This is a subject on which I would very much like your ideas and opinions. Please use the reply button on the column to the left.


12:35 PM


STEM CELL HOAX:

A very helpful and illuminating article: Of Stem Cells and Fairy Tales by Wesley J. Smith, from The Weekly Standard’s website. It notes that:

Researchers have apparently known for some time that embryonic stem cells will not be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, because as two researchers told a Senate subcommittee in May, it is a “whole brain disease,” rather than a cellular disorder (such as Parkinson’s). This has generally been kept out of the news. But now, Washington Post correspondent Rick Weiss has blown the lid off of the scam, reporting that while useful abstract information might be gleaned about Alzheimer’s through embryonic stem cell research, “stem cell experts confess . . . that of all the diseases that may be someday cured by embryonic stem cell treatments, Alzheimer’s is among the least likely to benefit.”

But people like Nancy Reagan have been allowed to believe otherwise, “a distortion” Weiss writes that “is not being aggressively corrected by scientists.” Why? The false story line helps generate public support for the biotech political agenda. As Weiss noted, “It [Nancy Reagan’s statement in support of ESCR] is the kind of advocacy that researchers have craved for years, and none wants to slow its momentum.”
Smith goes on to give other examples of scientists exaggerating or inventing the promise of embryonic stem cells. I don't think I'm being cynical, or exhibiting the remainders of my youthful socialism, to point out that the prospect of gain is as corrupting in science as anywhere else, and that we should not trust the word even of major scientists without question.

"What's in it for you?" is a reasonable question to ask in matters like this, when scientists engage in a struggle for public acceptance for their work. And we should not limit the possible answers to "What's in it for you?" to monetary profit. People who care nothing for more money may care very much for increased social status for science and scientists, increased freedom to do what they want in the lab, and increased chances of getting major federal funding in the future, among other profits to be pursued.

"What's in it for you?" is not the question most of us were trained to ask of scientists, since everything we learned in school and almost everything we picked up from the culture, from the newspapers to PBS documentaries, trained us to think of scientists as objective and altruistic, courageously chasing truth wherever it may be found, with no thought for themselves or their own self-interest.

It's all nonsense, of course. Remember the Fall. For that matter, remember Sociology 101.


12:22 PM


TODAY'S GRAB BAG:

Some things of interest:

— from The Daily Telegraph, an article on Rico, the collie that can understand 200 words. (The site requires registration.) The story reports that:

Researchers have discovered a border collie with a vocabulary of 200 words and the ability to pick up the meaning of new words on first hearing. The findings will reignite the debate about the nature of language. . . .

The ability to realise that new words tend to refer to unfamiliar objects is called “fast mapping” and is used by children as they develop their language. “This retrieval rate is comparable to the performance of three-year-old toddlers,” the researchers said.

Border collies are among the brightest breeds. Bred to work on farms, they have a particularly good grasp of spoken words. But the scientists believe they have shown something more than the intelligence of the breed, saying that seemingly complex language skills only seen before in children appear to be found in other species.
— The blogsite of the historian Thomas Reeves on the History News Network. Dr. Reeves is the author of the definitive biography of Joe McCarthy and abest-selling biographer of John F. Kennedy, author of The Empty Church, and a sometime contributor to Touchstone.

— from the Italian newspaper L’Espresso, From Black Masses to Black Metal Music: The Last Temptation of Satan, which despite the lurid title is a useful and thoughtful study. It concludes with an interview with the “Vatican exorcist,” Fr. Gabriele Amorth. The writer, Sandro Magister, divides Satanism into “high” and “low.” High Satanism is the organized, occultic kind we read about. But, he writes,

It is not high satanism, but the low form that most worries the Church: the disordered and wild satanism that has no organizations, addresses, or ideologies, but permeates circles of pedophiles, criminal gangs, sadomasochist clubs, and above all groups of young people. It is not the satanism of Charles Manson, but rather that of his namesake, Marilyn Manson. Not that of the black masses, but of black metal music.

Wild satanism knows nothing of the elaborations of occultism. It surfs the internet, lives in the discotheques, uses drugs, and listens to and reproduces a very particular kind of music. It is the music of the Dark Wave, “Gothic,” which began in the 1970’s in England and the United States with Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath, and immediately became a subculture dripping with blood, death, and the macabre, with its own slang, its own style of dressing all in black, its magazines like “Propaganda” and “Ghastly,” its horror fiction, like that of Anne Rice, its music groups. . . . Black metal music is naziesque, anti-Jewish, and relentlessly anti-Christian.
— An interesting article from The Daily Telegraph: Why Stalin loved Tarzan and wanted John Wayne shot. It's a grimly amusing story, and illustrates the point Malcolm Muggeridge made constantly, that those who produce propaganda themselves come to believe it:

When he saw a movie about Catherine the Great's Admiral Ushakov, he suddenly decided to build a vast fleet, quoting from the movie. When he decided to tax the impoverished peasants and was told they were too poor to pay, he pointed to one of his own propaganda films that had no resemblance to reality. Another time, the sight of some missile in a propaganda movie inspired him to order a whole new line of weaponry.


11:06 AM


STILL YET MORE STILL ON PRAYING IN PUBLIC:

Here are two more entries in our string on how Christians should pray in public. (See this entry from yesterday, which includes links to the first two entries, and the entry posted right after it (meaning above it on the screen). A follow-up response from David Gustafson:

You rightly question “a Christian’s willingness to abandon his own belief in order to provide A Spiritual Moment at a public event”. An example (I fear) of an Evangelical Christian taking on just that task, quite explicitly, is in the news today, in connection with President Reagan’s state funeral:

Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black is a Seventh-Day Adventist who was appointed last year to be Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. I think there can be no question that Dr. Black has a genuinely Christ-centered personal faith. See, e.g., this item. And I myself heard Dr. Black give a rousing and very Christian address to graduating seniors at Gordon College just last month. Yet it seems to be his job now to provide generic Spiritual Moments that will suit even people who deny Dr. Black’s Savior and Lord.

Dr. Black pronounced the benediction yesterday evening at President Reagan’s state funeral, and his prayer included no mention of Jesus Christ. Instead, Dr. Black’s benediction began and ended: “O Giver of every good and perfect gift, . . . May the death of this beloved leader prompt us to see you more clearly, to love you more dearly, and to follow you more nearly day by day. Now fill us with your peace as we trust you, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of your Spirit. Amen.”

Likewise, Dr. Black pronounced the benediction at last month’s dedication of the World War II Memorial. His benediction that day included no mention of Jesus; instead, it began and ended: “Eternal Spirit, your faithfulness endures to all generations. . . . Now the God of peace be with us all. Amen.”

Of course, there’s nothing in these prayers that is inconsistent with Christianity. In fact, they are replete with Biblical and even New Testament allusions and other Christian features (such as the “day by day” prayer). Knowledgeable Christians hearing these prayers recognize the Christian elements. But in their Jesus-less context, these features almost have the quality of a deliberately hidden code — meaningful to Christian insiders but invisible to the non-Christians in the audience. It’s as if Dr. Black’s Christianity remains our little secret.

Surely he would recoil from that suggestion. Surely he would insist that his Christian faith and credentials are well known, and that he is simply being polite in these public occasions. But if it is true (as Dr. Black surely believes) that, as Jesus said, “no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6), then a Christian must not stifle or mute his Christian profession in order to leave others comfortable with their belief that they can come unto the Father by whatever (non-Christian) means they please.
And Fr. Robert Hart responded to Mr. Gustafson’s first message:

David Gustafson wrote:

I hope and assume that Christians, Jews, and Muslims do pray to the same God, but that is not what this is about.

I suppose that theologians may appear to be nit-picking at times, and so the objection I am about to make to this line may seem to a few people to be the product of an overly scrupulous mind. But, it does matter that we understand why Muslims do not pray to the same God that we do. We can say that we are praying to the God of Israel who revealed Himself to Moses and the prophets, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, to say that we pray to the same God that the Jews pray to, is to acknowledge that they base their religion on what we consider to be the truth, even though they do not know the full truth. Still, their religion is based upon true revelaion, even if only in part.

But, Muslims have a religion that exists for the purpose of rejecting Christianity and all of its claims about Jesus Christ. They announce every day that “God has no son.” Their unitarian god is a pagan deity; and therefore Muslims cannot pray with us, nor we with them. For, they are not simply putting forth a limited understanding of the revelation, as the Jews do. Rather, they are putting forth a repudiation of the truth as a central part of their faith. The difference is very real, and it is important that we make the distinction in light of its implications.

And, I must disagree (which is rare) with Fr. Neuhaus saying “the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.” My mind goes to the Mount of Transfiguration: “Let us make three tabernacles; one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah. . .” answered by “This is my beloved Son: Hear Him.” We should be careful, if we mention Jesus Christ at all, not to appear to be equating Him with other men, even the greatest of men. I know this is simply how it appears (and perhaps not to everyone); for I know that Fr. Neuhaus is an orthodox Trinitarian Catholic. But, perceptions and appearances communicate many things, and we must be very careful about what comes across.

Regarding public prayers, we can debate and disagree about whether or not we must always say “in the name of Jesus Christ”- after all, the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer does not contain these words, yet who can doubt that this prayer is offered in the Name of Jesus Christ? But, if we do mention His Name, we must be clear that we speak of the Incarnate Word and Everlasting Son of the Father, crucified, dead and buried, risen on the third day, without Whom we cannot know the Father.


11:01 AM


THE UNBELIEVABLE DAN BROWN:

Carol Olson, who with Sandra Miesel has just published The DaVinci Hoax (Ignatius Press) sends a story from a New Hampshire newspaper, the Manchester Union-Leader, on Dan Brown titled From ‘DaVinci’ to Masons . It begins:

The author of the best-selling “The DaVinci Code” said last night that he ran across ”intriguing and persuading” information that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion, but it was too controversial to put in his novel.

“To me, that was three or four steps too far,” said Exeter resident Dan Brown . . .

Brown said a number of historians feel strongly that Christ survived the crucifixion, but he said the information is too flimsy. He would not use the material because Christ¹s resurrection is essential to Christianity, he said.
One doesn’t believe him. He makes the usual claim that history is written by the winners to justify his own inventions and claims that Harvey Weinstein of Columbia Pictures had to talk him into letting the book be made into a movie. One doesn’t believe that, either. Also from the story:

Brown said the controversy over “DaVinci Code” is good for religion, because it spurs healthy and vigorous debate. He said writing the book is part of his spiritual journey and that he wished he had “the luxury of absolute, unquestionable faith.” . . .

“The world is a big place, and now more than ever, there is a danger in thinking we are infallible,” he said, drawing applause from the audience.

Also, he said religion had both gods and goddesses 2,000 years ago; now there are only gods and male-dominated religions, which have created violence and bloodshed.
the writer of the story had written:

Some have criticized his research into the early church as well as Christ¹s divinity and his relationship with Mary Magdalene. More than 10 books have come out by authors attacking the historical and theological tenets in the book.
Carl remarked:

I notice that when authors write works in response to Brown’s novel, they are “attacking” his “tenets.” But when Brown makes his claims, he’s treated as though he’s some sort of legitimate historian and scholar. Mere semantics? Somehow I doubt it. . . .
You may enjoy one of Carl’s articles on the book, Relative Revelations: Dan Brown¹s Code should be Left Behind from National Review, and find of interest his website.


10:59 AM


PRESIDENT REAGAN AND CHARACTER:

A liberal Democrat at the time, I recall my distress some three decades ago when I first heard Ronald Reagan’s name mentioned in connection with national politics. Considerable remorse, I confess, now attends that recollection, but a healing light was apparently at work already on my ailing brain. I gradually got well, and by 1980 sanity set in. I voted for Reagan both times.

As Peggy Noonan suggested in her biography of our fortieth President, “character” is a word that comes readily to mind when we think of Mr. Reagan. Like most of my favorite words, it is Greek and means “imprint” or “internal shape.” Some sense of the word is conveyed by its relationship to the verb charasso, meaning both “to engrave” and “to plow.” One thinks of the symmetric lines in a plowed field. This etymology likewise brings to mind the internal labor required to draw the sharp and defining lines of character.

Those who knew President Reagan up close appear to be unanimous about this aspect of the man. They appeal to “character” to explain his quiet courage, his reliability, his steadfast adherence to principle.

In some sense, I suspect, Mr. Reagan did not “grow with the office.” In retrospect, it seems to me that he was a mature, fully developed president on the day he took he first took the oath. He had the character for it. It was as though the office were made for him.

We are told that the framers of the Constitution, when they wrote the section on the Presidency, had George Washington explicitly in mind. They modeled the office on the man. If this is so, it is an added testimony to President Reagan, whose character so splendidly filled the space of the presidency.

I remember that presidency very well, and I am certain that this country and the world became much better places during President Reagan’s time in office.

I also recall his insouciance to the unremitting vilification visited upon him during that whole time. Some of those memories are still quite vivid. I was traveling in Greece, for example, when American forces invaded Grenada and put down the recent Marxist insurgency. Greek television and newspapers were raising storms of protest against what would now be called a “unilateral action.” I was grateful then, and I am grateful now, that we had in the White House a man of character, who did not pay heed to tired European voices.

When I think of President Reagan—indeed, when I think very long about character at all—there rises in my mind Sir Walter Scott’s description of “Old Mortality,” the ancient man who spent his whole life going around to various graveyards, using his mallet and chisel to renew and deepen the fading inscriptions on the headstones. This is what real character requires, I think. Not the drawing of new lines, but the laborious and meticulous enhancing of old ones.


6:40 AM


Thursday, June 10

TRY THIS ELSEWHERE, SIR:

Touchstone recently received a letter critical of Russell D. Moore’s “Baptist World Annoyance,” published in the June issue. In that report Dr. Moore defended the Southern Baptist Convention’s probable withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance on the grounds that the BWA is an increasingly liberal organization, unacceptable to Southern Baptists, as exemplified in its reception into membership of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship--in Moore’s words, “a shadow organization of former SBC liberals and moderates.” The letter was not for publication, so I will not quote from it or give its author’s name, but indicate it identified people like Moore as children who have gained their influence among Baptists unjustly. The author called Moore's opinions nonsense and said they reflected extremist politics rather than conservative Christianity, accusing the Touchstone editors of unwillingness to face the fact objectively. This is how I would respond:

When entertaining disagreement on an article such as Dr. Moore's the first thing the editors would wish to see is a clear account of where he got his facts wrong. If he got them substantially right, we have no difficulties with his interpretation.

What he says rings true to us; that is why we published it. A brief examination of the Web sites of Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond and McAfee Divinity School at Mercer University, which Moore identified as major academic centers--and thus theologically representative--of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, allows us to doubt he is exaggerating.

Many of us have attended schools like this, and we know what they are. We know what devotion to "inclusivity" that both profess in their official statements means for orthodox doctrine, and we have a good idea of what is taught in classes with titles like "Paul in Feminist Perspective." It is not at all difficult for us to understand, even when we are non-Baptists, how traditional Baptist precepts that stress the freedom of the soul before God can be twisted by liberals to mean something completely different than the founders intended. We have seen the substantial equivalent in our own communions. We know what liberal Presbyterians have done with Ecclesia Reformata semper reformanda, what liberal Episcopalians have done with the bishop’s authority, and what liberal Catholics have done with “the Spirit of Vatican II."

Dr. Moore is no child, and neither are his associates at this magazine. All of us have had years of experience with liberals who present themselves as faithful to the denominational tradition--as if Sts. Francis or Ignatius Loyola, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, or the old Baptist divines would agree with their enlightened opinions. We know what "inclusivists" do when they finally gain control of churches and religious organizations founded on beliefs, principles, and practices they regard as relics of a benighted past. We know how strong are the measures that must be taken to keep them from deceiving the simple, and what sort of denunciations inevitably follow when the orthodox retain or regain control of the ground the "moderates" are taking.

We are against them, and those who oppose them with the Old Time Religion (Baptist, I believe, for "Mere Christianity") are good enough for us.


3:10 PM


SHOULD HEALERS HELP KILL?

A curious and revealing article from today's New York Times: Should Doctors Help With Executions? No Easy Ethical Answer. (The site requires registration.)

Doctors who participate in executions violate the most fundamental tenet of medical ethics, some critics say. But others defend these doctors, saying that lethal injections, the almost-universal form of execution in the United States, can be performed humanely only by medical professionals. . . .

The American Medical Association's ethics code, for instance, says that "a physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution."

The code forbids doctors to perform an array of acts at executions, including prescribing the drugs, supervising prison personnel, selecting intravenous sites, placing intravenous lines, administering the injections and pronouncing death. . . .

But a survey of doctors in 2001 found that more than 40 percent would be willing to perform at least one of the forbidden activities.
The article quotes several doctors who want to hunt down and punish doctors who help in executions, which strikes me as likely to be more politically than ethically motivated, but that may be unfair.

But what will have struck you, especially if you notice with what passion these doctors want to get their peers who participate in capital punishment, is that they apparently have no problem with abortionists and euthanasia-ists (if that's the right word). At which point one asks: why is participating in state executions of people convicted of a serious crime so horrifyingly wrong when participating in private (and usually for profit) killing of perfectly innocent unborn children or in the killing of someone who wants help in committing suicide is not wrong?

On what moral principles do these doctors, and the AMA itself, make this distinction? On which, let us note, they take the opposite position from that which the average person would take instinctively: i.e., they say it's wrong to kill the guilty but good to kill the innocent, when the natural moral sense of mankind says that it may be all right (in certain circumstances) to kill the guilty but wicked to kill the innocent.

What I find most objectionable in these moral crusaders is not their position — it does seem to me that a healer's joining in killing does raise ethical questions — but the fact that they put such passion and force and have such a sense of rectitude from a position that seems fundamentally unprincipled, that seems to rest on no admitted, coherent principle they are willing to live by in every other case as well.


1:25 PM


MORE BOOKS ON THAT CONTENTIOUS SUBJECT:

Trudy Ellmore writes with other suggestions for reading in addition to those given in yesterday's Women in the Priesthood?:

To add to your list of books for the reader who requested them regarding women in the priesthood, may I recommend the followng:

1) Women and the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism by Susan Toth (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1979) ISBN:0-87552-268-8.

2) Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, & H. Scott Baldwin. (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 1997)ISBN: 0-8010-2020-4.

Both of the above books are from the evangelical perspective. #2 is very scholarly and heady. I had to read it a couple times to fully grasp the author's points. Both, along with Grudem's writings, really helped me form a solid opinion about women in the priesthood.

The third book I shall recommend is entitled More Spirited Than Lions: An Orthodox Response to Feminism and a Practical Guide to the Spiritual Life for Women by Elizabeth Cowie (Regina Orthodox Press, 2002). I highly recommend this book. Though it does not address the specific issue of women in the priesthood, it does discuss the historical progress of feminism and how it has transformed into the hideous thing we see today. This book solidified the wet concrete I was standing in from the first two books and made me glad I am the woman God has made me to be. It was really well done.


1:20 PM


STILL YET MORE ON PRAYING IN PUBLIC:

Regular reader and friend of mine Craig Higgins sends two ideas for what to do when asked to give a prayer at a pluralist gathering. Craig is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York.

Two ideas on this topic:

(1) On several occasions (such as the annual Erasmus Lectures in Manhattan) I've heard Fr. Richard John Neuhaus end prayers with "for you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Amen." Maybe a bit of creative ambiguity, but it it a prayer that is less offensive to our Jewish neighbors. But it is not my preference.

(2) What I have done is to simply say something like this: "As a Christian minister, I am offering a prayer from the perspective of the Christian tradition. Those of you from other faith traditions, please join as you think appropriate." Then I have prayed explicitly Christian/trinitarian prayers. This can go a long way toward expressing some concern toward those of other religions, and I have had people express appreciation. In some contexts, however, I've been told not to do any such thing, and I simply decline the invitation.
The second makes perfect sense to me, and is the gracious and courteous thing to do — graciousness and courtesy being a mixture of respect and integrity. And judging from my scattered experience it is probably perfectly acceptable to most of those of other religions and none. The problem is the Christian who is either misreading the feelings of others or at some level happy to marginalize his own religion.


1:13 PM


YET MORE ON PRAYING IN PUBLIC:

David Gustafson writes with another contribution to the string beginning in last Friday's Praying and Public and continued in More on praying in public:

Perhaps the subject has been adequately ventilated, but if not, here’s my first-person account of deciding what to do about this issue of praying in a non-Christian setting:

I grew up being shown and taught to end my prayers “in Jesus name, Amen”. The convention is based, of course, on Jesus’ instruction that we should pray “in [His] name” (John 16:23-26). I came to understand that the formula is not mandatory, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, and I’ve retained the habit, as have many Evangelical Christians.

I once attended a meeting of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group, which meeting included a luncheon, before which a prayer was to be offered. The Federalist Society is not a religious group, but many conservatives are religious, so there are many devout Christians in the group — and a fair number of Jews. The person who would offer the prayer was a judge whom I knew to be an Evangelical Christian, and when he began to pray, using familiar and conventional Evangelical prayer jargon, I began to wonder how how he would end his public prayer in this non-sectarian context. He came to the apparent end of his prayer, spoke the word “in”, and then halted in mid-phrase. He then said “and” to start a new, meandering, and redundant sentence, after which he ended his prayer with a simple “Amen”, and no mention of Jesus.

I had a strong, visceral reaction to what he had done. Only God knows for sure what was going on in this pray-er’s mind, but it seemed apparent to me that he had been about to end his prayer “in Jesus’ name, Amen”, but then recalled the presence of Jews who might feel excluded and offended by a distinctively Christian prayer, and deliberately omitted Jesus from His accustomed place in this man’s prayers.

I made a decision that day: However optional and non-mandatory my “in Jesus’ name, Amen” may be, I will never leave it out if I am asked to pray in public (unless, perhaps, I begin or end the prayer with an even more explicit invocation of the Trinity). For all I know, Christians with prayer habits different from mine may well and sincerely avoid this phrase, and the offense that it may bring, but I must not. For me, closing my prayer with a simple “Amen” (or even with the vague “inclusive” terms suggested in the NCCJ guidelines) would be a denial of Jesus. I have no basis for approaching the Father other than through His Son, and any prayer of mine that would deliberately leave Jesus out would be, for me, a capitulation to Indifferentism, or worse. I decided that day that, if I am ever asked to pray in a public non-sectarian setting, I will accept but will warn the requester that I pray only as a Christian, in case this fact would make him prefer to ask someone else.

I hope and assume that Christians, Jews, and Muslims do pray to the same God, but that is not what this is about. I hope and believe that God mercifully hears and answers their Jesus-less prayers. But if I am a follower, disciple, and member of Jesus Christ, then I can pray only in His name — and for me, this means praying “in Jesus name, Amen”.
I remember once hearing a senior pastor talk explaining how he prayed generic prayers. I thought that something a Christian can't do, but what surprised me was his argument that pastors should pray such prayers as "a witness." A witness to what?, I wondered. A generic god? To a Christian's willingness to abandon his own belief in order to provide A Spiritual Moment at a public event?


9:52 AM


Wednesday, June 9

SOFT PATRIARCHS:

A press release I just received on a new book analyzing Soft Patriarchs:

U.Va. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox Studies the Impact of Religion on Fatherhood

HIS RESEARCH SHINES A LIGHT ON ‘SOFT PATRIARCHS’

Even though they favor a traditional, patriarchal family structure, Evangelical Protestant men make some of the best husbands and fathers, according to a recent study by W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

“Theirs is a very soft patriarchy,” Wilcox writes in his new book, “Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands,” recently released in time for Father’s Day.

In his comparative study of American husbands and fathers - which focuses on mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants and religiously unaffiliated families - Wilcox asks the question: How does religion influence the family attitudes and practices of married men with children?

To seek the answer, he examines data gathered by two well-regarded, national social surveys, the General Social Survey (1990-98), and the National Survey of Families and Households (1987-88 and 1992-94). His book addresses a neglected field - that of religious influences on social life, according to the University of Chicago Press, which brought out the book as part of its Morality and Society Series, edited by Alan Wolfe.

Wilcox’s findings include:

— Evangelical Protestant family men who frequently attend church have
the highest rates of involvement in one-on-one activities and youth activities of any major religious group in the United States;

— Churchgoing Evangelical Protestant family men are more likely than
any other major religious or secular group to know where their children are at all times;

— Evangelical Protestant wives whose husbands attend church regularly
report the highest levels of happiness with their husbands’ love and affection of any major religious or secular group in the study;

— Evangelical Protestant wives whose husbands attend church regularly
reported the lowest levels of domestic violence of any major religious or secular group studied;

— Mainline Protestant family men who attend church regularly are also
more involved and affectionate with their children than religiously unaffiliated men.

Wilcox believes that, given the effect that organized religion - or its absence - has on family relationships, three models of American fatherhood will dominate the country’s social landscape in the future:

— Men who don’t attend church regularly, don’t contribute much to the
everyday care of their children, and don’t live with their children, whether because of divorce or non-marriage;

— Men who are married and living with their wives and children who
take on increasing levels of household duties. These so-called “new men” will be expressive fathers and help with household chores, but are less committed to their marriages than the third group of fathers. This second group includes men affiliated with the Reform Jewish, liberal Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions;

— Men who are married and living with their children, but who are
neotraditional in their outlook on the family. These men typically display a strong emotional commitment to their children and their wives, but perform less household labor. This group of “soft patriarchs” includes men affiliated with traditional Catholicism, the Church of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Evangelical Protestantism and Orthodox Judaism.

“These soft patriarchs will abide by an absolutist vision of the family that they believe to be divinely ordained and that attempts to articulate universal moral principles that govern family life in all times and places,” Wilcox writes. “[They] will be ever in search of new strategies in their effort to defend traditional ends. Their continuing ‘battle against modernity’ in the service of ‘the truth and authority of an ancient faith’ will undoubtedly look increasingly quixotic to many as the twenty-first century proceeds, but as far as they are concerned, ‘the future is in God’s hands’.”

This scholarly book should be of interest to experts in the fields of marriage and family, gender, religion and culture, as well as to readers affiliated with mainline and Evangelical

Protestant denominations. It was originally written as a doctoral dissertation in sociology at Princeton University.


3:17 PM


UMBILICAL STEM CELLS:

James Quinby writes:

As regards stem cells: I feel obligated to plug umbilical cord blood donation as a perfectly ethical method of obtaining stem cells. We recently donated the cord blood at the birth of our youngest child, and I can attest to its ease and safety. The group here in Atlanta doing this is Babies For Life, founded by Dr. Gerry Sotomayor, a Catholic OB/GYN. They supply all materials, perform the testing and, if deemed suitable, bank the cord blood with an organization in Florida.

Organization: www.babiesforlife.org

Article on Dr. Sotomayor

Easy, safe and morally licit (indeed, laudable). Why this doesn't command more media attention is quite beyond me. Well, most of the time, anyway.


3:10 PM


THE HEALTH OF THE NATION:

Some mention has been made in the media, spurred by news of the recent death of the much-respected President Ronald Reagan “from Alzheimer’s disease,” that embryonic stem cell research could help prevent such deaths. I mean no disrespect to the late President or to his family and offer my prayers on their behalf, but I must say that the connection of his death at age 93 with research on cells harvested from human embryos is troubling. First, President Reagan was outspokenly pro-life himself. Second, taking advantage of a death like his to immediately push for one’s agenda—well, what can I say? I suppose those who want to take advantage of embryonic human beings by “harvesting” cells from them before they are “destroyed” will take advantage of whatever they can for their own purposes.

The great age of the late President and the cause of his death reminds me of a story told me about my own great-grandmother, Helen Wilson, whom I knew as a boy, and who fell asleep in the Lord in 1963 at the age of 94. For the last several years of her life she was quite frail and had to be carried up the steps of my grandmother’s home.

Late one evening while she, my grandmother, and a niece were watching television, she passed into eternal life. The police were called (to bring her body to the undertaker I presume). After they arrived and began the usual paperwork, one of them asked my grandmother and her niece: “What was the cause of death?” The two ladies looked at each, wide-eyed, and at my departed great-grandmother’s frail and very wrinkled face. The niece finally replied, “What do you think she died of? Old age! Can’t you see?”

There seems to be an ongoing denial of mortality as a simple fact. No longer do nonagenarians die of old age but from something else. Of course, almost everything named as the cause of death in these cases is something that is theoretically preventable, or even curable—at least at some point in the future, given enough research money and time. I do occasionally hear in the news talk about finding (and slowing--or curing?) the “aging process.” But the simply fact is that we die.

This, then, reminds me of another story I read just today. Since it is the feast day of St. Columba of Iona (June 9), I read some in The Life of St. Columba by Adomnan of Iona. One day (in the last half of the 6th century) Columba heard someone shouting across the Sound of Iona. He said, “That man, shouting across the Sound, is much to be pitied. He has come to us to ask for medicines to heal the body but it would be better today for him to do penance for his sins, because at the end of this week he will die.” The man was told this when he arrived, “but he thought little of it. Having got what he asked for, he went away again at once.” Before the end of the week he was dead.

There is a major fault line in our society between those who think the state of the soul the most important thing and those who put first the body and its comforts. This is not new, of course, but when we look at the pervasive emphasis placed on “health” in the media we should not be surprised if the former are greatly outnumbered by the latter. Even worse, what the body “needs” these days has only increased: the amount of money spent on cosmetic, body-shaping surgery is in the billions and in most cases extravagant waste trying to buy time before the undertaker arrives.

The health of a nation lies in the health of the hearts and souls of its citizens, and on that score, I have concerns. We know what Columba would say about this, and about “embryonic stem cell” research. “Repent.” We will only get what we ask for.


12:07 PM


THE KIDS AND THE OLD MAN:

Something from the newest issue of The Atlantic you may find of interest: The kids are all right. I'm not myself as optimistic as the writer, but it's an interesting article.

Also interesting, but for different reasons, is Christopher Hitchens' The old man about Leon Trotsky.


11:43 AM


WOMEN IN THE PRIESTHOOD?

The other day a subscriber wrote asking for recommendations of books on a subject still troubling some conservative members of the mainline churches: the nature of sexual order in the Church as focused in the relation of headship to ordination. In short, the question of women’s ordination.

Most of their remaining conservatives have, as some put it to me, at least "made their peace" with the innovation, even though they didn't really accept it. They now get very indignant when someone points out to them how their acceptance of that innovation rather makes nonsense of their present opposition to the homosexual innovation. But some, judging from my reading and the letters I get, have been prompted by the newest innovation to reconsider the older one.

Anyway, our subscriber wrote:

Would you please recommend to me a couple of books on the role of women in the Church? I am a lifelong Episcopalian and this is one issue that has troubled me lately.

[My rector] is also aware that I am not as convinced as she that women should be in the role of priest. We have not discussed the issue as yet (perhaps because there are enough problem in the EC to keep us occupied as it is), but we will someday, and I would like to have a better understanding of the issue.
I wrote him:

Dear Mr. X,

Thank you for your inquiry. As you may know, there have been a vast number of books published on the subject of women in the Church, and particular on the matter as focused in the question of women’s ordination, starting in the late 60s when the mainline churches started seriously considering the innovation. Some are better than others, and some appeal more to one type of reader than others. It is, as you will guess, one of those matters on which what one sees – and what one finds in books — really does depend on where one stands.

Two of the best books are rather long, but thorough:

Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? (Ignatius Press, 1988)
John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway Books, 1991)

I think both books are still in print. The first is Catholic, the second Evangelical, though as you might expect the two positions are not substantially different but emphasize different aspects of the question and different arguments. While in no way neglecting the Scriptures, Hauke emphasizes more the “fittingness” of the Christian sexual order, using history and the social sciences to help make the point. While respectful of the Christian tradition, and assuming the “fittingness” of the teaching, RBMW emphasizes more the biblical arguments.

For a short treatment, I’d recommend my former colleague Rod Whitacre’s A Biblical Vision. (It used to be posted on the website of the seminary where he teaches, till the one woman professor protested and the dean had it removed.)

Of the two books, I found Hauke the most useful, because I think that the proper (i.e., Christian) understanding of this matter depends upon seeing it as part of a whole: as one expression of the way the world, and particularly of the created sexual order, is created to work for our good and indeed our happiness in this world as well as the next. When one sees this, one understands what the controverted biblical passages mean and how they support a life we would want to live – which is to say, seeing this, one can resist the seductive claims of the innovationist position which promise great things from the elimination of the traditional Christian sexual order. Without some sense of the Christian teaching’s “fittingness,” the biblical passages can somewhat plausibly be misread.

That said, if you are discussing the matter with an Evangelical, you will find Piper and Grudem’s book very useful, because the writers provide extensive biblical arguments against the innovators’ biblical arguments. There is less to be said for the innovator’s exegesis than meets the eye.

I’ve had to write this on the fly, but I will ask some of my colleagues for their recommendations and pass them on. Though I started out as a supporter of the innovation, I think now that the arguments against it are so clear and so compelling that you may find yourself in a difficult position. You have my prayers.

Two of my colleagues sent additional suggestions. First, from a Protestant editor:

Probably the best book that places the question in context is still Stephen B. Clark's MAN AND WOMAN IN CHRIST. I don't know whether it is still in print, but the whole text is available here. See in particular chs. 13 and 24.
And from a Catholic editor:

As your interlocutor is an Anglican I would recommend also:

(1) Women and Priesthood ed. Peter Moore (London: SPCK,1978), a book of essays of various merit (Eric Mascall, Louis Bouyer, Kallistos Ware, Bertil Gaertner et alios). This Moore is a former (now deceased) Dean of St. Albans, not the Dean of Trinity seminary.

(2) Eric Mascall's little pamphlet Women Priests (1973, 1978) which is available at, and can be downloaded from, the English Forward in Faith website.
I would as always appreciate your comments and suggestions.


11:34 AM


WILSON ON DANTE:

Two enjoyable articles on Dante by A. N. Wilson, from his books column in The Daily Telegraph (the newspaper's site requires registration):

An easier route to hell and back with Dante, and

Only fiction can tell the whole infernal truth.

In the first he writes:

I never felt before so powerfully how disgusting hell is. . . . What Mandelbaum [the translator Allen Mandelbaum] miraculously conveys is how this truly appalling pageant, the stuff of the cheapest street entertainment in medieval Italy, is at the same time hauntingly serious and dignified. The Inferno is as vulgar as anything in the lowest passages of Chaucer but it also retains, even in the lowest scenes, a sense of what each and every damned soul has lost by being trapped in hell.
In the second, he responds to some poor fellow who wrote to say “Perhaps you need telling that Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Inferno are fiction. They are not real, any more than Goldilocks and the Three Bears is real.” Wilson politely does not point out the ignorance of that “and” in the first sentence.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Wilson is fair to Philip Larkin or Kingsley Amis in the second article. They were melancholic, especially Larkin, but not depressive. And both could write movingly about human life and both, especially Amis, were often very funny. A conversation about science fiction between Amis, Brian Aldis, and C. S. Lewis is, by the way, given in “Unreal Estates” in the Lewis collection Of Other Worlds.


11:32 AM


Tuesday, June 8

JUDGE HAMILTON'S DECISION:

An interesting article: Abortion ruling lacks good logic by David Byrne, writing in The Chicago Tribune. In it he analyzes the astonishing decision of U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton — a name that shall live in infamy — overturning a ban on partial birth abortion.

He argues in the next to last paragraph that

Pro-life groups have focused on ending outside abortion, in which the baby's limbs and torso are outside the birth canal while the head is still inside and its brains sucked out. It was a strategic mistake; by insisting that outside abortion is worse because the baby is "partially born," pro-lifers have fallen into the trap of extreme pro-choice logic: A fetus may be life, but it's not human or a person until after it is born. But it is hard to argue that a fetus isn't a human being in the second trimester, when most these abortions are done and the fetus has every working part that we do.
I think this is wrong, because no pro-lifer has ever said that partial birth abortion was worse than any other kind, but only that the morally desensitized "middle" will recognize it as killing when they won't recognize the aborting of a younger baby as killing. But it may be that some people thought that is what pro-lifers were saying.


4:26 PM


LIVING BY METAPHOR:

Something you may find of interest, which I stumbled upon while looking for information on the book: Metaphors We Live By, a selection from the first edition of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's book by that title. Peter Leithart is reviewing the second edition for us.

The writers argue that metaphor is not just something we use to dress up our language, but something through which we see and think. They give the example of the metaphor of debate or argument as war.

We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument -- attack, defense, counter-attack, etc. -- reflects this.

It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; its structures the actions we perform in arguing. Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way.

In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently. But we would probably not view them as arguing at all: they would simply be doing something different. It would seem strange even to call what they were doing "arguing." In perhaps the most neutral way of describing this difference between their culture and ours would be to say that we have a discourse form structured in terms of battle and they have one structured in terms of dance.

This is an example of what it means for a metaphorical concept, namely, ARGUMENT IS WAR, to structure (at least in part) what we do and how we understand what we are doing when we argue. The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.. It is not that arguments are a subspecies of war. Arguments and wars are different kinds of things--verbal discourse and armed conflict--and the actions performed are different kinds of actions.

But ARGUMENT is partially structured, understood, performed, and talked about in terms of WAR. The concept is metaphorically structured, the activity is metaphorically structured, and, consequently, the language is metaphorically structured.


4:21 PM


BAYLY BLOGGING:

A friend put me on to Tim Bayly on World magazine's blogsite, which you may find of interest. Some of his more provocative entries are

Phil Yancey, Tony Campolo, and sodomite marriage. In it he describes the best-selling writer Philip Yancey as

"the bounder sage of the atheological, non-confessional, nondenominational, pragmatic but angst-ridden evangelical subculture. If you're interested in this sort of thing, he serves as a good periscope into the minds of the brighter members of Willow Creek and her clones."

This description is a little blunter than most of us are used to, but it seems to me accurate. I commend his analysis to your attention.

Christian marriage and birth control: raising up a godly seed and God's No to Birth Control?. In the first, he argues that

Now if we accept Scripture’s teaching that children are a blessing from God, what would constitute a proper justification for the limitation of these blessings? Just asking the question takes us a long way toward answering it. If Christians are to seek God’s gifts and blessings, our fundamental attitude to¬ward the gift of babies should be to pursue — not reject — them.

In the second, he argues against contraception with an array of biblical arguments.

— In another item, The LCMS and the Reformed Church, he takes up the differences between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism. Lutheran and Reformed readers may find it interesting, and the latter may find it infuriating as well.


10:54 AM


ON THE U.N. AND PLAUSIBLE MODERNISTS:

One of our readers in Austria, Wolf Paul, writes with two comments on yesterday’s items:

I have two comments on Mere Comments today. The first one is about your statement,

Whether or not spanking children is a good idea, making laws governing parents because the U.N. requires them is a really bad idea.

It is not really fair and reasonable to put it this way: the UN does not require them, but the UK signed a convention, i.e. a treaty with all the other signatories of that convention, where they agreed to implement certain legal and behavioral standards. Thus the problem really is one of signing up to something which sounds good or reasonable on the surface without first thinking about the consequences — an attitude which I believe is also at the bottom of the current trend to agree with the homosexual lobby.

My second comment concerns E. R. Brett’s contribution on Modernist Discourse. I just received the April issue in the mail yesterday, and Louis Tarsitano’s piece on Plausibility vs Credibility in that issue bears on this discussion. Gene Robinson is a very plausible person as Tarsitano uses the term; feminist language about God is very plausible, and so is the talk about the “sanctity” of all human relationships and the notion that everyone has a right to sexual fulfillment. Here is how Tarsitano put it:

“On the basis of the same ‘right’ a majority of the nice middle-class people of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention found it impossible to reject a potential bishop simply because he had left his wife and children to find love in the arms of another man.”

And Patrick Gray in “Choice Superstition” puts his finger on the heart of the matter: Many people believe what they do not because it is reasonable or logical, but because it agrees with their desire to be autonomous, sovereign, and independent.
He is right about the U.K. and the U.N. The English government, for reasons of their own, have given away a great deal of their own authority, and given it away to an international organization dominated by activists and effectively accountable to no one. This would seem to me unwise even did one have a high opinion of the U.N.


10:52 AM


REPETITIOUS CONSERVATIVES:

Here are two responses to yesterday’s “God is not our mother in Heaven.” From Jennifer Kee:

After reading "I Love My Mom . . ., [the article linked to in the blog]" I had two thoughts. The first was, with a snort, "I must not be secure in my masculinity" and two, with sincere admiration, but grave conviction: "May I have the boldness of Fr. Hart." Of course, it would be nice to have his understanding, too, to back up the boldness. . . .

BTW, is it just me, or do conservative-minded people always seem to be repeating themselves when arguing a controversial point with those of a more liberal mind? It's eerie.
As it happens, Fr. Hart also responded, and with a comment that answers her BTW:

Overcoming these arguments, and arguments like them, is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. The problem is, the same people keep loading the same barrel with the same kind of fish; I think they don’t care to make sense, just to tire us out.


10:51 AM


Monday, June 7

SHRINKING PRESBYTERIANS:

The latest press release from the Presbyterian Lay Committee announces that:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 46,658 members during 2003 — higher than the projected downturn and the highest percentage loss in more than a quarter of a century.

The exodus reduced membership to 2,405,311 as of Dec. 31, 2003 — a loss of 1.85 million members since the PCUSA and its predecessor denominations had a peak membership of 4,254,597 in 1965.

It was more bad news statistically and financially for a denomination that has already reduced its headquarters staff in Louisville, Ky., from more than 700 employees to 494 to reduce the costs of its decline.
On a related subject, the release mentions that the PLC offers a useful-sounding booklet titled "Selecting An Evangelical Pastor . . . A Lay Perspective: A Guide For Pastor Nominating Committees." It says to call 1-800-368-0110 or click here for information.


5:00 PM


GO YE AND DO . . .:

Following the opening provided by the writer quoted in the following item, let me point readers to the subscription page. If you enjoy Mere Comments and the articles we've posted on the website, remember that we can only afford to provide these services because people subscribe.

Those interested in Mr. Brett's analysis may find something I wrote a couple of years ago of interest: St. Paul the Eccentric examined those who try to separate Jesus from St. Paul when St. Paul says things they don't like, which is quite often. It was the first in a series of three and was followed by The Snob's Dogma and The Bible as Metaphor.


4:53 PM


MODERNIST DISCOURSE:

E. R. Brett writes in response to this morning's "God is not our mother in Heaven":

I've just finished reading the original entry and comments on the Pontificator blog regarding "God as our mother in heaven" and I found myself reflecting on (shudder) the recent ECUSA synod in which V. Gene Robinson was given license to be, however this is possible, both a Bishop and an active homosexual.

The most interesting thing might be the manner in the which the points were argued (or were conspicuous in their absence) at both the ECUSA synod and in the Pontificator blog. You've commented before on the low quality of debate amongst Episcopal bishops, I think. You might recall that there was a "discussion" amongst the Bishops prior to the Robinson vote, and just as in the Pontificator blog the traditionalist attempted to argue the point at hand using what he thought were common instruments, while the modernist inhabited a parallel universe in which the governing principle appears to be a strange and logically-impenetrable sentiment. I was going to use the word surreal, but even Dali used actual paint and an actual canvas.

At what point did modernists — presumably well-educated, often well-spoken, and wise in the ways of the world — abandon critical thought and substantive theological argument? In the low-church Evangelicalism from whence I came a different breed of vapidity remains a pervasive characteristic, but they can't really claim to be as confidently well-educated as the modernists, can they?

I think the problem is this: once you've abandoned revelation (of both the general and special varieties), you've entered a veritable funhouse of simile, metaphor and, inevitably, Orwellian language games (witness the recent Canadian Anglican attempts to redefine "sanctity"). Traditionalists insist on speaking about theological issues in the substantive language of revelation, including and especially the physical reality of the risen Jesus Christ. Modernists, rejecting The Cornerstone, must build their houses without one. No matter how often we've heard about "unity in our diversity" (or is it "diversity in our unity?" I can't remember), you're unlikely to come to the same conclusions if you're starting from opposed premises.

Fortunately, Thomas didn't view the pierced hands of a metaphor: our Hope is sure.

Incidentally, an article in Touchstone about the Aristotelean influences in Chesterton was most helpful in this regard. Thanks to you and your colleagues for the good work (and don't be ashamed about hitting up people for subscriptions: I haven't regretted it and neither will they).


4:50 PM


DIFFERENCES:

My thanks to those who wrote about the following item. I really do know the difference between the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. I went from describing the article to quoting the one long quotation it offered without making the proper transition, partly because I was thinking of all the many attempts to rewrite the Lord's Prayer I have read in the past. I'm not as famliar with attempts to rewrite the 23rd psalm, but perhaps I'm blessed.


4:44 PM


THE ANVIL SITE:

Nathaniel Brooks sends this link to an example of the (now traditional) desire to rewrite the Lord's Prayer: Lord's prayer gets rewrite. It appears on the website of Ecclesia: A new way of thinking, which is produced by the Evangelical group the Anvil Trust. the opening lines of the new version read:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
He lets me see a country of justice and peace
And directs my steps towards this land.
He gives me power.
He guides me in the paths of victory,
as he has promised.
Which isn't as bad as some others I've seen. The site includes a story on a bishop of the Church of England to to prevent parents from spanking their children. The previous story on the matter explained one reason for the bill:

David Hinchliffe, the Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Health, who has championed the case for a ban on smacking by parents, said: "We want a free vote when the Bill comes to the Commons. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child would require the Government to remove this defence in law. Ministers are also required to move because of judgments in the European Court. It is time Parliament acted to stop this happening in our society."
Whether or not spanking children is a good idea, making laws governing parents because the U.N. requires them is a really bad idea.


1:01 PM


GOD IS NOT OUR MOTHER IN HEAVEN:

A nice reflection on the failure of goddess language, by an Episcopal priest, Alvin Kimel: I love my Mom, but I don’t want her to be my God. He examines a sermon by another Episcopal priest, a Fr. Jake.

You may find some of the responses interesting or helpful. (Our own Robert Hart and William Tighe appear, by the way.) Those of you who have written on this kind of question or read a lot of the debate will recognize the somewhat discouraging nature of so much of the response, which ranges from the really stupid (one correspondent's "What’s the matter, Al, not too secure in your own masculinity so you need to make *God* a man, too?") to the dim.

Those of us who believe in orthodox Christianity would be glad to have thoughtful opposition because it will help us develop and refine our own understanding of these matters and the way we speak of them. But what we find over and over again is that the opposition is so often not thoughtful but either reactionary (see the quote in the previous paragraph) or cliched (Fr. Jake's "All titles are metaphors, and are not intended to capture the totality of God.").

As I think I have written before, my own unwilling conversion to Christianity was encouraged by my constantly finding that the Christians made the most sense, even when I hated their conclusions. One could read them and find an argument that preceded from premises, clearly stated, to conclusions. The people I wanted to believe tended to assert. After a while, I began to suspect that the Christians might argue more clearly because they had the better arguments.


10:28 AM


EVANGELICALS AND CATHOLICS TOGETHER:

An article you may find of interest, by Sandro Magister writing on the Italian website www.chiesa: Bush Brought a Gift for the Pope, subtitled “The Alliance Between Catholics and Evangelicals.” It doesn't report anything people following these things don't already know, but I pass it on for those of you who don't follow such things.

The story mentions the meeting with the president Jim Kushiner attended. See Jim’s report at President Bush on Faith and Cultural Change.


10:25 AM


MORE ON PRAYING IN PUBLIC:

Some responses to Friday’s Praying in Public. The first comes from Thomas Hall:

I appreciated your entry in ‘Mere Comments’ on those faux guidelines for public prayer. As a Lutheran, I am rather bemused at this ‘instruction’ from Caesar right at the time when the whole Benke fiasco is about to be revisited in the Missouri Synod via the election for Synod President.

It seems that Christians increasingly find themselves in one interfaith prayer service after another in the service of our civil religion. That is for all intents and purposes what the chaplain of any legislative body is there to lead — an interfaith service for the diverse members of that body. In the midst of all this, we who claim to be conservative, finding ourselves called upon to contribute to the stability and welfare of the community, might not have the vision to see how manipulative such calls can be.

I am reminded of Luther’s Large Catechism: “As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that makes both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one.” That right faith and trust, one could add right praise, is only given through the pure Gospel. With that as our guide, our prayers will not be idolatrous vaporings to an impersonal “source of all being,” but rather true praise, intercession, and witness to the Father who has not even spared His only begotten Son so that we might be freed from sin and death, so that we might, in fact, be free to pray to Him with boldness, even with the Florida Secretary of State and the President of the Florida Senate looking over our shoulders.
The second comes from Jeremy Abel:

I certainly agree with you that no Christian could pray according to such guidelines. “God” is so many things to so many people. His identity is not even agreed upon by some Christians. Some would object to using the pronoun he to refer to him/her/it. Those around us must know that when we speak of God we are speaking of a very specific God — the Holy Trinity worshipped by the Christian church, the Second Person of which was manifested in the flesh in the Middle East about two thousand years ago.

In a religiously pluralistic society the Christian witness must be clear. This doesn’t mean we have to be obnoxious but it does mean that we must fear God more than public disapproval. It may have been Luther (I don’t recall) who said, “I know no other God than the one lying in a manger and hanging on a cross.”
And the third comes from Beth Hill (the bishop to whom she refers is Antiochian Orthodox):

Our Orthodox Bishop Basil was asked to open the state legislature in prayer one year, and he was told guidelines like these. He looked at the man and said, “You make the laws, and I will pray the prayer.” He opened, as always, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .”. What is amazing is that even that is considered bold nowadays.


10:22 AM


A FINAL DEFENSE OF VEGGIE TALES:

Another responses to the Veggie Tales string (go to Yet more on Veggie Tales for the links). This from Craig Galer:

I have tended to view Veggie Tales as being a cut above the usual run of “Christian” entertainment. As cartoons go (insert your own comment here), it’s really pretty good; it reminds me of when my buddies and I would watch “Rocky and Bullwinkle” in college, finally getting the jokes that went by us when we were kids.

The Veggies are endearingly goofy, and the morals are presented well enough to stimulate some good family discussions (“The Bunny Song” is maddeningly catchy, and every one of our kids, at one time or another, has been heard shrieking at their father, “NOOOOO!!! You’re not supposed to sing ‘The Bunny Song!’“; I won’t even get into “The Dance of the Cucumber”).

I agree with your larger point about “Christian” art and the sub-culture that feels compelled to have “Christian” versions of everything (I have never — even when I was younger — understood the point of “Christian” heavy metal bands), but speaking on my own behalf, I wouldn’t hold up Veggie Tales as the most egregious example. Perhaps that says more about me than about the Veggies, but there you have it.
And Jackson Moore sent a p.s. to his contribution:

As I consider my post it seems that the early Disneyand Warner Brothers productions are technically superior to the computerized Veggie Tales but the story lines from all are "obvious," even though the former were produced for viewing by adults in the local cinema.


10:19 AM




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