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Friday, June 18


Here is the press release we're sending out (modified for different readers) announcing the special July/August issue, dedicated to the Intelligent Design movement. Please send it to anyone you think might find if of interest or post the link where you can. We are grateful for your help in telling people about the magazine.

Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
POBox 410788 • Chicago, IL 60641 • 773.481.1090


Touchstone Takes on Darwin
Special Issue on the Intelligent Design Movement to Appear in July

Returning to a theme first raised five years ago, the July/August issue of Touchstone will present the Intelligent Design movement and its critique of Darwinism and the naturalistic (or secular) approach to science and society.

Intelligent Design (or ID) theory argues that science itself reveals that the cosmos and plant and animal life were designed and did not arise and develop accidentally as evolutionary theory claims. In fact, ID theorists argue that they could not have arisen in the way evolutionary theory claims.

These theorists — most of whom are Christians, but some of whom are not religious at all — also argue that mainstream evolutionary scientists refuse to see the evidence because they have defined science in a way that unscientifically excludes consideration of design. The philosophy of “naturalism” is imposed upon the evidence so that the authority of science is invoked for a secular view of the world. Some in the ID movement have gone on to expose and critique the effect of naturalism in other human enterprises, including ethics, art, and politics.

The magazine’s first issue on the ID, published in July/August 1999, became the book Signs of Intelligence (Brazos Books), which is considered one of the best introductions to the ID movement and its criticism of Darwinism. After five years, the editors wanted to offer readers an update on the development of the ID movement, which has reached a maturity and confidence in its engagement with the Darwinist mainstream.

The July/August issue will include in the View and Feature departments:

Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin On Trial and patriarch of the ID movement, reviews the movement’s progress and growth
Carson Holloway, now writing a book on Darwinism and political theory, explains how truly religious are the atheists at The Skeptical Inquirer
Graeme Hunter, a professor of philosophy, gently ridicules the secularists who have taken to calling themselves “The Brights”
David Mills, the editor of Touchstone, offers the Christian answer to the secularists’ feeling of being alone in the universe
Jonathan Witt, a fellow of the Discovery Institute, reveals how Darwinists have led themselves astray by telling God what he can do
Richard Weikart, author of the new book From Darwin to Hitler, shows where Darwinism can lead when applied to human life
Edward Sisson, a lawyer and writer, shows how the scientific establishment uses lawyers’ tactics to promote Darwinism
Jay Richards, vice-president of the Discovery Institute and co-author of The Privileged Planet: How our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery, describes the state of the ID movement and makes some predictions for its future
William Dembski, a research professor at Baylor and author of many books on ID theory, explains how to argue effectively against the Darwinists
Johnson, Witt, Richards, Dembski, and others answer a range of questions on ID and Darwinism in a forum
James Kushiner, Touchstone’s executive editor, reviews twelve recent books on Darwinism and ID
• Plus two sidebars: Anthony Esolen, the newest translator of Dante, on using math to shake students’ evolutionism, and David Mills on the wisdom of Christianity’s “judicious pluralism”

The issue will also include two editorials, one on the morality of the cultural left and the other on the real appeal of religious liberalism; a special report on Christians in Sudan by Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; short articles on children’s literature and Prairie Home Companion; and the usual news, short book reviews, Scripture column, and selection from a classic Christian work.

To subscribe to Touchstone and receive the Intelligent Design issue, go to and click on “Store” or call 1.800.783.4903. The special introductory subscription rate is $24.95. Those who subscribe before July 15th will get the ID issue as the first issue in their subscription.

3:57 PM


A couple of Catholic blogsites I haven't commended in a while, and realized I should when I went to them to get their writer's e-mail addresses, which I'd lost when I switched computers (don't ask):

— Mark Shea's Catholic and enjoying it!; and

— Amy Wellborn's Open Door.

They are both, as the title of Mark's conveys, convincedly and perhaps sometimes aggressively Catholic, but for the most part the two take up issues and questions of interest to all Christians and do so in an interesting way. And when they do deal with specifically Catholic matters, the rest of you may find even those discussions of interest. Or at least, if you're a beleaguered believer in a mainline church, refreshing in a misery-loves-company sort of way.

3:52 PM


I am grateful to all of you who wrote in with responses to the reader's question about witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. I'd like to post another question from a reader and ask you to respond. He writes to ask for ideas on

the current state and role of our public schools. Here is a news article about the recent resolution and subsequent debate in the SBC.

As one who intends for my children to never have to experience the decadence that I experienced in public schools, I probably would have voted for this resolution if I was a Southern Baptist. I would have asked Mr. Green, who campaigned against it, how he can at once hold to his legitimate criticism and yet support those ". . . teachers, administrators, educators who are part of our churches and we stand firmly with them in their roles in public education"?

The comment that ""My children are not evangelical tools" resonated with me. It seems to me, and I think that many Touchstone editors would agree, that our culture and it's institutions are no longer "neutral", "pluralistic" or "secular". They have been anti-Christian for a number of years, and it looks like it is going to get worse before, or if, it gets better. At what point do traditional Christian's proclaim publicly that we can no longer abide what passes for education in the government system?
To respond, please use the link at the top of the column to the left.

Here, fyi, is the Baptist Press story on the education resolution. The report starts about halfway through.

1:49 PM


— an enjoyable piece of historical trivia, How the world's eighth wonder was lost in transit from today’s Daily Telegraph.

— also from today’s Daily Telegraph, A. N. Wilson’s thoughts on George Orwell’s socialism, So wide of the mark on The Road to Wigan Pier.

— an Orthodox site on contraception and related matters discussed “from an Orthodox Christian Perspective.” The other matters include Natural Family Planning and population ethics.

— a flattering review of our reader Creed & Culture from the Kirk Center. The writer is a good judge of English prose.

— and an Evangelical’s short statement of the ecumenical calling, Those who confess "Jesus is Lord" aren't the real enemies by P. Andrew Sandlin of the Center for Cultural Leadership.

1:45 PM


The thesis of this article is very old, but the writer develops it amusingly, plus it’s fun to see something like this appearing in The Los Angeles Times: Worshipers at the Secular Altar by the Orthodox Jewish write David Klinghoffer.

What is a religion, then? Simply, a system of beliefs based on stories that explain where life comes from, what life means, and what we, as living beings, are supposed to be doing with our few allotted years. . . .

For each element of Judeo-Christian faith, secularism has its counterpart. Like Christianity and Judaism, secularism promises eternal life ‹ well, long life, which is the central point of the most common strain of secular faith and which explains the pop-cultural focus on moral commandments having to do with physical health: Thou shalt not smoke. Thou shalt not get fat. Thou shalt fight global warming by taking the bus to work. Indeed, thou shalt vote for public subsidies for mass transit. In secularist doctrine, a fat person isn't merely unhealthy; he is a sinner in need of salvation. To address his situation, one secular gospel preaches the good news of the South Beach Diet, another that of the apostle Atkins.

There is a secular creation account — evolution through random mutation and natural selection, a just-so story increasingly challenged by scientists.
He goes on, amusingly, to note that the secularists even have a flood story in the new movie The Day After Tomorrow.

1:44 PM


Here is another response to last Friday's question, which arrived this morning from Chuck Shores:

In talking to Mormons I like to plant a "seed of doubt" that just might sprout someday and bear fruit. Whenever I see two Mormon missionaries in my vicinity I go out of my way to greet them warmly. Then I say, "You know, every time I see a missionary I think of a certain word."

"What word is that?"



"Yeh . . . when Cortez entered the Aztec capital — what is now Mexico City — he was astonished at the silence of the city. He was expecting the noise of a Madrid or a Seville, noise made by the wheels of carts, wagons and coaches on cobblestone streets. In the Aztec city there was no such noise; there were no wheels! Everything was transported by being dragged on poles. In all of South, Central and North America there was no knowledge of the wheel!

"Now, isn't it interesting that Israelites who traveled across the Atlantic to the western hemisphere following the fall of Samaria in 722 BC ~ men who had used carts, wagons and charriots ~ failed to bring the knowledge of the wheel with them? How strange!

"So, when I see you missionaries I always wonder, 'Why no wheel?' You might want to think about it yourselves . . . ."

At this point the older of the missionaries usually makes some excuse that they have to be going ~ an appointment don't you know.

As they leave, I pray. Perhaps this tiny seed will germanate in one of their minds and hearts!

12:42 PM


Straford Caldecott of the Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture in Oxford is looking for individuals willing to help purchase Tolkein's historic Oxford home for a centre for Christian Imagination.

We have until 18 June to encourage someone to make a serious offer for Tolkien's much-loved Oxford home at 20 Northmoor Road, now on the market for 1.5 million from Carter Jonas.
.He may be contacted at

Stratford Caldecott
6a King Street, Jericho, Oxford OX2 6DF
Tel: 01865-55 21 54

Stratford appends to his appeal the following description of the desired project:


The great underlying theme of The Lord of the Rings is Fellowship. This is the spirit which joins the unlikely coalition of people who together undertake the mission of destroying the Ring. This group - elf, dwarf, wizard, men from differing backgrounds who are not in normal political sympathy with one another, and of course hobbits - are willing to pool their very different resources and experience in order to bring about an end which is of vital importance to the survival of everything that is good in the world.

They pit themselves against the industrial and military might of Isengard and
Mordor, they pit themselves against circumstance, they pit themselves against the weakness in their respective natures. They risk everything in order that the light may return to the land: that the Shire, and all the
places that safeguard the Shire, may be saved.

We are asking you to do something similar. The G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture would like to buy J.R.R. Tolkien's former Oxford house in order to use it as a centre to promote all the values that Professor Tolkien and Chesterton,
along with many other Christian figures, held dear.

For this work to be undertaken, we do need a satisfactory physical location - for the library, for offices, for visiting scholars, for events. We want to create a space where work is undertaken in the spirit of Christian fellowship. We would like to do this in the very house in which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were largely conceived and written.

12:02 PM


A recent editorial in Touchstone drew attention to the Pauline thesis that the authority of the State is a conscientious authority. That is to say, the Christian is obliged to submit to civil authority, “not only because civil authority has the power to exact that submission, but also ‘for the sake of conscience’ (Romans 13:5).”
If this is so, obedience to the authority of the State is not morally neutral, and the resolve to resist that authority is a most serious and potentially perilous decision. Caesar, after all, is called “God’s servant,” and whoever resists Caesar "resists what God has appointed." Those who do so, moreover, "will incur judgment" (13:2,4). Civil obedience is a conscientious responsibility.

On the other hand, because it is conscience itself that obliges Christians to obey the directives of the State, such obedience is never defensible if it involves a violation of conscience. Joined to the principle of civil obedience is the truth that “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This means that because the State’s authority over me is a conscientious authority, I must not obey the State at the price of my conscience. Indeed, I must be prepared to suffer any loss, including my own life, rather than permit the State to usurp such unwarranted authority. I must know the true limits of the civil authority, in order to respect and obey that authority within those limits.

The recognition of those limits is what permits what has come to be called “civil disobedience,” which we may describe as the refusal to obey the civil authority in those instances where to do so would be a violation of conscience. The clearest examples of such disobedience were given by the apostles and martyrs who refused to “obey God rather than men.” Other examples, equally clear I think, may be found closer to our own times. I have in mind those German citizens who died rather than take part in the atrocities of the Nazis. Indeed, back in the days of the Selective Service I had occasion to give pastoral counseling to young men who applied for the status of Conscientious Objector. Those young men knew exactly what they were doing and would have suffered anything rather than violate their consciences.

Such civil disobedience, making so high an appeal to a virtuous conscience, is something very different from simply disobeying the civil authority with a view either to weakening that authority (anarchy) or influencing the policies of that authority (political activism). These latter purposes have nothing to do with the sort of “civil disobedience” for which the Bible gives warrant. Indeed, to employ civil disobedience in these latter ways does violence to the principle of conscience with respect to civil authority.

A rather clear illustration of that violence was given in Federal Court, Omaha Nebraska on June 3 of this year, when Rosalie Riegle, a retired English professor and author, read into the record a statement explaining why she contravened a federal anti-trespassing law. Riegle was being fined $100 for trespassing at Offut Air Base in March of this year. She explicitly defended her illegal action as a form of “civil disobedience,” warranted by her conscientious disapproval of American foreign policy. She went on at some length, and with an eloquence worthy of an English professor, to explain her reasons for that disapproval.

I respectfully submit, however, that Riegle’s contravention of the civil law in this case is not of the sort defensible by biblical standards. She was not being required to take up arms in a cause she found morally reprehensible. She could have refused. She was not being fined for refusing to pay taxes in support of the American wars. She could have refused. The government was not coming after her. She was not being coerced into anything at all. Moreover, in her statement before the Court at the time of her sentencing Riegle made not the faintest claim that the State was coercing her to act against her conscience.

It is good that Reigle did not make such a claim, for it would have been risible. All the State was asking her to do was to refrain from making a long trip from her home in Evanston, Illinois over to Nebraska purely for the purpose of violating a simple trespass law. How seriously did her conscience oblige her to make that trip? Would it have been sinful for her not to make that trip?

In order to qualify as an act of “civil disobedience” which would meet the standards of the Bible, Riegle would have had to show that her failure to make that trip and to commit that trespass would have been a moral failure on her part. She advanced no such argument. All she was doing was what she herself admitted doing —namely, breaking the law in order to make a political statement. Apparently it was worth $100 to her.

In order to put this case into perspective, let us ask ourselves if Riegle would have made that long trip over to Offut Air Base, if the penalty for doing so had been beheading, burning at the stake, or some of the other things occasionally required of those who adopted a much higher, nobler view of civil disobedience. I do not think so.

That Rosalie Riegle’s action at the air base was subjectively “conscientious,” I have no doubt. That she meant what she said in court, I have no doubt. That she is a fine person and a serious Christian, I have no doubt. What is in doubt, at least to me, is whether Riegle would have believed herself guilty of violating her conscience (this is called “sin”) by not making that trip to Nebraska. Would she have felt obliged to go to Confession and say to her priest, “Bless me, Father, I have sinned. I failed to make a trip to Nebraska in order to show my disapproval of American foreign policy”?

It seems not to have occurred to Riegle that deliberate disobedience to a civil law, when it is not strenuously dictated by conscience, is an actual affront to conscience. She described her trespassing as "non-violent."

Respectfully, it was violent.

8:01 AM

Thursday, June 17


A friend recently sent me some thoughts on a possible mid-life vocation change and asked if I might comment. I was reminded while reading them over that devout Christians have a problem in selecting a vocation that most others do not, for they believe it quite possible that their personal preferences in such matters may be overruled by God, whose Son was a man of sorrows, and whose cross we have been told to take up as our own. We really don’t like to talk or think about it: we not only may be called, but are called to lives of cross-bearing. What can this mean but lives of sorrow, self-denial, shame, and deprivation, even if it is “for the joy set before us”? And so we are called, then, are we not, to choose our vocations accordingly, to choose to become instruments of greatest utility and hardest use, whatever our personal desires and inclinations might be?

I don’t that is the way it should be thought of, for left out of consideration here is the critically important matter of “what we were made to be.” I find contemplation of the natural world a great help in this regard. The Creator delights in variety, and with each of his great multitude of creatures goes an intention for its perfection. Each was made to do some things and not others, its particularities governing both ability and limitation. Bears were not made to fly, nor pigs to dance, and apes do not write sonnets. Each has an excellence in accord with both his kind and his singular self. This pleases God, for he has made them thus, and not otherwise.

The same is true of men. Each of us has been made differently, according to our many kinds, qualities of race, sex, mind, and body, and to the combination of them that makes a unique self, according to the mind and will of the Creator. We are never remiss if we seek to perfect what we see ourselves made to be, if we seek within ourselves the Glorious Design.

When I was a child, this intuition helped me (and probably many others) resist the urgings of certain church and retreat speakers to enter what was called “full-time Christian service.” This meant to become a minister or a missionary. For one thing, the ministers and missionaries themselves kept telling us, sometimes with undisguised disgust for the term, that every Christian is in full-time Christian service, which seemed both sensible and biblical. For another, the call to “labor unrewarded,” in short, to live a life of sorrow and deprivation, always bypassed the Christian duty to find delight in the way we were made, and seek to exult in labor bent toward the perfection of our making, as co-laborers with God in our own invention. We were tempted—and I think the temptation was to do great evil—to become, for God’s sake, what God did not intend. Some, to be sure, he gave the gifts to be ministers and missionaries—that is not in question. What one questions here is the goodness and honesty of many appeals claiming the right to form the conscience as concerns our callings.

What happens to the Christian who is seeking to do the will of God in such matters, I believe, is that he works to become what he finds has been placed within him, and that as this grows and matures and bears fruit he has something excellent to offer to the Lord. In offering that excellent thing (in imitation, and indeed, in the person, of Christ) he discovers and takes up his cross—which means he finds his pain and his shame, but also his joy and his glory.

5:36 PM


I have been working on a new magazine project, to be published by the Fellowship of St. James, (the publisher of Touchstone), called Crux. The working subtitle is a journal of science and popular culture; another description line I have been using for it goes: Crux: Where Fact Meets Fiction. It will cover, among other things, the intelligent design movement (which will be featured in the July/August issue of Touchstone). It will also report on “facts” from research (such as featured in the previous blog, “Religious Fathers Win”) that relate to issues of concerns to Christians and cultural conservatives. These include the family, traditional morality, lifestyle issues, Christian claims, and so on. (If you would like more information about Crux, send me an e-mail:

Something that I have also said in talking about the new project is that science has become very much a common language, the language of cultural discourse. What I mean is not that people share math equations with each other, but that all sorts of claims are made on the basis of “research” and “findings,” and that these claims are everywhere: radio, tv, newspapers, and consumer advertising. When a vacuum cleaner is claimed to eliminate 97% of certain allergens known to cause a certain list of allergic reactions, that’s scientific discourse. Every local news program has a health and medical update everyday. That’s all science. Americans have a lot of faith in science and scientists.

Anyway, in support of this claim, I offer the following link
from Popular Science that illustrates how much science is out there--and how much of it is bogus

We asked a writer to notice and decode the science claims he heard on a typical day. They averaged one every 10 minutes. And they weren't very scientific.

by William Speed Weed

6:00 A.M.
I'm not up five minutes, and it looks like I'll get my RDA of science claims at breakfast. Cheerios "can reduce your cholesterol."1 My milk derives from a dairy whose cows "graze freely on lush natural pastures as nature intended."2 My Concord Foods soy shake is "fat-free" and a "good source of fresh fruit."3

Then it's off to the e-mail inbox for some fresh scientific-sounding morning spam: A miracle pill guarantees I will "gain 3+ full inches in length."4 A second promises me "huge breasts overnight."5 A third will make me "look 20 years younger."6 I wonder what I'd look like if I took all three.

In my first waking minutes of October 15, I wrote down 13 scientific claims. Only one, for Cheerios, had any reasonable science behind it. According to the National Science Board's 2002 study "Science and Engineering Indicators," only one-third of Americans can "adequately explain what it means to study something scientifically." Which presumably leaves those who would exploit scientific claims with two suckers born every three minutes. As a nation, we are easy prey to the pseudoscientific, and the National Science Board survey blames education and the media for this.

But how much "science" is the average American fed in a day, and how nutritious is it? I did not actively search through scientific journals, because the average American probably doesn't do that. Rather, I simply noted every claim to scientific veracity thrust upon me through radio, television, the Internet, product packaging, billboards and a light read of the daily paper. By bedtime, I had encountered more than 100 (not all of which are detailed here, you'll be relieved to know; I've included a representative assortment). That's one science claim every 10 minutes, on average.

The majority of the claims came from advertisers. Advertisers probably feed more science to Americans than anyone else, which is not surprising since they are in the business of making claims, and the same NSB study cited above noted that Americans are all ears about science: 90 percent of respondents were moderately or very interested in new scientific discoveries. Companies have a legal obligation to tell the truth (not always obeyed, of course; promising "3+ full inches" would seem to be a heartbreaking lie), but they have a marketing imperative to put the best possible spin on it. …

Very few of the 100 claims I encountered proved completely true. A good number were patently false.

1:02 PM


Something of interest from USA Today, of all places: Do evangelical Protestant fathers really know best?. It begins:

Religious men, especially evangelical Protestants, are more involved and attentive husbands and fathers than men who are not religious, new research shows.

Though they favor a patriarchal family structure, evangelical Protestant men who attend church regularly scored higher on several national surveys that evaluated levels of family involvement and affection than did men from other religious groups and men who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. Surveys included the government's National Survey of Families and Households.

"Evangelical Protestant dads come out on top compared with every religious group in the U.S.," says University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who conducted the study.
See Soft Patriarchs for a press release about Dr. Wilcox's book.

10:29 AM


Greg DeLassus writes in response to yesterday's Sex Doesn't Sell as Well:

"All of which is to say, that whatever else may be said against it, sin doesn't make for really good drama."

That is a great point. An aquaintence recently said something that I thought was really profound: Oddyseus braved the Scylla and Charibdis to get to Penelope, not Circe. I would be hard pressed to think of a story that featured a skirt-chasing hero sailing the seven seas in search of one-night-stands that is on par with the Oddysey .

I am sure that such stories have been written, but they are read for the merely prurient interest, not for the fascinating story. In fact, I just do not think it would be possible to write such a fornication epic and make it as interesting as the Oddysey. Hearth and home are just naturally more compelling than bath-house and brothel.

10:05 AM


A fourth installment of ideas for responding to the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons that appear at your door. See yesterday's Part III, which includes links to the first two.

From Michael Harding:

I was visited by four LDS elders recently and had the pleasure of explaining to them the validity of catholic Christianity for a short while . . . of course, they tried to explain their faith to me as well. They tried to persuade me to hand out some literature and I replied "No offense guys, but anyone I talk to about Christ will hear it from a Trinitarian point of view".

After Mass the following Sunday, I explained what had happened to a fellow parishioner. He told me " You know, you could have saved yourself a lot of time by grabbing your prayer book and turning to the Nicene creed. Tell them, if you're selling this I've already got it and if you're not, I don't want it". Best advice I've ever heard.
From Ralph Grabowski:

Growing up, and even today, it seems the favorite tactic of Christians is to hide, to pretend not to be home when the JWs and Mormons are spotted walking 2-by-2 down the street. That always bothered me, and I sensed it was wrong. More recently, I realized that JWs at the door is a wonderful opportunity: it has become a practice session for me to express my faith in a “safe” environment.

Because JWs lack assurance of salvation, I tend to emphasize that Christians do. With Muslims being more prominent in the news, I comment how sad it is that Muslims lack assurance of salvation, that they can only hope that their good outweighs their bad upon arrival in Paradise — a parallel with the JW theology.

Sometimes, a child accompanies an adult JW. In those cases, I look and talk directly to the child. JWs usually start off with a line similar to, “Aren’t there just awful things going on in the world these days.” Talking to the child, I emphasize that my children attend Christian school, where they don’t need to fear the Awful Things, like bullying, drugs, and so on.

Switching subjects is a common tactic of JWs when they don’t like where you are going with the topic. That’s your cue to return to the subject.
From Ronald Donatelli:

Having family members who are Jehovah Witnesses, I always remember them telling me that people slam the door in their faces or fall to speak with them because people do not want to hear the truth. Keeping this in mind, I always open the door and hear what Witnesses have to say. I then tell them how happy I am to be Catholic and how God is working in my life. I then invite them to knock on my door whenever they like if they have any questions about the Catholic Church. One person did come back and we had a very good discussion about the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

I don't engage the Witnesses with the goal to convert them as that is beyond my ability. However, I do think it important to let them know that, as a Catholic, I am happy and have answers to their objections if they are interested in listening.
And from David Hibbs:

I have had encounters with JW's in the past and once invited them to my home so that I could convert them! I thought myself the big Bible student and was ready to cross swords. Sadly, they minced me up! When I went to cry on the shoulder of a pastor I knew he gave me some good advice. 'Don't try and fight JW's with proof text's — just simply tell them what happened to you and what changed you — they have no answer to that!' If Jesus is not God then there is no remedy for your condition.

As for Mormon's — I have worked with them and had many interesting conversations. The best time to talk to young male Mormons is immediately after they have returned from their missionary year — they have just found out that the world is not so sunny after all and they can be very week and full of questions at this time.

Our local Mormons often appear at our Bruderhof Open Days! They are fairly easy to spot though!

9:57 AM

Wednesday, June 16


A couple of things you might want to know about from the latest issue of the journal The Public Interest:

The liberal case against gay marriage by Susan Shell; and

The economics of obesity by Inas Rashad & Michael Grossman.

And from the previous issue:

The Soul of a Nation by Wilfred McClay (a contributing editor of Touchstone, I'm pleased to say);

The Fire Next Time by Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard; and

The Unraveling of Christianity in America by Clifford Owin.

4:22 PM


A friend just pointed me to three Mars Hill Audio interviews with our contributing editor Wilfred McClay. I haven't heard them, but I have heard them and would recommend them without hearing them.

4:20 PM


Sorry for the pun. I can so rarely think of one I had to use it. Touchstone's former designer Sam Torode and his wife Bethany have some news of their publications. First, they are

we're offering a "scratch & dent" sale on Open Embrace. These are copies that were returned from bookstores, and so the covers are scuffed & bent. They're on sale for $3 each. Visit for details. Payment on these can be made by check or via Paypal to
Open Embrace is the book, written when they were newly married Evangelicals in their early twenties, arguing against contraception and for the ancient vision of marital fruitfulness. It's very good.

Second, they have also announced the publication of two more books:

Purity of Heart, the second book in our Theology of the Body in Simple Language series, is now available for sale. We only have 6 copies remaining of our advance copies, but the full shipment will arrive from the printer in about two weeks.

I Will Follow, Bethany's young adult novel, has just been re-released with a completely new design and a group study guide added.

4:12 PM


Robert Hart sends a link to "Gender" games from the Washington Times culture briefs. He writes that it "is from an Australian publication Quadrant that, apparently, posts its articles two months after they are published."

The writer, Keith Windshuttle, makes a point you will have read in Touchstone and on this blogsite, if I may point this out:

"The activists saw that if sex was redefined as gender, it too became arbitrary and changeable. Hence, masculinity, femininity and homosexuality were transformed from the realm of biological necessity to that of custom."

4:06 PM


Some more responses to my question about witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. See Part I and Part II.

First, from Gintas Jazbutis:

Having once been in an authoritarian system myself (International Church of Christ, and got booted out, too! Too many questions), I suspect that these folks are trained and ready for many of the stock counter-arguments, and they’re battle-hardened. They have a plan: get you to sit down and talk and study on their terms, on their track.

It’s daunting to try to convert them on the spot. I think it’s better to throw a seed in there that might not have been thrown there before, that might hit a soft spot. Any kind of direct attack (but I know Touchstone readers aren’t that sort at all) is likely to hit a rock-hard spot.

I try to throw a curveball question, to see if it leads to an honest conversation. For me it might be, “I used to be in an authoritarian system, and I did a lot of what you are doing now, and I had the attitude that there were no other saved folks outside my church. Do you believe that?” and its corollary, “do I _have_ to be in your church to go to heaven?” or “what will it take to convince you I’m going to heaven?” or “Do you ever have any quiet doubts, reservations, nagging questions? That got me kicked out of a church once. Do you ever fear that?” Or “Can you tell me three things you’d like to see changed in your church?”

If it’s a Mormon, ask, “The JWs think you guys are toast, what do you think of that?” and if it’s a JW ask, “The Mormons think you’re toast . . .”. When I get these odd looks, as if to say, “are you cracked?” I know they’ve never heard these before. It could lead to a conversation, or some thinking.
From Robert Hart:

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?

I would like to offer my perspective on this, which is pastoral and practical. It is certainly right to engage cultists in a debate, with the goal of bringing them out of darkness into light. But, is it wise for each and every Christian to do so? I would say that the first requirement for a Christian is a strong foundation, a good understanding of what we believe and why we believe it.

To know the Scriptures in light of the Tradition by which they are understood with Right Reason (to briefly draw from Thomas Hooker — a sort of father of Anglicanism), to know that the scriptures belong to the Church and were recognized only within the context of the Church and then to know the content of scripture itself, seems like a basic requirement. If you do not have this armor on, and the sword of the Spirit in your hands, you should say goodbye, and close the door. If you do have this armor and sword, you may save a soul.

Also, the scriptures teach that false doctrine is spiritual, that is demonic. St. Paul speaks of “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” when writing to Timothy. St John, in his first Epistle, speaks of “the spirit of antichrist” and “the spirit of error.” From practical experience, I can say that it is not possible to argue with Jehovah’s Witnesses effectively unless you bear in mind that it is a spiritual battle.

Their impatience with every word that comes from your mouth, and eagerness to talk over top of you, is demonic. It is a characteristic trait in them, even when they are, otherwise, refined and polite individuals. And Mormons suddenly seem to become deaf as soon as you get to the most important point. Therefore, this another reason for living a life that includes “prayer and fasting” as regular exercises.

Finally, though it is more important to know your own faith then to know details of every heresy, just as bank tellers and secret service agents are trained to recognize counterfeit money by studying real money rather than by studying the fakes, it is helpful to know a bit about the people you are talking to. For this reason I am providing a link to a website based upon the work of the late Walter Martin, a man who was an Episcopalian of the classic Evangelical school (in other words, not the same school as I am from; but his work is excellent, and I believe without equal anywhere).
From Trudy Ellmore:

On occasion I've carried on a conversation with those gentlemen and gentlewomen who have knocked on my door. But as soon as I tell them I am a Christian and am happily involved in my church, they beat pretty fast feet off the stoop. Though there has also been the time where we've shared how "God" is working in our lives, and that conversation lasted only a brief moment or two as well.

I do have one friend who invited two young ladies who were Jehovah Witnesses into their home to hear what they had to say and to share the Gospel with them, pointing out errors in their thoughts along the way. Interestingly enough one of the girls came back for several weeks, on her own, to continue the dialogue. She presented what she had been taught and my friend countered with what the Gospel and Church had to say. It lasted for 4 weeks or more, then she just never showed up again.

I cannot help but pray that whatever seeds may have been planted in those conversations, would blossom into something beautiful to harvest sometime in the future. Glory to God for my friend's patience and Biblical knowledge. I don't have enough of that type of knowledge to go point on point with someone who is JW or Mormon. I could share God's love and what He has done in my life. Perhaps that would be enough. One could only hope.
And from Rich Moselle:

Here are some ideas I can share when the doorbell rings and you are greeted by the JW's - this has happened to me many times. It is important to remember the following:

They are in need of salvation as much as any non-believer, and it is our Christian duty to witness to them. They are nice, decent folk doing their "service" hours in largely unfriendly territory - few Christians have the dedication to do this.

They are generally not well educated as the Watchtower Society does not encourage higher education or private study outside of their own study materials. Most have a very rudimentary knowledge of scripture and are poor at exegesis. Most of their learning comes not from scripture but from "book studies", i.e. The Watchtower, Awake.

Attacking their incorrect beliefs, their bibles or leaders or their erroneous prophecies is unproductive. This is not just their religion, it is their whole social/support system. They dedicate 2 to 4 days a week to the "Truth" and associate with few people outside "the Truth". (this is their in-house term.

Here is what I have done:

When you open the door, they will ask if you read, study or believe in the Bible. I answer yes and invite them to a Bible study and try to set a date. Trying to engage in a discussion on the spot usually results in the senior member of the team recommending a polite but hasty retreat. They will, however, accept an invitation for a study for which I set the rules.

I suggest that we each choose 2 or 3 passages of scripture and limit our study to these. I do this because they are trained to jump all around scripture extracting sentences to try and prove what they believe: Jehovah is God and Jesus is a created being.

I use the NIV and they the New World Translation. They also carry in their briefcases the New King James so I suggest we have that out also. This is important since one of the passages I always choose is Revelation 21:6 and the NKJ will confound them here. (those darn red letters!)

Most of the time their shallow knowledge of the text becomes obvious and makes them uncomfortable. I remember that they are in my home and are dedicated, pleasant people and try to explain the Christian message in a kind way, free of impatience and condescension.

Chances are they will not return, and your house will be avoided in the future. They are interested in reaching those who know little or nothing of the Bible for recruitment to the Watchtower Society. Though a meeting with them is not likely to produce immediate results, it is important that we plant the seeds of proper Christian belief and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. (Whom by the way is a what for the JW as in an electrical charge!)

Most important is to share the deity of Christ through the simplicity of the Gospel. And tell them you will pray for them — and do it.

Never had a study with Mormons, but looking forward to it. If you have any other questions about JWs ask me as I know many of them fairly well. Feel free to refer your reader to me.
I'm grateful to all of you who responded. I have a few more responses to post and would be grateful for more, if you think something else needs to be said.

9:27 AM


Daniel Crandall responds to RNCC Fund-raising:

I've been getting several of these fundraising letters from Republican sources. One was inviting me to an exclusive dinner in Washington DC because of my 'unfailing support' for the Republican cause (I never actually given any money to any political party, BTW), where I would be honored as part of an specially selected group. Of course, a seat at a table was a mere $2,500.00, or $25,000.00 for a table of 10. I guess if you can afford to drop $2,500.00 for a dinner that alone makes you part of a specially selected group.

What I find terribly funny about these solicitations is that they have reversed my given & surname. It's bad enough that they are trying to tempt me to indulge in the sin of pride, but is it too much to ask that they at least get my name right?
This reminds me: I once got one of these letters addressed to Mr. Touchstone. But the writer claimed to know the extraordinary service Mr. Touchstone had given whatever cause he was promoting. These people are shameless.

9:23 AM


A Canadian reader responds to the next item (the last posted yesterday):

Funny that you should run the "sex doesn't sell" item just as I was about to respond on the topic of men's and women's magazines. I did a little websearch on magazine circulation and found what looks like good data on what sells best in the U.S.:

What interested me is what the top selling magazines oriented specifically to either men or women are: Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman's Day, and Ladies' Home Journal. The sex-soaked chick magazines like Cosmopolitan are way, way down the list. For men, Playboy tops the list but it is far below all of these domestically focused women's magazines, reaching about 3 million men (maybe 2% of the adult male population). Those top six women's magazines I named combine for almost 30 million.

I suppose this surprised me because my awareness of women's magazines is driven by occasional glimpses of their covers in grocery store checkout lines, where my male eyes (not yet gouged out) are routinely caught by a certain type of magazine more than others. But the data show that what really sells to women is, (please don't tell the feminists), domesticity! Astounding.

Not to say those magazine are good or healthy — I wouldn't know — but I'm pretty sure they don't reflect "Sex and the City" priorities.

9:18 AM


Two articles you may find of interest:

It’s Morning After in America by Kay S. Hymnowitz from The City Journal. It begins:

SEX DOESN'T SELL: MISS PRIM IS IN. No, editors at the New York Times “Sunday Styles” section were not off their meds when they came up with that headline recently. Just think about some of the Oscar nominees this year: there was Seabiscuit, a classic inspirational story of steadfast outsiders beating huge odds to win the race; Return of the King: Lord of the Rings, a mythic battle of good defeating evil, featuring female characters as pure as driven snow; Master and Commander, a nineteenth-century naval epic celebrating courage, discipline, and patriarchal authority. And then there was Lost in Translation, in which a man in the throes of a midlife crisis spends hours in a hotel room with a luscious young woman, and . . . they talk a lot.

If you listen carefully, you can hear something shifting deep beneath the manic surface of American culture. Rap stars have taken to wearing designer suits. Miranda Hobbs, Sex and the City’s redhead, has abandoned hooking up and a Manhattan co-op for a husband and a Brooklyn fixer-upper, where she helps tend her baby and ailing mother-in-law; even nympho Samantha has found a “meaningful relationship.” Madonna is writing children’s books. Gloria Steinem is an old married lady.
And from today's New York Times, David Brooks' analysis of America's competing elites, Bitter at the Top.

Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates — from Clinton to Kerry — often run late.

Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.

Republican administrations tend to be tightly organized and calm, in a corporate sort of way, and place a higher value on loyalty and formality. George Bush says he doesn't read the papers. That's a direct assault on the knowledge class and something no Democrat would say.

12:33 AM


A reader writes in response to Monday's Magazines to make you feel frazzled:

It is not just women's magazines who "frazzle." Have you read a recent issue of Men's Health? Naturally the front cover sports some stud who has abs to die for and a face to match. The lead stories are titled: "125 ways to shrink your gut!" to "Sex Secrets from the girl next door" to "245 cool health, sex, fitness & nutrition tips."

Furthermore, many photos include stunningly gorgeous women draped over just as attractive men. Or the interior dash and cockpit of some dreamy car that the sexy guy no doubt owns and the sexy woman no doubt wants to be in with him!

Where oh where is reality, I ask you! We're supposed to look good, smell good, drive good, be good in every room of the house and earn enough to do all of the former. I can state with some assurance, this is not my life, nor that of most of my friends and neighbors. We've such a Disneyland picture painted for us by these types of magazines, TV programs, and commercials (and even in some of our sermons across America) it's a no-wonder there are so many divorces.

Can anyone point me to the family Dad that looks like ANY of these guys? And the life that is painted in one of these magazines? Hardly. Puhleeze!!!!

Signed, the average looking (and happy to be so . . . finally!), Mrs. X.
I'm sure she's right about the men's magazines, but I never see them. As a matter of principle, I only get such magazines when I won't be paying the publisher, which means mostly on the library sale table which, for some reason, often carries the women's magazines but never the men's.

Someday when I have time (ha!) I'm going to write a study of the rhetoric of these magazines. I don't look at them very often, but I've noticed certain repeated themes the editors must like because they know (consciously or unconsciously) that they are saying what their readers want to hear. The good girl who's not so good after all — the Suzy Cupcake You Never Knew! — is a favorite, as is the famous talented girl who's really a homebody at heart, though being a homebody doesn't preclude having a string of live-in boyfriends.

What will not surprise you is that the good girl who's not so good after all theme only means that she has a diversified sex life. I don't mean to make light of fornication, but it's not really exciting. It's bad, but it's not baaaaad, if you see what I mean. Little Suzy Cupcake's sleeping around doesn't provide the drama the headlines promise. I mean, it's not hard for a beautiful girl to find men to sleep with her.

All of which is to say, that whatever else may be said against it, sin doesn't make for really good drama.

12:19 AM

Tuesday, June 15


Denes House writes with a correction to the reader's comments posted in this morning's The Miracle Man but with an equally enthusiastic view of the movie:

I agree that The Miracle Maker is probably the best Jesus film out there — I haven't decided yet if the Passion has superseded it artistically. But it is not claymation. It is stop-motion puppet animation, using an ancient Russian puppetry technique. Each facial expression, each mouth position for each character was individually carved, and painstakingly fitted.

It is a marvel of animation technique, as well as a compelling film. My two-year old has only seen the Resurrection scenes so far, but will soon see the whole thing. It's an amazing piece of work.

2:47 PM


Two more responses to Friday's question about responding to Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, in addition to this morning's Witnessing to the Witnesses, and the Mormons. I'll be posting more tomorrow. Please write — using the link at the top of the column to the left — if you have something to add that hasn't yet been said.

The first response comes from Bruce Gerencser:

We are to give an answer of the hope that lies within us. Every breathing human being is a prospect for heaven and should be treated as such. Oft times we have to go “looking” for someone to talk to concerning spiritual matters. The cultist at the door comes ready to talk about spiritual matters.

Most of the time they come to our door in pairs. Usually an experienced cultist is paired with a new convert. I try to focus on the new convert in hopes of rattling their assurance concerning their new found religious faith. Oft times doubt leads to a closer examination of a supposed belief.

I know it did for me when I began to doubt some of the doctrines I was taught in the Baptist Church. Growing up in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church we were force fed dispensational theology from an early age. As a young pastor, I began to doubt and question the validity of such teachings. and I began to look again at the Scriptures. So it is with the cultist. They must be lead back to the truth of the Scripture. Shutting the door in their face is not the answer.

The reason many good Christians shut the door so quickly on cultists is that they have little understanding of Christian doctrine and usually can not successfully defend it against the cultist. We live in a day of ignorance concerning the truth and that is why cults proliferate. Until we start preaching and teaching doctrine again, instead of pep rally sermonettes, I suspect many Church members will remain ignorant.
The second comes from frequent correspondent David Gustafson (see his Leaving the Lord's Name in Vain and other recent items:

The reader asks, “Certainly, they wouldn’t mind listening to me if I gave them the opportunity to ‘witness’ to me (right?).” Right, sort of. I am quite familiar with Mormonism and with the routines and training of Mormon missionaries.

Remember what you’re dealing with: They are very young people (20-ish), very pumped up about their religion, and they have been trained to be good salesmen. Of course, that sometimes means listening patiently, so they will indeed be polite. However, they have also been trained with set answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions and set responses to the most Frequently Stated Objections, so unless you are very knowledgeable about Mormonism or happen upon an objection that they’ve never heard of before, you will likely just be pushing a button that will prompt the playing of an only-too-ready loop on your subject.

In addition, if you actually have in mind the conversion of your visitor, you are overwhelmingly likely to be disappointed. Remember the times when you have shared the faith and met opposition? Didn’t the opposition only increase your faith? Their reaction is likely to be the same.

It is especially unfortunate and ineffective when, in these contexts, anti-Mormons bring up issues that are calculated to embarrass Mormons (polygamy, sacred undergarments, Joseph Smith’s checkered reputation). Such issues have their place, but (in my opinion) not when the people talking are strangers to each other. Imagine how you would feel if you were sharing the Gospel, and a scoffer impugned the character of Jesus. These anti-Mormon arguments are just as hurtful and offensive to Mormons.

Nonetheless, you might, in my opinion, have a worthwhile conversation if you educate yourself on an issue of real importance (say, the one-ness of God, or the Trinity, or the eternal existence of Jesus as God the Son) about which (a) the doctrine of the Mormon church is in error, but (b) the Book of Mormon itself is surprisingly orthodox, and can be cited to give impressive support to the orthodox doctrine.

You will not halt the missionary in his tracks, but you may plant a seed in his mind and heart that will eventually draw him to the truth, and may even dull somewhat his enthusiasm for his current task.

2:40 PM


The proponents of embryonic cell research are using the death of President Ronald Reagan “from Alzheimer’s disease” at age 93 to argue publicly for government permission for this research. The Howard Center has posted some additional material and links on this issue today.

Last night I heard a local TV news report on the controversy and here’s the lie: Not once did I hear them say research “using stem cells harvested from embryos.” They only said “stem cells” and “stem cell research.” They said that the President has banned “stem cell research.” This is a bald-faced lie. He has done no such thing.

The administration has banned further research on additional lines of embryonic stem cells, period. (There are some already in existence—continued research has been permitted on them—that is another issue.) There are stem cells harvested from human embryos and then there are those harvested from other sources: umbilical cords, adult tissue, and so on. The latter do not require the destruction of a human life; the former do.

Why is such a simple distinction so difficult to make? Simply because the media lines up on the wrong side of the pro-life debate. Perhaps there are some who even realize that their insistence on the non-humanity of the “fetus” or the “embryo” is being squeezed from both above and below. What I mean is this: if embryos cannot be killed because it is immoral to do so, and if a nearly-born baby cannot be killed (in “partial birth abortion”) for the same reason, what might this imply about the status of the fetus in between the first phase and last phase of their pre-birth existence?

Anyway, I called my local station and complained that they misrepresented the President’s ban on embryonic stem cell research as a ban on any stem cell research. Which is just plain false and misleading and we need to speak up and correct falsehoods with facts.

Why is it that I sometimes get an inkling that some would admit that in both abortion and embryonic stem cell research we are in fact sacrificing lives, but that the good to be achieved outweighs the evil? For many it may be painful to look too closely at what a partial birth abortion really is, and distateful to contemplate the slippery slope of “harvesting” and destroying" what infertile couples would give much money to conceive. But they think we need to do these things anyway.

There are lies we are capable of accepting, and one of them is that we must do such killing for the improved order and health of society. This is what it comes to. Many of us scratch our heads at ancient child sacrifice. How could parents do this? How could any one allow this? I doubt that the parents of children sacrificed didn’t feel great pain and loss. But they also must have felt an overwhelming pressure to hand the child over for the sake of the much greater good: the prospering of their society, the health of their crops, and so on.

Are we so different from the worshippers of Moloch? They had to do what they had to do. They believed a falsehood, swallowed hard when their kids went into the flames (who wouldn’t?), and hoped it would all come out in the end.

Those who are “personally opposed” to abortion are thereby swallowing hard--and then they give their permission for the flame of prosperity to consume the newly-conceived, the living.

But this demanding flame of prosperity and wealth is one of the powers overthrown by Christ on the Cross; it’s a principality whose demanding voice should no longer be heard or placated. It’s hard to watch a nation that has gone back to Baal and to Moloch ignore truth and embrace more of such enslaving lies.

10:44 AM


A reader, Maclin Horton, responded to yesterday's RNCC Fund-raising with a link to an article he wrote on the same subject: A Wind of Lies.

He wrote in his message, "I often feel like a crank in objecting to the swarm of lies with which advertising of all kinds surrounds us." I know the feeling and I know the dumb-founding feeling when believing Christians blow off the problem as "only advertising" or otherwise justify deceit.

I suspect it is a sign of how deeply corrupting a commercial culture is that even Christians find their moral senses so dulled. The same people wouldn't justify adultery with the line "It's only interpersonal relations" or "It's just for fun" or "It's only exercise."

10:30 AM


A useful list for the multi-lingual among you: The Major Italian and Foreign News Organs from L'Espresso.

10:24 AM


On Friday afternoon I posted a request from a reader who wanted to know how to respond to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who came to his door. The request got a lot of responses and I’ll be posted a selection. (There was some overlap, as you’d guess.)

I’m grateful to the readers who wrote in for taking the time to do so. Here are the first few responses. I’ll post some more this afternoon, when I can take a break from reading the page galleys of the July/August issue.

From Rev. Steve Harrison:

I say that unless God overtly prompts, the answer is no, do not engage them in conversation. It would be tantamount to “casting pearls before swine.” The potential convert has to be teachable. In this context about all that could happen is a war of brains.

Conversion requires a certain openness; at least the thought or feeling “I may not have what I need.” I imagine that anyone going door to door to evangelize is pretty pumped up on their cult’s world view and all of its props.

Conversion can and does occur through logic, but usually only when the convert is driving the research — not when someone else is. When conversion occurs in relationship, it is always in a safe, loving, one, where the convert feels no need to protect or defend himself.

Additionally there is the issue of the other cult member. Almost always these cults go about in twos; ensuring not only social pressure, but also who will get the last word in any debate that occurs. It is exceedingly easy to win an argument after they have left the Christian’s home . . . kind.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.
From Andrew P. McLaughlin:

In response to the post from today I offer two stories which won’t answer the question, but may add to the debate:

The first is from a friend of mine in a Catholic Seminary. He met two nice young men who happened to be Mormon missionaries. On learning he was studying for the Priesthood they automatically assumed he wouldn’t speak with them. He did, on the condition that he be able to send them materials on the Catholic Church. He took their address and a book of Mormon, he read the book and said “nice stories . . . pretty pictures, but I don’t buy it” then proceeded to send them materials on how to convert to Catholicism.

The second is about my wonderful old grandmother who actually died 23 years ago yesterday (so it’s nice to be reminded of her). Whenever the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to her door, she would invite them in and make them tea and tell them all about being Catholic. She used to say that just as they believed it their duty to witness as a Jehovah’s Witness, it was her duty to Witness as a Catholic. I don’t know if my friend converted any Mormons or if my Grandmother ever converted any Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I do know whenever I think of these stories it converts me just a little bit more.
From Katherine Hegyi:

I keep a printed copy of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in a drawer near the front door. If missionaries ring, I can hand it to them saying, “This is what the Bible means, according to the people who wrote the New Testament, inspired by the Holy Spirit. If your faith isn’t this faith, then you’ve misunderstood the Bible.”
From Jennifer Kee:

Actually it’s pretty clear in the Bible what we are to do:

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John 9-11)
From Roger Wm. Bennett:

I grew up in a conservative evangelical family, absorbing the view that we were obliged to leave cult missionaries outdoors and not to bid them well upon their departure (II John 1:10), but that we were generally obliged to witness to them (e.g., I Peter 3:15). I continued that approach as a convinced Calvinist later in life.

Seven years ago, I became Orthodox. I am now skeptical about those awkward alfresco arguments, which mirrored and were roughly as productive as the fervent exchanges of canon-within-a-canon proof-texts between Calvinists and Arminians – or any other competing Protestant groups, for that matter.

Some Mormon missionaries showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago, for the first time I can recall in those seven Orthodox years. Reflexively, I left them on the porch (dinner also was imminent). I truthfully assured them that I once tried to read the Book of Mormon, but gagged on the faux King James. They quickly changed the subject to the importance of restoring lost apostolic authority on earth. I acknowledged the importance of apostolic authority, but assured them that in the Orthodox Church it had never been lost in 2000 years.

They were, it seemed, dumbfounded. They retreated. I don’t recall ever leaving JWs or Mormons speechless before, even when (unlike the incident I recount) I had heavily prepared for the argument.

Dare I dream that it’s the authority of “one holy catholic and apostolic church” instead of “my opinion versus yours” that produced this result? Have any Latin Catholics seen a similar response?

10:22 AM


Some itemsof interest from the Ethics and Public Policy Center:

Understanding American Evangelicals, described on the EPPC’s website as “ a survey of the history and beliefs of American evangelicals, from noted historian Mark Noll of Wheaton College. Taking part in the ensuing discussion are journalists David Brooks, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Barone, Elisabeth Bumiller, Jay Tolson, and others.”

Stem Cells and the Senate , described as “Dozens of U.S. Senators have signed a letter to President Bush, demanding that he change the policy in place since 2001 regulating the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. EPPC scholar and New Atlantis editor Eric Cohen explains how the advocates of such research have been distorting the facts, and why the key questions are fundamentally ethical.”

The Scientist and the Poet , described in this way: “Science and poetry have often been rival ways of making sense of the world — speaking different languages, seeking different truths. But the story is in fact much more complex. In this article from EPPC’s journal The New Atlantis, Paul A. Cantor explores what poetry can teach us about modern science — by guiding and illuminating our mastery of nature.

Obligations to “Spin”, in which “Richard Clarke, Howell Raines, Jayson Blair — all are the heroes of their own self-manufactured dramas to which they imagine we all ought to pay attention. In this essay from The New Criterion, EPPC resident scholar James Bowman looks at truth and spin in the modern media landscape.”

The Free and Virtuous Society . “On May 19, EPPC senior fellow George Weigel delivered the fourth annual Tyburn Lecture at Tyburn Convent, London. Weigel’s comments, on the subject of Catholic social doctrine in the twenty-first century, can be found here.”

10:20 AM


In response to the string on Veggie Tales and Christian entertainment, a reader just sent in a response, in which he recommends a movie called The Miracle Maker. He writes:

I would like to suggest it as well done both artistically and theologically. It is claymation done so well that one forgets it is claymation (the only movie in my experience to actually do this).

What is most impressive, however, is the depth of the movie. While my daughter, who is four, forgot fairly quickly that “God is bigger than the boogie man,” she still prays to God every night, “thank you for Jesus for dying on the cross for me” after seeing the movie (she has seen it over and over again — which doesn’t bother me, because its depth for all ages far exceeds the simple, often vacuous messages of Veggie Tales and its kind).

The movie expresses the profundity not only of the crucifixion but also the power and meaning of the teachings and life of Jesus, as well as (most importantly) the vindication and hope found in the resurrection of Jesus. All in all, I think it’s probably the best “Jesus” movie ever made, and deserves a larger Christian audience than it currently has. Pick it up and interact with it sometime, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

10:19 AM

Monday, June 14


"Leaving Out the Lord's Name in Vain" would have made a clearer allusion but a clumsier title. Anyway, David Gustafson sends another reflection on the nature of the Christian’s public witness, following the string begun in "Praying in Public." See this entry for the last entry in the string and links to the earlier ones, which include his two. He is reflecting on President Reagan’s funeral.

The full text of the remarks of Thatcher, Mulroney, Bush (41), Bush (43), and Danforth at Ronald Reagan’s funeral at Washington’s “National” (Episcopal) Cathedral is all available on-line. Here is what my review of those remarks shows about their explicit references to Jesus:

At the funeral, none of the speakers used the word “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Christian”, or “Gospel” (other than a reference in the homily to “St. John’s gospel”). Rev. Danforth did, thank God, affirm in his homily that “the Resurrection means that death is not the end” and that “the Lord is risen”, necessarily referring to Jesus, though not by name; but it does seem very artful that he managed references to Good Friday and Easter without any more of a reference to the Person at the center of those events.

The Bushes also used the word “Lord”, though in a less distinctively Christian way. The younger Bush referred to the fact that Reagan “waited on the Lord to call him home”, and the older Bush quoted Psalm 37.

Margaret Thatcher, quoting Reagan himself, only referred to faith in “the Big Fella Upstairs”. (This unfortunate phrase made me realize that although I have despised the more common variant — “the Man Upstairs” — at least the latter arguably implies an affirmation of the humanity of Christ, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. “Big Fella” lacks that and aggravates the irreverence.)

If the person of Jesus Christ is not featured, then the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not proclaimed. We can be grateful for the Episcopal liturgy, which is probably responsible for saving the Reagan funeral from Unitarianism. The Gospel was proclaimed at Ronald Reagan’s funeral thanks to Thomas Cranmer, and no thanks to the living participants.

One could disagree with my criticism, arguing that the Christian Scriptures, liturgy, and hymns used at the funeral said enough, and that the other remarks need not repeat what those materials said. However, if the distinctively Christian aspects of the faith are relegated to the liturgy, and never make their way into the immediate, deliberate, personal affirmations of the participants, then the liturgy risks becoming the boilerplate, the stuff that the rules require us to include — like the side-effects disclaimers in ads for medicine — but which doesn’t really pertain to what we’re really thinking and doing today.

Although the four lay eulogists did volunteer to talk about religious things, they could say that they were not there to preach sermons or “proclaim the Gospel”, but to talk about the deceased person; and it’s probably true that the assumption that the liturgy says enough is more justifiable for them than it is for the homilist.

As for the homily, however, Rev. Danforth noted that a funeral “is not only about a person, but about faith. And the homily is the place to connect the two.” Well said. And if “faith” means the Christian faith, then Rev. Danforth’s homily was deficient in doing so. The deceased was featured; the Christian faith was muted.

One does not at all get the impression that the Rev. Danforth lacks Christian faith and would prefer to be silent about it, nor that he is impercipient and does not realize his omissions and the impressions they give. Rather, it seems much more likely that he’s working very deliberately to import as much Christianity as he dares into what he sees as a context — public, pluralistic, essentially secular — where proclamation of Jesus as the only Savior would be an embarrassment, if not to the speaker then to the sophisticated audience.

No matter that this is the funeral of a professing Christian, officiated by an ordained Christian minister and taking place in a supposedly Christian cathedral; it is a civic event that should include all and offend none. If that really is the context, and if those really are the rules, then no Christian minister should participate.

Rev. Danforth began his sermon “in the name of one God, who created us, who redeemed us, who comforts us.” Christians recognize in this a veiled reference to the Trinity — i.e., to the Father as Creator, the Son as redeemer, and the Spirit as Comforter. To the insiders already in the know, the Christian doctrine is thereby affirmed, but to non-Christians the distinctive is veiled. That is to say, “if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are lost” (2 Cor. 4:3).

(The graveside service was different. The remarks of Reagan’s children — Michael, Patti, and Ron — are also all available on-line (but not the graveside remarks of the family’s Presbyterian Pastor Michael Wenning). Michael Reagan was unabashedly Christian. Michael said that his father gave him “the gift that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He . . . told me about his love of God, his love of Christ as his Savior.” Ron and Patti’s spiritual remarks could probably be given a Christian interpretation, but for all I know their remarks would be just as palatable to pantheists.

For most of us, it is very difficult to talk with unbelievers about Jesus Christ, and admittedly one of the greatest challenges is to balance our rightful desire not to give offense or speak out of turn with our obligation to speak the Truth. I realize we have to be forgiving when we think someone has made a miscalculation or a misjudgment about what to say at a given moment. We will all make mistaken calculations in attempting to accomplish our goals and be faithful to our principles — but we should be quite clear about what our goals and principles are.

The dominical and apostolic warnings against denying Jesus are emphatic. (See Matt. 10:33; Luke 9:26, 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 John 2:23.) When it comes to religion, we do “not . . . know anything . . . except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2.) We have “no other name under heaven” to proclaim, other than Jesus. (Acts 4:12.) Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father, but by” Him. (John 14:6.)

When we are asked to affirm religion but leave Jesus out, we must decline.
He asked if I thought he was denigrating the power of the liturgy in this, and I wrote that he is not denigrating the liturgy at all. By saying that the preacher ought to preach — even when the preacher is one of several eulogists — he is simply recognizing the way the Christian liturgy works, i.e., that the words of the rite are emphasized and applied in the sermon and, conversely, that the words of the rite are undermined when not emphasized and applied in the sermon.

I think the latter may be the more important of the two, at least in public events like a former president's funeral. By speaking a different language than the liturgy speaks — by speaking a pluralist language when the liturgy speaks a Christian one — the speaker implies that liturgy's language is a form of poetry or "spirituality," a way of conveying certain feelings or thoughts without cognitive content. Not to say "Jesus" when "Jesus" should be said is to say that "Jesus" is not an important word to say.

This is the reality of language and no amount of excuses that one is speaking in a pluralist context will excuse the Christian who does not say his Lord's name in the way it should be said. Especially, for heaven's sake, when that pluralist context is a Christian funeral.

6:30 PM


I’ve written on this book before, but here from an English newspaper is a useful short expose of a publishing secret: It pays to insist that women are ‘frazzled, frumpy, fearful or failing’ by Jemima Lewis, writing in The Daily Telegraph on Myrna Blyth’s book Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America. (The site requires registration.)

The editors of such magazines,

many of whom came of age in the 1970s, cling to the outdated, hyperbolic feminism of that age (there’s a brute lurking in every man, and a victim in every woman). They combine this with a distinctly unfeminist obsession with surface beauty — and with a hard-nosed, capitalist greed. It pays to insist that women are “perpetually frazzled, frumpy, fearful or failing”, says Blyth, because it makes them feel they need guidance from magazines — thereby keeping the industry alive. Just as important, it satisfies the advertisers, whose cellulite creams, vitamin supplements and exercise videos also promise a path to a better life.

The infuriating thing, as Blyth points out, is that Western women are the healthiest, wealthiest and most liberated generation in history. The fact that we are not the happiest is at least partly the fault of magazine culture, which encourages us to fixate on our failings while raising the bar of our aspirations. It is not enough to achieve the holy trinity of career, husband and baby: you also need cellulite-free thighs and perfect inner calm.

It is a sad irony that pre-feminist women’s magazines were, in many ways, more serious and sensible organs. They were concerned with household budgets and child-rearing, not botox and astro-sex horoscopes. They ran interviews with female novelists and diplomats’ wives — clever women with interesting lives — instead of vapid models and soap actresses. Marilyn Monroe never got on the cover of a women’s magazine. If only one could say the same for Posh Spice.

Men may find it hard to believe that glossy magazines could be so influential, but they are. Their reach is huge compared to current affairs magazines or even newspapers. There are hundreds of them in Britain, of which the top five alone command a combined readership of 5.21 million. And almost all of these, from teen magazines to those aimed at middle-aged housewives, feature the same exhausting refrain: if your life is not perfect, you’d better do something about it. How much happier — and richer — we would be if we ignored the sirens of stress, and settled for intelligent imperfection.
I'd written a little about this, quoting another article on the book, in Victimizing Magazines. Another article What is Playboy? addressed a similar subject. See teh follow-up More on Playboy as well.

12:13 PM


This is quite funny, I think: Recognition, At Last by Bill Luse. Bill wrote "The End of Sex as We Know It" (not available online) in the January/February issue.

He is responding, in faux naïve fashion, to a letter from Tom Reynolds of the Republican National Congressional Committee, which awarded him its Congressional Order of Merit. Which, as you have probably guessed, is purely a fund-raising device.

Bill’s is probably the best response to this sort of thing, though someone should call these people to account. We can assume that Mr. Reynolds knows the content of the letter, whether or not he actually wrote it, and that he knows also the way the list of people getting it was created (buying mailing lists, I assume). And therefore we can say that Mr. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee, is a liar. (The culpability of the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, whose name appears on the letterhead, is a more difficult question, but he’s not to be let off the hook.)

I’ve gotten similar letters from Republican sources — and, since I get a wide range of magazines, from Democratic sources as well — and I always wonder why these lying little slimeballs expect me to give them money. The most amusing letters come with claims that the Republican Party is standing for family values, American values, etc., which judging from their example quite obviously does not include telling the truth and quite obviously does include deceit and deception.

But it’s only fund-raising, some of you might say. Please don't. Lying is lying. Lying is a sin for which a man can go to Hell.

And the RNCC's is a particularly despicable kind of lying because it plays on the naïve and gullible to get money from them they otherwise wouldn’t give, and perhaps can't afford to give. It’s a lot like plain old fraud, even if it stays within the bounds of the law.

12:07 PM


A footnote to my blog immediately below:

I am a Protestant, but one of the most fascinating examples of the recognition of "spiritual genealogy" I have seen was set in a wholly Catholic context.

In the Godfather film series, Michael Corleone, wracked by guilt over his sins, particularly the murder of his brother, sought out the future Pope John Paul I as a confessor. The cardinal was identified in the movie as "a true priest," indicating that in the Catholic mind, or at least some Catholic minds, there are some priests who are false, or at least less true, than others--that there may not be as "simple" a connection among Catholics as I had been taught to believe between mere ordination and priestly power and authority. Corleone, an intensely practical man made sick by his sin, needed a priest--the highest priest available--whose absolution "worked." This could only be a man who was clearly faithful to the Church, a church he knew would be signified by its refusal to treat his sins lightly. The confessor would not simply be a priest in the Church, but a faithful priest.

Now, to be sure, The Godfather is not church dogma and Francis Ford Coppola is not Joseph Ratzinger, but it was gratifying to see the very reasonable idea popping up here that faithfulness rather than "mere genealogy" is a crucial consideration when one comes to define what is true and powerful in the Church--that when a man is spiritually in extremis, he will seek out not simply genetic, but what he instinctively recognizes as spiritual, genealogy.

9:55 AM


Some remarks on Dr. Buchanan's fascinating blog of yesterday:

I recall seeing in the Chemistry Department at Michigan State University a display board showing the academic genealogies of tenured faculty. One observed that while they had their Ph.D.'s from different schools, they all traced their lines to a rather small clutch of progenitors, all 18th and 19th century Germans, as I recall. Same basic idea as Erdos numbers, the connection being not co-authorship but doctoral supervision.

Regular Touchstone readers will be gratified to know that this writer has a Tillich Number of 2 (Tillich--Braaten--Hutchens). I like to think this is a hopeful sign of divine disinfection, or de-harvardification, which is almost the same thing. Perhaps it just means that Carl Braaten and I are both messed up.

Tom's blog, however, does raise the important question of the value and meaning of genetic descent. The Lord clearly was not impressed by "mere genealogy," being able to raise up sons of Abraham from the stones. This being the case, Christians have always been interested in establishing their genealogies, giving them meaning and value, "in the Spirit." The question that one hears most hotly disputed among them, then, is whether certain genealogies, claimed to be "spiritual," have in fact reverted to the merely genetic, as a function of a reversion of gospel to law--a perennial problem in the Church. This is a question of fact upon which we can gather evidence, and upon which evidence we must act, but the answer to which only God knows.

9:28 AM

Sunday, June 13


Apostolic authority is passed on by the laying on of hands. This is why we keep track of the pedigrees of our leaders: to show the orthodoxy of our teachings. Thus it is proclaimed that Pope John Paul II is the 263rd successor of Peter as leader of the church of Rome and Patriarch Ignatius IV is the 170th successor of Peter as leader of the church of Antioch. Having an established lineage ensures authenticity and is an important sign of authority.

Scientists and mathematicians too use pedigree to establish authority. I once witnessed a debate at MIT between two professors, who resorted to invoking the names of their mentors to establish superiority in the field. Since one of the professors doing the arguing was a Nobel Prize recipient, I thought he hardly needed to take this step, but judging from the reaction of the other scientist, I could tell that such words carried great power.

Some mathematicians take pride in noting how far removed they are from the late, great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös. They mark this using Erdös numbers. If a professor once coauthored a paper with Erdös, he has an Erdös number of 1. If a professor coauthored a paper with someone who once published a paper with Erdös, then he has an Erdös number of 2. Some mathematicians include their Erdös numbers on their resumes.

Now we see that someone tried to auction an Erdös number on eBay (article). A mathematician with an Erdös number of 4 put up for auction the opportunity of writing a paper with him and thus earning an Erdös number of 5.

While many argue that science is run very differently than the church, it is well to remember that both have their dogmas and doctrines and their popes and patriarchs. While some scientists like to claim they are morally superior, I haven’t seen selling of pedigrees in the church in recent years.

6:28 PM

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