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Friday, September 3


Do not forget, those of you who can come to such things, our conference this fall, Praying & Staying Together. I've written before why I think you should come, for — though I know this is a cliche — your own good. And unlike eating liver and not eating chocolate in Lent, and other things you are supposed to do for your own good, it will be fun.

6:57 PM


— The newsletter Visions offers an interesting press release on aging baby boomers and the churches. It begins:

Baby Boomers are again taking a road less traveled religiously. Unlike their parents, they are sticking with churches, synagogues and temples even after their children depart home. But Boomers who never came back to church have apparently now quit for good.
The newsletter itself “covers religious research and demographic trends for religious leaders.”

— Regular reader Greg Krehbiel has a string on fatherhood on his weblog Crowhill.Net. He offers some particularly nice lines. For example:
How many times have you heard someone excuse the garbage their children listen to with something like this: “Yeah, well my parents didn’t like the music I listened to either?”

Listen carefully. Your parents were probably right.

The one-minute review of human history

Imagine a single line of billions of people walking down a road. It’s not a very good road, and there are pits, snares, traps and ditches. Each time someone falls into a ditch, he turns around to the fellow behind him and says, “Watch out for that ditch,” to which the next guy replies, “Mind your own business! Ahhh! Ouch. Hey, watch out for that ditch.”
— For you fans of Evelyn Waugh, or his son Auberon for that matter, from today’s Daily Telegraph comes Fathers, sons, feuds and myths, a report on Alexander son of Auberon’s new book ,Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family. It does something to rehabilitate Evelyn’s reputation as a father, which he himself did much to damage by writing about his children the way he did in his diaries. Which many readers took literally, which doesn’t strike me as terribly bright, given the writer they were reading

— A final comment from the reader who’s been commenting on the idea of pressing your husband’s ashes into a diamond:
One more comment then I’ll stop. A different take on the story about turning cremated remains into jewelry: Even if man can now turn a person’s body into a diamond, this is nothing compared to what God will accomplish with the resurrection on the Last Day.

— Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and writer for Touchstone sends something from an old friend of his, Dr Charles Kimball, of Wake Forest University and author of When Religion Becomes Evil (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), giving his recommendations for introductory books on Islam> Dr. Kimball wrote:
There are a number of pretty good introductions to Islam today. They have, predictably, different foci and different audiences. I still use Joseph Esposito’s Islam: The Straight Path a good deal. It is very solid. He’s superb. A new book was published last year by the Univ. of North Carolina Press entitled, Following Muhammad. The author is Carl Ernst (a friend and colleague with whom I was a fellow doctoral student at Harvard). This book has garnered some impressive awards/recognition. It is just coming out in paperback. I think it is quite good. Fred Denny’s Islam: An Introduction is good. It is, unfortunately, a paperback priced as a textbook -- $40+ the last time I checked. It is good, but priced too high.
— Jim also sends the link to Slavery is not dead, just less recognizable from Wednesday’s Christian Science Monitor. It begins:
Slaves are cheap these days. Their price is the lowest it’s been in about 4,000 years. And right now the world has a glut of human slaves — 27 million by conservative estimates and more than at any time in human history.

Although now banned in every country, slavery has boomed in the past 50 years as the global population has exploded. A billion people scrape by on $1 a day. That extreme poverty combined with local government corruption and a global economy that leaps national boundaries has produced a surge in the number of slaves. . . .

Modern-day slavery has little of the old South. Of those 27 million, the majority are bonded laborers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal — workers who have given their bodies as collateral for debts that never diminish no matter how many years, or sometimes generations, the enslaved labor on. Cooking the books is an early lesson for slaveholders.
— Brent Rooney, Research director of the Reduce Preterm Risk Coalition, sends a letter of his published in the letters section of The Washington Times on August 24th, 2004:
Reducing cerebral palsy incidence

In her Thursday letter, “Just consequences for malpractice,” Barbara Rubin said in referring to a prior article that there is no “medical information ... to tell readers why a particular suit won by [Sen. John] Edwards might not have been a case of actual malpractice.”

As a lawyer, Mr. Edwards won large court awards involving infants with the brain injury of cerebral palsy.

How can the incidence of cerebral palsy be reduced? A hint comes from Australia. In the spring of 2004, Australian Justice Michael Grove found Dr. Alan Kaye, an obstetrician, not guilty of causing cerebral palsy in Kristy Bruce, who had been born in 1989.

Justice Grove wrote, “As a matter of hindsight, considerable suspicion must be directed to the very recent termination which [mother Sharon] Chevelle underwent just prior to becoming pregnant with the plaintiff.”

In Kristy’s case, her mother’s uterus ruptured as labor began, probably because it had been perforated during an abortion a year earlier, about which she had not told her obstetrician.

Kristy’s brain was starved of oxygen, and when she was born by emergency Caesarean section, she was a victim of cerebral palsy with an APGAR score (a measure of a newborn’s health) of zero.

Kristy Bruce was born overdue, but a disproportionate number of newborns with cerebral palsy are born prematurely. The overwhelming evidence that prior induced abortions boost preterm birth risk was published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons in May 2003. The Texas Department of Health started warning women in December 2003 that prior abortions elevate preterm birth risk and that preterm births are a risk factor for cerebral palsy.

Research director
Reduce Preterm Risk Coalition
Vancouver, British Columbia
— Something on Islam of interest from The Tablet: Descendants of Mecca’s holy pilgrims, a review of a book called Cradle of Islam: the Hijaz and the quest for an Arabian identity by Mai Yamani. She tells the story of
few dozen families who proudly identify themselves as Hijazis, shaped and defined by the cosmopolitan and super-civilised character of the holy pilgrimage cities of Mecca and Medina, rather than as members of the central Arabian Najd tribe to which the Saudi ruling family belongs. . . .

The Hijazis eschew the Saudi-sanctioned puritanism of Wahhabi Islam in favour of a more colourful and spiritual form of the faith, one that recalls the more tolerant Ottoman era when the Hijazis prospered and learned by their management of the heavy pilgrim traffic from all over the Muslim world, before oil replaced the Hajj as the region’s golden goose and their horizons narrowed. Superstitions and visions must be respected and the Sufi tradition’s emphasis on love allowed its proper place; Hijazi women sugar their courtesies to each other with strong protestations of love that have no place in Wahhabism.

The holy places of Muhammad’s life must be venerated in much the same way as Christians venerate the holy places connected with Christ’s life, and the Prophet’s birthday celebrated with a gathering, a mawlid. Perhaps the most brazen marks of Hijazi dissidence, mawlids have been outlawed by innumerable Wahhabi fatwas. A mawlid carries such “heretical and treasonous connotations” that a would-be host will carefully camouflage his true intention by issuing telephone invitations to an innocent evening of Qur’an reading. Unless he has attained high position within the Saudi state structures he risks a raid by the religious police and a couple of days in jail.

6:50 PM


Well, the National Council of Churches, that bastion of traditional Christian doctrine and moral teaching, has given us Christian Principles in an Election Year, (you can download it by scrolling down their home page and clicking on the picture).

There are ten points to this non-partisan guide. And the attached Group Study Guide encourages finding out a candidate’s record/platform on the issues identified in the 10 principles:

1. war/conflict
2. urban decay
3. foreign policy
4. economic justice
5. racial justice
6. environmental justice
7. immigration
8. health care
9. criminal justice
10. public education and children’s services.

That about covers it, non-partisanly, of course, for Christians. Abortion, euthanasia, harvesting human embryo for stem-cells, human cloning, assisted suicide do not rise to the level of these other moral and ethical principles. Neither does defending marriage.

Of course, the problem is that the National Council of Churches doesn’t speak with one voice about these matters. But it doesn’t even consider them worthy of your consideration. Or perhaps they are hoping you won’t remember.

To be fair, item number 5 says: “Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth.” I thought the next sentence would be on pro-life issues. No, it reads: “We look for political leaders who yearn for economic justice and who will seek to reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor.”

That “reduce” is a dangerous word. I guess we need to step in and start dividing up other people's goods, being made judges of wealth and worth. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a politician who “yearns.” Yearning can lead to doing really stupid things. I want someone who has principles and will argue for them and act on them within the political process. Whenever someone tells me that he wants to do something for me because he has a yearning, I get nervous.

A caution from the NCC:

Finally, our religious tradition admonishes us not to bear false witness against our neighbor and to love our enemies. We ask that the campaigns of political candidates and the coverage of the media in this election season be conducted according to the principles of fairness, honesty and integrity.
Well, fair enough, but fat chance this year, anyway.

And yes, bearing false witness against the opponent is definitely not good. But what about bearing false witness against the Christian tradition itself by refusing to even admit what it explicitly says about abortion?

2:40 PM


FRIDAY FAX/September 3, 2004
Pro-abortion government and non-governmental leaders met in London this week to discuss the tenth anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The meeting devolved into attacks on the Bush administration. Present was Thoraya Obaid, head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

The president of Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation, Timothy Wirth, even discussed whether the Bush administration was guilty of “crimes against humanity,” because it encourages abstinence training to prevent the spread of AIDS. According to Wirth, “the United States and others have started questioning the efficacy of condoms. To condemn women by indifference to science and by failure to provide tools for their own protection may not meet the technical definition of crimes against humanity but it is certainly gross negligence toward humanity.”

During the meeting, called “Countdown 2015,” Steven Sinding, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), proclaimed that a major goal of the attendees of the conference, including presumably the UN and EU officials, was the expansion of legal abortion.

According to Sinding, “IPPF and the people at this conference believe that the abortion provisions of the ICPD did not go far enough in calling for universal access to safe legal abortion. While we strongly believe in eliminating unwanted pregnancies, we recognize that they cannot be eliminated altogether. We believe the time has come to press ahead, to reinforce a global movement to ensure that every woman in every country has access to safe abortion services when she needs them.”

Sinding also criticized the Bush administration for its program to address HIV/AIDS in Africa, stating that, “Simplistic approaches like the Bush administration’s interpretation of ABC‚ [Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms] gain legitimacy despite the fact that they are generated by people with no understanding of sexual behavior or science.” Sinding did not address the fact that the US under the Bush administration is the largest funder in history to the prevention and treatment of AIDS in Africa, or that a growing number of scientists now consider Uganda’s abstinence program to be the most effective AIDS program in Sub-Saharan

The meeting ended with the promulgation of the “Declaration of the Global Roundtable,” which called for governments to “guarantee the rights of people irrespective of “gender identity or sexual orientation.” The Declaration also stated that, “We want a world where women and girls have access to safe and legal abortion.”

Copyright 2004 ˆ C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute).
Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.
Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute Website:
I prefer a world where unborn females (and males) have a guaranteed right to life.

This is a matter of cultural imperialism. Because we kill our children here, we think everybody else should too. Poor underprivileged people of the world, yearning to have Planned Parenthood abortuaries open up in their neighborhood!

But it seems to me that people who think of the world simply as a global village treat the world like one single village. Uniform policies must be spread and enforced, if not by force, then by economic pressures. What if one of the cultures you wish to absorb into your village happens to be pro-life? So much for “diversity and multi-culturalism.”

Meanwhile, I am waiting to see if they decide if President Bush should be arrested for his "crimes against humanity."

1:32 PM


With the media fastened on politics, campaigns, and candidates, I find it all the more important in doing the work of publishing a Christian journal to remained fastened on daily prayers. The closing prayers in my tradition (Eastern Orthodox) for the first hour of the day read thus:

O Christ the true light, enlightening and sanctifying every man who comes into the world:
Let the light of Thy countenance shine upon us, that in it we may behold the ineffable light.
Guide our footsteps aright in keeping thy commandments...
The universe offers Thee the God-bearing martyrs as the first-fruits of creation, O Lord and Creator, Through the Theotokos and their prayers, establish Thy Church in peace.
The phrase, "the God-bearing martyrs as the first-fruits of the creation," is rich with meaning and worth meditating on.

It took me a long time praying this daily for some of it to begin to sink in: our brothers and sisters who at one time chose to count their earthly lives not worth saving when faced with the decision to keep their faith or renounce Christ--they are the prime example of what our Christianity is all about. They are the ones who "got it right." All other things of this world, as St. Paul wrote, they counted as dross for the sake of obtaining Christ. If Christians in any nation would live in the spirit of the martyrs, even if they face no persecution, they would "turn the world upside." If it hasn't been turned upside lately, it's because maybe we've been too much in love with it, and not Him.

11:48 AM


Because this web site is devoted to the comments of Touchstone editors on current events and concerns, it never occurred to me that I would be writing here about a small Eastern Orthodox publication called by a lovely name, The Handmaiden. This modest publication, founded only a few years ago and produced quarterly by Conciliar Press in California, is dedicated to the spiritual, moral, and domestic concerns of Christian women. It was conceived with the idea of providing distinctly Orthodox views on prayer, Bible reading, the cultivation of virtue, the responsibilities of wives, the education of children, the care of the sick and poor, the consolation of the bereaved, and similar important matters, including the problems of advanced aging. It is no surprise that narrative and personal testimony are the chief literary form of this journal.

I don’t believe the circulation of The Handmaiden has ever been terribly large, but it has provided a fair number of the fairer sex with what is promised in the Mission Statement inside its front cover, “a beacon of light, a place where Orthodox Christian women and others who are interested in Orthodox life and spirituality can come together to learn, share, relate, and grow.” One cannot fail to note the distinctly feminine atmosphere conveyed by the juxtaposition of those five verbs.

To gain some idea what I have in mind to say here, I make a quick comparison with the purpose statement inside Touchstone. In that latter statement, composed entirely by a handful of unfeeling, insensitive men, there is nothing about coming together, learning, or growing, and most emphatically nothing about sharing and relating. Whatever else we Touchstone types do, we deny with proper execrations that we have ever come together to share and relate.

Indeed, we are hard pressed to declare what, in the context of a publication, those five verbs even mean, and the thought of pursuing the subject gives us a touch of the weeby-jeebs. We men instinctively suspect that “sharing and relating” may lead to what women call “bonding” and sometimes wrongly accuse us of doing when they’re not around.

(By the way, the only one of these five verbs that appears in the Touchstone statement is “share,” which is used only as a participle, referring to “shared belief in the fundamental doctrines.” This use heightens, not diminishes, the contrast.)

To mention the unambiguously feminine tone of The Handmaiden is scarcely a criticism, of course. We expect women to be women, and we look for them to do, when they get together, whatever it is they do when they get together. We men are not entirely certain what this is, but we see teacups left over afterwards. We also suspect that it involves relating and sharing, whatever that means. Anyway, the rest of us are glad just to stand off and let the Lord’s maidservants have at it with all that relating and sharing.

From time to time, they even ask us to help them. For example, I have received requests to write for The Handmaiden, requests that I vaguely recall having agreed to. At least I was told yesterday that I have published a thing or two in that journal. (I can only hope I did not, by inadvertence, “relate and share” in the course of doing so.) It seems, therefore, that I have written for The Handmaiden.

What I have not done, however, at least until the past two weeks, was actually read that journal. I finally picked up the most recent issue, borrowing my wife’s copy. I did so to find out what all the fuss was about. Complaints and groans were coming to me, both from within the parish that I pastor and from without, about the contents of the latest edition of The Handmaiden. These grievances all came from women, some of whom felt somehow betrayed, and they were threatening not to renew their subscription. This needed investigation, even if the effort meant some (I hoped) non-lethal exposure to relating and sharing.

So I grabbed the issue and looked into it. The theme of it was “Politics and Faith.” This sounded interesting, even if my own preference would be to say “Faith and Politics.” Since I had but recently written on the religious dimensions of politics for both Touchstone and Again (another publication of Conciliar Press), the subject itself was on my mind.

Right away this issue of The Handmaiden looked pretty good. Indeed, I found myself quoted twice in the first article, which, if I may say so, left a favorable impression. I don’t really recall off-hand what two pronouncements I made, but I have the vestigial impression that they were wise and full of insight. Yes, I am sure that is what I remember.

The next article, “Why I am a Conservative,” by Presvytera Sue Jacobse, was even better. I found myself in agreement with every word. So far, so good, I thought. So what was all the fuss about?

About halfway through the following article, however, reality suddenly asserted itself, rather like a baseball bat in the face. It was entitled “Why I Am a Liberal,” by Georgette Comuntzis Page.

I am not certain what I expected the article to say, but let me declare at once that I was not discouraged by the word “liberal.” In a political context, in fact, I feel great sympathy for the expression. “Liberal,” derived from the Latin liber, means “free,” and evokes impressions of the fundamental liberties guaranteed in our American citizenship.

Beyond the limits of strict etymology, “liberal” in a political context may also signify, for example, a particular view about the government’s regulation of health care, the reform of curricula in schools, zoning laws in neighborhoods, the use of public funds for the redistribution of wealth, and various reforms in economics, political structures, and social programs.

In all such concerns, I believe that it is possible to be both a liberal and a Christian. Indeed, I believe that it is possible to be both a liberal and an Eastern Orthodox Christian. The Christian faith, as understood by the Orthodox Church, is compatible with a wide range of views on social and political matters. One may adopt this or that opinion about a proposed tax cut, or a particular health care program, or the decision to wage a specific war, sex education in schools, or any of a host of other matters, and still be a good, believing, acceptable Christian, even though one might be called a “liberal” as that word is currently used.

What I found in Page’s article, however, was really quite different. In her account, which is entirely autobiographical, she described how she gradually rediscovered the Orthodox Church as an adult, after passing through years as a political activist of the sort that might, in some circles, be called “liberal.” Page did not share many specifics about her political liberalism, except that she disliked Nixon and thought of herself as a hippie.

What did Page learn from that prolonged and sometimes painful experience? She discovered “that many Orthodox teachings fit with my liberal beliefs.”

As an adult convert to the Orthodox Church, I found her statement striking. She discovered that many teachings of the Orthodox Church “fit” with her “liberal beliefs”? Something is surely wrong with the order here.

What are these “liberal beliefs” that Page finds compatible with “some” of the teachings of the Orthodox Church? Alas, she mentions not a single one.

Page does admit, on the other hand, that her “liberal stance has been tempered” (emphasis added) with respect to two of her former persuasions, neither of which seems to me particularly liberal: abortion and homosexual “marriage.”

Of the first she writes, “In the past, I would have been squarely on the side of pro-choice; however, I’m now trying to find ways to help support women, particularly young women, who need help in resolving their difficulties without resorting to this no-win solution.”

Is there anything wrong with this? Well, truthfully, it is not very reassuring. Abortion, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is not simply a “no-win solution.” It is a terrible crime, the shedding of innocent blood screaming to God for vengeance. As the personal testimony of someone converted to the Orthodox faith, Page should have said, “Whereas in my former delusion I gave political support to the murder of unborn children, the sound teaching of the Orthodox Church has enabled me to repent of this terrible error and to devote the rest of my life in sacrificial service to prevent the further murder of those children.”

According to the reactions of the Orthodox women readers who have contacted me about this most recent issue of The Handmaiden, Page’s reluctance to declare plainly the truth of the Orthodox teaching on abortion was one of their two major complaints.

The other was her explicit ambiguity about homosexual “marriage.” I cite Page’s own words: “My jury is still out when it comes to gay marriage. I understand that marriage is a sacrament. And yet I know that gay couples sometimes want to be married. However, I am not convinced that gay couples should be united in the sacrament of holy matrimony” (emphasis added).

Once again, Page is not very reassuring. Her “jury is still out” on this question of consecrated sodomy. She is still not persuaded of an essential difference between human sexual organs and the two orifices of the human digestive canal. The Bible, the liturgical texts for the blessing of a marriage, all the Church Fathers, the structure of human biology, and the unbroken tradition of the whole human race—all of these sources together—have managed only to render Page “not convinced” on the subject.

I began to grasp why there is currently an uproar among Christian women accustomed to find in the pages of The Handmaiden the solid, dependable teaching of the Orthodox Church on those matters that are essential and important to their life in Christ. They have a right to feel offended. They are justified in their sense of betrayal. They know, by instinct, faith, and logic, that neither abortion nor homosexual "marriage" can be correctly described as falling under the categories of liberal or conservative. These two subjects are not open to discussion among Christians. For a member of the Orthodox Church, these are matters of radical affirmation, and those unwilling to affirm unambiguously the teaching of the Orthodox Church on these two points are outside the mind and heart of that church. Such a person has no business being published in what claims to be an Orthodox Christian journal.

Nothing daunted, nonetheless, I pressed on to “Why I am Neither a Liberal Nor a Conservative,” by Heather Sullivan Zydek. Here I ascertained that, by Page’s standards, Zydek is hopelessly conservative. Indeed, she even calls abortion a “barbaric act.” For my part, I am less sure that the refusal to approve infant sacrifice is so very conservative. It strikes me as distinctly “liberal,” in the historical sense used by the Roman Republic in its invectives against Carthage, where the sacrifice of babies was routine.

Besides, Zydek would hardly want to be thought conservative. After all, she goes on to inform us, “most conservatives” are pushed along by "western, juridical, male-ego-driven” impulses that “oversimplify things” and lead to “bigotry and hate.” Do I need to mention that some of The Handmaiden’s loyal women readers were distressed to find themselves described as “male-ego-driven” and perpetrators of “bigotry and hate”?

However, I went on bravely into the further reaches of The Handmaiden, and my effort was rewarded. The very next article was “Women Making a Difference,” by Fran Presley, one of the finer pens in the Orthodox Church and arguably the best writer (and certainly the most precise and careful writer) to appear regularly in The Handmaiden.

This journal now finds itself in a bit of a pickle. The decision to publish those offensive articles, particularly the one by Page, was made by the editors and the folks who manage Conciliar Press. They should recognize that they have some fences to mend. Their unwise editorial decision insulted their readers, to whom they owe a sincere apology that cannot be sufficiently humble and abject.

Those who, like myself, wish nothing but good for The Handmaiden and Conciliar Press, urge the folks who run that journal to do the decent thing and reassure their readers, along with the rest of us, that in the future we may find in its pages only such things as edify (that is, “build up”), nourish, unite, and enlighten. This is not a whit more than their readers deserve.

4:03 AM

Thursday, September 2


Jim Kushiner mentioned Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth new book this morning, and I want to note that Angus Menuge has promised to review it for us. Dr. Menuge teaches philosophy at Concordia University in Wisconsin and has just published Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science (Rowman & Littlefield).

You may want to look at this interview with Pearcey, if you haven’t yet. (I posted the link a few days ago.)

7:02 PM


Today I have a variety of items. I should note that some of them are the “You might be interested in this, or not, but don’t assume I agree with it, though I might” type. Some readers don't seem to understand that we sometimes offer links to articles we think worth reading for a variety of reasons, adn that the offer should not be taken as a commendation of the writer's arguments or conclusions. I would like to avoid being yelled at for believing things I don't believe.

— I didn’t see this — I am slightly proud to say that I saw not one minute of either party convention — but I send the link for those of you who want it: An American question and vision by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, posted on the Jewish World Report site.

— Something else from the same site: Kerry picks up another important endorsement — Egypt's by the Executive Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, Steven Salinsky. MEMRI’s work is helpful in knowing what Arabic newspapers and academics are saying among themselves, which is sometimes rather different from what their saavier spokesmen in the West tell Westerners.

— A provocative article from today’s Daily Telegraph declaring that 'Human rights' are wrong for Britain and pointing out what social havoc is created by the contemporary idea of “positive rights,” which is to say that someone, which winds up being the state, has to give you a lot of things you want. The writer, Robin Harris of Politeia, notes that

The traditional British view is that rights should be negative: that is, we may do whatever the law does not forbid.

We do not expect from the state a positive right to specific benefits — such as free speech — let alone a job, or a house, or a good education.

Yet it is precisely these kinds of rights, albeit framed in more portentous language, that continental Europeans have come to expect.
As he points out, this new idea of rights does not do anything for those countries that have not freedom but does make a reasonable rule of law difficult in those countries that do.
In all areas of public life where an ethos of discipline and the use of discretionary force are required — from the Armed Forces to the police, and from schools to jails — the possible recourse to "human rights" risks imposing paralysis and introducing disorder.

The breadth of construction placed on the provisions of human rights law increasingly places the power to make political decisions in the hands of an unelected judiciary rather than elected politicians.
He gives several examples from English life, but American readers can supply our own.

—In Spirituality, Moral Choices, and Health, Union University’s David Gushee reviews the evidence for the good effect of religion upon health. For example:
A Dartmouth Medical Center study found that one of the best survival predictors among 232 heart surgery patients was “the degree to which they drew comfort and strength from religious faith and prayer.” A study of AIDS patients at the University of Miami linked long-term survival to prayer and volunteering. Andy Newberg, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania, has documented changes in blood flow in the brain during prayer and meditation.

A study of over 4,500 young adults in four cities found that young adults who attend religious services have lower rates of current and subsequent cigarette smoking. Two-dozen studies have found an association between attendance at religious services and lower all-cause mortality. Other studies have shown a variety of positive connections between spirituality and the prevention of illness, recovery from illness, and coping during illness. Likewise, at least two studies have found the inverse; limited social support or religious involvement surface as risk factors for colon cancer and death after cardiac surgery, respectively.
The article includes the references, which you might find useful. The article appeared on the always useful website of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and you may want to look at their schedule of conferences. I’m hoping to go to the Western Pennsylvania one.

— A reader writes in response to the story in yesterday’s “From the Inbox” about a woman who had her husbands “cremains” (a really revolting word) turned into a diamond:
My knowledge of the relevant disciplines (whatever they may be) is sparse, so I may be way off base, and if so would be happy to be corrected, but . . .

Quaere: How is it possible that "the diamonds can be made into any size," if they are made by subjecting the cremated remains (or "cremains" as they have come to be called) to extremely high temperatures and then subjecting the carbon to tremendous pressure? Would not the diamond's size depend upon the amount of carbon, which would depend upon the amount of remains, which in turn would depend upon the size of the deceased? Or do they use just some of the remains for a small diamond (doing who knows what with the rest) and more for the big spenders?

Also, it was my understanding that the powdery remains that result from the cremation process, though commonly called ashes, are not the product of burning but rather are the bones, which have been mechanically pulverized, in as much as bones do not burn even at the high temperatures used in cremation.

I wonder how "extremely high" the temperatures must be in the "diamond-making machine" to incinerate the bones if this is not accomplished in a crematorium? And just what is the carbon content of a complete human skeleton? Assuming that the process doesn't produce a diamond already cut and ready for mounting, what do they do with the pieces left over after the diamond cutter applies his skill? But then I guess anyone who would be in this market probably couldn't care less about what happens to what's left over if it can't be put to some other use or sold.
He wrote a follow-up message this morning:
A bit of "Google searching" led me to several sites (one site was from a company that makes portable equipment for burning, inter alia, carcasses of diseased animals.)that suggest that bones do indeed burn to ash if the temperature is high enough and sustained long enough. In the case of cremation, the larger bones are generally pulverized mechanically because they would take too long to burn.

Also found a couple of "science" stories that indicate that "as organic material, such as bone and collagen, is broken down by heating, the particles get smaller and smaller until only the carbon is left." So, there may be a scientific basis to the process after all, but I still have to wonder how they could give the "customer" whatever size diamond he or she might be willing to pay for.

Anyway, it's interesting brain exercise but there are more important things to be concerned about.
— In Oprah Winfrey: agent of moral insanity, Albert Mohler examines her show of August 24th, in which she presented children who think they ought to be the other sex. Representative is what she said of Derek, the father of one boy who wanted to be a girl and was not accepting it.
After a conversation with a "transgender therapist," Winfrey then confronted Derek with his refusal to go along with his son's desire for a sex change. Coming out of a commercial break, Oprah told her audience: "And as I -- I was saying to Derek during the commercial break, I was saying that this is your holiest hour. This will be your holiest hour as a parent, being able to allow your son to be himself and to love him as he is. Whatever that turns out to be, you know, that's where, where you will be challenged emotionally, spiritually and otherwise, I think." . . .

Oprah Winfrey did not merely feature the subject of children struggling with their identities, she chided the parents who would not go along with this "evolution" in moral consciousness and, as she warned one parent, "And what do you think will happen if you remain as closed as you are? What damage will be done by you not opening up to who he really is?"
You can find Dr. Mohler’s radio program on

— A second article of interest from Dr. Mohler: The Vatican takes on feminism, giving his reading of the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World. Mohler offers a good short summary of the Letter and of its critics, and concludes:
Evangelicals should welcome this statement and the debate that is certain to ensue. While evangelicals will differ with some aspects of the Catholic argument — especially a concluding section dealing with Mary — the letter itself should be welcomed as a serious and responsible argument against ideological feminism. With confusion over gender and sexuality threatening the very foundations of civilization itself, the Vatican's statement is well-timed and courageous. In the midst of our present conflict, evangelicals must respond to the challenge of ideological feminism with equal clarity and equal courage.
This is a cheeringly ecumenical note, which should worry those who have advanced egalitarian notions in part because the more rigorously Christian believers — a pejorative way of putting it, I know, but accurate — have been so divided.

— And related to this is Taking Sex Differences Seriously , a helpful article describing the findings of Steven Rhoads, author of the new book of the same title. For example:
Male-female divergences are evident from the earliest age, notes Rhoads. Even 1-day-old infants show behavioral differences, with females responding more strongly to the sound of crying. Three-day-old girls maintain eye contact with a silent adult for twice as long as boys. And 4-month-old girls can distinguish photographs of those they know from other people, something boys are generally not capable of doing. Boys, on the other hand, by the age of 5 months are more interested than girls in three-dimensional geometric forms and blinking lights.

Once infants are a year old they can rapidly distinguish between the sexes of their playmates, preferring to associate with those of their own sex. Tests have shown this to be the case even when the newly arrived infants are dressed in the clothes of the opposite sex. Thus, baby girls quickly identify as female another baby, even if it is dressed in masculine clothes.
These are behaviors almost impossible to rationalize away as the results of social conditioning, and another blow to the dreams of those — including a distressing number of Christians — who do not see the created sexual difference as part of the good news of creation and one of God’s great gifts to us. Or who think they do, but so reduce the number of places at which this difference makes a difference that they effectively deny it, or reduce the gift to the activity of the bedroom.

6:30 PM


A gun enthusiast with his tongue rammed rather hard into his cheek has sent an interesting political suggestion.

He knows that some Americans do not favor his right to own a gun, but he simply asks them to follow the same logic that already governs other disputed questions, the process that has already been established as point of law. Namely,

Everyone should have the right to buy a gun, at any time, for any reason, and it should be considered an unreasonable burden if one must journey to another state in order to purchase it.

If the potential buyer can't afford the gun, the government should pay for it.

The right of each individual to own a gun is not simply an American right, but a human right. Therefore, it should be part of American foreign policy to support individual gun ownership in other countries. If the governments of other countries cannot afford to provide guns for their people, we should make that a budget item in our foreign aid package.

Teenagers should be able to buy guns without their parents' permission or knowledge. Gun salesmen or school supervisors who inform the parents of such teenagers shall be subject to prosecution by law.

Anyone who interferes with someone attempting to purchase a gun should be jailed for two years.

There should be no waiting period, no background check, no consumer warnings, and no records kept on gun purchases.

Those who speak against these policies shall be deemed guilty of a hate crime.

In the appointment of new members to the judiciary branch of our government, special care shall be taken to exclude those who do not agree with this arrangement.

3:11 PM


According to an Associated Press story, published in the Chicago Tribune today, Democrat Zell Miller’s address at the Republican National Convention last night has angered Georgia Democrats and giving rise to some theological speculations:

…Miller used a prime-time convention speech to question the foreign policy judgment of his own party's nominee, Sen. John Kerry, and deliver a resounding endorsement for President Bush.

Richard Ray, state chairman of the AFL-CIO and a Democratic national committeeman, noting that Miller's mother was a staunch Democrat, said: "If Zell ever makes it to heaven, his momma's going to be there, and she's going to whip his butt."
Apparently he assumes Miller’s mother is still a staunch Democrat. That’s not the heaven I imagine, of course, with Democrats and Republicans and Independents still hanging on to politics. I certainly hope not. If after I die I awake and see campaign signs and people who still call themselves Democrats and Republicans, really, I am going to cry out, Lord have mercy on me a sinner!

12:20 PM


Touchstone correspondent Mark Tooley has written a report on “Crashing” Bishop Sprague’s Party, which is a response to an editorial complaining about Mark sending someone to Bishop Sprague’s retirement party.

The United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference newspaper recently featured an editorial denouncing my assistant John Lomperis’ attendance at Bishop Joe Sprague’s retirement banquet.

Bishop Sprague, who denies the fully deity of Christ (among other Christian doctrines), and who has several times been arrested at anti-war and pro-homosexuality demonstrations, is an avid controversialist. It is not surprising that even his farewell banquet should become the source of a verbal and journalistic scrap.

Linda Rhodes, the newspaper’s editor, opined that she was “shocked” that the “blatant enemy of everything Bishop Sprague has stood for” (i.e. the IRD) should have “crashed” this good-bye event for the bishop’s family and friends.

This good-bye event was advertised by the conference newspaper as “open to all.” Bishop Sprague is indisputably one of America’s most controversial prelates, whose retirement was considered newsworthy by the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times.
There is more to the story, and you can read it at the link above.

It may have been galling to the bishop or to his supporters to have someone from the opposition show up at what was intended as a celebration of the bishop’s career in the Methodist Church. Maybe someone would even say it was simply in poor taste to be there.

However, I have little sympathy when people like this complain. After all, there surely have been plenty of Methodists over the years in the Northern District of Illinois who joined the church, attended services faithfully, only to be confronted with denials of the Virgin Birth and other articles of the Faith.

Liberals such as this seem to think nothing of coming into a church of mostly traditional believers, and slowly, maybe even with style and cunning winsomeness, undermine, distort, and even ultimately destroy the orthodoxy of the congregation. Bishop Sprague has made a career of doing this in the episcopal office and allowing other wolves to do the same in local churches. Now, that's what I call really crashing a party.

11:18 AM


I finally, finally, received a copy of Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, which is probably my next book to read. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, addresses issues that we are concerned about at Touchstone, which includes the renewal of both Man and hence culture through the truth of the Christian gospel.

Pearcey takes her title from the words of Francis Schaeffer, spoken in an address at the University of Notre Dame in April 1981:

Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital “T.” Truth is about total reality, not just about religious things.

Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality—and the intellectual holding of that total Truth and then living in the light of that Truth.
Mrs. Pearcey studied at L’Abri in Swizerland with Francis Schaeffer, and is now the Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute.

I wrote that I “finally, finally” received a copy of the book because it had apparently sold out quickly at Amazon and at the publisher. It’s selling well, as it should be.

It should be of great interest and help to Christians concerned about "engaging the culture." I will be reading it on the way home from work tonight. The forward is by Phillip E. Johnson, by the way.

10:36 AM

Wednesday, September 1


In the October issue will appear an editorial by James Kushiner arguing against another magazine’s making various political issues — from Middle East peace to defending marriage — of equal weight for Christians. He points out that for Christians certain issues involve questions on which we have certainty (the wrongness of abortion being the obvious example) while others involve prudential and interpretive questions on which we do not have certainty (the way to achieve peace in the Middle East, for example), a crucial distinction Christians should not erase.

Yesterday I got a press release announcing a new book by “a retired theology professor” (retired from where it did not say, which is not a good sign) who has written a book arguing that “For someone who wears his religion on his sleeve, George W. Bush isn't doing a very good job following the precepts of the Bible.” The writer

believes that Bush is a sincere man who has been misled by political conservatives with the support of religious leaders who are preoccupied with hot-button issues such as abortion and homosexuality. His analysis undermines the self-righteousness of the Christian right, who believe that God is on their side.
One finds the last sentence slightly trying. While it is true that everyone tends to believe that God is on his side — as does the writer himself, who rather unwisely points the finger at others for doing what he is manifestly doing himself — it is also true that the “Christian right” is trying to make sure that it is on God’s side and offers in Scripture and the Christian tradition reasons for thinking so. They may be wrong, but they didn’t make it up, and they offer ways to test their claims.

At any rate, and back to the subject of this blog, the writer dismisses the issues on which Christians claim to have certainty as “hot button issues” with which some religious leaders are “preoccupied.” (What is a hot button, anyway? Wouldn’t a button’s being hot discourage you from pressing it?)

The distinction Mr. Kushiner makes in his editorial is the obvious one, which a retired professor of theology ought to have made. If abortion and homosexuality are “hot button issues,” they are hot because Christians know that the approval of both of them is an assault upon the moral order, which is to say, upon reality. On few other issues do we have such certainty, which makes all the other issues "cool button issues," or at best "warm button issues."

A Christian may, for example, have almost any opinion about the best way to help the poor, from libertarianism to socialism, but he should know that there are other reasonable answers to these problems than his. The Christian libertarian should not have such faith in the market as he has in the Christian revelation. The Christian socialist should not have such faith in the state as he has in the Christian revelation. For that reason neither should see their favored policy as a “hot button issues”: they will not press a button and send off the missiles (rhetorical and political) when they might be wrong, or at least incompletely right.

An emergency room doctor will give orders for surgery when he knows the patient needs it, but he will not give them when he is not sure what the patient is suffering. A gun shot wound to the abdomen is a “hot button issue” for him, but not a pain in his stomach that might mean several different problems, some minor, some major, is not. Caution and consultation — the democratic process, in other words — are required for the second.

The press release goes on to declare that:
Bush speaks about caring for the environment, yet administration policies outrage many environmentalists. He speaks about compassionate conservatism, yet administration policies are opposed by those who work with the poor. He speaks about freedom, yet administration policies are deplored by civil liberties groups. He speaks about peace, yet administration policies are decried by peace activists around the world.
If the press release is right, the writer appeals not to any Christian standard but to generally secular authorities, and his argument amounts to saying “Bush disagrees with the people who disagree with him,” and blaming him for it. This is especially amusing because the release claims that
The book objectively compares administration policies about the environment, social programs, treatment of prisoners, and going to war, with the biblical teachings in these areas. [emphasis mine]
Judging from his appeal to liberal activists as authorities, I have my doubts about his objectivity, though the writer of the press release may have wronged him.

For those of you who are interested, the other editorial appearing in the October issue (which I wrote) deals with the ideological abuse John Kerry and his comrades — Republican as well as Democrat — give to the idea of “the separation of church and state” to justify pursuing political gain at the cost of the principles they claim to hold.

11:02 AM


Just a few items today:

— A curiosity: But Sweetie, You Love Lima Beans from yesterday’s New York Times. Scientists studying false memories found that by taking from students a history of what they’d eaten and then giving it back to them with one thing changed they changed the way students felt about food. This is called the “false feedback technique.”

About 40 percent of the 336 participants confirmed in later interviews that they remembered getting sick or believed it to be true. Compared with a control group, the believers said on questionnaires that they would be much more likely to avoid eating pickles or hard-boiled eggs if offered them at a party. In another study, just completed, the researchers found that people who were told that they loved asparagus as children were much more drawn to that slender delicacy than those whose memories were left alone.
My children like broccoli but dislike asparagus, which is the opposite of my own feelings in the matter. It's tempting to try this on them, and not just to change their tastes in food.

— A reader sends the link to the announcement of the Interfaith Ring of Hope around Manhattan. These people just can’t stop staging symbolic events, which I suppose has the advantage of keeping them from doing more annoying things. The group claims to be “nonpartisan,” a word they even put in italics, but one notices that they didn’t ring Boston during the Democratic Convention.

— “Pontificator” sends the link to the definition of disingenuity, his use of which I corrected in yesterday’s False Claims to Orthodoxy. The definition defines the word as an obsolete form of “disingenuousness,” and he remarks that it sounds better too. I stand corrected, though I would note that I have seen “disingenuity” used to mean “not ingenious” or even “the opposite of ingenious” and to avoid confusion (possible in the context) would still argue for “disingenuous.”

— From, Sandro Magister’s Christian Martyrs of the 21st Century: The Reckoning Continues. He writes that “From 2000 until today, there have been about forty countries in which at least one case of death due to violence against Christians has been verified, and more than one hundred victims in all,” and the reprints an article by Gerolamo Fazzini, co-director of Mondo e Missione, the magazine of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Milan, describing these new martyrs. It appeared in the latest issue of Vita e Pensiero, a magazine published by the Catholic University of Milan.

— I have mentioned before Malcolm Muggeridge’s frustration when, as the editor of the English humor (humour) magazine Punch in the mid-1950s, he would think up an absurd idea for a good satirical story only to find the next day’s newspapers reporting that someone actually done it. A friend sent me the link to Drudge Report to find the a link to a story titled . . .

you’re not going to believe this . . .

but then perhaps you might, such is the world we live in . . .

titled Woman Turns Husband's Remains Into Diamond.

— The Drudge Report, which I’d never before looked at, includes a useful list of links to a range of columnists, from the interesting (e.g., Mona Charen, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Krauthammer, Nat Hentoff) to the predictable (e.g., Clinton/Kerry propagandist Joe Conason, Anna Quindlen, the hysterical Arianna Huffington). It also includes links to Agence France Press, AP, UPI, and Reuters.

10:58 AM

Tuesday, August 31


Yesterday I posted the links to the two “teaser articles” from the latest issue, now in the mail to subscribers. Here you can find a list of the complete contents of the September issue.

Which those of you who don’t subscribe will not see. However, if you subscribe now, you will get the October issue, which will include:

— Anne Barbeau Gardiner on the Christian meaning of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, a genuinely innovative analysis of a generally misunderstood book.

— Anthony Esolen on what he calls “The Dragon of Choice,” reflecting on the almost universal assumption that we must be able to choose what we want.

— Robert P. George on the imperial judiciary’s effect on marriage, explaining how we got to this point.

— Phillip Johnson on the AIDS establishment inflation of the AIDS statistics.

— Graeme Hunter on the tragedy of the boy a doctor tried to turn into a girl.

And several other good things, including a reflection on the perversity of “Kidult” literature and a report on the effect of the theology of the archbishop of Canterbury on the life and health of Anglicanism round the world.

To subscribe, please click here. If you don’t mind a word from the sponsor, magazines like ours, which live on very tight budgets, need as many subscribers as we can get. The income from subscriptions helps pay for the ministry, including the free parts, like this weblog and the extensive archive of our articles we offer. (Which, I’ve noticed from recent web searches, a lot of similar magazines don’t offer.)

So please do subscribe, those of you who don’t yet do so. A subscription costs less than taking a family of four to a movie one night, and yet will provide much more edification and enjoyment than the movie, and for an entire year.

11:55 AM


Ron Belgau sends a response to my comments on his Pro-Gay Groups Plan Action at 2004 Bishops’ Conference, which I made in yesterday’s From the Inbox (the entry appears about half way down). He writes:

Thank you for posting the article, and for your comments on it.

I understand your concern that I overemphasize the failure of Catholic churches to teach about chastity. I agree with you that virtually all homosexuals know at some level that homosexuality is wrong. It is part of “What We Can’t Not Know” (with thanks to J. Budziszewski). This has been revealed to me over and over in conversations with activists. I seldom hear them claim that homosexuality is a positive good. What I usually hear is that heterosexuals have no right to lecture homosexuals about sexual sin; or that most Catholics don’t pay any attention to Humanae Vitae; or that the Bible condemns divorce and we think that’s ok, so why object to homosexual acts just because the Bible says so?

Earlier this month, I was invited to a Soulforce group in Chicago to present Catholic teaching for discussion. They are, I suppose, trying to “know the opposition,” and I accepted because I wanted to get more of a feel for what is behind their slogans.

After the meeting, one of the Soulforce members came up to me and said that he agreed with me that homosexual practice is condemned in Scripture, but that when he’d tried to embrace that teaching, he’d gotten no support from the churches he’d gone to. I talked to him for a while and gave some suggestions about where to find better support.

But the fact is that in many, if not most parts of this country, there is little or no effective support available for a man or woman who accepts that homosexual activity and lustful thoughts are wrong, but struggles or fails to deal with the temptations on their own. Chastity is not merely a piece of information. It is a virtue which must be cultivated. (This is why, in the article, I spoke of *formation* in chastity, and not merely education.)

While a few may be born with a sort of “green thumb” which enables them to cultivate virtue without a great deal of support, most of us need not only teaching but also discipleship, in which more mature Christians help us to cultivate virtue and weed out vice. And, the farther a person has fallen into sinful habits, generally speaking, the more help they will need to extricate themselves.

Our culture does not suffer from ignorance about the natural law. It suffers from an active conspiracy to suppress the natural law (again, thanks to J. Budziszewski for pointing this out). And while the Magisterium has not wavered on sexual ethics, the majority of American Catholics have been an active part of this conspiracy.

If a boy goes through Catholic schools and CCD classes and the leaders repeatedly downplay Catholic sexual ethics, this will help feed his own rationalizations aimed at getting around “What He Can’t Not Know.” Thus, while he may be aware at some level that homosexual activity is wrong (and this awareness can only grow with greater exposure to gay life), his religious education, far from preparing him to renounce homosexual vice and pursue virtue, has actually taught him how to rationalize vice, how to get around “What We Can’t Not Know.”

It is in that sense that I believe that these protesters are the fruit of seeds planted by the “many Catholics [who] have failed in word and in deed to witness to the Gospel’s truth about human sexuality.”

11:45 AM


Several things for today.

— An interesting story from The Daily Telegraph, about a Somali woman who snuck into the Netherlands twelve years ago to avoid a forced marriage to a kinsman and, though not speaking Dutch when she came, is now a member of Parliament who is “immensely popular among the ordinary Dutch”: Refugee who became Dutch MP defies Islam with film about Koran. And, as the title suggests, an MP willing to provoke: she

produced the film broadcast on Dutch television on Sunday night to highlight the continued oppression of Muslim women in Europe.

The 11-minute programme, Submission, depicts a young Muslim girl confronting Allah at prayer in a mosque. She wears the veil, covering most of the face, but her voluptuous body is clearly visible through a transparent gown.

“All praise to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds,” begins the text painted across the actress’s throat, which then scrolls down her bare chest. It is taken from the fatiha or opening of the Koran, the lines recited aloud by men, and silently by women, at Muslim prayer five times a day throughout the world.
According to the article, one million of the Netherlands’ sixteen million people are Muslims of Turkish or north African origin, and a recent study found that “more than 70 per cent of Dutch-born Muslims were bringing in spouses from their home countries, perpetuating a separatist sub-culture.”

— Also from the DT, for those interested in the self-destruction of the English conservative party, Mark Steyn declares Howard should start caring about Bush. Michael Howard is the head of the Tory party, which since the majority of the party’s MPs drove Mrs. Thatcher out, has become less and less interested in any coherent principle and more and more interested in getting into power again — which means that they are not trying hard but not gaining ground because they have nothing to offer.
[T]urn to Britain. What does “conservative” mean? There’s no religious Right or pro-life groups, not much social conservatism at all, and, if there was, the Tory leadership would recoil from it lest they offend shortlisted gay candidates with safe seats. There are no gun nuts, because the party has a rather unpleasant authoritarian bent and has traditionally eschewed the Englishman’s-home-is-his-castle stuff in favour of a knee-jerk deference to the monumentally useless British constabulary. (Howard’s time as Home Secretary makes an instructive study in this regard.)

As for fiscal conservatism and small government, the Tories are against “waste” and in favour of “choice”, but so’s everybody else, at least rhetorically.
Party leaders are reportedly considering “rebranding” the Tories by changing the party’s name. Among the possibilities are the Democrats, the New Democrats, and Progress. As Steyn remarks:
The first is the name of the US Left-of-centre party, the second is the Canadian socialist party, and the third could be anything, though it carries the vague whiff of a 1930s Mitteleuropean fascist movement.
They are what the Republican Party could easily become, did it not have the “religious right” and the “social issue conservatives” to remind it that it ought to stand for something besides economic conservatism.

— And now a story making a similar point. In Republicans and the Relics of Barbarism our senior editor Robert George and William Saunders of the Family Research Council remind Republicans that their party began in the struggle against the “‘twin relics of barbarism’: slavery and polygamy.” After describing the nineteenth century Republican’s principled opposition to these relics, they call Republicans to

remember their moral heritage. The twin relics of barbarism have returned in distinctively modern garb. Abortion and embryo-destructive research are premised on the proposition that some human beings — those in the embryonic and fetal stages of development — may legitimately be reduced to objects that can be created and destroyed for the benefit of others. At the same time, the ideology of sexual liberationism threatens to undercut the traditional understanding of marriage as the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman.
They go on, quite nicely, to show that the arguments once made by advocates of the twin relics are now being made by the advocates of our own barbarisms. They conclude:
An influential minority in the Republican Party proposes abandoning, or at least soft-pedaling, the Party’s commitments to the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage and the family. They say that social issues are “too divisive.” They suppose that the easy road to Republican electoral success is as the party of low taxes and low morals. They counsel capitulation to judges who usurp the constitutional authority of the American people and their elected representatives.

Let Republicans be mindful of their heritage. It was moral conviction — and the courage to act on moral conviction — that gave birth to the Republican party and made it grand. Now it is old, but need not be any less grand. By summoning the moral courage that enabled their Party to stand proudly against the twin relics of barbarism in the 19th century, Republicans can bring honor upon themselves in the great moral struggles of our own day.
William Saunders’ last article for us was The Unchosen Frozen and will be one of the speakers at this year’s meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Robert George’s last article for us available online was Fallen Images.

— Alarming news from the Philippines: Philippine Bishop Opposes Proposed Two-Child Policy.
The controversial bill, submitted by Congressman Edcel Lagman to the parliament last week is called the “Reproductive Health Act.” The bill is intended to curb the Philippine’s growth rate of 2.36 percent per year, the highest in the world.

The bill is written to encourage birth control by giving families financial incentives if they limit the number of their children to two. The incentive package includes tax advantages, preference in the granting of scholarships at the tertiary level and a number of discounts.

Under the bill, “the state shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive policy on reproductive health in connection with sustainable human development and effective population management.”

The bill encourages “the limitation of the number of children to an affordable level of two children per family ... to attain the desired population growth rate.”

Far from having its origin in the high number of births — a “simplistic” thesis — ”the reasons for the poverty of so many Filipinos are others: governmental corruption, lack of quality of educational and health services, unjust and unbalanced distribution of land and natural resources, high unemployment and the great burden of the external debt,” said Archbishop Capalla [Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao].
— Here is a rather convicting interview with Dr. Ray Guarendi. I don’t think you will find any of it new, partly because many of the points have been made here (and you didn’t find it new then either), but he offers a useful reminder.

— A long interview with Dr. William Sullivan, founding director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, explaining the Catholic Church’s teaching on artificial nutrition and hydration. It appeared in two parts, Part one and (not surprisingly) Part two.

— Here is a review of what must be a heart-breaking book, Dirty sneaks and weaklings by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. It is a history of the English veterans of World War I who suffered permanent damage from their experiences, suffering compounded greatly by the way they were treated and (hence the title) the way they were viewed in the English class system.
Even when a soldier had been admitted to one of the 4,470 beds that were eventually made available for mental cases [far fewer than were needed], he was likely to be treated at best curtly, and at worst cruelly. “He presents the type of low-class defective,” runs the report of one medical officer, whose sympathy had clearly been blunted by some crude assumptions about the victim’s poor genetic stock. “He squints. His features are asymmetrical. Has a stammer in speech… He is intensely dull and stupid.” Add to this thin rations, shoddy attempts by the authorities to wriggle out of paying full pensions to the permanently traumatised, and the lingering aftershocks of the men’s experiences on those around them, and the true awfulness of this secret history becomes clear.
— And finally, a correction from a faithful reader, who titled his message “Geographical Orthodoxy”:
As a dedicated reader of Mere Comments, and a subscriber to Touchstone, I rarely feel the need to jump in and remonstrate, but today I must, re your item ‘False claims to orthodoxy’: Sioux Falls is in South Dakota; you may be thinking of Sioux City, which is indeed in Iowa!
Well, I knew it was out there somewhere. I am a New Englander, with, sorry about this, a New Englander's hazy grasp of American geography west of Pennsylvania. Lest any of you worry about this, all my comrades on the editorial board are, however, midwesterners, except for Robert George, who I think grew up in West Virginia.

11:15 AM


I’ve found that there is one small problem with the Google search (found on the column to the left). Google does not updates its database continuously, so searches for recent items may produce on the generic address < >, where the item you’re looking for isn’t.

Also, you may notice that it automatically inserts “previous blogs” when you use it. This ensures that it searches only the Mere Comments archive and not the old article archive — which is different from the new article archive. If you can’t find what you are looking for with it, try deleting it. This may give you a much longer list of links, because it will include the old articles archive.

11:05 AM


A friend sent round the text of the “intervention” of the Orthodox bishop of Vienna at a recent meeting of the World Council of Church’s Faith and Order group. I post it because he honestly lays out the difficulties of the ecumenical task and warns against the easy use of vague terms to hide the actual problems and divisions.

These are matters Christians involved in an ecumenical work like Touchstone have to think about. We are all allergic to those, found nearly as much among conservatives as liberals, who want to hold hands and slap backs and stare deeply in each other’s eyes and forget the distinctives of their own traditions in order to do so.

We want our Baptists to be triumphal Baptists, our Catholics fiercely papal, our Presbyterians firmly Reformed, our Lutherans devoted to Luther. And we want them to work together in a common witness to the Lord of life and history, though they disagree sharply about several fundamental matters affecting that witness. We long ago decided that the only way to do this at all well was to accept the differences and not to try to pretend they did not exist.

So, as a contribution to mutual understanding, to use the jargon of the day, here is Bishop Hilarion:

Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria
Intervention at the meting of the Plenary Commission on ‘Faith and Order’, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), 30 July 2004

The ‘Faith and Order’ paper No 181, ‘The Nature and Mission of the Church’, includes a section on ‘communion real but not fully realised’. This section contains the following statement:

One blessing of the ecumenical movement has been the gradual and increasing discovery of the many aspects of life in Christ, which our still divided churches share; we already enjoy a real, if imperfect communion.

I would like to challenge the very notion of ‘a real if imperfect communion’, which appears also in other ‘Faith and Order’ documents in various modifications. This notion seems to me to be questionable, misleading and deceitful. The only ‘real’ communion that could exist between Christians is Eucharistic communion, and if we do not have a common Eucharist, it means that there is no ‘real’ communion among us. We may — and indeed should — lament about this fact, but we should not deny it and pretend that we have already reached, or almost reached, the koinonia which is to be the crown of our ecumenical endeavour.

Our inability to share the Eucharist, in turn, reflects the most profound division in dogma, spirituality, ethics, in the very experience of faith that exist among various bodies calling themselves ‘Christian churches’. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima in his response to the paper in question has rightly pointed out that ‘there is little ontological unity and little agreement among those. who confess Christ as God and Saviour’. And let us be honest to one another and not pretend that the question is about a ‘unity in diversity’: we are deeply disunited, in spite of almost a century of the ecumenical movement.

The tragedy of contemporary Christianity, I believe, consists in the fact that, while we are all engaged in a laudable struggle for unity, processes are underway within some Christian communities which alienate us from one another ever more profoundly. And I think it is no longer the divisions between the Catholics and the Protestants, or the Orthodox and the Reformed, or one confessional family and another that should be an object of our primary attention. We must address very seriously the fundamental discrepancy between the traditional and the liberal versions of Christianity.

I believe that the recent liberalization of ‘faith and order’, of dogma and morality within a number of Western churches of the Reformation has alienated them from the traditional churches — notably from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches — more than several preceding centuries of Protestant history. As a result of this liberalization and in spite of many decades of ecumenical quest for unity, we are now more profoundly divided among ourselves than ever before.

I would like to conclude my intervention by a plea to take more seriously the tragedy of division existing among Christians of different confessions, and to look more honestly at the sources of our disunity instead of pretending that the ‘real’ — even if ‘imperfect’ — communion which we are all seeking is already achieved.

11:02 AM

Monday, August 30


Which are not, perhaps, as unrelated as would first appear. The September issue is now in the mail to subscribers. We have posted two articles from the issue on the home page:

The Inexpressible Apocalypse by Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College, which is subtitled "Maybe St. John Did, After All,
Write the Final Word"; and

Reorganizing Religion by David Mills, which is subtitled "Why the Church Bureaucracies Have to Go."

Sorry for that "by David Mills". I hate referring to myself by name, like some baseball player ("Bobby Smith thinks Bobby Smith's just not hitting this year, and Bobby Smith would like Bobby Smith to start hitting") or politician, but a) some readers may forward the item to people who don't know who "me" would be, and b) some people don't read the byline at the end of the item. I know this (b) because I've gotten both praise and blame for items my colleagues have written.

7:15 PM

More on African AIDS

The following comments came today from the same missionary to Zambia, who last week sent us those startling statistics on HIV in that country. He responds to such questions as, "How can this be, in a Christian country?"

His comments are especially frightening in their economic and geopolitical implications, which go far beyond Zambia.

I'm afraid I can't answer your questions. Nearly everyone in Zambia claims to be a Christian, and, as you know, where everyone is a Christian, no one is a Christian.

That is hyperbole, as you can guess. There are true Christians here as in every nation. But in this country, maybe more so than in many countries, the words of Christ ring especially true: "Not everyone who says to be Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven." So I don't have access to who is a true Christian and who is not. As to professing Christians, the infection rate would be about the same as in the society in general.

Even many true Christians are infected because of the rampant promiscuity among teen-agers. I have noticed that Christian parents don't do very well watching over the souls (and bodies) of their children. So many children, even from believing homes get involved with sex.

In the States, kids involved in sex often get away only with emotional scars and an STD; here, it is usually lethal. I'm not trying to minimize the situation in the States, but things are different over here.

There are many myths about AIDS that swirl around the country; here are two that contribute to the problem. Myth #1: the way to cure AIDS is to have sex with a virgin. Virgins are getting pretty hard to find, so older men are seeking out younger and younger girls, often under the age of six. As ridiculous as this sounds, it is firmly believed and acted on by many. Myth #2: the way to cure AIDS is to have sex with a white person.

You can't believe the statistics put out by the governments of various African countries. There are compelling economic reasons for them to lie about these. As far as we can tell, the rate of infection for people ages 10-40 is over 50%. The older generation is doing pretty well. But, when they die off, then this nation will probably crumble.

I can foresee nothing but economic collapse for many nations. Even a revival of massive proportions might not be able to forestall things since the damage has largely been done. [One may observe that this assessment rather closely resembles Huldah's prophecy to Josiah in 2 Kings 22:16-20. That is to say, yes, I will accept your repentance, but this problem is simply going run its course. - PHR] I don't like being a prophet of doom, but I can't find much of an alternative.

Thanks so much for your prayers. We need them.

7:15 PM


We have added to this page a search provided by Google, which you will find at the top of the column to the left. It will search only Mere Comments, not the new Archives search, the link to which is also on the column to the left, which searches only the . . . um . . . archives.

This means that if you want to find something you read on the website, and can't remember if it appeared in an article or a blog item, you may have to use both searches to find it. This is a bit of a bother, I know, but the tradeoff is that the Archive search is a very helpfully designed one and lets you look for things several different ways.

7:00 PM


Those of you interested either in Anglican affairs or in the chameleon capacities of theological liberalism may find of interest an article by the Episcopalian priestess Susan Russell, Biblical Orthodoxy. The president of the homosexualist lobby Integrity, she declares:

And where do we turn when we’re challenged by those who point to the Bible and say, “Ah! But what do you do about passage X, Y or Z?” Being biblically orthodox ourselves, we turn to Holy Scriptures and the words of our Lord and Savior — who when tested in the Temple by those who demanded that he pick a “greatest commandment” gave us this criteria: “The greatest commandment is this: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”

THAT’S the foundation of Biblical Orthodoxy: that’s the historic faith we inherit as Anglican Traditionalists. That’s what you are, my dear, whether you knew it or not: a bastion of Anglican Biblical Orthodoxy. What you are NOT is an absolutist, a fundamentalist, a literalist or a Latter-Day-Puritan.
The Episcopal priest who calls himself “Pontificator” comments on the writer's theology in The disingenuity of revisionist “biblical orthodoxy”. (I think he means “disingenuousness.”)

At some point in recent Episcopal history, the innovators, who were now much more interested in new morality than new theology, starting dropping all their prophetic, ground-breaking, barrier-breaking, new world exploring rhetoric — the rhetorical mode that had sustained skeptical Christianity for the 20th century, most used, or most loudly declaimed, in the 1960s and early 70s — and started talking about themselves as if they were perfectly orthodox believers. I suspect the same happened in other mainline denominations.

This, they obviously thought, would provide some excuse for doing what almost everyone recognized as ground-breaking and barrier-breaking, if not (opinion was divided on this) prophetic and new world exploring. Some felt that the barriers being broken were like corsets oppressing women yearning to breath free, others that the barriers were like guardrails keeping reckless, foolish, inattentive, or suicidal people from driving their cars into the Grand Canyon.

The liberals’ problem was convincing everyone else that what had once been universally held to be wrong was now as mainstream as American cheese in suburban Sioux Falls, Iowa, and as bland and inoffensive as beige carpets. Hence the appeal, which the Rev’d Ms. Russell adopts, to a high but abstract principle derived from a Dominical teaching taken out of context.

Thus the moral innovators could claim to be “biblical,” because the principle to which they claimed allegiance was indeed found in the Bible, without having to trouble themselves to find, or to obey, what the Bible actually said. Making the word “love” the sole authoritative principle without further definition destroys all possibility of reason, and therefore of challenge.

The word by itself suggests wisdom, insight, sensitivity, even godliness, but by itself means nothing practical, nothing specific. It is a bag into which one can put anything one wishes and get it through customs, a get-out-of-jail-free card any criminal can use, a magic wand that makes all problems disappear.

Except that what Ms. Russell calls absolutism, fundamentalism, and puritanism simply articulates what the Bible tells us about reality. More to the point, it articulates what God has graciously told us about reality because on many matters, like the nature and exercise of sexuality, we don’t want to see what we should see, what is indeed right in front of us. We need the details, not just general instructions to “love.”

If the “absolutist” Christian, which is to say the average Christian of the last 2,000 years, is right, the Rev’d Ms. Russell is telling all her followers to blind themselves. Given the effect the exercise of one’s sexuality has one one’s spiritual, emotional, and physical health, not to mention one’s ultimate end, she is telling — in the spirit of encouraging “adventure,” say — people about to cross an eight lane highway filled with racing cars and trucks to put on a blindfold and dash across when, were they not blindfolded, they could see the bridge and cross safely.

Those of us “absolutists” are such because we have found the answer to the human problem of alienation from God and neighbor and self. The Gospel is something to be absoute about, which even Ms. Russell herself grants in the way she writes of her truncated and edited gospel.

We are absolutist only in the sense the man given a complex formula for a cure for lung cancer will follow the formula exactly: not because he has a neurotic need for absolutes, not because he is a simple-minded fundamentalist, not because he is a textual puritan, but because he wants to see dying men rise from their deathbeds and walk out of the hospital in perfect health. Ms. Russell’s treatment of Scripture, in which the formula for new life is given, is like that man trying to make the formula using only the cover letter, in which the formula’s promise is summarized. It will be true, but not enough by itself to save.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ms. Russell’s article inspired a long thread of comments on Kendall Harmon’s TitusOneNine weblog. If you’re interested, I dealt with this kind of thing in St. Paul the Eccentric, examining the common attempt to separate Jesus from St. Paul because Jesus could be made more palatable to moral innovators.

6:54 PM


— David Layman writes in response to Modern Reformation magazine’s chart of the development of modern denominations, meaning the Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed streams, posted in Thursday’s “From the Inbox”.

I found the chart on the development of modern denominations fascinating. I noticed one huge lacuna, however. There is no notice whatsoever of the so-called “radical reformation” strand.

The Swiss Brethren could be located (historically, if not theologically) in the Swiss Reformation strand, although I'm not sure how to hook that up with the Dutch “Anabaptist” strand (where the ex-priest Menno Simons gave his name to the “Mennists,” who eventually became the Mennonites). I am no expert how the Church of the Brethren understands itself, but I suspect many of that communion would find its location in the Lutheran Reformation odd, since they see themselves as “Anabaptists.”

I realize that this may be a distinction between historical (“geneological”) identity and theological identity (where a movement locates itself ideologically). Just thought I'd mention it.
— Our contributing editor Peter Toon explains the relation of Christian truths one to another in Majoring on the minors?. He begins, provocatively,
Because of the imperfection of man, and specifically because of the presence of inbred sin, one tendency of Christian man — that is man in the divine process of being sanctified by the Holy Ghost in the church on earth — is to major on minors, to get things out of perspective in terms of what is Christian truth.

Of this the most glaring examples at present in the North American Anglican scene, are, (a) those evangelicals and charismatics who identify the approval of homosexual partnerships as the major ecclesial sin and the ideal of one man and one woman in matrimony as the major Christian truth in terms of identifying “orthodoxy”; and (b) those anglo-catholics who identify the ordination of women as the major ecclesial sin and an all-male Ministry as the major Christian truth in identifying “orthodoxy”.
Those of you interested in classical Anglicanism will want to look at his weblog. And as always those of you interested in up to date Anglican news will want to look at Anglican Crisis CaNNet Special Report.

— A friend sends the link to Priesthood and the Masculinity of Christ, with the pessimistic comment “This argument is literally nonsensical to our contemporaries, including our Christian ones.” I am afraid he is right.

With exceptions, of course, like most of you reading Mere Comments. I have found that in general even egalitarian Touchstone readers understand the arguments for the traditional position and respect them. They live in a world in which created distinction matters, though for many purposes, ordination for example, they do not think the distinction between men and women matters. I think they are quite wrong about this, and that by erasing the created distinction on this point they are standing on one foot on loose rock at the very edge of the Grand Canyon and dangling the other foot out over the abyss, but they do understand that God made things different for a reason.

A good friend, an “complementarian” Evangelical who lives and works in egalitarian Evangelical circles, sometimes sends similar articles to his e-mail circle. He always gets snarky responses like “The road of sanctification has nothing to do with gender” and pseudo-scholarly rebukes that he is “privileging” the 1950s or the Victorian period, which were supposedly the origin of the conservative view of “gender relations.”

The answers are often revealing. His perky friend mapping out the road to sanctification did not seem to realize that her statement is straightforwardly Gnostic. I mean, how can sanctification have nothing to do with sex, when we are embodied, therefore sexed, creatures?

And if that is true, might it also be true that as the sexes are different, so their ways to sanctification might be different? And if that is true, might it also be true that each has a role to play in the sanctification of the other? As God made sexual difference necessary to the regeneration of the species, indeed to the creation of new human souls, might He have made sexual difference necessary to its redemption? The Christian mind, uninfluenced by modern ideas of sexual identity, naturally answers yes to the second and third questions, I think.

— A reader sends the link to Pro-Gay Groups Plan Action at 2004 Bishops’ Conference. The writer, Ron Belgau, reports on the plans of two homosexualist groups, Soulforce and the Rainbow Sash Movement, the first to protest at the Catholic bishops’ meeting in November and the second to meet for a “listening session” with Cardinal McCarrick.

I think his argument is correct. I only wonder if he overemphasizes the failure of Catholic churches to teach about chastity as an excuse for the activists' aggressive homosexualism. In my days as an Episcopal activist I read, observed, and got to know its homosexual activists and they knew well perfectly what the Church's teaching had been and denied it. And unless I am mistaken, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the wrongness of homosexuality is one of those things one does not need revelation to know.

— The list of links in the weblog mentioned in the previous item includes two I don’t think I’ve mentioned here, but which readers may enjoy: the Mars Hill Review, which doesn’t seem to offer much content online, and the St. Austin Review, which doesn’t offer much more. But they’re worth knowing about. I’ve seen the first but not the second at Barnes & Noble.

— An interesting article from the Agence France Presse, published yesterday and sent by Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, reporting on a Russian Orthodox priest who protested the French government’s law against Muslim girls wearing their headscarves in school (which also banned, but apparently more as a way of hiding the real objective, yarmulkes and large crosses).
Father Vsevolod Chaplin described the French ban on conspicuous religious insignia as a “desperate act on behalf of secular civilisation, which has lost its bearings and is defenceless faced with stronger conceptions of the world”.

“The time when the state decided which clothes people should wear should belongs to the past,” the number two of the Patriarchy's external relations department told Moscow's Echo radio.
— Here is a short essay written at the end of March but buried in my inbox, by Gil Bailie of the Cornerstone Forum: Speaking with a Galilean Accent. He offers a way to discern the spirit of the age and our necessary response to it:
The spirit of this age presents a special problem, for it exists to blind us, not to the perennial evils, but to what I would call “the besetting evil,” the evil of which one’s age is peculiarly enamored. The spirit of any age is always the spirit that applies the moral narcotic specifically to the besetting evil of that age, obscuring it and preventing it from being recognized for what it is. It is this spirit, the spirit by which the age is especially enthralled, that it is the special obligation of the Christian to resist. Resisting the spirit of the age just prior to the one in which one is living is about as easy as falling off a log. Exuding pride at having managed to resist it is the stuff of demagogues. It’s the spirit of this age that is the problem.

Heeding Paul’s admonition requires that we awaken to the besetting sin of the age and to the prevailing presuppositions that render it morally respectable. To defend every Christian principle except the one that is currently under attack is to fail to defend Christian principle. Today the point of attack is sexual ethics, or more specifically the two relationships without which humanity will collapse back into barbarism: the spousal relationship between a man and a woman and the maternal relationship between a mother and her child.

To those tuned to CNN or prime time television, abortion and the redefinition of the family will seem less ominous than war, poverty, injustice, tyranny, cruelty, or ecological suicide. They will seem less grave precisely because the spirit of this age has succeeded in making them appear so. War, poverty, injustice, cruelty and ravenous greed are neither new nor uniquely characteristic of “this age.” Publicly sanctioned abortion by the millions and the legal evisceration of the traditional family are uniquely characteristic of “this age.” War and crime, injustice and tyranny, are terrible, but they have always been with us.

They are horrible sins, but they are perennial sins. Jesus himself said that the poor with always be with us. He was hardly counseling indifference. He ministered to the poor, as Christians must. Anyone who follows Christ must resist as much as possible perennial sins afflicting the human family. All our efforts notwithstanding, however, our grandchildren and their grandchildren will be struggling against these things. But if marriage and family are defined out of existence, and if the moral indifference toward millions of aborted children triumphs, the resources for struggling against these other scourges will have been destroyed in the process.
— Our contributing editor Phillip Johnson — who writes The Leading Edge column for us — recommends The Devil’s Chaplain by Stephen Barr, which appeared in the latest issue of First Things. He writes:
I recommend highly this article in First Things by University of Delaware Catholic physicist Stephen Barr, a theistic evolutionist. Barr effectively discredits Dawkins at the philosophical level, although he does not go on to say that Dawkins's scientific claims are based on the same dogmatic materialism that leads him astray in philosophy.
— For those of you interested in art history, from Apollo magazine: a reading of Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents by David Jaffe and Amanda Bradley, which appeared in the June 2003 issue, and A St Francis by Botticelli in the National Gallery by Sally Korman, from the July 2003 issue.

These are not the only articles I think readers may enjoy, but two samples from the issues I had a chance to look at. (My apology to the stricter grammarians, who usually have my sympathy, but “at which I had a chance to look” just sounds too pompous.)

5:30 PM


We have added to this page a search provided by Google, at the top of the column to the left. It will search only the weblog, not the new Archives, the link to which is also on the column to the left, which searches only the . . . um . . . archives.

This means that if you want to find something you read on the website, you may have to use both searches to find it. This is a bit of a bother, I know, but the tradeoff is that the Archive search is a very helpfully designed one and lets you look for things several different ways.

1:58 PM

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