Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
STEMMING THE TIDE OF PROGRESS:
French Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain, according to Francesca Aran Murphy in Art and Intellect in the Philosophy of Étienne Gilson addressed the question, “Why isn’t Thomist metaphysics as outdated today as, say, mediaeval physics?
Since the answers to scientific questions perpetually create new paradigms, should metaphysics not do likewise? Borrowing a pair of words from the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel, Maritain responds by distinguishing a “mystery” from a “problem.” Mysteries differ from problems by their greater ontological depth. Whereas the “problematic” of the natural sciences progresses by replacing one paradigm with another [e.g., Newtonian physics with quantum physics], those who probe within mysteries can only deepen their knowledge of the same reality. That mysterious reality, the object of metaphysics, is existence itself.
I had never thought of the problems of science, progress, and philosophy in quite this way. This way of making the distinction between technological progress and other sorts of progress—moral progress, human progress—helps me make some sense of the 20th century. With all the advances in technology, it at the same time has been a most brutal century, precisely because more ancient philosophies were replaced by modern ideological fantasies. A moral monster may have the largest house in town and drive the most impressive car, but he is still a monster.
One can hide moral degradation beneath the shadow of the new machine. This is precisely the question at issue in the current debate about stem cell research that creates and then kills human embryos, a practice that was offered last night to the American people by a presidential candidate as a bright promise for the future, a path upon which we must tread if we are to continue in our progress. But just because something can be done, does not mean that it should be done. Stem cell research that creates new human beings and kills them runs on a straight line back to the Third Reich.
It is upon the deep question, the mystery, of what it means to be human, that this issue stands or falls. To bar the path of progress so-called by declaring the creation of embryos and their deliberate destruction an act of inhumanity is to embrace the deep mystery of our creation as human beings.
We have choices in such matters. Sometimes, saying No to technological “progress” because of philosophical concerns is to choose another path, one of genuine progress, and can make a society, in the end, more humane, not less.
DESTRUCTION OF INNOCENCE:
Judy Warner, whose description of “Kidult” fiction appeared in Friday’s What Publishers Can Do to Children, sends a similar letter from a friend, who has kindly let us post it:
I think you’re absolutely right that many adults seem to delight in corrupting young people. Back when I was working at the bookstore a lot, I remember a mother and her grown (maybe 19 or 20) daughter coming in. The daughter refused to read racy romances and made it clear to her mother that she didn’t want to, but the mother constantly tried to push her into it. I remember another time a mother in Wal-Mart trying to force a teen magazine on her daughter, who was protesting vigorously that she didn’t won’t it.
In Christian circles, it seems to me that many parents put garbage into the hands of their children just out of sheer cluelessness. I imagine the same is the case in secular circles.
The question is -- why are so many parents so clueless? What seems weird is that so many teens are not clueless. Will they grow up to be clueless parents? It’s really strange.
At the church I clean, they have a literature rack in the fellowship room full of little books called “What God says about... adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, depression, etc.” I told the pastor one time that I thought it was outright wrong for them to keep those booklets out there for all the kids to see every time they walk into church. The teenage boy who walks into church thinking about God (or even baseball or something he wants to invent) is immediately reminded that instead he can think about pornography. The kid who has been protected from all that garbage gets to face a whole new world of words and ideas — in church every week! The husband who has had an affair and who is now faithful to his wife is reminded every week of the other woman.
My views on the matter were irrelevant, of course. I don’t even go to church there. But I also wouldn’t go to church there for that reason alone. We’ve held several of our home school graduations at that church, and I always take the literature rack and hide it for those occasions.
Christians have reached the point where they don’t need the world’s help to corrupt their children -- they’re doing a good job of it themselves, cluelessly or otherwise.
I get really irritated at the way churches actually undermine the morality of young people. I know their intentions are good, but what on earth are they thinking? They go at it like sex ed classes in public school -- apparently believing that the more they talk about it and confront it, the better the situation will become.
I read somewhere recently that the only way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. But instead of filling the kids’ heads up with goodness and godliness and holiness in order to crowd out the negative, they fill their heads up with the very trash they want them to avoid then say, “Don’t do it, don’t think it.” They give them no tools against it, only an admonition to avoid what they’ve been feeding into their brains for years on end.
Well, I guess they think they’re giving them tools -- pray, read the Bible, beg God to help you not do what you are being programed to do. Why not program them for goodness? To do good instead of just avoiding doing wrong.
Instead of teaching the kids to think on “whatsoever things are honest and just and pure and lovely and of good report,” they teach them to think on just the opposite. (Phil.4:8)
There’s a verse in Ephesians (5:12) that has always intrigued me. It says, “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Although sometimes it’s necessary to address the evil practices of men, there is no longer any shame in mentioning them casually, making jokes about them, ranting and raving about them. Aren’t there things that should only be said in hushed tones, in embarrassment that they even need be mentioned? In shame?
Maclin Horton of Light on Dark Water
also wrote in response to Mrs. Warner. He writes:
I just read the comment from Judy Warner: “I think some adults . . . take positive pleasure in corrupting children . . .”. I have long had this suspicion, especially regarding the portrayal of teenage sexuality in movies and TV, and just a couple of days ago wrote the following in an email on the topic (“my generation” refers to the baby boomers):
“I am firmly convinced that many of my generation have an interest in promoting teenage sexual activity that is downright perverted. Either they are trying to vicariously re-live what they remember, or, more likely, trying to push kids to actually live out what they only wished they could do, or what they did and were damaged by but are convinced wouldn’t have been damaging if they’d only had the right education and encouragement and equipment — and in any case they seem to be after some kind of kick that I don’t understand. Gives me the creeps.”
I’m sure he is right in the reasons he offers for the creepy interest of older people in imaginatively debauching children, but I’m also sure something else is at work, some deep hatred of innocence which evil inevitably includes. The fact that many of these innocence-destroyers may not mean to be doing what they are doing does not surprise me, because their consciences have been seared about sex. They cannot see the evil that they do.
THE PASSENGER’S DOOR:
I was 10 when my family bought our first automobile, a ’38 Packard, a car exactly my own age. It was built like a Sherman tank without the cannon turret, as I recall, but perhaps my own diminutive size at that time exaggerates the recollection.
There were four huge doors on that Packard, but the first door to be opened was always my mother’s door, the one on “the passenger’s side.” That door was not opened by my mother, however, but by my father.
You see, my mother did not open doors, at least not if there was a gentleman to do it for her. I am sure she could open doors, of course, but I never saw her do it. Indeed, when I was present, I opened it for her.
The opening of the door on that Packard (and the '47 Nash for which we later traded it in) followed an older pattern already in force at our home in respect to other doors. I remember the rule vividly. I don’t know how old I was when I was able to reach a door knob, but when that day arrived, I knew the task to be mine. It was what a gentleman did. That gentleman may have been only three or four years old, but he already knew what was expected of him in the civilized world.
He perceived this duty much same way he discerned that his socks belonged on his feet and not on his ears. It was not that the ears were incapable of holding the socks. (The ears themselves, one suspects, would resent the implication.) The socks belonged on the feet. If a person was not able to see the truth of the thing, you could not explain to him. You just avoided discussing sensitive subjects in his presence, and perhaps it was worth keeping an eye on him during times of national crisis.
This business of door opening was part of a larger picture, having to do with what would now be called, I suppose, “the relations between the sexes.”
For example, there lives distinct in my mind the memory of walking along the street beside my mother in downtown Louisville sometime during World War II, while my father was on a little LCI over in the South Pacific making life difficult for the bad guys. My mother explained to me then that a gentleman, when walking beside a lady, always walked between her and the street. I promptly assumed my proper place in the world. I have stayed in that place ever since. I like that place. It is the place where my mother assigned me.
If I had asked my mother why a gentleman walked between the lady and the street, she would not have been able to give an answer, I guess, except maybe “the structure of reality.” I did not ask why, however. In my entire childhood I am quite certain that I never asked "why?" when I was told to do or not to do something. I sometimes disobeyed, to be sure, but I never asked “why?” of people who had been in this world a lot longer than myself.
"Why?" was a question appropriate to physics, chemistry, carpentry, landscaping, and certain other matters, including metaphysics. It was never an appropriate question in the context of obedience to duty or response to authority.
I confess that over the years I have failed to find these rules about door opening and such things explicitly spelled out in the Bible and the classics, but we should not, I think, expect such subjects to be mentioned in those sources. They come under the category of self-evident truths. You simply tell them to a little boy, and he sizes them up intuitively. They are grave matters. Indeed, being self-evident, they are akin to gravity itself.
One can never really explain things that are self-evident, and it is futile to try. The reason, of course, is that explanations require recourse to matters that are clearer than the matter to be explained. Nothing, however, is clearer than what is self-evident. One does not shine a flashlight at the sun for the purpose of throwing more light on it. If a man cannot see the sun, you try to help him across the street, for the fellow is blind.
This does not mean that Holy Scripture has nothing to say on these subjects. Quite the contrary. Take, for example, the self-evident truth that a husband is supposed to be the doorman, the servant, for his wife. Holy Scripture provides the model for this servanthood when it commands husbands to love their wives "as Christ also loved the Church." And just how did Christ love the Church? Paul explains that He "gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). This is the simple model to be followed, the theological paradigm that explains the primitive impulse that the Creator put into the heart of the man to serve the woman. How should a husband serve his wife? Generously, sacrificially. The order of grace thus transforms and glorifies an instinct in the order of nature.
Our own son, who now sails around in a submarine, striking terror into the hearts of bad guys in the world, learned these things pretty much the same way I learned them. They were simply pointed out to him by the time he could walk, and he perceived the truth of them immediately and hopped to it. I believe boys perceive these things the same way they intuitively sense the fine, firm symmetry of a square knot.
Consequently, by the time Jeremy's hand could reach a door handle, it was no longer necessary for me to come around and open the passenger’s door so that my wife could exit the car. By age 3 or so, he did this for both his mother and his sister. As soon as the car came to a stop, he was out and around, doing exactly what a gentleman does.
My loved ones and I have understood these matters all our lives, as did our forebears.
Recently, however, a problem has arisen—nay, let me call it a crisis—and I am sore perplexed and out of sorts. As far as I can determine, the structure of the world has lately shifted in a dramatic, unaccountable way, and, if one may speak candidly, I am not at all sure I can cope.
You see, Denise and I bought a new car last week, our first in eight years. Evidently the foundations of nature had been altered during those eight years. Let me lay the case before you.
As we prepared to drive off the car lot, I went around to the passenger’s door to unlock and open it for Denise. I was suddenly yanked up short. There was nowhere to put the key! The keyhole was gone. Yes, the keyhole, that same keyhole of which it was written that the Lord looked upon it and saw that it was good. That keyhole had disappeared from the face of the earth. I stared in dismay, muttering to myself, "An enemy hath done this thing."
Very simply, our locked car cannot not be opened from the outside of the passenger’s side. The driver is obliged to go around and open his own door first, in order to unlock the passenger’s door from inside. I knew that our society was fast sinking into perversion, but I had no idea things had gone this far.
And the aforesaid dilemma is insuperable. You see, there is another and prior rule operative here, namely, a lady must not be kept waiting. No lady can be expected to abide her time while a gentleman goes around and opens his own door first and unlocks the passenger's door, before getting out again and coming back around the car to open the lady's door. The lady would be kept waiting all that time. Servants may be kept waiting (which is why in some contexts we call them "waiters"), but ladies must never be kept waiting.
Does anyone know why they stopped putting keyholes on the passenger’s doors of cars? If there is any logic to the matter at all, it clearly has but one purpose—to dissuade gentlemen from being gentlemen, and to discourage ladies from being ladies. That is to say, to overthrow the poetic hierarchy of the universe. No other rational explanation is plausible. If there is a reason to the thing, it surely comes from that dark force that goes to and fro, up and down, upon the earth.
This is the very end, I fear. At my age, this Ford has to be my last car. (I don’t even buy green bananas any more.) Here in my final days, I discover existence invaded by chaos and destruction, and these have apparently come to stay. I have always feared that my lampstand might be removed, but never my keyhole. Move over, Job, don't crowd the dung hill.
BUDDHISTS BEAT YOUR BROTHERS:
A sobering article: Christians Persecuted in Asia. And Even the Buddhists Are on the Enemy’s Side by Sandro Magister. It begins:
ROMA – In the West, Buddhism is synonymous with peace, compassion, wisdom, and ecumenical brotherhood. This is true also in the case of its most noted figure, the Dalai Lama.
Moreover, Buddhism has a reputation as a persecuted religion, and Tibet is the emblem of this.
But the latest Report on Religious Liberty in the World, released in Rome on June 25, 2004 by Aid to the Church in Need, contains striking evidence of a contrary nature.
In almost all of the Asian states in which Buddhism is the majority religion, there is cruel religious repression. And this strikes all of the non-Buddhist religions.
I say “sobering” because, as Magister suggests, Westerners think of Buddhism as a “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” kind of religion. Their image of Buddhism is of that cute little man in the yellow robes who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
I’m sure this reflects in part the desire of dechristianized Westerners for a spirituality without any particularly authoritative spirit. In classic Western form — see e.g. Edward Said’s controversial book Orientalism
— they have projected their desires upon distant cultures.
At any rate, the article describes Buddhist persecution in the eight predominantly Buddhist countries of the world: Buthan, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The last, being Communist, persecutes everyone.
ANCIENT TEACHINGS NOW (ALLEGEDLY) HIDDEN:
About once a month, or perhaps a little more often, we get a genuinely odd letter from someone who seems perfectly sincere but believes much that is ridiculous but not provably so. (I’m leaving out the letters we get, and more frequently, from obvious lunatics.) A woman in Birmingham, Alabama, writes:
I am interested in the holistic mission of Touchstone in that the journal embraces the whole of “Christendom.” What particularly caught my eye is the desire to express the “shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized in the ancient creeds of the Church.”
My question is “What ancient Christian doctrines does the journal support? Do you have a short list? (This is a serious question — not attempting to be funny on any level). By that I ask have you researched and gone past the point in history where certain information was removed from the Bible to exclude certain knowledge from the common man? Like reincarnation for example? Why would such be removed? What threat would reincarnation have posed to the leadership at the time?
Like in early Christianity, priests and preachers and ministers (whatever name rings right) were not mass produced, but were Self-Realized (God-Realized) and had direct experience of God. They led from that prospective. What is the Self of which I refer? Self is the higher self — that which is within all, but waits to be unveiled as we strive to know God and align our will with Divine Will. One becomes Self-realized as meditation upon God becomes a constant practice and we eventually (by the Grace of God) have direct experience of God — cultivated through practiced meditation.
So, my essential question is, “How ancient is ancient?”
This kind of letter always leaves me baffled. What can you say to someone who believes that an ancient Christian belief in reincarnation — which seems to me one of those ideas that get worse the longer you think about it — was removed from the Scriptures and, judging from the way she makes the claim, reserved to a secret spiritual elite? (No one told me about it, anyway.)
The problem is not the apologetic one of explaining the Christian teaching on reincarnation but of explaining why something that the writer thinks happened in secret never happened or something he thinks was carefully covered up never existed to be covered up. You can’t show the intellectual coherence of the Christian teaching and show why reincarnation doesn’t fit, because the writer believes that it fit once. You can’t show how the biblical and patristic texts were passed down pretty much as they were written, because the writer believes that some weren’t passed down at all. And it all happened in the dark.
The kind of talk in the third paragraph leaves me equally baffled. I know what she means through “mass produced,” and can kind of guess what “Self-Realized” means — I think it means “were convinced on their own that God had called them” — but beginning with the third sentence I am lost.
It’s all words with no discernable and public meaning. I’ve known otherwise normal people who talked like this, some nice dingbats who talked like this, some predatory dingbats who talked like this, and some genuinely evil people who talked like this. But in no case have I known what they meant and when I have tried to find out, have in response gotten yet more words without discernable and public meaning.
This seems to me somewhat of a confirmation of the truth of Christianity. Whatever these words happen to mean, as conveyors of meaning they are of less use than “Who for us men and for our salvation . . .”. And even the more apparently abstract lines of the Creed — “light from light” or “proceeds from,” for example — have been so interpreted by the authorities that they have a discernable and public meaning that “Self is the higher self” does not have.
MODEST POLITICAL HOPES:
I have not watched the Democratic National Convention this week, nor do I plan to watch when the Republicans put on their own show next month.
This is not to say that I am indifferent to the outcome of this fall’s elections. I only mean that I entertain rather limited expectations of the government. I am blessed with neither the energy for, nor the interest in, unreasonable expectations.
In fact, I guess I really don’t expect my government to do much more that to protect my family and me from the bad guys. Protection of the citizens from violence is a government’s most clearly discernible reason for existence.
In a speech delivered on July 4, 1821, John Quincy Adams declared that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is a well-wisher to the freedom of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” I agree with all of that.
It is useful to note, nonetheless, that monsters do not normally have to be searched out. Simple regard for Latin etymology explains why.
It is of the nature of monsters that they are demonstrable. We did not have to “search” for a Hitler or a Saddam Hussein. Those bad guys were very much out in the open. We knew where they lived, and we had a pretty good idea what they were up to. All we needed was to summon the manly nerve to go and do the manly thing, and we did.
National security (including security for the unborn child) will pretty much be the only criterion on which my vote will depend in November. The government’s major job is to restrain and punish the bad guys and kill the worst of them, and I will vote for the party that seems likely to do it best.
Apparently both political parties agree, in principle, with my modest philosophy on these matters. Both are currently stressing national security as their first priority.
The appropriate word, by the way, is security, not securité.
FROM THE INBOX JULY 29TH 2004:
— From the Jewish World Review, the Arab Guide to the 2004 Election by Steven Stalinsky.
— News that the Catholic Peace Fellowship had to withdraw from the umbrella group United for Peace and Justice because that group sponsored the so-called “March for Women’s Lives” in April. Here is their official statement on abortion, which readers might find of interest.
The Catholic Peace Fellowship Statement on Abortion
The January 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion deprives all unborn human beings of any protection whatever against incursions upon their right to life and has thus created a situation we find morally intolerable, and one which we feel obliged to protest.
In issuing this statement in the name of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, we wish to make it clear that we do not speak for the Fellowship of Reconciliation with which we are affiliated. The FOR has not to this point taken an official position.
From the point of view of biological science the fetus is an individual human life. The social sciences may attempt to define “fully human” in a variety of ways, but their findings are inconclusive and, at best, tentative and certainly supply no basis for determining who is or who is not to enjoy the gift of life. No one has the right to choose life or death for another; to assume such power has always been recognized as the ultimate form of oppression.
A primary obligation of civil society is to protect the innocent. A legal situation such as now exists in the United States, making abortion available upon demand, is an abdication of the state’s responsibility to protect the most basic of rights, the right to life.
We make this statement to protest a policy and a practice, not to condemn any individual for a tragic decision she or he may have felt forced to make, just as in our protest against war and its destruction of human life, we pass no judgment upon the individual who acts in good conscience. But just as we urge our leaders to institute policies that will put an end to the constant threat of war, so we call upon them, in particular our legislatures and courts, to undertake a prudent and thorough reassessment of the abortion issue in all its ramifications and to develop a policy that will extend the rights and protections afforded by the Constitution, and inherent by nature, to the unborn, and at the same time to provide every support and assistance to those who might otherwise be driven to consider abortion as a solution to real and demanding personal problems.
We reject categorically the Supreme Court’s argument that abortion is an exclusively private matter to be decided by the prospective mother and her physician. We protest the thoroughly logical and perhaps inevitable extension of a practice which, though first argued in a personal context, has rapidly become a social policy involving publicly funded clinics and supportive agencies.
This is not a “Catholic issue,” and to dismiss it as such is to deny the dedication and the contribution of those of other religions and none. Nor is this simply a matter of one group of citizens imposing its own morality upon others, any more so than our conscientious resistance to the war in Viet Nam, to conscription etc. Indeed, we insist that these positions are all of one piece, stemming from what Albert Schweitzer called, “reverence for life,” and the consequent obligation to oppose any policy or practice which would give one human being the right to determine whether or not another shall be permitted to live.
For many years we have urged upon our spiritual leaders the inter-relatedness of the life issues, war, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and economic exploitation. We welcome the energetic leadership our bishops are giving in the abortion controversy and we are proud to join our voices with theirs. At the same time we must point out that, ultimately, the sincerity of our words and theirs on any of these issues will be measured by our readiness to recognize and deal with the underlying social problems which turn many people to these deadly alternatives, to condemn all forms of social and economic injustice and to work for their elimination and the establishment of a social order in which all may find it easier to be “fully human.”
Signed: Dorothy Day, Eileen Egan, Hermene Evans, Joseph Evans, M.D., Thomas C. Cornell, James H. Forest, Gordon C. Zahn
— For those interested in conservative Anglican policy, Alignment Makes Sense
, a very long string discussing the new “Network” of conservative Anglicans, in which “hardliners” and “moderates” debate the use of including Anglicans more conservative than they.
I was refreshed to read Father Robert Hart's comments about pre-nuptial agreements on this page earlier today.
I am completely in accord with his view. Indeed, his has been my own policy—not blessing a marriage if there is a divorce-clause written into the contract—during my own forty years of ordained ministry. This rule I have observed as an absolute.
Indeed, if a couple is being married with any understanding, however implicit, that divorce is even a considered possibility, then I do not bless the wedding, whether or not that understanding is incorporated into a pre-nuptial agreement.
There have been occasions, however, when special circumstances have warranted some sort of pre-nuptial contract with respect to the property of this-or-that party in the marriage. I am thinking of widowed persons possessed of property accumulated in an earlier marriage. The children born in those earlier marriages may have a reasonable claim to all or some of that property at the death of their parents. It can be helpful to everyone concerned if explicit provision can be made for these offspring prior to the second marriage of their parents. It is sometimes the case that settlements in this respect can be incorporated into a prenuptial agreement, not with a view to a possible divorce, but to accomodate a peaceful disposition of the estate in the (inevitable) case of death. Such agreements tend to alleviate anxiety and possible hard feelings for everyone concerned.
THE FROG IN THE KETTLE:
For explanation of the genesis of educated apostasy I find myself returning with great frequency to the episode involving heaven’s final (and unsuccessful) entreaty of the liberal bishop in C. S. Lewis’s Great Divorce. The picture is not of a man who thinks his way carefully into unbelief, as that sort of unbeliever almost always portrays himself, but rather of one who, when he discovers there are rewards for abandoning orthodoxy, and that retaining his faith has a price in both the world and in the church, drifts into unbelief by way of what one might call purposive negligence—a strange combination of thinking and not-thinking. Finding certain needs and ambitions rewarded by lapsing, the once-Christian goes, unpraying, unthinking (in the proper sense), and unresisting, out of Christianity and into liberal religion.
Most of the older religious liberals I know, lay and clerical, did not start that way. They are what I call frog-in-the-kettle liberals, the products of their own desires and the churches that indulge them. Maintaining themselves in a deteriorating religious environment, they continuously acclimate themselves to it. Many give battle at first, for they know the new doctrines and practices wrong in the light of the old faith. But they find that to remain with that faith requires painful exertion—swimming against the stream of scholarly opinion, or appearing publicly odd, or alienating friends and family, or repenting of one’s sins. So, the stream of opinion is submitted to, the cultural expectations are met, amity is maintained through tolerance of the formerly intolerable, and the sins persist. In so doing the Christian conscience is destroyed by degrees, one concession building upon another. When it arises again (for while it can be suppressed, it is difficult to kill), it appears as an alien consciousness, a torturer, an enemy, any of its renewed approaches rejected with vigor, for it brings only pain.
In my own experience, people to whom this has happened typically remain professing Christians, or at least stay religious. There is often no need to abandon their church, for it has moved with them (indeed, the leadership has moved ahead of them), and so they find plenty of company in their spiritual exodus—clergy and laity who are following the same road, and will happily connive to establish a new religion they call Christianity from the disjecta membra of the real thing. It is, in fact, important for most of them to do it in company, to “stay with,” for one very good reason or another, churches that are determinedly apostacizing.
Their reasons for remaining in these churches are at first unobjectionable. They are interested in truth, and in fighting bad things. They do not wish to be precipitous, abandon a church just because it is having difficulties or is under attack, or adopt the attitude of the constitutional schismatic, the evidence of whose deplorable work surrounds us in a multitude of sects. The strongest repellant to friends who might call them to reconsider is their question as to whether leaving could possibly be an act of faith.
But how many of them have resurfaced after a few years under this (what turned out to be) defensive camouflage as nicely boiled liberals, trained and catechized, their systems reconstituted with a full set of objections to orthodox Christianity? Anticonversions of this kind are the solidest sort because they involve gradual and hence more completely rationalized (but not really reasoned) loss of faith--to change the metaphor, its stone-by-stone dismantling--and the substitution of other materials. They have only the appearance of reasoned change because reason is engaged only as a jobber and ignored in its capacity of general contractor. While the edifice is in the building—and a very substantial edifice it may be—first principles are hardly ever considered, thus contemplation of the essential arbitrariness of (and hence unreasoned motives for) the change is avoided.
Because a corrupted adult intellect must be used to effect these conversions--whereas Christian belief, being most often patrimonial, usually is not (no “little child” thinks like a liberal; he hasn’t the capacity for self-deception)--it is easy for the convert to regard orthodox faith as “simple,” and liberal faith, because it involves a process in which reason is used, but not properly, as advanced. Unless there is a reawakening of desire strong enough to break down a carefully and deliberately constructed system (with bad foundations), the unbelief persists.
The message of Hebrews 6 is that frogs who are cooked-through remain that way. The question of whether they got cooked because they willed to remain in the pot, or because they were hatched with the physiology of frogs, seems to be that both are the case.
For readers interested in intelligent design, a new book, Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, edited by William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse, is now available from Cambridge University Press, released July 2004, (424 pages, $45.00). Here’s the official blurb on it:
William Dembski, Michael Ruse, and other prominent philosophers provide here a comprehensive balanced overview of the debate concerning biological origins--a controversial dialectic since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859. Invariably, the source of controversy has been "design." Is the appearance of design in organisms (as exhibited in their functional complexity) the result of purely natural forces acting without prevision or teleology? Or, does the appearance of design signify genuine prevision and teleology, and, if so, is that design empirically detectable and thus open to scientific inquiry? Four main positions have emerged in response to these questions: *Darwinism* *self-organization* *theistic evolution* *intelligent design*. The contributors to this volume define their respective positions in an accessible style, inviting readers to draw their own conclusions. Two introductory essays furnish a historical overview of the debate. William A. Dembski is an associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University as well as a senior fellow with Seattle's Discovery Institute. His most important books are The Design Inference (Cambridge, 1998) and No Free Lunch (Rowman and Littlefield, 2002). Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He is the author of many books, including Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?: The Relationship Between Science and Religion (Cambridge, 2000).
Michael Ruse, by the way, is an opponent of intelligent design, but on very good terms with those in the ID movement. I heard him speak at a banquet in honor of Phil Johnson, and he was an entertaining and friendly roaster. But he does disagree. So the book, I am confident, should give a fair hearing to both sides.
THE WRONG QUESTION TO ASK
From contributing editor Robert Hart:
Anyone who has ever watched Perry Mason knows that a good attorney never asks a question unless he knows the answer.
I was on an elevator in a very busy building just the other day, a building that mostly houses Law firms in Baltimore's inner Harbor area. Two men joined my downward journey at the seventh floor (give or take a floor). One was a large black man dressed in a one piece work uniform, the other a lawyer in a snazzy suit. The first man said to the lawyer, "She will never go for that; no church woman would agree to that." The lawyer, youngish--thirty something I would expect--said, "Oh, it's necessary these days." He then turned to me, a perfect stranger (all right, not perfect--but who is?) to say, "Pre-nuptials, these days you got to have them. Wouldn't you agree?" Having been asked, I quickly replied, "I am a priest and I would never marry any couple that has a pre-nuptial agreement. They are planning to get divorced, which no Christians have any business doing."
The black man smiled and said, "You asked the wrong man." He then turned to me and said, "I'm a preacher, too. And thank you."
I meant what I said; I would not marry such a couple unless they tore up the pre-nuptial and agreed to learn the Christian concept of "as long as you both shall live."
THEN IT MUST FOLLOW. . .
One of the sins against charity Christians commit against one another, particularly where members of opposing communions are exchanging theological fusillades, is to isolate principles upon which the other works, or doctrines in which he believes, extrapolate them to a logical conclusion, and then blame the other for holding to the result. Since X believes A, then he must also believe what "of necessity" flows from A, especially when it can be shown that some members of his communion do.
This is frequently false witness, however, not only because people do not always form their opinions on the basis of syllogistic reasoning, but because of the nature of reality. What might or may follow does not always or necessarily do so. If there are fleas in my house, this does not mean that I have them. If I believe in ghosts, it is not required I believe in Santa Claus, even if this makes for a better chance that I am a credulous soul and there is positive proof that my children believe in him.
A great deal of confusion and ill-will is generated by viciousness on points like this, found in abundance where people are more intent on saving face and defeating each other than in truth.
ROBERT GEORGE ON RON REAGAN: SNAKE OIL
I am pleased to see senior editor Robert P. George’s NROn-line article responding to Ron Reagan’s speech last night at the Democratic National Convention on stem-cell research and medicine, and the implications of the election. George, never one to mince words, calls Reagan’s speech “irresponsible,” “shameful,” dishonest with its “outrageous hype.”
For example, despite the fact that no one knows whether embryonic stem cells will ever be effective in curing Parkinson's disease or any other grave affliction, Ron Reagan virtually promised Parkinson's sufferers that embryonic stem cells will provide a cure for them in ten years or so. "Sound like magic?," he said. Welcome to the future of medicine." But Ron Reagan has no idea — no one does — whether this is the future of medicine. He is engaged in a campaign of outrageous hype to persuade suffering people that a mere change of administrations in Washington will lead to cures for "a wide range of debilitating illnesses: Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord injuries, and much more."
Worse, Reagan seemed to conveniently forget to mention or admit that human embryos have to be created and destroyed in order to harvest the particular stem cells he is calling for.
Vote for John Kerry, it seems, is the message, and he may save your life. Vote for George Bush, and you may be dooming your own mother. Voters may well disagree with either candidate, but, please, at least tell the truth so we can decide based on all the facts.
Robert George sits on the President’s Council on Bioethics. I don’t expect he will remain there if Ron Reagan’s man, John Kerry, gets elected. He would just be a pain, reminding people of scientific facts they would prefer not to mention, all in the name of science.
The “news” about this has been making the rounds, so you may have already seen it, but this T-Shirt being sold by Planned Parenthood Congress is so over-the-top that I first assumed someone had made a bogus web-page using PP’s logo. But if you go to their main website and go under products and do a search for T-shirts, this one does come up.
They have finally arrived! Planned Parenthood is proud to offer yet another t-shirt in our new social fashion line: "I Had an Abortion" fitted T-shirts are now available. These soft and comfortable fitted tees assert a powerful message in support of women's rights. Order yours for $15 each.
Question: Who would want to wear such a thing? And if someone did, aren’t they forcing the issue on everyone else? What I mean is that they are putting the fact of the abortion on the table in your face, and you either say nothing, or get away as quickly as you can, or say something.
Which raises another question: What would you say? I can think of several things, but am not sure what I would actually say, if I had to say something.
For example, after looking at the message of the shirt, one could gesture in a way that shows that you are referring to the shirt, and say sympathetically enough, “Oh, I’m sorry.” You could follow up with, “Have you been able to deal with it OK?” Of course one could also say some prickly in-your-face things, such as, “Oh, was it a boy or a girl?”
I am not trying to be flippant about this. There are many victims of abortion, including in their own way many young mothers coerced to one extent or another into killing their offspring. Abortion and infanticide are found throughout history, as are theft and adultery.
But to portray an abortion as something to wear on your shirtsleeve, so to speak, is a sign of something very bad in our society. We are being asked, at this stage in our slide down into abyss of moral perversity, to not only tolerate an unnatural act but also to approve of it.
As in “gay marriage,” this latest affront to the respect for all human life is forcing not restraint in condemnation or prosecution (“tolerance”), but rather the approval of the act. The domestication of what is ultimately demonic. One might as well wear a shirt saying, “I Killed My Child: What Of It?”
THE BLIND STATE
In Francesa Aran Murphy’s Art and Intellect in the Philosophy of Éttienne Gilson,the author discusses material in Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience, based on his lectures in English at Harvard in 1936. “If, as Hegel considered”
the state “is the march of God through the world,” it is the only legitmate heir to the transcendent Idea; and nothing else, but the state, can ‘sublate’ social antinomies into its own unity. Thus understood, Hegelian fascism is much more than a political party; in Gentile’s own words, it is, ‘before anything else a total conception of life,’ una concezione totale della vita. Schools ought not to teach it as politics, but as religion, for ‘the state is the great will of the nation, and therefore its great intelligence.’ Such a ‘Statolatry,’ though it see itself as an antidote to the blindness of materialism, is but the advent of another blindness.
What strikes me most in this discussion of the state as the be-all-and-end-all of life comes in that last sentence. If I can just back up a bit here and ask the question that often comes up in discussions about materialism: if there is only matter, then whence do we get morals? Yes, the state realizes this, even while supporting a materialistic view, and sets itself up as the arbiter of morals that would be otherwise hard to come by through materialist thinking. Which means, of course, that whatever the state says is moral becomes moral. Which means that morality is determined by power. Might makes right, period.
None of this is new, of course, but that phrase, “though it see itself as an antidote to the blindness of materialism” caught me. The secularist materialists know
that you have to have morals. But where do you get them? Why, you get them from us, the experts in statecraft. And where do we, the expert elite, get them? That’s beyond you, so don’t try it at home.
Of course, once one of their moral views is enshrined in law, good luck changing it. Gilson stated, with reference to Marx, “It is not easy to start a new idea, but it is still more difficult to stop it.” This certainly seems to be the case with Roe v Wade, which the Supreme Court referred to as being part of the traditional landscape of society now, that many people have constructed their lives around it, and so it must remain.
It is almost amusing to watch the elite morality-definers now argue conservatively from tradition, appealing to the need to keep in place the liberating Roe v Wade as if it were some sort of revelation given unto men in the Year of Our Lord 1973. But, of course, when the tradition is one they oppose, such as heterosexual marriage, then it is found to be oppressive, hidebound, regressive, and anti-progress.
It is not easy to start a new idea; it took work to promote abortion on demand and trample any right of the unborn to life and liberty. And for more than 30 years the pro-abortion media has relentlessly promoted the Roe view of the world. (When is the last time you saw a clearly pro-life major motion picture that put all the issues on the table?) Even so, recent polls indicate, to the horrors of organizations such as NOW, respect for the Roe view isn’t very strong among the younger members of the populace, the ones who slipped through the abortion culture unscathed.
It may be more difficult to stop an idea like Roe, because in part it requires turning a deaf ear to the appeals to freedom that it dishonestly makes, and not aborting children means having them around after birth, and children are work. Just like morals and virtue. But stopping the "abortion right" to kill one's child is an effort that must be made. For in these matters, as in all moral matters, if there is no recognition of a morality above the law, the state truly has become blind, and naked.
BASEBALL AND POLITICS
Sunday night while out on an errand, I turned on the car radio and heard a few minutes of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. A Boston player just then hit a home run over the Green Monster in left field and on his way back to the dugout was given high fives by presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry. The senator from Massachusetts can be excused, of course, for being a Boston Red Sox fan, though the radio commentators suggested, perhaps not too seriously, that his display might hurt with voters from New York.
I suppose that is possible, given the intense rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, the fiercest in all of baseball, surpassing that of the Cubs and the Cardinals, the Giant and the Dodgers. (The New York/Boston rivalry was on full display last Saturday in a bench-clearing brawl that erupted during the game between the two American League Eastern Division contenders. Fist were flying fast and furious.) But still, a man should be forgiven for watching a baseball game in his home state and choosing sides. Kerry, who is now away from Boston campaigning until later this week, was in town on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, which everyone knows began last night. It was a smart move to be in the stands during the nationally televised game. A friend who saw the game mentioned that Kerry was featured through much of the game and interviewed on camera.
Emotions also ran high on Sunday outside the venue of the Democratic National Convention where protestors apparently got into a fist fight. At least one protestor, carrying a pro-life and anti-gay sign, reports say, got into a fight after being called a Nazi; one report described him as actually being a neo-Nazi. (Who else would carry such signs, of course.) The protestors who went after him were protesting the War in Iraq and Bush’s policies; at least that’s what the report I heard said.
So it seems to have been a pretty tense weekend in Beantown, and the Red Sox, who won their games against the Yankees on Saturday and Sunday, surely have in mind polishing off the Yankees by the end of September, even though they are 7.5 games behind New York.
In a parallel that might lead a less disciplined writer than I to opine that life oftentimes imitates baseball, the course of the political major league pennant race this year between the Democrats and the Republicans will also be determined by Boston, where the Democrats are this week, and New York, where the Republicans will be in August.
Although much of the political discourse and the campaign advertising will talk about things like, “Jobs” and “Security” and “Prescription Drugs” and “Education” and the “Economy,” there is a clash of worldviews between the two parties and the two candidates every bit as intense as the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Verbal punches will be thrown, you can be sure.
Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, reviews "Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement" by Christine Rosen (Oxford), in the July 26 The Weekly Standard. While the rise of the eugenics movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century has been the subject of study (see our July/August issue's "Eugenocide: Darwinism & the Rise of German Eugenics" by Richard Weikart), Rosen's book focuses "on the little known and shameful promotion of eugenics by a surprisingly large number of American ecclesiastics." The Social Gospel movement was largely supportive of the eugenics movement.
The movement reached a point in the U.S. where "many states governments legalized involuntary eugenic sterilization, a violation of human rights that was given explicit sanction of the Supreme Court in the notorious 1927 decision Buck v. Bell," writes Smith. The Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick, whose weekly radio program reached 2-3 million listeners, sat on the advisory council of the American Eugenics Society.
Smith notes that Rosen "describes a 'clear pattern' of religious leaders supporting eugenics 'precisely when they moved away from traditional religious tenets.'" Smith correctly links to the recent
rebirth of eugenic thought, with advocacy for eugenic abortion, human cloning, and the drive to learn how to "enhance" the human genome. This phenomenon seems to be repeating itself in the contemporary divisions among churches over social issues such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and therapuetic cloning.
When "traditional religious tenets" go by the wayside, something has to come and fill the vacuum.
Today, as before, if salvation is only in this life, then there has to be some major tidying up to rid society of the elements that remind us that this is a fallen world. Reminders both visible and audible will have to go. Censorship will have to be the method for purifying public discourse of retrograde ideas.
LIMIT THE COURTS ON MARRIAGE?
Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 233-194 in favor of the Marriage Protection Act (MPA) which would take away from federal judges the power to declare the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. DOMA declares that states are not required to recognize “homosexual marriages” from another state. Congress passed DOMA in 1996, and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
There is a little-used provision in the Constitution that gives the federal legislative branch the authority to restrict the courts in this manner, it has been argued:
Article 3, Section 2:
“In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”
The House’s MPA is designed to remove the matter of marriage from the jurisdiction of the federal court. It is expected that the federal courts, when ruling on whether or not, say, the State of Illinois, must recognize the “marriage” of a “gay couple” legally “married” in Massachusetts this month, would refer to another section of the Constitution for guidance:
Article 4, Section 1:
“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”
There will be much legal maneuvering going on in the days ahead. The make up of the Congress may determine the outcome of this matter.
SUDAN’S GENOCIDE ACKNOWLEDGED
In the midst of the political convention season now, will either party take serious note that the U. S. Congress last week in a Joint Resolution on Sudan declared that genocide is occurring in Sudan? Does it matter?
And those who put a lot of faith in the United Nations should also look carefully to see how that body responds to the crisis. If it cannot respond to genocide, what is it for? Was there anything that it learned from the genocide in Rwanda?
For more information on the situation see The Sudan Campaign’s wesbite.
ON LINDA AND THE WALL
Yesterday I received a letter inviting me to have my name inscribed on the Wall of Tolerance. This came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors hate crimes and promotes tolerance. While racial tolerance is a fine thing to promote, the Wall of Tolerance people go on to defend and promote the teaching of strange sexual practices to our children, among other things. Of course, this was not mentioned in my letter of invitation, which was co-issued by Rosa Parks. Like most heresies, it is remarkable how easy it is take a good thing and pollute it, and then convince the masses that the pollution is fine and proper as well. I am sure there are many little old ladies that send in the required $35 to have their names written on a wall.
On Thursday’s blog, David Mills noted that singer Linda Ronstadt recently stated “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.” Now, if she had used the words “black” and “gay” instead of “Republican” and “fundamental Christian,” Linda would have been a prime candidate for the same organization’s list of the 40 top racists. But Linda needn’t worry. I see by the fine print that that list that is only reserved for members of the “Radical Right.”