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Friday, August 27

THE PORNOGRAPHERS’ INSIGHT:

An article from Tuesday's New York Times, Sex-Film Industry Threatened With Condom Requirement, describes a California legislator’s probably hopeless desire to force the actors in pornographic movies (if “actor” is the right word) to use condoms.

It is one of those stories that offer, in a backhanded way, a tribute to the moral code Christianity teaches. The people who consume such material don’t want the actors to wear condoms, because, judging from what the story says, they want what they see to be real and they want it to appear spontaneous, natural, and passionate, indeed overwhelming. And in a world where such people as the actors portray may be carrying a virus that will kill their partner, completely trusting.

They want to see two people (all right, in the best cases, just two) give themselves to each other without hesitation or reserve. If all they wanted to see two (or more) people engaged in a variety of sexual acts with each other, why would they object to condoms?

Because at some level they want, I think, to see on the screen what in the real world will only happen securely and completely within marriage. The movies themselves will, of course, show people doing so outside marriage and indeed outside any commitment at all, but even a libertine will admit that people rarely achieve this kind of free sexuality in his world.

My only knowledge of these things comes from observing people I know and reading the sort of stories that appear in the better magazines, but judging from the testimony of both, even those who seem guiltlessly promiscuous do not give themselves to their partners with complete abandon. The sort of stories that appear in The New Yorker or are praised in The New York Times Book Review tell of people who before or after the event calculate the personal investment they want to make in the partner, and sometimes (but much more rarely than in reality) the danger of getting some disease from him or (for the woman) finding herself pregnant with his child or (for the man and sometimes but less often the woman) finding himself emotionally entangled with his partner of the moment, or involved with someone who is emotionally entangled with him.

These people do not give themselves to each other with quite the selflessness, the genuine abandon, that a husband and wife can do, no matter how happily they hop in and out of bed. Marital abandon is what the people buying dirty movies want to see, though their desire is so clouded and corrupted they will accept any sad substitute. In their objection to placing a layer of latex between a man and a woman, they glimpse something of the truth.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Here are some links to related blogs: yesterday’s Liberalism’s sex addiction; and a string from June, beginning with "Of sex and class" and continuing with "Sex doesn’t sell as well" as chastity, and The marriage made the drama.


4:48 PM


FROM THE INBOX AUGUST 27TH 2004:

Several items today, mostly taken from the usual journals.

— The religion columnist Terry Mattingly offers his thoughts on Red churches, blue churches, smart churches, dumb churches on his GetReligion blogsite. He closes with a funny and not terribly bright quote from Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift.

This is a site those of you interested in "media studies," and particularly in the relation of Christians and Christianity to the mainstream secular media, will find useful. Both writers — the other is Douglas LeBlanc, formerly an editor at Christianity Today — are religious journalists who know how both newspapers and articles work and can show you what is going on. They also include a lot of useful links in their postings.

— While looking for something else, I found a link on Pontifications to Ronald Knox’s satirical essay, written while he was still an Anglican, Reunion All Round. “Being a Plea for the Inclusion within the Church of England of all Mahometans, Jews, Buddhists, Brahmins, Papists and Atheists, submitted to the consideration of the British Public,” it begins:

It is now generally conceded, that those differences, which were once held to divide the Christian sects from one another, (as whether or not Confirmation were a necessary ordinance of the Church), can no longer be thought to place any obstacle against unity and charity between Christians; rather, the more of them we find to exist, the more laudable a thing it is that Christian men should stomach, now and again, these uneasy scruples, and worship together for all the world as if they had never existed. There is no progress in Humanity, without the surmounting of obstacles; thus, we are all now agreed that Satan, far from meaning any harm to our Race when he brought sin into the world, was most excellently disposed towards us, and desired nothing better than that we, having some good stout sins to overcome, should attain an eventful and exciting sort of virtue, instead of languishing for ever in that state of respectable innocence, which is so little creditable to the angels, who alone practice it. In like manner, all heresies and schisms are the very condition of Christian unity, and were doubtless designed to supply a kind of zest to the tedious business of Church-going, on the same principle that the digestion of poultry is improved, if they be allowed to have a little grit or gravel in their crops to assist them. So that there can be no more edifying spectacle, to the rightly-constituted mind, than that of two fellow-worshippers, one of whom is saying in his heart, great is Diana of the Ephesians and the other, O Baal, hear us, both which inward intentions they express by a common formula, when they profess openly with their lips, that honesty is the best policy.
It is an enjoyable book, especially if you find minimalistic ecumenism and churchy language annoying or amusing.

— From the (Southern) Baptist Press, a useful analysis of what the pollsters find: Stem cell polling clashes over research that destroys embryos. The number of Americans who think embryonic human beings should be destroyed in research is alarmingly high, but not as high as the Harris Poll claims.
The Harris Poll reported 73 percent of Americans say embryonic stem cell research should be permitted, while only 11 percent oppose it. That marked a 12 percent increase in support of embryonic research from a Harris poll taken in 2001.

Harris presented the following question in its online survey of more than 2,200 adults: "Stem cells come from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization, which are not used and normally destroyed. Many medical researchers want to use them to develop treatments, or to prevent diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. On balance, do you think this research should or should not be allowed?"

The Catholic Conference's Richard Doerflinger called the Harris survey "one of the most dishonest polls I've ever seen."

"It simply ignores the current issue, which is whether federal funds should be used to encourage the killing of human embryos to make new stem cell lines," said Doerflinger, deputy director of the USCCB's Pro-life Secretariat, according to LifeNews.com. "Instead it asks whether stem cell research should be 'allowed' and refuses to mention the central fact that it means destroying embryos."
A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,

which was performed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, described an embryo as having "potential life."
which will have affected the answers the pollers got. In contrast,
A survey commissioned by the National Right to Life Committee found 53 percent of adults oppose government funding of stem cell research that destroys human embryos, while 38 percent support such use of taxes. Meanwhile, 74 percent favor government funds for stem cell experimentation that does not kill human embryos, and 20 percent oppose it.

In a poll commissioned by the Pro-life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 47 percent of adults said they favored federal funds for stem cell research that destroys human embryos, while 43 were opposed. In a question about which research method they would prefer their taxes to fund, 61 percent chose research using stem cells from adults and other sources that is not harmful, while 23 percent chose experiments using all methods, including those that destroy embryos.

Wilson Research Strategies conducted the survey for the NRLC, while International Communications Research did the poll for the USCCB.
I did, in my youth, do a little polling for political candidates, and was then, in my youthful innocence, shocked to find how consciously some pollsters designed their polls to get the answers they wanted. It's not hard to do. And, to be fair, sometimes it's entirely unconscious, simply because the pollster does not realize how his own point of view biases the questions he asks.

— From the English Catholic magazine The Tablet, Gaudí, the Blessed, on the saintly modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi, best known to Americans for his Church of the Holy Family, seen often during the last Olympics.

The article quotes one silly man who opposes the movement to canonize Gaudi because “Gaudí was a ‘universal artist’ who would be reduced by the Church’s attempt to canonise him. Gaudí . . . was appreciated by people of different religions or none; he belongs to everybody – not just to the Church,” and notes that secular Catalan nationalists
with a secular vision of a free Catalonia. . . . are forced to try to separate him from his deep Catholicism, just as, faced with the Sagrada Familia as the city’s icon, they once attempted to turn it into a “temple of culture”.
The article goes on to discuss his work and his sanctity, which was as much an artistic work as his architecture.
The architect’s struggle against his natural inclinations – especially his bad temper – was titanic. “God has given me the grace to see things with absolute clarity at that moment,” he told a friend. “I have to say things just as they are, without beating around the bush, and of course people are annoyed.” But it is only asked of saints that they struggle, not necessarily that they succeed. “I am a fighter by nature,” he confided to his spiritual director the day before his accident. “I have always fought, and I have always succeeded, except in one thing: in the struggle against my bad temper. This I have not been able to overcome.” . . .

Accustomed to the Romantic icon of the artist as tortured and alienated, people find it hard to grasp that Gaudí could be at the same time mercurial and deeply prayerful. Interestingly, the idea of the suffering artist is strong, too, in Gaudí, but it is not the suffering of alienation but of a loving response to God. He used to say that the joy of artistic creation was so immense that if the artist did not respond through fasting, suffering and poverty, he would be in some way descompensado, “over-compensated”.
And interestingly:
One of the signs of the congruence of his creativity and his holiness was that Gaudí’s greatness increased with age, unlike other artists – Mozart, say – who either burned out or died young. Like Bach, Gaudí worked every day of every week. After the Sagrada Familia commission, his life became for the next 40 years ever more geared to God.

So much so, in fact, that when people pointed out that the church would never be finished in his lifetime, Gaudí would just shrug. “My client”, he would smile, “is not in a hurry.”
— From The Daily Telegraph, 9/11 and the American mindset, a study of the 9/11 Commission’s report by Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist. He argues that

The writers of the report make two major mistakes. The first is that they pretend that there is no connection between Islam and Islamist terrorism. They reject any attempt at subjecting the Islamic belief system to critical scrutiny. This is like trying to understand the Inquisition with no reference to Christianity. To be sure, Islam cannot be reduced to terrorism just as Christianity is something bigger than the Inquisition. But to miss the link between the two is intellectually dishonest and politically suicidal.

The second mistake is the assumption that this "new kind of terrorism" somehow exists in a space not affected by governments. And yet the report itself shows that al-Qa'eda could not function without at least tacit support from several states. Among the countries that helped al-Qa'eda at different times, the report names Libya, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
— Also from the DT, Bishop aims to woo worshippers back with sweet talk announces that
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, is attempting to swell attendance figures at harvest festival services next month by distributing thousands of credit card-style invitations and "goody" bags of free gifts, including chocolate.

The initiative, which is being sponsored by a Christian businessman, is largely aimed at over-50s who have drifted away from worship rather than the under-20s, the age group Church leaders normally seem most anxious to attract. . . .

The diocese cited new research that found that of the 20 million people aged 50 or over in Britain, half were estimated to have had an experience of the Christian worship through Sunday school or in later life.
— From Chiesa.com, How to Speak of the Christian Faith Today, a review by Sandro Magister of two works just published in Italy on proclaiming the Faith. One is I Believed, and therefore I Spoke, published by the Diocese of Rome and the other an article from the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica on the Our Father. In Magister’s summary:
Both of the writings go to the heart of Christianity: the Creed and the "Our Father." They deliberately insist upon the original and unique features of the Christian faith. When they place Christianity beside other religions, it is only to show that it can by no means be assimilated with them. . . .

They are signs of a new attitude toward giving the reasons for the Christian faith today: an attitude more of rupture than of conformity with the spirit of the age, more of distinction than of adaptation, more of mission than of dialogue.
In the preface to I Believed, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, the pope's vicar for the diocese,
makes a critical assessment of modern skepticism and of its most famous proponent, Umberto Eco:

"At the bottom of this theory lies a profound lack of faith in regard to the truth. Relativism here shows its most pleasant and convincing face, but it is no less dangerous and mistaken for this. We need only examine an innocuous expression like that of U. Eco in 'The Name of the Rose' to verify the intention and the ideology hiding behind this way of thinking: 'Truth means only this: freeing oneself from the morbid passion for truth.' As one will note, at the bottom of this is an idiosyncratic form of truth, because one wishes to maintain that truth does not exist, but that there is only a personal truth that deserves to be lived without being offered to anyone else." But "the theme of truth is essential for all religions. Without it, one would arrive at an equivocal relationship with divinity, without ever being certain of his existence and of the efficacy of prayer."


4:37 PM


LEWIS VS. FREUD ON PBS:

A press release from Grace Hill Media announces that PBS will be offering a two part series titled “The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud,” on September 15th and 22nd. According to the release:

Based on a popular Harvard course taught by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, author of the book The Question of God, the series illustrates the lives and insights of Sigmund Freud, a lifelong critic of religious belief, and C.S. Lewis, a celebrated Oxford don, literary critic and perhaps this century’s most influential and popular proponent of faith based on reason.

“It may be that Freud and Lewis represent conflicting parts of ourselves,” Dr. Nicholi notes. “Part of us yearns for a relationship with the source of all joy, hope and happiness, as described by Lewis, and yet, there is another part that raises its fist in defiance and says with Freud ‘I will not surrender.’ Whatever part we choose to express will determine our purpose, our identity, and our whole philosophy of life.”

Through dramatic storytelling and compelling visual recreations, as well as interviews with biographers and historians and lively discussion, Freud and Lewis are brought together in a great debate.


4:25 PM


CASHING IN ON KERRY?

This election season seems to be getting weirder by the minute.
The anti-Kerry book by Swift Book Veterans for Truth, Unfit for Command,sits at Number One at Amazon.com, which is, I suppose, not entirely surprising. The book, even conservative commentators admit, has its errors. The debate over the details of service perhaps will never boil down to anything more than “he said”--“he said.” Official military records, I think, should remain in place unless proven otherwise. What seems to be driving others, though, are later remarks after the tour of duty, the accusations made against veterans that they committed atrocities, routinely and on a daily basis.

At any rate, I found it strange, even funny, that on the Amazon page for the book (I am not ordering it, in case you are wondering) they have the following:

259 people recommended The American Prophecies : Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation's Future in addition to Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry

97 people recommended The American Prophecies : Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation's Future instead of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry
Normally, the first recommendation is for a book that makes a good companion to the main book; the second is for a book that people think you should read instead of the main book, and it is usually a book that takes the other side of an issue, or perhaps is a much better book on the subject.

In this case, I have no idea why this book, American Prophecies, would have anything to do with a book about Kerry. But 356 people put it on the site nonetheless. Is this a conspiracy?

Perhaps, but one to sell the book: American Prophecies is listed as Number Two at Amazon.com. This is find hard to believe. What is the book about?
According to author Michael Evans, a fundamentalist Christian minister, biblical prophets already predicted that America is doomed to collapse unless its government stops accommodating the Arab world for the sake of oil and instead offers full military and diplomatic support to Israel. He believes that God wants Israel to have full control of the West Bank and Gaza, and Americans are risking God's wrath by not fully supporting this biblical mandate.
Well, last but not least, back on Amazon’s page for the anti-Kerry book, the on-line bookstore has posted a large notice:
Important note from Amazon.com: We've decided to suspend our normal customer review policies and rules for this title. For example, we usually prohibit ad hominem attacks. That policy in particular seems to be incompatible with presidential election year politics. Therefore, short of obscenities, reviews on this book are now a free-for-all. We take no responsibility for the following discussion. Aren't presidential election years great? Have fun!
No thanks. But there is no discussion there on the site. Is Amazon, tongue-in-cheek, putting in their two cents on the book?


1:27 PM


A TEACHABLE MOMENT

An accomplished teacher here in Chicago, and a regular reader of this page, sends the following account of his first day in school this year:

During my first day of school I was going over a hand out entitled "Great Expectations" -- a summary of what I, my students, and their parents should expect this year. One of my expectations for my students was: "I expect you to make mistakes and learn from them."
A hand shot up. "Teacher, how do we learn from our mistakes?"
I went up to her and said, "Hold out your hand." She did and I slapped it smartly.
"Hold out your hand," I said again.
"No!" she replied.
"Congratulations!" I said. "You have just learned from your mistake." I turned to another student. "Hold out your hand."
"No!" he replied.
"See, you learned from her mistake. The only way we humans learn is by making mistakes. Thomas Edison made 1,000 mistakes before he invented the light bulb. It's better to learn from other people's mistakes. Do you know what we call learning from other people's mistakes?"
"No," the class answered.
"We call it History!" I proclaimed.
Another year of teaching had begun.


3:15 AM


Thursday, August 26

FROM THE INBOX AUGUST 26TH 2004:

— Jim Wilkens writes:

I just “stumbled” into what will, without a doubt, remain my primary website: Gregorian Chant on a “24/7” basis. It's only available via the web best I can tell. What an incredible gift for the many hours of desk-time while at work!
— In an old article I just stumbled across, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster declares that We need to be saved in a reflection on Hell published in the English (and generally secular) magazine The Spectator. He doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, but that he says it in such a place is cheering.

— And here is something light but perhaps of interest from the latest issue of The Spectator: We’re all going on a summer pilgrimage by John Laughland. The article’s heading says that “There is still a lot of camaraderie on the road to Santiago de Compostela, John Laughland discovers, but serious Christianity is being replaced by New Age ‘self-discovery’.”

— Also from the latest Spectator, a review of a new biography of P. G. Wodehouse. The reviewer writes:
Wodehouse was quite simply a great novelist, but his greatness doesn’t reside either in his understanding of the world or in the profundity of his themes. McCrum sums up his claims at the end of his biography: ‘In the lives of most great writers, there are usually two lasting themes, love and work. With Wodehouse these are indistinguishable, and both prevail.’ The trouble with this claim is that, on its own, it would not explain why Wodehouse is better than, say, his friend Denis Mackail’s Greenery Street, or indeed any number of books with no merit at all. Many of Wodehouse’s novels, really, are about nothing at all; many of the best, indeed. Their merits lie not in their themes, but in the intricate patterning of their brilliant plotting, and, above all, in their linguistic inventiveness.
I know tastes vary, but I must admit to finding it hard to understand someone, a bookish man anyway, who does not love Wodehouse. Not caring for his writing is like being indifferent to the smell and look of roses or yawning at the sight of the Himalayas.

I think the reviewer is right in his judgment of Wodehouse — pronounced “Woodhouse,” by the way — including his judgment of Wodehouse’s wartime broadcasts.

— One of our regular readers and respondents, Danny DeBruin, wrote An Inside Look at Voice of the Faithful for last January’s issue of Crisis, which I’ve just come across. VOTF is not the diverse, theologically neutral group it claims to be. Readers in other churches will probably find the story representative of events in their own churches.

— One of our sister journals, Modern Reformation magazine offers a very useful chart of the development of modern denominations.

By the way, our contributing editor Gillis Harp is a contributing scholar of the journal, which I had not known till I looked at the list on their website. MR's site does not offer any articles by him (and actually, few of anyone's) but Gil has recently written for us “Mall Christianity” (not online), Requiem for the Comic Book, and an analysis of Phillips Brooks, A Once and Former Evangelical.

— From the Daily Telegraph, an obituary for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I would commend Ron Rosenbaum’s essay on Dr. Kubler-Ross, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead,” which originally appeared in Harper’s magazine and has been reprinted in his essay collection The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms. He exposes her increasingly peculiar attitude to death, which culminated in leading her devotees to have sex with the dead. I did not make that up. The dead man turned out to be a live con man.

While looking for a link to the essay on the web (I couldn’t find one), I found the transcript (not cleaned up for publication) of a lecture he gave, which some of you might enjoy, on “The Journalism of Ideas”. For those of you who don’t know his writing, Rosenbaum is a writer much like Tom Wolfe, when Wolfe wrote a lot of journalism.

— Another example of original sin in action, among that set of human beings in which its operations are often most obvious and stupidest: Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar.

— A friend sends the link to Heart and Mind magazine, a Catholic homeschooling magazine she calls “terrific.”


7:00 PM


LIBERALISM’S SEX ADDICTION:

A revealing article from the Los Angeles Times: As the AIDS Bureaucracy Cashes In, the Prospect of a Cure Dims by James P. Pinkerton. Writing about the 15th World AIDS Conference, held in Bangkok in July, he notes that

Absent any short-term hope for a cure, the activists seem determined to make the band play on — that is, to preserve maximum sexual freedom for all, no matter what the cost. In Bangkok, all discussions on abstinence were dismissed; out in front of the convention center was a giant condom, described as a “victory monument.”

In the lobby stood a display honoring — yes, that’s the right word — sex workers; the Debby Project, the Australian art protest troupe that sponsored the exhibit, declared: “It is not necessarily degrading to have intimacy with strangers. In fact, it is one of the most liberating things you can experience.”

Tragically, avant-garde thinking on AIDS is returning to where it was two decades ago: No pesky disease should get in the way of sexual liberation. That was the overwhelming message, and it’s a killer.
The liberationist party acts a lot like an addict, here and elsewhere. They cannot give up sexual license, even when it contradicts their established ideological commitments, commitments from the holding of which, if I may speak ad hominem, they derive a great deal of personal satisfaction.

You see the same kind of thing among Episcopal liberals who have spent decades fawning upon the Third World until the Third World Anglicans too loudly opposed the liberals’ homosexualism. At this point, the liberals began treating the Africans like impertinent children. They did sometimes catch themselves and translate their contempt into a pained explanation of the Africans’ ignorance of modern western pluralism, the insights of contemporary biblical scholarship, and the like, which was really just as patronizing.

Ms. Barbara Harris, then the suffragan bishop of Massachusetts, famously described the African bishops at the last Lambeth Conference as being bought off with “chicken dinners.” She had a certain gift for ideological writing, but would not have been elected to her comfortable and privileged (and privileging) position were she not of her sex and race, yet she felt comfortable in describing the African bishops in a way that would have, if said by someone else, been denounced as racist (and surely denounced by Ms. Harris herself) — men who had earned their places as Anglican elders and often lived in danger of their lives.

But they were saying no to Westerners intent on sexual liberation, and therefore in that world justifiably abusable. I never heard any liberal Anglican rebuke Ms. Harris, and these are people who can go from equanimity to righteous fury in .024 seconds.

The principle “It’s all about sex” over-simplifies the problems of the western mainline churches, but it is a useful one nevertheless. It is wise, when reading some liberal activist pronounce on church policy, to ask if someone else whose opinion might affect his life (African Anglican bishops, say) is telling him to keep his hands to himself and his pants zipped up — to do what, as an addict, so many liberal activists cannot and will not do.


5:00 PM


VIETNAM AGAIN?

Not knowing much about Senator Kerry until this year, I was quite taken aback when he made his own war record the chief theme in his nomination speech at the Democratic Convention.

I was taken aback, because I did not think that this sort of thing would be done any more.

In the past, victorious generals were always prime candidates for President, of course, but I rather thought we had moved beyond waving the bloody shirt. You can’t really blame me for this impression. Eight years ago the citizens of this country, in the election of their President, were given the choice between a severely wounded, decorated war veteran and another man who had never worn a military uniform of this country. They did not choose Senator Dole, as I recall.

I am not sure why we should concentrate on a man’s military record so dominantly when we come to look for a good President. Even victorious generals, after all, have not invariably made good Presidents. For example, I have always thought that Andrew Jackson was terribly overrated as a President (and as a human being), and there prevails a general consensus that Ulysses Grant was not a terribly good President.

So, when Senator Kerry, who served in Viet Nam for exactly 4 months, put forward his war record so prominently in his bid for the Presidency, the move struck me as rather strange, even anachronistic.

Whether this procedure will work for the Senator, I do not know.

It seems obvious to me, however, that the very act of placing his war record up front among the motives which would prompt us to vote for the Senator was a bit risky.

Especially when that military record has to do with Vietnam.

For decades now it has been taken as a principle of political life in America that we should “put Vietnam behind us.” Indeed, most of us thought that we had put Vietnam behind us. (I was a war-protester back in those days, so I certainly wanted to put it behind us. I can endure only so many reminders of my past sins.)

It was Senator Kerry who brought Vietnam back into popular discourse this year, no one else.

I truly do not know why he chose to do it. Senator Kerry has spent twenty years of service in the United States Senate, a lot longer than John F. Kennedy had been a senator. It would seem to me that the reasons for voting for Senator Kerry for President should have something to do with his long career in national government. This is the career is what I thought he would stress in his presidential campaign.

For whatever reasons, he has chosen not to. He elected to jump back to an earlier and more painful period of American history.

So now we find the country one again “divided over Vietnam.”


2:20 PM


BETTER DEAD THAN OFF-DUTY?

The abstract below is from the Howard Center’s World Congress of Family’s Weekly Update, to which you can subscribe via e-mail:

Family Research Abstract of the Week: Better Dead than Divorced?

As long as no-fault divorce remains the law of the land, a significant lowering of the divorce rate may not happen without encouraging parents considering divorce to value the welfare of their children above their own personal interests. One way to do that is to point out that for most American children, the divorce of parents is more traumatic than the death of a parent. At least that is the implication of a study by Jay D. Teachman of Western Washington University, who studied the impact of childhood living arrangements on factors related to the likelihood of women having a successful marriage.

Starting with data from the 1995 round of the National Survey of Family Growth, Teachman focused his attention on 4,947 women who married between 1970 and 1989. He found that women who grew up with two biological parents were far less likely than women who grew up in alternative family arrangements to form "high-risk" marriages: they married later, had higher levels of education, married men with more education, were less likely to have experienced premarital conception or birth, and were less likely to cohabit.

He also discovered that the marital risk factors of women who experienced a parental death were virtually identical to those who grew up with both parents, whereas numerous statistically significant correlations were found among women who grew up under other circumstances, including parental divorce, parental remarriage, and a single mother home. The highest correlations were found in two childhood living arrangements: "divorce only" and "divorce and remarriage." Each were correlated with six marital risk factors: early marriage, teen childbearing, being married with less than a high school education, both spouses with less than a high school education, having a husband more than five years older, and a teen marriage with a husband more than five years older (p < .05 for all 12 measures).

Interestingly, parental death and remarriage (in contrast to parental death only) was correlated with early marriage and early childbearing, although not the four other risk factors as was the case with parental divorce only and parental remarriage after divorce. This led Teachman to suggest that financial distress does not explain the negative effects of some childhood living arrangements, as remarriage has been positively associated with more economic resources for families and children. Teachman theorizes that the low risk factors associated with parental death may be related to the possibility that "the death of a parent may rally the support of family and friends to an extent exceeding that which occurs following parental divorce."

(Source: Jay D. Teachman, "The Childhood Living Arrangements of Children and the Characteristics of Their Marriages," Journal of Family Issues 25 [2004]: 86-111).
This reminds me of observations that I have heard from other experts that, similarly, children who grow up without a father because the father either died or was killed in war do better psychologically than children who are fatherless because of divorce or abandonment. It is easier to explain to a child, of course, that a father can’t be with them because of death than to explain why he doesn’t bother with them even though he is still living.


1:22 PM


The Arms Embargo

We think of recourse to an arms embargo as a fairly modern instrument of foreign policy. In fact, however, this is not true.

One of our earliest examples of an effective arms embargo was that of India’s Asoka, a political figure well known to fame.

Aloka was the grandson of the Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan Empire (India’s first) who, in 325 B.C, forced the army of Alexander the Great to give up its attempts to conquer India. Having done that, Chandragupta went on to conquer most of India for himself.

His grandson, Asoka, added to that empire by conquering another kingdom along the Bay of Bengal.

These facts are well known to history.

Less often mentioned, however, is Asoka’s arms embargo against the Greeks, in retaliation for Alexander’s earlier attempt to conquer India.

We are not sure how Asoka enforced that arms embargo against the Greeks, but we do know that it was effective. To gauge exactly how effective, all we need to do is examine classical Greek sculpture.

Take, for example, the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She has her wings, to be sure, but notice that she has no arms. The Greeks were unable to get the lady any arms, so effective was Asoka’s embargo.

Then, look at that famous frieze of the battle between the Lapiths and the centaurs from the western pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. You will observe that some of the Lapiths in the sculpture are without arms. In fact, so few arms were available in Greece at that time, as a result of Asoka’s arms embargo, that most of the arms in the scene were reserved for the centaurs. (If the centaurs, after all, had been deprived of their arms, they would have looked like just bearded horses, and that would not have been very picturesque.)

Listen, I know what I am talking about. I have visited museums and art galleries all over Greece, and it is the same everywhere you go. Arms missing. We have seen it so often that we take it as a matter of course that Greek gods and goddesses were often deprived of their arms.

In retrospect, of course, it seems a crying shame that a great civilization like Greece was deprived of a sufficient number of arms for its gods. Still, Alexander should have thought of that before he tried to invade India. I think we may say that this is one of the lessons of history.

Oh yes, India. Let’s get back to India. Because of India’s arms embargo against the Greeks, there naturally began to grow a surplus of arms in India. They had extra arms sitting around all over the place after all, and Asoka’s people were forced to great efforts of ingenuity to find uses for them. Just what do you do with a bunch of extra arms?

Once again, you can study this in the art and sculpture of the place. Notice how many of the gods of Hinduism were given extra arms.

Remember poor Winged Victory of Samothrace, who has neither of her arms? Who got those two arms that rightly belonged to her? Shiva, that’s who. Just look at any statue of Shiva and count his arms. Four of them, that’s what you’ll find. Shiva got two extra arms, because Asoka’s people wouldn’t let the Greeks have them.

And take Shiva’s elephant son, Ganesha. You would think Ganesha could get by in life with just two arms, especially since he had that useful trunk in place of a nose.

But no, Ganesha gets two extra arms as well. Asoka’s people had to find something to do with all the extra arms lying around as a result of the arms embargo against the Greeks.

You may say that it’s not fair that the Greek gods have to go without arms just so the Hindu gods can get extra ones. But that’s how international diplomacy works. Centuries later, things are still weird.


3:05 AM


Wednesday, August 25

FROM THE INBOX 25 AUGUST 2004:

A few items received from readers or listserves. The Times and Telegraph sites require registration. I don’t think the others do, but then I may have forgotten.

— From the Baptist Press, an article on China’s abuse of sex: China targets boy-girl birth imbalance, which reports that

China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission reported Aug. 11 on a Care for Girls pilot project that provides financial incentives to rural families that give birth to and rear girls, according to China Daily. Government inducements for families with only daughters include insurance, educational fees, housing, employment, job training and welfare.

The goal is to reduce a birth ratio found in the 2000 census of 117 boys to 100 girls. The project’s organizers hope to reduce the ratio to a more normal 103-107 boys for every 100 girls. . . .

[T]he imbalance in some provinces is much worse. The Guangdong and Hainan provinces, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, have more than 130 male births to 100 female births.
Interestingly, and disturbingly, the article reports that South Korea has a birth ratio of 116 boys to 100 girls without any government policy, a figure a Chinese official uses to excuse theirs, and by extension the practice of forced abortions they need to make the policy work.

— From the New York Times, an article on the West’s abuse of sex. Sex, Sex, Sex: Up Front in Bookstores Near You, describes the mainstreaming of pornography by major publishers and bookstores. Books that the average bookstore didn’t sell at all a few years ago recently appeared in their own section — I noticed this with some surprise at our local Borders when I got to the end of the fiction section and found the ceiling-high “Erotic” section — and now, according to the story, are being sold on the tables right near the door.

The story includes something for your Wicked Euphemism file:
“I don’t publish pornography,” said Judith Regan, president and publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins. “I publish smart books about sex. A lot of people try to imitate what I do but they don’t do it well.”

Ms. Regan’s most recent offering is “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale,” a memoir by Jenna Jameson, probably the most successful woman ever in the adult-film business . . .

The book, which is already climbing the best-seller lists, is long (579 pages), graphic (with clinical descriptions of a smorgasbord of sex acts) and bulging with color photos of a mostly nude Ms. Jameson (which led some stores, including Wal-Mart, to refuse to stock it).
And add to the euphemism, sanctimony:
The key to her assertion that Ms. Jameson’s book is smart, Ms. Regan said, is in the subtitle. “This is a cautionary tale for this culture,” she said, referring to the book’s frank descriptions of Ms. Jameson’s rape by a relative of her boyfriend, her drug addiction and other trials.

“It’s the story of what she aspired to and what she’s become, and the price she paid for it,” Ms. Regan said. “You cannot live a life like this and not pay a price.”
Offering a salacious story and justifying it as an exercise in morality is a very old dodge. I have read that much of the softcore pornography of the fifties and early sixties — stuff I’ve never seen, I hasten to say — presented itself as offering lessons in hygiene and warnings about venereal disease and promiscuity. You can tell a cautionary tale without clinical descriptions of a smorgasbord of sex acts.

One might take Ms. Regan, a very powerful person in the publishing world, which by itself is a depressing fact, a little more seriously if the story did not mention other such works appearing under her imprint, which are even less able to be rationalized as “a cautionary tale” or “a smart book about sex.”

— From the Times, an article on an unrelated subject: Building Better Bodies by Nicholas Kristof. It begins:
For a glimpse of what post-human athletes may look like beginning in the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, take a look at an obscure breed of cattle called the Belgian Blue.

Belgian Blues are unlike any cows you've ever seen. They have a genetic mutation that means they do not have effective myostatin, a substance that curbs muscle growth. A result is that Belgian Blues are all bulging muscles without a spot of fat, like bovine caricatures of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
— From the Maclaurin Institute, an interview with Nancy Pearcey, author of a new book titled Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Information about the book can be found here. In arguing for the importance of a consciously Christian worldview, Pearcey argues that
Today the fact/value split has become the single most potent weapon for delegitimizing the biblical perspective in the public square. In any society, the dominant definition of truth functions as the cultural gatekeeper; it defines what is to be taken seriously as genuine knowledge, and what can be dismissed as mere private bias. To have any cultural impact, you first have to get your ideas past the gatekeeper.

Here’s how it works: Most secularists are too politically savvy to attack religion directly or to debunk it as false. So what do they do? They consign religion to the value sphere—which takes it out of the realm of true and false altogether. Secularists can then reassure us that of course they respect our “cherished beliefs”—while at the same time they deny that our position has any relevance to the public realm, where we talk about what really happened. This sleight of hand happens all the time—and we need to be able to see through it.
Her comments on “How Women Started the Culture War” (the last question and answer) are especially interesting.

— From Chiesa.com, The Future of Iraq’s Christians Will Be Decided at the Tomb of Alì by Sandro Magister. It includes at the end an interesting short article on the history an therefore the contemporary importance of Najaf.

— From The Daily Telegraph, Germany breaks the Hitler taboo with a movie, one of the most expensive German movies ever made, about Hitler’s last twelve days.
A decades-long taboo was broken in Germany yesterday with the launch of a feature film in which Adolf Hitler appears for the first time in a central role, not as a ranting demagogue but as a soft-spoken dreamer. . . .

It depicts the Fuhrer as an avuncular character with a penchant for chocolate cake, who slides into madness when his lifelong dream of a 1,000-year reich slips from his grasp.
One reads the headline with some alarm, but after reading the article and reflecting for a moment I thought that the movie might be quite good, and a realistic portrayal of Hitler good for the Germans to see.

There is no contradiction between being soft-spoken, avuncular, dreamy, and fond of chocolate cake and being a thoroughly evil man. In fact, if you want to be a successful thoroughly evil man, you might well choose to be soft-spoken, dreamy, etc.

— Another article from The Daily Telegraph, this one announcing that Family Snaps [Snapshots] Keep Sheep Happy. It begins:
Lonely sheep, like lonely people, are much happier when they see pictures of friends and family, according to a study published yesterday. . . .

In the case of the sheep, “seeing a face picture of a friend or family member would be the most effective way of reducing separation anxiety”, said Prof Keith Kendrick, who led the study.
The story also offered this (to me) surprising information about sheep:
Sheep can remember at least 50 sheep faces, even in profile. The animals can also remember 10 or more familiar human faces.
I suppose I should not have been surprised, since our Lord told us that sheep know their shepherd’s voice.

— And a third from the DT, this one examining Institutional racism from the East, in Noel Malcolm’s review of Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit’s Occidentalism. After criticizing Edward Said’s famous and influential book Orientalism, the reviewer asks
Is there a unifying factor underneath it all — the equivalent to imperialism in Said’s theory? Not really. In some cases there is the experience of being imperialised; but not in the case of Russia or Japan. The most important factor seems to be the process of modernisation and industrialisation, which has involved much slavish copying of the West and much weakening of traditional values. Of the sprawling slum-suburbs of the Third World, the authors write: “To idle youths living in these cultural wastelands, globalisation can be a source of endless seduction and constant humiliation.”

Such frustrations and resentments might naturally lead to a political backlash. But one would expect the politics to take the form of some sort of nativist conservatism, a hyper-nostalgia for old values and ancestral customs. Instead, it has often taken on a virulently ideological character, with the ideology concentrating on the evils of “the West” — materialism, individualism, and so on. Where did this ideology come from? The answer forms the central argument, at once unnerving and convincing, of this book: it came from the West itself.
Which point the reviewer proceeds to develop, and I commend the review to you.


4:11 PM


WHERE CHRISTENDOM IS

In Francesca Murphy’s “Art and Intellect in the Philosophy of Étienne Gilson,” she writes:

Christendom was not an abstraction for Gilson. When he asks where it is, he responds that he has met it in churches the world over, and describes them. He had found it in the church near the railway station in Chicago, in which nothing “disturbed the silence, save for a thin trickle of water from Lake Michigan that fell drop by drop in a grotto of Lourdes. Where was I? Neither in America nor in France, nor at any geographical point on earth. Yet I had surely reached a journey’s end, since I was at home: I was in Christendom.” He had met it as alien visitor to the church in Bloomington, Indiana, where an altar boy had approached him with a threat of excommunication from the pastor “if you do not take breakfast with him,” and learned that “the Christian is not a stranger in any parish, for wherever there is a parish he stands on Christian soil.” It fascinated him particularly, perhaps, as a layman, as being a third human society, between the church and the state, to which “all disciples of Christ” belong. (p. 256; quotations from Gilson were published in 1956.)
I think this is true. While one cannot equate a church building with the Church, on the other hand, especially in church buildings of a certain traditional type, there is something that transcends mere matter. The Lord does not dwell in houses made with hands, but the faith of the members of Christ’s Body has been made manifest in some important measure in these old churches. They are built around the keeping of the Lord’s Supper. Generations of Christians have built places where even two or three gathered can know the Lord’s Presence “in the breaking of the bread.”

When one stands in a place where this single, most concrete act and inheritance delivered and mandated to the apostles has been observed by the saints gathered generation after generation, one in a sense does stand in a place outside time, beyond latitude and longitude, at the foot of the Cross upon which was slain the Lamb before the foundation of the world. The meridian and equator of Christendom meet together where the arms of this Cross meet, and the real estate of Christendom runs out in all four directions along those arms, as He who was lifted up draws the whole universe to Himself, from the beginning of time until time ends, for he is the Alpha and Omega.

Gilson saw all this, I think, in that church in Chicago.


2:54 PM


A NEW WAY TO RETIRE?

My wife sent me this message yesterday. I have since learned that the message originated at a comedy site, http://www.smileycentral.com.

Given the age and condition of my wife and me, nonetheless, the proposal does not appear all that humerous. Indeed, it seems downright plausible. Perhaps we shall look into it.

No nursing home for us. We are checking into the Holiday Inn!

With the average cost for a nursing home care costing $188.00 per day, there is a better way when we get old & feeble.

We have already checked on reservations at the Holiday Inn. For a combined long term stay discount and senior discount, it's $49.23 per night. That leaves $138.77 a day for: breakfast, lunch and dinner in any restaurant we want, or room service. Laundry, gratuities and special TV movies. Plus, they provide a swimming pool, a workout room, a lounge and washer-dryer, etc. Most have free toothpaste and razors, and all have free shampoo and soap.

$5 worth of tips a day will have the entire staff scrambling to help you. They treat you like a customer, not a patient.

There is a city bus stop out front, and seniors ride free. The handicap bus will also pick you up (if you fake a decent limp).

To meet other nice people, call a church bus on Sundays.

For a change of scenery, take the airport shuttle bus and eat at one of the nice restaurants there. While you're at the airport, fly somewhere. Otherwise, the cash keeps building up.

It takes months to get into decent nursing homes. Holiday Inn will take your reservation today. And you are not stuck in one place forever, you can move from Inn to Inn, or even from city to city Want to see Hawaii? They have a Holiday Inn there too.

TV broken? Light bulbs need changing? Need a mattress replaced? No problem. They fix everything, and apologize for the inconvenience.

The Inn has a night security person and daily room service. The maid checks to see if you are ok. If not, they will call the undertaker or an ambulance. If you fall and break a hip, Medicare will pay for the hip, and Holiday Inn will upgrade you to a suite for the rest of your life.

And no worries about visits from family. They will always be glad to find you, and probably check in for a few days mini-vacation. The grandkids can use the pool. What more can you ask for?

So, when we reach that golden age, we'll face it with a grin.




1:26 PM


DRAINING THE PASSION:

In Pitching ‘The Passion’ DVD to Faithful Flocks" in today’s New York Times, Laura M. Holson writes in the mode taken by secular papers from the beginning when writing about The Passion of the Christ: a) assume the movie is an ideological production, by both those who made it and those who watched it, and b) treat its enormous appeal as a matter of marketing and sociology and do not — not not not — admit that the story may have some power and interest on its own. Just look at the lead:

By rewriting the rules of movie marketing — bypassing the Hollywood sales machinery in favor of direct appeals to churchgoing Christians — Mel Gibson turned “The Passion of the Christ” into this year’s most unlikely movie blockbuster. Now, with DVD’s and videos of the film going on sale next week, Hollywood is courting the faithful, hoping to turn “The Passion” into one of the industry’s biggest sellers.
You will notice that the writer does not mention Hollywood’s hostility to the project — remember that late in the production of the movie they were not at all sure how many theatres would even show it, because that “Hollywood sales machinery” didn’t want to sell it — which forced Gibson to try other ways of reaching viewers. But leaving that aside, notice also that the movie succeeded only because Gibson proved an innovative marketer, and that Hollywood is going to make the dvd version succeed.

The article goes on to describe a fairly obvious marketing program, much of which is driven not by Hollywood but by the stores that will be selling the dvd. And revealingly, even the stores don’t need to do much:
“One of the difficulties we struggled with is, what is appropriate?” Robert Cummins, Best Buy’s movie business team manager, said. “For some it is a personal purchase. We did not seek out overtly promotional opportunities for the movie.” Best Buy will put up posters and store displays, but will not join with other companies, like cup or T-shirt makers, to promote the DVD. And unlike the way it handles other popular titles, it will not begin selling “The Passion" at midnight on the eve of its release day.

Still, Mr. Cummins said, “it should be one of our biggest sellers ever.”
If Mr. Cummins is right, a huge number of people will buy the dvd because they want to see the movie, not because Hollywood courted them. The reason for the movie’s popularity is not the marketing — oh how the Times wishes it were — but the story.

But this is a dangerous concession for secularists to make, that the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem so long ago still has the power to move people, is still news. For if it is, in that sense, news, it may well be Good News, which is Bad News for those who wish Christianity did not exist.


10:44 AM


ORDER “LAST STAND” NOW:

Our marketing director, Kenneth Tanner, tells me that we are down to the last 150 copies of the Darwin’s Last Stand? issue. We printed a large over-run, expecting some extra sales, but the number of copies sold has surprised us and we may run out before the next issue is published.

Which is to say that if you want more copies of the issue, you’d best order them now.


10:43 AM


Tuesday, August 24

FELLOWSHIP WITH THE CATHOLIC SCHOLARS:

Yesterday I encouraged you to come to this year’s Touchstone conference, Praying and Staying Together, on trying to live as a Christian family. If you want a second conference to go to, I would commend to your attention this year’s meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, addressing the International Year of the Family.

I went to the FCS' conference last year and greatly enjoyed it. I should mention that not everyone who came was Catholic and that all of the papers any believer would enjoy and almost any believer could endorse.

This year's conference will include sessions on such as topics as “Gender Theory & Identity: A Challenge for the Church in the 21st Century,” given by two professors at the Franciscan University of Steubenville; “The Future of Marriage and the Family in the United States: Some History Lessons,” by Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society; “Lessons from Social Science and Demography on the Family,” given by Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, and Nicholas Eberstadt, the Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute; and "Defending the Family at the United Nations,” given by Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute and William Saunders of the Family Research Council. The keynote address will be given by Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

To give you some idea of what three of the speakers think about things: William Saunders wrote for us The Unfrozen Chosen, Church, State, and Conscience, and several other articles not available online. Allan Carlson has written several articles for us as well, including Death Wish II and The U.N.: From Friend to Foe. Austin Ruse’s one article for us, Summit of the Gods, appeared in November, 2000, but I am hoping to have him in the magazine much more often.

If you do come, you will get a chance to talk with our senior editor James Hitchcock and me and you may get a chance to speak with our senior editor Leon Podles and contributing editors Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and William Tighe as well. The last three are all members of the FCS but I do not know if they are coming. To give you an idea of what I and the other editors think about things:

James Hitchcock’s latest articles are Supremely Modern Liberals, describing the development of old-fashioned liberalism into modernism, and his editorial Europe Passe . My latest are Reading the Stars on why Christians (unlike many secularists) do not fear being alone in the universe, and my editorial Hanging On, which finds in a Marxist writer hope for the future of Christianity.

Leon Podles’ latest is “Christians and the Fog of War” from the November, 2003 issue, which is not available online. The latest article of his available online is There’s no smell like home, an entry in his “The Matter at Hand” column, and his editorial Voting as Christians, which has some relevance to the current state of things. He hasn’t written as much as usual lately because he’s been finishing his book on the Catholic sexual scandals, but he has resumed writing his column, one of which is appearing in the September issue.

William Tighe’s last article for us was Calculating Christmas, in which he challenges the common wisdom abut the pagan origin of the date for Christmas. His review of Garry Wills’ Why I Am a Catholic is in the hopper. New contributing editor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s “Deadly Choice” from the September issue of last year is not available online, but we have two of her essays in the hopper.


3:11 PM


SAME OLD STORIES

IN David Mills’s earlier entry today (In Box), he writes: “This explains the critical appeal of Joyce Carol Oates, who seems to write the same story over and over again.”

This reminded me of something I read just yesterday in Francesca Aran Murphy’s “Art and Intellect in the Philosophy of Étienne Gilson,” by Gilson himself:

it is . . . in the hour of his first success, that the most subtle temptation comes to the artist, to let the genius that created his public be directed by that public. Once he has won them, they always keep asking for the identical pleasure they experienced the first time. So the painter sells himself to the dealer who is certain he can place any number of copies of the same work with his customers . . . . The novelist rewrites the same novel. The musician repeats the same songs. The artist . . . becomes his own disciple and calls upon his talent to exploit the creations of his genius.
Murphy notes that Gilson himself “knew very well the dangers of playing to an audience.” “He was also one of the great intellectual stage performers of his generation. . . . He was an artist in words, and one who could woo an audience with laughter.” (We could use a few funny philosopher-theologians--of his caliber.)


11:19 AM


DANGEROUS NAIL FILES:

An English reader sends a letter that appeared in The Daily Telegraph in response to the article (the annoying article) I mentioned in last Friday’s “From the Inbox”:

Re: Confiscated clippers
Date: 21 August 2004

Sir - I was interested to read about Stephen Robinson's experiences in the US embassy (Opinion, Aug 19). However, paranoia over nail clippers is not confined to Americans. The son of a friend is a serving officer in the Ghurka Rifles and was on his way with his unit to Afghanistan, courtesy of the RAF.

Dressed in full combat kit and carrying weapons, all went well until the final security check before boarding. Rifles, bayonets and kukris were fine, but when the nail clippers were discovered in his washing kit the offending article was placed in a plastic bag and confiscated. Dangerous in the wrong hands, you understand.

From:
Col P D King-Fretts, South Molton, Devon


9:51 AM


FROM THE INBOX 24 AUGUST 2004:

— An Encouraging news story: First-Time Voters for Life from The Weekly Standard by Duncan Currie. He reports that the Pace University/Rock the Vote poll found that:

new voters are trending pro-life on abortion. . . .

On abortion, Pace Poll researchers slice the new voter demographic into four groups. There are those who believe "abortions should be legal and generally available" (21 percent); those who feel "regulation of abortion is necessary, although it should remain legal in many circumstances" (23 percent); those who say "abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the mother, incest, or rape" (41 percent); and those who think "all abortions should be made illegal" (13 percent). The survey shows that, essentially, 44 percent of new voters are pro-choice while 54 percent are pro-life. Among first-time Latino voters, pro-lifers outnumber pro-choicers 61 percent to 34 percent; among blacks, the pro-life/pro-choice breakdown is 59 percent/42 percent. Self-described "moderates" similarly tend to be more pro-life (52 percent) than pro-choice (45 percent).

Pro-life views also have surprising traction among new voters who identify themselves as John Kerry supporters. A plurality (34 percent) of Kerry voters, not to mention pluralities of new independent voters (36 percent) and new undecided voters (35 percent), believe "abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the mother, incest, or rape.”
Why Lines Must Be Drawn by Charles Krauthammer, which ends with a (to me) surprising twist, though I certainly don’t endorse all his argument. My thanks to Amy Wellborn’s blog for the link.

— A friend sends the link to an interview with Mary Ellen Bork, titled “A Return to the Female Biblical Role”

— In Here's how to get on my longlist the English novelist Tibor Fischer gives an inside look at the Booker Prize, England’s biggest literary award and, more interestingly, summarizes what the publishers thought the best books to submit:
Distaste for the middle class was one common denominator. Writers are entitled to berate and conjure whatever they want, but it was curious to see how the middle class (particularly the white, home-counties middle class) got clobbered: racist, xenophobic, childkillers or just generally evil.

Any prostitute, beggar, asylum-seeker or non-caucasian was likely to have a heart of gold. The conformity was such that I felt sometimes that only members of the Socialist Workers Party were allowed to publish novels (I never want to see the words "miners" and "strike" adjacent again on the page).
This explains the critical appeal of Joyce Carol Oates, who seems to write the same story over and over again.

Fischer offers some hope for would-be novelists: his first novel Under the Frog, he writes, was short-listed for the prize although 56 publishers had turned it down.

— In Feeding the Minotaur, Victor Davis Hanson describes what he calls the West’s “Minoan agreement” with the Islamic terrorists and their rational treatment of the West (I commend the analysis) and then argues that
Islamofascism is brilliant in its reading of the postmodern West and precisely for that reason it is dangerous beyond all description. . . .

Like Hitler, bin Ladenism has an agenda: the end of the liberal West. Its supposedly crackpot vision is actually a petrol-rich Middle East free of Jews, Christians, and Westerners, free to rekindle spiritual purity under Sharia. Bin Laden's al Reich is a vast pan-Arabic, Taliban-like caliphate run out of Mecca by new prophets like him, metering out oil to a greedy West in order to purchase the weapons of its destruction; there is, after all, an Israel to be nuked, a Europe to be out-peopled and cowered, and an America to be bombed and terrorized into isolation. This time we are to lose not through blood and iron, but through terror and intimidation: televised beheadings, mass murders, occasional bombings, the disruption of commerce, travel, and the oil supply.
He then goes on to describe the sort of Western mind that gives such people ideological cover.

— Our contributing editor Phillip Johnson sends the link to Who's still afraid of Keith Windschuttle from The Australian, which describes the slightly hysterical reaction among professional, and reliably leftist, Australian historians to Windschuttle’s challenges.

I have no idea who is right in the debate about the treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples, and would not be surprised to learn that the professionals were right and Windschuttle wrong (believing, as I do, in original sin and in Acton’s remark that “power tends to corrupt”), but I am sure from my own experience that the article’s picture of the academics is dead on. Readers will notice that the academics, faced with an effective public challenge to their orthodoxies, flirt with speech codes and other ways of restricting the competition, and with an annoying mixture of righteousness and helplessness.

— A provactive article arguing that Islam has had a Reformation but that it needs a Renaissance: A Leonardo, Not a Luther by Stephen Schwartz, who is, he writes, a Sufi Muslim. I should warn Calvinist readers that he is quite rough on Calvin.

My thanks to Charlotte Hay’s “Loose Canon” weblog for the link.


9:48 AM


Monday, August 23

FROM THE INBOX 23 AUGUST 2004, SET # 2:

The second set of today’s extensive “From the Inbox.” I posted the first set this morning. I apologize if I’m adding temptation to your life.

— Three articles from the Vatican news service Zenit.org. The first, Taking Sex Differences Seriously describes the findings of the new book of that title by the University of Virginia professor Steven Rhoades. The second, Man-Woman Relationship Is Not a Rivalry interviews Archbishop Angelo Amato, the secretary of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration Between Man and Woman in the Church and the World the Congregation published at the end of July. And the third, Helping Men Heal From Abortion, interviews Kevin Burke, who directs Rachel's Vineyard Ministries with his wife, Theresa.

In searching the web for the text of the Vatican document on women, I came across the translation of Le Monde’s editorial against it. I offer it only as an example of the secular mind’s natural response to any attempt to assert the nature of sexual difference. Revealingly, Le Monde’s editors note that “the Vatican runs, once again, against the current of developed societies,” which they plainly mean as a criticism.

Though I searched the web for the text of the document, I've found that you usually have to go straight to the Vatican's site to get the texts of documents, because Google will offer pages and pages of sites, sometimes related but sometimes not, but not the Vatican one. The Vatican site is very attractive but not always the easiest to use.

— Steve Thomas of the Presupposition blogsite sends a link to an older story on Zenit.org quoting Archbishop Cañizares on homosexuality in Spain,commending the archbishop for these words:

Aware that the worsening of Church-state relations might lead some to propose the end of public financing of the Church, the prelate advocated a Church "without provisions."

"Don't let them [intimidate] us with the threat of taking away our provisions," the archbishop said. "The Church is able to live in poverty; as she doesn't know, or must not be able to know, how to live without proclaiming Jesus Christ and the sole Lordship of God, or sell herself for riches."
Readers may be interested in Mr. Thomas’ Frankly Misguided, responding to Congressman Barney Frank’s arguments for homosexual “marriage.”

— And the first of four items on the differences between believing Christians:Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship sends the link to a lecture readers may find of interest: Thomas Merton's Journey to the Undivided Church.

— For those of you who like good ecclesiological debates, with a little shouting and the occasional punch (about half above and half below the belt), Pontificator offers his First Law. The author of the blogsite declares:
When Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree on something over against Protestantism, Protestantism loses.
And the participants go at it. He starts a second intense discussion in Orthodoxy and the Bodily Assumption of the Theotokos.

— Related to the previous item, readers may find of interest or use the work of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

— From the Midwest Conservative Journal, which is an Episcopal blogsite, comes a tart commentary on a bishop of the Church of England who wanted to ban a patriotic hymn, Slam Dunk.

— A Southern Baptist archaeologist casts doubt on the John the Baptist cave.

— And a curiosity from the Daily Telegraph which has nothing to do with Mere Christianity or any normal Touchstone topic but which I found interesting: Pigeons to be 'flavoured' to put off the predators about an English plan to save racing pigeons from the birds that eat them. It included this, to me, surprising information:
"Some people have paid more than £100,000 for stud birds and they commonly pay £500 to £1,000 for pigeons they will race.”


5:06 PM


DESPAIR AND HOPE IN ZAMBIA

We have received, by forwarding from a friend, a letter from a Protestant missionary In Zambia, Dave Wegener, who is truly one of God's own. He writes of the colossal despair of fighting the AIDS epidemic in that country and then goes on to find hope in a new missionary willing to devote her life and talents to a problem that would simply overwhelm the hopes of most of us.

Hope in the midst of despair

Despairing news . 90% of the patients in our local hospital are HIV-positive. We heard recently that, on any given day, just one cemetery in Lusaka has 165 funerals. The cemeteries are filled to overflowing, mostly with people who are dying in their 20s and 30s. The current life-expectancy in Zambia has now reached a new low of 32 years of age.

Just by itself that figure is staggering. Has the age expectancy of any other people in the history of the world been this low?

Wegener makes it clear that sexual promiscuity is the medium of this disease.
We met with some other missionaries this past weekend; one shared how it had become apparent that those trying to instruct about abstinence and AIDS prevention were forced to go to 2nd and 3rd graders to find children who were not yet sexually active. Another missionary shared a story of how testing was done in a maternity ward way out in the bush, away from trucker's routes and prostitution spots. The HIV testing results showed that every woman in the ward was HIV-positive.


The message closes on a slender but impressive thread of hope:
Hope.Tina Chonde came to [our missisonary team] four years ago with a background as a Nurse. She has been doing her internship these past three months and David recently evaluated her work. Using her medical background, she has been ministering to people with AIDS. Daily, she makes the rounds to homes in the poorest compounds, where she gives out various medications and also speaks a word of hope and shares the gospel, praying with those on the verge of death. Nine have died in her presence. Her love for these women and for Christ is overflowing.

It is priceless to have Tina, an African Christian involved in AIDS work here in Ndola. It truly encourages us and we hope you as well, since you are helping to train Christian leaders like Tina.


1:19 PM


The Price of Plagiarism,

Yesterday's New York Times ran a very curious report on the enhanced opportunities of plagiarists in this computer age (Dear Plagiarists: You Get What You Pay For). Suzy Hansen, an editor at The New York Observer, observed that in these days

stressed-out perfectionists and lazy no-goods alike can Google their way to an astounding array of plagiarism Web sites. Many companies sell term papers, essays and book reports by the thousands, for as much as $250 a pop, all just a click and Mom's credit card away, and all in the privacy of an undergraduate's dorm room.

Needless to say, this new availablity has greatly increased recourse to plagiarism on American campuses.
While 10 percent of college students admitted to Internet plagiarism in 1999, that number rose to around 40 percent in 2003, Donald L. McCabe, the founder of the Center for Academic Integrity (C.A.I.) at Duke University, said in a telephone interview. Many students simply crib what Google dredges up free, but McCabe estimates that 2 percent of students purchase papers online. That's how many admit it, anyway.

If the latter is the case, then McCabe's "estimate" is way off, I would suggest.

Moral attutudes toward plagiarism seem currently to be much like moral attitudes towards other matters.
The sheer ubiquity of the sites, and what is now almost a lifetime of habitual Internet accessibility, might explain why the majority of college students tell McCabe they don't think copying a sentence or two from the Web is a big deal. Students are fuzzy on what's cheating and what's not. ''A lot of students will tell us, 'It's out there, it's on the Internet,' '' Diane M. Waryold, the executive director of C.A.I., said in a telephone interview. ''They say, 'Isn't it for public consumption?' ''

Hansen researched this subject with considerable effort, far more than I would have anticipated for an article in the book review section of a daily paper.
I wanted to see whether the online atmosphere made cheating easier. I was also curious about what exactly these little Internet elves wrote about and if the papers were any good. I bought a couple of book reports, those three-to-five-page papers students write for introductory English classes, from Superior-Termpapers, or the Paper Experts. (Superior-Termpapers, like most of the sites, features a disclaimer about plagiarism, stating that their papers are merely for research.) Superior-Termpapers is special because it offers the ever-tempting, but costly, custom-written book reports, an option that other sites stay away from. Customers can buy an original paper written on a specific topic for anywhere between $20 and $45 a page, depending on how quickly they need it. So, for example, a five-page custom paper, written and delivered that day, adds up to $225.

For the budget-conscious, however, there are hundreds of prewritten book reports to choose from, some as cheap as $25. The topics, advertised in short blurbs, range from a standard book report on ''The Scarlet Letter'' to the surprising discovery ''a personal response to the book 'Who Moved My Cheese?' '' to a review of a story by the eminent writer ''Carol Joyce Oates.'' David Remnick's Pulitzer Prize-winning ''Lenin's Tomb'' is, strangely, deemed a journalistic failure: ''Facts and truth will not be gotten from this book,'' the blurb declares. Dave Eggers's ''Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'' suffers a similar fate, albeit in more mysterious language: ''We can see obvious hypocrisy in the work that is resented [sic] here in the author's opinion of irony in the scope of the writing he shows.''
.
We must consider the possiblity (as Hansen does later) that some of these reviews are written deliberately to sound like they were composed by today's high school students. If they were better done, teachers would certainly become suspicious. Having read a lot of term papers over the past half-century, some of this stuff sounds very authentic!
We also learn a few hard truths from these snippets: that ''A Farewell to Arms,'' which is called ''Hemingway's first book,'' is ''much more than a love story'' (this is a ''high school level'' paper, but still); that Newland Archer's fundamental problem in ''The Age of Innocence'' is his lack of ''tools'' to deal with Countess Olenska; and, reassuringly, that the crucial theme in ''Invisible Man'' is ''the subject of race and racial relations.'' Just think, your children might be spending their drinking money on this stuff.

For some reason Hansen concentrates on F. Scott Fitzgerald:
I bought a prewritten paper on ''The Great Gatsby.'' Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, ash heaps, stupid rich people -- what could go wrong? I also ordered a custom paper, on what I innovatively titled ''The American Dream and 'The Great Gatsby,' '' to see if there was any difference between the two types of book reports.
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What are the differeces, and do you get what you pay for?
Surprise: the prewritten paper, on the idea of the hero in ''Gatsby'' (''What is a hero?'' it begins, and later: ''Muscles do not make a hero''), coming in at a reasonable $35, was terrible. The sentences run on, as in this clunker: ''Moreover, the fortune that Gatsby did amount was gained through criminal activities as he had experienced the finer things in life and wished to have a better social position, again he knew that this could only be gained through the status of wealth, in this way Gatsby sought to win the heart of the woman he had fallen in love with, Daisy.'' Faux-elegant words like ''whilst'' butt up against the jarringly conversational: ''Then Nick the narrator discovers who he is bang goes his secret.'' Bang! The paper becomes increasingly sloppy, mimicking the writing patterns of a tired and confused freshman. Maybe this is the point.

Indeed, most teachers would smell the authenticity of this thing right away. These writers are clearly masters of the style.

Hansen goes on to suggest why Gatsby may be an excellent subject of such papers:
Another surprise: the custom-written paper, delivered in three days for $180, a tenth of a community college's annual tuition or the weekend allowance of a wealthy Ivy Leaguer, was a decent piece of work. One passage that probably few undergraduates could dream up even on a good day, after a couple of writing workshops, reads: ''Those who go from rags to riches don't find nirvana or some special land where they are immediately happy, content and removed from earthly worries. They, like Gatsby, find that the reality is that the world is still ugly ... and that money and power just allow one to ignore those dichotomies a little bit easier.''

Not all the writing is equally bad, however:
Occasionally, the paper even strives for the poetic: ''Idealizing that which has little substance is like saying that once you draw a perfect circle, all of life's secrets will be discovered therein -- the circle is still hollow,
no matter how perfectly round and beautiful it is.'' It's a little much, but this paper goes way beyond the green light
at the end of the dock.

Yes, it does, but then again, vacuity is the metaphor here.
And compared with the standard paper -- whose dizzy take on the American Dream goes like this: ''Gatsby is the archetypal hero figure, yet he has tasted the bitter ashes of poverty, but then there were so many poor during the turn of the century that he is not alone in that and so like many others of his age he wished never again to be poor'' -- the custom paper is worth coughing up more dough. A's don't come easily, after all.

It was bound to be the case that efforts would be made to put a stop to this kind of thing. The same technology that encourages plagiarism can also be employed to discourage it:
And although these sites may proliferate, thanks to the hungry Web marketplace, they won't go completely unchecked. Colleges can sign up for plagiarism-detector Web sites like Turnitin.com, which allows professors to submit papers for an originality check (incidentally, newspaper and magazine editors might be interested in checking out its publishing arm -- iThenticate.com).

Still, one supsects that the remedial technology will always lag a step or two behind the criminals. At least Hansen found it so:
But can those search engines detect custom-written papers, like my $180, A-plus ''Gatsby'' paper, assuming it's an original? No, not this book report, anyway. It passed with flying colors. Now that it's part of Turnitin's database, however -- and supposing that even the hard workers at the Paper Experts get lazy once in a while -- pity the 19-year-old who goes shopping online for some quick help with the American Dream.

I confess that, as far as I'm concerned, students can plagiarize on the theme of Fitzgerald all they want. If they ever start to do this with real literature or other serious subjects, however, we should probably look into it.


10:30 AM


FROM THE INBOX 23 AUGUST 2004, SET # 1:

Thanks to the rain having made yardwork impossible — my eldest son and I are digging into the hill right behind our house to make a terrace — I spent some time going through my accumulated e-mail and catching up on my web reading. As I result, I have lots of links to send, and will post them in two groups today.

— First, from Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore declares that Islam is not an exotic addition to the English country garden. He discusses the establishment of an Islamic bank observing sharia law, and points out that the bank’s interpretation is in fact not that of many of the world’s Muslims but of the extremists. Though Islam is an imperialistic religion, he continues,

It does not necessarily follow that most Muslims will try to impose their beliefs on this country by violence. We see all around us the evidence of hundreds of thousands of people living peacefully and productively with their neighbours. But it perhaps does mean that we cannot just regard Islam in Britain as a charmingly exotic addition to the English country garden.

According to its own beliefs, particularly in their currently militant form, it is much more acquisitive.

Islam seeks an ever greater share of the British public space. That is why Muslims were so keen on introducing a religious question into the latest census, why they seek legal acceptance of their marriage laws, and why they want state money for Muslim schools.
— In 'Sorry, Harlequin,' She Sighed Tenderly, 'I'm Reading Something Else', the New York Times reports on the dip in sales of “romance” novels. The biggest publisher of such wretched stuff — much of it is softcore pornography, published in series with titles like “Desire” and “Blaze” — Harlequin,
published 1,113 romance novels in 2002, more than half of the 2,169 romance titles released that year by the entire industry, according to the Romance Writers of America, a trade group. . . .

Last year it sold $585 million worth of books, for gross profits of $124 million, for a profit margin of 21 percent. In the first half of this year, however, that fell to 18 percent, and as low as 17 percent in the second quarter, hurting the stock price of its parent company, the Torstar Corporation.
This isn’t, however, good news for those of us who wish that even peoples’ light reading were edifying reading as well. Harlequin’s sales seem to have dropped because they’ve lost some of their favorite authors (they don’t pay enough) and because readers are currently buying both hardcover “chick lit” equivalents like The DaVinci Code and chick lit published by other publishers.

— Another article on young adult fiction, especially the “problem novel,” which we’ve discussed here before:Why Teachers Love Depressing Books .by Laura Miller. It is, I think, an unconvincing argument for the books, but worth reading if you’re interested in the subject.

— From the English magazine The Tablet, John Cornwell writes on England’s approval of cloning embryo’s for stem cell research. Britain, he notes, “has emerged as the sole pioneer in this work in the West” when Germany, France, and Italy and most other countries forbid such work, and even the European Parliament last year failed to approve it.

After carefully discussing the scientific and commercial temptations for creating human to experiment on it and then kill it, he concludes:
The Catholic view of the status of the embryo, which is shared by a wide constituency of pro-life groups as well as many individual scientists, has hardly gained purchase in official and public circles in Britain today, although that view has strongly affected opinion throughout Europe and North America. The situation suggests that Britain is a country that easily accepts the notion that is okay to do bad things in order to achieve widespread good: which is no different from the ethics of some forms of terrorism. There is, of course, another diagnosis: that Britain is currently a country dominated by scientific pragmatism, commercial advantage, and widespread public indifference.
The article also offers an example for the Wicked Euphemism Alert: Prof. Roger Pedersen, an American teaching at Cambridge,
wants to stop calling embryos “human beings”, he says, and to use the term “unique genetic entities”.
I’m sure he does.

— In a very short article titled Clones from Newcastle, C. Ben Mitchell of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School analyzes “the logic of utilitarianism” behind the English decision to allow experimentation on embryonic human beings. Oh, sorry, “Unique genetic entities.”

— An encouraging story: Tiniest Preemie Now an Honor Student, about Madeline Mann, who weighed less than a can of Coke when she was born and is now an honor student. My thanks to the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity for the link.

— From the same issue of The Tablet, a review of a new book on spirituality, that examines the rise among the young of interest in “spirituality” and the decline in their interest in the churches. He reports that in the United Kingdom,
f church attendance fell by a fifth during the decade of the 1990s. At that rate there won’t even be a church to grieve over in 50 years’ time. And yet, over approximately the same period, reports of spiritual experience in Britain increased by around 60 per cent. The French sociologist Yves Lambert told me recently that the statistics regularly gathered across nine countries by the European Study of Values (ESV) indicate that something similar is happening throughout the continent. More and more young people who say that they are religious or spiritual are anxious to add that they have no link with the Church.
I think this is indeed a problem, and one most Christian leaders have not faced, but from the review I have no idea whether the book is a helpful study. The reviewer is a little more suspicious of the “spiritual” youth than the average writer on the subject, which is good.

This is not a claim I would take at face value, because for some it would mean genuine searching and for others unconscious posing. He who seeks, finds, as our Lord promised, but a lot of these "spiritual" searchers never find anything, which suggests they weren't looking, or weren't looking very hard.

And, I might add, he who seeks, finds, even when the Thing to be found is carried in "the institutional church." We can do infinitely better in reaching out, but we should not be frightened to hear from this and similar writers that young people are spiritual without wanting to be part of any church.


9:50 AM


HOW INTELLECTUAL HISTORY IS MADE:

In Lost in Translation from yesterday’s New York Times, Sarah Glazer writes that scholars of the work of Simone de Beuavoir “contend that the English-language translation is so badly botched that it distorts Beauvoir's intent and presents her as an incoherent thinker.” She describes some of the problems, and gives the reason, which is a quite comical example of how intellectual history is made:

When Blanche Knopf, wife of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf and an editor in her own right, bought the book on a trip to France, she was under the impression that it was "a modern-day sex manual" akin to the Kinsey report, Deirdre Bair writes in her biography "Simone de Beauvoir" (1990). Alfred Knopf, who thought the book "capable of making a very wide appeal indeed" among "young ladies in places like Smith," sought out Howard Madison Parshley, a retired professor of zoology who had written a book on human reproduction and regularly reviewed books on sex for The New York Herald Tribune, to translate Beauvoir's book. Parshley knew French only from his years as a student at Boston Latin School and Harvard, and had no training in philosophy — certainly not in the new movement known as existentialism, of which Beauvoir was an adherent.

"Parshley didn't read anything about existentialism until he'd finished translating the whole book and thought he should find out something about it to write his introduction," says Margaret A. Simons, professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and author of Beauvoir and 'The Second Sex' (1999).

A close student of Hegel and Heidegger, Beauvoir often referred to their work using specific terms French philosophers would have recognized, but that Parshley did not. Toril Moi, who has made a detailed analysis of the translation, noted for example that the word "subject" generally refers in existentialism to a person who exercises freedom of choice, whereas Parshley understood "subjective" in its everyday English sense to mean "personal" or "not objective." In his hands, Beauvoir's discussions of woman's assertion of herself as a subject become platitudes implying women are incapable of being objective.

More damning, when Parshley encountered existentialist terms for existence — such as pour-soi, or "being-for-itself"' — vis-a-vis women's lives, he often rendered them as woman's ''true nature'' or feminine "essence," notions that would have been anathema to Beauvoir, according to Moi. "The idea of existentialism is 'experience precedes essence.' Existentialism means 'You are what you do'," she says.
Parshley should have turned down the job when he got the manuscript.

The article includes a judgment I thought interesting, given that it appeared in the New York Times. Glazer describes the problems with the book, including its “breathless, rough-and-ready quality” which makes it hard to read, and
the tone of the book itself — analytical, almost cold — invited one of the most frequent criticisms: that she was unsympathetic and even hostile to women and to motherhood. "She has written an enormous book about women and it is soon clear that she does not like them, nor does she like being a woman," as Stevie Smith, the British poet and novelist, wrote in a review in 1953. Later, feminist critics complained that Beauvoir seemed to consider motherhood fundamentally incompatible with an independent life.
You would expect, or at least I expected, the next paragraph to counter this criticism, which is fairly damning. But instead, Glazer writes:
Scholars like Bauer and Moi maintain that these flaws are magnified by a bad and outdated translation, which in places amounts to a basic misunderstanding of what Beauvoir is saying.
"These flaws" is not a judgement I would have expected from this newspaper.


9:46 AM


THE PLANET IS PRIVILEGED, NOW ON DVD:

— From the Discovery Institute comes a press release for a new movie made from Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez’s new book, The Privileged Planet. It reads, in part:

[T]he film explores the many ways in which Earth is ideally suited, not only for complex life, but also for observing the universe around us.

According to Richards and Gonzalez, modern scientific evidence indicates that the many factors that make Earth suitable for complex life also provide the best conditions for astronomical discovery. "The Privileged Planet" explores this intriguing correlation and its implications on our understanding of the origin and purpose of the cosmos.

Utilizing stunning computer animation and the visual archives of NASA, the Hubble Space Telescope Institute, the European Space Agency, and leading observatories throughout the world, this 58-minute film presents a spectacular and uplifting view of our planet, galaxy, and the entire cosmos. The film is narrated by Lord of the Rings actor John Rhys-Davies and features interviews with noted astronomers Robert Jastrow and David Brownlee, and physicist Paul Davies. . . .

Visit PrivilegedPlanet.com to see the film's trailer, order the DVD ($19.95) or book, read an excerpt from it, read reviews and endorsements, and find out more about the authors.


9:45 AM


BOOK NOW:

I commend to your attention this year’s Touchstone conference, Praying and Staying Together. It will be held at a pretty, quiest, and restful retreat center in Mundelein, Illinois, about 45 minutes drive north of Chicago (depending on the traffic) from Thursday evening, October 21st to late Saturday afternoon.

As I write in the September issue, I think everyone should come to a Touchstone conference. I think you should come to this one for four reasons.

First, we pick speakers who have something to say and say it well. I can promise that each speaker will (in contrast to most academic conferences) entertain as much as they inform and edify and will also (in contrast to many popular conferences) inform and edify as much as they entertain.

This year’s main speakers, for example: Thomas Howard, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Rod Dreher, Vigen Guroian, and J. Budziszewski. And Chuck Chalberg performing as G. K. Chesterton.

Second, we design the conferences to give everyone as much time as possible with the speakers and with each other. We know that many of you come to find fellowship with like-minded Christians. The speakers will be available during the meals and receptions and will be answering questions from small groups in break out sessions. And the people who come are sometimes even more interesting than the speakers.

Third, the conferences give those struggling for orthodoxy in their own churches a rest from the battle. For a few days they can think about subjects more edifying than, say, homosexual bishops and destructive biblical critics. The conferences give everyone else a rare chance to meet as friends and comrades with people from other churches.

And fourth, I think this conference will be even more helpful than usual. We will be talking about the family as practically as we can and offering ways for parents to form distinctively Christian families in a culture that makes this hard to do. We will (sorry for the cliché) meet you where you are. You will get almost three days of intense instruction from people who know what they are talking about and want to help you say with more confidence “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Do come. I should mention that the number of people we can have is limited — which is to say, register now. Click here for information.


9:42 AM




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