Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
From 1988 to 1998, when I was employed teaching Philosophy at the largest college in Pennsylvania, I was obliged, like all citizens thus engaged, to endure special kinds of torment. Let me say that none of those abuses grated on my senses more than the daily sight of countless young men arriving at school dressed like the village idiot.
If the assessment seems harsh, let me declare that its driving impulse is one of kindness. A pure sense of compassion prompts me to suppose that those poor fellows were literally forced each morning, whether at gun point or under some other terrible threat, to set out from their homes donned in baggy trousers that extended down somewhat below their knees, stopping thirteen or so inches from the tops of their enormous athletic shoes. The shirts hanging above those baggy trousers, but never tucked in, were also loose fitting, shorn of both collar and sleeves, the latter yet vestigially represented by some slight tatter and fraying at the shoulders to demonstrate that the vestment had been deliberately mutilated. Topping it all was a baseball cap, the bill of which was invariably turned to the rear, its apparent purpose being to keep the offensive sun from blighting the wearer's better parts.
Inspired by charity, I always wondered who forced these children to don each day—if, indeed, they had not already slept in them—those trappings from the asylum. No prison system would have permitted it. If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had obliged the inmates of its several correctional facilities to dress in a way that declared to the whole world, "Oh, look upon me with pity, for I am, as you can see, an imbecile," a loud outcry would have been raised all around the state against the sheer inhumanity of the thing.
But the plight of those boys was even worse, because whoever was forcing them daily to assume the accoutrements of idiocy had also forbidden them even to talk about it. I questioned them on the matter several times, but they never divulged the identity of their tormentors. Was it their parents? They wouldn't say. Often my inquiries were met with blank stares, as though I had posed the question in a foreign language. Sometimes with shrugs they indicated that the thing was inevitable, even beyond their comprehension. They just had to be adorned that way, and the thing could not be discussed. Life, their eyes seemed to say, was cruel.
Inspired by hope, I so looked forward to the day when those boys might somehow be set free from that dreadful obligation to pose as morons. Their keepers would lose, I hoped, the terrible hold by which they chained those children in such dire bondage. They would be permitted to start dressing once again like normal human beings and recover some shred of dignity among the sane.
Ah, but recently I was confronted with evidence that my expectations were premature, my hopes unfounded and forlorn. I was waiting in line last week in an airport, and nearby was a young family. The wife and the two children were dressed like ordinary people. The father, however, a man about thirty or so, I would guess, was still dressed as I would have seen him ten years earlier, with the short baggy pants and shirt, the oversized athletic shoes, the baseball cap turned backwards. There he was, all 200 or so pounds of him, still adorned as the village idiot.
THE LOT TECH
The guy in front of me at the checkout of my local "home improvement superstore" today was pushing through a big order of sheetrock. The friendly checkout lady, anticipating his need for help loading it into his vehicle, assured him that when he left the store the “lot tech” would assist him. I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly: “Did you just say the ‘lot tech’?” I asked. She assured me that she had, that she had been informed by management that the kid whose main job was to coral the shopping carts and hand trucks is now a “lot tech.”
I was impressed. This store that in the past probably only hired stock boys for the job, telling them to give people a hand while they were out gathering the carts, was now going to the added expense of furnishing its customers with the services of a lot tech. How many years of training is required for certification (no doubt under the august masters of the American Board of Lot Technology), and what kind of salary a journeyman lot technologist can command, one can only guess. And if this position, which one might reasonably suppose is at the lowest rung of the store’s employment ladder, has a full-blown technologist, what prodigies of learning and professional competence one must meet in its other departments! When I return I hope to behold, and perhaps even engage the services of, their Doctor of Drywall or even their Hochhauptmeisterschraubenausleger.
Most of the Touchstone editors can claim the title “Doctor” but since it is reasonable to assume that it will soon be claimed by the better class of salesman and cab driver, I fear we may have to resort to titles of nobility to raise ourselves above the herd. I herewith move that anyone translated to the rank of senior editor assume ducal rank and be addressed as “My Lord.”
Kushiner and Mills, while they will no doubt expect royal rank and prerogative in such a scheme, will probably have to settle for something less. But we’ll give them each a fez, a sash, and a sword to denote their distinction inter pares. If this isn’t good enough for them, they’d best not complain, or the Board may break them, like the presumptuous Fisherman’s Wife, to the rank of technologist, which, in this day and age, is about as low as you can go and still be employed.
Phil Johnson sent this link to an article by Ellen Goodman in The Boston Globe that actually questions the wisdom of the Left’s embrace of Michael Moore (Farenheit 9/11) as their own Rush Limbaugh. While admitting (surprise) that she is an alto in the choir that Moore is preaching to, she writes:
There were a few too many cheap shots among the direct hits, conspiracy theories among the solid facts, and tidbits of propaganda in the documentary. Going for the jugular, he sometimes went over the top.
….Now we are getting our own space in the cineplex. When "Fahrenheit 9/11" hit $23.9 million the first weekend, box office receipts were read like political tea leaves. Moore was also cast as the left's Mel Gibson. Whose "passion" was more powerful?
This last bit, putting him side by side with Mel Gibson, is interesting. Gibson did not make a political movie. But why the parallel in the minds of some on the left? Because they really do view serious religious believers as their sworn enemies in the culture wars. And Gibson produced a very well made film that became a cultural event, a film that took the historical and theological claims of religious believers seriously. It was statement of faith, the gospel about the Cross, planted right in the middle of the tabernacles of the secularists.
Now Moore comes along. Rather than portraying a different religious figure or thinker or philospher, he savages George W. Bush. Now why is that parallel to a film promoting Christianity? Because both films are about salvation. Both are about messiahs (in Moore’s case, a false messiah). Politics is salvation for the secularists. It’s all about politics. And worse than anything many of them could imagine is having not only a president with whom they disagree on policy, but one who himself publicly admits to being a believer in Christ. Even worse, President Bush believes in the power of faith to renew the culture. He promotes government support of faith-based and community initiatives that address social problems such as poverty, drug addiction, and prisoner rehabilitation. Moore and many of his fans hate Bush for both his policies (which in some cases, as in his war on terrorism, might not be far from what Bill Clinton might have done) and for his loathsome public faith, and for wanting to see it change more lives.
Paul Marshall, author of Islam at the Crossroads, points out in “War Against the Infidels: The Message Behind the Beheadings” in the July 5/12 The Weekly Standard that recent victims of massacres in Saudi Arabia included Filipino, Swedish, British, Italian, and South African Christians and Indian Hindus.
These killings are not about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, though those are grievances. They are not about Israel, though that is another grievance. In fact, most of the Islamist terrorists’ victims worldwide are not American or even Westerners, but Asian and Middle Eastern Christians, [moderate] Muslims, and Hindus. For the extremists, the justification for the slaughter is not current foreign policy but rather—as the religious exaltation, even ectasy, in Al-Nashami’s interview shows—an apocalyptic war to purge the world of all but their version of Islam….
Al Qaeda’s enemy is anyone who opposes its program for the restoration of a unified Muslim ummah, ruled by a new Caliphate, governed by reactionary Islamic sharia law, and organized to wage jihad on the rest of the world.
The interview referenced above is quoted at length by Marshall. Al-Nashami commanded the Al-Quds Brigade, which took responsibility for the massacre of 22 people on May 29 at Khobar. You can read the full interview for yourself here,
but be warned, it’s not pretty. Some unpretty excerpts:
"We entered one of the companies' [offices], and found there an American infidel who looked like a director of one of the companies. I went into his office and called him. When he turned to me, I shot him in the head, and his head exploded. We entered another office and found one infidel from South Africa, and our brother Hussein slit his throat. We asked Allah to accept [these acts of devotion] from us, and from him. This was the South African infidel.
We turned to the third site, which was the most fortified center of all the compounds. Our plan was to remain in the car until we were alongside the American Hummer. When we were next to it, the brothers appeared from the windows [of the car] and began shouting 'Allah Akbar,' and shooting them. And I saw the skull of the soldier standing behind the machine gun explode before my eyes. Allah be praised. I think the driver was also killed….
We went to one of the buildings. Brother Nimr, may Allah's mercy be upon him, shoved the door until it opened. We entered and in front of us stood many people. We asked them their religion, and for identification documents. We used this time for Da'wa [preaching Islam], and for enlightening the people about our goal. We spoke with many of them.
At the same time, we found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate [of the building] so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting.
We continued in the search for the infidels, and we slit the throats of those we found among them….
We began to comb the site looking for infidels. We found Filipino Christians. We cut their throats and dedicated them to our brothers the Mujahideen in the Philippines. [Likewise], we found Hindu engineers and we cut their throats too, Allah be praised. That same day, we purged Muhammad's land of many Christians and polytheists.
"Afterwards, we turned to the hotel. We entered and found a restaurant, where we ate breakfast and rested a while. Then we went up to the next floor, found several Hindu dogs, and cut their throats.
We utilized the time for [teaching] the Koran to the Muslims who remained. We taught them how to read [Surat] Al-Fatiha properly. They were amazed by us, [and said], 'How are you able to do this in such an inflamed atmosphere?' Thanks be to Allah for enabling us to do so….
… At two o'clock, they broke in, headed by an officer. We saw them from our positions, and threw bombs at them. The officer was killed, Allah be thanked, and his soldiers were wounded. The soldiers screamed to their brothers in the rear: 'We want to leave, by Allah, take us out, get us out!' We were shouting, 'Allah Akbar' and 'Allah is our God. You have no god. Go to Hell and evil is your fate!'
Marshall points out that Sudan’s National Islamic Front is “attempting to starve to death hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Darfur who do not share its vision.” This latest chapter (one of only many) in the Sudanese tragedy, a catastrophe that is starting to get coverage in the news, is not simply “ethnic violence” carried out by “Arab militias”; these are religious fanatics who have the backing of the Sudanese government.
Anyone who tries to explain the violence in terms of raw political or even ethnic hatred and ignores the “religious” dimension of the terrorists’ minds needs to read this chilling interview carefully, and think about it first, before he says another word.
”CATHOLICS” FOR OUTRAGEOUS CHUTZPAH
FRIDAY FAX July 2, 2004 Number 28
At Puerto Rico Meeting, Radical Feminists Pray to Mary for Legal Abortion
As debate at the latest Latin American economic meeting continues, pro-abortion advocates have sought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring victory to their cause of establishing abortion on demand for women and girls throughout the region.
Many participants at the meeting now taking place in Puerto Rico, called the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Ad Hoc Committee on Population and Development, were stunned on Monday when “Catholics” for a Free Choice (CFFC) and its Latin American counterpart, “Catolicas” por el Derecho a Decidir, released a prayer card of the Virgin Mary, with the words “The love of God and of Mary of Guadalupe is greater. For women’s lives, safe and legal abortion” superimposed over the image of the Virgin Mary. The back of the card says, “Dear Mary of Guadalupe, we thank you because your love is greater, because you listen to us without judging, because you know our heart and you respect the intimacy of our decisions.”
One observer told the Friday Fax “how insulting it is that CFFC, a rich American pro-abortion group, would attempt to use the Latin American people‚s strong devotion to the Virgin Mary to impose their abortion agenda here.”
At the same press conference, CFFC released polling data that purports to show that Latin American Catholics overwhelmingly accept a broad reproductive rights agenda. According to the CFFC press release, “Before Catholics were more afraid of what the bishops and the church were saying--now they are deciding for themselves. What we see is a more mature society and a more democratic one in which the most important guide is the individual conscience, not the institution of the church. What we also see is how isolated the bishops are from society and from faithful Catholics.”
Copyright 2004 C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute).
Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.
Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 427
New York, New York 10017 Website: www.c-fam.org
I like that last bit about the “individual” conscience, as if there was no such thing as a conscience that is dependent on accurate knowledge and information (an “informed conscience”) derived from the long human experience of generations, and especially in the case of Christians, informed by the experience of the full Body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit since Pentecost.
And regardless of what one thinks about the role of Mary in Catholicism (or Orthodoxy for that matter), the use of her to promote abortion should be offensive to any Christian.
Contributing Editor Robert Hart responds to David Mills's A Meeting With James "Killer" Watson (June 30) and Leaping Baby He's and She's (July 1):
"Watson looked me in the eye and told me he was qualified to advocate in favor of mothers choosing to abort 'unhealthy' children because he wished he could have aborted his own son, who is mentally handicapped." [from Dawn Patrol blog, quoted by David Mills]
Touchstone readers will know about our first child if they recall the Jan./Feb. issue; but they would not know about our third. My wife and I have a mentally handicapped child, a son who is 17 years old, but is still very much a little child, apparently for life.
It is true that many things in our lives we will never be able to share with him, because he will not understand or appreciate them. But, the idea of feeling, or not feeling, as this James Watson fails to feel concerning his son, is beyond my comprehension. Our son is part of our family, and we love him. James Watson seems to us simply to be of another species, sub-human, indeed, as David Mills has put it, a monster. --Robert Hart
More on Divorce and the Homosexual Threat
Among the responses to my comments here about gay marriage last week came a deep consideration by Tim Udd, a reflection that he himself thus condensed: “To put it succinctly, homosexuality violates, not just human biology, but ontology. Putting it another way, using divorce as a comparison, while divorce fractures the image of God, homosexuality perverts the image of God.”
Let me say at once that I agree with both Udd’s thesis and the philosophical, exegetical analysis by which he develops it. I readily accede, as well, to Udd’s further propositions, “Divorce per se is not a threat to the institution of marriage; it is a threat to specific marriages, which fractures God’s original intent. Homosexual ‘marriage,’ on the other hand, is a rejection of the image of God as male and female.”
The difference of approach between Tim Udd and myself with respect to this matter is indicated in his recourse to the expression “per se.” Approaching the comparison of divorce and homosexual “marriage” as a philosopher, Udd correctly reduces both notions to their essence and deals with them accordingly. This is what philosophers do.
My own sociological approach to the matter, being largely empirical and quantitative, is humbler, and, because concerned with conjectures about the future, less certain. It was simply as a sociologist that I asked the question “Which will do the most harm to the institution of marriage?” I had in mind only the social assumptions, expectations, and norms associated with these two things. Thus, my approach to divorce and homosexual “marriage” was not per se, but quoad nos; not in their essence, that is to say, but in their contextual affects on society.
Judged solely within a sociological context, it does appear to me that the currently rampant dissolution of marriages, a state of affairs brought on by the “no-fault divorce” legislation of three decades ago, has probably done already—and in the future will likely do—more social harm to the institution of marriage than the social harm reasonably projected by the prospect of homosexual “marriage.” (The social harm I have in mind consists chiefly in a diminished esteem for marriage as a permanent state.)
That is to say, in spite of my anxious concern about the prospect of homosexual “marriage,” and notwithstanding a strong aversion to the homosexual vice itself, I believe it is possible to make the case that if fifty (or more) percent of the population is divorced, the social harm thus inflicted on the institution of marriage is perhaps greater than the harm likely to be inflicted by one percent of the population being “married” to one another in a homosexual liaison.
Perhaps I may illustrate my concern by another comparison.
May we agree that blasphemy and hatred of God are the worst sins possible to man? Considered in se, I believe they are. Blasphemy and the hatred of God would seem to be the most direct assaults on “what it means to be human.” It appears to me, considering the matter abstractly, that a single act of blasphemy is a worse evil than for the whole human race to be wiped out by a . . . well, a tidal wave. (A glance at Genesis 6:5-7 may suggest, in this respect, an apparent causal relationship.)
A sociologist, however, finds it difficult to quantify the social harm resultant from blasphemy and the hatred of God. If the sociologist is a devout person, he will lament and deplore these sins, of course. He may also be intuitively certain that such sins do affect the social body, however subtly, in a negative way. Indeed, in societies saner and more stable than our own, blasphemy has been severely punished.
Now let us suppose that the question were to arise, “Which sin inflicts more harm on the social body, blasphemy or, let’s say, larceny?” Our devout sociologist may find himself in an epistemological pickle. Larceny, because it is more quantifiable as a social phenomenon, is easier to assess as a social evil, notwithstanding the fact that it less directly attacks “what it means to be human.” Larceny has sociological handles; we can get a grip on it, a grip less available in the case of blasphemy. We can document the harm of larceny in quantifiable figures, put the thing down in columns and trace its direct results in mathematical terms. It is not so easy to do this with blasphemy, which is perhaps why we no longer prosecute that crime.
Likewise, when I posed the hypothetical comparison between divorce and homosexual “marriage,” it was not with a view to determining which of the two represents the more direct attack on the essence of marriage, still less which of them is the greater sin. On these questions I am surely at one with Tim Udd. In itself, homosexual "marriage" is the greater evil, because it is a perversion of both language and reality. Inasmuch as homosexual activity cannot consummate the marriage act, the legalizing of it truly must not be called "marriage."
There is more to be said, nonetheless. Although I agree with Udd’s assertion, “Divorce per se is not a threat to the institution of marriage,” the assertion itself provides an inadequate consideration of the matter. Pondered per se, after all, there is no essential difference between water and ice. They are distinguished by the accident of their relative heat. That difference is quantitative, measurable; water has more heat than ice. That is the quantitative difference between them. Still, this quantitative difference is very real, and it brings about very different results with respect to very practical matters. Though in essence the same, the one provides a platform for the skater, for example, while the other does not.
Quantity, if the pun be pardoned, really can count. A sociologist may grant that divorce, per se, is no threat to the institution of marriage. Millions and millions of divorces, however, most certainly appear to be. And it may well be the case that those millions of divorces represent a threat greater even than that of the abomination called homosexual “marriage.”
With respect to these matters, let suggest that further reflections are in order, one of which may concern the ways in which the harm inflicted on traditional marriage over the past several decades have laid the groundwork for homosexual “marriage” itself (Cf. Bryce Christensen, “Why Homosexuals Want What Marriage Has Become,” The Family in America 18/4, April 2004 — an article soon to reappear in Touchstone). Not least among these inflictions, I submit, has been “no-fault” divorce.
SOME SEASONABLE REMARKS ON THE MLA
A good piece of writing by Juergen Hahn in the Fall, 2003 issue of Academic Questions, a publication of the National Association of Scholars:
Attending the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, he complains of hearing a great many “dollar words for nickel concepts,” which strikes him as “not only elitist and antidemocratic, but simply as fraudulent.” He continues:
There is, of course, a reason for this deliberately equivocating language that makes so much of MLA-English sound like a bad translation of notoriously indigestible Hegelian and Heideggerian German, mediated through the artificial, pretentious French of Foucault and Derrida. It is the deliberate goal of undermining the primarily Western empirical language and thought as bourgeois “false consciousness,” the disenfranchisement of the common sense of free-thinking individuals, all to one end: Namely, so that radical intellectuals may seize control of public discourse and . . priest-like, define and control for the rest of us all truths beyond all ordinary facts and logic, so that at last a Marxist-style utopia may come to pass. . . .
What is the value of the opinion of an intellectual who has never directly experienced the effects of communism on his own body? . . . .
Stepping out of the conference halls in Washington, I felt once again the fresh breath of reality. Fortunately, we are in a profession the consequences of whose works are mercifully not immediately evident in the outside world. These are the liberal arts, after all, reasonably detached from immediate material impact. In Washington, the MLA-buses still ran smoothly, regardless of what was being said inside the halls of the convention. Their drivers strove to be on schedule and did not insist on “inteterminacy.” Passengers happily crowded in without suffering from “contiguity disorder.” And could one imagine a traffic system that was culturally determined, with separate traffic lanes and traffic signs for black, white, gay, straight, feminist, or male chauvinist cultures? And speaking of traffic, would you entrust your car to a “deconstructonist” mechanic?”
There may be, to be sure, no “immediate evidence” of the work of Cloud-Cuckooland in the real world, but let us not underestimate the damage done to souls and societies of souls by college teachers who force millions of students at grade-point to spend untold hours of their lives eating waste and vomiting it back. Every day we are faced with the emptiness, the stupidity, and the hopelessness of people who, instead of being cultivated by their teachers, have been raped, and who, turned loose in the real world, commit the acts of the empty, the stupid, and the hopeless.
Unless education involves an earnest search for the good, the true, and the beautiful—a task which begins by confessing their existence—then it is worse than useless; it is defacement, vandalism, of beauties that were made in the image of God to grow up into him, grace upon grace, good upon good.
One does not argue with organizations like the MLA, but treats them as the viral contagations that they are, handling them with the intellectual and spiritual equivalents of masks, forceps, and rubber gloves. Only in that sense are they to be taken seriously.
DOES THE SENATOR KNOW WHAT’S UP?
In reply to a request from a member of his constituency to support the Marriage Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) sent this:
Thank you for your message about same-sex marriage. I appreciate hearing from you.
I voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. That law limited the federal definition of marriage to a legal union between one man and one woman for the purpose of federal laws and benefits, and also included a provision that allows states to decline to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
Decisions about the legal status of marriage historically rest with state and local authorities, and the laws of the states regarding marriage, divorce, adoption, and other family matters vary widely. I do not support a Constitutional amendment either recognizing or prohibiting same-sex marriages as a national standard. While I do not support same-sex marriage, the Constitution has been amended only 17 times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, and this issue does not rise to the level of constitutional necessity.
At the same time, I want to be clear that I oppose discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, race, religion, age, gender, disability, color, or national origin. I am a cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), designed to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, I am a cosponsor of the hate crimes bill, which would amend the federal criminal code to establish or strengthen penalties for people who intentionally cause bodily injury to another person because of actual or perceived sexual orientation, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, or gender.
I appreciate knowing your thoughts about the issue of same-sex marriage and will keep your concerns in mind as this issue is considered further.
I can only say that I wish I knew whether the senator has any real thoughts about the issue himself.
Durbin doesn’t explain why this issue doesn’t rise to the level of constitutional necessity. Surely he knows that if a state approves same-sex marriage, as the Massachusetts supreme court has done, it becomes a constitutional question whether other states must recognize such “contracts,” given the “full faith and credit’ provisions. The Defense of Marriage Act that he supported in 1996 is the very law that will be up for judicial review the very first time someone challenges its constitutionality, which is inevitable.
It is for precisely this reason that the U. S. Constitution is perhaps the last line of defense for marriage. Since Durbin can’t see that it rises to this level (and, I assume, will not vote for the amendment), he will be allowing “same-sex marriage” to become by default the law of the land, even though he doesn’t himself support “same-sex marriages.”
Once again, a senator is personally opposed to something one should oppose, but won’t do anything about it publicly. But what are senators for?
LEAPING BABY HE’S AND SHE’S:
Two responses to yesterday’s “A Meeting with James ‘Killer’ Watson” and “What Babies Do.” First from Trudy Ellmore:
It was with a large lump in my throat that I read the blog containing Watson's horrific statements about abortion and "wish[ing] he could have aborted his own son, who is mentally handicapped." Since he doesn't want his son, I'll take him! It is probably a blessing that Watson's son is mentally handicapped, thus in God's mercy the child isn't aware that his father didn't want him and wished he had been aborted. A thought like that just goes far beyond my imagination.
Having carried two pregnancies to term, children who are now young adults (ages 23 and 18), I can attest to the fetal developments you wrote about in the blog: “What Babies Do.” There is many a mother who can attest to the hiccuping bambino! It's quite an odd feeling, almost as annoying as when you've the hiccups yourself and try innumerable remedies to rid yourself of them. Unfortunately, mommy cannot administer the "drink of water" to said unborn bambino, thus suffers through an hour sometimes of "jumpy belly."
And then there's nothing quite so special as the swift shot to the ribs with one of those tiny feet in the eighth or so month by said bambino, which once or twice elicited quite a yelp out me and the subsequent fearful yell from dear husband "Whaaaat? What's wrong? Is it time?! It's too soon!!!!" During one of those "leaps" you mentioned, a time or two I lost a teacup or plate of toast, having using that nice sized perch for breakfast.
Those memories are precious and I wouldn't trade them for the world. But then I don't carry the cross of raising a mentally handicapped child. My crosses regarding my children have been different. Nonetheless, I don't think I'd want to trade them in for not having carried them, for they've done more to draw me closer to God and increase my faith than perhaps anything. Watson deserves our prayers for our Lord's mercy.
Second, from Paul Campbell:
Regarding your item, “What Babies Do:” If on the linked page to the BBC one finds his way to the series of ten fetal scans, it is notable that the captions refer to “his legs,” “her arms,” etc. . . . that is, each fetus is granted his or her humanity by being referred to as a boy or girl. Surely until now, each fetus would have been referred to as an “it.”
It would be interesting to learn what led to this change. Was it unreflective, the editor unconsciously granting to himself that these images are of human beings? Was there an uncomfortable and protracted newsroom discussion as to what to call them? Or were all of the editors yearning to use “it,” but had to admit to themselves and each other that their readership is neither blind nor stupid? It’s fun to speculate, but either way, the outcome bolsters Mr. Mills’ point that the more we learn and the better we can see, the more monstrous the “piece of tissue” euphemism is exposed to be.
THE SECRET FORCES BEHIND ELECTIONS
I am reading an interesting book (so far), Science and Faith: Friends or Foes (by C. John Collins, Crossway Books, 2003) in which the author discusses the relationship between facts and ordinary reasoning powers. He asks on page 48 when can we make a sound generalization from certain facts? Then, an example:
[I]n every American presidential election since 1940, the outcome of the election is tied to whether the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election: if they win, the party in power stays in power, and if they lose, the party out of power wins the election. The record is 100 percent and has been since the 1940s.
No doubt in 2000 some members of US Supreme Court, before confirming the outcome of the election in Florida, checked the local football results just before the election.
We have also seen similar (maybe even more impressive?) “facts” about presidents, such as this familiar one: beginning in 1860, every president election in even-numbered decades (00, 20, 40 etc) has died in office. Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt, Kennedy—and then we come to 1980 and Ronald Reagan. Some believers will point out that, well, he almost
died in office when there was an assassination attempt on him, so there is “something” to this pattern. (Then there is 2000 and our current President, whom, I am sure, many wish would meet a similar fate.)
Of course, the patterns noted above are not the products of any real cause and effect relationship. But the fact that people find them intriguing, and more, that some might even expect such patterns to continue, suggests that many believe that there are forces, fates, providences, powers—call them what you will—that lie beneath the surface, that operate behind the scenes, so to speak, even if they don’t name them. This must in part explain the invincible optimism of the millions of people who play the various state lotteries. (And people still look at horoscopes, which must drive materialists who want to banish religion and all other irrationalities crazy.)
The predictable interest people have in such patterns is, I think, only a sign that we are designed to look for and find patterns in life and creation. We just have to be careful in concluding whether something is there “by design” or not.
In the case of the presidential elections and the Redskins, I simply have to complain that, once again, Washington seems to think it can dictate everything
--including presidential election outcomes--to the rest of the nation.
To those of you wondering about the last line of the next blog, and will want to point out that lots of people — the gang at NOW, the leadership of the Democratic Party, the abortion profiteers at Planned Parenthood, to name a few — will still happily support legal abortion despite these pictures of the young unborn child dancing in the womb, let me just say outright that they are among the monsters to whom I refer.
The reason the debate over legal abortion is so important, and so divisive, is that one side is asserting something no normal human being would assert. The pro-choice position represents a deeply perverted moral imagination, a monstrous one in the older sense of monstrous: defined, as the old dictionary in front of me puts it, as something "departing greatly in form or structure from the usual type of the species; a monstrosity."
We don't know why individuals become monsters, nor what personal responsibility they have for their views, but we must keep insisting that the wilful destruction of the unborn is wicked, and that its wickedness is a fact known to the moral sense — is part of "the usual type of the species" — and that any view that asserts these children can be killed at will is monstrous and its advocate a monster.
WHAT BABIES DO:
A useful story from the BBC: Scans uncover secrets of the womb. (My thanks to Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship for the link.) It describes the new ultrasound device that gives such extraordinary pictures of the unborn baby. It says:
The images have shown:
From 12 weeks, unborn babies can stretch, kick and leap around the womb — well before the mother can feel movement
From 18 weeks, they can open their eyes although most doctors thought eyelids were fused until 26 weeks
From 26 weeks, they appear to exhibit a whole range of typical baby behaviour and moods, including scratching, smiling, crying, hiccoughing, and sucking.
The doctor who developed the technique, Professor Stuart Campbell of the Create Health Clinic in London, is quoted as saying:
“This is a new science for understanding and mapping out the behaviour of the baby. Maybe in the future it will help us understand and diagnose genetic disease, maybe even conditions like cerebral palsy which puzzles the medical profession as to why it occurs.”
And maybe it will convince some who are now pro-choice that these children are human and have inalienable rights, among them being the right to life (Thomas Jeffereson, in this case speaking for God). A person can accept the destruction of “pieces of tissue” when he’s never seen the alleged tissue, but no one but a monster will want to kill a dancing baby.
A MEETING WITH JAMES “KILLER” WATSON:
Something of interest from the blogsite of Dawn Eden, whom I quoted Monday in Out with the Dawn Patron, telling of her encounter with Nobel Prize winner James Watson: “They Say I’m a Killer”. “They” refers to pro-lifers, who object to his low, not to say contemptuous, view of the value of human life. But then even thirty years ago most pro-abortion atheists would have objected.
After explaining how she came to meet him, she continued:
Call me naive, but I couldn’t have conceived the depth of Watson’s conviction about the extinguishing of “undesirables” if I hadn’t heard it from the legend himself and — I’m very sad to say — seen the expression on his face.
. . . I took a deep breath, adjusted my jaw so it was back in line with my upper lip, and said, in the gentlest voice I could muster, “I’d love to know more about why you feel that way, as I’m a right-to-lifer myself.”
Watson looked me in the eye and told me he was qualified to advocate in favor of mothers choosing to abort “unhealthy” children because he wished he could have aborted his own son, who is mentally handicapped.
He went on, unprodded, to say that he was an “unbeliever,” so he was sure he would have had no moral qualms about killing his own child.
She goes on to quote some equally horrifying words of his from an Australian newspaper (link in the article). See her Eugenics at the Times
ANABAPTISTS AT THE VATICAN:
From the Bruderhof's website comes a report of an unusual and encouraging ecumenical meeting: A Visit with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. It includes at the end the pope's short statement to the Bruderhof communities.
WHY GIRLS ABORT THEIR CHILDREN:
From today’s Daily Telegraph: Nearly half of pregnant teens opt for abortion (the site requires registration, but it offers a free and useful daily news digest). Not the least bit surprisingly:
young women from socially deprived areas were more likely to become pregnant but less likely to have an abortion, while the reverse was true in more affluent areas.
"A lot of young women from poorer backgrounds believe that having a baby will make their lives better," said Dr Ellie Lee, co-author of the report. "Teenagers from less deprived backgrounds don't want to be teenage mums and see it as social death.”
Almost half of pregnancies of girls 15 to 17 in England end in abortion, the article said, though it also said the number was going down slightly.
Readers may be interested in the website of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
CURVESOME CREATURES WITH PILLOWY TEETH:
This is an old story, but as I just found the clipping in a folder until a few minutes ago buried at the bottom of a pile, I thought I’d pass it on. The article I’d clipped from a paper published in Western Massachusetts called The Valley Advocate includes a passage of homosexual pornography (gauzy, sentimental, soft focus pornography) from a book called Sisters by . . . Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice-president. To give you an idea of the writing, here is just one paragraph:
The young woman was heavily powdered, but quite attractive, a curvesome creature, rounded at bosom and cheek. When she smiled, even her teeth seemed puffed and rounded, like tiny ivory pillows.
The writer of the article notes:
Sisters has it all: rape, lesbianism, prostitution and a radical, pro-feminist agenda. More than a few corsets get loosened. The main character has sex — gay sex, outside-of-marriage sex — with the lover of her deceased sister.
Yuck. Cheney’s writing is quite extraordinarily bad, of course, and deserving of many hoots of derision, but what gives me pause is why someone who could write such a book has such status among conservatives.
Cheney doesn’t seem to have repented of writing it. This is one of those things that makes one suspect religious and cultural conservatives are being taken for granted by political and economic conservatives.
SIGN THIS TOO:
A reader writes:
I have signed the IRD petition you blogged about. I wondered if you would consider mentioning the Preserve the Sanctity of Marriage petition being sponsored by the American Center for Law and Justice?
This is also a high-profile peition — Jay Sekulow has testified before Congress on this matter — and, like the IRD petition, the ACLJ petition will be given to congressional leaders. Jay Sekulow is shooting for one million signatures, and the petition has over 350,000 now (counting people who "signed" by telephone and by mail as well as by the Internet).
COLSON ON ID, WHICH REMINDS ME . . .:
A nice short article on Intelligent Design, Junk or Jewels? Creation and the Need for a Designer by Charles Colson. It includes a useful list of resources. Which reminds me:
The July/August issue of Touchstone, dedicated to the ID movement, has been printed and should be in the mail. (When you get your copy is up to the Post Office.) Those of you who don't subscribe can still get the issue by subscribing, which you can do by clicking here. For a description of the issue, click here.
MARRIAGE & CONGRESS & YOU
In about two weeks the US Senate will vote on the future of marriage. I urge readers to consider contacting their senators and also signing this petition at the Institute of Religion & Democracy’s website. Copy this and send it to your friends. This petition will be given to congressional leaders.
A press release from Alliance for Marriage, the organization that initiated the marriage amendment, notes that US Conference of Catholic Bishops now has taken a stand:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is now publicly calling for Catholics in America -- including every Roman Catholic bishop – to work for the passage of AFM's Marriage Amendment in the Congress. In so doing, they are speaking for over 66 million Roman Catholics in the United States.
Their recent statement specifically focuses on the upcoming Senate vote in July. The statement also opposes the planned effort to use a filibuster to try to prevent the Senate from voting on AFM‚s Marriage Amendment.
As you can see, the process that AFM set in motion when we first drafted and announced our marriage amendment in July of 2001 has pushed our cause to the center stage of American public life. And we are now closer than ever before to our goal of allowing the American people-- not activist lawyers and courts --to determine the future of the legal status of marriage in America.
You may also sign the Alliance for Marriage’s petition
The Senate will be voting on whether to move forward with a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. Here are two versions of the proposed amendment:
House Joint Resolution 56
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
Senate Joint Resolution 30;
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.
TODAY’S ITEMS FROM THE INBOX:
Five items from the inbox, ranging from an European attack on the Vatican to a leading Southern Baptist writer’s reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention’s problems.
— K. L. Burt writes on the latest example of aggressively secular thought from the European Union:
I thought you might be interested in the EU’s latest moral pronouncement. It seems they have taken great offence at the Vatican’s position on contraception and the inability of condoms to protect completely against HIV.
Mr Nielsen, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said: “This is where bigotry gets into the big discussion.”
He condemned the Vatican’s “lack of love for human beings” and “unwillingness to take their situation seriously”.
Mr Nielsen said it forced people into “a terrible choice of abstinence or lose the blessing of the Church”.
I have to wonder whether Mr. Nielsen’s ancestors were in Corinth in the mid-first century. “Can you believe it?” one of them might have been heard to say; “Paul the bigot is simply refusing to consider the situation! He is forcing us to choose between incest or the Church’s blessing!”
I suppose people who say these things, like Mr. Nielsen, imagine that they are making sense. It is a scientific and medical fact that abstinence prevents HIV transmission 100% (with the exception of non-sexual modes of transmission). It is a sociological fact that nations like Uganda have reduced the transmission of HIV through the teaching of abstinence. It is a fact, also, I imagine -- though I have no hard data — that children brought up in homes that teach sexual purity and abstinence are less likely to contract HIV.
Since when have people been bigots for simply stating facts, and facts that protect people, at that?
— And from Tim Udd, responding to Patrick Reardon’s Divorce and Homosexual Marriage
Touchstone is thought-provoking as always. A small sketch of thoughts provoked:
To state the obvious, weighing the relative harm to the institution of marriage of (a) divorce or (b) homosexual “marriage” depends, of course, not only on the definition of marriage, but also, ultimately, on how we understand what it means to be human.
The American secular view of what it means to be human seems to combine a philosophical dialectical materialism with a religious gnosticism. The human is the individual, “a spark of the divine imprisoned in a corrupt world.” (Leander Harding has done a nice synopsis of Harold Bloom’s The American Religion and Phillip Lee’s Against the Protestant Gnostics.)
In a characteristically American style, the individual is involved in a romantic, heroic quest to discover/recover its true self, the divine spark that has been imprisoned and held hostage, a victim of the oppressive forces of custom and nature. “Salvation” is the achievement of wholeness and self-discovery unrestrained by either nature or custom. Along the way to “salvation,” the individual realizes that a given gender, among other things, is accidental, not essential to its true nature. Gender can be self-selected as a mode of expressing the individual’s true inner self. The accidental effect of biology is a hindrance that can be overcome.
Starting from this foundation, arguments to oppose same-sex marriage seem to have an arbitrary character, the shackles of oppressive custom, with no compelling force in either equity or reason.
Biblically, however, “the Adam,” as the Hebrew says, is created male and female in the image of God. The essentially human, then, is not the individual in its stark freedom, but the man and woman in community with their Creator. The Fall was the sundering of the primary relationship with the Creator, and the result was spiritual death with its inevitable progression into the physical world. Homosexuality is one further expression of sin’s alienating effect, further estranging the individual from the primal community found in the original “image of God.”
To put it succinctly, homosexuality violates, not just human biology, but ontology. Putting it another way, using divorce as a comparison, while divorce fractures the image of God, homosexuality perverts the image of God.
This sounds harsh and strange to our culturally conditioned ears. But the distinction is reflected in Scripture — for example, in the proscriptions of the Mosaic Law.
The difference between divorce and homosexuality is immediately apparent in the respective penalties imposed: for homosexuality and bestiality, as for sorcery, the penalty is death. Divorce, on the other hand, is permitted and regulated (albeit, as Jesus points out, it is still sin, a result of human “hardness” of heart). That isn’t the arbitrary decision it may at first appear to be. Both homosexuality and bestiality strike at the essence of what it means to be human, the community (as male and female) of the image of God. They profane the name of God.
This severity of judgment continues in the two accounts that relate specifically to homosexuality in the Old Testament: the narratives about (1) Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and (2) the Levite and his concubine in Gibeah (Judges 19, 20). Both narratives end in the corporate deaths of the communities, a literary dénouement that we feel sure is neither incidental nor accidental.
Divorce per se is not a threat to the institution of marriage; it is a threat to specific marriages, which fractures God’s original intent.
Homosexual “marriage,” on the other hand, is a rejection of the image of God as male and female. Humans have forged many kinds of relationships, but the only one essential (of the essence) to the imago dei is the marriage relationship. The threats posed to the institution of marriage by divorce or homosexual “marriage” are threats of a different order.
After all, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.
— For those of you interested in the media, here is something from yesterday’s New York Times
, The Troubling Case of the Phantom Readers
, about newspapers and magazines inflating their circulation.
— And Roger Bennett writes in response to Steve Thomas’ corrective comments in Dealing with Public Education V
. He writes:
It appears that I misunderstood the scope of the ACCS statement of faith, though in my defense, I did add “as I understand it” (aware that I might be misunderstanding something).
As for “despising the early Church,” I reflexively conflated today’s historic Church, rooted in classical soil (through its devotion to patristics if nothing else), with “early church.” Mea culpa. It’s my acute convertitis betraying itself.
I also think I agree with Mr. Thomas’s answer about debriefing your kids from skewed Christianity rather than debriefing them from insinuated secularism. It’s not the route our family took, but we’re in a community where the public schools are, I’m happy to report, lagging in their devotion to secularism.
Finally, from the (Southern) Baptist Press, here is an interesting article about the Southern Baptist Convention, SBC reactions abound to Draper’s column on baptisms, young pastors’ involvement
. It recounts a leading Baptist writer’s analysis of the SBC and the responses to it. He compared the SBC to a frog who boils to death in a kettle because the water got hot slowl.
“I’m afraid the Southern Baptist Convention resembles the frog a bit too much these days,” [Jimmy] Draper wrote in his periodic “LifeWay@Heart” column.
The SBC’s four-year decline in stateside baptisms “reflects a denomination that’s lost its focus,” he wrote, repeating the assessment he first voiced in April and repeated in his LifeWay report at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis in mid-June. “I fear there is a lack of urgency in our churches to baptize,” he wrote in his column.
Turning to the need for more young ministers in SBC life, Draper wrote, “Some of us older folks . . . have failed the younger generation by not creating a dynamic atmosphere and showing them the relevancy of being Southern Baptist. . . . Younger leaders are asking, ‘Is there a place for me at the table in the SBC?’“
One of my Protestant friends to whom I sent this responded:
What we are seeing is the SBC reaching the saturation point. What makes any organization think it can just keep on growing forever is beyond me. This is a natural phenomenon, and far less alarming than the unnatural phenomenon of the Episcopal Church at the satyration point.
CANADIAN LENIENCY TO SEXUAL ABUSE:
Quebec City was the site of a prostitution ring of teenage girls, some of whom were 14 and 15. The customers were prominent Quebec businessmen. One customer, Yvon Cloutier, the former president of the Quebec Winter Carnival, was convicted and sentenced – to 90 hours of community service. The Roman Catholic Church is not the only institution that has considered the sexual abuse of minors as a minor fault.
DEALING WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION V:
Steve Thomas, whose comments appeared in Dealing with Public Education I, responds to Roger Bennett, whose comments appeared in Entry IV in the string. Mr. Thomas writes:
Some remarks by way of clarification, in response to Mr. Bennett:
First, I was commenting on the integration of a Christian worldview with the instruction in various subjects (e.g. math and history) — this was the point of my letter – and the ACCS does have a commitment to do this, wholly apart from the distinctiveness of their statement of faith. (For the record, the Christian school my children attend attempts to do the same type of integration, and utilizes elements of the classical trivium, but is not a member of the ACCS.)
Second, I have looked around a bit on the ACCS website and was unable to find a mention of the ACCS “requiring adherence to this statement of faith for all families in ACCS schools”. I may have missed it, though, and would welcome a reference. In the absence of that, my understanding is that the ACCS requires adherence to the statement of faith by the schools (or other parties) that have membership in the ACCS, and not the families whose children go to those schools. Thus, one could be of Catholic or Orthodox (or perhaps even secular) background and still attend a school belonging to the ACCS, if the school is open to that. That depends on the policy of the particular school, of course.
With this in mind, let me bring the situation into contact with the rest of the discussion. Some respondents have written about keeping children in public school and having parents (e.g. Mr. Galer) shore up the worldview of the kids through a “debriefing session” over dinner at the end of the day. If a school with a distinctively Protestant statement of faith is available, and if it does integrate faith and learning, and if it is flexible with regard to what a particular family believes, then wouldn’t the same idea apply for those of Catholic or Orthodox background, with the benefit of having a vibrant Christian theism being interwoven through academic subjects?
Speaking for myself, I would prefer an integrated, classical Catholic education (e.g. the Kolbe Academy) to a secular public school education any day, despite theological differences. We do share a lot in common, and the view that moral and theological doctrines can be part of the body of knowledge is key in the context of our culture.
Third, I’m not sure exactly what Mr. Bennett means when he concludes with the idea that the ACCS “depise[s] the early Christian Church”. Perhaps he can clarify? I doubt that the members of the ACCS understand themselves in this way.
I understand Mr. Bennett's question, but I agree with Mr. Thomas' answer.
We send our third child to a home-schooling group that meets two days a week, and is run by very serious Reformed Christians. When we applied, we found that they had a statement of faith to which all parents had to subscribe. Most of it was perfectly orthodox from a Catholic point of view, but I had to explain our dissent from a couple of the items. Their board met and decided that parents would have to read the statement and agree to let their children be taught by people who believed it, for which we were grateful.
We have to spend more time with her giving the Catholic side, because the teachers are serious Protestants who think like serious Protestants. Some of things some of them think about Catholicism and Church history make me roll my eyes — the nature and joys of monasticism seems to escape them completely, among other things — but these we can deal with by teaching.
LEBLANC ON THE NEW BIBLE:
Something quite enjoyable on the Good as New Bible, by Doug LeBlanc: Rescuing Paul from himself. Doug rewrites 1 Corinthians 7 in the new Bible's style.
ABORTION KILLS VOTERS:
Steve Breitenbach sends a very useful link to an article in today's Wall Street Journal: The Empty Cradle Will Rock, which is subtitled "How abortion is costing the Democrats voters--literally." The writer argues, after considerable and careful analysis of the data, that:
• Republicans have fewer abortions than their proportion of the population, Democrats have more than their proportion of the population. Democrats account for 30% more abortions than Republicans (49% vs. 35%).
• The more ideologically Democratic the voters are (self-identified liberals), the more abortions they have. The more ideologically Republican the voters are (self-identified conservatives), the fewer abortions they have.
This isn't particularly surprising given the core constituencies of both political parties. But translating percentages into numbers for the purpose of evaluating their impact on politics makes the importance of these numbers real. It's one thing to quote percentages and statistics, it's quite another to look at actual human beings. For example:
• There are 19,748,000 Democrats who are not with us today. (49.37 percent of 40 million).
• There are 13,900,000 Republican who are not with us today. (34.75 percent of 40 million).
• By comparison, then, the Democrats have lost 5,848,000 more voters than the Republicans have.
These Missing Americans — and particularly the millions of Missing Voters — when compounded over time are of enormous political consequence.
HELL AND HIGH WATER
Our daughters, both now grown up and living away from home, are having difficulty finding churches to attend. While they may not be quite through looking, they tell me that so far the melancholy choice between liberal and fundamentalist churches confronts them. Last weekend they visited a fundamentalist church where the pastor’s sermon included a list of the traditional tribal taboos. I thought perhaps some of our readers might be interested in my reaction:
Being caught between legalism and liberalism is an unhappy but natural situation. Underneath it all is the grand failure of the human race before a God that has given it every advantage. There is a sense in which the dispensations of grace we know as law and gospel, Judaism and the Church, are, like the human race itself, failed experiments that need to be "wrapped up." God creates; man falls. He gives us rules, we break them. He gives us freedom, we abuse it. An end must be made to it all (the death and resurrection of Christ is that end, for they are one with the creation, judgment, and remaking of the world), so that what is good may be preserved from sin.
Luther constantly accused the Catholic Church of reverting to law to control its people. John Henry Newman, as a Catholic, forcefully hinted that the Church kept its people ignorant for the same reason. He agreed with your Father that one does not give up his private judgment--he equated this with giving up the intellect--at the doors of the Church, and insisted on its free exercise, especially in the university, until the Church had spoken clearly and unequivocally on matters of dispute. The history of the Catholic university since his day, however, would indicate that in apostasy Catholics are only a little behind the Protestants, and that keeping them ignorant and rule-bound (like fundamentalists) to keep them orthodox--something like keeping your wife barefoot and pregnant--while perverse, has some practical sense to it.
Catholics, by the same token, can accuse the Protestants, with every bit as much evidence and justification, of descending into chaos by an abuse of their (imaginary) freedom by which they eventually work their way by a very natural path from Evangelicalism to liberalism. Look at Protestant Europe; look at mainline Protestantism in North America--all once Evangelical, now living in a Christian shell, but not really Christian any more. Religious liberalism works with pragmatism--I might say Schleiermacher works with Kant or Bentham--or Machiavelli or Hillary Clinton--to give you reasons for being Nice--but not for being a Christian.
Parenthetically here: If I lost my faith, I would skip the step of being a religious liberal, and go straight to secularism. If I believed what the liberal believes, I wouldn't waste time on church. I can do without the sanctimonious company, thank you, don't need a moralizing homily from a second- or third-rate intellect that's pretending to be Christian (I would know enough Bible to know that real Christianity would look more like "fundamentalism"), and can give to worthy causes without the added middle-person, thank you. And I would deplore the first-rate intellect in the liberal pulpit as infected with a strange weakness that, against all sense and reason, made it religious. Sunday mornings would be better spent on recreation, like writing mocking, sarcastic letters to Touchstone in which I attempted to blend the best qualities of Bertrand Russell, Bernard Shaw, Nietzsche, Ingersoll, Screwtape, and the Grand Inquisitor.
But back to the subject. The traits I mention, while following certain natural fault lines among Catholics and Protestants, are not really Catholic or Protestant problems; they are human problems. You are encountering legalism among the children of Luther, Calvin, and lesser Protestants, who have shown themselves to be no less law-bound than any Catholic ever was. I assure you that Catholics are just as adept at abusing their own evangelical freedom. It's human nature, as human nature has come to be, and we all need to be redeemed.
St. Paul gives us the truth of it: the law is good, to the extent we follow it we will not sin. (If we keep the fundamentalist rules, stay away from movies, dancing, liquor, and whatnot, we will avoid direct contamination.) But we cannot and will not follow it. We will find some way to sin. We need to be delivered by grace from the burden of the law, but not use it as the occasion to sin, for if we do, we are in even a worse condition than we were under the law. That is why liberals, Catholic and Protestant, are in worse shape than the fundamentalists of their respective tribes.
Churches where these things are clearly understood are hard to find, not least because their pastors are in constant peril of losing their jobs for offending either the legalists or the liberals. It is easier, far easier, to become a liberal or legalist one's self.
OUT WITH THE DAWN PATROL:
Dawn Eden, the reader who kindly pointed out to me last night that the italics didn’t stop where I wanted them to, has a blogsite you may find of interest: The Dawn Patrol. She is a Christian of three years and a copy editor and headline writer at The New York Post.
Among the items of interest are a testimony to the power of chastity titled B.J. and the Bare. Describing her life before her conversion “when I still followed the Cosmo dating rules of ‘sex first, relationship afterwards (maybe)’.” She writes of that life:
Back then, at the times when I felt insecure, I wanted to remember the occasion when I walked into a bar and snagged a guy with five words. When I felt lonely, I wanted to replay the night I spent with a guy who was so gorgeous that I adored his image as though it were a painting.
Like a painting. That was another thing. I had to distance myself from those guys by imagining that every kiss or touch was somehow artful, cinematic. It couldn’t be real life — that would have required me to look at them and myself as human beings and take responsibilty for my actions. Likewise, they were all “guys” to me. I couldn’t bear to think of any of them as “men.” That would be too grown-up.
But I don’t replay those memories anymore. For a while, after my newfound faith altered my priority to “relationship first,” my mind did return to such images occasionally. But the memories gradually lost their appeal, because they all ended unhappily. Even the warm, fuzzy flings with sensitive guys who respected me ended unhappily. Everything’s unhappy that entails placing emotional limits on an act that’s designed to be part of a continuum of commitment which lasts for the rest of your life.
Here’s a quote: Casual sex with someone who “respects” you is like taking a bath with your clothes on. Awkward barriers prevent you from fully enjoying the experience, and — despite your best efforts to let it wash over you — when it’s over, you still feel dirty.
This is a quote to share.
I am interested in the reasons people convert, and think that one can find signs of the trajectory or development that eventually brought the person to the Faith, even in stories of apparently sudden conversions. (Most of the latter, anyway.)
Often, the trajectory is revealed in the future convert’s sense of and desire for reality — not God, explicitly anyway, but reality. He always believes there is something external to himself that he cannot change and by which he must live. He sees the physical laws and usually also the moral law, and from there often begins looking for the moral law giver. Or, as he will find out quickly enough, Giver.
He is like someone lost in the desert who comes across roads and tire tracks and empty pork and bean cans, and hears the sound of voices in the distance, and who realizes that for his own survival he must find the people to whom all this evidence points. Others, in fits of pride or despair, will deny the evidence and keep trying to survive on their own, but he will admit what he sees before him and act accordingly.
To switch metaphors, he is someone who knows, or at least suspects, that he is lost in the cosmos and knows, or at least suspects, that someone can give him directions. He admits he is lost and doesn’t call being lost “normal” or tell everyone he’s on “a journey” and he doesn’t deny that this path will take him straight into a sun and that path will take him away from everything.
I thought about this while reading another entry, Pronoun Trouble
, which describes an article from the Village Voice
titled “Transmale Nation: Remaking manhood in the genderqueer generation” (link in the entry). Eden then remarks,
One thing that I find interesting about the Voice piece is the description of the transgendered woman who considers herself a gay man. I’ve read about this phenomenon before, and can’t find any biological basis for it.
Notice how un-self-consciously she appeals to biology. A lot of people wouldn’t do that these days, when everyone knows that “gender” is “constructed.” There are terms of abuse in academia, which at the moment I can’t remember, for people so naïve as to think the shape of the body says anything about its proper use.
Eden writes this as a Christian, but I would bet she thought in the same way, if perhaps not as clearly, before she became a Christian. Someone who recognizes that the human body is not just a tool or a toy, that the way it is made tells us a great deal about how it is to be used, that the way it is made tells us that it has a maker, and who suspects that the maker who may want to tell us something about his creation, and who leaves himself open to hearing the maker's voice, is not far from the Kingdom.
Marc Dvoracek responds to Prager on weighting threats to marriage:
I would have to agree with Mr. Prager except that I don’t really think either divorce or non-marriage are threats at all. They are symptoms. I would argue that the only reason non-marriage is a more ominous symptom is simply because non-marriage is a more developed form of the disintegration of marriage than divorce is. Non-marriage is lung cancer, while divorce is smoker’s cough.
Now, I do think that the normalization of homosexual unions is both a symptom of the disintegration of marriage, and a threat to the continued health of marriage or even the possibility of its revitalization. The reason I believe this is a threat is because it will institutionalize the underlying reason marriage is in such trouble in the first place, namely the redefinition of marriage as an institution based on emotions, rather than an institution which has procreation as one of its fundamental purposes. Once this idea is further enshrined in law, there will be even less reason to stay married once the emotional bond wanes.
DEALING WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION IV:
Two more entries in the string on public education. For the previous entries, see Dealing with Public Education III and II, which includes the link to I. The first is a second entry from Craig Galer, responding to a note I’d sent him.
Although our particular high school is blessed with a couple of very gifted English teachers, both, unfortunately, nearing retirement. We actually have a Latin teacher (a Ph.D., no less!), with four years of Latin available for students who want it (Latin, by its very nature, is pretty much a de facto honors class). Of course, the Latin class is about half Catholic kids, and the teacher feels himself obligated, on the first day of class, to declaim that “we’re here to study classical Latin, not church Latin.” I actually wish that science and math were more emphasized than they are, since that is where my children’s strengths tend to run.
We live in a medium-sized, mainly industrial midwestern city (although, being the state capital, and having a Big Ten university right next door, there are more cultural opportunities available than you might expect at first glance). My impression is that, because it is the “central city”, its schools are perhaps less aggressively secular than many of the affluent, suburban districts — I think that they perceive that parents are keeping them on a shorter leash, so to speak, so they tend to walk a little softer around things that would drive away their honor students. Just an impression.
I definitely resonate with the notion of “unspoken assumptions”. What helps make the public high school workable for us is actually a fairly mundane thing: family dinners. By encouraging our kids to talk to us about their school day, we keep our finger on what they are hearing, and they can get feedback on troublesome questions. If Mr. Veeblesnark puts an atheistic spin on, say, The Lord of the Flies, we can talk about original sin. But the important thing is that we can talk about it, and they learn that, contra Mr. V., Christians can use their minds as well as (or better than) anyone else.
Of course, there are the standard pain-in-the-backside things like having to stay on top of pulling the kids from the sex-ed classes. Academically, the school runs in two distinct tracks — the college-prep track, and the keeping-a-seat-warm track (they even occupy roughly opposite ends of the building). Barely more than half the freshmen ultimately graduate.
As I noted previously, the college-prep track has a disproportionate number of kids from intact, two-parent families — if I had to give one large, overriding impression from our public school experience, it would center on the importance of families, and perhaps fathers even moreso. Kids that live with both parents just do a whole lot better.
And from Roger Bennett:
I’m a bit behind on the blog because I was incommunicado at St. Vladimir’s Seminary last week. That sojourn is not unrelated to this response.
Last Monday, Steve Thomas, a graduate student at Biola, among other things commended on this blog the Association of Classical & Christian Schools. I paid a visit to their website and found what I feared: a mandatory statement of faith so distinctively Protestant that an Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christian could not honestly affirm it.
I feared I would find this because of a conversation with a conscientious Orthodox Deacon I met at St. Vladimir’s. He is in a quandary. He and his wife have been homeschooling their four children under age nine. But the pressures of twice-daily Chapel (Matins and Vespers) plus a new faculty appointment makes it impractical to continue homeschooling, at least for all four. But he encountered precisely such distinctively Protestant statements of faith in his search for a Christian Day School.
What in heavens name does ACCS think it’s preserving by, as I understand it, requiring adherence to this statement of faith for all families in ACCS schools? They want to promote “Classical” education but despise the early Christian Church that was steeped in classical culture? I don’t get it.
WILLIAMS' FLACK PLEADS HE DIDN'T MEAN IT:
An update on the Archbishop of Canterbury's endorsement of the Good As New Bible (see "More on that new semi-Bible" two items below and the links therein). It comes from the blogsite of the Rev'd Kendall Harmon, an Episcopal priest who was once a student of Fr. Reardon's, who writes:
I spoke to Sarah Williams in the Lambeth Palace press office today and she noted that Rowan Williams was invited to write the preface, and did so because he backed the idea of the need to render the Scriptures in a way in which the average man or woman can understand them. The Times article takes the preface way too far when it has Dr. Williams personally backing the translation itself as well as the theology reflected therein.
Kendall finds this "something of a relief," but many of the people commenting rightly take him to task for this. As it turns out, Williams has endorsed another book by the writer, which was equally as bad.
THE STATUS OF BLOOD
Professor Alison Murdoch of the University of Newcastle's Centre for Life in the UK has a different take on the idea of being "for Life" than most of us. He and his colleague, Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, are planning to clone human beings so they can use them as a source of tissue for stem cell research. "Our intention is not to create cloned humans, but to save lives," says Dr. Stojkovic. As Prof. Murdoch put it:
"We are not trying to clone a baby ... These embryos have no more moral status than blood taken from a patient" (from the The Observer)
This line of argument, apparently, was sucessful in Britain, where the scientists were just given the authority to create clones with no moral status.
To summarize: from the land of Orwell we find professors of a Centre for Life , the existence of which requires the death of human embryos. They fought for legislation that would allow them to create these human embryos, but argued that they do not intend to create embryos. Finally they argued that even though they will create human embryos and destroy them, it is alright because those human beings have no moral status.
If they are looking for subjects for their experiments with status but no morals, they might begin looking in the town of Newcastle.
MORE ON THAT NEW SEMI-BIBLE:
Two responses to Steve Hutchens' Neither Good, Nor New, posted on Friday. See The Modernized St. Paul for the basic facts about the Good as New Bible. The first response comes from our contributing editor Robert Hart:
At the end of the BBC article are these words:
Dr [Rowan] Williams [current Archbishop of Canterbury] said he hoped the new translation would "spread in epidemic profusion through religious and irreligious alike"... "Instead of being taken into a specialised religious frame of reference... we have here a vehicle for thinking and worshiping that is fully earthed, recognisably about our humanity," he said.
("Spread in epidemic profusion..." Like a plague?)
Here we have something that sounds very clever, and could fool someone who misunderstands the meaning of the Incarnation. St. Athanasius made his famous statement in his classic book On the Incarnation of the Word — and I will use the translation favored by my brother Addison in his article in the June issue of Touchstone: "He was humanized that we may be deified."
Rowan Williams has inverted the meaning of Christ's coming, of the Word being made flesh and thereby having taken our created nature into His uncreated Person. In complete opposition to St. Athanasius' scripturally accurate understanding, Williams has the Incarnation of the Word being the means whereby everything "earthy" replaces deification by grace.
Our worship is to be confined to the limits of earthy humanity, instead of being the worship of the Living God. The end of salvation is all about our humanity as we experience it now, not about becoming "partakers of the Divine Nature" (II Peter 1:4). Furthermore, "our humanity" is the focus of our worship; we ourselves becoming our own idol.
"And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23)
I'd noticed that particularly unfortunate metaphor "epidemic." It was one of the things that made me first think the story was a hoax, because I assumed someone who wrote as well as Williams would not have used it. I was wrong, and disappointed. The article to which he refers is Addison Hart's A Sensible Growth in God
The second response comes from Jack Guipre:
I thought your readers might enjoy the following, taken from Father Neuhaus' February 1992 Public Square column in First Things: The Correct New Testament.
The item begins:
The people at Wittenburg Door (yes, they know Wittenberg is spelled with an "e") think they are so very funny. They are. They think it is past time for Christians, and evangelical Protestants in particular, to get attuned to the times. The feminists at the National Council of Churches who put out that inclusive language lectionary are altogether too timid. A Bible that is relevant to TODAY!!! needs a much more thorough reworking, and the editors show us how to go about it.
Here, for example, is the Wittenburg Door version of Mark 8:13-19: "And he went around to the other side of the hill and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he nominated twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to dialogue and to have authority to cast out racists; Simon, whom he surnamed Shabazz; James, the son of Zebedee and John the lover of James, whom he named Boaner-Gays, that is thighs of thunder; Tawana and N'krumna, Mary Magdalene and Salome, Hirioshi, and Jugdesh; Running Buffalo; Che the Zealot; and Judas the Caucasian who betrayed him."