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Saturday, July 24


The July 23, 2004 USA Today has an AP story, which they title "Bishops' warning going ignored," with a subtitle, "Catholic lawmakers who back abortion rights still taking Communion."

In Associated Press interviews with more than 75 such politicians, none said that they are abstaining from the sacrament over the issue, and many said they believed voting for legalized abortion did not jeopardize their standing with the church....

U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich... said he would abstain at the request of his bishop, but his prelate has not asked him to do so....

"I am very comfortable with my status, and quite frankly, my relationship with God is direct and personal and the church is merely a guest in that relationship," said U.S. Rep. James Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
Langevin doesn't think abortion should be permitted except in cases of rape, incest, or if a mother's life is in danger, so he isn't as extreme as Roe v. Wade. Nonetheless, he is out of step with Catholic teaching, but according to him, Catholic teaching is like the advice you get from one of your dinner guests on how to run your own house. "Thanks. I will take that under advisement," is the polite response.

4:54 PM


I have written recent about teaching morals. It came up again this morning. While driving my grandson to a baseball practice, I was listening to what I find to be a very funny show, Car Talk, on National Publc Radio, the only show I really ever listen to on NPR.

If you haven't heard it, people call in with their car problems to two car expert brothers, who are real cut ups. This morning (I think, for I didn't catch whether this show was live or a rerun) Tricia calls in from Louisville, where she has recently moved. She found a new boyfriend. One day they decided to switch cars. She ran into the back of his car, which was actually her car. It was totalled. (All the while the Car Talk guys are asking questions: How is it that you hit? "He was stopped in the street." Why? "He was at a red light.") Of course the car she was driving had heavy damages, but it was his car, and he was liable for $500 deductible costs for repairs.

Her question? She wanted some ethical advice. Should she pay the $500 or just for a couple of days's car rental? By the way, they have broken up. Things got pretty icy not long after the accident. By the way, Tricia is a lawyer.

A lawyer? Well, say the CT guys, then you could just say, "My (that is, his) brakes failed and I hit the car." After all, lawyers have no ethics! hah, hah. (These guys are funny, like I said.)

Tricia: "Well, that's why I called you. I really don't have any."

Their advice: pay the $500. Tricia said she would take their advice "under advisement."
Was she kidding about not having any ethics? She wasn't laughing when she said it, and they didn't laugh in response.

Law, it certainly seems, is not about justice anymore, but what you can get away with.

2:41 PM

Friday, July 23


I am currently reading Art and Intellect in the Philosophy of Étienne Gilson by Francesca Aran Murphy (University of Missouri: 2004). The French Thomist philosopher Gilson faced a situation in France in which the republican government ran public schools “in which the element of Christianity was eliminated but that of Christian morality was retained.”

As a Lycée professeur, Gilson had had to teach ethics. On asking the headmaster how he was to do so “without religious authority or metaphysical principles,” Étienne was told: “Your teaching must be essentially practical, and since everything which concerns the conduct of pupils relates to the Deputy Headmaster, if you have any doubts, address them to the Deputy Headmaster.” The deputy headmaster, “or rather as the pupils said, the Bison,

“counseled me to avoid subversive ideas, above all ‘liberty of conscience,’ for which my predecessor had been terribly abused and which rendered discipline impossible in his Lycée. ‘In sum,’ he concluded, ‘preach good conduct.’ I preached it. With what success, one can see. I had to return to my Deputy head, to ask if he could not intervene with one of my philosophy students, who was accompanied each day by a woman of easy virtue to the door of the Lycée where, with a view to a baccalaureated, he came to learn ethics. [The Deputy headmaster’s] strongly felt response was that ‘she doesn’t come into the Lycée,’ and consequently, ‘this does not concern us.’ I asked him, in my naïve candor, if he did not believe it opportune to inform the parents. And I obtained this second response, no less sagacious: ‘They would tell me: it is not against nature is it? So it’s natural.” I thus came to discover the foundations of ethics.”
Of course, even teaching what are essentially Christian morals without teaching Christianity would not be attempted in American public schools today. That would be forcing one’s morality on others. The bar has been lowered to barely an inch off the ground.

Of course, the view that whatever is natural (i.e., occurs) is natural, is itself a moral view that has been forced into the schools, as well as the view that it is immoral to condemn other people’s morals. (Activists for “gay marriage” are, in fact, forcing a moral view on the rest of the country—the approval of homosexuality itself, and as a legitimate basis for marriage and family).

Gilson has much to say about the role of the Christian in public life, and I am just getting to those pages. In the meantime, I have just read: “Once ‘youth’, is inured to immoralism, Gilson wrote, they are ‘ripe for dictators.’” He was commenting on the rise of the German Youth movement in the 1930s.

But we dare not change our minds and begin to teach morals. Everything is just fine in our schools and among our students. Shoot, if anything bad happens, just bring in the Deputy Headmaster.

3:06 PM


Judy Warner writes in with a response to one of the items in today's "From the Inbox" (below). I think she is right, not only in her analysis but in her suggestions for what a parent can do (it's what we did, anyway).

This report on children's books is very disturbing; apparently children's books, at least in England, have gone far beyond what I thought, and I had a pretty low opinion of current children's "literature."

I don't agree with the author that it is simply an economic phenomenon, publishers having discovered that adults will buy these books too. Children's literature has been degenerating for many decades, at least as long as Judy Blume has been writing. I think it is connected to contemporary views on children, as described by Kay Hymowitz and others.

I think some adults, especially those in positions of power over children, take positive pleasure in corrupting children; hence the popularity of sex-education courses that are little more than how-to instructions. These views of children are a result of the change in our culture that leaves many adults feeling put-upon if they have any responsibilities toward anyone else, and much prefer to think that children don't need any special protection.

I dealt with this plague in children's books by (1) giving my daughter, now 18, a taste for good books by reading to her as much as she wanted, which was a great deal, even into her teenage years when she was perfectly capable of reading to herself. By this means we covered all of Jane Austen and other "advanced" books at a much earlier age than she would have been able to by herself.

And (2) by reading to her very few books that were written after the late sixties, which is when children's publishing in America fell into the hands of feminists. So those classics the author mentioned were her standard fare; she loved them then and is rereading some of them this summer, before she leaves for college.

This was all made much easier by homeschooling her through eighth grade so that she wasn't much exposed to the usual fare. What happened is that she developed a taste for the olden days, did a lot of re-enacting and role-playing, and just yesterday told me she wished she could have gone to finishing school. She would like to run classes to teach young girls how to dress and act properly. She is far from weird as a result of this upbringing, let me add, was very popular in high school, and is very forward in correcting her friends' grammar and ethical lapses.

2:59 PM


One more thing from today's inbox: Diseases of mass destruction, a review of a new book on the history of smallpox. It includes the interesting sidelight:

One of the most curious aspects of the history of smallpox (and perhaps of all modern history) was the prolonged anti-vaccination movement, which was able to publish mass-circulation magazines right up to the 1930s and which acted as a kind of lightning conductor for a vast amount of social discontent. George Bernard Shaw thundered against vaccination, accusing its supporters of ignorance, stupidity and venality; the more serious and intelligent Rider Haggard wrote a powerfully pro-vaccination novel called Dr Therne, to oppose the Vaccination Act of 1898 which allowed parents not to have their children vaccinated on the grounds of "conscience".

10:43 AM


— From the Midwest Conservative Journal, a statement from the Church of England Evangelical Council to the second Eames Commission, which is studying how all these disputing Anglicans are supposed to get along. The link includes the responses, including one from our contributing editor William Tighe, who praises the statement but points out the fundamental problem of conservatives like this endorsing the ordination of women and going to the mattresses (to borrow a phrase from The Godfather II) on homosexuality. Some other readers call him “tiresome.”

— From the English magazine The Spectator, an article on Islam and the West by Anthony Browne, The triumph of the East. After describing the imperialistic nature of Islam and pointing out that this is not an aberration, Browne writes:

I believe in a free market in religions, and it is inevitable that if you believe your religion is true, then you believe others are false. But this market is seriously rigged. In Saudi Arabia the government bans all churches, while in Europe governments pay to build Islamic cultural centres. While in many Islamic countries preaching Christianity is banned, in Western Christian countries the right to preach Islam is enshrined in law. Christians are free to convert to Islam, while Muslims who convert to Christianity can expect either death threats or a death sentence. The Pope keeps apologising for the Crusades (even though they were just attempts to get back former Christian lands) while his opposite numbers call for the overthrow of Christendom.

In Christian countries, those who warn about Islamification, such as the film star Brigitte Bardot, are prosecuted, while in Muslim countries those who call for the Islamification of the world are turned into TV celebrities. In the West, schools teach comparative religion, while in Muslim countries schools teach that Islam is the only true faith. David Blunkett in effect wants to ban criticism of Islam, a protection not enjoyed by Christianity in Muslim countries. Millions of Muslims move to Christian countries, but virtually no Christians move to Muslim ones.
— Another article from The Spectator, Read me a dirty story, Mummy by Rachel Johnson about the plague of sex-ridden “tweenage” books, which seem to be called “kidults” because they’re written as much for grown-ups (now there’s an icky thought) as children. She points out that the books children used to read are much better, and certainly much better for them, than this . . . stuff.
I don’t believe that adults are suddenly waking up to the sophistication of children’s titles; I believe that authors and publishers are waking up to the commercial potential of having books being bought by lots more people of all age groups . . .

[T]he growing crossover phenomenon means that children’s books have earned a much bigger place on the books pages than before, so authors are writing them not with an eye to their exclusive audience of children, librarians and teachers but to the hardened reviewers and to adults. So they put in all this stuff about sex, death, child abuse, substance abuse, family breakdown, global warming and the Gulf war as a crowd-pleaser.
She is wrong, I think, to include librarians in the first group and wrong to leave out parents. The librarian establishment seems as intent as anyone on providing children with what has been called “anxiety lit” and in some cases at least careless in providing them what is in effect soft-core pornography.

In fact, I think I would make a distinction between the anxiety lit and the sex lit. The first I think generally destructive, partly because, as the writer notes, it gives children a distorted view of the world. Families are places where bad things happen, is a general theme, for example. But at least some of the writers are trying to write about real problems.

The second is even more destructive, because it is a form of pornography. I suspect, though I have data for this, that it is this kind of "young adult literature" that draws the most adult readers.

— An article from today’s Daily Telegraph, related to the first item: A Church brought to its knees , a review of a new book by a liberal journalist on the Church of England’s debate over homosexuality. The reviewer, I should say, is kinder to the traditional believers than the writer, but not much.

— Our contributing editor Russell Moore, a dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an article on the Mississippi Democratic Party’s pro-life and anti-gay marriage platform.

10:29 AM

UNCIVIL GIRLS pt. 2 (Corrupting them Early)

Contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green, in a scathing review of "The Door in the Floor" (starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) that will appear on National Review Online, writes about the part a very young actress plays in the film:

Most troubling is the use of four-year-old Elle Fanning, little sister of Dakota Fanning, the translucent child beauty who's already made a dozen movies. Ted and Marion's daughter Ruth has no functional role in the story, and finally Marion decides to walk out of her life entirely, abandoning her to her careless father's care. This is regarded as puzzling and sad, not as the astounding betrayal it is. Ruth seems to be there only to deliver lines like "I have sand in my crack" and "Your penis looks funny" (Ted responds with one of the film's few good lines: after a thoughtful pause, "Well, my penis *is* funny"). She's only four years old, she's as fair and delicate as an angel, and this is what the writers have coming out of her mouth. A four-year-old doesn't think this up; someone else makes her do it. Sociologists of the future will study "The Door in the Floor" as they try to figure out how we went so wrong.
Which is one of the obvious questions that arise in response to yesterday’s Uncivil Girls. In that bizarre story, the mother of one of the little girls incited her own daughter to participate in beating into a coma a 12-year-old-girl at a birthday party. “What’s the matter with kids today”? goes the old song. Often they have no adult supervision, even when there are adults around. In the case of 4-year-old actress Elle Fanning, what’s the deal with her parents? Her mother? Her father? The director? The other adults on the set? “Parental Guidance suggested” won’t get you very much help these days, I’m afraid. What’s the matter with parents today?

10:26 AM


The usual subjects were under consideration at our annual symposium of Orthodox clergy in the early part of this week—parochial ministry, the formation of lay leadership, worship and music, Christian education, counseling, medical ethics, and so on. There was even a workshop on the use of the Internet in pastoral work. On the whole those discussions were useful and helpful to the ministry.

As common at these symposia, most of the presentations were made by ordinary parish priests who have become especially proficient in this-or-that aspect of the ministry and are willing to share the fruits of their mature experience with the rest of us. Moreover, ample time was provided for conversation among ourselves, and this informal discussion of the material was likewise helpful.

I believe that the chance to discuss the practical aspects of the ministry with fellow ministers is probably the major advantage of these events. Without such opportunities, in fact, parish priests can become extremely isolated, so the concentrated opportunity to talk with (and worship with) one another and with our bishops is arguably the best benefit of our gatherings, and I invariably return from them with a general sense of refreshment.

It is inevitable, nonetheless, that “experts” are also invited to speak at these symposia, and, if one may speak candidly, the presentations of the experts sometimes provide the truly low points of the whole enterprise. On former occasions, for example, we have been obliged to bear up under onslaughts of “the renewal of feminine ministries” and to endure the ravages of rationalist biblical exegesis. This year we were, on the whole, mercifully spared such torture.

The single exception to this mercy was a disappointing lecture on “liturgical renewal” by a professor from one of the Orthodox seminaries. The material was essentially the same shortsighted nonsense that the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans were forced to endure thirty or forty years ago.

We clergy, three quarters of us adult converts to the Orthodox Church, sat in sackcloth and inwardly groaned like pelicans in the wilderness, while a life-long Orthodox liturgical expert explained to us at length that Orthodox worship “no longer speaks meaningfully to modern man” and suggested ways in which an established panel of his cronies and clones might bring their expertise to bear on this crushing problem of Orthodox irrelevance to American life. They would pull our worship up to date and make it more meaningful to the refined sensibilities of contemporary society.

Growls and low rumblings were audible in the assembly. The fact that there was not a sudden, violent rush at the speaker’s podium is chiefly to the credit of Orthodox restraint and ascetical discipline.

Afterwards, by way of constructive reaction to the presentation, the more devout among us went off to the chapel to breathe deeply and recite the Jesus Prayer repeatedly in order to regain their inner composure. Others went out jogging with a view to lowering their blood pressure and using up the excess adrenalin that only a liturgist, or perhaps an exceptionally adept terrorist, is able to elicit. Neither devout nor strong, I confess that I was not to be found in either of these groups. Rather, I was among those lesser brethren gathered in the recreation room to deplore the event, regretting meanwhile my failure to tote along a flask of Scotch or Bourbon to serve as a restorative. In this age of international terrorism and liturgical renewal, one must take every precaution.

Among the more objectionable aspects of this most objectionable lecture was the sustained presumption that academic experts know more about the requirements of modern life than the rest of us do. Even apriori we should suspect that this is not the case, because a certain abstraction from the urgency of "life in the world" has always been considered one of the essential requirements of an academic education. Our prior suspicion on this point, moreover, is rather often justified by what the professional academic actually has to say.

Let me cite a single example from the liturgical lecture that I just described.

Among the more deplorable shortcomings of traditional Orthodox liturgical texts, we were told, is the dominance of an outdated cosmology, evidenced in our liturgical references to the "four elements" in creation. How, we were asked, are such references going to strike "the average high school student"? This hypothetical student, our lecturer assured us, knows that four is not the correct number of the world's elements. He has studied the Periodic Table and, we were given to infer, he ponders it incessantly. Day and night he prowls the earth, this modern high school student, reviewing in his mind the process of photosynthesis and reciting the formula for oxonic acid. Therefore, his imagination would be overly taxed by Orthodox liturgical references to the four elements, because these are quaint, confusing, and obscure.

In the refutation of such a suggestion, one hardly knows which of a thousand possible handles is the first to be grabbed.

My initial reaction was to inquire why in the world we should measure our liturgical texts by the dubious standards of contemporary high school students. However, when I expressed this query down in the recreation room (drinking my Coca-Cola), a young deacon properly yanked me up short. Today's high school students, he pointed out, seem not to be so fixated on the Periodic Table. Indeed, they appear to experience no deep cognitive dissonance respecting the alleged four elements of the universe. One suspects this, in fact, from their apparent enthusiasm for literary and dramatic works based on that same cosmology.

This young deacon cited the Tolkien sensation as an obvious example. The companions of Frodo would probably have not the slightest trouble with the Orthodox Baptismal service, which refers to the water as one of the four elements of the world. Boromir, Gandalf, and their friends rather often speak of earth, water, air, and fire, whereas their allusions to calcium oxide and sodium nitrate are somewhat rare.

I further reflected that I, even I, went to high school once. Admittedly, it was a very long time ago, and I was hardly a stellar student, but still it was during a period somewhat after the discovery of the atom, and I did pass some of my courses. I too was obliged to know that nitrogen was designated by the atomic number 7 and that the specific weight of helium was 4.003. Until this past week it had never occurred to me that such information would destroy my ability to pray the Psalms or sing the traditional hymns of the Church. Even though I have known, pretty much all my life, that the daily reappearance of the sun is a phenomenon caused by the spinning of the earth, I still find myself praying the Jam lucis orto sidere when this phenomenon occurs and, if feeling especially romantic at the moment, I have been known to refer to it as "sunrise."

Let me suggest that most of us are like this. The last thing we need is a liturgist to tell us how to pray and how to look at the world. Should the Orthodox liturgy be reformed in order to rid our souls of the aforesaid anachronisms? I don't think so. It would be more proper, rather, to study the Sermon on the Mount in order to remain in the State of Grace when dealing with liturgists.

3:10 AM

Thursday, July 22


This just in from the Friday Fax of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute:

According to Dr. Joseph Chamie, Director of the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “A growing number of countries view their low birth rates with the resulting population decline and ageing to be a serious crisis, jeopardizing the basic foundations of the nation and threatening its survival. Economic growth and vitality, defense, and pensions and health care for the elderly, for example, are all areas of major concern.”

Chamie, who was speaking in his personal capacity at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting, asserted that one-third of the countries in the world now have “below replacement” level fertility, which means that women have fewer than 2.1 children on average. In 15 countries, the fertility rate has shrunk to l.5 children or less.

In an unprecedented statement for a high-ranking UN official, Chamie claimed that the drive for gender equality is partly to blame for low fertility, stating that, “While many governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals may strongly support gender equality at work and in the home as a fundamental principle and desirable goal, it is not at all evident how having men and women participate equally in employment, parenting and household responsibilities will raise low levels of fertility. On the contrary, the equal participation of men and women in the labor force, child rearing and housework points precisely in the opposite direction, i.e., below replacement fertility. And this is in fact precisely what is being observed today in an increasing number of countries.” [Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.]
Well, somebody said it. I wonder if he will be challenged?

5:38 PM


Kristi Herman responds to my post from earlier today:

I think, overall, there is little celebration of a "good girl," to use a very denigrated term. It is very difficult to maintain civility when you see all kinds of rude, obnoxious, sexually licentious and violent behavior roundly applauded and rewarded on all sides. In fact, I'd bet a lot of women, and young girls especially, want to behave, unfortunately the feed back that they routinely receive is that they are deceived and "wimping out;" the message is they are chumps playing a fools game if they behave in a civilized manner.

This past week I saw a series of t-shirts for young women and girls that carried statements like "Boys Lie, Make Them Cry" and "Appropriate Training For Boys" showing a cartoon of a boy being lobotomized. Also, in the same store was a bunch of clothes with the Playboy bunny emblem being marketed to the same young women and girls. Last night I caught a few minutes of the "reality" show, The Simple Life, that plainly rewards and celebrates the less than civilized behavior of Paris Hilton. And, Newsweek magazine runs a noxious front page article on the joys of infidelity for the married woman.

Women are on the receiving end of messages that men do not honor or cherish the good girl and certainly will not stick around for the long haul, so why behave? Bad girls, like Hilton, Brittany Spears, the Olsen twins, the list goes on and on, get all the attention and apparently all the rewards. What is the reward in behaving?

Likewise, I have, what I hope is not a naive belief, that a lot of young men want to be challenged by a good girl and live up to her standards. But, they are probably thinking it is a fool’s game, too, when so many marriages end in divorce with men labeled deadbeats and all of society's ills are laid at the feet of the patriarchy. There has been little celebration of the manly virtues, as well.

A large part of this mess I lay at the feet of divorce. If I could change one thing in our culture to try to make it better, it would be to rid ourselves of no-fault divorce. For boys divorce usually takes away there best and most influential example of how to behave like a man. The simple message that a dad just being there for his family on a daily basis is part of being a man cannot be over emphasized.

Girls lose profoundly, too, because a father shows a daughter what love with respect is and why she should want and expect that out of the men who will be courting her. A mother gives the girl an example of what a woman is, but just as importantly the father shows a girl what to expect from a loving man. A father shows the daughter that that a man should value her as much as her father does to deserve her love. A father usually provides the girl with a reason to be a "good girl." When a girl grows up without her father she does not have the first hand knowledge that men can and do respect and value women. And divorce, unlike a death in which there wasn't a choice, implies to the child that the girl will only find rejection and pain from men, not loving, committed relationships. If a girl thinks "Boys Lie" then the logical conclusion is "Make Them Cry." Although we (society) all end up doing the crying.

5:01 PM


Here are four Book Notices that have already appeared in the magazine but might be of interest to those of you who don’t subscribe, or weren’t subscribing when they appeared. Two are by me and one each by our contributing editors Addison Hart and Peter Leithart.


By James W. Sire
InterVarsity Press, 2004
(172 pages, $14.00, paperback)

In Naming the Elephant, one of Evangelicalism’s worldview gurus offers a refined understanding of the definition of a worldview he presented in his bestselling The Universe Next Door, which has gone through four editions since it first appeared in 1976. Then he defined a worldview as “a set of presuppositions . . . we hold (consciously or unconsciously) about the makeup of our world.”

This definition has gone through four revisions. “First is a recognition that a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Second is an explicit insistence that at the deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the ‘really real.’ Third is a consideration of behavior in the determination of what one’s own or another’s worldview really is. Fourth is a broader understanding of how worldviews are grasped as story, not just as abstract propositions.” (All four of these, I might note in passing, John Henry Newman discussed 150 years ago.)

The book begins with a survey of the development of the concept, from its use by the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey through Nietzsche and Wittgenstein to its modern Evangelical advocates, and a clever explanation of how their definition of “worldview” depended on their . . . worldview. Sire concludes this section with the “new phase” begun by the Evangelical philosopher David Naugle, whose Worldview: History of a Concept appeared two years ago, “acknowledge[ing] the shift in perspective from ontology to hermeneutics.”

The rest of Naming the Elephant explores this refined idea of worldview, making as it does so an indirect argument for the truth of the Christian worldview. “The main difference” the refined definition makes, he writes, “is a shift from propositions and stories to the heart that grasps and understands them,” leading to the refusal “to think simple arguments — or perhaps the most sophisticated arguments — will dislodge any presupposition from its operating position in the life of an individual.” It ends with a chapter titled “Intelligent people who clash by day,” on using worldview analysis to understand oneself and others and live with intellectual coherence in a pluralistic world.

Sire, who was for many years the senior editor at InterVarsity Press, engages a wide range of thinkers, secular and Christian, and provides in his quotes a very useful collection and in his footnotes a very useful bibliography.

— David Mills

By Hilaire Belloc
With a Foreword by Dr. Clyde Wilson, and an Introduction by Michael Hennessy
IHS Press
(287 pages; $25.95; paperback)

By Hilaire Belloc
With an Introduction by Dr. John McCarthy
IHS Press
(223 pages; $24.95; paperback)

With these two volumes IHS Press has launched “Gates of Vienna Books,” a new series of reprinted works by notable Catholic historians. As described on their website, the series “will concentrate in particular on those texts which provide an analysis of key periods or figures of modern history from a standpoint which recognizes not only the existence of religious truth but of its active and substantial role in human history.” Among the books slated for republication are the biographies written by Hilaire Belloc, long noticed — if at all — as merely G. K. Chesterton’s friend but now, happily, being rediscovered by a new generation of readers.

Originally published respectively in 1933 and 1940, Charles I and Charles II: The Last Rally read like good novels. Belloc does not pretend to be “objective,” but takes on the predominant Whig version of English history. He analyzes the conflicts that undermined the reigns of these two Stuart kings as the rise of the “Money Power” and how it manipulated, against all former legality and custom, both Parliament and the Lawyers’ Guild to achieve its ends. There are lessons to be learned from these books.

The books include a number of typographical errors which should have been caught before the books were printed.

— Addison Hart

Edited by Wayne Grudem and Dennis Rainey
Crossway, 2002
(300 pages, $15.99, paperback)

Edited and written by people associated with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pastoral Leadership offers a pastoral practice for the “complementarian” position: “that men and women are created by God to be equal in value but different in roles,” as Wayne Grudem writes in the preface. The writers include the editors, R. Kent Hughes, the pastor of the College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, Tim Bayly, now head of CBMW, and Paige Patterson, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The book’s fifteen essays, most of which are directed to pastoral practice, address such subjects as the pastor’s marriage, using small groups to help make marriages stronger, making a church “man-friendly” and supportive of single adults, dealing with homosexuality, and responding to those who have been abused by their husband or wife. It does not avoid the controversial subjects, as the essays “Church discipline: God’s tool to preserve and heal marriages” and “How to encourage husbands to lead and wives to follow” suggest.

— David Mills


By Stephen Prothero
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003
(364pp. hardback)

In American Jesus, Stephen Prothero traces a three-stage process that produced a uniquely American Jesus. First, Jesus was detached, through the awakenings of the nineteenth century, from the creedal and confessional Calvinism of Puritan America; then, scholars disentangled Jesus from the biblical witness, basing their faith supposedly on Jesus himself, not on scripture or tradition; finally, Jesus was detached from Christianity itself, so that he could become all things to all Americans.

Prothero summarizes: “In From Jesus to Christ (1988), Paula Fredriksen has destribed how the early Church transformed Jesus the man into the Christ of the creeds. In the United States, Americans reversed that process. As they made it possible to reject the Calvinist Christ, the creedal Christ, and the biblical Christ, Jesus became accessible to Americans who could not believe in predestination, the Trinity, or the inerrancy of the Bible. As they disentangled Jesus from Christianity itself, Jesus piety became possible even for non-Christians.”

Through the course of his book, Prothero shows how conceptions of Jesus function as a “Rohrschach test” of American mores. He examines several American Jesus styles: the Enlightened sage of Jefferson and the Jesus seminar; the sweet Jesus of Victorian America and liberal Protestantism; the “manly redeemer” of various muscular Christian movements; the countercultural “Jesus Christ Superstar; the Mormon Christ, as well as the black, oriental, and Jewish Jesus. Thus, Prothero characterizes America as a “Jesus nation,” a description that captures both the profound and profoundly Christian religiosity of our nation, as well as the thoroughly heterodox character of that religiosity.

— Peter Leithart

1:47 PM


— Jim has already posted a link to When girls' civilizing influence turns brutal by Betsey Hart, from the Jewish World Review. I might add that the website offers a number of interesting-looking articles and a “daily update” to tell you what’s new (you can sign up for it at the bottom of Hart’s article). The site is a practical one. I noticed on today’s update that among the articles the JWR offers is an explanation of intestinal gas and yoghurt.

— A reader sends the link to Pro-Life Democrats Will Rally Against Abortion at Democratic Convention, which appears on the very useful LifeNews site. According to the article:

”The current Democratic platform supporting abortion on demand, an unrestricted 'right to chose' is going to be our party's 'right to lose,'" Day [Kristen Day, the head of Democrats for Life of America] said. "If we loyal Democrats don't want four more years of Bush, we've got to care enough to stay in our party and change its extreme and fatal abortion position so we can win again.”
This strikes me as saying from the stern of the Titanic, “If we don’t want this ship to sink we’ve got to care enough to stay on board and start bailing” when several hundred feet of deck were already under water. I have a romantic attachment to lost causes but not insane ones. Though, let me be clear, I think we very much need two (or more) major political parties, just two pro-life ones.

And I wonder what Day actually means by this: the first half of her sentence refers to the election to be held in just over three months, but the second half to something that will definitely not happen in this election and will take years to achieve, were it possible. She has the choice of four more years of Bush and a mostly pro-life policy or four years of an ardently pro-abortion Kerry/Edwards administration. How does she propose pro-life Democrats vote? This is the crucial question.

Day also asks ex-Democrats to return. “To all those who have left the party, we say come back. Come back and help us bring our Party back to its nonviolent principles.” Non-violent principles? As in jumping into World War I? And into Viet Nam? And being pro-choice shortly after Roe v. Wade?

Anyway, the writer of the story notes that
many pro-life Democrats are voting to re-elect President Bush, and they supported him in 2000 against pro-abortion presidential candidate Al Gore.

A study published by the Gallup Poll Special Report entitled "Public Opinion About Abortion — An In-Depth Review" said "the abortion issue has been an advantage for Republican candidates" for all six presidential elections from 1984 to 2000 because of the nominee's pro-life position.

In the 2000 presidential election, Gallup polls showed that 14 percent of voters (the highest percentage ever) said abortion was one of the most important issues on which they based their vote for president.

Of those voters, 58 percent supported Bush while only 41% supported pro-abortion candidate Al Gore.
— And for you science buffs, About Those Fearsome Black Holes? Never Mind, which announces that Stephen Hawking has changed his mind about black holes:

Dr. Hawking and Dr. Thorne said information about what had been swallowed by a black hole could never be retrieved from it. . . .

This esoteric sounding debate is of great consequence to science, because if Dr. Hawking had been right, it would have violated a basic tenet of modern physics: that it is always possible to reverse time, run the proverbial film backward and reconstruct what happened in, say, the collision of two cars or the collapse of a dead star into a black hole.

I don’t claim to understand the physics behind all this, but I pass on Hawking’s response to Einstein’s famous remark about God and the universe:

In a riposte to Einstein's famous remark that God does not play dice, rejecting quantum uncertainty, Dr. Hawking said in 1976, "God not only plays dice with the universe, but sometimes throws them where they can't be seen.”
— And for those of you who keep up with hard pro-abortionists, Owning Up to Abortion by Barbara Ehrenreich, from today’s New York Times. She complains that “The prejudice is widespread that a termination for medical reasons is somehow on a higher moral plane than a run-of-the-mill abortion,” and then makes a brutal but truthful charge:

go to the Web site for A Heartbreaking Choice, a group that provides support for women whose fetuses are deemed defective, and you find "Mom" complaining of having to have her abortion in an ordinary abortion clinic: "I resented the fact that I had to be there with all these girls that did not want their babies."
Kate and Mom: You've been through a hellish experience, but unless I'm missing something, you didn't want your babies either. A baby, yes, but not the particular baby you happened to be carrying.

1:20 PM


Nathaniel Brooks writes with

Hollywood wisdom from our friend, Linda Ronstadt. On the state of the nation:

saw a movie recently about a camel and these people in Mongolia, and I relate to them better than people here in this country. It looks like (Germany’s) Weimar Republic to me here.”

I’d like to see Linda interpret how she relates to these Mongolian camels . . .

And on her current tour:

“My career has befuddled other people, and it’s befuddled me,” admitted Ronstadt, 58, who finds her fans are polarized by her nightly on-stage salute to “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore.

“I’ve been dedicating a song to him – I think he’s a great patriot – and it splits the audience down the middle, and they duke it out,” she said.

“This is an election year, and I think we’re in desperate trouble and it’s time for people to speak up and not pipe down. It’s a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I’d rather not know.”

1:18 PM


This weird story was sent by contributing editor Kevin Offner: When girls' civilizing influence turns brutal. The story by Betsy Hart starts off with a bizarre episode at a Baltimore birthday party when the boyfriend of the 13-year-old birthday gave another girl, 12, a kiss on the cheek. At the instigation of the birthday girl’s mother

the unfortunate guest, Nicole Ashley Townes, was savagely beaten by six women and girls, including the mother, and sent into a coma.
This story is not surprising to me or to the author:
… [I]t does seem to fit with the "girls gone wild" phenomenon spreading across American culture. According to AP, "Around the country school police and teachers are seeing a growing tendency for girls to settle disputes with their fists ..." It's still true that violence among boys is a much bigger problem than violence among girls, as measured by arrest statistics. But, AP reports, while it used to be the ratio was 10 to 1, now it's 4 to 1.

While the surge of violence among girls has been seen primarily at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, it's by no means exclusively there. Just flash back to the news about the violent "powder puff" girls football game in an affluent Chicago suburb where one group of girls brutalized another group of girls huddled helplessly on the ground, even to the point of breaking bones.

So, what's going on?
It’s called “Reaping what we sow.” There are many things that feed into this, of course. Lack of moral education in school since the 60s (“values clarification” instead), the repression “religious” views in public discourse, the refusal to debate character issues, and maybe most of all, the lesson to liberated women of the last three decades that if you have a big problem, like an inconvenient pregnancy, it is okay as a first resort to use violence to make the problem go away.

This growing uncivility of our civilization should be a major concern to all parties right now. Will it be addressed by other than lame words?

I don’t know how many boys were at the party, but one would have wished that they had intervened and stopped the violence, as dangerous as that might have been. Without hitting the girls or the adult women, of course. Just intervened somehow.

11:04 AM

Wednesday, July 21


Readers may remember that we included a description of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit in the “No Comment” section of the July/August issue (page seven), which was an amusing example of Made-Up-To-Suit-Christianity. A reader has just sent me a link to a letter by Bishop Jim Burch of the One Spirit Catholic Community: Bishop Responds to 'Shocked' Letter Writer.

He is responding to a writer who was shocked at his ordaining a woman to the priesthood while claiming to be a Catholic bishop. (Which he isn't, let me make clear.) His letter includes such lines as:

many credible biblical scholars believe it is highly conceivable that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (see "The Woman With the Alabaster Jar" by Margaret Starbird, the book that was the inspiration for the novel "The DiVinci Code"), and . . . women deaconesses and presbyters (“priests”) were mentioned in many early Christian texts and art work.
The first claim reveals a man taking seriously a book that inspired The DiVinci [sic] Code, which is somewhat like taking your news from the Weekly World News. The second claim is an interesting mixture of confusion (or trickery) and fantasy: the confusion (or trickery) in treating a indisputable fact (that the early Church had “women deaconesses”) as an argument for something it does not support (that it had priestesses), and the fantasy in declaring as a truth something that is not true (that many Christian works mention or picture women priests).

What the writer offers in the rest of the letter is an almost textbook case of pop liberalism: skeptical about the biblical claims and the Christian tradition when skepticism suits and trusting of it when trust suits, and mixing both with simple assertion of things (mostly untrue and most of the rest half true) he wants to be true. After explaining how nearly impossible it is to understand what people really meant so long ago, the bishop goes on to tell us exactly what Jesus taught:

Jesus’ message was that God already loves everyone the same, equally and unequivocally. God loves women the same as men. God loves Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists — everyone! — as much as God loves Christians. God gives us all different gifts, and we Christians can be most grateful for the gift of Jesus and his teachings — a person, like us, except that he made the perfect choices and lived the full life of God in him. Then he told us that we all have this same gift and are all called to be what he was, the perfect expression of God. Obviously, however, it is taking the rest of us longer to reach that goal!
Then he draws what he thinks the obvious conclusion for two currently contested issues:
Within these broad messages of love and acceptance, the discussion of whether married men or women can be priests is silly. Of course they can. The scandalous denigration of human beings who are homosexual is so sadly anti-Christian. Ten percent of every human generation has been homosexual; and God does not make mistakes. God loves all of God’s human expressions the same. And when any of us feel love, we experience God — who is love. That should close the door on further discussion about how God feels about gay and lesbian people. If God loves them equally to us who are not gay and lesbian, should we do any less?
Later he writes that if practices or ideas “are exclusionary or judgmental, they are not Christian” and are “far from Jesus and his real message of universal acceptance and love.” Our being “saved” (quotation marks his) is “inevitable if God lives within each of us” (his “if” in context means “because”).

You will have noticed the jump from “God loves everyone” to “God loves all of God’s [sic] human expressions the same.” This is the standard move of pop liberalism: take a truth to which everyone agrees, state it without any qualifications or definition, and then declare that it applies to the cause you favor as if this were self-evident. And add to this argument lots of cheerful moralizing that points the finger in a way no one can refute because you don’t give enough detail (e.g., this “so sadly Christian” “scandalous denigration”) and facts that seem to make a moral point (e.g., if 10% of people are homosexuals — a claim long ago exploded, by the way — it must be okay), which helps ensure that the reader or hearer doesn’t realize that your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premise.

There is much more to analyze in this letter, as you might imagine, but I’ve done enough such analysis in my life to let this chance go by. I would, however, note that Bishop Jim’s religion suffers the inevitable problem of Make-Up-Your-Own-Christianity, at least when it is practiced by the average man: its premises, stated in the unqualified and undefined way such people state them, justify all sort of actions the religion’s creator would (we hope) reject.

If, for example, “when any of us feel love, we experience God — who is love,” the Social Darwinist who feels great love for mankind, and especially for the mankind of the future, can without guilt oppress, persecute, and even kill those he thinks inferior, and indeed he can feel love for those whose “lives unworthy of life” (to borrow a phrase from the early eugenicists) he is ending as, he thinks, a mercy to them.

Oh, no, someone like Bishop Jim replies, that’s not love. To which the obvious answer is: why not? On your own grounds, why not? Well, he says, the Social Darwinist is denying God’s love to the people he’s oppressing, he’s hurting those God loves just as much as him.

To which one would reply: Even if he is, he’s showing God’s love to the people of the future, and there will be a lot more of them than the number of people he’s oppressing today. You’re denying God’s love to all those tens of millions who will be spared all sorts of suffering and whose lives will be improved by the suffering of a few people today. How do you propose to settle their respective claims? Why should you privilege the people of the present to the cost of the people of the future? How do you decide which action is more truly loving? Which would God approve, and how do you know?

If he is pro-choice, as he almost certainly is, he may realize the danger he’s in: if he asserts the superiority of the rights of those living today to those to be born in the future, he’ll be asserting by implication the superiority of the rights of those today unborn to those carrying them. He’ll find himself wanting to appeal to an absolute principle while realizing that the absolute principle may reject one of his doctrinal or political commitments.

If he’s not on his toes, our New Christian may at this point blurt out something like “But they have a right to live” or “That would be wrong.” He does not want to do this, because then we can ask him questions like “Where do these rights come from? Who gives them? How do we know what they are? Why do they have a right to live and not the unborn?” and “Why is it wrong? How do we know it’s wrong? Why is it wrong to kill them and not to kill the unborn?”

We will ask him, in other words, to give us his understanding of man and of God, we will press him to speak of his First Principles. We will ask questions that his general principles cannot answer.

If our New Christian is on his toes, he will respond with variations on his theme, which if he’s careful never become any more specific than they were the first time. He will not answer your questions and will try to make you feel like a clown or a brute for asking them. (As the old joke goes, the preacher writes in his manuscript: “Argument weak. Shout.”)

People like Bishop Jim cannot afford to supply a working moral code because to supply one would require them to establish principles, and principles bind and restrict. Worse, you never know what a principle — especially a first principle — might demand when fully worked out. It might lead, for example, to opposing abortion. It might lead to disapproving of homosexuality or to requiring that priests be men, when you would like to believe these ideas “silly.”

2:38 PM


A grim Trip Report by Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Frank Wolf is now available on-line.

The two U.S. legistlators were in Darfur, Western Sudan from June 27-29, 2004, and report that, according to United Nations criteria for genocide, what is happening in Darfur “may very well meet this test.”

In a region about the size of Texas, the Janjaweed (“wild men on horses with G-3 guns”) “kill men. They rape women. They abduct children. They torch villages. They dump human corpses and animal caracasses in wells to contaminate the water.”

It is clearly the intent of the Janjaweed to purge the region of dark-skinned African [Muslims].

…The raids would happen early in the morning. First comes the low rumble of a Soviet-made Antonov plan—flown by Sudanese pilots—to bomb the village. Next come helicopter gunships—again, flown by Sudanese pilots—to strafe the village with huge machine guns mounted on each side . . . . Moments later, the Janaweed, some clad in military uniforms, would come galloping in on horseback and camels to finish the job by killing, raping, stealing, and plunder.

…The Janjaweed made certain there was nothing left to come home to. Huts were torched. . . . Only the lucky ones—mostly women and children—made it out alive.
The threat of famine and starvation is real. Only international intervention, it would seem, can avert more death and destruction.

1:45 PM


A reader wrote in response to the story linked to in One is Never Enough. This was the New York Times story about a woman who chose to abort two of her three triplets because, among other reasons, to have three children would force her to buy big jars of mayonaise at Costco.

Not only was the article from the New York Times concerning the woman who kills two of her babies because that would be too big of a burden horrifying, I was surprised that the culture in New York is such that an article of that type could even be published. I can only imagine that the editors of the Times found nothing ethically challenging about the article and in their worldview such a thing presents no moral dilemma other than should this be on page 2 or perhaps page 10.
If I were to guess, I’d guess that the editors were not quite so jaded as the writer thinks. I imagine that when the article arrived, a few editors thought it “honest” and bold, a few had felt deep reservations or even felt repulsed, and the rest either thought it went a bit too far. A few may have realized that it let the cat out of the bag.

The ones in the middle probably did feel that it posed a kind of moral dilemma, but one built into the doctrine of abortion on demand to which they are committed, and decided they were doing something journalistically valuable in running the article, morally problematic as they may have thought it. In other words, many of them aren’t so jaded as not to feel uncomfortable with the writer's extraordinary selfishness, but they are committed to a doctrine that makes them act as if they were that jaded — until someday they really are.

Unless, of course, I’m being overly optimistic.

11:51 AM


— A surprisingly sympathetic story about Christian comedy clubs from The Washington Post: The Ha-Ha-Hallelujah Comedy Movement.

— Alvin Kimel’s report on the newest fad among Episcopalians, which he calls a Baptismal Apostasy. He writes:

I am not surprised at all to find more and more ECUSA priests opening communion to the nonbaptized. It is the logical conclusion of the ideology of inclusivity, that perversion of the true gospel of God’s unconditional grace and love, that has gripped the minds and imaginations of Episcopalians. Jesus ate with sinners, outcasts, the oppressed and marginalized, didn’t he? His love for humankind is unconditional and nonjudgmental. By what right do we restrict access to the table of the Lord?
He comments, tartly:
A Google search reveals that a number of Episcopal congregations are now proclaiming open communion, presumably with the knowledge and permission of their bishops. One also finds Episcopal congregations that are practicing “open baptism.” As the Gethsemane Cathedral website puts it: “We are an open church with an engaging spirituality. No classes are required and no judgments are passed at Gethsemane. If you wish to be baptized and become Jesus Christ’s own forever, just ask and you can be.” Or as another parish website declares, we offer baptism “with no strings attached.” (So much for the baptismal vows!) This is a far cry from the days of the second-century, when catechumenal preparation of one to three years, followed by examination by the bishop, was deemed necessary to become a baptized disciple o f the Lord Jesus. Of course, that was also a time when believers freely and joyfully offered their lives in martyrdom for the Lord.
This new practice is, I might note, rather like Rolls Royce deciding that too few people can pay for their cars and starting to put the Rolls Royce hood ornament on clapped out thirty year old Chevies and selling them for almost nothing. I suppose, strictly speaking, the buyers now have a Rolls, but the Rolls they have isn’t the Rolls that gave the name such status and the cars themselves such value. The buyer who says to his neighbor, "Hey, you've got just a Lexus? I've got a Rolls Royce!" is going to look like a fool when his neighbor looks in the garage.

— A second item from Fr. Kimel’s “Pontificator” blogsite: The Coming Persecution: Secular Ideology Meets the Church. It includes some quotes from and a link to a useful article by the political scientist Kenneth Minoque called “Fundamentalism Isn’t the Problem.”

11:44 AM

Tuesday, July 20


For those of you who like the writing of Mark Steyn, one of his articles I linked to earlier, as much as I do, here is a page giving the first ten of his articles for The Spectator. The page will take you to others with more articles of his. And here is Steyn Online with a lot more of his writing.

4:07 PM


I am sad to tell readers that one of our writers, A. J. “Chip” Conyers, recently died. You can read his obituary here He was a professor of theology at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University and author of “As Bad as We Get” in the June issue.

I only talked to him on the telephone a few times and exchanged e-mails with him from time to time, but he was one of those people you hear about from others, and everyone always spoke of him with praise. The praise was, summarized, that of a gentleman who loved the Lord and cared greatly for his students and others. There is no higher praise for a professor, I think.

4:01 PM


A reader, Raymond J. Keating, sends the link to his latest column for Newsday, Should churches lead or follow the culture?. I admit the column won’t tell regular readers anything they don’t know already, and I don’t think the author would claim it did, but it is a good example of someone who has learned to speak in the secular media and tell the world something it needs to hear. Would that our newspapers had more such writers.

He wrote in his message sending the link, “I love your magazine, as well as the Mere Comments on your site,” for which kind words I am grateful.

4:00 PM


Some years ago, gambling, drug use, and pornography were outside the normal bounds of respectability. An uncle or grandfather would not casually introduce a young nephew or grandson to these things without being viewed as corrupting the young man.

Granted, perhaps gambling was the least offensive of these, since it was often a feature of more friendly card games such as poker, or was an indulgence done legally in public at the racecourse. But it was even then the sort of thing that could ruin a man and his family. I suppose it was made somewhat more respectable by being tied to some kind of entertainment, sport, or pastime that stood on its own. But since the 70s state legislatures began to approve, first, the ubiquitous state lotteries, and later, the floating (and other sorts of) casinos. Billboards with smiling, happy people beam down on children, beckoning them to the joys of casinos.

Drug use became more respectable as well when it was pushed by those entertaining the young people of the 60s and 70s; it was indulged in by young actors and directors (read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. Dennis Hopper “star” of Easy Rider, said, "The cocaine problem in the United States is really because of me. There was no cocaine before Easy Rider on the street. After Easy Rider, it was everywhere.")

Pornography, as everyone knows, became more respectable under the guiding hand of Hugh Hefner and the Playboy enterprise, with some help from Supreme Court. A couple of days ago I heard a report on “ratings creep,” which means the a film that would have been rated R 12 years ago might be rated PG-13 or even PG.

These vices, of course, are not acceptable for any Christian to indulge in. But their prevalence has only increased in the latter half of the 20th century, aided and abetted to some extent by the courts and popular culture.

But if you had to build a culture from scratch, would you ever think that you must have pornography, drug use, and gambling to make it work? Are these things necessary to a culture?

Of course not. They are parasitical on culture. For this reason those who think that a community will be revitalized, improved, made better off by the addition of gambling casinos, for instance, are sadly mistaken.

Our various civil authorities tolerate a drug economy that flourishes in crime-infested neighborhoods, allows pornography to assault the eyes of the young and impressionable in stores, libraries, billboards, and uses tax dollars of citizens to encourage citizens who can’t afford it to throw away their money on lottery tickets in the hope of becoming millionaires.

Gambling, pornography, and drugs are all capable of destroying families, ruining relationships, inciting violence and crime, even murder. They tear down and do not build up a community. They degrade a man and encourage no virtue. But where is our national indignation and resolve to weaken the grip of these addictions on our citizens?

2:17 PM


Today’s list of items gathered from various sources, some of which you may find of interest:

— From the English Anglican magazine New Directions, Robby Low’s Karl Marks Disciples on the peculiar romance of the influential Catholic theologian Karl Rahner.

— From the New York Times, Summer Reading List Blues on the peculiar choices school’s make for the reading they give their students over the summer. (The site requires registration.) As the writer, Barbara Feinberg, notes:

The required books are often the “good books” — that is, the ones that garner the highest literary prizes, like the Newbery Medal. They tend not to be about children having adventures or fighting foes in slightly enchanted realms, as the young characters do in, say, “A Wrinkle in Time,” the 1962 classic by Madeleine L’Engle. Instead, they depict children who must “come to terms,” “cope with” and “work through” harsh realties. Where characters in my books lollygagged in meadows, as it were, the children in these books are trying to hack their way out of cellars.

. . . These kinds of books, often referred to as “realistic” or “problem novels,” emerged as a genre in the 1960’s, and have been in full swing ever since. In the last few decades, writes a children’s literature historian, Anne Scott Macleod, “the path of American adolescent novels has been from outward to inward; from concern with the young adult’s relation to the larger community to a nearly exclusive emphasis on the adolescent’s inner feelings.” Sheila Egoff, also an expert in the field, writes that such books “take the approach that maturity can be attained only through a severe testing of soul and self, featuring some kind of shocking ‘rite of passage.’”
There is much to be said against this kind of problem novel, but that aside, I wonder what authority school’s have to assign reading over the summer. (In the story, students in one school are warned that their reading will be a big part of their grade.) Parents are legally required to send their children to school so many days a year, but I can’t imagine the schools have any legal authority over the children after the school year is done and that requirement satisfied. I’m all for children reading more, but this seems to me an intrusion of the schools (i.e. the state) into the independent life of the family and one best stopped now. People who think they’re doing good don’t stop.

— Also from the New York Times, Harry Potter, Market Wiz a bizarrely amusing critique by a French academic of the Harry Potter books as “a capitalist universe” and “an invasion of neoliberal stereotypes in a fairy tale”.

The writer is quite annoyed by the books’ treatment of government and particularly of bureaucrats, but what I found most amusing was that the vices he ascribed to this “capitalist universe” can be found just as commonly in every socialist system — including, I am sure, the university at which this man teaches. The article had that degree of fantasy or unreality that only an academic can manage so well, contrasting the real world, which he denounces as “capitalist,” with an undefined ideal and denouncing the first as if there were an alternative available.

In search of evidence for his thesis, the writer misreads the books — this is what ideologues do — as praising Social Darwinism. He writes that in the books “the weakest, like Harry's schoolmate Cedric Diggory, are inexorably eliminated.” Now, Diggory represented his house (Hogwarts school is divided into four houses, for those of you who haven’t read the books) in a prestigious wizarding competition, which makes him one of the strongest students, not the weakest, at Hogwarts. Yet he is killed at the end of the book by a villain of great power and cunning.

J. K. Rowling's point, I think, is not that social Darwinism is a good thing but that powerful evil is a reality from which we cannot always escape. Strength is no protection, and neither is innocence. If you want to call the power of evil to do evil Social Darwinism, then the world is Social Darwinian, but that does not make evil good. And Rowling, contra this French academic, does not say that evil is good. Indeed, she makes her readers realize how bad a thing evil is.

Which we all need to know and in our comfortable bourgeois lives need to remember over and over. It is the insight that can bring the comfortable Westerner, whose life shields him very effectively from the evidence of evil's power that most people throughout history always saw, to see the need for Christianity. The Christian will admit the reality of evil and its power in this world to bring all this-worldly hopes to nothing, and then say that we have hope beyond death.

And it isn’t the French academic’s undefined ideal, but the reality of a man who lived in human history, died in human history, rose from the dead in human history, ascended to Heaven in human history, and will come again in human history to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

— A friend sent the link to Catholic magazine no longer published, Caelum et Terra. It included writers like Juli Loesch Wiley, author of The Delightful Secrets of Sex from the January/February 2004 issue.

12:11 PM


From today’s Telegraph comes an insightful article, amusingly written though its subject is quite serious: Sudan is getting away with murder by Mark Steyn. (The site requires registration.)

After an amusing reflection on the celebrity approach to international issues — the actor Rupert Murdoch, for example, “denounced Bush’s Aids plan for Africa as ‘extremely frightening’ because of its ‘judgmental attitude’ toward sex — he turns to the scandal of the U.N.:

The UN system is broken beyond repair. In May, even as its proxies were getting stuck into their ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan was elected to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Commission. This isn’t an aberration: Zimbabwe is also a member. The very structure of the organisation, under which countries vote in regional blocs, encourages such affronts to decency.

The Sudanese representative, by the way, immediately professed himself concerned by human rights abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The UN, as the Canadian columnist George Jonas put it, enables dictators to punch above their weight. All that Elfatih Mohammed Ahmed Erwa, the Sudanese government’s man in New York, has to do is string things out long enough to bog down the US call for sanctions in the Gauloise-filled rooms. “Let’s not be hasty,” Erwa told the Los Angeles Times. And, fortunately, not being hasty is something the UN is happy to do in its own leisurely way until everyone is in the mass grave and the point is moot.

12:06 PM

Monday, July 19


When I posted the articles from the latest issue being posted on the website, I only included the two appearing on the homepage. Phillip Johnson's "Leading Edge" column, Taking the Cake is also available.

The other two are my Reading the Stars (look, I don't choose the articles we post) and Jonathan Witt's The Gods Must Be Tidy.

The date has passed when you could get the issue as the first one of your subscription, but you can still order a copy by clicking here. To subscribe, click here.

7:09 PM


Have you heard the one about the Lutheran pastor suspended because he said he didn’t believe in a creator God? It’s not a joke, and the original story made the rounds some time ago (we covered it in our news section. Now the pastor, who has been suspended, will go to a state clerical court. But there seems to be no rush.

Ecumenical News International/Daily News Service / 16 July 2004
By Sara Holt Andersen

Copenhagen, 16 July (ENI)--… Justice Minister Lene Espersen said on 12 July that a clerical court made up of an ordinary judge and two theologically trained lay judges would hear the Rev. Thorkil Grosboll's case, which will be like an ordinary trial with a prosecutor, defender and the examination of witnesses.

Grosboll had proclaimed a year ago he did not believe in God as creator of the world; neither did he believe in any of the other tenets of the Apostles Creed, a traditional statement of Christian doctrine. After that his bishop, Lise-Lotte Rebel, placed him under "strict supervision".

In June, Rebel gave Grosboll an ultimatum: either he could resign voluntarily or he would be suspended. When the pastor refused to go, he was suspended from his parish duties.

The case has triggered fierce debate about the role of the Denmark's Lutheran state church to which 84 per cent of the population nominally belongs. It has also led to questioning as to whether the suspended priest is preaching a modern version of rational Christianity or post-Christian humanism.

Grosboll for his part said he did "not understand the accusations" and asserted in the Christian Daily newspaper that "my crime is that I have said in public what is already talked about in theological circles."

Still, an opinion poll undertaken by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation found that three out of four Danish pastors supported the bishop's decision. Some theologians, however, fear that freedom of expression for pastors will be undermined if Grosboll is convicted.

At the same time, the majority of Grosboll's parishioners have defended their pastor, and this could count in his favour since local congregations share with the bishop the choice of priest. Grosboll is being backed by the Pastors Trade Union, which is providing legal advice about his employment rights.
Does it take theologically-trained judges to figure out if Grossboll should remain as a pastor? Why is it that what used to be obvious now needs experts to figure out (a way around)?

And one in four pastors in Denmark’s Lutheran Church think Grossboll should still be in the pulpit? (Preaching what?) Pastors are supposed to have “freedom of expression”? Mine doesn’t. I don’t want him to. If he feels free to ditch the Creed and say things like Pr. Grossboll, he will also find himself out of a job, although he might be able to collect disability payments after the customary waiting period following injuries.

4:35 PM


Huw Raphael, author of “I Was in Hell” (Touchstone, May 2004) responds to the AIDS story:

Stories like this are quite common in parts of my "past life". I'm very happy to see them getting out in to the more-mainstream media. They are seriously denied or hushed up by the "community press" in that other world in no small part because of revenue: guess who buys a lot of advertising in such press around the world? Guess who makes huge donations to "civil rights" issues? Guess who profits when more people get sick and need more pills? (And as those cases go on the public dole, guess who pays for them?)

In San Francisco where, I confess, a good many things are just silly, it is socially unacceptable (and maybe illegal, if the city council got its way) for HIV Medication Advertising to portray young, perky athletic types running around and living "the life" because that's just not how it is. The companies, rather than show people who actually take the pills - with their faces formed into clones, their skulls with some little flesh and their bodies identically misshapen by lipodystrophy and steroids - show a lot of pictures of hands holding pills in close-ups.

When you take the pills the first time, your body literally revolts. Those who are ill speak of "conversion sickness" when they first became sero-positive, but their friends speak of long sleepless nights of hand-holding as the body adjusts to all the new pills. And ever, as the virus finds a new way to mutate, the medication must be fine-tuned just a little - but seemingly enough to make the patient sick all over again.

The issue of "pill-sickness" needs more airing. As the SF City Council rightly noted, many youth think AIDS is no biggie, because look: the pills make you better. So they go out and have sex. There are a number of people who went out and got infected on purpose -- the idea being now that they are sick the waiting is over. So they can continue having sex unimpeded, because look: the pills make you better.

I wish more people - especially overseas and in our American High Schools -- knew the pills do not, in fact, make you better. I'm very glad to see stuff like this get out into the rest of the world.

1:50 PM


Dawn Eden sent me this follow up to the AIDS story posted last week, with a note that The New York Post covered this story five months ago and no one picked it up. Here's the coverage from the Post's own archives:

The New York Post, Published: 02/29/2004
The state Health Department has launched a probe into potentially dangerous drug research conducted on HIV-infected infants and children at a Manhattan foster-care agency, The Post has learned.

Some 50 foster kids were used as "guinea pigs" in 13 experiments with high doses of AIDS medications at Manhattan's Incarnation Children's Center, sources said.

Most of the ICC experiments were funded by federal grants and in some cases, pharmaceutical companies….

ICC was involved in 36 different experiments, according to the National
Institutes of Health Web site. One study researched "HIV Wasting Syndrome," which studied how a child's body changes when his medication is altered.

A handful of the experiments involved combining up to six AIDS drugs- so-called "cocktails" -- in children as young as 3 months, and another explores the reaction of not one, but two doses of the measles vaccine in kids ages 6 to 7 months.

Other studies tested the "safety," "tolerance" and "toxicity" of AIDS drugs….

Biochemist Dr. David Rasnick, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert in AIDS medication, was outraged because the drugs, alone or combined, have "acute toxicity which could be fatal."

…Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said experiments at ICC were halted in 2002. He said he did not know why. Zwilling also said he did not know if any children had died.

12:31 PM


An article that left speechless with horror and sadness: When One Is Enough by Amy Richards as told to Amy Barrett. It is the story of a woman who had two of her three triplets killed in the womb because they would get in the way of her life if she let them live.

10:16 AM


Today’s trivia: from “High Style: Writing under the influence” by John Lanchester in the January 6, 2003 issue of The New Yorker, which I picked up last night to read before going to bed:

Diamorphine, also known as heroin, was first synthesized for commercial use in 1897. The men who discovered it, Felix Hoffman and Arthur Eichengrun, had also, a couple of weeks earlier, invented aspirin; for some years, heroin could be bought over the counter and aspirin required a prescription.
Lanchester goes on to analyze various druggie writers, including Sartre:
Marcus Boon argues that “several of Sartre’s works show the influence of speed,” including “The Idiot of the Family,” his incomplete and close to definitively unreadable five-volume study of Flaubert, and “Saint Genet,” which, Boon relates, “began as a 50-page preface to Genet’s writings, and ended up an 800-page book.” Sartre was therefore a recognizable type of speed freak, the type dedicated to obsessive, unfinishable, and, to the neutral observer, pointless toil — the sort who, several hours after taking the drug, can usually be found sitting on the floor, grinding his teeth and alphabetizing his CDs by the name of the sound engineer.
The writer gently suggests that druggie writing isn’t very good, and suggests the reason in his comments on Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater:
The “Confessions” dwells on the horrors of opium in a way that seems close to boasting. Its author has gone places, seen things we wouldn’t dare to; so the book pretends to be a warning, while also acting as something of an Advertisement for Myself.
Almost anyone under sixty has dealt with people who think their use of illegal drugs, and especially their bad experiences with illegal drugs, give them some sort of special status. They act and speak as if they’d done something courageous, bold, daring, pioneering.

The non-druggie feels as if he’s listening to a man brag about how many times he’s fallen down the stairs or sliced off his fingers with a kitchen knife. One wants to ask the druggie why he thinks we should admire him for being stupid.

Anyway, the only appeal of druggie writing — William Burroughs’ tedious books, for example — seems to me their appeal to people who want to live the dissolute life vicariously, perhaps to justify their less dissolute lives. Unfortunately, there are enough of these to guarantee Burroughs and his kin fame and sales.

10:11 AM

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