Touchstone's Editors on news & events of the day. with Patrick Henry Reardon Order our publications... Speakers bureau, Chicago Lecture Series, and more... Browse back issues... All the information you need

E-mail your comments

(Please indicate if your comments may be published with or without your name.)


Saturday, September 11


Knowing that much of my 40 years in the ministry has been devoted to local congregations, someone recently asked me to name several significant, even essential, books that should be found in every parish library.

Eschewing any effort to be complete in the matter, let me suggest the following useful texts. Since we have not checked any of them for a while in Books in Print, we are uncertain if all of them are still available. They are standard resources, however, and religious publishers should consider reprinting those that are not.

These books are recommended here for the exclusive use of our Touchstone subscribers:

Karate for Ushers

Cracker Jack Prizes and the Every Member Canvas

Bats, Lizards, and Rattlesnake Meat: Another Look at Parish Suppers

Basic Church Kitchen Taxidermy

Missing Boys: How to Spot Cannibalism in Your Scout Troop

The Standard Fire Hose: An Innovative Approach to Baptism

Lynching: A Conservative Response to the Sign of Peace

Bowling in the Corridors and Other Uses of Church Space

The Blow Torch and Aggressive Evangelism: A Brief History

Keeping Leprosy Our of Your Altar Guild

UFO Sightings: Are You Getting the Most From Your Steeple?

12:16 PM

Friday, September 10


A few other things to post before I forget about them.

— First, from the Daily Telegraph, an article that entertainingly argues the virtues of what the world calls dullness: We're a nation of devoted dullards by Christopher Howse. He argues that

The enemies of dullness are the enemies of civilisation. "Boring" is the bovine moan of the barbarian confronted with the highest achievements of Western culture. Bach only bores people who have never put in the effort to listen.
This quote misleads, actually, because his argument is not about art but about technology and politics and similar enterprises. He points out that we depend upon supposedly dull people for things like airplanes that don’t crash and houses you can enjoy living in, and government agencies that actually do something for you. Those who think that work dull do not understand it — how could the physics of an airplane wing and the challenges of making it work not be fascinating, if you understood it? — and are not grateful for it.

— Also from the DT, Cosmetic Surgery Live? Maybe the mullahs have a point after all by Tom Utley. After describing this ghastly show, with its typical moronic smuttiness, he concludes,
Cosmetic Surgery Live is one of those programmes that make you understand what people mean when they speak of the decadence and corruption of Western culture - a culture that sees humanity as so many lumps of meat, put here on earth for no higher purpose than to copulate with members of the same or the opposite sex. No wonder Islamic mullahs despise us. It is impossible to watch this programme without feeling cheapened and debased by it.

But these are gloomy thoughts. High and low culture have always existed side by side, since the days of the ancient Greeks. Those of us who think that the old days were better should keep reminding ourselves that our perceptions have been distorted by time. We remember the Parthenon, because the good survives. We forget the tarts and porn merchants who peddled their wares in its shadows. The problem these days is not that there is more filth around, or less high culture. It is only that media executives choose to broadcast so much filth on national television, where it is more accessible than ever before.
I think he is right, but wonder if he ignores a crucial difference between older societies and ours: that what he calls “high culture” — by which in context he seems to mean “serious culture” rather than “difficult culture” — was generally recognized as such and held by the middle classes as an ideal. Now it isn’t. It’s just a taste.

You are now more likely to find an interest in “high culture” and a dislike of "low culture" in a fundamentalist home schooling group than in a group of the educated upper-middle-class. The latter, speaking generally, are far more likely to work at their jobs and otherwise pursue diversions.

— A third article from the DT, reporting on a worrisome trend in English education: Ten-hour school day will go nationwide. Primary schools
will offer "wrap around" child care from early morning to evening to help working parents. Families will pay a contribution to the child care element of the package which will include breakfast, after school clubs and learning support.
In other words, the state is going to use its money and power to encourage parents to give their children to it for even more hours in the day. “Head Teachers” (principals) are reportedly quite happy with this, as expected: no one objects to more power and a reason to get more staff and more funding.

— And finally, also from the DT, a warning for parents: Sleeping with the light on 'raises child leukaemia'. It reports:
Children should not be allowed to sleep with the light on because it inhibits the production of a hormone that protects them from cancer, a scientist said yesterday.

Increased exposure to unnatural night-time light and the resultant reduced capacity to produce melatonin may be one of the reasons for the steady rise in childhood leukaemia over the past century. . . .

The number of children under five diagnosed with leukaemia has increased by 50 per cent in the past 40 years . . .
— Nathaniel Brooks sends the link to Belgium considers euthanasia for children. It begins:
Belgian lawmakers belonging to Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's ruling Flemish Liberal party have introduced a bill seeking to expand the country's controversial euthanasia legislation to include minors.

Senators Jeannine Leduc and Paul Wille said in the bill that terminally ill children and teenagers had as much right to choose when they wanted to die as anyone else.
Belgium decriminalized euthanasia in 2002.

— From this week’s The Tablet, a cheering article on the growth of Christianity in India. It reports:
According to the census some 24m. Christians now account for 2.34 per cent of India’s population of over one billion. The Christian growth rate has risen from just over 21 per cent to nearly 23 per cent since the last census was taken in 1991.
Readers of Rodney Stark's book The Rise of Christianity will not be surprised to read that
There are more Indian Christian women than men in India – something of an accolade in a country where many perceive the birth of a girl as a liability. For every 1,000 men, there are 1,009 women among Christians while the national average is 933 women for 1,000 men, due to the gender bias rooted in social prejudice and dowry demands.
Hindu nationalists are worried about the growth of Christianity and Islam, which means Christians and Muslims are in danger.

— Also from The Tablet, for you architecture buffs: Simplicity of the cloister. It reports on a new Cistercian monastery in the Czech Republic designed by a famous minimalist architect:
It seems, in hindsight, logical that the Cistercians should have commissioned the British architect and designer John Pawson to design the monastery, although five years ago the pairing of minimalism’s celebrated high-priest and the publicity-shy Cistercians was anything but obvious. Pawson’s work is characterised by a firm but gentle discipline, one in which results are achieved through a reductive design process that sheds the extraneous, the decorative, the intrusive to arrive at something so simple that the architectural involvement seems almost indecently casual. This absence of presence, of course, is what has endeared Pawson to a legion of well-groomed, well-moneyed clients around the world, a smart set too knowing to indulge in showy architecture, for whom discretion in design is as vital as their subtlety in collecting art, arranging their wardrobe and managing their tax liabilities.
It closes with something cheering:
Pawson narrowly escaped death in a car accident two years ago and the monks, he says, “helped me through that”. The project, he says, “has given me the chance to realise a type of building I hadn’t done before. More importantly, it’s taught me something about how they face death. They’re not afraid of it. Their infirmary faces the cemetery and they all have their plots selected. It’s this serenity I find so extraordinary.”

1:19 PM


A few items for today.

— Greg Krehbiel of comments on our Intelligent Design issue here and here. The first is particularly provocative and the second begins with a tongue-in-cheek argument using the improvement in Touchstone’s design over the years.

— Terry Mattingly ponders the media’s belief in “moderate Islam” in Moderate Muslims are upset — the New York Times says so on his GetReligion weblog.

— On the same site — one I commend to you, by the way — Doug LeBlanc examines the media’s response to Hollywood Hellhouse.

— A reader writes asking us to mention the Schwan Center’s “Weekend with C. S. Lewis,” to be held November 5th to 7th at the Schwan Center in Trego, Wisconsin, two hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. It will focus on The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle and be led by Angus Menuge, a professor at Concordia University and editor of a book on Lewis, Light in the Shadowlands. For information, see the Schwan Center’s website or call them at 1.800.577.4848.

— Here is a report on the suffering of Serbian Christians in Kosovo from William J. Murray of the Religious Freedom Coalition (it is a pdf file). According to his report,

NATO and the UN have been responsible for the well being of the people of Kosovo, both Muslim Albanians and Christian Serbs since June of 1999. While the UN and NATO have been in control, more than 200,000 Serbs have been forced from their homes and thousands of Serbian civilians killed. Thousands of Christian Serbian homes have been looted and destroyed and 150 churches, monasteries and seminaries have been destroyed. Some of the churches which have been defiled looted and burned have existed since the 1300's and survived even the 500-year long Ottoman occupation. In March of this year an organized effort was made by Kosovo Albanians through mob violence to force out the last remaining Christian Serbs from Kosovo.
An Albanian women told them that her Serbian husband
could not leave their home unless accompanied by her, for fear of attack. It is virtually impossible for a Serbian Christian to obtain emergency services in Kosovo. Serbs die mysteriously when they are taken to any of the Albanian run hospitals. Christians have no freedom of movement and therefore no freedom to practice their faith.
This is one of those issues very hard to understand with any confidence from the various, and competing, reports. I’d be grateful if readers who do know something or can recommend other sites dealing with it would write me. (Just click on the button at the top of the column to the left.)

— A friend sends an old article from The New Republic, available online only to subscribers. The article is Michael Straight’s “Germany Executes Her 'Unfit’,” which appeared in the issue of May 5, 1941. Straight reports on the discovery, by Catholic priests, that in 1940 the Nazi government was killing old people in the hospital.
From the pulpits in Germany Catholic priests began to unveil this appalling story. They delivered sermons protesting against euthanasia and sterilization, and they were strengthened in their stand on December 16 by the decree of the Vatican which has been quoted and which warned that euthanasia was contrary to the laws of the Church.

The reply of the Nazis was drastic and immediate. More than three hundred Catholic priests were imprisoned in concentration camps, and the publication of the decree in the churches of Germany was forbidden.

Today the practice of euthanasia is still continuing in Germany and the persecution of the Catholics has been intensified.
Straight then went on to describe the persecution of Catholics and concluded:
Unlike the Jews, however, Catholics are seldom permitted to leave Germany. The church dignitary who gave me this information charges that the majority of the 800,000 prisoners in German concentration camps are Catholics.
As my friend tartly remarked, “I guess the New Republic's attitude towards the Church has changed a wee bit in the past 63 years.”

— The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press have just released a study of Americans’ attitude to Islam. According to the press release:
Roughly four-in-ten Americans (39%) say they have a favorable impression of Islam, while about as many (37%) say they have an unfavorable view. The balance of opinion has not changed substantially in the past year (39% favorable in July 2003). But there are significant differences of opinion among religious groups, with white Evangelical Protestants having a much more negative view of Islam than white Catholics, Mainline Protestants or secular Americans.
— Two readers kindly sent the link to the column by Paul Kengor I quoted yesterday: Talking About God: Rev. Clinton vs. Rev. Bush. For some reason, somewhere along the chain by which it arrived in my inbox, someone changed the title but in such a way that the new title looked like the old one.

— I frequently give links to articles by Mark Steyn, one of my favorite journalists. He is, according to Steyn FAQs, attending a small Baptist church. Readers who enjoy his writing will enjoy this interview with him from something called the IdeasFactory. It includes an important point about what media people value:
On Bush and his lack of articulacy — you say it's not a problem because actions speak louder than words? Until they start doing stuff, politicians and their words are all we have to go on. Expand . . .

One of the problems with the media is that because their currency is language that's what they value. It's regarded as perfectly normal to ask Margaret Drabble or Harold Pinter what they think of American foreign policy.

No TV talk show would ever ask, say, a sprockets manufacturer in the East Midlands how he thinks things are going in Iraq. Why not? There's no reason why he should know any less than a clapped-out poet or obscure novelist. It's only because we value 'articulacy' over everything else.
This is a temptation to which every writer, and every verbally-oriented person, is subject. It’s one reason even conservative Christians tend to put down “fundamentalists.”

— And finally, Sandro Magister’s latest column, Beyond the Myth of Ostpolitik: A Lesson for the Challenge of Islamism. In it he reports on the Vatican’s policy of the 1960s of “ostpolitik” toward the Communist governments, which has lessons for its (and every other churches’) relation to Islam today.

10:03 AM

Health Care

In these days when health care has become a major component in political debate, we are blessed to have received directions from an ancient source. It is unfortunate that this ancient inscription is not better known, but we hope it will be, after the translation that Touchstone is herewith happy to provide for the English-speaking public.

The provenance of this text is ancient Moab, also home of the famous Mesha Stone. It was uncovered by archeologists in the medical files of a Moabite doctor, who lived several centuries earlier than King Mesha. The dismal condition of this inscription, preserved on an ostracon, does not permit us to decipher the physician’s name, but we are able to discern that his patient’s name was Jacob.

Herewith, for the first time in history, Touchstone is privileged to make this translation available for the exclusive use of our readers:

Doctor: “Good morning, Jacob. How are you feeling this morning?”

Jacob: “I feel terrible, Doc. This traction on my spine is killing me. Can you take some of these weights off my ankles?”

Doctor: “Negative, I’m afraid. You see, your hip is out of line. The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone is connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone is connected to the ankle bone, and that’s why we attached weights to your ankles.”

Jacob: “Well, if you say so, but this whole thing sounds very complicated. And another matter, while I’m at it. Is it necessary for the nurses to wake me up at first cockcrow to give me a sleeping pill?”

Doctor: “I will check on that. Meanwhile, however, there is another matter, which I hope you won’t think it indelicate of me to mention. Admitting informs me that you do not seem to have adequate hospitalization. Didn’t you say that your medical coverage is handled by Sodom Securities?”

Jacob: “Yes, sir, that’s right. My mother took out that policy on me back when I was considered a low risk case. I recall that they would not insure my brother Esau, who was forever going on dangerous hunting trips.”

Doctor: “Well, yes, but it seems that you have only limited coverage with Sodom Securities, with a goat skin deductible. Perhaps you qualify for Medicare. How old are you, Jacob?

Jacob: “Well, Doc, the days of my sojourning are few and evil, and they have not attained to the days of the years of my fathers in their sojourning. I doubt that I qualify for Medicare.”

Doctor: “You’re probably right. We’ll have to stick with Sodom Securities. This will be tricky, because Sodom Securities fully covers you only in the cases of chariot collisions, massive hail storms, lion attacks, the arrow that flieth by day, and the pestilence that creepeth about in the night season. Exactly how did you come to throw out your hip?”

Jacob: “Wrestling.”

Doctor: “Wrestling?”

Jacob: “Yes, wrestling, back at Peniel. You see, this angel grabbed me in the middle of the night, right there on the bank of the Jabbock, and the two of us wrestled until day breaketh. I would not let him go except he bless me, but my hip went out when I slipped off balance holding him in a quarter-nelson.

Doctor: “Jacob, I wonder if your insurance covers a psychiatric analysis.”

Jacob: “I doubt it, Doc. I was always considered a high risk case in psychiatry. Something about a sibling rivalry with my brother. He was always daddy’s favorite, you know.”

3:05 AM

Thursday, September 9


Just a few items today.

— The scholars among you may find of interest the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. The latest issue, the one posted at that link, includes some interesting-and accessible-looking articles like Stephen J. Nichols’ Prophecy Makes Strange Bedfellows: On The History of Identifying the Antichrist and Wayne Grudem’s The Meaning of kefalhv ("Head"): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged. Actually, almost everything looks interesting.

The site also includes a way to get a Greek font for your computer. The ETS also offers a searchable cd-rom of the journal’s articles from 1969 to 1998.

— A friend sends the link to a very short recent item on the Spot On weblog in which the writer deftly takes out Madonna.

— A friend sends the text of a report on an article from the London Times on ordinations in the Church of England. It reports that more women than men are now being ordained in the CofE and that the number of men being ordained has dropped by half since that body began ordaining women. It also reports that now the average congregation in that body is almost two-thirds women. Which, with the continued decline of the CofE, still means that fewer women are in church than fifteen years ago.

The text included a link to Christian Research, a group you may want to know about. For more on the subject, see Robby Low’s The Truth About Men and Church and Leon Podles’ Missing Fathers of the Church.

— The summer issue of the online journal The New Atlantis is now out. It includes several interesting articles, among them two articles by writers probably known to most of you: Film and TV in Anxious Times by Baylor’s Thomas Hibbs, and The Pornography Culture by the Orthodox theologian David B. Hart.

Dr. Hart’s book The Beauty of the Infinite is reviewed in the September issue, and he himself has a long review-essay for us of a book by Darrell Cole and Alexander Webster, The Virtue of War.

— A friend sends the text but not the link to an article by Paul Kengor of Grove City College titled “Undivine Double Standard: God is O.K. on the left, but not the right.” I couldn’t find the link in a quick search, but if any of you happen to have it, please send it (use the link at the top of the column to the left). Kengor notes that

Bush is no more outwardly religious than the vast majority of this nation's presidents, including his most recent predecessor. I researched the Presidential Documents (the official collection of every public presidential statement); an examination of the mentions of Jesus Christ by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton showed that through 2003, Bush cited Jesus, or Jesus Christ, or Christ in 14 separate statements, compared to 41 by Clinton. On average, Clinton mentioned Christ in 5.1 statements per year, which exceeded Bush's 4.7.

Bush's biggest year was 2001, when he mentioned Christ in seven statements. This was the year of September 11; he was especially introspective, and often looked upward for strength. In 2002, he cited Christ in five statements. Most interesting, in all of 2003, the Presidential Documents displayed only two statements in which Bush mentioned his Savior: the Easter and Christmas messages. It may be reasonable to conclude that the hostile press reaction to Bush's mention of Jesus has pressured him into silence.

Such pressure was never placed on Bush's Democratic predecessor. Bill Clinton's top year for presidential Christ remarks was 1996 — the year of his reelection campaign — when he spoke of Christ in nine separate statements. Clinton mentioned Christ almost twice as much in election years.
He goes on to argue that “No politician in modern times mixed politics and religion with complete impunity to the extent Bill Clinton did.”

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) sends a press release beginning
More than 28 billion animals are killed for food every year in the United States. All of them — whether pigs, cows, fish, or chickens — are unique individuals who feel love, happiness, loneliness, and fear, just as dogs, cats, and human beings do. Jesus’ message was one of love and compassion, but there is nothing loving or compassionate about factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Please encourage your readers to choose a healthier and more humane lifestyle . . . .
It’s rather a jump to call the instinctive reactions of fish and chickens, and dogs, cats, and cows for that matter, “feelings” in the human sense, but factory farms and slaughterhouses do seem to be needlessly cruel. We dealt with this subject in Christopher Killheffer’s Our Food From God.

I am sure the average member of PETA is pro-choice.

— One of our contributing editors sends this link: Garrison Keillor's Irony, about Mr. Keillor’s strikingly crude attack on political conservatives.
Keillor lampoons the right as the home of “hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.”

But what if old Garrison’s wrong? What if, instead of finding us “deaf, dumb, and dangerous” because we're, well, hairy-backed and all that, they think we're ignorant, gullible, and mendacious because we've made a millionaire many times over of someone who anxiously appropriates the appearance of learning while feeding himself a diet of Cliffs Notes and Maureen Dowd? What if, that is, the left's favorite satirist is a divine poseur?
The writer, Winfield Myers, goes on to address the limits of Mr. Keillor’s learning.

3:15 PM


A press release from the Culture of Life Foundation:

In a letter released to the US Bishops on Friday, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Government Liaison announced they have withdrawn the Presidential Questionnaire which had been delivered weeks ago to the Bush and Kerry campaigns. At this moment the press office of the USCCB has no statement prepared but we are told by diocesan sources that at least one of the campaigns did not return the questionnaire by deadline. "We have been critical of the Presidential Questionnaire because it improperly equates doctrinal issues like abortion with judgment calls like the minimum wage," said Austin Ruse, President of the Culture of Life Foundation. "We also welcome the fact that candidate Kerry will not be able to use the questionnaire to claim he is a faithful Catholic when we know he actively opposes Church teaching on fundamental issues."
Austin Ruse raises the same point that, I suppose, I will be making in many conversations over the next weeks about the lack of prioritization in many “guidelines” being offered by Christian organizations such as the NCC. Minimum wage policy is not on the same par as abortion. I would think that increasing minimum life expectancy would be a little more important than increasing minimum wage, as much as I might support the latter.

12:46 PM

Wednesday, September 8


Our friends and allies over at Ethics and Public Policy Center have a great line-up of speakers for their fall lecture series. If you are anywhere within driving distance of the D.C. are, you ought to to check out some of these, on subjects related to the theme "American Culture and Democracy." They certainly touch on issues of interest to orthodox Christians concerned about the culture in which we have to raise our children. They are:

"The Courts and Democracy," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia - September 20

"The Unresolvable Conflict: Religion, Politics, and Morality," Fr. Richard John Neuhaus - September 27

"The Question of Marriage," Professor Hadley Arkes - October 8

"The War Against Terrorism," George Weigel (lecture), William Kristol (comments) - October 13

"The Bioethics Debate and the American Character," Eric Cohen (lecture), Dr. Leon Kass (comments) - October 20

"American Culture and the Presidency," Professor Wilfred McClay (lecture), Christine Rosen (comments) - October 25

For more information, or to register to attend, please visit the lecture series homepage.

6:52 PM


I apologize for the later than usual appearance of today's "From the Inbox." For some I couldn't connect with my isp for hours, and then suddenly I could. So here are today's items:

— While looking for an article on C. S. Lewis I remembered seeing somewhere, I found a few papers on Lewis and his peers readers might want to look at: First, two papers by David Downing, author of a recent book on Lewis, The Most Reluctant Convert (IVP): From Pillar to Postmodernism, subtitled “C. S. Lewis and Current Critical Discourse,” and The Discarded Mage, subtitled “Lewis the Scholar-Novelist on Merlin's Moral Taint.”

Second, several papers from a conference held at Taylor University: The Importance of Being Dorothy L. Sayers , by Sayers’ friend Barbara Reynolds, who completed her translation of Paradise after she died; George MacDonald's Insights into Science and Religion by Mary Ellis Taylor; Of Urban Blockheads and Trousered Apes, by Paul E. Michelson, subtitled “C.S. Lewis and the Challenge of Education”; and How the Hobbits Saved Civilization by Robert Moore-Jumonville.

— An interesting article that appeared a few months ago but was only sent to me a couple of days ago: Living in Spin by Zoe Romanowsky, from the Catholic website Godspy. In it she reflects on the book Spin Sisters, How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America by Myrna Blyth, who edited Ladies Home Journal, More, and other women’s magazines and wrote a book to expose them. It’s a useful summary of the book if you haven’t read about it before.

— While I was looking for the link to the previous article (the friend who sent it hadn’t included one), I found several things of interest on the Godspy site. Among them was “Downsizing Civilization” which I mentioned yesterday and Christianity and Gnosticism: A Conflict About Method by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, the national director of the Catholic group Communion and Liberation. He begins with a discussion of the misrepresentation of Gnosticism found in The Da Vinci Code and similar works, and notes that

The ultimate conflict between the Church and Gnosticism, both at the beginning of Christianity and now, is . . . a conflict about method. Put succinctly, Gnosticism-both ancient and contemporary—is unable to escape the poverty of our wounded religious sense, and thus reduces the Christian proposal to a purely religious experience. But religious experience is not the "method" through which we reach our true destiny.

The Christian proposal is not a message to be learned or a metaphor to be deciphered. It is an event to be verified, an encounter with a human presence. The method is the Incarnation, through which the divine becomes our companion as a concrete human presence in human flesh. Salvation springs from the earth, from human flesh, from human matter, from the very body despised by the Gnostics.
— Something I found while looking for something else: the great Anglican theologian Eric Mascall’s Women Priests?. He thought the innovation a bad idea, as you will have guessed.

— On the same site can be found a good popular introduction to gospel history through the Apostle John’s letters home to his parents,. They are written by Francis Gardom, an Anglican priest and leader of the Forward in Faith movement in the Church of England, who wrote a reflection on evangelism, "The Passing of Richard Roe," for the March issue (not available online) and Aground Off Laodicea a couple of years ago.

— A reader sends news that Seventeen magazine, the girls' fashion bible, gets religion. Of a sort, the article makes clear. The article says that the editor, Atoosa Rubenstein, was raised Muslim and still prays, but does not say what religion she actually follows now. She thought religion important to include in her magazine:
"I feel, and had sensed that my readers felt, that there was an entire magazine that wasn't speaking to a part of them," Rubenstein said. "I just noticed more and more our readers were talking about their faith." Experts on religion and youth trends agree. They theorize that teens are rebelling against the broad, undefined spirituality of their baby-boomer parents, and are seeking out environments — like those in church — with clearer rules that help them cope with day-to-day problems. In a recent study by Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm in Northbrook, Ill., 58 percent. . . .
— Another reader sends the text but not the link to a Reuters story from today titled “Study links TV to teen sexual activity.” It reports that teenagers who watch television with a lot of sexual content are twice as likely to have intercourse and more likely to initiate other sexual acts than the teenagers who watched the least. And, importantly, it noted that the shows had the same effect whether they just talked about sex or showed it. “"Both affect adolescents' perceptions of what is normal sexual behavior and propels their own sexual behavior," said Rebecca Collins, the psychologist at the RAND corporation who directed the study.

— A reader sends the link to Siege prompts horror among Arabs, which gets less reassuring the farther you read. You may want to read with it Mark Steyn’s Being Sad Isn’t Enough and Zev Chafets’ The jihadists' dream is a return to empire.

— Phillip Johnson forwards a message from William Dembski to “Check out the following fascinating article.” He offers some quotes “to whet your appetite,” including:
“Experts tend to cut to the chase. In their zeal to get to an answer, they make many little mistakes. (A recent study of work published in Nature and British Medical Journal, for example, found that 11 percent of papers had serious statistical errors.) Experts unknowingly fudge logic to square data with their hypotheses. Or they develop blind spots after years of working in isolation. They lose their ability to take a broader view. If all this is true, he says, think of how much big science is based on flawed intuition. . . .


”The verifier method boils down to seven steps: 1) amass knowledge of a discipline through interviews and reading; 2) determine whether critical expertise has yet to be applied in the field; 3) look for bias and mistakenly held assumptions in the research; 4) analyze jargon to uncover differing definitions of key terms; 5) check for classic mistakes using human-error tools; 6) follow the errors as they ripple through underlying assumptions; 7) suggest new avenues for research that emerge from steps one through six. . . .”
Dr. Dembski, who teaches at Baylor University, wrote “Winning By Design: How ID Advocates Can Effectively Respond to the Growing Backlash” (not available online) in the July/August issue.

— I’ve mentioned Steven Rhodes’ new book Taking Sex Differences Seriously from time to time. Here is an interview with Rhodes by Donna Ricks from her First Voice website. He makes several interesting and provocative statements, including this one, which was completely new to me:
Donna: One of the interesting details in this book that I haven't heard before is about an unusual side effect of the pill.

Steven:. . . There are two unusual side affects that I don't think people are aware. This isn't cranky science. First of all, it can block sexual pleasure. There are multiple studies, some of them with animals, but at least one with women. Women on the pill see the world as a far more platonic place than other females. The pill seems to suppress the desire of women for sex. The other one is even trickier and that is an unconscious mechanism with which women choose men with different immune systems different from theirs. . . .[Which, he points out, is a very good thing.]

Scientists know we have pheromones, which is a kind of smell but your not really conscious that your smelling something. One of the interesting tests was they had a bunch of college coeds smell the t-shirts of men who had been were them, asking them which they thought was the best smelling. The women were all over the place, they couldn't agree on the best selling t-shirt.

What was interesting was, everyone was that they were picking the shirts of men whose immune system was different than theirs. This seems to be this unconscious mechanism driving you to mating with someone with a different immune system.

Well, it turns out that birth control completely reverses that. When you on birth control pills you find the smell most attractive that is most like yours.

So some people are speculating about this wondering if the difficulty our generation seems to be having producing off spring is because they've been on birth control pills when they met their husband and are marrying people that in some biological sense may not be optimal for them if they want to have children. One of the things doctors report is that some women complain of their husband's odor after they go off the pill.
Among the other interviews from the site that look interesting is Has America outsourced the kids?, an interview with Brian C. Robertson, author of Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn't Telling Us.

Workers of the World, Relax by the French philosopher Alain de Botton. He argues that
All societies throughout history have had work right at their center; but ours - particularly America's — is the first to suggest that it could be something other than a punishment or penance. Ours is the first to imply that a sane human being would want to work even if he wasn't under financial pressure to do so. We are unique, too, in allowing our choice of work to define who we are, so that the central question we ask of new acquaintances is not where they come from or who their parents are but, rather, what it is they do — as though only this could effectively reveal what gives a human life its distinctive timbre. . . .

As meritocracy came of age, demeaning jobs came to seem not merely regrettable, but, just like their more exciting counterparts, also deserved. No wonder people started asking each other what they did - and listening very carefully to the answers. . . .

Though all this may seem like progress, in truth, modern attitudes toward work have unwittingly caused us problems. Today, claims are made on behalf of almost all kinds of work that are patently out of sync with what reality can provide. Yes, a few jobs are certainly fulfilling, but the majority are not and never can be. We would therefore be wise to listen to some of the pessimistic voices of the pre-modern period, if only to stop torturing ourselves for not being as happy in our work as we were told we could be.
I commend the rest of the article for his recounting of the pessimistic voices of the pre-modern period.

— In Beslan, the September 11 of the Christian Children. But the Church Doesn't See, Sandro Magister offers an astute analysis of the Vatican and the Italian bishops’ failure to deal realistically with the Muslim leadership.
As for the official organs of the Holy See, in their reaction there was an unusual obfuscation of the enemy - Islamist terrorism - and a disarming silence about the religious faith of those killed.

In the region of the Russian Caucuses, which are Muslim, Ossetia is the only Christian enclave; its 700,000 inhabitants are almost all of the Orthodox faith. And it is there that the Islamist terrorists deliberately carried out the slaughter of women, men, and even more so of children.
He goes to offer the evidence of articles in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, and from various Vatican dialogues with Muslim leaders who were anything but “moderate.”

I think his analysis astute, as I said, but I disagree with Magister on one point, his criticism of the pope for not condemning the Beslan massacre right away. Did anyone in the world doubt that John Paul IIcondemned it? What point would a boilerplate condemnation make? What use would it serve?

Between the press releases and news services the magazine gets, I get a flood of official statements after every major outrage, all saying almost exactly the same thing and all perfectly pointless and useless. There is something slightly ridiculous about safe, well-paid, well-fed, well-cared for church officials declaring the flamingly obvious, as if anyone cared. This urge to speak when you have no reason and no standing is a symptom of a sickness, I suspect, which would bear more analysis.

Magister, I think, believes too much in symbolic gestures, judging from the end of his article where he praises a manifesto and a candlelit march through Rome. They’re very nice, I suppose, but what good do they do, besides making the signers and marchers feel good? What do they think the Western governments ought to do and how are they encouraging them to do it?

6:30 PM


This just in:

The Independent (London) September 8, 2004, Wednesday
SERBIA: The Education Minister, Ljiljana Colic, has has ordered schools to stop teaching children the theory of evolution for this year, and to resume teaching it in future only if it shares equal billing with creationism. Religion has only recently been taught in schools in the former Communist
I do wonder what "creationism" really means here; whether it was the reporter's attempt to denigrate an avoidance of evolution by making it sound as if they would be teaching a religious doctrine about how the world came to be, rather than simply teaching other theories such as intelligent design and the problems of Darwinism.

I have wondered about the fate of former Communist countries, about the impact of atheism and secular materialist views. I know a man from Soviet Russia who told me that he and his friends do not even think about God simply because that's the way they were raised in the Soviet schools. I was also recently told by a student from Russia that in her home city of some 750,000 people there are currently no more than 30 churches. While citizens may be glad to be rid of Marx, and in the case of Serbia, Darwin, are they willing to welcome Christ?

4:15 PM


Surprise, surprise. A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that teens who watch sex on TV are more likely to become sexually active sooner.

Rebecca Collins, PhD, of RAND Corporation, and colleagues did phone interviews with nearly 1,800 young people aged 12 to 17 about their sexual activity and TV viewing habits. They responded to measures of more than a dozen factors known to be associated with teen sexual initiation.

One year later, they called participants again to note what shows they watched and new sexual experiences the teens had experienced since the first survey.

The researchers, who conducted the interviews in 2001 and 2002, saw "substantial associations" between the amount of sexual content viewed by the teens and advances in sexual behavior.

In the year between the surveys, the teens with the most TV sex viewing were nearly twice as likely to have started having sexual intercourse as those who watched the least sexually charged shows.

…Twelve-year-olds who watched the most TV sex in their age group were similar to youths two to three years older who watched the least sex on TV of their peers.

"It apparently makes little difference whether a TV show presents people talking about whether they have sex or shows them actually having sex," write the researchers.

Risks such as sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy are rarely mentioned on TV.

An estimated 46% of U.S. high school students have had sexual intercourse. The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is among the highest of all industrialized countries, and for every four sexually active American teens, one case of sexually transmitted disease is diagnosed annually, according to the study.

SOURCES: Collins, R. Pediatrics, September 2004; vol 114; pp e280-289. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.
What I would like to see—and I am serious, if perhaps also unrealistic—is a correlation shown between sexual activity of teens and 1) sexually transmitted diseases (and the long-term health problems associated with them) 2) depression, including cases in which drugs are used to treat the depression 3) other mental health problems 4) suicide 5) long-term effects on future marriages, divorces and the effects on the children of those divorces.

Well, perhaps the last item would be hard to quantify, but certainly the first several items would be within the realm of study. And given a correlation between these things, I would like to see someone begin to do what the courts did to the tobacco industry: sue the producers and broadcasters of these shows for promoting (and boy, do they promote it) sexual promiscuity to the young and impressionable (think of the trouble big tobacco got into for marketing to kids), a promiscuity that is flat out bad for human beings. That is to say, it is unhealthy for the body and the mind and destructive of healthy marriages. Which is to say that it is, gasp, “wrong.”

Even secondhand smoke is considered deadly, and some states are banning smoking in all public places without exception. What about “secondhand sex”?

Of course, parents need to turn off the TV. Or throw it out.

11:58 AM

Tuesday, September 7


Although Conciliar Press has not yet directly responded to the specific complaints posted here last Friday (9/3) against two articles in the recent issue of its journal, The Handmaiden, some private correspondence has come our way to suggest that those complaints are being looked into seriously. This is encouraging.

While it may be necessary for Touchstone to appear controversial on occasion, we do not expect the same of a journal directed to the concerns and spiritual nourishment of responsible, godly women. When Touchstone was founded, we understood, I suppose, that the nature of its cause might require, from time to time, an exercise in argument and contention. We never dreamed, however, that our cross-hairs would be fixed on a journal like The Handmaiden. Indeed, since this experience runs contrary to the instruction our fathers gave us (in my case, gave me with considerable . . . . well, emphasis) with respect to the proper treatment of women, we find it a bit embarrassing.

Meanwhile, an Orthodox nun (and former journalist) sent us some very instructive reflections on our comments of last Friday. We have secured her permission to publish them here. They read, in part:

This whole discussion has been a very interesting demonstration of very real gender differences, as you've pointed out with all your humorous comparisons between The Handmaiden and Touchstone.

With reference to the two Handmaiden articles to which we objected, she comments:
Certainly one of the writers should have never appeared in the journal simply because she hadn't really begun to think through the contradictions between her faith and her politics. A liberal should have been found that had digested all the implications of her faith (assuming that's possible).

The other article really only needed an editor's red pen. Her offensive view only reflects the underlying assumptions in what she's been fed in college, and I've heard much worse expressed just as naively. I rather enjoyed her point about the Church being otherworldly. Once I looked at the actual magazine it all seemed to be nothing more than a tempest in a teapot because, even a first time reader to the journal would have to stretch quite a bit to think the magazine supports homosexuality and abortion.

This same nun then offers some interesting observations about the differences between the sexes with respect to controversy.
One difference between the genders is that women don't generally argue for fun. They want to know what you think, but they tend to set up a non-threatening atmosphere to beguile the unwary soul into revealing more than he intends to. In a Christian environment, of course, no harm is meant--it is part of the process of "sharing" and "bonding," etc. In an office job in the world, watch out.

Men, on the other hand, seem to like a good brawl-—and the Touchstone editors are a good example of this. I read through and get the impression that although they are deadly serious about their beliefs, they are having a lot of fun.

Very few women can argue with men in the way that men like to argue with each other because for a woman, an argument is too serious a thing. Any woman who can bounce around in a merely intellectual argument, will discover sooner or later that, even so, she is not one of the guys.

Some men will feel very threatened by her tendency to pull every thought apart and look at it. Others may be wounded by comments she thinks are lighthearted and humorous. What's worse, her own subtlety will often betray her. Inevitably, if she thinks she's one of the guys, she'll be shown what that means and get deeply offended. It's all a rather perilous endeavor requiring the utmost respect and civility.

She then goes on to a further reflection, which she calls a tangent. We don't think it is a tangent. To us it looks like a highway going in the right direction:
On another tangent, I've been reflecting on how much we have lost in our culture because of the feminist and homosexual agendas. Neither men or women are quite free to be who they are anymore.

In the lives of women saints there is often the theme of "manly-mindedness." Of course this has to do with acquiring virtue which we sometimes forget is derived from the Latin root vir. Yet the lives of women have often been difficult and full of this inner strength that is praised in this way. Some really have shown more courage than men.

Do you think that a journal like The Handmaiden could publish an article on manly-minded women or the concept of spiritual "violence"? It would be hard article to write well in today's world without misunderstanding. And I fear it would produce another one of those tempests. A girl can hardly even be a "tomboy" anymore without raising suspicions.

Our monastic correspondent goes on to suggest that this new confusion is a problem for men as well as women:
And men have similar problems. I know a young man who got out of college without any exposure to the liberal arts. He has a teaching degree in science & math but you can't get him to look at anything potentially corrupting to his masculinity--like, for instance, a Dickens novel. He needs a few Dickens novels because he's a complete stranger to his own inner world. I wouldn't dare recommend the Odyssey to him. That's poetry. It turns out, he's an orphan raised by his mother. Here, the absence of a healthy masculine role model seems to have produced an aberration. But there have always been orphans who've come out better than this. Today's culture is just a lot less likely to produce a healthy expression of either gender. Even normal people are robbed by all the deliberate confusion.

Even if our complaints about The Handmaiden produce no further fruit, these resultant reflections appear to us to justify them.

7:05 PM


In response to my Labor Days Gone By (earlier today) a reader sends this link to Dem de la Crème: Today, the GOP is the party of the little guy, by Karl Zinsmiester, from yesterday's posting on the Wall Street Journal website. An excerpt:

Democrats: the party of the little guy. Republicans: the party of the wealthy. Those images of America's two major political wings have been frozen for generations.

The stereotypes were always a little off, incomplete, exaggerated. (Can you say Adlai Stevenson?) But like most stereotypes, they reflected rough truths.

No more. Starting in the 1960s and '70s, whole blocs of "little guys"--ethnics, rural residents, evangelicals, cops, construction workers, homemakers, military veterans--began moving into the Republican column. And big chunks of America's rich elite--financiers, academics, heiresses, media barons, software millionaires, entertainers--drifted into the Democratic Party....

... As a result, the old way of thinking about U.S. politics--little-guy Democrats vs. wealthy Republicans--is about as accurate and relevant today as a 1930 weather forecast. New fronts have moved in. Expect some major squalls ahead.
Where some of the passion for squalling comes from is the result, I believe, of those in power (by which I mean dominating the media) realizing that, despite incessant propaganda for years, many regular folks just aren't buying their party line.

The drifting in both directions, too, also meant the realignment of many of American churches into socially liberal and conservative camp--within their own pews. Mainline leaders do not generally represent the rank and file in their views.

What you will hear during the campaign may well be an attempt to replay the old stereotypes, workers vs. business, two Americas, rich and poor, little guys vs. big rich guys. Those who marry stereotypes are often reluctant to divorce them, especially when they have given them so many votes.

6:18 PM


Here is about half of the items accumulated over the weekend. I am going to try (try) to post a second group later today.

— Jim Forest announces that Peace in the Post-Christian Era, a book written by Thomas Merton in 1962, is now in print from Orbis. Jim has written the introduction to the book.

— Something else from Jim Forest, a quote on happiness from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

"There are various ways of being happy, and every man has the capacity to make his life what it needs to be for him to have a reasonable amount of peace in it. Why then do we persecute ourselves with illusory demands, never content until we feel we have conformed to some standard of happiness that is not good for us only, but for everyone? Why can we not be content with the secret gift of the happiness that God offers us, without consulting the rest of the world? Why do we insist, rather, on a happiness that is approved by the magazines and TV? Perhaps because we do not believe in a happiness that is given to us for nothing. We do not think we can be happy with a happiness that has no price tag on it."
Political Victory: From Here to Maternity by Phillip Longman, writing in last Thursday’s The Washington Post. Longman is the author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It.
Fertility correlates strongly with religious conviction. In the United States, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.

High fertility also correlates strongly with support for George W. Bush. Of the top 10 most fertile states, all but one voted for Bush in 2000. Among the 17 states that still produce enough children to replace their populations, all but two — Iowa and Minnesota — voted for Bush in the last election. Conversely, the least fertile states — a list that includes Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Connecticut — went overwhelmingly for Al Gore.
The article includes several other interesting bits of data you might want to have.

The story provides yet another example of what happens when the churches are not bold in proclaiming the truth they’ve been given. The Catholic bishops insist on the necessity of defending the life of the unborn and of the aged and sick, and only one candidate in this year’s presidential election agrees with them, though he does not agree with other of their proposals on what they admit are prudential matters.

Their principles should lead them to prefer George Bush to John Kerry, though of course they cannot say so. Had as a body they insisted on the Catholic teaching on the necessity of married couples to be open to life, spoken about it themselves, made their priests preach on it, and punished the dissenters who in effect lied to the faithful — had they, in other words, made this a matter of Catholic identity for American Catholics — they would have nurtured more Catholic families with more children, which is to say, more voters who would vote in defense of the life of the unborn and of the aged and sick.

The story reminds me of a book I recommend: P. D. James’ The Children of Men, set in a world thirty or forty years after every male on earth suddenly and mysteriously become sterile. It is a haunting book, I thought.

— You can find a review of Longman’s book the West’s suicidal depopulating of itself in Downsizing Civilization by Christopher DeSales. I sent the link to our senior editor Leon Podles, who wrote about this problem a long time ago in , and he remarked
Eastern Germany has 1,000,000 vacant apartments, many just renovated. Leipzig is closing about 50 schools this year alone. Vast stretches of rural Italy are being abandoned. And the population hasn't even began its serious decline yet.
As someone, I think Allan Carlson, said, “The future belongs to the fertile.”

— A New York reader asks me to announce a lecture you might want to know about: “Socrates in the City” on Sept. 22nd at the University Club (54th & 5th
Ave.) with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the editor of First Things speaking on “Can an Atheist Be a Good Citizen?” The announcement our reader sent said to please rsvp to to reserve a space.

— A second lecture in New York City you may want to know about: the 35th anniversary program of the New York C. S. Lewis Society. It will be held at 2 pm on October 16th at Fordham/Lincoln Center (113 West 60th Street, 12th floor lounge) with special lecturer Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., speaking on “C.S. Lewis and the Case for Apologetics.” The lecture is being held in conjunction with Fordham University's Institute of Irish Studies and made possible in part by a grant from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

— From Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, an article on the students at BIOLA University in Los Angeles, All God's Children. (The site requires registration, and I think only keeps its articles available for five days.)

— Dawn Eden exposes what Planned Parenthood thinksWhat Teens Should Know About Sex—And When They Should Know It . It may sicken you. I will give you one example of what she found. In discussing children under five, under the heading “Children need to know that” Planned Parenthood includes “touching their sex organs for pleasure is normal.” Under the heading “Children need to be able to,” Planned Parenthood includes “seek privacy when they want to touch their sex organs for pleasure.”

An even worse expose of PP’s teachings — which I won’t summarize and will warn you about — appears a little further down.

— In No theology, please, we're British, George Weigel relays his experience with a profoundly a-theological Anglican bishop (the default mode for that group) and two rather, well, silly comments from former archbishop George Carey’s autobiography. In one of them,
Carey argues that, as John Paul II has experienced more physical difficulties, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has taken the Catholic Church in a new direction, undercutting the Pope's heroic personal witness. The evidence for this? The 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus, which reaffirms the unique salvific mission of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church's ancient understanding of itself as the most rightly ordered expression in history of the One Church of Christ. Why has Ratzinger done this? Because, Carey writes, Ratzinger is "exceedingly conservative," a man who shows "little of the flexibility that characterized the approach of the Second Vatican Council."

Really? Dominus Iesus contains 102 footnoted citations; fifty of them are taken from the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Another thirty-seven citations are from the magisterium of John Paul II, who, as Dominus Iesus states, approved the document "with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority.”
I don’t want to be defensive about one of my intellectual heroes, but the cardinal has a vastly more learned and sophisticated — and properly flexible — mind than Carey’s. This kind of thing is very trying.

Click here for the text of Dominus Iesus.

— A reader who has been involved in some e-mail debates over the Orthodox teaching on contraception sends the link to The Stephanos Project. The site offers a lot of original material and a lot of links to other sites, including the Catholic philosopher Elizabeth (G. E. M.) Anscombe’s “Contraception and Chastity,” which I recommend.

1:09 PM


Yesterday's holiday put me into a bit of nostalgia, if I may put it that way. One of the very few parades I attended as a boy was a Labor Day parade ca. 1960 in Detroit, where I grew up. Home of the big three automakers, Motown was heavily populated with members of the United Auto Workers, including my dad, who work at Ford Motor Company for 42 years after his return from very active duty in the U. S. Army in World War II.

At the parade there were bands and floats as you would expect, and various union groups with banners. I have always identified with "workers" or "labor" over business. My grandfathers were laborers, one from Russia, the other from Scotland, and they ended their days working with their hands. My family regularly voted Democratic, and even G.I.s who greatly respected the war hero Eisenhower couldn't bring themselves to switch parties for him and abandon the "intellectual" Adlai Stevenson, who was the candidate of the pro-worker Democrats. Big business, corporate American, sat on the other side of the aisle.

It's true that it often takes more than a generation from old stereotypes to die out, especially bu not always when they have no (or little) basis in reality. I think the big business versus worker paradigm for Republican versus Democrat is one such stereotype. I mean, can anyone honestly say that Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Hollywood, and all the media moguls do not represent any big business concerns? And what about the support that a long list of corporations such as AT&T give to Planned Parenthood and gay activist causes? Is big business really reflecting the platform of the Republican Party? Oh, certainly there are many exceptions--my point is only that it is not clearly one side versus the other any more. There are plenty of millionaire and billionaire Democrats.

There are, of course, other issues that have risen to prominence since the 1960s, paramount among them in 2004 are the sanctity of life and marriage. If anyone thinks that cultural conservatives are being "divisive" by pressing these points, they should take a closer look at our own Supreme Court, where the differences between Justices such as Thomas and Scalia, and Souter and Ginsburg. The cultural divide that broke out into the open in the mid 60s is what predicts more than anything else how voters vote. And that divide is most clearly seen to exist between Christians who attend church very regularly and those who do not. With the exception of African-American Christians, church attendance is the single most accurate predicter of party preference. Not blue versus white collar, though that element still has some influence as old stereotypes take a long time to die.

My parents abandoned the Democrats over the cultural issues in the 70s when it became clear to them that making a killing in business was a lesser evil than making a business of killing in the womb the future workers of America. When I think of those Labor Day parades, I realize it was a different America then.

11:45 AM


Something you may enjoy, from regular reader Bill Luse, author of "The End of Sex as We Know It" in the January/February 2004 issue (not available online) and host of the Apologia website. Ithought the last stanza particularly good.

A Meditation on the Consequences of Heroic Coupling
A Moralist Repents

Everybody’s doing the evolution dance,
We, along with tapirs and the marching army ants,
Along with nimble monkeys and the dinosaur as well –
(One succeeded admirably, the other heard the knell
Sadly rung for creatures destined for extinction,
Though occupying yet today a place of some distinction) -
We do it with the reptiles, we do it with ourselves;
I’ve even heard that leprechauns have done it with the elves.
So trip it often, trip it well, this merry dance we do,
For ‘tis a trait we share with goats and elk and caribou.

Enlightenment has come to us by way of Darwin’s song;
Now each of us precisely knows where each of us belongs;
Now any man may teach his child what life is all about
(Unless the child annoys us then, of course, we cut him out);
Men may wear the dresses now and women wear the pants;
Now we know licentiousness deserves a second chance,
For we understand, by letting loose the animal within,
That our chances of survival are multiplied by ten.

Now we know where man must fit within the cosmic scheme,
That Adam and his seed are but a sentimental dream:
An advance upon the gibbon, though it’s much too close a call,
By luck alone we slipped in front of sage Neanderthal,
Who possessed the great misfortune of an elongated head;
He was, they say, as smart as we (thank God the beast is dead).
And now I hear that chimpanzees are learning how to speak
In signs evolving swiftly into Plato’s ancient Greek.

We thank you, Lord, for all your gifts, the angels at their stations
(Though now we know their wings are an acquired variation);
We thank you for the scientists whose minds you have perfected
(Though all our higher faculties were naturally selected);
We thank you, Lord, for giving us that clever primate tree
(A commendable invention since it ended up with me);
But most of all we thank you, Lord, for giving us a home
On earth wherein we found you hid within the chromosome.

11:05 AM


Here are two more examples of the bad thinking James Kushiner will be examining in his editorial in the October issue, which I described in Hot Button Christians.

First, the National Council of Churches has issued a voter’s guide telling Christians to consider the candidates’ positions on:

Urban decay
Foreign policy
Economic justice
Racial justice
Environmental justice
Criminal justice
Public education and children’s services

You will notice the absences. The writer who reported this for Baptist Press noted that under “Racial justice” the NCC declared that “Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth,” and one thinks, bravo for them, but that this declaration “somehow doesn’t translate for the NCC into a pro-life position on abortion.” So no bravo after all.

Jim wrote about this, making a different point, in Friday's Non-partisan witness?. I thought his ending the title with a question mark and not something like "Ha!" or "Oh, yeah, right" gentlemanly of him.

Second, speaking at New York City’s Riverside Church, where all “progressive” causes are baptized, [Bill] Clinton criticizes SBC campaign. (“SBC” stands for Southern Baptist Convention.) The speech was, at least as reported, a string of the usual clichés, including the usual insults and the usual appeal to Jesus as if St. Paul had never written. Said Clinton: politically conservative Christians’

values are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, concentration of wealth and power. But as I said, Jesus didn’t have much to say about what they say are the values of Christians today. And yet, these people really do believe they are in possession of the absolute truth.” . . .

Clinton told the congregation: “Don’t let somebody tell you’re not a good Christian because your views on certain issues don’t fit the party line of the values voter crowd. And remind them that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and that all of us see through a glass darkly and all of us know only in part.
Well, yes, we have all sinned etc., but what does all this actually mean? What has Clinton said that will help Christians fulfill their political responsibilities? What content has he given the metaphor?

Answering the first two questions: Nothing. Answering the third: none. Just take that last sentence.

All right, yes, true, we see through a glass darkly. However, as I and about a million other writers have noted, we see through a glass darkly, but we do see through a glass darkly. St. Paul wasn’t throwing up his hands in despair at our blindness, but encouraging us in the Christian life (with all its clearly seen moral teaching) by pointing to the partial vision of glory we have been given. He would not have accepted “Well, you know, Paul, like you said, we see through a glass darkly!” from a Roman Christian who gave it as a reason for blowing off the first part of Paul’s letter to the Romans and hopping into bed with his boyfriend.

But let us ignore Clinton’s abuse of the verse and ask only what use to anyone is Clinton’s use of it. What do we see, and how well do we see it? We must see something, else we couldn’t speak of Christianity at all. Don’t we see anything clearly? And aren’t the things we’ve seen clearly absolutely true, that being what seeing clearly means? What does Bill Clinton think we see? And how does what he sees lead him to the political positions he takes?

He offers no answer to these questions, and as far as I know never has, but without them we have no reason to take him seriously as the Christian thinker he has presented himself to be. Without them, all he has done is taken a verse from the Bible and used it for this own ends, twisting it to attack his opponents.

Now that I think of it, this is rather like twisting a wet towel to snap the other kids in the locker room after their showers at the end of gym class: a kid can do it with a towel, and some of his peers will enjoy the spectacle, but snapping other kids is not what the towel is for, and after being soaked it won't do what it was given to him to do. He may have inflicted pain, and enjoyed it, but he’s still all wet.

Anyway, Clinton's twisting of St. Paul's words thrilled the crowd, but it told them nothing useful.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, made much the same point:
”Speaking personally, the glass I see through is a lot less dark than Bill Clinton’s, evidently.”
And then added:
Land said he was puzzled that Clinton felt the initiative was targeting Democrats.

“As for me and my house, we’re going to vote our values, and we encourage everyone else to vote theirs,” Land said. “It’s amazing to me that when we start encouraging people to vote values, they think they’re being attacked. Are they not confident of their values?”
On a related matter, a reader sends the link to Soujourner’s magazine’s political petition. He comments “Here's the way Soujourners thinks about Republicans. I'm not surprised. (C'mon, now, it *is* rather funny!) And yet, pretending like they are just as against Democrats as Republicans is a farce.”

And related distantly, Dawn Eden recounts an evening with the comics against Bush.

11:02 AM

For previous blogs, click here.

Home - Mere Comments - Daily Reflections - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?